Monday, 27 October 2014

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

Until I heard of this book, I only knew E.B. White as the author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. (one of my favourite kids movies too - with Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie).

The Trumpet of the Swan first came to my attention on this Dinner A Love Story post about the best collection of books to give a new baby. I have most of them now but I think this one is my favourite.

If your kids are of the age when they can still for a half an hour each evening, and you need some kind of stress relief, just order this book. Get the hardcover (I wish I had) because its one that will be around for a long time. I read it on a camping holiday, so I did have a captive audience (no wifi, Nintendo DS out of battery, laptop out of charge, everyone in withdrawl) but my three elder boys, then eleven, nine and seven sat rapt while I read. We usually did it when our youngest was having a nap and my husband was deciding which incredibly cheap but delicious wine he was going to get in the nearby French supermarket. Happy Days.

For ages seven and up.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser

A House Is a House for Me is one of those books that because its out a few years, the price has gone right down. This paperback was under six euros. Its one of those books that should be bought in bulk and stockpiled for birthdays. Its great for both boys and girls and a good read aloud from age two. I'd say five is the upper limit for it to give as a present but really, if you are reading it to a four year old, its a guarantee that six and seven year olds will listen too.
Written as one big rhyme - an excellent one, it has these wonderful illustrations that just ask to be examined and reexamined. I first saw it on Pen Pals and Picture Books.

This was our favourite page.

Fast and very bearable family game - Quallop

We're not really a game-ish family. Vital pieces in our Mousetrap were lost before it was ever played, our Monopoly is used mainly by our four year old for some kind of money/skateboard/burger game that thankfully is a solo thing, and Twister lasted about eight minutes before I felt very much like snapping the arrow/board thingy in half. Which would have been very easy, it was so flimsy.

Anyhoo, in a way I want us to be a game-ish family. It just seems like a very good thing to sit down with our kids at a table and play something. (They will sometimes play together but more often than not, the main attraction of the whole thing is that one of us is involved.)

Which brings me to Quallop. It's great. Doesn't take too long, easy to understand (really - very easy. It's noughts and crosses with a few twists) and compact. (That's a folding board in the picture above. Its about two handspans wide and one high.)No cumbersome boards and big boxes. No tiny, vital pieces to lose. So far, it has made nobody cry and I have never felt like sneaking it into a charity bag.
Suitable from ages five or six to adult.
P.s. This isn't a sponsored post - I chose and paid for the game.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

You're a Bad Man Mr Gum by Andy Stanton, illustrated by David Tazzyman

This is the first in the Mr Gum series and my three elder boys have read all the others too. Mr Gum picks his nose a lot and hates children. He lives in a big, disgustingly messy house where the carpet is the colour of unhappiness and smells like a toilet. His favourite televison programme is called Bag of Sticks, which is exactly as it sounds. An image of a bag of sticks. (The Christmas edition is a bag of sticks with a dead robin beside it.) I'm probably not selling this very well, but this series is really very funny and my kids loves it. If a new one comes out, its impossible to get from the library as the series is so, so popular around here.

As you can see, there's a very manageable amount of text per page, and plenty of funny drawings. Great from ages seven to ten. Also, the audio versions are a treat (although I can only find them available second hand.) We listened to Mr Gum and The Goblins, read by the author, (who is also a stand up comedian) about twelve times.

Laurie Graham

A Laurie Graham, a cup of coffee and a croissant. There's no nicer way to spend a Saturday morning. Her new book The Grand Duchess of Nowhere is next on my wishlist. The only problem is that I know I'll finish it too soon. Her books are both good and feel-good, the perfect combination.

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, performed by David Hyde Pierce

This is the audio version of The Phantom Tollbooth, read by Niles from Frasier. I got it last Christmas for my then ten year old but up to now it has always been played in his bedroom. When he started putting it on the kitchen before school, I wasn't too happy. The hours between seven and half eight are spent concentrating hard on getting four boys fed, dressed, supplied with a lunch they might actually eat and out of the house. Usually I work in silence at the kitchen counter muttering..

Nutella sandwiches, drink, apple  oreos, soup, no, not soup, he won't eat it, peanut butter sandwiches, no, peanut butters all gone, nutella? Ham? Recorder, no not today, better put it in the school bag anyway. Please put your socks on. Bike helmet, lights? Sign journal. Find pen. 

Hearing David Hyde Pierce blast from the speakers the other day nearly drove me over the edge. Howandsoever, I must have slept well the night before because when I suppressed the screams, turned down the volume a bit and listened, I had to admit its pretty good. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it's thought provoking. And very entertaining.

This one is unabridged and four and a half hours long. Needless to say, it is read brilliantly. Highly recommended for ages seven or eight to twelve.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Moustache Tattoos

These might come in handy at Halloween or dare I say it, as a stocking filler. I got mine from Book Depository but they're available from Amazon too. Dover make them and loads more child friendly tattoo designs - cars, dinosaurs, little trains - check them out.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

More nice books - for seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven year olds

Emil. He lives on a farm in the Swedish countryside with his father, his mother, his little sister Ida, the farmhand Alfred and Lina, the maidservant. The chapters in these three books have titles like

Tuesday, the twenty-second of May when Emil got his head stuck in the soup tureen.


Sunday, the thirteenth of June when Emil made three brave attempts to pull Lina's tooth and then painted little Ida blue.


Tuesday, the tenth of August, when Emil put the frog in the lunch basket and then behaved so badly that I hardly dare write about it.

He's not all bad though, little Emil. There's also

Saturday, the eighteenth of December, when Emil did such a noble deed that the whole of Lonneberga was proud of him and all his past tricks were forgotten.
These books are very funny and perfect to read aloud to ages five or six and up. Great too for kids to read alone from about seven, depending on ability. The chapters are long and definitely written before attention spans were shrunken by screens but fantastically written. Emil isn't as well known as Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgrens  more famous creation, but I prefer him.

The Great Brain. This is about the same reading level and also about a little boy in a small town. Its very popular in the States, but we just got it this past Summer and my nine, 11 and 13 year old sons loved it. Again, very funny and again great too insofar as it is set in another time and place - here it's Utah in the 1890's. An overall very good read, both aloud and independently. There are three in the series.

You could say this series is a bit gimmicky. Theres also 12 Finally and 13 Gifts, both of which I meant to get for the appropriate birthdays but completely forgot. Anyways, 11 Birthdays is great, Well written and obviously, perfect for an 11th birthday present.

For ten years and up too there's the His Dark Materials trilogy. Utterly brilliant. Good for those who have finished with Harry Potter and anyone who likes any kind of magical, creepy exciting mystery. So beautifully written, they're hard to put down. I started reading The Northern Lights out loud the other night and and went on way longer than planned.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne, illustrated by H.A. Rey

We love Curious George, so Katy No-Pocket was always going to make an appearance in our house. Margret Rey wasn't involved, but H.A. Rey's illustrations and Emmy Payne's story is very sweet. Its about Katy, a kangaroo with no pocket for her son to ride in. Look at her crying and watching the other mothers prance by...

She decides to ask her animal friends without pockets, how they carry their young.
Some just let them walk themselves.

Some shove them out of the nest and let them learn to fly alone!

But none of these methods will work for Katy. So she asks a wise and grumpy owl what to do. He sends her to the city. Which is fantastic because it gives us another of H.A. Rey's cityscapes. Feast your eyes.

If you look closely, on the right(your right) is a man with an apron with lots of pockets. Who also happens to be very kind. He gives it to her! And she gets all the pockets she needs.
Look at all the tools! My four year old son loves this page.

A read again and again story. For ages three to seven.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Christina Katerina & THE BOX by Patricia Lee Gauch, illustrated by Doris Burns.

I saw this book years ago, but because it had a girls name in the title, thought for some daft reason, my boys wouldn't like it. I was so wrong! SO wrong.
Christina Katerina's mother gets a new fridge. And Christina Katerina gets the box. Look what she does with it. (I reviewed Doris Burns books Andrew Henry's Meadow here, and her illustrations in this book are just as detailed and lovely.)

Isn't it lovely? And every time her mother thinks Christina Katerina has stopped playing with the box, and tries to throw it away, the little girl finds another use for it. (I mean I know we all want our kids to be creative - but the mess does sometimes get irritating, right?) 

Until here, where her mother asks if she has finally finished. By now the box has disintegrated into mud. Christina Katerina runs by and says..
"Oh,you mean that old ragged box? Lets do throw it away."

As well as great illustrations, this book is beautifully written. I'm not surprised its been in print since 1971. Perfect for girls and boys ages three to seven.

Ideally, have an empty box in the house before you read it though, because you'll definitely need one.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Washi tape!

Washi tape. I only heard of it about a year ago and couldn't find it anywhere in Dublin. It seemed to be one of those things that you can get in America easily and cheaply but no one has heard of here. Which of course made me want it even more! Anyway, I was in BookStation last week and found these. Three rolls for €2!
Wow. Its very handy. My four year old spent ages cutting and sticking with it. For three days in a row, while I did homework with his brothers, he was occupied. Which made that painful afternoon hour, between half three and half four way more bearable than usual.

P.s. In Bookstation this isn't labelled washi tape - in the shop I found it tucked in with the crafty stuff - lollipop sticks and the like - have a look at all the rolls - there are loads of different patterns.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Gerry Hunt - Blood Upon The Rose, At War With The Empire and 1913 Larkin's Labour War

I've  no idea why I haven't blogged about Gerry Hunts historical graphic novels before. We've had Blood Upon The Rose, the story of Easter 1916, since it was published in 2009. That was such a success that when At War With The Empire, the follow up came out, I ordered it straightaway. It was a no-brainer - my eldest son loved graphic novels and flew through them. And these books explained (in colourful detail) Irish history that he needed to know about, for school and for life.
This latest one, 1913 Larkin's Labour War which I found in the library last week is his favourite of the lot. He's thirteen now and not exactly chatty, so I couldn't find out exactly why he liked it so much. "Really, really good." was as much as I could get out of him.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Last minute Minecraft party

My nine year old had his birthday during the school holidays in August and I promised then that we would take a few friends to the Ninja Turtles movie when it came out. Anyways, I noticed that it was showing yesterday and today for previews, whatever they are and thought we may as well go for it. There were three friends free and with brothers, that filled the car. Then he reminded me that I also promised a Minecraft cake. I think the picture explains how we put it together. Those are Tesco fizzy water bottles (7up ones are green too) and that's a sponge cake made in two brown bread tins. My oldest boys did the creeper faces on the bottles with the sharpie and I did the one on the cake (using the Betty Crocker incredibly sweet icing as glue) with the mint aero balls which VERY handily are both green and brown. And tasty.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann

This is just one in my hidden-away-for-Christmas stash.
I loved Struwwelpeter when I was small. I don't know why, its not for the fainthearted and I would certainly have been classified as fainthearted. I was a thumb-sucking wimp and yet my absolute favourite story in the book was about little Suck-a-thumb!
For anyone who has not heard of it Struwelpeter is a collection of cautionary tales written in Germany in 1845. Anyone who is tired of reading about Horrid Henry and the lack of consequences for his actions - try this book. Look what happens to Harriet when she plays with matches!

Anyway, I CANNOT wait to read this one at bedtime.

For ages three to adult.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Books for a seven year old girl

My friend Laura asked me for reccommendations for a seven year old girl, and I was a bit stumped. I really don't know girls - no sisters, no daughters, and what I enjoyed in the 1970's might not be still in print. That's if I can remember what I read when I was seven. I keep thinking of the Noel Streatfield Shoe Books, but maybe they are more for ages nine and up? Definitely worth checking out though. What I have in the house that might work are..
The Amelia graphic novels - cartoony stuff about Amelia the tomboy - just right for age seven or eight.
The Worst Witch series (written before Harry Potter and definitely for a younger age group.) Fine for age seven.
This is the font size.

And a bit easier are the A to Z Mysteries..
These are great value, which is just as well and they are flown through.

We love Henry Huggins, but his pal Beezus is even more popular. Although you probably already have her.

If not, this is the font size.

I gave this to my eight year old last Christmas - he loved it.

This is what it looks like.

Also, I couldn't find our copy of All of a Kind Family, but that is PERFECT for a seven year old girl. And, now that I think of if the Little House on the Prairie books and of course Pippi Longstocking

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

I Am David by Anne Holm

We are in the middle of the first series of The Sopranos on boxset at the moment, so I'm itching to get down onto the couch in the evenings and as a result am not spending ages on nighttime stories. However, last night I got delayed, as my eleven year old was listening to this in bed.
Oh my goodness, its brilliant. I read it thirty odd years ago and with this reminder, would happily read it again. This audio version is very, very well read. Totally gripping.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce

This was on our kitchen table this morning, ready to be brought back to the school library. It only came home on Friday, so suffice to say, it was enjoyed. We're now on the look out for the next one by Cottrell Boyce and have already got the first, by Ian Fleming. (When you think about it, he always thought of "unusual" names for his female characters, from the sublime Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the ridiculous Pussy Galore in Goldfinger!)

For ages nine and up.

P.s. I've just had a look on Book Depository and Cottrell Boyce has written a third in the series too!

Saturday, 4 October 2014


This came in the post today.

Its the first cookbook I've bought in about ten years! Up until now our family has survived mainly on these four. They really have served me well; from one child to four, from tiny kitchen to big one, from Birkenstocks to Havianas to Fitflops and back to Birkenstocks again. Anyway, read on if you want to see the best and now dirtiest pages in each one.

Ok, first I'll look at Jamies Dinners. The pages with the most stains in this used-a-thousand-times book are
Tagliatelle with spinach, mascarpone and parmesan.

and Rigatoni with sweet tomatoes, aubergine and mozzarella.

And my favourite pages in the Avoca Cafe Cookbook are
Shepherds pie and 

Nicki's Chicken Curry. (this one works well in food flasks for school.)

I think the next one was Jamies first book. The Naked Chef.
So young!

Nearly every Saturday we use the pizza dough recipe in this one.
Hmmnnn..not a very inspiring picture - I'm just including it as the stains prove how often it was used. Very, very delicious pizza.

Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course, I inherited from my Mum. It's still in print but now jauntily titled Delia's Complete Cookery Course. No need anymore for the surname. Here's the cover of my edition. Its  not actually yellow but my Mum, a teacher, was accustomed to covering books to make them last and Delia was purchased in the year of the yellow sellophane.

Its one of those books where everything works out. My Mum adored her. And now that I think of it, we ate her scones this morning,.Here's the FANTASTIC and easy chocolate icing recipe. 

Chocolate and soured cream filling.

Now that I read through the recipe again, I realise that over the years it has evolved into this:

Melt Cadburys milk chocolate and then quickly add sour cream.
(ingredients; 150g Chocolate and 150ml sour cream - I use about two dessertspoons and a large bar a and a few more squares.) This give you fabulous, glossy chocolatey icing - perfect for any birthday cake. Having said that, you can rest assured that Delia's way would be even better.