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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?

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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 ⭐

The Flight of the Gay, Innocent and Heartless

This past year, doors have opened while others have closed. For example, I got the perfect job for my current stage of life, while learning to let a few of my housekeeping standards go so that I can keep my sanity. I’ve had to learn to manage my time even better so that I can fit in some of my hobbies and passions. What has been drummed into my stubborn shell through all this is that God has my back and everything always works out in the end because of this. Does this mean I stop worrying? Of course not because I’m a mum, but it helps give me a lot of perspective and I probably have less sleepless nights as a result.

For the first time last year, I set myself a reading challenge. In the past I’ve just tried to devour read as many books as possible. Ever since having Iris, the annual total has plummeted. With the advent of her starting formal school and being much more independent, I thought it was time to get back to my pre-baby reading pace. I have to admit, I cheated a bit by putting in books that were marginally longer than novelettes. However, one thing I didn’t bank on that has been such a boost for both my reading and Iris’s is what I read to her at bedtime. We progressed to longer, more wordy books in the second half of 2016 starting with my favourite Dahls. In 2017 we read, Black Beauty, Finding Black Beauty, Danny the Champion of the World, Peter Pan and Matilda twice! We’ve started 2018 with another of my ab favs, The Secret Garden and intend to continue on to other classics and more modern treasures such as Brian Selznic’s masterpieces. Perhaps when I’ve managed to practise my various British accents more, I’ll do a recording just for posterity. It’s also been fairly interesting to see how my opinion of books I thought I knew so well has changed as I’ve grown up. Where previously I shared in Danny and his father’s opinion that poaching from Victor Hazell was perfectly justified because he was an obnoxious, conceited twit who had too much ill-gotten money for his own good. As I read it anew with my daughter, along with most of Dahl’s work, I realised how flawed his morals actually were. Perhaps that’s why I loved them to begin with. However, what I’ve loved more than anything else, is sharing all my childhood gems with Iris and seeing my joy of the written word reflected in her.

Over the past year, I’ve also witnessed my daughter mature in leaps and bounds and while it’s made me tear while secretly watching her toddler and baby videos over and over, I’ve also had so much to be proud of. So what better book to end the year and teach me about trust, especially trusting my own daughter and her choices than J M Barrie’s everlasting classic?

This is the first time I read Peter Pan. I know, I know, like what?! How is that possible? Well all I can say is, there are a lot of books in the world and I moved on to adult classics pretty early.

I wouldn’t really classify this as an “interactive” book which is how it’s described. Most of the extras are just to look at as seen in the pics. The illustrations are beautiful, however, as is the binding so I’m still very happy with it.

As we started the book I thought the profoundly stilted and old-style language would be too much for Iris. At times she did seem to get a bit lost but overall, I was very pleasantly surprised that she got all the jokes and even shushed me when I wanted to over-explain stuff.

I have to admit I got embarrassingly emotional when the children flew out the window and when they returned. Of course I know it’s all metaphorical but how can any mum not feel when your kids decide to abandon you?

Perhaps it was divine timing for me to read this as a mum than as a child. I’m certainly treasuring every moment she still turns to me for support and cuddles more but at the same time, I know I’ll need to let her fly when the time comes and trust that she’ll come back if and when she needs to. I just have to leave the window open.

The Final Countdown

Don’t know if anybody else shares my dilemma but my end of year reading selections tend to lean towards the quick reads. This is because I’m trying to bump up my annual number of books read in a last sprint to the finish so to speak. This year, I’ve actually engaged in a public online reading challenge so the pressure is on to finish those last 7 books. Yet I also want them to be holiday-themed. Gosh #firstworldproblems eh?

Well after several days of faffing, I’ve finally narrowed it down and am pretty happy with it. First up, Murder on the Orient Express because of the movie and it’ll be my third reread of the year (see previous post on justifying massive book collection). However, I will read it after the movie only so I can imagine Johnny in his role as I read. #yum

Under the Net because it’s red (Christmassy) and I’ve not read a Murdoch in awhile. Instructions for A Heatwave because we live in WA. The Age of Magic, again Christmassy and has been on my TBR pile for ages. The Snow Child and The Christmas Story obvious.

It’s the last one that excites me the most though. Peter Pan is one of the few children’s classics I have not read though I’ve watched many film adaptations and it is totally my kind of storyline and genre.

I bought this copy as a present to myself last year and was going to read it with Iris in anticipation of watching the WA Ballet’s production of Peter Pan. Though we’ve decided to go to Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk instead, I’m still going to read this with her during the holidays.

Review and (hopefully) more blog posts soon!

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

Mama Humour

So I just realised I forgot to post the pics of my library in my last post. Here it is!

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Admittedly, we don’t spend a huge amount of time reading here. However, I’m guessing this will change once we get the custom seat cushion for the bench put in.

To combat the hypocrisy of berating my husband for keeping 30-year-old text books, I have decided to reread at least three books a year to validate their shelf space. In particular, my last book of the year will be a reread. My inaugural read for the year was Raymond Chandler’s High Window. Yet again I was struck by his smooth prose. He epitomises the film noir genre and his dialogue is pure gold. Highly recommended.

I also viciously attacked Iris’s book hoard and managed to whittle it down by EIGHT books! Out of like two hundred but hey, to a book addict this is still pretty big.

Anyway with that massive effort, I thought I could afford to get Iris a new book.

So you know how sometimes when your kid has asked you about a million on five questions? So at a million and six you decide to give them the most ridiculous answer you can think of just to see if they buy it? This book is all about that. It allows us to talk rubbish and allows our kids to TRY and correct us. Furthermore, because I love using that word, we get to argue with our kids exactly like how they argue with us over every. single. thing.

This is a ball

Much like The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak, This is a ball by Beck and Matt Stanton gives the kind of dry humour that both children and adults would understand.

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As you can see, it’s the kind of book that would make people go -_-. This is my kind of humour.

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And it continues on in this vein.

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Right up to the not-ending.

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Hopefully, she’ll be chuckling along with me to Blackadder in no time!