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?!

Monday, 10 September 2018

Three Picture Books For Raising Eco-Conscious Kids

As you may have gathered, the environment and green living are big concerns of mine. I can still remember learning about the effects of pollution and the use of fossil fuels back when I was in primary schools and it seems bizarre that we're still having the same problems today. I often worry about the problems we're leaving for future generations to fix, and whether our efforts are too late. Nonetheless, I still believe it is important to teach children about the importance of caring for our planet. And I think children's books can play a major part in this.

We have recently been reading these three books about the environment, two kindly sent for review by the lovely folk at Tiny Tree Children's Books and one borrowed from our local library (because, as I may have mentioned before, libraries are great).

Poppy's Planet by Russ Brown and Jamie Cosley

This is a really lovely picture book with bright, clear illustrations and fun rhyming text, perfect for reading with little ones. Poppy the Penguin has a special power - unlike other penguins, she can fly. She flies around the Earth and as she goes she sees all the different problems being caused by pollution and climate change - crop failures, deforestation, smog and more - and becomes sad that her planet is being treated so badly. Bravely, there is no happy ending to the story, instead it ends with a call to the readers to take action to protect our planet for Poppy's sake. I think this is really effective as it shows children that even they can do their bit to help, and can prompt conversations about what they can do.

Hello, Mr World by Michael Foreman

This picture book deals with a similar idea - this time, though, it is two children rather than a penguin who see the effects of climate change on the Earth. The children (a boy and a girl, hooray for equality) are playing doctors when they are visited by Mr World, who is feeling too hot and struggling to breathe. They examine their patient, discovering that his ice is melting and he is full of smoke and fumes. They tell Mr World he must look after himself - but Mr World wants our help. This is a really clever book which uses very simple text that even young readers can understand and stay engaged with, and the illustrations are really charming. I love that there is a section at the end for older children which explains climate change in more detail and gives suggestions for ways to help 'Mr World' to get better.

The Weatherbies: Colin Cloud is Making Shapes by Yvonne Fleming and James Salenga

This is the second book in a series explaining how our planet works. Colin Cloud is playing a game with his Weatherbie friends, making different shapes for them to guess, when their rivals The Pollutants arrive to break up their fun. However, Colin and his friends, who each represent a form of weather, use this is as an opportunity to teach The Pollutants about the water cycle and the importance of water to our planet. While this book doesn't directly deal with the environmental challenges we face, it's still a great way of explaining the science behind water and showing why we mustn't waste it. The illustrations are really fun and cartoon-like - my daughter particularly liked Rosie Rainbow who has rainbow stripes in her hair - and the rhyming text makes it easy to read and appealing for younger children.

Hopefully these books will have a good influence on my children and help them to understand why I'm always going on about being more green! What books do you use to teach your children about the environment?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of Poppy's Planet and The Weatherbies: Colin Cloud is Making Shapes 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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Sunday, 9 September 2018

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

Wow, it's hard to stay green over the summer, isn't it? We had our first trip abroad as a family this summer and although it was lovely I did feel a bit guilty about the flight, and the amount of rubbish we generated as a result of not having space to take our own food and such. And then there's all the driving places to keep the kids entertained. But amongst all this, we've managed to make some eco-friendly choices.

Taken a long EV road trip

This is actually courtesy of Toddler, who has recently developed travel sickness. We had an inkling this was the case, but his spectacular digestive pyrotechnics on the flight to France confirmed our suspicions. (In case you happen to read this, sorry to the man sat next to us!!) We had planned a road trip down South over the August bank holiday weekend to visit old friends and family and intended to take our diesel car just for ease, but knowing that Toddler wouldn't be up to long stints in the car made us reconsider. If we could only drive for about an hour at a time anyway to reduce the risk of upchuck, why not stop to charge the car? So we braved a road trip from Leeds to Oxfordshire in our electric car! It was actually surprisingly easy as most service stations and a lot of chain hotels now have charging points, and while it did take longer it was nice to get a break from being stuck in the car.

The only downside was that, because we were pretty disorganised about eating arrangements, we ended up buying food on some of our stops, which meant packaging to throw away. Not only did this feel wasteful, it also offset some of the savings we made by using the EV. So next time we attempt such a long journey (which won't be for a long time) we'll try to be more prepared and take our own food with us.

Switched to Soapnuts

Again, credit goes to Toddler, who for most of June and July kept getting allergic rashes which we couldn't explain. We wondered if it was the heatwave but he got it even on cooler days. I wondered if our laundry detergent had changed its ingredients. At the same time I'd got a sample pack of soapnuts to use as a shampoo alternative (I know, I'm weird, I will eventually write a post about my green haircare adventures) which didn't really work out, so I thought I'd try them in the laundry instead.

The results are hit and miss so far. You're supposed to be able to reuse soapnuts 3 or 4 times but I don't find them particularly effective after the second wash, and I'm still working out the best temperature and setting to use. They're not great at lifting heavy stains (which with a toddler and a messy 6 year old is an issue) and I can only use them with nappies if the soapnuts are unused. So not a total win, but I'm persisting. If anyone has any hot tips on using soapnuts please comment below!

And the rash? Suddenly cleared up around the time we tried soapnuts, but hasn't returned when I've resorted to detergent, so who knows?!

Tried growing from scraps

I've often seen articles about how you can regrow vegetables from scraps, but I'm always either too zealous in my composting efforts or think it'll be too much faff. But a while ago I impulse bought pak choi (as you do) and saved the stumps after I'd chopped the leaves off because I thought they'd be good for paint printing. I showed them to my husband and was about to explain my plan when he said, "oh are you going to regrow them?" Umm, can I? Google said yes, so I sat them in a tub of water. We changed the water every couple of days and before we knew it new leaves were growing in the centre. We planted them out and now have two very healthy pak choi plants which we can take leaves off as needed. Hooray for free food! Have you grown from scraps? What have you tried?

So that was August. Now we're back to reality I'm hoping we can get back to a greener lifestyle with less waste - and definitely less travelling!

Monday, 3 September 2018

Riveting Robots! Two Picture Books Featuring Robots

Remember when we were kids and robots seemed so removed from reality? It's weird to think how far AI has come in the last few decades - and to wonder what role robots will play when our kids are our age. Fortunately, in the world of picture books, robots are still recognisable from the images we saw growing up - boxy metal creations with quirky personalities. We've been reading two such picture books recently. I like both of these books as they use robots to share life lessons in a way our little ones can understand and relate to.

'Unplugged' by Steve Antony

I picked 'Unplugged' up at the library recently after seeing lots of reviews from fellow picture book bloggers. It's a really charming story about Blip, a robot who spends all day plugged into her computer until one day a power cut forces her into the great outdoors, where she discovers a whole new world of fun to enjoy.

I love how Blip is a female robot with no qualifying reasons or gender signifiers in the way she's depicted. No reason is given for her being a girl and there are no bows or long eyelashes - she just is. This is so rare in picture books, especially ones about stereotypically 'boyish' topics such as robots, and it's so refreshing to see. 

I also like how the book doesn't rubbish screen activities - while it does use colour to suggest that being outdoors is preferable, it still shows the variety of things you can do on a computer. Having been very anti-screens in the past, I've seen how much online games and apps have helped my daughter in various ways, so I like that the book recognises the value in computers, while still hinting that getting out and making friends is perhaps better!

It's a very simply written book and the adorable illustrations convey a lot of the emotion, so it's a really good book for sharing with little ones who don't have a long attention span, but there's still enough to talk about with a slightly older child too.

'Robots Don't Say Please' by Lucy Keeling and Kris Smith

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of this book from Tiny Tree Children's Books. It's a funny story about a robot who lives with Barney and his parents, and who doesn't understand humans' social rules about saying 'please' and 'thank you' - until a fondue disaster strikes and he shows that he has learnt human manners after all.

I have to admit, parts of the story didn't sit very well with me - for instance, the robot is expected to say please for something he requires (and is denied it when he doesn't), but when Dad later needs something he doesn't say please. The way Robot is expected to understand manners, and his inability to comprehend, unsettled me a little as I saw a lot of my autistic daughter in him. Struggling to understand social rules can be uncomfortable to watch for parents and so it really struck a chord. But aside from that it is a fun way of teaching children about manners with a humorous story, and could prompt conversations about why manners are expected and how to know what social rules apply in different circumstances.

The story is told in rhyming text which is always a big winner in our house - Toddler is always more engaged with a rhyming book and Girl Child enjoys rhymes and word play too. The rhythm is sometimes a bit clunky but overall it is fun to read aloud, giving lots of scope for funny robot voices! I love the cartoon-like illustrations and the quirky details to spot, the pictures are really fun for little ones to study.

I really enjoyed these robot stories and so do the children - perhaps they'll prepare them for life with AI when they're older! Do you have any favourite stories featuring robots?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of 'Robots Don't Say Please' by the publisher for the purposes of this review. 'Unplugged' was borrowed from our local library because libraries are awesome. 

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

When Is A Spirited Child Not Just A Spirited Child?

I've just finished reading a book which is well known among gentle parenting circles - 'Raising Your Spirited Child' by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It bills itself as 'a guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic'.

Sound familiar?

Photo by Froken Fokus on Pexels

It's been on my wish list for years as until about a year and half ago, I thought I had a spirited child. Well, she probably is - but it turns out that the reason for her 'spirited' nature is that she's autistic. You see, as I read Kurcinka's description of spirited children I found myself getting frustrated because she was very accurately describing my daughter. She struggles to adapt to new situations, she has sensory issues, she has intense responses and she has what seems like boundless energy (but which is actually a need to feel her muscles working which can even outstrip her energy levels). If I'd read this book years ago it would have validated my view that my daughter was simply spirited, and nobody else understood this. But I was wrong.

It's hard to admit that. It's hard to say that I'd convinced myself of a version of my daughter that masked who she really is. The spirited/strong willed/high needs child is a common topic in gentle and attachment parenting - they're the ones, we're told, who will go on to excel in life, do great academically, have a fantastic social life and get top jobs. But as children, they're exhausting. They're harder work than other children so as parents we have to rise to the challenge.

Paired with this is the idea that gentle parenting/positive discipline/whatever label you want to give it takes a long time to 'look like' it's working. Naughty steps and reward charts are easy wins, you can see change very quickly, but that change may be short lived and create further problems down the line. Positive discipline, we are told, can take months or years but reaps long term benefits. Often when parents following these techniques come across issues with their child, especially relating to childcare/school, the answer from other gentle parents is that they're just not developmentally ready and will learn in time, and/or that the childcare provider/school just don't understand spirited children who have been allowed to develop in their own way. Major behavioural issues are often put down to a problem with the attachment between parent and child - something must have happened to make the child feel disconnected from the parent because well-connected children are cooperative and happy.

And I'm not denying that most of this is true. I'm sure there are children who are simply spirited with no further signs of neurodiversity, and I'm sure gentle parenting, while it takes longer, will create lasting benefits for our children. But we need to be mindful that sometimes there really is something else going on.

Despite describing my autistic daughter (and probably lots of other autistic children/people) very closely, guess how many times Kurcinka's book mentions autism? OK, I'll help you out: never. Not once. There is a cursory mention of ADD and sensory processing issues, but autism isn't discussed at all. For me, it was a glaring omission. Had I read this book two years ago, it would have added to my conviction that my daughter was spirited and I just wasn't parenting her well enough. Because that's what it boiled down to. I tried so many different techniques, read so many books, but nothing was working. I worked on my connection with my daughter, wondering how it was even possible that, despite giving up work to care for her and spending almost all my time with her, our attachment wasn't strong enough. I even tried love bombing, but nothing would fix the challenges we were having.

Because they weren't regular parenting challenges. They were the result of my daughter's wonderful brain giving her a totally different view of the world. And while some 'regular' parenting techniques do help with her, ultimately all I was doing was trying to force her into a hole she didn't fit in and making myself miserable in the process. I was trying to fix what didn't need fixing, it needed understanding.

So I'm not saying I'm done with gentle parenting. I do still strongly believe in it. But we need to be honest that sometimes, we need to look at alternative explanations for a child's struggles. 'She's just spirited', 'it'll take time' or 'the connection needs repair' are not always going to be the right answers and can lead to parents feeling like they're just not good enough to deal with their child. We need to be honest enough to say that there may be more to their child's issues than a spirited temperament, and signpost them to where they can get further information and support.

I still hope that my daughter will excel at school, have a great social life and get a good job, like all those articles promised me. But at least now I know that, to achieve all that, she will need support individualised to her and her particular form of autism. And I can start to see that the challenges we face don't mean I'm a bad parent. I'm not perfect, and I still have a heck of a lot to learn about how to face those challenges, but they're not my fault.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener in ... July

So Plastic Free July is over, did any of you take part? I have to admit I didn't - end of term overwhelm meant I didn't want to add any stress to my life! But my mission to live a more eco-friendly life continues.

So what have we been up to this month? As well as continuing to use paper bags and tupperwares to reduce the plastic packaging we were bringing home from the supermarket, and making about a hundred lollies to cope with the heatwave, here are a few more things we've tried ...

Working on portions

With a toddler and a six year old with sensory issues, we tend to throw away a lot of food that's been offered but not eaten. It really bugs me, but equally I know that forcing my kids to eat will only set them up for more issues down the line. So what's the solution? 

After coming to a point of despair with Girl Child's eating, I decided that actually, if she doesn't want a full meal at the end of the day, it's not the end of the world, especially when she's had a school dinner. So I started checking before I started cooking if she'd want the meal we were all eating, and if not she got sandwiches. And it did cut down on the amount of food we threw away very quickly. Actually, her passion for sandwiches was short lived and she mostly eats the same as us now, but I'm more conscious of how much I give her, making sure she doesn't get too much for her appetite. And I'm doing the same with Toddler, offering smaller portions. We're not totally food waste free, but it's made a huge difference just cooperating with Girl Child about what she eats and being more aware of what my kids can manage in a sitting.

Cooking from scratch

On a related note, in an effort to reduce the amount of packaging I throw away, I'm taking small steps towards cooking from scratch. And I mean small - I'm not a great cook and the kids just don't stay entertained while I'm cooking for long enough to do anything fancy. But even one meal a week where I don't use anything out of a packet can make a difference. For instance, we decided to have stir fry one weekend - usually I'd buy a pre-chopped stir fry mix, and maybe ready-made egg fried rice too. But this time I did it all from scratch (OK, bar the sauce - I need to find a good recipe). My egg fried rice may not have been as good as the shop bought stuff but at least it didn't come in a non-recyclable tub!

Zero waste shopping

Remember I mentioned going to a zero waste pop up shop a while back? Well they now have their own premises so we went for a visit. We didn't buy much - bicarb (hippy staple), dried fruit and nuts and a bamboo toothbrush (more on that in a minute) - but it gave us chance to scope out the other stock and think about what we can switch to next time.

Brushing with bamboo

And yes, I've now got a bamboo toothbrush! At £4 it was a bit more expensive than my usual brushes but as long as it lasts three months that won't be a huge outlay per year. It brushes really well and leaves my teeth feeling very clean, but I think it'll take a long time to get used to the feeling of a wooden toothbrush in my mouth! I'm not sure the kids would be keen so I'll stick to just the adult ones for now.

So that was July. August is going to be an interesting month in terms of trying to live green, as we're doing lots of travelling and I'll need to find ways to keep the kids busy without too much waste. Do you have any tips on staying eco-friendly during the school holidays?

Monday, 2 July 2018

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

Another month, another chance to think about the little things I've done to be more eco-friendly. I can see this monthly feature becoming harder to write as time goes on as actually, most of the green things we've done this month are a continuation of previous months. It's been a brilliant month for line drying, with the tumble dryer getting a much needed rest. My 'no poo' efforts are ongoing and I am planning to write more on the subject when I've finally cracked it - or given up entirely! We're still taking full advantage of the ability to take our own containers to the supermarket to buy meat, and use paper bags for fruit and veg.

But there have been a couple of things this month that I haven't mentioned before ...

Making our own lollies

When the weather started to heat up, we stocked up on shop-bought lollies, but I soon started to feel guilty about the wastefulness of it. We were throwing away plastic wrappers daily and I'm still unclear on what to do with wooden lolly sticks - are they compostable? Recyclable? I've got enough craft sticks without hoarding lolly sticks for all those activities we'll never do!!

So I dug out our lolly moulds and made simple fruit juice lollies. It's cheaper, less wasteful and means if we run out I can make more. (Which I'm having to do at least every other day in this heatwave!!) It does mean that we're getting through a lot of juice though. I might have to look at other recipes.

Oh and one related thing - I made blackcurrant sorbet out of a huge bag of blackcurrants we'd had in the freezer for ages! They were from our garden so zero food miles (except for the sugar), and I used a reusable container. I'm a culinary disaster zone so felt very proud that I'd managed to make it, and it was delicious!

Signed up to TerraCycle

You know that meme that was going around about the Crayola marker recycling scheme? It kept popping up on my social media feeds, shared by people in the UK, and I was getting increasingly annoyed by this as it's a North American scheme only! But in finding that out, I also found a website called TerraCycle, which does have a writing instruments recycling scheme. It's only available for schools though, so I couldn't sign up myself. But I have mentioned the scheme to a relative who works for an academy chain, so hopefully I'll be able to palm off my old felt tips to them soon!!

One scheme I could sign up for is the Cracker and Biscuit Wrapper Recycling Programme. I keep meaning to reduce my snack waste by doing more baking but realistically I don't have the time to keep the supply up - I basically live on biscuits. So this is one scheme that will assuage my guilt about my biscuit habit until I can either get it under control or start baking more regularly. So I signed up! I'm now collecting biscuit wrappers in a big padded envelope, ready to be sent off for free whenever it's full. There are a few other schemes open to individuals, and others with public collection points, so have a look at the website to see how you can recycle more stuff!

So I may not done a lot of new stuff this month but every little helps. A couple of people have mentioned Plastic Free July to me and, while I don't think I can quite commit to that, I will be doing what I can to reduce my plastic use further this coming month. Are you taking part?

Monday, 25 June 2018

The Ish Mother Reads: 'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry

It's a while since I wrote about the books I've been reading myself - I have been keeping up with my New Year's Resolution to read more, but just haven't been reading books I could easily review! And if I'm honest I'm not entirely sure how to review my most recent read, but I'll give it a go.

Last year when compiling my Christmas wish list I asked for book recommendations on Twitter, and at least a couple of people recommended 'The Essex Serpent'. Sure enough I got it for Christmas, but already had a few other books I needed to finish or read first, so it took me a while to get to it.

'The Essex Serpent' is set in 1893 and tells the story of Cora Seaborne, a wealthy widow who leaves her London home in pursuit of the legendary Essex Serpent, a Nessie-type figure which she believes could be a dinosaur that somehow escaped extinction. Her pursuit leads her to meet Will Ransome, parish priest of a small coastal village, and his family. The pair form an unusual friendship, often falling out over matters of faith and science, while the village is in the grip of the fabled monster they fear is waiting for them in the nearby sea.

I found it a really interesting and enjoyable read - not gripping exactly, I didn't find myself rushing to read it, but equally I looked forward to my reading time at the end of the day in a way that I haven't done for a while. I found Cora and Will's relationship interesting but at times strangely unsettling. Without wanting to give too much away, there were times I felt frustrated by them. One thing I loved about the novel is that Will isn't portrayed as dogmatic or simple because he is a Christian - his faith, and his struggles with it, are both portrayed sympathetically, which makes a refreshing change from a lot of novels. When Cora and Will argue, you feel that it is a meeting of equal minds, and there is no sense that one viewpoint is superior to the other.

I was also fascinated by the portrayal of Cora's son, Francis. It is never explicitly stated (for obvious historical reasons) but it is pretty clear that Francis is autistic. He has fixations, he carries small objects almost like talismans, he refuses affection and is perplexed by relationships. I'd have liked to see more of him in the novel, and more about Cora's difficulties relating to her son.

The novel covers a lot of ground - as well as the issues of religion and science, there is also a subplot regarding housing in the working-class areas of London, and another intermingled one about medical advances - and at times it all felt a bit muddled. I found it hard to see how all the pieces of the story fit together (although that is possibly down to me reading it over a course of a few weeks rather than more quickly) but it was interesting seeing historical references being woven into the overall narrative.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels or is interested in nineteenth-century life. It takes a little bit of time to get going, and you need to have a good mind for keeping track of interweaving plots, but it's definitely worth sticking with. And the last few chapters will have your heart in your mouth!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Thursday, 14 June 2018

On Midwives, Media and Mothers

This week has seen another big story in the media about parenting, specifically infant feeding. The huge revelation? The Royal College of Midwives issued updated guidance.

What? How is that headline news? Well, the media decided to ignore the majority of the guidance and latch on (pun intended) to one specific line: that, "if, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected." This sentence, in a statement which still reiterates the importance of breastfeeding, and the need for support from both medical professionals and society as a whole, is what the Daily Mail chose to call the, "end of breastfeeding tyranny."

Photo courtesy of Pexels

My kneejerk reaction on seeing some of the responses to the news was one of frustration - once again, the media had found a way to bash breastfeeding and those who try to help mums to do it. But when I read the actual statement I was reminded of my breastfeeding peer supporter training and the key message we were given - listen to the mother and what she wants. And actually, that's all this guidance is recommending.

From what I see, midwives are charged with an impossible task. Breastfeeding rates in the UK are amongst the lowest in the world, and as the first point of contact with new mothers, midwives are under pressure to change that. They're also under pressure to deal with understaffing, too much paperwork, increasing numbers of complications in pregnancy and labour, and a culture in which breastfeeding has not been the norm for decades. They're not miracle workers, brilliant and dedicated as many of them are. And I do believe the majority of midwives were probably already following the guidance issued this week.

But in any profession there will be a few who overstep the mark. And it's important to listen to those mums who do feel their midwives did not support their choices, who felt pressured into breastfeeding and judged when they said they wanted to use formula. Equally, it's important to listen to those mums who desperately wanted to breastfeed but felt pressured to give formula. Both sets of voices are valid. (And both instances happen, although I notice there was less discussion of the latter instance in the media.)

One thing the statement said, which has changed very little since the previous guidance, is that mother who choose to give formula should be given advice on how to do it safely and responsively, and shown how to properly sterilise equipment and make up feeds. This is so vital. Several formula feeding mums I know have said that there's hardly any guidance given once a mother makes the decision to use formula. As a result there is a lot of misinformation out there about how to safely prepare formula. So there is clearly a need for this kind of support and I'm glad the RCM continue to highlight that. I hope the message gets out to those in a position to provide that guidance.

This is the crux of the issue: support. A lot of the messages I've seen on social media are from mothers who were not fully supported. Either they were made to feel guilty for choosing formula, or, as commonly if not more so, they weren't given the practical help they needed to get started with breastfeeding and overcome problems. We need to listen to these women, who feel hurt and judged and let down, and learn from them.

As for 'breastfeeding tyranny'? I hope that awful phrase doesn't tar all breastfeeding advocates with the same brush. Yes, some go too far and yes, that needs to change. But most of us just want to support the mothers who do want to breastfeed to do so for as long as they want. We're really not interested in bullying new mums into doing something they don't want to do. We just want them to have an informed choice and to be supported to feed how they want. At the end of the day, our low breastfeeding rates are not the responsibility of new mums. This is an issue that requires investment from the government and public health bodies and a change in how we view breastfeeding as a society. And the media scouring press releases to find any excuse to bash breastfeeding isn't helping with the latter.

So well done to the Royal College of Midwives for issuing a very sensible and well balanced statement. And well done to anyone who supports new mums in their feeding choices with accurate information and practical help. May you be allowed to get on with your job without being labelled a tyrant by the tabloids for doing so.

Monday, 4 June 2018

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

Last month I started a new feature on the blog, talking about the new things (big and little) I did in the previous month to be more environmentally friendly. A few days late, here's my May update!

You may have noticed a slight change in wording - I realised after publishing the last post that actually most of the green things we do are a family effort and so to recognise that I changed 'I've' to 'We've'.

So here are the things our little family have been doing in an effort to be kinder to the planet ...

Doubled down on cloth nappy use

It's no secret that I love cloth nappies, but we always have disposables in for night time and emergencies. Except recently I'd been getting a bit lazy about what constitutes an emergency. Basically any outing of more than an hour was starting to warrant a disposable in my eyes. Our bin was filling up fast and our supplies dwindling. And it wasn't great for Toddler either - we went away for the May Day weekend and used disposables all weekend, which caused dreadful nappy rash. To the point where we actually decided to give cloth another go overnight to give him chance to heal. And now he's older, it works! This, and being a bit stricter with myself about using cloth when going out, means we've massively reduced our disposable usage. 

I'm also working on reducing the number of baby wipes we use. We've never used them loads because they're another thing Toddler is sensitive to, but I've found that reminding myself to use washable wipes, cotton wool or just tissue has made our 'emergency' packs last longer.

Dodged plastic packaging

This one has been massively helped by our local branch of Morrison's who have started using compostable paper bags for fruit and veg, and allowing customers to bring in tupperwares for fresh meat.

It's a small step at the moment - I do still feel like we're drowning in plastic packaging - but it's a start toward reducing the amount that ends up in our bin.

Took an EV road trip

I mentioned last month that we now have an electric car. We kept our old one mainly for longer journeys, as the battery life of the Leaf only covers around 90 miles. But when we went to the coast for the May Day weekend we used it as an opportunity to try out a longer journey in an EV. Admittedly I was skeptical but it did work out fairly well. It meant we had to break up our trips with a stop at a rapid charger (we coincided these with lunch) and my husband had to go on a quick trip to the next town to use the charger in Lidl, but we managed it! I'm still not sure about very long journeys though, the stopping to charge did make our travel time much longer. But it's good to know we can use it for medium-length journeys.

So that's some of what we've been up to - how about you? Have you made any changes recently to be greener? Let me know and I might nick your ideas for this month!!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Review: '101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children' by Fiona Bird

What glorious weather we're having at the moment! After a few false starts Spring has finally sprung and it feels like Summer is just waiting in the wings now. One lovely side effect of this is that the kids have been playing in the garden much more. Toddler is more than happy to potter around and get messy even in cold weather, but Girl Child is quite sensitive to the cold so needs coaxing out most of the time. It's been a joy to see her enjoying being outdoors in the past couple of weeks. She even played football in the rain this weekend!!

I used to be a really outdoorsy kid but sadly I grew out of it and I do find outdoor play hard. So I was really happy when we recently won 101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children by Fiona Bird in a Toppsta giveaway. As the title suggests, it's got bags of inspiration!

What I love about this book is that the activities have a wide range of challenge level - some of the ideas, like mud pies and Pooh Sticks, are easily achieveable with smaller children and can give them a sense of accomplishment that they can 'tick off' some of the activities very quickly, or even before they look through the book.

But then there are also more complex activities to challenge older children, or to use up more time - craft activities using both natural and recycled materials. Girl Child is very interested in the idea of making natural dyes. I suspect that may be a bit messy but might have to swallow my hatred of mess and give it a try!

The activities also cover a range of seasons and locations, so wherever you are, whatever time of year it is, chances are you'll find a suitable activity. I'm gutted that we forgot to take it to the beach with us when we went over the May Day weekend, but that just gives us an excuse to have another day trip to the beach in the summer!!

I was dubious about some of the activities. Some crafts suggested using plastic bottles or carrier bags, and while reusing is great, I worry about leaving plastic objects outside, possibly to get blown away or cause problems for wildlife. I have to admit the plastic bottle slug catcher was tempting though! Toddler was a bit bothered by a suggestion of making itching powder and tricking friends with it, we both agreed that didn't seem like a nice thing to do. But with so many other ideas, it's easy enough to skip over the ones we're not keen on.

If you're looking for outdoor inspiration now that the weather is picking up I thoroughly recommend this book. I'm looking forward to working our way through as many activities as possible this summer!

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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Thursday, 10 May 2018

We Were Lucky

So, let's get caught up. Regular readers will now know that Girl Child has had her assessment. Just over a year after the first referral was made, it has been confirmed that she is autistic.

We were lucky.

We were lucky that her reception teacher had enough knowledge to recognise that autism was a possibility, rather than deciding her problems were just behavioural.

We were lucky that school dealt with the referral, putting forward enough evidence for our referral to go straight to CAMHS rather than being passed to family services, which could have led to us having to go on a parenting course before any further progress could be made.

We were lucky that, eight months later, CAMHS decided that they had enough evidence to put her forward for an autism assessment after two sessions. We took them up on the offer of a third session to get some advice, but by then the referral was written and ready to go. It was at that point we were told it would be another year before the assessment took place.

We were lucky that by that point our local CAMHS service was so far behind it had started outsourcing the assessments, shortening our wait to four months.

We were lucky that throughout this time we had the full support of the school, who have been incredible in proactively finding ways to support Girl Child and in providing evidence for us.

We were lucky that the assessors were skilled enough to see through her sociable nature and developing masking skills, and instead see the symptoms she's trying to hide.

We were lucky - others aren't. Others don't get the right support, are not believed, or not even aware autism is a possibility until much further down the line. Others have a much longer wait for assessment, have to jump through more hoops to even get on the waiting list. Others get as far as assessment only for their child to have learnt to mask so well in that time that they go undiagnosed.

We were lucky and it still took over a year. A year of further brain development, of Girl Child finding new challenges to overcome, of us struggling to know how best to support her.

We were lucky, and we still don't really know what to do next.

I can't help but think this isn't what 'lucky' should look like. Parents should be supported and believed, schools should be equipped to support all pupils, CAMHS should be properly funded to be able to deal with referrals promptly. Our 'luck' should be the baseline.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

What Do You Tell Your Child Before Their Autism Assessment?

I wrote this post nearly two months ago, but didn't feel ready to publish it at the time. I still don't now to be honest, but as it's been a while I'd better get it out there!

So since writing this post, things sped up somewhat. By somewhat I mean a lot - having been told we'd be waiting a year for Girl Child's ASC assessment, we then got a phonecall at the end of January to say our appointment was in March. Actually, as I write this post, we had it this morning.

One thing I struggled with in the run up to the assessment was knowing what to tell Girl Child. At 6 years old I wasn't sure I was ready to tell her she might be autistic, partly because, well, what if they said she wasn't? She sees things so black and white that telling her one thing only to have to backtrack would really upset her. But at the same time, how was I going to explain to her that we were taking her out of school for a few hours to play in a room with a stranger while we were in the next room answering questions?

I turned to Google as any 21st century parent would, but found little guidance. A lot is written about what to tell your child after diagnosis but I couldn't find anything about what to say prior to the assessment. So I asked a couple of bloggers with autistic children what they'd said or done, and here's what they had to say:

"I think it depends on the age of your daughter and level of understanding to be honest. With older children that understand I think its important to be honest with them about what it going on. My 13 year old is currently being assessed and doesn't like the idea of it but needs the help and I have told her and so has the person assessing her, that she might get a diagnosis. My son however was assessed when he was 7/8 and didn't have a clue what was going on at the time so I just told him he had an appointment. After he received a diagnosis I explained it to him at his level of understanding." - Autism Kids On Tour

"I told my son that we were going to see a lady who just wanted to chat with him for a little bit. I said there would be toys and things to play with so it wouldn't be too boring. To be honest, he doesn't really understand anything complex so this was enough for him. I told him the morning we were going as he can't cope with transitions and when he knows something is coming up soon then his anxiety goes through the roof." - Living With A Jude

I got advice from other parents privately too, and in the end decided to keep it simple. We considered waiting until the day to tell her but, as it was an early appointment which meant her morning routine would have to change to allow us to leave sooner, we decided to tell her the night before. At first I just told her that she had an appointment in the morning so wouldn't be going straight to school but we'd get her to school as soon as possible afterwards so she didn't miss too much. When she asked what the appointment was for I told her it would be a bit like when we went to see the lady with lots of toys who talked to her a bit about school last summer. (That was one of our CAMHS appointments prior to being referred for assessment.) She was a bit worried when I told her it would be different people because she doesn't like new people but didn't ask any more questions, which surprised me. Normally she won't stop asking questions! On the way to the appointment we told her we'd be in a different room answering some 'boring questions' and this didn't seem to bother her too much.

So if you're reading this wondering what to tell your child, my advice would be not to overthink it. You know your child best and you know how much information they need or would find helpful right now. If they're older it might be appropriate to explain what the assessment is for, but for younger ones sticking to the what rather than the why might be best. They may surprise you by not actually asking that many questions - if you've got this far they're probably used to going to random appointments by now!

Oh, and if you are reading this in preparation for your child's ASC assessment, I send you love and strength. It's scary, I know. But you've got this far, you can do this next step. Deep breaths, it's going to be OK.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Things I've Done To Be Greener In ... April

One of the bits of this blog I've neglected a bit is the 'green-ish' part. In the busyness of parenting (and reading) I find it hard to remember to write about my efforts to be more eco-friendly. And also, often my efforts feel so small that I'm not sure they're worth writing about.

But then I struck on an idea. Instead of writing about one specific area of eco-living, I could write a monthly post about the things, big and small, that I've done recently in an effort to be greener.

Just to fill you in, I'm already at what would probably be termed 'non-commital hippy' stage - I use cloth nappies and wipes most of the time, I rarely drive (although more on that in a minute), I'm vegetarian, we recycle and compost etc etc. But I still have the nagging feeling that I can do more.

So here's what we've done this month. Some of them are whole-family things, some are individual. Many are quite small, one in particular is very big! But they're all steps towards reducing our impact on the planet.

Bought an electric car

OK, so this is the biggy, and a family one too. While I rarely drive, my husband does need a car for work. So switching to an electric car, although expensive up front, will reduce fuel costs and be better for the environment. We have, however, kept our old diesel car (yes I know, we were told it was eco-friendly back in the days when the car companies were all lying) for longer journeys and as a run-around for me. I'm conscious this means we could potentially use cars more thus increasing our carbon footprint, but my utter hatred of driving means I've only used the diesel once since we got the electric! I will continue to walk or use public transport as much as is practical, but once I've got my confidence up it'll be nice to have the option to drive somewhere in the week.

Used a Zero Waste Shop

We're lucky that in a local-ish town a zero-waste shop is due to open this Summer, and in the run-up to that they are having monthly pop-up shops. I have to confess I didn't go to this myself, I dispatched the husband while I got Toddler to nap, and we only got a few things but I love the concept. You can go with your own containers to fill up to reduce packaging, and buy things like cleaning supplies, soaps and shampoos, some whole foods and reusable accessories like cups and sandwich wrappers. We bought bicarbonate of soda, a shampoo bar and metal washable straws.

Experimented with plastic-free hair washing

Here's where I veer into the world of hardcore hippy a little. This has been going on for a few months and I may write about it separately some day, but basically I'm trying to avoid buying shampoo in plastic bottles. I've dabbled with the world of 'no poo' by using bicarb of soda and cider vinegar (yes really, and actually it gives good results but must be used sparingly) and I'm now trying to get the hang of using a shampoo bar. Results are still mixed at the moment, and I have a bottle of SLS-free shampoo as back-up still, but I'm hoping I'll crack it this month!

Used more rags

I've written about this before but I have to admit when we have a pack of cleaning wipes in I'll always be tempted by the easier option. So we've just stopped buying them, and instead I've made a pile of rags to use for washing and wiping. They're mostly the kids' old clothes that are too stained to pass on. I've even started to use white vinegar for cleaning more often too although I have to do that sparingly because Girl Child hates the smell!!

Used the washing line

Ahh Spring! It may not be reliably warm and dry yet but it's such a relief to be able to hang washing out instead of relying on the dryer setting so much! It also means I'm getting more washing done which is a bonus. During the mini heatwave two weeks ago I almost got to the bottom of all three laundry baskets!!

So that's what I've done. Some things may be a bit too big (or bonkers) for you to try, but hopefully if you've got this far you'll have thought of something you could do to be a bit greener. Or if you're already super-green please tell me your secrets!

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 Toddler 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 Toddler 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, Girl Child 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 Toddler 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 Toddler's interest - and even happier to see Girl Child 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 Girl Child'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 - Girl Child 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 Girl Child 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 Girl Child 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! Girl Child 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 Girl Child 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 - Girl Child 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 Girl Child 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 Girl Child 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. Toddler 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 Girl Child to share her belongings, although she's always more than happy to share her brother's things!! I fear Toddler 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. Toddler 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.

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