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.