Friday, 31 January 2014

Audio Books

I've mentioned before my ten year old sons constant use of audio books. He has a little CD player beside his bed and piles of discs scattered all over the place. They seem to be a little more hard wearing than DVD's as most of them still work fine, when one careless day out of its box seems to spell the end for our movies.

I know its a bit old fashioned to listen this way, there's probably podcasts or audible books or what have you that are way better, but this works for us. He sticks in the disc and presses play without once asking me if the internet is working or muttering about touch screens and batteries.Also, I think I can guarantee that if there was an Ipad beside his bed, the last thing he'd do with it would be listen to stories. Happily too, so far it isn't difficult to source the books we want in this format. Hopefully soon instead of becoming more scarce, they'll just get cheaper.

Pictured above are D'Aulaires Greek Myths, mentioned in this post. As I said, Sidney Poitier, Matthew Broderick and Kathleen Turner narrate. Its excellent. Then there's the Roald Dahls, which need no introduction. My favourite is next, Charlottes Web read by the author. So beautiful. The Beatrix Potter Stories are all read by established actors and some rhymes are set to music. This set contain her whole body of work and while it doesn't seem cheap, it really is for what you get. We have been listening to these for the past eight years. The How To Train Your Dragons are read by David Tennant and are very funny. He does a great job and this one has been heard a dozen times. As has The Cricket in Times Square, - a sweet, old fashioned story. And last is The Phantom Tollbooth, I  haven't heard it yet, but I know it was enjoyed. And its read by David Hyde Pierce, which can only be a good thing.

All of these are listenable to by everyone, both adult and child, (and some of the Beatrix Potters are great for toddlers) so are ideal for long journeys.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson

My eldest son handed this to me the other morning, "finished it," he told me curtly. Apparently I had expressed some doubts that he was ever going to have a look at his Christmas books, as it seemed to me that he was concentrating almost exclusively on research for a phone to be purchased with some hoped for Confirmation money.

Once I had apologised profusely and admitted how unjustly I had judged him, (and swept aside his suggestion I pay him five euros - give them an inch eh?) he agreed to answering a  few questions on Rabbit Hill.
What he liked about it: It was a quick read, the characters were good, he always wanted to know what happened next and it reminded him of The Wind in the Willows and the movie Over The Hedge. 
What he didn't like about it: Nothing, it was really good.
Illustrated by Lawson too, its a lovely book and one I purchased thinking it might be too lovely for my boys but thankfully I underestimated them. Look at these..

P.s. I first saw this recommended on Dinner A Love Story

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

I Can Read

These I Can Read books start at €3.00(the Kung Fu Panda type ones) and at the most are €4.80(the Frog and Toad ones.)  As you can see, they are well read, to say the least. For the most part, they have been used as read-alouds by me, and have been easily as popular as our more expensive picture books. The movie spin offs are quite bearable in this form, as they are pretty well written, with lots of word repetition and phonetics, but not in an annoying way. The Frances ones, and the Frog and Toads are wonderful. Particularly the latter. Really, on rainy days like these, read a story about these two friends and I can guarantee you will be smiling within minutes.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Stuff from Christmas that worked out: Klutz Spiral Draw and good deal on Melissa and Doug reusable sticker pad

I was going to say this is a good one to have on hand for birthday presents. It can be for a boy or a girl, looks reasonably sized when wrapped and is clearly not cheap crap, but when I checked the price on Amazon and Book Depository it had gone up quite a lot since I bought ours before Christmas. I paid around £8.50 but its now around the £12.00 mark. Worth keeping an eye on though, as the prices do change a fair bit on these sites.

Anyway, it turned out to be the cheapest way I could get spirograph stuff, the original being way more expensive. It works too - very easy to use and everyone in the house queued up for a turn. I'd definitely recommend it for ages six to ten.

Another deal available for for birthday presents, this time for younger kids is the Melissa and Doug Reusable Sticker Pad: Habitats. Its a good size, costs only €3.65 and like most Melissa and Doug products, is nice quality and well designed.

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge and ice playing

I didn't know what this was about when I borrowed it from the library, I've become accustomed to grabbing a few books whilst keeping one eye on my youngest, and hoping for the best. Anyway, it is fantastic. About Scotts 1912 trip to Antartica, its one of those historically books that has all those tiny day to day details that make for a fascinating and often funny read.

And coincidentally, on the same theme, ice playing on the other side of the kitchen table. 

I got this idea from What Do We Do All Day. Just put a few toys and some water in a baking tray and leave it in the freezer for an hour or so. Its not not messy, but its only water, so no big deal. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

D'Aulaires' Book Of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire

I got this for one of my middle boys the Christmas before last. Having just come across the D'Aulaires books, I was blown away by how lovely they were and convinced myself that only a bad parent could resist buying this one. Even as I wrapped it I felt there was a good chance it might not wow him and labeled it From Mum and Dad lest it be considered not Santa worthy. But no, my nine year old was very happy with it. To be fair, he has always been into monsters and stories of the mythical variety, but it was an unexpected pleasure to see him poring over this day after day. It made up for the many times I despaired at the sight of him glued  to my laptop watching multiple episodes of Fairly Odd Parents and similar crap on YouTube.
I got his brother the audio version and can safely say all my kids must, if even just by osmosis, know the book off by heart. Read by Matthew Broderick, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman and Kathleen Turner it has been the soundtrack of their bedroom for the past year. And, to make things even better, my friend Michelle of My Book Affair pointed out that a detailed knowledge of the classics will help throughout secondary school, particularly in Leaving Certificate English. I don't have a teenager yet but have a pretty good feeling that getting this knowledge in before then then is a good idea.

Published in 1962, I've heard this book called the gold standard of Greek Myths. And its a stunningly beautiful book.  On the days I have served weetabix for dinner and know tomorrows lunch bags will be bulked out with fig rolls, I comfort myself that if this book has been looked at, at least their little artistic souls are well fed.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Tuesday by David Weisner

Just a short post today. If you're looking for something about frogs who change t.v. channels with their tongues - this is a good one. It got me a few minutes of peace today anyway.

Monday, 20 January 2014

What was I Scared of? by Dr. Seuss

What was I Scared of? is the last story in The Sneetches and other stories and is one we have read quite a few times recently.

Its about a little Dr. Seuss creature who sees the terrifying sight of a pair of empty green trousers when he is out at night.

He has always been untroubled in the dark but now, these ghostly trousers appear everywhere. And understandably, they give him the willies.

But then, one evening, whilst picking a peck of snide, he sees that they are as scared of him, as he is of them. And they say "hi!" and make friends.

Completely daft and wonderful. 

P.s. I saw The Sneetches recommended on Dinner A Love Story. A great blog for kids books and recipes.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood

The illustrations are the reason I bought this book- straight after seeing these pages on the amazon look inside thingy, I clicked buy.

But once we got it, it was the story that made us all want to re-read it. Based on a sixteenth century children's game, this is the tale of a mother and her seven children, all named after the days of the week, and a wicked old woman called Heckedy Peg.
It is deliciously old school. The children are unsupervised, they play with fire, they play beside an open fire and they let a terrifying old witch into their home while their mother is out.

It all starts with a shopping trip. Before she goes the (slim, beautiful - after seven kids?) mother asks each child what they would like from the shop. And once she departs with her basket, Heckedy Peg arrives at the window.
With little difficulty she persuades the children to let her inside, so she can light her pipe.
Whereupon she turns each of them into different foods that she plans to eat for dinner! But she underestimates their mother, who is hot on her heels.

Look in the basket - everything the children requested is in there. And when she is told that the only way to save Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday is to guess which food each of them have become, these are her clues.  Its a very clever story, with just the right amount of danger and excitement.  (And its €4.50!)

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Stuff from Christmas that worked out: Melissa and Doug Billy Magnetic Dress Up

When I was a little girl I really loved dolls. And since having boys, have kept an eagle eye out for any of them wanting one, because doll shopping would give me such pleasure. But there's no fighting nature and my first three sons were resolutely not interested. A power ranger figure was the closest I got. My fourth, just before his third birthday, saw one on a television add and started showing a little enthusiasm. I was thrilled! It would be the perfect birthday present! We were camping in France at the time and the nearest toy shop had beauty: the Corolle Bath Girl who came with her own blow-up arm bands - ideal for playing with in the pool. And SO cute!  I was very happy setting off from the camp-site with him in the back of the car to get it. But it was not to be, and we returned an hour a later with one happy boy and his new...chainsaw.

So, I think this is as doll-like as I'll get: the Melissa and Doug Billy Magnetic Dress Up. His Granny gave it to him for Christmas and so far, its been a success. I just leave it on the kitchen table and say nothing. He wanders in, it catches his eye and bingo - its time for me to put on the kettle because I know I'll have fifteen minutes to myself!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Lemon Cake and Children of the North Lights by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire

This recipe is one I make with my children and whenever friends ask about it - and I start explaining the recipe - they say, hang on a second, I'll find a pen. It is IDEAL for making with kids, and here's why; the only measuring unit needed is an empty Yoplait yogurt carton, like this one.
You need: One carton of Yoplait natural yogurt (I used pear, but that's only because I was stuck, the natural white one is better) plain flour, baking soda, caster sugar, three eggs, sunflower oil and a lemon.
Dump the yogurt into a bowl, rinse the carton if you want to and use it to add one carton of sunflower oil, two of caster sugar and three of flour. Add the rind of the lemon, a teaspoon of baking soda and the three eggs.

Mix it all up and put in a springform tin at 180 degrees for about thirty five minutes. While its still hot you can brush some lemon juice mixed with icing sugar on top. (I let my son do this and the second I turned away he just poured the juice and sugar on the cake, and it was still yum.) It is absolutely fool-proof.

Well, this is a book blog so I'd better mention one. Children of the North Lights. If you are looking for a wintery read or a birthday present for someone aged four or five to seven - this is a lovely one. I first saw it mentioned on a blog called Pen Pals & Picture Books and gasped when I looked at the illustrations. 
Written in 1935, Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire traveled to Northern Norway to research this book which tells of a year in the life of the Sami people. Focusing on twins Lasse-Lapp and Lappe-Lise, it shows how they travel with their families and flocks of reindeer during the dark days, and when the sun makes an appearance, they are taken to a village. There they go to school until the thaw, when their parents come to collect them. Look at these pictures!
Before entering the village they are taken to the bathhouse.
Then they roll in the show,
and dress in clean clothes, stuffing their shoes with fresh hay.
And here they are in the classroom.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Kumon activity books

My eldest is twelve so I have a few years of art supply shopping under my belt. And more than a few once-used sticker albums, colouring books and activity workbooks in a box in the kitchen. So I know what not to buy. Also its worth mentioning, my first three kids were all born within two years of each other, so there was rarely undisturbed one-on-one time, which is really essential for a lot of these activities. At least for my boys it was.

And now, here I am home alone in the mornings with a three year old. We can't sort socks (well we could, but we don't) and read stories all morning. About a year ago I saw Kumon books recommended for toddlers on a mommy blog. They  cost about three euros each, so I got two, Let's Sticker & Paste! and Let's Fold!, feeling that I knew in my heart of hearts they would rarely be used. Well, I am proud to say we are coming to the end of both of them. (I can't believe it actually - using something up? It feels very virtuous - which says a lot about the amount of waste I normally accept.)

They are nicely produced - good paper, nice colours and designs and the principal of both is simple. Practice cutting and practice folding. Great for both pincer grip and concentration. He loves them and for short periods of time, with a little starting off from me, can work alone. Which means the dishwasher sometimes gets emptied before lunch!
See? That's my cup of coffee and laptop! Sometimes I get to use them while he does something educational that does not involve Cbeebies. Awesome!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

I know graphic novels are great, and our shelves are certainly weighed down with them (they are also often on very heavy paper!) but I have to admit, I do like to see my kids also reading regular books. (Is it OK to say that - or am I offending graphic novelists? I really don't mean to.) I mean books that sometimes take a bit more time to read. 
I can't help noticing that one of my kids will put down a novel he is half way through, if a new graphic novel appears in the house. And that first book will then be forgotten forever. I've heard others say similar things, that their kids will only read the Wimpy Kid or Tom Gates series, refusing to try anything new.

So I thought this one could prove a stepping stone to something different. 

Flora and Ulysses is "illuminated" which is a lovely way of putting that some pages are graphic novely, some are all text and some are illustrated. 

An hour ago my eight year old arrived in from school (that's his glove propping it open), announced he had finished it and after some "gentle" probing said he would give it a ten out of ten.
As you can see, the pages with only text are short and manageable but at 231 pages, there's quite a lot to it. He has been reading it since December 28ish and I think sticking with it for that long is a high commendation.
 Also it really is a beautiful book. 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Beowulf, as told by Michael Morpugo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

My ten year old doesn't really like books about people. Monsters are his thing. But not just any old troll or dragon, he's pretty specific. A few years ago, when he was just starting to read by himself, we came across the Usbourne Young Reading series in the library, in particular their version of Beowulf. He read this one over and over again and on our next visit we had a look to see what else they had. Pickings were slim, so we ordered these ones online;
My goodness, talk about value for money. He pored over them for months. And so, the search continued. His for for blood curdling fights and many many-headed beasts, mine for well written myths that each built on his reading ability and also might include a few human (or humane!)characters, to try to tempt him into the real world, just for a little while. We had hits and misses. Among the former are D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths (an amazing, AMAZING book that deserves its own post) and all the George O'Connor graphic novels.(also pretty fantastic.) 
This Christmas, he requested the Michael Morpugo version of  Beowulf.

I haven't read it myself, Beowulf just isn't my thing. I had to study the story in college and, to put it mildly, old and middle English were not my forte. The doorstop edition of Beowulf that was on my booklist made my shoulders ache and my brain freeze. 
So, the only review I can give the edition above is that after opening it on Christmas morning, he sat on the couch and read it BEFORE trying out his Skylanders Swap Force Starter Pack. 
And there you go. If you have a little reader who is into mythological stuff, this is a good one.