Featured

The Secret Garden

Major milestone unlocked: The Sleepover.

In this day and age, sleepovers can be a bit of a taboo subject. Especially with all the paedophilia horror stories running rampant in the media. However, having enjoyed sleepovers so immensely in my own childhood, I would feel a bit hypocritical to have a blanket rule of no sleepovers. As with everything, there needs to be a certain amount of caution on the parents’ part, of course, but I also trust Iris’s own instincts. Since she started toddling, I’ve noticed she has a pretty good sense of self-preservation. Whenever we went to a playground, my then 18-month-old would suss out the situation before launching herself in. She observed which rough-housers to avoid and which older kids would likely be helpful. If anything started to get a bit out of hand, she would extricate herself.

Before she turned seven, we had a few invites to sleepovers but she categorically said “no” and I believe it was because she knew she wouldn’t be able to handle it. This time it was a jumping up and down yes.

So she went and she didn’t sleep much and practically nodded off at dinner the next day, but she was happy and she had a good experience. This makes me happy because I feel I’ve accomplished something as well.

It took us three months to read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden because of the great childhood skill of dawdling. I’m fairly sure every single parent knows exactly what I’m talking about. Dinner, which used to take her as a toddler 10 minutes to eat, now takes 45 minutes because she’s too busy telling us how to make the shape of bat wings with her fingers and how those bat wings can be turned into cool spectacles. Then on the way to her bedroom, she finds a piece of fluff she has to use to play with one of our cats with. In the meantime, she has forgot what she is meant to do and meanders into her room and starts writing a novel. After asking relatively calming five times for her to come to the bathroom, I end up yelling a lecture and she huffs in saying she “was just doing something. Seriously Mama.” Cue internal brain implosion.

Anyhoo, we finally finished it at the beginning of April. I’ve read The Secret Garden at least three times in my life, but the last time was at least two decades ago. *ahem* So. With all my bedtime reading, I like to try out different accents. My best so far being, IMO, a country American cowboy-ish twang. Cue husband EBR (eyeball roll). Well. The Secret Garden is set in YORKSHIRE. Yep, ye gowt that riawt. Ok so I think my written Yorkshire is slightly worse than my spoken Yorkshire. I did extensive research (watched two YouTube videos) and tried to channel Jon Snow (played by a London-born actor). Therefore I am supremely glad my only audience has been my very accepting seven-year-old. Of course you can read this book without adopting any accents whatsoever, but where would be the fun in that?

For those who have never read it, it is not just a girl’s book, thank you very much. Although the main protagonist is a girl, I feel boys can and should get into it too. It’s about overcoming your inner brat through losing your parents who neglected you and left you to be spoiled by servants and being plonked on a dead relative’s spouse who is also a neglectful parent. One brat tells another brat off and they both find happiness, health and their life values in nursing a neglected garden back to health with the help of the lower class servants and people they once disdained. As you can see an overall heartwarming story, especially for parents as it also tells you tantrums will kill you or make you hunchbacked.

Dodgy morals aside, this has always been a story about children doing something amazing for themselves, whether it’s adapting to extreme change; discovering an old garden and bringing it back to life; overcoming their own prejudices about themselves and others; or just becoming better people. This is what makes it a classic worth rereading over and over.

Now, how to con husband into buying me that $400 special edition of The Secret Garden?

Advertisements

Finding Beauty All Over Again

About two months ago, the word “seriously” made its appearance in Iris’s daily speech. It has grown in its presence and now squats annoyingly in every corner of her speech, most often accompanied by a snort. “Seriously, do I have to eat toast?” “Seriously? What are you doing Loli (our new cat)?” You get the idea. However, we now find ourselves in a bit of a quandary. Most times, when Iris uses the word, it’s quite funny and cute. A few times, though, it has bordered on rude. I have called her out on it but when asked to explain why it’s rude, I can’t seem to put it plainly. It’s the attitude. The preview of Iris the teenager. Horrors. So I shall thoroughly enjoy what moments of childhood still remain. Reading to her at bedtime is definitely one of those.

In the world of movies, sequels of classics usually suck. This is because expectations are already high and no matter how much CGI you throw at it, they never live up to them – wrong cast, wrong music, stupid changes to the story-line, the whinging goes on. With children’s books, however, a re-imagining or retelling can be quite refreshing and give a completely different perspective. This is absolutely true with Lou Kuenzler’s Finding Black Beauty (see my post on the original classic here). Although she stays true to the language and description of the original, it does have a much more modern tone, which makes it much easier to read.

In this retelling, Kuezler turns one of the original characters, the stable boy Joe Green, into a girl in disguise, Josephine Green. Josephine loses her father and gets forced out of her family home so she jumps at the chance of starting a career with the one thing she still loves above all – horses. She meets Black Beauty at Birtwick Park where Beauty first went after leaving his mum. She develops as close a bond with a horse that a human can.

I don’t do spoilers and if I did it with this book, I’d be doing it with the original as well. Suffice to say, it was very interesting to see how Kuenzler developed the story with enough of the original to maintain the story’s integrity. It is an excellent read for a 7 to 12-year-old girl. I felt it covered some very hard topics, such as losing a parent, feeling you have only yourself to depend on, being a homeless child on the streets and finding independence with great sensitivity. Kuenzler didn’t let Josephine wallow in grief or dwell too much on the difficult emotions or times, showing her resilience and persistence to her cause.

4 ⭐

Discovering Black Beauty

Whinge alert! A few months ago I re-entered the workforce albeit in a part-time capacity doing admin for the chaplain of a nearby private girls’ school. It is the perfect job because I can still do school drop-offs and pick-ups; it’s five minutes from home and Iris’ school; school term only; and very family friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely grateful that I could get this job and I know how blessed I am. However, I also knew that unlike when I was working full-time and Iris was in day care in Singapore, it would be my most trying period of life. This is because I still have to do most of the housework (cooking, cleaning, food prep and buying, gardening, pet care, accounts, household admin, etc, etc, etc) but now I have to fit it into the last few hours of each afternoon or give up my evening.

As a result, I have never, not even when I was in the throes of huge exams, looked forward to school holidays as much as I do now.

As expected, I’ve had to forego a lot of peripheral stuff (I refuse to call them all hobbies) — yesterday was the first time in 4 months that I stepped into a Spotlight. Yes, amazing isn’t it? Reading has been reduced to in the car before and after work and bedtime, and writing is…well it has been 4.5 months since my last post.

So I absolutely love that Iris’ bedtime reading has progressed to proper books now. Apart from revisiting my beloved Dahl, we recently finished a classic that I’ve actually shockingly not read. This copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was an op-shop find and such a beautiful edition with gorgeous illustrations.

It was really special to experience a good book anew with Iris. We were totally absorbed by Black Beauty’s story, his ups and downs and we both teared up at the sad bits, with Iris bawling her head off.

Black Beauty has been called “the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time” by Bernard Unti in the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. I think the fact that it’s written from the horse’s point of view greatly lends itself to this. Animal welfare is a cause very close to my heart and I love nurturing this very important value in Iris. Today’s media, however, is so focused on shock tactics and scare-mongering that I’ve avoided showing her too much of it.

Black Beauty though is the perfect way to educate a six-going-on-seven-year-old because it doesn’t disguise the cruelty but it describes it in a matter-of-fact way without any gore or too much detail. A good sign of this was that while she remembered the saddest bit weeks after we’d finished the book, it wasn’t with horror but with sadness and empathy.

It didn’t give her nightmares but it gave her lots to think about. This, to my mind, is the mark of a true classic.

We’re currently reading Finding Black Beauty, Lou Kuenzler’s retelling of Black Beauty from the point of view of a young girl. So far it’s been just as good with a slightly different focus. Will post a review soon-ish.

Growing Up Subtly

So I had a minor-major mum moment on Sunday where I realised, slightly tearfully, that my baby is well and truly growing up.

Horns Tails Spikes and Claws by J. Elizabeth Mills and Jef Czekaj was one of my opshop finds a few years ago. It’s one of those mix-and-match books you can flip different parts of it to make strange and funny combinations of stuff. I got it in the hopes that Iris would entertain herself with it. She never really got into it so a month ago just before my last blog post, I decided it could go in the giveaway pile  along with another similar book.

img_0178

Last week, I took the pile out ready to give away to friends and family. This particular one was going to a friend with boys who might appreciate such humour more. From about Thursday she started flipping through the book and had a bit of fun with it, which I thought was just her usual reluctance to give her stuff away thing.

img_0181

On Sunday morning she comes over while I’m having my morning cuppa to ask me to pick a favourite combination. When I looked at it I saw this:

img_0179

On. Every. Single. Page. IN INK.

Now anybody who loves books will surely understand my abject horror when I saw a previously perfect book being desecrated. I was livid but in a moment of supreme control, which still amazes me, I did not immediately yell but told her that she’d have to be punished by not getting her allowance the following week (more on financial matters later). I then said I was so angry I couldn’t even talk to her anymore and went upstairs to get ready for church.

Not sure if it’s a good or bad sign but it seemed that my not yelling indicated to Iris that it wasn’t a big deal, because 15 minutes later she seemed to have forgot the whole thing. So, still not quite yelling but perhaps a bit more hysterical, particularly with crazy eyes, I asked her, knowing that she should not have done it, to think about and tell me why she did what she did.

She went to her room to change and came back five minutes later to say: “I like the book and I didn’t want to give it away.”

It hit me like being bowled over by a 20-kilo six-year-old that not only had she grasped the true intent of her feelings, which to my mind is pretty mature for a kid, but she admitted it to me and expressed it like such a big girl that I started tearing up immediately.

I gave her a big hug and told her how proud and grateful I was that she was being so honest.

This is why husband and I still steal into her room every night to look at her sleeping because it is only then that she still looks and behaves like our little baby. It’s utterly hilarious that despite knowing (and often wanting) that our children will grow up, just like how we know we’re all going to die, we still react with such shock when we see it happening. So please excuse me while I go sniff and cuddle Iris’s baby clothes.

Facing Fear with Fear

We are two weeks away from moving into our brand new house. Those in the know will be aware of the arduous nature of this particular journey. From the moment we chose a builder, it has been THREE years in the making. Rather than go into vent-mode, I have chosen to look forward and am allowing excitement to overtake my bitterness at the wait. So while we are in the throes of packing and readying ourselves for the move, I have had to pack away most of Iris’ books. The library has therefore become even more invaluable than before.

In fact, we’ve joined another council’s library, giving us access to four other libraries. Since Iris started full-time school, we’ve been going to the library a lot less so it’s been really lovely rediscovering the joys of borrowing books. We’ve also, thanks to a friend’s tip, started borrowing jigsaw puzzles and Iris is now able to listen to audio books. She is currently enjoying The Enchanted Tree, which is brilliant for us when she wakes up at 6am. More on that in another post.

In our last library haul was this absolute gem. I was, of course, drawn to the amazing painting-style illustrations but reading it has been equally enjoyable. In The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger, Timothy Basil Ering, uses imagination to combat the greatest enemy of childhood sleep – the imagination. Squidlegger_cover

Hamilton is a frog who loves pretend play, especially of the swashbuckling bent. However, this causes problems at bedtime when his overactive imagination makes him run to his parents’.

Squidlegger_p2-3

Squidlegger_p6-7

We all know co-sleeping is really no-sleeping for parents.

Squidlegger_p10

So his father employs two methods of dispensing of these nighttime terrors – reward and psychology.

Squidlegger_p14-15

The casual way he planted that nugget of inception was utterly brilliant and inspirational. So young Hamilton’s fears are turned on their head and he learns that the monsters he fights in the day and that terrify him at night can also be playmates. Well done Dad.

Squidlegger_p20-21

Squidlegger_p26-27

Squidlegger_spread

Squidlegger_p40

I also love Ering’s classic adventure-style prose.

 

The Case of the Mysterious Poo

The subject of poo for a parent can be distressing (lack of it), irksome (too much of it) or, if you’re lucky, nothing to worry about at all. Potty training in our house was the one developmental thing I can honestly say I barely passed. Firstly, the timing was ALL off. First time around, she wasn’t ready. Second time, we had moved to Perth a few months ago and she had transitioned to a kid bed. Oh boy. The first day she had a 67% success rate with pees so I thought it’d be a home run. With pees, it certainly was. With poos, absolutely not. She just REFUSED to poo in the potty. She would tell us exactly after doing one. The only time she would do it on the potty was if she was buck naked, which was hard in winter. Yup, it was one of my lowest parenting points. However, three months later, 06*ding* she just got it and went to do a poo all by herself. Kids are so wonderful and so strange.

So my relationship with poo has been complicated. Yes, I’m very happy it happens regularly (sometimes I bit too regularly). However, when I think of those three months of cleaning it off knickers and shorts and the floor, I still cringe.

However, I think we can all agree that the subject of poo to a child is one of enormous hilarity. When it is in a book and in drawing form, adults find it pretty funny too. So it was with great pleasure that I read The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch. Obviously a book about poo would be written by men. By the way, this was a comprehension reader, which for some reason made my giggle even more.

The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit

**SPOILER ALERT**

So, I’m going to just let the pictures do the talking. However, if you want to experience the poo humour for yourself, it’s a brilliant little introduction to the mystery genre for pre-schoolers with the added bonus of teaching them about different types of animal poo and comeuppance.

Lost in Wonderland

This is quite possibly the most exciting gift I have ever received, by proxy that is. Thanks to Iris’ most wonderful and almost psychic godmother, we now have one of the most beautiful books ever in our library. I was at least ten times more excited than Iris when she was presented the book.

Robert Sabuda is THE leading children’s pop-up book artist and paper engineer. Seriously, is there a more awesome job than doing cut and paste for a living?! Among his repertoire of absolutely, jaw-dropping gorgeous creations, Alice in Wonderland is one of his best. This is one post where words are basically useless and I have gone crazy with my phone camera. I still have the most ridiculous grin whenever I see it.

Disclaimer: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, LET ANYONE WHO WOULD CAUSE THIS BOOK ANY HARM TOUCH IT BECAUSE IF ANY OF THIS BREAKS YOU WILL CRY. Or at least I will.

Jpeg

Jpeg

Jpeg

20160511_141353

Jpeg

Jpeg

Jpeg

Jpeg

Jpeg