Fiction Fridays #29: Stuck

FF#29
Stuck: Oliver Jeffers (2011)

IT ALL BEGAN when Floyd got his kite stuck in A TREE.

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Stuck isn’t the first Oliver Jeffers book we read, but it was the first one to be given proper attention as the other was borrowed from the library and ignored in favour of others borrowed that time so not fully appreciated. We got Stuck at the end of last year, and have been building up a small collection of his books since.

It seems everyone knows far more about Oliver Jeffers than I do so I’m probably ‘preaching to the converted’ but this is such a wonderful book. It is from the completely surreal stock of picture books which children either happily take for granted or laugh along at the absurdity.

In Stuck, a boy called Floyd gets his kite stuck in a tree and tries to get it back by throwing a series of larger and more improbable objects into the tree to dislodge it. One of my favourite lines is: “A lighthouse to knock down the house no longer across the street…” It’s hugely imaginative, hilariously funny and ends with a quote from The Italian Job (1969). What more could you possibly want from a picture book?!

Here is a video of Oliver reading Stuck:

Three

My baby is three years old.

Three.

Where did the last three years go? It seems no time at all since she was a tiny dot!

Happy Birthday to my amazing, funny, beautiful, crazy, messy, cheeky, dinky and wonderful baby girl.

Happy Birthday, Rosamund, I love you so much.

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.

Tea, Daddy?

MG: Daddy, would you like a cup of tea?

Daddy: I would love a cup of tea, thank-you!

MG: Mummy! Can you get Daddy a cup of tea?

Me: <laughing, makes tea…>

Fiction Fridays #28: Meg’s Eggs

FF#28
Meg’s Eggs: Helen Nicoll & Jan Pienkowski (1972)

It was suppertime, so Meg got out her cauldron.

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Meg and Mog is a book I loved from my childhood, and one I included in my Six Books posts. But the others in the series are also fantastic. I love Jan Pienkowski‘s art, and MG honed in on him as a favourite artist from a young age (along with Nick Sharratt and Lucy Cousins).

MG at 5 months old, with Meg’s Eggs

Meg’s Eggs is a favourite of both MG and DG, and has been for a long time. We used to have a board book version but it was loved into bits 😉 No wonder this one is a favourite, it has dinosaurs!

Meg makes a spell to get eggs for supper but the eggs are too big and they can’t open them, but then… There is one small thing that annoys me about this book: at the end Meg uses bacon and eggs to make a spell to save them from the dinosaurs, but if she already had bacon and eggs why didn’t they have that for supper?! 😆

A lovely book, another essential along with the original Meg and Mog. We have nine of the stories plus two ladybird books with stories from the animated series and all are well loved. The animated series is well worth getting too: five minute episodes so they’re good pre-bedtime treats (who am I kidding, my two sit and watch the entire DVD…) or to get five minutes peace. Made by Absolutely in 2004 the series is available on two DVDs for around £3 each, a complete bargain.

I’ve just realised that there are seven out of print Jan Pienkowski books available to read online here, including Owl at the Vet. The Jan Pienkowski books we own probably deserve a blog to themselves one day… 😉

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.

Elves and Fairies

Zoe from Playing by the Book is starting a new monthly series called “I’m looking for a book about…”, the first theme of which is Elves and Fairies. I love children’s books, I love reviewing books, I read lots of fantasy therefore this should be an easy one for me to join in. Right?

My bookshelves are packed with books filled with creatures from the realm of Faerie – from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (especially the Tiffany Aching stories) to Neil Gaiman (e.g. Sandman and The Books of Magic) to the fairies in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels to classics like Lord of the Rings, Kipling’s Puck of Pook Hill and humour like Brian Froud’s Lady Cottingham’s Pressed Fairy Book… I’m more a lover of humourous fantasy and twists on tradition, rather than extraordinarily long series on the whole.

But they’re my books, there seems to be a dearth of fairies on my children’s bookshelves. Fairy tales we have a-plenty, but they don’t seem to have a lot of actual fairies and elves in them… I shall therefore be reading with much interest about the books suggested for this month’s theme. With much twisting on the theme I have the following to offer:

The Tough Princess – it does have fairies in at least!

The Tale of Jack Frost – I’ve always thought of Jack Frost as a sprite, which I think is a type of fairy, and he does get wings at the end of the book… There are also Goblins, and David Melling’s Goblins seem to me to be distant cousins of your bog-standard fairy type.

A Goblins review may be up in time for Monday’s Elves and Fairies carnival (I did say I was twisting the theme!) but until then, here are my fairy daughters 🙂

Six Months of Fiction Fridays

On 11th November 2011, my big sister turned 42; I failed my eighth practical driving test and I re-found a passion for picture books… It was week one of Fiction Fridays from @homedad and despite several late postings I’ve kept it up. Six months, 27 books…

Here are five favourites (although really they’re ALL favourites!)
The Bear With Sticky Paws
Ernest
The Ghost Library
The Tough Princess
You Can’t Eat A Princess!

In order of year of publication, the twenty-seven books I’ve chosen are:
Don’t Forget the Bacon! – Pat Hutchins (1976)
What-a-Mess – Frank Muir & Joseph Wright (1977)
Badger’s Parting Gifts – Susan Varley (1984)
The Tough Princess – Martin Waddell & Patrick Benson (1986)
Winnie the Witch – Valerie Thomas & Korky Paul (1987)
Dirty Bertie – David Roberts (2002)
The Wolves in the Walls – Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (2003)
Jack Frost – David Melling (2003)
The Ghost Library – David Melling (2004)
Just Like My Mum – David Melling (2004)
The Ravenous Beast – Niamh Sharkey (2004)
Mixed Up Fairy Tales – Hilary Robinson & Nick Sharratt (2004)
Uncle Alonso’s Beard – Emma King-Farlow & Anna Laura Cantone (2006)
Two by Two and a half – David Melling (2007)
The Bear With Sticky Paws – Clara Vulliamy (2007)
Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Big Adventure – Kristina Stephenson (2007)
There are Cats in this Book – Viviane Schwarz (2008)
Shark in the Dark – Nick Sharratt (2009)
The Pencil – Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman (2009)
Ernest – Catherine Rayner (2009)
You Can’t Eat a Princess! – Gillian Rogerson & Sarah McIntyre (2010)
Press Here – Hervé Tullet (2011)
The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man – Michael Chabon & Jake Parker (2011)
Muffin and the Expedition – Clara Vulliamy (2011)
Whiffy Wilson – Caryl Hart & Leonie Lord (2011)
Welcome to Alien School – Caryl Hart & Ed Eaves (2012)
Ella – Alex T Smith (2012)

All these books, and other fiction fridays entries can be found on the Fiction Fridays Pinterest Board – currently at over 130 books and counting…

Here’s to the next six months!

Fiction Fridays #27: Whiffy Wilson


FF#27
Whiffy Wilson: Caryl Hart & Leonie Lord (2011)

There was a wolf called Wilson
Who never brushed his hair.
He never washed his paws or face
Or changed his underwear.

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Rhyming books are lovely to read aloud, the rhythm carries the story along and they’re easier to memorise (I remember reciting the whole of the Gruffalo to MG to calm her on a trip out when she was younger, although I can’t any more!) I also like that it gives children the chance to guess the next word by working out the rhyme. Whiffy Wilson has a fantastic example of the word you’re *supposed* to guess being replaced by a non-rhyming word which makes me giggle (although my girls haven’t quite ‘got’ that idea yet but I’m sure the eldest will soon…)

Sadly there are several children’s books written in rhyme that just don’t scan and use words to force the plot that don’t rhyme, or make sense. I once said that I prefered prose books because a bad rhyme can be so awful but a good rhyme is perfect. Whiffy Wilson is on the perfect side.

Wilson is a wolf who doesn’t like to wash, but through the intervention of his good friend Dotty he learns that washing is good. As a parent I love the fact that the book distinguishes between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ dirt. I do want my children to have fun, to splash in puddles, to play with mud, to climb trees, to get dirty because they were exploring and adventuring… So I love that there is a distinction made between this and dirt that can make you ill. Nice and educational 🙂

The artwork along with the verse is beautiful. Leonie Lord appears to use pencils for her art which give a lovely scruffy feel to Wilson. Wilson is an adorable character (despite being smelly in the beginning) and Dotty a great friend. The duo make a book suitable for boys and girls, and I love the non-sterotyped girl swinging through trees.

Between the wonderful artwork and the humourous verse, this book is a delight to read over and over again. I hugely recommend Whiffy Wilson.