Big, Bold and Beautiful

I used to be an elephant. Nooooo, not in size but in remembering a ridiculous number of things. From facts and figures to trivial events in the lives of friends and family, I was a veritable fount of useful and not so useful knowledge. Now, I find my mind is developing holes and I can no longer recall what my friend was wearing on 15 September 2001 or who had the shepherd’s pie at dinner on 20 May 1995. I know, terrible isn’t it? Bah.

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One of these holes is who gave us this gorgeous book! I love Lucy Cousins. BIG fan. In my youth, I favoured black as my go to “cool” colour. As I got older, I embraced my childhood and now my wardrobe pays homage to all the members of the rainbow. So I feel drawn to Cousins’ wonderful use of primary colours and simple but so effective illustrations.

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What I also love about it is that soon Iris will be able to copy the illustrations and so it becomes an art teaching aid as well! Most of us will know the story of Noah’s Ark and those who don’t may not want to but it retells the biblical story simply and concisely.

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It was fun guessing what some of the food was and is a great counting tool as well.

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So even if you don’t subscribe to any belief system, you could see this as like a fairy tale and just enjoy the colour, pictures and happy ending.

Mixing Up a Storm of Happy!

Combining art and humour in educational children’s books is what acclaimed children’s author Hervé Tullet is all about. We fell spot over dot from the moment we picked up Press Here (see my review here). So when I saw he’d done a sequel I knew we had to have it. Thanks to one of my bestest, most generous girlfriends in the world (major point-scoring going on here as you can tell), who sent Mix It Up! in a beautiful care package with lots of other goodies, we do! Are we thrilled or are we thrilled? Are we going to binge on Dutch confectionaries? Oh yeah.

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Similar to Press Here, Mix It Up! employs colourful paint splotches to teach children about something interactively. This time it’s about colours and how they combine to make other colours. In just a few words a page, Tullet manages to engage the reader and the read to in an entirely enjoyable way.

Mix It Up!

The paint splotches are so vivid you can almost feel the gooey paint. It also gives lots of great ideas for playing with real paint, if you feel so inclined. It’s so successful Iris has been yelling out colour combinations randomly ever since we got it. This may or may not be a plus point for some.

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Sure it kinda engenders those “I could have done that” comments, but hey, you didn’t did you? So unless you’re going to go through the process of making a book, zip it and bask in the delicious primary colours while your child shouts out what happens next.

Warning: Contains Mischief, Sheep Mischief

Any book that has the above disclaimer is definitely worth the read, IMO. Am I right? Especially when it’s about a mischievous sheep. What more can you expect from a coupla Kiwis? Mark and Rowan Sommerset are the husband and wife duo behind Dreamboat Books. Mark writes and Rowan churns out the gorgeously clean illustrations. Check out this video about them and their idyllic life. Mark also wrote the lovely tune in the video. Is there no end to their talents?! Jealous? A little. Ok, A LOT.

So anyhoo, Baa Baa Smart Sheep, is about Little Baa Baa who is very, very, VERY bored. Then along comes Quirky Turkey. Love the names. They exchange pleasantries then Quirky asks what that little pile of black balls on the ground is. Side anecdote: back in 2012, we made a trip back to the UK for a few weeks, Iris’s first there. We were in the Peak District and on one of our walks, came across a lovely field filled with nonchalant sheep. We let Iris, then 20 months old, down to run about and of course, the first thing she does is pick up a fistful of little black balls. Gotta love the countryside! And wet wipes.

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Here are some snippets of Little Baa Baa and Quirky’s following conversation, which will also give you an idea of the plot.

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It’s never too young to start with the toilet humour! Also, this helps to educate those city dwellers who’ve not had the pleasure of meeting any of the genus Ovis, what those little black balls are. Am definitely going to check out other Dreamboat Book publications.

Op Shops Rock!

Ever since my first Oxfam shop browse, I’ve been well aware of the amazing potential for unearthing once-loved gems among the mountains of kitschy gimcracks. All for a pittance and for a good cause as well! I don’t go in for clothes, shoes or bags so much but I love my vintage tea cups and saucers, furniture, housewares and most of all, books. If there is one thing that people have no qualms about getting second-hand, it’s books. So much more so if they are beautiful editions with hardly any wear. My most prized find? A boxed set of Jane Austen works by the Folio Society, which I got for $10 at a church book sale and that I saw in an antique bookshop for $150. ‘Nuff said.

This particular find is not quite as financially magnificent but definitely above average in awesomeness. A wonderful friend found it and thought of Iris (thank you Aunty J!). I have to say, with my amazingly vast and stupendous experience of books, I have never come across a carousel book. *GASP* Yup, it was the first time for both Iris and me to open the book and find it transformed into a house, ballet studio and theatre stage! And with cardboard dolls to play make believe with. Even though it’s been pre-loved, this copy of Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up Dancing School by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig is in really good condition. There are no tears, most of the paper characters are accounted for, with a couple of guest fairies from some other book, and only a little spinal wear.

Angelina Ballerina's Pop-up Dancing School

The second she opened this up, Iris was enraptured. She played for hours, on her own! So parents of pre-schoolers who are into make believe, this could be a God-send for you. The ribbon you see above works also to keep the book open and you’ll see below why it’s called a carousel book. Is this amazing or what?! Where were you when I was left playing village with my mother’s cosmetics bottles?

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The attention to detail in this book is seriously fantastic. In the pic below you’ll see a mirror, stairs and doors leading onto the other two dioramas. 20150401_141445

There are even working bed covers that Iris never fails to use to put her friends to sleep!

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There is a story preceding the pop-out sets but really, you hardly need one. In fact, I’ve only read the Angelina book to Iris once because she hasn’t asked/needed me to!

They are not that easy to find though. I know because naturally I had to go out and find more! I’ve bought another Angelina Ballerina one, which I am saving for her birthday and found Maisy’s Castle by Lucy Cousins. It’s not quite as detailed but still great!

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And you can combine it with other types of make-believe toys. Here you see the lego Disney princesses cavorting with Maisy and her pals.

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Obviously, these are not books for littlies who are still in the mouthing/destructive phases of development.

So what are you waiting for? Go do some op-shop treasure hunting! (Or buy these on Booktopia.com.au, easier but less satisfying.)

Guess How Much I Love Winning?

I have never, ever, ever, ever won anything. I’m not talking about for sports, because I had to work, a little, for those. I’m talking about those supermarket lucky draws, travel draws, the hundreds of Frankie magazine giveaways, etc. Zip, nada, zero. This changed in the most appropriate and wonderful way possible last Tuesday.

It was not a great day for me and I was as cheerful as a baby breaking molars. Then I received an email saying I’d won a 20th anniversary edition of Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram’s Guess How Much I Love You from Walker Books Australia.

This was one of those competitions where you have to write something related to the prize. This one was to write 25 words about “Who you love to the moon and back”. Now I’d seen the tweet for this on February 11. I dithered about it until the weekend. Then finally I took about 10 minutes to write: A monkey. A drama queen. A wet kiss. An adorable cackle and guffaw. A marshmallow and chocolate nut. A performer. My four-year-old daughter, Iris.

This is how excited I was. I took a photograph of an envelope.

This is how excited I was. I took a photograph of an envelope.

I absolutely did not expect to win. Particularly not on a day like the 17th of February, which is what made it all the better. I see it now as a special message from the Guy in charge to me.

First published in 1994 and coming it at about 400 words, this timeless story pretty much encapsulates the most important and really the only thing we need to do as parents – let our kids know how much we love them. Jeram’s illustrations are so perfectly matched, they make you feel like you’re reading honey and warm milk. No review necessary. The title says everything, but to fully appreciate this book, you have to read it yourself.

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Much too often these days I notice how much Iris has grown up. I catch my breath and try and take a mental polaroid of each moment. Just like with her clothes, I’ve been passing on some of her baby books and have been trying to expand her listening skills by reading more wordy books. I forget that sometimes, she still needs those books that seem simpler with less words but with such a powerful message. Just as reading it will remind me how much God loves me, enough to send me a message when I’m feeling especially low, I hope that years from now, Iris will read this book and know that I love her right up to the moon and back.

 

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me and my Love for Roald Dahl

Back when I was in primary school (don’t even think of asking when that was), I was a regular of what I remember as our tiny library. I favoured fantasy and shunned anything based on real life. I found Nancy Drew and The Famous Five irritating in the extreme, which is ironic given my current obsession with police procedurals. I just felt that the language was too dumbed down and I felt patronised. Then at eight, a friend introduced me to the fabulous world of Roald Dahl. It was love at first read. Even after my second foray into children’s writing, I have not found his equal. His special brand of slightly wicked fantastic tales, absolutely brilliant prose and superb imagination combined to give me hours and hours of pleasure, and will again thanks to parenthood.

My own set of Dahl books are pretty worse for wear and stuffed in boxes until our new house is built. We had one copy of James and the Giant Peach, highly illustrated that Iris has only recently begun to enjoy given the amount of words and her goldfish attention span. I was therefore almost hopping for joy when I encountered this copy of The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me at a Salvos (Salvation Army store) for $2.25 and in immaculate condition. And it’s illustrated by the supreme Dahl illustrator, Quentin Blake. I was in Book Heaven.

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Since I began my affair with Dahl when I was already well into reading, I’ve focused more on his novels than the shorter stories like The Enormous Crocodile and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. Thus, I admit with shame that I’ve never read the latter. Yet, more’s the better because I get to share that unique pleasure of reading a Roald Dahl for the first time at 37 with my four-year-old.

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It is not a book for the amateur, tired or lackadaisical reader. My husband got told off by Iris for rushing and not reading it right. It has quite a lot of words and those who are familiar with Dahl will know how badly he likes to twist one’s tongue , especially when it comes to confectionery. This is the other reason I love Dahl. He obviously has a sweet tooth like me and he is second to none in making up names for things.

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The story follows Billy who has always dreamt of owning a Grubber, or sweet shop, particularly the abandoned one in his village. Then along comes a window cleaning crew, who take it over and set up shop. This is no ordinary crew……you know what, I’m not going to bother summarising this story because it is Roald Dahl and I think everyone, EVERYONE should read it themselves. Here are a couple pictures though to give a glimpse into his fabulous genius.

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Another Kind of Resolution

For Christmas 2014, as it would be just as and the gramps (grandparents), I suggested going camping. Yup, you heard right. Of course after everyone got on board I started having second thoughts. I LOVE having my own loo within five metres of my bed, which is in a house with air-conditioning. There was no backing out, however, so I had to suck it in. What we did do, was actually “glamping” because the gramps had their luxury caravan, so we had power and cooking facilities. There were shared toilets and showers, so no digging holes in the ground, and we brought our automated air-bed, quilt and my ultra comfortable contoured pillow. Even so, after 3 nights of having to unzip the tent, walk 25 metres to the toilet and being woken up at 5am by birds having a conference over our heads, I was ready to come home.

On Christmas day we had our first bona fide Aussie Christmas with a trip to the beach in the morning, lunch of the barbe (bbq) and pot luck dinner with the rest of the camp in a large shed. Naturally the person who enjoyed it the most was Iris. She made a new bestie she played with all day everyday, had a family of goats next door and a couple who walked their cat on a lead. I might be persuaded to do it again if we get a darker tent and I bring ear plugs for all of us.

One evening, as I made my way back to our camp-site from a shower, I was literally stopped in my tracks by the sunset.

WA Sunset, Dec 14, Big Valley

Like an awesome sunset, there are children’s books that have the same effect. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is one of them and so is Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius.

Alice Rumphius lived by the sea with her grandfather who inspired her with tales of his travels. She wanted to do everything he had – travel and live by the sea. He left her with one more life accomplishment – “do something to make the world more beautiful”.

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So off Alice goes, travelling the world and finally settling down in a cottage by the sea. Then she remembers what her grandfather tasked her to do, but she had no idea what to do.

Travelling to Asia

One summer, she plants her favourite flowers – lupines. She spends the next year or so convalescing. The following spring, on a walk, she finds  a patch of lupines some distance from her cottage. That is her “ah ha” moment.

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She then spends the summer sowing lupine seeds all around the area. When the fields, hillsides, lane-ways, hollows and stone walls all bloom with the blue, purple and rose-coloured flowers, it appears she has perfectly fulfilled her grandfather’s words.

Lupines, lupines, lupines

I’ve never made a new year’s resolution. Not one. I think it’s nonsense. If you need an impetus to do something worthwhile, the new year is not going to give you enough of one. Take quitting smoking, it needs to be something personal, something that will give you enough will power to overcome your addiction. Likewise with losing weight and all the rest of it, which anyway, if you needed to do, you probably need to do it ALL the time. So not a new year’s resolution, but a life resolution – don’t sweat the small stuff.