30 October 2008

Great books for Big Blue Days

Alexander has a very bad day. It starts when he wakes up with a piece of gum stuck in his hair and goes downhill from there. His day gets so bad that he wants to run away to the other side of the world. In the original US version, Alexander wants to run away to Australia..... Obviously here in Australia Alexander had nowhere else to go, so he wants to run away to Timbuktu!
The illustrations are black/white and beautifully done. Alexander's mood is captured with his face like a thundercloud. It's a great book for teaching children about bad days, because they will have them and will need to learn how to get through them. It's also a userful reminder to parents that seemingly insignificant (to us) things can be Big Blue Things for a child and that they can have bad days too!

This is a perfect book for learning how to get through a Big Blue Day. Bradley Trevor Greive first gained fame with his Blue Day Book for grown ups. It was so popular that it didn't take long before requests were made for a kids' version.

The Blue Day Book for kids features the same gorgeous black/white photographs of animals in perfect companionship with words of wisdom for children. It talks about the kinds of things that can make you blue, from feeling lonely, being forced to share toys or snacks, having made a mistake, having brussel sprouts for dinner (and how come nobody makes you share those?). The book then shares advice on how to feel better again. Singing, dancing, standing on your head:
"It's a great way to see the world differently. (More grown-ups should try this.)"

I road-tested this on Doodlebug when he was having a really blue moment, and we weren't even halfway through the book before he was rolling around in stitches over the photographs.

What about when Mum has a Blue? Mem Fox wrote this story about little Harriet who is a typical little 3-4 year old girl in all her exuberance and unintentional naughtiness. Harriet's mother does not like to shout, and starts out being very patient. But as the "moments" add up, the patience starts to wear out until a feather broke the camel's back and at last she shouts (and shouts, and shouts). The story continues with Harriet and Mum apologise and make up, and go on to have a good laugh together picking up the feathers from the pillow that popped.

The illustrations capture both Harriet and her mum perfectly. This is one of Little Possum's favourites..........I can't for the life of me think why............ :)

29 October 2008

Spotlight - Dick King-Smith

Some authors are special favourites in our reading lives, and deserve a bit of a special mention. Dick King-Smith is one of those authors.
He is one of Britain's most prolific writers, and has written over 100 books, most of them with animal characters. "Babe the Sheep Pig" ("Babe the Gallant pig") is probably his most famous character and the movie won him an Academy Award. Not a bad result for a former Gloucestershire farmer!
Gordon King-Smith (was called "Dickie-Bird" by his parents, shortened to Dick) was raised on a farm and had many pet animals. His love of farming and animals led him to become a farmer himself, but after 20 years he gave it up to become a Primary school teacher and, later, a writer.
DKS' love and extensive knowledge of animals shines through in every one of his stories. He creates characters that are convincing both as animals and humans. The books are also full of gentle humour, some are laugh out loud funny! His understanding of and appreciation for children is also evident. He seems to know exactly what makes them tick and what they like to read.

Here are a handful of our favourite characters:
Sophie - A small but very determined little girl whose ambition is to become a farmer. Her menagerie of pets include woodlice, snails, a cat and a rabbit. The six books in the Sophie introduces us to her adventures, her family and friends (best friend Great Aunt Al from Scotland).
Funny Frank- a chicken with a dream - he wants to be a duck and swim.

Titus ("Titus Rules OK") is a Pembrokeshire corgi puppy in the royal household of Windsor Castle. He is learning the ropes (how not to trip Prince Philip up for example). This book is hilarious in its description of life in the castle seen through the eyes of a dog.

Jackson is a rabbit, a very unusual rabbit. He lives by the sea and loves to watch the tall ships sailing in and out of the harbour. Jackson imagines a life on the seas and longs to be a sailor. One day he stows away on the "Atalanta" with his girlfriend Bunny bound for Australia. And the rest, as they say, is history...... history re-written.

Omnibombulator - a beetle who is so small that his parents give him a really long name to make him feel more important. Being a very small beetle is not easy, but in the end Omnibombulator discovers that it can be really useful!

Siegfrid - "The Adventurous Snail". With characters such as Siegfrid, the British snail, a British ambassador, the US president and a girl (snail) called Peggy Sue this book is very amusing.

Most of the books by Dick King-Smith have short chapters and make a perfect read for 6-8 year olds.

28 October 2008

The case for the Famous Five

I wonder if Enid Blyton is spinning in her grave to see what is becoming of her creations. Chorion, a British company, has set about modernising the books. Chorion seems to be under the impression that the Famous Five and all the other series we know and love so well from our childhood, are not relevant or attractive enough for today's children.

As the new series of Famous Five books are published, coinciding with an animated Disney series, I find that I am saddened.

The characters of the new series are children of the original five, named Jyoti (Jo), Max, Dylan and Allie, are modern, Ipod, mobile phone and laptop wielding children. Timmy the dog is still, thankfully, Timmy the dog..... though I would imagine he has been microchipped by now!

We love the Enid Blyton books in our family. Little Possum (6) loves Naughty Amelia Jane, The Wishing Chair Adventures and the Faraway Tree books. They are favourite bedtime stories. Doodlebug (9) loves the Famous Five stories, and we are reading book 5 at the moment.

The first book in the series was written in 1942, the last (no 21) in 1963, so these books are from a different era. The language used is unfamiliar today, but it doesn't seem to worry Doodlebug. He understands the concept of history and can see these stories as being of a time and a place when things were different. I am not unduly concerned that he will assume that gender roles today are or should be as they were then. These are things we can discuss with him.

I believe firmly that my children benefit from reading literature that is rich in language - where they can learn different styles of prose, expand their vocabulary and hopefully be set up for a future reading the classics!

The next modernisations are also on the way with the Wishing Chair Adventures remade and Silky the Fairy from the Faraway Tree in her own spin-off series called "the Enchanted World". I am so glad that we have the original versions!

26 October 2008


I love bookplates and the kids do too.... they can write their name on them and mark their special books.
A couple of years ago I stumbled across this website which is full of printable bookplates created by famous children's book illustrators and authors. They are sharing them for free as long as you are not using it for commercial purposes.
Here's a selection:

23 October 2008

Books for going to sleep....

When my children decide that they are too old for picture books, I will miss reading the delightful genre of "going to sleep" books. I thought I would share with you our favourite sleepy books:

"Sleepy Bears" by Mem Fox is a beautiful book about a mother bear and her cubs snuggling into the soft feather bed for a nice long winter sleep. Mother Bear sends each little cub to sleep with a special rhyme and a dream. The illustrations by Kerry Argent are adorable, and I love this book to pieces! This is Turtle's favourite bedtime story still.... he just turned 8, but Ali Bear going to sleep "tummy all tight, dreaming of scrumptiousness all through the night" still brings a contented smile to his face. For a treat you too can hear it read out loud here by Mem Fox herself.

This treasure of a book by Andrew Daddo is relaxation technique for children in a picture book. The gorgeous little orangutan settles down for sleep by saying goodnight to each bodypart. The illustrations are exquisite, I love the expressions of the little one! We get a chuckle out of him saying goodnight to his bottom, telling it to relax, "but not too much". You can hear Andrew Daddo read it here while following along with the pages.

The fairies are a firm favourite with the little 6 yr old fairy fan..... This delightful story by Jane Simmons is all about Lucy and Jamie. Lucy is a big sister with a wonderful imagination and ability to tell stories. In this book she uses her skills to help her little brother Jamie whose fear of shadows is keeping him awake. Lucy takes him on an adventure to the magical land where the fairies live. I love the way the lines of text swirl across the pages, matching the story and the glittery, shimmering illustrations.

Here's another treasure, by Frances Watts. I am begrudgingly allowed to read it.... because it is a Daddy book and should be read by Daddy. In this book Baby Bear refuses to let Daddy give him a goodnight kiss, and their bedtime routine is transformed into a game where Daddy imagines all the different kisses that other animal babies give their daddies. As a perfect accompaniment to this storyline, David Legge has created some clever illustrations that have hidden images in them. This makes for a wonderful interaction as our little ones can do a bit of "I spy" on the pages as they listen to the story.

Everyone should have a brother like Willoughby in this beautiful book by Joyce Dunbar. Little bunny Willa is afraid to go to sleep and having bad dreams. Willoughby helps her relax and feel safe by telling her all the happy things she can think of. The illustrations in this book were done by one of my favourite children's book illustrators - Debi Gliori and I am sure that you will love the charming drawings with the most adorable,expressive bunnies.

I can't talk about going to sleep books without mentioning this one! If I didn't get a brother like Willoughby, I'd want one like Charlie. I think Lauren Child's style of writing and illustrating is irresistible. Little Lola reminds me of my own Little Possum, irrepressible, enthusiastic, imaginative! Charlie has the patience of a saint negotiating bedtime with Lola in this story. The illustrations are whimsical and have that scrapbook feel. This book leaves us going to sleep happy and cheerful.

15 October 2008

the magic of the reading bug......

There are several books I turn to for advice on children and reading. Here are a few:

Paul Jennings' "The Reading Bug" is a fantastic resource on how to help children develop a love of reading and of books. His speciality and passion is helping reluctant readers (more often than not, boys). In this book he shares ideas and practical advice on how to infect your child with the Reading Bug. There are book lists to cater for every level of ability and interest in reading.

Then there is Mem Fox's "Reading Magic". I love this woman... the author of so many of our favourite picture books. She is passionate about the benefits of reading to children, and in this book she shares the "Why" and the "how" of reading aloud. It's her belief that reading aloud with children from a very early age, will stimulate their development intellectually and emotionally.

Although the book does not share any references to studies to prove this, my own instincts and experience tells me it is true. I see it in my own children and other children as well.

Mem Fox is a funny, passionate, exuberant person, and listening to her read some of her books out loud was a wonderful experience. I thought I knew a thing or two about reading aloud until I listened to her and heard her ideas during a lecture back in September. On her website you can hear her read as well - there are recordings of her reading as she explains Reading Magic.

One of my favourite parts of "Reading Magic" is Mem Fox's list of

10 Read Aloud Commandments

1. Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud.

2. Read at least three stories a day: it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read.

3. Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.

4. Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners.

5. Read the stories that the kids love, over and over and over again, and always read in the same ‘tune’ for each book: i.e. with the same intonations on each page, each time.

6. Let children hear lots of language by talking to them constantly about the pictures, or anything else connected to the book; or sing any old song that you can remember; or say nursery rhymes in a bouncy way; or be noisy together doing clapping games.

7. Look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short.

8. Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes, and finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours, remembering that it’s never work, it’s always a fabulous game.

9. Never ever teach reading, or get tense around books.

10. Please read aloud every day, mums and dads, because you just love being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do. (Mem Fox, Reading Magic)
Other valuable resources are:
"Honey for a child's heart by Gladys Hunt and
"The read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

14 October 2008

fairies at the bottom of the garden...

or at least in abundance on LP's bookshelf.... she is my little 6 yr old fairy-loving girl.
We have 2 favourite series currently - the Fairy Realm series by Emily Rodda, and the Faraway Fairies series by Eleanor Coombe.

In the Fairy Realm series we meet Jessie who, with her mother, moves in with her grandmother. Here, in the garden of Blue Moon, Jessie finds a secret entrance to the fairy realm. There she meets a fairy queen, unicorns, miniature horses, elves and gnomes. Jessie also discovers something about her grandmother - she is in fact the true fairy queen who married a mortal. All the stories in the series are enchanting. Our edition of the series was published by ABC, and the books have wonderfully big print which makes it easier for a young reader who is just starting to read independently, or for a new reader to start following along by picking out odd words.


These are the stories of the fairies and other creatures living on Faraway Island. The stories are entertaining, the print is easy to read, and there are many black and white illustrations for your child to enjoy. The series is also supported by a website where there are activities to go along with the books.

What I enjoy the most is the Australian flavour of the books. It is the first time I have come across fairies in the same stories as wattlemen, bunyips and yowies! They all live among the gum-trees of Faraway Island along with a dragon, pookas, trows and goblins.

Happy reading!

12 October 2008

Climbing the Viking branch of our family tree

There is something about the Vikings that really grabs the attention of our kids, particularly the boys.... could it be the swords and the tendency to engage in battles or sailing the seas exploring the world (flat as they believed it was)? Knowing that they have Viking ancestry sparked the kids' imagination even more.

The vikings certainly had a fascinating history, and although they were not known for their peace loving nature, there are aspects that are to be admired - their adventurous side, sailing around discovering new places, establishing trade routes. They left behind a treasure of sagas telling us about their history, and a collection of wisdom known as the Håvamål.

Here are some of the books that we have enjoyed reading while learning about Vikings:

1. "The vikings are coming" by Mauri Kunnas
Sirpa and Teemu sent us this book and we love you for it!! Kauri Munnas is a Finnish author and illustrator, well known for his book about Santa Claus. I love what he has done with his book on vikings.

This is a collection of fun-filled stories written in the style and spirit of the old Norse sagas. Although fictional the stories are based on and supported by historical information about the Vikings. The madcap humour makes it a very entertaining way to learn history from wonderful characters such as Gunnar Goatfiord and Thorleif Tuneless sharing their stories. My favourite story is the one about Buttercup the Cow in the New World and lactose intolerance.....

2. "Viking Longship" by Mick Manning and Brita Granström.
This book is part of a series called "Fly on the wall". It's a historical picturebook in which we follow the life of a longship called "the Sea Dragon" and the vikings who sailed in her. The style is almost a scrapbook-style with each double page spread offering a colourful tableaux describing the various aspects of viking life - both the raiders and the wives and children at home. Across the bottom of the pages there is a strip containing historical facts. The pages are beautifully laid out, the illustrations are eye-catching and the information easily accessible. A great read!
For a perfect snack after a hungry read, there is a recipe for Birka bread. Beautiful newly made with some butter and/or cheese on it..... mmmm

3. DK EyeWitness "Viking"
The award-winning EyeWitness series is one of my favourite series for children's non-fiction/reference. The lay-out is always wonderful, almost like a museum-tour, and the text is readable.

"Viking" is no exception. It provides and in depth look at Viking history through a study of life in that era. There is the DK trademark stunning photographs of longships, weapons, jewellery and other artifacts. Alongside we find explanatory captions, and tidbits of information in bitesize pieces. It can be read from cover-to-cover, but each 2 page spread is a stand-alone section that we can dip into for a casual read.

For other viking related activities try
Who were the vikings?