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.