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.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

World Book Day: The Return

How about a belated reflection on this year's WBD? Unless you have better things to do? Didn't think so. Off we go then.

So, I had a year to prepare for the 2016 WBD. I had planned to write my own story to read at nursery but that did not happen because... well, just because. Get off my case!

During the year since the last WBD I have often considered which books would be good to read to the nursery group. I talked to Matt about the books that he likes and that his friends may like to hear too. He was pretty unhelpful at first to be honest. I was, however, relieved that Seabiscuit dropped down the book rankings so I was saved the need to perform an exciting race commentary.

Finally, we agreed one bedtime that Off To Market would be a great choice. We were given this book by Muriel and have enjoyed it many a time. It is a lovely story set in Africa about the bus journey to the market. There is a nice moral lesson in there about young Keb having a big heart. We like the rhymes and the bright illustrations. Matt's favourite part of the story is when Keb gets a goat in the end. Oops sorry about the spoiler. I do try to adopt a very special African accent when reading this but it probably was not ready for a public outing. Furthermore, Matt does not fully appreciate my vocal skills and asks me to use my normal voice. 

Not only do we read this book a lot but we talk about it and refer to it often. It has really taken root in Matt's imagination. It has given him an insight into a different country and way of life. It has also provided a good storyline for play. We were once in a cafe and Matt was playing with the Duplo they have there. He made a bus and it only took him a couple of seconds to place the bus in this story. He could have chosen our bus trips into town when we go swimming or he could have chosen our trip on a bus to a train station but he located the bus in this very narrative and started reciting 'here comes the bus off to market today...' It was a very proud moment. 

Anyhoo, WBD was fast approaching and I casually announced to Matt that I was looking forward to reading Off To Market and he said 'Nah! We always have that book.' Mild panic set in. I remained remarkably calm given the shock and went with 'yes, but other children may not know the story so it would be nice to share it with them.' The son ended the conversation with another decisive 'Nah.'

Plan b involved hunting through his (our) bookshelves to create a short list of books that are easy to read out loud, do not contain too much text, are big and bright, and appropriate for 2-4 year olds. I presented the following books to the master decision-maker:

Matt politely (in no way whatsoever) rejected them all. They are his bedtime books and not for sharing with others. I did not realise that this was a rule.

I felt at a loss and then, two days before the big day, the wee fella provided the answer himself. 'How about The Midnight Library?' he asked. All was not lost. This was a great idea.  I should not have worried so much. In fact, I think I may handover all important decisions to the four year old. The boy pulled it out of the bag. Although, metaphorically speaking only as there was a slight problem in that we do not actually own this book. To make matters worse, our local library had their copies out on loan. But have no fear, Giftsfromthepirates saved the day by lending it to us. Thanks chaps.

So the BIG day arrived. I felt calmer than the year before but was looking forward to getting it out of the way. I cannot be the only one who sees the annual reading to a group of children as a nerve wracking event? 

On arrival I discovered that Mr H was also due to read. He took the warm up spot (joking only) and did a great job with a long read and a tough crowd. The Highway Rat is a firm favorite in our house but it is much too long for me to read in public. Mr H was far braver than me. Matt enjoyed hearing the story. In fact he liked telling me who read which books. He also found one in the library tother day and told me that we have that at nursery. He was keen for me to read Handa's Surprise knowing he knew the ending and I did not!

My reading was much less worrisome than last year as my expectations were clearer and the book does not have many words! The Midnight Library is the story of a little librarian and her three assistant owls who help woodland creatures. The illustrations are beautiful and bold. It is a lovely little tale about reading and using the library. What is not to love?

The story telling went well. Matt even joined in although I needed a spoiler alert for him when the little librarian thought it was raining and Matt told the group what was the real cause. I knew I would not receive rapturous applause at the end so my ego did not feel as ungratified as last time!

Matt looking happy and proud and excited. Really.
The real success came on the way home Matt asked for his own copy of the book from a bookshop (because they don't run out of date and have to be returned). I loved that he mentioned a bookshop and that the reading had renewed his love for that particular bookI saw the opportunity to broker a deal. For the previous four weeks I had been quite a lazy mama due to hospital recovery, pregnancy fatigue, and colds and we had been co-sleeping from the off. We agreed that if Matt could start in his own bed again we could buy the book. It took a while to get our own copy but it was a great incentive.

So that is it for my WBD readings for the next couple of years as the wee fella leaves nursery this Summer. I imagine next year WBD preparations will involve hours at the sewing machine creating elaborate costumes for deeply inspirational literary characters...
Or given that there will be another tiny humanoid demanding our time maybe Matt will just have to fit into his Gandalf costume. Or, if he does keeps growing at this rate, he may need to suffice with something from the supermarket. Oh my- how have I already put this pressure on myself? Maybe I will just offer to read at the school instead!.

Friday, 15 April 2016

And Then There Were Four

This is the book of the moment. And not out of passing interest.

Yup! It is with great excitement and relief that we can share the news of our pregnancy with you. We (very much Matt) are having a baby in October.

So re-e-wind to Mothers' Day. We decided to tell our mums as an extra special surprise and we figured that we should tell Matt first. After he had presented me with a huge jar of sweets for us to share and after I had opened the book I had bought for myself we sat the boy down and gave him the above book.

We explained that we had reason to believe that there was a tiny speck of a person growing inside Mummy that would hopefully mean he would have a sibling. We had imagined him to be pleased and then for normal life to resume but once again Matt has totally surpassed our expectations. He was surprised, delighted, overwhelmed, and grateful. When he had got over the initial shock he kept asking 'how lucky am I'? And declared that 'it is everything I have ever wanted'. His interest has only snowballed with each passing week. This is fantastic but I could do without the 'are you sure you can eat that' questions from a four year old. His enthusiasm really put the pressure on getting to the 12 week milestone but we have made it! Clink of non-alcoholic wine glass.

Matt was keen to read There's a House Inside My Mummy. The book itself is rather simplistic and perhaps even a little young for Matt but it is a nice introduction to the subject of pregnancy and provides familiar concepts of family life. The book also confirmed the events that we had talked about like scans etc so it was nice to have my spiel backed up. I am not sure about the ending when all four of the new family unit are snuggling and the text mentions Mummy making another baby. I actually changed the ending to 'they all stayed in bed for months and lived happily ever after.' Worth a try?

I had been searching for other storybooks that deal with new babies and siblings when Matt found this lovely book in the library.

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus is a wonderful story about how things change when babies arrive and how a new normal kicks in. Thankfully we can now rule out twins but the story remains relevant and inviting. It conjures a beautiful setting with great characters. Matt found the names a bit of a hurdle but I love them. Names such as Uncle Bizi-Sunday transport us right into Africa. The names remind me of tales I used to hear from my friend Debs from Zim. One that stuck with me was the baby named 'Does Matter'. It sounds rather ungrammatical and a little bonkers to my English ear but if you think about it the actual concept is pretty special: that the baby matters and is important. The name probably won't make Matt's list though.

Matt's baby names list:

Rose (after his friend's stuffed cat)
Rosie (after a real cat that lives on his Nan's street)
Holly2 (after his betrothed, Holly)
Matthew2 ( this is more practical than egotistical. We have Matthew stickers on his bedroom wall. Matt thinks it would be easier to change them with a number 2 rather than take them down and paint the whole wall. We could then call the children number one or number two. It is pretty tempting to be honest).

Back to Anna Hibiscus- the book provides a lovely insight into how a child views the intrusion of siblings but also how quickly it all falls into place. It is a book worth reading even if having twins is not on your agenda. Or even if having one baby is not on your radar. It is just a wholesome family tale. You can borrow it from our local library when we return it in about 8 months time! 

Our search for baby/sibling books that are not too sentimental or babyish still continues. We would welcome your recommendations. For now, we will stick to the above books despite the risk: I am dreading the day when Matt wants full details of the house inside Mummy's tummy. If we don't broaden our reading soon I am pretty sure I will be faced with questions about planning permission, foundations, double glazing, and worst of all the workmen responsible for putting it there. For the record, there was no need to make workmen plural- just trying to add some intrigue.

Well, I fear I must leave you for now. I need to pop off and start looking into how to make an X-Wing bed for Matt. I have been informed by the four year old Jedi that a new Star Wars bedroom is going to solve everything. Matt is happy to give up his small room for the promise of a big room with a Luke Skywalker poster on the wall. And, if he has a new special bed he will definitely stay in there all night. Unless, of course, the baby cries and then he said he will get up to comfort it. This has got to be worth a shot.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Imagine A Book

Imagine a book that both parent and child thoroughly enjoy reading, provides a unique bonding activity, involves an active reading experience,  generates conversation, inspires the imagination, and can give you an insight into your child's psyche (at least as far as this amateur is concerned)This is the Imagine book and it is a game changer.

This blog was meant to happen in January. However certain events have delayed us. Firstly, the library campaign distracted us. We can now confirm that two of the six local libraries have been vouchsafed so far. Supermatt modestly takes the credit for this. Second, Matt has been unwell which has taken up a lot of time and energy. His brief spell in hospital further confirmed the importance of this book in our lives and reminded me of the need to share it with you. You may thank me later. In a chocolatey way.

Two years ago we were gifted with this very special book from the lovely Mrs Smith. I was excited straight away as she had mentioned how wonderful it was. It is also such an attractive book. Big, bright, and red with bold inviting illustrations. Matt felt the same way and it has been a firm favourite ever since.
The Imagine Book, as we call it in our house, is actually two books: You Choose and Just Imagine are written by Pippa Goodhart with amusing illustrations by Nick Sharratt. We have the If I Could Be edition which has both books in one binding. 

On opening the book, a whole new world of reading discourse begins. There is no once upon a time but there is the potential for infinite stories to develop. There is no happy ending because the possibilities are endless. It is less a story book and more a catalogue of imaginary situations.  The concept is simple- follow the prompts on the page and make your selections from the illustrations. Argh- it is actually proving much harder to describe reading this book than I had envisaged. How about we try an example?

The first page spread shows different landscapes and asks 'if you could go anywhere where would you go?'

You must ignore the plaster. The knock to the head was nothing but the plaster is EVERYTHING!

The photo shows Matt deciding where he would go. And also where I should go. He either banishes me to the volcano realm whilst he runs a farm or makes sure I am firmly kept alongside him. I must add that my freewill is sometimes limited when reading this book with the boy. Sometimes I challenge the bossiness, sometimes I yield. I do have to draw the line when he insists on making me his pig on the pets page. 

There is so much to look at on every page. We once read the book with our friend Elsie and she chose the space rocket on said landcapes page. Neither the boy or myself had even noticed it before. Such is the vastness of the choices, the difference between readers, and the fact that Matt and I are probably creatures of habit. Each reading can be different although sometimes we do fall into themes and patterns. Sometimes the reading is predictable and familiar (still fun) and sometimes Matt is full of surprises and I am able to choose my own home, hat, shoes, etc. Sometimes.

Conversations with others in the know have revealed that one spread which causes much amusement is that of choosing who you would like for friends and family. You get to choose from a whole picture gallery of different folk. Even the youngest tots can try to identify characters most like their parents.

He looks like Daddy. No one looks like Mummy as they don't have her actual glasses on. 

Mrs Smith had an embarrassing moment in a cafe when one of her daughters asked if a heavily tattooed and bearded man was a caveman purely based on her knowledge from this book. Mrs B told me that her son sees the hippy couple as his parents and sometimes Daddy is the cowboy. Now this gets a little awkward as Matt also identifies the cowboy as Daddy. One of us has a very busy husband who sure has some 'splaining to do!

The book provides the child with the opportunity to imagine themselves in different scenarios both as a child or further down the line. They can choose a home (always the farm house for Matt obvs), a job, a pet, etc. They can imagine being magical or in charge of manufacturing. Matt enjoys making banana sweets for me on the factory page. The book is a great way to get to know their likes, dislikes, and dreams. Matt used it to get to know a new friend when he read it with the
nursery bear. Brown Bear was allocated a job in a shop, he was invited to live in the farmhouse, and also instructed to make honey in the factory machine. Needless to say the poor bear would not have time to choose a hobby from the 'what would you do for fun' page as he would be too busy.
Brown Bear looking enthusiastic as ever

The where would you sleep pages amuse me because Matt struggles as the most exciting looking beds (sports shoe or cowboy bed) are not big enough for the two of us. Actually now I come to think of it it is not that funny that Matt is planning a future existence where he works, furnishes his own home, chooses a career, and has still factored in co-sleeping with Mama.

My favourite pages are the careers and what would you do for fun sections. Sometimes I take my choices quite seriously and dream about being a librarian who goes bird watching on her days off. I cannot believe I am sharing these wild fantasies with you.

I like these pages most of all because they provide so many ideas for the young reader. Being able to visualise what jobs look like, even at Matt's tender age, is an important exercise. The illustrations show what life looks like for other people and opens their eyes as to what they can go out there and grab for themselves: the world is your lobster. The illustrations challenge stereotypes and remove barriers. I love this book because it is aspirational We should have had this book in the Connexions office where I worked with teenagers.

The Imagine book gets children thinking. It really gets Matt's brain into gear. It challenges him to stretch his imagination and we enjoy a very active reading session. This means that it is not a bedtime book, people! It is best to be alert when reading it as there is much to gain from this activity. Children can acquire essential skills in terms of reading the simple vocabulary, visualising, prioritising, creativeness, considering consequences, and the responsibility of decision making. It expands their thinking and you never know where a reading may take you. The book also leads the conversation in various directions. Sometimes Matt's questions leave me dumbfounded. Looking at the swiss chalet I was unprepared for the question: how do people talk in Switzerland?

The Imagine book can provide a psychological insight into what is going on with your little one. It can give a glimpse (I am reluctant to claim any more than that) into the child's mind, dreams, and priorities. Frinstance sometimes Matt wants me with him in every imaginary situation. Sometimes he strikes for independence. The book can help to reveal his hopes and fears. He is particularly wary of the pages where he is asked to imagine being big or small and he really struggles with imagining being made of a different material. His mind makes the leap to consequences of being made of glass etc. There are few happy endings to be had with that trail of thought. He went through a stage of declaring he would stay as he is. Had life been moving pretty quickly for him at this point?

This book helped me to understand how Matt was feeling when, as I mentioned above, he was admitted to hospital and after he had spent about three days being poked, prodded, and plugged in he began to perk up. I popped home for essential supplies and on the top of my list was the Imagine Book. OK so it was actually calpol, pants, and then the Imagine book. I wasn't sure if he would be in the mood for reading especially given the active participation involved but I figured we needed a break from CBeebies on drip feed. 

Try to spot Mummy the pet pig

I was so happy to see his delight when I pulled his familiar friend out of the bag. We cuddled up in the hospital bed (putting the sides up is a huge bonus to bedsharing) and pored over the pages. Matt was really into it but it was a pretty insightful activity. He really tried to dictate the field of play and limit the range of what I could choose from. He wanted everything and completely took away my freedom. He really wanted the control- even more than usual. I guess after three days in hospital with no choice or autonomy Matt had had enough. He sought to regain control through the book. Fair enough I suppose. This once. Who am I kidding? Anyhoo, we gained much more than the balance of power too. The book gave us a moment to be close and to ignore the wires and alarms. It gave us a chance to escape to somewhere we know. It allowed us to reimagine normality after a few chaotic very not normal days. So whilst we usually read the book to make leaps with our imaginations this time the book allowed us to return to ourselves and reconnect with each other.

This book transforms the reading experience with your child. Be prepared for it to become a favourite in your house. I nearly cried when a page got torn and Mrs B needed to get a  second copy as her's (their's) was so well read. This book is different. This book is special. If you have it you will understand. If you don't have it you will need to get on it! You Choose- as the grown up it may be the last decision you get to make concerning the book.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Can SuperMatt Save The Library?

After we returned home from a protest at our local library in reaction to proposed council cuts Matt announced to his Dad 'I have done something important today. I have saved Newport library.' If only it were that simple. If only it were true. As it stands we are currently living in a Choose Your Own Adventure story here. (My sister loved her CYOA books. I felt under too much pressure to make the decisions.) In reality the council will be deciding the ending for this story. So, the fight is just beginning for Super Matt and his short, pin-headed sidekick Iron(ing) Mam.

This post was always going to happen. I had been thinking about writing a celebration of all things library for quite some time. Now it is more of a necessity rather than an indulgence. Unfortunately our regular library visits had dwindled with the festive season upon us. So this new year I planned to get us back into the saddle. And then visit the library more. Where better to spend an hour on a cold winter's day? Hmmm good question. One we may need to ask ourselves more and more in the near future because the reading journey we take for granted is about to take a turn for the worse. When I read about the Council proposals to cut six of the local libraries, the mobile library service, and many other crucial services, I felt like someone had ripped out the back page of my book. This is not how I thought it would all turn out. Yes, the good folk of the Shire will still have some libraries left including the all singing all dancing flagship library at Southwater but many of us still use, and rely on the regional libraries.  I feel obliged as one of these citizens to present the case as to why our libraries should be saved. And it is my duty as Matt's side kick to come up with some sort of cunning plan for how we might defend them.

SuperMatt and IronMam first leapt into action by completing the Council's online survey. We gave our two penneth on the importance of the libraries as much as we could within the structure of survey. The consultation process wants feedback on how the changes to the library, parks and other services may affect you and your household. Well, dear survey, thanks for asking but this is is not really the point. I will indeed tell you what the library and such mean to me but I would also like to make clear that the real issue is that these services affect us all. The potential loss of such services do not need to directly affect me for me to be able to recognise their value and to leap to their defence. Some of the proposed changes will have an affect on my household, some cuts will have a profound impact on other households. Either way the cuts will be felt within our community and society as we know it will be doomed. Doomed I tells ya.

The second phase of our battle plan was to borrow as many books from Newport library as would my card would allow. We went one better when we found ourselves at the right place at the right time. We had chosen coats and woollies instead of tights and capes but as we stood outside Newport library with an angry mob we felt pretty powerful all the same. We stood united on a cold and dreary day all holding a library book to show our support. The boy never complained despite the cold and lack of snacks. The Lego book he chose to use to promote his librarylove probably would not win the CILIP but it did keep him entertained. Isn't that the point? 
This is why
Matt took it all in his stride. I, however, felt at a loss as to how we have come to this. How could I explain why the institution we cherish is undervalued to the point of potential closure and how do I convince Matt of the need to stop this machine in its tracks?

Neil Gaiman eloquently puts it: We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

I went with 'Matt, we need to fight to keep the libraries open so we can keep coming and borrowing books'. At the word 'fight' Matt went into 'put 'em up' mode and was ready to do battle. Whilst my four year old son may not need much persuasion to fight, other people may need convincing. So, here are some of my reasons for using the local libraries and why we all need to fight for them.

A Sense of Belonging
My earliest library memories are of the mobile library van that used to visit my estate. I loved how it creaked and rocked and smelled. The children's books were all at one end in low down shelves so that I could browse for myself. I also loved it when the chip van visited at the same time. I was pretty excited when the new town library opened in the late 80s and it did not disappoint. This was something else. The children's section was more than a tub in the corner. It was an actual dedicated area of a multitude of books for me to wade through. Oh the possibilities. I spent a great deal of time in that library over the years. This was not because it was the biggest, which it was. It was not because it was the best, which it seemed. It was because I could walk there from my house. It was local. Had it been a bus journey away things could have turned out rather differently. I used it for GCSE revision, A Level revision, and degree research. Because it was there. It was familiar and it felt like mine. Until I left home and found other libraries. I also discovered that chips taste different up north.

Libraries still provide me with this sense of belonging. I got hit by a ball and my glasses fell off on the terraces of a football match; my specs used to steam up in the pub; I never know all the songs at a gig; but in the library I feel at home. In the library I am the queen of the jungle. Hear me roar (though very quietly obvs.) I am not sure if my young cub feels the same way as me yet but he certainly knows his way around the book jungles that we visit. It can't just be me who feels this way. Help me out, Roald:
So Matilda's strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world likes ships into the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopefully and comforting message: You are not alone.

A Way of Life
We read therefore we library. It is that simple. Also the books are free. Need I go on? OK then. Libraries have fed my reading addiction for many years but these days it is not just about me. My library trips have changed somewhat since the boy came along. 
We have made our home in the childrens' sections of the various libraries in our town although I do try and grab something for me from the quick picks shelf as I am hauled past. (It is a risky reading strategy.)   Visiting the different libraries is just part of the routine for us. Which library depends on our schedule but it still features in our week. We sometimes visit Newport library when shopping. We used to visit Wellington when we had Tumble Tots or had been swimming. We visit Southwater when we visit the town park or Town Centre. We used to use HLC library a lot when Matt had football class. Dawley library is a nice option after the park. And sometimes we go because it is just something that we do. J K Rowling gets it: “...why’s she got to go to the library?” “Because that’s what Hermione does”.
Despite the notion that the library is becoming outdated I have found we are using it more than ever. As a mother I rely on the library to offer an endless supply of books. We need this free and constant supply of books to continue in order to preserve our way of life - please don't cut us off, gov.

Educational Experience
Having researched three degrees, the library, for me, has always been an important educational institution. As a mother, the library has taken on a further educational role. The responsibility to nurture  Matt's social, emotional, and intellectual development rests on these here shoulders. Any activities and experiences that help us to learn, bond, and understand the world a little more, are most valuable. Visiting the library ticks all of these boxes. It is my duty to put in place the building blocks of learning, literacy and a general love of books but we also learn much more at the library. The library is a different environment and Matt has learned how to adapt. He understands that libraries are places we read, we bond, we borrow, and we respect other people and we respect the shared property and space. He understands that these are places where we follow the rules. It is not somewhere we climb, run, eat, or shout. That is soft play or the park. Some parents may do well to learn that. The library also teaches responsibility. Responsibility for the books, for borrowing books, for our behaviour, and also for his own reading preferences and experiences. The act of choosing, sitting, and reading together makes a visit to the library a positive nurturing experience which will hopefully mean that Matt will find reading and literacy a natural and familiar activity in future. 

The need to preserve the act of reading in a library is about creating a positive educational experience. It is also crucial for developmental purposes that children to have access to a variety of books.  Children need real tangible books to explore and discover for themselves. They like flaps, pop ups, things to touch, and pages to turn. The print market is superior to the ebook market for children's literature. When TV, YouTube, and e-readers are competing to tell stories to your children it is important to hold onto these active story telling experiences and prioritise them above the more passive narratives of the former.

Visiting the library is an enriching experience in so many ways. We always leave the library knowing more than when we went in.

Libraries Fire the Imagination 
When you go to the library you never know where it will take you. I often imagine the two of us sitting cuddled up on a sofa reading a wonderfully uplifting and amusing tale. Sometimes this happens- we find books such as The Midnight Library (lovely book and most relevant). Sometimes our trips involve Matt wanting me to read a Tween book because it has a pony on the cover or begging me to read a story in Hindi because there is a lion on the front. We read a far wider range of books because of the library than we would if we were restricted to our home collection built on gifts and my whims. 

The library inspires the imagination beyond the reading material too. Matt's imaginative play can take me to wondrous worlds and usually ends with a battle of some sort. Some is from TV, some is from books, and some is from real life. When he asks to play libraries I feel my heart could burst with pride. He was two when this first happened:
Matt: Mummy can we play libraries? Me: Sure. Matt: Shhhh I am reading!
More recently Matt has incorporated my glasses and his till into the game. It looks pretty serious but also way more fun than how I used to improvise with a date stamp and an After Eight Mints box.


Children play at real life. This is what he knows. These are the moments when I know I have got some of this parenting schizzle right. 

A Place of Inspiration
A library does not need to have a stunning vista or a high arched ceiling or classic columns to be able to inspire. Any library can guide, encourage, motivate, or surprise a visitor. Whatever the question the library has the answer. 

Since starting this blog I have relied upon the library to offer an endless supply of books. I found books that I would not have necessarily found through online bookshops. It is also a good place to identify trends. It is here that we discover new books, new authors, new characters, new worlds, new words. It is essential for broadening our book collection and for keeping the reading momentum up.

The library also inspires and serves some of Matt's obsessions: dinosaurs, dragons, machines, guinea pigs, and our bones. Fact or fiction I am always interested to see which books Matt will select and those he discards. The libraries have served up a good range of horse books which has kept him informed and entertained. 

Another way the library inspires me is with ideas for cooking. Cook books are really pricey and often I get them home to discover I only like one or two recipes from the entire book. So when I decided to return to a meat free diet last year the library was my first port of call. My problem with a lot of vegetarian cookbooks is that I am not interested in dessert section. I am capable of making a meat free pud without a cookbook. Anyhoo, this is a much more cost effective way of trying out new recipes. 

The library broadens our horizons. There is a world of opportunity and possibility within a library. The things I could learn, the places I could go, the things I could do although, to be honest, I am usually too busy reading. And learning Hindi.

As Sanctuary
Another vital reason that I need the library is that it is essentially a place of peace and quiet. Surely this is something we all value? Maybe not all of us. In typical Matt style this happened:
Matt: Why are we going to the library- it is just books?
Me: Exactly

This is precisely why I need the library and why I teach him that we act differently in the library. That it is good to have peace and quiet. Life is not all about swings and roundabouts (particularly if the proposed cuts to our parks go ahead.) You know my need to slow down and pause...The library, for me, is a place of refuge. From the weather. From Cbeebies. From putting Lego Evel Kneivel on his motorbike every other minute. Seeking a soundbite for this here blog post I asked Matt what he thought people would do without the library. He answered succinctly with a wisdom beyond his years and with a
tinge of general apathy worthy of his exact age: 'I just don't know. Do you want to see me do a cartwheel?' See what I mean? I need a place where wrestling and roly-polies are just not tennis; a place to give our minds a work out (or a rest) rather than our bodies.

The library is also a safe haven for other people, some in much more serious need than us. The library is for people needing somewhere to go, somewhere to be. We used to visit HLC library after football class each Saturday and there would often be some school children doing their homework on the computers. For what ever reason (internet access, safety, peace) they were there. The library was safe and accessible and presumably was chosen rather than being at home. Where would they go if it closes? The local library keeps people safe and keeps me sane.

A Community Lifeline
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Shire a visit to the nearest library is one way that we feel connected to the larger community. For some it is the only way. The proposed cuts will go deeper for these people. We need to stand up for those people whose voices may well get lost in this debate. For these very people, the library needs to be safeguarded.

As aforementioned (I really am in essay mode now) the library is crucial for children. According to one article the community aspect of libraries, including storytimes/rhymetimes and free picture books is especially important for parents and children alike. This article claims that children can easily read five books per week and all but the most wealthy parents could not easily afford this. 

The library is also an essential bastion of independence and socialisation for older readers. Not everyone has a kindle, internet access, or transportation. So the threatened mobile library provides a crucial service. This library bus serves parts of the community who may not be able to access the town libraries. It provides regular social contact for people If this service was to be cut people would suffer. If it is cut in conjunction with the other libraries we are at risk of isolating some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.  

Visiting the library is not just a middle class past-time. It is important to keep the libraries available in the more deprived areas of the town too. The local libraries serve the young, the old, and everyone in between. Job seekers, new members of the community, etc. all rely upon access to the information freely available at the library. In many ways the library keeps disadvantaged people on an even footing. So even if the scores on the doors are lower for some libraries it does not mean that they are failing. You cannot measure their service or quality in footfall. How can we quantify something that is invaluable? We need to protect the library for the people who may not use it as a regular hobby but use it when necessary. We certainly need to bear in mind that those who may not be able to complete the consultation survey could be those who need the library most of all.

A Crucial Public Institution
A further reason to protect the library is that it gives so much to individuals, communities, and society but asks very little in return (apart from returning your books.) What other public institutions operate on trust and allow you unlimited access and possession of their collections? We need to protect it for the very reason that it gives us a freedom that other places do not. It serves as a democratic institution that is for everyone. All people are equal within the library. Unless you have fines. Should we mention the query on your card, Mrs Y?

A public institution needs to serve its public's needs. It does not have to stand as a shiny symbol of a town's success. Even the older and more jaded libraries can stand proud on the high street as our well worn servants. They serve the people. They preserve our literary heritage and will guide our future endeavours. Yet we are told that the library is becoming obsolete. The public library is going through tough times in general in this fast developing world. This is why we need to help our libraries to weather the storm. Our councils and working groups should be looking for ways to develop the library to serve our changing needs in this new era. As modern life demands so much of us our need for answers, direction, education, contact, and peace, will need to be met. So far from being defunct the libraries are more important than ever.

As Philip Pullman puts it: I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight...Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.

If a library can provide all of the above to this library user then imagine how it is serving the community as a whole. If it can continue to serve the needs of our community then it is doing its job. By fighting for the libraries I feel I am doing mine. 

From this experience I have taught Matt some essential life lessons: reminded him that books are captivating; proven to him that libraries are important to many people; taught him that words are great weapons; acquiesced to him that his feet are powerful (not just for kicking). And finally, schooled him in a crucial rule: you keep playing to the whistle (even when the ball hits you in the face).

So is this as far as it goes for SuperMatt and IronMam? 
Can they really help save the library? 
How can they get a happy ending?  

Well, kind citizen, since you asked, here's the plan:
1.If you are a local you can fill in this online survey or visit a library and ask for a paper copy. You may not even agree with me but your opinion matters. Ish. It really depends on how far you intend to disagree with me. You have until Feb 7th.

2. Support your local library and borrow an armful of books. Check them out correctly though or it will prove counter productive. (She even notches up a library pun. Quiet cheers and soft high fives).

3. See the library as the information hub. My friend makes a real effort to say let's go to the library rather than use a search engine to find stuff out. 
Neil Gaiman claims that Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one. So surely that is effective time management?

4. READ. 
I am most concerned that we are being dragged into a numbers game but libraries are about words.
So my solution is to read books. Particularly, if you are in a position of influence or part of the decision making machine. I cannot think of a more convincing case for the local library than that found in one of my favourite children's books and with one of the most wonderful characters ever created. Read Matilda It won't take long and you can do your sums tomorrow. Read it to yourself. Read it to your children, or your grandchildren. Think about how good that book is. Think about how great the books are that Matilda reads. Think about the role of the library in her life. Consider how the book would have turned out had her library been shut or the librarian untrained. (She may have ended up needing one of the other services the council are considering cutting.) But just read it. You don't even need to buy it- go find it in your library. But be quick we don't have much time.