Friday 29 June 2012

Galloping off with...Guy Bass as he prepares to face Nemesis of Funny; Philip Ardagh!!

Oh My-ness revealed!

On Wednesday 4th July at 4pm (that's NEXT Wednesday mind- don't hang about), Official Best Children's Bookshop; Tales on Moon Lane, Herne Hill will be welcoming the Outstanding Guy Bass and the Most Excellent Philip Ardagh to their 'Sun Comes Out' festival as they go head to head with each other and the audience in a Joke Off.
It promises to be quite an event. Paramedics will be on hand with oxygen in the event of an attack of killer giggles.

The Little Wooden Horse was given the privilege of going ringside to admire their pre-match punches as they threw some gags, talked fighting talk and limbered up for the Big One.

Best Punches and Funny Pointing in evidence. (Philip Ardagh shown with an earlier defeated opponent shortly before his smile became an uncontrollable paroxysm of mirth)

After watching a little light sparring we managed to all pin Guy Bass to the floor and shove our wooden spoon microphones in his face until he agreed to answer our questions. Unaccountably, Philip Ardagh took advantage of his superior leg length to scarper.

Novice interviewers, we knew the importance of putting our subject at ease, so we made the decision to dress sympathetically. We therefore donned specially designed and crafted headwear in honour of cutey Gothic creation Stitch Head. We also wanted to test his mettle however and see how he would react to the fear of looking up to Philip Ardagh's Chin of Glory. That's why we're also wearing beards.

Here we are honing our questions and cultivating our best Paxman like probing faces with spoon microphones to the ready.

Prepare for the scoop of the century.

Polly: We LOVE (in no particular order) specialist children's bookshops, Real Live Writers and Being Silly. With no holds barred, what do you think is the absolute silliest thing a real live writer could do in a specialist children's bookshop? Will you be doing that on Wednesday please?
Guy: I suspect it would be something involving a herd of goats, a felt tip pen and a bath full of Alphabetti spaghetti. Unfortunately, I'm all out of felt tip pens.

Bill: Dinkin Dings in Guy Bass's books is scared of everything. I am only a little bit scared of vampires. What are you scared of?
Guy: I am only a bit scared of people who are a bit scared of things. Oh, and I have a terrible phobia of little tables.

Eddie: I have 76 books and a magnetic letter S in my bed. How many books do you have or do you prefer teddies?
Guy: I have a 'teddy book'. It's a bear that you rip open to find a fully illustrated book, hidden in its guts. It's equal parts informative, cuddly and stomach churning.

Polly: There are a lot of songs and jokes about poo and bottoms in our household a lot of the time. Is there anything funnier? Can you suggest a new direction to go in (PLEASE)?
Guy: The Search for the Joke That's Funnier Than a Poo Joke has preoccupied writers, entertainers and parents for centuries. In the late 14th century, an apparently 'perfect' joke was created by a monk living in the foothills of Swansea, which was hilarious but contained no reference to poo or bottoms. The joke itself has long been forgotten...but the monk's name was Gavin P. Fartytrumps.

Bill: My teacher likes me to use a lot of 'wow' words when I write stories. What are your favourite wow words?
Guy: I'm not sure I know what a 'wow' word is- is it a word that impresses you? I saw the word 'envelope' rescue a cat from a tree once- that was pretty impressive. Generally I'm fond of words that you don't hear very often, like grimpian and lunderostical.

Eddie: What shape and flavour of cake would you like for your next birthday?
Guy: I'd like a Superman-shaped cake. But Batman-flavoured.

Polly: We're promised a Joke Duel on Wednesday but in a genuine Fight To The Death which of you would win and what methods would you use?
Guy: I think it's fair to say I'd be at a disadvantage against The Warlord Ardagh. He's got the height, the determination, the weaponry-concealing beard...

Bill: Will you write some more books please? What books are you going to write next?
Guy: I was literally about to jack it all in to pursue my dream of running an underwater patisserie but since you ask so nicely, I'll write another Stitch Head book...and maybe another Atomic! book...and then a new series for 2014...and maybe even a book for older readers. Take that, waterlogged croissants!

Eddie: Have you ever been on holiday in a caravan? I want to go on holiday in a caravan with a little table in it. Can we go on holiday in a caravan?
Guy: Do we have to have the little table...?

Readers, My Fellow Interviewers and I can come to only one conclusion.


okay two conclusions: If that is somehow impossible- BUY ALL THEIR BOOKS NOW (preferably from Tales on Moon Lane or your own nearest lovely specialist children's bookseller)


gone a bit shouty- that's what spending too much time as a Jeremy Paxman does to you.

if you were wondering- here's the scoop of the century:
(and with that standard of picture pun I'm staying well clear of any Joke Ring)

With the hugest of huge thanks to Guy Bass and Philip Ardagh for coming out to play and allowing Liberties to be taken, and to all the team at the Sun Comes Out on Moon Lane Festival.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Superhero overdose

When I Became a Mother of Boys I was prepared I might have to become an expert in a few new subjects outside my existing knowledge base and spent some months of Bill's babyhood mentally readying myself.

I guessed there would be a vehicle obsessive phase of some sort and steeled myself to learn the difference between a BMW and a Volvo at 20 paces, a front hoe and a back hoe loader and to try and enjoy Thomas the Tank Engine.
I thought there might be a dinosaur phase and practiced pronouncing some of the trickier ones like Compsognathus and Archeoptyrex.
I anticipated that I might need a more detailed understanding of the different formation tactics of the Roman infantry.

As it turned out none of these things came (or have yet come) to pass. What I should have been studying or what I now know more than I ever thought I would about is Superheroes and their nemeses. Not just the likes of your Spidermans or your Batmans- oh no. I know the difference between the Marvel bunch and the DC (not dissimilar to remembering which is a Greek or Roman God). I know who started out a goody and then became a baddy and who started out a baddy and then became a goody and of a select few who then turned back to their original status once (or even twice) more. I know who the Teen Titans are and how the Justice Society of America differs from the Justice League of America (that's pretty specialised stuff). I can name the Metal Men and tell you the names of all 5 'Robins'*. 
I can tell you're impressed.

We have various sources of information in the house that have underpinned my knowledge. A beloved selection of annuals are Eddie's current comfort blanket, including the equivalent of a Superhero pre-school primer 'Spiderman and Friends'; where Spidey, Doc Oc, the Beast and others hang out at  school together and solve problems like cows escaping from a farm or a cat stuck in a tree. The next step up from that is the supremely strange 'Superhero Squad' annual which had us following the Human Torch cupcake recipe this weekend (pretty good- turns out the Human Torch is a useful baker). And finally the standard Marvel Heroes version,where as you may appreciate from the comparative faces of the Hulk below- things get a little less cute.
Don't be deceived by these cakes 'ordinary' appearance. They are  Human Torch Super cakes.

But my personal favourite has to be our set of Fandex Deluxe DC cards. It's a difficult object to describe but it basically consists of 76 different cut out Goody and Baddy characters with all their vital statistics and a lovingly detailed potted version of their 50 or so years of comic backstory held together by one central pivot fastener. You can thus use them as little pop-up puppets for enacting battles behind the sofa or just work your way through the most arcane details of the DC Universe. They've seen a lot of action in the two or three years we've had them and helped bring me up to speed.
There are other Fandex sets available- they're a US import- and are probably very well known if you're coming to me from there but worth tracking down from obscurity here too. If Superheroes aren't your thing how about Mythology? Or Butterflies? or even Dinosaurs...

Fandex Deluxe: DC Comics Superheroes and Villains, pub. Workman publishing isbn 978-0761158561

*Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Timothy Jackson "Tim" Drake, Stephanie Brown, Damian Wayne


Monday 25 June 2012

Oh. My. Oh. My.

UNPRECEDENTED EXCITEMENT  here at the Little Wooden Horse.

This week my Fellow Reviewers and I are going to be fortunate enough to interview not just one but TWO of our favourite authors and ask them Whatever We Want.

Eddie is PARTICULARLY full of ideas about what to ask a Real Life Living Writer.
Bill is taking the task extremely seriously and cultivating his Serious Interviewer Face.

I'm going to play the tease and say no more about who these two lovely authors of loveliness might be but I offer you two clues.

1. I have been shopping for a metre of finest fake fur this week and a packet of 15 dernier tan tights.

2. They might have something to do with this wonderful festival-

which is crammed full of events of utter brilliance. If you live anywhere near South London visit the website now and book your tickets quick; the list of authors and illustrators who'll be there to entertain you is pretty jaw dropping.
Take a look here:

and Watch This Space to find out more about the tights.

Friday 22 June 2012


Oh dear. Between a cricked neck and a stinking cold I'm very 'bear with the sniffles' today.
Poor, poor, POOR me.
I'm really extremely a bit ill you know?
Thank goodness we still have some fizzy raspberry vitamin C tablets in the house from making frobscottle and some of the new Lindt 'intense' toasted coconut flavour dark chocolate. A medicinal combination.

In my current near-death state I'm not sure what to make of the news that Bill has decided to recite 'The Jumblies' for the school talent competition next week. He will be wearing a sieve.
On the one hand I'm obviously delighted at his appreciation of Nonsense and can't help feeling it may serve him better than last year's scratch improvised song/dance routine with the boys; 'Bum, Bum, Hi Karate' which inexplicably failed to make it past class auditions. But his decision comes a mere week after the Dread Michael Gove announced the plan to force all children to learn poetry off by heart from the age of 5 for The Good Of Their Mortal Souls. Have I inadvertently given birth to Gove's Love (or Loave) Child?


Let's not pursue that horrific thought and turn our faces to the sun instead (even if only virtual again today sigh). This year is after all the 200th anniversary of Edward Lear's birth and I'm all in favour of Jumblies, Pobbles, Yonghy Bonghy Bos and Quangle Wangles spreading their joy without prescription or conscription across every classroom in the land. Everybody NEEDS Nonsense. especially when they have a cold.

We were all fortunate enough to attend the British Library's event in honour of Lear a month or so ago and hear Michael Rosen, Roger McGough and musician Ben Glasstone pay tribute to the great man by reading and singing his and their own poems and songs. I'm ashamed to say I hadn't really read any to the boys before that point so they went to it pretty 'cold'. They came back again chanting 'Far and few, far and few are the lands where the Jumblies live...' and haven't really stopped since. Infectious stuff nonsense.

We have a rather old and musty compendium volume in the house but I thought it was worth seeking out picture book versions where individual poems could have a bit more space to be appreciated. Better 5 and 7 year old eye candy; Eddie at least is not sophisticated enough yet to properly unpick the wonders of Lear's own illustrations. There are disappointingly few out there but from the library we found Ian Beck's illustrated 'The Jumblies' and 'The Owl and the Pussy Cat'. The former alas is currently out of print, but only just- so your own library would be likely to have a copy should you fancy a go. They make a nice companion to an original Lear, allowing them to be read as a picture book rather than requiring solely a listening ear. Nonsense for beginners if you like. I could do with more like them.

Eased in this way, Bill took the full compendium, must and all to bed last night and emerged by my pillow this morning making up his own limericks and worrying about the fate of the Yonghy Bonghy Bo; 'He's not actually real is he Mum? So I don't really need to be sad do I?'

Michael Gove would be delighted. I'm taking to my bed.

'The Jumblies' by Edward Lear, illustrated by Ian Beck, pub. by Transworld isbn 0-385-60117-4

Wednesday 20 June 2012


Having opened the subject of Mr Bill's current preferences in yesterday's post I will continue today.
I first reviewed the totally marvelous 'The Phoenix' comic here when it was all of three issues in. All I can say is if you haven't caught up with it yet and you have kids between the ages of 7 and 12 then what are you thinking of? It's totally marvelous. Every Friday Bill comes in from school, races over and dives headfirst into it and remains submerged within its pages until his stomach reminds him of the need for toast. It takes something pretty powerful to divert him even temporarily from toast. Something totally marvelous in fact.
At the moment they're running a 'design the cover' competition with a subscription up for grabs as the prize. You can find out more and download the template on their website- which I was about to link to but it seems to have gone doolally this morning. Bill has currently designed about 8 different covers including 'Death Fighter', 'Anger Man' and 'Dark Doom'. His Goth phase can't be far off.

One section that features in The Phoenix weekly is an excerpt or short story from a published book; a useful source of inspiration for me but not normally the most interesting part for Bill. A couple of weeks ago however there was a double spread from Chris Riddell's 'Alienography' and it completely captivated him (along with a cracking good cover of Riddell's trademark crazy detailed monsters). His indulgent mama therefore decided to treat both him and herself to  the Book Itself; a reasonably substantial investment at £15 but worth every penny for the pleasure it has only just begun to give us.

There were a few books that lived in our loo when I was growing up and that I read and reread both in that room and outside it. There were two 'Goodies' books/annuals and a book by Michael Palin and Terry Jones called 'Bert Fegg's Nasty Book for Boys and Girls'(I still have the latter- shh don't tell my brother- it's got his name inside). They were very funny, irreverent, complex, a bit rude and perfect to dip into and expand my  mind in all sorts of suitable and unsuitable ways.
'Alienography' reminds me of them; it's full of in-jokes about science fiction most of which pass over Bill's head at the moment but it's also full of fun and detail which he absolutely 'gets'. There are giant flaps, books within the book, even a set of mini robot top trumps to enjoy and plentiful silliness and inventiveness. There are aliens of every conceivable colour, variety and temperament; from the Flurrghs; who turn their enemies into fluffy earmuffs to the Ummmms who can remove earwax from the other side of a room with their tongue. Mainly of course there is just the extraordinary illustrative talent of Chris Riddell to gawp at and inspire further furious scribbling of Bill's own. Beautiful silliness is the best variety.

He's been turning to this book and exploring chunks of it with great pleasure and much giggling and sharing it with his friends since we got it. My hope and expectation looking at it though is that he will still be doing that in five years time and still finding new pleasures and new funniness. A very strong recommendation for any hard-to-buy-for child or sulky tween/teenager who needs a funny bone poke, one entering their Goth phase for instance. Or for anyone with a new loo and an empty shelf.

 Anyone else remember this?

 Dark Doom (run for your lives)

'Alienography or how to spot an alien invasion' by Chris Riddell, pub. Macmillan isbn 978-1-4050-5060-9

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Dinkin Dings

Bill has been limbering himself up recently to embark on the fourth Harry Potter book. It's the 'Goblet of Fire' and at 640 pages the first one where J.K. started to shed some self-editing inhibitions. He REALLY wants to read it but there's no doubt that the sheer size of the task in front of him feels overwhelming. He also knows that nothing but More and More pages lie in the volumes in front of him, the gentle foothills of the relatively contained first three books are behind and nothing but great peaks are in view now. He does a lot of getting the last four books out of the shelves, lining them up, flicking through them, sitting on them and just silent gazing at them; willing them to reveal their secrets more easily. He's just not sure he can spare the time from falling off his skateboard, drawing robots and building Lego weaponry to Commit and I understand just how he feels. I go through much the same motions with the first volume of Proust.

So, like all good mountaineers, I have suggested that he allow himself to acclimatise on the lower slopes for a while; admire how far he's come and stop and smell the alpine flowers. It's time to pause, let the boy wizard enjoy his summer break and read some things with Less Words In Them.

And the books with less but perfectly chosen words in them  that he has most enjoyed over the last couple of weeks have been Guy Bass's 'Dinkin Dings' series. Bill has recently worked out that his favourite type of books are 'funny adventure stories' (so say all of us to be honest; that's why I am never more than 10 metres away from a Georgette Heyer novel). I scour the shelves to provide him with as many possible sources of these to choose from and accept that some fall by the wayside ('Astrosaurs' for instance which I thought would hit the mark) and some are devoured and Twist-like must be followed by MORE.

There are four 'Dinkin Dings' books to sustain that appetite (not quite enough for a growing boy actually). Dinkin Dings the hero is a boy who is frightened of absolutely everything apart from his 'Frightening Things' friends; a monster, a skeleton and a ghost who share his room. When new next door neighbours move in, Dinkin is the only person who thinks that they are in fact flesh eating alien space zombies. When he eats fish fingers by accident, Dinkin is sure the mutated fingerless Fish Men will come out of the shadows to get him. For some reason nobody believes him.

Well more fool them. I'm not giving too much away but let's just say thank god for far-sighted boys like Dinkin out there who protect the rest of us naive fools and allow us to pass our daily lives in a state of benign credulity.
 The secret of these books' appeal to both Bill and me is of course that Dinkin is right some of the time but not all of the time, there are some genuine surprises unfolded. That's relatively unusual in my speed reading of books for this market and I appreciate some crafty plotting. And they're funny; text aided by some great illustrations by Pete Williamson- Dinkin's fear expressed by being mainly composed of eyes and hair.

'"Don't tell me you ate fish fingers..." said Edgar
'I didn't mean to! I was distracted! My dad had grown a moustache! I thought he was some sort of spy, or evil dad-double!"
"Well, that's all right then- except that we're now DOOMED!" screamed Arthur'

Funny + Adventure = Bill chuckling on the sofa and ignoring skateboard, drawing pad and Lego. No need for me then, I'd better go and start on Proust if 'Regency Buck' doesn't distract me on the way...

'Dinkin Dings and the Revenge of the Fish-Men' by Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson, pub.Stripes isbn 978-1-84715-086-8 (three other titles available all with 7 yr old boy APPROVED stamp)

Friday 15 June 2012

The Sword in the Stone

Ah what a great meaty bone of a book I offer you today to sustain and nourish you through the weekend!
Last night I finished reading Bill 'The Sword in the Stone'; the first volume of T. H. White's masterful Arthurian retelling: 'The Once and Future King'. I'll confess I don't think I'd reread it since my own father read it to me and I'm very glad to have rectified that mistake. It is just wonderful prose.

I grabbed my copy from our bookshelf; a compendium volume that must once have been my fathers, without much thought. However it's only now having investigated further that I can see that there are apparently two versions of the book: The original 'adult' version and a rewritten version for children; more animal/adventure packed and less complex. Bill therefore got the more complex one to digest straight off; but certainly enjoyed it nevertheless. There were probably passages that floated over his head like hard poetry but even those (also like hard poetry) he appreciated catching the thread of and following through the word maze. More importantly there's also loads of good funny bits and this is a beaut of a book to read aloud.

It's the story of the Wart ('That's Arthur!' says Bill- no flies on him); boy of uncertain parentage resident in the Castle of the Forest Sauvage and younger companion to the superior and bossy heir to the estate; Kay. When the boys lose a valuable hawk in the forest Wart manages to lose himself too trying to recapture him. Finding his way he happens upon his own destiny in the form of the wizard Merlyn, who brings him home and becomes both boys' tutor.

'Merlyn had a long white beard and long white moustaches which hung down on either side of it. Close inspection showed that he was far from clean. It was not that he had dirty finger-nails, or anything like that, but some large bird seemed to have been nesting in his hair. The Wart was familiar with the nests of Spar-hark and Gos, the crazy conglomerations of sticks and oddments which had been taken over from squirrels or crows, and he knew how the twigs and tree foot were splashed with white mutes, old bones, muddy feathers and castings. This was the impression which he got from Merlyn. The old man was streaked with droppings over his shoulders, among the stars and triangles of his gown, and a large spider was slowly lowering itself from the tip of his hat, as he gazed and slowly blinked at the little boy in front of him.'

Merlyn's sort of 'eddjication' involves turning Wart into a series of animals and enabling him to experience the world through their eyes. ('Cooler than school' says Bill) The Wart gets to explore the world as a fish, a hawk, an ant and a badger amongst others. There's a powerful anti-war message nestled within these experiences that must surely be expanded on in the succeeding volumes. Poignant given the 1939 publication date.
There's a lot of satisfying and funny knight action through the book too; including a wonderful set piece ponderous joust between my favourites; Sir Grummore and King Pellinore the latter taking a break from his otherwise interminable pursuit of his 'questing beast'. Lots of potential for doing good silly upper class, too-much-port-drunk, moustached voices for the reader.

A central section involves the boys meeting up with Robin Hood/Wood and Marian and rescuing some servants from Morgan Le Fey and her terrifying army of fairies where she has tied them to columns of pork  in a castle made entirely from meat and dairy products. If this sounds odd, well it is, but also curiously gripping. T.H.White is perfectly happy to mix all legends and time zones and history and inventions in the cause of story and meaning and it makes for a perfectly incoherently satisfying brew.

The final encounter with the titular sword as Wart, now Sir Kay's squire searches for a weapon to hand his new master concludes the book. It's lightly done and Wart's consternation as he realises the implications of his promotion ring true. The fun stuff is over for him and the serious business of being King awaits. Along with a lot of tricky romantic complications as I remember. Bill would be horrified at the amount of kissing to happen so our Arthurian adventure will conclude there for the present. I may read on though- I should have done so a long time back.

'"I know the sorrows before you, and the joys, and how there will never again be anybody who dares to call you by the friendly name of Wart. in future it will be your glorious doom to take up the burden and to enjoy the nobility of your proper title: so now I shall crave the privilege of being the very first of your subjects to address you with it-as my dear liege lord, King Arthur"'

So this is my copy and first page

and this is the edited version designed for children. As I haven't read it I can't compare- but I will acknowledge there were passages of the former which I skimmed over for Bill and probably the one below would have been even more appreciated by him. Would it have been better for me though? That's an important consideration after all.

'The Sword in the Stone', volume one of 'The Once and Future King' by T. H. White, above version pub. Harper Collins isbn 978-0007263493

Wednesday 13 June 2012

The Art Treasure Hunt

Another beautiful art book today but of a completely different variety. 'The Art Treasure Hunt' compiled by Doris Kutschbach offers a kind of superior 'Where's Wally' approach to encourage deeper looking at a variety of classic pictures.

There are a few 'I Spy' type books around which use paintings I think but this is the trickiest and the most detailed I've seen; pitched at a slightly older audience than most. The art encompassed includes what you might term the usual suspects; Bruegel, Renoir and Rousseau but also a fair few less usual ones; representing a wide range of styles from Keith Haring to Indian miniatures and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

 In each painting we are given a range of objects or details to find and sometimes posed open ended questions to chat about too. I've had nice sessions with both of my fellow reviewers this week huddling on the sofa together scanning for tiny peacocks or women strumming lutes, or speculating on the likely advantages of keeping a pet monkey. A double spread of abstracts by Malevich and Delaunay which required apparently simple shape and colour spotting also stretched vocabulary understanding through using terms such as 'angular' which neither boy had come across before. Definitely a great addition to a school library: I took it in to use with the children I do reading practice with yesterday and found it a good mix of decipherable text and spotting 'reward'.

This is also a generously sized and lovely book to just hold and enjoy; the reproductions are of beautiful quality. I have to say I particularly enjoyed  examining the newly topical woodcut by Hokusai of crowds of people on a bridge under umbrellas watching a flotilla of boats pass by in the rain.There's a trio of properly coiffeured Japanese ladies at the front looking pretty peeved at the whole day out.
Everyone still gathering in armfuls of damp bunting knows exactly how they feel.

'The Art Treasure Hunt' by Doris Kutschbach pub. Prestel isbn 978-3-7913-7097-2

Tuesday 12 June 2012


Right- children back to being entertained by their teachers and I have leisure to pillage their bookcases uninterrupted once more.
But continuing on the theme from our day of furious crafting of Goof City I have a couple of lovely books about Art to waft temptingly under your noses today and tomorrow.

The first of these is the simply titled 'Faces' by the inspirational Zoe Miller and David Goodman. To be accurate with the truth I should say this is actually newly pillaged from the husband's bookcase, as it formed part of his birthday present yesterday.
He has been enjoying constructing plenty of faces and characters of his own from the pricey but thoroughly wonderful 'play shapes' made by Miller and Goodman; a previous 'wooden' anniversary present from me.This book seemed like an interesting complement.

'Faces' could be a coffee table book for adult contemplation, or a book to engage the smallest baby with their programmed hypnotic gravitation towards features. It's a series of photographs of faces constructed out of a huge variety of artfully arranged household objects including colanders, pebbles, dish brushes, gloves, vacuum bags, sports kit and more. Accompanied by a simple rhyming text it encourages you to playfully re-engage with the world about you. The art that has been created is sometimes as simple as the suggestion of a smile from the hanging handle of a bag or sometimes a much more complex and purposeful arrangement. All are joyful- a book to smile at and with.

And definitely inspiring. Bill pored over this book with great appreciation yesterday- you could almost see the possibilities being opened up to him. I found myself unable to go round a corner of my house without finding some newly transparent face of light fittings and windowsills say winking at me. I think inspiring without being either overwhelmingly didactic or off-puttingly complex is a pretty rare trick for an art book to successfully pull off and this manages it.
For Eddie, who presently HATES anyone putting a pen in his hand and expecting him to produce anything with it, the idea of making a picture just by manipulating fruit and crockery was also immediately liberating. He made himself a new friend which then accompanied him throughout the day:

'Faces' by Zoe Miller and David Goodman, pub. Tate isbn 978-1-85437-992-4

Monday 11 June 2012

which has not got any books in it but is unexpectedly crafty.

Inset Day (Kids remain off school) and it looks like this:

rain's back all righty.

Thankfully this arrived:

Not, I hasten to add because I had any burning desire to clean the floor (although it IS quite fun) but because it was full of interesting nobbly shaped packaging boxes. Which proved the perfect complement to the small army of puppet people we have been painting over the last couple of days inspired by these elegant examples.

Ours have been slightly less elegant (witness Bill's sparkly, Chapman-brothersesque, naked burglar):
But now have splendid new homes with which to pursue Love, Life and Warfare:

Baddy Base (home to Mad Professor Doom, Orange Monstero and Mr. Mystery amongst others)-

Goody base- defended only by the worryingly named Goofy Guy and Sparkly Sidekick-
The Townsfolk caught between the two (at least they can go on occasional open top bus tours and enjoy the local skate ramp).

Welcome to Goof City.
Normal book reviewing activities will be resumed tomorrow, apologies for hiatus. You may wish to go by Playing by the Book and visit her comprehensive Carnival link up of books about the seaside today; there's some corkers to add to your wish list.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Toucans and shameless hat showing off

Boringly the lurgy continues to bother me in fits and starts; so between that and the half term holiday forgive the fact the the Little Wooden Horse may trundle rather slowly this week.

In brief then. Eddie has long been a boy who enjoys a good toucan. His favourite book on this subject has been a small and undistinguished looking 'early reader' non- fiction text; 'Toucans and Other Birds' by Julie Guidone.  It's part of an 'animals that live in the rain forest' US series published by Weekly Reader Publishing. It was an inexpensive impulse buy from Amazon.

Sometimes you buy books for your children which lift your heart and make you sing and salivate for joy in the beauty of them.

This is not such a book. A small amount of dry but informative text faces a page with a good colour photo of a toucan, macaw or harpy eagle. That's about it.
Eddie LOVES it however and has been sleeping with it for the last three years. I'm sure it would make his top ten of recommendations so it's time it had a place in the pantheon of honour here. I guess those of us who aren't such toucan enthusiasts just Don't Understand.

I've had cause to be grateful to this little book this weekend however. We had had a half term holiday task set us to construct a carnival hat for Eddie. Reception are representing Brazil in the school Olympic parade next week. There was only one obvious contender for inspiration for Eddie. He and I had a detailed conversation about exactly which toucan we would render. I rather favoured the middle one above but he was quite clear that it was to be the last one (and who am I to argue with Mr Toucan Himself). Materials purchased we set to work and are both very pleased with the result.

We are available for Ascot.

'Toucans and Other Birds' Julie Guidone, pub. Weekly Reader Publishing isbn 978-1-4339-0110-2

Friday 1 June 2012

Jubilee-ing and Black Hearts in Battersea

It's all gone bunting crazy round here. Estate Agents especially can't get enough of those fashionable little flags it seems. A double bank holiday weekend approaches with a schedule of street parties round every corner, picnics in every park and a flotilla of a 1000 boats to sail down the Thames: God Save Our Queen for 60 Glorious Years! (and let's not mention the 10 degree temperature drop and three days of driving rain that's forecast.) I'm unwrapping a Union Jack wrapped teacake in her honour as I type.

The Queen's Coronation Day (I burst with pride to announce) also coincides with my birthday. I have always taken for granted that flags should be raised and the Anthem played to provide a suitable backdrop to the Unwrapping of Breakfast Gifts. My 6th birthday marked the Queen's Silver Jubilee, we played 'Pin the Crown on the Queen' at my party and everyone got a small flag as a going home present. I received a lot of jubilee china mugs as gifts; none still in existence alas. The husband has been more careful with his silver jubilee biscuit tin which still holds such marvels as decorated milk bottle tops, special edition 50p piece, first day cover and a jubilee copy of  Krazy comic. Treasure.
The boys' school is of a fairly Republican bent, so their celebrations have been muted in comparison to some. They are however all going on a whole school picnic today which found me trying to make red, white and blue popcorn in a panic at 8.40 this morning; enough of a failure as to potentially worry whoever finds one of the 5 stray blue pieces. Otherwise I'm afraid the closest thing I have to a keepsake for them is the wrapper from my teacake.

So what book to recommend in Her Majesty's honour? A book published in the year of the Accession? ('Charlotte's Web') A book that features the Queen? ('The BFG', 'The Queen's Knickers', 'Horrid Henry meets the Queen') A generally royal book? ('The Prince and the Pauper', 'Princess Smartypants'. 'I want my Potty'...)

Slightly wickedly in view of the conjunction of flotilla and weather forecast I'm drawn to 'Black Hearts in Battersea' the second book in Joan Aiken's epic 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase' sequence; the first of which I reviewed here. Taking up the story of Simon, the girls' rescuer in that first book and moving the action to London, it also introduces one of children's literature's best ever heroines in the form of Dido Twite. The assuredly melodramatic plot involves the substitution of babies, long lost twins, kidnap, gun running, escape by hot air balloon and a conspiracy to assassinate both aristocracy and King. It's exciting and funny in equal measure and had Bill as gripped as its predecessor when I read it to him earlier this year.

At the (black- obviously) heart of the book are a series of increasingly inventive attempts to kill the incumbent Duke and Duchess of Battersea who are only rescued from a series of misadventures by the fortuitous employment of an enormous piece of tapestry the Duchess likes to carry with her to work on when bored. One of these attempts involves their ducal barge being scuttled as it progresses back down the Thames from a Royal visit to Hampton Court. Wrapping the tapestry around the hole manages to buy enough time for the boat to find rescuers and the sinking Duke and Duchess to be saved from drowning.

'"By Jove!" said the Duke, as he stood steaming and emptying water out of his diamond-buckled shoes. "What a scrape, eh? I fancied my number was up that time - so it would have been too, if it weren't for your plucky lads, Furneaux! Much obliged to 'ee all!"
"Indeed, yes!" The Duchess smiled round warmly upon the dripping assembled students. She looked much less bedraggled than anybody, as the upper part of her body had never been submerged, thanks to the speed with which she had been towed to land. "You are a set of brave, good souls. You must all come to dinner at the Castle as soon as possible."'

The lessons for the Queen here are obvious. 1. Pack Tapestry or expendable Corgi on Sunday in case of anti- monarchist conspirators. 2. Wear Proper Queen outfit with big puffy skirt to aid flotation. 3. Ensure competent swimmer outriders accompany you for immediate rescue- I suggest David Walliams, Ben Fogle, Rebecca Addlington and Duncan Goodhew as a minimum to swim beside boat on Sunday. 4. Consider staying at home with a good book which if Alan Bennett is to be believed you'd surely prefer anyway.

Happy Jubilee Weekend.
'Black Hearts in Battersea' by joan Aiken, pub. Random House, isbn, 978-0-09945639-1

And the answer was...


Take that all you close card playing poker faced 40something fans.

This makes the clear winner (tada! drumroll)  LIZ who came closest with her bold stroke away from the pack at 65. She gets the choice of 74 sweeties in a jar or any one of the books spread out below.

Many congratulations to her- and many thanks for everyone who had a go. We'll do it again soon.