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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 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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Elma Family Kitty Pip Reading

Sharing favourite stories – It’s all about the timing


I’m writing this on Monday evening, having just tucked three sleepy little people into bed, closed the curtains, turned out the light, and left them snuggling down to their dreams.  We were reading The Root Children today, it’s a firm favourite, especially at this time of year when the girls can look out into the garden and see the Root Children’s work in progress.  It’s one of those books that’s so lovely and gentle it just encourages all three to come and curl up wherever they can find space, Kitty and Elma in my lap and Pip giving cuddles in-between trying to throw himself from Kitty’s bed to Elma’s.

We’ve been reading a couple of chapter books recently because with arms full of little ones it’s much easier to read if there aren’t pictures for everyone to fight to see, and they can let their eyes close, and their imaginations do the work.  Or that’s the hope at least.

We’re finishing up Pippi Longstocking and alternating with the start of Heidi at the moment, the first being Elma’s favourite and the second, Kitty’s.  They’re both books I loved as a child and love still (and may have borrowed to read to the end one night because I couldn’t wait for one chapter at a time) and it’s been such a treat to introduce these old friends to my little girls.

We’ve read Paddington too, and the Seven Year Wonder Book, full of magic and fairy tales and just the sort of things to go to sleep dreaming about.

But there’s one book, or one series of books, that I’m holding off on, that are sat on my shelves just waiting for the chance to be read and shared and enjoyed – but not yet.  I absolutely adored Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons from the first moment that my Dad started to read it to me when I was a little girl.  He read from his boyhood copy which includes in the blurb the exhortation that “if your children do not like it – take them to the doctor!” which I remain convinced is an actual prescription.

When we were little my sister and I were Nancy and Peggy, or sometimes we’d mentally co-opt my parents to be John and Susan, leaving us as the younger Swallows.  We camped, we sailed, we even went on holiday to the Lake District, and there’s a picture of a maybe 9 or 10 year old me standing tanned and happy at the top of Kanchenjunga, looking out over the slopes of the Old Man and down to Coniston.  Those books were, and probably still would be, my Mastermind subject.  And yet they’re still sat on the shelf.

Parenting it seems is all about timing.  When they’re little it’s about timing naps and car journeys so they aren’t screaming their way through a traffic jam, and meals and all the basics, but the older they get the more it becomes about striking a balance – and I have a funny feeling that we’re only just tiptoeing into cooler waters with this iceberg.  And in the case of stories, it’s about finding the time when they’re ready.

In the purely practical it’s about waiting until they’re ready to sit through a whole chapter; Paddington’s chapters are shorter than Pippi’s and I’m pretty sure that there are times when Elma has been asleep before the end of Heidi.

But that’s just part of the joy of reading at bedtime and being read to; the quandary is whether to share or to let them read them themselves.  If I’ve been reading the characters to them since they were teeny tiny then they grow up with the books as their friends from early childhood; a familiar and happy memory.  If I wait, and only let them in on the secret when they’re old enough to read then they get to feel like the first person ever to have discovered these adventures.

I think that I’ll try to hold out until Kitty is seven, and then maybe read the first book to all of them; but leave the other eleven for them to discover (assuming they can wrestle them out of my hands – once I start the series I have a bit of a habit of powering on through to the end!), but what would you do, or what have you done?  Do you read all your favourites now, or are you holding some back?





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: