Category Archives: Alan Dapré’s Reviews

Children’s books reviews written by author Alan Dapré. Also includes the occasional film review and post about his own books.

Ten tired picture book plots

I’ve read hundreds of children’s picture books if not thousands and sometimes it’s hard to tell one from another. Especially when a particular story becomes a best seller and other publishers want to jump on the bandwagon. Trouble is, a bandwagon is usually long gone by the time someone wants to jump on it.

So – here are the most overused plots that I have come across (time and again). I’ll write them as they come to mind.

(1) Fluffy cute creature is afraid of the dark and has to overcome its fear. Helped by the Moon’s light/a cuddle, etc.

(2) Fluffy cute creature says to another fluffy cute creature ‘I’ll always love you’ and goes to great lengths to show it.

(3) Fluffy cute creature runs away and gets lost. Is helped home by other fluffy cute creatures but not before being chased by a not very fluffy cute creature.

(4) Magical change. A caterpillar turns into a butterfly, duckling into a swan, etc. Not very fluffy cute creature becomes a fluffy cute creature. Helps if the plot has a bit of overcoming adversity thrown in.

(5) Odd one out. The main character is a fish out of water but through some special ability that no one else has manages to win over everyone and emerge triumphant. Can link this to number (4)

(6) Child/cute fluffy creature goes off on a voyage of discovery but gets back home in time for tea, or was it just a dream?

(7) Grandma/Old fluffy creature makes a quilt and shares stories with a young child/fluffy creature who adds a piece to the quilt…

(8) The little fluffy cute creature that could … a story about try, try, trying again then trying some more until it becomes, well, really trying.

(9) Cute fluffy creature can’t sleep so tries all sorts of things and eventually falls asleep at daylight.

(10) Peek-a-Boo. Cute fluffy creature/Baby pops out after every page turn. Usually has a mirror on the last page. Boo!

I am sure there are other plots but these ones came to mind.

Do you have other well-worn favourites? By the way, very good books have been written using each of these plots. Owl Babies, Can’t you sleep little bear?, The Hungry Caterpillar. I’m not knocking them, I’m just on the lookout for some original new story lines …

 

‘My Granny is a PIRATE’ by Val McDermid – a review by Alan Dapré

Here’s a new book that has grown on me over the last few months.

‘My Granny is a PIRATE’ by Val McDermid.

My Granny Is A Pirate  by Val McDermid - review by Alan Dapre

My Granny Is A Pirate by Val McDermid - reviewed by Alan Dapre

Imagine your family has a secret that you’re not allowed to tell. Oops, it’s one you just have to share. Granny is a PIRATE! A real life pirate who captures ships but is always home for tea. She has a pirate dog called Jolly Roger and loves searching for treasure.

This is a pretty straight forward rhyming picture book for preschoolers. It is full of pirates and skeletons and corny jokes and punning wordplay. But – it is also written by one of the world’s premiere Crime writers – Val McDermid.

At the inaugural Stirling 2012 Crime Festival – Bloody Scotland – Val McDermid explained how she was approached to write the picture book. The story came fairly rapidly to her and was a welcome break from her usual dark output. That said, this book has plenty of skeletons in the closet (and the passageways) and boasts a rollicking fight near the end.

What I like about the book is its gleeful tinkering with pirate themes. It takes well worn ideas and twists them into something fresh.  Granny captures pirate ships and pirates and bosses everyone about with loads of buckle and swash. She is all action and it is great to see females given a plum role in a picture book.

The child narrator is shown at the start wearing a cap and jeans but – looking suitably tomboyish – could be equally a boy or girl. My four year old daughter loves pirates and thinks this book is all about her Granny. Maybe it is? The ink and watercolour illustrations – by Arthur Robins – are bursting with colour. They shimmer with fun and energy.

On the whole the words in this picture book roll off the tongue and carry the story through to a satisfying conclusion. I won’t tell you what happens to the skeletons but it’s no surprise that the dog gets fed in the end. That said, I found one of the rhymes jarring, e.g. when ‘thought’ is rhymed with ‘fought.’ But that’s a minor niggle.

Val McDermid is refreshingly honest that writing this was a detour from her day job. Here is a writer with sufficient confidence in her abilities to concoct a solid tale, and she knows exactly what tickles a youngster’s funny bone.

Will this book become a classic? No idea. I am just glad it was published while my daughter is going through a fanatical piratical phase. ‘My Granny is a PIRATE’ is a perfect bedtime read. Plenty of laughs and not too scary.

Yo ho ho.

 

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Why not take a peek at my sunny, funny Wee Bear picture ebooks … (available for KindleFires, Paperwhite, Kindle For Mac & Android).

Eggy Leggy - picture book by Alan Dapre

Eggy Leggy - picture book by Alan Dapre

 

‘Eggy Leggy’ –  available on kindle (UK link)

‘Eggy Leggy’ – available on kindle  (US link)

 

Kipper by Mick Inkpen – a review by Alan Dapré

Today I’m reviewing a much loved picture book – er, much loved by me and my little daughter. This time it is Kipper’s A to Z.

I could have chosen from any number of the Kipper books but this one is a future classic and perfect for sharing. Mick Inkpen illustrates as well as writes.

Imagine you are a cute brown and white dog with a fondness for old socks and caterpillars, plus the odd bone and zebra. Yours is a world of gentle humour, meandering adventures and loveable friends. In this book Kipper works his way through the alphabet meeting old friends and new surprises.

There are plenty of unexpected objects associated with the letters of the alphabet – though K is obviously for Kipper. Mick Inkpen ties the narrative to the objects and has plenty of fun on the way. The Zebra keeps popping in wanting to know when it will appear and Kipper keeps shushing it until the right cue.

X is a strange one though – named after the insect that Kipper finds earlier in the book. I don’t think this is a book that strives to teach children the letters of the alphabet – rather it seeks to entertain and hopefully give readers a sense that they are on a journey. Objects begin with letters and letters form an alphabet … very simple really.

I originally met up with Kipper books while teaching in a Primary School – Haddon Primary in Nottingham. A very good school with plenty of good books. My absolute favourite one features Kipper and Tiger in the snow, though I have a fondness for the one where Kipper and Tiger play with a rocket.

Anyone reading Kipper’s A to Z will recognise the gentle charm of the narrator. I now hear the voice of Martin Clunes who narrates the Kipper stories on DVD. It is a warm, cheerful, thoughtful voice which blends well with the slowly unfolding onscreen narratives.

Kipper’s A to Z has been out a decade or so now and still has a resonance today. It was crafted to stay well within Kipper’s world so there are no references to any objects that will date. Don’t expect to see X is for X Box.

Mick Inkpen is someone I’d love to meet – he must have a wealth of stories about his…er…stories. Plus he is the creator of another animal favourite – ‘Wibbly Pig’ who shares Kipper’s sense of adventure.

I am sure that Kipper will become a favourite for every new generation of readers. He is much loved in our household and makes us feel closer to our own real life adventurous dog, Skye.

 

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You might like to consider downloading a sample or two of my sunny, funny Wee Bear picture ebooks … (available for KindleFires, Paperwhite, Kindle For Mac & Android).

 

Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (UK link)

Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (US link)

‘Wiggle Jiggle’ –  available on kindle (UK link)

‘Wiggle Jiggle’ – available on kindle  (US link)

Eggy Leggy - picture book by Alan Dapre

Eggy Leggy - picture book by Alan Dapre

‘Eggy Leggy’ –  available on kindle (UK link)

‘Eggy Leggy’ – available on kindle  (US link)

 

Elmer: The Patchwork Elephant – reviewed by Alan Dapré

Okay – I’m reviewing much loved picture books – er, much loved by me that is. Being incredibly ancient I have read lots of children’s picture books over the years … and I’m writing about the ones that really impress me. Feel free to offer up your own views (and books).

So today I’m reviewing ‘Elmer’ – the patchwork elephant – written and illustrated by David McKee.

Elmer the patchwork elephant by David McKee

Elmer - book review by Alan Dapré

Imagine you are a patchwork coloured elephant surrounded by grey elephants. It’s a dull life for everyone and the only bright bits come from Elmer, who has a zest for life. But Elmer wonders what life is like for dull grey folk and disguises himself to match his friends. Now no one knows where Elmer is and everyone wonders where the fun has gone …

I won’t go on or I’ll spoil the gentle twist. This book is justifiably a classic because of its strong plot, simple narrative style and fabulous character creation. In only a few words David McKee conjures up the spirit of Elmer – ‘It was Elmer who kept the elephants happy. Sometimes he joked with the other elephants, sometimes they joked with him. But if there was even a little smile, it was usually Elmer who started it.’ (Text Copyright David McKee)

Adults who are reading with their children will guess the plot twists, though young readers will delight in them. The illustrations cleverly support the words and make everything easy to understand …

We are taken on a simple journey of pachydermic (self) discovery and are left with the conclusion that it’s best just to be yourself … appearances don’t matter, it’s all to do with how you act not what you look like. In a world that increasingly celebrates surface values it’s a relief to have a book that invites children to look a little deeper. Written in 1989 it still resonates today – perhaps even more so – and is a must-have story.

I once met David McKee when he came to Nottingham and I was a newly qualified teacher. Elmer had just come out and he was happily reading aloud and sketching his creation on big sheets of paper. This is the man who brought us ‘Mr Benn‘ in the early 1970’s – another favourite of mine. Like ‘Mr Benn’, David McKee excels in exploring magical worlds and characters. There is a gentle warmth throughout his work and an obvious love for his creations.

So if you want your child to think a little more about others and reflect on what makes us so similar then this is the perfect book. Best of all, there are at least ten in the Elmer Series. I have my favourites … and soon you will have too.

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You might like to consider downloading a sample or two of my sunny, funny Wee Bear picture ebooks … (available for KindleFires, Paperwhite, Kindle For Mac & Android).

Cuddle Muddle by Author Alan Dapré

Cuddle Muddle by Alan Dapré

Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (UK link)

Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (US link)

Wiggle Jiggle Picture ebook by Alan Dapre

Wiggle Jiggle - picture book by Alan Dapré

‘Wiggle Jiggle’ –  available on kindle (UK link)

‘Wiggle Jiggle’ – available on kindle  (US link)

‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?’ reviewed by Alan Dapré

As a professional author, occasional illustrator and former primary teacher (oh, and current At-Home-Dad) I have come across many children’s picture books. I thought I would blog about the ones I like the best, giving reasons why they are so brilliant. There is no definitive list – I will write about the ones that really strike a chord with me (and my wee girl).

First up is ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?’ written by Bill Martin Jr & illustrated by Eric Carle of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ fame.

 

Brown Bear Brown Bear - review by Alan Dapre

This book is one that I often read to my daughter and put aside only to find she would crawl over to her book box and pluck it out. Many a time she would plonk it in my lap, snuggle up and open the cover – all with a look of expectation and impatience.

The text has a gentle rhythm and satisfying flow as it repeats throughout the book. ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? I see a …. looking at me.’ The bear sees another animal that in turn sees another … until children come in sight. In one version a teacher features but our version just has the animals.

By 18 months – and just a few weeks after getting the book –  my daughter was ‘reading’ it herself, turning pages and saying the words aloud from memory. It was a joy to behold. She loves to commit texts to memory and say them aloud in the car, while drawing etc.

For me, the real delight is in the inspired illustrations. They are (I think) made by careful placing of coloured tissue paper. Sometimes the paper overlaps to create satisfying blocks of darker colour. The ripped edges add to the appeal.

At the front and back of the book Eric Carle added pages decorated with just strips of colour which meant my daughter could see all the colours that related to each animal featured in the book. Soon she was able to name each colour and use this skill in everyday life. Her collage work began in earnest – and she now enjoys creating pictures out of brightly coloured torn paper.

I rated this book so highly I gave a spare copy to the local doctor’s surgery so that other children could happily enjoy the captivating words and pictures.

What more can I say? If you like colourful, engaging children’s picture books that feature dynamic rhymes and lots of animals then this is the book for you & your child.

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Of course, you might also like to consider downloading a sample or two of my cute Wee Bear picture ebooks 🙂

Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (UK link)

Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (US link)

‘Wiggle Jiggle’ –  available on kindle (UK link)

‘Wiggle Jiggle’ – available on kindle  (US link)

Any room for Mr Bloom?

Yes – I think there is following our visit to Dean Castle Country Park in Ayrshire. A friend got us free tickets and we watched a half hour live show in a big marquee in the castle grounds. Mr Bloom was the star attraction and he didn’t disappoint, despite the fact the stage show revolved around his worm not being quite wriggly enough.

mr bloom BBC

Get Set Grow with Mr Bloom

Okay, it’s easy to snigger when discussing a man who fondles his aubergine in public, but Mr Bloom really is a class act. There is an undeniable warmth in his stage persona which is sometimes lacking on TV. After the performance, he waved at the youngsters and was very approachable.

Having been in the TV business for years, I am all too aware of how tedious and slow programme making can be. But this was an event which was stage based and created for the audience with due honesty and care. Okay, there were plenty of BBC crew gathering up kids and filming segments for next year’s out and about ‘Mr Bloom’s Nursery – Get Set Grow’ series but there was no sense of cynicism or manipulation. Everything and everyone was upfront.

There was a lot of jostling for camera time when Mr Bloom exhorted children and parents to do an ensemble wriggle on the grass. We all showed off our wormy squirms in the faint hope that we might be onscreen in next year’s series. Most people missed the arc of the camera but being a seasoned pro I anticipated the shot and got the Dapré family centre screen. Hah!  – though perhaps a lot of effort to end up on the cutting room floor.

With tents aplenty filled with art/gardening based activities, and lots of outdoor things to do (Bouncy castle, assault course, face painting), it was a great day out. Even better for being free.

We overheard one of the adult helpers comment as Mr Bloom walked past – ‘He’s no Mr Tumble.’ That’s true, but if it means we have a new kids’ TV star on the block then I am all for it. Change is as good as as rest and Justin could do with a rest. I might feel differently if I could get Justin Fletcher’s latest music CD out of the car CD player but thanks to an insistent 3 year old I can’t.

So if Mr Bloom plants himself in your area in the near future what should you do? Simples – go and join in the fun. We did.

 

 

 

From Pigs to Pirates – blog by Alan Dapré

Bye bye Peppa Pig. Hello Jake and The Neverland Pirates. There you have it – my daughter dropped a coin into a well near our house and made a wish. ‘I wish that I was Jake.’

If we had known of this fervent new found devotion to Disney’s animated hero we might have bought her that Jake costume from the Disney store last month. Even though it looked like overpriced tat. She had to make do with a second hand Snow White dress (not worn as yet though).

I really like the writing on Peppa Pig; it is witty, part-tailored for adults and well animated. The stories are rich and varied with a pleasing simplicity. The only thing I didn’t like was Peppa’s serial bossiness which verged on rudeness. Her merciless teasing of George did not show her in a good light but probably reflects sibling rivalry.

The trouble is that children do copy what they see and for ages my girl has refused to eat cucumber, lettuce and tomato thanks to an episode where George goes ‘bleurggh!’ to the said veg. Even though he eats them in the end that part has missed my daughter by. A full year later and she is now nibbling on pieces of lettuce … pieces only visible through an electron microscope … it’s a start though.

I shall miss Daddy Pig who is always being the fall guy and blamed for many mishaps. I shall not miss Mummy Pig’s ineffable smugness. In nearly all of the episodes she is always annoyingly right. Arrgh. I cheered when she finally got covered in a heap of fallen leaves. Daddy Pig snores, burps and scoffs his way through most stories which is probably a bit too close to home.

As for Jake, well he has that irritating brightness and shoutiness that you also get in Dora The Explorer. I like the energy and pace of these US shows but the fake joining in gets my goat. ‘Hooray we did it,’ shouts Fake, er Jake, when he pretends that my daughter has chosen the right path. He’ll look straight into the camera and say, ‘Which path do we take? A B or C ?’ and stand there for a bit and then say, ‘You did it. You chose C!’  – when in reality my daughter is off somewhere riding the dog and I am tidying up for the tenth time that morning. ‘No I didn’t,’ I growl at the TV. ‘I just picked up a soggy biscuit.’

Peppa Pig at least doesn’t pretend she has a relationship with the tv viewer. She simply gets on with her irritating bossiness and it’s up to us whether we want to watch. Unlike Mickey Mouse who hogs the screen like a tin pot dictator  – ruling all he sees with an unfailing smugness and ego. Mickey is never wrong, unlike poor Donald who has been the victim of Mickey’s cockiness for the past sixty years. Mickey has all the attributes of a sociopath, content to have Minnie, Daisy and Goofy running about at his beck and call. When he expresses sincerity it comes across as scripted and unfelt.

Hang on. These are just tv characters that exist in a 2D world for children to enjoy. They are not created wholly for adults, more for the child within. Thank goodness that children move onto other shows, leaving familiar characters behind. I am not sure I could last another second of Little Einsteins with their convoluted, unfunny, excruciatingly awful plots and tedious animation. There. I have said it. At last I can get the frustration out. There must be a solution to all this that will stop me getting so stressed.

The Off switch? Of course …

Now where did my daughter hide the remote? Under the sofa, by the bike or in the flower pot?

In the flower pot!

You did it!

 

HUGO – film review by Alan Dapre

I watched  Hugo yesterday – a 3D film from Martin Scorcese, director of The Color Of Money, Taxi Driver and The Gangs Of New York – plus many more. It was an odd, quirky tale of an odd, quirky boy in an odd, quirky world – beautifully realised by the set designers and prop makers. Hugo inhabits a no man’s land, or rather no boys land, inside a train station. He is perennially on the lookout for the Station Master played by Sacha Baron Cohen in one of his more understated comic roles.

Scorcese blends many narratives such as the boy without a father who seeks love once more, the broken old man who needs to rebuild his life, the derelict automaton that requires attention, the girl who seeks a soul mate and so on … the film is crammed with narratives which resonate off each other. Everyone needs a purpose and we’re all better off not being broken. There are lovely, poignant moments throughout.

Yet the film is not without artifice. The make up on some characters cries fake, some of the sets are overblown, the narrative is at times a trifle grand and creaky. All the time you are aware your eyes are partaking in a carefully crafted visual feast. It is truly a ‘look at me’ film.

But it doesn’t matter that some aspects are absurd because we are in a story that contains the soul of Georges Meliers – one of the pioneers of film making. He once sent a man to the moon, and explorers to the ocean depths, yet sat forgotten in a train station, embittered and broken.

Scorcese creates a redemptive film which enables everyone to come through, which could seem schmaltzy but actually is life affirming. He echoes and toys with the extravagant ideas and sets present in some of the original Georges Meliers films, bringing them to our current day attention. He blows the dust off the past and allows us to enjoy, through his recreations, the joyful essence of Meliers’ movies.

Scorcese, the director, was drawn to the fact that Meliers was indeed a forgotten man and was only brought from obscurity after many years. Meliers’ work was celebrated in 1931 and many of his films rediscovered, and Meliers ended his life comfortably off and secure in his reputation.

I was delighted to see Scorsese thread so many narratives together into a coherent whole. He has an obvious mastery of his subject and a deep knowledge of film making. He relives and rebuilds Meliers’ reputation, at the same time enhancing his own.

The film came out of a book – The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik. I was amazed at how much of the film was true. Meliers’ films were really melted down and turned into shoe heels, he actually was a toy seller in a train station, he did make 500 films, he was sold down the river by Pathé and became a broke – and broken man. And yes, his genius was eventually recognised before he died.

The lead actor was a lad called Asa Butterfield. Boy, can that boy act. Especially with his nostrils. He brought a calmness and wonder and gentle determination to the piece, anchoring and tempering Scorcese’s dynamic flamboyance and verve.

I did not see Hugo in 3D but who cares? The shots were so beautifully composed, and had such fluid motion, that they irresistibly drew me into the narrative. I think Hugo probably is a better film in good old 2D.

Worth a watch, worth a read.

 

Useful free websites for writers and authors – compiled by Alan Dapré

Need a website or a place to promote your work? I read a post recently where a writer was struggling to get a web presence, and had no money to pay for a website. What to do? There are some things that are easy to set up and cost nothing except time. I found these sites are useful but I am sure there are plenty more.

Jacketflap
– you can create a profile, add your own books with ISBNs, add a blog feed, join a community, etc. Be selective about friends or you will be inundated.

LinkedIn
– add your profile and writing history – then link up to like-minded individuals and groups. You can see who views your page. A downside is you can get unwanted hangers on who ask to link just to get their own profile up. I like to connect with those I share an interest, or have worked with at some time. Not easy to attract the attention of the real movers and shakers. Be polite. I think that’s essential to be nice to people as you go on the way up, as you may meet them on the way down!

WordPress.org/Wordpress.com
– great free sites to create your own blog, upload pics of your book, add feeds etc.

Alltop.com
– an inventive search directory which will check out your blog if you request that it goes in a particular category, and then list it if approved. My site is in the ‘Children’s Literature’ category.

Pinterest
– click on its home page for an invite. When accepted you pin ‘found images’ from the internet onto your own boards. These images are also placed on the main bulletin board so you get to see them displayed alongside other pinners.

Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
– obvious really but check out their Author Central section where you can add a profile and self-promote. The info will appear on your author page, e.g,

Alan Dapré’s Author Page On Amazon Uk

Goodreads
– allows authors to put up a profile, chat, list and promote work – even to sell their books. That said, I will not sell on there as I would be required to always keep a version there once a book has been bought. I want to reserve the right to pull any book at any time. Goodreads also don’t pay out until the royalties have built up. Check it out for yourself though.

Shelfari
– I have only just popped by this site. It displays my book without me putting it up there but I assume this is due to it being linked to Amazon.com. Discovered that if I clicked on my ebook ‘Cuddle Muddle’ that the first six pages can be read. Odd that, as it can’t be sample previewed by the ‘Look Inside’ software on the actual Amazon site.

OpenLibrary
– holds catalogue records from several different libraries around the world. You can add a book on the site.

Freebase
– database containing many subjects, but they do allow for an author listing and catalogue of books.

Facebook.com
– Facebook has swamped the internet and I have had my fill of it, but as a tool for self-promotion it is excellent. Set up a page and make it public. Simple, but I shy away from inviting all my friends – it comes across as very pushy and could get annoying. Why? FB do not make it easy to limit what everyone sees … and not everyone you know wants to know everything about you. Feel free to click LIKE on my page 🙂

LibraryThing
– is a kind of listing site for all your work. You can upload details for an Author Page and give info about your books.

Here are some more specialised sites for when you are published/broadcast in a so-called traditional manner.

Scottish Book Trust
– when you have been published by a traditional bricks and mortar publisher (i.e. not simply as an ebook) then the SBT may consider your application for inclusion on their site. They are rightfully picky about who and what they accept so it is best to plan ahead and choose what you submit quite carefully.

Books From Scotland
– I applied to be on their site as they will indicate to readers your location, and it was nice to be on the same page as Robert Burns! Obviously if you have no link to Scotland then see if there is a similar thing where you are.

IMDb
– The Internet Movie Database will include you if you have had something on TV or made a movie. It is not really a place to promote your work but there is a community to join. I have not updated my details as yet so what you see there is what others have put on. Didn’t cost me anything though and it is another useful bit of promotion.

Wikipedia
– it’s not a site that will just let you write your own biography  – best beware, as it will probably be removed. To appear they require a certain level of author prominence. The fact I worked in TV on some well known programmes has probably helped, and that I have 50 plus books to my name.

ReviewsHere’s one about Cuddle Muddle from Celina Grace.

Why not also write reviews and maybe people will start to notice your work and review your writing too.

Also join a bloggers Network. I have linked to Mumsnet who have promoted me alongside other children’s authors. They might feature you on their sidebar for a month and that creates many more hits from their blog readers.

Or join a writers’ network. I belong to the SAS – impressed? Actually it’s the Scattered Authors Society with members all across the UK. Once accepted (and you really need to have had a book published) they will list your website and you can join in with a fab message board group, full of supportive writers. The SAS includes well established authors as well as new ones.

There are loads of sites out there but I hope this gives you a flavour of the websites that writers can use for free to promote themselves and their work.

Good luck!

 

We love books

Well there you have it. My wife is an avid reader, I love books and it seems our daughter has reached the same conclusion.

First thing every morning she drags a book onto the bed or, more usually, an armful. Then a wee hand shakes Dad awake and she says – ‘Can you read with me. Can you read with me. Can you read with me?’ My pleadings along the lines of ‘Daddy’s tired’ or ‘Why not ask Mummy’ are brushed aside by my shrill three year old alarm clock.

I start off slowly, sleep in my eyes and glasses under the bed. But after a few pages I get up to the required speed. If not, a voice pipes up. ‘Too quiet!’ or  ‘You’re not reading it properly.’ When the last page is read I am wide awake.

So what do we read? For a while it has been ‘Angry Arthur’, the surreal sequel ‘Arthur’s Attic.’ Lots of Maisy Mouse books – but usually ‘Where is Maisy Going?’ – which tells the gripping tale of Maisy going to the Park, the Beach, the Football Pitch, the  …. well, everywhere except Mars. ‘Maisy Goes to Mars’ – now that would be a good read.

Downstairs, there is often a book in the front room – at the moment it’s ‘Cuddle Muddle’ on my iPad! We have downloaded a few ebooks from Amazon but I have not been impressed with the quality of some. Glossy images but poor storytelling. When/if I get some good ones I’ll list them here.

Reading goes out of the window when ‘Jake & The NeverLand Pirates’ is on the telly. Trusty old CBeebies has been unceremoniously relegated  – and Disney rules our house. A few weeks ago, when the fabled pink castle came up in the credits of The Aristocats (great film!)  I rashly promised that when she was eight we would go and see it for real.

Now  every time that capitalistic castle appears my daughter bellows ‘When I am eight I will see the real Mickey Mouse!’

Night time is when we all snuggle up with books – The wee one  has to have her bedtime story – currently she is into Oliver Jeffers and his beautiful, thoughtful, almost serene illustrations. My current favourite kids’  book is by Werner Holzwarth ‘The Story Of The Little Mole Who Knew It Was None Of His Business’ which tells the tale of a mole who receives a poo on his head and he studies the droppings of lots of animals until he finds the culprit and exacts his own tiny toilety revenge. All good fun.

Today my daughter came home with a bag of books from the Scottish Book Trust – including ones by Nick Sharratt and Julia Donaldson. I would have liked to see some in there from lesser known authors to give some fresh talent a hand. That said, the SBT work hard to encourage parent and child reading, which is commendable. The pack included advice booklets for families on how to share books and encourage reading. Apparently 3 in 10 children own no books. Probably because we’ve got them all!

 

 

 

‘Cuddle Muddle’ – nice review for my picture story book.

After months of illustrating and writing my ebook came out.  First on the iPad, then Kindle. After two rather steep learning curves  I am now cartwheeling down the other side  with relief.

The kindle has been around for a bit and it is e-ink so has not attracted many picture books. That will change now the Kindle Fire is out, and now that Kindles can be read using ‘Kindle For Mac/PC’ software. So to read a kindle book you don’t need a kindle – odd, but true.

So, having been published traditionally I wondered what response my self-published ebook would get. Here is a first review – and, no, I didn’t write it 🙂

This is an absolutely beautiful book for all little ones that love a big cuddle and big ones that like a wee cuddle!. The book is funny, gentle, heartwarming and the perfect size for a bedtime story. The illustrations are gorgeous – I love the little teddy bear and the firefly. As someone who needed glasses at a very young age, it is especially lovely to see them featured in the story. I look forward to more books from this author – Anna O

Great to get that reaction so soon. I can tell this self-publishing lark is a slow burn, and it helps to get advice.

So … I visited the Amazon discussion forums but was soon a bit dismayed. There are lots of hardworking authors on there, quite happy to help. But there are also posts by authors that simply plug a book and run off. The spammer comes in, drops their dross, and moves on. At least have a chat, eh?

The other thing I noticed is that an author may boast how they have ‘sold’ 20000 books using Kindle Select … astonishing until you realise that these have been unpaid ‘free’ promotional sales and the actual paid sales figure is more like half of two take away one.

It can be very tempting to spend lots of time on a forum but it doesn’t pay the rent. Nope, I have vowed to get cracking on the sequel to ‘Cuddle Muddle’ – but first I need to come up with a decent title. I have the plot, I have the technology and knowhow but I need that catchy title … So I’d better not get into a discussion online about it.

Better put the kettle on instead 😉

***

If you wish to have a peek at or download Cuddle Muddle, please click one of the links below
Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle now (UK link)
Cuddle Muddle‘ – interactive iPad version with movies  (UK Link)

Writer Alan Dapré reviews Google+

Over the past few months, I’ve fallen out of love with Social Networks. They have become simply a means to an end – for contacting distant friends and family. I have several gripes with social networking. The first is that site members often have different agendas so one person might be very political and brandish their beliefs, while another just wants to brandish some newly knitted gloves. Can lead to trouble. Secondly, Social Networks are increasingly linked to dubious marketing, data manipulation and generating wealth for the people really in charge (sadly not me or you).

So why try Google + ? Well, those nice people at Mumsnet have asked me to have a go. And I need to diminish the monopoly that Facebook has on my life. That said, Google can be frustrating too. While writing my first ibook – Cuddle Muddle – out June 2012, I googled “pandas” and was annoyingly limited to just a hundred or so images out of 16 million (Most available pics were stock images requiring payment for use).

***

I am hearing good things about Google+ such as the group video chat, so it’s time to get my profile up and running. Not a good start. I type ‘Google+’ into Google but can’t see it. So I type ‘Google plus’ and up comes a link to plus.google.com. I am surprised to see a page pop up with my name already there. This must be because I use gmail. I now click on a blue ‘Upgrade’ button, having unticked a box that offers me personalised ads. No. No. And no. It’s bad enough on Facebook where I frequently get ads targeting my male pattern baldness.

Note: Google+ won’t let me upgrade until I put in my full date of birth.

I am taken to Stage Two – ‘Add People’ – on a page where I have to invite people I know. I already see the name of someone who I don’t want to invite. Google+ seems to be raiding my contacts list from Gmail. I click on ten friends who may want to join then ‘Continue’. I am faced with icons of Groups, People and Pages such as … The Stig, Top Gear and Baftas – all things I have searched for previously on Google or posted about on YouTube, so perhaps that’s why they appear.

I click to Follow ‘Technology’ and add YouTube. I get a popup window explaining that I am adding people to a circle and they can add me if they like. Er. Am I being thick here? What people? I thought I was just adding some interesting iconic image thingies. Somewhat confused, I add ‘Entertainment’.

A cheeky pop up says ‘You might be lonely …’ and invites me to add more people to my Circles. Not now. My real-life daughter needs picking up from actual Nursery soon.

I go back to my profile page and decide to SNAP A PHOTO. I give Google+ permission to use my webcam then I take a dreadful pic where I impersonate a boiled egg with glasses. Time to cancel and snap again. This time everything crashes and I am told my webcam is not detected. After a few tries I give up and upload an old pic of me looking more human and less hard-boiled.

I am now at Stage Three of profile building – where I am encouraged to ‘Be Awesome’. I awesomely type in that I am a self-employed children’s writer and add where I awesomely live.

Now I click finish and get to see a short movie of Google+ features, such as ‘hang out with friends’, ‘see what the world is talking about’, and ‘tell my story’ on my profile page. All very Facebook but much glossier. I am tiring fast and decide to come back later to review my progress.

Later.
This is a bit like being at a surprise party where the surprise is I have no friends. I am able to see what is trending in ‘Technology’ and ‘Entertainment’ and get to read comments by Celebs I do know but don’t actually know. Keen for some action, I click to video chat with a friend but he is offline.

I have to say, the interface and look of Google+ is so much better than Facebook which comes across as dated and clunky. I sit wishing I had active friends on here. I understand the principle of Circles now, and have ones set up for Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Technology and Following … with the option to create more. Google+ is starting to make sense. I play one of its Games, after reading the privacy notes. By playing I am sharing my profile and name with the developer to (cough) help them design better social games. Some games allow me to partner up with another player and all those involved can see and interact with each other. This is fascinating but I am motivated to change my profile to tighten up who can see me.

Back on my profile I add a Tagline to encapsulate my awesomeness in one sentence, and an Introduction which does the same thing in a paragraph. I like the idea of adding Bragging Rights – mine is to say I’ve been to the Teletubby set and eaten plastic Tubby Toast …

I attempt a Hangout – which requires installation of GoogleVoice&Video. I click on the download and it installs, but should I be letting more Google onto my personal computer. After an easy install, I see my baldy head. Basically this is a glorified web chat with multiple users. Unfortunately my multiple users are all offline. Looks good though and I am keen to explore conferencing with up to 9 friends at the same time.

So what now? I go to ‘Explore’ and add image thingies of ‘Sports’ and ‘Politics’. It is good to know that I can get into a robust political debate with strangers without offending anyone online for a gentle chat about the price of Iced Gems. I read three posts shared by major UK politicians but they all come across as awkward propaganda statements … I sense they are not used to these online networking sites yet. Nor am I.

Google+ has potential to reboot Social Networking but it requires a move from the likes of Facebook. Not easy after several years of being locked in there – Facebook’s Timeline is a clever way of bringing past online experiences back to me. Do I want to lose that info or freeze it forever?

Btw, there is a Google+ mobile app that can be downloaded onto a phone – alas mine is as old as Bruce Forsyth’s jokes and tells me the app can’t be supported.

All in all, this Social Networking malarkey boils down to clever manipulation of you and me. A friend, who is a shrewd businessman, once told me to remember that profit is the bottom line of a business. My data is there to be used and sold, and in return I hope to get an engaging online experience. If I don’t want that I don’t have to get involved …

To click or not to click? That is the question.

I am a member of the Mumsnet Blogging Network, a group of parent bloggers picked by Mumsnet to review products, services, events and brands. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

Aye Write 2012 – Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre

I went along to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow last night to be entertained by Mark Billingham & Chris Brookmyre, whose event was advertised as one with strong language, very strong language and a funny story about a chicken. My wife had booked the tickets and I had not read the warning or poster blurb so I was expecting to get the usual read throughs and wry stories. Mark Billingham had appeared in Chipping Norton with Ian Rankin and was an able and witty conversationist and brought the best out of his colleague. We enjoyed that event a few years back.

But what of last night? The language was fruity enough for two audience members to soon leave, having inexplicably stayed for a ten minute intro where they were warned that swearing was the order of the day, er, night. I have a tendency to swear, usually when doing DIY, so I won’t be a hypocrite here. I decided to sit back and let the comic mayhem unfold. Mark is an experienced stand up comedian and this showed – his delivery was easy, warm and very funny. Chris seemed to be nervous initially but supported by his friend he came up with a host of great stories, delivered in a laconic yet pithy Scottish way. Never have I head the word ‘klunge’ delivered to such funny effect.

One section involved the authors reading out e-mails from disgruntled readers, sorry, stalkers. Some were strange and unsettling – particularly those from Chris’s mailbox. Mark had to fend off a barrage of criticism from ‘Fred’ – a member of a mysterious association who took no pleasure in ripping apart and recycling MB’s work. Why? Because of the swearing. Mark apparently should know better and really should not be subjecting his family to such foul language. A defence was ably mounted – chiefly that swearing is used for dramatic effect by certain authors and reflects real life. Also – it can be funny. Throughout the show, Chris and Mark fired off swear words in context, adding and punctuating their anecdotes. I laughed my head off at the reworked extracts from famous novels such as Jane Eyre. ‘Reader, I married the (add rudest word you know)’.

Personally, I felt it was all in good fun, and the audience seemed to agree. We were all far more well behaved than the two writers onstage, mainly because we had been given some brilliant stories about heckles and warned ours would need to be as funny. Mark described one heckle featuring Kirk Douglas’s son – it was hilarious – worth paying the £8 admission fee in itself, but not worth ruining here.

We left, learning nothing about the two authors’ new books, but we went and bought them anyway. Flogging books did not seem to have been the point. It was all about letting us laugh and think (and groan) – entertained by stories about nightmare Book festivals and chickens. I will never go into a bookshop toilet again without picturing a moist Gallus Gallus Domesticus.

Away from the stage, MB was charming as he signed his books. His main character – DI Tom Thorne – features in gritty stories which have a low key humour, which contrasts with MB’s vibrant, very funny onstage personality. Just shows that he has depth. If you don’t agree he won’t give a f%$$ – well, maybe 15.

Check MB & CB out. Brilliant writers, brilliant two man show. It wasn’t big but it was clever.