Summer Reading Challenge

Another year, another summer and another summer reading challenge.
Bryn’s reading has come along leaps & bounds, an added bonus is he can now happily read in the morning while the rest of the household sleeps till a more sensible time.

Accompanying the reading challenge are all the fun extras including stickers, website, games, library activities and this year there was even an augmented reality app.


It’s interesting to see Bryn’s reading choices. He is generally happy reading most things, he likes detective series & Maisie Hitchens has been popular. He is also keen on book series especially the challenge of reading the entire series. His current obsession with How To Train Your Dragon (currently waiting to read bk 8) has sparked an interest in Vikings & any books involving dragons. A train journey home led to him rediscovering George’s Marvellous Medicine leading to devouring more Roald Dahl.




The Story Museum

Bryn & I ventured to Oxford yesterday to visit the Story Museum, I’ve been following the progress of the museum for a few years via twitter so was nice to finally visit in person.

Their current exhibition is, “26 characters, celebrating childhood story heroes”, fantastic portraits of storytellers dressed up as characters from books.

On arrival we were given a trail & map to find all the characters. Bryn is a fan of museum trails & I especially like ones which don’t require much input from me so this was perfect, just a matter of spotting & then using beautiful stamps.

Before we got onto the trail we popped into the throne room which provided a dazzling array of dressing up costumes. Once suitably attired Bryn chose from a range of adjectives to create a character, with the magic of technology, he walked up the red carpet to sit on the throne which announced with a fanfare his new characters name. It took dressing up to a whole new level.

As we explored the museum we were transported to different storybook realms, my favourite was going through a wardrobe pushing past the fur coats to catch a twinkle of fairy lights as we stepped into Narnia. Bryn was very happy in Badger’s front room pretending to stoke the fire & make cups of tea.

All the areas had copies of the books, audio readings & props to help these stories come to life, Bryn was convinced he saw a borrower as he peered through the kitchen grate at the model scene.
Admittedly the lure of completing the trail meant we didn’t spend lots of time in each area or talking about the different stories. We did however add a few books to look for at our next library visit.

Bryn enjoyed playing with the story spinner, a gigantic wooden contraption with characters, scenes & themes to help inspire a story.

We both had a wonderful morning at the story museum, a real celebration of stories intertwined with some fantastic ideas & props to help add that sparkle of magic a good book delivers.


For the last 6 weeks we have been involved in a community art project with local visual artist Denise Stanton creating a family story cloth. There are 2 sections to the cloth one part created by us the other by our family in Chicago.


This has been a great experience, we’ve learnt new skills, met new people & created a piece of work we are really proud of. We created a stash of little pieces of printed & stitched material to make up the story cloth. We also added flashing lights behind the book spines print on the cloth, programmed & stitched by Owen using Lilypad Arduino to include some tech.

The project involved weekly sessions as a family creating pieces for our story cloth by printing into fabric & sewing as well as a couple of morning sessions which I attended alone giving me the chance to focus.

Our first step was creating a design for a screen print. We agreed on books as something we all love & added the family names of those involved in the project.


In possession of our screen print we then learnt about what paints to use, mixing colours & made numerous prints on different fabric. Denise suggested making a patchwork of fabric & printing onto them with a mix of colours.

Other printing techniques included Lino cutting, which I had previously attempted but this time I got to work with colour opening up new possibilities of combining prints on different backgrounds. A key lesson I learned with printing (aside from have an organised space) is to make lots of prints & experiment.

We also discovered some child friendly printing techniques, the simplest was mono printing where we etched out a drawing into the paint then laid the fabric or paper on top to print onto.


We also used some foam to cut out a simple shapes to create a stamp. We used this technique to make a ribbon by making a couple of simple stamps & repeating the pattern onto long strips of cloth.

Another printing technique was easy print/ safe print where the children impressed a design onto a polystyrene type printing material. Easy to use & no sharp cutting tools like the ones used for Lino cutting.


Using these techniques we all learned how simple designs were the most effective and that using the rollers was the most fun part.

Aside from printing I had the chance to overcome my fear of sewing machine, using a machine with a speed setting was a big help. I loved freehand stitching, moving the fabric to make pretty designs was great fun.

My new found confidence with the sewing machine was put to the test when I had to sew on all the different prints and finish with a bias binding bordering to the cloth.

A fantastic project allowing us to celebrate our creativity, be bold with our ideas & turn Owen into a knitter.


Found by Salina Yooon

Bryn, Freya & I wrote this for the Guardian Childrens Books Family Reviews

Freya gave this book 2 thumbs up and a smile, well deserved praise for this lovely book, which had us both feeling happy, a little worried & finally happy again.

A bear finds a lost toy bunny & sets out to find its owner covering the forest in ‘Found’ posters. As they become friends Bear soon discovers what he will lose once the bunny is found.

I really liked the black bold outlines of the illustrations & we were both swept away with the mood of the story depending on the expression on the bears face. The double page spread of ‘Lost’ posters provided plenty of humour for an older reader, Bryn especially liked the one with Peter Pan’s shadow.

This is a book we are very happy to have found.


My Pop-Up City Atlas by Jonathan Litton and Stephen Waterhouse

Bryn & I wrote this for the Guardian Children’s Family Reviews

My Pop Up City Atlas is a treasure trove of information focusing on cities across the world. Each double page spread looks at a themed group of cities such as coastal cities & religious cities. Aside from a pop-ups there are also flaps to lift & wheels to turn.

Our first reading of the books was to race through admiring the pop ups & to uncover all the flaps. We then moved onto the text which is full of bite sized interesting facts, like the city with the most bridges or the city with the most billionaires, accompanied with bright colourful illustration. ‘A fun way to learn’ Bryn declared.

We all enjoyed this introduction to some marvellous cities.

Barbapapa’s New House by Annette Tison & Talus Taylor

Bryn, Freya & I wrote this for Guardian children’s books family reviewers

This was a favourite from my childhood so I was excited to share it with Bryn & Freya.

The Barbapapas are a fantastical surreal family each with they own special characteristics & the ability to change into any shape. In Barbapapa’s New House we get to see them build a family home together which they then have to defend against developers.

Bryn & Freya were fascinated with the Barbapapas especially spotting what they had changed into, from snails to catapults. We had lots of fun reading this story & can’t wait to see what other adventures the Barbapapas get up too


Warwick Arts Centre Family Fun Day

We’ve had another great day at Warwick Arts Centre family days.

A fabulously fun jam packed day, arriving in the morning Bryn was keen to try out the free craft tables making a mask & the very popular ‘ribbons on a stick’. They provided great entertainment for the whole day & all eyes still in tact.

We then saw our first show of the day the charming & inspiring ‘Boy and his Box’ by Re:Play Theatre I enjoyed watching Bryn constantly twisting his head trying to watch both the actor on the stage & the man doing the live drawing on the projector. Both Bryn & I also had the chance to go on stage & get in the box on stage while behind us the scene was being drawn out, I chose a submarine & Bryn a bike.

Over lunch time we ventured outside where there was music, circus skills, a steampunk flying cycle, a big metal whale and more.

Next was a circus skill workshop where we tried juggling, hula hoops and devil sticks. We all found things to enjoy whether it was Freya derailing Owens juggling by throwing a ball at him, Bryn inventing his own ball balancing tricks or my poor attempts at twirling the devil sticks. Owen excelled at the juggling & hula hooping and with some (lots & lots & lots) practice the Patel-Stephens circus might soon be on the road.


We ended our day watching the fabulous production by Bamboozle Theatre of Jack & the FlumFlum Tree. The story was already a favourite in our house & this production added a new level of enjoyment of the story.

The show was in the studio so the children were able to sit close to the stage & actors. Before the show started the actors (in character) chatted to the children explaining who they are. It was lovely to see how relaxed and engaged Freya was, joining in with the singing, laughing at the puppets completely absorbed in the show. A fantastically fun & thoughtful production.

An entertaining day for the whole family.


Dirty Bertie Sticker and Activity Book By David Roberts, Alan MacDonald (author) and Amanda Li (author)

Bryn & I wrote this for the Guardian Family Reviews


We put this activity book to the test during a recent two hour car journey. For about an hour we barely heard a peep from Bryn aside from the odd chuckle & ‘that’s disgusting’.

The book has a good range of activities with word searches, spot the difference, mazes, codes to crack, drawings to finish off and more. There are also pages & pages of stickers which I suspect will be popping up all around the house.

The activities revolve around Dirty Bertie’s favourite things so fans of the series will know what typically gross things to expect.

Entertaining puzzles & Dirty Bertie in glorious technicolor this book is a winning combination.

Aunt Amelia by Rebecca Cob

Bryn, Freya & I wrote this review for the Guardian Family Review


A little girl & boy are less than impressed when they find out they are getting a babysitter, the titular Aunt Amelia. They begin the story in a ‘bad mood’ but by the end they are all smiles. The parents leave Aunt Amelia with a long list of instructions,lucky for them she’s a firm believer that rules are made to be broken leading to a fantastically fun time.

Bryn, feeling uncomfortable at all the rule breaking, described it as “too naughty”. Freya on the other hand giggled her way through the story, approving of such behaviour. Bryn and Freya’s reactions accurately reflect their different characters! For me, Aunt Amelia was the type of aunt I always wanted to be.

Freya and I have read this book many times and she gleefully uses the pictures to tell me the instructions which aren’t being followed. This is a book about the joys of being a child & the pure fun to be found in abandoning the rules

To Market, To Market by Anushka Ravishankar illustrated by Emanuele Scanziani

This is a review Bryn, Freya & I write for the Guardian Family Review


This is a glorious little book full of vibrancy, rhythm & colour. It’s a story about a girl exploring a market with a pocketful of change to spend and a head full of ideas of what to buy. Set in India she darts around the market from bangle stall to flower stall to a stall selling livestock & another selling spices having lots of fun.

I love the vivid detailed illustrations and how the text on the page mirrors the quirky rhyming narrative. The kids were equally intrigued and had plenty of questions about what they could see in the pictures & some of the words that were used.

A perfect glimpse into another country & culture.