Monday, 29 January 2018

Four Female-Led First Chapter Book Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 'Anna Hibiscus' Series by Atinuke and Lauren Tobia

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

The 'Dotty Detective' series by Clara Vulliamy

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

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

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

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Saturday, 20 January 2018

Sick Days - Then And Now

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

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

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

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

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

Waking Up

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


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


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


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


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

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

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, 8 January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Bears Don't Eat Egg Sandwiches

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

Game Of Stones by Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson

Game Of Stones

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

Beware The Mighty Bitey by Heather Pindar and Susan Batori

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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

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

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Friday, 5 January 2018

Awaiting Assessment

There's been an elephant on my blog for the past few months. You may not have noticed it, but I certainly have. With every parenting post I've written it's been there, silently watching as I type, willing me to acknowledge it's existence. But I wasn't quite ready. Until now.

You see, Girl Child, my wonderful, funny, bright, confident, exhausting daughter, is now on the waiting list to be assessed for autism.

I've said it. Deep breath. OK, elephant, you can come out now.

I won't go into a long run down of all the steps it's taken to get this far, but I will say it's been happening a while. It was picked up in preschool that she was struggling with the social and emotional side of her development  but we assumed that, as she was so advanced 'academically', she simply needed time to catch up.  When she moved onto a school nursery they hinted at the possibility of autism, but never actually said the word, and various other things going on meant I didn't pick up on it. Then in February last year her teacher at her new school suggested we refer her for an assessment. And it took from then to December to be accepted onto the waiting list, via various appointments and paperwork.

Don't let anyone tell you that they give out autism diagnoses easily!

I'll write about all this in time, but right now I just want to get it out there. I had debated waiting until we had an official diagnosis but as the wait could be up to a year for that (yes, really) I didn't feel I could carry on writing about parenting without acknowledging the elephant.

While going through all this I've drawn strength from reading blogs by other autism parents, and I can really see how this is an instance where the blogging community can bring much needed reassurance. If you're interested in checking out other blogs on this topic, the ones I've found helpful are Mummy Tries, Someone's Mum, And Next Comes L, Steph's Two Girls, Faith Mummy, Wee Ohana and It's A Tink Thing. If any of you read this, thank you.

So there we are. The elephant is out. Phew. Now for the long wait for assessment.