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Sunday, 30 November 2014

An owl, two rodents and some missing pages

November 30 2014

One of the perils of reading picture books from the library is the inevitable torn page and why libraries bother buying in pop-up books is beyond me. The odd torn page is no big thing compared to a chunk of missing pages. This is what we found with Chris Haughton's A Bit Lost. It's a story of an owl who falls out of his nest and looks for his mummy. I don't think Linus noticed the missing middle but I was a little perplexed. It was a little like reading a whodunnit without a murder being committed. Anyway, it looks fun, if a little familiar. I'll try and get another copy and see if there is a murder, I doubt it, owls aren't like that.

I've heard some people say they don't like Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's  The Highway Rat for various reasons. There is a one star review on Amazon from December 2012 that seems to have taken this to extremes. I toyed with reposting here but if you need a laugh just check it out for yourself, I'm still not sure if it's an attempt at satire. The Highway Rat is based on Alfred Noyes' early 20th century poem The Highwayman. Linus likes to finish many of the lines and spot creatures that aren't in the story "ooh a snake", "owl and another owl", "a Gruffalo cookie!". It is a fictional tale of a rat who goes out on the rob but in the end gets his comeuppance. It's a little off centre for Donaldson so I can see why some wouldn't enjoy it, personally I take it as a fun little story with a nice rhythm and plenty of humour. If you want to spot a hidden message of gender denigration then you may be best looking for books in the mental health section.

If you like stories of guinea pigs riding recycled bicycles then Charlotte Middleton's Christopher's Bicycle is one for you. It is a very charming book with very pleasing illustrations.  There's more for Linus to see within the pictures on further readings. For our first read I think there could have been more to the story. It's possibly aimed at early readers and would give a few good ideas for complementary craft projects. It makes a great attempt at being different and not just for the sake of it. We were impressed, I'll try it again in a few days and see if we really like it.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

LLama Drama, Crocodile Style and a Bing Thing

November 29 2014

I don't really know what we made of Llama Llama Shopping Drama. It's the first of Anna Dewdney's books we've red, from a series that started with Llama Llama Red Pajama. This is the story of a stroppy toddler llama who throws a tantrum whilst out shopping with his mama. I mostly struggled with trying to get mama to rhyme with drama. It seem to have a moral that shopping is boring but needs to be done. Unless it's Black Friday scrambling to buy the last television on the planet, I quite enjoy shopping and would hope that Linus does too. I'd say the drama of this was a little over the top, perhaps it's a llama thing. Linus seemed to like it, hopefully he didn't relate to the crazy llama child. It's a shame the US supermarkets that llamas frequent don't have CBeebies magazines, they usually work, especially if they have a Mr. Tumble phone on (which they mostly do!).

Starting on this blog has encouraged me to look at more library books, so on our visit today I had in mind to randomly select a few books and see what happened. I never managed it, some seem to be not quite right, so I continue to use my discerning eye. I like to find something that looks a little bit different or unique.  Sylvester & Arnold is one of those. It initially caught my eye as Arnold was my dad's name, although he bears no resemblance to the crocodile in the story, he had less teeth for a start. David Bedford's story is an easy to relate one for toddlers. One crocodile has his own run of the swamp, until another of the same size arrives, when a third pushes them both out, can they find a way to all get on? There's lots of nice sound effects and a build up of tension in the story. Tom Jellett's illustrations are entertaining and quite unique. There's a picture of a crocodile on a slide, similar to one at a park we go to. I asked Linus if there were ever crocodiles on the slide there, sometimes there are, I'll be a bit more careful in future. You can't always tell who's a crocodile these days.

Bing: Something For Daddy has been adapted for the TV series as "Something for Sula". Sula being one of the characters they added when devising for television. This book is one of Ted Dewan's original books. They seem to be very well set up for Linus to enjoy. The colours are bright and cheerful, the pictures are engaging and the text is precise and invites interaction. I'm not entirely sure I'd have picked these books without first seeing the TV show but I would have been wrong. We also pick up on the catchphrases, I often find myself saying "it's no big thing" without a hint of innuendo.

The Bee Song

When Linus was little, way back several months ago, we used to listen to Arthur Askey's Bee Song.

I have fond memories of the song, I remember seeing what must have been an 80 year old Askey on stage prancing around to it. This little fellow fizzed around the stage like a "human firework" (as described by Ken Dodd).

For those who don't know, Askey was a British star, born in the same year as the Queen Mother, and up until the 1960s was Liverpool's greatest export. He was the first comedy mega star, being the first to have his own major radio show. He also made films, TV and countless stage performances and  records too. His singing career started as a choir boy at the opening of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.

The Bee Song is by far his most famous track, although he recorded many in a similar vein. It's still heard today in commercials, most recently for honey.

The song was possibly the first viral hit. Composer Kenneth Blain gave it to Askey, who only remembered it when he needed to fill some time in his radio show. He sang it once and forgot about it, except for people continuously coming up to him asking him when it would be sung again. After singing it again 9 months later it became a permanent fixture in his act, by popular demand.

If I was an illustrator, I'd have a go at this, it would make a great picture book. Here's the opening bit followed by Askey himself.

Oh, what a wonderful thing to be,
A healthy grown up busy busy bee;
Whiling away all the passing hours
Pinching all the pollen from the cauliflowers.
I'd like to be a busy little bee,
Being as busy as a bee can be.
Flying around the garden brightest ever seen,
Taking back the honey to the dear old queen.

(Chorus): Bz bz bz bz, honey bee, honey bee,
Bz if you like but don't sting me,
Bz bz bz bz, honey bee, honey bee,
Buzz if you like, but don't sting me!

The Snowy Night

November 28 2014

This Moose Belongs to Me is a more recent Oliver Jeffers' book. The pictures are very cool and the story is along the lines of Lost & Found although Wilfred and The Moose have a much looser relationship than the boy and the penguin. I asked Linus if he'd like to own a Moose like Wilfred thinks he does, he was a definite no. I was quite relieved, I had no idea where to get one from. I will go back to looking for a new coat hanger that he proclaimed he wanted from Santa.

Over the last year or so,  The Gruffalo's Child has been one of Linus' favourite films and books. The Gruffalo and Gruffalo's Child films really are very well done. There are few words added or taken away from the original texts, yet the stories are fleshed out with the amazing animation. Linus can almost read this alone, so we often look for new things or he'll complete verses. This is not an ordinary cashing in sequel, it's as well written, by Julia Donaldson, and illustrated, complete with extra squirrels by Axel Scheffler, as the first. Linus isn't fooled into thinking any of the other animals are the mouse, the boy's not easily duped!

I sometimes ask Linus to choose a book for story time, he doesn't always pick one. Tonight he decided on  Snowballs and Sunshine. I've blogged about this one fairly recently.  Having picked this one, I picked the other two. We appear to have picked lots of snowy books between us, I bet it will snow in the next few months now. Spooky!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Godspeed (Sweet Dreams) - Modern Lullabies

There are a few more recent songs that are excellent lullabies. The Dixie Chicks have at least three, this is my favourite. The video here has all the lyrics too. It is written by country singer Radney Foster.

Linus and Friends

November 27 2014

In hono(u)r of Thanksgiving we went for an all American story time tonight.

Linus' namesake takes the lead in Charles Schulz's Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown. It's a tale of a boy and his blanket. Linus quite likes "Cartoon Linus" and  listens very attentively. I didn't know this was a movie in 2011, to date the last longer (45 min) Peanuts cartoon. There is a new feature film scheduled for next year. Linus only tends to get briefly overly attached to inanimate objects. I still fondly look back on a tiny jam jar that he had a short fling with.
There's a Christmas Peanuts picture book that has just come out that looked quite fun, who knows what Santa has in store?

The Runaway Bunny was first published in 1942, it is, as far as I can find out, the second book to have been published by Margaret Wise Brown. There were six further books published in between this and Goodnight Moon. Illustrator Clement Hurd joins the world of The Runaway Bunny with that of Goodnight Moon. The picture of the cow jumping over the moon is on the wall in Runaway Bunny and in Goodnight Moon there  is an unmentioned picture from the Runaway Bunny. So the familarity of the pictures helps with the story. This must surely have inspired the much later Guess How Much I Love You?. The runaway bunny tells mother bunny that he is planning to run away but mother bunny reassures her baby that wherever he goes, she will always be there. We have a big board book of this and Linus insists that it is "a very heavy book", I find it quite a light read, childish in many ways.

In a similar vein is Anna Pignataro's  Mama, Will You Hold My Hand? This book was only published in 2010, it does have a very traditional feel to it. The baby bear, Sammy and his mama hold hands as they hike through the seasons together with no more than a tiny bindle (it's a bag on a stick!) each. Presumably abandoned by daddy bear, the two bears make their way cross country entertaining themselves as they go. Finally they manage to get away to somewhere with less extreme changes in weather by means of a hot air balloon. It is a pleasant short story with lovely pictures. As long as you don't try and analyse it, all will be ok. If you do try and analyse it, for a blog perhaps, you may end up wondering why both mama and Sammy wear clothes but never seem to wear any underwear. Perhaps they used their underwear to make up the bindle. If I ever get my hands on that wretch of a daddy bear, well I oughta...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A sequel, a crocodile and a missing spoon

November 26 2014

It would seem like Julia Donaldson is our go to author. She does seem to have an ability to tell the right length of stories for toddlers. The stories are engaging and entertaining with a pleasant rhythm. One of her inspirations is Edward Lear. The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat is probably one of her most crafted books. She has taken the characters and setting from the original Owl and The Pussycat and added characters and settings from the rest of Lear's world, the Chankly Bore and The Pobble Who Has No Toes make appearances. It reads as a song, so some of the words are repeated on the page when they could probably manage without. I'd say it wasn't one of Linus' favourites, I think he humours me when I'm reading it. I do find it quite pleasant and Charlotte Voake's illustrations are quite evocative of Lear's era rather than a more modern approach. Voake has recently had published her illustrations of Lear's original, which is now available in two or three more recent copies. Lear's work is now out of copyright so there are free downloadable editions of all his works on Kindle, etc. If you want to see someone exhaust limericks then download away.

Lear did have his own unfinished sequel, The Children Of The Owl and The Pussycat, it opened well:

Our mother was the Pussy-cat, our father was the Owl,
And so we're partly little beasts and partly little fowl,
The brothers of our family have feathers and they hoot,
While all the sisters dress in fur and have long tails to boot.

The next book is quite far removed from Edward Lear, although I think he'd approve of the silliness that is Open Very Carefully. I can't really describe it without giving the plot away, it is what they do on Amazon to sell it. It starts as a bedtime story book that is invaded by a random crocodile who not only eats the letters and words, he attacks the pages too. It's very different and very fun. Linus always looks slightly bemused by its randomness, so I think the inverting of the storytelling process is aimed a little bit older. We do enjoy it. Nicola O'Byrne's illustrations are superb, the words, that haven't been eaten, are by Nick Bromley.

Finally, we revisited Happy Harry's Cafe . My comedy brain must be very inactive as I hadn't noticed this was based on an old Vaudeville Jewish gag about a Jewish guy in a restaurant complaining to a waiter about his soup. The man insists the waiter tries the soup, the waiter refuses, saying he will get a replacement. "No, no, no" says the man, "you need to try this soup, it is terrible". "OK, OK!" relents the waiter, "now, where did you put the spoon?". "Exactly" replies the man.

Happy Harry is the waiter and Matt the Cat the spoonless customer, if only he'd had a runcible one! Michael Rosen's book is humorously illustrated by Richard Holland. There's a song and a page of laughter (and I added tickles!), we like it.

A Bear, A Sarah, A Duck, Some Penguins and a Caterpillar

November 25 2014

My mum was a big fan of teddy bears and she's passed it on. Her favourite was Sooty, Linus was a brief fan of the current show but it was a little unsophisticated for him. I think the Anne Widdecombe cameo was the last straw for him! My childhood was very Rupert heavy, I remember reading through all the books in about a week. Paddington Bear was another much loved character, the very charming TV series narrated by Michael Hordern was excellent. Linus hasn't yet seen that version and we're not too sure if the new film is suitable but we have a few of the books.

Paddington: The original story of the bear from Peru is, I believe, the first story taken from Michael Bond's original 1958 book, "A Bear Called Paddington". It's been put into picture book form, presumably as an update for today's market, or so they could get half a dozen books out of one. We read this one quite rarely, it's way too long and a little old for Linus. There are some shorter picture books of Paddington now available but they were passably ok, rather than anything exceptional. The story is lovely and Linus listens attentively. R. W. Alley's illustrations are entertaining too, so plenty to keep him occupied. I do like to see how much he's taking in, it seems like this is a good one for testing when he'll be ready to listen to longer stories.

Linus has two favourite shows, Bing and Sarah & Duck.  Bing started life as books and progressed to TV and Sarah & Duck did it the other way around. Linus' current favourite S&D episode is one where they recreate Duck's computer game in their garden. How cool is that as a message? You can sit and play on your computer or we can recreate it in a fun way outside, awesome. Sarah Gomes Harris is the creator of S&D and is the author of Sarah and Duck meet the Penguins. It is very much a version of the TV episode, unlike the Bing books based on the TV show, this feels very much like it has just been pulled from that. Linus really enjoys it but I don't think it adds much from the show as a reading book. I can't imagine anyone who hasn't seen the TV series being enthralled by the book.

Finally, for the first time in this blog we read an Eric Carle book. I don't dislike Carle but I do think he phones it in for some of his books. I can read Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon or Big Red Barn over and over but Does A Kangaroo Have A Mother Too gives me the irrits (as the Australians would say!) after a couple of reads. Carle's most famous work is  The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Linus likes to "pop" at the right time and he can get most of the food items now, especially pickle. It is a thoroughly charming book, I don't really get why it is so overwhelmingly popular and why it has spin offs wherever you look. It's a little bit older than me and I'm fairly sure I was unfamiliar with it before Linus came around, so whether it is slowly infecting the UK or I just missed it, I don't know. I guess it's one of those books that every generation will have. I guess with a change of food stuffs here and there it will never date.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Giants, Snortles and Digits

November 24 2014

I've probably mentioned before my tendency to go to British comedians' voices when reading stories. My dogs always end up being Tommy Cooper (as is The Tiger Who Came To Tea), Stick Man is Tony Hancock, all the characters I don't like are Paddy McGuinness, there are more, I'll probably bore you with that another time. Ever since I first picked up The Smartest Giant in Town I thought of Bernard Bresslaw. He was a British comedy actor, most famous now for the Carry On films, usually as an ever suffering sidekick to Sid James. Here is the 6'7" giant that was Bernard Bresslaw.

Anyway, back to the book. It's fairly unique in the Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler world as it is not rhyming throughout. Only the Giant's song rhymes. It's pretty much a given that we like this book, the Davidson/Scheffler combo never lets us down. I think this contains some of the funniest of Scheffler's illustrations. There are lots of little jokes squirrelled (pun intended) away within the pictures. There's also a nice life lesson in being kind. There are a few one and two star reviews on Amazon, a few saying the book is boring, that can only be down to the reader. Linus loves it, but then I am an incredibly entertaining reader and available at cheap rates, especially to Linus!

The Great Snortle Hunt is an odd sort of picture book. It's possibly for a year or two older than Linus. It has charming illustrations by Kate Hindley and rhyming story by Claire Freedman. It's essentially a picture book thriller with a happy ending. I hope saying there's a happy ending doesn't spoil it for you, although if you were expecting a brutal ending you probably want to call social services. I like to give a little suspense to my reading. It's nice to have a different tone every so often. It's another attempt to reassure kids that monsters are nice and friendly. Sesame Street has been telling kids that for years, although the last thing any kid would want is Cookie Monster hiding in their larder. Worse would be having the attention seeking Elmo under their bed, there'd be less chance of them getting to sleep than having a real, nasty monster there!

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is another book that's been around since birth. It gives me a sense of how much Linus has grown, remembering reading this when he was a teeny tiny baby and I'd count all his fingers and toes. Now he counts them himself and reads along. The author is Mem Fox and is illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, who also illustrated We're Going On A Bear Hunt. There are various pictures of babies around the world, it's cute and fun. I'd put this in any new baby basket and we still get a lot out of it now.