Thursday, 26 April 2018

Why I'm In Love With Terry (Nappies!)

It's Real Nappy Week this week. Last year I wrote a post all about my love of cloth nappies, but since then I've been converted to a particular type of cloth that a few years ago I completely dismissed.

I'm talking about terry squares. Yep, that's right, those little towels that your Nan used to use back in the day.

I first tried terry squares when Ezra was a little baby but couldn't find a fold that would cover his bum enough to contain his explosive poos, have enough absorbency at the front for his massive wees and that I could actually do without taking an advanced course in origami. So I gave up. But when Ezra was about 18 months some of the nappies that he had inherited from his sister started to give up the ghost. I needed more nappies but didn't want to spend loads more money when he might have only needed them for another year. I saw an offer on terry squares and thought I'd give them a whirl. They're now the nappies I reach for first when choosing what to put him in.

So here's why I have fallen for terry nappies:

1. They're cheap!

The cost of cloth nappies, while less than disposables over the full course of the pre-potty-training stage, can be prohibitive for some families who simply don't have a couple of hundred quid to spend all at once. Terries, however, can be picked up for less than £2 each. Yes, you need to buy wraps as well, but you don't need to change them every time so you don't need many. You can secure them either with old-fashioned nappy pins, or with the more modern (and safer) Nappy Nippas, both of which are cheap as chips.

2. They're versatile

There is a seriously dizzying number of folds you can do with a terry square. Given enough digging you'll likely find one that suits your child. (Yes, I didn't at first but to be honest I didn't try that hard!) Don't worry about having to learn loads of different folds, once you've found one that works you can just stick to it until it stops working for you. And then try another. I use the croissant fold, which kind of looks like a sumo outfit once on! But it's great for a toddler boy and I haven't needed to learn any others. I'm not a neat folder at all, but that doesn't seem to cause too much trouble!

A terry square laid flat, and one in a very cack-handed croissant fold

3. They last ages

Both in terms of absorbency and general longevity. With a bamboo booster, I find that a terry can last up to 4 hours. I haven't tried them overnight but there may well be a way to make that work. You do need a decent wrap though - personally I find that Motherease are the most reliable but others may disagree! And the great thing about terries is that there's no elastic, poppers or PUL that might degrade or break. You might need to replace wraps from time to time, but terries themselves don't change.

4. They're quick-drying

Another advantage of the simplicity of terry squares is that they dry super-fast. You can also put them on radiators which isn't always advisable with other nappies, or bung them in the tumble dryer which you can't do with most all-in-ones. So if you've only got a small stash you can get them dry and ready for wearing again very quickly.

5. They're great padding

One thing that people sometimes don't like about terry nappies is that they can be quite bulky. You can rectify that with different folds but chances are your baby will still have a big ol' bum. But that's great for when they're unsteady on their pins - imagine how much more comfortable it must be to fall on your bottom if it's padded out with layers of towelling!

6. They can be repurposed

With most nappies, if they've worn out there's not much you can do with them. But with terry squares you could reuse them as cleaning cloths, hand towels, makeshift bibs etc etc. Or of course you can pass them onto a friend and you know that they'll still be in good condition despite months or years of use!

So that's why I love terry squares. How about you? Have you tried them? What did you think?

Monday, 23 April 2018

Review: 'The Wondrous Dinosaurium' by John Condon and Steve Brown

At the grand old age of six, Eleanor seems to have outgrown peak dino-fever. I feel quite sad about it - gone is the little girl who, at age 3, picked up a toy dinosaur and informed me it was a parasaurolophus. And she really did inform me, I had no clue. Luckily, just as she starts to grow out of the dinosaur phase, two year old Ezra is ready to take the baton. His categorisation isn't quite there yet - all dinosaurs are known as 'raa' to him - but what he lacks in detail he makes up for in enthusiasm.

So when Maverick Children's Books sent me an advance copy of their May release, The Wondrous Dinosaurium, I was really glad to have another book to fuel Ezra's interest - and even happier to see Eleanor having a sneaky read of it! Too old for dinosaurs (and picture books) indeed ...

In The Wondrous Dinosaurium, Danny is looking for a pet. But he doesn't choose any ordinary pet shop - Danny wants to find a pet at Mr Ree's Wondrous Dinosaurium, where he can take his pick from any number of prehistoric creatures!

The trouble is, Danny struggles to find the right pet for him at the Dinosaurium. They're all too big, too drooly, or too flappy. Will he find the perfect dinosaur?

This is a really fun book for dino-lovers. It combines a funny and fantastical story with facts about dinosaurs, in very readable prose. I loved how Mr Ree's speech uses rhyme and rhythm to lift the text and raise a chuckle: "I have chewy ones, slurpy ones, licky ones and burpy ones." The illustrations are full of colour and detail, managing to create very accurate depictions of all the different dinosaurs while still making them fun and friendly-looking. Danny does find his pet in the end but it may not be one you've heard of - in fact I had to Google it to check it was real!

If you've got a little one in the peak dinosaur madness phase then they will love this book. And it may even tempt back an older child who thinks they're too old for dinosaurs now!

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Books To Get Kids Into Science

I was never much of a fan of science as a child. I don't know where the idea came from, but I was fairly convinced it was boring - I may even have thought of it as a 'boys' subject. But following my daughter's natural interest in science has made me realise what I was missing out on as a child (and kick myself for not following my GCSE Science teacher's advice to continue studying it!)

Now, as a novice to the world of exciting science, I've turned for guidance to something far more familiar to me - books! Here are a few books we have that helped me to feed Eleanor's interest in science, and get interested myself!

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts - This is a great book for preschoolers or younger school-age kids who are just getting into science. Featuring the inquisitive Ada, it gets to the heart of what science is all about: asking questions and trying to find the answer. I love how it also gently encourages parents to support their children's natural curiosity too!

The Usborne Look Inside series - Eleanor absolutely loved the three books pictured when she got them for her 4th birthday. She would pore over them for ages! Packed full of facts delivered in a child-friendly way, the illustrations are colourful and interesting and each book has dozens of flaps to lift. And what small child doesn't love flaps?!

LEGO Women of NASA: Space Heroes by Hannah Dolan - This book is part of the DK Books early readers selection, and it's at Level 1 (Learning to Read). We only got it recently so it's a little basic for Eleanor but would be great for a child just starting to read. I love how it shows all the different sciences involved in space exploration, and how it champions the role of women too. And it has Lego! What more could you want?

Al's Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! by Jane Clarke and James Brown - We won this in a Toppsta giveaway at around the same time as the Lego book, and Eleanor found it so much fun that she read it in an evening! This book is a good way into science for a child who loves stories, as it's a regular chapter book but with science as the main plot driver and with suggestions for experiments throughout the book. This led us to some rather messy egg-speriments of our own! Eleanor also enjoyed the jokes about eggy puke and stinky feet ... kids are gross.

Explore, Experiment and Discover The World Of Science by Anna Claybourne - Another one that Eleanor pores over regularly, this book is full of scientific ideas and principles explained in a child-friendly way with suggestions for experiments linked to each topic. If, like me, the idea of messy or complicated experiments terrifies you, then fear not - many of the experiments are really simple and take very little prep or hunting for odd equipment. 

12 Awesome Women Of Science You've Never Heard Of by Samantha Gouldson - Eleanor recently received this as a gift and while it's a little advanced for her yet, I'm looking forward to her discovering it properly in a year or two. I read it myself and, while I had heard of a couple of the scientists (don't be too impressed, it's only because I follow the 'A Mighty Girl' Facebook page) I still learnt an awful lot and it was a very easy read too. It talks about a really good mix of scientists from different eras, backgrounds and disciplines too. Great for older children who are ready to start exploring science in a more in-depth way.

So those are my tips - have you come across any great science books for children? If so do let me know, I'll probably end up buying them for my little geek!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.

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Monday, 2 April 2018

Review: 'AdoraBULL' by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore

So here's a slightly odd fact about me: my favourite animals are cows. I think they're beautiful, with their soulful eyes and massive noses. The big shaggy ones are my favourites, but really I love all cows.

But I'm well aware that I'm a bit weird in this sense, and most people won't share my adoration of all things bovine.  And that's why the premise of 'AdoraBULL' by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore is so effective.

'AdoraBULL' is the story of Alfred the bull who has an unlikely, but strong friendship with a little boy called Tom.

Tom and Alfred are inseparable until Tom starts school. Not only does Alfred miss his friend during the day, one day Tom comes home and asks for an 'adorable' pet. Alfred decides to investigate what 'adorable' means ...

... and tries to make himself adorable for fear of losing his best friend.

What I enjoyed about this book is the wry humour of it, poking fun at our love of cute animal photos and pointing out the ridiculousness of them. I'm still getting used to references to modern technology in children's books but I did smirk at Alfred searching the internet and finding all sorts of odd but adorable animal photos. And his attempts to recreate them made me think of my own failed attempts at recreating something I'd seen online!!

But the best thing about this story is the message of it. Without wanting to spoil the ending, Alfred is eventually reassured that he doesn't need to change how he looks or who he is to keep his friend or be adorable in his own way. Although Eleanor has proclaimed herself too old for picture books she did have a flick through it and I'm glad she did as she's at a stage where she's changing to fit in with others. I hope the message in the story will help her to see she doesn't need to change.

I asked Eleanor what she thought of the book and she said she thought the kittens surrounded by marshmallows were really funny but wasn't so keen on when Alfred broke the swing. Ezra still won't concentrate on anything that doesn't rhyme but he did sit through most of this book and enjoyed the pictures.

I really liked this book (even though I thought Alfred was adorable from the start) and I hope that my children will absorb the moral that they don't need to change, and that true friends will love them as they are.

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Review: 'Not My Hats!' by Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley

Do your kids have difficulty sharing? It's an ongoing battle encouraging Eleanor to share her belongings, although she's always more than happy to share her brother's things!! I fear Ezra will be better at sharing for all the wrong reasons - a weary acceptance of having everything taken off him by his big sister!

Last week I received two new releases from Maverick Children's Books, one of which is all about sharing.

'Not My Hats' is all about a polar bear called Hettie who has a penchant for hats. She has a huge array of headwear which she likes to keep to herself.

When Puffin asks to borrow a hat one day, Hettie's answer is adamant. She will share anything ... except her beloved hats.

Puffin is persistent however, and eventually manages to persuade Hettie to agree to swapsies! In the end, Hettie sees the positives and sharing and they both share happily together.

I like how this is a really humorous, light-hearted take on the challenge of sharing. So many picture books about toddler 'issues' can come across as a bit didactic and overbearing, but this tackles a common problem with humour. It's really fun to read aloud too, with plenty of rhyming sections for little ones to enjoy.

Another thing I like about this book is that the illustrations are really bold and clear - although a lot is shown on each page, the use of block colours stops it from feeling 'fussy' and overwhelming for little one's eyes. Ezra still prefers clear illustrations so this book has just the right balance of colour and detail for him.

I'd recommend this book for anyone trying to explain the idea of sharing to their little one, it is a really tricky concept for them to grasp but this book tackles it in such a funny and relaxed way that they won't even realise they're getting a moral lesson as you read it!

'Not My Hats' is published tomorrow (28th March 2018).

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of 'Not My Hats' for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.
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Thursday, 22 March 2018

Why I'm Training As A Breastfeeding Peer Supporter

Last week I did something exciting - I began training to become a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter! It's something I've wanted to do for years but there hasn't been any local training I could get to, so I'm thrilled to finally get started.

But why do I want to do this training? It doesn't lead to a paid role, and I don't even know if it'll be relevant to any future career I have. (That's a whole other blog post - what shall I do when I grow up?!)

So why give up my Wednesday mornings for the next ten weeks?

Is it because I think every mother should breastfeed? Because I want to pressure new mums into breastfeeding their babies? Because I think I know best and others should do things how I do them?

Nope. It's because I think all mums should have a choice on how they feed their baby.

For a long time, formula feeding has been held up as the prime example of giving mothers choice. And yes, it is an option, and one which will work for some families. But you can only call it a choice if the mother feels that all other options are wholly available to her.

80% of mothers who stop breastfeeding in the first six weeks do so before they wanted to. Does that sound like choice to you? In some cases there will have been insurmountable health problems that led to the end of breastfeeding, but in many other cases it will be down to a lack of support and information to enable the mother to continue.

I don't know how it feels to stop before I'm ready, but I do know how it feels to come close. To feel like it's never going to get better and it's all too much. The first eight weeks of my daughter's life were possibly the hardest I've ever experienced as I grappled with a baby who would refuse to latch, couldn't maintain a latch once I'd persuaded her to and threw up any milk I managed to get into her. It was hard, it was miserable and I wish I'd had more support.

With our NHS increasingly stretched it's hit and miss whether a new mum will get all the breastfeeding support they need through a professional. Instead, an army of volunteers are trying to plug the gap, in the form of peer supporters and breastfeeding counsellors. These volunteers are helping mums with all kinds of challenges to achieve their goals. And I want to be part of that army.

Having breastfed two children for a combined six years, I know a fair bit about breastfeeding. But I don't know everything. I've never fed multiples, I've never had to deal with returning to work, I haven't encountered complications like CMPA or low milk supply. I know I still have a lot to learn and I'm keen to learn it so I can help women in many different situations.

So that's why I'm training as a breastfeeding peer supporter. Not to pressure, but to enable. To learn more so I can better understand the unique situation each mother has. And hopefully to help mums reach their own breastfeeding goals.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Love Letter to Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

(Most of) our Donaldson/Scheffler collection

Dear Julia and Axel

I hope it's OK for me to use your first names. It seems a bit forward as I've never met you, but then again, you feel like part of the family. Because your books have been for nearly six years now.

It all started with a copy of 'The Gruffalo' that a work colleague gave me when I was pregnant, as her children had outgrown it. If you look carefully at the photo above that book is the most worn, but not just because it was second hand to us. When my daughter was one it quickly became her favourite book, and she would ask me to read it over and over. I still remember the day I read it ten times in a row as she gleefully cried, "den!" (again) every time I turned the final page.

I started scouring my local library for your other books, but they were like gold dust. I knew that there were plenty of your titles to be had, the trouble was all the other parents were looking for the same books! We got a long way through your back catalogue thanks to the library but it was hard to part with them after three short weeks. I started acquiring our own copies instead. When my daughter started school I found myself aided and abetted by the Scholastic catalogue that came home in her book bag, and before I knew it we'd amassed a huge collection of your books, as you can see above. (That's not even all of it - I realised after taking the photo that I'd left out 'Hide-And-Seek Pig', and I've got a copy of 'Room On The Broom' on the way!)

Now my two year old son is captivated by your work too. I'm back to repeated readings of 'The Gruffalo', although 'Zog' is another firm favourite of his. And the thing is, I'm actively encouraging his love of your books because I love them too. I love the lyricism of 'The Snail And The Whale', the invitation to use lots of funny voices in 'Tiddler' and the feisty feminism of 'Zog' and the sequel 'Zog and the Flying Doctors'. I love the simple wit of 'Monkey Puzzle', the moral message of 'The Smartest Giant In Town' and the clever pastiche of 'The Highway Rat'. I even love 'Stick Man' so much I crocheted him, along with his Stick Lady Love and their Stick Children Three!

The Stick Family
We love your individual work too - my daughter was really helped by the Pip and Posy books as an older toddler and preschooler, and my son will often demand a reading of 'What The Ladybird Heard' complete with enthusiastic animal noises - but something magical happens when Donaldson's words and Scheffler's images come together. You've created a set of children's classics that I'm sure will be just as loved if and when I have grandchildren to read to.

So thank you to both of you, for creating books that fuel both of my children's love of reading and that are so wonderful to read aloud as an adult.

Yours gratefully

A book-loving Mum

Monday, 12 March 2018

Review: 'Alison Jay's ABC'

I usually opt for story-based books with Ezra, mainly because I prefer to have a narrative structure to follow. Counting or letter books are generally quite dull for me and if I'm not enjoying them, chances are I won't read them as enthusiastically and so Ezra won't enjoy them either.

But on a recent trip to the library I saw this ABC book and couldn't resist borrowing it.

I've been a fan of Alison Jay's work for a few years - we have a couple of other books by her, including the wordless story 'Out Of The Blue'. Her artwork is just stunning and she's great at creating a narrative with just pictures. Even in this ABC book she manages to create mini-stories to connect the pictures.

I love how in the above spread the girl us showing the owl a picture - of the panda on the next page! There are lots of similar connections so that even older toddlers and preschoolers can have fun spotting them.

In many of the pictures she also includes other words beginning with the featured letter - like the aeroplane above the apple and the bee and butterfly flying around the balloon. Little touches like this are what really bring Jay's work to life - as well as being beautiful to look at, her illustrations are so full of details that you can spot something new every time.

If you're introducing your little one to the alphabet but, like me, feel uninspired by your regular ABC books, I thoroughly recommend this one. As I've been writing this post, Ezra is sitting on my knee and said 'owl' and 'apple' when he saw the pictures so I can confirm it's great for building and reinforcing vocabulary!!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Ish Mother Reads: 'A Year In The Life Of The Yorkshire Shepherdess'

When we bought our first home, it overlooked a farm. I would often look out of the bedroom window at the sheep and cows in the fields, and daydream about being a farmer.

Of course my aversion to early mornings and bad weather made this an unrealistic career for me, but still I retained a fascination with the rural life. And I've always been fascinated by large families - if I didn't suck at being pregnant, I'd love more kids.

So when I heard about Amanda Owen, who lives and works on a remote farm with her impressive brood, I was fascinated by her. When I saw she'd written a book about her life I couldn't wait to read it. At the time of writing the book she'd just had her eighth child, I believe she now has nine! I really wanted to find out about how looking after that many children, living in a remote area and working at a very demanding job was even possible.

The book follows the course of a year, with a chapter for each month. My romanticised notions of farming life drifted further and further away with each month - it soon becomes clear that the work is relentless. Every month brings a new job to do, and honestly, I don't know how she and her husband do it! Even the proverbial 'making hay' sounds like exhausting work!

I found all the different aspects of farming work really interesting to read about, though, and some of the anecdotes Amanda includes in the book are really absorbing, either because of the humour or sadness of the situation. She doesn't shy away from the realities of working with animals - those realities regularly include death - but nor is she completely cold about it. You can really tell how much she loves her animals, especially those which she is particularly close too.

I have to admit though, at times I found this book quite a tough read. Some of the anecdotes she includes have a feel of 'you had to be there' about them and never really go anywhere. And while of course real life doesn't always have a natural climax to a story, these parts did make for tedious reading. I actually read the book over a period of months because there were times when I'd finish a section and not feel particularly inspired to carry on.

I'd say this is a really good book for anyone wanting to learn more about the farming life, either through curiosity or pipe dreams, but just be prepared for the odd patch of boredom as you read. That said, learning about Amanda's family was a joy, even though it made me feel massively inadequate for only having two and barely managing to keep them happy and entertained!!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.


Monday, 19 February 2018

Fun For The School Holidays: Five Rainy-Day Activities Reviewed

There are two types of parent: the ones who look forward to the school holidays as a chance to spend lovely quality time doing fun things with their children, and the ones who dread them, knowing it'll be a week or more of desperately trying to entertain increasingly wayward kids.

I'm very much the latter. I adore my daughter, but school holidays are a challenge. Not just for me - she struggles a lot with the lack of routine and stimulation, which makes her tetchy and giddy. When the weather's miserable, as it has been this week, things get very challenging.

Luckily, a box of goodies arrived just in the nick of time. Sheffield Mutual very kindly sent us an activity pack filled with fun craft projects to get stuck into over the holidays.

So here are the projects we've been busy with this week - and how we found them.


I love baking. Until Ezra came on the scene, Eleanor and I used to bake every week, but the challenge of looking after a little one and the start of school for Eleanor a few months later meant that we got out of that routine. I was really glad to see baking included in the activity pack as it's such a good activity for little ones. The pack included a biscuit recipe, cutters and decorations.

The recipe was really easy - and also egg-free so would be good for very little bakers who are prone to eating the raw dough! Eleanor was able to do a lot of it with very little help which was great. We supplemented the cutters sent in the pack with our own and Eleanor really enjoyed making different shapes and decorating them when the biscuits were cooked. They tasted delicious too!

This was a really good activity as it could be done in stages - the dough needed chilling in the fridge which gave us a nice break to do other things, then the cooking and cooling created another break. This meant that Eleanor didn't get bored at any stage and it filled most of an afternoon too. The clear-up wasn't too onerous either. Definitely a good school holiday activity!

Model painting

Also included in the pack was a money box with paints to decorate. Eleanor loves to get arty so this was a great activity for her, and one that required minimal set-up. The thing that puts me off painting the most is the set-up and clean-up, but when it all comes in a kit with the paints in little pots it takes a lot of the stress out of it.

We did find the paint colours provided a bit limited, but that wasn't a big problem as Eleanor enjoyed mixing little bits of paint in old milk bottle lids to get the colours she wanted. 

This was a great activity for filling half an hour or so - Eleanor could get on with it independently while I did other things which was really handy as the housework really mounts up in the school holidays. It was a bit messy (but that could just be down to my messy child) but overall not too much hassle.

Card decorating

Another good activity for creative kids. The pack supplied us with blank cards, felt tip pens, an array of stickers and a set of pipe cleaners, pom poms and googly eyes. Perfect for letting Eleanor's imagination run wild!

This is probably my favourite type of activity - set up in no time, can be done completely independently and hardly any mess afterwards. Eleanor really enjoyed it too, thinking very carefully about which stickers to use and what pictures to draw. The first card she did was quite simply decorated but the next day she made another card using pompoms, googly eyes and a piece of pipe cleaner to make a monster picture - I wish I'd got a picture of that one but she put it in the envelope too soon!

All in all this is a great rainy day activity: super easy for parent and child, very creative and can be done again and again so you can spread it out over days!

Calming glitter jar

I've been meaning to make something like this with Eleanor for a while. She struggles to control her emotions sometimes so I thought this could be helpful in calming her down. So I was really happy to see it included in the activity pack. There was a jar, biodegradable glitter (extra points for eco credentials), clear glue, food colouring and instructions so all I had to provide was water.

Again this was a fairly quick project to do, probably taking less than half an hour, and required quite a bit of supervision. But it was fun to do together and Eleanor loved adding in the food colouring and glitter - she was very happy that it was blue, her favourite colour!

This is a good activity for when you have a bit of time to spare, and it results in something which will (hopefully) come in very useful in handling little people's big feelings!


The last project included in the activity pack was a Grasshead. I really like the idea of growing something with kids - in better weather we like to get the kids helping in the garden, but as it was rainy most of the week, I thought this would provide a good alternative. The idea is that you water the head daily and after a few days grass would start to grow which the kids can then 'style'. Sadly after a week, our Mrs Grasshead (as christened by Eleanor) still looks like this ...

Now this is not necessarily a criticism of the product - I am notorious for killing indoor plants so may well have over- or under-watered it. Or maybe the time scales given are a little optimistic. This is possibly a better activity for a longer holiday though, as just watering it daily didn't fill a huge amount of time. Ah well, you can't win them all!!

And a bonus activity ...

Of course, all of these activities are good for a school-age child but I felt a bit bad for my toddler Ezra. Luckily the activities were packed with green shredded paper which I thought he'd find fun. So I hid some farm animals in the box ...

Of course, I should have predicted they wouldn't stay in the box for long ...

I won't show you the photos of the living room a few minutes later but let's just say once Eleanor got hold of the paper things got very messy!!

We really enjoyed the variety of activities in this pack - it was good to have projects that filled different lengths of time, and that stimulated Eleanor's creativity in different ways. I think the baking was the definite favourite but the calming glitter jar has created a really useful item for us too. The pack has given me lots of inspiration for future rainy-school-holiday projects!

What activities do your kids enjoy in the school holidays?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with the activity pack shown by Sheffied Mutual for the purposes of this review but all words, images and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Review: Stickerkid Name Labels and Stickers

School uniform. Is it the bane of anyone else's life? Trying to keep it all clean and ironed, (yes, ironed - proper button-up shirts here *groan*) getting all manner of stains out (you can find a tip on removing pen marks in this post) and of course making sure everything is labelled so that when something inevitably goes missing, it can be identified five years later when it finally resurfaces.

Eleanor turned six just after Christmas. Now when she started school I was canny and bought age 5-6 clothes so she'd be in them for ages. And it looked like I might get away with stringing them out a bit longer as she's a tad short for her age, but just before her birthday she started catching up in the height department. So that means new uniform.

Having run out of name labels in Reception because she just couldn't stop wrecking shirts, I was very happy to hear from Stickerkid who kindly offered me a review pack of their kids' name labels. The pack they offered was the Discover Stickerkid set which includes 60 small stickers, (for non-clothing items such as stationery, water bottles etc) 22 medium stickers and 20 iron-on name labels.

Small stickers to the top of the image, name labels to the left and medium stickers to the right
I liked how you could personalise the stickers not only with the text but also with colour, font and even an image for the medium stickers. I was worried this would be a tricky process but the website was really clear and easy to use, the only challenge was choosing the right combination! As Eleanor's favourite colour is blue I felt confident I was making the right choice, but the image was trickier as she changes her interests so often! (And because, as you may have guessed, I'm hoping to be able to use the same stickers for little brother Ezra!) After hovering over the rocket and the football I opted for a cute stylised tree as I thought this would be most suitable for both kids. My only slight niggle was the inclusion of 'boys' and 'girls' categories, I think those images could have been sorted in less gender-specific terms.

Delivery only took a few days and I was really impressed by the quality. I soon had a chance to put the stickers to the test as Eleanor has started taking her own snacks to school. I used one of the medium stickers on her snack pot and, having been through the dishwasher twice, it shows no signs of budging! The colours are really vibrant on the stickers and the font very clear and easy to read.

A new set of tights gave me a chance to test out the iron-on labels. They were really easy to apply - just holding the iron down for 30 seconds, no faffing around with repeated pressing - and look to have fused well to the fabric. I haven't tested them out in the washing machine yet but will report back when I have. Again the font is really clear and the labels are smooth after application so won't rub or scratch. I like that these labels are removable too, so if any clothes are ever in a fit state to be passed on I can do!!

Apologies for the slightly dodgy photo, it's surprisingly hard to photograph the inner waistband of tights!!
The Discover Stickerkid pack is £14.99 which I think is great value, and there are lots of other packs on the website to choose from too.

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with the Discover Stickerkid pack for the purposes of this review, however all images, words and opinions are my own.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Four Female-Led First Chapter Book Series

There has been a lot of discussion in the world of children's books about a recent Guardian article talking about the gender imbalance in picture books. It's definitely something I've noticed over my six years of reading picture books, first with Eleanor and now with Ezra - it can be hard to find books with an equal gender balance, and many are male-dominated, sometimes featuring no females at all. (I even wrote a post bemoaning this a few years ago!)

But now that Eleanor is well and truly an independent reader I've noticed an interesting difference in chapter books. It's much easier to find ones with female lead characters - and some of them are pretty kick-ass too! She's now mostly moved on from the shorter 'first' chapter books but I thought I'd share some great chapter book series we came across that are suitable for newly independent readers and feature fun, feisty girls!

N.B. I've deliberately chosen not to describe these books as 'for girls' as I think boys can, and should, read books about girls too. All the series I've featured are ones I think a boy would enjoy just as much as a girl.

The 'Squishy McFluff' series by Pip Jones and Ella Okstad

These books are great first step up from picture books. Nice and short with colour illustrations and told in rhyme, the format feels very familiar to young readers. The eponymous Squishy is actually an invisible cat belonging to the mischievous and curious Ava. Together they get into all sorts of trouble which is sure to get any child giggling! We especially enjoyed 'Squishy McFluff Meets Mad Nana Dot'!

'The Princess in Black' Series by Shannon & Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham

This series is a new discovery for us - we just got the first one for Christmas - but it's a lot of fun and I'll definitely be on the lookout for the other titles in the series! It's a great book for lovers of princess and/or superheroes, as seemingly prim Princess Magnolia transforms into a monster-fighting superhero. It's a brilliant subversion of the usual trope of the helpless princess awaiting rescue - Magnolia is the one who does the rescuing here!

The 'Anna Hibiscus' Series by Atinuke and Lauren Tobia

One thing that first chapter books do seem to be lacking in is diversity - although I may just be looking in the wrong places so do tell me if you know of some good diverse ones! The Anna Hibiscus series bucks the trend as it is set in an unnamed country in Africa and features mixed-race Anna and her extended African family. I really loved how these books introduced Eleanor to a completely different culture and encouraged her to think about important issues such as poverty and generosity.

The 'Dotty Detective' series by Clara Vulliamy

Eleanor is still enthralled by these books, which are a good next step from the shorter chapter books aimed at emerging readers. They are still very easy to read, with the text broken up with plenty of illustrations and variations in font size and style, and are written like a diary so are very easy to follow. Dotty is a curious, observant and very funny narrator who, together with her best friend Beans and dog McClusky, is determined to find the answer to every riddle she comes across. The series is a witty, gentle introduction to the detective genre which has always been so popular with kids - how many of us pored over Famous Five as children?! 

So those are my recommendations for chapter books series for emerging or 'first' readers - I'd love to hear any other suggestions you have!

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum

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Saturday, 20 January 2018

Sick Days - Then And Now

I've not been keeping up well with blogging recently. This is because I've been ill since before New Year so when I do get a bit of child-free time I just want to veg out and try to get over this seemingly never-ending bug.

But it seems like it's here to stay for a bit longer so I may as well use it as material for a post, eh?

Remember staying in bed when you were ill? Those were the days! Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

Something I often think about when I'm ill is how different it is now to when I was at work. For the record, I did my fair share of dragging myself in when ill - but now I wonder why? Yes there's the guilt of letting colleagues down, and the worry about who's going to do all the stuff you need to get sorted, but really, I wish I'd taken a few more sick days before I had kids. Because, seriously, in hindsight they were BLISS!

Here's how my sick day routines compare from then and now.

Waking Up

Then: Alarm goes off at 7am. Realise within five minutes I'm too ill to go in to work. Reset alarm for 8.55am so I can phone in sick. Go back to sleep.
Now: Ezra wakes up at 4am. Try to feed him back to sleep then when that inevitably fails start making little whimpering noises in the hope my husband will take pity on me and get up with him. (To give my husband credit, he usually does.) If this is successful, sleep until 6am when husband needs to get ready for work and I need to take over toddler watch.


Then: After phoning in, sleep for as long as humanly possible before shuffling through to the kitchen, grabbing as much food as I can carry and plonking myself on the sofa.
Now: The school run waits for no mum. I still have to get both kids fed, dressed and out of the house for 8.30am, unless one of my wonderful friends is able to take Eleanor to school, in which case I at least don't have to dress Ezra. Otherwise, wrap myself up as warm as possible and walk to school regardless.


Then: Daytime TV. DVDs. 'Friends' boxset. Sleep.
Now: CBeebies in an effort to keep Ezra relatively subdued while I flop on the sofa and make sad noises. Occasionally interrupted by dealing with chores that won't wait (laundry, dishwasher, nappy changes) or collecting Ezra from upstairs after he's managed to wriggle under the stairgate while I was dozing. 


Then: Whatever's easy. Crisp sandwiches. Chocolate. Maybe a satsuma in a vague gesture towards trying to be healthy and get some vitamins. Cup-a-soup. Basically junk food until my husband got home and made tea.
Now: Still a fair amount of junk food but as I still have to provide healthy food for the kids I may actually make the effort to get myself something decent. Oh and I make tea now. Which, in all honesty, when I'm feeling rubbish probably won't be that healthy, but, y'know, I still have to get off my bum and sort it.


Then: Attempt regular conversation with the husband after tea before giving up, changing into fresh pyjamas (oh yeah I forgot that - remember not actually having to get dressed on a sick day?) and going to bed at 7.30pm.
Now: Attempt to help with the kids' bedtime routine as much as possible, desperately trying to persuade Eleanor she wants an early night when what she actually wants is to ask me suddenly-urgent questions arising from today's Geography lesson and bounce on the armchair. Finally get her to bed, flop on the sofa to wait until she's properly asleep before risking going back upstairs myself, only to find myself too exhausted to move and ending up playing on my phone until 10pm.

Starting to see why I've been ill for three weeks ...

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Review: 'Words And Your Heart' by Kate Jane Neal

You know when you read a book and you get that feeling that it's really important? Well, that's the feeling I got when I read my latest Toppsta win, 'Words And Your Heart'.

'Words And Your Heart' by Kate Jane Neal
(Firstly I'd like to apologise for the quality of the photos in this post - I have an ear infection so can't lean over to take photos of a flat surface so had to improvise!)

This is an absolutely gorgeous little book addressing a really big issue for young children - the power of their words. It talks through how words can hurt, but also how they can make people feel better, and what a great feeling that is. It uses a repeated refrain describing the heart as 'the little bit inside of you that makes you, you' which helps reinforce the message for younger readers.

'Words And Your Heart' - how words affect your heart
The illustrations are just adorable - really simple with a very limited palette, but to me that give them more power. They keep the message clear and powerful without distracting the reader with extra details. I think the illustration style would also make it more palatable to slightly older readers, so they feel more like they're reading a cartoon rather than a picture book.

'Words And Your Heart' - Your words have power!
I could see this book being used really effectively in early years settings and schools to teach children about the power of words. It surprised me how early on children start to use words as weapons against each other so I think it's really important to get this message right from the start.

'Words And Your Heart' - looking after each other's hearts
I have to admit, when Eleanor (6) read the book she wasn't impressed. She's going through a 'picture books are for babies' stage and thought the repeated phrase was 'silly'. Pfft, six year olds. Having said that, I've spotted her sneaking a read of it a few times since so I suspect it was all show! I really hope she comes round to it, she's at a really tricky stage where words are often very hurtful and I think this message would really help her.

As for Ezra (1), he's a little young for it but I definitely plan to keep rereading it so it becomes ingrained in his mind to use words for good. (His main use of words right now is to demand things in single words, to be fair.)

I really recommend this book for anyone with children of preschool/early school age, and anyone working with those children. It's a beautiful book that you'll appreciate as an adult, and it's message is so key it needs to be spread.

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 8 January 2018

Review and GIVEAWAY (closed): 3 New Picture Books From Maverick

**N.B. The giveaway is now closed**

So, it's 2 weeks since Christmas - have your kids read through all their new books already?! If so, I have some fab new books to share with you.

November 2017 releases from Maverick
Back in November, before Christmas took over my reading life, Maverick Children's Books sent me their latest picture books to review. These three books are a lot of fun to read aloud with little ones! 

Bears Don't Eat Egg Sandwiches by Julie Fulton and Rachel Suzanne

Bears Don't Eat Egg Sandwiches

In this clever little story, Jack is just settling down to a lunch of egg sandwiches when a very hungry bear comes to visit. But bears don't eat egg sandwiches - and this bear has his eye on a rather larger lunch! This is a really fun one to read, as the bear gets increasingly annoyed with Jack's offer of egg sandwiches so you can really go to town with your angry bear voice! It could be a bit frightening for more sensitive children, but it's great to see how Jack outsmarts the bear in the end. The illustrations are very charming and will make you crave egg sandwiches!!

Game Of Stones by Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson

Game Of Stones

Pod and his brother Hinge are bored of the Stone Age, so Pod decides to invent a new game to entertain them both. But each one ends in disaster until he creates his biggest invention yet. This is a good book for lovers of word play, not only because of the tongue-in-cheek TV reference in the title, but because of the puntastic names that Pod comes up with for his games! It's also a good book for encouraging children to make things for themselves and find their own remedies for boredom. Watson's illustrations are very entertaining too!

Beware The Mighty Bitey by Heather Pindar and Susan Batori

The Mighty Bitey Piranhas are feeling hungry! They lie in wait under a rickety bridge while a string of musical animals pass over on their way to Cougar's party. Can they persuade enough animals to stop and play their instruments and make the bridge break? This is another fantastic one for reading aloud, as you can really enjoy mimicking the animals and their instruments! It's another slightly perilous one but don't worry - the piranhas get their comeuppance!! Again, the illustrations are full of fun  with plenty for little ones to spot.

Do you like the sound of these? I have a copy of each book to give away to one lucky winner! To be in with a chance of winning just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below. Don't forget to comment on this post - why not tell me about the best book you or your children received over the holidays?

**N.B. This giveaway is now closed.**

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Open to UK residents only. Please see the giveaway for full Terms and Conditions.

Disclaimer: I was provided with the above books for the purpose of this review.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit

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