Monday, 22 January 2018

the lost words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

I'm kicking off this year with 'the lost words' by writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris. It was one of my Christmas presents from my husband and I have to say (alongside my microplane grater!) it's one of my favourites.

This is a sublimely beautiful and thoughtful book and I love the story behind the creation of it. You can read about it on Jackie Morris's blog here. In a nutshell the discovery that the Oxford Junior Dictionary was removing words such as otter, kingfisher and willow sparked an outcry and a petition was started by writers and naturalists. The reason behind the removal of these words was that they were slipping out of common usage, hence the title 'the lost words'.

I have to admit that when I first looked at this book in a bookshop I thumbed through it and didn't understand the whole concept behind it. But when I settled down on the sofa and properly looked at it, I completely fell in love. And later on when I read it with my children (five and eight) we had a lovely time together reading and sharing it. My eight year old really enjoyed reading the poems out to us both.

It's a big book and sumptuously made, with gold lettering. Because it's so large, it really allows space for the artwork to shine. It picks out a word on a double page, these are the 'spell' pages (it's called 'A spell book' in the sub-title). The following page has a poem about the word and the next page features a full magnificent double page illustration. So each word has six pages in total dedicated to it. The lost words are: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker, dandelion, fern, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, magpie, newt, otter, raven, starling, weasel, willow and wren.

The poems are little works of art in their own right, each one unique and evocative of the word they are describing. The magpie one which ends 'Every Magpie for Every Magpie against Every Other Walking Flying Swimming Creeping Creature on the Earth!' makes me chuckle every time. And the 'Rooftop riprap street-smart hip-hop of starling song' is just wonderful to read aloud.

There is a great interview from Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris on the Penguin blog which delves into a little more detail about making the book and how the cover was designed. There is also a current exhibition displaying the artwork and poems at the Foundling Museum in London.

There is a campaign being organised to get this book into every school in Scotland and I heartily hope that it gathers momentum and becomes the whole of the UK because this is an important book which deserves to be shared. Go and buy it! Preferably from a real life bookshop.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Great Women Who Changed The World by Kate Pankhurst

Rosie was given Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World for her birthday and she's been dipping in and out of it and really enjoying relaying facts from it to us for the past few days. Written and illustrated by a descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst it's a great non-fiction title which is proving to be a real inspiration and hit with our suddenly rather grown up eight year old! 
I particularly like the mix of great women they have included in here, it's diverse and also spans many interests from swimming, reading, science, flying and even fashion. It's nicely set out with fun facts and interesting summaries of their lives. I think it will serve well as a stepping point to finding out more about these people. Rosie is particularly interested in the Anne Frank story and although she's a bit young to read the actual diary yet it's a good start.

The woman featured are: Jane Austen, Gertrude Ederle, Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, Mary Seacole, Amelia Earhart, Agent Fifi, Sacagawa, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks and Anne Frank. I would imagine it was pretty hard to narrow it down and choose who made it into the book!

The publisher of the book, Bloomsbury, have also provided an activity pack you can download from their website. It's got a sort of quiz about each woman first but afterwards it is more about the child and discussing what they think about things and how they see themselves and the world which I think could be a really lovely and interesting thing to do with your child.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Katie and the Dinosaurs by James Mayhew

At first my eight year old seemed more interested in Katie and the Dinosaurs than my five year old, who I'd picked it up for. But then suddenly my five year old started flicking through it and now we're reading it every night. I'd like a little more variety in reading habits but I think at this time of year something familiar goes a long way, especially since she's just started school. She's totally knackered already! How are we going to get to half-term and then Christmas?

The Katie books by James Mayhew are a very well-loved series which started out as a picture book with a little girl called Katie going to visit famous paintings. We haven't actually read those ones and they're on my list to pick up next.

Katie and the Dinosaurs has Katie and her Grandma in the Natural History Museum (I think we're on a museum-themed-roll at the moment - after The Missing Mammoth last time!) on a visit to look at the dinosaurs. I must say the last time I went to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs I gave up after half an hour because the queues were so crazy. But that was during a school holiday. Katie and her Grandma seem to have the museum to themselves, they must be there on a Monday, during term-time and just as it opens!

Katie wanders off, leaving Grandma resting on a bench and finds herself in a bit of the museum she doesn't recognise, at a door which warns her: 'ABSOLUTELY NO ADMITTANCE WHATSOEVER'. Of course she can't resist a peek and finds herself in a world where dinosaurs are living. She makes friends with a Hadrosaurus who is hiding from a T-Rex and can't find his family. They climb an Apatosaurus to get a better view and find the Hadrosaurus' home and then they set off. But on every page an unsuspecting Katie and her new friend are being followed by the T-Rex. I can imagine a younger child would particularly enjoy spotting it each time.

Hadrosaurus is eventually reunited with his family and Katie shares the contents of her lunchbox with them all (cucumber sandwiches because they are plant eaters). But then disaster! The Tyrannosaurus Rex has found them and he fancies a tasty snack in the shape of Katie. They all have to run away, until Katie remembers the meat pie she has, handily still in her lunchbox! The T-Rex is placated and Katie manages to escape back to the museum after a slobbery dinosaur kiss from Hadrosaurus. She finds Grandma who asks her where on earth she's been? Katie replies that she's seen all kinds of dinosaurs and would Grandma like to see them too? They set off together. We never know if they go back in, which is quite nice really since it makes a good activity to ask your child 'what happened next?'.

I really like the mix of dinosaur information and story that is so well combined in this book. It's not overloaded with dinosaur facts but there are plenty of name checks and the plant eaters and the meat eaters are noted and the landscape is great to look at and understand the different types of environment. All in all, a lovely book!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth by Ellie Hattie and Karl James Mountford

We picked up a copy of The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth from our local library (in fact they had some lovely books just loitering on a table so we took a whole armful home with us!). It's a lovely whimsical book which takes you through a beautiful Victorian museum room by room with the ruse of finding a young mammoth that has gone missing. The premise is that at midnight there is a magic hour when everything in the museum comes alive, the problem is that the young mammoth, Teddy, has gone missing and needs to be back in place before the hour is over.

There are lovely funny touches like the room containing the Extinct and Endangered Creatures doing an aerobics class. It's full of eclectic stuff, like all the best museums, with lots of different (some quite random!) information. There are loads of fun facts under the different flaps. It's great for reading to different levels of reader since you don't have to examine every flap and read all the text but you can if the child is interested or wants to read it themself (in the case of my nearly eight year old!).

I think this book would make a really lovely gift for a museum mad (or mammoth mad!) child. It has really lovely thick paper and beautiful flaps that work well inside each spread. Gorgeous!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

The happiest of places, the Super Happy Magic Forest is home to the happiest of people. But one day the source of all the happiness (the mystical crystals of life) go missing. So five willing heroes (a unicorn, a fairy, a gnome, a faun and a mushroom) band together and go after the magic crystals, battling against all the odds they reach the source of all evil, Goblin Tower. Except the crystals aren't there!

I won't ruin the ending for you (of course it all comes right in the end!) but would just quickly like to point out that there are several similarities to Lord of the Rings in this brilliant picture book. That's not a nit picking thing, since I'm rather impressed that it has managed to work so well. The combination of artwork, speech bubbles and text gives it a fresh feel and there are quite a few contemporary references to modern films which is really quite clever. I think this is quite an ambitious story which manages to work really well within the picture book confines. My two daughters (four and seven years old) have certainly really taken a shine to it and indeed this morning I heard them playing a version of the story combined with the Trolls movie plot - which they're currently obsessed by. So the highest praise indeed - re-enactment!

I love the fact it works on a variety of levels, you can just read the simple story, you can add in the funny speech bubbles and you can also work out a couple of puzzles as you go. It's sort of a picture book version of an early graphic novel. It would make a great interactive app!

So in conclusion we love this book! And it's being very well used. We got our current copy from the library but we'll be purchasing it as soon as we send it back. Matty Long has a website which has several of the pages from the book so if you want to try before you buy take a look! And the sequel Super Happy Magic Forest and The Slug of Doom came out last year too, we will be hunting it down very shortly!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Where's Bear by Emily Gravett

When my three year old (not far off four!) picked up Where's Bear in the library my initial reaction was that it was too young for her but because she was insistent we bought it home. And although it is a very simple book that you could share with a much younger child it does work really well for her age too. It's a very witty book and the beauty of it is that it's so simple. 

Bear and Hare are playing hide and seek. Hare counts to ten and then starts to look for Bear. But because Bear is so big he isn't that good at hiding and Hare gets a little exasperated with how easy it is. So Hare has a go at hiding instead and proves a lot more difficult for Bear to find. There's a funny pickle of a muddle at the end with both of them ending up under a duvet and losing each other. 

What we really loved about this book is the counting (my three year old proved herself surprisingly adept at recognising numbers) and also the spacial awareness. It is very clever at helping a young child recognise how big something is and if it will fit into a space or not. The relationship between Hare and Bear is very lovingly explored too and of course Emily Gravett's illustrations are sublime. There are other books in the Bear and Hare series and we will look out for them. 

Friday, 12 February 2016

Dragon Jelly by Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra

It's been a long time since I last blogged. Everything feels like it's been going at full pelt! But we've got such a favourite book at the moment that I thought it was worth breaking out of my silence and writing about it.

It's called Dragon Jelly by Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra and is a total hit with my three year old. It's one of those deliberately-designed-to-be-disgusting books that has me gagging as I read it.

It's very simple and have a plot as such, it's a monster's birthday party and goes through the traditional birthday fun but with yucky twists. The pass the parcel is full of worms - ugh! The party tea is creepy crawly delicious and the cake is squidgy eyeballs and earwax candles.

I have to be honest, and maybe I'm some kind of delicate flower, after one reading I really wasn't keen to do another due to the stomach turning I was experiencing! But my three year old loves it so much and is currently demanding it around three times a day! So I've got past all that and we're just enjoying the endless rereading that it brings!

It's got a great rhyming text, from Claire Freedman of Aliens Love Underpants fame and fabulous illustrations from Sue Hendra of Barry the Fish with Fingers fame. Another big plus point, which I've only just discovered is that it has a free downloadable activity pack available on the Bloomsbury Books website.