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I don’t believe in déjà vu, but I like the theory. One of my aunties who enjoyed being the centre of attention was being shown around a Scottish country house; she pointed at a portrait of Arabella Stuart and exclaimed That’s me! She was half way up the stairs at the time and had to be caught in mild-faint by the rest of the tour party. I don’t believe in time travel either, or reincarnation, though if I did they’d be the same boring old thing, like remembering yesterday. Alleycat knows more about the hidden kingdom than I do, but he only knows the theory. We talk of these matters often, usually at midday, when he’s at his most sleepy-headed and leisurely. But Pink’s the only one of us who’s ever (so she claims) been to and fro in time, and she doesn’t know how she did it and can’t repeat the experience, so that’s no good. Alleycat says that if time flows just one way you can’t expect to travel to and fro in it independent of the moment in which you happen to exist. He has lots more to say, about stretching time out and making it flat or round like a loaf of dough, but all of these things are far beyond me and I just pretend to understand and nod my head when he’s talking. Apparently his idea is to pop time in the oven, bake it a bit, then eat it and know everything there is to know about every possible instant. Whatever he pretends to believe, Pink’s the only one of us who’s ever accomplished the deed of travelling beyond the present, and this is her version of the story (at least it’s chapter 4 of it).
Time is a funny old thing. It catches you out. Memories come back whenever they please and sometimes they surprise you. They never go away, they only seem to. Take yesterday. I was at work, getting ready to go home, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I wasn’t there at all, I was something like eight years old and the school bell was ringing and it was time to go home for tea. Alleycat says that time’s like a long dark corridor with a bright light up ahead. If you look back you can see the past, the places you’ve already been, because the light is shining towards those things, but if you look ahead the light’s too bright and you can’t see anything because you’re blinded. He’s full of wise sayings like that. Sometimes he acts like an ordinary moggie, other times he acts like a sage. Pink doesn’t act much at all, except like herself. She’s very happy at the moment because spring has sprung, seemingly, and instead of basking under the reptile lamp on the kitchen table she can start to wander at large from hot spot to hot spot in the house.
Nothing much has happened in the Six Foot recently, except for the kestrel. It was seen hovering two days ago, and yesterday, all in a rush, it swooped down and took a pigeon from next door’s garden. Everyone heard the screams. Alleycat doesn’t mind kestrels, or hawks, unless they get too big for their boots and start to trespass on his territory. Some folk say that cats are the villains of the piece where Mother Nature is concerned (they’re always on the hunt, apparently, looking out for prey) but Alleycat isn’t like that. He’s a sage, a meditative sort. He says that it’s Mother Nature who’s responsible and everyone (cats and humans too) have to treat her with respect and understand that She contains them and gave them all their lives (nine if you’re a cat). If a hawk kills a pigeon, or takes a vole, well, that’s Mother Nature for you, red in tooth and claw. There’s nothing to be done about that sort of thing. It’s life. But Alleycat won’t tolerate conflict on his lawns. His lawns are private, sacred to his clan , and he maintains a careful watch on his fences and Bamber’s out all hours (he has his orders) patrolling the Five Streets and putting down markers, while Alleycat remains indoors and sleeps and thinks and lays his plans. When Pink saw the kestrel she was pretty scared, I can tell you. But Alleycat sent Bamber on to the roof of the car-port, to keep watch on the perimeters, and that hawk hasn’t been seen since. He’s probably heard of Alleycat’s great power and understands there are better (meaning safer) places to hunt and trespass than Alleycat’s private lawns.
“You know that’s not possible,” he drawled, “I can’t allow that, not in my blog.”
“I quite understand, Alleycat,” I said, deferentially. “Why don’t I start a new blog and then I can write about other things in that blog and carry on documenting the Ginge Club’s adventures here?”
“You mean you’d write about non-Ginge Club matters?” Alleycat was surprised; he obviously found the concept far-fetched and in rather bad taste; he wrinkled his eyes in disgust and curled his lip scornfully. “Surely you can’t be serious, old chap?”
I affirmed that I really was determined to depart from the norm and write about new things, and when he heard this Alleycat had a little smile at my expense. He narrowed his eyes and advised me to watch my step.
“I want you to make absolutely sure that the two blogs don’t overlap,” he said. “If you can promise me that I may give you my permission to divide your energies, but mark my words, I don’t want you slacking and the Ginge Club posts must always take precedence. I won’t tolerate anything less.”
Alleycat had made his humble wishes known and I had listened very carefully and obediently to his wise words. At least, that’s what I made him think. Later on we gave Pink the news, and she was really agitated and uncertain for about ten seconds and she wondered where it would all lead. With any luck it’ll lead you here.
Book: Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe: Book 1: Moldylocks and the Three Beards
Author: Noah Z. Jones
Pages: 80 (illustrated early reader)
Age Range: 5-7
Moldylocks and the Three Beards (yes, Beards) is the first book in a new heavily illustrated early chapter book series by Noah Z. Jones called Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe. Princess Pink has seven older brothers, and her parents were so happy to have a girl that they named her "Princess." Their last name is "Pink." She is the exact opposite of her name:
"Princess Pink does not like fairies. She does not like princesses. And she REALLY does not like the color pink.
Princess Pink does like dirty sneakers, giant bugs, mud puddles, monster trucks, and cheesy pizza."
When her refrigerator turns into a portal to another world one late night, Princess finds herself in the Land of Fake-Believe. Her hair turns pink, but her new friend Moldylocks thinks that it looks cool. Hungry, she sets out with Moldylocks to visit the home of three Beards she knows, in the hope of sneaking some chili. A mix of expected and unexpected events follow, culminating in a daring rescue. And at the end, when Princess is back in her own bed, there's a suggestion that it just might have all been true.
This series is designed to appeal to first and second grades, with a grade 2 reading level. But I have to say that my just-turned four-year-old adores Moldylocks and the Three Beards as a read-aloud. When she realized that it was a satire on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, she didn't quite get it, but she pealed with laughter anyway. She liked trying to predict what would happen next.
But really, I do think this this is going to be a very nice series for new first and second grade readers. It's funny, and just a little gross. (Eating chili that a spider has been bathing in? Yuck! Green, moldy hair? Yuck!) It riffs on standard fairy tale tropes (there's a Mother Moose, for example, with a Tunacorn), and has entertaining illustrations. It's a nice introduction for kids to the concept of fractured fairy tales, and the way that they confound expectations.
Princess is about as non-stereotypical as she she could be, with medium brown skin, ragged shorts, and multi-colored socks. And I have to say, she looks pretty cool with the pink hair. She runs away from the Beards at first, but goes back bravely when her new friend needs her. In short, she's a delightful heroine for the modern primary schooler. And really, despite being about a girl named Princess Pink, the story is certainly boy-friendly, too.
Moldylocks and the Three Bears is something of an early reader/graphic novel hybrid. Much of the story is told through colorful, comic-like pictures and text call-outs. But there's traditional narrative on every page, too. Princess's words are shown in pink, while Moldylocks' are green. The girls are wide-eyed with expressive features. The Beards are a little odd, but funny. The spiders are surprisingly cute. And Moldylocks' green-tinged apron, well, that's a bit gross, but funny, too. The vocabulary is quite straightforward, and should be accessible to second graders. There are plenty of clues in the pictures as to what is going on anyway.
In short, I think that The Land of Fake-Believe series is going to be a nice addition to the ranks of early chapter books. I've even checked online already to see when the next book will be out (not until August, alas). School and public libraries will definitely want to give Moldylocks and the Three Beards a look. Recommended!
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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I'm still working on different colourways for my Into the Woods collection, but meanwhile, here's another new mini-collection that I've designed for spring and summer. It's wonderfully bright and cheerful, with lots of flowers that pop, and coordinating little florettes (well, that's what I call them) and stripes of curvy leaves ... wonderful for outdoor parties and get-togethers in the sunshine.
I've already placed in onto tons of lovely goodies for the home, kitchen, and on gift boxes and matching cards and wrapping paper. Click here for a peek at a Pop Flowers table setting, and on the links below to pop over to the stores where it's on a whole range of sweet products:
Have fun and enjoy a wonderful week. Cheers.
The cats are sharing the house with a gang of teddy bears who’ve appeared as if by magic on the sofa and (more worryingly) on the mantelpiece. The bears sit and stare and rarely move, and they’re a bit like the cats in the way they manage to retain their composure no matter what happens around them. Nothing can make them stir a limb or move a muscle, and that’s quite all right by Bamber, who lies among them and sleeps right next to them. But Pink is uncertain and feels a little uncomfortable in their presence; she sometimes stares at them quizzically, as if she can’t understand what it means to be a teddy bear and even when she’s cleaning her paws she’s thinking about them. Alleycat’s reaction is different. He has no reaction at all. He carries on sleeping in the gentlemen’s club chairs in the garden and he hasn’t come indoors to speak to the teddy bears since they first appeared. I think he’s waiting for them to come to him.
It’s business as usual in the Six Foot. Or is it? Pink’s retreated indoors, and the dogs are looking after her. Most of the time Alleycat’s glued to his gentleman’s chair in the garden, but Bamber’s decided he’s got to increase his patrols, and he’s also delved a lair for himself in the jasmine, overlooking the Six Foot itself. That’s his chosen spot.Indoors, the bears are reproducing. Don’t ask me why. They’re spreading over the furniture and generally taking over the house, whilst out in the world the black and white cats increase numerically, though sheer numbers aren’t the same as strength of arms and that’s why Alleycat isn’t worried and seldom moves from his easy chair. Bamber must be worried a bit though, or else he wouldn’t have built his look-out post above the garden gate, so he can watch for all-comers and cry to Alleycat if hostiles approach or seem to threaten. No one’s dared to encroach so far, and if they do Alleycat has plans. One thing I’ve noticed is that he’s getting fatter. Years ago he was poisoned and almost died (lots of local cats perished) but Alleycat survived. He lost a lot of weight back then, but his power and wisdom were so great that he lived through it all and learned to be even lazier (and wiser). Now he’s rebuilding his fat reserves in anticipation of a hard winter (or something like that) and being lazy is his secret weapon. So really, now that I think of it there’s quite a bit happening in the Six Foot after all.
The bears have stopped reproducing for the moment. Alleycat’s instructed them to gather on top of one of the sitting room cabinets, and although he’s confined them more or less, one of them’s unruly and wayward and refuses to do as he’s told. When Pink’s on sentry duty that particular bear creeps up on her blind side and sneaks past her. He’s been seen in the kitchen, staring down at Alleycat (though Alleycat’s too polite to notice him) and once I caught that bear signalling to someone through the kitchen window. We don’t know the details yet but it must mean that the bears have allies somewhere in the Five Streets and they’re secretly communicating through the glass. Nothing bothers Alleycat though. He’s intent on sleeping as much as possible and won’t exert himself or take steps until it’s absolutely necessary.
Maybe it’s because it’s Halloween, but there’s a presence in the house, and Pink keeps looking behind her, scared of her own shadow. Last night she was with the dogs on the big yellow sofa, just as normal, when a nasty, grisly, horrid sensation gripped her and she wanted to turn around and look but she was too scared to move. The dogs felt the same as she did. Normally they’ll bark at the smallest disturbance (like a leaf blowing across the lawn) but they were so scared they couldn’t make a sound and it took all of Bernie’s courage to call for Alleycat with a little yapping bark. Alleycat ran in from the kitchen, but of course he’d been fast asleep and he’s not as quick as he used to be, so when he arrived on the scene there was no sign of uncanny intruders or walking shadows at all. You can imagine he didn’t take too kindly to be woken up for nothing, but Berne and Lucy were adamant that they seen (or felt) something nasty, and Bernie decided to put on her quilted jacket for extra protection and Lucy and Pink begged Alleycat to stay close and help them to settle down. As soon as they felt confident enough to be left alone, Alleycat returned to his gentleman’s chair in the kitchen, where he went straight back to sleep. But he must have half-believed that something was amiss because he kept one ear open, and presently he heard a weird, unaccountable sound that wasn’t normal at all, and he woke himself up to find a rather sinister looking bear snooping around the kitchen. As soon as it realized that Alleycat was on to it, the bear tried to escape through the outside door, but Alleycat chased it into the house and made it stay there. He’ll be questioning it later and that bear had better be sorry for frightening Pink and promise to mend its ways, or I wouldn’t like to think how angry Alleycat will be with that miscreant night-wanderer.
Pink’s had a shock. All the animals have. It’s all because of the bears, who’ve suddenly appeared and started to spread across the house. But now and then I wonder if there’s something hidden in the dark that the bears are just a symptom of. Alleycat’s resorted to purely practical, military measures. He drills the dogs and makes them line up and gives them instructions to watch and guard and report any weirdness; but dogs aren’t the type to take instruction, and Alleycat’s just marking time in my opinion. But he’s done more too. He’s been in dark places, under the floor (we’ve heard him down there) and he’s been in the cupboards too, searching for a reason, or a sign. But oddly enough it’s Pink who’s trying hardest. She might seem a lazy and vain little cat, but she sits by my PC and stares at the keyboard as if she’d love to write me a message, and last night she appeared in a dream and spoke to me urgently, not in a miaow, but in actual human words. Unfortunately when I awoke I couldn’t remember what she said. That’s how it is with dreams. They’re different.
Alleycat went missing and there was no sign of him for a day and half. He didn’t show up until yesterday morning. No one knew where he’d gone to and when he came back (he always comes back) he looked fitter and stronger than he’s been for years. Obviously he’d been invisible, and whilst invisible he’d seen the solution to the problem of the bears. The bears must have sensed that their reign of terror was coming to a close, because they all came out and encircled Pink and surrounded her in a little bear-army on top of the kitchen table. Then Alleycat whispered something in Pink’s ear, and a moment later all the bears were flat on their backs and Pink was in control. Alleycat let her have all the glory, but I’m sure she wouldn’t have been able to overthrow the bears without his sage advice.
We hear tell of cats who went on adventures and travelled far and wide, or cats who bravely opposed injustice and fought for freedom, but in general cats have little truck with that sort of thing. Now and then Alleycat and Bamber go out into the world and show themselves to the neighbourhood, but Pink never goes out at all, and that’s why I think she may be the brains of the outfit. None of the rival cat families ever come into Alleycat’s garden, because if they did Bamber would be straight out of the cat-flap to engage them in heated discussion, and if Bamber failed to impress them Alleycat would plod out and ascend to the top of the highest fence post and stare at them. That usually does the trick. Pink on the other paw stays indoors all day and all night, profiting from the other cat’s exertions. In the cold weather she has prime spot in front of the hearth and she’s allowed to sleep wherever she likes without being disturbed. She can even walk over the heads of the dogs on her bony little feet and they know quite well that they’re not to complain. Pink, for all her pretty ways and her silly habits, may, in truth, be the most Machiavellian and formidable cat of all and easily the cleverest warm-blooded creature living on Nine Foot Way. And that’s a frightening as well as an amusing thought.
It’s been a while since I blogged, but I’ve been hard at work on a story that Pink told me while I was sleeping. She crept up close while I was dozing in the armchair and whispered in my ear and said I’d better get on and write up some of her better adventures, not the latest ones, but the ones she had when she was younger. Pink isn’t altogether stupid. Mostly she just pretends to be silly because it means she can avoid difficult and lengthy tasks by claiming they’re beyond her. But she’s clever really and she knows stuff. She was quite right about the story. I’d been letting things slide and it was high time I got to work. Here’s a link to what she dictated. While I was writing it Pink perched somewhat cheekily on the back of my office chair and watched what I was typing, in case I got anything wrong, and if there was anything she didn’t approve of she chirruped a warning and told me to blot.
Pink’s playing up. She’s wants to dictate more of her adventures, but I haven’t had time to write them down and she feels I’m slacking. That’s rich coming from her, the laziest cat in the Five Streets. Anyway, she’s ordered me to stick in and press on regardless of other commitments. I’ve told her it’s Christmas and I might have to break off and drink some mulled wine or eat some strong cheese, but she’s impatient with that sort of thing and simply won’t tolerate it. This morning when I got up she was waiting for me on the kitchen table with her head in the angle-poise lamp. She thinks that if she sits there she’ll have a bright idea. It’s as if the lamp’s lighting up her brain as well as lighting my table, and Pink’s such a strong-minded little cat that she can probably make the light do anything she wants, including inspire her, just as she can require me to write when I ought to be eating Christmas cake. Maybe she’s right, because while she was boiling her brains and egging me on to listen to her, I managed to get another chapter done in draft and here it is.
It’s ages since we posted (sorry) but we’ve had a bit of trouble with Pink. First off, she started pulling out her fur and we couldn’t stop it happening. She was nearly bald in the end. Then she stopped eating and we couldn’t make her start again. Alleycat and Bamber were worried, but there was nothing they could do and they expected us humans to put everything right. Pink was so low she wouldn’t let us take her photo, but she agreed once that we could photograph her shadow (it’s up there at the top). Little by little she got better. We brought her heaters, but that was no good, we purchased costly blankets, and she rejected them all, the fleeces, the silks, and even the mousseline. Then, one way or another, she gave us to understand that she required flowers, soft, scented flowers, so flowers were purchased, and after the flowers we had to supply her with golden saucers of full fat milk every other hour. Little by little she started to improve, but her hair didn’t grow back until we sourced (at her explicit request) a reptile lamp, the sort of thing that snakes and other sorts of cold blooded critters love to bask beneath. Once we’d provided her with all these things; the flowers, the full fat milk in endless supply and the reptile lamp she started to improve and now, I’m happy to report, she’s totally recovered.
Pink’s been nagging me to publish an account of her adventures with the pirates, and because she’s a persistent little brute, I’ve decided that the only way to silence her is to let her have her own way. I’ve agreed to write down the whole particulars, leaving nothing out except the whereabouts of Alleycat’s treasure cave, and that only because there is still treasure not yet brought to light. In the end she’ll probably force me to finish the story and publish it here in its entirely. She’s offered to dictate it to me chapter by chapter as the weeks go by and here, to get the ball rolling, is a link to the first 3 instalments.
The pirate (Barty Sharp) who figures in chapter 3 sailed with William Dampier and had a rather interesting career. In something like 1697 (I forget the exact date) he returned from the sack of Panama and was arrested at the request of the Spanish Ambassador, put on trial, and escaped hanging by a hairs-breadth. Having cheated the gallows, he purchased a derelict hulk that had been virtually abandoned on the shores of the Thames, fitted her out and hired a rag tag crew of scallywags and ne’er do wells, who sailed their rotten vessel into the channel, stole a flock of sheep from a farm in Dover and straightaway sailed for the West Indies, capturing a more suitable vessel en route. It was probably around this time that he crossed swords with Susan Skew and met his match, so to speak. All this is supplied from memory. I read an account of Sharp’s adventures years ago in the Hakluyt series, but I haven’t checked the details in ages. There’s more about him in Basil Ringrose’s South Sea Waggoner, which you can find quite easily on the Web, and a few reference in Lionel Wafer Secret report, but most of the rest of the information you’ll find is quite inaccurate and if you want the truth the best thing would be to ask Pink. She probably knows as much about him as anyone in these days.
If she could read, Pink would check out the tales of the Ginge Club and make sure she’s presented in the best possible light, as the most beautiful, alluring and fashionable pink cat who ever lived. I’ve told her that’s exactly how she’s presented in the stories, and in the blog, but I don’t think she trusts me entirely. That’s why she’s been staring at my Kindle, trying to see inside it. She probably thinks it’s a mirror. She knows what mirrors are because she spends hours every day staring into the one in our bedroom, preening herself and showing off to the looking glass. Alleycat’s different. He says he doesn’t care what anyone thinks so long as he can sleep whenever and wherever he wants and demand food at the drop of a hat. Of course, he’s given me a few guidelines. For one, thing. I’m never to give Snatcher too much attention or importance and for another I’ve got to impress everyone with Alleycat’s fine qualities. Bamber alone of our three cats has little interest in such matters. He doesn’t care about social media and his heart is set on being a cat and staying a cat and doing the best he can at being that.
Not a lot of people know this, but Alleycat was living in Six Foot Way the day we all arrived. He was in the house, looking after it, keeping it clear and keeping it clean and when we showed up out of the blue he allowed us in through the door and gave us permission to stay. It’s hard to say how old he is. Old certainly. Years, decades. He’s lived a long time because he’s lazy. Sometimes you see him on the lawn, staring at a blade of grass, and then you realize he’s staring at the drop of dew that’s hanging on the end of it. And then finally, you understand that he’s staring at something else entirely, something only he can see. What I see is that he’s the laziest cat who ever lived. He’s the acme of indolence. Pink’s no better (is that a good thing?). Alleycat’s training her up to do nothing. And doing nothing is the secret of living for ever where cats are concerned.
It’s not the turning of the year yet, but Alleycat and Pink act like it won’t be long (Alleycat has his mind on winter because he’s old and important and knows what’s coming and Pink talks about snowmen and storms because she likes to be contrary). They’re both making plans to enjoy the last of the sunny days before the big retreat indoors for the long months of stony cold. There’ll be icicles in the Six Foot and some of the cats can’t wait. The milk will be frozen in the pails. The drifts will be ten foot deep and the cattle will huddle in the sheds for comfort. Bamber of course pays no heed to any of that. He doesn’t blow on his nails in anticipation of the cold snap and he doesn’t actually want it. He’s happy as he is. He likes it when the wind is bitter and the snow is thick. He enjoys it but he doesn’t want it to come any faster than usual. Pink and Alleycat on the other hand are laying in the stores and getting ready for nights by the woodburner.