A Year of Stories and Things To Do by Shirley Hughes

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

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A fabulous treasury of well loved stories & poems for every month of the year.

Each month introduces you to a flower or plant, and suggests play and craft activities. The ‘Things to do’ often echo activities from the stories, such as making a scrapbook, blowing bubbles, playing thumb wars: charming simple games that have stood the test of time.

The treasury includes stories featuring familiar characters such as Alfie & Lily; Alfie’s Feet, Alfie Wins a Prize, Don’t Want To Go, Bobbo Goes to School.

An instant hit was the spectacularly stylish Ella’s Big Chance, a reworking of Cinderella, while the wordless A Midwinter Night’s Dream gave us plenty to talk about & pour over.

Since this treasury arrived Freya has shown no interest in her other books & has requested one story after another. So far she’s enjoyed every one.

Utterly Amazing Science by Robert Winston

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

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This book is stuffed with facts either bursting out of pages or hidden behind flaps. I particularly like the mix of high quality photography & illustrations alive with colour & vibrancy. The book also quickly caught Bryn’s eye and he happily dived in confidently reading out the facts, planning experiments etc.

The books covers core National Curriculum content in science which meant some of the information was familiar to Bryn and it was good to hear him remember some of his lessons from school.

The success of this book was that the content & presentation of the information was a good level for Bryn. As well as reading about science the practical ‘Do try this at home’ experiments meant he was able to see the science in action under his own steam.

His verdict was it’s such an interesting book it makes him want to be a scientist when he grows up.

There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by Jim Field

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

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“Its bonkers” declares Bryn. “Its silly” says Freya. I say “its funny”.

When two brothers decide to collect 100 coupons from cereal boxes so they can have their own lion, things don’t go to plan. Due to a shortage of lions the boys are provided with a series of alternatives.

A wacky take involving a host of wild animals set amongst the backdrop of daily suburban life. My favourite spreads are the vignettes of the small boys full of comical recognisable behaviour; looking bored, picking noses & making a mess.

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It starts out as a cautionary tale advising against saving coupons for a lion but it’s so much fun that by the end both kids wanted a lion. Luckily the book comes with coupons!

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Wolf Man by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Chris Mould

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

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Wolf man is causing havoc through the town, scaring people, eating trees & finally comes knocking on the chief of police’s door, but what does he want? It’s a funny romp with fantastic illustrations.

I liked the scary looking wolf man, and the illustrations of his shadow looming on the wall and his eyes peering through the letterbox inject the perfect amount of tension which is then released by the laugh out loud ending.

Having requested the story a number of times, Freya is now adept at delivering the final great punchline with aplomb. A great story to read aloud & for the kids to join in.

The book uses uncluttered backgrounds and text in clear lines with slightly more spacing than usual to make it more accessible, especially to dyslexic readers.

Katie’s Picture Show by James Mayhew

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

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This stunning picture book is a wonderful introduction to famous works of art including Constable’s Hay Wain & Rosseau’s Surprised.

I am very fond of the titular Katie, an independent, adventure seeking, inquisitive feisty young girl with a fondness for cakes. Her disregard for the ‘Do not touch’ notices leads to her falling into the paintings and meeting the characters in the paintings.

Seeing these paintings from a different perspective helped bring them to life & encouraged the children to look for stories within the pictures. I am looking forward to our next visit to a gallery, although I suspect Freya may try diving into a painting if I let her out of my sight.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

#storycloth

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Found by Salina Yooon

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

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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.

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