Friday, 30 December 2011
I love Bill Bryson. I've looked at some of the reviews of this book on Amazon and there are many snipy borers: "On page 134 Bryson says that Reverend Archibald Huntley was born in 1813, when it is patently obvious to anyone with a modicum of historical knowledge knows that he was born in 1812." I am a great fan of pedantry, but there's a time and a place, people, surely. The nature of history is that there are bound to be some inaccuracies, and yes these need pointing out. But to throw away the baby of an amazingly interesting historical tome with the bathwater of one or two mistakes is surely foolish. Bryson is a very rare storyteller, than can make virtually anything interesting when it is woven into his tale. Essentially he wrote a book based on wandering around his house, and it is brilliant. I now have a great deal more random knowledge in my random knowledge store, which I am hoping will benefit me at the next Scout Quiz night at the Hawk and Buckle. As you can tell, things have changed since my teens, and I am now quite the party animal.
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
I have a very dear friend who comes and does cleaning for me. She is the sort of friend who sorts piles of washing when she comes over for a cuppa anyway, so it seemed to fit nicely for both of us when I went back to work full-time, that I should pay her to do what she does anyway! The other day when she was cleaning the erstwhile parcel delivery man came with a package from The Book People (ah red and white box of joy - how I do love thee!) She said "I'll sign, but I don't actually live here." He said "I know - I've seen the lady that lives here. The Book Lady, I call her. I don't understand how she fits all the books in this house!" My friend says that she had to permit herself a wry smile. There is an ongoing and unspoken war between us, where I create a pile of books by my bed, she puts them away on a shelf or similar, and then the following week there is a different pile of books in the self-same place as the week before. I would imagine that she inwardly despairs of me, but she loves me so puts up with it, but I would think that she agreed with the parcel delivery man, as does my poor-long suffering husband, who likes books the normal amount.
Anyway, I was minded to write this, because today the Book People sale catalogue came through in the post. If there's one thing I definitely do not need at this time of the year it is more books. So why have I bought the catalogue upstairs with me to peruse with a cuppa in bed in the morning? Because I'm an addict that's why. And, obviously, now I *need* the books. For my kids, and my job, and my blog and that. Yes. Need.
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
Cut to Christmas morning. C has finished opening his presents and seems very happy with his haul. I can't help wondering where his bag of Lego Star Wars books from The Book People had gone to. I looked all around "The Christmas Room" aka the spare room aka Grandad's room and there were no more presents to be found. I have been looking on and off since then. This morning I was looking under our bed for escaped gift wrapping to recycle, and happened upon the Lego Star Wars books. Success! I also found The Lego Ideas Book which A, C and I plan to look at later, to learn how to make the ice cream van on the front cover. Mrs Organisation had totally forgotten she'd bought this! We also found Shirley Hughes's The Christmas Eve Ghost, which I had planned to read on Christmas Eve. That would have been nice, had I not completely forgotten about it!
So we read it this morning. The depiction of 1930s Liverpool seemed so completely real. It was a brilliant book for starting discussion; A and I had a long chat about how different washing would have been back then. The family are Mam, Bronwen and Dylan, who move to Liverpool from Wales after Da is killed in a mining accident. Mam takes in washing from the rich part of town, which she transports around in a pram, often leaving the children alone in the house as she does this.
Next door live the O'Riley family. Mam says "Good morning" to the O'Rileys, but no more - the children are forbidden from talking to them. They don't go to Chapel, but to a different church, which Bronwen is forbidden from looking in. This was a great discussion starter too. A managed to work out eventually that the Welsh family were Chapel- attending low church Christians, and that the O'Leary family are Irish Catholics. A doesn't understand the distinction too well, since going to any kind of church these days is a rarity. She had to be questioned for quite some time before she remembered that she was a Catholic, and then was very confused as to why "all the people just didn't get on with each other". Well, quite.
In the end Mrs O'Leary comes to the rescue when the children are left alone and frightened, and from then on offers to help out when Mam has to leave the children in future. They share a Christmas cuppa and have a nice chat. I blubbed shamelessly at the end, as the children ask Mam to remember the O'Learys in their prayers, and she does so. It's an absolutely wonderful tale of goodwill to all men. Definitely the best new story I've read for a long while, but then Shirley Hughes is a genius. It's a great investment - good for toddlers as the pictures are both comforting and detailed, and great for historical discussion with older kids.
Monday, 26 December 2011
Anyway, they always have a good few books so that if they get up before the crack of dawn (which, mercifully we have avoided thus far), they have something to do before we can entice Daddy out of his comfy bed.
This year A had A Street Through Time as one of her Christmas morning books. This book was published in 1998. I remember seeing it in Borders in Oxford, before the sad demise of said shop, and spending about half an hour looking at it. This was probably partly an attempt to avoid reading the interminable reading list or writing an essay, but it was also because the book is just one of my favourite books ever, and I was captivated by it from the outset.
I am very much a visual person. I don't learn particularly well through lectures or listening to someone else talk through their experiences, and I am not very good with my hands. However, give me a few pictures and some informative, but sparing words, and I am there. This book is an absolute visual treat. It tells the story of one street through time, and shows the change in use of the buildings, as well as the changes in architecture, and the shape of the landscape. For example I adore the way the fort changes to a castle, and then becomes castle ruins in various states of decay. This book teachers the reader about domestic history without resorting to elaborate description and boring verbal detail. It rewards visual attention to detail. If your child likes Where's Wally then this is well worth a try.
A spent rather a long time looking at it, which, given it was 6am on Christmas morning, is a good indicator of how absorbing it is. I am so glad I now have children, for many reasons, including that I had an excuse to buy it, and I probably got it for cheaper this year than I would have done in Borders in 1998 (perhaps part of the explanation for the sad demise?)
A is so not having this book when she leaves home.
It was a lot smaller than I was expecting, but the kids don't mind. The pictures are old-fashioned, in keeping with the gorgeous poem. I used to find the poem a little scary as a child, but I adore reading it, and so decided it was going to be incorporated into our family Christmas as one of our traditions. I think it is probably more for me than for them, but they don't argue, as it's Christmas Eve, and they're just too darn excited!
At the end of Mr M's wonderful rendition this December 24th A said "I've heard that poem loads of times." Yes, yes you have. And that's what Christmas is all about.
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
I find her novels quite dark, always have done. I am a sensitive soul, and sometimes find that I spend books or TV programmes in a state of perpetual unrest as to what misery might befall the characters. I am no longer physically capable of watching Casualty, because I imagine all sorts of horrendous possibilities for horrific injury and death to all of the characters at all times.
The Killer Cat series is very funny, but is a catalogue of disastrous events. A is much like me, and does tend to close her eyes when she can sense that the cat is about to do severe damage to somebody or something.
We have the box set of the first four novels, but saw the Christmas version in the library. I have read the first two chapters to the kids tonight, and it really is very funny. The Killer Cat (or Tuffy to his family) regularly makes quips along the lines of "so shoot me if I accidentally ripped the paper to shreds". However they are often very imaginative. Our favourite tonight was "So boil me in bubble bath".
It's a nice short book, so am hoping to get it finished for the big day on Sunday :)
Sunday, 18 December 2011
However this meant that C's grumpiness was matched in a very fitting way with FC's grumpiness. He loved the dream sequence where FC tries to dream his holiday dream again but it is broken and ruined. He enjoyed the fact that there were very few words, and that he could read the story through the pictures.
A joined us half-way through, so we went through it again, and C was able to recall all of the story without looking through the pictures again. Briggs always produces such clear visual images. I particularly love the 1930s semis, and the way the fronts of all the houses are cut-away, doll's house style.
The Amazon reviews contain a lot of indignation about how grumpy FC is. A and C found this hilarious! C said that you can tell he's a nice man, because he's nice to his animals. Neither of them commented that FC had no human contact, and eats his Christmas dinner alone, which always strikes me as a little bit sad.
Saturday, 17 December 2011
After lunch A and I snuggled up with A Christmas Carol - the DK Eyewitness Classics version. If it's normal to be in love with a children's book publisher (which I am aware it's not), I would have a major crush on Dorling Kindersley. They wrote the fantastic A Child Like Me series, of which I am an avid collecter. I'd not come across the Eyewitness Classics before I found this in the library, but this book is an absolute gem. It has the Dickens text alongside some absolutely stunning illustrations, and pictures and text in the margins explaning key points and vocab in the story (Amazon has a look inside feature for this book if you fancy a look).
A listened very intently to the first chapter (next installment for her tomorrow). I LOVE Dickens, and know this story well, although I am not sure if I've ever actually read it, or if hearing it as Radio adaptations and the many and varied film adaptations have just made me know all of the dialogue. I think this may be the case, as the dialogue all seems extremely familar, but the descriptions do not.
As much as I love reading books written for young children, it is really nice to read aloud from a book which is more challenging to read, especially as A was such a rapt audience. She found the story a lot funnier than I was expecting her to, and does not appear to be too scared (although bedtime will tell, I fear!) Most of the books I read to A now, are books which she could manage by herself, but prefers not to. This one, she would not be sufficiently motivated to read, I don't think, so it's good to share it with her, knowing that she would not tackle it yet herself. I would say she's about the right age for listening to this - C was about as impressed by the idea of Dickens as he was by Pan Haggerty. Perhaps he'll grow into both...
Thursday, 15 December 2011
Christmas in Grandma's Day by Faye Gardner and Bananas In My Ears by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake
Anyway, in bed, as I type, the kids ar reading to themselves for as long as it takes me to type my blog post. A is reading Christmas in Grandma's Day by Faye Gardner, which she got from the, somewhat depleted, Christmas shelf at the library. Sadly, however, Christmas in Grandma's Day was published in 1997, and so the Grandma of the title was born in 1938, making her 14 years older than A's Granny,. And they were a long 14 years too; perhaps the longest in terms of historical change, given that Ava's Granny was a 1950s baby boomer, and this Grandma was born before the start of WW2. In fact the Granny of the book is only 11 years younger than my Granny. Anyway, A doesn't seem at all perturbed by this. She is finding it fascinating. She particularly likes the page about stockings, and we both found it interesting to think that however much Christmas has changed over the years, stockings are still pretty much the same. A and C have a satsuma, some nuts, chocolate coins and a few small presents in there, just as the Granny in the book recalls getting. However, A did say that this year she really hopes Santa remembers her Chocolate Orange, as last year he forgot. Oooops.
C is reading Bananas in My Ears by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake, which I got from The Book People recently. He loves a good poem, but his favourite page is the street scene, illustrated in Blake's characteristic style, which is called "things people say". I can see why he loves it, the picture is lively and detailed, and the characters in it are saying everyday things. There's a Mum and child on the page where the Mum is dragging the unwilling child along and saying "Come, on!" Apparently, that one is me. I told him I was sure she was a really nice Mummy deep down; she was probably just a bit busy and her little boy was probably dawdling and looking at everything except the direction in which they were heading. C looked a little dubious, it has to be said...
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
I didn't do stories tonight, MrM did them. He read the first chapter of the 6th Mr Gum Book, which looks as though it is going to be as much of a success with the kids as the other 5 have been. Andy Stanton, I salute you. However, about 20 minutes ago, I heard a plaintive voice say "I can hear a scary noise". Turns out C had been reading Moshi Monsters magazine since a quarter past seven, and Ava had been reading various random books which she keeps under her covers in a pile at the end of her bed. Grrrr.
Double grrrr that this self-same scary noise is the neighbours' burglar alarm, which is still going off as I type, probably continuing to stop A and C from getting to sleep. But it's OK because they're not over-tired or anything. C didn't hit me and his sister earlier shouting "YOU'RE ALL STUPID" or refuse to get ready for his bath saying "I AM NEVER GOING TO GO IN THE BATH EVER AGAIN!". I didn't have to show him one of his presents (which has not been sent to Santa yet obv) and threaten to put it in the charity bag in the understairs cupboard to get him to comply with his bedtime routing. No, that didn't happen at all.
Anyway, when I went up, I decided to offer a bonus story to try to soothe them to sleep. I picked Betty and the Yeti by Ella Burfoot, out of the same winter collection from The Book People which I plucked the dreaded Jack Frost out of on Monday. I think both kids were a bit too old for it really. I think they would have loved it a couple of years ago. The pictures weren't really to my taste, a little bit on the twee side, I felt, and the storyline was predictable, but in a way that pre-schoolers love. I plan to try again when general stress levels are lower, and put a bit more feeling into the voices next time, and see if the reception is better!
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
Father Christmas The Truth by Gregor Solotareef is the best Christmas book ever written. It's completely and totally bonkers. I've never quite been able to work out if it's written for adults or children. It was in The Book People catalogue when I was about 12, and my Mum bought it for me as a stocking filler. I loved it then, love it now, and A has been squirelling it in her bed, which suggests that she loves it too.
The text is often amusing, but it's the illustrations that really make this book. Father Christmas is a melancholic figure, who rarely smiles and always has a slightly sardonic look in his eyes. He's a bit like a slightly grumpy history teacher, who has a gruff exterior, but who you know really loves the kids. The elves range from children through to eldery, and it's Father Christmas's job to look after them. However you only glean this through looking at the pictures, as it's an A-Z "reference book", rather than a conventional story.
My two favourite pages are those about "camping" and "Mummy", but there are absolute gems throughout. I won't ruin them though, because they really need to combine with the pictures to make sense as a unit, just as all the best picture books do.
Erm, it's out of print - sorry. There are several available second-hand on Amazon though for only a few measly English pounds.
Monday, 12 December 2011
I had high hopes for today when it started too. However these were dashed by pre-Christmas frenzified children, my car flashing a big red STOP! on the dashboard, seemingly at random, the self-same car allowing its rubber seal thingy on the driver's side windscreen wiper to fly off, rendering said windscreen wiper useless in the midst of a howling tempest, and various other minor annoyances.
Never mind, I thought, I'll get Jack Frost out of the books-possibly-for-Christmas-but-maybe-just-for-winter bag and read it, that'll cheer us all up! How wrong can you be, by the way? (with apologies to the great Frank Cotterell Boyce.) It started really well, poor sad lonely boy finds fun wintery chum to share in his japes. Chum warns boy not to mention warm things. They play wintery games and make jovial snowmen, frolicking and laughing in the gorgeously drawn icy landscapes. And then the boy accidentally says "spring" and Jack disappears. He whispers that he'll be back as he vanishes. Did this stop both of my children sobbing broken-heartedly for several minutes at the end? No, it did not. It's not an *ideal* bedtime story that ends with you having to mop up snot and tears, especially when one is not exactly in the right frame of mind to spend time exploring those emotions and having a discussion about valid feelings of loss. If you feel like doing that though, or have less sensitive children than I, then enjoy!
Sunday, 11 December 2011
Anyway, help is at hand, because Melrose (the dog) is also sad, because although he is clearly very wealthy, he has no-one to share Christmas with. He is alone and friendless. Inevitably they meet (whilst iceskating) and spend Christmas together. Neither C nor A asked the following questions:
- Croc seems quite young - where are his parents?
- Melrose has only just arrived at his apartment - where else does he live?
- How come Melrose has two single beds in his bedroom?
- How come he is happy to give one up to a total stranger?
- Why aren't Croc's nearest and dearest concerned about a) his whereabouts or b) his wellbeing on Christmas day?
None of these things actually matter, of course. It's a wonderful, feel-good story. But there are serious narrative gaps for the adult reader. These gaps may bother, or be expressed by kids too, just not my kids. This *may* have something to do with the fact that, generally, when they want to ask a question about a bedtime story, they get "BE QUIET, I AM READING!" as a response. Given that I answer and ask questions about stories for a living, I should probably address this serious weakness in my bedtime-story-reading technique. In fairness to me, I am much more open and receptive to questions when it is not a) bedtime or b) near enough to Christmas that the pre-Christmas hysteria which afflicts all children, and their parents, has well and truly set in.
The illustrations are 1950s style humans with appropriate looking dinosaurs. The question is posed at the beginning about how dinosaurs go about daily tasks. The first half asks whether they do it in an inappropriate manner ("How do dinosaurs eat their food? Does he burp, does he belch, or make noises quite rude?) The second half says that no, indeed, dinosaurs are the very epitome of polite behaviour. They rhyme and are extremely satisfying to read; with ample opportunity for some ham acting! We were not disappointed by the Goodnight version, it was just as good as we expected it to be. A series which will be loved by toddlers upwards.
Friday, 9 December 2011
It's an adaptation of Dickens's A Christmas Carol with mice. What's not to love? The illustrations are uber-gorgeous, and A really enjoyed pointing out the pictures of Scrooge and various ghosts above the main action (involving the mice). Scrooge et al are never referred to at all in the text, so the detail in the illustrations is a really clever touch, which went down very well with A. The story is that of a mean mouse who is made to see the true meaning of Christmas by a ghost mouse. C didn't really get it, as his knowledge of the original story is not yet very strong. However, for an older child who has internalised the key plot of the original Dickens tale, this is a real treat. And if you can get it from the library for free like I did, even more so!
I have made calendars with Year 7, and also made one for A and C. We used the fronts from Teachit, but the challenges from Teachit Primary. They are really enjoying completing them, although C found today's challenge (read the back of a cereal packet) somewhat perplexing. I don't know why, since I remember spending most of my childhood breakfasts reading the back of various different cereal packets.
Anyway, I should probably have mentioned this sooner,, since it's now a bit too late to start. Apologies, but a visit from Mr and Mrs Ofsted has made most of this week a write-off blog-wise. The calendars will be available next year, if anybody fancies taking up the challenge then.
Sunday, 4 December 2011
Which brings me on to the subject of the day. I felt slightly bad the last time I went to the library, as I virtually emptied the Christmas books box in one visit. However, I intend to make good use of them!
I only had C tonight, as A has gone to panto practice with her Dad. He picked two books from the box which "looked the best". The first was The Santa Trap by Jonathan Emmett. The book is about an extremely badly behaved boy called Bradley, who makes a plan to trap Santa so that he can steal all of the presents. I was waiting for the sugary sweet ending where Bradley sees the error of his ways, but this didn't happen. The ending was surprising and funny. C laughed out loud at the final line. The illustrations are fantastic, very Tim Burton for tinies.
Secondly, he chose I Really, Really Need Actual Ice Skates by Lauren Child. I first came across Charlie and Lola when I was doing my teacher training, and my lovely mother-in-law bought me I am Too Absolutely Small for School. It seemed such an original concept at the time; the language and illustrations were so fresh and unusual. It has now been copied, and copied some more, and I do admit now that I have a slight heart-sink moment now, when one of them pulls out a Charlie and Lola, simply because I have read them so many times! However, this one was new to me, and it was very enjoyable. C was able to guess what was going to come next, and the moral of the tale (that sometimes you want a toy so very badly, but it turns out not to be as good as expected) is one that is an important lesson, and one that children can really relate to.
Friday, 2 December 2011
It was really wonderful to watch A's face as she remembered all of the pictures. When she saw the front cover she said "Oh, I remember this book now!" When I asked her what it was about, she couldn't remember at all, but could describe several of the pictures in great detail. When I remember books from my childhood, it is in exactly the same way - one of my favourite ever books had a picture in it of some "brand new marker pens" and I have no recollection of how the pens were used, but I remember the picture of them perfectly. Sadly, due to the fact that my mother had no truck with sentimentality, they probably went to the charity shop many, many moons ago, and so I'll just have to be satisfied by the pictures, which, seemingly, is what children carry with them into adulthood from favourite early-childhood picture books.
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
However, some of them are just not all that good. And for small children, they are extremely wordy. Some children, who like the sitting-on-knee-and-hearing-Mum's-voice aspect of stories will probably tolerate that perfectly well. However, A was always one for the action, and used to frantically try and turn the pages of the Mr Men books as I was still in the middle of the second paragraph of text. That used to annoy me, as I have OCD tendencies in many areas of life, and one of them is finishing books that I have started.
Anyhow, C is now at an age where he can read them himself, and something in them obviously appeals greatly to him. He always gets one from the school library, and has read all of our meagre selection several times. He chose for me to read Mr Mean tonight. Not one of my favourites, but we enjoyed it, in a slightly-too-many-words kind of a way. A can now tolerate sitting through the whole of a Mr Men book, but then she should be able to, since she is nearly 8 years old!
A chose Dear Greenpeace by Simon James. We haven't had this one for ages, and when she brought it in the room, I commented that I was sure it had been a present from her oldest friend. Sure enough there was an inscription at the front "To A on your 5th birthday" dated Feb 2009. I love it when people write an inscription in books, and A was really excited to know exactly how long she had had the book, and who had got it for her.
It's a lovely book, about a girl who finds a blue whale in her pond. The hardback version (which is the one we have) has Jolly Postman-esque letters from Emily to pull out of the envelopes and read. The kids took it in turns to get the letters out, and it really adds to the whole experience of reading this book. When I looked at the reviews for it on Amazon I noticed that a LOT of teachers had commented, saying that they use it as a springboard to looking at whales/nature/loneliness/letter-writing and all sorts of other things. The book is very easy to ask open-ended questions from: "Why do you think Emily can see the whale?" etc. However, it's also nice to read without asking questions, because there is an awful lot there in the book without producing further work based on it. The little sketches of family life in the pictures are brilliant - I love the one where Emily is writing to Greenpeace from the rug in her living room, a TV quiz on in the background.
I think now it has been rediscovered as bedtime reading, it will be chosen much more regularly. It's nice to be able to have that many books, that one can be forgotten about for a while and then read again, when the children are older and get more out of it than they might have done previously.
Sunday, 27 November 2011
Two of the books were for me: Michael Morpurgo's Farm Boy and Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. We are reading War Horse at school, and Farm Boy is the sequel - so I am thinking about moving on to it after we have finished reading War Horse, since it seems to have captured their imaginations. David Walliams is a genius, imo, but the kids are both still a little young to really get his books, so I have bought Gangsta Granny to read myself until they are ready.
We read two of the others at bedtime. The first was Hubble, Bubble, Granny Trouble by Tracey Corderoy. I really liked this book, mainly because it felt really nice. I know that sounds somewhat bizarre, but the pages were really thick, and it smelt really book-ish. The pictures were gorgeous too, and the kids seemed quite amused by the story. The rhyming text made it easy for them to guess what was coming next. I am glad I didn't pay over ten pounds for it, but for the knock-down Red House price, it represents great value.
We were all really excited about Monstersaurus since it comes from the same stable as the Aliens and Dinosaurs love Underpants series, of which we are big fans. In some ways we were not disappointed. The illustrations were fantastic; the expressions on the faces of the characters were hilarious. The text was amusing, and, again, the rhyme scheme enabled the kids to guess what was coming. Both enjoyed the bit where monstersaurus threatened the others with a kiss. However, and it's a big however, it was a book which was very clearly set up for a sequel. The last two pages talk about Monty and Monstersaurus going off and having lots of fun adventures. C was really excited about what these adventures might be; and then the book ended! He was most put out when I said there would probably be another book, but I didn't know when. He felt quite cheated out of the story I think. I really don't mind books which are part of a series, but this felt like an incomplete book - not only to me, but more importantly to the five-year old who surely forms a part of their target audience! I will probably buy the sequel, because it did capture his imagination, but I will probably begrudge it a little. And hope that it's in The Red House, so that I don't have to pay too much for it!
Friday, 25 November 2011
Anyway, tonight they ended up in bed even later than usual, and were both somewhat put out when the chapter of Mr Gum was relatively short, and so I offered the usual placater, Sandra Boynton's The Going to Bed Book and Moo, Baa, La, La, La.
I know both of these books off by heart now, and sometimes just saying the words is acceptable, but tonight I had to find the actual books, because they wanted to look at the pictures (which are gorgeous cartoon animals). The Going to Bed Book concerns the bedtime routine of the animals on Noah's ark (although no reference is actually made to Noah, or indeed to any human being). One thing I have never understood is that the animals exercise after having had their bath. This is probably because it fits better with the rhyme scheme, but I find it irritating that they sweat, when they have just got clean.
Moo, Baa, La, La, La is completely insane, which is why I love it. The final line "It's quiet now, what do you say", has, over the years, generated some interesting responses.
Boynton has written lots of other books, which I would imagine are also wonderful. They are board books, and suitable pretty much from babyhood, but they are still deeply loved in this household.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Letterland holds a very special place in my heart. It's a phonics system where each letter of the alphabet has a pictogram of a person or creature associated with the letter (E is Eddy elephant, R used to be Robber Red, but is now something more PC). When I was a very teeny child, growing up in a suburb of Southampton, which used to look brand-new and spangly, and now looks a teeny bit dog-eared (in an accurate reflection of my own looks), my school trialled the Letterland phonics system. There were posters (amazing), books (OK), worksheets (again, amazing, but then I was a kid who used to make my Mum set me extra homework) and some songs. The songs were immense. One day my brother came home from school, having learnt a new sound and a new song (I don't remember this bit but the tale has gone down in family legend). Apparently, when asked for a rendition of the new song, my brother lustily sang "Fireman Fred says f-in words, f-in words, f-in words" and was slightly crestfallen when my Mum's reaction was horror and then hilarity! I think they changed that particular song after the pilot.
Anyway, Letterland taught A her letters before she started school. C only learnt X and Z, both of which he became slightly obsessed with. (Two things the avid reader will have learnt from this blog so far: 1) I like buying high quality books at bargain prices from charity shops and 2) my son is particularly prone to becoming obsessed by items as wide ranging as a 17th century Catholic terrorist and the letter x). Both have really enjoyed the books though, so I haven't quite got round to giving them away yet, despite the fact that neither of them now need the Letterland folk to remind them that Fireman Fred says f'in words.
Monday, 21 November 2011
Also in this series MIL has Caveman Dave, which she bought mainly because her husband is called Dave and we all like to have a laugh at the thought of him being the eponymous hero in the story. It's also a favourite, because A's name is in it, as the sister of our hero. Similarly fab pictures, and similarly mind-numbing text. But, again, that fact that I am not the target audience, is important for me to remember here.
The books about pants were not actually read this evening, but I was reminded of them by A's prayers this evening. Some evenings, A likes to look out of the window and say her prayers before stories. I don't normally listen but tonight happened to be in the room, when she opined "thank you also that I am now on the Anti Bullying committee at school. Although I don't know if that was down to you, or because I wore my lucky knickers". How I did laugh (although quietly, obviously, as she was being terribly pious and earnest). I frequently used to talk to God in the manner of Are you there God, it's me Margaret by one of my all-time faves Judy Blume. I would imagine that if He is listening, it's probably more fun to hear about lucky pants, than it is about my erstwhile teen whimperings about how everyone was so horrible and I'd never find a boyfriend, not even an ugly one, because I was so useless and my life was so terrible.
We did once have a book about a pair of lucky yellow socks, but I think it was a library one, and I can't remember what it's called. However, our favourite pants book (lucky or otherwise) has to be Pants by the lovely Mr Sharratt (again). We like the one of the boy running free with "no pants at all!" best.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
Ronny Rock Starring in Monster Cake Meltdown and other picture books for older children that I have loved.
It's about a boy (the Ronny Rock of the title) who is a baker's son. His Dad makes a variety of wild and wacky birthday cakes every Friday evening before heading for an evening out. On this one particular Friday, he misses one of the notes, and it is up to Ronny and his wonderfully depicted teen babysitter to make the monster cake (also of the title). I won't give away too much of the plot (like I usually do) but suffice to say I had to read the entire book in one sitting, even though it is pretty darn long!
It's not a book for small children. I keep meaning to take it in to read to some of the kids I teach, but A has taken to hoarding it in her pile of faves at the end of her bed, so I keep forgetting. I would say 7+ really. C did enjoy it, but he began to lose interest during the middle section.
It reminded me somewhat of The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman and David Roberts, which was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2o10. This is also a picture book for older kids, about a group of school children getting one over on their evil teacher.
Another book I have loved for older kids (at least 7+ on this one, I would say), which was shortlisted for the self-same prize this year, is Cloud Tea Monkeys by Juan Wijngaard. It takes approx 40 minutes to read aloud but it kept a group of 12 year olds spellbound for all of that time, when I read it in the Spring. It's a touching story about tea-pickers, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. Completely different in style to the other two books mentioned here, but all three are excellent reminders that older kids (and parent readers!) like pictures too.
I bought Brian Moses's Blood and Roses ostebsibly for A, but really for me. It's a journey through British (mostly English, it has to be said) history in poetry. There are some absolutely brilliant poems in there, both traditional and contemporary. A great collection to dip into, to support history topics which might have captured a childs' interest.
On the same library visit where we found Blood and Roses we also took out Off by Heart by Daisy Goodwin, which is a BBC tie-in to a series about learning poetry a few years ago. This has also gone out of print. In a bid to save a few pennies, I bought Penguin's Poems by Heart but it was absolutely nowhere near as good, despite good Amazon reviews; so I ended up buying Off by Heart too. It is split into three sections of poems, starting with the easiest ones to memorise, and ending with the most challenging. It is well presented and makes the reader feel excited about learning the poems. I am so deeply tragic that I am marking off the dates that we learn each poem on the index page. This is, obviously, optional. I wish there was a little chart where you could do this though, in order to appease saddos such as myself. It reminds me a little of the classic Poem for the Day but is much more child-friendly. I loved that book whilst I was at university and can still remember most of No, I am not Afraid, by Irina Ratushinskaya, which I learnt on the number 6 bus from Oxford city centre, to my Nan's house in Wolvercote. I bet if I were to sit on the same bus again, I could probably remember it all. Poetry is a bit magical that way.
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
The illustrations are hugely detailed. The one of Manfred and the doctor, after he has seen the error of his ways, is one of my favourite illustrations in a children's book of all time. The subtle changes in the lighting make his previously austere room seem warm and enticing, and tells the reader all that needs to be told, simply through an image.
The text is witty and the vocabulary used is wide, but simple enough to understand because of the context, and because of the detailed illustrations.
I can see this one getting an airing for a few years yet. A good investment, in my opinion, especially given that I bought it for a pound in The Works.
Sometimes I wonder if there is a profound psychological meaning behind this. My Mum died when I was expecting A, and she always used to say that she was not going to buy her grandchildren sweets, only books. I don't know whether I am playing out this role because she can't. Not that my mother-in-law isn't averse herself to a bit of children's-book-related retail therapy. But she is pretty into the sweets side of things too. I think the probable real reason is that I just really like books. And they are relatively cheap given the pleasure they bring.
I will definitely never win prizes for my mothering. It is usually average, and some days very poor. However, I can never be cross when I am reading a book. I like to think it gives them the message that however grumpy Mummy may be, we end the day on a good note - snuggled up with a good book or five.
Anyway, to the point. These books here are impossible to read grumpily. Tonight C requested Calm Down, Boris. This is probably my second favourite of the four Sam Lloyd titles we own.
Our first, purchased when A was around 2, was Hello Dudley. This is still my favourite. All of the books feature a hand puppet which comes through a hole in the centre of the book. Dudley is a purplish frog-like creature, Boris is a big fluffy orange monster, Sid is brown and sort of woolly, and Wendy is a frog, who is made of impossibly glam (for a kid's book) green spangles and has (unsurprisingly) a very wide mouth.
The reader of the book inserts their hand into the character and the story begins. The premise is slightly different for each book. Dudley is a bit cheeky, Sid pretends to be scary, but is not really, Boris is too tickly and kissy, and Wendy is prone to arrogance. All the books have opportunities to pretend to eat your kids' fingers and to render them weak with giggles. All books end with the monster happy, having seen the error of his/her ways. Only Dudley allows you to sing appallingly though, hence it is my fave. They are all very good, although imho Wendy is by far the weakest of the set.
The are not really the best books for bedtime, as they tend to whip small children into a frenzy of laughter and excitement. Which is probably why both kids are still wide awake, precisely an hour after their official bedtime.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
It's a cautionary tale, in the mould of Hillaire Belloc, but much more sparing with the words. Billy is a very spoilt child who is shown a series of wonderful things, such as the world's curliest trumpet, and the steamiest train. Billy's only response to all of these things is "whatever". In the end Billy's Dad shows him the world's hungriest tiger. After the tiger eats him, he shouts to his Dad that he is still there in the tiger. Dad's reponse as he walks away? "Whatever".
This book is wonderfully illustrated - they are bright and simple pictures, which remind me a little of the iconic Mr Benn.
The illustrations and some of the way that the text is written reminded me of Go, Bugs, Go! by Jessica Spanyol. This is an extremely quirky book, about some bugs with eccentric names, who love driving around in various different vehicles and having crashes. Nothing about that book is designed to appeal to an adult either, but I much prefer it, as it doesn't try to be anything it is not. It appears to have gone out of print, which is a shame, but I have managed to get several out of print books recently from Amazon, of which more later.
We also love The Magic Bed by the same author. This one is about a boy who goes off with a male relative named Frank to buy a bed. They choose one from a second-hand shop which the owner claims is magic. Georgie goes to bed early every night, and finally works out the magic word which means he can go on adventures in his magic bed. There is a bit of a crisis at the end, but this is resolves happily. A and I both dream about being able to travel to school still in our beds, so this book appeals to us!
Thursday, 10 November 2011
I would say this was aimed at a readership of around 9+. Some of the sentence structures are quite complicated, and there is a fair bit of blood and gore. I had to swiftly edit the end of the Guy Fawkes story for fear of terrifying both children out of their sleepiness! I find the text ever so slightly dry, but both children listened happily enough to the tale, and A is interested in using it to help her with her homework on Roman history. Definitely a useful one to have on the shelf.
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Next up was The Monsters' Guide to Choosing a Pet by Brian Patten and Roger McGough and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. I much preferred this one, and it did get some laughs from the kids, but they found the poem about the disappearing scarecrow just a little too sad for bedtime. It is a more grown-up friendly book, and, unsurprisingly for two such poetry heavyweights, the rhythms were delighful.
More on some of our other favourite poetry books once I have done this dastardly assignment!