Category Archives: Reviews

Budkins Dolls and London Bus

With it being a very London-centric year, I thought a review of this gorgeous bus from Budkins might be apt. I bought the bus for DG’s Christmas present as she’s always loved playing with vehicles and is drawn to buses in particular. We’ve not got a traditional dolls’ house but we have a Sylvanian Families house and wooden farm set which more than replace any ‘need’ for one!

The Budkins dolls are just… gorgeous. Sized for most traditional wooden dolls’ houses, they also fit reasonably with Sylvanian Families (although are a bit larger) and the Plan Toys wooden farm sets (which also warrant their own review at some point), not to mention the over-size Kinderkram Noah’s Ark / Pirate Ship (another review?!) and probably much more. Besides which, they don’t need any special playsets, just a child’s imagination…

There are a huge variety of Budkins Dolls to choose from, to fit any child’s interests. From the traditional horror trio of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy (on my wish list); to historical figures; to pirates, knights, princesses and fairies; to almost everything in between. One negative I have is there is too much gender stereotyping in the roles for my liking (female cleaner, male mechanic, female nurse, male doctor etc) but as they’re sold individually (as well as in sets of three) that can be avoided as much as possible!

The London Bus is a wooden bus. It doesn’t make sounds, it doesn’t have an engine. What it is, is beautiful, and very big. The roof and top deck lift out so that you can put the passengers in the bus. Because the roof lifts off, you immediately have a tourist open-top bus as well as the traditional double decker. It seats up to 11 passengers – be they Budkins or, also in our case, Sylvanian Families animals. It may seat up to 11, but it’s amazing how many my children can fit in…

It comes with one figure, the bus driver / conductor, to start you off. The paint does wear off the corners with use, but I’ve yet to find a painted wooden toy that doesn’t (or at least one that can withstand the affections of my daughters!)

There is lots of play value in this bus, and it’s a beautiful object too. Learning-wise it covers a whole realm of areas from imaginative play, to talking about London or transport in general, to one-to-one correspondence (people to seats), to addition/subtraction (getting on/off bus), to… pretty much anything the children show an interest in inspired by their play.

Budkins dolls cost about £6 each or £15 for sets of three; the bus £45. The bus would be a lovely special present for a transport-mad child and Budkins characters are great to collect over time for all sorts of imaginative play.

Disclaimer: I was not sent any Budkins by PlayMerrily for review but I have had a discount account with PlayMerrily since August 2011 and therefore paid a reduced price for these products. All my reviews have been written because I loved the products and are for items I freely chose to buy for my daughters, unless otherwise stated. I choose to review for PlayMerrily because of their fantastic and friendly service.

Name Tags

When my eldest child first started day care, I carefully sewed name labels into her clothes bit by bit for a few weeks, thinking that I was clever in doing this on unlabelled clothes the night before so that I didn’t have to do lots in one sitting. Within a couple of weeks I was scrawling her name in biro on the clothes tags…

My second child always had her name scrawled in biro, on the clothes that didn’t already have either her sister’s name or our surname scrawled! When eldest was about to start school, I dutifully bought a packet of iron-on labels to save sewing and because I don’t really like the names written on labels (especially if you want to re-sell items somewhere along the line!)

I don’t know who I thought I was kidding; the iron only comes out to set Hama beads, the chances of me ironing labels on clothes was very slim! Plus friends told me that the iron-on labels unstick in the wash and are forever getting lost.

Just before school started, in the nick of time, I was headed in the direction of Easy Tags and (gulping slightly at the price compared to other labels) I ordered a set of 30 with backs for each child, plus an applicator.

I was instantly impressed with the ease of application and labelled MG’s entire uniform in practically no time at all. She even helped with some of them. I wasn’t sure how they’d hold up to wear and tear but after eight months use, even with constant washing and re-washing, the tags look as new as the day they arrived. None have come loose or been lost. I’ve had to remove some where eldest grew out of one size in clothes and went to the next, and they were just as easy to remove and re-use. I definitely recommend these to anyone who needs to label clothes, bedding, bags etc.

Thirty tags was plenty for MG’s day-to-day school use and so far I’ve not had to order any additional backs because DG’s labels have hardly been used yet so we had plenty of spare backs. If I didn’t have those, I would have needed to order spare backs. Because I only need to relabel a few times a year (winter/summer uniform, growth spurts), the basic manual applicator is more than enough. I’m not sure how robust the applicator is in comparison to the tags, but it looks like I should only need to buy a pack of spare backs every year or two and have no other labelling outlay.

For ease, convenience and durability these are worth every penny. Thirty tags, backs and a manual applicator cost £25; Thirty tags with backs are £15; and thirty backs are £5. They also come in packs of fifty, and heavy duty applicators are available.

The New Jumper by Oliver Jeffers

As I said in my Fiction Fridays post for Stuck, we’re fairly new to Oliver Jeffers in the Chaos household. But his work is very easy to fall in love with so we’re already fans!

The New Jumper is the first in a planned four book series about The Hueys, egg-shaped characters who are ‘all the same’. This story follows Rupert, a Huey who does something different. It’s a story about individuality, and a good book to approach philosophy for children, posing interesting questions about what’s different or the same:

The pencil sketch style encourages children to have a go, and the use of occasional colour pages highlights the Hueys nicely. There is a surprisingly large amount of character and detail in the minimalist art and the book really is a joy to read over again. MG and DG think it’s good fun, MG calls it “the egg book” and loves that she can make her own Huey online too.

Because The Hueys is having a big launch, there are fun things online to play with. You can make your own Huey, here’s MG’s:

… and here’s mine:

Yesterday there was a PDF of Huey’s activity sheets to download from here, but I can’t get it work today so finger’s crossed it will because there was a Huey to colour in, to cut out, spot the difference and a maze.

The trailer for the book:

You can also download sample pages from Oliver’s books from LoveReading4Kids (registration needed).

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of The New Jumper by HarperCollins for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Blackwell’s Festival of Illustration 2012

One of the beauties of Twitter, for me, is that because I follow people / organisations I’m interested in, I find out about events that I would have missed otherwise because of not signing up to the right mailing list or looking in the right newspaper… One of these events was Blackwell’s Festival of Illustration, part of Oxford’s Art Weeks.

This was a whole day of author/illustrator workshops and other fun, which I planned to take MG and DG to as much as they could manage. We arrived just after 11am, with Emma’s talk starting at 11.30. She was setting up so we started to wander the children’s section and hit the Animation Station, where we got stuck for the next hour and a half!

MG loves drawing, although she is a little shy and takes a while to warm up. But once she got started, she was lost in the drawing and concentrated on it for over an hour. She got upset at one point because another girl drew a sun, but the point was to be a collaboration except because everyone was watching Emma she got the sole control until Emma finished! The video below is from the event, MG takes up the first 2 minutes 32 seconds with her drawing! The animation is a lovely idea, I find it fascinating how she approaches drawing and am thrilled to have this memory of part of her development.

I occasionally peeped in at Emma’s talk where she read the first Wagtail Town and a Blue Kangaroo book, plus drew pictures and there was colouring for the children. It looked like a great session from what I got to see!

It was now 12.30 so time to get food into MG and DG if they were going to manage any more of the day. Just as we were leaving we bumped into Clara and the lovely Rosi from Harper Collins who were about to set up for Clara’s session at 1.30. There’s a Wagamama just a couple of streets away from Blackwell’s and both girls love noodles so off we went. Yum 🙂

We got back to Blackwell’s in time for Clara’s session where she drew Martha, Monty and Pip (and Paws!) but having forgotten to bring a pink pencil, coloured their ears and noses with lipstick instead.

Clara then read Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Love School, which MG had to listen to all the way through despite being desperate for the toilet! I managed to get her away after the story so we missed the instructions on how to make bunny ears but it was straightforward and the girls picked it up in no time. Sadly I neglected to take any pictures as we were all too busy making, and then we left the bunny ears somewhere *sniffles* but they were lovely.

MG and DG are big fans of Clara’s books, especially DG so we were all thrilled to get to chat to her afterwards. The girls completely ‘adopted’ Clara and were genuinely upset when we had to part. It was an utterly fantastic day. We completely missed Louise Yates because MG and DG were too tired for more sessions and needed to stretch their legs more. DG had a great time twirling with Martha Bunny, and somehow my girls managed to charm Clara into taking Martha home with them 😉

A great day, and I hope there’s another festival of illustration next year.

Other Worlds at The Story Museum

The Story Museum centre opens in Oxford in 2014 but before then they’ve starting putting on events in the building. Other Worlds is open for the whole of May and is a series of art installations in rooms in what was the post office and telephone exchange. It is somewhere that needs at least a couple of hours of exploring, which I certainly didn’t get with a 3 and 5 year old but here are the highlights of our little exploration.

We visited on Sunday 13th May in the morning because I knew Korky Paul would be there for a workshop. He will also be there Sat 19th May in the afternoon and Sun 20th May in the morning (check with The Story Museum for times).

Firstly, all the staff were absolutely wonderful. They greeted everyone enthusiastically, spent time chatting with the children and were completely approachable to talk to. They made the whole visit a delight (even with slightly clingy small children!) MG spent most of the time saying “can we go now?” until we left when she said “when are we going back?” Typical five year old?! DG explored, she likes exploring. We missed out at least half of the exhibits.

MG’s favourite was the Word Storm. We didn’t go in properly and read the walls but the room with its thunder and lightning was intriguing enough and the peephole in the wall to look through was great for the children.

The second favourite was A Crafty Fag, although I have no idea what was going on because I didn’t get to look for more than five seconds! But the girls climbed the ladder and looked through a periscope to see a video which seemed very curious. I think the ladder was of more interest to my children though!

Both of these were on the first floor, we didn’t go in any rooms on the ground floor but the main entrance had audio and paintings so you walk straight in to the experience. The portaloos (very important when you have small children, we had several visits!) were behind some bean poles with tags that looked interesting and I loved the notice in the courtyard about smoking!

The second floor housed Korky Paul’s PlessieOsaurus and the workshop, where the children were free to draw and paint an underwater scene on the walls and floor with Korky drawing outlines of Plessie and fish for everyone (not just the children) to colour plus giving impromptu advice on how to draw fish, how to make the paint more watery to look underwater etc. He spent the entire time engaging with the children and if I wasn’t totally shy I would have said hello as it was a very informal and intimate workshop. I think there were about 20-30 people there so it wasn’t overcrowded. There was a bit of drama when the Plessie fell over when the staff tried to move it to make space but no one (including Plessie) was hurt.

DG, being DG, happily painted the walls, looking for me when she wanted to change colours and when she wanted to stop. MG, being MG, clung to me at all times and didn’t do any drawing at all (which is a shame, because it is her favourite occupation usually). So MG and I kept out of the way and looked at the other exhibits in the huge room that we were in while DG happily painted, looking out for me on the odd occasion (I kept an eye on her at all times, in case she got stressed.)

There were tables with books spread around (which of course I couldn’t resist) and posters, postcards etc to support the museum. I bought a small handful 😉 It was a lovely trip and although the girls had their ‘bored’ moments while we were there, we did stay for about an hour and a half and they said they really enjoyed it afterwards and wanted to go again.

This review is a tiny taster of what Other Worlds has to offer, it really deserves a longer visit. Other Worlds is open until 27 May on Thursdays to Sundays (see website for details) and costs £3 per person, children under 2 are free.

Goblins

Between 2007 and 2009 these chapter books about five types of goblins were published. I think these particular goblins are part of the fairy folk – they are small, live on the edges of human knowledge and are a touch magical. They’re also quite grimy, fairly ugly and very funny.

I saw these books appear on the shelves of the local bookshop in hardback but as my eldest child was a baby I ignored them. As she grew, and little sister arrived and grew, and we all became addicted to David Melling‘s books, I started collecting signed copies whenever I found them on the shelves (calling out “buy me, buy me”!) They then sat on a shelf, waiting for my daughters to be old enough to read them…

When I sneakily started reading them, I wish I’d started earlier. As an adult, these are tiny portions of books but probably just right for newly confident readers. I have no experience with young readers (MG & DG are still ‘pre-readers’) so this is very much my review with no input from smaller people I’m afraid.

All the books follow the same format: there is a map, pictures and descriptions of the characters in the book, some facts about the type of goblins in the book, the story, an afterword connecting the real world to the goblin world and (in all but ghost goblins) some more goblin info or games. All the pictures in the book are black and white sketches (actually my favourites) with colour covers and inside covers.

Because of the format of the books, they encourage story-writing from young readers: who are your characters, what are their names, what do they do, where do they live? There are even worksheets on the Hidden Goblins website encouraging children to create new goblins. The website is a nice complement to the books, with lots of pictures and an extract from the first book to tempt you.

I do think these books will really draw young readers into a fantasy world, along with all the additional facts packed into the world there is always the hint in the of where you might find goblins: a puddle where everything else is dry; that tapping on the window; the birds singing because they’ve been pushed out of the trees…

Stone Goblins – Live in caves or tunnels, love stones. The story concerns a dragon in the goblins’ lake, and how they get rid of it. It has a dragon in, therefore a winner in my book. Also gross food like plucked spider-legs and toe-jam, fantastic for children people of a certain age mentality (as long as they’re not of a sensitive disposition…)

Tree Goblins – Live in trees, the males carry their wives and children in nests on their backs. This is a lovely story about family, and parents doing anything to find their children. It’s also about talking trees, strange creatures, pig droppings and sock sucking…

Puddle Goblins – Live in puddles that they can roll up and take with them in case of emergencies. The story concerns a goblin forgotten down a well for six months (ribbit), his rescue and naughty water goblins.

Shadow Goblins – Live in Black Woods, they can steal shadows and change shape. The story follows two trainee shadow goblins as they learn to steal shadows, their fairly useless teacher, some scared sheep and a skeleton… Very silly and a huge amount of fun. The sequences of goblin to watering can and sheep to goblin transformations on the inside covers are inspired.

Ghost Goblins – Dead. This is my personal favourite of the books, unsurprisingly because I like the darker side of humour. The story follows three newly deceased goblins being introduced to the afterlife via Cold Jack, the Windy Nibblers, Nightwatch Beetles and the Bone Collector. Also a riot of humour, silliness (the Windy Nibblers taking out their very sharp teeth before biting!) and brilliant imagination.

The five books can be read in any order as they’re self-contained so children can choose their favourites and read from there. Characters from Stone Goblins appear in Ghost Goblins but they can still be read in any order. Shadow and Ghost Goblins are particularly suitable for children who like ghosts and monsters in their stories, and are probably a good stepping stone for something like Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

I would very much definitely recommend these books for children who like fantasy, funny stories and making up their own stories. Suitable age range appears to be about 4-9 depending on the child (although 36 is perfectly okay too!) They would also be good to read aloud. You can visit hiddengoblins.co.uk for more details, or just take my word for it and buy the set 😉

All pictures by David Melling, used with permission.

BigJigs Pink Flower Kitchenware Set and Tin Tea Set

Merry from Patch of Puddles and PlayMerrily has a competition on at the moment to win a BigJigs picnic plus runners-up prizes for every 50 likes on the PlayMerrily Facebook page. The competition is open until midnight 30th April. MG and DG have far too much wooden play food so I’m not entering but what a fantastic competition!

I thought I’d take the opportunity to review some play kitchen accessories because MG and DG love playing tea parties and cooking games. Around MG’s first birthday a 2-weekly magazine with kitchenware and tea set accessories started to come out. I subscribed to it thinking that by the time it was finished (assuming it would be 18 months – 2 years) we’d have a lovely set for MG to play with. There were lots of great items, but the partwork didn’t seem to have any system to it and after a year it felt more like they were getting rid of unsold items rather than making a coherent set. I persevered then cancelled after two years with far too much stuff. Two years after cancelling I got even more fed up of the bits being spread everywhere all over the house so made a deal with the children – they would get new kitchenware and tea sets but in return we got rid of the Strawberry Shortcake things!

I was torn between the Pink Flower Kitchenware Set and the Stainless Steel Kitchenware Set but of course my girls chose the pink flowers! There really is more than enough here for play cooking – two pans with lids, a frying pan, a wok, baking pan, 2 wooden spoons, pan holder and mini tablecloth (which doubles perfectly as a picnic blanket). My initial thoughts were that everything was smaller than I imagined, but that’s because the original set we had was oversized for a kitchen set. MG and DG have no such preconceptions and think the whole set is great, making lots of different pretend meals for us all. MG and DG like to use beads as pretend cooking ingredients making for very colourful meals.

Again I was torn between two picnic baskets but MG and DG prefered the basket with this set and the design exactly matches the pink flower kitchenware set which they also prefered. This set comes with a lovely picnic basket, teapot, four teacups, four saucers, four plates, four spoons and a fabric holder for the spoons (which matches the material in the kitchenware set). Being made of tin there’s no breakages to worry about. I do love porcelain tea sets but my daughters are not dainty (for which I am glad of, they play wholeheartedly!) The lid of the teapot fits very securely (at first I thought it didn’t come off but my daughters disproved that theory) so less chance of falling off and getting lost (little pieces disappear in the Chaos household regularly!) The tea cups are so cute, as are the dinky saucers that go with them. A big hit in this house, we’ve had a constant tea-party in the week since they arrived. And I’ve halved the amount of stuff by boxing up the other set for charity which means less mess and more structured playtime instead of “let’s spread everything over every room in the house” play 😆

Now is a fantastic time to buy BigJigs toys from PlayMerrily with 15% off until the end of April. See my reviews for other BigJigs products here (we do love BigJigs in this house!) There’s also 10% off Orchard Toys Games and Puzzles (I must review some, all the ones we have are fantastic) until mid-May. If that wasn’t enough to send you to fill your shopping basket at PlayMerrily, there’s free shipping with orders over £50 and Ramblings of a Suburban Mummy has a code for an additional 10% off everything until the end of May! Shhh, don’t tell Mr Chaos I’ve been stocking up on presents 😉

Disclaimer: I was not sent these sets by PlayMerrily for review but I have had a discount account with PlayMerrily since August 2011 and therefore paid a reduced price for these products. All my reviews have been written because I loved the products and are for items I freely chose to buy for my daughters, unless otherwise stated. I choose to review for PlayMerrily because of their fantastic and friendly service.

Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep by David Melling

Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep is published on April 5th but due to a (since corrected) early release at Red House I got my copy yesterday. Woohoo! The best place to buy this book would be your local independent bookstore of course but I’m afraid “early release” and “half price” got me (the next copy I get will be from my local bookstore, and there will be a next copy, I have a habit of giving David Melling books as presents to every child we know…)

This is the third in the Hugless Douglas series, the first two I partially reviewed here: Vote Douglas! (Or not…) I think it might just be my favourite of the three.

To recap: In Hugless Douglas (Hodder 2010), Douglas wakes from a long sleep and tries to find a hug that suits him, looking for big tall and comfy hugs in all the wrong places until Rabbit takes him to the best hug of all. In Don’t Worry [Hugless] Douglas (Hodder 2011) Douglas gets a new hat from his dad but in his excitement the hat gets ruined. He looks for advice about what to tell his dad, before finding out that telling the truth is the best option.

In Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep, Douglas is heading for a sleepover with Rabbit: “There’s plenty of room at Rabbit’s.” But not before choosing what to take with him, getting lost, picking up some friends along the way and ending sleeping not quite where originally planned…

The three Hugless Douglas books are wonderful. They’re not my favourite David Melling creations (shhh, don’t tell anyone) but that’s not saying much because frankly they’re all my favourites. For some inexplicable reason my daughters pronounce Hugless Douglas as “hug-a-lus dug-a-lus”, which of course I find utterly adorable!

It’s the attention to detail that make me love these books so much. This may be why I like Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep so much, because it brings themes from the original Hugless Douglas book: the honeybee pyjamas, the bush with eyes, the owl saying “Twooooo Twit!”. I also love how the sky subtly darkens throughout the book with a sunset sky before night falls – something that you can even see in the storyboard:

Kind permission given by David Melling to use storyboard sketch

This double spread also has that Winnie-the-Pooh trapped in Rabbit’s house feel, except in this case Rabbit is very happy for Douglas to visit and the problem is getting into her house, not out of it.

Mighty-Girl and Destructo-Girl both love Hugless Douglas, and the Douglas books are suitable for a wide age range. MG (just 5) gets a lot more of the humour (pointing out the sheep stuck on Douglas’ back for instance). DG (almost 3) loves the stories. I drool over the details! As I write this, MG has stolen Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep from me and is copying the words from the book while attempting to read as many as she can. Earlier she was using the pictures to read the story to her little sister.

The attention to detail really is just fantastic: there are always ten sheep (even when they’re just eyes in a bush), Douglas’ storybook front and back cover is an exact match to the first Hugless Douglas book, one of the sheep is pulling the pyjamas out of the bag before Douglas is shown wearing them (though how he gets them on must be a book in itself!)

The final double page spread of “things to take on a sleepover” is packed with humour (especially the cuddly toy), but I think my favourite has to be: a friend. Hugless Douglas can be every child’s friend so off you go now, grab yourself a copy and enjoy. And don’t forget to read it to your children once you’ve enjoyed it…

Don't forget to pack a friend...

You can read more about Hugless Douglas (and other things) on David Melling’s blog plus there’s a fantastic interview about the Hugless Douglas iPhone app (and other things) over at The App Puppy (wish I had an iPhone but shall just have to campaign for an Android version…)

Oxford Literary Festival: Clara Vulliamy and Emma Chichester Clark

Despite living in or near Oxford my entire life, and the festival running for 16 years, I’ve never been to an Oxford Literary Festival event before. I have truly been missing out. It was hard choosing just one event, but also a no-brainer: how could I turn down the opportunity to meet Clara Vulliamy? The day of the event dawned grey and dreary, after a week of lovely weather. It also came with a small child who whinged constantly about everything from the moment she woke at 7am until eventually cheering up slightly on the bus into Oxford at about 10.30am. Given that the event was at 12pm, we made a pit stop for snacks and drinks to minimise extra whinging. We arrived about 15 minutes early but there was already another family waiting and it wasn’t too long before we were all invited in.

I’d actually been so nervous at meeting Clara, and wondering how to introduce myself: “Hi, I’m Child-Led Chaos”?! But then I remembered she does know my name, so I ended up saying “Hello, I’m Anne-Marie.” and was greeted like an old friend before she had to rush off to find some pens!

Firstly, I must say that although Clara Vulliamy is lovely, friendly, amazing and welcoming on Twitter; she is even more lovely in real life, talking to everyone as if they were the only person there and yet taking the time to talk to everyone. I’d never actually heard of Emma Chichester Clark before (ooops) but I also managed to have a chat with her and she was also very lovely, talking to everyone. All the people involved in the event were friendly and approachable and I’d recommend anyone who gets a chance to go to an author event in Christ Church JCR to go, it’s a lovely intimate venue (I guess you can pack more in but because this event included crafts, half the room was taken with tables).

My daughters were in a clingy mood, so although there were cushions set out for the children at the front and chairs for the grown-ups, I had to sit with them on the floor. I wasn’t the only parent on the floor, but the others at least managed to get more than two inches away from their children! Sitting down, surrounded by bags (spare clothes, wipes, snacks and drinks) and coats I felt like I was taking up half the floor but wasn’t really, and there was plenty of room for everyone. The event started with the housekeeping notices, which started with “no photography”. So I dutifully put my camera away, only having the one picture of the front of stage. I wish I could have taken more.

The first person to talk was Emma Chichester Clark who went through slides of all the characters from Wagtail Town, which was really nice to see them all separately. There were a lot more characters than included in the first book, Lulu and the Best Cake Ever, but there is another book ready for publication next year and possibly a third in the works (I asked while she was signing our book). After going through the characters, she read the book (which I will review later in this post).

After Emma had finished reading, Clara came on with a large cardboard cut-out Martha which she hid behind the sign for the children to guess what it was. She then read her book (which I will review later in this post) and showed a felt rabbit that all the children could make.

During the readings, MG and DG were very well behaved. They did ask for drinks and snacks and I tried not to rustle too much as I got things out of my bag, but considering how whingy the rest of the day was, they were on their very best behaviour for the whole event.

MG's artwork on the left, DG's on the right.

The craft session was centred around making the felt rabbits, although there were also Wagtail Town badges for the children to colour in. The four tables were covered in felt shapes, buttons, ribbon and pens. I was in heaven 😆 I had to help DG quite a lot with her rabbit, but she did all the decoration herself. MG managed to follow the instructions more, but still needed some help. I was somewhat trapped behind a table with them, so saw David Melling getting books signed and leaving without managing to introduce myself (although it wasn’t his event, so a bit of an invasion of privacy therefore I didn’t try too hard!)

The rest is somewhat of a blur. I got to talk to Clara for a while, the girls ran around getting in everyone’s way, I got both books signed to both girls and I gave Clara a very silly little gift as a thank-you for how kind she is which she was very nice about! We were probably the last non-event people to leave the room, although I could have talked to Clara for hours!

The girls were fidgety so instead of going out for lunch as planned, we got the next bus home and DG fell asleep on my lap almost as soon as we were back and slept for three hours (she stopped naps seven months ago, so this is very unusual but explained the grotty morning). Sadly this meant we missed a live drawing event with Clara and Emma that afternoon, although apparently it wasn’t well advertised and I didn’t know about it until after it had finished.

The picture above was taken by David Melling who kindly gave me permission to include it in my post. He also tweeted finished pictures by Emma Chichester Clark and Clara Vulliamy, Chris Riddell, Korky Paul, Emily Gravett and Joe Berger. I am utterly gutted to have missed all of this, but MG and DG weren’t in the mood for being out that long on that day so it wouldn’t have been a good time even if we had managed to see.

Wagtail Town: Lulu and the Best Cake Ever by Emma Chichester Clark

The story is about Lulu, a little dog with big ideas who gets carried away with wanting to make the best cake and disappointed when the cake she makes isn’t a winner. But that doesn’t mean Lulu isn’t a winner in other ways and all ends on a happy note. Emma certainly seems to know her dog breeds and all the characters in Wagtail Town have accents befitting the country the breed comes from, for example Lulu is French and lives in a house that looks like the Eiffel Tower. There appears to be a huge amount of background to this book – each character has a name and personality, there is a map of the town at the front and a final page that feels like the end of an episode. I get a feeling that this could easily be adapted into a TV series and I wonder if there are any plans for this. I think it would be very popular. The book also educates because of all the different breeds and any child with an interest in dogs will love looking up more about them (I will have to get a copy to send to one of my nieces who adores dogs!)

Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Love School by Clara Vulliamy

I was so excited about getting to read this book (see I [Heart] Martha Bunny) that there was a chance it could have been a disappointment. I needn’t have worried, this is a lovely book and already a favourite with both my girls (especially DG who is already the biggest fan of Muffin and the Bear with Sticky Paws). Martha is a very sunny bunny who loves everything and is very excited about her first day at school. But she has to leave her two little bunny brothers behind which makes them all feel sad (bunnies put their ears down when sad, and Clara has captured this perfectly). The book is full of lists and side notes, and text that bounces around the pages. Each page has so much to explore, and cute little moments like Paws the puppy appearing in the corner of (almost) every double page. One of my favourite parts is the realistic breakfast with small children: all three have a different breakfast, one bunny brother will only eat his wearing a cardboard box on his head and the baby (toddler) is squeezing egg through his fingers delightedly saying “Mud!”. It’s a beautifully observed moment in a book full of such great observations of small children’s habits. It’s a book that children will understand because it speaks to them, and one filled with moments that parents will relate to. I still [Heart] Martha Bunny, her brothers and her creator.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of both Wagtail Town: Lulu and the Best Cake Ever and Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Love School by Harper Collins for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post and bought the tickets for the festival event myself.

John Crane GoGo Magnetic Blocks

I bought these blocks about six months ago and they have been very popular with MG and DG from the start. The box contains 32 wooden blocks and 2 axles, 28 of the blocks have magnets on some sides and 4 are wheels. There is a sheet with twenty ideas of things to build and a cotton bag for keeping the bricks in if you don’t keep the box. The box has been sturdy enough to survive the last six months intact so we’ve used that instead of the bag, apart from when the blocks turn into shopping for other imaginative play.

The magnets in these blocks are quite strong but are also very easy to part so constructions can be made and played with but easily re-made when required. I managed to hold up 9 bricks under one magnet, but that was stretching the magnet’s strength. In the picture there are seven bricks held by one magnet, and that fell apart soon after, but they are that strong. There are more than enough blocks for one child to construct and play. When both MG and DG use the blocks together it’s possible but not as much fun for them, but they’re sisters so fight over everything most of the time 😆

The age says 3+ but these blocks are great for toddlers because they reduce the frustration of blocks falling apart. Of course you need to be careful with magnets but these are well fitted into the blocks and after six months of being battered around they’re showing no signs of wear so it’s extremely unlikely that the magnets would stray and the blocks are big enough to be difficult to swallow!

One of the things I love best is that you can build shapes that don’t quite follow the rules of gravity. It makes for some fun constructions. MG has followed some of the patterns because she likes to do that, and DG has insisted I make something from the patterns for her but generally they both make their own constructions and the ease in which the blocks connect mean even younger children can make fairly complex constructions.

I was going to write that the only downside is the price, when compared to non-magnetic blocks they do seem expensive. However I’ve just done some searching online (Google, Amazon and eBay) and found that (a) there are not many magnetic building block sets available in the first place, (b) these John Crane / GoGo blocks appear to be the best value for wooden magnetic blocks and (c) Play Merrily are very competitively priced.

These are not just standard building blocks though, they are magnetic and this does add significantly to the play value. MG and DG barely look at “ordinary” building blocks (and we have some really beautiful Haba ones) but will play with these for hours. Not to mention all the educational value they’re getting learning about forces and gravity and magnets of course… We love these blocks and don’t hesitate in recommending them.

Disclaimer: I was not sent these blocks by PlayMerrily for review but I have had a discount account with PlayMerrily since August 2011 and therefore paid a reduced price for this product. All my reviews have been written because I loved the products and are for items I freely chose to buy for my daughters, unless otherwise stated. I choose to review for PlayMerrily because of their fantastic and friendly service.