Wednesday, 28 March 2012

You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt and other exciting pictures.

I have already written about You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt. A used to go to sleep huddled up with the page with food on it. C always used to want the vampire as his Daddy. So did I (he had a look of Edward Cullen about him). Anyway, tonight my very-dear-friend-with-matching-book-addiction told me about the ULTIMATE combination of two of my favourite things - You Choose and colouring in! Yes, for the measly sum of only £3.79, you can be the proud owner of the You Choose Colouring Book! Needless to say, this is now winging its way to me. A was less excited than me about the prospect. I am planning to take it with us on our trip to France over Easter, along with my exciting new colouring pens. I am aware that I sound slightly mentally unbalanced, but I am firm believer in the restorative properties of a good colouring-in with felt pens sesh.

On a slightly related illustration-y note, I was really pleased to see some books for older kids on the Greenaway medal shortlist this year. I am putting in our order for work tomorrow, but already own several of the books. The brilliant A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is on there, along with a book by David Almond, aimed at older children. Puffin Peter, which we own because of A's puffin addiction, also makes it onto the shortlist. I love the bright colours in this book, it's very clean and simple looking. Also on the shortlist is There Are No Cats in this Book, which I have previously blogged about. Looking forward to reading the others when our order arrives, and judging them along with the kids after the Easter break.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Usborne Adventures in Puzzle World

I love getting book recommendations from those who love children's books. Adventures in Puzzle World was a particularly successful recommendation from a very dear friend who is about as good at resisting buying books as I am. A case in point: a couple of weeks ago we went into Waterstones, to spend A's birthday voucher. We came out with books for all 5 of the children we had with us, even though she had only come in "for a look".

I bought Puzzle World for C's birthday a few weeks ago, and he has taken it to bed every evening, and spends a very satisfying half hour working through the puzzles. It's an omnibus of all of the Young Puzzle books published by Usborne. Every section, therefore, has a different subject. C's favourite is the final chapter which is set under the sea. The puzzles are relatively straight-forward, and the text is quite easy to read. I would say the book is most suitable for 5-7 year olds. A had a brief look, but prefers the versions aimed at older children.

I absolutely love watching C with this book: serious expression on his face, glasses falling to the edge of his nose, big heavy hardback on his lap, tracing his finger under the words. Invariably, if he doesn't find the answer relatively quickly, he turns to the answer page at the back. I asked him why he did this and he said "What's the point in spending ages finding the answer, when you can just find it at the back?" Fair enough. I hope he doesn't carry this strategy through into the future, as he might be in for a bit of a shock when the answers to his GCSE papers are not helpfully set out by page number in the back of the question booklet...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith and The Getaway by Ed Vere

I am glad we got The Stinky Cheese Man from the library and didn't buy it. It looked like such a winner - whimsical fairy tales with a twist, funny pictures, interesting endpapers. However, I didn't like it, and the kids weren't sure either. The humour is very dark, and not always all that humourous. Some work; the title story raised a couple of half-hearted grins from A and C, but not belly-laughs. It promised a great deal, and delivered little.

Slightly more successful from the library haul this week was The Getaway by Ed Vere. The kids loved the illustrations, which were bold, simple animals drawn on to real photographs of slightly seedy areas. They also liked the reader involvement in the story, which always goes down well with them. I would recommend this if you see it on your library shelves.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Dr Xargle by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

I don't remember when I read a Dr Xargle book for the first time, but I do remember that it was Dr Xargle's Book of Earth Relations and that I laughed until I cried, and that it was before I had children. It was the game of "Be Quiet the Grown-ups Are Talking" and the expressions on the faces of the kids that reduced me to tears of mirth. Even now that I have read it LOTS of times, I still often have to stop to catch my breath from the giggles I get when I read it.

There are several Dr Xargle books; the only one we don't have is the book of Earth Weather. In fact, I didn't even know this one existed until about three minutes ago when I checked the surname of the author on Amazon. I can now feel my index finger of my right hand hovering over that 1-click button. All of them are brilliant. Earth Relations is my favourite - this deals with the complex relationships between Earthlings. The Earthlet one is a great present for a new parent or sibling. The Tiggers and Hounds ones are great for pet owners. There's a Xargle for everyone.

The premise is that Dr Xargle is an eminent alien school-teacher who lectures his students in the ways of the Earthling. There are some wonderful turns of phrases. For example the earthlet is unable to keep itself warm, so it must be wrapped in "the hairdo of a sheep".

The pictures are fantasic, and the kids loved flicking through the books long before they could read; always the sign of a great picture book. However, it's the text that makes it for me. The kids enjoy them as much as I do, but it's a close run thing. Children know when the book you are reading to them is fun for you too, and that enhances their enjoyment. That's my excuse for never reading books I hate to kids anyway - life is just too darn short.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Today we almost reached the end of this book with a very lovely group of Year 7 students. It's the third time I've read the book now, and I still absolutely love reading it. Frank Cottrell Boyce has a gift for creating hugely sympathetic, hugely real adolescent boy characters; which is not always an easy task! Cosmic tells the story of Liam, an unusually tall Year 7 student, who is Gifted and Talented, but not always very socially aware. Liam would rather look at the GPS on his phone or play World of Warcraft than be out with the lads. However, he does love thrill rides.

Liam's love for technology and thrill rides leads him into a cosmic adventure. But more than being a tale about the moon, stars and extreme thrill-seeking antics, Cosmic is more a tale about love. However, it is in no way patronising or sickly, it's very acerbic in its wit, with lots of physical comedy thrown in too. It is touching, but not sentimentalised. Without giving too much of the story away, there is a line in it ("When we get back, I won't have a Dad any more"), which I always ask a student to read because invariably if I read it, I blub. And, in true Cottrell Boyce form, it's just plonked in the middle of a sentence, like a diamond in a muddy puddle. There's no deep exploration of feelings, just a subtle and honest exploration of what parental love and friendship are all about.

I feel that dads sometimes get a bit of a bad press in literature; especially in children's literature. Not as bad as step-mums, admittedly, but bad enough. I am very lucky to have the best dad, who has never been emotionally unavailable, violent or failed to attend an important school event which he promised he'd be at. I also have a wonderful step-mum, who her never sidelined me in favour of her own children, tried to blacken my mum's memory, or attempted to poison me with an apple, as one might expect dads and step-mums to have done if we believe everything we find in a story.

However, I think that even if a reader has a crap, or absent dad, there is a wonderful message in Cosmic. A good father is important, and has a massive influence on the life and happiness of not only his children, but all of the children whose lives he touches. Those without a father look for models elsewhere, and stories can help to provide a framework for thinking about what fatherhood should ideally be. This is important, in my opinion. Not as important as the fact that the book is a cracking good read, but important nevertheless.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Famous Five Adventure Games and old school Usborne Puzzle Adventures

We didn't actually read any of these today. In fact, we didn't read much of anything today, save the obligatory chapter of Beast Quest for C and Mr M's nightly chapter of Harry Potter for A. I was roundly told off earlier for saying to C "Let's go and read a book because Mummy's hardly written any blog posts for March so far". Surely, chided Mr M, the blog should come from the reading rather than the reading happening because of the blog." Quite right too.

So, anyway, today was Mothering Sunday. MIL and I had our obligatory slightly dead daffodils at Mass this morning. I had two gorgeous cards, slightly dog-eared from their journey home in the book bags of the respective children. A's was full of effusive praise for my parenting skills. C's was full of thanks for time spent on the Wii and lunch. Priorities...

We spent the day, as we so often do on Sunday, with Mr M's parents who live relatively nearby. MIL made a lovely Sunday lunch. The kids ate chocolate beanies and watched Boomerang. We played a few rounds of Count Your Chickens, my Mother's Day present from MIL and the kids. It was possibly the most frustrating game we have ever played in our lives, as setting up the chicken was an extremely difficult and fiddly task, out of the technological comfort zones of all of the grown-ups present, let alone the children. It is a testament to the general good-natured mood of the day that said game did not go hurtling out of the window after about half an hour of "play", involving attempting to balance a plastic chicken onto its incredibly precarious nest.

In the evening MIL and I took A and C for a walk in the local park to get some of that fabulous turn-of-the-season fresh air. It was pretty much a perfect day.

I had two childhood homes that I can recall; one until I was 11 and the other that we lived in until I left home at 22. My childhood bedroom is no longer in the family, so to speak. The smallest bedroom at Mr M's final childhood home, feels like the closest thing to my childhood bedroom. I was 21 when it became "my"room when I went to stay at the house. It's a lovely cosy little room, and the very best thing about it is that the bed is right next to the radiator. When you are cold and want to snuggle up with a book, it's warm as toast and comforting like a lovely comfy jumper, especially if you take a cuppa up with you. A has now claimed it as her room, C preferring the room where the toys are now kept. Sometimes I go up, and there she is, snuggled in "my" bed with a book and a drink. I snuck up there for a nap on Christmas day; not telling her where I was going, lest she got territorial.

There is a book shelf in the room, and it holds an eclectic selection of old books that belong to Mr M and his brothers, random acquisitions of mine which have been brought to Granny's house and never found their way home, and books MIL has bought for the A and C over the years. They have their favourites at Granny's as they do at home. Currently in vogue are the Usborne Puzzle Adventures, the ones before they were modernized with the wonderful illustrations by the late, great Stephen Cartwright, who will always be my favourite Usborne artist. Granny's help is often required in solving these.

One Sunday A found a Famous Five Adventure Game book. My brother and I had two of these books when we were kids, and they were one of my most exciting finds in WHSmith EVER. You had a book, a dice (with each of the characters on it) and various cards such as a picnic hamper and compass. You had to use your cards to help you to work out clues along the way, and then turn to the correct page, like a choose your own adventure but much, much more fun. I absolutely loved mine, and was ridiculously excited when A came downstairs clutching The Whispering Island game book. It is fair to say that she tired of it quickly, not having experienced the delights of the intrepid five yet. I, however, sat on the floor quite happily for a couple of hours, until I had solved the mystery. Happy memories. The only trouble with the books is that they were horrendously badly made, and pages used to fall out at random. This one was in very good condition, but I would not be confident buying one second-hand in case there was a vital page or card missing.

I am hoping that one day, the kids will grow into this and get as much pleasure from the book as I did. However, if they don't, I may just have to sneak up to "my" old bed with a cuppa and the book, and read it again myself.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The I Love Reading collection from The Book People

I bought this mainly because it had a copy of Penguin in it, and I know that C will be v reluctant to return that one to the library when the time comes. As it's a collection of10 books, I sort of assumed they would be quite small - shrunken down versions of the originals. As it happens, they are slightly smaller, but not tiny, and they have rounded corners, which appealed to me, and also to A and C.

It is fair to say the excitement level about this collection was less than for Alien Invaders but I had to wrench one of these out from two pairs of hands this morning so that we weren't late for school!

C's faves are Little Rabbit Foo Foo by Michael Rosen, Leon and Bob by Simon James and I Don't Like Gloria by Kay Umansky and Margaret Chamberlain. All of the stories are short and easy to read, with fabulous illustrations. C found the storylines for all three of these books fantastic. He keeps opening Little Rabbit Foo Foo to giggle at the picture of the goonie on the final page.

The set represents absolutely brilliant value for money, and would appeal to a wide range of ages I think, from toddler upwards. A did her usual thing of declaring them babyish and then reading them all one by one and pointing out the good bits to C and I. I read Leon and Bob to myself this morning and was very misty-eyed at the end. Perhaps I'll read it again at bedtime to fend off the zombie dreams which plagued me last night, in which my ex-boyfriend had turned into a zombie and was trying to get into my car, which I couldn't start. I blame Charlie Higson and his irritatingly brilliant series which I am continuing to read, despite it being utterly incompatible with my delicate psychological constitution.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Alien Invaders 1 - Rockhead: The Living Mountain by Max Silver

C took the Book People catalogue to bed last week to have a look, as he tends to when it arrives. He was instantly enamoured of the Alien Invasion set of five books by Max Silver (if that's his real name). He had noticed that it said "for fans of Beast Quest" in the description. There has been a great deal of excitement since they were dispatched, and today they finally arrived.

I was less excited. Truth be told, I don't want anything else toppling Beast Quest from its current position on the pedestal. I like Beast Quest. It's all action and excitement, and characters battling forces of nature and evil wizards and the like. Sometimes I allow C to have two chapters, just so that I can see what happens next, because the cliff-hangers are genuinely interesting.

Alien Invaders, however, is all high-tech equipment, lasers and people posturing in shiny space suits. There are lots of hand-held communication devices, where in Beast Quest there are magic shields and a map where the landscape is 3-D and has real rain and snow etc. In Beast Quest they have either normal names like Tom or obviously magical names like Malvel the Dark Wizard. What's not to like? So far, the characters in Alien Invaders are called G1 and Kaos. What sort of a name is G1? That's not a name! And Kaos is an abomination against spelling.

I am trying to pretend that I am excited about how Alien Invaders will turn out, as I don't want to rain on C's parade. However, it has nicked the idea of a boy saving humanity from Beast Quest, and it has unashamedly nicked all of the aliens from Ben 10. As the mother of a 6 year old boy, it is obvious to me that the charcter of Rockhead is based on Diamondhead. Mr "Silver" needs to get some of his own ideas.

I am hoping to encourage C to read these on his own; but he is so far unconvinced.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

From a book that had a very self-conscious "this-is-a-children's-book" vibe to it, to one which would have scared the living daylights out of me if I'd read it as a child. To be completely honest, I am still pretty scared, and I finished reading it over an hour ago. And I am 33 and in a room with my husband, who I keep sneakily looking at to make sure he is not showing any symptoms of disease.

The Enemy is completely brilliant. The premise is brilliant. It's set in central London and follows the fortunes of young people who have been left to fend for themselves. A horrific disease has struck everyone over the age of 14. Most of the adults have died, but others are still alive, but reduced to child-slaying animals, stumbling around killing and eating any children they can get their hands on. There are many groups of children who are doing their best to survive in the increasingly dangerous surroundings of London.

Over the course of the story we are introduced to several groups of children, but we begin with those that live in Waitrose on Holloway Road. A good choice of hide-out. I think I would have gone for Fortum and Mason, however. Aim high.

The characters are skillfully drawn and the action is electric and often shocking. There is some blood and gore, but there are also moments of phsychological terror. Not for the faint hearted. Although I was scared when I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at the age of 22, so I may not be the best guide.

There are several more in the series, and I will definitely be reading them. It is most emphatically not the sort of book that I would normally read, but I will have no qualms in recommending this to my students. Mainly because it is a brilliant story, but also because it will provide them with survival tips should this disease actually come to pass, and instead of providing them with pastoral and literacy support at school, I suddenly start to attempt to bundle them into a sack and take them back to my filthy den to cook. No harm in being prepared for all eventualities.

Wonder by RJ Palacio

It's been a lazy weekend at home, so I have read a couple of young adult books, as I like to recommend reads to the students at school, and feel more confident doing so if I have actually read them!

The first was Wonder by RJ Palacio. The age guideline says 10+ but I am going to let A read it, as there was nothing in there which I thought was unsuitable for her.

I have seen quite a lot of hype about this book, mainly on my twitter feed, so bought it when it came into the Red House catalogue for a measly few pounds.

The subject matter is interesting - it's about a boy, August, starting middle school in 5th Grade (yes, it's American). He has never been to school before, as his parents have kept him at home due to medical issues surrounding his facial abnormalities. The story revolves around August's struggle to be accepted as just one of the kids at his school. It's told from several different perspectives, which makes it somewhat more multi-faceted and interesting.

However, some of the characters were far too one-dimensional for me. August's parents were just sickeningly perfect - no couple is really like this. In fact, this would be the only thing that would put me off letting A read it. Mr M and I would not come off well in a comparison with the young, intelligent, attractive, funny, empathetic, understanding and charming Pullmans. I bet she never screeches "BECAUSE I SAID SO!" in response to a question from her child, whilst shuffling round the kitchen accidentally pouring milk on the work surface and wearing her husband's old jogging bottoms and a t-shirt she bought when she was in Year 9.

Anyway, although it was a well-thought out enough tale, to my mind Benjamin Zephaniah's novel Face is a much better read with a similar subject matter. I read that over a decade ago, and yet I can recall that the characters were much more sharply drawn and there was less of children's book vibe about the whole thing. Wonder is definitely not a bad book, but didn't live up to the hype, in my opinion.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Go Tell it to the Toucan by Colin West.

Back in the day, when A was 4, I had the obligitary panic-about-precious-baby-starting school. I was worried that A was going to already be behind the other children, having spent an inordinately large amount of her early years in front of CBeebies. TV acted as a sedative on A. She was an extremely energetic child. I think if I were to have had toddler A now, she quite possibly would finish me off. Nowadays she has swimming, running, dancing and drama group to burn off some of the excess exuberance, but back then CBeebies was my saviour on wet days, days when I was poorly, or the four months of my pregnancy with C where I had to stay at home because I threw up pretty much constantly. Motherhood is just pretty much non-stop glamour really.

Anyway, I remember mentioning my woes and worries about A's possibly stunted development to a friend who is a primary school teacher. "Can she recite nursery rhymes?" asked the friend? "Erm, yeah!" "She'll be fine". I remember nodding politely whilst thinking "WHAT?" However, after googling things like "what does my child need to learn before school", I found that others agreed with my friend. Apparently (and it makes perfect sense to me now), children who know nursery rhymes have a better sense of rhythm, a better understanding of patterns, and a better awareness of how words fit together in stories. This makes learning reading and maths much, much easier f0r a child, however many times they watched the same episode of Balamory three times in one day because Mummy was too busy vomiting to provide rich and varied educational experiences.

Anyway, this book is one of those lovely repetitious stories which encourage children to provide the last word or phrase of the sentence. All of the jungle animals are looking for the toucan so that he can spread the news about the elephant's jungle jamboree. There is a nice little twist at the end. A and C worked it out, which was nice for them. Although C is now a good reader, it is good for him to listen to a story where he can guess what is going to happen next, as this can only help to develop comprehension skills.

A has reached the age where books where lions and zebras interact without eating each other irritating. I explained to her the concept of "willing suspension of disbelief", and she seemed happy enough with this.

Incidentally, C watched much, much less TV than A. He still does. He was a toddler who was quite happy to potter around and play with toys whilst I did necessary tasks such as cooking, washing, ironing, or reading just a couple more chapters of whatever book I had to hand. I probably would have JUDGED mothers like I was with A had I just had C. In fact I judged myself. But now, looking back, I forgive myself a bit. She can recite nursery rhymes after all...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd

I have a big problem with corn dollies. Whenever I see a corn dolly, I am no longer a happy, settled and reasonably together grown-up woman. The hidden part of my heart takes over - the part where a frightened, lonely girl who still really, really needs her Mum cowers. Inevitably, I cry. This is almost always embarrassing, particularly when in mixed company, or when I am not expecting to see one, and not in the mood for dealing with those feelings (which is most of the time, since I generally prefer being a happy adult to a pathetic wreck).

I channel the blame and anger for the fact that my Mum died towards corn dollies when I encounter them. When my Mum was very ill, she bought a corn dolly. She told me (although speech was hard for her then) that corn dollies were meant to heal. I was really very angry that it didn't heal her. Who else was there to blame? Mum herself, lived a normal, healthy life. It wasn't a person that killed her. Blaming God seemed unhelpful, since my relationship with God is already fairly dysfunctional, and His minions here on earth often bat away specific questions about why this good person had to die with unsatisfying fridge-door triteness, along the lines of "The Lord moves in mysterious ways". Hmmm. The corn dolly mocks me with the stark reminder that there is nothing crueller than hope, when all hope has gone.

I bought A Monster Calls on the recommendation of a friend whose opinion on books I trust. It arrived yesterday in a delivery from The Red House, and I finished it this morning, having stayed in bed for longer than was really wise in order to finish it. I then had to wait for a further time in bed wiping the tears away, since the ending was really quite sad.

Sad, but not devastating like the end of The Time Traveller's Wife, which left me feeling cheated and distraught. Sad, but also feeling like the story had taught me something. A Monster Calls is the story of Conor. Conor's Mum is ill with cancer, and he is being bullied at school. A monster which takes the shape of a yew tree in the back garden starts to come and visit him. Far from being frightened; Conor is fascinated by the monster and interested in what it has to say. Conor starts to hope that the monster has come to cure his mother, and this hope becomes more pronounced when Conor's Mum reveals that her latest medication is formulated from the yew tree.

The tree tells Conor several stories, of people who he has visited in the past. The stories all serve to show Conor that people's motives and personalities are rarely easy to read or assess. The final story, Conor's story, reveals that the monster has come, not to heal his mother, but to heal Conor himself.

As I sobbed my way through the last few pages, I realised that this tale could also hold a message for me. The corn dolly didn't heal my Mum. She was beyond help by then. Perhaps she bought the corn dolly to help to heal those of us that were left. I think something changed within me when I had children, with regard to my feelings about death. I no longer really fear death, since I have seen that it can bring blessed relief from suffering. However, I do fear, in a gut-churning terrified way, what might happen to those who are left behind. This story is not afraid to tackle this very, very difficult issue. What happens to those who are left? How do they carry on living? I am sure Mum must have spent some very long, lonely hours worrying about the rest of us. I wish I could tell her that she didn't need to. That even though I find it difficult to look at displays of mother's day cards, I am OK. That the love she gave me every day of the 24 years of my life that I had her was enough to see me through centuries, let alone decades. That even when I play back the horror reel in my head of all the times I made her cry or the rows we had, that the length of that is about a millionth of all the times we laughed, or chatted, or I threw my arms around her and just drank in her Mumness.

Fittingly, but also heart-breakingly, the very fact of the book's existence fits in with its theme. Siobhan Dowd came up with the original idea, but died of cancer before she could write it. Ness was handed the baton to run with the story and "make trouble". For this particular reader, however, he failed to do this. For me, he made some peace. A much more difficult and fulfilling thing to have done, to my mind.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Ten Little Ladybirds by Laura Huliska-Beith

C was 6 yesterday. When A was 6, she seemed so exceptionally grown up. C is still (in my head) resolutely my baby. He still looks like a baby to me. This may be because his sister is an exceptionally tall 8 year old, and because I spend my days teaching teenagers, some of whom are taller than me, but I have a sneaky feeling that C will always be my baby, and that no woman will ever be good enough for him.

He is firmly into a chapter of Beast Quest every night for his bedtime story at the mo. I fear that their formulaic nature may start to grate on me by the time we get into double figures, but at the moment I am quite enjoying reading them to him. I was lucky enough that A was not in the least bit interested in the Rainbow Magic books (you know the ones: Fenella the Feeble Fairy, Ginerva the Gender-Stereotyping Fairy, and their ilk.) In fact the only one she ever got out of the library was the one which contained her name, and she pronounced it "just like all of the other ones" after about four pages. Formulaic can work if the original book is good. I know this to be true, because I loved Sweet Valley High. However, the original Rainbow Magic book was trite and dull, and so it followed that the 563 others are also trite and dull. I know, because, having read one, I've read them all.

Anyway, I decided to write today's post on a book that made C like books. He was always interested in his Buggy Buddy books, but was much more keen on emptying shelves and lining Thomas trains up than on sitting on my lap for a story. However, when he got to about 16 months, I found that he would sit and listen to a story, as long as it was Ten Little Ladybirds by Laura Huliska-Beith. It wasn't a particularly thrilling story, but it did have the attraction of ten little plastic bugs built in to the book, which C could faff about with whilst I was reading.

Some evenings when I go up to check that A is not still sitting awake reading Jacqueline Wilson's latest tome in bed until 10pm, I find that C has been reading Ten Little Ladybirds and stowed it at the end of his bed. This always makes me smile. Clearly, it still has a special place in his heart, as it always will in mine.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Puffin Post

A and C's Puffin Post for Pufflings magazine arrived this afternoon. They were very excited, as they always are on such an occasion. A has been a "puffineer" for about 18 months, and C since last Spring. Initially I bought membership for A as she was slightly slow to get excited about independent reading, so I was prepared to try anything which might enhance her enjoyment. The initial membership pack comes with a free cuddly puffin. "Puffy" as he is known has become A's favourite cuddly toy. Before Puffy came along A was not really interested in "acrylic fur stuffed with industrial waste" (as Jeremy Clarkson referred to a soft toy earlier in the week), but Puffy is now her lifelong and well-travelled friend. So she was now obsessed with a cuddly puffin, and still not particularly interested in reading. Fail (as "the kids" say).

As well as your very own Puffy (or outfit for Puffy after the first year), a year's membership entitles you to 6 bi-monthly magazines and 6 free books, which you choose from those listed in the magazine (one per magazine). The people at the Puffin Post recommend Puffin Post for Pufflings for children aged 6-8 and Puffin Post for those aged 9+. However, I really think it depends on the child. A has only just really begun to order anything other than the "easy readers" from the Free Books Bounty (as it's known), despite the fact that she reads very well. I don't think she would really have been able to access the books offered or the magazine effectively when she was 6, because of her lack of confidence and reading stamina. C is not yet quite 6, however, he has enjoyed reading the magazine for quite a while now, and has ordered a book which he has been able to read and enjoy since joining the Puffin club. He is more about the reading than the cuddly puffin. Like all of these things, I think it depends on the child.

The magazine has kept the two of them quiet for most of this evening. C has treated us to a "comedy show" of all of the jokes. I was able to do quite a convincing impression of a laugh for the first few, but it became quite a desperate and melancholic ghost of a guffaw by the time we got to "What force can you put on a chicken? Graveity". Boom. C enjoyed it greatly though, which I suppose is the point.

Each magazine contains a snippet, interview or article based on each of the books in that issue's giveaway, so that the reader is able to make an informed choice about which book they are going to choose. Both children use this to decide which book might be best for them, and now that she is more of a reader, A has discovered some books that she really, really loves through the Puffin Post, which she might never have read otherwise.

The club costs £39 per year to join. For six books, six excellent magazines, the excitement of perceived "freebies" and, potentially, a lifelong friend, I think this represents good value.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

World Book Day 2012

You're only as happy as your unhappiest child, as the old adage goes. This probably goes some way to explaining why I feel so miserable this evening.

I've had a lovely day. Today is World Book Day, and we have been celebrating in school today, by inviting students to talk about a book they have loved and explain what is good about it. It's been, on the whole, really heart-warming to hear students and staff talk so enthusiastically about books, and lovely to hear them recommending books that their class mates might enjoy.

My good mood evaporated horribly when A came home, and promptly started being vile to us all. This is most unlike her, since she is generally very lovely to be around. Mindful of both my Lenten promise to shout less, and also of the fact that shouting at people doesn't tend to get them to open up to you about their problems, I sat down with her and asked her what the matter was. "My teacher hates me" she sobbed. "What makes you think that?" "She said I could have done neater handwriting on my work." A had translated this as both evidence of hatred of her by the teacher, and also that she can't write, will never be able to write, so what's the point of anything anyway. Oh, and she's never ever going to school again.

I tried to gently suggest that teachers always have to come up with a target for improvement, and perhaps handwriting just happened to be the most obvious one in this instance. Nothing doing. More sobs. We progressed to "everyone hates me". MrM stepped in with a chapter of Harry Potter, which at least slowed the rate of the tears. The power of books.

Deep down, I know we all have to go through these things, and that I will probably remember her sadness for much longer than she does. However, I wonder how many of the kids I teach were given "targets" designed to improve their reading, which actually just led them to feel like failures. The (fortunately minority of) students today who said "I hate reading/books/I can't read/books are boring" were almost certainly using this as a shield to protect them from the hurt of years of struggling. How sad that they should be denied one of life's great pleasures, because of their own perceptions of themselves as readers, which may well have been embedded by well-meaning targets. I can only hope that by providing them with interesting reading material, and continually trying to engage them in meaningful reading activities, it might be possible to ignite a spark somewhere in their hearts that will lead to a love of books.

Hopefully, tomorrow A will be back to her usual sunny self, and I will be able to snap out of this mopey mood. I certainly hope so.