Saturday, 10 May 2014

Little London by Sunshine Jackson and Kate Hodges

I have never really been one for travel. When I was little, families didn't really do travel in the way that they do now.  Very few of my friends went abroad, and if any of us did it was pretty much to the bits of Spain that are like hot England. I once made my parents laugh by saying that I wanted to go somewhere "cold and interesting". I now realise that that pretty much sums Britain up, so I was probably born in just the right place.  My disillusion with hot foreign holidays springs mainly from the fact that sand sets my teeth on edge and gives me goosebumps, which makes the beach pretty much a no-go area for me.

I've always thought that surely the point of travel is to go to some out-of-the-way places and see what the country is actually like for the people that live there.  Which is, of course, really quite hard to do somewhere where you don't know where the people go, or where the interesting out-of-the-way places are. However, for me, my best holidays have been to places where I have been able to return and visit places more than once, to feel that I know the place a little more deeply.

Luckily, we are able to visit one of the world's most interesting cities, London, regularly. We are able to do so as tourists, since, in London we don't have school or work or anywhere really to be at any set time.  Bliss.

The last time we were in London, at Easter, I was talking to a local Mum on the bus about the play area at the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (which is excellent by the way), and saying how impressive it is, and all for free, of course.  "Hmmm," she said "normally you get nothing for free in London!". Now, OK.  I know London is ridiculously expensive to live in. However, I really don't think it's fair to say that there is nothing to do for free in London.  There is plenty if you know what you're looking for, and where to look. This is why I have an entire shelf of guides to London. Some give specific walking routes, some give broad-based ideas for activities, others are more explicitly touristy type guides.

This book appealed because it is cheap and newly published (which means that the info about opening hours etc is likely to be up to date). My first thought was "Sunshine? Really?" Once I'd got over this ridiculous and unnecessary prejudice, I was struck by the fact that I liked the weight of the pages, and the pictures, both of which are reassuringly expensive looking. (NB the book is relatively expensive on Amazon, but cheap as chips with the Book People).

It's ONLY downside as a travelogue is that it's quite heavy, and not ideal for stashing in your bag.  My favourite London guide for bag stashage is Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness London Family Guide, which I picked up for virtually no money in The Works, and is excellent.

What is fantastic about Little London is that it is written by people who have lived the life they are writing about.  They have invested a great deal of time and energy finding things to do for little or no money in and around London.  You can tell they know what they are talking about.

Also, it's arranged by month. If, like us, you are seasonal visitors to our great capital, you can turn to the relevant chapter to find things that you might not have known about that may be happening during your visit. For example, the Imagine Children's Festival always fits in with February half-term, and is well worth a visit.

I've already added a few activities to my extensive to-do list. A must-buy for Londoners with children, or those who are regular visitors.

The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett

I have to admit to buying this one solely to boost my order to free delivery with The Book People.  So, essentially it was a free book.  Ahem. 

It's great.  It made BabyM smile. So much so that he didn't even attempt to eat it! It's about a duck who finds an egg.  All the other birds have an egg of their own, so duck pretends the egg is his.  The other eggs hatch (in lovely cut-away pages which are a pleasure for small hands to turn in the board book version). There are particularly nice touches on these cutaway pages - the baby owl emerges from his egg able to work out complex arithmetic, for example.

The end is surprising and hilarious.  This will become a firm favourite. Emily Gravett is an extremely talented artist and the storyline is sweet and amusing. Lovely for baby to pre-school (although me, A and C also enjoyed it deeply!)

*Sigh* Oh for goodness sake, it's just like school!"

At the moment, I am preoccupied by storage.  We are due to move in the next few weeks to a house which has some chance of fitting all of our things in it, without piles of books being the main focus of all the living areas. Although, having said that, I read a very trendy-trendy looking book from the library the other week called Books Make a Home, or something similar (I am not going to do it the honour of taking any more time out of my life for it to look it up online). It was truly, truly dreadful.  Pages and pages of extremely well-lit photographs of what looked to me like piles of books and magazines all over the place.  The message of the pictures seemed very strongly to be that if you live in an extremely large, trendy, and modern house and have no other possessions at all, then piles of books everywhere can look great! Except they didn't look great, they looked really untidy. One of the suggestions was to create your own glass coffee table by putting a piece of glass on top of four equally-sized piles of books. I mean, really?
  • That would look absolutely dreadful.
  • That is surely a ludicrous health hazard.
  • Most importantly - how are you meant to read and enjoy a book that forms one of the legs of a glass coffee table? Not entirely practical, is it?
I utterly agree with the premise that books make a home, which is why I borrowed the book in the first place.  But the book itself seemed to say that "using books you will never read and that look attractive is an interior design statement which shouts LOOK HOW CLEVER AND WELL-READ I AM! LOOK! PLEASE BE IMPRESSED! I'VE NEVER ACTUALLY READ A BOOK BUT THAT DOESN'T MATTER DOES IT SAY IT DOESN'T MATTER!" Not what I want for my home, thanks very much, Mr/Ms Author of Dreadful Book.

Anyway, back to actual useful book storage.  You know, the kind that displays books in an attractive way, but makes you want to look and them, and actually facilitates this. That kind. Although, apparently, this kind makes your living room a tiny bit like school.  Ah well, you can take the teacher out of school, and all that.

I bought the box from the Great Little Trading Company when they had a stonking sale.  At full price, it is a little wince-making.  But they are always having sales, so I suggest you sign up for the email newsletter and wait for a nice little "Please buy our stuff!" email to drop into your inbox.

It's called the Book Caddy, and is basically a white box with a  handle to store some books.  There is a little chalkboard area on the front.  Originally I put all of our WWI books in there, as a prelude to some village commemorations of the centenary said event.  The kids had a look at them.  BabyM tried to eat them.  A rolled her eyes and said the statement in the title of this post.  We all carried on happily.

This week A said "We're doing myths and legends in literacy. I suppose we could put some of our books on that in the book box thing." "OK" I said, trying to hide my intense excitement that she was playing along with me.  Our box now looks like this:


It's quite Marcia Williams box-set heavy, but that's not a bad thing, in my opinion.  Marcia William's cartoon versions of myths are great. I am fully aware that most of the lure of helping with the box, was being allowed to write with the special chalk pen when we had finished filling the box.  Tbh I was slightly upset at not being able to do that bit myself.
I suggested (with probably what was, on reflection, a bit too much enthusiasm) that we did a week each, where we put in favourite books from our shelves, that we would like to recommend to the rest of the family.  "Oh, really, Mummy! If it's not making the house into school, it's like making it into Waterstones or something!" How can anyone really have any objection to living in a branch of Waterstones? OK, so the bedding is not all that comfy, and you might want some cooking facilities.  But other than that, I don't see a problem. Bagsie the Birmingham New Street branch.  There are plenty of decent eateries nearby, and the stairs and particularly attractive.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Putting together a Story Sack.

I've always absolutely loved the idea of Story Sacks.  The idea is that instead of just having a simple story to read, you make the process of experiencing a story more interactive for a child. As well as a copy of the book, you include in the cloth sack a toy based on the book, a board game to play with themes relevant to the book, a science-y type game to play (again based on the book), and a non-fiction text which builds on some of the themes in the fictional book (or vice versa if the book you are basing the Story Sack is non-fiction).

I used the guide here to show me how to put together my Story Sack.

I chose to create mine based on The Three Little Pigs, since I was absolutely sure we had a copy of said text lying around somewhere. After all, I have three children, the eldest of whom is 10, and I am a total bibliophile, therefore I must have a copy, surely. Hmmmm. The longest single task in the creation of this Story Sack was looking for the blasted book, which it turns out I didn't have anyway! I ended up ordering the Nick Sharratt lift-the-flap version from Amazon, which turned out to be very satisfactory indeed.

Then, there was the task of finding other items for the sack.  Happily, I did have all of these things lying around, more or less. This was very satisfying - to make something more concrete somehow, more enriching than they were when scattered around random rooms in my house.

First of all I had, from years ago, a wooden puppet version of the story from the Early Learning Centre. The kids refused to let me get rid of this, thankfully, and used to use it to act out the story and put on little shows.

For the game, I used a Nursery Rhyme sequencing board game which was another old favourite.  The aim of the game is to get all of the elements of a famous fairy tale in the correct order, by throwing the dice and picking up cards with parts of the story on them. The Three Little Pigs is one of the eight stories included.

The science game was fun to create :) My friend kindly donated some large stones from her garden, I harvested some sticks from a tree in my garden and found some raffia in the garden shed to act as straw. I then put them all in a Lock n Lock box and added a card to the top asking several questions about the properties of the different materials in the box, and which one would be the best to make a house out of.

Finally I chose Home Around the World by Kate Petty and From Mudhuts to Skyscrapers by Christine Paxmann to act as non-fiction texts about buildings and safe places to live.  One for BabyM, and one for the others, should they choose to get involved in the Story Sack action.

BabyM just wanted to eat the Story Sack, although the others were interested.  In fairness, BabyM is far, far too young for the idea, I just got a little over-excited about it. I am looking forward to sharing it with him when he's big enough not to try and eat the raffia, and chuck the three little pig figures across the room...