Sunday, 15 December 2013

Sibling rivalry diversions

The sense of ownership you have over a beloved book as a child is a powerful and distinct force. You love it, you live it, it becomes part of you. This as discussed in Francis Spufford's 'The Child that Books Built' or in Samantha Ellis's forthcoming 'How to be a Heroine' (which I am really looking forward to) is their power and importance. Nothing I've read as an adult has filled my waking thoughts half so powerfully as Mary Plain's cream buns.

I had a lovely time a few weeks ago attending The British Library's companion talk to their 'Picture This' exhibition, listening to Ian Beck, Laura Dockrill, Philip Ardagh and Lauren Child discuss the children's books that shaped them with Julia Eccleshare. The titles they discussed were wide-ranging; some familiar, some more obscure but their experiences had much in common. There was talk of visceral  imprinting, of world views refocused and of self-discovery. And of getting lost in and liberated by the purely silly. Hooray! I, and the rest of the audience would have been happy to have continued the conversation late into the night.

There was one aspect of all this which occurred to me that didn't come up, and that is how family position and sibling dynamics feed into the books one 'owns'. I am the youngest of four; the youngest by 6 years in fact so very much the baby (or afterthought/accident depending on spin). There was already a fairly healthy children's bookshelf of treasure to pilfer by the time I was growing up and this worked in two ways: It led me to discover some titles that I might not have absorbed so thoroughly independently; my biggest brother's complete 'Asterix' collection, my big sister's 'Twins' books (and later her early Jilly Coopers), 'Our Island's Story' and the book of Greek Myths covered in the sheet of Baskin Robbins ice cream wrapping paper (the wrapping paper may have absorbed me more than the myths).

But the other way it worked was to reject those books already perceived as 'belonging' to someone else; specifically and predictably my closest in age sibling. We all want to be different. I didn't want to wear his cast-down stripy trousers and velour t shirts and have my hair cut in a pudding bowl by Alan the barber so everyone called me 'Sonny' either. I didn't have a choice about those. I did about books.

I should make it clear at this point, because he reads this blog and other than occasionally correcting my grammar/spelling has been kind about it, no blame attaches to the sibling in question. He didn't hoard his books; he was a good 'sharer' n that (merciless on a Monopoly board but that's a different blog). I even remember him reading (I think) 'The Horse and his Boy' aloud to me when I was ill in bed once. But he was also a big and passionate reader and I definitely felt some books were already 'owned' by him and thus had nothing left to be absorbed by me.

For a children's book blogger this amounts to a confessional: I have never read any C S Lewis Narnia beyond the first. I have never read any Arthur Ransome and didn't touch Tolkein before adulthood. Ursula Le Guin and Susan Cooper also remain to be properly discovered. They were all 'his'. It may well be they wouldn't have sung to me anyway but I never gave them a proper chance. Am I alone in this experience? I think about Bill and Eddie and wonder if the same rules will come into force. Eddie already rejects books on the basis that they belong to his brother. I'm pretty sure he'll be bypassing Harry Potter from second-hand overload/over-familiarity. I reckon he's on safe ground in wanting to keep his dense non-fiction transport reading matter to himself.

'The Complete Uncle' by J P Martin has just been re-published thanks to a tremendously successful Kickstarter by publisher Marcus Gipps. The husband has a hand in it and a drawing too. It's a very beautiful object. There are a few copies that can be bought I believe even if you didn't buy into the Kickstarter. But Uncle also belonged to my brother's shelves and when I dip into this volume now I can admire and laugh and boggle but I don't really love. It's not in my bones see? It didn't form me.

Not like Mary's meringues did.

As it's nearly the end of the year I'm going to hatch a piece of news that I've been sitting on like an increasingly uncomfortable egg for some months now. I acquired an agent this autumn. A rather good agent, whose existing list makes me feel a bit like that bit in 'Vertigo' where James Stewart comes over funny on a ladder. This is all very well (and definitely GOOD) but it does require me even more to write something worth publishing; exciting and terrifying in equal measure. Because children's writing, the worthwhile sort, silly or serious gets under the skin and stays there forever. No pressure then, gulp.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Thirteen Days of Christmas

It was time for a refresh so I pared the blog 'design' down a little. Design is in inverted commas because really that's a rather inflated word for what happens when I play around in a slightly panicky way with the blogger default settings and backdrops. I dunno. Font choices are HARD.

This is mostly a post about 'The Thirteen Days of Christmas' by Jenny Overton but it's also a small paeon of praise to the precious, precious treasure that is an independent local bookshop. A bookshop which knows you by name and knows your taste and knows what to put into your hands and say 'here, read this, you'll like it.' I might not have found 'The Thirteen Days of Christmas' without mine doing just that and that would have been very sad indeed. Because I DO like it. Bookshops are not just for Christmas but they are especially nice at this time of year. Go and spend money in one yourself. It'll make you and them both happy.

So. 'The Thirteen Days of Christmas' (illustrated, small drumroll, by a certain Shirley Hughes) was originally published in 1972 but has just been reissued. It's essentially a creation story for that ever-favourite-if-a-bit-interminable-when-sung-by-your-otherwise-obviously-delightful-children-in-a-loop-at-full-volume carol 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'. Set in the eighteenth century, it's the story of overly-romantic Annaple Kitson being well and truly petard-hoisted by her younger siblings: Desperate to see her married off so they can escape her inedible cooking they provide helpful inspiration to her apparently staid suitor Francis. But Francis, it soon transpires, has plenty of inspiration of his own and a seemingly bottomless purse. Will there be a wedding on the thirteenth day? Well what do you think?

The great conceit/joke of the book is that Francis not only provides the named gift for the day, he also provides the chorus duplicates daily. Thus on the fifth day, Annaple not only receives 5 gold rings, she also gets another 4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtle doves and pear-tree roosting partridge. And so on. Requiring the construction of ever more elaborate livestock containment and the consumption of massive quantities of eggs and milk; in the end used for bathing and shaving as well as drinking. Funny.

The other pleasure is the education it provides in some long forgotten Christmas traditions. The twelve days of Christmas each presented with their own name and associated rituals: St Thomas of Canterbury's Day (day 5) for instance where all keys are brought to church for blessing and sparrows are fed or Eve's Day (day 11) bringing treats for all the women of the house. I'm re-establishing that one forthwith. The book is peppered with contemporary carols and verses that must have once have been folk knowledge. It's got to be the Most Christmas book I've ever read.

'The procession turned into Ship Street. The choir-boys ran ahead, banging on the doors of all the houses where there were young children and shouting, "Ransom your brats, ransom your brats, a penny a piece for your babies." The pennies showered from the windows. Will dipped his hand into his sack and threw handfuls of nuts and little bags of sugar plums to each ransomed child, and the choirboys stuck sprigs of holly through each door knocker to mark the fact that the price had been paid.'

There's lots of this sort of stuff and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It might rather reduce the charm for the child reader though. They'll need a taste for the sophisticated and historic or an ability to skim the slower pleasures. This is a book for reading aloud I reckon; a family fireside appreciation with something for everybody. A chapter a day when the actual twelve days arrive? That's what I'm planning. Lovely. Thanks 'The Children's Bookshop'.

'The Thirteen Days of Christmas' by Jenny Overton, illustrated by Shirley Hughes, pub. OUP, isbn 978-0-19-273543-0

Sunday, 1 December 2013

What Bill's reading

Bill's turning 9 next week. Halfway to a grown up. Considerably less than that until he thinks he's a grown up. Gulp, sniff and coo-how-did-that-happen? in equal measures.

I don't often blog about what he likes to read but that's mainly because what he likes to read is pretty canonical. You'll have heard of what he likes. He likes to tick off series; sometimes in a devouring-can't get-enough-way (How to Train Your Dragon), sometimes in a dutiful-this-must-be-FINISHED-for-credibility-way (Percy Jackson). Some books he reads fast,almost in a single sitting (Tom Gates, any David Walliams, Guy Bass, Wimpy Kid) some take him weeks and bog him down a little (poorly edited 5th Harry Potter j'accuse). Some books are apparently too 'old' for him but he loves (Wonder) and I'm delighted to say he'll still happily read those too 'young' for him too. He wrote a book review about 'Hug' a month ago for school. It was pasted on the wall next to one for 'Stormbreaker' by an overly sophisticated classmate which tickled me.

He starts books and stops them. His bed is surrounded by possibilities, choices, some begun and abandoned permanently, some just waiting for the right moment, some in a patient queue. My bed is the same. Everyone has the right to be a flaky, distractable, occasionally impatient  reader I reckon. At the moment he's mainly reading 'Silverfin' but seems also to have finished a Lemony Snicket or two and be dabbling with a compendium of entertaining deaths called 'Dreadful Fates'. He likes to treat us to treasures from the last at the dinner table.

I read to him. We've just finished Jane Johnson's 'The Secret Country'; the first in a trilogy. With definite shades of Narnia in a contemporary setting; it's a funny adventure story of a boy who discovers his 'Other World' destiny by way of a talking cat and an incarcerated dragon. Nothing especially revolutionary but who needs revolution? He or I or a mixture of the two of us'll read the next two eventually. First, as it's Advent, 'The Box of Delights' is calling; another book passed down to read by my dear dad. Christmas's past will be brought into focus, cue more sobbing.
And how long do I get to carry on reading to him? Forever I hope against hope.

There's one thing that Bill reads every, every week without fail which is also celebrating a sort of birthday: The totally marvellous 'Phoenix Comic' has its 100th issue out this week. The only independent comic to have achieved such a feat in 40 years; it's ad-free quality story telling of the highest order and mighty pretty to boot. Every Friday it arrives in the post and I sneak it out of its envelope to have a read over my lunchtime soup and cheese before resealing it. Then Bill gets home from school and pounces and doesn't even turn on the telly until he's finished it.


Happy Birthday Bill. Happy Birthday Phoenix.

Happy reading = happy reader. (and of course a Wagon Wheel never goes amiss either)

And here's a sample of The Phoenix if you want some happy reading of your own.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

How Cars Work

Anyone who gets talking to Eddie is soon going to get talking to Eddie about buses. As regular readers of this blog will know, buses are just a little bit important to Eddie right now.
(entire route of the 210 in both directions is tomorrow's treat for us...)
So inevitably kindly adults caught in a route interrogation conversation will ask the question, "Are you going to be a bus driver when you grow up then Eddie?"
Which sends him into a bit of spiral of panic and denial; "No. That would be too hard. I don't know how to drive. I'm just a child."
The idea that it is a skill he could be taught one day seems to be Dreaming the Impossible Dream.

I knew it was formenting in his brain though when I started finding him craning over the dashboard and crawling in the footwell of the driver's seat of the car on a regular basis, examining pedals and buttons and grilling me on their purposes. I am really not the person to grill on this subject beyond the basics. Eventually he admitted, "I need to learn to drive soon because when me and Ella M fly to Australia together I've said I'll drive the hire car." It was news to me that he was planning an imminent return trip to Oz with his 6 year old fiancee but I understood the pressure of responsibility he was feeling.

Enter 'How Cars Work; the interactive guide to mechanisms that make a car work' by Nick Arnold and Allan Sanders, part book, part cardboard meccano; a properly unpatronising primer in car engineering which is also a little bit tasty-looking.

The book has a removable peg board at the front and a back pocket full of numbered coloured cogs, levers and screws. Each page looks (in detail- this will really properly satisfy any budding engineer who wants to look under a bonnet) at a different aspect of a car's mechanics and then provides a plan to build a working example on the peg board. You get therefore to make and see how a piston moves, or the motion of a windscreen wiper or the principle of an accelerator in action amongst others. It's really very nicely done.

The making is reasonably technical, requiring the following of a plan and grid references and appropriate selection of parts. Eddie is not of the mindset to do it yet, Bill had a good play around. But Eddie does pore over the technical descriptions with a bright and beady eye. Hoovering up the knowledge he needs for a golden future on the buses.

I've started keeping the car keys hidden.

nice bit of suspension

Incidently in a week where there has been much discussion about the pros/cons of the Goldiebox range of toys to encourage girls into engineering, after their rather fun ad went viral, I think this book does a reasonable job of gender neutrality. The illustrations are just about evenly split between male and female drivers and the colour palette is not agressively 'blokey'. All you DO need to enjoy a read/play is an interest in how cars work.
Here's the Goldiebox ad if you've happened to miss it-
'How Cars Work' by Nick Arnold and Allan Sanders, published by Templar, isbn 978-1-84877-737-8

Saturday, 16 November 2013


There are a lot of maps in this house.

For a start there's a magnetic map of the world in our hall with name magnets that we push around as friends and family go on travels like military planners. We really value friends who disappear to interesting destinations for months at a time for their magnet value. The small matter of not having them around to chat to matters not a jot in comparison. P and L who have spent the last five years in first Pakistan, then Zambia and now Burma get the gold star in this respect. We sponsor a child in South America solely for the benefit of that map really.

Then there are Eddie's beloved bus maps which wallpaper his room and are spread over his floor, doubling as Total Wipeout course obstacles when he's not studying their intricate poetry. As I type this I am readying myself for today's treat of travelling the entirety of the 102 whilst his brother is at a party. "I'm so excited!" says Eddie.

There is a substantial collection of books of maps too; both of the entirely practical variety- Pah I say to your Satellite Navigation Devices; I LIKE driving with an open book on my lap giving frantic glances down to where I should be going- and of the ancient and decorative. Basically, whenever I can't think of a present to buy the husband, which happens increasingly frequently as the years pass and I have given him everything, I buy him a mappy-type book. And it never fails to make him happy. He is happy with the mappy.

But best of all is this one which he has painted and is a work in progress on Bill's wall. It was supposed to be covered in 'things' by now. Alas an RSI-type collapse put a dramatic halt to is completion in the last few years but the husband's caterpillar slow recovery is marked by the new addition of St Basil's cathedral last week. The big red balls of the Total Wipeout course are set to adorn Argentina next...
Which brings me to 'Maps', a book of simply astonishing loveliness by Polish author/artists Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski and which formed part of Eddie's birthday book haul last month.

It's like Bill's wall but turned up to 11. Each double spread is devoted to a different country and crammed with illustrations incorporating not only the sights, but also the people, stories, food, animals and history of the place. All hand drawn with dizzying gorgeousness. It's LUSH this book is. Lush. Not a word I've used for a a good few years that but exactly what's required here. It's also big and thick papered and Proper. A coffee table book or rather in Eddie's case; a hot chocolate table book.

Just look at it-

See? SEE? Loveliness. (and excuse the photography which is extra specially poor today)

I like the 'facts' on the UK page which include 'The British are famous for their luxury cars' and 'Afternoon tea is a British tradition'. One rings truer to me than the other.

Have to admit it's the husband that has been appreciating this book even more than Eddie since it arrived; if in a slightly wistful I-would-like-to-be-fit-to-paint that way, poor lamb. But Eddie will get round to it. He's just rather hung up on another birthday book at the moment- his absolute best present that he would recommend to you ALL. It's the 2013 edition of 'The London Bus Guide- the routes, the buses, the garages, the companies' by Ken Carr.

I am fairly confident that it's 'Maps' you should be putting on your Christmas list though. Unless you prefer buses.

'Maps' by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski, published by Big Picture Press, isbn 978-1-84877-301-1

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The little boy/girl who lost his/her name

Snappy title for this post eh?

Personalised things were few and far between in the 1970s. One of the main frustrations of my childhood was the sheer absence of 'Polly' mugs/magnets/lollipops/bedroom door signs available in Motorway Service Station's named-thing racks. Ah The Curse of the middle class labelled child. How we suffer.

I don't think personalised books existed at all. I seem to remember coming across the concept in late teenagerdom and feeling a sense of burning injustice at the fortunes now bestowed on an ungrateful younger generation. All I had to make do with was a napkin ring engraved with the number 6; my position as youngest in the family.

Of course now all your possessions can be personalised in any way you want. But it's true that adding a name to something is not an end in itself. In fact if something has your name on it you want it to be even better than the average to mirror your own very particular brilliance. And personalised books may have suffered particularly from being a bit ho and a bit hum in the past.

So along has come www.lostmyname; a group of friends with a self funded, self published project to produce individual books that are a bit more ooh and aah than ho and hum. And I think they've just about pulled it off.

We were sent three samples for Bill, Eddie and (AT LAST!) me. The books follow the story of a child who has lost their name and must be reunited with its letters. He or she goes on a magical adventure meeting characters who have their own dilemmas and part with their own letter in exchange for advice; a lion needs somebody to play with for instance, an Inuit needs warm holiday ideas. Each story is thus genuinely unique and it depends on your own letters as to who you'll meet.

The boys thought this an amazing magic trick. "But HOW did they know? HOW is it done?" Bill really enjoyed unpicking them and comparing the stories. Because his name is short he ends up with an extra linking 'story' page in the middle. Duplicate letters are dealt with my means of a few generic letter generating characters- although Eddie did get both eagle and elephant, suggesting the commonest offenders get extra characters. I did wonder whether you'd lose the will to live reading it out if you'd called your child Guinevere or Jeremiah or something. But then you reap what you sow...

There's a lot of craft and thought gone into these books; particularly the number and quality of the illustrations I think. I'm less of a fan of the rhyming prose. (I think people coming fresh to writing children's books often make the mistake of thinking they'll work best in rhyme. The answer to that, unless you're very skilled, is generally No.) But the stories are warm and funny and Eddie and Bill enjoyed them. The production values are faultless and these books would make interesting and original christening/naming/new baby presents. They're not cheap but you wouldn't expect them to be given the up front investment that's been made. Have a look at the website and see what you think.

Incidently, and for free, Persil has produced some online personalisable adventure stories here. Written by Adam Perrot and illustrated by Clare Elsom I thought they were surprisingly good quality. The stories are funny and unexpected and pleasingly un-gendered in their approach to fun. There may be a debate to have about mixing major corporations marketing budgets with children's books but I'll applaud anyone prepared to generate free access to quality words. Even Mcdonalds have been at it with Michael Morpurgo after all.

As a final note, both 'Lost my Name' and Persil run into difficulties when it comes to personalising the illustrations of their lead characters. Some generic decisions have obviously been made about the 'Lost my name' children. The boy and girl both have black hair and white-with a very faint hint of coffee skin. They don't look like  my children. They're fairly likely not to look like yours. The Persil characters are customisable but only to a very limited degree which may end up being even more frustrating. "But I have glasses!" "But I have long hair even though I'm a boy" etc. etc. These things bothered me more than my children though so perhaps I'm just Mrs. Finickerty Pants. (you'd definitely get fed up reading your name through THAT one.)

With thanks to the Lost My Name team for providing us with lovely free samples. Our decision to review and our opinions are our own. They also kindly provided me with some 15% off coupons- just chuck me a comment/tweet if you'd like one.
Persil did offer me a FREE no-strings-attached  sample of their washing tablets when they told me about their books. I turned them down folks. My integrity in that respect is clean (even if my clothes are grubby...)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Casson family books

I suspect there are two main categories of readers of this blog. People who know me personally and read this blog as a stop gap check of my pulse before the next cup of tea together (It's better than a phone call. I loathe the phone.) and people who share my love of children's books and may also blog about them. Of course if you've stumbled here in search of genuine recommendations then that's wonderful and I hope you'll find what you need- you are part of a small sub-category number three. If you've just come to recommend a stockist of cheap bed frames in Glasgow to me (which seems to be happening with bizarre frequency) then fine, but probably you know, not brilliant targeting of audience. I have a bed. I'm not in Glasgow. You are my fourth group.

Anyway. This post I think, is going to be of most interest to the first and third category of my readers (who knows about the Glaswegian bed enthusiasts?) because the second lot know it too well already. I am shamefully late to the discovery. Hilary Mckay is a wonderful, wonderful writer.

The lateness is excusable; I am both too old and my children too young and conceivably too male to have stumbled across her by chance. It's only relatively recently that I have allowed myself to play catch up with all the children's writing I missed during the long years of reading tedious adult fiction. Oh it's been lovely.

Anyway Hilary Mckay was a name cropping up in virtual conversations a lot and then I read this fabulous interview with her here and then, almost the next day in fact, I came across three of her Casson family novels second hand in the Oxfam bookshop and THEN, oh my, I was in heaven.

Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate my reactions to a book as an adult from what they would have been as a child. It's transparent to me however, that I would have had the same sense of love, and warmth and plain old happiness from opening my first 'Casson' book age 10 as I had age 42. It was that overdue cup of tea with an old friend feeling.
They're very, very funny but they're also human and true. Nothing terrible happens in them, she shares with Helen Cresswell an interest in character over plot I think. And you know I like that now and I liked that then too.
There's been a lot of debate in the media over the last year or so about the Dark Themes that have dominated children's literature (or at least prize-winning children's literature) over the last year or so and whether that's a Good Thing or Not a Good Thing. I'm not going to enter into that debate because boy are there some amazing, dazzling, terrific dark dark books out there and they are important and transformative and worth reading and all that.
And yet.
I know that when I was a child (and, small whisper, even now really) I read for the good much more than the bad. Found the bad at times difficult to bear in fact and would flick through it to find the happy ending. I LIKE books which hold a light up to the positive and which allow their characters and their readers to be transported safely. Which find the beauty and the funny and the powerful in the everyday. It's a very female trait to be apologetic for enjoying the domestic more than the Grand or the Fantastical and well, ya boo sucks to that. I think you can hold a reader, grip a reader and illuminate emotional truths for a reader without also torturing them or descending to the saccharine or the banal. Hilary Mckay is very very good at this, as she herself says in afore-linked-to interview:

 "...these are supposed to be real life stories, about real life people. I’ve never come across an evil person. Have you? I write about what people really eat, and where they really live. I write about what people are really like, and in my experience most people are very kind to most people."

The Casson family novels consist of 'Saffy's Angel', 'Indigo's Star', 'Permanent Rose', 'Caddy Ever After', 'Forever Rose' and newish prequel 'Caddy's World' and follow the growing up years of a slightly ramshackle, bohemian and unashamedly eccentric family of artists, animal lovers and dreamers. They're a little bit unfashionably shabby posh but Hilary Mckay has a perfect ear for the universals of family dialogue and dynamics. I think she's particularly good at illuminating some of the trickier dynamics of friendships and school whilst keeping everything manageable and in context. Bullying features but her characters cope with it. Resiliance and humour in adversity is valued, nothing is made histrionic. Quite British in that respect I suppose. And mainly funny. Have I said how funny they are enough?
I want to quote large chunks to show you this- but it's hard to pick a snippet or a line and this post is already unwieldy so instead I am going to take the UNPRECEDENTED step of directing you to Dread Amazon for their handy 'Look Inside' feature that will allow you to read the first few pages and then you will immediately want to buy them too. From your nearest Independent Bookshop natch.
The Casson Family novels by Hilary Mckay, available in various different editions. Essential reading for dear friends who generally share my tastes...AND for Glaswegian bed dealers.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Review Policy

Stands up, clears throat and taps a mug with a teaspoon to gain attention.

It's time for a change here.

Spending my child-free hours focusing on my own writing has inevitably meant my blog posting rate has dropped off.
 I want to commit to continuing to post here once a week or so but I want those posts to only be about books I feel completely passionate about (or have a diversionary story to connect to them that might make you laugh...). There's no doubt that this blog works best remaining as a purely personal communication about our family's relationship with the books that frankly LITTER our house.
I'm going to stop accepting review copies.
Not that I'm going to burn them as they come through the letterbox obviously but I am putting on my blog management hat (navy with gold braiding,  many tassels and two embroidered entwined B's for Blog Boss) and politely hanging a closed sign at the window to new enquirers.
There are a few outstanding copies coming/in the house which will still appear here if I like them enough and think you might too but after that I am going to only write about the ones I have actually been moved to pay my own money for/get out of the library. Goodness knows we still do enough of that. And if you're going to pay for them on my recommendation it seems only right I should too.

To be clear- I don't receive a huge amount of review post and of those that I have there are plenty of books that I have never written about here. I have only written about the books we have really enjoyed. I have never been paid or even pressured to write a post.

Nevertheless it's impossible not to feel some sort of obligation at the goodies and it has stopped me writing other posts about older/different books which might make more entertaining reading. Blogging has opened up new worlds to me and (hold your thumbs) new work for me but it in itself is NOT my work. And the fun slightly goes out of it when you feel under an obligation.

Thank you for your kind attention. Back to the books at the weekend.

Sits back down again and dunks biscuit in tea.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Book of Beasts

I think I may have mentioned before my complicated relationship with a book called 'The Unexplained' that could be found in Cambridge Central Children's Library in the late 70s. I never actually took it out of the library; it was far too scary. I nerved myself up to read snatches of it only within the safety of the book shelves. Having spent 20 minutes or so sidling up to it via the library's tub of old Beanos and Dandys I would feel brave enough to tackle what Lay Within:
First  the ho-hum every day Unexplained of the Loch Ness monster and the Abombinable Snowman (EXPLAINED as just a bear this week? pah.) then through the slightly spookier poltergeist and apparition section, and finally to the most terrifying part of all; the grainy photos said to show sites of spontaneous human combustion. Am I the only child to have spent a disproportionate amount of my pre-teen years worrying that I might spontaneously combust at any moment? If not then 'The Unexplained' has some explaining to do.

The 'Book of Beasts' by Giles Sparrow, illustrated by Colin Ashcroft and Lee Gibbons seems altogether softer stuff to me. But since we were sent a copy a week or two ago it has been exerting a strange pull on Bill who has been sidling up to read sections of it with slightly fake insouciance. Divided into five 'beast' sections including Monsters of the Gods, Shapeshifters and (personal favourite) the Undead, the book is a lavishly illustrated glossy guide to the fancies and foibles of a range of monstrous beings. Bill reads it over breakfast with a nervy laugh and occasional question. "Who would you rather fight Minotaur or Gorgon?" or " Black that like real?" It's not too terrifying. There's a fair balance between humour, myth and helpful top fighting tips (make sure you're carrying bullets dipped in white ash if you're tackling a Skinwalker for instance). Plus frankly the swish full colour spreads can hold none of the fear of a small 1970s black and white photo of still smouldering slippers hidden in a dense page of text. The production values of this book are just too high for nightmares.

This is not in truth a book for me but I'm not who it's for either. Should you have an 8 yr old with a penchant for facts in top trump digestible chunks, zombies, Percy Jackson and ilicit watching of dodgy 'Slender Man' myth videos on Youtube they'll love it. Nicely done TickTock; Bill's a fan. He may even be ready for 'The Unexplained' next should you wish to reboot...

'Book of Beasts' by Giles Sparrow, illustrated by Colin Ashcroft and Lee Gibbons, published by TickTock. isbn 978-1-84898-896-5

With thanks to the publishers for a review copy. Our opinions are our own.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Adventures of Shola

Last Thursday was apparently 'Super Thursday' in the world of publishing; the day when many of the books expected to be heavy hitters for the Christmas gift market were released. In reality this turned out to be just about adult titles; particularly celebrity memoirs and cookery tomes, Super Thursday for children's books happened a week or two earlier.

Having just spent a small but significant fortune on glorious hardbacks for Eddie's birthday I can confirm that bookshops are full of their most irresistible candy  at the moment: Pretty books, stroke-able, substantial, tempting gifty books.

One bidding for a slot on Father Christmas's sleigh is a smart small yellow hardback from new imprint Pushkin Children's Books. This small publishers is carving out a rather classy niche in translating a few interesting and handsome European children's titles and wafting them under our perhaps  less cultured noses.

'The Adventures of Shola' by Bernardo Atxaga was thus originally published in Basque in the late 90s, before being translated into Spanish and now finally reaching us.

It's a curious book but a charming one. It seems relevant to the market divisions of Super Thursday because actually I think this is a 'gift' book which might be as much appreciated in an adult dog-lover's stocking as a child's.

The book has four stories about Shola, a small white dog with healthy self-esteem and ways of getting what she wants from life (mostly food and sleep). Much will ring true to any one who has ever (in Dodie Smith parlance) been 'owned by' a dog. The strongest and funniest story in the book is the first in which Shola becomes convinced she has been wrongly categorised and is in fact a lion.

'Shola, who had been dozing in the armchair, pricked up her ears. What sort of beast was this lion, so like herself in so many ways? She too was strong, powerful and noble. Although she had never actually fought with anyone or seen a hunter, she was sure they would all be afraid of her; she was sure that all animals and all hunters were aware- painfully aware- that she could strike them dead with the last beat of her heart.'

Shola's personality is completely convincing and her encounters on the streets of the city in full lion mode made me chuckle out loud. The mismatch between Shola's indomitable self-belief and the reality of say, coming face to face with a tusked and angry wild boar, provide the book's best moments. She's well served by the book's cartoon illustrations by Mikel Valverde too. He has a good line in doggy eyes of determination and confusion.

There are some translation issues though possibly. This feels like a foreign book and though that's not a bad thing obviously, it's a pretty sophisticated read for the child audience it might be bought for. The last two stories rely on quite a lot of word play in places and perhaps an adult sensibility which I suspect would work better in the original text. I'm all for vocabulary stretching as I've said before but I think Bill would struggle with this on his own.

I think it will work best as a family read aloud. A perfect Sunday afternoon, snuggle by the fire Christmas choice to share. Especially if you have a small, egotistical dog of your own at your feet with one ear cocked listening too.

'The Adventures of Shola' by Bernardo Atxaga, illustrated by Mikel Valverde, pub. Pushkin Children's, isbn 978-1-78269-009-2

With thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy. Our opinions are our own.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Shine and Picture Me Gone

This counts as a diversionary post. These are not books for the Fellow Reviewers.Yet. But as I spent the last 24 hours immersed in these books' company, in a frankly gluttonous feast of words, they are where my head is at. They both deserve their own separate reviews really, but turned out to be rather interesting to read together; sharing both themes and qualities.

'Shine' is Candy Gourlay's second novel, following the acclaimed 'Tall Story'. 'Picture Me Gone', Meg Rossof's sixth book; although I confess I haven't read any of the intervening four since 'How I Live Now' came out 10 years ago. I have some catching up to do. She's such a pretty arranger of words.

Superficially my claim that they twin nicely seems dubious: "Shine" tells the story of Rosa, a teenage recluse by necessity of her disfigurement on the superstitious island of Mirasol where it never stops raining. Her virtual escape through her computer brings the possibility of new friendship but also danger. "Picture Me Gone" is a road trip mystery. 12 year old Mila accompanies her father to the US to help find his friend who has disappeared.


Both are first person narratives of teenage girls with special gifts: Mila can read the emotional subtext of a situation; literally 'sniff' out deceit. Rosa is mute and considered a mystical demon with the power to take life within the community she lives. Both are only children and both books explore the relationship between father and daughter in love and betrayal. Both books require their heroines to unravel the lies of an adult world and the stakes are life and death. Both are concerned with friendship and how much of oneself to expose in its cause. 'Picture Me Gone' is firmly grounded in reality whereas 'Shine' is harder to categorise; a recognisable universe a jump or two away layered with a tropical ghost story with echoes of Jane Eyre...

(Ghost stories are so associated in my head with cold and bleak English landscapes and Victoriana that it's rather wonderful to be given a steamy, tropical, contemporary version: 'The Woman in White' will never seem the same again.)

The main point of comparison though is that both books are wonderfully well written taut, compact prose. It was greedy of me to read both in one day (and may make the writers' despair, given the craft and time of their own that went into them!) but Oh it was lovely. And it was possible: Not that they're that short-but  hurray for telling stories with only what is necessary and beautiful included.

 I could not stop reading either book in fact and it's a long time since that's happened. Sorry kids- who got a lot of "mmm...lovely dear" through whatever they were telling me yesterday afternoon as I mentally absented myself.
I missed the recent 'Nosy Crow' conference on Children's Publishing alas, but I believe Lucy Mangan said in her speech that one of the reasons she reads children's books is because she 'doesn't have time to be bored'. The truth of her words was with me yesterday. I consumed my treats at speed, you may choose to savour but be assured; treats await you.

'Picture Me Gone' by Meg Rossof, pub.Penguin, isbn 978-0-141-34403-4
'Shine' by Candy Gourlay, pub. David Fickling Books, isbn 978-0-385-61920-2

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Emperor's Nightingale

I first came across the work of Jane Ray long before I had children of my own and a re-ignited interest in picture books. Her rich, jewel-like, celebratory pictures of animals and people were produced on a range of wrapping paper in my student days. My friend, studying zoology at the time (but now a rather successful painter herself) who always had an immaculate eye for idiosyncratic interior design, snaffled them up and stuck them as a cheap and classier alternative to posters on her wall. I admired her and their verve and style.

Two or three years later and having taken my own career swerve and become a student midwife I went to weigh a baby in North London only to find another set of walls adorned with familiar pictures. On closer examination they turned out to be originals, and the baby belonged to the artist; Jane Ray herself. I was actually quietly starstruck -"The wrapping paper lady! In real life!" I probably spent far too much time surreptiously looking at pictures and not nearly enough time checking baby fontanelles and jaundice levels.

Fast forward about another 19 years (do us both a favour and don't add up too carefully here) and that baby has apparently grown up despite (or perhaps because of?) early student-midwife neglect to become a doctor himself and I have my own Jane Ray walls; although mine are decorated with shelves and face out spines of her lovely books. She was good enough to agree to come to the Fellow Reviewer's school and judge an art competition for them. I was still starstruck; probably rather more so since my knowledge of her work had expanded out from wrapping paper. I baked her a very sticky cake and then sort of forced her to eat it. Sorry Jane.

A new book by her then, and they come with pleasing regularity, is a cause for celebration. And "The Emperor's Nightingale' is a particularly fine one I think.
A collection of traditional tales and poems loosely linked by a birdy theme: It includes the familiar eg. 'The Owl and the Pussycat' and the less so eg. 'Jorinda and Joringel'. Some stories are left in their original form, some sensitively retold.
In contrast to her normal glowing palette of ?gouache and gold the illustrations in this book are all done on Scraperboard. The frontpage elucidates; 'the line is etched onto a thin layer of white china clay on board coated with black India ink.'
The results are stunning; the pared back pleasure of individual lines and cross-hatching can sing off the page. It seems the perfect medium for expressing feather and flight. The pictures are surprisingly diverse in style too; some like simple block woodcut pictures and others detailed and lifelike. The two colour contrast gives each picture weight and gravity. This feels like a very Proper book. A book that small hands will hold with respect and will still be earning its place on the shelf in years to come.
I love it.
And I want a piece of Scraperboard to make a mess of myself Right Now (stamps tiny foot).

'The Emperor's Nightingale and other feathery tales' by Jane Ray, pub. Boxer books, isbn 978-1-907152-59-7

A good Christmas gift (aagh!) for any bird lover perhaps?

With thanks to the Publisher for providing a review copy. Our opinions are our own.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Bagthorpes and Ripping Yarns

It's very lovely being sent books for review but I realise it has been distracting me recently from enough spouting forth on old favourites. So today I am neglecting the small pile of new picture books at my desk to tap you all on the shoulder, nod wisely and simply say- Helen Cresswell.

Her Bagthorpes books probably made me laugh out loud more than any other books of my childhood. I read and re-read them on a loop;not least in the bath by the looks of the slightly puffy, water stained copy of 'Ordinary Jack' I still have.

'Ordinary Jack' was alas, the only copy I still had of her original series of four books. Until this week; when I paid a ridiculously long overdue visit to 'Ripping Yarns' second hand treasure trove bookshop. I have to hang my head in shame here. I think of myself as a Good Bookbuying Girl- making full use of the excellent independent local bookstores I'm lucky enough to live close to. But it's only now, as I read it's under threat of closure (sigh) that I've shopped at 'Ripping Yarns'; a mere 20 minutes walk away from home. It is up a steepish hill and over a busy road but that is NO EXCUSE.

I've been an idiot. It's an AMAZING place. One of those shops that is so crammed with deliciously musty stock that it can't really hold more than two customers at any one time. It has a great mixture of old Puffins and Armadas and many rather older, grander curiosities; including an intimidating shelf of Moral Tales. I spent a small fortune on a large pile of familiar goodies from my past. Here's the link to the shop's website- and please do have a browse and a buy and help keep it open.

Anyway, amongst my haul was a signed copy of 'Absolute Zero'; the second in the series. Now I only need to find 'Bagthorpes Unlimited' and 'Bagthorpes V. The World' and my precious shall be returned to me. She wrote another six later, but the first four are definitely the best I think.

The Bagthorpes books are joyous farce. Pretty much entirely character based comedy, their plots are relatively free-form. I wasn't surprised to read recently that Helen Cresswell never planned her books; she just wrote. A writer of her calibre can get away with it. A family of egotistical eccentrics get into a series of escalating domestic dramas including fires, floods, seances, maggot breeding, a riot in a bingo hall and an appearance in a surprisingly prescient fly on the wall TV show. Think something like the kids from Outnumbered parented by Basil Fawlty. Every page is a treat.

However, re-reading them, I am not as surprised as I thought I'd be that they're currently OOP. Though still extremely funny, they have dated and not least in their use of language. She's not frightened of complicated words or adult references is Helen Cresswell. There's no thought about accessibility or children's vocabulary levels- she just writes the funny. My sense is this is a marked contrast to contemporary 'middle grade' and I wonder how she'd be edited now?
When I read them age 9 or so, there's no doubt that many of the words and phrases went over my head. There are frequent references (Mr Bagthorpe is a scriptwriter for Radio 4...) to quotations from Milton, Shakespeare, Locke, Marx and Freud for instance. Daisy, a borderline psychopathic 4 year old goes through a phase of chaos-causing in the pantry which is termed 'Reconciling the Seemingly Disparate'. I know I had no idea what that meant at the time but I liked the sound of the words.  Here's a sample passage to give a flavour of her prose-

'He ran up the stairs two at a time, to meet a fresh flood on the landing. Now he could hear Daisy's voice.
"Soup, soup, bootiful soup,
Boooootiful pea green soup!"
Horrified by the implications of this chant, Jack threshed his way to the bathroom. His worst fears were confirmed. Daisy had poured a whole bottle of green bubble bath into the overrunning bath and washbasin. She said afterwards that this was to make things more real, that she wanted the water to look like the sea, all green and foamy. When Aunt Celia heard this, she murmured something about 'the foam of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn', and clasped Daisy to her.
"She's going to be a poet," she told everybody.
Daisy at present wore only her knickers and was busy ladling the green water out of the bath and into a flower bowl.
"Hello Zack!" she squealed, seeing him. "It's lovely- oooh, it's lovely!"'

I don't want to make any particularly profound observations about the difference between children's writing Then and Now. Accessibility and clarity are good things obviously. But so are having your vocabulary and thought processes stretched whilst also laughing like a drain.

Hurray for Helen Cresswell...and hurray for Ripping Yarns; long may they keep selling her books.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Silver Buttons

"That's someone else born. That's someone else born. That's someone else born. That's someone else born."
Sometimes my children like to set up this sort of continuous chant over the breakfast table (or of course, its more morbid companion chant "someone just died, someone just died, someone just died"). It's obviously an enchanting refrain in and of itself but the thought processes behind it; the sheer, blooming BIGNESS of the world and the amount of stuff happening in it all the time, all over the place is really hard to think about sensibly. So you might as well do it whilst also shoveling in cocopops I suppose.

("That's another bowl of cocopops eaten. That's another bowl of cocopops eaten. That's another bowl of cocopops eaten.")

Or you could just enjoy the lovely 'Silver Buttons' by Bob Graham which elucidates the universality of a moment in as simple but pretty a way as I've seen.

Inside a house Jodie draws a duck, her brother takes his first step, their mother plays the tin whistle before we sail outside the window to watch a feather, a grandparent, a soldier, a boy with untied shoelaces and yes; someone being born, as well as many other moments both trivial and tremendous. All in the sixty seconds between 9.59 and 10 o'clock. Coo. Each page turn zooms us in or out, rather in the manner of an accomplished movie single frame shot.

It's quite rare for me to read a picture book and then immediately read it again and then again and then again but this one demanded it. Apart from anything else there is great pleasure to be found identifying all the small things happening in Bob Graham's beautiful wide vistas.

The fellow reviewers' reaction was more muted initially but this is a book which needs sharing, chewing over and discussing to fully enjoy I think; a deceptively sophisticated read. It's cropped up in conversations a few times now, in connection with (sigh) the war in Syria and what it might mean to be a child there. The bigness of the world is not always benign and that is also something hard to understand. Books like 'Silver Buttons' which reinforce how we are just one piece of a hopeful and beautiful whole are a very useful counterbalance.

Definitely a book for school libraries and to inspire project work; do take a look at it.

'Silver Buttons' by Bob Graham, pub. Walker, isbn 978-1-4063-4224-6

With thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy- our opinions are our own.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster race.

I wonder if this book began with its title? It IS an excellent title. Who hasn't stayed up late into the night arguing about which animal would win in a weasel, puffin, unicorn, baboon, pig, lobster showdown after all?

The contents of 'The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster race' by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon will answer that dilemma; 5 out of the 6 animals proving to be dreadful cheats as it turns out. Although given the terrain they have to negotiate includes swamps of goo and rockfaces with bubbles of drool it's a mute question whether it's really about cheating or simple survival. It's a pretty hardcore challenge when you are forced to rely on a chocolate submarine or custard trampoline to get you where you need to go.

This book is hip and bonkers in equal measure. I read it with an eyebrow raised and an occasional wince at some rather dodgy rhyming. Eddie, who of course IS hip and bonkers in equal measure loved it immediately. The illustrations channel 70's psychedelia. David Shrigley-esque line drawings in a palette perfectly picked from the wallpapers of my childhood. In fact the whole (beautifully produced) book is reminiscent of some of the stranger TV animations of that era; 'Ludwig' say or 'Chorlton and the Wheelies'.

A frustration with the book is that all the animals in the race are male. Not an issue I'd thought about much until the excellent Carmen at Rhino Reads pointed out the inbalance that exists generally in picture book animals. An opportunity missed to have a dastardly cheating FEMALE lobster on a raspberry canoe  for once.

That aside the blend of edgy nonsense has charm and will appeal to happening young thing cool cat aesthetes- and just possibly, to their parents too.

'The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race' by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon, pub. Digital Leaf Publishing, isbn 9781909428027

with thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy. Our opinions are our own.

Friday, 30 August 2013


Ah Romans.
Romans, Romans, Romans.

For an empire that fell a pretty long time ago now they don't half exert a lot of influence over the Primary School curriculum.

Bill 'did' them last term. We made a mosaic together and I bought and got out of the library various Improving Books about Roman culture. The most popular of these from Bill's point of view was obviously the least outwardly 'improving': 'Diary of Dorkius Maximus' by Tim Collins and Andrew Pinder, an unashamed homage to Wimpy Kid which does a nice line in incorporating Horrible History-type Roman factoids into an enjoyable tale of the tribulations of ancient middle school. There's a sequel just come out and a third due next year and Bill will want to seek them out.

He'll especially want to seek out the third- 'Dorkius Maximus in Pompeii'. Romans are good and all, but Romans combined with explosions, death, destruction and metres of raining hot ash are SO much better. As soon as Bill heard that there was an exhibition all about Pompeii featuring REAL bodies (well real body cavities technically but who's fussing) he was very keen to go.

So off to the British Museum we went last week to explore 'Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum'. It was great, but from Bill's point of view undoubtedly heavy on the Life-side rather than the Death. He hadn't quite taken the point that most people were interested in what the eruption had managed to preserve rather than what it had destroyed. However we were all affected by the sight of the charred baby's crib and the small domestic details like a blackened loaf of bread or pile of figs. The dormouse fattening jar was pretty good too...

We also spent a long time looking at the items found with the bodies at Herculaneum- an insight into what people had chosen as their most precious possessions to run with. The melted, twisted keys were poignant. I asked the boys' what they'd have picked up. Bill went for the cat and his money and "Probably my sticks Mum. They're pretty special to me."

In the gift shop afterwards we bought Usborne's Young Reading 'Pompeii' by Karen Bell, illustrated by Emmanuel Cerisier. This takes the approach of fictionalising the stories of the different inhabitants of Pompeii as imagined from the artefacts they left behind. Bill enjoyed reading about Terentius Neo, the baker and his wife whose fresco we'd seen in the exhibition.

But by FAR the best book on the eruption- and actually one of the first non-fiction books that has really, properly engrossed Bill is an out of print volume we got out of the library called 'The Secrets of Vesuvius' by Sara Bisel. Sara Bisel is the archaeologist specialising in bones who was the first to examine the skeletons discovered at Herculaneum in the 1980s. The book is a beautiful balance of the painstaking science of excavation and the imaginative insights into real lives that excavation can reveal. Archaeology is COOL! It's written in a very accessible style- almost like a murder mystery, again with fictionalised sections-but with plenty of good science and good history within. Plus it has a lot of full colour photos of skeletons. Worth seeking out in your own library.

Because you're going to be doing the Romans too.
a trio of Roman recommendations

Absolutely regulation mosaic. You don't want to mess with our lantern-jawed Caesar
'The Secrets of Vesuvius' by Sara C. Bisel (OOP) pub. Hodder Headway, isbn 0-340-54352-3
'Pompeii' by Karen Ball, illus. Emmanuel Cerisier, pub. Usborne, isbn 978074606832-8
'Diary of Dorkius Maximus' by Tim Collins, pub. Buster books, isbn 978-1-78055-027-5

Friday, 23 August 2013

Dixie O' Day

'Dixie O'Day: In the Fast Lane' written by Shirley Hughes and illustrated by Clara Vulliamy.

Honestly, if you have any interest in children's books at all, I shouldn't need to write any more than that in this review. You should've already turned away from the screen, grabbed your wallet and keys and headed out the door to your nearest bookshop. In your pyjamas is fine in this case. Scoot.

Because a new book by Shirley Hughes AND Clara Vulliamy? Their first mother/daughter collaboration? Their first early chapter book? Come ON you can't tell me that's not jiggle-up-and-down-smiley, wave-small-flags, do-special-happy-dance-while-juggling-chocolate-muffins-in-the-sunshine kind of news?

I'm not alone in being excited. Dapper driver dog Dixie and his best pal Percy's first adventure has already been selected as Children's Book of the Week by the Sunday Times and (ooo escalation) Book of the Month by Waterstones. There's a bit of a buzz there is. I was practically camped by my letterbox whilst I waited for my copy to arrive.

But y'know buzz shmuzz, Sunday Times Shmunday Shtimes, Waterstones Shmaterstones...there's only one opinion that counts in this house and many are the mighty who have supplicated before him and been spurned.
I speak of course of the exacting standards of Fellow Reviewer Eddie, who like a Roman Emperor, will thumb up or thumb down a book with scant regard for reputation or social nicety.

My review of 'In the Fast Lane' is that is a little gem. A gorgeous, small but chunky hardback; just the right size for the new independent readers it's designed for. Vintage vehicles, plentiful biscuits and ice cream sundaes, a Proper baddy (never trust a woman who has a specially designed motoring hat) and a race of twists, turns and escaped sheep make for pages that demand to be turned. This book will make you smile; it bubbles with the joy and warmth of its makers. Never have the words 'made with love' seemed more appropriate.

And Eddie's opinion? Well, when Eddie likes a book there's only one thing he's going to do. Read it, and read it continuously. Out loud from start to finish with voices and brooking no interruptions. On about his third go round, I put the camera on and filmed him surreptitiously and I want to give you a little snippet of his pleasure in the book here. He's mid flow when he turns the page and finds some illustrations that bring him up short and demand his attention. It's a nice little vignette of how beautifully text and pictures can weave together a complete, immersive reading experience. Author, illustrator and reader are ALL in perfect harmony.

Look! A cow in a motorcycle sidecar! Ain't life grand?
'Dixie O'Day, In the Fast Lane' written by Shirley Hughes, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy, pub. The Bodley Head, isbn 978-1-782-30012-0

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Holiday Vital Statistics

Back from a rather lovely two weeks in the Austrian Tyrol where I came over a bit Julie Andrews-

Some Holiday Statistics: 
1. Different ways we took ourselves up hills: funicular railway, cable car, chair lift, or even (with Haribo help) on foot.
2. Different ways we hurtled down hills: slide, waterslide, waterslide on a rubber tube, waterslide with whirlpool rapids, grass toboggan, chair lift, cable car, paraglider, zipwire, rolling on our tummies, on foot.
Bill demonstrates hurtling
3. Different schnitzels eaten: pork, chicken, turkey, with added cheese, with added ham, with added mushrooms.
4. Different cakes eaten: sachertorte, grape sponge, pineapple sponge, apple and almond sponge, strawberry mousse sponge, apple strudel, nut strudel, pear strudel, apple and nut strudel, pear and nut strudel, unidentifiable but still delicious strudel.
5. Number of Traditional Tyrol Parades of random motor vehicles, traditional crafts, sundry animals, and marching lederhosen-clad Brass Bands seen: 3
a goat with impressively long horns
6. Number of Traditional Tyrol Parades which did not also throw sweets and therefore were too many for Bill: 2

7. Conversational Topics which preoccupied my children: Electric fences. Electric Shocks. Electric Chairs. Cannibalism. Foreign Crisps. German Spongebob. The possible Housing Arrangements of the Singer Gary Numan. The order of all Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson songs and the life, times and changing skin colour of Mr. Jackson generally. Foreign Haribo. Foreign Sausages. Foreign Ice cream.
8. Number of sticks that Bill wanted to bring home: 8
9. Number of sticks actually brought home: 4
10. Number of stones that Bill wanted to bring home: 15
11. Number of stones actually brought home: 4
12. Souvenirs chosen: Bill- an authentic bearded and uniformed nutcracker named 'Colonel Nut', Eddie- a snowglobe featuring mountain, climber, alpine chalet, goat, cow, bell and marmosets with 'Wildschonau' written on in black felt tip a bit bunched up at the end.
13. Books read: Some. Mainly more Percy Jackson for Bill, David Sedaris for me and Alice in Wonderland for Eddie.
14. Games played: More. endless Uno. Top Trumps and the best discoveries of this holiday- Forbidden Island and Dweebies. These games made by Gamewright are as close to a review as this post is going to get. They were a nightly treat. Forbidden Island is a co-operative game where you either all win together or lose together. It takes some mastering but I highly recommend it. Eddie won't play any game where he might lose- he's not a bad loser- he's a total game refusenik who generally just chooses to spectate. He was persuaded to play some Forbidden Island and got quite into it. It has mini plastic trophies with mystical powers to collect which always helps. 

The only other review of this post is obvious I hope: Austria is an excellent place to have a holiday if you like schnitzel, strudel, goats, hills and Haribo. And WHO doesn't like those things? Back to the books next post. I have a cracker for you...

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Holiday report- week 1

7 days in of nothing to do and nowhere to be and all going well so far. Here's the summary of Summery action to date.
diy escapology
preparing Issue 1 of The Nosey Crab Comic
claybombing tree
waterbombing  brother
live stunt action

Occasional moments of quiet contemplation

diabolo practice and more diabolo practice

messing about without boats, trousers optional

the hazards of messing about without boats

And books? Bill's recommendations of the week would be The Simpsons comic, The Phoenix (as ever) and 'Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief'. Eddie is all about 'The Guinness Book of Records', Doctor Who A-Z and Shirley Hughes' and Clara Vulliamy's divine new collaboration; 'Dixie O' Day'. Review of the latter will come- but first I need a bit of a sit down and a cup of tea or two...

Hope you're having fun too.