Sunday, 21 September 2014

Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis and Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

I love a good list of books to read.  At the back of Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild there are a selection of lists of books, divided by genre, which have been popular in her classroom.  I decided to work my way through some of the historical fiction, having not yet had the weak flame of hope that I might get A to actually read some fiction, extinguished from my heart.

I started with Bud, not Buddy. I'm not sure why, as it wasn't at the start of the list.  I might have been sub-consciously drawn to it given that, being an English person between the ages of 19 and 48, I had to read Nigel Hinton's Buddy at school. I was that one that you all hated, the one that actually quite liked it.

Anyway, Bud, not Buddy is actually quite like Buddy in many ways. It's a coming-of-age tale, and there's a lot about music.  It's set in the Great Depression, but that's very much a back-drop, and the story is of a boy's search for his father.  I enjoyed it greatly. Age 9+

It took me longer to get into Bamboo People, as it started off in a very stilted way, as if it really, really wanted to be a history textbook or essay, but had to be a novel instead, much against its will.  It took at least ten chapters to get going, and therefore there is absolutely no chance of A reading it - a book is lucky if it gets ten words before being shoved in the reject pile.  It's about Burma, and is, therefore, pretty grim in places - there being more child soldiers in Burma than anywhere else in the world.  However, it's a wonderful story of hope enduring in desperation.  Age 12+

"But why do you even like reading?"

Oh yes, the start of another school year. Out comes the "this is why reading is so important" speech.  It's always wonderfully well-received - never any eye-rolling, or groaning, or pretend fakey listening whilst actually thinking about Minecraft.

One of the girls this year ventured "I don't get why you would even like reading! Why do you like it?"  I think my response was along the lines of the point of the exercise not being about me and my reading but about her and her reading.  I was tempted to reply "but how can you not like it?", managing to hold it in, because I realise now, after a few decades on earth, that not everyone is exactly like me.

It did make me think though, about what the answer to that question actually is. I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. For me, it's like a safe place inside my head.  There are actual geographical places and times and memories that give me a feeling and safety, security, warmth and happiness.  Walking into the Manor Ground with my Dad and brother, smelling the liniment, and hearing the hum of the (modestly-sized) crowd; sitting in my Mum's old bedroom in my Nan's house doing my homework when I was in the Sixth Form, getting into bed early with a cuppa in my house once the children are all sleeping. I'm sure we all have these memories, these places we can go to.

When I'm reading, there's nothing else to worry about.  A book with a good story takes up all of the corners in my brain that are dedicated to worrying about my health, my family's health, whether I am a good enough wife, mother, daughter and friend, money, work, what time tomorrow I've got to be at the doctor/dentist/random after-school activity for child, whether the baby ought to be saying some words by now, whether the kids ought to spend less time watching Stampy Longnose videos, climate change, why some people do evil things.  Etc.

A good book is a nourishing break for my brain from ALLTHESTUFF. And once you've read the story and it was good, and you've connected with the characters and places, they never really leave you. 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Cleo and Caspar by Stella Blackstone

In Burton Library during the week, we released BabyM from his pushchair/prison so that he could have a look around. Well, I say have a look around, what I mean, of course is pick random bits of fluff/mud/ephemera up, and quickly stuff them into his mouth, then chew.  Also stare at people who looked like they were mildly uncomfortable around babies (why do babies always do this? Do they, like dogs, sense fear?)

I attempted to read the above book to BabyM, but he studiously ignored it, so, in essence, I was reading it to BestMate.  I don't think I've read aloud to BestMate since 1997, when she was treated to my earth-shatteringly poor representation of a French accent, grinding my way through the dreadful Elise ou La Vrai Vie by Claire Etcherelli. I still remember the name of the author, and that it was about a white woman dating a black man in 1960s France.  There was a "usine" involved too, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, I'm pleased to say Cleo and Caspar is a lot better than Elise Ou la Vrai Vie, albeit with a somewhat different target audience.  And in a different language.  It does deal with the theme of difference, and learning to get along in a changing world, however, as it's about a cat and a dog who are both pets in the same household. I was going to attempt a thematic discussion with BabyM, but he was too busy trying to pull bits of mud/goodnessknowswhattrynottothinkaboutit off the buggy wheels, and stuff them into his mouth.

I love Barefoot Books.  They prefer to sell through agents rather than via tax-dodging enterprises, and I've often been tempted to take up the baton.  However, my concern is mainly that I would buy all the books then keep them.  Also, goodness knows how much ephemera BabyM would successfully eat if I were otherwise engaged at toddler groups with the selling of fine literature for infants and children.  Perhaps one day, when he is keener on reading than on crawling off into the distance, spreading chaos as he goes.

Monday, 8 September 2014

My Big Book of the Five Senses by Patrick George

"That new book about the senses is a bit easy isn't it?" Well, yes, it's for your baby brother. "I read it though, it was great!"

It's true, it's very readable and funny.  Going through each of the five senses, the pictures are hilarious, often surprising, and very pleasing, in a retro, mutedly colourful kind of way. I have to hold it at arm's length to read it to BabyM at the moment, because he's a wrecking ball when it comes to books.  Actually, wrecking ball suggests a good hard bash, what he actually does is chomp large sections from the covers to eat, and rips the pages with his callous little fists.  However, frustrating as he finds it that I don't allow him to destroy this book, he does like it.  Great for toddlers and pre-schoolers, and the odd 10 year old sister...

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The reading reconnection

Oh my word, C is hard work at the moment.  Having never been in possession of an 8 year old boy before, I don't know if it's common to the species, but he appears to have morphed into a todder/teenager hybrid over the last few months, which has been a little challenging.  I, obviously, have handled this in a calm, soothing manner.  There have, of course, been no tantrums on my part.

Sometimes it can be hard to pull us both back from the bickering brink.  Luckily for C and I, there are always books.  I remember back when they were little, I would always feel so very grateful for story time, because even if we'd had a really long, hard day, stories were always happy, always snuggly, always positive.  Both older children still have a story, but often it's MrM who gets this privilege at the moment, as I put the baby to bed. I might have to wrestle it back once they've finished with Narnia

I have tried a new tack over the last couple of days with C - engage him in conversation about books whilst we're both happy. We've talked about old favourites, new obsessions (he's currently working through Harry Potter) and the book I'm currently reading for work (Donalynn Miller's Reading in the Wild. Funnily enough, as I was reading a section this evening, whilst feeding the baby, I happened upon a passage about reading forging and strengthening relationships.  This spoke so clearly to me tonight.  I think, during a testing time, it's so tempting to focus on what has gone wrong, without giving time to what goes right.  Reading gives both C and I a feeling of serenity, and a non-controversial subject to talk about when other topics seem contentious.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Creative Family Home by Ashlyn Gibson

I really want to hate this book.  It's full of smugger than smug families, with wonderfully romantic sounding jobs and huge loft apartments.  "It's just... gah!  I mean, all the names are so trying to be so horribly trendy!", I said to A as I was explaining why I kept tutting and sighing at the book.  I mean, one of them has the same name as my Nan, which all of my cousins and I spent much of the 80s and 90s laughing at secretly.  Karma struck when I turned to a page describing a family of four boys, two of whom had virtually the same names as my boys (different spellings, but essentially the same names). I had to admit that maybe the book was aimed at people like me. Except that, though I liked the party hats that the Dutch lady makes her kids wear for dinner every night ("to spread the celebratory joy of a party throughout the year" gushes the book), I wouldn't pay six quid each for them.  Also, can't you just imagine the kids rolling their eyes as they don the hats once again to tuck into their Wednesday night quinoa? It's all a tiny bit bleak and try-hard.

I think what annoyed me the most is that the message of the book is trying to be "everyone can be this trendy and creative!".  However, although lots of the homes are decorated with kids drawings and stuff picked up in a flea markets for a few centimes back in the 80s, these are "interspersed with design classics". For this, read "I've put a selection of enamel plates I bought in the charity shop on an achingly trendy sideboard which was custom-built for the space and cost me £15,000." I mean, anything would look good on that dresser.  And yes, you let your child paint onto a canvas and put it on the wall.  But you put it on the wall surrounded by bespoke oil paintings custom-made for your apartment by your friend who sells prints for 2 grand a pop.

This was followed close behind by phrases like "Jurgen's high-tops left artfully in the hallway provide a utilitarian reminder of the necessity of wearing shoes for a busy family".  No, Jurgen has left his shoes under a stool in the hallway.  That's not a design statement; that's shoe removal. This is the book for you if you have a spare £500 to spend on cushions that look like pebbles (why yes, I am bitter because I couldn't afford them), and you make lifestyle statements out of things like taking off your hat and hanging it up on a (£67, bespoke) peg.

That said, I did actually get a lot out of this book, other than feelings of rage, envy and a slight sense of hopelessness.  There are some really nice ideas that anyone can use and that make any space look instantly better.  For example our Shelf of Stuff I Don't Want to Get Rid of but Don't Know Quite What to Do With looks a million times better now that things are grouped according to colour and size, in easy-on-the-eye groups of three or five, and the clashing photo frames are arranged in a fetching group.  This has made me feel better about the distinct lack of pebble cushions for my trendily-named children to muck around with, "providing a whimsical note of the great outdoors in this loft-apartment in one of the trendiest districts of Barcelona".  Mine can play with actual pebbles in their garden. AND I don't make them wear party hats to eat their scrambled egg on toast.  Take that Jurgen and Marta.

isms... Understanding Modern Art by Sam Philips

"I bet it's because we've got a membership", is a familiar phrase from C when I cheerfully announce "We're off to [X] gallery in [Y] town (which is generally not really all that close to where we actually live) to see [Z] exhibition of the work of someone we've vaguely heard of, and who the kids might have studied at school.

Well, yes.  I do like to get my money's worth out of these things.  This is why we've explored every square inch of the Tower of London over the past 18 months, drinking it all in until BabyM is old enough to appreciate it, and then we'll probably get another membership.

I had membership to the Tate galleries for my birthday.  A is absolutely thrilled about this, being a bit of a proto-art critic.  She collects exhibitions in her memory, and, even if she doesn't particularly like the art, enjoys adding another exhibition to her list (I used to enjoy visiting football grounds in deeply unpromising parts of the UK, watching extremely average football for the same reason.)

Anyway, it turns out Liverpool is a bit too far from where we live for a day trip on my own with three children.  Lesson learned, next time we'll book a travel lodge.  We were also a tiny bit unconvinced by Mondrian.  "It's kind of like, meant to be the city, and one plane is horizontal and one vertical, so it's kind of showing how the city is a bit bleak", said A, trying to get her proto-philistine brother to show a little bit of appreciation.  "Yes", he replied "but he even used masking tape, which is really, properly cheating.  If he'd have done it without a ruler, I'd have liked it more. Now can we go and do the craft activity?" The craft activity turned out to be C's saving grace, as they had Sharpies in all sorts of different colours, which was worth the two hour journey each way alone. 

I found myself agreeing much more with C's assessment of Mondrian than with A's, which prompted my purchase of the above book in the gift shop. I love visiting the Tate galleries with the kids - the activities for the children are absolutely great.  For this one they made Mondrian pop-ups and acetates to put in their window.  Once at the Tate Modern I had to show them how to record their voices on an old cassette recorder ("Now hold and press play and record at the same time.  No, I don't know why, it's just how you do it.  No, I don't know why you don't just press record - technology was more complicated in the 80s").  They recorded a story which became part of a sound installation, and they were both so excited about it, they still talk about it fondly now. I also love looking at the exhibitions, although I often haven't got much of a clue what I'm looking at.  This book is great for putting many different modern art movements in context.  It will come in very handy for secondary school art homework, and it gives suggestions of where to find out / see more.  Highly recommended.