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.

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.