Russian Fairytales and a book review….

Children back to nursery and school and finally I can get back to a blog I’ve been attempting to write since what feels like the first dawn in time!

It’s been a very mixed bag of emotions since the start of lock down and the last couple of days have been no exception. Thankfully my boys couldn’t wait to see their friends again and the transition back this week has been smooth this far.

Safety remains number one priority of course but one of the things I’ve missed, as I’m sure many have is the freedom of travel! We went to Germany (self catering, middle of nowhere) for a couple of weeks. I have relatives out there and while I didn’t see them all due to distancing etc it was nice that the gorgeous weather held out long enough for me to see my uncle outside. And seeing the beautiful forests always reminds me of Brother Grimm stories. Had so much fun with the boys on walks imagining the animals that were there.

Germany: Schwabian Forest Sunset – Kirsten Allen

Fairy stories and folklore have always been a huge part of my life and interests. My mother used to make up stories about a girl who got lost in the woods (probably something to do with my rubbish sense of direction 😂). The stories were complete with gnomes and (from hazy recollection) talking animals. When I studied Russian and German for my BA, one of the many happy memories was being in Moscow and researching for my dissertation. It was based on Russian fairytales. During my time in Moscow I developed a love of Russia’s beautiful folklore and tales. Passed on through generations, they flow through Russia’s veins and are the heartbeat of her rich culture. Tales of Vasilia the Beautiful, The Firebird and Baba Yaga have been captured in stunning works of art by Ivan Bilibin, in words by Alexander Afanasyev and in Alexander Pushkin’s lyrical poetry.

Kirsten Allen

Recently, I’ve read the most beautiful books by Sophie Anderson The House With Chicken Legs and The Girl Who Speaks Bear which are magical novels based on Slavic folklore. They brought back so many memories of my time at Bilibin’s house in Moscow and I could really picture the characters. I can’t wait to read her latest book The Castle of Tangled Magic!

Book Review

The Story Of Babushka – by Catherine Flores ages 9+

As I might have mentioned (once or twice 🙈) in this blog, folklores and fairytales are a bit of a passion of mine. And if you think of Russia it’s impossible not to think of Russian Dolls (Matryoshkas)…the doll in the doll in the doll. So when Catherine kindly sent me a copy of her book The Story of Babushka, of course I had to read it straight away! The central character is the outer doll, Babushka. Each chapter then follows the story of the 5 bodies with very different talents: Antonia (beauty), Loretta (wealth) , Paula (Babushka’s talents), Viola (wisdom) and Mary (heart and inner voice). In turn, their to help people in different ways. I really loved the messages of kindness and selflessness the dolls portrayed and the storyline is rich with morals. It’s a beautiful picture book which would be particularly suitable for older children for a classroom discussion. It’s very cleverly written and has a rich vocabulary. At first I was slightly taken aback with the story of the first doll Antonia (beauty). She meets someone who falls in love with her appearance and I couldn’t help thinking that this was a wrong message to send out. Then further into the story I learned an important lesson – never judge a book by its cover! I won’t give it away but it becomes clear that beauty and wealth aren’t everything.
Another aspect of the book I really liked was the way the dolls all go off on their independent adventures, yet remain a family unit. It’s truly heartwarming and poignant, particularly in today’s society. I currently have an e-copy of this beautiful story but will definitely be ordering the book for my shelf. When things get hectic, I’ll read it and be reminded of what really matters in life.

Q&A with Catherine Flores

Q1: How did your interest in Russian Folklore start?

A1: As a child I was familiar with Russian nesting dolls and was attracted by taking it apart and then putting it back together again, something that I feel Is quite a strong metaphor for life. Back then I didn’t really know, what the Russian nesting doll stood for. Fast forward many years, when I had the chance to explore Russian culture through books. One in particular that stood out to me was the 10-books-series “Anastasia” written by the Russian author Wladimir Megre. Reading these books also inspired me to set the location of Babushka in a beautiful enchanted forest.

Q2: Which of the dolls would you most like to be identified with?

A2: I would choose Mary, because I believe that love has the strength not only to unite but to do anything! It’s a powerful source that lies within each and every-one of us!

Q3: In the book, Babushka learns about photographs helping to relive a memory. If you could choose one memory from your childhood to relive, what would it be and why?

A3: One of the most beautiful memories of my childhood is, when our father took me and my sisters out into the forest for Sunday walks. He showed us how beautiful Mother Nature is and taught us how to enjoy the simple things in life, such as rustling through the fallen leafs in autumn, or how to “tweet” like birds and whilst listening to them answer. Sometimes we went to the brook in the forest and collected rocks of different sizes, which we took home and painted brightly, just to bring them back the following Sunday and hide them in the bushes and see if we could find other painted rocks, that we had hidden in the past. I only now realise, how similar the scenery sounds to where Babushka lives.

Children’s Mental Health and A Book Review

The boys started back at school and nursery last week . I’m very happy with how the practitioners and school have set up for learning in lockdown and how thorough and vigilant they are. It should absolutely be parents’ choice on whether to send the kids back or not but for us school/nursery returns couldn’t have come at a better time. The past couple of lockdown weeks, I’d been noticing a change in both my sons’ behaviour. My 5yo had been having frequent outbursts of frustration. The other day when I asked if he wanted to talk about anything he calmly told me “I’m just fed up with your face, daddy’s face and my brother’s face!”

My youngest (3yo) loves his nursery and talked a lot about his friends and carers there. Now he was talking about them several times a day. We got a paddling pool “I splash with my nursery friends in the nursery pool”. He plays with sand “I play with sand at my nursery with my friends”. “My friends will come to my house and I will play with them” He even told a family member on the phone that he’d played cricket with his best friend that day. He hadn’t. We are not as a family even that into cricket! The most heartbreaking moment was when my eldest mentioned flapjack and 3yo suddenly from nowhere started hysterically sobbing. He’d just been smiling and laughing. I bent down to cuddle him and half thinking it was a toddler tantrum explained that we didn’t have any flapjack. Bottom lip quivering and tears down his face he stuttered “But I love flap jack. At nursery G. makes flapjack and my friends eat flapjack and I sit together eating flapjack because my friends eat flapjack and they sit next to me and we all eat flapjack.” I mean, what do you say to a 3yo who’s world is upside down and you don’t know when it will be the right way again. And I (perhaps naively) had no idea that a 3yo could have such emotions about things that are not in their immediate vicinity. So I started much more with him about his friends and also tell him I miss mine. We often ask children to share how they’re feeling but try and hide our emotions from them. I’m not a child psychologist, and I’m not suggesting we bombard them with all the adult issues of the world but I have noticed, if my kids are a bit quiet or look upset and I say something like “I’m sad because I miss my friends” or “I’m frustrated because I want to go to the playground and we can’t” then they are more likely to open up too. Though it’s important not to dwell on negative thoughts, once they’re out but I do wonder how children are expected to learn to talk to us when we try and shield things from them? One thing I do with my sons is talk about a imaginary red balloon. If we’ve had a bad experience or day, the balloon is down. To get it to go up, we fill it with happy experiences from the day eg splashing in puddles, snuggling on the sofa or even my son put a lasagne he enjoyed in it. I say if my balloon is on the floor too. Then I ask them where they’d like the balloon to get to (as high as an aeroplane or up into space etc) If it’s only as high as a tree, we put more happy thoughts in it. I’ve found this way, I get to hear what’s bothering them and also we learn not to focus on negativity.

There are also some amazing books which help us which I’ll be reviewing including Pete Stays Home by Karra McFarlane (which will feature in a future blog!) and starting below in this blog with incredible AB Gets His Wings by Richard Bland.

Book Review

AB Gets His Wings by Richard Bland, Illustrated by Rosie Philpott

I saw AB Gets His Wings mentioned on Twitter and ordered a copy straight away. It’s about a bear in a toy factory who is waiting for his turn to be picked to be a toy for a child. One day he’s plucked off the shelf, and into a box away from his toy friends. He has a lot of questions and thoughts of uncertainty of where he’s going and isn’t sure of what to expect. He’s delivered to a kind RAF team and with their help overcomes his worries and joins them on their flights and adventures. The illustrations are beautiful and the book got my 5yo to open up about the worries and uncertainty of lockdown. It’s such a lovely comforting story. He declared it one of his favourite books in the world!

There’s a beautiful reading of it by Colin WD McLean on The Healing Voice’s YouTube Channel here and my son’s school loved it so much they’ll be getting a copy to read to pupils.

To visit AB’s website please visit:

https://www.wcab.co.uk

Copies of the book are available for purchase at Bear Hunt Books

To read more about why the book was written, please see below.

*PLEASE BE AWARE* The section contains references to self-harm and suicide which could act as triggers to some readers*

Seven years ago Richard Bland, the author, devastatingly lost his son to suicide. He now tirelessly raises awareness of mental health problems for children. All his life, Richard loved taking photos of aeroplanes and went to many air shows with his children. When the kids grew up, he started going to photograph planes with a mate and found a not very well known spot in Wales where they got some amazing snaps of RAF planes! A chance meeting with the partner of an instructor led to Richard getting to know the RAF crew and taking photos for them.

Photo by Richard Bland: The photo of the instructor blowing a kiss

It was an officer at the Met Police (they had a partnership at RAF Valley) who introduced Richard to 19 Squadron, which changed his life. He was asked to produce 2 charity calendars which raised £30000, was made an honorary squadron member and got to fly with them!

Photo by Richard Bland

Photo by Richard Bland: Richard as honorary squadron member

After the 2 calendars and limited edition prints, Richard was asked by the boss “What next?” . He then struck on the genius idea of getting a teddy bear that the pilots could take with them and photograph. The bear of course has his own log book and has been everywhere starting with Las Vegas to Afghanistan. Richard spent 2 years posting, taking, collecting photos of Wing Commander AB all over the place. From, the Red Arrows to some of the most prestigious last flights of RAF jets, to flying in the lead jet of a Buckingham palace fly past, to flying with the met police, Manchester police. It became a must do for RAF aircrew and friends.

Photo by Richard Bland: AB Bear with his log book

All was going well then Richard and his family’s world fell apart. Their 31 year old son Andrew took his own life and Richard and his family didn’t know where to turn. The dedication of the guys around the country was immense. Fritz, the met policeman was with them in 2 hours from the centre of London the night Drew died. He came and took over everything for them and dealt with the police on their behalf. Drew died on a Friday and every Friday night since has been torture for Richard and his family. Every night, they sleep with the light on in the hallway so that Drew can find his way home.

Photo supplied by Richard Bland: Richard’s son Andrew

As the mother of 2 young boys, it’s impossible to even contemplate that something like this could ever happen. And I look at the photo of a young Drew and it could be like looking at a picture of one my sons’ friends or the son of a family member.

Photo supplied by Richard Bland: Richard’s son Andrew as a young boy

We never know what their future will be like but it’s so important to talk about mental health and get our children to open up and know that it’s ok to ask for help. Richard started looking for a person or group to help them deal with what had happened and his eldest son, Peter, found The Dove Service the only grief support charity in Stoke-on-Trent & North Staffordshire, providing services to people within the community from the age of 4+ who are experiencing issues relating to bereavement, loss or life-changing illness. Richard and his wife Sue visited them several times and they provided fantastic support whenever things got on top of them. Richard offered the charity Wing Commander AB (AB stands for Andrew Bland after his son) and photographs to auction or sell to raise money for the charity as a thank you. After several meetings, the idea of a children’s book was formed. Because the book was all about the RAF with real people and names, Richard and the team spent time getting permission with the help of the RAF Valley station commander. The official reply from the MOD came back and everything looked doubtful as it was necessary to apply for an intellectual property licence and getting one would be unlikely. Undeterred Richard applied and visited the MOD in Whitehall twice and was granted it! The whole process from writing to publishing took 5 years as every page, image and name in the book had to be approved by high level MOD people. Richard says that there are a lot of people to thank for getting AB’s story to the bookshelves! The main message of Richard’s book is to get kids to talk, talk, talk. And it works – my son talks about why AB is worried in the book, tells me if he’s feeling nervous about something and likens it to how AB is feeling. He’s a happy kid and full of bounce and fun but when the chips are down, or he’s going through changes for example the lockdown, he doesn’t always know how to express that and like many children often doesn’t say anything. Books like AB Gets His Wings are fantastic for giving children characters and vocabulary to help them express these thoughts. There are plans in the pipeline for a future book too so watch this airspace for more AB adventures. Thank you so much for reading.

If you have been affected by suicide or are having suicidal thoughts please know there is help out there and you are not alone. Please do reach out.

Help and advice can be found here:

NHS – advice and helplines

The Dove Service

Imagination 3: Choices and a Book Review

One thing I’ve noticed about toddlers, specifically my 3 year old. They love control. Or another word for it might be independence. Both my children have always been fiercely independent, almost to a fault. My youngest particularly. Almost as soon as he could walk, he wanted to get in and out of the car by himself. After what felt like hours of watching him struggle to get in, I’d give him a little push up. To which he’d respond with ferile anger, get out of the car, push the door shut and start all over again! The same with getting dressed – so much as my finger on his trousers to help him get a leg in, off everything would come with loud “NO! I do it myself!” and we would have to start all over again. My husband and I have only got ourselves to blame – we can be very stubborn and rarely ask or accept help. With my children, I’m learning to sit on my hands and just say “if you need help, let me know.” And actually if they really need it, they will ask.

But how does this relate to imagination? I’m no educational expert, but I’ve seen how leaving them to their own devices and not interfering (unless it’s dangerous or we’re in a big hurry to be somewhere) can give them the opportunity to think of new ways of problem solving. Letting them figure it out and make their own choices as much as possible, gives them the tools to think in different ways. Whether that’s using a bicycle pump to etch a new design on the wall (yes that happened after I took crayons and keys of him 🙈) or working out how to put their shoes on.

Giving children choices can be helpful in encouraging both creative and critical thinking, as this article mentions: How You Can Help Children Solve Problems

Sometimes I even think you can hear their little brains ticking over new solutions.

Another way of encouraging children to think creatively and independently is by allowing them to choose their own storylines in books. I used to love the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series and for my young children they really enjoy The Storypath by Kate Baker and Madalena Matoso.

Pictures are laid out along paths and there are questions to prompt the children, but they choose which way the story goes and how they can describe the characters.

They are all gorgeous books but the one that in future years will be classed as one of my boys’ “childhood favourites”, is You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt which I really enjoyed reviewing. I loved looking through the pictures and thinking about what my preferences would be!

Thanks for reading my blog and hope you enjoy the review!

Book Review

You Choose – by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt

Published by: Puffin Books

Do you remember staring for hours at an Argos catalogue, imagining what you’d choose for your home. Then imagining what your house would look like…would you live in a castle or a lighthouse? Would you live by the sea or in a forest? Well You Choose does exactly but is way more fun and has so many more options!

Before my eldest started reception last year there was an evening for the parents to meet the teachers, get to know other parents etc.

The headteacher gave us all advice which was music to my ears. The most important thing we could do for our children over the summer was to read to them. And read lots. Maths and learning alphabets etc, she went on to say, would be taught in reception. Reading to our children would teach them about empathy and choices and the softer skills. She told us the books didn’t even need to have many words in it. You Choose was on the top of her list of books she recommended. Apparently it had been her children’s favourite too when they were younger. I’m so glad we got it. It’s helped my 3yo’s vocabulary, he loved the independence of choosing and it has encouraged both my children’s imagination as we discuss characters that they have chosen. It also gives us something to chat together about as we talk about all our choices!

I read that there are also different games you can play with the book – only choosing things beginning with a certain letter, or perhaps objects with particular colours. This book provides hours of fun and I very much recommend not only reading it at bedtime and when you can have more time together for longer chats. It’s easy to get so caught up in conversations you don’t realise how quickly the time goes! Absolute children’s classic of a book. We love it!

And now, we turn the tables on the author Pippa Goodhart and illustrator Nick Sharratt to find out a few of their choices!

Q&A

Q1. You can take 3 animals on a hot air balloon ride with you. Who do you choose?

 Pippa: Um. Not a giraffe because its head would be up in the balloon. An elephant would be so heavy we might not take off. A mouse might get frightened and run up my trousers. Not my cat, Dotsy, because she’d get scared and dig her claws in. Not my chickens because they’d get in a flap. I’d take my dog, Winnie, who would be a good companion. And I’d take two herons in case the balloon collapsed. I’d hold their legs while they flap big wings, and we’d glide down to land safely. 

Nick: a parrot a tortoise and a kitten

Q2. You’re invited to a fancy dress party. The theme is superheroes. Who would you choose to go as?

Pippa: The super-hero that comes to my mind straight away just now is Annie, who is one of my daughters. She is a doctor working long difficult days in a hospital, caring for very ill patients, all whilst she’s six months pregnant. So I’d put on a pair of scrubs and face mask, and borrow a stethoscope. 

Nick: Snoozerman – as I already have an almost superhuman capacity for dozing off.

 

Q3. You get to spend lockdown in the building of your choice from the following:

  1. a) light house
  2. b) space station
  3. c) castle

And why did you choose it?

Pippa: That’s a difficult choice! I like my home best, but I’ll choose c) castle. Because a space station or a lighthouse would feel so restricted, with no garden to go out into. A castle would be too big to feel cosy, and might be cold and strange and possibly scary, but at least it would have lots of room outside where I could walk and think. 

Nick: A castle – the four-poster bed would be a great place for an afternoon nap.

Q4: What’s your next project?

Pippa: Well, funnily enough, one of the next books to get published is a new You Choose book! You Choose Fairy Tales. Nick Sharratt has done absolutely wonderful pictures for it, as you can imagine. 

Nick: I have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline. So watch this space!

Imagination and a book review

In this crazy world of lockdown, one thing that has blown and impressed my mind, is the children’s imagination. Pre-lockdown, I knew of course they had one. The time my now 3yo used a red wooden toy to draw some unapproved and uncommissioned artwork on the wall. When asked whodunnit “The gorilla mummy!” . Or the other day when my 5yo drew a picture of sun, sand and sea. It was a holiday we’d been on with grandparents. “Are you going to draw all of us and the buckets we used?” I asked. “No, we’ve all gone for a walk!”

Imagination helps eliviate the boredom, takes us to new places and helps us think beyond our four walls.

One thing I’m learning to do during lockdown is to relax a bit when it comes to play. As long as it’s not dangerous or harmful it’s fine. My “don’t touch this” or “don’t do that” or “get down from there” are starting to turn into “show me” , “don’t worry that’s what baths and washing machines are for!” and “that’s a great slide you’ve made out of the sofa cushions!” It’s by no means perfect. There are fab days with sunshine, books, successful home learning and skipping around feeling like Mary Poppins. Then there are the days of potty training toddlers leaving “deposits” in the kitchen, tantrums (I’d say split pretty evenly between them and me! 🙈) and dinners of fish fingers with a side serving of haribo and 10 billion hours of tv.

But whatever the day, there’s not one that goes by where I’m not impressed by the kids’ imagination! Even it’s the choice of insults when my eldest is shouting “YOU YOU YOU STINKY OLD RHODODENDRON!” in a fit of rage at his younger brother. Or when they make up their own games like “What time is it Mr Gopher? NIBBLE TIME!” or when my 3 year old tells people he had a lovely day and played cricket for most of it with his best friend from nursery….we hadn’t played with the forgotten cricket set in over a year and with social distancing certainly hadn’t been anywhere near his best friend. But imagination is a coping mechanism and gives us hope and alternatives.

Imagination comes in many forms and I’ll be writing a couple of blogs to explore this. As this article describes activities such as arts, crafts, science and messy play are important part of their creativity How To Nurture Your Child’s Imagination – Parents Magazine and I’m trying my best in lockdown to stick to 2 rules.

1. Mud and paint will come out in the wash

2. If it doesn’t, make sure you had lots of fun doing it!

Generally I’m relaxed when it comes to messy play, but even I struggle when at 8am one morning my 3yo son ran out sporting nothing but pants and wellies, got a watering can and started pouring water all over the lawn. To create muddy puddles. Cheers for that Peppa Pig. That said 3yo had a whale of a time. And it did in fact come out in the wash.

Another (not so messy!) way to develop young imaginations is guessing games.

Here are a few suggestions:

– Put things in a box, cover the box and the child can guess by touch or description what’s in there.

– gather some “noisy” objects eg. Pan and spoon, rice in a jar, and a half filled bottled of water. Get the child to guess what noise they’ll make.

– Put objects with different textures on a tray. Before touching them, ask the child to tell you what they think it will feel like.

– my love of books is no secret but read and read lots with them. Little Gym Chiswick suggested swapping the book character’s name with the child’s name. Eg instead of “Goldilocks sat on the chair” it could be “Megan sat on the chair”. This helps develop imagination and empathy.

– Play the “what happens next?” with stories so the child guesses before you turn the page.

– Ask questions about the book characters that might not be in the book. “What kind of a house do they live him?” Or “What’s their favourite colour?”

– Find a few objects in the house and ask children to create stories about them. If you like, write the stories down for them so they can just focus on the telling part. I tried something similar with my 5yo son and wrote it down for him and this was the result (though TBF his handwriting would probably have been better than mine 😆):

Would love to hear how you get on!

As mentioned earlier, imagination is such a huge topic it’s impossible to include everything in one blog (though looking at the length of this one, it would seem that I’ve tried 😆) so I’ll add a few more in the coming days.

In the meantime thank you so much for reading and please check out below for two completely different and highly imaginative books by the very talented Susannah Lloyd

Book Review

This Book Can Read Your Mind – by Susannah Lloyd and illustrated by Jacob Grant

Published by:  Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Said it before and said it again. This book should come with an actual health warning. My 3yo laughed so hard he choked up a green bean. This was on the fourth time of reading it. On the day we got it. The first time we read it we were all snorting with laughter – I think the most we have laughed since lockdown. It’s a very sensible and well researched scientific experiment to see if the book can read your mind. Just don’t think of elephants. Or elephants in pants. And you’ll be fine. My 5yo tried to think of pink gophers and cottoned on quite quickly but has still requested me to read it over and over! 3yo even tried to “read” it himself and shouts of “PANTS” followed by lots of giggles could be heard from his room. Just brilliant. It’s a book that very much makes the children feel a part of the story and that they are the cause of the main character’s (a very sensible scientist’s) reactions.

But as Susannah herself said be sure to have only strictly sensible thoughts. It’s a VERY delicate book!

The Terribly Friendly Fox by Susannah Lloyd, illustrated by Ellie Snowdon

Published by: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK

The Terribly Friendly Fox is about a fox. Who is invited to the Annual Woodland Creatures Ball…oh please don’t worry! It’s fine! He’s turned vegetarian so no need to panic. The guests are having a fine time with all the party games and a magic performance. There don’t seem to be as many guests at the end of the book as there are the begin though. Perhaps they were just worn out by all the fun and went home…

This is one of my favourite picture books. The children love it too. It’s darkly humorous and interesting to see the children work out where the guests disappeared to. Cleverly written by Susannah Lloyd and ingeniously illustrated by Ellie Snowdon it’s definitely one for the bookshelves!

And now for a real treat – a Q&A with the very lovely Ellie and Susannah – the imaginative duo that created this foxy book !

Q1: If Gerald were to give his own dinner party which creature would be at the top of his menu…oops…sorry I meant guest list of course?

Ellie: That’s a good question! I think even though Gerald loves ALL animals equally, there’s no denying he has a fondness for rabbits…mostly because he loves nothing more than a lovely leftover rabbit stew on a Sunday!

Susannah: There is such a fine range of tasty treats on offer at this party, so it would be very hard for him to choose. But I think, if Gerald is anything like me, he would save the best for last, so I fear it would be the mouse, if he could only get his paws on him…

Q2: What is Gerald’s favourite go to party game to distract his guests?

Ellie: He has so many but I think musical chairs is Gerald’s cleverest distraction as things (*ahem* guests) can get lost so easily amongst the fun.

Susannah: I think it would have to be his dazzling display of conjuring tricks. Gerald is very talented at sleight of hand, and disappearing tricks are his particular speciality.

Q3: If you were able to understand each other, and you could invite any animal to a dinner party who would you invite and why?

Ellie: Mine would be a hare…mostly because the Mad March Hare in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland is one of my all time fictional characters. I think he would be a very bonkers and entertaining party guest! (plus he could run out of there very fast should a certain fox show up..!)

Susannah: My dream party guest would be a badger. I just love them so much. I am currently working on a new idea that features as many badgers as can possibly fit the pages. They are practically spilling out of it. I would love nothing more than to snuffle my way through a selection of cakes and pies with a very jolly badger for company.

Q4: What were your favourite books as a child?

Ellie: There are so many! I loved anything by Janet & Allan Ahlberg… ‘The Jolly Postman’ was a particular favourite. I’ve still got my original copy with all the postcards still intact and miraculously unharmed! Also ‘The true story of the 3 Little Pigs’ by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith was another favourite – a right old giggle!

Susannah: Oh yes! I loved the Albergs too, but my favourite was Burgler Bill. The best part was when he returned everything, including the policeman’s helmet and the stolen toothbrush.

The children’s books I loved the best were the ones where you got the feeling that the writer or illustrator was thoroughly enjoying themselves, being playful and having a marvellous time creating it. Picture books by William Steig, Russell Hoban, John Yeoman and Quentin Blake gave me that feeling. My favourites were The Wild Washerwomen and the How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen, which cracked me up as a child and still do.

Growing up I really loved all the Beatrix Potter stories too, which I think has very much influenced my own writing. People often mistakenly think of her stories as being sweet, but she had a brilliant talent for thinly veiling nature tooth and claw in sentences cloaked in civility. Her beautifully dressed animals, sipping tea in patterned floral cups often had very sharp teeth! I especially like this understated line from Benjamin Bunny when his father discovers a cat is holding his son hostage under a basket: ‘Old Mr. Bunny had no opinion whatever of cats’, meaning the cat was in VERY imminent danger indeed. or this one, from The Tale of Ginger And Pickles, where Ginger the cat has trouble serving the mice customers of their shop because it makes his mouth water so much: ’It would never do to eat our customers, they would leave and go to Tabatha Twitchet’s,’ Pickles tells him.

Q5: Susannah, do you have more fabulous book writing plans?

Susannah: I have another picture book out now, called This Book Can Read Your Mind, with Jacob Grant. It is a book that can actually read your mind! One word of warning however…it is extremely delicate, so whatever you do, just please make sure you don’t think of anything silly. I’m sure I can trust you with that!

My third book is on its way next year, this time with illustrator Paddy Donnelly. I am very excited indeed about it. It features my second favourite sort of beast (after badgers) but I think it is still under wraps so I will have to keep you in suspense as to what that is for now!

I Wonder About Aliens – Poem and Worksheet

Finger’s crossed no regrets tonight about letting the little one sleep for a bit. Big one is upstairs playing so finally I get a minute to write a very quick blog. Or at least add a couple of activity sheets and a poem to the page! This one I took to a nursery workshop and and a year 1 workshop a while ago and it worked well. As a basic for nursery session, I read the poem then chatted about the kids where they would take their alien for the day. One of my favourite responses was “I’d take them to Tesco!”. Priorities eh?

For year one, I got them to describe their alien, then the other person had to draw. For lockdown – this could work well on video call with a friend perhaps?

Gah going to have to hurry – big one has just come downstairs with a broken Lego jail…..

So here’s the poem, and worksheets with activity ideas. Hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading and please share any pictures on Twitter/Instagram with @kidsstoryworld #AlienAntics !

I WONDER ABOUT ALIENS – Worksheet

I WONDER ABOUT ALIENS – ACTIVITIES

I Wonder About Aliens

By Kirsten Allen

I wonder about aliens

And what would happen if they came,

Down to visit planet Earth.

Do you think we’d look the same?

Would they have hands and toes like us?

Or the biggest furry paws?

Perhaps neither, perhaps both…

Perhaps GINORMOUS purple claws?

Do you think the aliens would talk like us?

What would they like to do?

Perhaps they’d want to spend the day at a local zoo?

Do you think you’d ever meet one?

What on Earth do you think they’d do?

THE MAGIC BOOTS STORY AND ACTIVITIES

Hi all – I’ll be putting together a few activities for the stories. Here’s one I was supposed to take into schools.

Please feel free to print/download/colour in/read outloud . Would love to see pics and stories! Share them with @kidsstoryworld on Twitter and Instagram

Kids Storyworld – MAGIC BOOTS STORY AND ACTIVITIES

Any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me and thanks for reading!

THE MAGIC BOOTS – Kirsten Allen

 

Eve was enjoying her walk in the rain. She loved nothing more than hearing the pitter and the patter of the raindrops and jumping in big puddles. The muddier the better! Suddenly, she heard a voice shout “Help! Help!”. Eve looked around but couldn’t see anyone. “Here I am! Please help me!” the voice cried. She looked down and there on the grass, close to the edge of the village pond was a fish. It was very pale and gasping for breath. Without any hesitation, Eve quickly picked it up and as the fish plunged back into the water, Eve saw all the colours of the universe shimmering and shining. A long, long time ago a bright shooting star had fallen out of the sky and into the pond. When the star hit the water, it’s light shattered into a thousand pieces and swirled back together forming this magical fish.

“Thank you! Thank you!” the fish said. “It rained so heavily that the pond water over-flowed and I went with it! But how can I ever repay you?”

“There’s really no need.” said Eve “You’re more than welcome!”

“I insist!” said the fish “I know how much you love dancing and jumping in puddles. If you look in the reeds, you’ll find a pair of boots.”

Eve looked.

“Wow! Thank you so much! I love them!” she started to put them on.

“Wait!” said the fish. “They are magic boots. When you would like to play in the rain, you put them on and say the magic words ‘Splosh, splash, splish! Rain is my greatest wish’ and it will rain.”

“And how do I get it to stop?” asked Eve.

“Yes, that’s very important! When you’d like the rain to stop you must say ‘Splish, splash, splosh make the rain stop!’. Don’t forget!”

“I’ll remember” promised Eve. “And thank you again!”

One very dry morning Eve put on her boots and said the magic words. The rain came and Eve danced and jumped in the puddles until her parents called her inside for lunch. But what she didn’t know was that Barnaby, the mischievous boy from next door had been watching and listening. “I want those boots” he said to himself. Eve had left them on the doorstep to dry out and when no one was looking, he took them and ran off to a quiet spot in the park.

Barnaby put the boots on and remembered the words “Splosh, splash, splish! Rain is my greatest wish!”. The rain came and Barnaby joyfully danced and jumped in the puddles. He splashed about until the sun went down and the moon came up. “I’d better get back home for dinner!” he suddenly thought and tried to remember the words that would make the rain stop. “Drip Drip Drop! Make the rain stop!” But the rain didn’t stop. “Paddle, paddle, paddle! Make the rain skedaddle!”

But the rain didn’t stop. No matter how hard he tried he could not remember the words. Worried about what his parents would say he ran home and didn’t tell them about the boots. The rivers whooshed, the banks flooded and soon the water was flooding the village! When it started coming under the doors of the houses, Barnaby knew he must say something. He waded next door holding the boots and knocked on the door. “My boots!” said Eve.

With no time to lose, Eve put on the boots and said the magic words “Splish, splash, splosh, make the rain stop!” and the rain suddenly stopped.

“I’m sorry,” said Barnaby “I should have asked before I took them.”

“That’s ok.” said Eve kindly, “We all mistakes. You did the right thing in the end and brought them back.”

From that day on they became firm friends and whenever there was puddle jumping to be done, Eve would ask Barnaby to join her. And Barnaby never took anything without asking again.

© 2020 Kirsten Allen ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

Finding our way and Book Review…

Anyone  who knows me knows how bad my sense of direction is! My dad could pick up a map look at it once and know exactly where to drive on an 8hour journey. My husband studied Geography and is also has a phenomenal sense of direction and map reading skills.

By contrast:

– on a school geography trip a good friend said she never wanted to partner with me on an orientation exercise again. We’d got lost multiple times and didn’t complete the task after I was “certain it was this way”….

– Friends would rather use a taxi than walk with me on one of my short cuts

– my last short cut on a 10minute (local) car journey took on a 40min route

– when I first told my then boyfriend now husband I couldn’t read maps he, with a degree in geography and infinite patience, said he would teach me. We were on the way to the Lake District. 15min after he trustingly handed it to me, he pulled over in a lay-by and took it back off me. We were lost. He’s a pretty patient guy but I could feel the exasperation.

– once I wanted to surprise my husband for his birthday with a restaurant he’d not been to. After pretending I was misleading him so he couldn’t guess where we were going, I ended up having to come clean, tell him we were lost and hand over the details so he could find the way and we could make the table on time 🙈

So imagine my happiness and joy when my 5yo son started showing an interest in maps! He’s pretty good at drawing them too. Sometimes he even tells me if we’re going the wrong way somewhere. Thankfully it seems he’s inherited his father’s and my father’s skills.

There are so many ways to help children learn to navigate and create an interest in the world around them. I’ve been to the charity shop and bought old ordinance survey maps and A-Zs which we enjoy looking at. I point out rivers etc to him. In the car on the occasions I know where we’re going, I’ll sometimes ask him to guide me left or right etc. These are fun games and I’m learning too!  I also got him some map books which we do together.

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In a world of technology we can think “What’s the point?” (Though I’ve even been known to get lost using Google directions!!) Well according to this article, map reading can help with maths, spacial awareness and visual literacy:

The Importance Of Map Reading

Orienteering also a fun thing to do and a great outdoor activity and good for imagination. My son draws made up islands with palm trees and X marks the spot. And later in life it can save a fortune in taxis and apologies for being late…(ahem…)

Thanks as ever for reading my blog! 💖📚

BOOK REVIEW

The Cockatoo From Timbuktu – By William A.E Ford, Illustrated by Ramile M. Imac

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This is the charming book we were kindly sent by the author and it inspired the blog about directions and finding your way. It’s a beautifully illustrated rhyming book about Kian the cockatoo who escapes from the zoo to find his way back to his family in Timbuktu. As mentioned my son loves  maps (there’s a beautiful one at the beginning of the book) and learning about different countries. The story takes  you around the world  until Kian finds his way home. We really enjoyed reading about the animals in Australia and my youngest loves penguins so his favourite page was when Kian flew through Antartica. The book is a great conversation starter for young ones and there is a lot that children can learn from it including the fun facts at the end of the book! The perfect book for children who love animals and adventuring!

And now for a short Q&A with the lovely author William A E Ford!

Q1: Is there anywhere in the world you’d like to visit but haven’t yet?
A1: I love to travel and see new places. There are so many places I would like to go that I havent visited. I would say Japan, South Africa and Iceland are places on top of the wish list. I should also add Timbuktu in Mali to the list as well!

Q2: When you go there, if you could have any animal as a travelling companion, what would you choose and why?
A2: If I could choose any animal/bird to accompany me, I would have to go for a cockatoo. Failing that it would have to be a monkey to keep me entertained.

To read about more of William’s books and news please visit https://williamaeford.com/

DINO-mite! My children’s Intense Interests and a Book Review…

Welcome to my latest blog! Once again, it’s been a while. It was my 3-year olds birthday and Christmas wish-list that brought me to write another blog. Obsessions. Why? With my eldest 5 it was Thomas The Tank Engine and is now things that rhyme, my youngest is dinosaurs. We watch endless Andy’s Dinosaur or Prehistoric Adventures, have dinosaur books (as you can see in the photo!), dinosaur tops, dinosaur pyjamas, dinosaur underpants, dinosaur toys (some are really annoying – especially if the kids forget to switch them off and then forget they have got somewhere under the sofa) But why? Why do they get so fixated on one or two specific topics?

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Well I had a bit of a Google (so obvs am an expert now…*) and found out a couple of things. Apparently a study by Indiana and Wisconsin University showed that a good number of preschool children at some stage have intense interests and that this is more likely in boys than girls. When they reach school, this fascination in the interests decline at similar rates in both boys and girls.

https://www3.nd.edu/~kkelley/publications/articles/Alexander_Johnson_Leibham_Kelley_CD_2008.pdf

If a child has an intense interest, this can fuel the curiosity fire and make them want to learn more about a topic. It’s a great way to develop language (have you ever tried to get your tongue around some of those dinosaur names??) and to naturally learn how to research and problem solve. Most of all, if they have a special topic that they love, it’s a great way to have fun learning. Whether it’s dinosaurs, trains, fish, insects or even dressing up, join in their games, enjoy snuggle time on the sofa pouring over books, research answers to their questions and feed their passion. After all, we all learn best when we love what we’re learning!

Here are some interesting reads on the topic:

Childhood intense interests and obsessions: Dinosaurs, trains, princesses, horses, etc.

Scary Mommy: Intense Interests Intelligence

The Cut: Psychological explanation for kids love of dinos

*Genuine Experts – people working in education/research: Would love to hear your thoughts and findings on the topic!

BOOK REVIEW

The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice – by Julie Ballard and illustrations by Francesca Gambatesa published by Egmont

This beautiful rhyming picture book arrived in the post just before Christmas as a win in a giveaway. It’s about Milly Jo dinosaur who loves to sing more than anything in the world but one day a storm comes and a tree blows down on her neck and she loses her voice. With the help and support of her friends she comes to find a new incredible talent and once more the sounds of beautiful singing fill the jungle.

The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice really touched a chord and has a number of positive messages :

– As a parent it’s great to encourage my children to try new things and show them how important a can do attitude  is. It shows them how to overcome challenges in the face of adversity.

-As a dyslexic, for me, it’s demonstrates that there’s more than one way to achieve your potential, celebrates different talents and shows that hard work and persistence pays off. It would also potentially be a good resource for SENCO teacher or parents of children with SEND needs (would be great to know if anyone has used it for this reason and what their thoughts were!)

-As a reader it’s a great book for dinosaur fans with spot on rhymes and stunning illustrations and my children love it! Had to read it 4 times in one sitting 🙂

And I couldn’t leave the review without passing on a couple of questions to Milly Jo via her brilliant author Julie Ballard!

Q1: If Milly Jo could give her young readers any advice if they find themselves struggling to do something what would it be?
A1: Milly would say “Don’t lose heart and don’t give up. Nothing ever worth having came easily.” 

Q2: What is Milly Jo’s favourite song?
A2: One of Milly’s favourite songs she likes to perform with her choir is “Tomorrow” from the stage show Annie because the sun ALWAYS comes out!☀️

And on that very cheerful note I’d like to say thanks for reading my blog hope you enjoyed it! 💖

Autumn Walks and Autumn Books…

Autumn is my favourite time of year. Even though it took me years to be able to spell (such a funny looking word isn’t it?) it’s still my favourite time of the year. It’s the season I remember most vividly as a child. On way home from nursery, kicking through piles of leaves that I swear came up to our armpits. Walking home from primary school collecting conkers then soaking them in vinegar or painting with clear nail varnish before threading with string for conker wars in the playground. I want my boys to experience all these memories and more (are conker wars still allowed in the playground???) To my joy the school organised an Autumn Walk for reception classes. They went to the local park, they looked for sticks and leaves and when I collected son he had rosy cheeks and his shoes and trousers were covered in mud (typically on the one day I forgot his karate kit so he had to do it in muddy clothes!) Best of all was his excitement from their adventures. Exploring, rolling in piles of leaves, muddy puddles, grazed knees, ruddy cheeks, warming up with a cup of warm milk or hot chocolate after an autumn walk… isn’t that what childhood memories are made of? 😍

Thanks as ever for reading my blog and happy exploring!

Here are our top Autumny kind of books for those snuggly kind of Autumny days…

1. That’s Not My Hedgehog- Usbourne Touchy-Feely Books perfect for little hands!

2. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury absolute classic rhyming story. My boys love this book…and crunching through muddy woods looking for bears!

3. Kiss Good Night Sam – Amy Hest, Illustrated by Anita Jeram

“It was a dark and stormy night on Plum Street….” outside the wind is howling and Mrs Bear is putting Sam to bed. He can’t go to sleep but what has Mrs Bear forgotten? This is one of my favourite books. Beautiful illustrations and makes you feel all toasty warm after reading. Perfect bedtime story for a cold Autumn night😍

4. The Wild Woods – Simon James

Love the illustrations and the story is simple but makes me chuckle every time. Jess goes for a walk with Grandad and tries to persuade him to let her keep a squirrel. Gorgeous book!

5. The Squirrels Who Squabbled – Rachel Bright & Jim Field Two nutty squirrels after the last pine cone of the season. A great rhyming book for teaching about sharing. Fabulous picture book!

6. Stanley Stick – John Hegley

My sons LOVE sticks. Eldest even had youngest pretending to be a dog and threw them for him to fetch. Which he did. Carrying them in his mouth 🤢

For less revolting ideas of things to do with a stick this book we’ve borrowed from the library is amazingly imaginative! It’s not just a stick. It’s a dinosaur, a spoon, a fishing rod and so much more! Lovely illustrations too.

7. Storm – Sam Usher

What can I say about this book? 😍 We were given it as a birthday gift for eldest. The illustrations are just fantastic and highly imaginative. It’s blowing a gale outside so a boy and a grandad decide to go kite flying, but can’t find the kite. While looking, they remember all sorts of memories. When they finally get outside there’s all sorts of adventures to be had! My sons were reminded of flying kites in the Hebrides this summer and I love the language and descriptions the book uses. Perfect book for the days where a storm is brewing and the wind is huffing and howling!

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