Thursday, 30 November 2017

Advent Acts Of Kindness

On Monday I wrote about a new 'tradition' I'm starting this year with my kids - the Book Advent. But last year I started another Advent tradition, which was Advent Acts Of Kindness.

A few years back I bought a wooden Advent calendar from a local charity shop - I think it cost around £5 but I thought it would be good to save us buying overpriced calendars every year. Plus it meant that, as Girl Child was just a toddler at the time, I could put healthier treats in it instead of giving her a daily dose of chocolate.

Last year I thought she was old enough to add another level to the preparations. I'd seen about the idea of giving children activities to do every day through Advent, and more specific ones about 'Random Acts Of Kindness', and I thought this was a great way to encourage children to see Advent as a time of preparation and participation, not just eating sweets!

You can find all kinds of printables online with pre-written prompts, but I wanted to be able to tailor the activities to our situation so I quickly designed my own little slips to print off and fill in myself. Not the prettiest solution admittedly, but it gave me a little more control over what we did.

As Girl Child was at school during the week this limited our time a little so, for the most part, the actions were small things we could either fit around school (such as litter picking on the way home or phoning relatives in the evening) or she could do at school (like talking to someone new or hugging a friend). We saved more complicated things for weekends (e.g. baking for her teachers) or the school holiday (anything requiring a visit). We also used it to encourage her to help around the house and get her Christmas cards written!

Why did we choose Advent Acts Of Kindness? For me as a Christian, Christmas is all about love. And so taking time to think of others, to do something kind for someone else, even if it's just a case of saying hello or feeding the birds, can be a great reminder of what the season is all about, and of how we can express love for others in lots of different ways.

I think incorporating a bit of kindness and selflessness into children's daily lives is an important lesson whatever the time of year, but I certainly found the structure of Advent very helpful. I can't say with all honestly it started a lasting trend of daily do-gooding - the excesses of Christmas and birthday celebrations kind of detracted from it a bit - but hopefully if we do it every year it will plant a seed that will help both my children grow into kind, selfless and compassionate people.

So tomorrow I start it all again! What Advent Acts Of Kindness will we do this year? Comment below with your suggestions, I'll try to keep you updated on our progress via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Monday, 27 November 2017

Our Book Advent

I first heard of the idea of a Book Advent about three years ago, during my brief spell as a children's bookseller. I loved the idea, but couldn't afford to get 24 Christmas themed books (I know you can use any books, but I thought that Christmassy ones would feel more special). But over the last three years I've slowly stockpiled a collection of Christmas and winter-themed books so at last I think we can try for a Book Advent!

I still had three books to get at the start of Advent which means that I couldn't do an arty pile of wrapped books (you should check out BookBairn's, it's stunning!) but then I'm not keen on wrapping anyway! I'm going to opt for a Christmassy bag hung somewhere with a book appearing in it every day.

My collection is a hotch-potch of bought, given and acquired books, and I'll note where each comes from in the list. There are a couple of days where I've doubled up books - I'm hoping that for the most part both my children will enjoy the same book, but as Toddler is not even 2 and Girl Child is nearly 6 with a very high reading age, I've paired short books for the former with more challenging books for the latter.

So here's my current plan. It may change depending on which other books I get. I'll be reviewing a few of these over Advent and will link in any reviews I do (and one I did many years ago).

1st December - 'Stick Man' by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (bought - actually pinched out of our regular bookshelf but hey, it has Santa!)

2nd December - 'Oliver Elephant' by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens (Toppsta giveaway)

3rd December - 'The First Christmas' (given at playgroup)

4th December - 'Dear Santa' by Rod Campbell (charity shop buy)/ 'The Princess and the White Bear King' by Tanya Robin Batt and Nicoletta Ceccoli (bought)

5th December - 'Snow Bear' by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown (gift)

6th December - 'Refuge' by Anne Booth and Sam Usher (bought)

7th December - 'Sam's Snowflake' by Gillian Shields and Rosie Reeve (gift)

8th December - 'A Letter For Bear' by David Lucas (bought, after years of longing)

9th December - 'The Christmas Poem' by Bob Hartman and Honor Ayres (given at playgroup)

10th December - 'Teddy Bear Postman' by Phoebe and Selby Worthington (hand-me-down from my husband!)

11th December - 'Christmas Around The World' by Lesley Sims and Angelo Ruta (bought)

12th December - 'The Fox's Tale' by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen (gift)

13th December - 'Mr Grizzly's Christmas' by Libby Hamilton and Maggie Kneen (gift)

14th December - 'Thomas's Christmas Party' (hand-me-down from my husband)

15th December - 'The Christmas Star' (given at playgroup)

16th December - 'Busy Christmas' (bought)

17th December - 'Snowflakes' by Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson (bought)

18th December - 'Babushka' by Sandra Ann Horn and Sophie Fatus (bought)

19th December - 'Last Stop On The Reindeer Express' by Maudie Powell and Karl James Mountford (giveaway by Along Came Poppy - received after the above photo was taken)

20th December - 'Coming Home' by Michael Morpurgo (bought)

21st December - 'The Miracle Of The First Poinsettia' by Joanne Oppenheim and Fabian Negrin (bought)

22nd December - 'Maisy's Christmas Eve' by Lucy Cousins (charity shop buy)

23rd December - 'The Wise Men' (hand-me-down from friends)/ 'Christmas With Princess Mirror-Belle' by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (bought)

24th December - 'The Night Before Christmas' by Clement C Moore and Eric Puybaret (bought)

As you can see, it really doesn't have to be expensive to put together a book advent - at present, less than half of the books were bought new and a few of those were part of a deal - you just need to be good at hoarding and keeping your eyes open for good buys!

Are you doing a Book Advent? What are your favourite Christmas books?

 Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: 'I Want To Go First!' by Richard Byrne

In my relentless pursuit of books I've recently started entering pretty much every competition I come across to win children's books. Recently, this effort did pay off when I won a signed copy of Richard Byrne's latest picture book, 'I Want To Go First!'

I've been reading Byrne's books for a while now, picking them up at the library every time I spot a new one, so it's great to finally have one to call my own. Er, the kids' own, I mean. I really love the way he plays with the book format - many readers will be familiar with his brilliant use of the gutter in 'This Book Just Ate My Dog!' This new title is no exception - it is gleefully meta, drawing attention to the fact it is a book and encouraging the readers to join in the story.

On the first page we are welcomed to the 'Front-Of-The-Book Nature Reserve' and we are then introduced to a family of elephants on their way to the 'Back-Of-The-Book Watering Hole'. Elphie, the smallest elephant, wants to lead the way but the rules dictate that the biggest elephant goes first. So he cleverly enlists the help of the reader to get him to the front of the line.

This is a fantastic story for reading aloud, and for encouraging interaction. With every page, Elphie asks the readers to squeak, growl, wobble the book and so on to distract his brothers and sisters so that he can jump the queue. I was a little worried how Toddler would understand the concept of the story, but I enlisted the help of my 5-year-old who enthusiastically joined in with the noises and actions and he couldn't stop laughing at it! Hopefully the more familiar he gets with the story the more he'll understand it and start joining in.

Girl Child, as usual, read the book in her head first, and when I said it was more for reading aloud, said, "but it's funny in my head too!" She loved the fact that all the names began with E - she's very big on alliteration. I don't often get to read aloud to her now she's so confident at reading to herself, so this was a fantastic chance to have a family read-together!

Does Elphie make it to the front of the line? I'll leave you to find out for yourself!

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, 13 November 2017

Review: 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans' by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos

This morning I woke up to news that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called on schools and nurseries to allow children to dress up how they choose, regardless of gender stereotypes. I'm really happy about this, and may write more about it later in the week. But it also reminded me of a picture book I had waiting to review.

When we received a copy of 'Pirates in Classroom 3' from Maverick Books, they also sent a copy of 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans'. Written by Jessie Miller and illustrated by Barbara Bakos, it is the story of a fashion-conscious rooster with a penchant for online shopping. When his new pair of skinny jeans arrives early, he can't wait to show them off to the other animals on the farm.

The other animals, however, are unimpressed and make fun of poor rooster. He hides away until he decides that he doesn't need their approval, he's happy wearing his new jeans and being himself.

I really love the message of this story. It champions the individual and encourages children to dress for themselves and find happiness within rather than looking to other people's opinions for validation. It's also a good reminder not to judge others and to accept, and even applaud, other people's differences - as the other farm animals eventually do.

It's also fantastic to read a story featuring a male character who loves fashion. While skinny jeans aren't necessarily 'girly' they are framed as a clear style choice, and the way the rooster admires them is out of the ordinary for the depiction of boys and men in books. He admires the colours and sparkly stitching, and proclaims, "my bum looks fantastic!" And at the end of the book he purchases a much more flamboyant item - I won't spoil the ending for you though! It's great to have a book celebrating a male character who steps outside the box and loves all things sartorial.

In terms of readability, the text is great - it's written in rhyming couplets which always goes down well with children. I like how there are a few little jokes in there about online shopping that no doubt will go over the kids' heads but will make the adult reader smile!

The illustrations are very bright, bold and cheerful. I particularly liked the little chicks that popped up throughout the book, adding another level of detail to spot as the book becomes more familiar. The farmyard setting is always a winner with children - I've mentioned before that Toddler loves animal-themed books and this one is no exception. He really enjoyed pointing out all the different animals and making their noises - and was very excited by the 'cock-a-doodle-doo' which he loves to emulate!

I really recommend this book. It would be great for a little boy with a sense of style, to affirm that that's OK and it's good to enjoy the clothes you wear. But really it's a story for everyone - a lesson in acceptance and in daring to be different. I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from that message!

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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Monday, 6 November 2017

Review: 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse

Toddler is rather fascinated with pirates at the moment. I think it's down to catching bits of 'Swashbuckle' on TV - if he so much as sees a picture or hears the word 'pirate' he'll swing his arm and say 'arrr!' It's rather cute!

The lovely people at Maverick Books sent me some lovely books recently and I was excited to see a pirate-themed one, 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse. I knew straight away Toddler would love it!

It's a really fun story - a class of young children are one day visited by a pirate searching for treasure and go off on a little adventure with him to find the loot he's after. I love how, although the main child character is a boy, the story shows both boys and girls enthusiastically joining in with the adventure.

Girl Child got to the book before me so was the first to test it out. She really enjoyed it, said it was very funny and that her favourite bit was, "the bad pirate who said really funny things!" Being set in a classroom, it's a really good story for older preschoolers and younger school-age children who could imagine themselves going on an adventure from their own classroom.

When I read it with Toddler there was a lot of enthusiastic arrr-ing going on! As he's still quite small the story went over his head, but he absolutely loved the pictures - once we had read it, he kept turning the pages over to look at the little details in each spread. I particularly liked how expressive the faces were - even though the illustration style is quite simple, you could still spot a range of different expressions. So as Toddler pointed at the different children I could talk about their emotions - "that girl looks excited! That boy looks a bit scared."

We really enjoyed 'Pirates in Classroom 3' and definitely think it's one we'll read over and over - so I'd better improve my dodgy pirate voice!!

DISCLAIMER: I was given one copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own. Well, apart from the ones that were my child's!

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

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