Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Hilda and the Midnight Giant

'Hilda and the Midnight Giant' by Luke Pearson is a comic book and not really designed specially for children but something that will definitely appeal to all fans of Tove Jansson's Moomins. Bill certainly pounced on it and its smaller but also perfectly formed prequel 'Hildafolk' and lapped both up.

Published by Nobrow Press; a treasure trove of graphic delights for grown ups (don't miss their multiple takes on creation in 'Graphic Cosmogeny'), the 'Hilda' books introduce us to the world of Hilda, her architect mother and unspecified dog/reindeer/fox friend living in (apparently) splendid isolation in a lodge in the mountains. In the first book (which is a slim, fairly short little comic- A5 size) Hilda starts to discover more about the different varieties of trolls, elves and spirits inhabiting the valleys around them. The true magic of the landscape is revealed to her and to us, as well as some important information on how to manage Trolls without offence.

In 'Hilda and the Midnight Giant' (much longer,a lovely A4 hardback) this idea is extended further, when Hilda discovers that far from living in isolation, their lodge is actually positioned bang in the middle of an elven town and she and her mother have been treading all over their houses every time they step outside.
A state of war has been declared and an active campaign to forcibly evict them results in nightly raids on their lodge. Hilda must mount a charm offensive with the tiny Mayor if she is to prevent her and her mother's relocation to the city.
There is also a subplot about the loneliness of the last remaining mountain guardian giant who Hilda must help find his lost love.
Throw in some rideable, migrating cloud 'Woffs', a chair made of ear wax, a mysterious neighbour who is made of wood and the problems that occur when snow blocks your ears over a millennium and you have whole lotta charm and magic without anything corruptingly sickly or too much whimsy.

Oh, and Luke Pearson draws just lovely too (much better pictures if you go to the Nobrow site).

'Hilda and the Midnight Giant' by Luke Pearson, pub. Nobrow Press, isbn 978-1-907704-25-3

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Oi! Get off our Train

Another of those moments where I take sharp intake of breath; 'Almost two months and no John Burningham!'
Goodness me I love his work.
And what a rich and long lasting career: A writer/illustrator whose books had been in print for a while when I was little and who's still publishing new work today.

'Oi! Get off our Train' is not necessarily his best book but it's very essence-of-John Burningham in its themes and contains some of my favourite illustrations.
Grown ups tend to be somewhat abstracted, distant presences in his books which free the children to embark on their own private adventures. In this example, a boy takes off with his pyjama-case dog on his train after lights out. They travel through distant lands encountering a range of animals escaping a variety of eco-perils. Each animal is first refused entry onto the train (hence the title) and then permitted to join the gang once their story is heard. Although the conservation message may be a little heavy handed in execution, the sub-story of the importance of flexibility in friendship and being open to new experiences is surprisingly delicately played. It's a nice tale of the power of the peer group; there can always be room for one more friend.

I like the easy going mucking about that all the train's passengers enjoy as they meander on their journey. They stop to play ghosts in the fog, fly kites, swim in the sea, muck about with umbrellas and throw snowballs. The boy is a responsible train driver though, ensuring his train does not get stuck in the snow and returns him to bed in time for school in the morning. This combination of childhood traits of wild imagination and perfectly trustworthy independent self-motivation I also think very typical John Burningham. Adult readers are gently but firmly reminded that their children are free thinking individuals and not their 'property' for moulding.

The illustrations show off his versatility, combining panels of sparse line and pastel caricature with full page spreads of marvelous dense pen and ink hatching overlaying watercolour. Glorious.

Bill and Eddie often choose this book. I'd like to think for all the well thought out reasons I have detailed above but in truth it's the opportunity to bellow 'OI! GET OFF OUR TRAIN' at regular intervals. Fair enough.

'Oi! Get off our Train' by John Burningham, pub. Red Fox isbn 978-0-099-85340-4
If you are also a fan then don't miss the splendid 'coffee table book' celebration of his career:
'John Burningham' pub by Jonathan Cape isbn 978-0-224-08366-9

Monday, 27 February 2012

Gruffalo To The Max

Don't worry. I'm not going to introduce you to a little known struggling title called 'The Gruffalo' today:
It's just possible that you may have already come across it.

I've just come back from Eddie's 'Inspire' lesson this morning however and it made me reflect on how central that book has been in inspiring his passion for words: Today is something of a hymn of praise to the Magnum Opus of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler therefore (and a silent prayer for the time that they will be allowed to be a slightly less constant presence in our lives.)

In the Inspire workshop we were asked to make wooden spoon puppets with our children. I wasn't surprised to hear Eddie's choice of what to make today; he's been back in full-on Gruffalo fever since Christmas when the charming 'The Gruffalo's Child' animation was on the telly. I have been quite surprised by the depth of this fever this time around though. It's a bit like chicken pox- he had a very strong dose of it in his two to threes and I thought he wouldn't catch it twice.

I can't quite remember the origins of his first bout of fever but I suppose it's the book that he latched onto after 'Hooray For Fish' had been sucked dry. We read it several times a day for a while and then it joined him in bed where we would hear Eddie going through it and reciting the story again after lights out. After a while we realised he was teaching himself to read with it. He knew the story word perfectly and would go through the book slowly word by word with his finger to the text matching his knowledge to the shapes he found. He was very methodical and as he appears to be lucky enough to have a semi-photographic memory it was pretty efficient too. 'The Gruffalo' wasn't the only book he used in this way but it was the first to be ingrained I think. The words are certainly deeply ingrained in my head too.
He also had 'The Gruffalo' magnet book and for a while he would need all the (very very small) magnets of the characters to also be with him at bedtime which led to some midnight panics when the mouse slipped under his pillow or similar.

This time around life has been made easier by the existence of ever increasing amounts of Gruffalo merchandise. Eddie found the plush models of the characters in a book shop and refused to be parted from them. Luckily he had some Christmas money of his own to spend. Now they accompany him around the house along with both books, as backdrop and audience to whatever else he is doing/reading. Occasionally we build houses for them. Sometimes they need breakfast provided but normally they're fairly undemanding house guests.

His reading of 'The Gruffalo' has taken on new layers of textual analysis as he pores over each page anew. "Mum- it says here 'down by these rocks' but the picture only has one rock in it...where is the other rock Mum?"
"Is the Gruffalo really a baddy who becomes a goody or a goody who can be a baddy Mum?"
"Will the Gruffalo's Child's bumps become prickles when she is a teenager? Will she get a poisonous wart one day?" "Why is she a butterscotch colour when her dad is chocolate brown?"

These are the questions which I field daily, normally whilst staring at the fridge blankly for inspiration for the next meal.
As I say, whilst fully appreciative of the quality of the Work and all it has given my son- I won't be sorry when the fever passes once more (although that may depend, of course, on what replaces it...).

In the mean time we made a cracking Gruffalo spoon puppet if I do say so myself (no picture alas).

Team Gruffalo.

'The Gruffalo' by (you don't really need me to tell you this do you?) Julia Donaldson, illus. Axel Scheffler,
 pub. Macmillan, isbn 0-333-71093-2

Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday diversion

Not a book review today; a mini moan- only a mini one mind. I've just returned from doing an 'Impact' session with Bill at his school. 
These are termly events where parents come in for an hour to work one on one with their child in a workshop focusing on either literacy or numeracy skills. They're actually pretty fun and a nice opportunity to catch up with classroom dynamics and the skills of Bill's teachers.

Last term's session was on numeracy and was really about teaching us parents that they Don't Do it like we used to Any More. We were shown how to use a number square in some depth- no 'carrying over' apparently. I came away both informed and impressed and much better equipped to help Bill out. Good.

Today's was focused on developing writing skills. I have to say I found this a tad depressing.

It wasn't any fault of the session itself, which was fun and lively and well led; it was more confronting full on the reality of a SATS/National Curriculum approach to Creativity in all it's full glory in our otherwise funky and imaginative school.

We were introduced to 'The Story Mountain' and the children shared their knowledge with enthusiasm. Apparently all stories must have an Opening- where character and setting are established, followed by Build Up where events give clues as to what will happen, leading to Problem (the summit)- something goes wrong, then Resolution; the problem gets sorted and finally, Ending- the characters look back at the story and what they have learned.

But all stories don't work like that! In fact many of the best entirely subvert it don't they? Yesterday's read for starters. This point seemed underlined to me when the next thing we did was read 'Winnie the Witch' which proved quite hard to categorise neatly as it contains a number of Problems and false Resolutions. As Bill commented trying to plot the story arc, "It's more of a wobbly topped jelly or a castle than a mountain I think".

We were also given a set of vocabulary expanding 'WOW' words and 'approved' different ways of starting sentences to incorporate in our stories.

I realise I'm being slightly unfair (it is only a mini moan) as you have to understand the conventions fully first before you attempt the subversion. See Picasso. It was just a bit of a jolt. When we were doing the numeracy session I was entirely happy to be given the 'rules' and told how to help my child apply them- so why should it stick in my craw to apply the same to the literacy? Probably because I've been reading Michael Rosen's blog and what he talks about much more eloquently than me here and I sort of trust him more than Michael Gove.

In the end Bill and I had a lovely time with our story props of Ninja, bat and forest creating a story of blood sucking baddies and a Deep Dark Forest where an ancient line of raised-by-the-animals ninja babies must defend its secret treasure tree. I'll just have to make sure that when he writes it up properly it obeys all the conventions and makes a nice mountain or I'll be a Bad Parent. Yawn.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat

I'm in danger of spiralling out of control into dribbly, hysterical and ever-so-slightly scary fandom today. Just slap me about the face a bit if I'm going on too much. I could be like one of those posters you see outside West End theatres that probably shouldn't be taken too literally:

'(This book is)  JUST RUDDY BRILLIANT!! RIOT, STAB, MAIM or KILL to get a copy!!!' Polly, Little Wooden Horse.

Don't obviously. But do really seriously consider simply buying or borrowing a copy of Dave Shelton's 'A Boy and a Bear in a Boat' from bookshop or library. It is a thing of great beauty and just about unrivaled charm. I think/hope it might do very well and then you'll be able to say You Were There and Knew First.

It is not like any other children's book I have read, in that the title really tells you everything you need to know about the book. I am used to books for Bill that cram excitement after excitement into each incident packed chapter: The 'Billy Bonkers' approach for example which I reviewed here and of which I am also fond.  'A Boy and a Bear in a Boat' by contrast takes a boy and puts him into um, a boat which is rowed by, you guessed it, a bear and sets them on a voyage through an (almost) featureless sea and sky. It is the relationship between the three which  is the story.
Guess what. Bill was enthralled despite the lack of 'Ishallmakeyouwanttoturnthepagenow', in your face plot punchers.

Not that nothing happens. The boy and the bear play 'I spy' a lot and  find an incomprehensible foreign comic. There's a nasty incident with a sandwich and some slightly hairy fishing amongst other stuff. How to make a proper cup of tea turns out to be quite important. In between there's the development of a lovely dialogue between boy and bear familiar to any parent who has ever taken their children on a long journey. Rarely has boredom been so interestingly documented.
Here's a chapter read by the author to give you a flavour.

The book is also a beautiful thing to look at and hold. It has a controversially restrained, tea stained  map cover and the story is scattered with illustrations and some double spreads by the author; who is also a comic artist. It sits in the hand very comfortably. The sort of book that you sniff and stroke if you're a bit of a weirdo...

The husband read this fresh to Bill. He's always enjoyed Magnus Mills' novels of which this is reminiscent in style. They both giggled all the way through and it was lovely to watch them both (I'd sneakily read ahead). We all really looked forward to bedtime for the next installment whilst it was on the go. There have been few books that have brought all of us together for enjoyment so successfully. We gave away a copy as a birthday present for a friend yesterday and it was great to hear Bill's passionate endorsement: 'It's really, really funny. You're gonna love it!'
Not just me see? Hope you're writing another one Mr. Shelton, no pressure or anything.

'A Boy and a Bear in a Boat' by Dave Shelton, pub. David Fickling books, isbn 978-0-385-61896-0

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ricky Ricotta

Bill is, like many other boys his age, a big Dav Pilkey fan, gobbling through all the 'Captain Underpants' books in the space of a fortnight, and regularly haunting his website for news of forthcoming releases and to play unsuitable games involving animated poo. Captain Underpants and Super Diaper Baby are also probably responsible for getting Bill interested in doing some drawing; a habit I'm glad to see increasing at the moment.

The first Dav Pilkey books he enjoyed however and indeed probably the first 'chapter' books he read were the 'Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot' series, illustrated by Martin Ontiveros. They're a great starting point for enthusing early readers who want to feel grown up or for older, less confident readers who need a boost. They also feature live 'flip-o-rama' action at regular points in the story enabling the animation of real fighting. Cool.

Ricky Ricotta is a mouse who lives in Squeakyville and has some bully problems until he befriends the giant robot created to do evil by the dastardly Dr. Stinky. Together they defeat Dr Stinky and his new monstrous Hate Lizard, save Squeakyville and become the most popular pair in the school. That's about it really.

Told in 14 chapters each of under 100 words- this is a book that is easy to read but feels ambitious and empowering to the reader. Useful stuff. There are seven more books, each featuring a different terrifying threat from our neighbouring planets. Ricky and his robot variously defeat (amongst others) the Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn, the Jurassic Jack Rabbits from Jupiter, The Mutant Mosquitoes from Mercury and (my favourite) the Uranium Unicorns from Uranus (who knew?). It's formulaic- but hey who cares? If you're struggling to find the key to unlock the joys of trash fiction to your 5/6/7/8 year old, this might just do the job.

'Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot'  written Dav Pilkey, illustrated Martin Ontiveros,
 pub.  Scholastic isbn 1407107585

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


A small but perfectly formed cautionary tale from William Bee today in the form of 'Whatever'.

This is a book we've had since Bill was a baby. I confess I bought it for the trivial reason that the 'hero' is a bald boy called Billy who is a mini-me of his bald Dad. At the time, Baby Bill was a hairless infant and his Dad has been similarly challenged since his early 20s. (I tell Bill now to enjoy his hair whilst he can...he'll have it for about 15 more years by my calculations)(luckily they both have lovely shaped heads ;)) Both Billy and his Dad are also extremely well dressed in matching suits which tickled me too; the husband has something of a Tailor-made suit habit.

Be warned; this is a deeply sarcastic, moody read with a dark ending. Whilst superficially for the under 5's I suppose, it has a proper sulky adolescent air about it. We all love it- being ourselves a sarky bunch- but you may disapprove. It's funny!

Billy is a grumpy un-impressible small boy. His father tries hard to show him the wonders of the world in ever- increasing escalation; the world's curliest trumpet, the world's bounciest castle, the world's steamiest train...Billy's response is always the same; 'Whatever'.

Finally Billy's dad shows him the world's hungriest tiger.

He probably should have been more impressed that time.

The book is extremely well designed- in itself as stylish as Billy and his Dad. Every aspect of it is perfectly balanced. William Bee's website is one of my favourites and will give you the measure of both his wit and control. I suspect he may not like children in the abstract very much at all.

But nobody gets to say 'whatever' in this house without a raised eyebrow and a giggle.

'Whatever' by William Bee, pub. Walker isbn 1-4063-0133-7

like it or don't- whatever.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Big-Top Benn

Children back to school and so normal service can resume; I realise you may miss Eddie's angelic nose picking- he'll be back I'm sure.
Today I am racked by the notion that I am over six weeks into this blog and have featured no David McKee yet! What was I thinking?

'Mr Benn' fever was a passion that gripped Eddie a year or so ago and at it's height involved watching all ?13 episodes of the 70's tv series back-to-back on a daily basis whilst clutching and reading along with his Mr Benn books and requiring my complete focus to assist in the matter of completing  his 500 piece Mr Benn jigsaw. These passions come and go for the boy (at the moment it's all about the Gruffalo (again), Michael Rosen and CBeebies Gigglebiz) but it's fair to say when he's a fan of something he's really a fan. At some point I'm guessing he will progress on to the 'Lord of the Rings' and then God help us all.

For anyone who doesn't know him, Mr Benn is an ordinary bowler hatted bachelor who escapes his suburban life in different adventures by means of a magic fancy dress shop that has a portal in its changing room. I loved to watch 'Mr Benn' as a child and bought the DVD first- really for myself more than my children; a nostalgia-fest. Eddie's immediate enthusiasm was both surprising and gratifying. Apparently children are broadly the same creatures now as they were in circa 1975! Who'da thunk it? I'll confess though I hadn't realised either at the time or as an adult that Mr Benn actually started life as a series of books. This is an interesting one then- we all came to the books through the medium of the screen first.

Obviously there are plenty of people for whom that's the only way they ever come to a book; whether through a love of Disney Princesses or the 'novelisation' of a Ben10 episode. Nothing wrong in that per se, but I would normally try and always start with the source material first (whether that just means actually watching Ben10 or stopping poor Bill from seeing any Harry Potter films before he's ready to read the books). I'm a little shame faced that I got it the wrong way round here. Plain snobbery really.

The confusion was exacerbated by the fact that the first (out of print) Mr Benn books I managed to get hold of for Eddie were actually re-developed post TV show. He loved them as a faithful replica but they weren't particularly visually exciting to me. But THEN. Oh Joy! Eddie's obsession coincided with the thirtieth anniversary of Mr Benn and two of the original books were reissued as new. 'Big Top Benn' is one of these.

It's a completely different beast to the other Benn books we have. The story is basically the same as the equivalent 'clown' TV episode but the language of the text is richer and not written to the precise formula of the redeveloped books. As in all Mr Benn stories (and most David McKee stories come to that) there is a moral that peaceful collaboration will always triumph over ego. The pictures are just glorious. A combination of intricate black and white pen work and pleasingly 'imperfect' rich painted double spreads; they present a semi 3D take on Mr Benn's adventure which repay sustained looking. I find it interesting that they have a quality of moving narrative in themselves; almost anticipating their second life, as we see the characters several times within one picture visually advancing the story.

So, here's your comparison point. First the book:

and now the TV episode (you'll need a cup of tea and a biscuit).

Both lovely. 
Even if the nostalgia means nothing to you because Mr Benn was not part of your own childhood I would say 'Big Top Benn' might deserve a place on your bookshelf.

'Big Top Benn' by David McKee, pub Tate publishing, isbn 978-1-85437-961-0
I have to say I have now thoroughly addled myself as now I look properly it says it was first published in 1980- which post dates the TV show- although it also says it inspired it. Chicken or egg all over again. Can anyone help?

Cumulus who writes here at about the pleasures and challenges of bringing up her three sons with additional needs in NZ was kind enough to nominate me for a Leibster Award this weekend. This is an award which draws attention to us smaller bloggers and invites us to pass on our own awards having been nominated. I've been a bit stumped about this part of the equation as there is no doubt there is no smaller/newer blog than this one! I'm also aware that those I might nominate have already had a Leibster. Can I invite you instead in honour of this achievement to have a gander at the Blog List to the side and follow your nose to somewhere new in the world of children's books today? You'll enjoy it.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Mixed up Fairy Tales

Half term and lucky-devil-away-gallivanting husband dictates ready meal and another quick post tonight.

Despite their 'for the girls' reputation traditional fairy tales have always been very popular in this house. So has Nick Sharratt. The two in combination are pretty irresistable. Following a trip to the Puppet Theatre yesterday to see Norwich Puppet Theatre's  spooky, back-to-roots production of 'Red Riding Hood' we found ourselves falling into a bookshop once again on the way home and walking out once again (ahem) with a discreet package ('3 for 2'- it would have been rude not to!). 'Asterix and the Olympic Games' and 'Super Diaper Baby 2' were our other 'bargains' but Hilary Robinson and Nick Sharratt's 'Mixed Up Fairy Tales' was what I at least was really after.

One of the wonderful things about acquiring a canon of classics as your literary backbone is of course the opportunity to re-appreciate them as they are endlessly reinvented.
Thus yesterday morning, in preparation for our theatre treat, we ended up reading the pretty trad. Hutchinson Treasury of Fairy Tales version of 'Red Riding Hood' and also Laurence Anholt's Seriously Silly 'Little Red Riding Wolf'. We took the Read it Yourself Ladybird version with us on the bus. The puppet show drew on both Perrault and the Brothers Grimm and had an ending that I'd never encountered before; with two washerwomen performing the woodcutter role of rescue (not to mention Red Riding Hood's escape by way of faking the need for a poo).

Nick Sharratt was where we ended up however- and probably just as well for the prevention of nightmares (the poo was popular but the puppet wolves definitely threatening). This book of split pages allows the retelling and mixing of 12 different traditional tales in ever more inventive- and of course silly ways. We've all been enjoying it since but particularly Master Eddie. Here he is demonstrating (he also demonstrates his efficient but not necessarily charming double nostril nose pick-please avert your eyes):

although he has yet to really get the hang of arbitrary mixing in the manner of his big bro. who finds it hysterical to end all his stories with 'a helping of porridge'. He's right actually. That is pretty funny stuff. Especially if you're marrying Cinderella to it.

'Mixed Up Fairy Tales', written Hilary Robinson, illus. Nick Sharratt, pub. Hodder isbn 978-0-340-87558

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

More Roald Dahl recipe fun.

We've carried on with our adventures with boiling sugar.
First, at Bill's request from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'; 'Candy Coated Pencils for sucking in Class'

Only one second degree burn sustained...definitely NOT for kids to cook on their own.

so elegant you'll agree :)

Mmm...not a lot of drawing going on.

Today- from 'James and The Giant Peach'- magic green crystals made of crocodile tongues (possibly)

Should have stirred that colouring in better. And no photo of the moment of magic adding the bicarbonate of soda but I was a bit flustered by the burning caramel.

Don't run with them!

Now what magic occurrences are going to happen overnight to us? (possibly just the loss of all our teeth)Will we still be here tomorrow? Wait and see.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy International Book Giving Day!

The Proper Purpose of February 14th has been revealed: Share your love in an uncomplicated, tat-free way by a bit of literary redistribution to children known and unknown with books new, second hand or borrowed from the library.

If you missed my first post about this wonderful idea you can catch up on the details at the 'official' site here.

Our own plans have been slightly put on hold by the half term holiday, but 'North' and a few others are waiting to be donated to the boys' school. I have also ordered 'I Want my Hat Back' by Jon Klassen and 'There are No Cats in This Book' by Viv Schwartz to add to the Volunteer Reading Help stock as they seem to achieve the crucial trinity of funny/cool/easy to read. I'll feed back in future posts as to how they go down with my trio of lovely Year 1s.

For book giving to my own pair, we've shared the Love at the library this morning; using it so as not to risk losing it. (Even more valued since watching this film about the work of Book Aid International and the power of libraries to empower communities worldwide) Eddie chose 'Winston the Book Wolf' by Marni Mcgee and Ian Beck. Bill chose 'My Brother's Hot Cross Bottom' by Jeremy Strong.

Finally here are two (rather rambly- my interview technique needs some work) discussions with My Fellow Reviewers about their own feelings about today and the books they'd choose to give.


(and just in case you think there is no conventional romance in my soul; here is my Gift of Love for the husband on his return.)

Happy February 14th!
Edited 21/02/12- Here are the new books meeting their new home in the Volunteer Reading Help Box. I think they're going to be well loved there.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Half Term Frobscottle

Half Term this week.
That means that posting may be somewhat erratic but it will also be possible to give the floor over to my Fellow Reviewers more as we've a bit of Book Fun planned.

Eddie's turn first.
I've mentioned his Roald Dahl enthusiasm before here, so when I saw 'Roald Dahl's Completely Revolting Recipes' discounted on 'the book people' I felt it a justifiable investment. I was right. He has been poring over it since.

This is not it has to be said a recipe book heavy on vegetables and healthy eating but it's hard to resist the possibility of finally realising many of our Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dreams. It's got the recipe for Hot Ice Cream for Cold Days which may be next on our list although Bill is after the Candy-Coated Pencils for Sucking in Class. Today we made Frobscottle from 'The BFG'. I've always wanted to taste it.

'And oh gosh, how delicious it was! It was sweet and refreshing. It tasted of vanilla and cream, with just the faintest taste of raspberries on the edge of the flavour. and the bubbles were wonderful. Sophie could feel them bouncing and bursting all around her tummy. It was an amazing sensation. It felt as though hundreds of tiny people were dancing a jig inside her and tickling her with their toes.'

Here's how it went.

I actually thought it was pretty good. And a weird enough combination to feel properly Dahl crazy.
A few whizzpoppers may have been heard in the kitchen since consumption *blush*. Not from my lady bottom though obviously.

'Roald Dahl's Completely Revolting Recipes and other tasty treats', illus. Quentin Blake, pub. Random House, isbn 978-0-224-08535-9

Friday, 10 February 2012

Poetry Friday

OK. I'm really going to attempt to get this right this week. The first week I managed a belated link to a YouTube clip without any preamble and completely forgot to either thank Jim Hill or link back to him. Last week I managed the preamble and the thanks but not the link back. I'm not a badly brought up horrid rude girl (most of the time anyway)...just slightly incompetent.

So. This week's Poetry Friday is hosted by Laura here and visit it to find lots of inspirational poems to fill your boots for the weekend. Thank you Laura!

My poetry offering today is 'The Last Steam Train to Margate' by the prolific Ian Whybrow. We were all very familiar with his 'Harry and the Dinosaur' books and his 'Little Wolf' books but I didn't know he wrote poetry too until we came upon this one in the anthology 'Read Me First', which provides a poem for every day of the year. I should point out that strictly speaking this is the poem for July 29th so we're opening our presents a bit early.
I don't suppose he'll mind. And on a day that the London skyline has turned a picturesque white once more it's nice to anticipate the beach and ice cream that will come again eventually.

'The Last Steam Train to Margate

I wissssh
I were
a Bussss!
It's muchhhh
Less work
And muchhhh
Less fussss!
I shhhhhould like that
I shhhhhould like that
I shhhhhould like that
I SHHHHHOULD like that!
Just look at me
'Cos here I come
Faster and faster
Tickerty-boo, what'll I do
Tearing along, terrible fast
Singing a song, sounding a blast.
WHEE! WHEE! Out of the way!
Goodness me, I can't delay!
You can relax, I have to run.
Follow the tracks into the sun.
Pain in my back, aches in my joints
Tickerty tack, here come the points!
Diddly-dee, diddly-dee
Diddly WIDDLY diddly dee!
Far to go? Not very far.
Little black tunnel (Tickerty- WHAAAAAAH!)
Look over there. What can it be?
Lucky old you, clever old me!
Come all this way, never go wrong
Come every day, singing a song
Down to the seaside. Let's have a cheer!
Oh what a train-ride! We're nearly there
We're nearly there, we're nearly there
We're nearly there, we're nearly there
So now I'd better slow right down
In half an hour we reach the town
And then you take your buckets and spades
And dig the sands and watch the parades
And swim and paddle and splash in the sea
And eat ice cream and toffee for tea
With ginger beer and orange squash
Hooray we're here, but gosh
I'm tired, oh GOSH I'm tired

The only other occasion I've found 'gosh' rhyming with 'squash' is in an old family favourite Music Hall song 'Joshua' which we like to sing round the Christmas dinner table once a certain point in the evening has been reached. I wonder if Ian Whybrow knows it too? Here is 'Joshua' on YouTube sung by the great Florrie Forde (you'll like it I guarantee- although it misses the last verse punchline; 'perhaps he preferred her/perhaps lost his head/ but Joshua married the mother instead and May never sings now to Pa...') and a clip of a steam train arriving at Margate too for fun

Lovely poem to read aloud to your train enthusiast child. We've got one of them, although his heart is really with the buses these days. An ode to the W7 next then.

From 'Read Me First; poems for younger readers for every day of the year' chosen by louise bolongaro, pub. Macmillan, isbn 978-0-330-41343-5

Thursday, 9 February 2012

North and 14th February

Everyone's favourite date in the year is coming up on Tuesday. The one you look forward to and prepare for all year. The one that brings a spring to your step and a song to your heart. The one that's all about feeling and spreading Love Sweet Love around the planet. That's right. 14th February is International Book Giving Day. Hurray!

Think back to all the disappointing 14th Februaries you've had in your life prior to this one. I recall a weekend in Cromer with the husband where most people's Special Meal tables had been marked with a floating heart-shaped balloon. We had a nice time but my main memory is of the suppressed  fury and muttered complaints of the couple on the next door table who had been given a floating round balloon instead. Imagine how much more harmonious everyone would  have been if placements had  rather  been a lovely gift wrapped copy of say, 'Alfie's Big Out of Doors Storybook' or 'Dig Dig Digging' to enjoy? We wouldn't have had to chat or anything. Takes the pressure off doesn't it?

International Book Giving Day has been brought to my attention by Amy of Delightful Children's Books and Zoe of Playing by the Book and you will find full information of how to participate on their sites and on Facebook. It's about matching new and used quality children's books with a pair of hands eager to hold them, and it can be as simple as  gift wrapping a library book for your own child or as thorough as donating your outgrown library to a charity that can distribute them within the developing world.

I'm going to be marking it by donating today's book the beautiful 'North' by Nick Dowson, illustrated by Patrick Benson to the Year One classroom at my sons' school where I know it will benefit their 'animals' topic next term. I will also choose a couple of books to add to the Volunteer Reading Help box that I use at another school that will be appreciated by my just starting out readers there. Something 'cool' with a bit of suspense, a few visual jokes and not too many words. Suggestions please! (maybe now's the time for me to track down the much lauded 'I want my hat back')
A lovely book giving day illustration  to inspire me and you from Viv Schwartz.

'North- the greatest animal journey on earth' is going to be hard to part with. It's a gorgeous thing. Sublime illustrations by Patrick Benson of 'Owl Babies' fame tell the story of Arctic migration through the seasons. Grey whales are shown leaving a Mexican lagoon on their five thousand mile journey. Terns travel twice as far from the Antarctic. Caribou, walruses, wolves, herring, narwhal, snow geese and musk ox; all are lovingly rendered in the softest of watercolour, in a palatte that perfectly evokes the slow transformation from icy waste to flowering tundra.
Nick Dowson's text  is sparse but poetic, the marriage with the pictures a thoughtful song.

"It's summer in the Arctic. All day and night, the sun spreads light, warming soil and water.
Tundra flowers glow rainbow-bright, the calm air hums with with summer bees, and mosquitoes rise like smoke from shining pools.

A great gift for any 'Frozen Planet' fan, whatever their age.

'North' written Nick Dowson, illus. Patrick Benson, pub. Walker, isbn 978-1-84428-775-8

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Billy Bonkers

'Pinterest' turns out to be a great way to find a day gone whilst having fun kicking cans about the backalleys of the internet. I started my first 'boards' yesterday: 'Style advice from Children's Literature' and 'Food in kids books' are pretty self explanatory but I also had fun with my 'The Real...' board featuring the real Enormous Crocodile, Very Hungry Caterpillar and, of course, Little Wooden Horse amongst others. Let me know what you think I should add to any of them.

'Billy Bonkers' and 'Billy Bonkers 2' by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Nick Sharatt are today's book recommendations for you from Bill and me. Bill would like to be 'The Real' Billy Bonkers come to think of it.

Each book contains three delightfully silly adventures for Billy and his family. It's pretty standard stuff; an every day family situation starts peacefully but then spirals out of control, Mum and Dad Bonkers panic, cool headed sister Betty makes a clever plan and Billy  carries it through, saving the day, lives, the planet and normally getting to eat inordinate amounts of cake and chips at the end. I admire the total maxing out of the silliness though.

In the first story, 'Billy Bonkers and the Great Porridge Incident' for example, Billy eats so many raw porridge oats for breakfast  that he produces enough gas to swell up like a balloon and rise up through the ceiling and the roof of the house. He's only saved from rising further by his unravelling pyjama bottoms tethering him to a tree. Quick thinking Betty works out he needs to burp and uses Mrs. Bonkers' enormous, comfy mummy pants (I recognise these) to fire a gigantic pork pie at Billy to thump him on the back and;

"There was a small pause. Then Billy felt his tummy begin to turn around and around like a washing machine. It churned and wobbled and rumbled and then it happened...
Billy did the most enormous burp the world has ever known. I don't really know how to spell a burp such as this. I couldn't get anywhere near to imitating the sound, but I hope you can imagine the kind of burp that this was. It was the kind of burp that shook houses and that blew birds out of trees."

Are you getting a flavour of why this book might be popular with my 7 year old son? The nice thing is that a lot of slightly formulaic stories would end there but this book then  escalates further to have Billy flying around the sky and then fortuitously making contact with a bunch of robbers in the middle of stealing all the loot from Mrs. Dingleberry's Cake, Sweets, Chocolate and Ice Cream Emporium.

"Not in their wildest dreams could they have imagined that a boy, wearing hardly anything at all except for his sister's frilly pants, would come hurtling towards them at a hundred miles an hour a few inches above the ground and slam right into them, knocking them over as they were trying to escape, and sending money, cakes, sweets, chocolates and ice cream flying about in all directions. But this is exactly what happened."

Billy is given a hero's medal by the police and promised free cake, sweets, chocolates and ice cream by a grateful Mrs. Dingleberry for the rest of his life. And that's just the first story.

I wonder if girls reading these books might start to feel a slight sense of outrage that in every case it is little sister Betty who actually solves the problems. In their defence Bill has made that connection himself. Betty is also the only character who escapes with dignity intact throughout. Girls will hopefully enjoy the fun just as much and swell quietly with their own sense of innate superiority. The Great Gender Divide at Five that seems to be fostered in some publishing divisions bothers me muchly. I just want good books not boys books or girls books.  How about some farting super-pony books or mutant robo-fairies bottling sunbeams?

'Billy Bonkers' written Giles Andreae, illus. Nick Sharratt, pub. Orchard books, isbn 978-1-84616-151-3

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Bubble Trouble

Something sweetly silly today; Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar's 'Bubble Trouble', the story of Baby trapped in a bubble blown by his sister Mabel, who floats down the street and up into the sky.

I shouldn't like this book by my own arbitrary rules as it contains a long increasing chase sequence of neighbours (which I normally find a little tiresome) and a tongue-twisting rhyme sequence (which I normally find a lot tiresome). I will mutter, with my eyes downcast and my mouth hidden in my jumper, that I am not a massive Dr Seuss fan. What? Sacrilege!
I mean, I admire him  and goodness only knows given the crimes that have been committed before and since in the name of  learn-to-read books he's a SAINT but I don't enjoy reading his books out loud that much. They go on a bit I find. sorry. (*which is not to say that I don't appreciate the incredible skill in them for children to master reading them themselves- I realise I am unfairly comparing apples and pears here.)(maybe I shouldn't bring him up at all.) (shall I stop writing things in brackets now?)

'Bubble Trouble' goes on  a lot but somehow remains intensely enjoyable to read. It's probably pure intellectual snobbery on my part. I'm a sucker for books that combine silliness and long words together pleasingly. Brain stretching for reader and listener but fun. To whit:

'In her garden, Chrysta Gribble had begun to cry and cavil
At her lazy brother, Greville, reading novels in his bed.
But she bellowed,
"Gracious, Greville!"
and she grovelled on the gravel,
When the baby in the bubble
bibble-bobbled overhead.'

This is Gerald Manley Hopkins for the under sevens. Wonderful.

I probably also like it because a game of Scrabble plays an integral role which is also a *small* obsession of mine.

Polly Dunbar's illustrations are both warm and wild, combining crayon, collage and watercolour to complement the crazy rhyme. She paints a nice line in cerise pink, mustard yellow and  soft teal  shoes and boots that I covet; normally teamed with some fine spotty or stripy tights. One probably shouldn't look to children's literature for style advice but sometimes, y'know, it might work.
I've just joined Pinterest- hmm, I see my first board emerging.

'Bubble Trouble' written Margaret Mahy, illus. Polly Dunbar, pub. Frances Lincoln,
isbn 978-1-84507-757-7

Monday, 6 February 2012

Out and About

Ah nothing like sledging down the hill post school drop off to set you up for a blog post.

We've had our annual day of snow this weekend and I spent a couple of my 28 (actually 26 and a half in the end but I won't quibble) child free hours fighting past everyone else's children to secure a spot with my toboggan on our slightly over crowded London slope. Brilliant- because normally my job would be pulling the boys back up the hill like a carthorse and watching demurely at the top as they hurtle down without me. I then passed our sledge on to our 60+ neighbour who fearlessly launched herself down, scattering the climbers yelling; 'OUTTA MY WAY CHILDREN! MAD GRANDMA IS COMING!'. We may both sneak back there this morning now the kids are safely in school although it's melting fast.

It prompted a rifle through the bookshelf for good seasonal fare, which proved a little disappointing; I think most of our best 'snow' books have come through the library. But. No matter. Because I did lay my hands on another favourite Shirley Hughes book, which is both seasonal and great for the littlest ones. It's been four weeks, that's not too soon to re-review an author as good as her is it?

'Out and About' features Katy and Olly, a brother and sister slightly younger than the perhaps better known Alfie and Annie Rose. It's a trip through the seasons in the form of loosely written poems accompanied by Shirley Hughes' usual, delightful, love-filled illustrations. Particularly fine are the four full double spread pictures for each season, packed with detail for parent and child to explore together.

This was one of Bill's favourite books when he was two and a half or so. I imagine that Katy in the pictures is about three and her baby brother Olly just turned one, so it was aspirational stuff for Bill and then baby Eddie. There's nothing children like more than looking at and reading about children just a tiny bit older than them doing the same sort of stuff as they'd like to and that instinct seems to be there from birth. I liked reading 'Just Seventeen' magazine when I was thirteen; same principle.

The book has a dreamy, thoughtful quality: The poems are written from the point of view of Katie and her appreciation of  and interaction with the natural world around her. At the same time  as being simply written they introduce some nice alliterative vocabulary which reads out loud well:


I like the wind.
The soft, summery, gentle kind,
The gusty, blustery, fierce kind.
ballooning out the curtains,
Blowing things about,
Wild and wilful everywhere.
do like the wind.'

I think one of Shirley Hughes' great skills as an illustrator in this book (other than an intimate understanding of  the body language of very small children) is a perfect capture of seasonal light: The particular quality of  4pm dusk in November or the rolling skies of a briefly sunny June day both timelessly transposed and recognised by child and parent alike. She makes me remember my own childhood in a way no other author manages I think, whilst still remaining relevant to my own children. A shared experience that is the essence of  the best picture books, but very rarely achieved so well.

'Out and About', Shirley Hughes, pub. Walker, isbn 1-84428-473-5