Sunday, 29 January 2012

Book decluttering - a cautionary tale.

My friend that raises money for cancer research has a book stall at her events; and I am a relatively regular supplier. The time has come that she is running low on children's books, so we spent a productive hour today clearing the bookshelves of non-adored books which the kids have grown out of. I now involve them in this process, after an incident which occurred last year.

A had had a bad day at school, and said "Mummy, I want that book I had when I was a baby, about the bear who'd just learnt to walk." Said book being Wobble Bear by Ian Whybrow, which I had bought as a set from the Book People with Wobble Bear Says Yellow for £3.99 in 2004, and which I had got rid of a few years before. Ooops. Cue much whooping and wailing. One very upset girl, and one very guilty Mummy.

I felt so guilty, that I re-bought both books. Both had gone out of print in the version that A had, so I paid around £7.99 for them both. Lesson learnt.

The books we got rid of today fell into three distinct categories: Crap TV/toy tie-ins, fairy books and Thomas the Tank Engine. Crap TV tie-ins irritate me. It's as if the authors think, "This is going to sell anyway, because it's got the Numberjacks on the front. So I'll just write some lazy description and shocking dialogue and slap the character's names in here and there and job's a good-un." Honourable mention here for non-crap tie-in goes to the Moshi Monsters Moshling Collector Guide, which is really nicely written and good quality.

A has now officially grown out of fairy books. We have kept the Usborne Fairies Touch and Feel book, because it used to be A's favourite, but otherwise there was a fairly ruthless cull of the pink glittery creatures. Good riddance say I.

Thomas the Tank Engine used to be C's favourite. He had an encyclopeadiac knowledge of the engines, and associated characters. In fact one of his first sentences was "There's Cranky, Mummy!" as we passed a crane in town. He now spurns Thomas. He's "for babies", apparently. I couldn't bring myself to get rid of all of them, but the peripheral books have now gone, including Find that Freight, one with pressy buttons and accompanying irritating noises. The old favourites have been squirreled away for me to weep over when C is over six-foot and doesn't want to acknowledge his mother in public anymore, let alone sit on her knee and read a story.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I Dreamt I was a Dinosaur by Stella Blackstone

It was Year 9 options evening last week. I always find Year 9 options evening slightly distressing - not because I find Year 9s distressing in any way in particular, but because it reminds me of the contentious issue of my own Year 9 options, and even after many a long, long year, I still get a little cross about it.

My Head of Year MADE me take Spanish. Made me. I didn't even really like Spanish. Don't get me wrong - I like Spain, I loved the teacher, the motherly and gorgeous Mrs Beck, and I liked my classmates (of whom there were only 5 as, apparently no-one else wanted to take Spanish either). I didn't want to take Spanish, because I wanted to take music or art instead. But, no. Apparently Head of Year had in mind that I was to become a translator, and take French, Spanish and Italian at university. This despite the fact that I had palpitations at the thought of even walking up to the local shop on my own, without my Mum, Dad or friend. I hardly think I was the sort to merrily go and live in a different country for a year among strangers, with limited knowledge of the language beyond make-up and town hall (maquillaje and ayuntamiento in case anyone is interested).

Anyway, every Year 9 options evening, I get incensed by this travesty. I LOVED music, and I was quite good at it. I was pretty crap at art, but I really enjoyed it, and I had enough academic subjects already. I suppose it is time, 19 (19!!!!) years on, that I packaged it away and moved on, and yet the memory haunts me still.

What, then. has this got to do with I Dreamt I was a Dinosaur by Stella Blackstone, published by the wonderful Barefoot Books? Well, back in my day Textiles was a pretty boring subject. Now, however, you should see the pieces of art work the students produce, and the little source books that they lovingly create. It's like Pinterest, but actually real. Now, all my music and art dreams are pushed aside - I want to study GCSE Textiles! Cruelly, SLT will not let me off timetable to do this. Not that I have actually asked, as it would make me look a bit mad. But I would dearly love to study it. And this book made me want to study it even more as the whole book is pictures of felt-appliqued dinosaurs with sequins sewn on!

I am sure the words were lovely and all, but to be quite honest, we barely even noticed that there were words in the book, because we were all saying "Ooooh, look at the lovely sequins on that parasaurolophus" (another one for the "sentences I never thought I would say" file). The book is, quite simply, beautiful. It made me want to sew things. Two of my great pleasures in life - reading books to my babies and sewing, combined (I told you I was the orignial party animal). It made the kids want to sew too. It's a brilliant book. Timeless, like sewing itself. And quite unlike my knowledge of Spanish, which has been reduced from a respectable A grade at GCSE in 1995, to knowing about four words. My seven year old, who has been studying Spanish since September, now knows more Spanish than I do. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Head of Year 9, at generic comp in the Midlands in 1993.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Hamish and the Missing Teddy by Moira Munro

A has had a falling out with her best school friend today, and has been very sad all evening. I find it so hard when there's nothing to be done except give hugs and reassurance that everything will be OK. It's so hard to go to school not knowing if your friend will be talking to you, or if they'll be hand in hand with someone else. Poor A. My three areas of consolation are that it's my day off tomorrow so I'll be taking her to school, that her teacher loves her and is proactive, and that her best school friend is a lovely girl, and I am sure that it will all blow over. A has a back up plan; that she will go round with her favourite dinner lady if the dispute rumbles on.

I decided that comfort reading was called for tonight, so we went for Hamish and the Missing Teddy by Moira Munro, which I bought back when A was a toddler. There's a friendship dispute in the story, and it's all about forgiveness and moving on. I think A found in comforting. C, however, was inconsolable through much of the book, and the happy ending didn't really make up for the emotional trauma which the rest of the plot had put him through. I think perhaps he's a little over-tired at the moment. I'm even more glad, then, that my Dad has agreed tomiss out on his ballroom dancing to come and solve my looming babysitting crisis on Thursday evening, and that C can have a nice relaxing evening at home. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside that A, at 8 and I, at 32, can rely on a parent for making us feel better when it's all going a bit pear-shaped. Such reassurance has always made me just that little bit more able to hold my chin up when I go into a tummy-dropping situation, like the school playground when your best friend is cross.

Another teacher told my form the other day that school days are the "best days of your life". One of my very lovely boys was completely traumatised that this might be true, and that at the end of five short years, it would all be down hill. I told him that, in my experience, though school days can be fun; being an adult is a walk in the park compared to school, and I wouldn't go back there for love nor money. At least not to that side of the teacher's desk!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

Another non-kids book from which I shared various nuggets of info with, mainly A. To be fair, I possibly shared them with C too, but he hardly ever looks like he is listening to anything, unless it relates to the current obsession. However, sometimes he surprises me by saying things like "sandwich in Spanish is "bocadillo"", to which I will reply "how do you know?" and he'll say "you told me ages ago". I have to be careful what I say, lest he remembers something he really shouldn't.

Anyway, A was particularly interested in people eating puddings with real meat in, brains and loads and loads of almonds and rosewater (not necessarily at the same time). I was always going to love this book, thanks to my interest in food history, and it didn't let me down. It was detailed and interesting, with just the right amount of anecdote in the main (towards the end it becomes a little "this is what I did in the 1960s"). It fitted really nicely in with random bits of knowledge I acquired when I read At Home by Bill Bryson.

There are some historical recipes at the back which could be fun to try with the kids at some point when I have enough time on my hands to justify making "spiced custard"; and if I can find rosewater in Tescos (which, incidentally, opened its first branch in 1929)

It's quite a weighty tome, but then it's not a small subject area; and it is very interesting to trace trends and waves in food fashion over the centuries. There are interesting hypthoses, such as that the ability of the average person to cook started to diminish in late Victorian times and the early 20th century, with the rise of street food and the trend for women working outside the home.

As for A and C, A spent most of the day reading her First Commuinion guide I Belong. I would have absolutely loved this as a kid; it's a gorgeously illustrated hard-back book with bits to write in and colour. Definitely one to treasure and embarrass her with when she brings boyfriends home! C spent most of the day doing dot-to-dot puzzles from The Greatest Dot to Dot Book in the World. Money well spent!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Facing up to the realisation that it's me that's bonkers - not my kids.

It is fair to say that I'm a bit of a worrier, potentially verging into the lot of a worrier category. I am prone to diagnosis of both physical and mental medical issues in both of my children. Over the years I have convinced myself that A had leukemia, septicemia, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorder. For C the concerns have been mainly in the area of social disorders, since he is, and always has been, in rude physical health, but he is a little bit, "socially muted" (as one of Mr M's lecturers once described him, much to my great and prolonged amusement). Although, actually, scrub that, I recently took C to the doctors because I convinced myself he had scoliosis (I know all about that 'cos of Judy Blume). It turned out he didn't, and that a book I read in 1990 and can barely remember cannot really be relied upon for accuracy in a diagnosis of curvature of the spine.

Anyway, it doesn't really help my hypochondria by-proxy that at work, one of my responsibilities is looking at all the brochures for resources that get sent to us, and deciding if we need anything from them. I am very good at deciding what is necessary for the department, but not so good at resisting the urge to go home and order all of the things in the catalogue from Amazon for my kids. This week we had a brochure entitled "SEAL Storytelling Resources". I knew I was in trouble from the first page. I had to work very hard to resist buying Socially Talented Children and The Feelings Artbook for A and C. But resist I had to, because they both cost an arm and several legs. However, I was unable to resist the urge to buy Willy and the Wobbly House: A Story for Children who are Anxious or Obsessional by Margot Sunderland. Looking at this in the cold light of an idyllic Saturday morning, I am aware that neither of my kids are more anxious or obsessional than most neurologically typical children. However, it had not been a good day, and I decided that it could not do any harm.

A couple of years ago, A had a period of being extremely worried about absolutely everything. I bought What to do When you Worry too Much by Dawn Huebner, and it was a revelation. It is basically DIY CBT for kids, but it was SO effective, that I have almost forgotten that A was ever like it, and when she becomes overwrought now, I am almost surprised by her behaviour.

I decided that in order to prevent the backslide I felt was starting this week, I should fend things off with a good story and the Wobbly House seemed to fit. Surprising A thought it was "a bit boring". C absolutely LOVED it, and took it to bed with him, eventually falling asleep with it on his chest. Willy lives in a very wobbly world, and never feels calm and still. His friend Tom is obsessed with straight lines, and finds it impossible to let go and become excited or to play properly. They both go to the magical world of the puddle people, where Willy is taken to the still waters and rocked to sleep, and Tom is taken to a pool with bubbles and waterslides. They go back there whenever they feel like they are sliding back into their old ways. C enjoyed it as a story, and it was useful for me to realise that however worried, anxious or stressed A and C might become, they do have a safe place at home, where they are warm, fed and loved, even by a mother who worries and shouts a little bit too much. And my house DEFINITELY does not look like one presided over by a person suffering from OCD.

There are several other books in the series which are designed for children with various conditions. From the basis of this book, they seem to be well written stories, where the issues and solutions can be drawn out, rather than the child being dictated to or patronised. And they are an excellent affirmation of the positive power of storytelling.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Choosing Books by their Title

Today I chose two books for no reason other than their titles made me laugh. I am more likely to approach book-choosing with this wanton recklessness when said books are in the library, and I don't actually have to pay for them.

The two books in question were I Don't Want to be a Pea by Ann Bonwill and Don't Put your Pants on your Head, Fred! by Caryl Hart. I also loved the cover of the first one. I was in the mood for breaking all of the rules today.

Both were perfect, lightly-humorous bedtime stories. The pea story was based on a disagreement about a fancy-dress party, leading to a friendship dilemma which was resolved happily. The pants story was one for those, like C, who find getting dressed in the morning a bit of a challenge! I adored the pictures in I Don't Want to be a Pea. They were good in Fred but a little too busy and try-hard for my liking.

Monday, 16 January 2012

New Year's Resolutions

We are now a little into the new year, and, so far progress with my New Year's resolutions has been relatively pleasing. I was prompted to write this post by a giveaway that the lovely Ali of Very Berry Handmade is holding on her blog; the theme of which is "Resolved to Sew" (

I see my own sewing resolution every day, laminated and neatly coloured with Berol fineliners. In fact I see all of my resolutions every day, laminated and neatly coloured with said pens, since I made my Year 10s write and laminate their resolutions, and they said it wasn't fair unless I did it too.

The resolutions relate to five different areas of my life, which are prone to being eaten up by time spent on the great black-hole of time, the internet. These are sewing, reading, exercising, music and effective parenting. The effective parenting resolution is "I will think before I shout". Going OK so far. The exercise one is to run a 10K in less than an hour. Well, I've signed up for a 10K, so now I will magically be able to run more quickly.

In reading, I have vowed that I will not buy another book for me until I have read all of the unread books in the big pile by my bed, and the unread books on my kindle. EEEEEK! I wonder if children's books might act as displacement therapy for this resolution.

The piano practice resolution is having an impact on the effective parenting resolution, since A hates it when I do more piano playing than her in a week, and so often does her practice without requiring nagging.

Finally, my sewing resolution is to finish all of the many, many sewing projects I have started, and abandoned when they took more than about 27 minutes to complete.

A told me a rather fitting story about this. After their chapter of Mr Gum tonight, she offered to tell C and I the story that she'd heard in her assembly today. It was about a boy who was given a seed by the Emporer (of where she did not say). All of the people were given a seed, and a year in which to grow it. The boy kept watering and feeding his seed, despite the fact that it failed to grow. All of the other people had amazing, beautiful plants which they had grown. When the year was up, the Emporer called the boy forward and told him that he would be the next Emporer. The seeds had all been boiled and so would not grow. All of the other people had cheated by buying other seeds. Only the boy had perservered with the job he had started, and was honest about what he had achieved. "That's a bit like your sewing Mummy". Hmmm. Not hugely inspiring to think that my sewing can be compared to a boy who waters a dead seed for a year. But I can kind of see what she was getting at.

Saturday, 14 January 2012


We had our new copy of Okido magazine through the post today. Always an exciting day for C. I wish I had discovered it when A was younger, as she quite likes it now, but is a little bit too grown up for it now, and she would have adored it.

Okido is the polar opposite of some of the terrible offerings that can be found on the magazine shelf at your average Tesco. Some of them are not too horrendous, and have some actual activities or interesting things to read in between the adverts for toys, and crappy plastic toys which fall apart after 10 minutes. The ones I will buy without grudging every single penny at the moment are Moshi Monsters magazine and A's Jacqueline Wilson mag. Both have too much advertising for my liking, but at least they have some content which is actually worth reading. When the kids were little I used to buy CBeebies magazine, and didn't begrudge that too much, although it was always a little heavy on the old stickers. The ones I really hate are called things like "Pink Princess" or "TOXIC BOYZ" and are basically three sentences of content, plastic crap, and adverts. Grrr.

Anyway, as I said, Okido is not like this. For a start, it smells like a proper book, and the paper is thick enough to not rip as children turn the pages (a problem with many kids' magazines). There are lots of interactive pages, and lots of nice stories for beginner readers. The magazine is aimed at children aged 2-7, and I think they've got it right. Obviously the adult would need to leave the activities with a 2-3 year old, whereas beginner readers and writers can manage it with minimal supervision.

There are, mercifully, no adverts. There are also no freebies, but this doesn't bother C in the least - it looks so different from a "normal" magazine, that he doesn't think it should come with a free gift. I think it helps that ours comes through the post, so it doesn't have to compete with Ben 10's retro-laser green plastic blaster, sellotaped to the front of the magazine next to it.

It costs £4 to buy or £20 for 6 issues via subscription, and is published every 3 months. Not much more expensive than TOXICBOYZ, or similar, and so much more worthwhile.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Children's books you would like to live in

One of my favourite things about having started a blog, is the comments that other people make about the posts. It's nice to find things in common with people, or books in common with them, and share little anecdotes, or get recommendations. After yesterday's post a friend recommended The High Street by Alice Melvin, which looks absolutely beautiful. Apparently her daughter said that she would like to live in the book, and my friend agreed.

I so totally knows what she means. Personally, I have always wanted to live in the house where the little girl lives in The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Not only is it a house where fierce, carniverous beasts only eat the food in your house, rather than you, but everything just looks so homely and comforting. And I really, REALLY want to go with the family to the cafe for supper (I love that word. A friend at uni used to say "let's go out for supper", and it always sounded so much more enticing than dinner).

Failing that I would live in one of Raymond Brigg's 1930's semis, especially the ones in Father Christmas, or in The Fat Controller's house in Thomas's Really Useful Word Book. That's a beautiful place, with a nice big bit of garden for entertaining, and a large hallway where there would be plenty of room for my clavinova. Yes, I plan where my furniture would go in pictures of fictional houses in children's books. I gave up trying to be normal about a decade ago, and have been much happier since then.

C, apparently, would like to live in either the flat in Party in the Sky by Alison Catley, or the UFO in You Choose by Nick Sharratt, a book which actually has a whole page where you get to think long and hard about which house you like best. My kind of book. A is at a sleepover (my BABY!), so I can't ask her this evening, but will do so at some point. I imagine the answer will be in one of the Jacqueline Wilson heroine's houses, and she claims that their lives are "much more interesting" than hers. Bah. To be honest, I am not sure I want my life to be interesting in a Jacqueline-Wilson-esque way, because that would involve me either being dead, alcoholic, manic-depressive, heavily tattooed, or possibly all of those things. I'll stick with imagining how my leather sofa would look in the Fat Controller's living room, thanks very much.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Jan Pienkowski

Jan Pienkowski is a total and complete genius. If I could acquire a random artistic skill, I would like to be able to create art like his. Sadly, I peaked far too early when it came to artistic endeavours. I used to win all the drawing competitions when I was at infant school, but then I never improved. So I draw like a really talented 7 year old, which is brilliant when you are 5, good when you are 7, but not ideal when you are slightly older than that.

Meg and Mog books would be incredibly dull and pedestrian without the pictures. The words themselves are actually incredibly boring, as the books are designed to be read by beginner readers. Even in books like The Haunted House the text definitely takes secondary importance to the pop-ups.

My favourite is The Fairy Tales. The stories are quite long, but are well told, and the silhouette style pictures are outstanding.

Anyway, we had a chapter of Mr Gum this evening, and then I decided that as I had not written in my blog for a while, I'd better read something else. I find it a bit ironic that I decided to write a blog because I love reading books, and I am now reading extra books because I love writing the blog. The meta-narrative has taken over primary importance from the stories. Yes, I am putting the English degree to excellent use, Dad, you can sleep well in your bed knowing that the money you spent on my university education was not wasted.

I went for Meg's Eggs as a bonus story, because it's short and C loves the pictures. His godmother bought it for him when he was a toddler, because her son had loved it so much, and it has always appealed to C. He then read Meg's Castle and Meg's Car himself, shouting random factoids about the stories down the stairs to me every so often. He shouted at one point "I love the letters in this book, they look fat and nice." I so agree with this, and also wish I could write like Jan Pienkowski. At a glance it looks like anybody could write/draw like that, but that's where the real genius lies. Making something incredibly difficult look easy. Fab.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

There are Cats in this Book and There are No Cats in this Book by Viviane Schwarz

Tonight's chapter of Mr Gum (we are now on Book 7 - Mr Gum and the Cherry Tree) was a song. There are occasional songs in the Mr Gum books, particularly when the goblins are around. Mr M is pretty good at making up tunes for the songs, and joining in with the burps. Surprisingly, given that the kids were giggling for most of the chapter, it wasn't the most relaxing bedtime story ever. So we had a bonus story.

Given that I was going for relaxing, I am not entirely sure why I decided to pick There are No Cats in this Book by Vivian Schwarz. I think it's probably because I haven't had a chance to read it yet, and we've had it since Christmas. I love There are Cats in this Book, the first book in which we meet the three cats. The sequel had a lot to live up to, and it was not disappointing. The books are very interactive - they have both my kids blowing at the book, wishing for things, and turning the pages quickly to help the cats out. A in particular pretends to be too cool for the books now, but she clearly still loves them. There's no shame in that - I love them, and am slightly older than 7.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Yuk and Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt

We have long loved Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt. It was our first introduction to Daisy and her long-suffering Mum. It's a very funny story about a mum trying to persuade her daughter to eat the peas on her plate. Daisy's response is always to say "But, I don't like peas!" A and C used to adore joining in with this chant. A loved the pictures too, particularly of the puddings, which she used to call "CREAM!" Even now the word pudding in the last line of the book is always replaced by cream in our house.

We found Yuk! in the library this weekend, and had to borrow it. It's about Daisy's refusal to wear a bridesmaid dress, and her eventual acceptance of a dress which she designs herself. C LOVES this book and has read it to himself several times, as well as having it read to him.

The good thing about Kes Gray's Daisy is not only are there fab picture books, which will appeal to children and parents alike, but there are chapter books which continue Daisy's story, suitable from a reading age of around 6, with a bit of support. She's a cheeky character, but with a spirit loved by children, and there is a generous dose of humour in all of the stories.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Tears, tantrums and making girls do stuff because Jacqueline Wilson says it's good.

I have left the blog sadly neglected this week, as the shock to the system brought about by having to get dressed before 10am again was as much as I could cope with, when coupled with the tasks necessary to hold body and soul together. Obviously I still managed to play Plants vs Zombies quite a lot and drink many large cups of tea. But stringing sentences together at work left me unable to do so at home.

I have cried twice at books this week. Once was at War Horse by Michael Morporgo. Luckily I managed to get through reading the really sad bit to my class before the tears started. I, in fact, only cried because one of the girls cried. It was really an act of solidarity and empathy for her.

The second crying session could probably have been relatively easily avoided. Common sense dictates that if your Mum is dead, and it was the anniversary of her death this week, then you probably shouldn't pick up and read a book called Missing Mummy, (by Rebecca Cobb) aimed at bereaved children, when choosing childrens' books in the library. Not only was I then crying for my missing Mummy; I was also crying for all the poor children the book was written for, and crying for that deep dark worry that lurks in the heart of any person who has ever had children: what if I die before they grow up? So all in all, it was a pretty poor choice. It was a lovely book though; really simply drawn and unpatronising. It wasn't as sad as Michael Rosen's Sad Book which A turns the wrong way round on her shelf because just seeing the actual book makes her cry. But it was aimed at a younger audience, which is pretty heart-breaking when you think about it. So don't.

Anyway, now I've thoroughly depressed everybody, we'll move on to the tantrums. We got Jim by Hilaire Belloc, illustrated by Mini Grey from the library last week. I thought Grey was unlucky not to win the Kate Greenaway medal last year for this brilliant representation of Belloc's cautionary tale. The illustrations are marvellous and the paper engineering is fun, and really adds to the whole reading experience. A and I particularly liked the page with the slices of delicious ham, and chocolate with pink inside. This is no great surprise since when A was two, she used to go to sleep staring at the food pages from You Choose by Nick Sharratt.

C would have absolutely LOVED this story. However, he was having a great stonker of a tantrum at the time I read it, about Moshi Monsters or similar. Usually a book will bring him out of a tantrum, but this time he seemed utterly enraged by the book. He was particularly cross that "Ponto is a rubbish name for a lion" and declared that Jim was "the most rubbishest book EVER". I don't think this was a particularly well-thought out critique. It's a great picture book for older kids. Not for the over-sensitive of any age though, I would suggest, due to the quite graphic pictures of the lion eating our eponymous anti-hero.

A's obsession with Jacqueline Wilson is growing by the day. Today she had her nose stuck in several of her books, including a poetry anthology chosen by her called Green Glass Beads. This is simply a collection of poems that Wilson likes, and thinks that her readers might like. And A happily reads them. The same poems might well be declared boring if they were in one of my books. But Jackie likes them so they must be good. And to be fair, lots of them are, and there's a good blend of the classic and the more modern.

What I would like to know is when is Jacqueline Wilson going to publish a series of books called Why Learning Times Tables is Really Great, Doing Your Piano Practice Really Pays Off in the Long Run! and Instead of Leaving Dirty Clothes Strewn All Over the Floor, You Could Put Them in the Wash! I live in hope.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

How Many? by Ron van der Meer and I Like This Poem by Kaye Webb

We had some friends over today that haven't been over for ages, in fact it must be years, as said friends were surprised at the "new" carpet, which has been down for a couple of years at least. It was very lovely to see them, and fun to watch the littlest one, as she kept exclaiming "I've not been here before!" She has been lots, but was too little to remember before. Said little one has a very endearing obsession with pop-up books, so every pop-up book we own has been off the shelf and read today. She was particularly keen on How Many? by Ron van der Meer. A has always loved this book too. The paper-engineering is stunning, and the basic idea is really nice - each page takes a shape, eg a square or a star, and there are hundreds of shapes in the pop up. Around the edge of the page there are questions such as "how many red squares are there?" I thought this would be a good way to encourage A to take more interest in counting when I bought the book back in the day. However, as she was talking to her little friend about it she said " There's questions round the page, and you won't be able to read those but don't worry - they're really boring; I just like looking at the pictures". Foiled again!

At bedtime we finished Killer Cat's Christmas, had a chapter of Mr Gum and then had one or two poems from I Like This Poem by Kaye Webb. We enjoyed the poem about the beetle particularly. It's a nice little collection, and I think a good poetry anthology is invaluable for bedtime stories - you can offer an extra poem as a treat, and it only takes a moment. Poems read only a few times are easily memorised by children and often repeated, especially, in this house, funny poems. Everyone's happy.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Feeding the Nation by Marguerite Patten

I decided this morning that we have been to Tesco FAR too many times so far this holiday and that we were going to have a make-do lunch. With that in mind, we got Feeding the Nation by Marguerite Patten off the shelf. I have a more-extensive-collection-than-is-strictly-normal of historical cookbooks. If I had to pick a dream job, I'd be a food historian. Whenever I hear one on Radio 4, I feel the jealousy emanating towards the radio, and wonder precisely what happened in their career trajectory to land them there. Anyway, this book was in M&S for a fiver or so about 10 years ago, and I had to have it. I read it from cover to cover and absolutely loved it. It's a collection of recipes from WWII along with adverts and snippets of governmental leaflets, written by Marguerite Patten, who seems both dependable and trustworthy.

Anyway, I thought that if they picked a recipe from this book, they would both have a history lesson and a cheap lunch. We decided on potato scones, which was a good choice, since there were plenty of stages that the kids could do themselves . We even used dried milk, for authenticity, which the kids declared to "taste of rank". We enjoyed the baking process greatly. The scones themselves were fine, I think they benefitted from being fresh from the oven, and don't think they would have kept for long. Better still, we have mash left over for more the bubble and squeak austerity-tea I am planning tomorrow.

It's not a book kids would particularly want to read themselves, but Ava really enjoyed looking at the adverts and some of the old documents, and, with explanations, both kids learnt a lot from the book. It's out of print, but second hand copies are available on Amazon.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Memories are made of this

The other day, C was upset about falling over, or some such similar disturbance in his life, and A decided to cheer him up by reading him some books. So he had Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd and Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson. Both were old and familiar to A, but less so to C, since we have usually read to both children together, so A had begun to grow out of these stories before he was old enough to remember them. I enjoyed listening to the voices A used for the various characters, and C really enjoyed listening to them. The sight of the two of them snuggled together with a book is one which I shall very much miss when they are all grown up. *sniff*

Today we read The Usborne Picture Atlas snuggled up together at Granny's house. We pointed out where we are going on holiday this year. C was quite impressed by the look of Wales, but also requested that we might go to Africa, to look at the chimpanzees. Er, no. We enjoyed the fold-out map at the end, and the lovely detail in the pictures. However, the sense of scale was really quite off, which confused C a little, as he was left thinking that the Alhambra covered the whole of Southern Spain, and was that where all the people lived? A lovely book to look through though, once the idea of proportion and of artistic licence was explained.