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One for them and one for me: Books for February

04/02/2016

One for them: Captain Jack and the Pirates

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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

05/01/2016

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.

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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…

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…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

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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.

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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.


 

Elma Exploring Family Handmade Kitty Pip Quilting Reading Sewing

Five things for a Tuesday:

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1. This morning I woke up and went to find a jumper.  Pip was snuggled up in his winter Gro-bag and H appeared to be wearing wooly socks.  Despite the fact that it is not actually raining right this second, where oh where is the summer of sunshine we dreamed of.  Somehow whenever I imagined our summer as a five, it had long hot days spent under the trees at the park and in the splash pool, not curled up at home because it’s too wet even for us fresh air fiends to get out and about.

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We’ve been contemplating a trip to Europe this summer for a while, but last week’s weather sealed our fate and we came home from the Library with a massive bag of travel books.  So far our plans are, tent plus camping gear plus family in the car, drive to Portsmouth/Poole, ferry to Cherbourg to avoid the chaos at Calais, and then….  Well then we’ve thought of Paris, Normandie, Brittany, Spain and there’s an outside bid from Switzerland.  Personally I’m championing anywhere that speaks French because that’s the only European language I can manage more than “I’m English, do you speak English, where is the …?” and if we could make it that far south I would love to take a selfie outside the swimming pool in La Rochelle (which will only make sense if you too learned your French from Tricolour 4).

So as I know there are lots of wonderfully well travelled people who read, where would you go on holiday in Europe for a little summer sun?

2. I’ve just finished my free trial of Mummy Workouts.  As a Mama to three little ones, two of whom are breastfed, and one of whom wakes up again during the evening and scream at anyone else, I don’t really get to do much exercise.  I also don’t have a huge amount of motivation to do any exercise, I like cake and blogging and knitting and sewing so much more.  Actually leaving the house doesn’t work for me because I can’t guarantee that I can get out with any regularity, and while I’ve tried exercise DVDs I just found I got cross at them, firstly because they got boring, and secondly because I am spectacularly inflexible, and rather lanky so I can’t touch my toes, or anywhere near.  Anything that says “just put your hands on the floor and….” has a tendency to be growled at.

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(picture clearly not me! I could show you me but I just look hot and sweaty and I think you can imagine it)

Mummy Workouts is different; it’s actually a live class.  It means that the instructor can see me and hear me if she wants and so when my downward dog in the yoga class was nowhere near downward or dog like, Tina could give me some tips about what sort of shape to make and how to get the right sort of movement, working with what I’ve got.  I’m far from perfect but I’m a lot nearer than I was and that makes it all the more fun.

The classes also change.  Even if the routine you’re doing is exactly the same, the talk through is always going to be slightly different and that makes a huge difference to my motivation/boredom levels.

It’s Body Workout and Yoga tonight and I’m signing up again, and hopefully my dog will be ever more downward!

3. As well as raiding the library for travel books I’ve also had a little influx of new cookbooks (thank you birthday bunnies), including this one, The CSA Cookbook.  I found out about it while hunting for advice on when to harvest garlic, and came across the wonderful Garden Betty blog (which does include advice on garlic!).  The cookbook is about making use of veggies that you find at the farmer’s market, grow yourself, or get in your veg box, especially the ones you might not recognise or be quite sure what to do with, and it takes a ‘nose to tail’ approach to veggies (borrowing from the idea that if you’re going to eat meat you should have a use for every part of the animal and not waste it).  Did you know that you can slice up the pale green section of a watermelon rind and put it in stir-fry for example? It’s been eye-opening, and yummy, and there’s a very pretty trailer here:

4.  Did you know Oliver + S is having a pattern sale?  This only makes sense if you like making clothes for small people but if you do – run there now.  They have a number of paper patterns at 60% off which makes them spectacularly good value and a small (see H, small) number may be winging their way to me just as soon as I can decide which ones! It finishes on July 31st, hence the running!

5. Kitty and I have a new project.  We discovered The Bramble Patch on the way home from an adventure this week and as well as adding to my stash of books, fabric and tiny rulers, she is now the proud owner of five fat quarters of batiks with a plan to turn them into a quilt.  Space for the Butterflies

I’m thinking of doing a sort of subway tile pattern.  Initially we thought squares but I’d like her to have a go at sewing on the machine (with me in control of the foot and going very slowly) and as I find it hard enough to match points as an adult, I think it could be frustrating to do it as a four year old, hence the change to something with a step out so we’re not trying to match things up.

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But am I missing something obvious here, is there an ideal pattern than only takes five fat quarters and is perfect for small sewers? I’m not averse to adding a contrast neutral but while I have more batik in the stash that I’d happily contribute, I’d actually like it to be all Kitty’s fabric because they were her choices.

And they’re rather gorgeous choices too; just look at that lovely orange!

Books Elma Family Kitty Pip Reading what we're reading

The Baby that Roared {what we’re reading}

07/04/2015

Every now and then I look at the bookshelves, pick up a favourite and well battered story and think to myself “surely I’ve written about this one, I can’t have not done this before can I?” And I come to the blog and search and search and try to remember and eventually I realise that one, I never did tell you about The Baby That Roared, and two I need to correct that oversight immediately. Because who doesn’t need another excuse to read a story with really bad Scottish accents? (my vague approximation of a Scottish accent apparently sounds like I come from Ross & Cromarty a place I’ve never ever been to – who knows how I picked that one up).Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life 

This is the story of Mr and Mrs Deer who long for a dear little baby of their own to love and cuddle and to read stories to.  And one day it seems like their wish might just have come true because there on the doorstep is a waif and stray who just wants to be loved.Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Well, loved and fed, because this poor wee bairn just can’t stop roaring. Uncle Duncan is called and suggests milk, but when Mr and Mrs Deer come back with it, how strange, Uncle Duncan has vanished, but the baby is still roaring.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Well perhaps it’s not milk, maybe he needs a new nappy. And when that merely ends in the mysterious disappearance of Auntie Agnes, it’s time to call for Dr Fox.

It isn’t until Grannie Bear arrives that poor bemused Mr and Mrs Deer discover what’s wrong.  Grannie Bear walks and pats and pats and walks and finally the baby lets out a giant,

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well you would too if you’d tried to eat Uncle Duncan, Auntie Agnes and Doctor Fox, none of whom look terrible impressed at having been swallowed by a little monster.

And at that the little monster takes off into the sunset, never to be seen again.  Poor Mr and Mrs Deer, but don’t worry, they decided to have a fur baby instead and became the happy slaves of a sweet little kitten instead!

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It’s just such a funny story, especially now that Kitty has got the final joke about the kitten, and can be relied upon to bust into giggles at the last page.  It’s a book for funny voices, a book just made for reading aloud and it’s perfect for when all five of us are there for bedtime story so that H can fill in the right noises for the roaring and the burping.  I think it might just be one of his favourites; when Pip gets fussy and I scoot down the hall to do baby bedtime while the girls are still having their story, this is so often the story, the sound effects and the giggles that follow me down the hall. 

 

 
Space for the Butterflies: What We're Reading
 

If you have read something lovely recently, please do put your link in the comments section and shout to the world – and we’ll all come and have a read!  Jess and Rosalie were very Easter-themed with Hot Cross Bunny, as a fellow parent of a hat obsessed child it made me giggle!

What We’re Reading is a weekly round up of posts about children’s books.  That’s about as far as the ‘rules’ go; it can be picture books, baby books, books for older children or even young adult if you like; just come and join us to tell us what you’ve been reading recently or if you’d rather join in on Instagram or Twitter that would be wonderful too, just use the hashtag #whatweread and tag me (@cariemay on Instagram and @cariemaymakes on Twitter) and then we can all come and say hi.

Books Elma Family Kitty Pip Reading what we're reading

The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book {what we’re reading}

24/03/2015

This week we bring you not one, not two, or even three, but forty stories.  In truth we haven’t read all of them this week, and I suspect that there may even be one or two that we haven’t yet read at all. But the pages are well thumbed and the book falls open in a couple of places to mark out our favourites.  It’s my favourite book to pull off the shelf for a in the mid afternoon lull when one of the girls asks for a story and a firm favourite with everyone at bedtime.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

There are plenty of books around that talk children through the bedtime routine and we’ve got a few of them, bunny brushes his teeth and goes to bed or the little ducklings who want to stay up all night, but this isn’t one of them.  Instead, the Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book     is a collection of the sort of stories to lie back and listen to, stories of wonder, magic and mystery.  Bob Hartman collected folk stories from all over the world, from Puerto Rico to Japan and a good handful from nearer to home to, and just as with the Lion Storyteller Bible, he’s taken those stories and retold them for little ones, writing in a way designed to roll off the tongue.Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

They’re short stories, most are only a couple of pages, and the longest only stretches to four, so they’re perfect for reading at bedtime with sleepy little ones snuggling down into bed; the plots wrap up before anyone has fallen asleep (me included) and both Kitty and Elma can follow what’s going on without it being over simplified or entirely lacking in lovely language to wrap my tongue around.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And Krisztina Kallai Nagy has again produced the most beautiful illustrations to match, she’s one of my all time favourite children’s book illustrators, her artwork is always gentle on the eye (perfect for bedtime) but full of really rich colour and bring the story to life in a way that kickstarts your imagination but leaves you to do the rest.  Actually one of the things that I like best about this book is that the illustrations are fairly minimal.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the pictures and we love sitting all piled up on the sofa really drinking in some good illustrations but when I want two little girls to lie down and start to feel sleepy it’s definitely a plus that they can look at the picture and then just let the words fuel their imaginations.  

Kitty’s favourite by far is Silly Jack, a story I remember from my own childhood. Poor Jack goes off to work somewhere new each day, the first day he earns a penny but drops it, and his mother scolds him and tells him to put it in his pocket, so the next day he duly puts his wages in his pocket. There’s just one tiny hitch, it’s not a penny, it’s a jug of milk, and his mother tells him he should have put it on his head, and so the tale continues all the way through the week.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

My favourite, and accordingly the story that we’ve read most often is The girl who played with the Stars, a beautiful story of fairies, giant fish and gulls making a stairway to the stars for a little girl who wanted to dance.  It inspired the cover art and it’s as lovely a story as the illustration.Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

All in all they are stories that are the gateway to the land of dreams, stories that you could read a hundred times and never be tired of them, and the sort of stories that wriggle into your mind so that when a little voice in the back of the car asks for “a story from your head” you know just what comes after “once upon a time”.

 

 
Space for the Butterflies: What We're Reading
 

If you have read something lovely recently, please do put your link in the comments section and shout to the world – and we’ll all come and have a read!  Last week Jess and Rosalie were reading Are You My Mummy, which just looks so adorably cute – Jess is going to be responsible for Pip getting a pile of books taller than him for his birthday in the summer! And Christina joined in on Instagram; I’m going to have to look for Ten Little Monkeys, it seems like it might be rather apt for my girls!

What We’re Reading is a weekly round up of posts about children’s books.  That’s about as far as the ‘rules’ go; it can be picture books, baby books, books for older children or even young adult if you like; just come and join us to tell us what you’ve been reading recently.  The linky is always open for a week so there’s plenty of time to join in, or if you’d rather join in on Instagram or Twitter that would be wonderful too, just use the hashtag #whatweread and tag me (@cariemay on Instagram and @cariemaymakes on Twitter) and then we can all come and say hi.