Monday, 15 October 2018

Review: 'Create Your Own Alien Adventure' by Andrew Judge and Chris Judge

It's been a while since I've written about the books Girl Child is reading. This is partly because she reads to herself all the time now (sob) and often so quickly that she will have read a new book a dozen times over and made it too dog-eared for photographs before I've had chance to photograph it. Also, the books she tends to read are ... not really much to write about. I try my best not to be a children's book snob but, good grief, when will the Rainbow Magic phase end??!

But just recently I gave her a book that, not only did I manage to photograph before she destroyed it, but also inspired me to write about it. That book is 'Create Your Own Alien Adventure' by Andrew Judge and Chris Judge.

This isn't the kind of book Girl Child would normally pick herself but it came as part of a book bundle I bought over a year ago. I put most of the books to one side so I had a handy piles of surprise books if ever she needed something new to cheer her up (or keep her quiet!). I held onto this one for a while wondering if the alien theme would put her off or scare her as she's very sensitive, but when I did give it to her this summer she loved it!

The idea behind the book is brilliant - readers are actively encouraged to contribute to the story by drawing parts of the illustrations. As an avid doodler (who has been known to colour in the illustrations of her books *flinch*) Girl Child loved this aspect of the book - although she stopped short at the instruction to fold and even rip pages. Perhaps that was just a little too far down the book destruction road for her.

She also enjoyed reading the actual story, which she did over and over even without doing the drawing part. When an alien appears in the window of Halftone School in Doodletown, Daisy Doodle sets off in pursuit of it - and eventually befriends B'ob the alien, helps him repair his spaceship and flies back with him to Planet Greyscale, where the tyrannical leader has banned all colour. It's a really exciting story with plenty of twists, written in simple but lively language. There are also options to pursue different plotlines much like the 'make your own adventure' books that were popular years ago. I love that a girl is the main hero of the story, being brave enough to set off after an alien, fly into outer space and take on an intergalactic tyrant!

I really loved the idea behind this book and I think it would be a great gift for a child who has a strong creative flair. It could easily keep them entertained for hours - and even suggests going back and colouring all the illustrations in at the end! I imagine it would come in very handy on a long trip, or any time there's some waiting around to do. The only drawback is that obviously it can't really be passed on once completed, although to be fair most of our books are so well-read we don't get to pass them on anyway.

Have you come across any other books like this? I'd love to hear about them if you have!

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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Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener In ... September

Time for another post in my monthly green living series. But not quite like the previous ones.

You see, last month I felt like I hit a bit of a brick wall. My attempts at switching to soap nuts for laundry failed dismally - clothes were coming out still stained and the nappies had a dodgy smell about them. So in the interests of saving water by not having to wash everything twice, I gave up on soap nuts altogether. I also gave up on finding an alternative to shampoo (yes, I will post more about this, I promise). And generally, the rocky start to the school year meant I just didn't have time to examine my day to day existence and work out how to be more eco friendly.

But here's the thing. We're still doing a lot of the things I've mentioned in previous posts - using paper bags and Tupperwares at the supermarket, buying as much as we can from our fab local zero waste shop, using more eco-friendly cleaning products and so on. And actually, we were doing a fair bit before that. Even before I started this blog series we:
  • Got most of our milk delivered in glass bottles
  • Recycled as much as we could
  • Used cloth nappies
  • Walked the school run and as many short distances as possible
  • Composted our fruit and veg leftovers
  • Very rarely bought bottled drinks or takeaway hot drinks

And probably much more. So finding new eco friendly things to do every month was always going to be tricky!

That said I am determined to keep going with my efforts, so if you have any suggestions about what I can do next let me know!

Monday, 1 October 2018

Review: 'Froggy Day' by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos

We're a bit fixed on frogs in our house at the moment. Toddler used to say 'bob' instead of 'frog' which I think we can all agree is adorable so we'd find any excuse to get him to say it! Sadly he's now moved onto 'bog' but does sometimes accompany it with an enthusiastic 'ribbip!' and an inept but cute attempt to frog-leap, so we still like to point out frogs to him.

As you can imagine, I was pretty excited when Maverick Children's Books sent us a copy of their new picture book 'Froggy Day' to review! As you can imagine this book features A LOT of frogs!

One day the weather presenter on TV gives a very unusual forecast - it's going to be a froggy day! Before long, everywhere is teeming with frogs; the supermarket, the school, the building site and more. Chaos descends but the children love it!

This book is an absolute joy to read aloud. It's silly, it's funny, and it's packed with brilliant onomatopoeias to get little ones giggling!

There's lots of word play too, which I personally really enjoy and can also be appreciated by preschoolers and young school age children who are just starting to understand puns. My six year old, who pretends to be too old for picture books, said it was really funny and, "the best picture book ever!"

I love the bright, bold illustrations. I first came across Barbara Bakos's work in the fantastic 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans' and there are echoes of that book on one spread set in a farm which made me smile. I really love her quirky, humorous style and I think there is a lot of fun to be had trying to count all the frogs and spot what they're getting up to in each picture.

This is a really fun and quirky book, great for sharing with toddlers and preschoolers and making them giggle, and a must for any little frog lover!

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with this 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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Thursday, 27 September 2018

I Don't Know What I'm Doing

A while ago I was talking to a friend who reads this blog and she made a comment about how it made her feel bad because I seemed like such a good parent. She meant it as a joke, but it took me by surprise a little - I've always been wary of blogs that sugar coat parenting, but never had it occurred to me that I'm a culprit too. So I thought I'd add a dose of realism to my blog.

The truth is, whatever parenting guru persona I emulate, I don't know what I'm doing. I've read the books, I've even done a course, but I still don't have a clue.

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

I'm on slightly safer ground with Toddler. After all, I've done this stage before, and he's an 'easy' kid. He's not particularly loud or demanding, he entertains himself while I get on with what I need to do. I rarely have to discipline him because he's pretty easygoing, and my standards have lowered now I really understand what a toddler is and isn't capable of. The only thing that is less than ideal is his sleep, but I was prepared for a rubbish sleeper by his sister who didn't sleep through until she was three and a half. I know he will sleep through one day so I can live with it for now.

Trouble is, because he's so easy, and because I'm so shattered from both lack of sleep and from dealing with Girl Child, he's kind of left to raise himself. I don't do half the stimulating activities with him that I used to do with his sister, and our only regular groups are ones I volunteer at so he's mostly left to his own devices. I suspect this is why he's lagging in some skills - he still can't speak in sentences, he doesn't draw yet, and he can't jump. And while he is making some progress and seems mostly content, I can't shake the feeling that I'm neglecting him. But then I don't know where to start with helping him to develop, and there's that pile of laundry/washing up/paperwork to sort out. Always.

And then there's Girl Child. Six months on from her diagnosis of autism, I'm still no closer to knowing how to parent her. I find myself wondering whether any of the strategies I've read about over the years are even going to work with an autistic child. Positive discipline just feels very vague for a child who needs concretes and black and whites. She won't infer from my example what she should do - or at least, not when I'm setting a good example. Stating the boundary won't stop her from overstepping it if there's no clear consequence. I have tried logical consequences, but she doesn't always understand these or learn from them. Too often I resort to shouting - and I mean proper screaming. Which goes against everything I believe in, but I don't know how else to get through to her. And of course then she goes into panic mode so I achieve nothing anyway. It's still so unclear what of her behaviour is just six-year-old boundary testing and what is autism, so I don't know where to even start. And I'm in a constant state of stress from trying to figure it out.

So if anyone is under the illusion that I'm a wonderful parent, I'm not. I'm human, I'm learning, I'm making mistakes on a daily basis. I'm no better than you. I'm still trying, because my kids are worth it. But oh, how I wish I knew what I was doing.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Four Picture Books Which Celebrate Difference

We're all different in some way, but some of us stand out from the crowd more than others. And for children, that can be really hard. Girl Child has just started Year 2 and I have noticed that since starting school she has become more aware of her differences and more keen to fit in. So it's really important to me to show my children that their differences are what make them special and unique, they are to be celebrated rather than hidden. It's also important to me to show my children that if other people are different to us, then that's also a good thing and we should accept them.

Books are a great way of getting children thinking about differences, and I've been lucky enough to receive several picture books recently that deal with being different and celebrate that.

Not Yet A Yeti by Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal (Maverick Children's Books)

George's whole family are yetis. But he isn't, yet. He doesn't want to lure stray hikers to their doom like his grandad, or chase people until they scream with terror like his dad. But then he talks to his mum who makes him realise he doesn't have to be a yeti - and he transforms into another fantasy creature instead! I really like the narrative structure of this book, which has just enough repetition to keep little ones engaged but not so much that it becomes dull to read for the adult. The pictures are really bright and cheerful, making the 'terrifying' yetis not too scary for children. And the message is fantastic - when George realises he isn't a yeti, his family accepts him without question, and even change their ways to accommodate him.

Portia the Pear by Nicola Hulme and Elena Mascolo (Tiny Tree Children's Books)

Portia is a misshapen, discoloured pear who tries to hide behind the leaves of her tree. The other plump and rosy pears make fun of her and boast about their beauty, but Portia is befriended by a butterfly and a robin, and the wind in the tree reminds her that, "this will pass." This is a really quirky story which captures the feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy associated with not being conventionally beautiful. It's central message is that we all belong and have a place no matter what we look like. It deals with some difficult emotions in a really gentle way, and the illustrations are gorgeous and filled with warmth. This would be a great book for reading with someone who feels inferior to their peers.

The Mole and The Flower by Helen Marshall and Christopher A Martin (Tiny Tree Children's Books)

Flower was beautiful fifty years ago, but now he is wilted and bitter. Until one day when a young mole appears in his garden searching for the most beautiful flower of all. Flower realises she is blind, and she decides he must be the most beautiful flower. They become great friends and Mole brings happiness back into Flower's life. This is a lovely story of intergenerational friendship, and of seeing past age and disability to reveal people's true beauty. It is told in rhyme, which is a bit awkward rhythmically at points but carries the story along really well. The illustrations have a timeless feel to them, reminiscent of classics like the Brambly Hedge series.With beautiful depictions of autumn and winter it's a really good book for this time of year too!

Binx the Jinx by Michelle Hird (Tiny Tree Children's Books)

When Binx the black cat moves to a new home he is excited to go exploring - until he runs into the neighbourhood cats who shun him, saying he's bad luck. He feels overwhelmed by the nasty things the cats say to him, until another cat comes to stand up for him. I really love how this book tackles the issue of bullying really clearly but still sensitively. In one illustration, it shows the feelings and thoughts in Binx's mind, including anxiety and sadness. I think it's really important to reveal the impact words can have on others, even if it is hard to see and read. The story is written in rhyme, which will appeal to younger readers, and the illustrations have a very modern, vibrant feel to them. I love how Binx's new-found friend is unafraid to stand up to the bullies, and the final page strikes a happy and hopeful tone.

What books have you read that celebrate difference?

DISCLAIMER: I was sent all books in this post for the purposes of review, but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 17 September 2018

Picture Books For Future Globetrotters

We're halfway through September and the summer holidays are well and truly fading into memory. Did you take your kids on any exciting trips? We had our first family trip abroad, flying to northern France to stay in a Eurocamp. Unfortunately it turns out Toddler gets travel sick on planes, and Girl Child was so overwhelmed by anxiety about being in another country we didn't leave the campsite until we literally had to! So I think our overseas adventures will have to be in book form for now. Which is fine, because there are some great books about exploring other countries! Here are three of our favourites in our home collection.

Around The World With Mouk by Marc Boutavant

This was bought for Girl Child by her uncle when she was just 2 or 3 years old and is so well-loved I've had to tape it back together - hence the strategic book placement in the photo above! Mouk the bear leaves his home in Paris to travel around the world, and sends postcards back from his destinations to his friends. His journey takes in Lapland, Madagascar, Australia, China, United States and more, and wherever he goes he makes new friends. The thing I love about this book is the cartoon-like illustration style, with speech bubbles strewn across the page. It means that you can gradually read the story in more detail as your child gets older, and there are lots of little side stories and jokes going on in the pictures. It also incorporates lots of interesting facts and details about the countries visited so is a great learning tool.

WatAdventure in Australia by Richard David Lawman and Katie Williams

This book was sent to us recently by Tiny Tree Children's Books from their parent company Matthew James Publishing. It's a really interesting concept - ideas and artwork were submitted by thousands of children via PopJam and incorporated into the story. The main character, Lola, is based on a competition winner on PopJam. Lola climbs into a den in her room with her toys, Jiblets the monkey and Sirius the dog, and emerges on the Watabus with her toys brought to life. They travel to Australia where Jiblets promptly disappears, and Lola and Sirius go in search of him, accidentally taking in all the sights in Oz. It's a really clever way of covering different destinations in the country, and the rhyming text makes it an entertaining read. I love the quirky illustrations, especially knowing that real children played a part in creating them!

Off We Go To Mexico! by Laurie Krebs and Christopher Corr

I first came across this book in our library over four years ago and I got my own copy when I briefly sold Barefoot Books at events and markets. (My main downfall as a children's bookseller is that I wanted to buy all the books for me!) It's a fun, vibrant book showing a family on holiday in Mexico, taking in all the sights from the bustle of Mexico City to the markets in ancient villages and exploring mountains and pyramids. It's another rhyming book, my favourite to read aloud, and each double page spread gives Spanish translations of key words so it's great for introducing the language. I also love that it shows babywearing, although I have to say the sling is a very strange one!

What picture books about other countries have you read to your children? Do you find reading about other countries and cultures makes them more interested in travelling?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of WatAdventure in Australia for the purposes of this review, however all words and opinions are my own.

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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Saturday, 15 September 2018

Two, Take Two

Toddler turned two and a half recently. It crept up on us and I'm still slightly in shock about it. He's now closer to his third birthday than his second, on the final stretch of toddlerhood before he officially becomes a preschooler. I'm stunned.

It got me thinking about how different having a two year old has been this time around. I remember finding Girl Child's third year exhausting - I was living on the edge, counting down the months until I could get her into preschool and get a break! Whereas this time I don't even know if I want him to go to preschool at all, I'm enjoying having him around so much.

This makes me feel a little guilty about my desperation to fob my daughter off on others for a few hours a week! But she was a much more challenging child, and at that stage I didn't know why. She needed almost constant entertainment, as if she couldn't work out how to play of her own accord. She was strong-willed, always wanting her way but not always knowing what her way was. She was very talkative and loud with it, she rarely sat still and she had frequent meltdowns. Of course, I thought at the time she was just a 'spirited child' but in retrospect I now see the signs of autism, and wish I'd gone easier on her and on myself.

And I think that has made my approach with Toddler different. He has always been an 'easier' child anyway - he rarely cried as a baby, he's generally happy to go with the flow and can entertain himself for brief, but increasing, periods. Don't get me wrong, we still get toddler tantrums, there are regular times when he is not at all impressed about having to fit round the school run schedule, and sometimes he is very determined in getting his own way. But on the whole he's a far less intense child. And part of me wonders whether this is because I'm a less intense parent now.

With Girl Child, her speech was far better in her toddler years, which tricked me into thinking she could cope with more than she really could. I now realise that a lot of her speech was akin to echolalia (where children, or sometimes adults, repeat back phrases they've heard) - I was reading through old blog posts recently and was reminded of her tendency to sit and recite huge chunks of children's books from memory. I heard a child talking in full, complex sentences, and expected her to have a reasoning well beyond her years. Toddler, by contrast, is actually a little behind in his speech, and so I find myself making far more allowances for him because it's hard to tell how much he understands. My lower expectations of his behaviour make me more relaxed about it, and less likely to lose my temper with him.

I was talking to a friend yesterday about how we treat our children differently without intending to, or possibly even realising. And it made me realise how much, as a first time mum, I chased that next milestone. I was keen to know that Girl Child was keeping up with her peers and it meant that every perceived lag made me fraught with anxiety. By this stage I was unsuccessfully trying to potty train her, partly because all her peers were doing it. I haven't even tried with Toddler because he doesn't seem ready yet, and he has so few friends of a similar age that I just don't feel that pressure. And while his speech does cause me angst, I'm far more laid back about his development generally. He's my last baby, I'm in no rush to get him to grow up.

And of course, I know now that 'this too shall pass' is, most often, true. He will start to talk more clearly and with that will come the ability to express himself better and tantrum less. He will sleep through eventually. Everything that needs to happen will happen, I just need to keep gently guiding him.

There are similarities between my children at this age though. Toddler also struggles to sit still for long. He likes to work his little muscles, walking or climbing or generally playing outside, just like his sister did as a toddler. He shares her love of books. And, like Girl Child, Toddler is still nowhere near sleeping through. Can't win them all, eh?!