Monday, 30 April 2012

Zoom and Rezoom

As promised, this week I'll devote myself to proper consideration of our Gosh purchases.

I like to start the week with the simplest books and progress in complexity and accordingly I'll begin today with two wordless books. Don't be deceived however, these are not picture books for the youngest and whilst Bill has enjoyed them I think he will get even more out of them in years to come. The husband had to take a tea break halfway through looking at 'Zoom' as his head was being messed with so much.

They are relatively speaking 'old' books; first published in 1995, but I had not come across them before and I'm not entirely clear whether they were ever published in the UK. Certainly the copies I bought were US imports. I apologise however if you are reading this review rolling your eyes at the idea that anyone could not know these classic books. They may have just passed me by until now.

I'm very glad that I've rectified my omission if that is the case. They are objects of marvel and wonder; solo trick or gimmick notwithstanding. Istvan Banyai presents a series of single frame images; one to a page, and each drawn with both technical precision and classy graphic clarity. As you turn each page, you grasp that you are being presented with a series of optical illusions as each image zooms out on the previous one. Thus a farm turns out to be a toy farm being played with, which in turn becomes the front cover of a magazine. The entire zoom out being sustained through the entire 30 page book. It's very, very clever.

Once you understand the principle there is more fun to be had going back through the pages and spotting the clues that tell you where the next scene might be heading. There is also fun to be had contemplating the world around you anew from the perspective of an ant or a Lego man. It  reminds me of this toy that has been doing the rounds on the internet which allows you some contemplation of the infinite in zooming. Dizzy making Alice in Wonderland stuff. I may need to spend some time just sitting on an ordinary chair holding an ordinary mug looking out of an ordinary window trying to reacquaint myself with the scale of human.

'Zoom' by Istvan Banyai, pub. Puffin isbn 978-0-14-055774-9

Friday, 27 April 2012

Buying comics

After last week's 'up all-nighter' (or more accurately 'up most of the early-eveninger') with 'Super Animal Adventure Squad' Bill and I have had a week of fairly gorging ourselves on comic/graphic novel fare.

First I made a tentative foray to Gosh, a specialist comic shop in Soho to see what I could forage for us both. This is the husband's territory. He's been making visits there for years, coming back with discreet bags which he then takes down to enjoy in his shed at the bottom of the garden. Occasionally the bags spend some time on the kitchen table first and by long term marital osmosis I have started to absorb some of his enthusiasm and discover some of the more mainstream grown up stuff myself. (hurray in passing for Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Craig Thompson, Tom Gauld and Dash Shaw) But you know I was/am a straight laced ballet/pony book girl not a cool comic geek girl. I don't really know what I am doing and the thought of a Proper Comic Shop was a little scary. I envisaged being faced with something like a specialist vinyl shop where pasty Men of Knowledge would turn together and stare at me before returning to obsessive sorting through brown boxes of plastic wrapped back titles and I would have to scuttle away shamed.

But no! It was all good! Gosh has recently moved into new premises in Berwick Street and I have to say they are extremely welcoming for the novice browser. They lure you in with big open glass doors and stacks of ordered loveliness. And they turn out to have a dedicated and beautiful children's section packed full of US import treats which would be hard to get anywhere else. There were stairs at the back leading to the basement; I suspect that's where the Proper Comic Buyers head and the brown boxes might live. I was happy to stick to the ground floor baby slopes for my first visit.

While I was rifling the shelves happily a rather smart and imposing woman came in and asked the assistant in ringing tones for help finding suitable titles for her 11 year old. "He raced through 'Bone' that you recommended last week. Have you got anything of a similar standard of reading difficulty and quality? I want something to occupy him for at least 3 hours please- that looks far too short." The patient assistant made many suggestions. I liked the conflict that was obviously surging within her. 'I don't understand, like, admire or identify with any of these titles but at least he's READING so I'll make the best of it for a minimum of 3 hours of silence.'

So here was my first self-selected kitchen table haul. I thought the assistant had probably had enough helping picky Mamas.

Which have all been more or less devoured now. Probably in about 3 hours give or take but I'm not so picky. Proper reviews to follow.

Not only did I make it to Gosh but I also took the boys briefly to Comiket on Saturday afternoon. We arrived late but just in time to see James Turner do his live drawing of 'Star Cat' which was a thrill for Bill. Here's a rubbish photo of the big screen action.
There was quite a lot of watching James Turner's head due to unfortunate light positioning.
We briefly browsed the stalls but Eddie had had enough within minutes, and it was crowded, and I ran out of small change, and I wasn't sure what was going to be kid suitable and what wasn't so we didn't stay all that long. I felt that I might be starting to wade out of my depth. But we did get these (not that we needed an indie comic fair for them!):
 And we met Andi Watson and he signed Bill's 'Gum Girl'. I was quite put in my place about 'Gum Girl' by Bill:
'What do you think Bill? Should we get this or is it too pink and girly for you to read?'
'No mum, just looks cool and superheroey to me. Get it please.'
And he's gulped down that this week too.
We're really excited to learn that there's going to be a dedicated kids comic tent as part of the Pop Up Festival in June. Our education can continue there. Hell, I may even make it down the stairs at Gosh before then.
So Cool Kids what should we buying next?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Pony book diversions

It's raining again. Really raining this time. Pouring with rain. The bit of roof which sometimes leaks has its first drip poised to fall. It's rained every day now for about the last three weeks and the forecast ahead is for more of it as far as the eye can see. I don't think I'm the only one who is feeling a little grumpy even though we are not allowed to be grumpy because we are Officially In Drought and Goodness Knows the Earth Needs It.

So I'm going into regression today with the remnants of my once reasonably substantial collection of pony books. It is a day for retiring under the duvet with an abandoned yearling rescued from the knacker's yard for a guinea to nurse back to health and win a show jumping cup. I'm going to make a mug of tea and then be schooled in my pony club C test by a retired Major in sticky out breeches and pray that the mane plaits don't fall out.

These are not books I EVER forsee sharing with the Fellow Reviewers. sigh. They're tolerant but not that tolerant.

The Pullein-Thompson sisters, Josephine, Christine and Diana and their mother Joanna Cannan (bf of Georgette Heyer!- Best Ever Comfort Read Writers United! I heart them.) were almost exclusively responsible for my reading matter between the ages of 9 and 11, with occasional diversions into Ruby Ferguson's 'Jill' pony books and ex-show jumper Pat Smythe's exciting 'Three Jays' series. There have probably been more worthy and nourishing reading periods in my life but none where I learn't more about etiquette on the hunting field or the differences between an oxer and a brush fence.

Whilst two of the formidable Pullein-Thompson sisters I am glad to see are still alive and were still writing and being published into the 1990s, I think it's fair to say that the Golden Age of the horse book was the 1940s,50s and 60s. In their later books they appear a little uncomfortably forced into concessions to our (tut and sigh) changing times. Urban Comprehensives with attached riding clubs are thin on the ground in my experience.

The plots of the earlier books tend to operate along the lines of large horse-loving, noble but poor family; normally children of distant and conveniently preoccupied artist parents, who must share their scruffy but oh-so- loved ponies meet rich (between the lines nouveau riche- euch!), snobbish child with groom and 'perfect' show horse who will find redemption for those crimes by being humiliated at either pony club camp, village show or on the hunting field. Sometimes there's some bad, horse stealing gypsies. There's also always an ex-army Master of Hounds to dispense horsey wisdom and fatherly advice about proper leg position when jumping. The worst thing that can happen is laminitis if you let your pony eat too much rich grass.

How I loved them and greedily hoovered up all their horsey wisdom ready for the day when I too should encounter an escaping Arab mare on the streets of Cambridge and be allowed to keep her in gratitude for putting out a barn fire or rescuing her foal. I'm still waiting.

Because it's raining I'm going to treat you to the last page of 'Pony Jobs for Jill' by Ruby Ferguson. The last book in a series of six books which begins with 'Jill and the Perfect Pony' and continues with 'Jill has two Ponies' (you see the pattern). Get a warm drink, a biscuit and enjoy the nostalgia of what used to count as proper reading for girls.

"'It's just these pony jobs,' I explained. "They always turn out unexpected. But this one's all over now, and we're going home tomorrow."
"And we don't know what we'll do next," said Ann sadly. "You see, our mothers expect us to do something with a future in it. We're getting rather old now."
Captain Cholly-Sawcutt looked serious.
"Yes, you are. Too old to play around any more. You've had lots of fun and I agree with your mothers it's high time you settled down."
"But what are we going to do?" I asked. "Because we don't know."
"I'll tell you what you're going to do," he said. "You're going to get yourselves seriously trained for some proper job, and you're going to keep up your riding for a hobby. You'll always enjoy it, but you can't be kids for ever, playing around with your ponies. Now you two get back to Chatton and tell your mothers what I say, and jolly good luck with whatever profession you take up. Agreed?"
"I do think you're right," I said. "And whatever Mummy suggests I'll get down to it. I'll learn typing and shorthand and French and German."
"So will I," said Ann. "It's a deal. This is our very last fling, and now we're going to be grown up."
"Coo!" I said. "I feel as if I was secretary to the Prime Minister already. Let's go and have another ice to celebrate."'

Secretary to the Prime Minister- oh my giddy heights!

My Precious
 Loan endorsement

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Reciting Hillaire Belloc's Cautionary Tale: 'Jim who ran away from nurse and was eaten by a lion' was a party piece of mine when younger. As part of some volunteer action with the Girl Guides we occasionally toured Old Peoples' Homes and put on a bit of a 'show': My recitations came somewhere in between singing in rounds and  the passing about of home made peppermint creams. We probably helped loosen the will to live of several.

It may have been an unconscious desire to give me a dose of what she had had to endure (I had to practice for those Old Folk after all) that my lovely stepmother gave Eddie and Bill a copy of Mini Grey's pop up transformation of 'Jim'. She couldn't have known how effective it would prove. Whether it's a genetic propensity that draws them to it or whether Belloc is just very catchy indeed, recitation skills are alive and blossoming in the house.

The poem is, I have to say, the perfect vehicle for Mini Grey's dark and anarchic rich illustrative humour. Poor pallid and weedy Jim is force fed treats, cramped onto tiny trikes, bored stupid by repetitious stories and neglected by his flirtatious nurse. His race towards the lion looks like a break for the blessings of oblivion in an overly trammeled existence. At any rate, neither he nor we seem to mind too much about his inevitable demise. Bill and Eddie gleefully open the flap revealing the disappearance of his body with just bloodied ankles, arms and head remaining. Not a pop up for a sensitive child admittedly: I've not looked at the reviews on Amazon but suspect there will be some horrified buyers sending back this abusive filth. Thankfully, my two aren't big on sensitivity; they LOVE the book.

The details of the pop up make the book as much a treat for the adult reader, a map of the zoo opens up to reveal a comprehensive set of rules to enjoy:
'No winking, no blinking,drinking,stinking or thinking.
No clapping, slapping, napping, tapping, flapping or yapping.
No yowling, howling, or prowling.
Don't try anything clever.'
A neat head shaped urn is lightly dusted at the end whilst Jim's controlled parents' dab their eyes with very mild regret.

 A great choice of bedtime story at the end of a day when your own feelings about the benefits of parenthood may be running ragged: It gives you a brief glimpse of a vicarious alternative future and your children a little reminder to count their blessings. Once you've both enjoyed your separate frissons of delighted horror everyone can go to bed united, happy that there are no lions outside the door.

 And here is Eddie's Christmas recitation with accompanying upstaging by Bill for those that don't know the full poem. Apologies because I did once post this link before, but in a ham fisted way with no review or context so wanted to do the book justice now. It is shameful Proud Mummy parading but he's not going to be cute for much longer so I hope you'll indulge me.
'Jim- a Cautionary Tale' by Hillaire Belloc and Mini Grey, published Jonathan Cape
isbn 978-0-224-08367-6

Monday, 23 April 2012

Croc and Bird (and thanks)

First some overdue thanks: Whilst we were away on holiday we were honoured to be nominated for a 'One Lovely Blog award here by the brilliant and herself lovely Child Led Chaos. One of the nicest things about starting this blog has been making a whole clutch of new online friends. In my latest tentative paddling into Twitter (I am NOT an 'early adopter' by nature)(I still use the landline and keep the mobile for emergencies), Child Led Chaos has been the most welcoming and generous 'hand holder'.
Her blog is a great mix of book and product reviews and crafting exploits with her girls and always a funny and enjoyable read. Do go visit- and take your wallet- she'll have you lusting after lovely wooden toys you thought you'd grown out of.

The other debt of  thanks I should acknowledge today is to another 'lovely' blog; Library Mice which was where I read the first review of today's choice; Alexis Deacon's 'Croc and Bird'. I love Alexis Deacon's 'Beegu' so was excited to see a new book by him anyway. Having read the review I was even more keen to seek it out.

This is a very good book for our family:
'Side by side on the sand sat two eggs. A bird...and a crocodile. "Hello brother," said Bird, "I'm hungry," said Crocodile.'
It's fair to say the Fellow Reviewers in the household might as well be a crocodile and a bird in their approach to the world and each other at times. 'I'm going to eat you' and 'Stop poking me with that stick' and 'Get off my head I am dead and I am going to make you dead.' are heard rather more often than 'What co-operative, fair trade game shall we play nicely together with now?' or 'No no. I think you'll find it's YOUR turn' etc.

Actually I quite like it when they fight nicely as it seems healthier than just ignoring each other to pursue their separate interests which also happens. Same gene pool; different creatures.

So this perfect small story of how a crocodile and a bird grow up side by side and learn to depend on each other as family had resonance for me and I hoped it would for Bill and Eddie too. Croc and Bird teach each other how to sing, fly, bask and hunt buffalo without realising their difference until they eventually move into the jungle and come across others of their own species. They must then make decisions about where they really belong. It's an example of the picture book at it's most powerful, where a spare text married with the most beautiful and love-infused illustrations can be read in a myriad of ways about the meanings of family and friendship. Warning; it may make you teary.

Did it move the boys and make them realise the strength of their bonds anew, the life long importance of their sibling relationship and shared experiences of childhood? Did it make them embrace tearily and vow to face the world united forever?
course not.
Eddie has 'adopted' this book. When he's sitting at the table and he feels his dinner is taking too long to arrive he likes to make like Bird and quotes plaintively from the book:

"Open your mouth as wide as you can and food will come"

At which point Bill likes to act like Croc and try and throw something in.
And then they'll both giggle together.
I'll settle for the shared laughter.

'Croc and Bird' by Alexis Deacon. pub. Random house isbn 978-0-091-89332-3
(another book with glorious end papers! eggs one side, hatchlings the other...)

Friday, 20 April 2012

Super Animal Adventure Squad

Conversation circa 7am today-
'Morning Bill! Sleep well?'
'Yup. Oh but I stayed up nearly all night reading the WHOLE of 'Super Animal Adventure Squad'. It was really funny. I think it was at least 10 o' clock- hmm no maybe 9 o' clock- but really late anyway when I turned my light out'

That's today's review sorted then.

'Super Animal Adventure Squad' is a strip by James Turner that originally appeared in the DFC comic. Since that publication's demise it is one of a series that has been collated and given its own volume under the 'DFC library' banner. James Turner is also responsible for what may be my favourite 'Phoenix' comic strip; the marvellous 'Star Cat'. That both came from the same hand is not all that mysterious; the Squad and the Space Crew have a fair amount in common.

There are two stories in the volume. In 'Teatime of Doom' Agents K, Rex, Irwin, Beesley and Bearbot (variously cat, iguana, pelican, bee and robot) must stop evil Doctor Nefarious from stealing the world's cake supply with ants to force consumption of his own brand broccoli sponge (Nooooo!). In the longer 'The Case of the Baboon Bandit' our heroes turn pirate to try and steal back the Jade Baboon of Rangoon from Green Beard, but must then go even further and win a cookery competition on board to save the entire world from turning into a lemon souffle.


'Alright, the world is doomed unless we can win this cookery competition and all we have is a soggy, burned, fish-covered mess that Irwin has been sick on... But let's not panic- perhaps we still have time to make an omelette or something...'

(and who's not been THERE eh?)

Gloriously, gloriously, snortingly silly stuff. AND extremely cleverly written too (just in case anyone is misguided enough to be snobbish about a comic)(or thinks it is just about 'Asterix' and 'Tintin')(I KNOW all my readers are far too hip and discerning to fall into that category though)
It's been sitting on Bill's shelf for a while. I'm glad he's discovered it; I've been waiting to have a good chat with him about it. When he's caught up on his sleep of course.

'Super Animal Adventure Squad' by James Turner, pub. David Fickling Books, isbn 978-0 857 56027 8

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Secret Hen House Theatre

 I should begin with a disclosure. I know the author of this brand spanking new book:
 'The Secret Hen House Theatre' is written by Helen Peters, who happens to be a fellow mum at the boys' school. Having said that it's her daughter who's in Bill's class so OBVIOUSLY (sigh) we're allowed very little to do with each other such are the tribal affiliations of 7 year olds.

Playground Chinese whispers of Helen's book deal had been circulating for months and I had regularly sighted her in local coffee shops closeted with her laptop and a mug J.K. Rowling-style. It was exciting to find publication day had finally arrived and stumble upon The Book Itself under 'new and bestselling' in WH Smith. But when somebody you know has actually written a book it's always vaguely nerve wracking. What (mumble it into your collar) if it's no good? What will you say? Will they see the the glaze in your eyes as you apply carefully chosen words like 'interesting', 'unusual' and 'powerful'? (all words I had to apply judiciously on occasion when presented with baby names in my previous life as a midwife).

Well Phew. 'The Secret Hen House Theatre' turns out to not need any such dissembling because it IS good. Really, very good. A joyful, involving page turner which I gobbled greedily whole, wandering around the kitchen, ignoring my children, making supper with one hand because I didn't want to put it down.

The story has obvious echoes of Pamela Brown's classic 'The Swish of the Curtain' in that it concerns the re-appropriation of a neglected building by stage-crazy girls to put on their own show for a drama competition. But in fact the theatre is really only one element of a plot which encompasses the viability of a traditional farm, the advisability of trusting smart talking good looking boys and the responsibilities that mount when a family is motherless. Hannah the 11 year old heroine and her siblings are both protective of and excluded by their grieving and  financially burdened father. The theatre becomes a talisman for drawing the fractured family back together.The fact that it doesn't happen in quite the way the reader might first predict is testament to some nicely skillful plotting.

'Jasper took his hoof off the man's boot and sat down, unblinking, as the man clutched his foot and hopped up and down. "Your blasted kids! Bunch of hooligans!"
Sam ran to his father. "Daddy, we saved your Marshall!"
Dad looked blankly at him.
"Look!" said Hannah, pointing to the tractor. "They were stealing it. We've stopped them."
Dad shifted his gaze so that they seemed to be looking far away across the fields. When he spoke, his words sounded flat and final.
"Nobody's stealing it."
"Yes, they are. Look!"
"They're not stealing it. I've sold it."'

Despite the darkness of some themes the book is warm and funny. Jasper the fat pet sheep who takes his duck friend for rides on his back is part of the evocation of a dilapidated farm that is very recognisable. There's a satisfyingly large amount of mud, recalcitrant pigs and rusty machinery about.

It's fair to say Bill is neither quite the right age nor quite the right gender for this book but I am halfway though reading it to him and he's engrossed. He was positively outraged when I had to go out yesterday without giving him the next installment. It was great to see Helen signing at her first school event this week. She was mobbed by a protective posse of fan girls one of whom asked her 'So. Are you an author now? Is that your job?'
It is!
And congratulations to her. We look forward to 'Evie's Ghost'

'The Secret Hen House Theatre' by Helen Peters, pub. Nosy Crow isbn 978-0-85763-065-0

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

What is a wall after all?

'What is a Wall After All?' by Judy Allen and illustrated by Alan Baron is a non fiction title that was first published in 1993 and has been more or less in print in different versions ever since. I suspect that's quite an accomplishment for what is (after all), a reasonably unflashy title on a pretty prosaic subject. It's staying power is well deserved, this is a very lovable book.

Eddie's always been a very enthusiastic spotter of bricks and examiner of construction methods. He likes to get right nose up to a nice patch of mortar work and trace it admiringly with his fingers. Future career trajectories may be revealing themselves in this love-in. I confess it hadn't occurred to me to look for a book to tie in with his, to me obscure, interest until I stumbled upon this title in the library. Well shame on me. 'What is a Wall after all?' features NOT ONLY  a detailed explication of over 20 types of brick but also a very liberal referencing of another Eddie hero; Humpty Dumpty. Pure Eddie gold.

It's actually about much more than brickwork though. Walls are considered at their most concrete (literally) and also in a much more abstract way; considering walls as both barriers and protectors. We contemplate the walls of a prison, an igloo, a mountain side, a sea defence, a safe and an oven amongst others and learn about the construction techniques and the natural world inhabitants of walls. The text mixes rhyme with cartoon bubble dialogue and simple labels. The pictures are generous; cartoon style and crammed with detail. Humpty can be spotted on every spread- mostly staying out of trouble.

'There are walls made of glass that shine in the sun, and rubbery walls that are silly-but fun! There are brick walls and thick walls and walls owned by cats, and deep underground there are cave walls, with bats'

The book ends with a spread of astronauts (including-phew-Survivor Humpty) trying to spot the Great Wall of China from the moon.

'Where are you? In a room? In a garden? In a car? A bus? A train? In a field? on a boat? Maybe up in a plane? In the street? On the beach? In a hot-air balloon? In a cafe? In bed? Perhaps on the moon? Well, wherever you are when you finish this book, I bet you can see a wall, if you look.'

Wall spotting just got a lot more involved for us all from this read. I may need to develop a companion Spotters Guide. 50 points for a half round coping brick anyone?

There's 'A Piece of String is a Wonderful Thing' in the same series too- in case the enthusiast in your house is more about the knots.

'What is a Wall After All?'(Read and Discover) written Judy Allen, illustrated Alan Baron, pub Walker,
isbn 978-1406318562

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Holiday diversions part 2

Solid reading matter is all well and good for holiday distraction but sometimes something lighter is called for. It's hard to sustain concentration even on wizard boy H.P. at cruising altitude, and whilst endless games of Top Trumps and Uno could get us through the rest, sometimes a mother needs to rest her eyelids. So into both boys' rucksacks went a couple of Usborne sticker books (an old favourite)  and into Bill's went two Mega Mash-Up books (a new punt by me).

Continuing a previously mentioned theme of my love of Usborne; just how good are their sticker books? Really good I reckon. So nice in fact that Father Christmas had to bring one for the husband at Christmas time because he was getting sticker book envy. At moments of stress he likes to unwind by placing toga-ed Romans in the Senate or Bath house, or matching Gladiators together whilst making fighting noises.

What I Like About Them. A List.
1. The stickers actually stick. It's surprising how often this cannot be taken as a given in a sticker book.
2. The variety and number of stickers to be placed on each scene and the pleasing level of detail you can build up. One book can sustain an entire 2 week holiday of first sticking fun and then back story discussion.
3. There are dress up sticker books for boys! I used to love cutting out the clothes with little tabs for paper dolls and hanging them on perilously. It was one of the activities I had quietly let go of ever revisiting (along with very detailed colouring in of Altair pattern books) when I realised I was to be a Mother of Sons. Thanks to Usborne's Soldiers, Knights, Pirates etc. titles I can share the joy of choosing who should have which breastplate/sword combo.
4. They're even a bit educational but only a bit so that's okay.

On to Mega Mash-ups by Niklass Catlow, Tim Wesson and...Bill. These are a bunch of new 'draw your own adventure titles'published by Nosy Crow that offer pleasingly silly juxtapositions. I got Bill 'Robots V Gorillas in the Desert' and 'Romans V Dinosaurs on Mars'.

We've had cheapy draw-it-yourself books before but they've never been much used partly because the stories offered have been pretty yawn inducing and partly because the pages were intimidatingly blank enough to make the task feel overwhelming I think. These however were an instant hit with the Bill boy.

A passion for drawing is a recent discovery for him and the books provide just enough space and support to encourage him to draw just what he likes; ie. exploding banana monsters and mutant robot dinosaurs. They're in a simple chapter book format and full of silliness and poo and Tom and Jerry style fighting and poo and silly insults and poo, pressing all the right buttons in terms of text and graphics to enchant a 7 year old boy. There's also a section at the back of each book with a visual dictionary to help develop your cartoon drawing skills. Over the week he probably only completed about a third of the pages so there's plenty to come back to too.
I'm going to be giving a lot of these as birthday presents I think.

Thanks to such distractions I got to read 950 pages of Anthony Trollope. Well packed Me though I say so myself.

'Romans sticker book' (amongst many, many others) pub. Usborne Activities isbn 978-1-4095-3072-5
'Romans V Dinosaurs on Mars' by Niklas Catlow, Tim Wesson and Your Child (amongst several others)
pub. Nosy Crow isbn 978-0-85763-001-8

Monday, 16 April 2012

Holiday diversions part 1

Listen. What's that noise? That's right. Nothing At All.

 The Fellow Reviewers have returned to school. There are no explosions, out of control boogying, stick fights or donkeys' braying to be heard. Just the faint twitter of birds. And the distant rumble of the local double decker bus route. And the constant drill and electric saw of the builders putting down new paving slabs outside. Ah blissful peace and quiet.

We had a great week walking in the mountains north of Madrid with Gallido the donkey. The only downside being the difficulty of persuading my children to walk anywhere now WITHOUT a donkey. I am looking into the by-laws on donkey husbandry in suburban back gardens but am not all that hopeful. Memories will have to sustain us.

I thought I would do a post or two on our holiday reading/entertainment matter; sharing what I have found useful to pack into a Ryanair baggage allowance to sustain two boys over the course of a week of no in flight entertainment and Only Foreign Telly. I invite you to tell me your secrets too. I will disclose that though my children are (to Bill's great disgust) DS- less, they did have access to my ipad and some dvds to take us through the siesta hours of chorizo and churro digestion. I don't want you to get the idea that we are irredeemably wholesome.

Firstly I give a massive Halleleuia to whoever came up with the concept of Red Fox mini treasures. £1.50 for a classic picture book smaller than a postcard; and loads of titles. Over the years we've built up a reasonable collection of these- but 10 will still fit comfortably into the space taken up by one conventional paperback. For a boy like Eddie who needs his book tower for sleep it's the perfect portable option. Obviously  BIG picture books are best but there can be a curious charm to the scaled down version too. I am very fond of the detail  to be enjoyed in Benedict Blathwayt's illustrations for his 'Little Red Train' series. Even full size there's a fair amount of nose to page contemplation to sustain you, but shrunk to a 6th the size it becomes eye exercise comparable to hand making lace: 'How many pigeons can you count Eddie?' (that will see us through from in flight  snack trolley to scratch card sale walk through).
Be warned they're pretty sneaky though. You buy the mini version cos it's a bargain and then fall in love with the book and buy the full sized version when back at home.

Similarly we have some mini 'Where's Wally?' which came with their own handy magnifying glass. I have to say that's too migraine inducing for me but the boys don't seem to care.

Between those and one decent sized paperback anthology much pleasure has been sustained up until now. This holiday marked something of a transition though, in that Bill now needed his own supply of paperback 'chapter' books made space for. Which meant less space for MY paperback 'chapter' books.
Hmmm this is how dark devices whose name begin with K get bought isn't it?

Some of our small but perfectly formed collection.
Including 'Faster, Faster, Little Red Train' by Benedict Blathwayt pub. Red Fox isbn 978-0-099-47566-8

Thursday, 5 April 2012


We're packing our nosebag and off to Spain to walk with a donkey for a week and being relatively new to this sort of stuff and not the most organised souls there's nothing 'scheduled' in or owt.

Back to normal, explosion free (rats eh?), service Monday 16th.

If you've recently found us you might enjoy these early posts:

'Peepo' paranoia

the genius of Shirley Hughes' 'Bonting'

and of course 'The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse' himself.

Happy Easter! enjoy your eggs (nom nom nom)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Martha and the Bunny Brothers

Absolutely no explosions today apart from little hoppy joyful ones with small fluffy cotton tails (oh- and a minor incident with a cream jug at lunchtime-standard stuff); The Little Wooden Horse has been on a roadtrip Up West to see Clara Vulliamy read and draw on i pads from her oh-so-pretty new book 'Martha and the Bunny Brothers -I heart School'.

Bunny fever had been building for a while in the house thanks to Clara's very warm and welcoming presence to a newbie blogger/tweeter and her own scoop-it-with-a spoon-and-eat-it lovely website here. Shortly after publication day I found myself drawn into the bookshop to just take a quick look and then found myself drawn to the till to just take it home. It really is the smiliest book of ice cream colours and perky eared rabbit cheer.

I confess though I bought it for me really. As it's the story of a girl bunny just starting school I thought my too cool Fellow Reviewers might think themselves too old and too male to be charmed by a yellow cardie and a pair of spotty welly boots.
Ohhh no. How wrong was I? Eddie has been clutching this book since it entered the house four days ago, using it as a pillow and reading and re-reading it late into the night. I don't get a look in- grump. It's full of nice lists of things and choices and asides as we get to know Martha and her small brother bunnies and that is Just What he Likes. Plus he likes the affirmation of just how big you have to be to get to go to school. He is VERY big- just like Martha.
He was pretty excited about the prospect of a real life encounter with Martha and her creator (and so was I). Bill was acting casual but a little stoked too, especially at the chance to meet them in the temple of screens that is the Apple store. Roooaaad Trrrrippp!

Martha protected by ropes and Apple Security from lone stalker Mega-Fan.

Clara read us the book in i form and we watched it on the big screen. Technology was not necessarily the winner here as the screens proved a bit unreliable and kept going blank behind her leading to some pantomime style yelling from the audience. I do heart my i pad but it was nice to be reminded why kick it old school lovely big picture books are still Tops.
Then Clara demonstrated how to draw Martha on the screen; including the proper positioning of ears for conveyance of all moods and how to correct sartorial mistakes.
Then it was our turn.

and even slightly superior older brothers found they quite liked drawing Martha....
kung fu style.

What a Happy Bunny Day! Visit and you can join the Happy Bunny Club too. I'm wearing my badge with pride.

'Martha and the Bunny Brothers- I Heart School' by Clara Vulliamy, pub. Harper Collins
isbn 978-0-00-741916-6
quite posssibly as effective as prozac, gin, chips, chocolate or climbing a tree in lifting the spirits depending on your age/inclination.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Crisp Packet Fireworks (or a cola volcano)

Such a lovely little book I have from the library for today's explosion. 'Crisp Packet Fireworks- or Maverick Science to try at home' is by Naked Scientists Chris Smith and Dave Ansell (there's no photo of them sadly or perhaps thankfully)(I'm not sure they mean that sort of naked anyway) and is a small volume packed full of ever so slightly dangerous FUN with properly explained science and application of said fun too.
 I've recently become a shameless pilferer of other people's science experiments on Pinterest in the cause of rainy day entertainment and now have a cupboard full of microwaveable soap, food colouring and corn flour etc. But this book has tons more ideas, all in one place, and all with a bit of Good Science attached. Hurray!

But...but...but... Despite being published only in 2008- it appears to have gone out of print. Nooooo! Don't you hate it when that happens to Nice Books? I would normally now not review it- but I'm sticking with it because a. It's in my library- so hopefully will be in yours and b. It DOES appear to still be in print in the US on Amazon where it's called 'Spectacular Science- Exciting experiments to try at home' instead and c. we all really wanted to make a Cola Volcano for today's explosion. I hope you'll forgive us.

Each experiment in the book starts with clear instructions and a photo of what to expect, then explains in some detail why it works and then gives some application to the real world.
This is the photo which drew us in to choosing to try a volcano:


All we needed was a bottle of coke and a packet of polo mints threaded onto a straw to drop in at speed and we were away.
 The Scientist in Action

extreme distrust from Jones the cat. 'Can I drink the coke now mum?' 'No, we're all still recovering from yesterday's popping candy Od-ing'

Then Muggins here (don't you love the term 'Muggins here') thought we'd go one step further, having read the explanation and try and recreate the St. Helen's effect by putting the lid back on with a small hole drilled for added oomph with the second bottle- as seen here.

'You take the photos this time Bill- I'll add the mints' 'Okay Mum.'
Aaaagh! As it turns out it's really hard to screw a lid back on an already exploding bottle spurting coke everywhere. And holding your hand over the top to try and salvage the situation sort of makes it worse. And 'Sorry Mum, I was laughing and forgot to take any pictures'...
I'm not sure if you can appreciate from that photo just how coke spattered I am.
My scalp is now itchy from sugar- off to the shower.

Maybe no more sugar based explosions this week.
'Crisp Packet Fireworks' by Chris Smith and Dave Ansell, see if you can track down a copy- maybe not as flashy to look at as some other home science books but really full of cracking ideas for making boys laugh at their mothers.
pub New Holland isbn 978-1-84537-981-0

Monday, 2 April 2012

Making 'Ronny Rock' Suddenly cakes

Okay so it's holiday time again which means the Little Wooden Horse gets a little bit erratic in posting and  a little bit crazier in the contents of posts under the influence of The Fellow Reviewers in the House.

Specifically we're planning some explosions.

only a thousand tiny ones to start with mind.

Back here we reviewed the first delicious book about baker's son Ronny Rock written by Merryn Threadgould and illustrated by Bruce Ingman. Since then, the second volume has been published; 'Ronny Rock starring in a Thousand Tiny Explosions'.We were first in the queue at the bookshop; 'if you like cakes and comics and carrying on like a Rock Star then this is the book for you'. Yes please.
The story revolves around Ronny's continued progress to Master Baker status through his experimentations with 'Boing Busta' sweets and chocolate cakes during 'take your child to work day'. The result; 'Chocolate Suddenlys' which have the potential to set off a thousand tiny explosions inside your mouth and set you grooving, jiving, moonwalking, flipping and jitterbugging from first bite.

We WANTED some.

So we went and purchased some 'Boing Bustas' of our own

Which come with this warning...obviously they're worried about unsupervised dancing rocking the house off it's foundations. very sensible.

Then we made some chocolate brownies and did some Ronny style doctoring.
and ate them
and then this happened

and after that everything is a slightly nauseous blur. Fun though.
'Ronny Rock starring in a thousand tiny explosions' by Merryn Threadgould, illustrated by Bruce Ingman, pub. Walker isbn 978-1-4063-3157-8

Off to go and lie down in a darkened room for the rest of the afternoon.