Monday, 10 December 2018

Three Christian-themed Christmas Books ... With A Twist!

This year we are doing our Book Advent again, as you'll know if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. To mix things up I'm attempting separate books for my kids which is proving a challenge! But sorting through books to decide whose pile they should go in has reminded me of how lovely these books are.

As a Christian I like to share books with my children that highlight the religious meaning of Christmas, but there are only so many retellings of the Nativity I can read! However, the three books featured in this post bring something new to the Christmas story. Even if you're not a religious family I think these books are a good way of reminding children that Christmas is about more than presents.

Babushka by Sandra Ann Horn and Sophie Fatus

This is a telling of a Russian folk tale. Babushka is so busy keeping her little house tidy that she almost completely misses the wonders around her - a bright star travelling through the sky, kings arriving from afar and so on. But when she hears about the birth of a special baby, she sets out with gifts for him. On her way she encounters people who need those gifts, until she is left without anything to offer the baby - or is she? This is a lovely story about not being too busy focussing on the details to see the bigger picture, and about the importance of giving to others in need. The retelling is lively and fun for little ones, and Fatus's illustrations are so quirky and colourful, they really capture a festive feel.

The Fox's Tale by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen

Last year I wrote about the gorgeous 'Refuge', which tells the Nativity story through the eyes of the donkey. This book, a collaboration between two giants from the world of picture books, takes the perspective of a fox. The fox has his eye on a lonely lamb in the fields outside Bethlehem when suddenly a bright light fills the sky. He sees the shepherds being told to go to Bethlehem to meet a baby king, and follows them to see what it's all about. And the lamb? Well, it turns out to have a special role in the situation. This is a really interesting retelling, especially good for animal-loving children, and encourages the reader to consider different perspectives.

The Miracle of The First Poinsettia by Joanne Oppenheim and Fabian Negrin

Departing from the Nativity, this book is based on a Mexican legend. Juanita's family have fallen on hard times meaning she has no money to buy gifts, either for her family or to place at the altar at Christmas Eve Mass as her friends and neighbours will. But her mother and an angelic encounter help her realise that the best gift to give is a kind, loving heart. This book never fails to get me choked up, the words are so beautiful and the stunning illustrations complement them perfectly. It's a really good way of learning about Christmas as celebrated by another culture, and includes Spanish words in the text, with a glossary at the end.

Do you read books about the religious meaning of Christmas with your children? Which ones do you enjoy?

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 3 December 2018

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

Is it just me or did November disappear in a flash? I'm totally not ready for December, especially trying to find ways to be greener at Christmastime! If you have any tips let me know!

Last month passed in a blur for us which means I didn't really get to think hard about eco-friendly choices, but here's what we have done.

Become snack aware

I mentioned last month that I'd started making an Ecobrick. Well I'm still plodding along with that whenever I find time, but one thing it did was make me aware of just how many sugary snacks we get through as a family, and to be honest I account for about 75% of it! So this month I've worked hard to reduce my chocolate, cake and biscuit intake, not only for my health but to reduce the amount of packaging we generate. I've tried to opt for fruit or toast when feeling hungry, and not having a biscuit with every cuppa!! I've also started baking with Toddler once a week so some of our sweet treats can be packaging-free. It's something I used to do regularly with Girl Child but got out of the habit after Toddler came along, I really missed it so it would to get back into it again.

Switched to greener cleaning products

I'd already become a whizz with bicarb and white vinegar, but some cleaning products are too tricky to dispense with. But there are options on the market that avoid the nastier chemicals that are ending up in our water supply. Our trusty local zero waste shop has really helped with this, and we now use Ecoleaf laundry liquid and washing up liquid - and can reuse our old bottles and fill them up at the shop, thus reducing packaging again! The big sticking point we have at the moment is dishwasher tablets. Our options seem to be either tablets in individual disposable plastic packets, or coated with some kind of soluble plastic which obviously will end up as microplastics in our water supply. I know I could get the individual powders but with no instructions for our dishwasher I'm worried about doing the wrong thing. So if anyone can help me out here that would be great, just leave a comment below!

So, another month down. Next month you'll get to hear how we coped with the consumer-fest that is Christmas. Eek!

Monday, 19 November 2018

Review: 'Cardboard Box Creations' from Lonely Planet Kids

I've mentioned a few times before that I suck at kids activities. Coming up with ideas for crafts, projects, outings etc just isn't my strong point. (Actually I've yet to find my parenting strong point but that's another story ...)

One particular thing I really suck at is junk modelling. Partly because I'm eager to get rid of stuff, so boxes, foil trays, bottles and such go in the recycling bin as soon as possible in my futile efforts to make the house tidier. Then I'm not very imaginative about reusing junk, I hate the faff of cutting things out and painting, and when it's done what do you do with your creation? As I just mentioned, I'm fighting a losing battle trying to keep the house tidy without contending with giant cardboard robots, bottle rockets and the like!

So I have to admit, when Girl Child spotted a giveaway for 'Cardboard Box Creations' on Toppsta and insisted I enter it, my heart sank a little. When we won, my heart sank some more. But when it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised.

One thing I wasn't expecting was that the box comes with cardboard sheets with some of the items needed for the projects already printed on and ready to press out. Brilliant, that's a lot of the faff done away with right there! And not all of the projects required loads of extras - in fact, one project, the camera, mostly consists of press-out pieces already provided so your little one can get modelling straight away.

The other thing I really like about this book is that all of the projects are themed around travel - so you can create a London bus, a Japanese tea house, a didgeridoo and even a space rocket! I love that the book brings in a geographical aspect so children can learn about other countries and cultures while they create their models.

The only criticism I have of the book is that some of the projects are very ambitious and require a lot of boxes - one needs four very large boxes. Unless you've just moved house or had a mass upgrade of white goods, it seems unlikely that any average family would have this much cardboard at their disposal. And you'd need plenty of space to store some of the creations afterwards too. But there are several projects requiring smaller boxes so it balances out nicely. I imagine this would be a good resource for a classroom or early years setting, where they might be able to appeal for big boxes to be brought in and may have more space to set the finished models up as play spaces.

Overall, I'm very glad Girl Child persuaded me to enter this giveaway and that we won. She's already made a couple of the smaller projects and is keen to make more so it will be a great way to keep her entertained and help her learn about other parts of the world too.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

A Bookish Half Term

Last week was Girl Child's half term (apparently different to most of the country, but hey, Leeds likes to be odd) so it was a good chance to have some family time together. The first eight weeks of term had felt like a long slog so it was nice to have a break and to watch the kids strengthen their bond, their relationship is ever-evolving and I love seeing them enjoy the same things.

It turned out to be a rather bookish week - well, I suppose with me it's always likely to! Even a trip to a nearby town to buy new school shoes wasn't untouched by books as we took the opportunity to visit the town's book shop while we were there. The Grove is a lovely independent bookshop with a great little children's section. Girl Child chose to buy 'Utterly Me, Clarice Bean' by Lauren Child while we dissuaded Toddler from buying all manner of very exciting books that weren't quite in our budget for the day by getting a little Thomas the Tank Engine book. True to form, Girl Child started reading almost immediately. Below is a photo that Toddler took of her when we stopped for lunch.

As you can see she was already halfway through the book before we even got our food! I do love my bookworm!

So that was Monday. On Tuesday we went to RHS Harlow Carr near Harrogate for a Room On The Broom Adventure Trail. We read the book again to Toddler the day before to remind him of it and his excitement when he saw the sign by the car park was so lovely to see! Both children really enjoyed going around the trail and spotting the different characters. I wasn't sure Girl Child would be interested but the little questions or activities that accompanied each character kept her engaged, while Toddler was just thrilled that the book he'd read the day before had come to life around him! He even wanted to read it on the way home.

Sorry for the poor posing skills of my kids by the way. I'll never be one of those Instagram mums ...

Wednesday and Thursday were quieter days but on Friday I decided to venture into Leeds city centre to go to the Nick Sharratt exhibition at the Central Library there. Toddler loves Nick Sharratt's books, we regularly borrow them from the library and he loved 'Toddle Waddle' so much I had to get him his own copy. And Girl Child enjoys the Daisy series and loves to doodle so I thought this would be a winner with both of them. Unfortunately by the time we got into Leeds it didn't leave us a lot of time to look around the exhibition but I was really impressed. There was a little reading corner with copies of lots of Sharratt's work, stands with information about his life and work, a doodling wall, light boxes for tracing his drawings and an interactive 'make you own Shaarratt character' game. Toddler stayed around the reading corner mostly while Girl Child really enjoyed the light boxes, doodling wall and the stand that played a silly song about pants!!

We all enjoyed our bookish half term. While reading itself is such a fun thing to do it was interesting to see how the children responded to seeing books come alive in different ways. I'm definitely going to look out for more bookish events in future!

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

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Saturday, 3 November 2018

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

Autumn is well and truly upon us now and with it the chilly weather. I always feel guilty at this time of year because, while lots of people are talking about not switching their heating on yet, I'm always keen to get it going at the first sign of cold! I do layer up as much as I can but I still don't feel warm. So I've been assuaging my guilt by finding other ways to be eco-friendly.

Used washable training pants

Yep, it's got that stage - Toddler has decided he wants to potty train. I was hoping to get Christmas over first but he had other ideas. (And this is part of the reason our heating has been on a lot - he's most reliable when not wearing pants so I don't want him getting a chilly bottom while he figures pants out!) We are trying our best to use regular pants, but we have a stash of washable training pants for naptimes and going out - as he still does most journeys in the carrier, I don't want to risk a soggy back. We have a slightly eclectic mix of training pants: a Bumgenius Flip, a couple of Mothercare padded pants, two Bright Bots, a Tots Bots and a random WAHM-made one. But of those only the Tots Bots and the Flip really hold any more than a trickle so I picked up a couple of pairs of Close Parent night time pants (which wouldn't actually do overnight for him yet but work well for naptime) and a pair of Motherease Big Kid pants. These were bought second hand too, but in great condition. I have to admit we have been working our way through our existing stash of disposable pull ups as well but I'm trying to go with the washables as much as possible now. It's going to be a long transition as pants still baffle him, but I have noticed that I'm doing less washing now so that's an added eco bonus.

Started Ecobricking

You might have seen the Facebook post that went viral about Ecobricks - basically the idea is that you take a plastic bottle and cram it full of non-recyclable plastic wrappers, packaging etc. If you're interested you can find out more through Google or on various Facebook pages and groups. I started very keenly with this but then realised the amount of work involved - you have to wash and thoroughly dry every piece of plastic and cut it up really small so you can cram in as much as possible to get to the right weight. I honestly don't know when I'll find the time. I'm also a little skeptical about the project as presumably these Ecobricks will eventually need disposing of and what happens then? It's made me quite frustated that consumers are going to these lengths when it should be businesses finding ways to reduce the amount of plastic they use for their products. Still, I'll persevere for at least one bottle. It has also made me realise that my main plastic generators in my household are confectionary, crisps and dishwasher tablets so I'm trying to think of ways of buying more wisely or replacing my junk food treats with something a bit better for me and the planet! So even if it's not the answer to our plastic woes, Ecobricking has made me more conscious of my habits. Have you tried making an Ecobrick? What do you think about it?

I may not have done loads this month but I think adding a couple of things to my routine each month is more manageable than trying lots all at once. What have you done to be greener this month? I'd love some inspiration!

Friday, 19 October 2018

My Adventures in 'No-Poo-Land'

I've mentioned before that I've been trying to find an alternative to shampoo. The common term for this is 'no poo' hence the title of this blog post (in case people thought it was about actual poo!)

So how did this come about? And why would I even attempt it??

I reckon most no-poo-ers would dream of washing their hair like this. Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

Well, with the increasing public consciousness around plastic waste I was looking for a plastic-free way of washing my hair. I saw a review of a shampoo bar on the Wood For The Trees blog and thought, "great, shampoo that isn't in a plastic bottle!" So I ordered a few bars.

Well, unfortunately, shampoo bars don't work for me. From my research before buying, it seemed like the main issue was transition from regular shampoo causing build up and overproduction of oils, but as I'd been using SLS-free shampoo for a few years I figured that wouldn't be an issue. So when, after a couple of weeks of trying the shampoo bar, my hair looked lank and greasy, and actually got worse after each wash, I knew something was up.

In the advice slip I got with the bars it recommended a clarifying wash with bicarbonate of soda (BS). I gave it a go and wow, my hair looked better than it had done in weeks! After a couple more attempts at getting the shampoo bar to work I gave up and switched to using BS instead. It sounds bonkers but honestly, I was amazed at how the BS solution magically transformed the oil in my hair into what felt like soap and got rid of it!

It worked great to start with but then I noticed my hair getting a waxy residue. It was then I thought I'd actually read some guidance on 'no poo' and discovered I needed to rinse my hair with something acidic after washing with BS to rebalance the pH. Cider vinegar seemed the most popular option so I went for that and soon my hair was happy again.

Well, sort of. It did leave my hair beautifully clean, soft and shiny but my scalp wasn't as happy. It started getting itchy. Also, because BS is a strong cleanser you're supposed to leave it at least four days between washes, preferably longer. As I'd previously been an every-two-days kinda gal this was a challenge. I was assured the longer I stuck with it, the longer my hair could go between washes but after many months I still looked a mess by day 4. I hated having to keep my hair tied back most of the time. I read that using a boar bristle brush before bed would help redistribute the sebum so it would soak into the hair shaft but my hair is not very porous so would just look worse after brushing.

I experimented with different solutions to the problem. One recommendation was to do an 'acid rinse' in between washes, so using the cider vinegar solution or something else acidic a couple of days after a full wash. That just made my hair even more oily. I had a go with using soap nuts but it was such a faff. I had to boil the nuts for half an hour, constantly watching the pan because boy do those things foam up, cool the liquid left overnight then pour it evenly over my hair. It stank, it was actually really hard to pour evenly so I ended up with some clean patches and some not so clean patches, and I was terrified of getting it in my eyes as apparently that is very painful!

There are other options but they were all either expensive, too faffy or still required something that came in plastic. I'd joined a couple of no poo Facebook groups and, far from encouraging me in my quest, I started to realise I'd strayed into territory I really didn't belong in. Some of the women on the groups were so hardcore I just couldn't see myself ever being that way. One person had been trying water-only washing for months but still had greasy hair - while other members encouraged her to hang in there I just wanted to tell her to give up and get some shampoo!! (I didn't.) Ultimately, my desire for regularly clean hair and comfort trumped my eco-credentials.

And then salvation came . My local zero waste shop started selling SLS-free shampoo! So I could reduce my plastic use but still use a liquid shampoo. I gave it a try and it worked great - more than that, I loved no longer having to mix up BS solution and stand around with it in my hair for 3 minutes! Shampoo is so much easier! I still use dilute cider vinegar to condition my hair though, as one positive take-home from all this is that cider vinegar is awesome for giving you soft, shiny hair. Honestly. Just try not to get it in your eyes.

So there we go. My adventures in No-Poo-Land may not have been much of a success but at least I eventually found a way of washing that didn't cost the earth, uses less plastic and actually made me feel clean and happy!

Have you managed to ditch shampoo? What did you find that was successful in keeping your hair clean and lovely?

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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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. 

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