Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: childrens books (page 1 of 3)

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?

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.

Storytelling dads – Richy Black

fathers-story-week-logoThis is it, the final post to celebrate Fathers Story week, people often say that they left the best to last, but in this case we haven’t. We do however have a fine gentleman to finish off this series of guest posts from storytelling dads, one that drove for over an hour just to watch me kayak across a loch at the end of the Scotland coast to coast.  That makes him a top bloke in my book!

You may also know him from his starring role in the 12 dads of christmas where he displayed his amazing keyboard skills. He also writes a pretty awesome blog called the only boy in the house which as you might guess from the name is all about his life as a dad to 2 daughters.

So here without further ado is the final set of answers from a storytelling dad, I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, I’ve certainly enjoyed reading them. If you’re a dad reading this and don’t read to your kids then maybe this might have inspired you to give it a go, if you’re a parent who already loves reading with your children then perhaps you’ve found some inspiration for new books to read.

Also one final mention for my run for charity, next month I’m running 100km along the Ridgeway to raise money for Save the Children. My main reason for choosing them is their change the story campaign which is all about giving the UK poorest children the chance to have a good education and specifically learn to read. If you are like the dads who have featured this week and think storytelling and reading are essential for all children then I’d love for you to sponsor me and help Save the Children with this important campaign. You can find my sponsorship page here.

1. What’s the best thing about reading to your children?

Being out of the house all day, five days a week, anything that involves spending time with the kids is special, and reading to them is extra special because it’s such an intimate thing. Reading together is also a great way to see them progress – from completely passive, to looking at pictures, to reacting to the words, and now, with Heather, being able to read some of the words all by herself. Amazing!

2. Where do you read to your children?

Anywhere and everywhere, but mostly in their rooms at bedtime, or on the sofa.

3. All dads like doing voices when reading, what’s your party piece when it comes to impressions?

The one which springs to mind – and it’s one I haven’t read for a while, because it’s often too long for bedtime – is The Troll by Julia Donaldson. It’s two stories in one, one about a troll and another about some pirates, and the stories come together at the end. The troll always gets this gruff, East End of London voice (Gregg Wallace from Masterchef, but a bit more sinister) and the pirates get these terrible pirate voices that probably sound nothing like they do in my head. Amusingly, after we’d had this a while I discovered that Gem had independently given the troll the same voice I did!

4. Favourite book from your childhood?

Can I pick more than one? I’d have to say the Mr Men books, which have now been passed on and our kids enjoy them too


5. What’s your children(s) favourite book now?

They both like pretty much anything by Julia Donaldson, which is handy because they’re all good. Heather also loves a bit of poetry, and has an AA Milne collection plus another from various authors including Robert Louis Stevenson. Special mention also has to go to Penguin by Polly Dunbar – although I haven’t read it for ages, it was a favourite of both girls for a good while, and I can’t leave it out.

6. Last book you read them?

I think the last thing I read either of the girls was a poem from one of Heather’s books, called My Shadow ( It’s by Robert Louis Stevenson, and is probably her absolute favourite poem.

7. Book that your children love but you secretly hate?

Fortunately for me, I can’t actually think of one! I don’t know if that says more about me or the kids… or if I’ve just been very good at steering them away from books I didn’t like the look of/had read far to often in a short space of time. Gem really can’t stand the collection of Dora the Explorer stories, but even that doesn’t bother me. Apart from the one that’s written in the third-person which, for me just doesn’t work. Maybe that’s my answer!

Storytelling dads – Tom Briggs

Friday is here, the weekend is in sight and it’s time for the 5th entry in this series about storytelling dads to celebrate Fathers story week.

Today I have a guest post from Tom Briggs to share with you, Tom is a dad blogging legend who apparently won a blog award before parent blogging had even been invented. Tom blogs at Diary of the Dad and is also a member of the love all dads podcast. Here’s his answers to the now familiar questions to give a little insight into the reading he does with his children.

If you missed the first 4 posts in this series you can find them here.

1. What’s the best thing about reading to your children?

It’s a great way of spending time with them and, as my two sons, Dylan and Xander, are hurtling towards a stage where they don’t want to be hugged as much, is a good way of tricking them into cuddling up. Plus I can legitimately say I’ve finished reading hundreds of books as a result – I didn’t read much until they were on the scene!

2. Where do you read to your children?

For the most part, I read to them at bedtime. We sit together on one of their beds and they choose three stories. That’s the theory anyway… it normally gets to five or six before they allow me to turn the light out!

3. All dads like doing voices when reading, what’s your party piece when it comes to impressions?

I give every character a different regional accent, but it’s tricky to pick a favourite – Geordie, Welsh and proper old Sussex are up there though. In terms of impressions, I don’t really do many of actual people, but we recently read Eric Carle’s “Slowly, slowly, slowly,” said the sloth and I gave him the voice Ralph Brown uses in Wayne’s World 2. Albeit minus the reference to obtaining 1,000 brown M&Ms to put in a brandy glass…

Tom reading4. Favourite book from your childhood?

There were so many books I loved as a kid. One of my favourites, though, was Dogger. It’s a shame the word has new connotations now as it’s a story I very much related to as I temporarily lost my favourite toy – a cuddly dog – at least twice. I remember being so upset and the book really captured the sense of loss children have when their special toys go missing and, happily, the joy of being reunited with them.

5. What’s your children(s) favourite book now?

They both love all the Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler books, but their favourites change from one week to the next. At the moment though, Dylan’s favourite is Superworm and Xander’s into Room on the Broom.

6. Last book you read them?

It was That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown which we got out from the library. They both loved it and knew it word for word by the time we had to return it!

7. Book that your children love but you secretly hate?

This is going to be controversial, but I’m going to say the Mog series. I loved them as a child, but can’t see beyond the out-of-date attitudes towards gender roles now. I know they’re a product of their time, but it still irritates me and I think that Mr Thomas is an awful person. To balance this out, I will say that Judith Kerr’s other famous title, The Tiger Who Came to Tea remains a family favourite.

Storytelling dads – David Inglis

It’s Wednesday which means it’s time for the 3rd post to celebrate Fathers’ Story Week which if you missed the first two posts (where were you?) is a week long celebration of the power of dads’ reading with their children.

On Monday I shared my story about reading to my children and yesterday Darren kicked off the guest posts from some of my favourite dad bloggers. Today is the 2nd guest post and this time from David who I feel like I’ve known forever because we both started blogging around the same time and Matilda is just a few weeks older than his daughter. I’ve also had the pleasure of staying with him and his family in Scotland last year while we were up there on holiday. Alas he’s recently decided to stop blogging so I’m very pleased he came out of writing retirement to guest post here!

1. What’s the best thing about reading to your children? 
The cuddles.

2. Where do you read to your children?
We read exclusively at bedtime. I would love to do it during the day but O has no interest.

3. All dads like doing voices when reading, what’s your party piece when it comes to impressions?
Either the troll from Billy Goats Gruff or The Gruffalo.

4. Favourite book from your childhood?
If I think back it was always Basil The Great Mouse Detective. I don’t even know it if was a proper book!

5. What’s your children(s) favourite book now?
At the moment it is any of the Olivia series. They are books about a pig called Olivia and her family. Minus the pig part they mirror our lives frighteningly well…

6. Last book you read them?
Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake.

7. Book that your children love but you secretly hate?
Olivia loves a Postman Pat book. It’s actually a really annoying story and it doesn’t flow at all meaning Im stuttering all over the place. So I just adlib to shorten it and she doesn’t seem to mind.

Do come back tomorrow for the 4th post in this series and of course would love to hear your stories about reading with your children.

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