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

PICTURE BOOK COMPETITION TIME! #BEARHUNTBOOKSHUNT

It’s time for the picture book round in a mega children’s book quiz for you and your families or pupils to enjoy.  Spilt into three age categories, across three blogs, with three brilliant bookish prizes. Make sure you visit them all!

Tuesday 12th May: Quiz for 7-8 year olds hosted by independent book retailer Bear Hunt Books. Click HERE for their quiz. You can also purchase any of the titles featured from their online store.

Wednesday 13th May: Quiz for 9-12 year olds hosted Library Girl And Book Boy 

Thursday 14th May: Quiz for 3-6 year olds hosted here on Kids’ Storyworld! (questions and quiz links below.)

This is my first time as a stop on an online quiz and I’ve really enjoyed compiling the questions and looking back at some fabulous books! All the questions are based on book reviews that you can find on my blog. 

It’s a great opportunity to win a fabulous title such as The Snow Dragon by Abi Elpinstone and Fiona Woodcock, or Karl Newson and Ross Collin’s roarsome I Am A Tiger which was recently shortlisted for the Book Trust Storytime Prize!

All you need to do is click on the link to the relevant blog post to find the answer to the question, make a note of your answer, then  click on the link to the survey monkey answer sheet.  The questions have been split into two parts to help make this easier.

*IMPORTANT* Please type your NAME and CONTACT EMAIL into the 1st answer box along with your answer in both Part 1 AND PART 2. If you don’t, I won’t know who to contact if you win!

The link in each question will take you to the blog where you can find the answer – Good luck!

Part 1

Q1. On the cover of  I Am A Tiger, what is the mouse standing on?

Q2: What is the name of the sequel to I Am A Tiger?

Q3: How would the mouse describe the author Karl Newson?

Q4: What is the name of the fox in The Terribly Friendly Fox?

Q5: What is the name of the ball that the fox is attending?

Q6: Also by Susannah Lloyd, in This Book Can Read Your Mind, what must you absolutely not think of?

Q7: What item of clothing is mentioned is mentioned in This Book Can Read Your Mind?

Q8: In You Choose, what sport is the ball on the front cover used for?

Q9: Who is You Choose published by?

Q10: What birds would author Pippa Goodhart take on the hot air balloon?

Click HERE to open the answer sheet for Part 1 of the quiz (questions 1 – 10)

Part 2 **Remember to enter your contact details in the answer box for question 11 here as well!**

Q11: What is the name of the street Sam lives on, in Kiss Goodnight Sam by Amy Hest?

Q12: Sam can’t sleep but why? Can you guess what Mrs Bear has forgotten to give him?

Q13: In The Wild Woods by Simon James, who does Jess go for her walk with?

Q14: How many squirrels are squabbling in Rachel Bright’s The Squirrels Who Squabbled?

Q15: What are the squirrels fighting over?

Q16: Who illustrated The Squirrels Who Squabbled?

Q17: What does Julie Ballard, the author of The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice say Milly Jo’s favourite song is?

Q18: What causes dinosaur Milly Jo to lose her voice?

Q19: Who is the author of Farmer Duck?

Q20: What does the truck in Jez Alborough’s Duck In A Truck get stuck in?

Click HERE to open the answer sheet for Part 2 of the quiz (questions 11 – 20)

I hope you had as much fun finding the answers as I had writing the questions! Make sure you submit your answers to both parts of the quiz (and your contact details) by Saturday 16th May, 9pm, when a winner will be chosen at random (U.K. delivery only).

Thanks for joining in!

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 2: Animal Antics and A Book Review

Don’t laugh and don’t judge. I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point. Haven’t we? Please say yes 🙈 When I was little (around 7 years old) I wanted to own a dog. Both parents working full time and a mum who wasn’t keen on four legged furballs, it was never going to happen. So I did the next best thing and pretended to be a dog instead. Until I realised something very obvious. I didn’t want to be a dog. I wanted to be a cat…because cats can drink milk out of saucers. I still remember the bemused/slightly terrified look of the babysitter.
Then a few months ago, I caught my 5 year old playing fetch shouting “Come back here little doggy! Come on! There’s a good boy!” to his 3 year old brother, who much to my horror was dutifully obeying, running towards him with a rotten old stick in his mouth.
Both the boys regularly “charge” at us pretending to be rhinos and my eldest even went through a phase of being a woodpecker. That was fun and games. Particularly when he had decided that hubby and myself were trees. It was like living with a very enthusiastic and excitable Woody Woodpecker.
But why do children pretend to be animals and how should we, as parents and carers react to it? It could be pretty frustrating if your kid is pretending to be a worm and all you want is for them to put their shoes on. Or perhaps it’s Bolognese Wednesday but they’ve decided they’re a penguin and refuse to eat anything but fish?

According Dr Gleason in this article Why My Kid Won’t Stop Pretending To Be A Lion – New York Times it’s to do with a cognitive developmental task called “the theory of mind” she goes on to say it’s the idea that “other people have thoughts, and those thoughts can be different from your thoughts,” ‘ the article also helpfully goes on to give advice on how to manage behaviour if the child is spending a little too much time being their animal.

Another benefit of this form of play can be the development of gross motor skills. It can get children using all sorts of different muscles.

One game we’ve played in the form of “Simon Says” was an animal race game.

Activity – animal Simon Says Animal Race

– one person is “Simon” the other children stand side by side at one end of garden or room

– ‘Simon’ gives the command eg “Simon says slither like a snake”

– children then have to race to slither to other side of garden/room. When they reach the end, they run back to beginning.

– Simon can try and catch them out by saying “Hop like a frog” instead of “Simon says hop like a frog”

Animal ideas:

Hop like a frog/kangaroo/flea
Slither like a snake
Wiggle like a worm
Pounce like a tiger
Run like a cheetah/ostrich
Crawl like a spider/insect
Pretend to fly like a bird
Stomp like an elephant
Charge like a rhino
Buzz like a fly
Flap like a butterfly

As strange as we might find it there are so many benefits for our children to pretend to be animals. It’s so good for their imagination! And ours. The last few days, neighbours may have heard me zooming around the garden with my spider powers chasing the tasty little 2 legged flies. When I caught them they got spider tickles. Then they tried to catch me by turning their fly powers into super cheetah and mega bee buzz powers. I can honestly say that it’s the best fun we’ve had in a game! So if your child is pretending to be an animal, as long as it’s not stopping their day to day stuff like going to school/nursery and isn’t causing disruption to they’re daily life, then absolutely join in the animal antics!

Thanks for reading! Below is a review for the unique and humorous inspiration for this blog “I Am A Tiger” by incredibly kind and imaginative Karl Newson.

Book Review

I Am A Tiger – by Karl Newson and illustrated by Ross Collins

Published by: Macmillan

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When is a mouse not a mouse? Well when they’re a tiger of course! What a great book with really eye catching illustrations. A mouse convinces his friends that he is in fact a tiger. He’s so convincing that even the tiger believes him! But what does that make the tiger? And what are the other animals? It’s such a fun book and really gets kids thinking. What I love is the mouse’s confidence and belief that he can be anything he decides he wants to be. Fabulous for guessing games – describe some animals to children and imagine how the mouse might see them. A thin, pointy thing that hangs in trees couldn’t possibly be a snake could it? And if it’s tiny, colourful and sits on a stick surely it must be a lollipop?

We had lots of fun and giggles with this bright, colourful hilarious book and will definitely be getting the sequel “I Am Not An Elephant”

And now a big thank you to Karl for this the Q&A – loved the answers!

Q1: How would the mouse describe you if he saw you?

Ross and I play a game in our events where we do this exact thing! I’m described as ‘Wild. Curly topped. Weedy.’ The children can only see the description on a silhouette of broccoli and they shout out guesses of what they think Mouse is describing – it’s lots of fun!

Q2: What is the main piece of advice that the mouse would give to any fellow mice that might be struggling with self-confidence?

I think she’d say (I always think of Mouse as a ‘she’, but to Ross she’s a ‘He’ – I love that Mouse is different for us all) don’t feel restricted by how you look on the outside – it’s how you feel on the inside that counts. And how you feel can fit a time and a mood and a place – it can change… make it work for you when you need it.  🙂

Q3: What is his favourite part of being a tiger?

I think it’s all the ‘GRRRR’ing!

Q4: What are your future book plans?

Mouse has a three-quel publishing in August (and I have plans for her that I’m hoping might happen one day). I have three other books due to be published between August and October (two more picture books and a young fiction) and a few more due next year. I can’t really say much more at the moment as most of them are under wraps for the time being… but they should be revealed soon, I hope! I’m writing lots more at the moment – in my experience picture books tend to take about 2 years to publish after being contracted so I’ve got 2022 in mind now and am guessing what the trend might be then. I’m looking forward to finding out!

 

Find out more about Karl Newson and his books here: Karl Newson

And do check out Mudwaffler Club! It’s sure to put a smile on your face and my kids love it. There’s even a reading of “I Am A Tiger” Click below for the link:

A place to nestle down and make things up, brought to you by children’s book author Karl Newson. Here, we’ll read books, write stories and create drawings together. We’ll write our own NONSENSE POETRY. We’ll make our own MUDWAFFLER CLUB BADGE. We’ll colour things in. Cut things out. Read letters. Answer Questions. And eat biscuits… Are you ready? It’s Mudwaffler time!

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?

Feeding Time At The Zoo

Thanks for reading! 💖

Feeding Time At The Zoo – Kirsten Allen

When Chef Jean Paul was asked to cook for a country’s prince or princess
He did it gladly, proudly and willingly without any sign of distress.
He cooked for diplomats, celebs and most important VIPs
And once, he baked a chocolate cake for a wealthy sheikh, while skiing down a mountain slope in the Pyrenees

However, there was one thing Chef Jean Paul dreaded and would get him in a stew
And that was the annual fundraising dinner party at the local zoo!
The giraffes munched on guests’ salad leaves, And a waiter heard one diner stutter,
“Excuse me please, I don’t mean to complain, but there’s lion in my butter!”

The penguins gulped down the fish course
The monkeys threw their poop
And a kangaroo hopped on the table, into the mayor’s bowl of beetroot soup!

The pandas caused pandemonium,
A bear ate all the honey,
An elephant swallowed the flower arrangement and it made him feel all funny!

“I give up! I give in! I quit!” Jean Paul cried “This is the worst party yet!”
And so he hung up his chefs apron, packed up his chefs knives and went off to retrain as a vet!

Tick Tock Little Mouse

Thanks for reading! 💖

Tick Tock Little Mouse – Kirsten Allen

Tick tock it’s one o’clock and Mouse is hungry for cheese
Time to sneak past the mangy cat, whose fur is covered in fleas.
Tick tock it’s two o’clock, Mouse is still on his way.
Creeping through the farmer’s field he gets stuck in a bale of hay!
Tick Tock it’s three o’clock Mouse is finally free!
On Mouse scurries but too quickly he hurries, so trips and scrapes his knee.
Tick Tock it’s four o’clock Mouse walks slowly with a limp.
A bushy tailed squirrel throws a nut at his head, the cheeky little imp!
Tick Tock it’s five o’clock, the farmhouse is within sight.
When suddenly an owl swoops past and gives poor Mouse such a fright
Tick Tock it’s six o’clock, Mouse feels brave again once more.
He creeps quietly and carefully through the kitchen door.
He sees the cheese, he sees the bread
There on the table straight ahead.
Up Mouse climbs as quick as flash,
But suddenly there’s an almighty crash!
He sees the farmer chasing him with a giant rolling pin!
Mouse jumps down and plates fly up. What a racket what a din!
Then joy! Oh luck! Oh happy days! The cheese falls on the floor.
No time to pause! Mouse picks it up and runs out of the door.
With cheesy grin and tummy full, Mouse rests his weary head
And dreams sweet dreams of cheese boards and ways to get that bread!

CHEEKY MONKEY RHYME AND HOW TO MAKE A PALM TREE ACTIVITY SHEET

Something for young ones! Here’s a download with “The Tale of the Cheeky Monkey”

Cheeky Monkey Activity Sheet

This rhyme one close to my heart…I used it in my first workshop at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival last year!

As well as colouring in, why not make your own tree using old newspaper or similar?

Cheeky Monkey – by Kirsten Allen

Cheeky monkey, cheeky monkey!
Where on Earth could monkey be?
Cheeky monkey, cheeky monkey
Was climbing up the coconut tree!

Cheeky monkey, cheeky monkey
Picked up a coconut without a sound.
Cheeky monkey, cheeky monkey
Threw the coconut on the ground!

Cheeky monkey, cheeky monkey
Had a thought and picked another.
Cheeky monkey, cheeky monkey
Then threw it at his little brother!

Cheeky monkey, cheeky monkey
Made his little brother cry.
Cheeky monkey, cheeky monkey
Said it fell out of the sky!

Mummy Monkey crossly said
It wasn’t nice to hurt his brother’s head!
Little brother was very sad
And Cheeky Monkey felt quite bad.

Sorry monkey, sorry monkey
Said he was as sorry as could possibly be.
So, his brother then forgave him
And together they played in the banana tree!