Cheltenham Literature Festival

We had a fabulous weekend at the Cheltenham literature festival. A lovely atmosphere with excited kids keen to hear from their favourite authors & in turn such generous authors & illustrators, taking the time to really listen to the children, answering their questions and putting on entertaining shows.

Bryn & I started the weekend at the Etherington brothers talk who gave great writing tips as well as being hysterically funny & entertaining. So entertaining Bryn fell of his chair laughing. They had tips about genres, characters, settings all the ingredients for a great stories. My favourite analogy was making stories like a of bowlful mixed cereal where every spoonful is a surprise. I wasn’t sure how much Bryn understood but he clearly got the concept ofcreating a world for your story. His creation was conker world, mountains & buildings made of conkers. He went home with the excellent puzzling Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey, which proved to be more preferable than watching Tangled with his sister.

The next day started with Chris Judge who read a couple of his books, drew a robot with direction from the audience & gave a master class on drawing the Lonely Beast. I remember seeing a spread from his latest book Tin months ago, from the design & exquisite colour palette I knew I had to have this book. It was therefore a relief to discover it was the total package beautiful illustration & a fun tale, a favourite in the house from just one reading.

We got our book signed & a highlight for Freya was getting a high five from the author after showing her drawing as well as her robot voice for Tin.

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The show that was a hit with the entire family was Michael Rosen. An hour of funny anecdotes and poems,
which we were still chuckling over days later. I remember buying a book of Michael Rosen poems, Mustard, Custard Grumble Belly & Jelly, for Bryn on holiday when he was 3. The CD of poems was requested endlessly for the whole week & he proudly took the book into nursery to share with everyone & recite his favourites.

The day ended with Bryn & I going to see Cressida Cowell talking about how she started writing & all the things that have inspired her. As with all the talks Bryn was transfixed soaking everything in. He was especially pleased when he was picked to ask his question, he asked whether it was the writing or the pictures that came first. Bryn has devoured the How to Train your a dragon series & the excitement of hearing the author speak led to him to spend the long car journey home planning his own series of books. A series involving 100 books about time travelling dragon hunters in space.

Illustrated Libray

Libraries and librarians in picture books

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Little Bo Peep’s Troublesome Sheep by Cressida Cowell
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep so she goes to the library to borrow a book on finding sheep. The library is full of familiar faces from fairy tales & nursery rhymes, with Mother Goose as librarian.
Opening the book is like stepping into a library with mini books behind flaps in the pages

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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.