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1. An Interview with Elli Woollard, creator of Woozy the Wizard

woozyWoozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well written by Elli Woollard and Al Murphy is the first in a new and very funny series of readers for children just gaining confidence in reading alone.

Woozy is a terribly well-meaning wizard who’s keen to help his friends, but more often than not he gets somewhat mixed up and his spells don’t quite do what they’re meant to. With the help of his pet pig Woozy flies around trying to sort things out, and in the process it becomes clear that whilst it may not be magic, it is certainly something quite magical that helps put the world to rights.

Lots of humour, great rhythm and rhyme (enormous aids when practising reading because they help with scanning a line, and predicting how words should be pronounced), and clear, bright and colourful illustrations all add up to a lovely book perfect to give to your emerging reader.

To celebrate the publication of I interviewed the author of Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well, Elli Woollard, about her work. Given Elli is a poet, I challenged her to answer me in rhyme….

Zoe: Rhyming seems to be in your blood. Where did this passion come from?

Elli Woollard: The thing about me is I sing quite a lot
(I rather enjoy it; the neighbours might not),
And I guess if you’re singing for much of the time
Your mind sort of slips into thinking in rhyme.

Zoe: How does your blog, where you regularly publish poems/works in progress, help you with your writing?

Elli Woollard: My blog’s like a sketchbook for scribbles and scrawls
And all of my mind’s muddly mess.
I write them all down, and sometimes I frown,
But some make me want to go ‘YES!’

Elli on the Dr Seuss book bench that was recently on view in London.

Elli on the Dr Seuss book bench that was recently on view in London.

Zoe: What would your ideal writing location/environment be like and why?

Elli Woollard: A hot cup of coffee, a warm purring cat;
There’s not much more that I need than that.
Working at home is really quite nice
(Except when the cat thinks my fingers are mice).

Zoe: What was the most magical part for you in the process of seeing Woozy the Wizard come to life as a printed book?

Elli Woollard: Writing, writing, is ever so exciting,
Especially when you’ve finished and say ‘Look!
All of my creations now come with illustrations!
Bloomin’ heck, I think I wrote a book!’

Zoe: What tips do you have for kids who love to write poetry?

Elli Woollard: Use your ears, use your eyes, use your heads, use your feet,
Stand up proud, read aloud, and just listen to that beat.
Feel the rhythm, feel the vibes of the poetry you’ve heard,
And think about the magic that’s in every single word.

Zoe: Which poets for children do you like to read?

Elli Woollard: Donaldson (Julia), Rosen (Mike),
Lear (Edward) and Milligan (Spike),
I could go on, and write a long list,
But so many good ones I know would get missed.

Zoe: Thanks Elli! I’m already looking forward to the next outing for Woozy, in spring 2015!

2 Comments on An Interview with Elli Woollard, creator of Woozy the Wizard, last added: 10/20/2014
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2. Book Trailer for ‘Caution: Witch in Progress’!

Watch the great new trailer for the children’s humorous fantasy, ‘Caution: Witch in Progress’. Out now on Kindle worldwide!

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3. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole: diamonds, a dog and deadpan humour

samanddaveSam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen is full of near misses but ends up being one big hit. Forget the treasure that may or may not be buried under your feet, pick this book up and you’ll have a real gem in your hands.

It starts like this:

Apropos of seemingly nothing, Sam and Dave decide to dig a hole.

They’re only going to stop when they find “something spectacular”.

They don’t have much luck, but… in a brilliantly crafted piece of drama they come oh so painfully, excruciatingly close.

Many picture book creators have talked about how they see their books as mini pieces of theatre, and this book delivers a very special theatrical experience; like in a pantomime when you might call out “He’s behind you!”, only for the innocent character on stage to turn and see nothing, the reader/listener has special knowledge that poor Sam and Dave do not. With beautifully textured, muted illustrations revealing something quite different to what is known from the text, children treated to this story get a special thrill from “being in the know”, from seeing the truly spectacular buried treasure that the poor protagonists keep missing.

This empowering experience is doubled up through association with Sam and Dave’s little dog. Despite being small and just a side kick (like many children sometimes feel), the dog seems to have all the brains. He is the one who keeps sensing just how close the diamonds are. He is the one who makes the breakthrough, resulting in Sam and Dave appearing to have dug all the way through to …

…well, to what? To where? Although this book was authored by Barnett, the ending feels like classic Klassen: It’s full of ambiguity and multiple possible readings. Have Sam and Dave dug all the way through from one side of the earth to the other? Have they managed through some Möbius-strip-like convolution to dig all the way through to end up back where they started? Or have they discovered something genuinely spectacular – some new dimension where slightly different rules are at play?

Finely honed, pared-back text and seemingly quiet illustrations which actually pack a very funny punch combine to make this a winner. Do look out for Sam & Dave Dig a Hole!

Inspired by Sam and Dave’s digging we decided to do a little bit of digging ourselves. Using these guidelines from Suffolk County Council, we dug what is known by archaeologists as a “test pit” in the middle of the lawn in our back garden.

We marked out a square and I took off the top layer of turf before the girls started digging down, retrieving any “treasure” they found on the way.

digging3

They used a large garden sieve to go through the soil they removed, and a toothbrush to wash what they found.

digging4

As you can see we found quite a lot of “treasure” including something metal but unidentifiable (top left of the photo below), a section of Victorian clay pipe stem, several pieces of pottery and a surprising number of large bones! (oh, and a hippo…..)

diggging1

At some point when my back was turned the game developed into something a little different – M made a “time capsule” in an old icecream tub and insisted that it got buried when the time came to fill in our hole.

digging2

So I guess this means we’ll be digging another hole at some point in the future. Given how much fun we had with this one, I won’t be complaining.

We weren’t listening to music whilst we dug our hole, but were we to choose some music to match Sam & Dave Dig a Hole we might include these in our playlist:

  • The Hole in the Ground sung by Bernard Cribbins – I have to admit, a favourite from my own childhood
  • Diggin’ a Hole to China by The Baby Grands (you can listen for free here on Vimeo!)
  • Diggin’ in the Dirt by Peter Gabriel

  • Other activities you could enjoy along side reading this hilarious book include:

  • Watching Mac Barnett give a Ted Talk about “writing that escapes the page, art as a doorway to wonder”

  • Helping Sam and Dave find their way through a maze using this activity sheet from the publishers.
  • Indoor hole digging. One of my kids’ favourite activities when they were younger, and one which saved my life several times by providing me with a good few minutes to get on with making supper or tidying up, was digging in an indoor sand tray. I had an old roasting tray filled with sand and a few spoons and yoghurt pots which I kept in the cupboard and would bring out for the girls to play with at the table. Yes sand would get spilt as they dug the sand, but all it took was a quick hoover to tidy up.
  • Taking a look at these VERY big holes around the world….
  • Reading The Something by Rebecca Cobb, another very lovely, very different book all about the possibilities a hole offers.
  • What’s your favourite hole? A hole you made? A hole you visited? A hole which allows you to sneak through into some secret space?

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book from the publisher but was under no obligation to review it and received no payment for doing so.

    2 Comments on Sam & Dave Dig a Hole: diamonds, a dog and deadpan humour, last added: 10/6/2014
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    4. Cakes in space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

    Imagine packing up your home, leaving Earth and setting out to travel across space to colonise a new planet.

    The journey will take so long you’ll be put into a cryptobiotic state. But there is absolutely nothing to fear: You’re on sleek new spaceship, looked after by a team of well-programmed robots, and everything has been carefully thought through. When you finally arrive at Nova Mundi (it only takes 199 years to get there), you’ll be woken up to a delicious breakfast and the start of a whole new and wonderful life.

    It sounds great, doesn’t it?

    cakesinspacecoverAnd so it is in Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. Astra and her family are on their way to their new home but – you’ve guessed it – something goes wrong. Astra wakes from her suspended sleep, and feeling peckish goes off in search of a chocolate biscuit.

    The Nom-O-Tron (a highly developed version of Star Trek’s Replicator) satisfies Astra’s request, but when she’s tempted to ask for something a little more outlandish (how many times have you seen the word “Ultimate” used to describe a dish?) something goes awry. Soon Astra is hurtling through space surrounded by cakes which have learned to evolve. Cakes which are fed up of being eaten themselves. Cakes which have developed a killer instinct.

    Will Astra be able to save her family from the Ravenous Crispy Slices and Ferocious Fruit Cakes stalking the spaceship’s corridors? How much more complicated will things get when a second front opens up and her spaceship is raided by alien life forms known as Poglites, desperately searching for their holy grail, that technology which they haven’t been able to master: SPOONS.

    Yes, this is a totally surreal and deliciously outrageous story of friendship, ingenuity and hundreds and thousands.

    It’s fast-moving, exciting, just ever so slightly scary in that enjoyably adrenalin pumping way and above all it’s FUNNY! Add into the mix some genuinely beautiful writing (sometimes young fiction is all about the plot and the language – especially for an adult reading it aloud – can be somewhat unremarkable, but Reeve at times writes sentences which I found myself wanting to copy out), a plot which will enthral both boys and girls of a wide age range, and the subtle inclusion of some philosophically meatier issues (the consequences of greedy desire, the demonisation of that which we don’t know and can’t name) and you’ve got yourself a remarkable book.

    Image: Sarah McIntyre. Please click on the image to be taken to the original blog post - well worth reading!

    Image: Sarah McIntyre. Please click on the image to be taken to the original blog post – well worth reading!

    McIntyre’s illustrations are a crazy but perfect mix of 1950s brave new world sleekness and outrageous sponge-and-icing based fantasy. I’m delighted that Astra’s family are mixed race (this isn’t mentioned in the text at all, but how great to see some diversity just as-is, without it being an issue in the book).

    The top-notch content of Cakes in Space is matched by a stunningly produced physical book. Like last year’s Reeve and McIntyre production, Oliver and the Seawigs, this is first being published as a small hardback in pleasingly chunky, strokingly hand-holdable format. Everything about the book is appealing.

    After indulging in a solo read, I read this book aloud to both girls over a couple of days last week. Before we’d even finished the books my girls were off to raid the cutlery draw in the kitchen for highly prized spoons to create a collection of which any Poglite would be proud.

    spooncollection1

    spooncollection2

    Carefully curated, they labelled every spoon with where it had been found in the galaxy, its rarity and its monetary value (I can see how this could develop into a Top Trumps game…)
    spooncollection3

    Spoons are one thing, but cake is another, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to host our own mini Cakes in Space party. We baked a host of fairy cakes and then turned them into KILLER CAKES…

    cakesinspace3

    Lollies made great eyes on stalks…

    cakesinspace6

    … as did Maltesers and Aero balls.

    cakesinspace9

    We had fun making teeth out of snapped white chocolate buttons, tictacs and rice paper snipped to look like rows of sharp teeth.

    cakesinspace10

    We also had some Ferocious Florentines and Sinister Swiss Rolls (helped along with edible eyes).

    cakesinspace4

    cakesinspace5

    Other characters from the book were also present: The Nameless Horror was a big bowl of wobbly jelly dyed black with food colouring and with licorice shoelaces reaching out across the table, and jars of purple gloop (thinned down Angel Delight, again dyed to give a good purple colour) with gummy snakes in them made perfect Poglite snacks. Alas these were guzzled before I got to take a photo!

    Preparing for the party was at least as much fun as the party itself…

    cakesinspace7

    Great music for a Cakes in Space party includes:

  • Cake by Mindy Hester & The Time Outs – heavily influenced by George Michael’s Faith
  • Peggy Seeger with Ewan MacColl, “The Space Girl’s Song”
  • I like Pie, I like Cake by the Four Clefs
  • To the Moon by the Mighty Buzzniks
  • Man in the Moon by The Full English. This comes from the album Sarah McIntyre listened to a lot whilst illustrating Cakes in Space.
  • Crunch munchy honey cakes by The Wiggles… not everyone’s cup of tea but it is sort of earwormy…
  • Other activities which would make for a great Cakes in Space party include:

  • COSTUMES! Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve have the most amazing Cakes in Space costumes (you can see them here), but if you want some inspiration for your own costumes you could try these: Using a bucket and plastic tray to create an astronaut costume as per Spoonful, how to create a papier-mâché helmet on StitchCraftCreations, a Pinterest board dedicated to cake costumes.
  • ROBOTS! I’d pile a load of “junk” from the recycling bin on the table and let the kids loose on designing and building their own robots or spaceships. NurtureStore has some ideas to get you going.
  • SLEEPING PODS! For the grown ups at the party if no-one else… You could use large cardboard boxes painted silver lined with duvets, and with the lids cut out and replaced with something see-through, with bottle tops/lids stuck on for the various buttons… you get the idea!
  • We’ve all heard of Death by Chocolate, but what’s the nearest you’ve come to being killed by a cake?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Cakes in Space from the publishers.

    4 Comments on Cakes in space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, last added: 8/18/2014
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    5. In Defense of “Real” Realism in Children’s Books (With Special Mention of Ramona Quimby) by Emma Barnes

    There was one of those flurries in the Children’s Book world recently – this time, over the award of the Carnegie, the UK’s most prestigious children’s book award, to the hard-hitting The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. I’m not planning to write much about the controversy (I’ve included some links below) which I’d sum up by saying that some people feel that the Carnegie is forgetting its roots as a children’s book prize by so frequently rewarding the bleaker, and older, end of Young Adult fiction. But the debates that followed did make me think about what exactly we mean when we talk about realism in children’s books.

    Because the number one point made by Brooks’ supporters, as it usually is when people complain about bleak children’s books, was the “real life is tough” argument.

    “[Children] want to be immersed in all aspects of life, not just the easy stuff. They’re not babies, they don’t need to be told not to worry, that everything will be all right in the end, because they’re perfectly aware that in real life things aren’t always all right in the end.” Kevin Brooks

    “the real world is so complex that unambiguously happy endings hardly exist”author Robert Muchamore

    Children and teenagers live in the real world; a world where militia can kidnap an entire school full of girls, and where bullying has reached endemic proportions on social mediaCarnegie Chair of Judges, Helen Thompson

    We certainly do live in a grim world. Reading the newspaper can be more heart-breaking than any children’s book. But I’d question whether this explains the preponderance of bleak fiction (and am I being cynical to feel, that if teenagers were truly deeply interested in the worlds’ troubles, there might be more translated foreign fiction available for UK children, instead of, as is actually the case, virtually none?)

    For most British children, for all the challenges they face, being imprisoned by a psychopath probably isn’t one of them. (Amazingly the 2014 short list featured two books on the “imprisoned by psychopath” theme – the other by Anne Fine.) Terrorist attack, extreme violence, heroin addiction...these are also very small (though terrifying) risks to most under eighteens, living in a Western world where (though it’s sometimes hard to remember) violence is actually in long-term decline.

    Or take childhood cancer. John Green’s The Fault In My Stars is just one the latest of many books where children or teenagers die of terminal cancer. By contrast, I CAN’T THINK OF A SINGLE BOOK WHERE THE CHILD HAS CANCER AND GETS BETTER. And yet, the reality is that about 75% of children do get better. Wouldn't it be great – not least for those children with the disease – if some of the award-winning fiction out there also reflected that reality?

    In short, you don’t need to think that children’s books should be all fluffy bunny rabbits and happy ever after to wonder if some so-called “realistic” children’s fiction is...well, actually not that realistic.

    Myself, I’ve always thought of “realism” not in association with YA grit but with certain twentieth century American authors: from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, through Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, to Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or Katherine Patterson’s Gilly Hopkins the Great.



    Perhaps the supreme example would be Beverley Cleary’s Ramona books. Following the adventures of Ramona Quimby and her family and friends over a number of years, and set in Portland Oregon, these books are breathtaking in their ability to distil the ordinary and humdrum into entertaining fiction.
    Beverley Cleary never relies on dramatic events. (She even avoids dramatic titles, with such understated gems as “Ramona and her Mother” and “Ramona Quimby , age 8”.) There are problems for sure – Ramona’s dad loses his job, for example – but as we see things always through Ramona’s eyes, this is on a par with such problems as her class teacher not liking her very much. There is humour (the teacher told me to sit there “for the present” – but I didn’t get any present, Ramona complains). But it’s a gentle, observational humour. There is death (Picky Picky the cat) but no truck with sentimentality (Ramona and Beezus set to work to bury Picky Picky before their parents find out). There are fears to be overcome – confronting a mean dog – and temptations – how can Ramona resist pulling the blonde curls of Susan who sits in front of her in class, however many times she is told off by her teacher? But it is all grounded in a child’s everyday experience.

    Beverley Cleary recalled in her memoir,“I longed for funny stories about the sort of children who lived in my neighbourhood.” And she could see that the children she met while working as a librarian felt the same.

    Then, as now, this kind of “realism” was often ignored by critics and award-givers. Cleary has been showered with honours and prizes – but that was after her books had proved themselves enduringly popular with young readers. And they still are. I know British children today who ADORE them – because that small town, domestic American life, however distant it is in time and place, still feels absolutely real.

    It’s easy to overlook the skill and imagination involved in creating something small scale. As the great mistress of domestic realism, Jane Austen, long ago said of her work, it is “ the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour". It look easy – but
    it isn’t.

    Take out the big emotional tear-jerking scenes, the drama of life and death, good vs evil, and what do you have left? The common-place. The everyday. The mundane. And creating something entertaining and captivating out of the mundane is challenging – maybe more challenging than “the big stuff”.

    Yet it’s always been an important aim of fiction. Cleary said that she always remembered her college lecturer's advice that a novel should seek to explore universal themes through the minutiae of everyday life. I also like this quote from another writer, Susan Patron, about Cleary. “She showed me that the inner life of any child, the dynamics of family and pets, can be captured as rich, comic, fascinating, poignant, and meaningful."



    I’m not sure this type of “realism” has ever been as celebrated in British children’s books, although it is an important part of the appeal of writers such as Jacqueline Wilson and Anne Fine (although their prize-winning books are more “issues” led) or Hilary McKay. With the humour ratcheted up, it’s also the bedrock of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole or Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson (I confess the near-death of Georgia’s cat Angus moved me more than any gritty YA novel) and much other comic fiction. It’s even been recognised by the Carnegie in the past, in such books as the groundbreaking The Family From One End Street (one of the first children’s books to feature the everyday life of a working-class family) and The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler.

    There are lots of joys to be had from fiction, and realism is only one of them. I love fantasy and adventure as much as I love the fiction of the everyday.  But I’ve also found that it is often the  grounded, “real life” books that are the ones that, as child and adult, I have returned to again and again. There is a particular and lasting joy in reading something “real” and recognising the settings and characters.

    Let's celebrate it!

    CJ Busby's ABBA post on Carnegie criteria
    Bunker Diaries storm in Guardian
    Bunker Diaries storm in Telegraph
    Bunker Diaries storm: Amanda Craig vs Robert Muchamore


    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Emma's new series for 8+ Wild Thing about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways) is out now from Scholastic. 
    "Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman

     Wolfie is published by Strident.   Sometimes a Girl’s Best Friend is…a Wolf. 
    "A real cracker of a book" Armadillo 
    "Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps


    Emma's Website
    Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
    Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

    0 Comments on In Defense of “Real” Realism in Children’s Books (With Special Mention of Ramona Quimby) by Emma Barnes as of 1/1/1900
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    6. Great Book Signing Event

    Great book signing event at Waterstones, Blackpool. Back on 20th Sept!

    Great book signing event at Waterstones, Blackpool. Back on 20th Sept!

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    7. That Cat who came in off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt

    Mr Tibbles – a shy reporter on the local newspaper – has been threatened with the sack. It’s perhaps no surprise: Mr Tibbles is mad about cats, and all his stories end up revolving around felines one way or another. What his editor wants, however, is news!

    Photo: Sarah

    Photo: Sarah

    An act of kindness brings Mr Tibbles into contact with Minoe, a rather strange young woman who appears to be able to talk to cats. Through the town’s network of feline pets and strays Minoe starts starts to deliver interesting titbits of exclusive news to Mr Tibbles; cats across the city overhear all sorts of conversations often revealing juicy gossip and insider information, and when Minoe learns of these pieces of news from kitty comrades, she passes them on to her friend the reporter.

    Mr Tibble’s job is looking up until he uncovers information which could lead to the downfall of a local powerful businessman. Will the reporter be brave enough to expose the evil goings on? Will he be believed, when his only witnesses are pussy cats?

    Copy_of_Cover_Cat_who_came_in_off_the_RoofA funny and yet quietly profound tale of courage, friendship and what it really means to be human, The Cat Who Came in off the Roof, by Annie M. G. Schmidt, translated by David Colmer is a gem of a story. Ideal for fans of The Hundred and One Dalmatians, or cross-species tales of identity such as Stellaluna or Croc and Bird, this book would make an especially good class read-aloud, with lots of opportunities to discuss what life looks like from different perspectives, helping readers and listeners walk in another’s shoes, as well as perhaps learning a thing or to about overcoming shyness, and how to stand up for what you believe in.

    From the mangy, feisty stray cat who you end up rooting for, to the hilarious school cat with a penchant for history lessons and a slight;y different (some might say out-dated) understanding of the term ‘news’, Schmidt has populated her story with a super array of characters. The narrative beautifully unfolds with unseen and fine tuning, climaxing with an exciting and rich ending which is deeply satisfying even though not everything is tied up neatly and not all strands end happily. Despite plenty of kittens and purring, this book never patronises its readership.

    Knowing the original Dutch language version as we do as a family, I can also comment on the gorgeous translation. Colmer has wittily and cleverly translated linguistic and cultural jokes. His phrase ‘miaow-wow’ for when the cats meet up for a big parley is genius and has now entered our family parlance. If I nitpick I might personally have chosen -thorpe rather than -thorn for the Dutch -doorn, when translating the town’s name but I feel mean mentioning this as Colmer’s voice is pitch-perfect; at no point will you notice the text as a translation for it reads authentically and smoothly.

    This must-read book will make you laugh out loud (whether you are a dog person or a cat fan). It will make you feel like for a brief moment you’ve witnessed and understood the best of humanity. It may also make you rather nervous next time you find a cat sitting ever so quietly next to you whilst you are having a private conversation!

    I do so hope Pushkin Press are now thinking about translating Schmidt’s earlier work, Ibbeltje, which shares many characteristics with The Cat Who Came in off the Roof and has the added advantage of brilliant illustrations by another glittering star in the Dutch children’s literature firmament: Fiep Westendorp.

    For reasons which will become clear upon reading this charming and magical book Minoe not only can speak the language of cats, she is also known to climb trees when dogs approach. It took about a nanosecond for M to decide she wanted to play-by-this-particular-book by climbing as many different trees as she could one afternoon at the weekend. So, armed with a local map (printed from http://www.openstreetmap.org/) we set off to map all the local trees good for climbing in.

    tree1

    Each tree we climbed we identified (it seems that around us oaks, ash and willow are the best climbing trees).

    tree2

    We remembered the last time we deliberately climbed trees in order to read on location.

    tree3

    Getting out and climbing a tree? Reading a truly terrific book? What more could you ask for as a lovely way to while a way a few hours!

    Whilst climbing we weren’t listening to music, but these tracks could go with reading The Cat Who Came in off the Roof:

  • This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof by Brian Setzer
  • Everybody Wants to be a Cat from The Aristocats film
  • The Cat theme from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf

  • Other activities which you might be inspired to try alongside reading The Cat Who Came in off the Roof include:

  • Reading more books in more trees. The very first I’d have to recommend are the Toby books by Timothee de Fombelle, about an entire world of miniature people having giant adventures in an oak tree.
  • Walking around your neighbourhood and greeting the cats you come across. Could you create a backstory for each one? What are they called? What do they get up to when you’re not there?
  • Writing a family newspaper. This is potentially a super project for the summer holidays – and you can get some great tips and downloadables to get you going from this post over on Playful Learning.
  • When did you last climb a tree? What secrets might your cat be able to tell me ;-) ?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Cat who Came in off the Roof from the publisher.

    And briefly…. thank you with all my heart to all of you who commented on my last post, or got in touch via email, phone, snail mail and more. Life goes on and plots are being hatched and plans being laid. As and when I can reveal more I’ll be sure to let you know the latest.

    3 Comments on That Cat who came in off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt, last added: 6/29/2014
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    8. Interview with Altblackpool!

    My book ‘Caution: Witch in Progress’ and my book signing event in Blackpool on Saturday 21st June from 1pm to 3pm has been promoted today by an interview with Altblackpool!

    Click here to read interview.

    Book Jacket

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    9. Max the Brave by Ed Vere. Warning: this post really does contain cute kittens

    Image: Paul Reynolds

    Image: Paul Reynolds

    Image: DomiKetu

    Image: DomiKetu

    Image: Merlijn Hoek

    Image: Merlijn Hoek

    Kittens and Cute. They go together like purple and prickles, tigers and teatime, picnics and lashings of ginger beer.

    maxthebraveAnd in Max the Brave by Ed Vere (@ed_vere) we meet another very cute kitten. He’s small, and black and has big bright eyes.

    But even though every reader who picks up this book will definitely find Max adorable and charming, Max himself definitely does not want to be called cute. He wants to be big, grown up and brave. And to prove his mettle he’s going to hunt down his nemesis… a mouse.

    But therein lies a problem. Max does not know what a mouse looks like.

    The kitten’s not-knowing-any-better does indeed result in displays of exuberant courage and kids every where will identify with Max’s desire to be be hailed a hero, his refusal to lose face and the simple joy and playfulness of the chase to say nothing of the everyday challenges which arise from simply having to learn how the world works and what it made up of.

    This book is an example of storytelling – in both words and pictures – whittled down to the very purest. With only a word or two on many pages, plain typesetting, apparently simple, unadorned illustrations (where much of the impact comes from the page colour and large empty spaces rather than highly detailed or vast drawings). In its bareness there is a direct line to the story, the humour, the characters. There’s nowhere for this story to hide, no embellishments, no fancy details, and this clarity gives the storytelling a freshness that is bold and very exciting.

    Restraint may be present in Vere’s brushstrokes (he captures moments of determination, puzzlement, fear poetically and precisely – just take a close look at Max’s eyes on each page to get a sense of what I mean), but this is vividly contrasted with an exuberant use of colour to fill the pages. From Meg and Mog to several fabulous books by Tim Hopgood and one of my most recent reviews, The Cake, there’s a great tradition in picture books of banishing white pages and using glorious swathes of intense colour to the very edge of the pages. One could do some fascinating research into background page colour and emotions at any given point in the story; here, for example, the pages are red when Max is annoyed, and blue with things are quieting down and Max is feeling soothed.

    Readers and listeners to Max the Brave may hear echoes of the Gruffalo’s Child with its themes of bravery and danger as a result of not knowing what something looks like, but perhaps more satisfying will be the recognition of characters (or at least their close relatives) from other books by Vere. Is that Fingers McGraw being sneaky once again? Could that be the monster from Bedtime for Monsters making a guest appearance? And indeed, is Max related somehow to the Bungles in Too Noisy? How lovely to be able to imagine these characters having such an real, independent life that they can walk out of one book and into another.

    Packed with so much laughter and sweet appeal this book will prove a hit with many, many families. It’s certainly one we’ve taken to our heart – so much so that the kids wanted to make their own Max and retell his story in their own inimitable style.

    First J sewed a black kitty out of felt, with pipe cleaners for arms, legs (and one stuffed in Max’s tale so it could be posed.

    makingmax1

    makingmax2

    M (pen name: Quenelda the Brave) then used our new Max to create montages for each page in Ed Vere’s gorgeous book. She modelled her scenes quite precisely, took a photo, and then (as a veteran of adding moustaches and more to photos in the newspaper) edited her photos in a graphics editor to add her own sprinkling of magic.

    maxblog1

    Here are a couple of pages showing Ed’s original work (reproduced with permission) and the corresponding scene M created:

    maxinterior1

    “This is Max. Doesn’t he look sweet!”

    maxblog2

    “Max looks so sweet that sometimes people dress him up in ribbons.”

    maxinterior2

    “Max does not like being dressed up in ribbons.

    Because Max is a fearless kitten.
    Max is a brave kitten.
    Miax is a kitten who chases mice.”

    maxblog4

    Here are a couple more spreads created by M (with guest appearances by Elmer as the elephant in Vere’s book, and a Wild Thing who is mistaken for a mouse.)

    maxblog9

    maxblog12

    M had enormous fun (and showed a lot of dedication!) with this – she’s recreated the entire book out of her love for Max. I wonder what Max will get you and your kids doing…

    Here’s some of the music we listened to whilst making Max and our fan-fiction:

  • Kitty Fight Song by Joe McDermott. WARNING: this video contains lots of very cute kittens….
  • Monsters, Inc. by Randy Newman
  • Another theme tune – this time to the 1958 film Mighty Mouse

  • Other activities which would go well alongside reading Max the Brave include:

  • Dressing each other up in ribbons and super hero capes. Make Mum look silly by tying bows all over here! Make the kids look invincible by making capes for them (here’s a selection of tutorials)
  • Reading Max the Brave to a cat. Several ‘Kids Read to Animal’ programmes now exist around the word; these reading programmes are believed to help kids learn to read presumably by making the whole experience enjoyable and building the kids’ confidence. Here’s a newspaper article from earlier this year if you want to find out more.
  • Learning about sneezing: There is a terrific (in all sorts of senses) sneeze in Max the Brave. This video found on one of our favourite websites, The Kid Should See This, is beautiful and revolting, fascinating and mathematically amazing all at the same time!
  • What’s the cutest book you’ve read recently?

    Disclosure: I received a free, review copy of Max the Brave from the publisher.

    Image: Marine del Castell

    Image: Marine del Castell

    1 Comments on Max the Brave by Ed Vere. Warning: this post really does contain cute kittens, last added: 6/15/2014
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    10. Waterstones Event!

    Great to see Waterstones advertising my next book signing on their website! ‘Caution: Witch in Progress’ at Waterstones Blackpool on Saturday 21st June 2014!

    Click here to see website promotion.

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    11. Book Signing Event!

    Book signing event at Waterstones, Tower Shopping Centre, Bank Hey St, Blackpool on Saturday 21st June from 1 to 3pm! Come along for a chat with me and maybe buy a signed copy of my children’s humorous fantasy book, ‘Caution: Witch in Progress’. You can also meet the witch ‘Granny Grimthorpe’ and have your photograph taken with her if you like! ‘Granny’ is one of the characters from my book, and she will be offering the kids free novelties from her cauldron. It will be a fun day out. Don’t miss it!

    Caution - cover FINAL

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    12. Picture books where naughtiness goes unpunished and unredeemed

    The phenomenal, ongoing success of Horrid Henry and the recent rebranding of Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl in the School series (with new illustrations by Kate Hindley) show how many young children love to read about kids getting up to no good. Picture books which revel in really bad behaviour are less common but Children are Naughty by Vincent Cuvellier and Aurelie Guillerey and The Cake by Dorothee de Monfreid (@DdeMonfreid) are two new books which are exceptions to the rule. In these books there is no moral finger-wagging telling readers the behaviour is inappropriate or unacceptable; the naughtiness is not redeemed by charming features elsewhere (such as in Pippi Longstocking, for example) but rather they are celebrations of all that is entertaining about unadulterated misbehaving.

    naughtybooks

    Children are Naughty covers just about every bit of bad behaviour you might find kids getting up to, from pulling hair, to not sharing toys, throwing tantrums and refusing to do what is asked of them. There’s a funny nod to an adage all too often wheeled out in parenting: “Do as I say, not as I do” (or in this case did) – acknowledging that adults too were once kids, and of course as kids we were always angelic and never ever broke any rules (ahem). The illustrations have a 1960s feel about them (as does the text at times with some casual sexism I didn’t feel comfortable with) and are beautifully produced to look like vintage prints (a technique the publisher, Flying Eye is very good at, as can also be seen in their reproductions of Dahlov Ipcar books).

    readingnaughtychildren

    In The Cake a bunch of hungry friends agree baking a cake would be a good solution to their predicament. But they can’t agree on what sort of cake to bake and [spoiler alert] their disagreements end up in an enormous food fight. The tone and visual style of The Cake will appeal to fans of Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake (from the same publisher, Gecko Press); full bleed pages of bold, saturated colour, and characters drawn with thick black lines and a certain wobbly naivety.

    readingcake

    Both have provoked me to reflect on my own values and where the boundaries lie (if there are indeed any boundaries) when it comes to what content I as an adult (as a book buyer, as a librarian, as a parent) am happy with. It’s not often I’m made uncomfortable by a picture book! I wonder if it is just coincidence that both books are translations from French (Linda Burgess translated The Cake, but sadly no translator is acknowledged in Children are Naughty). Is unrepentant naughtiness one of those themes like sex and death which are more common in continental European picture books than English/US picture books?

    I don’t think these are books for everyone. Some will love the cheekiness, the rebelliousness of these books. Others will feel they go a step too far. One of my girls loved both books, whilst the other was actually saddened by them, feeling that the behaviour was a bit mean. I’d encourage you to seek them out and see how not only you, but also your kids react to them. You might be surprised.

    Connecting with our inner rebels, these books encouraged us to have a food fight of our own. Instead of pistols it was plates of squirty cream at dawn:

    cake4
    cake3
    cake2
    cake1

    It has to be said we laughed a LOT doing this. There really was something exhilarating about doing something so “naughty”. I won’t be encouraging a repeat performance, but we had 20 minutes of unbridled joy. I’m pretty certain this particular playing-by-the-book will find a place in family lore in years to come.

    Music to go with cake and/or a food fight includes:

  • Rock Melon by Gustafer Yellowgold – a food fight but with melon balls!
  • Cakenstein also by Gustafer Yellowgold
  • Chocolate Cake by Musical Playground

  • Other activities which go well with reading The Cake include:

  • Baking a chocolate cake. Here’s the recipe for our favourite chocolate cake. It only uses half a kilo of chocolate….
  • Reading a brilliant poem about cake – All Join In by Quentin Blake has a super verse featuring chocolate-fudge-banana cake. Or treat yourself to watching Michael Rosen recite his delicious Chocolate Cake poem.
  • Trying a cake with unusual ingredients. Here are some ideas featuring avocado, sauerkraut and tomato soup….
  • What is the most unusual cake you’ve ever eaten? Have you ever had a food fight? And just how comfortable are you with books, especially picture books, which don’t model angelic behaviour?!

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of both The Cake and Children are Naughty from the books’ distributor.

    2 Comments on Picture books where naughtiness goes unpunished and unredeemed, last added: 6/6/2014
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    13. Great Kindle Offer!

    Click here to go to site. Only 99p for a few days!

    Caution - cover FINAL

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    14. Cuddling up to Nightbear by Rebecca Patterson

    nightbearcoverThere are lots of recipes for great picture books but Rebecca Patterson has certainly worked out one of the best set of ingredients. She takes a good dose of humour, a non-patronising, reassuring, sincere child’s-eye view of the world and adds in highly observant illustrations and a sprinkling of drama. She did it with the Roald Dahl Funny Prize winning My Big Shouting Day!, the brilliantly perceptive My Busy Being Bella Day, and has pulled it off once more with her latest book, Nightbear.

    An old bear has arrived at a new home; the book opens with us following him from the factory where he was made, to his first (and unappreciative) home, to a charity shop where he is eventually bought by a young girl out shopping with her mum. The bear is thrilled to have been chosen, but how will he fit in, when he discovers that the girl already has lots of teddy bears with very important roles in her life?

    A heartwarming, delightful story not just about having a great teddy bear to hug, but also about the importance of having someone listen to your stories, and the reassurance that comes from being ‘picked’, about the everyday, real worries a young child can have (from nightmares, to being ill in the night), and most of all about the enormous fun to be had with imaginative play, Nightbear is a perfect picture book.

    patterson

    Starting with the gorgeous, dark sparkly cover, this book is so much fun to look at as well as to listen to. Patterson draws with a delightful, fluid simplicity; lots of smooth curves abound – as if echoing the cuddliness of the bears, and the warmth of the family. Some of the tiny details in the illustrations are like poems; they ring true in an uncluttered, authentic way that makes you see them anew, for example the way the mother holds the hand of the child when they’re browsing in the charity shop, or the manner in which the father holds the hair of the child whilst she is being sick.

    A book every nursery and infant school should have, a book every charity shop should use to make a brilliant, eye catching window display, a book every family with young children will enjoy, Nightbear is an ideal book to cuddle up with.

    Feeling sad at the thought of all those unloved teddy bears leading lonely lives on charity shop shelves we armed ourselves with 50ps and went off with a mission to each rescue and bring one home.

    teddy1

    This one (above) looked pretty comfy.

    teddy4

    This one looked rather resigned to its fate.

    teddy3

    These two had fallen over and were asleep when we saw them.

    teddy2

    This one was too expensive.

    But eventually we each found a teddy that we loved, came home, and celebrated by dressing them up (as happens in Nightbear). I’m rather jealous of the bustle and headgear newly named ‘Treacle’ got to wear:

    teddy5

    Little ‘Buttercup’ got a pretty nifty hat:

    teddy6

    But ‘Candy’ stole the show with her badges and slides…

    teddy7

    Whilst dressing our teddies we listened to:

  • Stompy the Bear by Caspar Babypants
  • Freddy Bear, The Teddy Bear by Ralph’s World
  • Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear by Elvis Presley

  • Other fun activities to get up to alongside reading Nightbear include:

  • Making a patchwork blanket. Even the youngest kids can have fun making a paper collage out of coloured squares, whilst older kids could paint fabric in blocks of colour (thinned down acrylic paint is great for this if you don’t want to get dedicated fabric paint).
  • Having a Teddy Bears’ Picnic! A blanket, some bears, some biscuits… oh and a good book or two and you’re all set!
  • Ready Baggy Brown by Mick Inkpen for another great view of a teddy bear factory line
  • Enjoying these pictures of really old teddies and wondering what sort of lives they’ve led
  • Have you a favourite teddy bear? Or a teddy bear who is assigned a special job?

    Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

    4 Comments on Cuddling up to Nightbear by Rebecca Patterson, last added: 5/22/2014
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    15. Findus plants meatballs: gardening disasters to make you and your kids laugh out loud

    Have you and your kids ever attempted to grow your own vegetables and failed miserably? Maybe the weather’s contrived against you? Or the slugs have slithered wild and destroyed your crops?

    findusmeatballsfrontcoverIf so, perhaps Findus Plants Meatballs by Sven Nordqvist will put a wry smile on your face.

    Pettson, a crochety but ultimately kind and charming old man lives on a small homestead in the countryside, with a mischievous cat, Findus, as his only real family. Spring has arrived and it’s time to plant their vegetable patch.

    But try as they might, the odds are not in their favour. First the chickens dig up the newly planted seeds. Then a neighbour’s pig escapes and runs riot. Should Findus and Pettson just give up on vegetables altogether? (Many a child reader/listener might well cheer at this point!)

    Slapstick humour abounds in this seasonal tale full of optimism and utter chaos. It’s is also great for starting discussions about where food comes from (tying in with the primary school ‘field-to-fork’ topic rather nicely).

    Fans already familiar with Pettson and Findus (this is the seventh Findus and Pettson book now translated into English and published by Hawthorne Press) will delight in familiar tropes; the threat of the fox, the problematic fellow farmer Gustavsson, the crazy DIY projects and the mysterious mini magical folk. If you’re new to this utterly delightful Swedish import the ramshackle illustrations teeming with life and laughter will quickly win you over.

    findus1

    findus2

    findus3

    findus4

    You’ll be infinitely richly rewarded for spending time pouring of the illustrations; even in choosing just a few cameos to share with you today, we’ve discovered many more visual jokes, even though this must be the 20th time we’ve read the book.

    Charismatic characters, high jinks, and heart-warming friendship combined with witty, surprising and satisfying illustrations all add up to another winner from Sven Nordqvist.

    We’ve been reading this funny book down on our allotment in between planting our vegetables and flowers for this year.

    allotment1

    allotment2

    And just like Findus, the girls said they wanted to see what would happen if they planted meatballs. So I called their bluff, and said that of course they could plant meatballs (along with carrots, onions and beans)…

    plantingmeatballs

    And thus a new family dinner was created! A field of mashed potato made the most fertile ground for planting sauted onions, carrots, steamed beans, and – of course – some extra special meatballs.

    plantingmeatballs

    plantingmeatballs2

    Whilst planting our meatballs we listened to:

  • On top of spaghetti (all covered in cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed), here sung by Tom Glazer
  • One Meatball by Fred Mollin (from the film Ratatouille) – here’s an older version (lovely, but not quite a jazzy as the Disney version):
  • My Favorite Meatball by Danna Banana (Meatballs the world over unite!)

  • Other great activities to go along with reading Findus Plants Meatballs include:

  • Exploring the garden activities over on NurtureStore. Cathy produces handy month by month guides to getting planting, playing and harvesting with your family.
  • Making some bird houses to put up in your garden. Pettson and Findus’s world is full of little cottages up in the trees and you might find inspiration to add one or two to your outdoor space on this Pinterest board.
  • Creating your own flock of chickens out of old plastic pots. Pettson’s chicks are white, but I do think these from hellokids.com have the right sort of attitude and funkiness to be friends (?!) with Pettson and Findus.
  • Reading How to Grow a Dinosaur by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Ed Eaves. After all, if you can plant meatballs, why not dinosaurs?
  • Have you any vegetable planting horror stories you can share with me? Or enormously successful tales of child-friendly seed sowing?

    Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.

    3 Comments on Findus plants meatballs: gardening disasters to make you and your kids laugh out loud, last added: 5/12/2014
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    16. The best bums in children’s fiction – or, why so many kid’s books about bottoms? – Emma Barnes

    A favourite bottom book!

    And another!
    I’ve jumped onto the bottom bandwagon!

    I didn’t meant to. I didn’t consciously set out to write a book featuring bottoms. It was only when Penny Dolan wrote that Wild Thing was “much more than a book that gets 8 year-old children laughing because they enjoy reading about rude words” that I realized what I’d done. I, too, had written a book featuring children's fascination with their nether regions.


     It’s not exactly an untapped theme in children’s literature. (In modern times, anyway – you won’t find Jo March, Anne of Green Gables or even Just William having much to say about posteriors.) But whether it’s Nicholas Allen’s delightful Cinderella’s Bum or the famously scatological The Little Mole Who Thought It Was None Of His Business, there’s a whole branch of kids’ books about rear ends and what comes out of them. In fact when I (rather bravely) did some googling, I was stunned to find out just how many titles there were.

    I suppose the whole bottom thing can be seen as a cynical ploy. If you want to get children laughing, then “rude words” as Penny implies, are a good way to do it. This wasn’t really on my mind, though. The truth is, having spent the last several years in close contact with young children, I’ve been forcibly reminded how fascinating all things bum and poo –related are to them. I’ve walked behind four year olds whose only obsession is with spotting possible dog poo – and not to avoid standing in it, but out of pure fascination with the subject. “No, that’s only a dead leaf,” I’ve said wearily, more times than I can  remember.

    So it’s not surprising the theme cropped up in Wild Thing, which is at heart a realistic, family story. The subject first arises when an inadvertent slip of the tongue by Gran allows five year old Wild Thing to get going on a favourite subject.


    “Gran said bottom!” 
    “No, she didn’t.” 
    “Yes, she did.” Wild Thing grinned. “A butt is a bottom.You’ve got a big butt!” She pointed at me. “And Gran’s got a wrinkly one!” 
    Then she danced off across the garden, shouting, “BUTT! BEHIND! BOTTOM! BUM!” at the top of her voice. She almost crashed into a tree. 

    Wild Thing waggles her bum (Jamie Littler illustrator)

    The incident leads to a wild chase and the invention of the Bite the Bottom game – yet another source of daily embarrassment for poor older sister Kate! When I’ve read the passage aloud in schools, the effect has been electrifying. On the occasion where I had a staff member “signing” the bottom-biting scene (and giving a fine theatrical performance of the bottom-chomping incident) I thought everyone was going to be reduced to a dangerous level of hysteria.

    It’s true, folks. Rude bits really do make them laugh.
    In school...the arrow fittingly pointing at a certain place!

    Grown-ups can be a bit sniffy, I suppose, and feel that the whole bottom thing is crude, overdone, and playing to the crowd. But then children feel much the same about adult interests. Remember The Princess Bride and the little boy recoiling from the sloppy bits – “Yuk kissing!” Anyone who has watched TV with a child will recognize that response. (It’s also beautifully captured in Judith Viorst’s classic picture book, Alexander’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day – where the kissing on TV is almost as bad as the lima beans for dinner.)

    So let’s allow children their interests, just as adults are allowed theirs. After all, for the average five year old, toilet training and bed wetting are still very immediate issues, and getting oneself to the toilet on time can be a source of pride (or sometimes an embarrassing failure). Adults take all this for granted – although actually, of course, many adults, especially in later life, don’t. Sadly, it often becomes a source of shame and embarrassment again, with many incontinent adults suffering in silence. So if children can openly laugh and celebrate all things rear-end, then let’s embrace that! Humour, as a recent ABBA poster pointed out, is also a way of dealing with things that trouble us.

    So Bottoms Up, folks! And why not nominate your own favourite rude title?
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Emma's new book, Wild Thing,  about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways), is out now from Scholastic. It is the first of a series for readers 8+.
    "Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman
    "Charming modern version of My Naughty Little Sister" Armadillo Mag

     Wolfie is published by Strident.   Sometimes a Girl’s Best Friend is…a Wolf. 
    "A real cracker of a book" Armadillo 
    "Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps
    "This delightful story is an ideal mix of love and loyalty, stirred together with a little magic and fantasy" Carousel 

    Emma's Website
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    Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

    0 Comments on The best bums in children’s fiction – or, why so many kid’s books about bottoms? – Emma Barnes as of 4/17/2014 2:01:00 AM
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    17. 42? Sausages? On the meaning of life and Tim Hopgood’s Little Answer

    littleanswerBoth giggle inducing and surreptitiously brain expanding, Little Answer by Tim Hopgood is about BIG questions (“What is the meaning of life?”, “What is the secret to happiness?”).

    And sausages.

    Yes, really. It’s about sausages.

    And I say that even though you could in fact argue Little Answer is ultimately about the biggest existential questions any of us face; it’s about trying to find out who we are, about trying to understand how we fit into the big wide world.

    Profound AND full of laugh out loud moments, kindness and good old fashioned silliness, this is a fabulous book for all ages.

    In this philosophical and joyously absurd book Little Answer actually knows his name (‘Sausages‘), but the worrying problem is that he can’t find his question. Something’s missing in his life, and until he can find the Q to his A, things just don’t feel right.

    With help from a friend, Little Answer asks around. Could he be the answer to “What makes the wind blow?” or “Where did everything come from?”. There must be a question out there just right for him to answer…

    Children will recognise themselves in the gloriously satisfying end to this book, and they and their parents will enjoy the inclusion of brief answers to all the more challenging questions posed in the story. Indeed this is the perfect book for children always asking “Why?”

    Tim’s richly textured illustrations are bright and beautiful. His scribbles and prints, full of energy, have an appealing child-like quality to them. Thick crayon strokes look like they’ve just been drawn on the page. And Little Answer’s characterization is brilliant; he’s utterly personable and endearing!

    littleanswerreading

    Tim’s told me that the idea for this book came to him during a question and answer session at the end of one his school visits.

    One boy put his hand up and said “I’ve got a guinea-pig” and the teacher then explained to the boy that that wasn’t a question.

    She then asked the class “What does a question need?” to which they all replied “An answer!”.

    And at that point Tim immediately thought, “But what if the answer can’t find its question…”

    I do hope that little boy and his guinea pig one day find out they’ve inspired a wonderful, witty, and warm book perfect for feeding (and satisfying) curiosity.

    ***************

    You know a book’s hit home when within just a couple of hours of it arriving, the kids are already at play, inspired by the book. And so it was with Little Answer. Balloons were filled with rice (making them lovely to hold), and then eyes, smiles and legs were added to make our own Little Answers.

    littleanswer1

    M couldn’t resist making a BIG Answer too! And the answers didn’t go nameless for long.

    littleanswer2

    They were called:

  • Butterfly
  • Mummy
  • Chocolate
  • Loa Loa
  • Ovaries
  • Mint
  • and… 55 (she was the BIG Answer)

  • The girls told me that these were all answers to questions they had come up with, and it was now my job to find out what those questions were.

    Well I like a challenge, and I was certain that one of the questions must involve cake, so off we set for a cafe.

    answerincafe

    To the huge delight of the girls, I was WRONG! None of their answers involved anything to do with a cafe (though they were more than happy to try some cake, just to be sure).

    answerlookingatcake

    I thought I better up my game, so I then decided that the local library would be a good place to look for questions. M was very obliging and looked up the dewey numbers for the books which might help me find the right questions to the answers she and her sister had prepared.

    deweynumbers

    So at least I was in the right section for some of my questions…. and I started knuckled down to work, with the Little Answers looking along side me.

    answersinlib

    The Big Answer preferred to lounge about!

    biganswerinlib

    I have to admit, it was quite a struggle to find the right questions. But in case you’re wondering what they were here they are:

  • What has antennae, wings and is beautiful?
  • Who do you find in Ancient Egyptian tombs?
  • What does Cadburys make?
  • Name a nematode that might live in your gut
  • Name a part of a flower
  • What’s my (M’s) favourite herb?

  • And are you ready for the really really BIG question?

  • What is 165 divided by 3?
  • I especially liked the big question. It really reminds you how different the world can see when you’re a kid!

    Even if I struggled to find all the questions in the library, we had so much fun with this activity. Any game where the kids are in the know and the adults are clueless is always popular in this home! Plus, along the way we got to practise research skills and giggle a great deal. What could be better?

    Music we listened to whilst making our little answers included:

  • There Are More Questions Than Answers by Johnny Nash
  • The Dewey Decimal Rap
  • What’s The Answer? by Gene Harris & The Three Sounds
  • Other fun activities to try out alongside reading Little Answer include:

  • Playing Sausages! Great for a quick giggle… go on, give it a go!
  • Printing your own fabric to match the dress worn by Daisy in the book. Here’s a how the Artful Parent did child friendly fabric printing.
  • Making a snail friend for your little answers. Older children might enjoy making these ones from old tights or sweaters, whilst everyone will love eating these ones!
  • Reading Tim Hopgood’s BIG! (here’s my review) or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, both of which pair perfectly (though in different ways) with Little Answer.
  • What are you the answer to? What questions are you looking for? :-)

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Little Answer from the author.

    3 Comments on 42? Sausages? On the meaning of life and Tim Hopgood’s Little Answer, last added: 4/17/2014
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    18. The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari plus 7 ways to turn your (child’s) words and pictures into a book

    Do you think there is an age at which you’ll stop reading aloud to your children?

    Have you already reached that stage?

    Why might you keep reading to an older child who can already read themselves?

    These are some of the questions I’ve been contemplating as part of a discussion, initiated by Clara Vulliamy, about reading to big kids. I’ve also been thinking about books which I think work especially well as read-alouds to big kids, kids who can read perfectly well themselves.

    the-good-little-devil The absurd, magical, funny collection of tales which make up The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari, with illustrations by Puig Rosado, translated by Sophie Lewis are curious and intriguing, and make for especially interesting read-alouds to “big” kids.

    Adults in these fairy tales are often foolish and fooled, children save the day, taking everything in their stride, there is great humour, wit and cheekiness, as well as the occasional tinge of gruesomeness. Plot twists and turns which might leave my grown-up sensibilities unsatisfied perfectly resemble stories children will tell themselves, with little psychology, minimal internal reason, but plenty of pace. Talking potatoes, giants and shoes in love, witches hiding in cupboards – this book is full of off-beat, silly and enjoyable stories.

    But one of the reasons why I think this book works particularly well as a read-aloud, as a shared experience with an adult, is that the book – translated from the French – is full of richness and new horizons that are easier to explore with someone else along for the ride. The book is set in Paris, and has a distinctly Gallic flavour (from the illustration featuring a naked female chest, to a helter skelter ride through French history, via a strong, albeit often tongue-in-cheek Roman Catholic presence), and whilst the wackiness of the tales will be enjoyed by older children reading alone, I think lots that could be missed on a solo reading might be fruitfully explored and doubly enjoyed with a grown-up around.

    Each story in this collection has one or two drawings by the Spanish illustrator Puig Rosado

    Each story in this collection has one or two drawings by the Spanish illustrator Puig Rosado

    Perhaps this all sounds a bit worthy and educational, and that’s not at all what I’m aiming at. Rather, I’m thinking about to what extent books are enjoyed with or without (some) background knowledge. The language and style of writing in this book is perfect for say 9 year olds to read themselves, (and it clearly is enjoyed by lots of children, having been translated into 17 languages, with more than 1.5 million copies sold around the world) but my experience of it was that it was a book which became considerably enriched by sharing it.

    Library Mice says: “The Good Little Devil and Other Tales is the one book I’d recommend to any child of any age, from any country.
    Julia Eccleshare says: “Delightful trickery abounds in this collection of magical tales all of which are spiced with a sophisticated sense of humour and sharp wit.
    The Independent says: “[For] Readers of all ages who appreciate a good story and a kooky sense of humour“.

    A view down rue Broca. No. 69 is on the left, just after Les Delices des Broca. Image taken from Google street view.

    A view down rue Broca. No. 69 is on the left, just after Les Delices de Broca. Image taken from Google street view.

    One aspect that my kids and I particularly enjoyed about The Good Little Devil and Other Tales was the discovery Gripari wrote these stories with children: Gripari created them along with kids who would sit with him outside his favourite cafe in Rue Broca, Paris in the 1960s. As Gripari writes in his afterword:

    The stories in the collection were. thus, not written by Monsieur Pierre alone. They were improvised by him in collaboration with his listeners – and whoever has not worked in this way may struggle to imagine all that the children could contribute, from solid ideas to poetic discoveries and even dramatic situations, often surprisingly bold ones.

    My kids were so excited by the idea that kids just liked them had helped a “real author” write a “real book”. It was an inspirational moment for them, and with a glint in their eyes they were soon asking how they could turn their stories into books.

    And so it was I started to investigate ways to turn M and J’s own words and pictures, stories and illustrations into books of their own. I soon realised that I was not only finding ways to support my kids desire to write, I was also discovering ways to store all those creations of theirs I can’t bear to part with, as well as objects that could be turned into unique Christmas or birthday presents for family members.

    Here are 7 ways to turn your child’s words and pictures into a book. Some of these approaches could also be used by classes or creative writing/art groups, to create publications that could be used for fundraising projects.

    1. The slip-in book

    displaybookStationers and chemists sell a variety of display books that can be adapted for self publication. Choose the size you want and simply slip in your pictures and text! Photo albums often offer greater variety of binding, and come in many more sizes, so these are useful if you want to include documents which aren’t a standard size. Display books typically have either 20 or 40 pockets, giving you 40 or 80 pages in total. Depending on whether there is a separate pocket for a title page, you can use stickers to give your book a title.

    Advantages: Very easy to produce, and cheap. Minimal printing required, and no typesetting needed! Older children can make these books themselves as all it requires is for them to slip the original into the binding.
    Disadvantages: Only one copy of each book can be made this way (unless you photocopy the originals).
    Cost: £ (Display books in my local stationers started at £2.50, and photo albums at £5 for larger ones)
    Ideal for: Storage solutions, one-off books.

    2. Comb bound

    Comb_bind_examplesMany local stationers offer a cheap and quick option using comb binding. For this option you’ll need to prepare your images and texts so that they can be printed (normally at A4/letter size, not at smaller or nonstandard sizes), and this may involved scanning images and a certain amount of typesetting. Once you’ve prepared your document, binding can be very quick (a matter of minutes), and because you’ve prepared an electronic copy you can bind as many copies as you’d like. It’s possible to buy coil binders (£100-£300) and this might be an effective option for schools.

    Advantages: Cheap and quick, good for multiple copies.
    Disadvantages: Can look a bit “cheap” (I think slip in books look more appealing; they can look like real hard back books), can be a little flimsy.
    Cost: £ (comb binding at my local stationers – Rymans, for UK folk – started at £3.49 for 25 sheets, going up to £7.49 for 450 sheets). Don’t forget you’ll have to include printing costs too.
    Ideal for: short runs of books at a low price

    3. Glue bound

    Image Source:  University of Birmingham Bindery

    Image Source: University of Birmingham Bindery

    Is there a university near you? If so, they will often have a binding service, aimed at students with dissertations, but open to the public too. If you’re looking for something which looks a little more like a paperback than a comb bound book, a glue bound book might be for you. Again, you’ll need to prepare your text and images so they can be printed, but once you’ve done that, you can print and bind as many copies as you like.

    Glue binding (sometimes known as Thermo binding) is quick (often a while-you-wait) service, and you can often get your pages printed and bound at A5 size rather than A4 (making the finished product look more like a “real” book).

    Advantages: Finished book can look quite a lot like a “real” book, which is very satisfying!
    Disadvantages: Glue binding is considered “temporary” and so isn’t ideal for books which are going to be read very many times. Glue binding won’t work if you’ve very few pages in your book; most binders I’ve spoken to recommend an absolute minimum of 24 sides (12 pages).
    Cost: ££ (glue binding at my local university was £7.50 per book). Don’t forget you’ll have to include printing costs too.
    Ideal for: When you want a cheapish option which looks like a real book. University binderies are also often able to give some advice on typesetting and layout, so if you’re not confident about your skills in those areas.

    4. Self published via Amazon’s CreateSpace

    createsapceCreateSpace is a fairly easy tool to use to create paperback books. It has an extremely clear step by step process you can follow. There’s quite a variety of formats, both in terms of size, black and white printing or full colour, or cream paper instead of white (the former being better if you want to be dyslexia friendly, though this option is only available for black and white printing). To make your life much easier, you can download templates with much of the formatting done for you (for example margins set up correctly) – I’d definitely recommend doing this, though it isn’t a requirement. Once you’ve downloaded the template you’ll fill it in with your child’s writing and images, just like you would in a word processing document.

    Both my kids have used the template and typed straight into it (rather than writing by hand and then me typing up their words). Adding images works just like it does in a word document, the only thing I’ve found you need to be careful of is making sure your images are of a high enough resolution. When you/your child has finished their document (perhaps with multiple stories and images) you need to upload your work as a print-ready .pdf, .doc, .docx, or .rt. CreateSpace then checks everything is ok before you go on to design your book cover.

    You can order M's first book by clicking on this photo!

    You can order M’s first book by clicking on this photo!

    Advantages: The CreateSpace step-by-step guide is thorough and pretty easy to use. The resulting books have definitely had the “wow” factor with my kids.
    Disadvantages: For a whole variety of ethical reasons you might not want to deal with Amazon. Everything is done online so you may want to think about personal details. M has used a pen name, so her real name doesn’t appear online, and if you were publishing work by children in a school you might want to consider only using children’s first names, especially if the name of the school also appears on the book you create (this is less of a concern if you don’t make the book available for the public to buy).
    Cost: ££ The cost to create the book is nil. The final purchase price depends partly on page number and the use of colour (the more pages, and the use of colour make books more expensive), and whether you want to sell book at cost or to make a profit. M’s book (64 pages, 6″x9″, full colour) has a public cost price of £6.24 (although price is actually set in $). although as the author M can order copies at about half that price (though there are then postage costs to pay).
    Ideal for: Producing books which really look like paperback books. Great if you want family and friends to be able to buy their own copy. You can also choose to publish your book in Kindle format.

    insidequeneldasfirstbook

    5. Self published via Lulu

    lulu-logoI’ve yet to use Lulu, but Juliet Clare Bell has a really useful post on using Lulu in school over on Picture Book Den. Having taken a quick look at Lulu it looks quite similar to CreateSpace, although you can do hard covers, and A5 and A4 sized books (CreateSpace mostly does standard US Trade sizes, and doesn’t offer hardbacks.)

    6. Using the Scholastic We Are Writers scheme

    we-are-writersThe Scholastic We Are Writers scheme is specifically designed with schools in mind. It costs nothing for the school to set up and publish, thought each final book costs £5.99 (though you can sell it for more if you wish to make a profit) subject to a minimum order quantity of 50 books. A nice feature is that the books come with an introduction written by a leading children’s author (although this isn’t personalised to your school)

    Advantages: You can run We Are Writers as part of your Scholastic Book Fair to earn Scholastic Rewards for your school.
    Disadvantages: Not ideal if you just want a few copies of the book you create. Although the cover is full colour, the interior of the book is black and white only, so not ideal if you wish to include artwork. Books must contain a minimum of 50 pages.
    Cost: ££
    Ideal for: Schools wanting to create books which are text based.

    7. Book Creator for iPad

    bookcreator200pxThe Book Creator App makes ‘fixed layout’ e-books and is apparently very easy for kids to use to create books with lots of images. I’ve not used it, but here’s a series of case studies where it has been used in the classroom, and it would seem families at home could also easily use this app (free for your 1st book, then up to $4.99 for unlimited use).

    My thanks to @candyliongirl and @sue_cowley for helpful suggestions when exploring options for creating books.

    Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of The Good Little Devil from the publishers.

    3 Comments on The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari plus 7 ways to turn your (child’s) words and pictures into a book, last added: 3/24/2014
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    19. Feature Friday by Alesha L. Escobar: Caution:Witch in Progress

    I didn’t get into reading fantasy literature until a bit later in life, but something tells me that as a kid with a voracious appetite for books, I would’ve loved to have picked up Lynne North’s Caution: Witch in Progress. I’m very delighted to feature this book to you all, so take a peek and check out Ms. North’s work!

    Genre

    Children’s Fantasy, humor

    Book Description

    Gertie Grimthorpe is born into a society of witches and grows up in Vile Vale, but there is something very wrong with her…

    She is beautiful and couldn’t be nasty if she tried. When she finds out that she is to attend a private academy for magical children, Gertie hopes to find her witchy way in the world. With a moat monster suffering from stomach ache, a short-sighted owl familiar and mishaps galore, Gertie’s adventures are hilarious and heartwarming.

    Join Gertie as she struggles with growing up (and longing to grow her first wart), learning magic and working out how to deal with a grumpy enchanted umbrella, named Bat.

    “What a wonderful read this book is! Fun and laughter from beginning to end. Are we getting anymore ‘Gertie’ books? Can’t wait!” – Amazon Review

    Caution - cover FINAL

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    20. Murphy's Wake

    It was the last time I would go to Finn, I swore to myself as I searched for him in the Elmdale Tavern. He was around one of the regular spots. I needed to see him fast. At the Carleton Tavern I found Finn with a quart and money coming out of every pocket. I sat down with him, ordered a pint. It was still early in the day. I hit Finn up for fifty bucks to pay Murphy. Finn charged a fee for even handing you the loan. It cost sixty to borrow fifty for a week, but it would be worth it. Finn copied phone numbers and odds as he readied himself for a busy day ahead. Sunday, of course, was his big day because of the NFL betting. This was Saturday when college football and pro baseball took most gamblers’ attention. I finished my pint, said goodbye to Finn, caught Murphy at the Prescott Tavern, gave him a lift to Mary’s. Murphy and Mary had been engaged for twenty years. He still visited her little flower shop every morning. We stopped so he could pick a bouquet of flowers for her in a city park. Murphy didn’t believe in paying for flowers. When they were in season, he helped himself. It was a bone of contention between them. Murphy believed that flowers were given to man by the good Lord, shouldn’t be bought and sold. Mary believed that people gladly paid for the little ray of sunshine they purchased with a nice bouquet of flowers. Murphy had a friend named Calhoun in Montreal who could, for a price, buy a block of tickets in a provincial lottery which would produce winners. All I had to do was give fifty dollars to Murphy. I didn’t follow the whole scam back to the actual score, but I questioned Murphy enough to know that it felt like a winner. He assured me that fifty dollars would produce five thousand for me. Added to some others and passed through the right hands, it would yield twice as much, for him. This guy, Calhoun, had an in, was sharing the wealth. Murphy did it for me out of the kindness of his heart and good business sense. He didn’t have to include me, but he saw me as a good luck charm. I dropped Murphy off, went home to a weekend of sports on t.v. and too much beer. It didn’t cheer me up, to hear, on Monday morning, that Murphy had died on the weekend from a heart attack. I drove to Mary’s which was above her flower shop. It isn’t decent and polite to speak ill of the deceased, but getting lottery tickets was another matter. He always wore the same suit, his best, for giving and taking payments, more taking than giving, it always seemed with Murphy as he did his weekend rounds, careful not to exceed his booze limit. The lottery tickets had to be in his suit. Mary was in her shop with a short, dark, Scottish lawyer named Jack Scullion. She introduced us without mentioning if the man even knew Murphy. I listened with polite sadness, shook my head regretfully. Mary described Murphy’s last moments. It seemed that he died in her arms. Just after they had named a date. They had been engaged now for twenty years, so they were celebrating the twentieth year by marriage. She was as good as his wife anyway, Mary said. I agreed and inquired about Murphy’s “effects” as diplomatically as possible. Perhaps it was a little too vaguely phrased. Mary didn’t respond. Jack Scullion walked around the shop like he was looking for something suspicious. He kept an ear cocked in our direction though. He was trying to figure out who I was, where I fit in. Margaret, Murphy’s sister, appeared with her husband, Ralph, a used car lot owner. It was safe to say that the vultures were circling. I managed to find out that Murphy would be dressed in his best suit tomorrow at Ralph’s showroom. They were having the wake there. Ralph told me, in confidence, that it was his idea. It seemed a bit greedy for Ralph to take advantage of the crowd of potential customers which would gather to send Murphy off, but I wasn’t one to judge. There didn’t seem to be much of a chance of getting at Murphy’s suit pockets until the next day so I drove home and waited. I joined the line of people entering Ralph’s showroom. The place had a western theme, the staff were dressed as cowboys and cowgirls. They wore black armbands while Ralph himself was resplendent in a black western suit with tie and boots to match. He had probably considered wearing his black, ten gallon Stetson, but decided against it in case of misinterpretation by the mourners. There was a good mixture at Murphy’s wake. A crowd of children were the offspring of Murphy’s family. The older ones were Murphy’s cousins, uncles and aunts. When Murphy had mentioned his family at poker games or at the end of late night pub crawls, he gave the impression that he was the black sheep. His own opinion was that the family disliked him because they were jealous of his money and freedom. The people grew noisier as the booze flowed freely. Their presence was welcome. I needed as much attention diverted as possible while I sought the tickets. Most of the sniffling and crying came from Mary and Margaret. As I shuffled along toward them in the line, I could hear Margaret declaring that Murphy looked like himself. Mary’s voice rose over Margaret’s, in grief stricken tones, to tell someone that her brother had called to extend his condolences. He added that it was nice to think about old Murphy finally laying quiet with his big yap shut. People in the line who heard it at first looked puzzled, then made clucking noises. They agreed that it was a down to earth, honest assessment of the deceased, rest his soul. I eyed the coffin, snuck a peek at Murphy within. He did look like himself, I will say that. The dark, pinstriped suit, Murphy’s best, with the vest done up, decorated his body. His face was pinker than normal, but I only saw him in bars or restaurants so maybe this was what he really looked like. He had his hands folded peacefully over his pot belly and, all in all, looked like he had just exhaled and forgotten to inhale. There was no doubt about it, the life had gone out of Murphy. I could smell the gin on Margaret when she hugged me and the rye on Mary’s breath as she looked at me with red rimmed eyes and running mascara I managed to nod sadly and escape her while giving Murphy another quick, visual once over. Jack Scullion hovered in the background, watching everyone, especially me. There was plenty of drink and some sandwiches which the ladies had made. I helped myself to the food, found the coffee. It would take a clear head, whatever I did. Ralph was giving a sales pitch to a couple beside a beat up old clunker which looked like it had recently been retired from delivering pizza. He made the mistake of leaning a little too hard on the front bumper when he pushed it to demonstrate the shocks. The bumper fell off, barely missing his cowboy boots. Ralph never lost a beat. He made a note to see the mechanic about “bodywork problems”, kicked the offending bumper under the car. The pile of sawdust beneath it was turning black, absorbing oil. Jack Scullion approached me with a beer in one hand and a smoke in the other. He had jet black hair, scars on his nose and around his eyes. He bore all the signs of a fighter feeling no pain. He stood spread legged in front of me and asked if I was in Murphy’s will. When I told him I didn’t think so, he seemed to relax. As much as a short, Glaswegian lawyer can relax. His shifty eyes wondered how I could benefit from Murphy’s death. He turned and stood by my side with a wide stance. He gestured alternately with the beer and the smoke while he surveyed the room. “Ach, it’s a right shower here, just noo, Jimmy” I nodded, but I didn’t really know what he meant. He didn’t notice, went on with his monologue, sometimes addressing the room, sometimes confiding to me. “Aye, they’re aw here noo. The vultures’re here. Look at em circlin, look at yersels, ach. See em? They’re after his money. The poor old boy isn’t even cauld yet. See em? They’re a right shower a bastards” No doubt, like most of his race, the Scottish lawyer was a little crazy and extremely violent. Rather than point out that he, too, was in attendance for strictly financial reasons, I managed to escape back to Margaret and Mary. I was getting desperate. Mary and Margaret had been absorbing the alcohol at a rapid rate. They had run out of tears. Their mutual hostility emerged with each drink. I addressed them with an eye on the coffin. “Well, ladies, it must be tense waiting for the will to be read. To see who gets what of Murphy’s. I understand that Mary here was just about to tie the knot with poor Murphy” Margaret frowned and produced many heretofore unseen lines in her face. “Hah” She blurted out with a laugh. “Tie the knot. He’s been engaged to her for twenty years” Mary reacted with bug eyed indignation. Her truthfulness about Murphy’s last moments was being questioned. “We were like man and wife. He didn’t spend time with his other family” she said before she found another glass of rye. Ralph had finished his pitch, but had no takers. He threw regretful glances at the bumper as he approached us, beer in hand. “Anyone got a few words to say?” he asked with a kindly smile. “Ha. Family’s family. It’s his blood in my veins” Margaret asserted. Jack Scullion had joined us. He had a fresh beer, stood spread legged with shoulders back. It was as though he was bracing himself on a heaving deck. “The will overrides everything” said Mary pugnaciously in Margaret’s direction. This hostility caught Jack’s attention, it was right up his alley. He looked around for an opponent, saw Ralph about to speak. I sidled toward the casket as Ralph began what he thought was sort of a eulogy for Murphy, but which he never finished. He never really got it started. Mary took offence at the look which Margaret gave her, hit the dead man’s sister with her purse. Jack saw his opportunity, gave Ralph a Glaswegian handshake which could be heard all over the showroom. There was evidence of Jack’s nutting ability the next day in the taverns; quite a few black eyes and bandaids sported by the mourners who clashed with him He made up for his lack of height by jumping straight at the other man’s face, applying the head, around the hairline, into whatever features were available. With Ralph sitting in a pool of the blood which was spouting from his nose, the women shrieking as they rolled around in front of him, I made it to the casket. Jack was taking on all comers. He seemed to be enjoying himself. I searched Murphy’s vest and trouser pockets with one hand, the other still holding my coffee cup. I was about to try his jacket when the lights went out. It wasn’t dark, but it turned everything in the showroom shadowy. The struggling figures in the brawl were being joined by others, the children shooed to the office. Maybe it was one of them who was responsible for the half light. I checked one side of Murphy’s jacket pockets and found nothing. The noise of fighting and breaking glass became louder. I tried the other pocket, felt cardboard. I pulled the lottery tickets out of Murphy’s pocket, squinted at them. They were the right ones. I was saying a prayer of thanks to my dead chum and the good Lord when I dropped the tickets. They slid down on the other side of Murphy. I panicked for a moment. Placing my cup between Murphy’s folded hands, I used one of my hands to shift his weight, the other to feel for the tickets. I grasped them just as a bottle crashed against the casket and a sliding body took my feet out from under me. Ralph had provided a fold out table from the lunch room upon which to place Murphy’s casket. As my weight shifted, the casket slid off the table. Murphy sat up with my coffee cup in his hands. Crawling toward the door, tickets in my hand, I glanced back. Murphy’s sudden rise from the prone to the sitting position, had caused a pause in the fighting. I heard various opinions of this phenomenon. “It’s a sign” The words “miracle” and “resurrection”were mentioned several times.. When I joined Finn, the next day, at the Carleton Tavern and paid him back, cheerfully, he gave me a curious look. He was totalling up the weekend’s action over a quart, asked me if I’d been to Murphy’s funeral after the donnybrook at his wake. I confirmed that I’d attended the burial. It was a sad and solemn affair for all involved including Murphy’s family and everyone’s legal representatives. We drank a memorial toast to Murphy that day before I bought everyone a round and placed a few bets.

    0 Comments on Murphy's Wake as of 1/1/1900
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    21. Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween

    Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween (CAN, JP, US, INT)

    Written and Illustrated by: Mélanie Watt

    Published by: Kids Can Press

    Published on: September 1, 2013

    Ages:  4+

    Provided by the publisher via Netgalley for review. All opinions expressed are my own.






    The leaves are falling and the weather is cooling off. This must mean it's time for Halloween!

    You would think that Halloween would be the best or worst holiday for Scaredy Squirrel, depending what side of the fence you fall on. Do you love it when Scaredy flips out because he's scared? Or are you rooting for this loveable Squirrel to get back in his safe tree and never be scared again?

    My kids are firm fans of the freak out. So they loved this book.

    Scaredy Squirrel's humour has gotten more and more cheeky as time goes on. This book is full of great ideas, but the best ones are where Scaredy is laughing at himself. Take, for example, his ideas for villain costumes; Killer Bee, Shark, Germ. The best is the scare-ometer rating the scariness of each costume. It will come as no surprise that the Germ is the most terrifying.

    Usually when I read a book out loud to a group of non-native speaker kids, I don't choose stories that don't have a narrative, just because it is hard for them to follow along. This never happens with Scaredy though, kids laugh and laugh from beginning to end.

    Mélanie Watt has another hit on her hands, and I fully expect everyone to see Scaredy Squirrel- faces on the pumpkins of homes with young kids from this year.

    This is the twelfth book I have reviewed for the Seventh Canadian Book Challenge.

    2 Comments on Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween, last added: 9/16/2013
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    22. Three cheers for Rosie Revere!

    The last couple of weeks on the blog have really reminded me how books can take you everywhere and anywhere. From “pink” books, to the Holocaust, to environmental campaigning, I do love the journey my blog takes me on.

    rosiefrontcoverToday’s roving brings us to contemplate engineering and what constitutes failure, with Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, a follow up to this same team’s ingenious Iggy Peck, Architect.

    Rosie dreams of being an engineer. She loves collecting rubbish and creating contraptions. But people laugh at her creations and her emerging confidence is soon crushed. When Great Great Aunt Rose tells young Rosie how she built aeroplanes during the war, Rosie is once again inspired. But will Rosie’s engineering work this time? What if her plans fail?

    An upbeat rhyming tale about the value of trying and trying again, Rosie Revere, Engineer encourages readers to hold on to their passions, and to never give up, even if things don’t work out the first time. Great for encouraging a can-do approach to whatever life throws at you, Rosie’s tale also leads naturally into discussions about women’s roles during the Second World War, and women who have broken the mould in various fields, notably that of flight.

    463px-We_Can_Do_It!Rosie is creative, thoughtful, passionate, full of a sense of fun, and with more than a nod to Rosie the Riveter, not least with her matching headscarf, and the slogan “We Can Do It” on her flying machine.

    Roberts’ illustrations are a scrapheap challenge (junkyard ward) junkie’s dream come true. Littered with curious details to pore over (can you spot a Wild Thing, or follow the unwritten story of the baby bird?) the colours are bright and pen drawings clear. Often on expanses of white, Roberts’ work is vibrant, crisp and fresh, perfectly matching the confident and purposeful message at the heart of the book.

    readingrosie

    There is a decidedly American flavour to the text (some rhymes, I assume, work better with certain US accents than my UK one, and cheese spray may seem rather mind boggling to many on this side of the pond) so a little contextualisation might be handy, but my young engineers didn’t bat an eyelid at this. They were simply delighted by this Rosie and her take on life. Spunky, funky and full of fun and inspiration, three cheers for Rosie Revere!

    To go alongside reading Rosie Revere, Engineer I set up a little after-school structural engineering project involving essential tools of the trade: tooth picks and sweets.

    engineering5

    The aim of the game was to see what we could build and how we could build it using just these two materials, plus some imagination, and a little bit of concentration…

    engineering4

    Space rockets and climbing frames soon rose from the kitchen table.

    engineering3

    A spider’s web of construction emerged, with lots of experimental investigation as to what made our feats of engineering stand strong.

    engineering1

    We also got to explore the roles of different materials, as we quickly discovered that most dolly mixtures aren’t very good for this type of project, whilst mini wine gums and gum drops are excellent. (If you want to go for just one, the wine gums are a better bet as they are less messy; the gum drops litter the kitchen table with sugar sprinkles, and also make fingers stickier).

    engineering2

    We all thoroughly enjoyed this engineering project, and M is very keen to try it again soon to model chemical compound structure (her idea!); different sweets for different elements? Definitely sounds fun to me.

    Whilst designing, engineering and building we listened to some brilliant music:

  • I’m Gonna be an Engineer, written by Peggy Seeger, performed in this video by her half brother, Pete Seeger. Full lyrics (which are just fabulous) here.
  • Rosie The Riveter by The Four Vagabonds
  • Dave Rawlings Machine’s The Monkey and The Engineer

  • Other activities which would be great fun to get up to alongside reading Rosie Revere, Engineer include:

  • Junk Modelling! Indeed, Rosie Revere, Engineer cries out for you to rifle the recycling bin and get sticking and gluing and making. Here’s how we like to junk model!
  • Watching this classic car advert showing the domino effect, and invite the kids to try to set up something similar.
  • Tipping the lego all over the floor and seeing what you can build together. This lego website has lots of ideas, but we prefer to have this book open nearby.

  • Don’t miss the teacher’s guide to Rosie Revere either.

    What are you going to engineer today?

    Disclosure: I recieved a free reivew copy of Rosie Revere, Engineer from the publishers.

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    3 Comments on Three cheers for Rosie Revere!, last added: 9/18/2013
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    23. Caution: Witch in Progress-Award Winner!

    We did it! Thank you so much to each and every one of you who voted!

    Book Awards Winner February14

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    24. Free novelties at Book Signing event!

    So, what would you like FREE from Granny Grimthorpe’s cauldron? Come along to the book signing for ‘Caution: Witch in Progress’ at Waterstones, Wigan on Saturday 22nd March from 12 to 3pm and take your pick!

    Granny's Cauldron

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    25. Great deal on Kindle!

    Amazing offer right now, children’s humorous fantasy only £1.99 on Kindle for a limited period. Winner of The Book Awards, February 2014!
    Click here for offer.

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