Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Mr Men

C is currently very into the Mr Men and Little Miss series by Roger Hargreaves. We do not have the entire set, despite the fact that it is often available from The Book People for a knockdown price, for two reasons. Firstly the space - there are just so many of them, that even though they are small, they would still take up a disproportionate amount of shelf space. Secondly, although I LOVE some of them, I find the quality to be quite variable. I could read Little Miss Greedy every day - I think the picture of the pile of sixty-six sausages is one of my favourite images of all time, ever. I also love Mr Messy and the smartened up version of him with no mouth at the end. I could go on.

However, some of them are just not all that good. And for small children, they are extremely wordy. Some children, who like the sitting-on-knee-and-hearing-Mum's-voice aspect of stories will probably tolerate that perfectly well. However, A was always one for the action, and used to frantically try and turn the pages of the Mr Men books as I was still in the middle of the second paragraph of text. That used to annoy me, as I have OCD tendencies in many areas of life, and one of them is finishing books that I have started.

Anyhow, C is now at an age where he can read them himself, and something in them obviously appeals greatly to him. He always gets one from the school library, and has read all of our meagre selection several times. He chose for me to read Mr Mean tonight. Not one of my favourites, but we enjoyed it, in a slightly-too-many-words kind of a way. A can now tolerate sitting through the whole of a Mr Men book, but then she should be able to, since she is nearly 8 years old!

Dear Greenpeace by Simon James

Tonight we got in our pyjamas at half past six, because we were all tired, grouchy and bunged up. I decided we'd have a story chosen by each child as well as a chapter of Mr Gum, because I am giving and generous like that as a person and a mother. It had nothing to do with the fact that there is no way that they would actually go to sleep at that time, and I needed some time filled before I could justifiably sneak downstairs with my dressing gown on to drink tea and feel sorry for myself.

A chose Dear Greenpeace by Simon James. We haven't had this one for ages, and when she brought it in the room, I commented that I was sure it had been a present from her oldest friend. Sure enough there was an inscription at the front "To A on your 5th birthday" dated Feb 2009. I love it when people write an inscription in books, and A was really excited to know exactly how long she had had the book, and who had got it for her.

It's a lovely book, about a girl who finds a blue whale in her pond. The hardback version (which is the one we have) has Jolly Postman-esque letters from Emily to pull out of the envelopes and read. The kids took it in turns to get the letters out, and it really adds to the whole experience of reading this book. When I looked at the reviews for it on Amazon I noticed that a LOT of teachers had commented, saying that they use it as a springboard to looking at whales/nature/loneliness/letter-writing and all sorts of other things. The book is very easy to ask open-ended questions from: "Why do you think Emily can see the whale?" etc. However, it's also nice to read without asking questions, because there is an awful lot there in the book without producing further work based on it. The little sketches of family life in the pictures are brilliant - I love the one where Emily is writing to Greenpeace from the rug in her living room, a TV quiz on in the background.

I think now it has been rediscovered as bedtime reading, it will be chosen much more regularly. It's nice to be able to have that many books, that one can be forgotten about for a while and then read again, when the children are older and get more out of it than they might have done previously.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hubble, Bubble, Granny Trouble by Tracey Corderoy and Monstersaurus by Claire Freedman

We had a delivery from the Red House today. After all, it was a day with a "y" in it. I have been buying tons of books for Christmas, and was going to stash this order away too, but then I realised that actually if they get 40,000 books they are not really going to look at them very much! So I decided that this delivery could be opened today, given that we were having a lazy Sunday at home.

Two of the books were for me: Michael Morpurgo's Farm Boy and Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. We are reading War Horse at school, and Farm Boy is the sequel - so I am thinking about moving on to it after we have finished reading War Horse, since it seems to have captured their imaginations. David Walliams is a genius, imo, but the kids are both still a little young to really get his books, so I have bought Gangsta Granny to read myself until they are ready.

We read two of the others at bedtime. The first was Hubble, Bubble, Granny Trouble by Tracey Corderoy. I really liked this book, mainly because it felt really nice. I know that sounds somewhat bizarre, but the pages were really thick, and it smelt really book-ish. The pictures were gorgeous too, and the kids seemed quite amused by the story. The rhyming text made it easy for them to guess what was coming next. I am glad I didn't pay over ten pounds for it, but for the knock-down Red House price, it represents great value.

We were all really excited about Monstersaurus since it comes from the same stable as the Aliens and Dinosaurs love Underpants series, of which we are big fans. In some ways we were not disappointed. The illustrations were fantastic; the expressions on the faces of the characters were hilarious. The text was amusing, and, again, the rhyme scheme enabled the kids to guess what was coming. Both enjoyed the bit where monstersaurus threatened the others with a kiss. However, and it's a big however, it was a book which was very clearly set up for a sequel. The last two pages talk about Monty and Monstersaurus going off and having lots of fun adventures. C was really excited about what these adventures might be; and then the book ended! He was most put out when I said there would probably be another book, but I didn't know when. He felt quite cheated out of the story I think. I really don't mind books which are part of a series, but this felt like an incomplete book - not only to me, but more importantly to the five-year old who surely forms a part of their target audience! I will probably buy the sequel, because it did capture his imagination, but I will probably begrudge it a little. And hope that it's in The Red House, so that I don't have to pay too much for it!

What do you mean, Little House on the Prairie is boring?

"I don't think I really want another chapter of Little House on the Prairie, thanks Mummy. It's just that it's really boring." What? WHAT!? What have I bred that she could possibly think that Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic of bygone pioneer America is "really boring"!

I was about to launch into a rant about how back in my day there was no internet and we appreciated the finer things in life, like the aforementioned book, when two things crossed my mind. The Secret Garden and What Katie Did. Both books my Mum absolutely adored. Both books which I thought were, what modern children would call "well boring". I know my Mum was bitterly disappointed as I sighed and moaned my way through these classics. Classics I am sure they are, but my Mum learned a hard lesson through them - namely that your kids might not like the things that you think are amazing. They may have *gasp* tastes of their own! And, actually, that's OK. If your daughter does not appreciate the finer points of The Worst Witch, it may be inexplicable to you (how, HOW can she not love Mildred Hubble?), but it is OK, because she has loves of her own, worlds of her own to escape to, which are just as valid.

There was a supplement included in The Guardian a few weeks ago about reading with children. I was a bit cross that it seemed to be exclusively written by a woman in her 30s who probably was much like me, and used to fall down stairs and walk into lamp-posts because she had her nose in a book. That's OK - there's a place for that (well I like to think so, or this blog is somewhat redundant!) But it doesn't do much to inspire; to think about what our kids need or want to be reading. Jacqueline Wilson didn't exist when I was a child, but I know I would have loved her. Should I force A to plough the the complete works of Judy Blume, because she was my Jacqueline Wilson? Probably not. Should I offer her the opportunity to read them if she wishes? Of course! But let's not throw the baby of fantastic modern writing for kids away with the bathwater of nostalgia.

I might just try her with The Secret Garden and What Katy Did though - because perhaps A will see something in them that I did not and that her grandmother found all those years ago.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Going to Bed Book and Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton

Friday night is swimming lesson night for both kids. Because what I really feel like doing after a long day at work, is picking the kids up and then turning back, driving back to the school I work at, and sitting at the school's swimming pool for 1.5 hours watching first A, then C swim. Ah well, at least it's the weekend afterwards.

Anyway, tonight they ended up in bed even later than usual, and were both somewhat put out when the chapter of Mr Gum was relatively short, and so I offered the usual placater, Sandra Boynton's The Going to Bed Book and Moo, Baa, La, La, La.

I know both of these books off by heart now, and sometimes just saying the words is acceptable, but tonight I had to find the actual books, because they wanted to look at the pictures (which are gorgeous cartoon animals). The Going to Bed Book concerns the bedtime routine of the animals on Noah's ark (although no reference is actually made to Noah, or indeed to any human being). One thing I have never understood is that the animals exercise after having had their bath. This is probably because it fits better with the rhyme scheme, but I find it irritating that they sweat, when they have just got clean.

Moo, Baa, La, La, La is completely insane, which is why I love it. The final line "It's quiet now, what do you say", has, over the years, generated some interesting responses.

Boynton has written lots of other books, which I would imagine are also wonderful. They are board books, and suitable pretty much from babyhood, but they are still deeply loved in this household.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Letterland Bedtime Stories by Louis Fidge got a rare run-out yesterday evening. An old favourite, both kids were mildly amused by "Clever Cat's Cafe" and enjoyed pointing out the alliteration that is shame-facedly shoehorned into every story. Letterland Bedtime Stories was picked up from a charity shop circa 2007. It joined the key work in the oeuvre, Letterland ABC and the lesser known works Quarrelsome Queen's Quiz and Ten Cakes.

Letterland holds a very special place in my heart. It's a phonics system where each letter of the alphabet has a pictogram of a person or creature associated with the letter (E is Eddy elephant, R used to be Robber Red, but is now something more PC). When I was a very teeny child, growing up in a suburb of Southampton, which used to look brand-new and spangly, and now looks a teeny bit dog-eared (in an accurate reflection of my own looks), my school trialled the Letterland phonics system. There were posters (amazing), books (OK), worksheets (again, amazing, but then I was a kid who used to make my Mum set me extra homework) and some songs. The songs were immense. One day my brother came home from school, having learnt a new sound and a new song (I don't remember this bit but the tale has gone down in family legend). Apparently, when asked for a rendition of the new song, my brother lustily sang "Fireman Fred says f-in words, f-in words, f-in words" and was slightly crestfallen when my Mum's reaction was horror and then hilarity! I think they changed that particular song after the pilot.

Anyway, Letterland taught A her letters before she started school. C only learnt X and Z, both of which he became slightly obsessed with. (Two things the avid reader will have learnt from this blog so far: 1) I like buying high quality books at bargain prices from charity shops and 2) my son is particularly prone to becoming obsessed by items as wide ranging as a 17th century Catholic terrorist and the letter x). Both have really enjoyed the books though, so I haven't quite got round to giving them away yet, despite the fact that neither of them now need the Letterland folk to remind them that Fireman Fred says f'in words.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Smart Aunties, Caveman Dave and a book about pants

After 5 chapters of Mr Gum and the Power Crystals (they were all pretty short), I told C that he could choose a short story. He picked Smart Aunties which is from the Read Me Beginners series and is by Nick Sharratt. I bought this in a charity shop (shock, horror!) simply because I am strangely addicted to Mr Sharratt's drawing (a friend went to a workshop that he gave at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas recently, and I was insanely jealous). Both kids absolutely love this story, even though it is pretty darn boring to read! They also both outright refuse to read it to themselves, despite being perfectly capable of doing so. I think they do it to torment me.

Also in this series MIL has Caveman Dave, which she bought mainly because her husband is called Dave and we all like to have a laugh at the thought of him being the eponymous hero in the story. It's also a favourite, because A's name is in it, as the sister of our hero. Similarly fab pictures, and similarly mind-numbing text. But, again, that fact that I am not the target audience, is important for me to remember here.

The books about pants were not actually read this evening, but I was reminded of them by A's prayers this evening. Some evenings, A likes to look out of the window and say her prayers before stories. I don't normally listen but tonight happened to be in the room, when she opined "thank you also that I am now on the Anti Bullying committee at school. Although I don't know if that was down to you, or because I wore my lucky knickers". How I did laugh (although quietly, obviously, as she was being terribly pious and earnest). I frequently used to talk to God in the manner of Are you there God, it's me Margaret by one of my all-time faves Judy Blume. I would imagine that if He is listening, it's probably more fun to hear about lucky pants, than it is about my erstwhile teen whimperings about how everyone was so horrible and I'd never find a boyfriend, not even an ugly one, because I was so useless and my life was so terrible.

We did once have a book about a pair of lucky yellow socks, but I think it was a library one, and I can't remember what it's called. However, our favourite pants book (lucky or otherwise) has to be Pants by the lovely Mr Sharratt (again). We like the one of the boy running free with "no pants at all!" best.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Ronny Rock Starring in Monster Cake Meltdown and other picture books for older children that I have loved.

It was a particularly good library haul, that saw Blood and Roses, and Off by Heart, because it also included the utterly spectacular Ronny Rock Starring in Monster Cake Meltdown by Merryn Threadgould, which deserves to be a classic, but probably won't be, as it's just a teeny bit too bonkers. It is wonderfully illustrated by Bruce Ingman, who must have enjoyed drawing all the cakes.

It's about a boy (the Ronny Rock of the title) who is a baker's son. His Dad makes a variety of wild and wacky birthday cakes every Friday evening before heading for an evening out. On this one particular Friday, he misses one of the notes, and it is up to Ronny and his wonderfully depicted teen babysitter to make the monster cake (also of the title). I won't give away too much of the plot (like I usually do) but suffice to say I had to read the entire book in one sitting, even though it is pretty darn long!

It's not a book for small children. I keep meaning to take it in to read to some of the kids I teach, but A has taken to hoarding it in her pile of faves at the end of her bed, so I keep forgetting. I would say 7+ really. C did enjoy it, but he began to lose interest during the middle section.

It reminded me somewhat of The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman and David Roberts, which was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2o10. This is also a picture book for older kids, about a group of school children getting one over on their evil teacher.

Another book I have loved for older kids (at least 7+ on this one, I would say), which was shortlisted for the self-same prize this year, is Cloud Tea Monkeys by
Juan Wijngaard. It takes approx 40 minutes to read aloud but it kept a group of 12 year olds spellbound for all of that time, when I read it in the Spring. It's a touching story about tea-pickers, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. Completely different in style to the other two books mentioned here, but all three are excellent reminders that older kids (and parent readers!) like pictures too.

Blood and Roses and Off by Heart

I am, unhelpfully, going to blog tonight about two out of print books which I found in the local library. Thanks, however, to the wonders of the Inter-super-web they are available from various marvellous second-hand-book type peeps.

I bought Brian Moses's Blood and Roses ostebsibly for A, but really for me. It's a journey through British (mostly English, it has to be said) history in poetry. There are some absolutely brilliant poems in there, both traditional and contemporary. A great collection to dip into, to support history topics which might have captured a childs' interest.

On the same library visit where we found Blood and Roses we also took out Off by Heart by Daisy Goodwin, which is a BBC tie-in to a series about learning poetry a few years ago. This has also gone out of print. In a bid to save a few pennies, I bought Penguin's Poems by Heart but it was absolutely nowhere near as good, despite good Amazon reviews; so I ended up buying Off by Heart too. It is split into three sections of poems, starting with the easiest ones to memorise, and ending with the most challenging. It is well presented and makes the reader feel excited about learning the poems. I am so deeply tragic that I am marking off the dates that we learn each poem on the index page. This is, obviously, optional. I wish there was a little chart where you could do this though, in order to appease saddos such as myself. It reminds me a little of the classic Poem for the Day but is much more child-friendly. I loved that book whilst I was at university and can still remember most of No, I am not Afraid, by Irina Ratushinskaya, which I learnt on the number 6 bus from Oxford city centre, to my Nan's house in Wolvercote. I bet if I were to sit on the same bus again, I could probably remember it all. Poetry is a bit magical that way.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Manfred the Baddie by John Fardell

I LOVE Manfred the Baddie. The plot is very similar to several films of relatively recent years, such as Despicable Me and Megamind. Manfred is an extremely bad baddie. He kidnaps inventors to make inventions which allow him to raid shops, art galleries, and private yachts. Eventually, when he is ill and no-one wants him to get better, he repents and turns into Manfred the Goodie.

The illustrations are hugely detailed. The one of Manfred and the doctor, after he has seen the error of his ways, is one of my favourite illustrations in a children's book of all time. The subtle changes in the lighting make his previously austere room seem warm and enticing, and tells the reader all that needs to be told, simply through an image.

The text is witty and the vocabulary used is wide, but simple enough to understand because of the context, and because of the detailed illustrations.

I can see this one getting an airing for a few years yet. A good investment, in my opinion, especially given that I bought it for a pound in The Works.

You're Not So Scary Sid, Hello Dudley, Calm Down Boris and Wendy the Wide-Mouthed Frog by Sam Lloyd

As you will probably have worked out, if my kids like a book, I tend to buy the series. They know that Mummy is a soft touch when it comes to books, in a way that she is most definitely not with toys or sweets.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a profound psychological meaning behind this. My Mum died when I was expecting A, and she always used to say that she was not going to buy her grandchildren sweets, only books. I don't know whether I am playing out this role because she can't. Not that my mother-in-law isn't averse herself to a bit of children's-book-related retail therapy. But she is pretty into the sweets side of things too. I think the probable real reason is that I just really like books. And they are relatively cheap given the pleasure they bring.

I will definitely never win prizes for my mothering. It is usually average, and some days very poor. However, I can never be cross when I am reading a book. I like to think it gives them the message that however grumpy Mummy may be, we end the day on a good note - snuggled up with a good book or five.

Anyway, to the point. These books here are impossible to read grumpily. Tonight C requested Calm Down, Boris. This is probably my second favourite of the four Sam Lloyd titles we own.

Our first, purchased when A was around 2, was Hello Dudley. This is still my favourite. All of the books feature a hand puppet which comes through a hole in the centre of the book. Dudley is a purplish frog-like creature, Boris is a big fluffy orange monster, Sid is brown and sort of woolly, and Wendy is a frog, who is made of impossibly glam (for a kid's book) green spangles and has (unsurprisingly) a very wide mouth.

The reader of the book inserts their hand into the character and the story begins. The premise is slightly different for each book. Dudley is a bit cheeky, Sid pretends to be scary, but is not really, Boris is too tickly and kissy, and Wendy is prone to arrogance. All the books have opportunities to pretend to eat your kids' fingers and to render them weak with giggles. All books end with the monster happy, having seen the error of his/her ways. Only Dudley allows you to sing appallingly though, hence it is my fave. They are all very good, although imho Wendy is by far the weakest of the set.

The are not really the best books for bedtime, as they tend to whip small children into a frenzy of laughter and excitement. Which is probably why both kids are still wide awake, precisely an hour after their official bedtime.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Whatever by William Bee

Finally for this weekend, tonight in bed C requested to read Whatever by William Bee. I think that, as a child, this book would have terrified me, but my kids seem to love it! Perhaps because they know what wonderfully well-mannered children they are...

It's a cautionary tale, in the mould of Hillaire Belloc, but much more sparing with the words. Billy is a very spoilt child who is shown a series of wonderful things, such as the world's curliest trumpet, and the steamiest train. Billy's only response to all of these things is "whatever". In the end Billy's Dad shows him the world's hungriest tiger. After the tiger eats him, he shouts to his Dad that he is still there in the tiger. Dad's reponse as he walks away? "Whatever".

This book is wonderfully illustrated - they are bright and simple pictures, which remind me a little of the iconic Mr Benn.

On the Road with Mavis and Marge by Niamh Sharkey and Go, Bugs, Go! by Jessica Spanyol.

In our library books bag this week we have On the Road with Mavis and Marge by Niamh Sharkey, which is the tale of a cow and a chicken who decide to go on a road trip. They pick up several other animals to share their journey on the way, and end up on the moon. In the end they decide that their favourite place is home (rather predictably). The pictures are great, but it feels a little like the book is trying too hard to be quirky to me. C loves it though, and, after all, perhaps I am not the target audience!

The illustrations and some of the way that the text is written reminded me of Go, Bugs, Go! by Jessica Spanyol. This is an extremely quirky book, about some bugs with eccentric names, who love driving around in various different vehicles and having crashes. Nothing about that book is designed to appeal to an adult either, but I much prefer it, as it doesn't try to be anything it is not. It appears to have gone out of print, which is a shame, but I have managed to get several out of print books recently from Amazon, of which more later.

Avocado Baby and The Magic Bed by John Burningham

Avocado Baby by John Burningham is, apparently, A's favourite book. When she was in Year 2, they used to choose a book to read on the carpet every morning before registration. She picked Avocado Baby every morning. Her favourite page is the one where the baby throws the bullies in the lake. C loves the book too. It's such a touching story - about a family who are loving but not very strong. They are all worried about the baby, who will not eat, until an avocado mysteriously appears in the fruit bowl. The baby goes on to eat an avocado every day, and becomes stronger and stronger. I love the Hargraves family - they are so lifelike - slightly downtrodden but a very loving family. Both children know the book pretty much off by heart, but they still like having it read to them.

We also love The Magic Bed by the same author. This one is about a boy who goes off with a male relative named Frank to buy a bed. They choose one from a second-hand shop which the owner claims is magic. Georgie goes to bed early every night, and finally works out the magic word which means he can go on adventures in his magic bed. There is a bit of a crisis at the end, but this is resolves happily. A and I both dream about being able to travel to school still in our beds, so this book appeals to us!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

100 Great Stories from British History

C is slightly obsessed with Guy Fawkes at the moment, so for two nights in a row we have had Britannia: 100 Great Stories from British History by Geraldine McCaughrean. Ours is the old edition, without the Britannia, as I picked it up from a charity shop. The text hasn't changed though.

I would say this was aimed at a readership of around 9+. Some of the sentence structures are quite complicated, and there is a fair bit of blood and gore. I had to swiftly edit the end of the Guy Fawkes story for fear of terrifying both children out of their sleepiness! I find the text ever so slightly dry, but both children listened happily enough to the tale, and A is interested in using it to help her with her homework on Roman history. Definitely a useful one to have on the shelf.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Some poetry books

Both children, but especially A, have a real love for poetry books. Tonight we read two. First up was The Armadillo Under my Pillow by Chris White. The children found it hilarious, and it was a nice easy reader. I was unimpressed by some of the scansion, and modified as I was reading to make it (I felt) more rhythmically sound, but, in fairness, the children thought it was hilarious, especially the poem about looking in the supermarket for eggs with poo on (a poem with the words "poo" and "bum" in was pretty much their idea of heaven).

Next up was The Monsters' Guide to Choosing a Pet by Brian Patten and Roger McGough and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. I much preferred this one, and it did get some laughs from the kids, but they found the poem about the disappearing scarecrow just a little too sad for bedtime. It is a more grown-up friendly book, and, unsurprisingly for two such poetry heavyweights, the rhythms were delighful.

More on some of our other favourite poetry books once I have done this dastardly assignment!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do, The Gooey Chewy Rumble Plop book, and Double Act

The kids both slept all the way home on a three hour journey yesterday, and so were not particularly tired at bedtime, therefore there was quite a lot of bedtime reading.

I LOVE Usborne books. I think I probably love them slightly more than the kids do. I am hoping that by surrounding them with pretty much every book Usborne have ever produced, that they will one day share my love. C is more into books than A ever was, and he seems to have been bitten by the bug. He enjoyed reading the Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do book in bed last night. *Rubbish Mummy Alert* - I very rarely get around to actually making any of the things in these books. The kids live on in the vain hope that one day I might. And the pictures and explanations are great.

The Gooey, Chewy, Rumple, Plop Book by Steve Alton book is a teeny bit gross. It has a tongue on the front which actually feels like a tongue, and accumulates various random bits of fluff. It's about the digestive system, and is illustrated by Nick Sharratt, which is pretty much why I bought it. I love him. However, I don't really like reading this book. I find little flappy bits and random factoids a bit irritating to read. C can now read some of it to himself. I would say it's appropriate for reading alone from a reading age of around 8. Younger kids will enjoy looking at it with an adult (just not me, as I am not sufficiently motivated), and older kids might find it useful for homeworks about the digestive system.

A has discovered Jacqueline Wilson. I am happy about this, but will be carefully monitoring which JW books she looks at for now, as she is sensitive and not sufficiently worldly-wise for some of the books. I enjoyed Double Act when I read it, and she seems gripped. I love the way JW does not patronise children and writes about real issues to help them come to grips with social situations.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Mr Gum and the Goblins, George and the Dragon and The Afterdark Princess

This evening we read three books.

First, A (7) read to us from her new schoolbook The Afterdark Princess by Annie Dalton. Early days yet, but I did find the "Kit and her Dad said..." profoundly irritating. In the author's world people regularly say exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. I didn't buy it, and neither did she.

C (5) left his book bag in his drawer at school, and so he chose George and the Dragon by Christopher Wormell, to read to us this evening. We picked this up for 50p in a charity shop years ago and it has been a family favourite ever since. I absolutely love the beautifully observed pictures in it, and the children really enjoy studying them to pick out new details. The premise of the story is that George is a mouse who moves in next to a dragon who has been terrorising a nearby castle for many years. The dragon's big secret is that he is terrified of mice. When the mouse visits the dragon's cave to ask for a lump of sugar, the dragon is so terrified that he never bothers the inhabitants of the castle again. After treating George to a sumptuous feast, the royal family allow him to live in the hole in the castle wall forever. The dragon is seen clinging to a mountain top in the final picture. Both children still enjoy this book greatly, but it is also short and interesting enough to hold the attention of a much younger child.

Finally, we are onto the third installment of the absolutely outstanding Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton, entitled Mr Gum and the Goblins. I can't praise these books highly enough. I sometimes have to stop reading whilst I get my breath back from laughing. The first chapter of the third book ended on a cliffhanger which left both kids whinging that they wanted "just one more chapter Mummy, it really isn't that late!" Oh yes it is.

Today I embarked on Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Obviously starting an extremely long, extremely absorbing book when I have a 5,000 word essay to hand in on Thursday, which is currently less than a third completed, is a very sensible thing to do.