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Oh Gizmo. You broke us. You really broke us.

Our Chapter Book of the Week is the sort of book that you just know is going to end up with you in a complete mess of tears, nursing a warm beverage or better still hugging a loved one who can't quite understand why on earth you're such a blubbering wreck.

"What's that in Dog Years?" by Ben Davis, with gorgeous cover and internal illustrations by Julia Christians is indeed the perfect book for pooch lovers - but only if you can cope with knowing from the outset that Gizmo (the faithful and lovable mutt in this story) is living on borrowed time.

Everyone would want a doggy friend like Gizmo. He's fun, he's kind, he loves everyone and he's always up for a brilliant game. But Gizmo's young owner hadn't reckoned with the fact that doggy lives are far shorter than ours. 

So he's determined to do something spectacular before his beloved poochy pal pops off this mortal coil. 

It's time for a doggy bucket list par excellence, with tons of amazing things to complete. There's one small problem though, Gizmo is getting lazy and tired in his old age and insists on being carried everywhere.


Can they possibly tick off all the things on the list before Gizmo passes?

Any pet owner will tell you that the toughest part of owning a pet is knowing that your beloved animal companion won't (normally) outlive you. I remember growing up as a kid and having to wave goodbye to so many beloved pets. C has been unlucky / lucky in that respect so far, in that we haven't had any pets since she was born - but she's determined she'll have a houseful when she's older so this book will at least give her some preparation for those inevitable sad moments.

Excuse me, I think I've got something in my eye...

BUT, and this is the best thing about this book, Ben shows us how we can celebrate the joy of having a wet-nosed tickle-legged sidekick around for the time they're with us, and this book just shows how amazing it is to have a loyal and faithful dog as your best friend. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: Humorous, heartwarming with a massive whump of an ending that'll definitely leave you with a few tears in your eyes.


"What's that in Dog Years?" by Ben Davis and Julia Christians is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. (very kindly supplied for review)
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Our second Picture Book of the Week is a veritable feast for fashion fans! The utterly superb "Planet Fashion: 100 Years of Fashion History" by Natasha Slee and Cynthia Kittler.

Once again Wide Eyed nail a spot in our Book of the Week slot with a book that takes a trip through 100 of the most inspirational and groundbreaking years in international fashion with two characters who love fashion as much as we do.

C adores designing clothes and drawing fashion models, so this book was an instant win for her. I love the history of fashion, and this book offers a brilliant mix of facts and information, alongside stunning fashion-sketch-like visuals to drive a storified look at fashion history and the most influential eras, looks and designs across the ages.

Hip Hop fashion - still driving a cool vibe and look today!
It's like a glorious story book, a source book for scribblers like us, a history book filled with engaging facts, and just a really brilliantly presented piece of work from two folk who are obviously passionate about their chosen subject (as we've come to expect from books published from Wide Eyed).

The far east has always been hugely influential for fashion designers and the textile industry
It's just completely excellent this, and a book that we've spent hours looking through (and in C's case, doodling bits from in her own designs).

Absolutely essential for fashion fans of any age.

The 1950s, America, and a hugely influential fashion vibe that was just so COOL!
Sum this book up in a sentence: A brilliant historical look at fashion through the ages, through the eyes of two engaging guides showing off the very best of world fashion in such a cool and engaging way.

"Planet Fashion" by Natasha Slee and Cynthia Kittler is out now, published by Wide Eyed Editions (kindly supplied for review). 
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Ever had one of those friendships that you thought would last forever? Or one of those summers that seemed to stretch on for ages, every day bringing some new adventure or amazing thing - to be enjoyed with someone really special?

In "Paper Planes" by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones, you'll find the gorgeously lyrical and beautifully told story of two such friends, Mia and Ben.

They're neighbours, living on the shores of a huge lake, and having the most amazing time together as they sail and swim. But their favourite hobby is making paper planes.

They have a grand project in mind - to build a plane that's big enough and strong enough to fly right over the lake. But before they can put their grand design into action, the two friends are separated as one moves away.

At first Ben reacts badly, smashing the plane they were working on together. But then Ben realises that there are other things you can do with paper - like write a letter that really needs to be written...

This is beautifully told. Though we've seen so many books talking about kids and their friendships, this is the first one that's actually felt quite genuinely touching and affecting, particularly in the way the story shows kids how to deal with their bestie moving away. Richard's illustrations are gorgeous too sweeping you into that lakeside world with ease, then up into the air as Mia and Ben's plane takes flight finally.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Lovely, absolutely lovely, and not just your usual "kids book about friendship" - this one's genuinely moving and affecting.

"Paper Planes" by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones is out now, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Today's #ReadItTorial starts out with an admission. I've always hated that bloody thing, the thing pictured above. It's "Barbie's Malibu Beach House" - and C has had this huge plastic monstrosity for quite a long time. Normally it languishes in a cupboard, oft forgotten - but still kept in fairly good condition along with its insidiously waspish cohort of plastic Barbie dolls who sometimes live in it.

The reason for this image adorning a #ReadItTorial hasn't really got anything to do with Barbies, or plastic, or even Malibu beach houses. It's to do with play.

If you're a parent or guardian, and your kids are rapidly approaching that age where your only interaction with them is the odd cursory 'grunt' or 'Where's my charger?' when their phone's battery begins to run out or "What's the WIFI password for this horrible place you've dragged us to" then you might sympathise with today's subject.

We've begun to notice that the closer C gets to the age mentioned above, the more she's actually beginning to play with toys and activities she normally wouldn't have touched. Normally in her (extremely limited - thanks to school / homework) spare time you can probably guess what she likes to do more than anything else. But lately, rather than reaching for a book she's been delving into her toy cupboards and hauling all her toys out, playing with them for hours (in fact one rain-soaked weekend when we didn't manage to escape the house, she spent a good solid 7 hours playing with them - which is pretty unprecedented tbh).

Now and again we'd look in on her. She was so happily wrapped up in playing with her toys that she scarcely noticed our presence. As we were cleaning the house top-to-bottom we happily let her get on with it but later on we all had a chat about what was going on.

C almost burst into tears. She told us that in her class at school, hardly any of the girls still played with toys (or at least this is what they told her, I'm sure the reality is quite different). She felt that she was somehow being led towards an inevitability - that she would have to leave toys and playing behind, replacing these child-like pursuits with...what? Obsessing over fashion? Boys? Sticking daft pictures of their food on Instagram for "likes" ?

Both of us really didn't know how to react to this at first. It was heartbreaking to hear someone who wasn't even in their teens talking about the forced necessity to 'grow up'.

Playing is vitally important for kids though - so why does it get left behind as soon as they cross the boundary of their tenth year. Why does society feel that kids should devote their entire time to learning, education, more 'worthwhile' pursuits - shoving toys and playing to the back of the wardrobe, like that heartbreaking scene in "Toy Story 2" Where poor Jesse ends up dumped in a charity donation box by the side of the road (I still can't bear to watch that scene in polite company, it reduces me to a blubbing mess every single sodding time, like a great many Pixar movies I guess - but that one in particular nails what I'm trying to get across in this ReadItTorial).

We both vowed to make sure she can carry on enjoying playing. Peer pressure aside (and who the hell, quite frankly, has ever benefitted from anything forced on them by peer pressure anyway) I'd love to think that she just bucks the trend and carries on doing things she enjoys rather than feeling the necessity to fit in with everyone else.

Both my wife and I sat down and reasoned out when we both stopped playing. My wife thought it was probably in her early teens. Me...well, I was a geek who fell in love with videogames, Dungeons and Dragons and christ knows how many other 'worthless pursuits' - so I realised I actually never had stopped playing (is this something that boys tend to get away with more than girls? That's worthy of further debate). Do we count our hobbies as 'play'? If building lego kits counts as playing, then both my wife and I technically still do (and I still probably spend more time than I should playing videogames, though it's taken a bit of a back seat to drawing and doodling in recent years).

Why do we feel this stupid need to make our kids grow up quicker and leave all that stuff behind? I just can't understand it at all.
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We can't help ourselves, we have such a soft spot for Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells' brilliant "That's not my" book range, and there's a new one out today.

Are you pink?

Do you like standing on one leg?

Are you partial to a shrimp sandwich?

Then step right up, today sees the launch of the truly brilliant "That's Not My Flamingo" !

These were some of the first books we read to C when she was an absolute tiddler, and though the library copies were always very well thumbed / drooled on, they were such a great introduction to books for her, and such a great way to start off that excitement and engagement that comes from turning each page and discovering something new.

Fluffy wings? Shiny beaks? Yep we love it to bits and we hope that this book range goes on forever, though now C is 11, she still loves these and half her enjoyment comes from trying to dream up new titles that Fiona and Rachel might not have thought of yet.

"That's not my Blobfish! His face is too squishy!" - Make it happen ladies :)

Sum this book up in a sentence: The very best book range for tiny tiddlers, introducing the excitement, anticipation and interaction that comes from sitting down with a great book from a very early age.

"That's not my Flamingo" by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells is out today, published by Usborne Books 
(kindly supplied for review with the world's greatest tote bag!)
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Usborne's superb "All About" range gets a new book today, with a subject that's becoming more and more important in children's literature with the passing of every year.

Children's emotional and mental health is always an important but sometimes really difficult subject to tackle and summarise in something that's both kid-friendly but gets to the grist of each important issue.

This range does it so well, and in "All About Feelings" by Felicity Brooks, Frankie Allen and Mar Ferrero there are tons of different subjects covered, ranging from what makes us happy and sad, to how it feels when things start to go wrong - and what we can do about it.

Designed to help children draw out and discuss issues with parents, friends and teachers, this is a really brilliant and useful little book to have around when kids feel like they need something to lift their spirits, or just something that shows all the things they're going through aren't abnormal or horrible. Perhaps they even know someone in their immediate circle of friends and family that may be going through exactly the same thing.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Beautifully illustrated throughout, this is a fab book to have around on the shelves when it's time to discuss feelings and emotions.

"All About Feelings" by Felicity Brooks, Frankie Allen and Mar Ferrero is out today, published by Usborne (kindly supplied for review).
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"The Dragon in the Library" by Louie Stowell (Cover art & Illustrations by Davide Ortu)
In case you missed it, we've already reviewed "The Dragon in the Library" by Louie Stowell with top honours as chapter book of the week a couple of weeks back, but today we're also joining in with the blog tour for this utterly awesome book.

We're absolutely delighted to be hosting a fabulous Q & A with one of our long-time fave authors on the blog today. Louie Stowell has very kindly answered ten of our trickiest questions (5 from me and 5 from C) to celebrate the launch of her latest middle grade adventure, the truly fantastic "The Dragon in the Library" coming soon from Nosy Crow Publishing.


Without further ado, bring on the questions!!!

1) Hi Louie, how about telling us a little bit about yourself and your writing background

I’ve been writing seriously for about 20 years, so, it was not a matter of picking up a pen and out flowed a publishable novel. I wrote my first novel, The Vampairy, around 2002. It was about a creature who’s half vampire, half fairy, who grants wishes in return for blood. Apparently that’s too disturbing for children, and it’s still in a drawer somewhere. Since then I’ve been writing non-fiction, but with fiction rumbling along in the background.


2) We both loved “The Dragon in the Library” - particularly because it’s a fantastic story about a once-reluctant reader discovering the joys of books in such a cool way. What do you think is the best advice to give folk who want to win a reluctant reader round?

Phil, you may be able to predict my answer but…COMICS (I would have guessed that - Ed!).

That’s not to say that I think comics are an easy ride. They’re an artform all their own, with their own narrative conventions and difficulties. But I think comics are appealing to people who’ve been put off text-only books, because they have a certain frisson of “forbidden”, due to the fact that so many adults still think they’re not “proper” books. The best way to win round a reluctant reader, in my opinion, is to tell someone something is dangerous or bad for them. That’s Kit’s experience too in The Dragon in the Library – she discovers that books can be dangerous, which obviously makes them more appealing. Another route is to find something the person is very interested in, and use books as a way to get them that information, rather than pushing reading as an activity – it’s more a means to an end, so you don’t have to self-identify as a reader to enjoy it.



3) Nosy Crow seem to be producing some stunning middle grade fiction at the moment. How different was the fiction writing process to putting together non-fiction titles?

Very different in some ways – for example, I didn’t sit down and research for ages first. That said, I have spent my life “researching” for this book – by reading other fiction, and mythology, about dragons, wizards and magic. So perhaps it’s not all that different on that score. The way in which it’s similar is the fact that, when writing about magic, you have to have a system – just like, when you’re writing about, say, science, you have to represent the pre-existing body of knowledge. With magic, you have to check you’re being consistent, which is quite a lot like fact-checking, or checking you’ve written dinosaur names all according to the same rules (capitalize the T if T rex but not the r!)


4) Talk us through your writing process a bit. I find it really difficult to get started with the actual ‘writing bit’ of stories, despite having a few good ideas. Any tips?

I tend to talk the idea through with my wife, first, with a lot of “ooh, what if…”. That helps me get the ball rolling and feel like I have momentum. Then I start drawing diagrams – usually spider diagrams, with all the random parts of the idea sprawled all over the place. I sometimes dig down into minutiae there – and get stuck into the worldbuilding in general, before I work out the plot. It’s usually worldbuilding first, then character and plot for me. What I love about stories is the universe of them, as well as what actually happens. It feels like every world you create could have a thousand stories happen there, so the next step is narrowing down which one it should be (or at least which one it should be first). With the Dragon in the Library, I suppose that came from reality – libraries being closed down in the UK, and the real life consequences of that. Then I thought about how that could be transposed into magical consequences. In terms of the actual writing, it’s mostly about routine – having set days/times I write, and a place I go to. Usually Costa on the high street. I don’t like writing in arty cafes, as I feel too self-conscious, like it’s a performance. So my favourite places to write are quiet chain cafes, with a fairly rigid soundtrack of music – often a computer game or film soundtrack.



5) What is your favourite episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” ? (This was an extremely cruel question - I make no apologies - Ed.)

This is an almost impossible question to answer. How can I play favourites? Hmmm. OK. Aside from obvious one like Hush and Once More with Feeling, I am very fond of Tabula Rasa – where they all forget who they are and have to construct their identities from scratch. It’s actually a game I used to play with myself as a kid: how much of my life would I be able to work out if I lost my memory, just by looking at my things? I also love Buffy vs Dracula, as I feel it sums up the heart of Buffy in many ways – it’s a show that takes pop culture, and especially horror, tropes and subverts them. I love that she defeats Dracula explicitly by being familiar with his genre rules: “You think I don’t watch your movies? You always come back…” That’s also the line I probably quote the most. Especially when thinking about politicans like Boris Johnson…


Now for C's devilishly difficult questions



1) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Meeting readers. I love doing events and talking about stories and ideas with enthusiastic people. It’s that, and having the original ideas. I love ideas. I’m less keen on sitting down for hours and writing them down, but apparently you have to do that bit to meet the job description of “writer”. One day I’d love to be able to just dictate them to a robot butler.


2) Are you going to write any more books about space? We loved seeing your space talk when you came to our home town!

I would love to! I’ve written a book for VERY young children about going to the Moon that’s coming out this July (in time for the anniversary) but I also have another one up my sleeve, watch this space. (Sorry. I am so sorry.)


3) Dragons aside, if you didn’t already have the world’s cutest dog at home (Buffy!) what would be your ideal pet - mythical or real-world?

I'd choose a pegasus, because then I could fly around on it like Valkyrie. And pegasus could poo on my enemies from above. (We love the way you think - Ed.)



4) What books did you enjoy when you were little?
I loved the Just William books – short stories about a boy who lived in the countryside and apparently never went to school – he just got into trouble. They were hilarious. Then Lord of the Rings was a favourite when I was a bit older. I loved the world of it and the fact that it was so complex. I also loved anything about an apocalypse. There was a book called Empty World that I loved, where all the adults die and children roam around trying to survive. Oh, and one where a guy kidnaps some children on a nuclear-powered spaceship but he dies of radiation sickness and the kids have to survive on their own. (I promise I didn’t actually want all the adults to die in real life… it was just a way of exploring what it meant to be on your own and making your own choices.)



5) What’s your favourite film of all time?

I have two. One’s called Labyrinth, about a goblin king (played by David Bowie) who steals babies, which in turn is (I think) based on a book I loved when I was little called Outside Over there by Maurice Sendak. 

I love stories that come from other stories, or have relationships with other stories. I’ve been working on a novel about a similar scenario, but with a very different baby stealing supernatural ruler…more on that another time!


Such great answers (and yep, Labyrinth is way up there amongst our faves too, great choice!) - Our huge thanks once again to Louie for submitting herself to our steely questions.  Don't forget to hop along to the https://nosycrow.com website for more amazing kidlit!


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Well, this, pretty miss, is a very odd book indeed but we absolutely loved the quirky whimsical craziness of "Aife and Stray: Seven Style Secrets for a Perilous Party" by Stevie Westgarth and Emily Ford.

The titular pair, Aife and Stray, are quite content to spend their evenings at home chilling out in their comfortable loungewear. But when style icon Prunella Bonbon unexpectedly invites them to her party, it's time for a mad dash to the shops for Aife. What on earth is she going to wear?

They live in a town inhabited by some truly strange boutique owners, each with their own colourful preferences - and as you'll find as this bouncy rhyming story unfolds - each with their own particular "oddity".

This story works on several levels, as a great bouncy rhyme-along story for children first learning their colours. As a surreal tale of strange characters for older kids, and as a bit of awesome and original fun for children C's age, particularly if they're mildly obsessed with fashion and clothes, and looking cool.

So what does Aife finally wear to the party? You'll have to find out! Stevie's rhymes are mostly good (there were a few that made our teeth grate, to be honest!) and Emily's illustrations are fab and original. As we've come to expect from Troika, this isn't your average picture book, it's really fun, surreal and quite exquisite, just like Prunella Bonbon's wardrobe!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A surreal, weird and utterly awesome book that works on multiple levels as a great way of learning colours, but as a fun and entertaining rhyming story with a whole cast of amazing characters.

"Aife and Stray: Seven Style Secrets for a Perilous Party" by Stevie Westgarth and Emily Ford is out now, published by Troika (kindly supplied for review). 
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Pretty sure anyone who's ever wrestled with a plateful of tiny veg will identify with this jolly little tale, perfectly pea-tastic for younger readers.

"The Runaway Pea" by Kjartan Poskitt and Alex Willmore is the entertaining story of a rogue pea. You know the one, it's always ready to spring from your plate or your fork, to disappear somewhere beneath the kitchen table, only to be found when you accidentally step on it in stockinged feet, to feel that horrible wet 'squish' beneath your toes. Ugh.

The rogue pea in this story thinks he's the most amazing energetic vegetable in the world.

It's not time to be eaten, it's time for a party!

Pea shoots, flings and bounces across the kitchen as he embarks on his perilous adventure - but will he find the fun he is looking for or is the kitchen a scarier place than he thought?

This quirky caper from debut duo Kjartan Poskitt and Alex Willmore will show you just what can happen when you take your eye off your dinner for a second!

Sum this book up in a sentence: Pingy, flingy pea-based fun!

"The Runaway Pea" by Kjartan Poskitt and Alex Willmore is out on 11th July 2019, published by Simon and Schuster (kindly supplied for review). 
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Sadly, all good things must come to an end - and all great book series must seemingly come to a world-shattering conclusion, or at least that's how it felt as we reached the end of "Maresi: Red Mantle", the final book in Maria Turtschaninoff's masterly Red Abbey Chronicles series.

The story picks up once again with Maresi finally reaching the end of her time at the Red Abbey.

Her world, her life, her home - and more importantly a safe haven in a despicable world ruled by brutal men, Maresi must return to her childhood home to hopefully preach the findings gleaned from her life at the Abbey to other like minded souls who can perhaps help turn the tide of opression in her village.

Maresi's teachings can't reach her people, ground down and despicably trodden on by the overbearing rule of the local Earl.

Finally Maresi realises that she must use all the terrible force of the Crone's magic, dark magic taught to her in the twinkling of candle-light at the Red Abbey to protect her people, but can she find the strength to do so when she's distracted by something unexpected, the emergence of her first real love for another?

We've loved the previous two books in the series, and really didn't want this final book to end. Maria's world building, atmospheric storytelling, and amazing ability to confront issues that many women and girls will nod in recognition of as they're alluded to in this amazing book really will strike a chord, and if there's absolutely any justice in the book world, the Red Abbey Chronicles deserve to be up there amongst the literary fantasy greats such as Tolkein, C.S Lewis and Margaret Atwood.

Make no mistake, this has been an epic trilogy that deserves wider recognition - and this wrap-up demonstrates just how to write a scintillating story arc that takes both the characters - and you - on a heck of an amazing journey as your lives unfold.

Utterly, utterly brilliant.

"Maresi: Red Mantle" (Red Abbey Chronicles Book 3) by Maria Turtschaninoff is out now, published by Pushkin Children's Books (very kindly supplied for review). 
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