Thursday, 7 March 2019

That's Not My Child...World Book Day Confessions

As is tradition I've dusted off my brain cells to chat all things book with you to celebrate World Book Day. 

The usual negotiations began weeks ago:

Moi: Matt, what would you like to dress up as for World Book Day? 

Him: I don't think I'll bother. 
Moi: What? You know I have a book blog, right? We're doing this. 

The first book given consideration was a Christmas present called Where Are You Matthew Lovatt? I ordered it from Wonderbly. It a lovely product- a Wally style book with personalised details. Matt was overjoyed with it. We have read it numerous times. He knows where he is on every page but there are other things to search for too. Matt  amused himself with the idea of going to school dressed as a book character version of himself. Then he realised that no one else would have seen said book so he deemed it an unfair option. 

His next suggestion was to be the child in When I Grow Up I want to Play for Liverpool

This would involve him wearing a football kit or non school uniform uniform as we call it. Quelle surprise. In a similar vein he suggested his Liverpool Football Club Annual so that he could dress as one of the players. My initial reaction to both ideas was no no no. This is not happening. Yes he does read them a lot but I am still clinging to the fact that the day is about celebrating literary characters. Here is an opportunity to focus on a different hobby. Let's take a break from football. Just for a few hours. I suggested he chose a character that reflected his interest in books, his knowledge of characters, or his literary role models. I presented the case for Bee Boy (see previous post) and Beetle Boy (see my as yet unwritten post). Both book collections are firm favourites in this house. The former option was rejected due to his dislike of wearing yellow and the latter was unacceptable based on the itchiness of a woolly jumper with a beetle attached. 

On we go.

After tenser negotiations than the PM has been facing lately we decided to come at the problem from a different direction- which costumes do we already have! My love of a lifehack grows stronger each day whilst my zest for the perfect WBD costume was ebbing rather than flowing.  

So, instead of searching the bookshelves we looked to the dressing up box (by dressing up box I mean random clothes shoved in wardrobes, under the bed, or the corner of the spare room). And lo! That's when we struck gold. Two brilliant costumes were already sitting waiting to be called to duty. Firstly, Matt has a skeleton onesie from Halloween just waiting to be cast as Big Skeleton from Funnybones. Secondly, Matt has a Santa outfit from our Christmas card photoshoot which he loved wearing. It wouldn't take any effort to costume him as Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas. Feeling rather smug with my original and simple solutions, I left the boss to mull it over. 

Meanwhile what to do with the tiddler? She does not officially need to dress up. But you know we have to. 

First of all I thought of Mog. She loves the books and the cuddly toy who resides with us. Similarly she is rather fond of Spot. She likes the books and loves their handpuppet. However, this tiny person has big opinions on clothing. She would either refuse to wear a furry onesie or we could find that she would refuse to ever take it off. Do you know she often sleeps in shoes? I needed an outfit for her that represents her budding relationship with literature whilst being toddler proof and something that would not further complicate our lives! Then it came to me. I wish I could claim that the invention was mine own but, by the powers of tracking, Mothercare planted the thought on my phone and in my brain. Why be a character when you can be a whole book?

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the That's Not My books so it seems perfect to dress Dot in one of the pyjama sets of the books. But which one? There are a few sets to choose from and oh so many books to represent. 

Matt had a pile of these books when he was the wee one and we both thought they were great. He loved the tactile pages and I liked introducing him to a range of adjectives. (He was my first child- I had time and energy to care about this stuff.) The books are a great size for toddlers: small, not too many pages, robust and chunky. They never really left our shelves and Dot has inherited quite a collection.

That's My Monkey. For real.

Her favourite is That's Not My Monkey. Matt loved That's Not My Tractor. My faves are That's Not My Piglet and That's Not My Snowman. This is purely based on how cute the pigs are and the stuff to touch in the snowman book! 

These popular classics deserve our recognition. However, I am afraid that I cannot discuss these books with you without an admission. It pains me to make this confession but I have been nothing but a fool.  A fool for about seven years (in this example. In general it has been many many more years). Please don't judge me too harshly. And I would appreciate it if you keep it between us but I have only very recently discovered the mouse!

I'm sorry if you feel let down and that this disclosure totally disappoints you. Let's hope we can mend our relationship by the end of this tome.

That's Not My Donkey but that is the mouse in question
Do not get me wrong- I saw the mouse. I have not lost the ability to scan a page and identify a cute rodent. But I didn't see it consistently in every reading of every page in every book. It was only when reading them with Dot that a light came on and I realised we were meant to look for the mouse. Like the Farmyard Tales where you search for the duck. (I still don't know how to do this without interrupting the story). In all the years of reading them with Matt we never searched for the mouse. Poor first born. And poor reader because further apologies are necessary as it is about to get worse. That was only part one of my confession.

Very recently, today in fact, (at the time of writing probably not at the time of reading), Matt twisted the plot even more. He explained to me that you are not supposed to hunt for the mouse. It is meant to be there because the MY belongs to him. Huh? He showed me that (spoiler alert) when he finds his donkey or panda etc the mouse is cheering. 

That's a happy mouse
In Matt's words, the mouse is the narrowrater. My eloquent response to the mouse being an explicit part of the book was Shut The Front Door!

I'm just going to pause a moment here in case this is shocking news to you too. However, if you are a smartypants and already knew this please read on and do comment below to feel superior.

For many years I had never even questioned who was searching for the animals or vehicles. The time for existential thinking is not when reading with toddlers. I think I egotistically thought it was me, the reader, - especially since That's Not My Baby has a mirror at the back and shows that my baby is in fact my baby (sorry about another spoiler). Surely I cannot be the only one to have missed this. I am wondering how many more things we miss when we read with brain fog? What else have I got wrong? Is there actually such a thing as a Gruffalo?

At least wee Dot gets the full That's Not My... experience. Lucky second child. In many ways Dot's experience of reading is very different from that which I had with Matt. Seeing as we are in confession mode I need to tell you that Dot's book etiquette leaves a lot to be desired. Matt chewed corners and sure he didn't always restock his shelves in alphabetical order but we definitely cuddled up with a book from when he was a baby. Number 2 child does things differently. Now do not get too alarmed- she does love books. But she is the reader. Mum reads, Matt reads, Dot reads. So when she brings me a book she is leading the interaction. She reads the words (in Dot speak) she points and grunts (for most things not just pig books) and, now this is important for anyone who may get to to share a book with her, she turns the pages. Not you. Put your hand away. This is ok. I am totally fine with not reading every page and missing essential parts of the book. I am obviously lying. It is extremely frustrating but I am coming to terms with the fact that it shows she has independent reading skills and likes to take ownership of her own literacy. 

Hmmm. Dot has definitely developed her own ideas about how books work. It is not one I am particularly happy to share but I guess this is a safe space. Whilst Dot has exceeded all our hopes in terms the joy she brings into our lives, this funny, charismatic, and engaging wee mite is also, I am ashamed to say, a flap ripper.

That's Not My Daughter...her hands are too destructive

In two short years she has ruined 2 Postman Bear books, Dear Zoo, Dear Santa (surely this has dire consequences), and many other titles. I am sure it is just another wonderful phase that we have to get through, but until then no flaps please were rippish. And meanwhile we are more than happy to get our tactile reading fix through the mouse books. These books have survived for seven years in our house and all but one (poor dinosaurs) are still going strong.

So, Happy Anniversary and World Book Day to Usborne's Touch-feely books! 
Book and PJ twinning. We went for the Unicorn set because she likes yellow.
Ooh maybe she'll be Bee Boy in a few years time...

Back to the main man, Matt had settled on Father Christmas because he really did enjoy having a beard in December. So, we were all set but then school announced their WBD plans. There was to be a break from tradition. School invited children to come in in their pjs and dressing gowns with their favourite bedtime story. I love this idea. Obvs I love the costumes but this focuses on the books not the imaginative abilities or sewing skills of the parents! Plus and most importantly it fits in with Dot's costume. I love it when a plan comes together. It's just a shame it fits with Matt's plans not mine.

For there are no prizes for guessing which pyjamas he chose. And, in keeping with this, the bedtime book he chose to take was...his LFC annual! So despite my earlier declaration it looks very much like this is happeningI feel defeated. (Although that goes with being a Villa fan.) 

That's Not My Son...his team is too red!

I guess we'll notch this world book day up once again as a victory for child led parenting, a triumph for independence of spirit, and a big tick for expression of identity. It's another milestone and revelation for me too. Matt is growing up. 7 is a long way from 6. He is just not happy wearing a rat's tail anymore and he doesn't aspire to be a crocodile like last year. He only agreed to be Father Christmas so he could wear red (and a beard). World Book Day has been such a great shared experience in the past; a joint enterprise where we show the world what we read but I guess Matt has other priorities now. He is the one who has to dress up and show his book to his classmates. He wants to use very opportunity to show the world who he is. Matt isn't interested in proving he is well read or that he recognises a character of moral fibre. He cares about his hobby and the expression of his personality.  This identity that he is forging for himself is so precious and if LFC PJs and the LFC annual reinforce that then so be it. Aslong as it is just for this year and only because school moved the goalposts. Next year maybe we can find our way back to the bookshelf? And he'll be Frodo, right? Actually I could just work on Dot- she's perfect for a hobbit. Or maybe I need to accept that both of their book choices are different to mine and I'll just have to dress as Frodo myself.

That's Not My Favourite World Book Day outfit or conclusion but...

These are my children...

And, they are just right.

And look! There may be Liverpool livery everywhere but they are reading actual books. Books that are not just about football and books that exist without tears or ripped flaps. And this happens everyday at home even if it is not represented during our World Book Day. I'll take that as my parenting win.

P.S. As a thank you for sticking with me and in tribute to the That's Not My...series please go back through the photos and find our mouse. You're most welcome.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Heroes, Adventures, and Happy Endings

This beautiful early Summer means that we are spending all of our time outdoors. I know you are probably picturing me lying on a lounger reading a riveting book and sipping Gin whilst my two children play a harmonious game of croquet on the lawn. Yeah that's how I pictured parenting two little people but it looks like we're wrong. Most weekends and every minute after school is spent playing football with Matt. Garden football but total football. The second child occasionally joins in but is mainly left to fend for herself. Don't fret though- She is quite content pottering around eating moss, pointing at birds, and delivering the occasional throw-in. It is best she steers clear of the pitch though as it is not a friendly knock about between mother and son. It is shin padded, studded, and brutal. One on One full on football. I'm getting pretty good in goal and I have the bruises to prove it. I've come off better than the dad, though. All he had to do was throw the ball back but he managed to break his toe. He's on the bench for the foreseeable.It really isn't a game for faint hearted. Should have asked wee Dot to return it instead.

On the subject of the beautiful game I need to make a declaration. Let's get one thing clear from the whistle - there are only two members of this household who are Liverpool fans. I'm not one of them. You see, Matt and Dot are being raised as part of a blended family. We are raising them with mixed football heritage. Quite early on we decided to let Matt pick his team but it seems he chose the wrong one. However, I fully support my son’s choice to support Liverpool as long as wee Dot gives me her football soul. This does unfortunately mean that my son very publicly wears his colours. Yes long gone is his farmer style and drifting away is his desire to dress like Dave Grohl. He has new heroes to emulate now. The Liver livery is all he wants to put on. So please be aware that he does own other clothes but he will probably look the same on all future posts!
My beautiful drainpipe and a big lad who lives with me
So, once again I have found that reading was slipping down the list of his favourite things to do. How do we find literary heroes to compete with Mohamed Salah? How do we find books as exciting as scoring a goal with his left foot?

Finding books to satisfy the pair of us has long been the gist of this blog but I feel it acutely now he is six, a competent reader, and a reluctant sit downer. It makes him a difficult punter. School books are a necessity but not to be used for relaxation or entertainment purposes. His picture books are sometimes over familiar. And for a short while he preferred to read on the kindle or watch something on the tablet. Taking matters in hand I decided to make up stories to satisfy his needs. I created an elaborate tale about him joining LFC Juniors which typically culminated in the final cup match. The stuff of dreams. But, in a tiny voice, he tapped me to ask 'Do I win, Mama?' Here's the thing. We are ready for more challenging books but not necessarily for more challenging stories. He wants books that he can read himself but that may also require the adult too. He still needs to avoid scenes containing mild peril, sadness or disappointment. This boy still needs a story to give him a happy ending.  How do you bridge the gap between picture books and chapter books? Well, I'm glad I asked because we have discovered some great books to share with you. 

The first book that fulfilled our criteria was a gift from our friend Hannah. The Rabbit and Bear books published by Hodder have proven perfect reading fodder. This is mainly because, based on my experience, six year olds need to talk about poo. The first book really provides a great space to speak of such things. We even learnt new poo facts. The book is disgusting, it is factual, and it is brilliant. There is a lot of non-poo content too if you're that way inclined. The books follow the relationships and adventures of the two main animal characters in the woods. Rabbit is an imperfect character that gets things wrong and has tantrums but is guided and accepted by caring Bear. We learn gentle lessons about friendship and nature but it isn't cute or twee. They are pitched at the just the right level for my boy. The books have a great feel to them both emotionally and aesthetically. The illustrations are attractive and because of the books' smaller size but larger text amounts they feel very different from picture books. They are books that Matt could read himself but I enjoy them too so we read them together. We are hoping that there will be many more of these books to come.  

The next book I need to preach about appeared to me in the library and I have felt enlightened ever since. Allow me to share the revelation. It all began when I took Dot to the library for enrichment purposes (so that she could rearrange and lick a different range of books than we have at home.)
Of course she is reading one we already have at home

I was trying to find where to put back a book that Dot had sunk her teeth into (you decide if this is literal or not) when my eyes were attracted to a lovely black and yellow book. I did not know it then but I had chanced upon a beeaut of a book. For Bee Boy ticks all of the boxes. The illustrations, font, and layout are really inviting. But above all it delivers the hero Matt was seeking. Someone who has fears but is clever, kind and brave. This story of a boy who can enter his bee hive is both entertaining and educational story. There is some peril and some sad situations but they are handled well and because of the  tone of the book it was easily coped with. We talked about the characters, the storyline, and the nature facts frequently whilst reading it. I really could not wait until bedtime to read more. We have also carried this story in our heads for a while since finishing it such is its reach. In fact I said to Matt 'I don't think I have enjoyed reading a book as much as this for quite a while.' He said 'I have never enjoyed one as much as this. Can we buy our own copy?' Do you need anymore convincing than this? We are eagerly awaiting the sequel. Do join us and don't bee left out.

That trip to the library was also a huge success for we found another important book. Whilst we we were sitting on the tiny tiny chairs I spotted something that made me exclaim ‘ohmyword’ outloud. Does this make me middle class? I should probably declare that I was wearing boat shoes. From M&S. I think I’m there. Anyway, stop distracting me. There sitting on the shelf was a book I didn’t know even existed. Its publication in 2017 had totally passed me by. For here, in my hands, was a special edition of You Choose. This is beyond exciting. You may remember our close relationship to the imagine book from this blog post. Oh thank you Pippa and Nick. For the book and for helping me out. You see at least once a week I try to do a small treasure hunt for Matt. It gets him reading, distracts him from the football, and most of all it serves to remind him that I was thinking about him whilst he was at school. He loves them. However on that particular day I had little treasure inspiration. And then I had ample. A book treasure hunt with this You Choose In Space potentially providing the perfect treasure prize. Yay.

So I left a trail of clues and hid five library books around the house...

I love bottom related clues. This is what being six is all about.
(There is a distinct lack of football kit here because he has his school gardening clothes on.)

I was so excited but then last minutes nerves began to set in in case a bookish treasure hunt would be disappointing compared to hunts where Lego blind bags or football socks were the prizes. I need not have worried.  

Super excited blurry boy
Matt was beyond happy to discover this book as the ultimate treasure. I was thrilled that I had got it right. We can still agree on what is fun.  'I can't wait to read this at bedtime', he squealed.

So we did.

This book does not disappoint. We loved our voyage of discovery. The format was so familiar and it was great to recognise some of the characters. Matt also liked the new characters who guide you through the book. This was precisely the adventure he had been seeking. This book, like the others, really does spark conversation and triggers the imagination. The book gave us the chance to talk, dream, and coexist in a space far away from school, football, and other distractions. It dawned on me that Matt could read this book by himself quite easily but he stills considers the reading of such a book as a joint venture. That is just perfect as far as I'm concerned.

Maybe this is what being six is all about. Yes you can read on your own. But no you don't have to. Playing football is about developing abilities and reading is an essential skill but this is not why we do either of them together. We do it to connect, to share our time, and to create space to reinforce our relationship. To just be together. The Dad may have introduced YNWA into Matt's life but I'm giving him You'll Never Read Alone. Until he wants to. And maybe not for a while then.

So, good luck in the final, LFC. Go write yourselves into history and give my son the happy ending he is seeking. And if you can do it without going to penalties I would be really grateful as he doesn't cope well with late nights. Also Come on Villa and all the best to Shrewsbury Town. It's over to you and give us our happily ever afters.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Enormous Coughadile

The Enormous Coughadile

Happy World Book Day, friends.

Just a quick post on the highs and lows of the day so far and it is only 745am!


Creating a simple but ohsocute outfit for the wee dot.

Having a ridiculously simple solution for the character Matt chose.


Dot will not wear her head piece.

Matt was sick from coughing.


So, I only managed to get three mediocre photographs to share with y'all.

Allow me to present to you The Enormous Crocodile and the Roly Poly Bird.

 And the scene when Croc gnashes the bird's beautiful (handmade) tail. Not to be confused  with handmaid's tail).

And finally

Dot rehearsing for Notting Hill Carnival...

Have a fun day and don't let the snow ruin the costumes.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Wheels of Learning

It's the last day of school!

How has a year gone by? OK so I lost a whole chunk of the year due to living in a baby bubble but, still, how are we here already?

I woke up this morning (actually I was woken up this morning. Early. Very early.) and it dawned on me (yes I have outdone myself with this pun) that we have somehow created a new normal. After all the upheaval that a baby and a new routine brings we are starting to settle. We now have a babbling, rolling, eating, grabbing, smiling 9 month old and an all reading all writing soon to be 6 year old. I almost feel like a grown up.

Matt has taken to school like a duck to water. This is not the best analogy given that ducks and open bodies of water are on Matt's List of Fears but you get my point. He has done brilliantly: made friends (skirting over the time when he used the friendship stop as an upgrade system); learnt stuff (obviously when I get him back at the end of the day he can't remember a single thing until bedtime when he has total recall); and picked up lots of skills (Mummy, you don't do a W like that).

Obvs, the greatest skill the boy has gained is that of reading. As you should know by now I never rushed Matt into reading as 1. I'm not a teacher and 2. he wanted to wait until school. Good plan, my man. This way meant he was ready, willing and able. More so than the parent. Fancy a cliched analogy? Well, allow me. Learning to read is like learning to ride a bike. Both are going to provide you with essential skills and give you years of joy but the initial stages are gruelling and frustrating. The learner may struggle too. For as hard as it is to acquire a new skill it is also tough for the parent to watch the slow and tentative process. I could feel my grey hairs popping up when Matt met a silent letter and magic e would do well to disappear. But although it feels like forever and you just want to do it for them it has actually been a quick phase. Little by little they get there. And here we are. It is a tad ironic that super sporty Matt has picked up reading much quicker than riding. It is possibly because we could do the former whilst feeding or rocking a baby. Or it is just that reading keeps him up to speed at school but at home he's not quite ready for me to let go of the saddle. That is fine by me. Even if my back hurts from holding the bike or my head may pop from gently correcting the pronunciation it is still a privilege to be part of this journey. The end result is very important but it is nice to stop and find yourself amidst this huge developmental process. Soon he will soar by book and bike but today we are happy to just trundle along and take in the scenery.
So yes it is an amazing journey but we really need to talk about Biff, Chip, and Kipper. These are the initial books on the scheme used in Matt's school. The first ones they bring home are wordless and they rendered me speechless! I had been so excited about revisiting Roger Red Hat but alas we meet a family with insane facial expressions, dull stories, and names verging on the ridiculous. Matt gets really insensed when I don't know which is which.  Anyhoo the wordless stage is brief and I trusted in the process. Once they know their sounds it is easy street: the books get better and the reader whizzes through. The experience becomes more like a knife through butter than nails down a blackboard. The books also become more varied too. Matt enjoyed one on big cats and one about fast cars with a mention of James Bond. I am not sure 5 year olds appreciated the reference to 007 but the Dad did. I just appreciate the random variety.

One book that Matt and his classmates were really taken with is T-Veg. The whole class had been reading it and the author, Smriti Prasadam- Halls visited during their pop up literary festival. Matt tells me Smriti lived in Liverpool for a while. This was very important to him from a footballing point of view. The book is based on a T-Rex who is different from the others because he prefers fruit and vegetables to meat. The class used the book, and presented an awesome school assembly, to consider the notion of uniqueness and theme of friendship. Matt requested this book from me and I ordered it immediately because I am weak, people. He proceeded to read it to me as soon as the parcel arrived and later to his dad at bedtime. He read it word prefect (that was a typo but it amused me so it can stay) but it was his enthusiasm that won the day. It is the crowning glory of reading at school that Matt can now discover books for himself and share them with us. That he can read is great but that he wants to read is T-riffic.

The boy, the book, the dinosaur disguise.
We had this conversation tother day:
Moi: Matt, what has been your favourite thing that you have done in your first year at school? Christmas, Sports Day, World Book Day?
Matt: Reading.
Job done, everyone.

Then I asked a more searching question.
Moi: What is the best thing about being able to read?Is it feeling like you have the keys to the kingdom? That the world is your lobster? That there are too many books and too little time?
Him: that I can read small writing.
Alrighty then. Go back to being 5.

Thankfully reading is not just something you do at school. Matt is reading anything and everything. He is keen to get started on the local library reading scheme and likes to peruse any literature left around the home.

In my day it were The Beano
He is branching out and discovering new books but he has also found that our old picture books can get a second life as he can read them himself now. However this young reader is even more discerning over what is read: as in which books and how to divvy up the narration. This ended badly when reading Meg and Mog as no one told me that the grown up reads the sentences and the child reads the speech bubbles. The sound effects are a minefield under his system. There are a lot of rules when reading to the boy and it seems I break a lot of them. Things got a bit awks when he realised I wasn't reading all of the words in the Richard Scarry What do people do all day? Jeez there is a lot of words in that book. It won't be long until he discovers that it is infact Hansel and Gretel's father who leads them to the woods rather than a shady uncle character I introduced to protect the traditional family unit. (Quickly need to tell you that I do an Amah-zing witch voice which has Matt coil up in horror. I use it to get him to finish his dinner. I understand this is terrible, Muriel, but it is oh so effective.)I am hoping that it will be a while longer before Matt can read certain books. I am in no hurry for him to find out that Black Beauty has a very different life than the one I have been preading (protective reading to shield a child from finding out the real story!) I had initially feared that Matt wouldn't need me when he could independently read but thankfully reading isn't just about decoding the words. It is still about the process of spending time together. He still needs me for that. Thankfully. I just need to learn not to read the speech bubbles. And never, ever, read whilst yawning.

The wheels of learning are certainly turning for Matt. The stabilisers are well and truly off and there he goes into the big, wide world. Oh the places you'll go, Matt! Just don't forget your helmet, inhaler, and most importantly, your library card.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A World Book Day Tail

Ah it is good to be back. So, how've you been? OK enough about you I was just being polite!

Sorry it's been a while since I last shared our stories with you. Having a baby makes thinking difficult not to mention writing.I imagine you have just about coped without me but rest assured we're back. And we're bigger and better than ever. Well one of us is. Matt raced off and turned five and became BIG. The other one of us is progressing much more slowly but is getting used to the new normal now. 

Yup the family dynamic sure has changed since Dot arrived on the scene (not her real name but, given her size, many people refer to her as Little Dot or Tiny Dot, so we'll go with that. She is also our full stop.)


As for the blog, I barely have time to read to Matt at the moment nevermind write about it for you. Unfortunately the boys occasionally have to do stuff without me and one of these occasions is bedtime. I've been ousted out by cluster feeding and a cuddly baby. At a time when I need to connect more with Matt seeing as school has robbed us of the quantity of time we spend together and Dot sometimes steals our quality time we goes days on end without bedtime reading. I know this will pass and we are doing our best but the bedtime stories are what I miss. On the plus side, the times I do get to do bedtime are all the more special now.

Anyhoo, speaking of time, right now, I have some time on my hands due to a sleeping baby and the men folk are out hunting and gathering (cinema trip) so I have chance to catch up with you. I couldn't let World Book Day pass by without comment, could I? Let's make a start and if I can't finish I will just publish this in 2018.

WBD has become a very special occasion in our calendar. The last two years have been about what to read at Matt's nursery so this year we have reached an important milestone. This is something I've dreamed of for years. I have imagined so many different ideas. Oh yes peeps it is Matt's first School Book Day which means I get to dress him up. The possibilities are endless. Ah the optimism. Ah the hope. Argh the boy. All of my ideas proved futile. I am sure you would like an example of this? Behold:

Me: Be Gandalf. We already have the outfit. It shows we are learned readers. I don't have time to be creative.
Matt: But that's Luke Skywalker's cloak now.

For months leading up to this point Matt was going to be Saucepan Man. There will definitely be a blog post soon about Matt's interest in The Magic Faraway Tree but suffice to say he loves this character. I imagined a black top and jeans with silver foil card cutouts of pans and kettles. Easy. Until the day Matt announced he didn't want to do that. We agreed that real pans and kettles would not be comfy.  So we revisited the book shelves. Then he definitely wanted to be the Jolly Postman. Yippee. Another great character from a lovely book. That's what I said out loud. My internal monologue was 'wahoo- easy easy easy'. Or so I thunked. When I came to ebay/amazon/ google it it proved really difficult to get a traditional postie uniform and hat. There are just modern courier costumes or ones with Postman Pat's name emblazoned on them. So I looked again at the book to see how i could cobble it together and it seems the jolly postman is more dated that I initially thought. He wears a shabby blue suit, tie, and yellow shirt. When I explained this to Matt the idea was destroyed- 'I am not wearing a yellow shirt'. OKs. The highbrow literature review continued with my suggestion of Supertato. Seriously wish I hadn't. "Supertato is too fat. You could go as him, Mummy". Matt was lucky I wasn't holding a loaded nappy at the time. 

We reached an impasse until Matt spotted a fab Viking costume on amazon and wanted to dress up in that. We discussed whether he meant How to Train your Dragon or How to be a Viking. The former being a film, the latter being a book he no longer reads. It all got a bit heated as I didn't want him to just find a book to match a costume. I wanted him to find a character he identified with, someone who inspires him, and maybe someone who represents our love of books. He chose...

The Highway Rat 

And, in three words, why did he choose this character? For the claws. Which we are not making. He was also attracted to the role due to the sword although he did tell me that they are not allowed weapons in Reception. Phew. Actually, I think Matt loves that in the end [spoiler alert] the rat ends up working in a cake shop.

So we were in agreement that a declawed and defenceless rat is our first WBD effort.

The rat may not be a good role model but at least it was a child led decision about a great book with a moral tale.So in the end maybe it is the perfect fit. A character that Matt likes from a book he loves and more importantly one that I felt was within my craft remit.You may recall that Matt has dressed as the rat before? No? Well click here. That was an amateurish attempt and now he's five, at school, and the costume will have an audience we need to go harder.

The Highway Rat outfit was easy to put together with the help of a pair of Jake and the Neverland Pirates trousers, a cape, hat, and mask. Oh and I also cut up the dad's tuxedo shirt. Don't worry- he isn't going anywhere swish for a looong time! I am very proud of the no-sew-but-oh-so-perfect tail which consists of ballet tights scaled with rubber bands and stuffed with plastic bags. Even the dad was impressed. Maybe I could be a Pinterest Mummy afterall.

So here he is. Matt in his first WBD costume:

I am chuffed with our efforts but most of all I am proud of Matt. He chose to take the rat book to school when they were asked to take their favourite books in. And, when asked, why he chose that book he said he liked it because it was funny. He also said that he had a discussion with his friend about how the rat got on top of his horse because the horse is big and the rat only has little legs. I love that these two 5 year olds sat discussing this. I am filled with joy that he was able to choose a character from a familiar book and identify what he likes about the story. He is making informed literary decisions and is able to construct a review of a book. The boy is engaging with the process because of a genuine respect for the day and ingrained love of books. This is big. This is happy. I feel my chickens have come home to roost. Let's hope the rat doesn't devour them.

But hang on I hear you cry there are two small people in your house now. So, how do you dress the world's cutest baby on WBD? The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a bit obvs. She would make a lovely Gruffalo's Child but all babies dressed in teddy fur tend to remind me of Bo Selecta. Jake the nephew extraordinaire suggested Sunny Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events. A great shout and such a cool character but being a baby is already Dot's day job. And that is when it struck me. Don't go young go old. So...

May I present you with one of my favourite book characters...Miss Marple.

OK, so Miss Marple doesn't have a haemangioma and Dot didn't take to knitting as well as I'd hoped so we do lack props but she still makes a great old lady. I think it is the lack of teeth. 

Dressing them up has been tremendous fun but of course it is only part of WBD for us. It shouldn't be just about who is wearing what. Let's reflect on the real meaning of World Book Day. For me it is about discovering and rediscovering books together. It is the chance to touchbase with your child. Through discussions on characters and stories Matt and I were able to use the book shelves to find common ground, return to secret worlds, and talk of familiar folk. WBD is a celebration of the relationship we create between our children and books but also a timely reminder of how books can forge connections between us and the little people.

With this in mind I wanted to start a WBD tradition beyond dressing up. I wanted us to use the day to revisit old books and indulge in new ones. So I purchased a book I knew we would both enjoy. The return of Zog or Zog and The Flying Doctors as it is officially titled got me very excited last year but I was a bit too disoriented to get around to buying it. This seemed like a good occasion. I had planned to give it to Matt on the day itself but the parcel arrived and I am weak, people. Also the parcel arrived at the perfect time. Matt and Dad had returned from their cinema trip and Dot was asleep  again (yep she does that. Don't be a hater- I deserve one like this as Matt did not sleep for four years.) Matt was excited about the surprise and I was thrilled that the 'books are not presents' phase has finally receded. I tentatively suggested we sit and read it together- expecting a brutal rejection as he was watching EvanTube. But the boy- he say yes. We actually snuggled on the sofa in the daytime and read this book. Matt really enjoyed it. The story itself is like any Julia Donaldson's in that it is a new take on something that seems classic. It didn't go in the direction I had hoped as it remains with the princess rather than Zog. It is still a good addition to the book shelf especially if you loved Zog. I really enjoyed the actual reading together- being unimpeded by the baby or school or cooking or Lego or bedtime. In the turning of those pages we got something back. It gave me a glimmer of hope that life can be normal again. The reconnection was just what we needed. Matt must have felt the same as he cuddled up and praised the book exclaiming that it was his most favourite book ever. Then he piped up with 'next year can I go as Zog?' Sure son, how hard can a huge dragon costume be? On second thoughts, maybe it could double up as Smaug in the future. Argh and now we are back to obsessing about dressing up again!

This WBD has reaffirmed the importance of pursuing reading with Matt. It has given us chance to think about our books, what we read, when we read, and what stories we are creating ourselves. Our lives are changing rapidly and here is Matt making decisions about books, reading words, and thinking about characters.  We really are at a new reading place. It is exciting to think where we can go with this. But most of all, this day has reminded me that he may be growing ohsofast and that most of the day my hands are full of a whole other human bean but if you can make time for a book you can stop life speeding by. These are the moments to hold onto. Therefore my World Book Day resolution (I'm sure it's a thing, isn't it?) is to create more reading time beyond school books and Lego construction books. I intend to grab the opportunities to read with Matt whenever they arise to anchor us and give us both what we need. 

But, right now, I need to figure out how to walk to school with a two foot pink tail.

Happy World Book Day.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A New Hope

Matt is growing up faster than Jack's beanstalk and time is flying faster than HP playing Quidditch. We have had school taster days, hairs on legs (one of us finds this exciting, one of us is used to this phenomenon), complex mathematical questions (9 plus 9 plus 9) and some not so complex questions (is a chicken a vegetable?). Oh yes, we are nearly five. As such, Matt's interests are developing, his needs are changing, and our lives are continually evolving in response. 

There are three new invasions in our lives. Lego, Foo Fighters ('Food Fighters' to the boy), and Star Wars have taken over. Big time. Sometimes we have combinations of these to contend with. Obvs we have Star Wars Lego to incorporate two of the said interests. I always get asked to be Chewbacca. No idea why. But we do also have other interesting cross-overs too. 

For example, Rock Concert Lego:
Please admire my handiwork - how many of you have been asked to create Foo Fighters out of Lego? Taylor is actually sitting at a drum kit. Unfortunately my creative skills did not stretch to guitars but Matt posed their arms in position. 

Spot the Star Wars Super Foo Fan

How about Star Wars football? Yup, even our usual hobbies have had to accommodate the new regime. If you have played football with Luke Skywalker you will know exactly where I am coming from. If you haven't, do come over one afternoon. (This is a whimsical invitation. Do not come over.) 

The agility of a Jedi
So, I am embracing these obsessions. To be fair, I have embraced all the others too: diggers, tractors, horses, How to train your dragon, peter pan, etc. When this boy likes something he really goes for it.

I have no problem with Lego being his favourite toy. Except for the prices. I also have no problem with Foo Fighters being his fave band. Although it would be nice to be allowed to listen to something else. Just once. And, I would have preferred his music tastes to be less sweary. (Panic ye not- Matt does not have a concept of taboo words yet. And, I do try to insert my own safe words here and there- For the record (what a pun) Monkey Wrench definitely sounds like this:'I still remember every single word you said, And all the ships that somehow came along with it.' Please sing this version if you are lucky enough to rock out with the boy at some point!

It would also be nice if he liked films with less fighting. But that instinct has always been there- Star Wars just gives Matt a way to frame and channel it. I have no real problem with Star Wars. I like the films but I wouldn't say I was an uber fan. The Goonies was more my thing. But everyone else seems to be riding the Star Wars wave so the boy wanted in. One problem I do have is that this obsession has arrived sooner than expected. Matt's cousins and older friends are hooked but Matt had decided to wait until he was 8 to watch them. Instead he picked up the story lines through watching Lego star wars clips. But in a moment of bravery and maturity he decided he was ready to watch the real deal. Obvs in the real order as dictated by cousin Jake of 4,5,6,1,2,3, and 7! I went along with this plan as I was more than prepared for Matt to change his mind. This is a boy who will not watch Peter Rabbit, describes the first fifteen of minutes of Finding Nemo like a scene from Jaws, and had nightmares after Zootropolis. But no, he loved the films. What can you do? It has all been at Matt's choosing. On reflection, I do actually consider it all pretty healthy (in a chocolate raisin kind of way). As it goes the Star Wars obsession makes sense. The epic tale of good versus evil, clear loyalties, and great fight scenes all completely satisfy his needs at the  moment. 

Here comes the inevitable but. The main problem is that all of this means that unless we are building, rocking, or lightsabering, then it just isn't on the cards for Matt. Nothing seems to be really grabbing him as much as these interests. This is the issue. How do you encourage your Jedi in training to sit and enjoy a book when their adrenaline is pumping and they just need to fight, run, and be physical?

Well, I bide my time. Run himself tired, he will. (Please supply own Yoda voice. I have been informed that mine is the worst Matt has ever heard.) And then the further issue is that even on the occasions when Matt is feeling receptive (broken, defeated, exhausted, or ill) we need a bloomin good book to captivate him. 

Do I look like I want to cuddle and read?

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Matt is four and three very big quarters. The picture books and stories we have are now very familiar and do not compete with the thrills of Star Wars. It is hard to go from this adrenaline fuelled stuff to tales of tractors and fables of forgetful cats. Furthermore, at this point, I suspect, Matt is ready for the next challenge. He would probably do well to learn to read the books himself but he is not interested in that yet. Matt likes to recognise letters and guess at words but he has no plans to read for himself and potentially oust me out of the bedtime routine. Fine by me. We can wait until he is ready. (I don't need him reading my endless lists before his birthday and Christmas. Although, to be fair,this may never be a real problem as he is already acutely aware of how bad my handwriting is.)

I was discussing these problems with my pal KTW (not the handwriting problem- she is already familiar with my work) who comes from a family of Star Wars obsessives when she mentioned a series of Star Wars books by Little Golden Books that may do the trick. What a wise woman.

So, taking Mrs W's advice, I ordered what we call SW 4, 5, and 6 - you may know them as Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Or what I used to call (you know, before I was trained in all these matters by my master) The Real Star Wars, The One Without a Happy Ending, and The One with the Ewoks.

I was really impressed when the books arrived. Moreover (ooh essay mode) Matt was beyond excited about these books. It was the best reaction he had had about books in a long while.
YES YES YES. They are perfect. Look at him! Need I say more? Has that ever stopped me before?
These books heralded something new not least because on the day the books arrived we actually had to move bedtime earlier because he was so keen to read all three. Matt was engaged, interested, and satisfied. No sooner had I dispatched him off to the land of nod I had to order 1,2,3, and 7. Do you need me to fill you in on the real titles or have you cracked the cunning code? Just in case- 1 is the rubbish one, 2 is the one I did not bother watching, 3 is the one where Darth Vader is created (and I was surprised to love it so much), and 7 is the new one.

Anyhoo back to the books. Films, you can stand down now.

This one is Matt's fave

These books are immediately inviting. They are so well designed. The illustrations are retro and I love the muted colours. It took the boy a moment or two to get to grips with the people looking like cartoons and not real people but the wee pedant soon got over it.

Who wouldn't love these graphics and sound effects?

Most of all I love that these interpretations of the films are age appropriate. There has been very careful consideration shown towards how they deal with the darker parts of Star Wars. Death and killing are just not in the vocabulary. Terms such as when 'Yoda was at one with the force' break sad news in a cotton wool way. Also, when Anakin's mother pops her clogs the book breaks this to the young reader with 'he finds her just in time to say goodbye.' Also:  
I do know that you deserve better than this photo but the point is the text, people!
I feel safe and comfortable reading them to the almost five year old. These books are really easy to read and not too long or wordy. Well, depending on the kind of day you may have had.

This set of books has given us both a new hope (too easy that one) about Matt's relationship to books. Matt loves that he doesn't have to forget Star Wars at bedtime despite the dvds being locked away and the lightsabers being put out of reach. These books fulfil his need to understand, reconstruct, imagine, anticipate, and be entertained all within the confines of his new weltenshauung. (Matthew is a fan of the German language. Mummy I wish we used German numbers in England because then we'd have more numbers. Hmmm you do the math.)

So, I stand by something I said in an earlier blog- your little person may not always choose books that will win literary awards or to show off on your bookshelf but it is much more rewarding and worthwhile to allow the child to choose the books that win their hearts.

It is more than healthy to feed an obsession if it means you are nurturing a relationship, building trust, and sharing a common interest. Through the new hobbies, especially Star Wars, we have created a dialogue and a storyboard through which to explore the world. Does it matter if I have to answer questions about how old Yoda is and why Kylo Ren turned to the dark side? Is it really such a problem that I find myself lying awake at night trying to work out Finn's parentage and Poe's potential significance? Actually yes it does, she yawns. But, it is a small price to pay for feeding the apprentice's imagination.

At bed time, I have very little choice in what to read and in the daytime there is very little scope in terms of deciding what we play or do. I am not sure how much more I can take of lightsabers etc but I can't see it petering out any time soon. The force is strong in this one and it is my duty to steer him away from the darkside. It is for this reason that these books are special. This series of books are playing an important role in my battle for reading and may their force be with you too.