Sunday, 16 December 2012

Books for difficult customers

MrM has a friend who has asked about books for a seven year old boy, who speaks English as a second language. I've been musing over this for a few days.  I am the proud "owner" of a nearly seven-year old boy, who has discerning tastes.  If he decides he doesn't like something, it is dismissed summarily and without discussion.  Small boys are extremely discerning customers.

Here are the results of my musings:

Picture books should not be dismissed.  Lots of them appeal to an older audience.  The Pigeon books by Mo Willems are still loved by both of my children, as are the Scaredy Squirrel and Chester series by Melanie Watt.

I also find tailoring books to interests helpful.  Books about Star Wars and Lego always go down well here.  A particularly brilliant find was the Lego Ideas Book, which is currently on sale for a fraction of the RRP from the Book People.

Books for older children in a cartoony style might be a good plan, so that the pictures might help to cover any vocab gaps there might be for a child with English as a second language.  A loved the Henry's House series by the brilliant Philip Ardagh, and both children have loved the Sam's Science series by Kate Rowan.

Finally, although Beast Quest has fallen out of favour here, it might be a good one for parents to read aloud.  Lots of challenging vocab, and the added glamour of collector cards, which seem to answer some kind of primal need to collect in the psyche of the small boy.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A wonderful teaching moment.

I have lost track of the amount of times I've heard "I hate reading", or "oh no, it's reading!" or "this book is BORING!" or other variations of these phrases.  Today I've been reading The Hunger Games with Year 10.  We have been reading it since September, and today we reached the start of the games.  When the bell went, we had just reached the part where Katniss is looking through her backpack and thinking about making camp for the first night.  A cry went up of "Oh, you can't leave it there!  Keep reading!"  A wonderful experience.  OK, The Hunger Games might not be Shakespeare; but for reading to be seen as something that is actually desirable is a step in the right direction.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Christingle Cube by Craig Cameron

I have a strong feeling that this book will fall into the category of books I am never allowed to throw away.  That's fine, because I love it.  It's the story of how Christingle came to be celebrated, but in order to access the story, you have to manipulate the cube so that you get the bits of the story in the right order.  It's a book and a toy.  Very appealing to children, and has been loved now in this house for many years.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Christmas book box

Some things take much longer than you would ever anticipate.  Like "just trying on a few things in a couple of shops".  I always think that's the work of about half an hour, but it never quite works out that way.

I was planning on doing an advent book box this year, but didn't quite have 24 Christmassy type books.  Also, I like to have Christmas books around from late November onwards, so that they get the maximum amount of reading before taking the trip back up to the loft for another year.  I decided just to make it a Christmas book box.  It took a VERY long time to wrap an old Amazon box in festive paper.  Arranging the books inside it (the fun part) took less than a minute.  However, here's hoping the kids appreciate seeing the old favourites set out for them.  Even the Dorling Kindersley My First Christmas Picture Book, which I am categorically not allowed to throw away.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Despite the fact that (obviously) I never judge a book by its cover, I really like the cover of this book.  Also it won the Carnegie Medal in 2010, and so has a nice gold sticker on the front, declaring it.  This makes it seem like a nice bottle of gold-medal winning Merlot you might get on special in Tesco, that makes you feel all warm inside just looking at it, knowing it's going to be good.

It was good (the book that is, rather than the hypothetical Merlot, which I am sure would also have been lovely).  However, I was left a little bit unsatisfied (and here endeth the alcohol analogy, since this is a family blog). I felt like there were so, so many loose ends left untied.  It could have done with being about twice as long again.  Why did Bod's family know about the Jacks?  Who made the prophecy?  What exactly was the origin of Silas and Mrs Lupesco?  By what magic did Bod stop being able to see the graveyard folk?  I would really have liked to have known.

I also felt that the memory-wiping bit was very sad.  I liked that though, the fact that sometimes friendships or relationships just end, despite the fact that they have been very positive, real and enriching in the past.  This is a hard life lesson to learn, and it's good that it is explored in this book.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

I read this for the first time a week or so ago.  I'd like to say it was out of reverence to the time of year, but actually it was because most of my Year 8s are reading it in English, and were bringing their homework to their homework catch-up session.  It was quite challenging to help them answer questions like "how does the relationship between Molly and Tommo change during the course of the novel" when I hadn't actually read the book!

I was reminded of the book earlier today though when I sat during the Remembrance Day service, and then later at home as we sat in silence at 11am.  In fact it was all I could think about.  The evocation of the trench warfare in the novel is completely heart-breaking.  Iconic.  Like the famous scene from Blackadder, the beauty of it lies in the fact that we are made to care very deeply for the characters.  The novel has a time-split narrative, so we become intimately acquainted with the home life of the family away from the killing fields.

There is a twist in the tale, which makes it almost more heartbreaking than it appears to be.  Yes, it's fiction, but, as in War Horse, we know that there were incidents like this.  There were many Private Peacefuls.  I thought of them today, and felt guilty that they were made to suffer for us.  Private Peaceful helped me to be grateful in a very concrete sense.

I read a criticism of the novel which argues that the monologue depicting the past is overly descriptive and therefore unrealistic.  I think an internal stream-of-consciousness narrative depicting the same sequence of events would be extremely moving and challenging, but almost certainly not as likely to grab the attention of your average young person.   It serves a different purpose - as a fable from which we can learn about some of the many horrors of war, rather than an exercise in narrative and form.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Squink by John Caldwell

I think reading scheme books get a bit of a bad press really.  It can't be too easy to write a series of meaningful books along the narrow parameters of a reader who can only read about four words.  I have quite a soft spot for the Oxford Reading Tree, because I think the stories are as interesting as they can be, and I love the interesting touches like Nosy Neighbour, and the fabulous Gran.

C's reading book this week is The Squink by John Caldwell - which is in the Treetops series of the ORT.  This book has real artistic merit.  It's a really interesting story, and the plot stands up to scrutiny.  It helps that, by the time they get to Treetops, there is a wider range of vocab that the author is permitted to use, but the story really is quite charming.  It's about a stall at the school fair, and a much-desired knitted toy.  The description of the Reception classroom at the end is really quite charming.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Certainly not tired of London...

Although, quite possibly, our bank balance is.

We love London.  Whenever we go, each of us harbours little "If I lived in London" fantasies.  However, part of the issue is that whenever we go, we don't really do real life, as such.  We do going to as many museums and meeting up with as many wonderful friends as is humanly possible in the amount of time we have available.  Which is more of a holiday than actual life, if we're honest.  If we really lived in London, we'd have to do boring things like school, work, buying and eating actual food like vegetables from real shops, rather than eating tasty things with chips in lovely little restaurants.  In essence, it would be real life.  Real life, with better access to museums, shops and Costa coffee, but with a tiny, tiny, tiny flat in an "up and coming area" to replace our four-bedroom terrace in a not quite so built up area.  So we'll continue to enjoy our visits, and day-dream, and then come home to real life.  Which is not so bad really, even if you do have to travel on a bus for half an hour to get to the nearest Costa.  A bus, incidentally, which comes every half an hour, rather than every six seconds.  It took the kids a good few days not to panic when we "missed" a bus...

The other problem with London is, although the museums are often free, the stuff in the shops kind of isn't.  Which is fine; if you don't buy it.  I was doing very well on this score until we approached my nemesis - the bookshop at the Tate Modern.  If you've never been to the bookshop at the Tate Modern, and have a similar prediliction for book-buying as me, then I strongly suggest that you NEVER go there.  Unless you have a lot of spare time and disposable income.  Never before have I heard the kids say "Mummy, we've had enough of the shop now, can we go in the art gallery?"

I bought two books in the end.  What is Contemporary Art?A Children's Guide by Jacky Klein and Suzy Klein and From Mudhuts to Skyscrapers: Architecture for Children by Christine Paxmann.  I bought them, ostensibly for the children, but mainly for me, because I don't really understand contemporary art or artchitecture. I often buy the kids a book first, and then move on to one designed for the beginning adult, because kids books are often more fun and tend to have better pictures.  Once again, I bet my Dad is thrilled that he spent thousands on my education in a top academic institution.

Both look really good.  A and I have looked at the contemporary art one together, and were thrilled to see that the Lucio Fontana picture that we saw in the gallery, and had explained to us by a very engaging and interesting speaker, was in the actual book! I think it may have been a little over A's head though, since after the talk she said "I don't really get why he did it though Mummy.  He didn't really make a 3D "dreamscape", he just put a big rip in a canvas.  It's not 3D, it's just broken." We also saw Snail by Matisse which is in The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art which we currently have out of the library.  "Look, I've seen that; it's famous!" said C, who is, it is fair to say, as underwhelmed by modern art as he is by organised religion.  Having said that, having grumped his way around the Tate Modern (apart from the hands-on bits), and (accidentally) nearly punched a hole in a (probably) priceless Picasso, later on that evening he said "I really liked that painting that looked like it was made of pieces of black material.  It was so dark, it looked like evil."  He then went back to whinging about when could we go and get a burger with his uncles like I said he could, because he's hungry, he hasn't had anything to eat since lunch, you're-so-unfair-Mummy-no-I-am-NOT-TIRED.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Possibly the most disturbing book ever.

So as I was flicking through 1001 Children's Books to Read Before You Grow Up I noticed a Raymond Briggs I hadn't read before.  Since I love Raymond Briggs, I gave the review a *very* cursory look, and ordered it from Amazon.

Oh my good Lord.  I don't know whether my parents were aware of this book, and just did their upmost to make sure that it NEVER fell into my hands, or if they just hadn't heard of it, but I am SO glad I didn't read When the Wind Blows as a child.  I had an extremely nervous disposition at the best of times; I think this would have tipped me over the edge into severe mental fragility.

Where the Wind Blows is basically Ethel and Ernest, but instead of the slightly melancholy "we'll never have grandchildren" angst that runs through that, there's a massive great big nuclear explosion and the protaganists both die a hideous painful death from radiation sickness after having smelt all of their neighbours and assorted farm animals roasted by the blast.

It's like The Snowman with nuclear armageddon. That's why it's so disturbing, I think.  It's a pair of cosy slippers with razor blades hidden in the toes.  It's reading The Darling Buds of May except instead of sitting down to a lovely three-bird roast with seven types of potatoes, a good few cocktails and a bit of how's your father, they hack each other to death with machetes.  In summary it serves up a very hard-core message, partly because by producing such charming work before, Briggs has the power to shock us to the very core.

I found it disturbing now, so can only imagine its impact when the threat of nuclear war was perhaps more real and ever-present than it is now.  Still at least it would have given me variety in my main 1980s worry which was that I would drop dead of AIDS at any given moment, thanks to those terrifying adverts with the gravestones on.  Never mind that I was a small child and therefore was not really at a great deal of risk of dying of AIDS - the way the adverts made it look, one could just catch it and then the fate was inevitable, painful death.  When the Wind Blows probably would have put "an atom bomb going off and roasting Nanny and Grandad and all of us" right at the top of the To Worry About list. 

Needless to say, I have hidden this book from the kids...

Monday, 22 October 2012

Big Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

Small Change for Stuart was shortlisted for last years' Carnegie Prize. It was an extremely strong short list with some fantastic books on it, but I loved this one very much.  It had a certain charm and innocence which made it seem like a good old-fashioned yarn of a book.  It was also wonderfully written.

I was most excited, then, to find Big Change for Stuart in the library.  I would say you definitely need to have read the first one to appreciate the second.  In my view, it's not quite as good, but was certainly worth a read.  There is some extremely difficult language in it, so is probably a good one to read aloud for kids of any age who are willing to sit and listen to books with no pictures in (it really is that innocent and charming).

Like Small Change this book is absolutely beautifully written.  I happened to pick up another book that I'd got out of the library for A to have a brief look at, and it was like looking at a grade E original writing coursework assignment from back in the day, having previously marked an A*.  Fantastic writing, brilliant plot, likeable characters.  I really hope there will be more in the series, although am not really sure where the story would go from here.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, illus Quentin Blake

One of the best nights out of my life came about because of a facebook karaoke session to "Any Dream Will Do".  The original status "I closed my eyes..." went on for quite some time, and by the end of the discussion it had been decided that we all needed to sing it together for real.  Busy calendar synchronisation, hotel and plane bookings later, it was all set.  We didn't just sing Joseph, it has to be said, but we made sure it was on the set list.

I knew, then, that I needed this book when I happened upon it in the latest catalogue from my very close friends The Book People.  Not only does it have ALL OF THE LYRICS from the songs from the show, it has wonderful Quentin Blake illustrations alongside them.

C thought it was brilliant.  I was quite glad when he went to bed, so that I could sit and look through it.  Well, I say look, but actually what happened was I sang it, in its entirety, using the sofa and various other household items as my percussion.  It was almost like being in the West End, as you can imagine.

Well worth the three pounds and ninety-nine pence of your money, whether or not you actually have children.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katharine Paterson

I bought this at a used book sale, having seen it in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. I bought this book long after I had actually grown up, but I love it anyway, and it's a useful reading list.

Anyway, I read it this week, mainly whilst "watching" C's swimming lesson at the leisure centre.  As I paused once again to wipe the tears which were running down my face, I wondered once again, why are books for older children and teenagers often so ridiculously sad?

It's a brilliant book.  Really wonderful to be transported back in time - it's very late '70s and very American, and reminded me a lot of Judy Blume, but the story is a very good one, and the characters are brilliantly drawn.  Judy Blume meets Steinbeck.

Heartily recommended for 10+

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A bonanza week for reading

The word Bonanaza has just made me smile, in a nostalgic, '70s retro kind of way.  Telly was simpler in the 70s.  Not many channels, set times for kids TV - "The Waltons" always on for a major chunk of Sunday morning.  Happy days.

I digress. It's been a good week for reading.  I finally got round to reading David Walliams' Gangsta Granny. I think it's my favourite of his so far, which is saying something, as I hold him in very high esteem as a children's writer.  It's original, clever, funny, touching and thought-provoking.  The ending made me sob, and it delivers a strong moral message but not in a "now children, here is what you must do..." kind of way.  Fabulous for age 9+, but you might want to read it first a) because it's brilliant b) to judge whether your child might get upset.

We also received Just Imagine by Nick Sharratt this week - the follow-up to an all-time fave in this house, You Choose.  Both kids loved it, and I enjoyed sharing it with them - I think we've had a good hour so far snuggled up with this, definitely worth a look from toddlers up.

I also ordered and read the World Book Day short story by Chris Priestley - Teacher's Tales of Terror.  I was absolutely petrified when I had finished - it was very Edgar Allen Poe=esque.  Like all of the Tales of Terror series, it fits very well together, and feels completed and sewn up at the end, albeit rather terrifying.  I'll certainly be sharing it with my classes in the run up to Halloween. Secondary school age and up I would say, but again with the disclaimer of me being the World's Biggest Wuss.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A ramble about bravery

So, currently I am subsisting on a reading diet of War Horse and The Hunger Games. As literature for young people goes, it's fairly relentless in terms of engagement with the darker side of things which happen to humans.  Being blown up, shot, starved, mistreated.  Political bigwigs being prepared to let children and young people die for what the government believe in (in both books).  I mean it's great, and it's powerful, but a little bit harrowing.

We got to talking in Year 10 about the concept of bravery.  One of the class said that he wasn't sure whether the kids in The Hunger Games are brave or not because they didn't have any choice in the matter.  It's not to say that they don't show courage and bravery - but when life hands you something over which you have no choice, bravery can be quite a flimsy concept.

This resonated very strongly with me.  When Mum died and people described me as "brave", it made me quite upset.  I didn't want to be brave - it seemed like a pretty crap consolation prize for not having her.  I'd rather have been a total and complete yellow-bellied wuss and still have a Mum.  I felt as though bravery was being foisted upon me.  Sometimes "you're brave" can feel a bit like shorthand for "I'm really glad this isn't happening to me."  I think there's definitely a place for that in books - in fact that's part of what books are for, in my opinion - to try out different potential scenarios; think how it might feel, experience some of the emotions at a safe distance.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Mr Men Treasury by Roger Hargreaves

I don't even remember now where we acquired this book.  I would strongly predict that it came from The Book People sometime in the mid Noughties.  However, it has acquired the status as one of those objects that ground someone in their environment.

I am sure we all have these objects. One of mine is the bright yellow tupperware colander that used to belong to my Mum.  The sight of it just makes me feel like I am at home.  A similar sense of solid home comes from the wooden fruit bowl we have in our downstairs living room, which also used to belong to Mum and Dad.  Wherever I have lived, this fruit bowl has been.  It is unassuming and non-flashy, but always there, being itself, whatever crisis is playing out around it, holding apples of various different hues over the years.  (Golden and then red delicious when my brother and I were little, random little furry apples back when we used to get a fruit box from Riverford and, for the past few years bag after bag after bag of Gala apples, which are the pinnacle of apple taste according to my children.)

Books, obviously, also feature highly on this objects that reflect all things Home.  My copy of the omnibus edition of The Darling Buds of May has to be near my bed.  Ditto my late 80s versions of Malory Towers.  For A, her book is The Mr Men Treasury. When we lived in our old house, this book lived in a pile of books by her "bed".  I say "bed", because A was never wholly convinced by her own bed, and so her bed became a mattress on the floor at the foot of ours.  It was a very good job our bedroom in that house was so large, because, having bought it as a boutique little DINKY (double-income-no-kids-yet) pad, by the time we moved out there were four of us, with the two little ones much more keen on Mummy and Daddy's room than their own!  So, by the mattress there was a pile of a few books, of which this was the definite favourite.

When we moved house we ensured that The Mr Men book was in the box with the kettle, the nappies, and other essentials.  Again, this was also a Very Good Job, since some of the boxes remained in their packed state for a good few months after we moved.  This was pretty much the only book A wanted for about six months after moving in.  I think it was her little piece of home in a strange new enviroment.  She even moved into her own bedroom.  However, all this meant was that MrM ended up sleeping on a mattress on her floor next to her mattress for about a year, as she had been so used to sleeping Victorian Glasgow slum stylie, that being alone just didn't cut it.

We both pretty much learnt this book off by heart (it's quite a long book).  I think A could recite large amounts of it too.  Her favourite was the one where Mr Silly paints a house green.  I favoured the one where Mr Greedy starts a suitcase-shutting business.  There's something here for everyone.  Either way, one thing is guaranteed. Wherever A lays her Mr Men Treasury; that's her home,

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

"Mummy, can I tell you a story?"

I was lucky enough to be one of those mums that didn't struggle with the bonding process.  I loved both of mine utterly and completely from the very first minute they were born.  However, I was not particularly a natural with very young children, and often found the whole thing a bit tiring and repetitive.  There were some absolutely wonderful moments, and I adored having children, but I sometimes dreaded long hours to fill with nothing but discussions about pooing in the potty and what Peppa Pig was doing.

What a refreshing change it is from the not-so distant past that I now actively enjoy spending time with and conversing with my children.  A is now one of my favourite companions for a cup of tea and a cake.  She's a hoot!  C, being younger, and a boy, is still a little bit prone to monologues about Nano Micro Chargers which go on for what seems like several decades, but it's nothing compared to the constant whinging monologue of yore.  I think the nadir of early conversations with the kids was when A asked me, at the age of two "What is everyone's name?"  She went on to explain that she meant everyone in the entire world.  I remember just looking at her, unsure of really where to start.

One of my favourite things to hear now from her is "Mummy, can I tell you a story?"  Invariably, this is a story she has heard in assembly.  She tells them with a perfect teacher inflection.  In fact, her re-tellings are so perfectly crafted that I can usually tell, just from her delivery, whether or not the story was originally told by the head or the deputy.  I think she must actually be the only child since me who actively enjoys the stories in assemblies.  Perhaps she too is born to be a teacher.  Time will tell.

Today's story was about God creating the seasons.  It was very nicely crafted, and ended with the little beetles curling up under the russet coloured Autumn leaves.  There was a great deal of gusto in the telling.  I hope she knows how much I love hearing her tell these tales.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

My Name is Mina by David Almond

I was looking forward to reading this, since I am a big fan of Skellig by the same author, of which this is a prequel.  However, I am finding it extremely hard going, and have only managed to read about half of the book, despite it not being particularly long.

I should have known it was not necessarily going to be to my taste when one of the comments on the back described Almond as "the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of children's literature".  I really want to like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I just don't really get it.  It all seems a little bit try-hard.

Which, brings me neatly to My Name is Mina. Mina is an extremely interesting character, and brings a lightness and different perspective to the narrative in Skellig. However, it is the narrative that makes Skellig so wonderful, and this is what Mina lacks.  It's more of a stream of consciousness affair than a story.  I cannot think that it would hugely appeal to children, indeed A described it as "really boring" after a few pages.

There are some lovely moments in it, particularly the part where Mina has a conversation about sitting in the tree with an elderly lady, but it lacks "grip".  It is far, far too easy to put down.

Monday, 24 September 2012

"There was a boy whose name was Jim"

"His friends were very fond of him..."

I had a lovely experience today with a girl in my Year 8 class.  She had done all her work and had chosen a book to read from the shelf.  I was on the other side of the room when I heard "There was a boy whose name was Jim".  I supplied the rest of the line.  We then took it in turns to read the whole poem, with her supplying dramatic emphasis, and me reading the bits where the archaic language got a bit confuddling.  She then said "Miss, listen to me read some more!"  What a wonderful thing to hear.

The version of Jim by Mini Grey is an absolutely fantastic book to read, whatever age you are.  If I was the Queen of the World and had a magic wand, one of the many, many things I would do would be to stop people from seeing books as being for specific ages.  I enjoy reading Jim; an 8 year old might enjoy it, and I certainly saw a 12 year old enjoy it today.  The irony is, it's not even easy to read!  Hilaire Belloc did write for children, but the writing is not simple.  It's simply more fun to read if you're used to seeing books as inaccessible, and suddenly you are confronted with something that, although it might be hard, has pictures of delicious ham, pop ups and a fold-out section of a boy being eaten by a lion... 

It's SO much easier to enjoy reading when you have an enjoyable book in your hands. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Daisy and the Trouble with Giants by Kes Grey

I remember A loving this series a few years ago, and I have managed to persuade C to read one too.  He prefers it when I read it, but is willing to give it a go.

The series takes the character of Daisy from one of our all time faves Eat Your Peas and extends her story into several chapter books, mainly relating to the trouble that she gets into with her best friend Gabby.

It is pretty funny, and I am enjoying reading it (something I missed out with with A, as she was a bit keener to read longer books to herself).  The pictures are fab and the writing is big and clear which makes it nice and easy to read for those just beginning to tackle longer books.

The only downside is that C has decided that "Fee, fi, fo, fum: [insert name here] has a stinky bum" is the best insult ever, and has been sharing this nugget of comedy gold with all those who will listen at regular intervals all day. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake

Since the night Beast Quest has no longer been on the cards, I have been scouring the shelves for some of my old faves to read to C.  He has, apparently, never heard of Mister Magnolia. A knew it by heart as a toddler, but C was more interested in taking CDs off a shelf, putting Thomas the Tank Engine magnetic engines in a row along the carpet, and putting filthy fingerprints on all of the glass in the house at that age.

We got our copy of Mister Magnolia from the very, very wonderful Booktrust.  Back in the days before the credit cruch, all babies, toddlers, 3 year olds and Reception age children were given books appropriate to their age.  The chosen books were, without exception, wonderful. Mister Magnolia was in A's toddler bag, and she loved it from the off.

He has only one boot.  That's pretty much the key thing about the eponymous hero.  He also has a magnificent dinosaur, two lovely flute-playing sisters, a chute, and lots of other things that rhyme with boot.  He is also completely bonkers.  By the end of the book he has two boots.  "That's great." said C. "They don't even match.  He doesn't care!"  C giggled lots.  And the sound of him properly giggling is like a sudden sunbeam breaking through.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad? by Julie Middleton

I bought this because of the title, without a shadow of a doubt.  I thought it sounded really funny, as did C, who declared "we'll have this book second, because it's going to be better than Superworm".  We both decided at the end that it, erm, wasn't. 

It's not bad.  The drawings are fab, and I love the fiendish look on the dinosaurs' faces.  However, the storyline is potentially a bit scary for v small kids with too-big imaginations.  Also, my major, although admittedly ridiculous, objection is that the very small boy is called Dave.  That is simply not a very small boy's name.  It's an at least 27 year old man's name, and probably Daves were on the decline even then.    David, yes.  Dave, no.  And that just made it feel like it was trying too hard.

Superworm by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

"A, come and listen to this book!  It's really boring for about the first twelve pages, but then gets really exciting and funny!"  Try reading Howard's End if you want a book that remains resolutely boring until something actually happens.  Anyway, this was C's assessment of the latest offering by the extremely successful pairing.

Personally, I loved it.  It's the best thing they've done in years.  The story is easy to follow, but interesting, and there is a fabulous villainous lizard, who is a stock panto baddie in the classic mould.

The best thing about it is the expression on Superworm's face when he is being hypnotised.  Even thinking about it now makes me giggle.  Superworm is wonderfully drawn, and a great example of how a few lines of drawing can make magic.  Highly recommended, and currently available in The Red House and The Book People for half the RRP.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett

C has, apparently "gone off" Beast Quest.  I am more upset about this than I thought I would be.  It's not only because I have series 7 and 8 squirreled away that I bought when they were cheap in The Book People a while ago.  I've got quite fond of Tom and Elenna, and kind of want to know how they manage.  So much so that I might have to redirect from here to Wikipedia and look it up.  I've invested a lot of reading hours in them, and I'm not sure whether I want to give them up that easily.

Anyway, we were required to find a different story for C this evening. I snuck The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett in the library bag at the weekend, knowing that it would have been deemed babyish if either child had caught sight of it.   However, predictably, they both loved it this evening.  There are lots of flaps, little bits to read on the side, and clever touches.  It looks like a calendar, even to the point of having a hole on the bottom of each double page.  The illustrations are charming, and there are some bits of humour designed to appeal to the adult reading it (a bit like when they started putting adult jokes in kid's films sometime in the late 1990s (or did I just start noticing them then?  Hmmm).

Anyway, it's basically a book about sex and maths, for the pre-school market.  It's all about the Finobacci sequence.  I am not sure either child got the mathematical reference in any way, shape, or form.  They also, thankfully, didn't notice the reference to a brother and a sister rabbit having babies together.  I'm not sure I'm up for that discussion on a Sunday night! 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Things I didn't notice about the Famous Five when I was a child.

This is potentially the first in a series, given we are currently on Book 1, and there are 20 still to go!

1) Dick is aptly named.  In fact, by rights Julian should have been called Dick, and Dick could have been called Slightly-less-of-a-dick.  How did I not notice how patronising and vile they are to their sister.  I would absolutely love it if in one of the books Anne gave them a sucker punch, followed by chinese burns, followed by a wedgie, and then ran away.  However, I am fairly sure I would have remembered that if she had.

2) Timmy the dog is called "Timothy" all the way through Book 1.  I am sure he's just Timmy later on.  Or am I imagining this?

3) George's gender ishoooos.  I remember not really being in the least bit interested that George is constantly battling some kind of inner gender crisis, that makes her extremely upset when she does something which she perceives to be "for girls", eg giving Anne a hug.  Also she makes the fisher boy call her "Master George".  A and C were very interested as to why this was.  We talked about how when the books were written there were very strong traditions as to which activities were deemed to be for boys, and which were OK for girls.  I don't remember having any interest in this myself, apart from thinking "but George is a girl's name!" at the beginning, as I had an Auntie Georgina who was always, always known as George.  In fact, I think I thought that was her given name.  And she was quite obviously a girl, as she was a Mummy who had babies!

Ah well.  From what I recall, once the mysteries get going, they are what make the books worth reading.  Because at the moment, I am finding it hard going.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl

Or Rood/Rool Dial as he will now always be to me.

A tried to read this a while ago and declared it "boring".  I said "I remember hating it too", but after visiting the museum this week, I realised I could remember what happened in it at all.  I searched out my old copy and re-read it in the evening after we got back from the museum.

Hmmmm.  There's a little bit of Dr Who in one of the wacky episodes about it.  It's about the Space Hotel launched by the USA and how the Vernicious Knids get into it in an attempt to use it to invade the earth.  Mr Wonka saves the day, and all is well.  There was meant to be a third in the series where the gang visit the White House, but Dahl never wrote it.

I didn't hate it as much as I remember hating it as a child.  But I think that's because I read it straight after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which is pretty close to writing-for-children perfection.  The Great Glass Elevator is very far from that, but as a stand-alone, it's not really all that awful.  Not a sequel to be read straight after the original though, I think.

The Famous Five

My Dad, bless him, has kept the precious collection of Famous Five books that my brother and I read, re-read and re-read again several times, and so this week I have started reading them to A.  I think I was probably around seven when I read them for the first time, and I absolutely loved them.  I always used to wonder how they managed to find such a ludicrous level of mystery and adventure wherever they went.  Looking back, they were probably not actually written to mirror reality in any way whatsoever, but I remember always being slightly disappointed when the biggest excitement on our holidays was watching all the dads perform a dance routine to Star Trekkin' by The Firm.  No smuggling, buried treasure, spy rings, and a distinct lack of potted meat and ginger beer.  I think I probably would have hated potted meat (I am not even sure I know what it is - some kind of weird pate stuff?), but that's not the point.

A seems quite keen so far.  She is a little non-plussed about how the children interact with each other.  I was really quite thrilled that she noticed the casual misogynism with which Julian and Dick speak to the girls "Why do the boys think they're so important?"  I have decided to replace the word queer with "odd", as I don't really think it's a word I want her bandying about to mean unusual.  It's quite hard to do though, because the word comes up an awful lot. 

A is also amused that the children are allowed to go off all day and do whatever they want, with no parental input whatsoever.  I look forward to seeing her enjoy how the mysteries unfold, because at the moment they are still pretty much just remarking on how queer it is that George wants to be called a boy's name, and arguing with each other.

Just Henry by Michelle Magorian

I am always a little bit reluctant to read books by Michelle Magorian.  I love Goodnight Mister Tom so much, that no books really at all, let alone others by Magorian, really ever measure up.  I tried to love Back Home, but I didn't really. A Little Love Song was a bit odd and scary. 

It took years before I got back on the proverbial horse, and I was in my early 20s before I read Cuckoo in the Nest, but I loved it.  The theatre theme made it a little different, and it had a little more of the masterful characterisation that made Mister Tom so wonderful.

Just Henry came out in 2008, and I read it this week.  It turns out I loved it.  However, Magorian has a very set rhythm to her books, and I found I was flinching half way through, as I knew something dreadful was going to happen to break the fragile equilibrium. 

It always works like this:

  • WW2 or post WW2 family with ishooooos.
  • New characters emerge and ishoooos start to be dealt with.
  • Some kind of resolution reached, although generally not to the satisfaction of all characters.
  • Some kind of hideous disaster strikes (eg kidnapped by nasty family, sent to hideous boarding school, sent away from loved one)
  • Final, satisfactory resolution is reached.
I really cared about the characters here, and rushed the last third, wanting to reach that happy time at the end of the book where all is resolved.  There were some very obvious morals to this tale, and I felt that it got a little preachy at times "BE NICE TO PEOPLE EVEN IF THEIR MUM AND DAD ARE ||NOT MARRIED."  However, I am no longer the target audience, and it's important that today's generation are aware that there was a time when being illegitimate had serious consequences for your future prospects and your ability to make and retain friends.

A good read for age 10+.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

"But I hate Rool Dial" was the cry this morning from C, who tends to decide that he hates every author that his sister loves, seemingly on principle. "But what about The Enormous Crocodile that [lovely Stepmum] read to you last night?"  "Yes, I liked that."  "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?" "Yes." "The Twits?"  "Oh yes, I really loved that, it was really funny." Hmmm.

It turns out that he didn't hate either Rool Dial, or the Rood Dial museum.  Admittedly, probably his favourite part was the Twits Cafe, which had brilliantly-named and yummy tasting cakes.  The museum is small, but very interesting.  It did strike me that there were a lot of very, very young children there today, who probably didn't really get an awful lot out of it.  Definitely more interesting for A, who has read the majority of Dahl's children's books, than C who has had a few read to him, but is really too young to fully appreciate Dahl at his best.

My favourite part was looking around his writing shed, and trying out a replica of the chair.  "Writing shed" has now been added to the list of requirements for my mythical dream home.  I think that would be the difference between writing dross, and writing a hilarious and ground-breaking new children's novel.  Watch this space.

Monday, 13 August 2012


It's been a big few days for blubbing.  I don't have a proper cry all that often, and when I do it is very rarely in front of others.  I always feel better for a good sob though, and am "lucky" in that if I want to cry, I can easily bring it on by reading. 

The blub-fest today was helped on by the fact that I had very little sleep last night.  I have enjoyed the Olympics immensely, and felt that I just had to watch the Closing Ceremony in its entirety, despite the fact that it clearly wasn't as good as the Opening Ceremony, or the games themselves.

I had cried my way through the end of Hitler's Canary in the morning, but you'd have to have the heart of a statue not to cry at that.  I cried during the closing ceremony when Gary Barlow sang about stars lighting up the sky, following the death of his baby girl just last week.  Just when I had re-composed myself after that, they did a montage including Gemma Gibbons mouthing "I love you Mum" up to the heavens after going through to the final in Judo.  Gets me every time.

This morning, I was more shouty than sad, which is my general disposition these days after going to be after midnight. I never was a particular party animal even in my youth, and have found my stamina for late nights has diminished as my responsibilites have grown.  However, there were several reading-related blubbing flashpoints today.

1) Reading The Story of Wenlock and Mandeville by Barry Timms and Michael Morpurgo to C.  We have bought a fair amount of Olympic paraphenalia today (of which more later) for a significantly reduced price, including this much-longed for by C book.  I remember rolling my eyes when my colleague bought it and said it was quite moving.  It is a really lovely story and I would urge anyone with mascot-loving offspring to indulge in a copy.

2) The Olympics poem by Carol Ann Duffy.  I love a bit of Carol Ann Duffy.  I even love her after teaching her poetry to dis-engaged seventeen year olds for several years.  Her poems told from the point of view of various fictional wives of historical characters really awakened a sense of the unfairness of the way history is narrated by men and for men.  Also they are very witty poems.  Her Olympics poem is moving and heart-warming, and I am already planning how to pitch it to the teens who happen to find themselves in my classroom come September.

3) I didn't actually blub at this, but felt almost moved to.  In June, I bought C the London 2012 Destination Junior board game from the fabulous Happy Puzzle Company, for £23.99.  £23.99!  Today, in Home Bargains, I was rubbing my hands with glee at getting a cuddly Mandeville for each child to take to the Paralympics for 59 of your English pence, when I just happened to glance down at the bottom shelf, where they had Destination Junior for £3.99.  Now, don't get me wrong, we've enjoyed playing the game.  But we've only played it about four times since June, having been away on our hols and all.  So that's £5 per game.  £20 I will never see again.  £20 that will haunt me, whenever I see something that I really want, but cannot justify spending £20 on.  Still, at least it will take the place of the £25.60 which has haunted me since 2001, when I left a £6 train ticket in Mr M's room in his student house and had to buy a full price one at the station.  That £25.60 could have bought a LOT of stuff.  Especially the 60p.  You could have a cuddly Wenlock from Home Bargains for that.  Or three Team GB shower caps.

4) The magazine of the British Heart Foundation.  Specifically this story:  As I was reading it C said, "Mummy, you look really sad reading that magazine, there are tears and everything - stop reading it!"  I explained what the story was about and why it was so, so sad, and a bit happy at the same time.  He thought that people who received donated organs were somehow re-born as newborn baby, which would be pretty cool, if a little bit difficult for their families, practically speaking.  After I explained further he said "What a lovely thing for that nice lady to do".  Such a beautiful, smiling face looking up from the page. Such a heartfelt story.  These things never fail to get the tears moving. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig

Having gone through a phase of reading only tween gothic fiction, I have now moved on to tear-jerking WW2 novels.  This has been somewhat accidental - my purchase of Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig came about as a direct result of the BOGOF in Oxfam the other day.  I had vaguely heard someone recommending it once, and so decided that, since it was free, and Sandi Toksvig always makes me laugh on the radio, it was worth a shot.

What a brilliant book.  Before this year, I had absolutely no idea of the role of Lithuania or Denmark in the Second World War, despite having studied this period of history a lot at school.  Hitler's Canary is the story of Bamse, the ten-year old son of an actor and cartoonist; a happy middle-class family in Copenhagen.  It tells the story of how ordinary Danish families helped over 7,000 Jews to escape the concentration camps to find freedom in Sweden.  It also makes the crucial point that some Germans did extremely good things, and some Danes did extremely cruel things.  It is the story of human nature, good and bad, and the difference that a few good people can make.  Brilliant for age 9/10+.

Lots of books make me cry, but there were LOTS of tears at the end of this one.  This book educates the reader, but through a story, not in a history-shoehorned-into-novel kind of way.  It's all about the characters.  But then, isn't life all about the characters?

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Derbyshire Walks with Children by William D Parke

I decided since it appeared to be summer this week that we should go out in the fresh air and experience nature.  This did not go down too well with the younger contingent.

I bought Derbyshire Walks with Children by William D Parke ages ago in a National Trust bookshop, and dragged it out from its resting place this morning to have a flick through.  We decided on the walk nearest to us.  Unfortunately, it was also the longest in the book, at 4 miles.  This, I discovered, was a tiny little bit ambitious for a first proper walk, even for a child whose Mum is a little bit allergic to driving.  C was distinctly lagging by the end, despite having scoffed an ice-cream from a convenient van mid-way through the walk.

MrM and I laughed a little at the "interesting facts" in the book, which are punctuated by a little smiley face.  However, in fairness to the facts, in context the kids were actually interested in them, and they were keen to find the next number, so that they could hear the fact.  So take that Mr and Mrs M, clearly William D Parke is more interesting than you gave him credit for!

The walk was great, and was fairly clear as to where we had to go.  I am fairly confident that I could take the kids for one without MrM, who is a much more competent navigator than me.  Highly recommened for those living in or around the Peaks.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The most-argued over book.

It's been a big day for books.  We've just come back from a holiday in Wales, where, wonderfully, we didn't have to pack all of our things into a teeny bag each.  An entire case of books came with us - a few recipe books because I had time to cook, some books with family friendly walks, and a LOT of kids books.  A is now on to no.9 in the Series of Unfortunate Events.  C and I are now on book 23 of the seemingly never-ending Beast Quest series.  So, having come back from a holiday where we read our way through a case of books, new reading material was required.

We headed to the library which I normally frequent with my best friend in our regular Wednesday meet-ups (not that we are in any way set in our ways).  Normally this means I choose the books from this library.  Today the kids had their say.  I tend to let them go a bit mad in the library, given that the books are free, but forgot that today we had come on the bus, rather than in the car.  My back suffered for it.

So, we have a bulging bag chock full of wonderful library books.  Having missed the bus, we nipped into the nearest shop to wait, which happened to be Oxfam.  BOGOF on kid's books.  Somehow we come out with My Big Book of Practical Jokes.  A book so awful, it doesn't even have an author.  Cue half an hour of arguing over who gets to read it first "But you've got SO many other books!  This one doesn't even have an author!"  Both kids united in slamming Mummy for saying something so completely ridiculous.  Is it September yet ;-)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Gibblewort the Goblin by Victor Kelleher

My mother-in-law happened upon Gibblewort in one of those fab cut-price book shops where they have random books for £2 that would have cost around £40 from an, understandably now defunct, Mini IQ party.  Both kids have had many books that they loved from that shop, and a fair few of their friends have received books from there as birthday presents.

Gibblewort the Goblin is published by Random House Australia, and is often quite Australian in its dialect.  It follows the adventures of Gibblewort, an Irish goblin, who has various adventures, and is randomly insulted by many strangers, from what I have seen.

They are, without doubt, the longest books C has ever read on his own, which gives him a sense of satisfaction.  Some of the language is challenging, but the print is very large, and there are plenty of pictures to break up the text. Most importantly, C finds it hilarious and reads it willingly.  A great choice for a child beginning to read alone.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Right Instrument for Your Child by Douglas Boyd and Atarah Ben-Tovim

Lest you think that I've gone all Aquila magazine on you, you should be aware that C is currently in bed reading The Book of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley, after I foolishly said "pick something from that shelf to read in bed if you're bored of all your books" - forgetting that "that shelf" was not exclusively filled with children's books.  We have agreed to him reading it, since he is not the kind of child to be upset by bunny deaths.  In fact, he seems to be finding it all pretty hilarious.  A is reading Great Lies to tell Small Kids by the same author, which is cheering her up after a rather fraught couple of days.  I would heartily recommend both books for anyone wanting a laugh, but I am unconvinced that they constitute perfect bedtime reading for the average primary school-aged child.  I am hoping A doesn't go to school tomorrow and inform her friends that "dead people are just being lazy " or that "it is bad luck not to name every ant that you see ... for your whole life".

Anyway, on to the book in question. A currently plays the piano (which she loves and regularly plays for fun as well as practice sessions) and the clarinet (which is much less loved).   I am looking to buy a new flute so that I can re-learn how to play, and so I was vaguely searching the superweb for the experiences of other adults in returning to music lessons.  Someone mentioned The Right Instrument for Your Child on a forum, and it sounded really interesting, so I downloaded it through the powers of said superweb to my kindle and read it yesterday evening (it is not a heavy tome).  It was very interesting, and certainly provided food for thought, but I was unconvinced by its basic premise.  Mainly, that an adult knows exactly what the personality of their child is like.  According to the method set out in the book for instrument choice, the clarinet should be absolutely perfect for A.  Apparently gregarious children are not natural piano players.  It would be hard to meet a more gregarious child than A, and yet she adores her piano, and seems to value the time spent at it. I think it's dangerous to assume that you can easily tell how introverted or extroverted your child really is, since you are not the one spending time in their head.

Anyway, it was quite an interesting read, and I now understand why I was terrible at the piano and violin (apparently you need good mental arithmetic skills) and a natural at the flute (must be a little dreamy and unhinged).  According to the system in the book a cornet would be a natural choice for C.  But of course, he wants to play the guitar, which requires "excellent manual dexterity".  Ah well.  There's always an exception to every rule...

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

I was remarking today about how I have spent a fair bit of time defending Jacqueline Wilson in the past year or so.  I completely share the concerns of some that some of the issues she writes about are a little edgy, and I am not always thrilled about the uncomfortable questions that some of the books inspire A to ask.  However, last year, A didn't read for pleasure at all.  Now, thanks to JW opening up the possibility that books can actually be interesting, she reads quite a lot.  This has had a marked impact on her reading skills, ability to read around subjects and general level of interest in the world around her.

However, I have been looking around for something else for A to read, so that she is not subjected to relentless troubled family situations and friendship dilemmas.  And I stumbled upon A Series of Unfortunate Events. This was a bit of a shot out of left-field, as I was not sure if A would find them a bit scary.  However, she loves them, and is currently reading Book the Third.  There are thirteen in total, which should keep her going whilst I try to rustle up another entertaining set of books which aren't written by Ms Wilson. 

Ironically, Lemony Snicket (as he is known) tells the tale of the most troubled family you could possibly imagine.  The Baudelaire children are desperately unfortunate (hence the name), and have an evil uncle who seeks to kill them in all sorts of horrible ways.  However, they are clearly fantasy, and make a refreshing change from the pre-teen kitchen-sink drama which was A's sole reading diet for a fair while.  JW, much as I love her, reminds me very much of Mike Leigh for kids, only with less films, and slightly more misery.  Lemony Snicket is more of the old school.  Also there is plenty of ridiculously challenging vocabulary in there, for the educator in me.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I accidentally referred to this as "that brilliant Carnegie short-listed book Fifty Shades of Grey" earlier today.  I was answered by an absolutely appalled look, that the Carnegie shortlist should have sank so low as to include a clumsily written deeply misogynist soft-porn abomination.  It doesn't, of course.  However, the names are confusingly similar.

Admittedly, Between Shades of Gray is less famous than its similarly named counterpart.  But unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, it is subtle, heart-breaking, and the characters are painfully realistically created, and the reader can't help but care very deeply about their precarious fate.

I was discussing this book with a fellow bibliophile earlier, and we both agreed that this book taught us something about a place and time in history about which we knew little.  I should have known rather a lot about it, since I studied Stalin's Russia in A-Level History, and the book follows the fortunes of some Lithuanian inmates in one of the dictator's infamous Gulags.  However, A-Level History was dry, dull and monotonous.  Lists of statistics about the imprisoned and dead are never as moving as personal tales.  This book gave a harrowing glimpse at a part of our shared world history which shames us all. The character of Kreschev is particularly interesting, as he makes us question our own position - what would we have done in his circumstances?  Is there any real way in which we can judge the perceived crimes of ordinary people in times of war?

This book ends with hope, but is deeply upsetting in parts.  Although it is not particularly difficult to read, I would not recommend it for very young readers.  However, for secondary school age children who have read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and would like to read more, this would be an excellent next step.  A great read for adults too, and unlike Fifty Shades you can read it on public transport without embarrassment.

The Official Countdown to the London 2012 Games by Simon Hart

Olympic fever is still raging strongly here.  I have jumped merrily on the bandwagon by scouring the libraries and cut-price book shops for reading material.  I bought two copies of the above named tome, so that they can answer the quiz questions in their own book.  This was a little indulgent, but they were in The Book People, so only cost as much as one would have done in the shop.  And less than a third of the price of a cuddly Wenlock (we won't go there)...

C can be a little old before his time.  He looked up from his book the other day, pencil poised to match the weights to the boxing category and said "I use this book mainly for fun, but there's also plenty of information!"  I looked at his little earnest face and just had to give him a great big squeeze.  Which moved his pencil, resulting in a delay in answering crucial questions about various Olympic events.  But sometimes a Mummy just has to hug.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Story of the Olympics by Richard Brassey

It turns out that today the kids have been learning about what I've been teaching all day at school - the Olympic values.  We had a very long chat about them all this evening, and I am now toying with the idea of trying to get some tickets for some of the events. There are still some available, and although the logistics of getting there with two children are challenging, there will never be an easier time for us to see an Olympic games!

This evening's story was, of course, Olympic themed.  We read The Story of the Olympics by Richard Brassey.  I bought it from The Book People, thinking that it might be a bit of a boring band-wagonny book, but that it didn't really matter, as it was also v cheap.  It turns out it's incredibly entertaining, funny and infomative.  I was thinking of just fobbing the kids off with a few choice facts, but ended up reading most of the book to them.

Probably a bit too wordy for very little children, but a definite winner, if you'll pardon the pun, for ages 5+.

I have ordered a couple more Olympic books, which will feature here soon.  For the educators amongst you there's an absolutely fabulous scheme of work produced by Oxfam called "Heroes and Heroines", available to download for free from their website.  There's a version for primary aged kids and one for secondary.  Lots of the activities would be adaptable for home-educators.  I used the first lesson with a Year 7 group this morning, and it worked really well, and certainly got the children thinking and discussing.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

An eclectic mix of reading materials

What a difference a good night's sleep makes.  This morning we all felt significantly more jolly.  It's been a good day for reading today.  We were up early, and, much to C's disgust, had to go to church to collect A's First Communion Certificate without Daddy, or Granny, or Grandpa being there.  This was not a popular choice, although A and I quite enjoyed the adventure of being up and about on Sunday, just the three of us.  C read his way through the service.  His two books of choice this morning were Spider Man: The Amazing Story, from the wonderful Dorling Kindersley Early Reader series, which we borrowed from the library yesterday, and and extremely old school guide to each and every Pokeman, which I bought for 20p at the fayre yesterday.  Money well spent. 

When we got home I was fully in Grade 1 parenting mode.  We made  a model from Mathematical Curiosities by Gerald Jenkins.  I am not sure either child understood the mathematical theory behind the model, but we had fun with a bit of Pritt-Stick and were left with a pretty snazzy looking pyramid to show for it.  This book is very quaint and fun.  There is a rack of similarly odd books at one of the National Trust places we regularly visit, and they've always proved good value.

A then helped me to do the maths to reduce a recipe for bread sauce in Rose Prince's The New English Kitchen, a recipe book which is a pleasure to read, and really did make me think about the way we consume, and how we might get back to traditions which are important, and, indeed, tasty.

After an afternoon spent getting fresh air in an adventure playground, we came back for bedtime.  A chose Neal Layton's The Story of Things.  Both kids love looking at this book in bed, working out which things were invented when.  It's very low on text, which is an excellent thing for a non-fiction book for children, in my view.  Too many words tends to put everyone off, and the facts simply dont' get absorbed.  However, pop-ups, and the odd bit of sparse text will make this a book that children will return to again and again.  They are bound to be more interested in the information which is there, where there is a picture of a musical toilet thrown in for good measure. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Spiders and Melancholy

We've had a really, really good day.  Up early, out and about early, dropped MrM at the station, had an utterly non-stressful supermarket visit, followed by bargain shopping and the library in the nearby village.  We then spent the afternoon helping out at the school fayre (mostly) in the sunshine, spending so many 25ps on things like lucky dips, that they ended up amounting to significantly more than 25p.  Then friends round for pizza and dough balls for tea.

However, bedtime was tinged with melancholy.  I checked Facebook for the first time at about 8pm and was reminded of the fact that it was my junior school's 50th anniversary garden party today.  Lots of my old teachers and friends were there.  I really wanted to go, but it clashed with our school's fayre, and also it's a very, very long way from where we live.  This sometimes leads me to one of my favourite types of feeling-sorry-for-myself meloncholia - the "where do I belong?" existential angst.  I don't really have a home town.  The nearest I come to it is the city where I was born, went to uni and most of my extended family still live.  However, I have only lived there, in total, for 4.5 years of my life.  Yes, they were formative years, but given that I am 33, they do not represent a massive proportion of my time on earth.  I have lived in current home town for nearly 10, but have also lived in two other cities for nearly the same length of time.  I have no family ties left in either of those, and friends have scattered all over the country.  I am sure this is the  modern way, and generally speaking I don't even really think about it, but tonight it made me sad. A was also upset "but I would have liked to have seen your teachers, Mummy!", which made it worse.  Added to this, the way I sobbed my way through my last visit to this particular place of residence, I think it was probably for the best that we didn't go.  I think anyone saying "so how are your parents?"  might well have finished me off.

Another reason for the general malaise was that MrM is now away until late on Wednesday night.  Although MrM going away always turns me into the most amazing housekeeper (for reasons I have not yet fathomed), it really is very lonely.  We all miss him.

We read Aaaarrgghh, Spider! by Lydia Monks.  A is not a fan of creepy-crawlies in the house - she loves them in their natural environment, but gets the definite heebie-jeebies when they stray.  We giggled along to the story, which is about a spider who just wants to be a family pet.  It is really cleverly done, and the illustrations are original and creative.  However, the final picture, where the spider invites all of his friends round, proved too much for A.  There were tears.  There was snot.  There was an increase in the general sense of unease and the world being slightly off-kilter.  I might try it again in the morning.  Things always, without fail, seem better in the morning.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

When the Moon Comes Out by Francesca Simon

This was A's comfort reading last night, after another day spent coughing and wheezing her way through the hayfever season.  I think this must have been a charity shop bargain, as I see from Amazon that it was released in 1997.  It certainly has a place in the family favourite hall of fame.

The story is about what animals get up to when the moon comes out, and people aren't expecting them to behave in their usual ways.  There are some lovely, whimsical pictures of penguins painting, and dogs on safari.  When the sun comes back up again, the animals resume their usual activities.

It's similar in tone to Sandra Boynton, and is similarly bonkers, which appeals greatly to small children.  It's also got a certain retro charm.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Modern Art Doodle Book and other books about art.

I would love to know more about art, but am, tragically, a total philistine.  A has quite an interest in art.  Two of my favourite days out with her have been to art galleries.  On one occasion we sent the boys to the Transport Museum to sit in various vehicles, and we went round The National Gallery, armed with Usborne's Art Sticker Book.  When we found one of the paintings, we stuck the sticker in.  It appealed to our Makka Pakka-esque need to gather and categorise.

On another fabulous day we visited the Tate Modern with a very lovely friend who actually knows about art and stuff.  The children's activity pack was excellent, and encouraged A to think about what art actually was, with some really interesting and thought-provoking activities.

I recently bought The Modern Art Doodlebook to give our Sunday evening colouring-in sessions some variety.  I was pleasantly surprised by what a brilliant book it is - it has the Look Inside feature on Amazon if you want a sneak preview.  There's a section with biographical information about the artist, and then an activity based on one of their most famous pictures.  I can't quite work out whether it's meant for children or adults - it's definitely not one for small kids.  I think I would certainly be helpful for homework tasks bought home by secondary age students.

Finally a mention for one of my faves: A Year In Art: The Activity Book by Christiane Weidemann, Anne-Kathrin Funck and Doris Kutschbach.  This book takes pride of place in our dining room, and is moved every day to show the new picture and activity.  The kids are not actually allowed to draw in the book, and have to use paper to do the activities, but they are varied, well thought out and interesting.  

I have realised, in writing this, that I have far too many books about art.  The others will have to wait for another day when I am not quite so weary from running, taking children to various evening activities, and spending two very long, very hot hours on Swim Patrol in the school swimming pool/greenhouse boiling alive with several groups of excitable Year 3 children.  And on my day off too.  Someone should probably make me a saint and paint my portrait.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Bedtimes without reading

Since last month, I had not travelled on a plane for many years.  So many years, that I had no idea that nowadays it's necessary to pay for such luxuries as water, food and putting more than about 3lbs of luggage onto the plane.  I won't bore you with the tedium of the protracted discussion I had with the lady at East Midlands Airport regarding my contact lens solution, during which I offered to drip some of it into my eye, to prove to her that it was not explosive in any way.  The shock of not getting a quite horrible, but extremely exciting tray of unidentifiable, plasticky-tasting foodstuffs was bad enough.  The "hand-luggage" only thing was the real shocker.

Consequently, on our family holiday that we've just returned from, we had space for four changes of clothes each (luckily there were washing facilities), toileteries (but only in tiny bottles, obv), and two books each for the children (plus a pad of plain paper and pens).  I chose, it has to be said, badly.  I wouldn't let A take Lola Rose by her fave Jacqueline Wilson, because I thought she would read it too quickly, and then have nothing to read.  I packed Diary of a Parent Trainer by Jenny Smith instead, which I thought looked her cup of tea, but she thought was boring, and therefore she had nothing to read.  For C I picked How to Build an Abonimable Snowman by Dominic Barker, which he promptly decided was "too long", and he wouldn't read his either!  I also packed their current bedtime stories (Beast Quest 14 for C and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for A), but due to the late nights we had in Spain, we ended up just putting them to bed when they dropped, without a bedtime story.

We had a wonderful time, and I would not have wanted to change the lovely, sun-drenched evenings, but I have to say, when C and I snuggled up for a couple of chapters of Tom and Ellena's latest exploits, I truly felt at home again.  Bed time just isn't quite bed time without a story.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Matilda the Musical

Saturday was a very exciting day in our household.  My friend and I booked to see Matilda for a birthday treat for A and her daughter, several months ago, and have been waiting a long time for the day to dawn.  So excited was I about the trip, that I eschewed wine on the work trip out on Friday night in favour of the less yummy, but less hangover-producing gin.  I was bright eyed and bushy tailed (almost completely) on Saturday morning.

We arrived in London and ate at the Rainforest Cafe, which was, it has to be said, more fun for the kids than for the mums.  I would have absolutely loved it when I was 8.

We then took a slow walk to the theatre,  buying assorted stuff which cost all the money in the world because it's in London, and that's the way it rolls.

The musical was absolutely, completely, amazingly brilliant.  Matilda is one of my favourite books ever, hence the name of this blog (The Reader of Books is the sub-title).  I was a little worried that the musical might not quite measure up, but it so utterly did.  It adapted the basic story for theatre, but not in a way that made it unrecognisable.  The songs were brilliant, the actors were amazing, and the stagecraft made us all gasp several times.  None of us wanted it to end.  And, as someone who normally starts fidgeting after more than 50 minutes in a theatre, that is high praise indeed coming from me.

The characters were all recognisable, but there were clever adaptations to make some of them fit better on stage.  Michael, Matilda's brother, is a grunting buffoon in the musical, and Mrs Trunchbull has a hilarious tinge of utter madness, which is hinted at in the book, but more fully realised on stage.

I would recommend this to any Roald Dahl fan, young or old, wholeheartedly and completely.  It's not cheap, but it's worth every penny.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

I was thinking earlier about books that have changed my life.  I was clearing off A's bed, and found that she had squirreled Goodnight Mister Tom at the end of it.  This was my absolute favourite book as a child (I think I read it for the first time at around nine).  It certainly changed the way I perceived the world in quite a major way.  I read it so many times, and loved it so much, that I bought a special plastic cover in WHSmith for it, like books have in the library.  It was the only book of mine that ever received this very special treatment, and it was this copy which was in a pile of Jacqueline Wilsons in the top bunk.

Before reading Goodnight Mister Tom I don't think I had ever really thought too much about people whose lives were clouded by neglect and misery.  But the pictures of the lonely, grieving, emotionally barren Tom, and the terrified, neglected Willie, were so startlingly clear, that suddenly I was confronted by a new reality.  Some people are desperately unhappy.  Sometimes, for some people, life is unbearable.  The first time I read the section where Willie has to return home I felt physically ill with horror at the traumas that Willie has to face.  In fact, it took many, many re-readings before I read that bit again, and generally I skipped it up until Tom kidnaps Willie and they return to his home.

The characters seemed so incredibly real.  Up until that point, I had existed on a diet of Enid Blyton and the like, where the story, rather than the characters, takes primary importance.  Goodnight Mister Tom was the first book I read where the characters seemed utterly real.  I remember working out whether or not Tom would still be alive when I read the book, and realising that he probably wouldn't be, since the book was set in the war, and it was already the late 80s.  I still remember the feeling of devastation, even though I knew deep down that Tom had never really lived.

Chapter 4 was my favourite - the one where Tom takes Willie into the village to buy him supplies.  I remember feeling the excitement along with him, when he is allowed to choose a comic and a sweet, and the contentment of being in the library.  The language is just so rich that I have memorised and internalised large chunks of it.  Chapter 4 of Goodnight Mister Tom was my comfort reading for many, many years.

I almost don't want A to read it, because I think I would find it really quite painful if she didn't like it.  And it almost feels like Goodnight Mister Tom is my book, which is ridiculous, given that I know it is one of the most popular children's books of all time.  It's a great gift, to be able to write as though you are just writing for one person.  I have enjoyed all of Michelle Magorian's books, but to my mind, none of them quite measured up to this, and, quite possibly, no book ever really will for me.

Sunday, 20 May 2012


A's latest school project has been about Vikings.  She had a Viking themed day last week, where there was drama and air-dry clay, which made it pretty much the perfect day from her point of view.  That evening she asked if we could go up to bed early and look at all the books we could find about vikings.  This kind of question pretty much never gets a no from me, and so I scurried off upstairs to sort out the history books.  We started with the brilliant A Street Through Time, focusing on the Viking invasion page.  C also really enjoyed looking at this, and A talked us through what the vikings were wearing, the long boats, and the reasons why they came to the UK.  She was then interested to see if any of the features of the street stayed the same through all of the pictures from the very ancient landscape at the beginning, to the modern street.  They didn't, and we worked out that the church was the longest lived building.  I absolutely love this book, there's so much detail, and it's a brilliant antidote to the overly wordy history books which can dull any sense of excitement about the past in the young reader.

Next up was another favourite The Usborne History of Britain by Ruth Brocklehurst.  This is a very weighty tome, and is quite expensive for an Usborne, but, to my mind, worth it.  The text is nicely presented and interesting, and the illustrations, photos and captions are interesting and very nicely presented.  It's a brilliant homework resource for Key Stage 2 and 3 kids.

The Viking story from 101 Stories from British History, which I've mentioned before on the blog was a little on the bloodthirsty side, so had to be swiftly edited as I read it, which I am sure is probably good for my mental agility. 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Reading as morphling.

I have now come out of my four-day Hunger Games marathon, largely unscathed.  I was struck, when reading about morphling, a substance which can "become addictive and ... may lead to side effects that heavily affect the user's appearance" (Hunger Games Wiki), that addictive books can be a little like morphling.

There have been several series of books which have caused me to become uncommunicative, dull-eyed and in a state of anxious adrenalin-driven tension where I can't settle to anything unless I am reading.  When I am reading, I take it in almost hungrily, and often skip as much as I read (leading me to miss a rather crucial death towards the end of Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy.  When I finish reading, there's a kind of emptiness which can be quite disconcerting.

I am not sure that this kind of addictive reading is a good thing.  A can get like it with a new Jacqueline Wilson book - I see her eyes go glassy and the rest of the world dissolve into nothingness as she voraciously consumes the book until there is no more to consume.  It's similar to an excess of computer games, to my mind, but people tend to look at is as acceptable, because reading is universally understood to be "a good thing".

Is it possible to read too much, to the detriment of the rest of life and relationships?  As a teenager, I quite often opted out of "real life" in order to exist in the world of fiction, where unfortunate things were happening to other people, so that I could ignore the unfortunate things that were happening to me.  As addictions go, it's almost certainly more healthy than most, but I am glad I have completed the books, and that it's only a trilogy, as I cannot afford to let real life grind to a halt quite so spectacularly on a regular basis!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Step AWAY from the computer (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

I had the luxury of an extremely long, child-free train journey today, and made the most of it by reading for the entire journey (apart from the section somewhere along the Borders where I dropped off for a while).  I read some Game of Thrones, but I wasn't quite awake enough for one of the boring bits in the Dorne, and so I decided to make a start on the first book in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Lots of people have recommended this to me, which always serves to put me off, in a totally and utterly peverse way.  However, I decided it would be a good one to read, since there is now a film version, and I am looking around for a book to appeal to next years Year 10s.  Books with a film are always more popular, because the film can be the reward for reading the entire book.

I grudgingly read the first few pages.  After I'd read about 9% I abandoned my packet of Cadbury's Chocos (this is quite unprecendented).  After 15% I ceased any attempts at conversing with my husband, who was working, and so was probably quite relieved.  After 20% I forgot I even had a husband.  This book is seriously, seriously compelling. 

I was so tense towards the end (because obviously I couldn't stand not to read the whole thing today) that I was actually shaking.  At various points I had wept copiously (although silently to avoid frightening people on the quite packed train) and also almost shouted exclamations of fear. 

Suffice to say I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for readers aged 12+ (using your discretion, as it is quite gruesome in parts).  I am now going to step away from the computer.  I am most definitely NOT going to download the next book in the trilogy and read it until I am so ridiculously worked up that I can't sleep.  Because that would be a very silly thing to do after a fun-packed weekend which has left me completely exhausted.  So I certainly won't be heading from this browser page straight to Amazon...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins

C needed a calming, familiar book at bed-time tonight, to deal with the traumatic event which happened just after bath-time.  We were discussing pets, and what pets we might get when we move house.  I'm still pretty much gunning for the dog option, although after the recent weather, I am not convinced that my romantic notions would fit the reality.  Anyway, C said "I want a hamster or a guinea pig."  Sometimes facts pop into my mind and then suddenly they are out of my mouth before I can think "No!  STOP!"  The other day one of the girls in my form was telling me about her friend who had had seven hamsters in the space of three years.  They had all died horrible deaths, including the one (named, charmingly, Missy) who ate her own babies.  So after C angelically declaring his fledgling hopes for his first pet of his very own, probably the thing I shouldn't have said "Sometimes, hamsters eat their own babies."  How can I describe the noise which followed?  It was a slow tremor, followed by a waaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH! which built up to a deafening crescendo, accompanied by spurting tears. A also cried, but is older and therefore more wise to the cruel ways of Mother Nature.  C was desolate "but then they'll never see their babies again!  If they're naughty, they can just tell them off, not eat them!"  He cried for ages.  I cuddled him on my lap like a baby.  Then MrM came home, told a joke about eating C's bottom for dinner, and he was laughing again.  Perhaps sometimes, a mother's love can be a little smothering.

Anyway, I found Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins for him to read at bedtime.  He's always loved this story, and it's one of my favourites too.  The Rosie in question is a hen who sets off around the farmyard for a stroll.  A fox is trying to eat her (see what I did here?  Funny story about animals eating each other!  FUNNY!  LIGHTHEARTED!)  The fox is foiled at every turn, accompanied by hilarious pictures.  There are few words, the joy is in the illustrations which are quirky and beautifully drawn.  The colours are very 1970s, I have always quite fancied a Rosie's Walk themed room in my house.  C went to sleep happy, rescued by Daddy and the power of literature from a Mummy who will make more of an effort to engage her brain the next time she feels the need to share a nugget of wisdom with her progeny.

The Internet is a wonderful place.

So I've had food on my mind a LOT today.  FOOOOOD, it's been saying.  Repeatedly.  It's Live Below the Line week, as I discovered via Christian Aid on Twitter on Sunday.  The idea is that you live on just £1 worth of food every day, for five days.  I decided to do my own variant, based on an article I read in the Times Educational Supplement the other week.  The article was about how the recession has led to many children being very hungry at school, and stated that, often, the free school meal was virtually the only food that some children consumed all day.  Although this stands to reason, I had never really thought about it too much, and it really struck me.  I have an extremely healthy appetite, and have always been lucky enough to have access to enough food to keep me going.

So that's been my week so far.  No breakfast (although admittedly I usually only eat Mini Eggs for breakfast), no break-time snack (usually a fair few biscuits and some fruit), a school dinner, and then very minimal food in the evening (so far it's been a small bowl of cornflakes each evening, tonight I am pushing the boat out with a slice of toast).  I am really, really hungry.  Really hungry.  I have been drinking big glasses of water in an attempt to delude my stomach into thinking it's full, but it's having none of it. And I've also been cheating a little bit. The worst time is early evening, when I would normally have either quite a large meal or a massive snack attack.  And this is only for one week.  It must be all-consuming when it's every single day.  And we expect these children to produce homework.

Anyway, reading Game of Thrones this afternoon was not the best idea.  I hadn't really noticed before, in my well-fed state, but George RR Martin writes about food A LOT.  Lots of really yummy sounding food.  For some reason I googled "Game of Thrones food".  Goodness me, there are a lot of blogs out there about people cooking food which is written about in books!  What a great idea!  People have been having Game of Thrones themed feasts, all over the world!  There are pics of Lemon Cakes, of which Sansa Stark is so fond, all over the web.  I particularly enjoyed, which was well written, and had great pictures.  If I hadn't had to go and get the kids from school, I think I possibly would have been on there for quite some time.

One of my favourite ever series of books is The Darling Buds of May series by H.E. Bates.  A lot of that is about the food - however rough life gets, the thought of a Sunday roast cooked by Ma Larkin always makes me feel a bit better.  Obviously others also derive a lot of pleasure from reading about food.  And then cooking it and making blogs about it.  Before the Internet, these people would probably never have been able to connect and share.  Without the Internet, I wouldn't have known about the appeal, which has led to a bit more insight for me into the lives of others.  The connections the internet forges can be a real source of understanding and exploration.  And you can look at pictures of Brown Broth like Arya would have eaten in Flea Bottom that someone has cooked on the other side of the world. 

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Peace and quiet, courtesy of Spongebob Squarepants

We have in our house, bought by lovely MIL but fully condoned by me, a cloth bag in the shape of the inimitable Spongebob Squarepants. I like Spongebob - it is whimsical, slightly bonkers and funny, but the characters are positive and the relationships between them are warm and supportive. It contains ten books, each based on an episode of the television show.  It hangs on the back of the door, and occasionally makes an appearance when the door stop comes out of the way, and the children remember that they own it.

Today, despite my snobbish regard for tv-tie-in books as a sub-species of "proper" books written for children, I have been deeply glad that we own them.  Both children have spent several hours today poring over them and laughing at the storylines and pictures.  They are relatively easy reads, helped along by the fact that C already knows the storylines, so he can guess at tricky words, so neither child required parental involvement in reading them. 

What price peace and quiet on a Sunday afternoon?  £9.99 for a 10 pack from the Book People.  Bargain.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Pretendy history books

I've never said "youth is wasted on the young", because I think it's a big load of nonsense.  It's not possible to appreciate the errors of youth, until you've actually lived through it and come, slightly battered, out of the other side.  However, I do think that A-Level History is, on the whole, wasted on the young.

I did  A-Level History.  I didn't particularly want to.  I wanted to do biology, but the timetable constraints were such that I couldn't.  I was quite glad in the end, as biology seemed to consist of the teacher handing out about 47 photocopied pages from an incredibly boring text book and answering inumerable questions on said pages. Not that history was much better.  It was several hours a week of listening to men who liked the sound of their own voices droning on about what I perceived to be utter ephemera to the important stuff in life (like who was going out with whom, and which pubs would let you in with your blatantly forged NUS card).

I went on to study English and had several run-ins with tutors who were historicist literary critics.  I, at the ripe old age of 19, had decided that history had no relevance to literature, and that the people who believed it did were crashing bores, living in the past.  It didn't help that all the historical material on our reading list was drier than whatever desert is the hottest in the world (I didn't much care for geography either).  If I had been told to read the complete works of Philippa Gregory, then I would have had a much deeper understanding of the main players that shaped the past.

Now, I am aged myself, and so history has become interesting.  It happened quite quickly, much more quickly than other switches that mark the passage from youth to experience.  For example, it took several years for me to go from thinking that garden centres were torture devices inflicted on you by your parents, to voluntarily going to the garden centre as a valued part of my leisure time.  I am still in the process of going from Radio 1 to Radio 4 as my default station (at the moment, it depends on my mood).  However, with history, it seemed to me that one day it was BORING, and the next, I couldn't get enough.

So, to the point.  I absolutely LOVED The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer when I read it last year.  It's a really clever piece of writing, a guide to what the modern visitor would expect to see in England of the fourteenth century.

So when I saw A Visitor's Companion to Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb in The Book People catalogue, I assumed from the title that it would have jumped on the Mortimer bandwagon, and would be the same sort of thing.  I was a little disappointed, as it's not, really.  It's more of a guide book to the stories behind 50 important Tudor buildings or landmarks.  It is interesting, but not quite as interesting as I thought it would be.  However, I notice from looking for the titles on Amazon, that Ian Mortimer has bought out another book, this time relating to Tudor England.  I have been very restrained and not ordered it.  Yet.

I am fully aware that people who have actually studied history would probably look down their noses at all of these books, and huffily point out the smattering of errors which defile the pages.  I would probably do the same if it were my area of expertise.  However, what I like about these books, is that they give a flavour of the past, and are not eyelid-leadeningly dull.  Although, if I'd have read them at 18, I may have thought differently.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

What an absolutely brilliant book!  It's a real old fashioned mystery story, with only very mild peril and loads of really loveable characters.  I loved the nurturing but slightly old-fashioned nature of Stuart's family set-up. The plot is intricate, but carefully structured so that it is easy to make sense of.  There are interesting clues, which build up throughout, and lots of funny moments.  I felt most put out that I had to go to work today, and could not just get this all read in one sitting.  

The story is about a boy named Stuart, who moves town with his mum and dad, and starts to unravel a family mystery which has lain dormant for decades.

I have now read two of the novels shortlisted for the Carnegie prize this year, and they have both been spectacular (this, and A Monster Calls) and they have both been absolutely brilliant.  I really don't envy the judges having to choose this year.

A relatively straightforward read (although the Dad character writes cryptic crosswords, so there's quite a lot of complex vocab there), suitable, I would say for children of 9+, younger for reading aloud by a parent.  It's a proper children's book - not aimed at girls or boys in particular.  It reminded me a little of the brilliant The Queen's Nose

Friday, 27 April 2012

My kind of ghost story

One for the wimps amongst us.  Whilst I really enjoyed The Dead of Winter, it is fair to say that it did NOT end happily.  However, Anne Fine's The Devil Walks has a very satisfying resolution.  I enjoyed scary stories as an older child, but would not have coped well with one which ended without the evil being put to bed and a positive future ahead for the protagonaist.  The Devil Walks would have suited me down to the ground.  An interesting beginning, with lots of little mysteries weaved in to be solved.  No scary happenings until towards the end of the book, which contains them and makes the book overall much less nerve-jangling.  A scary sequence followed by the restoration of harmony.

This is a great book for transitioning a sensitive soul aged around 9+ into the darker and more macabre world of teenage fiction.  The reader needs to be mature enough to cope with the death of the mother of the main character, and a slightly crazed uncle, with a reading age of approx 11 upwards.  Also a good choice for reading aloud, although not necessarily at bedtime!

I am about to embark on The Crowfield Demon, which I have borrowed from our wonderful school library.  Then I really must read something from another genre for young adults, as when I do my weekly "Mrs M recommends" during our reading slot in registration, I have had a few complaints of late that "Miss, you only ever read scary stories!" 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Apparently, it is against societal norms to order two hot drinks for one person. And some lovely picture books.

It rained today,  in case you didn't notice or avoid the news and social networks and outside.  It was the worst day weather wise that I can remember for ages.  Last Wednesday was quite rough too.  Perhaps I am being punished by the powers that be for having a 0.8 timetable and spending every Wednesday jogging, reading and meeting up with various fabulous people.  Sorry, that obviously should have read doing admin jobs around the house and tidying up.  Anyway, though the weather was vile, I have had a lovely day.  A jog around the village this morning, which blew all of the cobwebs pretty much in the world away, and then a day shopping and chatting with my best friend culminating with a visit to the library to choose books for the kids and have lunch and a cuppa.  The ladies behind the till in the library cafe are really quite scary.  At one point one of them shouted "Is there anyone missing any food?"  The whole cafe fell absolutely silent, and when a tremulous voice answered, I was reminded of all of the scenes from Matilda where Miss Trunchbull calls upon the children to answer her.

I excited the wrath of chief denizen of the cafe by ordering both a hot chocolate and a cup of tea.  I was in need of something chocolatey, and I was cold, but I was also thirsty, so thought I would be a bit crazy and order both.  Don't get me wrong, I did also pay for both.  But still, said lady behind the till pulled me up on my crime and I was made to feel suitably chastened.  I did drink them both though, and finished my salad with my panini like a good girl.

I mostly chose reading books for C, but did sneak a couple of picture books in.  Tonight we had The Opposite by Tom Macrae.  It was really, really hilarious and we absolutely loved the pictures.  They were very original, and quite sparse but very expressive.  I particularly liked the teacher with the paint on her face.

We also had The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gilori.  It took me a good few pages to work out that the dragons were supposed to represent human beings.  It took A a little longer, but after two readings she "got" it and was really impressed.  She is going to take it in for show and tell tomorrow, because apparently they have been talking about climate change in class.  C was pretty much oblivious to the deeper message of the book, but he quite liked the pictures.  He's not so much one for allegory, and prefers his sublety to be brick-like.