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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Fathers and Son's Day

I thought of writing this post a few days ago and as Father's Day was approaching it seemed more relevant.

Lately, Linus has been having some minor problems getting to sleep and a little anxiety settling down. After putting him down he'll ask whichever one of us is there to stay a while. I've been trying to get it so he will be less anxious and allow us to leave earlier. In that respect I think we're getting back there.

On one of the more anxious nights I thought he had dropped off and was just starting to stand up, he turned his head around to make sure I wasn't leaving. In that moment he turned his head I saw my dad and was transported to a much sadder place, probably exactly ten years prior to that moment.

In 2005 my dad was seriously ill, having lost my mum and sister in the previous twelve months, there was just the two of us. He was in hospital most of the time from (I think) February until he died on his 70th birthday in August. Some days were better than others, some days he was awake and alert, others he was in what I would describe as mini comas, just sleeping for more than a day at a time.

When he was awake, I'd often try and see if I could get him to think of a future, he never could. When that failed I'd talk about other stuff, he'd ask about work, from what I remember I didn't get a great deal of time to do any but just about managed. I didn't really get much chance to do anything beyond eating and going to hospital, there was no way I was going to have a day when he'd be alone. After such a long time in hospital he ended up in a room of his own and I'd given up on any idea of when visiting hours were. I just turned up and the hospital staff were happy to let me, I was often the only one who could calm him down if he was anxious. His ill health had made his temperament volatile and it was a vicious circle. Often the hospital staff made it worse and spent hours trying to settle him, I could do it in a minute or two.

So, I'd sit by his bed, sometimes we'd talk, sometimes he'd sleep. Seeing him wake and be pleased to see me was somehow worth it. There was a smile and a flicker of life that was otherwise missing. Perhaps in the moment of just waking up there were no problems, my mum and sister were still alive and he was still fit and healthy. On the other side was sometimes him not wanting me to go. The irony was that he was hanging on to life because he didn't want me to be alone, yet he needed me more than I needed him. So, sometimes I would sit and wait until he fell asleep, occasionally I'd get up thinking he was asleep and he'd swiftly turn his head wanting me to stay a little bit longer. A swift turn of the head, my dad had probably seen me do the same when I was a little boy and didn't want him to leave. Then I saw it again at Linus' bedtime. Being there for my dad was an option I chose to accept, being there for Linus is an obligation I cherish.

I hope one day that Linus has a child he watches fall asleep. I hope he doesn't ever have to put himself in a position to watch me.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Who Puts The Animals To Bed

This is a new one we picked up at the library. Written by Mij Kelly and Holly Clifton-Brown. It's a great last book before bedtime.

The illustrations are really vivid colours and quite fun. The text has a Margaret Wise Brown feel to it. That's a good thing, I really like MWB!

Without spoiling the text, it asks the question of the title about various animals. It strolls along very pleasantly, with enough to talk about along the way amongst the illustrations. It works for ages from tiny baby up with a nice soothing rhythm to it.

Something that I think about often but haven't mentioned before is the price of some. This book is £11.99, some lawyers would be happy with that pay per word! It's a beautiful large hardback book with wonderfully illustrated pages, I understand why it's £11.99. The price seems to make the books out of reach of most people and with what must be around 100 words (I haven't counted!). is hardly great value. A check on Amazon shows that it's (at time of writing) available for download at £3.99 and may well be out in paperback soon at a lower price. I'm possibly naive in hoping that they could make them in a cheaper format so newer books could be more accessible.

The French version "Qui Met Les Animaux au Lit" is actually £2 less than the British one. Anyway, enough of the mini rant. This is a recommended book, just get it from the library or wait for a good price!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Mr. Men On Holiday

We love the Mr. Men so it's always nice to see a new offering. This spring has seen a few new releases, "on Holiday" and "at the Park" seem to be part of a new series "Experience Life with Mr. Men, Little Miss, Every Day". Ballet, Rugby and London are other new offerings I've seen too.

Where previous post-Roger Hargreaves Mr. Men have mostly been written and illustrated by his son Adam, some have had other authors attributed to them. This book has no acknowledged author. I see that quite often with children's books, either they've been written by a committee or by someone who doesn't want their name attached.

I assume the former on this, it does have a feel of a tv script, it's almost a series of small sketches. The illustrations are up to the usual Mr. Men standard. Overall the book doesn't really deliver, it's a bit light on story. Little Miss Scatterbrain takes centre stage and the story is quite scattered. As I said it appears to be a few sketches, there's a Mr. Greedy joke and one for Mr. Nonsense and Mr. Topsy Turvy, there's a few others along the way. Linus' favourite part is the "Spot Walter" they have throughout, it's mentioned on the opening page that Walter (the worm) is hidden throughout the book, so we have some fun finding him.

There have been a few good Mr. Men books not written by Roger Hargreaves, sadly this isn't one. That said for £2-£3 (its rrp is £2.99) there are worse value books out there and for Mr. Men completists it's a nice investment.

Oi Frog!

My updates here have been thin of late. I mentioned in the last post of difficulties keeping up with time constraints. I also felt as though a lot of books we were reading were all samey and not that worthy of writing about.

I think it was a little bad luck and I'm happy to report that we've had a surge of more charming and fun books.
Kes Gray and Jim Field's Oi Frog has been around for a little over a year. It is quite simply wonderful. I've written previously about how picture books tend to get stuck with the same rhymes, Oi Frog! proves you can use already used rhymes and be original.
It's the story of a rather officious cat telling a frog that he should be sitting on a log. He explains that this is the done thing and that all animals have their respective things to sit on, even dogs.

We've had so much fun reading this. The rhymes are funny and work hilariously in tandem with the illustrations. We've even had more fun making our own rhymes up, it's a great exercise for a longer car ride. Also, when you run out of real rhymes you can make up completely new words "hamsters sit on camsters"!

OI FROG! Book Trailer from Jim Field on Vimeo.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

I'm A-One

Back when I started this blog it was relatively easy to maintain, we had a pretty well established routine and I had a nice little spot to write down my book reports.
Time and toddlers have a habit of breaking routines.
The temporary hiatus of this blog was due mainly to Linus changing his own routine and making more of his own decisions and other external factors.

The routine was fairly straightforward, I read him three books and then his mom took him to his cribroom (Linus doesn't allow us to call it bedroom!) and read him one more before putting him down for the night. Linus decided that I needed to do all the stories and bedtime, I'm more than happy to do it but I lost my little spot to write up the blog.

Add to that Linus' insistence at the time that we read new books every time, so selecting books became difficult (thank goodness for our wonderful library). Thankfully he's more settled in allowing us to read older ones, I've started playing up "we haven't read this one in a long time", "this is one of our favourites", "this is a really good book, isn't it?". So he's more acceptable of the books I pick out again.

He still has an amazing insistence for something new, or at least not the same. Most kids seem to have attachments to things, Linus is the exact opposite, if he's taken a toy/object/something odd (tonight was a plastic teacup, last night, a slightly damaged toy car) to bed with him, he won't take it again the next day. He may be changing, but he still remains our wonderful, smart, funny and wonderful (yes, he's doubly wonderful!) little chap.

So, back to the books. I think as I can't write this up every day that I'll move to a more random bloggery, with occasional book reviews and other things that occur to me along the way.

So, consider this the conclusion of our nightly round ups, with more blogging to come.

We kicked off with I'm Number One , a book by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Bob Graham. Rosen is most famous for We're Going On a Bear Hunt. I don't dislike Bear Hunt but have never understood it's overwhelming and enduring popularity. With his other books, there's almost a resolute desire to be different to all the other books out there. Weird is probably a good description. There's a Toy Story element to this, it being the story of four toys who come alive when the owner and her mum go out. A-One is a rather irritating wind-up toy soldier who talks down to his colleagues. The illustrations add a nice little story of the pet dog who doesn't get mentioned in the text. I'm not sure of Linus' take on it, but he has asked to read it again, which is always a good sign. I'm not overly thrilled at reading the rudeness of the toy soldier, it just seems a little bit too much, even if there is a redemption.

Little Miss Shy and The Lion is part of a series of Mr. Men/Little Miss titles that don't appear on Amazon and only seem to be sold in pound shops (which is fine by me!). Also unusually they are large format books, even more unusual, they were first published in France in 1997 and have only recently been translated into English (2014). With that pedigree it's difficult to believe that they are actually quite good. The translations don't seem to show any signs of having been in another language. There's no sign of who they were written by, the illustrations are as all Mr Men books. It's quite a fun story and Linus loves all things Mr. Men. The shy lion runs away from the circus and Little Miss Shy is not scared of the creature but instead finds a kindred spirit. There are 12 books in the series, we've read about 6 of them over the last year, so I'll look out for more. There's surprisingly little information about them anywhere.

Wow! Said The Owl is one of my go to books for the last book before the last book before bedtime! It's nice and short with lots of colours, some fabulous illustrations and quite a few talking points. It's a Tim Hopgood book. Hopgood is always a name to look out for. We both enjoy his illustrations and unique storytelling.

The main reason I came back to this blog today was because I asked Linus if he wanted me to sing "Ning Nang Nong". When I started this blog, I sang it every night and then he stopped me. I kept asking but he mostly said no. I hadn't asked for a while and tonight he said yes. He was very smiley and pleased throughout. Did I say he's wonderful?

Monday, 12 January 2015

Linus and the knock knocks

Linus was teaching me all about knock knock jokes:

Linus: Knock knock
Me: Who's there?
Linus: Linus
Me: Linus who?
Linus: Linus meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Now you say knock knock

Me: Knock knock
Linus: Who's there?
Me: Daddy
Linus: Yes, daddy, that's right.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Who Am I?

January 10 2015

Who Am I? is the story of a "strange little creature" that pops out of an egg. Gervase Phinn is quite a prolific writer, in children's fiction he tends to write for older kids than Linus. This one has been quite  hit. The creature wanders along asking different animals if they know what he is, the odd thing is that he looks like every creature he asks (Linus: "look, he's changed colour again!"). It has a nice educational element to it. Tony Ross' illustrations are quite simple in style and that works well with the story. It's an often used format in picture books but this one stands out from the crowd. Spoiler alert: he's a chameleon!
Here's a CBeebies bedtime reading of it, by Dan Walker.

Maisy Goes on Holiday is another in the endless Maisy series by Lucy Cousins. She is another favourite illustrator for Linus, there is something endearing in the pictures that seem to fit exactly with their target audience. It has some educational parts to it, we had a chat about what else we'd need to take with on holiday. There's also lots of friendship within the stories too, all in all, a tick in the win column.

My Mum and Dad Make Me Laugh is a popular one by Nick Sharratt, not least because we're the most hilaarious (sic) parents on the planet. I'm still trying to work out if Linus is too old for this now, or if he was just a little too tired. There are younger books that he still gets enjoyment out of, so I'll say it was tiredness for now.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Not Now Norman

January 8 2015

Driver Dan's Story Train: Not Now Norman is a book based on the TV series Driver Dan. It is essentially a book within a book. In the tv show, Driver Dan reads stories on his story train, in the book he does the same. An anthropomorphic lion reading a story within a book is a little weird, especially with the commentaries by Driver Dan and friends along the way. Anyway, the story itself, Not Now Norman is quite good, a family of ducks out for a bike ride and the littlest one tries to get his family's attention, who, in turn, reply "not now Norman". Driver Dan was one of the first programmes that entranced Linus, it isn't on much of late, it would be interesting to see how he reacts to it now. There's a little Driver Dan trailer below.

Anna Kemp's The Worst Princess is another picture book that has been made into a stage show. It has all the right ingredients for a stage show. It's a modern take on the traditional Prince Charming meets Princess and they live happily ever after story. Unlike in real life, picture book princesses are no longer happy to look pretty, live in a castle, wave and churn out babies. Picture book princesses now want to go on adventures, befriend dragons and behave how they like. Sara Ogilvie's illustrations fit neatly with the story having both a traditional yet modern feel. It's probably a little old for Linus but he seems to get it and the rhyming story makes for an easy read.

Margaret Wise Brown's Sunshine and Snowballs was our last book of the night. Despite being by an author who died in 1952, this is a relatively new book. Charlotte Cooke's illustrations were added to make an adorable bedtime read. There are additional stories to tell within the pictures of a little boy and girl throughout the seasons. A calming and charming picture book.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Keith the Cat and The Man From The Land Of Fandango

January 9 2015

Margaret Mahy's The Man from the Land of Fandango is reminiscent of some of the uentin Blake books we've been reading lately. It has a similar sense of fun and is jolly and upbeat. Polly Dunbar's illustrations add sparkle to the story. It fuels imagination and is a lovely little book. Linus happily agreed that he liked it.

Keith the Cat with the Magic Hat is quite a surprising book, the 'hat' is neither magic or a hat. Keith, in a remarkably British fashion covers for an ice cream cone landing on his head by telling his pals that the ice cream was a magic hat. It's a funny book by Sue Hendra, the larger illustrations add to the humour. It is quite refreshing and unique, I look forward to reading more from this author.

 Little Miss Contrary was first published in 1990 and written by Roger Hargreaves. Linus still loves all things Mr. Men and Little Miss. I'd quite like an update to the series to put the men and women on equal feet, the French versions seem far more equal amongst the sexes. I've never quite understood why the Misses are all little. The characters themselves are equally smart/dumb/bizarre (delete as applicable). Miss Contrary is in the fine tradition of Hargreaves' quirkier characters, she does have many similar characteristics to Mr. Topsy Turvy. It's a pleasant story and reveals Mr. Happy's birthday (March 14th), although not how old he is.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Mister Magnolia and friends

January 6 2015

Quentin Blake won the Kate Greenaway medal for the illustration of Mister Magnolia in 1980. I'll admit to not having been aware of it until a little before Christmas. It is very silly and has a very British sense of humour. Mr. Magnolia only has one boot but he doesn't let that deter his every day spirit. His one booted bravery is rewarded in the only way possible, a new boot. Linus was very excited with the arrival of the new boot, even though it is a total mismatch to the other one. Personally I'd rather go one or no booted than odd booted but I have high boot standards.

The 2014 Greenaway Medal was won  by Jon Klassen (for This is Not My Hat), he was also nominated for Lemony Snicket's The Dark. Personally I'd have given it to Oliver Jeffers for Drew Daywalt's The Day The Crayons Quit. The illustrations in that are excellent, a little different to Jeffers' usual work though still in line with his quirkiness.

In our second book of the night, we continued with silly humour, with another of Jeffers' books, Stuck. As with several of our books, Linus has taken to spotting things out of the ordinary. Jeffers likes a penguin and a spaceship, Linus spotted those unmentioned items also stuck in the tree. Stuck is a joyously eccentric and charming story. Here's Oliver Jeffers reading a shortened version of his own book.

It Takes Two to T'wit T'woo is Paula Knight's romantic story of Olive the Owl searching for love. It also explains that the female owl says "t'wit" and the male says "t'woo", owls don't ever say t'wit t'woo. This remains a firm favourite of Linus'. There is something engaging in Guiliano Ferri's illustrations and a unique short story. This deserves to be a classic but is probably not destined to be.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A Great Big Grey-Blue Humpback Whale

January 5 2015

It's safe to say we're a Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler loving family. The length of the stories and the stories themselves are ideal and seem to be peerless. There are very few comparable authors and the illustrations are wonderfully unique. Linus had spent the morning at a playgroup, impressing with his knowledge of animals, the humpback whale being a speciality. In fact, courtesy of the animal atlas we have, he has an impressive repertoire of obscure animals.

The great big grey-blue humpback whale is the co-star of The Snail and the Whale, if you can't guess, the snail is the other half of the duo. I have noticed Linus seemingly drifting a bit at story time over the last week or two, tiredness is often an issue, as well as other excitements. So I've been making an effort to engage more. Scheffler's pictures are so full of detail that there is always something we can look for. Getting the balance between finding things and keeping the story going is a tricky one, especially when there's an over familiarity with it.

Maisy Goes Camping features Lucy Cousins ever popular Maisy character. It's a simple tale of Maisy and her friends going camping. The plot centres on getting 5 friends in a tent, when one of the friends is an elephant, things prove a little tricky. There's a little segment in the story where 4 of the characters "pop" out of the tent. Linus was highly amused by my pop sounds, not as amused as by my plop sounds the previous evening (vocally of course!).

Nancy Tillman's On the Night You Were Born is a lovely bed time book. It's exactly how the title goes and how most parents would want their child to think of themselves. "Heaven blew every trumpet and played every horn on the wonderful, marvellous night you were born". The illustrations are delightful and much more artistic than most picture books. The poetic verse is really pleasant too. This isn't just a book made to sell as a new parent gift, it is lovingly written and artistically illustrated.

Sunday, 4 January 2015


January 4 2015

Allan Ahlberg has had several books using existing children's characters. One of our favourites is Each Peach, Pear, Plum. Previously is a more recent offering. Illustrated by Bruce Ingram, Ahlberg weaves a story starting with Goldilocks arriving home and then taking it back to what happened previously. He then manages to incorporate several other characters, I never even knew that Jack of Beanstalk fame was the same Jack who was Jill's brother, now we know what they needed that water for.

It is a very clever book, and fabulous illustrations. It  has probably introduced Linus to several characters that he isn't familiar with but should be. There are few traditional books around with close to the proper stories of Cinderella,  Jack & The Beanstalk and others. We tend to only see variations on them, be they elephant versions of Cinderella or appearances with the Mr. Men. I can see Previously being a great reading book for early schoolchildren, there's so much to get out of it and it's lots of fun.

Next, keeping the traditional theme we read a version of The Elves and The Shoemaker. We have a fairly abridged and corrupt version of this Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the original dating back to the early nineteenth century. In the version we have to reward the elves for making them great shoes, the shoemaker and his wife make the elves some shoes, hardly a great reward.
Here's Kermit The Frog in a better version!

Our final book was a Nick Sharratt/Sally Symes lift the flap book, A Boot, a Hat, Now Who Is That? After a run of reading younger books, Linus seems to be done with this one. We did try reading some of the words, which he was getting, I managed a couple too. 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Knick Knack Paddywack

January 2 2015

Our first book for story time was Port Side Pirates!, it's a song by Oscar Seaworthy, illustrated by Debbie Harter. We've not got round to reading/watching the attached CD yet but the song is fun. It has a chorus on every page "we go this way, that way, portside, starboard", so we had a lot of fun with the movements. It's by Barefoot Books who seem to have quite a different way of promoting books, using a more traditional approach of party-type selling and using "ambassadors" to sell their goods. They do seem to have a good selection of interesting and educational items.

One of Linus' favourite things in reading is the occasional end pages that tell you other books by the same author or publisher. In the back of this one was Knick, Knack Paddywack. I then started to sing the first lines of "This Old Man". Linus requested more of the song, instead of reading Superworm, so I obliged. According to reviews of the book, the song in it is slightly different to the traditional version.
For those not in the know, it starts;

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywack
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

It then carries on with each number rhyming, some of the rhymes are fairly standard and some I invented anew, as is tradition with a folk song. 

We ended with Gemma Merino's The Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water. Linus declared that he "reayyy reayyy yikes dragons", although he didn't want one as a pet.

Friday, 2 January 2015

What do you see?

January 1st 2015

Linus adores What Do You See?, it has a magnifying glass with touch sounds, so what's not to like? I had thought this was an Eric Carle book, on closer inspection it is a "World of Eric Carle" book written by Jennifer H. Keast. It's a lot of fun and there are words to read, pictures to look at and plenty to see and do. It is also quite educational and a good introduction to insects. It isn't the best bedtime story book though. The lure of the magnifying glass makes it a little too distracting.

The Scarecrows' Wedding is, at time of writing, the most current Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler book. It's so new, no one has made it into a stage play yet. I'm sure they'll get there at some point, it has all the ingredients, a love story, a bad guy, drama and a tale of the perils of smoking, especially if you're a scarecrow.

I Love You When is by Annie Baker, it's a short rhyme, beautifully illustrated by Barroux. As with many picture books, it's the illustrations that lead the way. The poem is witty and fun but it does feel a little short. I'm not familiar with Barroux but he appears to be a prolific illustrator, with quite a unique style.