Friday, January 19, 2018

ReadItDaddy's YA / Grown Up Comic of the Week - Week Ending 19th January 2018 - "Saga Volume 8" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

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Our YA / Grown-Ups Comic of the Week kicking off 2018 is the latest in a long-running Saga. Oh god, yes the jokes do get worse from hereon in..."Saga Volume 8" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples...
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 19th January 2018 - "Dave Pigeon: Racer" by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey (Faber and Faber)

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Our Chapter Book of the Week sees the glorious return of our favourite feathered friend and his trusty sidekick. Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey are back with "Dave Pigeon (Racer!)"

Once again it's been a sheer delight to hear C cackling like a drain every 5 seconds while reading a book.

This time, we catch up with Dave and Skipper, who are uprooted from their nice comfy abode with "The Human Lady".

Stuffed into a shoebox (not the best place to be when your best friend is a big fat pigeon with stinky feet who isn't averse to a bit of 'pigeon-spreading') Dave and Skipper are off to the Pawsville Vets for some much needed medical attention for poor Dave's broken wing. At least that's what they thought...

Instead, the two find themselves living in a pet shop instead, with some very odd characters indeed.

There's Jet the Dog - who is a bit too energetic for such a small space.

Cricket Ball Face the Hamster. You'll have to read the book to find out quite why the poor mite has such an unfortunate (yet fitting) nickname.

Worst of all is Mickey Lightning, a worthy adversary indeed - and one who Dave soon finds himself drawn into a crazy challenge with. Dave firmly believes he can somehow turn his slightly podgy over-fed body into that of a prime racing pigeon - speedy enough to take on Mickey Lightning in a race for fortune and glory (or at least a lion's share of the scoff at dinner time!)

There's one slight obstacle in the way of Dave's imagined glory though and despite a lot of help from friends old and new, Dave's situation seems hopeless. It's just not going to be easy for a rotund feathery fellah to transform into a sleek racing machine!

I think we both felt a bit guilty from christmas over-indulgence reading this one, and definitely felt distinctly Dave-like after one too many Quality Street sessions. So this is not only brilliantly timed, it's once again the perfect combination of pant-wettingly funny storytelling, hilarious and characterful artwork and a durned good read to boot! Thoroughly recommended!

"Dave Pigeon (Racer!)" by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey is out now, published by Faber and Faber (kindly supplied for review)
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 19th January 2018 - "Erik the Lone Wolf" by Sarah Finan (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

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There's still a chill in the air as we think about our Book of the Week winners for this week, so here's a perfect wintry tale of a wolf who wants to go it alone...
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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The joys and horrors of comics and trying to switch to digital from print - A ReadItTorial.

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This week's Readitorial crosses off a couple of things I've wanted a good old fashioned rant about for a while.

Since picking up a Kindle Fire a while back (I know, effectively the book blogging equivalent of not only selling your soul to satan, but gift-wrapping it with a little note inside with lots of Xs on it saying "Here you go Lucifer old chum, love you kissy kissy") I decided to try and catch up on comics.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I know, you're probably rolling around on the floor laughing at this point. "Catching up on comics" is, quite frankly, impossible. Just scanning the press releases and release schedules for the first half of this year, we're already hopelessly out of our depth. It would take an amazing feat of detection beyond even the mighty Sherlock Holmes to identify an entry point for most series, let alone have any clue about how to backtrack from a well-established story arc to ensure you don't miss anything.

I'm talking largely about US comics here of course. See, there's something that we've always done better on this side of the Atlantic (and I'd include all the fantastic Franco-Belgian and other Euro-comics in this praise, of course).

We are so much better at controlling fragmentation. It seems that if you want to pick up a particular Euro (or brit) comic, you have a fairly good idea where to start and where to finish.

The problem is that most comic universes get so obsessed with crossovers that it's nigh-on impossible to keep up with absolutely every possible twist and character development even for your faves. Just when you think you've got it all nailed, you'll start reading a comic that makes a massive assumption that you knew all about Captain America's switch to Hydra, or "Lady Thor" taking over from Asgard's favourite son.

"Yeah, I'm a girl now, get over it"
Yes, Marvel are, by far, the worst offenders when it comes to making it nigh on impossible (or at least  as difficult and expensive as possible) for 'comics noobs' to find a way into a well established series that makes any sense.

For example, pick any Marvel comic series based on anything in the Marvel Movie Universe (Say, for want of a better start, "Old Man Logan" because you really loved the living heck out of James Mangold's "Logan" movie, right?) and you're instantly placed on the backfoot of trying to identify and figure out whether Volume 1 is where you should be kicking things off, or whether the series is picking up the storyline from a multitude other secondary comics where the grains of that story arc might have started. GAHHHHHHHHH!

Comics aficionados will likely scoff at this. "Jeez you idiot, don't you even know that you should be reading "Infinity War Issue 6" before you even TOUCH that shiznit?" is likely to be what you'll get back from someone who obviously has a bit more devotion to their comic fandom (or a lot more disposable time and cash at least).

The problem I have with this is time. I really don't have the sort of brain that can keep track of hugely complex systems of story arcs, multi-universes, alt-versions of characters, origin stories (both genuine and one-shot). Thereby I have, by my own admission, no business reading comics in the first place, right?

Wrong. I want stories, I am addicted to stories. I want to read what goes on with certain characters (though with both Marvel and DC stuff, I've always played favourites and really won't go out of my way to read a secondary character comic just because it contains valuable elements of a main "interesting" character's story that would be lost otherwise). Following comics is hard, catching up (after even a short break) is even harder. Really though, it should NOT be this hard for me to share my love of comics with C - who is becoming really obsessed with kid comics (enjoying something of a golden age) but wants to push further into the sort of stuff I like (age appropriate of course, I mean I don't quite think she's ready for Deadpool!)

The big frustration for me is that more than ever there are comics that are being written FOR HER. Take any of the recent female-led comic revivals (for example, the utterly superb "The Unstoppable Wasp" or "Squirrel Girl"). These are fantastic comics for girls AND boys that have a strong and mighty feminist voice cutting through all that sexist bull that female comic fans have had to put up with for generations (though sadly, there's still a long way to go before some stupid nerd boys get the message)

Second rant: Digital itself. Now, I've gone through various methods of obtaining comics (we are lucky enough to be on the reviews list for a few publishers who are awesome and send us stuff to read on our Kindles) - Every single one of them legal and legitimate because I absolutely will not and do not have any truck with piracy at all. I believe comic creators should be paid like royalty for what they do, and that's the end of that.

But going legit is flipping hard and it's flipping expensive. We tried Amazon's quite laughable "Unlimited" service for a month's trial which looked really promising at first, until I discovered the piddlingly small selection of titles on offer in that service, and the distinct lack of ANYTHING in DC's "Big Guns" (one or two really crappy Batman titles but largely a real bust if you want to get DC stuff through that service).

ComiXology is the other source of stuff, and this has actually been a bit better - though prices aren't the best. Just to add even more fragmentation, virtually all big players seem to insist on you using their closed-loop subscription services rather than there being something that offers a satisfying multi-publisher service (A real proper and true "Netflix for Comics" service, in essence - but hey, thank god for libraries who do still seem to stock a ton of brilliant comics and graphic novels in our area, hooray!)

Which brings me to my third rant. The price of comics (collected volumes and graphic novels in particular).

A while ago I picked up the first couple of volumes of "Squirrel Girl" - a series that both C and I have loved to bits. These were reasonably priced, and I thought we'd eventually collect the lot.

Then the problems started. Anything beyond Volume 1 and 2 is ridiculously priced so high that we'd end up having to budget fairly restrictively for them. Not only are they expensive, Marvel's paper quality is dire. Horrid flimsy shiny paper like old Izal toilet paper, with covers that don't look like they'll last being stuffed in your bag for a trip to work.

Back to digital again and things do get slightly better there, with the kindle prices of popular stuff not being quite as bad as print - but if you're like me, you still prefer a graphic novel in print form than digital "just because".

We really want to increase our support of the comics industry. There are a lot of amazing indies out there who are showing the larger publishers how it should be done (Image Comics, First Second, Avery Hill) and I hope that continues, because at the moment it feels a lot like the major players are making the same mistakes bigger publishers in the games industry made not so long back - and are paying for at the moment. Shilling your customers, nickel and diming them is cutting your nose off to spite your face. The real weird thing is that comic illustrators, writers, colourists, letterers are all as pissed off by this as we are. So where's the sense in that?

Rant ends.
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One of the most critically acclaimed books of 2017 comes to the Foundling Museum as a new exhibition. "The Lost Words" by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

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The relationship between language and the living world is celebrated
in a new exhibition of poetry and illustration at The Foundling Museum, London.

The Lost Words is a unique collaborative project between the award-winning author Robert Macfarlane, and acclaimed artist and author Jackie Morris, that seeks to reconnect people with the natural world. Originated by Compton Verney, the exhibition presents a new series of poems and accompanying illustrations that conjure the beauty of nature, for visitors young and old.

The Lost Words is a response to Macfarlane and Morris’s belief that nature
is in retreat from our children’s stories and imaginations.

Robert Macfarlane has created twenty acrostic poems or ‘spells’ focused on common nature words that are fading from use as the species themselves decline, while Jackie Morris, inspired by her lifelong passion for Britain’s landscapes and wildlife, has painted beautiful, iridescent watercolours that capture first the absence of the plant or creature within its habitat and then its return. 

Together these works take viewers on a journey in which the
familiar is magical once more.

The Lost Words exhibition will begin on the 19th January 2018 and will run until 6th May. You can find out more about this amazing exhibition on the Foundling Museum Website:
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Goodnight Little Bot by Karen Kaufman Orloff and Kim Smith (Sterling)

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We love books about robots, there aren't really enough of them out there so we're always delighted when we find a good one...
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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I Love You, Stick Insect by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Ah, the course of true love never runs smoothly.

At least for Stick Insects. My earliest memory of "School Pets" was a tank full of these weird blighters. For some reason, they were deemed the most interesting pets for a classroom of kids who (certainly in primary school for me at least) had no real experience of animals other than dogs and cats.

Our heroic lovelorn figure in "I Love You, Stick Insect" by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros has fallen head over heels in love.

That wouldn't be such a bad thing, love is a fine thing and worth fighting for after all. Only Stick Insect's perfect new partner, a stick.

No not a stick insect, a real honest-to-goodness stick.

The story hinges on the perfect awkwardness of seeing someone so blissfully happy in their ignorance that their friends don't know if it's the right thing to do - to break the spell, to tell the poor lovesick individual the truth. You know what it's like when you're the friend of someone who is so recklessly intent on their love that they do not see disaster ahead.

Needless to say, Stick Insect's story DOES actually have a happy ending (which we won't spoil for you). It looks like 2018 is kicking off with a truly original picture book that steps sideways away from the norm, offering up a beautiful story with heart. Oh, and sticks.

C's best bit: Stick insect's perfectly blissful ignorance.

Daddy's favourite bit: A hugely original idea this, though there is a lesson for us all here about unrequited love and the value of your friends giving you the odd wake up call from time to time. Nicely done Chris, nicely done!

"I Love You, Stick Insect" by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is out now, published by Bloomsbury (kindly supplied for review). 
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Firefly Home by Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup (Nosy Crow)

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Once again Jane and Britta are here to serve up another delicious little slice of interactive storytelling in "Firefly Home"...
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Big Book of How: 1001 facts kids want to know (Time Kids Big Books)

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I always loved books like this as a kid. With the huge upsurge in the quality of non-fiction books for kids, it's great to see that there's also a huge upsurge in interest in 'how things work' books...
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Neon Leon by Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup (Nosy Crow)

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Nosy Crow are kicking off 2018 in fine style with some glorious books for younger readers, including this eye-catching little chap...
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