Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Category: Matilda’s book reviews (page 1 of 4)

Happy Birthday Snoopy – review and giveaway

I used to love reading the Snoopy cartoon strips as a kid, they used to have one in the weekend paper that my dad bought and there would always be a fight with my brothers to get to that section first. However you may remember that one of my rules when choosing books for my children (and myself for that matter) is to avoid any that have started their life as a film or TV program. They are generally poorly written, lacking in any real story and quite honestly a little boring. I therefore didn’t have high expectations for Snoopy even if I do have a soft spot for the little white dog and his follicly challenged owner Charlie Brown.

Reading Snoopy

But I’m pleasantly surprised, Happy Birthday Snoop is actually quite a sweet story about Charlie Brown’s attempts to give Snoopy a surprise birthday party and of course failing miserably. I like that it’s a positive story and quite amusing in places as Charlie Brown with the best intentions ends up managing to scare, disturb and launch Snoopy into the air.

I also like the style of the illustrations, keeping some of the cartoon style but the tones are a little different to the cartoon strip and of course the bigger size allows for much more colour and detail. The writing moves around the pages into different spots and shapes, it’s even inside a balloon on one page, I think helps add some interest and at least as a reader makes it more interesting.

Matilda and Henry seem to like this book, but I think they may be at the lower end of the ideal age range. More so for Henry of course who is 3, but a good book for a child like Matilda who is just about to start school.

Charlie Brown

That’s what I think about it, now if you’d like to get your hands on your own copy (UK residents only) all you need to do is a leave a comment below telling me what your favourite cartoon strip was when you were a child. I’ll then pick one at random to be the winner, competition will close on Wednesday 17th June 2015.

Disclosure – I was sent a copy of this book free of charge, all words and opinions are my own.

Bookstart book selection

It’s amazing where blogging can take you and 4.5 years after I started yesterday may well have been the best thing to happen to me as a blogger. I spent the whole of the day at the Booktrust HQ in London helping to choose the books that go into the Bookstart bags. It was a long, tiring day reading and discussing children’s books but it was also thoroughly enjoyable, thought provoking and inspiring.

As we went around the room introducing ourselves at the start of the day I felt a little out of my depth there were health visitors, librarians, a CEO of a charity running children’s centres, even the person who started the Bookstart scheme. That’s some company! Then me, management accountant and dad blogger, no training in children’s education or experience of dealing with children in disadvantaged areas. But what I do have is 2 very important things; a huge passion for inspiring children to read and of course some very real experience of what small children like to read.

Bookstart book selection

I know that my experience of being a dad is a very sheltered one; we live a reasonably comfortable life in the Wiltshire countryside, the area is by and large white and while there are deprived areas nearby they aren’t ones where my children go to preschool etc. Being part of the discussions today with professionals who support some very different families has been fascinating. Beginning to understand some of the challenges they face and how the books we chose could help or hinder them as they support families. For example many books feature food but we had to consider whether the type of food could hinder a discussion about healthy diets etc.

It was also interesting seeing how people reacted to books, how their opinions varied to yours and how they may interpret a story differently. It also challenged some of my preconceptions about certain styles of book and definitely opened my eyes to some authors I would never have come across otherwise.

If your child is due to get a Bookstart bag at some point in the next year then there is a good chance I helped choose the books that went into it, I do hope you like them! Realising the consequence of the opinions I was sharing certainly focused the mind, for some children these could be the only books they have at home for most of their childhood so they have to be great ones.

However the one category that isn’t yet final was for the Bookstart Treasury which goes to 3-4 year olds, we’ve been asked to send in any suggestions we have as we couldn’t agree on a single book to submit. The funding for this category was reduced and Booktrust have had to go down from two books to one, picking just one book that meets the needs of lots of people is really hard! So if you have a book that you think every 3 and 4 year old in the country should read then let me know.

While I can’t of course share the books that made the final shortlist I did want to share a few from each category that I loved, ones that might be added to our collection some time soon. If you’ve read any of them already then let me know what you think.

The children’s books that belong in room 101

I love books. Matilda and Henry love books. We have books in almost every room and if you sit down for more than 10 seconds you are likely to be handed a book to read. One of my very favourite things is reading a bedtime story to them. But sometimes I see Matilda walk around the corner carrying a book and my heart sinks, for in her hands is a book that is simply painful to read. A book that makes your ears bleed a little as you hear yourself reading it.

These books are destined to be lost very quickly, hidden in a bag at the back of the cupboard until you can get them out of the house and safely deposited at the charity shop where another lucky parent can experience the joy of reading them. Or wrapped up and given as a present at the next birthday party you attend, although that is of course a risky strategy if presents are opened at the party and your child realises what you’ve done.

So ladies and gentlemen I submit to you here the books that I think deserve to be put into room 101:

Frozen Disney bookAll books published by Disney; I’d potentially go as far as to say that any book that started as a film and then became a book should be in this category. These books are just another piece of merchandise that good old Disney can sell us along with all the other tat. The strategy seems to be to summarise a whole film into 20 pages or so in a writing style of a primary school student and then throw in lots of colourful pictures. Matilda received a Frozen one for Christmas (of course) and it’s just dreadful which is amazing considering that the film is so good (maybe it’s the lack of singing in the book).

The whole collection of Mr Men books; one of my earliest memories is being primary school age and watching a Mr Men cartoon featuring Mr Strong and loving it. I think I might even have had a Mr Strong bag I loved it so much, but this is definitely one childhood memory that should stay in the past. When Matilda was old enough I quite excitedly sat down to read her her first Mr Men book, one of those big moments as a parent where you share something you love with your child. But the puzzled look on her face said it all, the story had no flow to it and didn’t really make sense. The prose certainly wasn’t a patch on Shirley Hughes or Roald Dahl.Mr Men, Thomas and Friends books

Any book with wee or poo in the title; or any bodily fluid for that matter, when I sit down to read a bed time story do I really want to describe a dinosaur pooping Christmas? I have no doubt that were Henry and Matilda 2 or 3 years older they would think all the mentions of poo hilarious, but this trend to make children’s books disgusting just feels like cheap laughs.

Thankfully the books we read regularly tend to be a little bit more sophisticated, things like The Ladybird heard and Alfie’s new boots, they’re the ones the children take off the bookshelf time and time again. What about you, what books would you put into room 101?

Ducks, just ducks

Is there a child out there that doesn’t like ducks? They make a noise that anyone can copy, they’ll happily eat bread out of your hand and you can find them bobbing around on pretty much any bit of water. What’s not to like? Matilda and Henry are currently obsessed with ducks due in no small part to the wonderful Just Ducks which is one of our favourite bed time reads.

What I like about this book is that for children of Matilda and Henry’s age it’s a fun story with nice illustrations but for older children there are lots of additional educational details about ducks on the page. But even through just the main story they now know the difference between a male and female mallard duck and what their names are. Definitely a book that’ll be on our bookshelf for a long time I think, I can see them getting lots of value from it when they’re at primary school.

Matilda and Henry feeding ducks

Swans and geese at Slimbridge

With this duck obsession in mind what could be a better day out than a trip to Slimbridge? I hadn’t been there for years, since I was a teenager I think, but thought it would be a perfect day out and being term time hopefully quiet. So we loaded up the car and squeezed 3 children into car seats which was interesting to say the least. Henry and Matilda both wanted to be able to see and touch Rupert which wasn’t going to happen and while we wait for our new car to be delivered (the dreaded but necessary MPV) Matilda has to sit on the pop up seats in the boot which she was not impressed with.

Amazingly we managed to choose a glorious sunny day to visit, freezing cold but sunny and the kiddies were toasty in their waterproof suits. Matilda was in her element walking up to the birds and trying to stroke them, including a couple of massive swans. She has zero fear when it comes to animals big or small which I love, even if it does mean having to pretend that I like stroking a large python while it wraps around my arm.

Matilda feeding geese

We spent a lovely couple of hours wandering around the various ponds looking at all the different types of bird; we saw my favourites the tufty duck and the Bewick swan (who make the most beautiful noise to call to each other), loads of different flamingo’s or mingo’s as the kids call them and loads of hungry geese ready to eat the grain we had. We also watched otters being fed while the kids ate a snack and in true English style ate lunch on a bench in the freezing cold.

Flamingos at Slimbridge

We finished up with some colouring in the kids activity section in the main building next to some of the most colourful (and by all accounts deadly) frogs you’ll ever see. Then of course it was time for a hot drink and a piece of cake, although I will dock Slimbridge marks for a pretty poor cake selection and the worst flapjack I’ve had in a long time. Certainly wasn’t up to National Trust standard which after all is the benchmark to judge these things by. But a fab day out and thoroughly recommended if you have wildlife loving children, plenty of activities to do that don’t involve just being bird watchers (there’s a canoe safari in the summer) and quite honestly just nice to do something outdoors that doesn’t involve a commercial theme park.

Matilda’s book reviews – The Faery’s gift

The lady of the manor and I love Roald Dahl, you’d never guess with a daughter called Matilda would you? (Who incidentally would have been George if she’d been a boy) I can’t wait until Henry and Matilda are old enough to start reading some of his books, in the mean time we’re making do with some of Quentin Blake’s books which are a bit more suitable. But if you love Road Dahl as much as me then you might be interested in the Marvellous Costume make (note this isn’t a sponsored post, just thought you’d be interested). Although having read all the tweets about world book day maybe you won’t all be so excited about making costumes?

I wonder if I can enter just by dressing Matilda in her normal clothes? Although she definitely isn’t opposed to a bit of dress up so we might have to get our thinking caps on. I think Henry mike make a rather good Fantastic Mr Fox and Matilda, well she’ll have to be Matilda won’t she?

This week we have been mainly reading The Faery’s gift 

Faerys gift coverThis is a really lovely book published by Barefoot books who if you haven’t checked out you really should. They make some of our favourite books, books that are original and a little different in terms of style (Bear on a Bike is another firm favourite). What I also like about their books is they often have a moral story in them or some educational message, all wrapped up in some beautiful words.

The Faery’s gift is a simple story; a wood cutter and his family are poor, cold and barely sustaining a life when one day he does a good deed and saves a faeries life. In return the faery grants him a single wish, which sounds great but he has to decide what to wish for (here comes the moral bit). Does he wish for the baby that his wife so desires or for his mother to get her eye sight back or for lots of money? I won’t spoil the surprise of what he does but I will say that he fails to wish for 3 more wishes which surely is the obvious answer?

Faerys gift picture page

Matilda loves this book, she seems to really like fairytale style stories especially when they involve some magic. She also likes the illustrations, which I think you can see from the photos are just beautiful, so full of colour and covering a whole page each time. As a bonus the book also comes with an audio CD where the story is read by Niamh Cusack, I like to think I’m good at reading books but not sure I can compete with her voice.

If you want something a little different to read do have a look at The Faery’s gift and the other books from Barefoot Books.

Making stories part of family life

Every so often I get asked to write a guest post for another site and quite honestly I often say no because I struggle to find the time to write here and on my running blog. But one place I never say no to is the Scottish Book Trust. The importance of books in a child’s life is a huge passion of mine and I love having the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on the topic. Plus they are doing great work in trying to give children the opportunity to read and discover the pleasure of books.

Matilda and Henry reading

Last week they very kindly published a post I’d written about my top tips on how to make stories part of family life which if you’re interested you can read it here. Making reading books and telling stories part of everyday life can have such a big impact on a child’s development and change it from being a chore or just a bed time activity. After I’d written it I thought I’d ask my followers on Twitter what their top tips were to see if anyone had a great idea that I hadn’t thought of. After all Twitter really is the no.1 source of parenting advice and you can guarantee there will be someone willing to offer their thoughts to any question you have.

What I hadn’t quite expected was such a fast and passionate response, it seems I’m not the only one who loves books! So I thought I’d share some of those responses here as a bonus extra post to go with my post of the Scottish Book Trust site. These are also some very fine people so if you aren’t following them on Twitter already then you really should. Here’s their thoughts on how to make stories part of family life:

  • @tiddlyompompom – regular bedtime stories. Quiet time reading instead of tv. Making up stories together.
  • @Eliza_Do_Lots – my boys always have access to books, we have bookcases and shelves in every room, and read with them and to them daily
  • @yummymummy1210 – visits to the library, browsing books in shops/supermarkets, setting an example reading yourself, bedtime stories…
  • @GemmaRidlington – the toddler has 3 bedtime stories every single night! And we read during the day too.
  • @littlebigsports – bed time stories every evening
  • @theenglishdad – sometimes get my 3yo to ‘read’ the story just by making it up herself from the pictures. Encourages her to go thro the book
  • @Kellyfairy – stories every bedtime. Book tokens as presents so they can choose their own to keep. Take them to the library. Oops that’s 3

That was just a few of the responses I received, I’m sure there are many other suggestions also but I think we all agree it’s about make books accessible at all times so your child can independently go and pick one plus having that routine of regular bed time stories. If you do have any other suggestions of things you do to help make stories part of your family life do leave a comment below.

Matilda’s book reviews – Shouty Arthur

Shouty Arthur coverI think Angie Morgan may well have been spying on Matilda and Henry when she was writing this book, the characters are scarily similar. Right now my 2 little monsters are your stereotypical boy and girl. Matilda is clever (to the point of being manipulative), loves pretty things, carries her bunny everywhere and quietly goes about her business. In fact she is also just like Road Dahl’s Matilda! Henry on the other hand is a noisy boy, who is always climbing things and then falling off them, he’s easy going and loves playing with cars.

If you sit trying to do a jigsaw with Matilda you can guarantee Henry will appear and crash right through the middle. Interestingly one of the few times he will sit still and mostly quiet is when reading a book. Which brings us nicely onto this one. Arthur, as the title suggests, is a little on the loud side and much to his sister Edith’s frustration never stops shouting.

Edith tries to teach Arthur about wildlife but everywhere they go he scares them away ‘COME OUT YOU OLD RABBITS’ he shouts, ‘COME OUT YOU OLD SQUIRRELS’. Then he gets tired and falls asleep and all the animal re-appear until Arthur wakes up and starts shouting again. He then utters the classic line which I have no doubt I must have uttered when my parents took me around many Scottish forests ‘wildlife is a bit boring, isn’t it?’. Oblivious to the reason why he’s missed out on seeing all the wildlife in Edith’s book.

Shouty Arthur inside pageThe illustrations in this book are great, a little cartoonish and not trying to be perfect life drawings of the animals. I also like that the colours are not bright and in your face as seems to be the case for many children’s books. More subtle and in keeping with the natural landscape the children are exploring.

Matilda loves this book and looking at all the different animals, I’m not sure if she’s quite twigged that it’s like her and Henry though. Plus it means we can talk about what noises the animals make and where they live, I like being able to connect those things and then point them out when we see them in the wild.

Finally like all good books there is something to spot on each page, in this case it’s a lady bird hiding somewhere. The lady of the manor and I most definitely didn’t have a competition when the book arrived to see who could spot the ladybird first on each page, because that would be childish wouldn’t it?

Disclosure – we were sent this book free of charge, but all views are our own. Shouty Arthur was published on 6th March by Egmont.

Older posts