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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!

Books Elma Family Kitty Pip Reading

One for them and one for me: Books for April


One for them: Pippi Longstocking 

Space for the Butterflies - a Year in Books - reading Pippi Longstocking and Freya for April

I remember reading Pippi when I was little.  I know I thought her name was pronounced Pie-Pie (though why I have no idea!) and I thought she sounded like the most wonderful and amazing and just this side of totally crazy friend I could ever have had.  I’ve been looking forward to introducing her to the girls, and to Kitty in particular, and when I saw this completely gorgeous version illustrated by Lauren Child (who write and illustrates Charlie and Lola) I knew it was time.

Space for the Butterflies - a Year in Books - reading Pippi Longstocking and Freya for April

Towards the end of last term Kitty was starting to get a bit frustrated and bored with her school reading books so I wanted to tempt her into a new world of chapter books with a few pictures to help the words along; something that she’d love listening too, and then really want to try to read for herself and I think she’s having just as much fun imagining herself tagging along with Tommy and Annika as I did when I was little.

Space for the Butterflies - a Year in Books - reading Pippi Longstocking and Freya for April

But the surprise fan has been Elma.  Pippi Longstocking is clearly Elma’s role model and she loves that book beyond anything I could have imagined, to the point that whenever we read it at bedtime, Elma insists on “reading’ it first – she puts the book in her lap and very slowly traces out the title;

“Pippi … Long … Stocking”

It’s just so very cute and I suspect that when Elma’s turn comes to learn to read she’ll be champing at the bit just to get to Pippi.

Space for the Butterflies - a Year in Books - reading Pippi Longstocking and Freya for April

They are just such fun stories; only a smidgen past believable but full of all of the adventures you’d have liked to have as a child, from chasing policemen up onto the roof to rolling out gingersnaps on the kitchen floor because you were making a lot and you need the space.  Reading them again now there is the odd phrase or two that makes it very much a story of its time, and I’ll admit I do do a little editing while I’m reading just to be consistent with what we ask of the children, but for the most part Pippi is generous, brave and entirely unafraid to stand up for what’s right, and the little ones could do worse as a role model, just as long as they don’t start keeping a horse on the patio!

One for me: Freya

Space for the Butterflies - a Year in Books - reading Pippi Longstocking and Freya for April

I have to admit I heard about Freya because I was listening to the Radio 2 bookclub driving home in the car one day.  I’d missed the beginning of the interview but when Anthony Quinn described her as being a character who’d got under his skin and refused to let him go it made me curious; when a character has that much hold over her author it makes you want to know why.  And so I sat there, parked on the drive, waiting until the book was named, and then made a beeline for the bookshop in my lunchbreak the next day.

It is on the surface the story of a changing world, seen through the eyes of women trying to find their way when all the goalposts were shifting, or at least up for a good challenge.  Freya is 20, newly discharged from the Wrens at the end of WW2 and bound for Oxford. The first part of the story tells of her battle to make sense of Oxford’s timeless sense of how and when and why things should be, when she’s just spent so many years doing things of much more real and immediate consequence than dissecting Anglo-Saxon poetry, and the start of her perhaps unlikely but solid friendship with Nancy; two years her junior, naïve to Freya’s war-weary worldliness but with a similar steely determination to live her dream.

Of the girls, Nancy is the far more likeable, but it’s Freya who is so incredibly compelling that I couldn’t stop reading for wanting to know what she was going to do next.  She’s her own worst enemy; hot headed, prickly, prone to making some spectacularly stupid decisions and I’m not always sure whether I was rooting for her or just wanting to shout “nooooo!” into the pages.  She is vivid and very human and whilst her story, spanning a post-university career sharing a flat with Nancy in Bloomsbury in the 50’s and then jumping forward to her time in a rapidly changing 60’s London, doesn’t tie itself up neatly and present itself to you with a bow, it feels both so very very right, and a little cut short, in the way that all good stories end before you want them to.

SPOILERS: There is a scene involving baby loss in Part 3.  There was a time when I could not bear to read about miscarriage or stillbirth and I hated being surprised by it so I wanted to flag it up.  Apologies if anyone feels it spoils the story.

And with April it makes four books that I’ve read so far this year – which I’m both delighted about and a little ashamed that it’s probably more than I read last year! 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!

A Year in Books Books Family Reading

One for them and one for me: Books for March


One for them: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Catastrophe


My aunt, having four lovely grandchildren of her own just a smidgen older than Kitty, is turning out to be a veritable fount of awesome children’s books.  Some of our all time favourites have been her Christmas presents to my trio and this year was no exception.

For there nestled among the tinsel and the wrapping paper, were two of David and Ronda Armitage’s Mr and Mrs Grinling stories; The Lighthouse Keeper’s Picnic and The Lighthouse Keeper’s Catastrophe, and when we picked them up for bedtime stories it was one of those “how did we not know about these before?” moments, a bit like the first time you discovered Julia Donaldson.

Mr Grinling is a Lighthouse Keeper and he lives with Mrs Grinling and Hamish the cat in a little white cottage on the cliffs, and every day he rows out to tend the light.  In the Lighthouse Keeper’s Catastrophe he takes Mrs Grinling along with him, and they, and Hamish, settle down for a nice spot of fishing.  All is well until Mr Grinling notices Hamish helping himself to a tasty snack from the catch and shuts him in the lighthouse, locking the key inside in the process.

Oops.  Mr and Mrs Grinling try to climb back in but the windows are too small, they try to get the spare key, but alas that ends up with the fishes, and with a storm coming there just isn’t time to get down to the village to telephone the coastguard to tell them that the lighthouse can’t be lit.  There’s only one thing for it, and Mrs Grinling eyes up Mr Grinling, and then looks at the rope that runs from the cottage window to the top of the lighthouse, the rope that she usually uses to send him his lunch basket …!

its a very believable and very sweetly told story, and the girls love it. And all of the other Lighthouse Keeper Stories. Having read our two, Kitty spent the next few weeks borrowing all of the available Lighthouse Keeper stories from the school library, and while I do have a bit of a soft spot for the one where they become pirates (The Lighthouse Keeper’s Breakfast), in some good part because I think Sally de la Croissant is a genius name for the village baker, I think Catastrophe is still my overall favourite so far.

One for me: The Shuttle, Frances Hodgson Burnett

I loved Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s stories when I was little, The Little Princess and The Secret Garden were well worn and well read, but it wasn’t until much more recently that I learnt that she had also written novels for adults.

Persephone Books have republished two of them, and they’re both wonderful; The Making of a Marchioness is beautifully written feel good fiction and you should definitely read it too, but today let me share The Shuttle.


It starts with sadness, and the story of what I suspect was an all too familiar culture clash in the late 1800’s.  Pretty, sweet, but not very bright Rosy Vanderpoel, heiress and the belle of New York is married to Sir Nigel Anstruthers without sufficient due diligence into either his personality or the state of his affairs beyond his title.  He’s charming enough to woo her and her family, but only when they get back to England does he subject her to unrelenting emotional abuse and ostracises her from her family, chiefly on the basis that he thought he was marrying money, but the money is Rosy’s and she hasn’t even realised that in his mind she’s supposed to have handed it over so that he can theoretically fix the roof and more accurately run off to live the high life and squander it all away.

And if it ended there it would be a sad story indeed, but then in comes Betty.  As an eight year old Betty hated her new brother in law without being able to articulate why, and as she grows up into a stunning and confident young woman she has but one aim; she’s going to go to England and rescue Rosy.  And so she comes to England to see the sister who is now a ghost of her former self and the ruin of the house she’s living in, Sir Nigel having been absent for a long time spending all the money.  And bit by bit Betty starts to repair and rebuild, with tactics that would impress Machiavelli.  When Sir Nigel comes home and starts to pit his conniving against her cleverness the fun really begins and I’m loath to say any more about what happens because it is genuinely a “can’t put it down til I’ve finished” book and I don’t want to spoil the drama. Go read it instead.

Space for the Butterflies - The Shuttle

And when you’ve finished The Shuttle, or if you’ve already read it, please do go and check out what my co hosts have been reading; Claire and Katie have such great taste in books I can’t wait to see what they’ve picked this month, and if you’ve been reading, please feel free to join us in the linky below; the more the merrier:


A Year in Books Books Elma Family Kitty Photography Pip Reading

One for them and one for me: Books for February


One for them: Captain Jack and the Pirates


I almost don’t want to share with you my choice of children’s book for this month.  Not because I don’t think you’ll want to rush out immediately and buy/borrow it, or because there’s some sort of a national book shortage, or because I’ve already bought all the copies and I’m hoarding them, no, it’s simply because this is such a sweet and wonderful story that I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Captain Jack is the answer to the question, what happens when one of your favourite children’s writers (Peter Bently, he of the Cats Ahoy, Shark in the Dark, Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine and Meet the Parents fame – to name but a few!) teams up with one of your favourite illustrators (Helen Oxenbury, probably best known for We’re going on a Bear Hunt)? The result is an instant classic and a family favourite of ours from the first page.


“Jack, Zak and Caspar, brave mariners three, were building a gallion down by the sea.”


With a stick for a mast and a shirt for a sail it’s every inch the kind of sand boat I used to make when I was little.  And once built it’s imagination that takes our intrepid trio out to from shore to do battle with fierce pirates and sail the seven seas.  Well until their boat takes a broadside from the incoming tide and it’s every man to save himself as they land exhausted on a desert island.


It’s full of wonderfully technical sailing words that I love, just for the excuse to build them into my children’s vocabulary despite their rather landlocked childhood!


And I love the way that what’s happening in the boys’ imaginations is so beautifully overlaid with the real life day on the beach.  I suspect that as far as Elma is concerned it’s all “real”, I don’t think she’s quite old enough to see the two, but Kitty is, and does, and I can see how much of a giggle she gets out of the benign pirate parents who ‘capture’ our heroes, wash them, dress them, cuddle them up, and then share ice cream all round.


it is the perfect story for cuddling up with all three of my little pirates in my arms and dreaming of sunny days at the seaside and making some plans for the summer.

One for Me: An Officer and a Spy


Picking up a Robert Harris book is like pulling on warm fluffy socks, snuggling up under a quilt with something nice and warm and just wallowing in a good story.  I started with Enigma (the book that inspired the film) many years ago and I’ve yet to read a book of his that I could put down before I’d finished.  Harris’ modus operandi for a story is ‘one man with knowledge fights against the system that wants him to conceal it’, and he has an incredible skill for weaving genuine historical fact into a compelling tale.

An Officer and a Spy is the story of the Dreyfus spy scandal, which a whole heap of reviews described as “the best known spy scandal in history” and which I’d never actually heard of.  The historical background was that a Jewish office in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted at military court martial of having been spying for the Germans, based on little more than supposition, and some nicely manufactured evidence which was neither shown to the defence team nor examined in open court.  Having been publicly shamed and his rank stripped from him he was sent to the French penal colony at Devil’s Island.  And that, give or take, is where our story starts, because just as Dreyfus lands at his god forsaken island, so our narrator, Georges Picquart, becomes head of the Statistical Section of the French army, the equivalent of MI5.

It is Picquart who realises that Dreyfus isn’t the spy and Picquart who risks and sacrifices his own position to assert his innocence.  He’s painted as a wonderfully complicated and flawed individual; he fights his cause not really for someone he admits that he doesn’t really like very much, but both against and to protect an institution that he truly loves as family, the French army.  And he does so in the name of honour and truth, because his conscience can’t let him leave it alone, and yet his personal morals are not free from reproach.

And the result, well if you wanted to know what happened to Dreyfus the key is that it became a scandal, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away if I say that justice is served. Eventually.

Being able to hazard a guess at the ending doesn’t spoil the story, just heighten the suspense for when the moment is going to come, and more than knowing that the volcano was going to erupt in Pompeii, and that’s the magic of a true storyteller.

Thank you so much to everyone who joined in in January for our inaugural month, I hope your reading lists grew ever longer (I’m half way through the audiobook of A Year of Living Danishly and both H and I are completely hooked – thanks Vickie!), and I’m so looking forward to seeing what you have to share this month.  So please do link up below and go and say hi to Claire and Katie my lovely co-hosts – happy reading!



A Year in Books Books Elma Family Kitty Photography Pip Reading what we're reading

One for them and one for me: books for January


I am so excited today because finally after a couple of months of thinking about it and emailing and hoping my lovely cohosts would say yes (they did- phew!) and announcing it last month, the first day of our new reading project is finally here.  One for them and one for me is a monthly reading link up with a twist. Each month Katie at Be Nourishd, Claire at Clarina’s Contemplations and I will be sharing our favourite children’s book from the last month and a favourite grown up book, be it fiction, non fiction, just whatever we’ve been reading.  It’s a bit of a push to read for me a little more often and if you’re feeling inspired to read a little more then we’d love it if you joined in too.

And to start us off I have a real treasure:

One for them: Oi Frog!

Space for the Butterflies - Oi Frog!

Both H and I have a terrible affliction. It seems that when we go to the bookshop to buy presents for one or other of the girls’ friends we somehow always end up coming home with a little something new for our collection of lovely children’s books.  Oi Frog! is one of H’s entirely reasonable moments of weakness, and a very good one it is too.

He told me he picked it up in the shop, flipped through it, started laughing and was entirely sold before he’d even tried it out on a single one of the children.

Fortunately they are fans because if they weren’t I think he’d read it to them as a bedtime story regardless.

Space for the Butterflies - Oi Frog!

Cat, with all the determination that things should be as they ought to be so familiar to those of us with children in the preschool and early school years, is insistent that Frog should sit on a log.  That’s where frogs sit, on logs, so sit frog must.  But Frog doesn’t like the sound of a log, “they’re nobbly and uncomfortable. And they can give you splinters in your bottom” so he suggests alternatives, and off we go on a wonderful romp through some very creative rhyming.

Space for the Butterflies - Oi Frog!

Frog can’t sit on a mat because they’re for cats, nor a chair or a stool or a sofa or any number of sensible things that you might like to sit on, and it makes him curious.

Space for the Butterflies - Oi Frog!

Where do lions sit? Or lizards? Or puffins? All the way through, until our lovely friend Frog asks the one question perhaps he ought to have left alone…

Space for the Butterflies - Oi Frog!

…what about dogs?

It’s such a beautiful rhyming story, told with humour and fun and delightful illustrations, and as you can see, sufficiently popular that I couldn’t even sneak it away to take a few photos without tiny hands (belonging to Pip) coming to rescue it back.

One for me: Do Story

Space for the Butterflies - Do Story

One of my as yet unwritten down or particularly planned out aims for this year is to improve my writing.  It’s not that I don’t like the way I write, but it’s so much easier to say that I want to improve my photography or redesign my blog (which I may also be doing!) because it’s so much easier to set tangible goals.  I’m not sure what the writing equivalent is of moving to shooting on full manual, or pressing “Go” on a pretty new set up, but when writing is one of the biggest things I love about blogging, why wouldn’t I want to see if I can polish it up a bit? And then maybe I’ll stop starting sentences with “and” and my English teachers will stop collectively wincing (highly unlikely, it’s how I speak so it seems completely normal to me)!

Part of the plan is to try to separate my writing practice from my blogging.  It’s a bit of a challenge because my time for blogging is at a premium as it is, but I’d really like to get to a point where my not blogging everything I write, sometimes I’m writing just to see what happens, old school pen and paper style (we will have to imagine the garret and the constant supply of apples – I had dreams of being Jo March when I was younger).

And that’s wher my first book of 2016 comes in.  Do Story was a recommendation from one of the speakers at Blogfest and I hope they’ll forgive me for completely forgetting who it was because it was an awesome recommendation.

It was actually recommended for being short, though that’s far from its only attribute and it is quite simply a gripping pocket guide to the 10 principles that make up a story.

But Do Story isn’t just “do this”, it’s why.  Why do we tell stories in the first place? Why should we for example, take trouble to “set the GPS”, explaining the background and the reference points to our story? And it’s not just telling, it’s showing.  Each chapter is beautifully illustrated by a story that proves the point, and they are really engaging tales, from Scott the New York nightclub promoter who set up an African water charity to Churchill, who brought the English language into battle when he was rather lacking in much of anything else to fight with.

Space for the Butterflies - Do Story

Its worth reading for them alone.

But even better, to get me kick-started on my New Years not quite made it to a resolution, there’s an entered chapter at the back filled with writing exercises. Pen, meet paper, and off we go.