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A Year in Books Elma Family Kitty Pip Reading

One for them and one for me: Books for September


Space for the Butterflies - Books for September

One for them: Mein schonstes Wimmelbuch

If our family’s weakness in Waterstones in England is legendary then it can be no surprise that when we found ourselves meandering past a bookshop in Innsbruck the whole family turned as one to go and explore the children’s department.  H, with a GCSE German under his belt, can have a pretty good stab at reading children’s books with only the occasional detour to Google Translate, but my German makes that policeman in Allo Allo look entirely fluent in French, so it’s just as well that the words in this wonderful book are entirely limited to the ones on the front cover.

Space for the Butterflies - Books for September

But to describe it as a mere picture book is to do it a disservice, and that’s why I think it can slip under the reading radar despite not actually having words.  A Wimmelbuch is a made up German word for a picture book where there’s lots to look at (now you see why they made a word up).  Literally it means a teeming book, as in a book that is teeming with vignettes.  Where’s Wally is the classic English example, but I can remember from my own childhood loving pictures of cut away houses or big ships, where you could see everything from the sailors shovelling coal in the boiler room, to the posh lady loosing her parasol overboard from the top deck.  The more you looked, the more you saw.

Space for the Butterflies - Books for September

It’s true for this Wimmelbuch too; it’s a board book, bigger than A4, and filled with thirteen different spreads, a ‘greatest hits’ from some of the other themed books, from a swimming pool on the first page all the way through to the ski slopes of winter at the end, via Oktoberfest, a construction site, the park, the harbour, and a beach, to name but a few.

Space for the Butterflies - Books for September

The pictures are beautifully illustrated, with gorgeous colours and a lovely way of capturing action.  There’s an irreverence in them too; so in the pool scene there’s a little boy peeing into a bush, in the market someone has bumped into a customer with a train of trolleys and a look in their eye that suggests that it might not be completely an accident, and the mountain roads have both picnickers and litter pickers.

Space for the Butterflies - Books for September

Each of the little pictures on the front and back covers appears somewhere in the book and I know Kitty enjoys challenging herself to find them.  For Pip (whose birthday present it was) the pictures are more than enough; he will quite happily sit and stare for ages and ages, and then eventually look up solely, point to the pool and declare it: “Bath Mama!”

One for me: Save the Cat!

I was recommended Save the Cat a while ago, duly bought it, and then put it on the bookshelf meaning to get around to reading it as soon as life settled down and I had a bit more time for writing.  Cue the hysterical laughter.  One more child later I realised that more time was a very long way off and picked up the book.  It is meant as a screenwriting handbook, was recommended as a creative writing guide, and yet even if you never wanted to write a single word I think you’d find it fascinating.

Space for the Butterflies - Books for September

Step by step and in incredibly readable chapters, Blake Snyder completely dissects just about every film you’ve ever seen.  His theory is that a film’s success or failure rides on whether or not they have a good ‘Save the Cat’ moment; the bit that makes the character likeable and gets you on their side, regardless of what they they go on to do in the rest of the plot.  For example, Lara Croft fails because she’s just not that interesting but Pirates of the Caribbean succeeded because a few scenes in Jack Sparrow saves Elizabeth and from the on we’re with him.

I did a GSCE in Drama because (a) I liked making costumes (big surprise!) and (b) I liked peeking behind the curtain, to see how stories are told, and how lighting and costume and pacing gives you all the clues that would be far too wordy to spell out, and this is a peep behind the script; laying bare the building blocks and why the work, so it was always going to be a winner with me.

From a writing point of view too there are so many tips and tricks and exercises that while written to help an aspiring screenwriter work just as well for anyone trying to tell a story.  I’m trying to get back into doing even a little bit of creative writing this autumn and I know it’s already made me think about some of the ideas I have floating about in notebooks; pummelling them into shape in my mind, with the hope that one day they’ll all be set free.

I’ve bought the sequel (Save the Cat! Strikes Back) as an audiobook and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in (so no spoilers if you’ve read it!)

Space for the Butterflies - Books for September

And if you love books as much as we do, do go and say hi to my lovely companions in this reading adventure and see if Claire and Katie have been reading anything fun!


A Year in Books Books Elma Family Kitty

One for them and one for me: books for August


With all forms of recreational typing, knitting, sewing and crochet off limits while my wrist and elbow started to heal, I’ve had plenty of time for catching up on some reading this month, and so I have not one, or even two, but three books that I’ve read for me this month, which must be some sort of record.

but first, one for the little ones:

One for them: The Jolley-Rogers and the Monster Gold20160809-DSC_0235

“Matilda lived in Dull-on-Sea …”, and with that we were hooked on the Pirates Next Door, Jonny Duddle’s first picture book featuring the Jolly Rogers. It was a tiny Elma’s favourite read (I can’t believe how much she’s grown since those days of being a teeny tiny pirate in a laundry basket), and well loved by all of us.

So when we spotted a sequel in the bookshop we knew it was coming home with us. And what I really love is that the format has ‘aged up’; the toddlers who loved that picture book are hitting primary school and learning to read and so The Jolley-Rogers and the Monster’s Gold has grown up with them.  It’s a book that Kitty could definitely read with help, and still a great story for reading aloud; something that she’ll listen to now to fall in love with the story and then in the future pick up herself on a rainy afternoon, a perfect early addition to her ‘proper’ library.

One for me: The Lady’s Maid, Rosina Harrison


Eighty-five years before the Spice Girls re-invented girl power, Nancy Astor took charge of some literal girl power, becoming the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons, and in the process smashing beautifully through a glass ceiling.  She was charismatic, generous to a fault, viciously tempered and on occasion quite spectacularly rude and while my views differ too much for her to be one of my heroes exactly, I love her confidence that there was nothing she couldn’t do just because she was a woman.

She was the subject of my school project when I was eleven, and as with all people who’s names you have carefully inscribed in mock calligraphy at the top of pages of careful handwriting, my interest as always been piqued by any mention of her.

The Lady’s Maid was republished when Kitty was a baby, possibly cashing in on a bit of Downton Abbey fever; it’s the memoirs of Rosina Harrison who served as Lady Astor’s lady’s maid for most of her life.  It’s fascinating as an insight into the organisation of a very big household at that time and even more so as it explores the relationship between the two women.  They would never have described themselves as friends and yet they were probably much closer, and were certainly very well matched, to the point that family members used to sneak nearer to listen to them having some humdinger rows.

When I bought it I read it cover to cover through the night feeds over a couple of days and I was prompted into re-reading it this month by a bit of a Dowton Abbey binge watching of my own in the first few days post car prang when everything hurt, and that also led me to my second book for the month.

Up and Down Stairs is a history of the big country house servants from Tudor times to their near extinction in the modern day. Rose Harrison is quoted extensively on the section on the 20th century, along with a number of her fellow servants, and while it’s certainly interesting to see just how much nicer the residents of Downton are to their servants than their supposed contemporaries, I found myself most caught up in watching the way that the role of a servant evolved from it being a mark of status to have a visibly large household, to the Edwardians’ preference that their small army of staff be not seen and not heard.


And finally, and continuing with the vaguely Downton theme, another of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s pieces of adult fiction, The Making of a Marchioness.  This is beautifully written comfort fiction; Emily Fox-Seton, a young lady of 34 with no family and very limited income, earns her living by running errands for the aristocracy.  She is sweet and good natured and unknowingly lovely, and the perfect Cinderella to be swept off her feet by if not a prince, then at least a marquis (given the title, I’m certain this isn’t too much of a spoiler). But where Cinderella ends after the big society wedding, Emily has to settle into her new life, and deal with her husband’s deeply unpleasant heir presumptive. Yes it’s a classic Frances Hodgson Burnett plot point, but it’s beautifully done, and you know it’s a story where you’re going to enjoy the ending.


This month’s year in books I’ve been horribly disorganised so it’s just me for now but do go and check out Claire’s beautiful beautiful pictures of her time in Norway and Katie has a very excellent excuse for not having been reading or blogging so much of late so do go and say hi!

A Year in Books Family Uncategorized

One for them and one for me: Books for July


One for them: Rain

This has been a rather horribly apt new discovery for June.  I can rememebr rainy summers as a child, but they were mostly of the boiling hot days and then a thunderstorm at 4pm kind of rainy, not wall to wall drizzle for what felt likes weeks at a time.  Suffice to say that June was wet, in the reaching for a quilt and your fluffy socks kind of a way, and we’ve spent plenty of time reading Rain while watching the real thing trickling down the windows.

Space for the Butterflies - a year in books

Space for the Butterflies - a year in books

This is the story of a little boy who really really really wants to go outside to play, but it’s raining.  He waits and waits and hopes and checks out of the window, but the rain just won’t stop.  And Grandpa thinks it’s a really good idea to wait until it stops, even if you could meet sea monsters and ride boats and get up to all sorts of adventures.

Finally it stops and Grandpa sends him running for the wellies.

Space for the Butterflies - a year in books

But this isn’t just puddle splashing on the way to the postbox, oh no. Along the way there are sea monsters and a floating carnival and rainbow raindrops to catch – and Grandpa even lets him post the letter.

Wellies and puddle splashing for the win; both for him, and my little trio who based on their unwavering ability to make a beeline for each and every puddle they encounter, whether appropriately shod or not, are taking it as less of a story, and more of an instruction manual.

It’s such a sweet book, and the illustrations are just gorgeous, really capturing both the longing to be outside and the riot of childhood imagination, and it’s quickly become a firm favourite around here.Space for the Butterflies - a year in books

One for me: The Kid on Slapton Beach

Space for the Butterflies - a year in books

In 1943, 3,000 people were evacuated from the villages along Start Bay.  Slapton Sands, a beautiful long shingle beach with a lea behind, was considered the best place for the US Army to practice for their landings on Omaha Beach and so the villages were cleared, and people, many of whom had never left the area in their lives, moved to stay with family, friends or just whoever would take them in.

They went. They gave up their homes, their communities, and in many cases their livelihoods in the hope that it would help.  And in April 1943 Exercise Tiger began; a simulated attack on the beach.  It was  a disaster.  When I was a child the story I heard was that a U-Boat had found the practice and fired on it, killing hundreds of people and sinking some of the landing craft, and there’s a tank in the car park at Torcross that was rescued from the bay and stands as a memorial to those who lost their lives.  And while German E-boats did find the supporting convoy, leading to the battle of Lyme Bay, the casualties on the beaches, around 750 of them, were tragically victims of friendly fire when the ships out at sea shelling ‘France’ were unable to communicate with the troops landing on the shore.  Because both the exercise and the aftermath were so sensitive, holding as they did, so many clues to the D-Day operations, it was all kept very quiet, and even now it’s not widely known, unlike say the sinking of the Royal Oak at Scapa Flow.  There’s just the tank at Torcross and in the middle of the lea road a small memorial, shifted now from it’s original spot, a tribute to the villagers who gave up their homes.

The Kid on Slapton Beach overlays fictitious people with that snapshot of local history. Harry Beere, his mum and his baby sister are being evacuated from Torcross along with all their friends and neighbours.  His Dad is missing in action in Italy, and with no other family to turn to for help, his Mum is forced to rely on the bullying attentions of the local ARP warden to get them settled in what to me is a quick nip up the road to Totnes, and to them would have been a lifetime away.  It’s not a good move; Totnes is full to bursting with people evacuated from all over the South Hams, and the local residents aren’t exactly falling over themselves to help.

And worst of all, in the move, Harry’s one and only photo of his father has been left behind.

So back he goes, right into the middle of Exercise Tiger.

It’s a beautifully told story, bringing in so much of the stress and panic and strain of the displaced villagers along with the harder history.  We were in Devon last weekend to visit my Dad and I picked up a copy in a Dartmouth bookshop, and by Sunday evening I’d finished it.  I know for me it has particular significance because it tells the story of the places that are woven into my story too, but I think it would be a good read even if you can’t visualise each and every cottage and road. It’s certainly been a story that’s got under my skin and had me off hunting for more information about the real story behind Exercise Tiger, and those are my favourite sort of books, the ones that don’t stop on the last page.

If you’ve been reading something you want to share then please do link up below and go and say hi to Claire and Katie my lovely co-hosts – happy reading!

A Year in Books Family

One for them and one for me: Books for June


One for them: Dr Xargle’s Books of Earthlets

Kitty came home with another new book from school the other day.  But this time it wasn’t her weekly library book or yet another edition of Biff, Chip and Kipper, but this:

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

It’s a present from her headmaster to the Reception class, to share around and enjoy together, and being my daughter, when faced with a new story she made an unassailable bid to be the first to take it home.  And I’m so glad she did because it is to be frank, hilariously funny.

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

And funny in that very specific way that means that Kitty thinks it’s absolutely brilliant and very silly, and H and I as veterans of the baby years can see so much that is absolutely logical and a very believable conclusion if aliens did land on earth. It’s so right, and yet at the same time, utterly wrong.

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

Well OK, this one might be true, we tried it out on Pip just to check and he did genuinely say “Hee hee here!”; at least he did right up until the point when I stopped and then he fixed me with the sort of glare that would freeze a volcano until I continued through the rest of the story.

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

The unravelling of the sheep though is just brilliant; would that I was that productive with the knitting needles though!!

Space for the Butterflies - Dr Xargle's Book of Earthiest

And the baby cover in cat hair, mud, scrambled egg and banana by the end of the day …well we don’t have a cat, but Pip has spent much of his life putting in serious efforts on rest.

It’s all presented as Dr Xargle giving a lesson to a class of school age aliens, just before they come on a field trip to check us out in person and it’s such a lovely book I think we may have to make it a permanent addition to our library – as it is Kitty loved it so much she bargained to keep it for an extra two days!

One for me: The Shepherd’s Life, A Tale of the Lake District: James Rebanks


Credit for this one must go to the lovely lady on the till in Waterstones in Birmingham.  I’d gone in to buy Freya, and, as you do, collected up enough of a handful of other lovely stories that I was very eligible for the buy one get one half price deal. Did I want any of the offer books? she asked. I looked at the pile in my hand, considered how long it was going to take to read even those, and shook my head.

“Are you sure? This one’s really good” she replied, and pushed the gentle green cover towards me.

I added it to the pile.  It’s taken me a little while to get around to reading it but it was the book that I started reading in the bath, kept reading while the children ran around the garden, and was still reading with one hand while stirring the supper with the other.  It is an utterly compelling and utterly unromantic account of life as a Lake District fell shepherd, told as part memoir, and part yearly cycle of life on the farm; the two woven together into one cohesive story.

And in some ways an uncomfortable read, but in a good way. I might be related to people who farm, and even some who’ve farmed sheep, and growing up in rural Devon the yearly rhythm of the farming community was certainly on our radar, but from the perspective of James Redbanks and his colleagues I’m definitely in the “thinks the Lake District is a pretty place to come and play Swallows and Amazons” camp.  He writes about being in a school assembly, listening to a teacher, who saw in these “farm boys” only a lack of ambition, describe the untamed wild that surrounded them and how it should be preserved for the nation, and feeling the disconnect between the place she knew and was describing, and the land that his family and countless others had worked for centuries; this is his account of the other side of the story, the story of families who have lived and breathed sheep for so long that what the teacher saw as settling for a low end career, is more of a calling to carry on their way of life.

The Lakes were far enough north, and wild enough to escape much of the impact of centuries of political infighting further south and so it evolved into a community all of its own, until the invention of tourism, and his potted history covers both the emergence of tourism as the majority economy, just as it took over from farming and fishing in Devon, and the impact on the community, largely, as in Devon, when it comes to a lack of affordable housing.  And there are parts of the story that are heartbreaking; the loss of generations of work as flocks were culled during the foot and mouth crisis in particular.

But riding through the whole book is a sense of determination, a clear and certain belief that whatever might get thrown at them, the fell shepherds and their sheep will be there for the centuries to come, because it’s not a career, nor are the farms soulless businesses simply looking for profit; it is a vocation, and it is founded on love.

I’m loving watching my reading list expand and expand again each month so please do link up below and go and say hi to Claire and Katie my lovely co-hosts, and if’ve you’ve been reading something good, please come and link up below – happy reading!

A Year in Books Elma Family Kitty Pip Reading

One for them and one for me: books for May


One for them: Use Your Imagination

Space for the Butterflies - Use Your Imagination     

In a week where all of the publicity over the current state of our children’s early years education has had me just a little bit steaming at the ears; this has been the perfect antidote for me for bedtime reading, as much as just an all round good story for the children.  Use Your Imagination is a brilliant riff on the magic of creative story telling and it’s such an enticing read that the first time I produced it, Kitty had grabbed it and was flicking through, reading the bits she could work out, while I was still trying to wrestle Pip into his pyjamas.  Space for the Butterflies - Use Your Imagination

Rabbit is bored.  But lured by the promises of adventure from the ever helpful Wolf the Librarian he agrees that together they should tell a story.

Space for the Butterflies - Use Your Imagination

He’ll be the hero, and wolf will be the baddie, and it will be a fairy story, and take place in the woods, and – hang on a minute! This is all sounding ominously familiar!

Space for the Butterflies - Use Your Imagination

Space for the Butterflies - Use Your Imagination

Kitty picked up on the Little Red Riding Hood parallels straight away and giggled and giggled as we turned the pages further and further into the story.

Space for the Butterflies - Use Your Imagination

But all is not lost and Rabbit is not going to play the victim; not if he can help it.  I’m not going to give away the plot twist at the end, because it’s brilliantly unexpected and gorgeously illustrated on a giant fold out page; suffice to say that if there’s one lesson to take away it’s that creativity and imagination will serve you well in (a) stopping boredom and (b) escaping tricky situations.

It’s always lovely when you discover that another book by a much loved author is just as good as the first – we still love Open Very Carefully as much as the first time we read it and now we can add Use Your Imagination to the favourites list.

One for me: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Space for the Butterflies - An Astronauts's Guide to Life on Earth

To travel to space, and live and work there is something that will be so far beyond the breadth of our life experiences for most of us and because of that I think it will always have a quiet fascination.  I was vaguely aware of Chris Hadfield’s command of the International Space Station while he was up there because of his twitter feed, but it was’t until Kitty and I discovered his space videos at the height of her space obsession that we both got completely hooked.  She likes all the weird and wonderful science experiments, and I just love seeing the everyday details, like the fact that the bubble in the runny honey is in the middle of the bottle not at the top.  When Chris Hadfield visited Oxford for a book signing we took all three children to meet a spaceman, and while Kit was completely overwhelmed with excitement and wonder at the time, she treasures her signed copy of his ‘picture book’.  All of which completely fails to explain why it’s taken me until now to read his other book.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth is an incredibly addictive read; I found I just couldn’t put it down at bedtime, I’d have to read on to find out what happens next, and then the next chapter and the next.  It’s the story of a childhood dream realised against the odds and against a fair few obstacles, Canada not having a Space Agency at the time being a pretty big one. If you ever needed proof that quiet determination and a lot of hard work will get you to your goals then this is it.  I loved reading about the untold and not so glamorous part of the story of space travel; the years of training and preparation and the sacrifices that both he and his family had to made to get to that magical point where the air lock opened and he floated into the space station as the next Commander.  And there’s plenty of stories from space too; all the nitty gritty that you’ve always wondered about as well as the wonder and the beauty of seeing our planet from a completely different perspective.

But I think my favourite part was the little life tips that cropped in along the way.  For example, that whole issue of no Canadian Space Agency meant that however hard Chris Hadfield trained, he might never have been able to make it to space, so he made sure that all the jobs he took along the way were both jobs that would build up his skill set for the ultimate dream, and jobs that he loved; if the world had suddenly stopped, and being an air force test pilot was the highest he’d ever get, he’d still be happy, and I think that’s such an important message, to not compromise your happiness here and now in pursuit of a dream that may or may not have any substance to it.  I thought it was fascinating too that as the missions became longer and longer, increasing from a few days in space to months at a time, there became less and less room for the big egos at NASA; what they were looking for was humility and the willingness to do anything that helped the mission. Oh couldn’t the world do with a bit more of that attitude!

I’m loving watching my reading list expand and expand again each month so please do link up below and go and say hi to Claire and Katie my lovely co-hosts – happy reading!



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