Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Turning nothing into something

Grandma bought this book, “Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat” for Tom, but really, I know she bought it for me too! You might think me unsophisticated when I confess this, but I can really identify with Milli. Now what does that say about me, that I feel a strong affinity with a character in a children’s picture book? Hmm ….

Stephen Michael King uses glorious watercolours to paint the story of Milli, a shoemaker, who spends her days making boring brown and black shoes for the people in her town. What she really wants to do is to make different things, for

Milli could take a thing that was a nothing… and make it … a something!

It is only when Jack and his dancing cat come into town and offer to teach Milli how to dance in exchange for new shoes, that something changes for Milli. A beautiful friendship begins, for the

dancing made Milli feel brave and free.

In return, she made her new friends wonderful things, made out of objects, old and forgotten. And she made things for herself, so

her shop was so spectacular that people came from far and wide to see it.

And nothing, after that, was ever the same as before.

In the beginning of the story, the colours are predominantly subdued browns, oranges, greys and greens, with splashes of colour around Milli. By the end of the story, there are brilliant yellows, blues, reds, greens and purples. I love how the illustrations create a sense of movement around Milli and Jack, of things happening. And I love how the text creates a sense of possibility, of imagining a different reality.

Tom made a fantastic ‘junk sculpture’ in his art class at a local centre. Because there is no glue or tape, he can take it apart and put it back together in new ways as often as he likes, adding bits and pieces as he finds them. Hmm, perhaps Grandma knew that Milli’s character might be reflected in both mother and son …

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bugs and their looks

This book, "Bugs in a Blanket" is a wonderful combination of beautiful story, gorgeous illustrations and valuable life lessons. The little bugs who live in a blanket in the garden have never met, until Little Fat Bug invites them all to his party. They are all very surprised to discover that even though they are all bugs, they don’t look the same.

Italian author and illustrator, Beatrice Alemagna, has made the pictures look so tactile – linen, wool, buttons, fabric, sequins, beads – you really want to touch each little bug.

It’s a pretty simple lesson for kids, that

in the blanket, just as in the rest of the world, we can’t choose what we look like – we are all born the way we are, and we’re all different.

Imagine what we adults would let go of if we embraced our “brightly speckled” coat or delighted in having “always been yellow all over”?

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Book About Books

Sometimes it’s just a given that kids will learn the ins and outs of a book. We spend so much time reading them the actual story, that we forget about how a book is actually constructed. I thought I knew the basics of a book – years at uni. taught me how to find the information I needed to put together a reference list at the end of every essay. It was only when I began to work as an editor and studied a postgraduate course in publishing that I realised how much goes into the ‘other’ sections of a book besides the main story or text.

Let me introduce you to Parsley Rabbit – our guide to book parts! Parsley has put together a book for us (with the help of author Frances Watts and illustrator David Legge!), appropriately called “Parsley Rabbit’s Book About Books”.

Parsley introduces us to endpapers, the title page and the imprint page. With the help of a carrot trail, he teaches us to read from left to right (something we often assume, but forget to point out to our small listeners). He discusses page numbers, flaps, fiction and non-fiction. He talks about sharing books, places to read books and giving books as presents.

Wish I had met Parsley in my early editing days – he would have taught me a lot!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Making a Mem Book

Tom and I are on a roll with our book-making. We created our own accordion books, based on Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord's instructions from her website. She has heaps of other ideas for making your own books - the photos of her book-making workshops are very inspiring.

As it's Book Week, we had to look at one of Mem Fox's books. But which one to choose? What to say about it that hasn’t already been said? So this is a brief list, my best attempt at conveying to you why we love this book, “The Magic Hat.”

- A magic hat – who wouldn’t want one?
- It’s funny – people changing into animals – hilarious!
- The anticipation – wait for it, wait for it – which animal will it be? Can
we guess the rhyme? Do we have any clues from the picture?
- The illustrations are joyful watercolours, with lots of detail by Tricia Tusa
- And the rhyme is wonderful -

Oh, the magic hat, the magic hat!
It moved like this, it moved like that!
It spun through the air and over a road
And sat on the head of a warty old …. Toad!

We used watercolour paints and had a go at painting the hat, the people and the wizard. Imitating the style of the illustrator gave us an appreciation into the correlation between the text and the pictures - you start to notice all the clues in the pictures which hint at the text on the next page. The magic blue hat with its ability to spin through the air was a perfect choice to illustrate our accordian books - which stretched out to accommodate the dancing antics of the hat!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Making books

We make quite a few of our own books – Tom is especially keen to have his own blank books to create in. Sometimes our books are completely made from scrap or recycled paper. Other books are made from whatever cardboard or stiff paper is lying around for the cover, and whatever blank paper is lying around for the pages. For this book, Tom was inspired by another of Gregory Roger’s books, this time, “The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard”. Isn’t that a fabulous title?

To make the books, we use my small scrapbook guillotine to cut the pages, and then cut a cardboard cover slightly larger. Sometimes we use a stapler to put them together, but usually I use my sewing machine to sew down the middle.

Tom’s story involved the 3D figure of wire and paper that he is making in his art class. “3D Tom” went on an adventure to have an ice-cream and only just made it back in time to the art class before “real Tom” discovered he was missing! Tom really loved following the comic book style of Gregory Roger’s books and using only pictures to tell his story.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reading aloud

One of the most important elements of reading aloud is how the words actually sound when reading them aloud. Because that’s what we do, isn’t it? We read the words aloud to our kids, because they can’t read them for themselves. (And because even when they can read for themselves, it's still lovely to listen to a story.) If the words don’t sound wonderful and interesting and entertaining to us, then we are not going to convey that excitement to our audience.

So this is an example of one of my favourite read-aloud books - “Tiger Can’t Sleep” by S. J. Fore. It makes me laugh so I exaggerate the frustrated voice of the little boy and the repentant voice of the tiger. This book calls out for loud, noisy shouts as well as quiet, soft whispers. Tom found this book at the library a few years ago, and we bought it for his birthday because he requested it so frequently.

The little boy in the story has just settled down to sleep in his comfortable bed but he

… can’t sleep because there’s a tiger in my closet … a tiger in my closet eating potato chips!

Crunch! Crunch! Crunch!

The tiger is most apologetic when the little boy tells him he is making too much noise, but this excitable tiger forgets to be quiet, so the noises continue all night – cartwheel spinning, tuba playing, bouncing a ball and so on.

It makes us smile to observe the way the little boy takes on the role of the adult –

And no more cartwheels! You are going to hurt yourself.

The tiger is the mischievous kid, full of good intentions but just unable to stop having fun and making noise.

Oops! Tiger is sorry. Tiger won’t make another sound.

Now, here’s a fancy word for you – onomatopoeia. (I did have to check my dictionary for the correct spelling, and I'm not entirely sure I know how to pronounce it!) Onomatopoeic words are formed by imitating sounds. So in our tiger book, we have the tiger eating chips – “Crunch! Crunch! Crunch!” He also does “Tap–tap! Tap-tap! Tap-tap!” as he tap dances in the closet.

So, you can explain the meaning of onomatopoeia to your kids if you want to or you can just use lots of emphasis and exaggeration when reading out these sounds!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Choosing books

It’s Book Week in Australia, and there are many literary events around the place. To celebrate Book Week at Earthly Joyride, I thought I would spend the week talking generally about children's books. Why should we read them to our children? How do you choose the right book for your child? What are the best books to read aloud? How can you make your own book?

First of all, how do you choose a good book for your child or any child, for that matter? My Mum always bought me books for my birthday and for Christmas. She still does. My kids always receive books for birthdays and for Christmas. And I tend to buy books for my nieces and nephews, as well as other children whose parties my kids are invited to. I figure that if those kids are in a family who love books, the book will be appreciated. And if that particular family is not into books, well it’s my responsibility to provide a quality book for them!

Seven steps for choosing a good book

1. If you can, read it all the way through from cover to cover. As the kids grow, the books become longer, but you can read a picture book all the way through while you’re in the bookshop. Read it aloud if you like. I have made one mistake in buying a book that I only flicked through at the bookshop. Once I read it to Tom at home, I haven’t read it since. Poor language, silly story.

2. Do you like it? You’re probably going to be the main person to read it aloud, so if you’re not enthusiastic at the first reading, you probably won’t be at the 117th reading.

3. Do you like the illustrations? Are the characters expressive? Do the pictures help to tell the story? Are there extra details in the pictures that aren’t mentioned in the story?

4. Is this book memorable? Does it make you think a little differently about the world? Does it have a unique viewpoint? Does it make you smile? Have you instantly thought about the child who will read it?

5. The language – is it funny? Joyful? Fluent? Enjoyable to read aloud? Beautiful? Evocative? Stirring?

6. Ask for help. The bookseller should be able to tell you the best dinosaur books, the most popular books for a four-year-old girl, the most recent releases and the books which have been nominated or have won an award.

7. If you have a particular book in mind, borrow it from the library. Read it with your child and see whether they like it. I can still remember Mum borrowing “A Little Bush Maid” by Mary Grant Bruce from the library for me. I loved it. A few weeks later, on my birthday, the whole set, all 15 of the Billabong books, were there on a bookshelf in the study for me. I still have them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Being fancy

The first Fancy Nancy book
Meet Nancy. Nancy has introduced our family to an amazing array of descriptive words. She also taught us about “being fancy”. Annalise and I are quite fond of … “what is that fancy word? Oh, yes! – some accessories.” We gasp and say, “Ooo-la-la!” We drive in a limousine, not a car. When I ferry kids to school and kinder, I am no longer a driver but a chauffeur. We add the occasional French word in conversation because “everything in French sounds fancy.”

Note how the illustrations extend the story
Nancy is a sensation. She stands out in all her glitter, feathers, lace, bows and frills from her plain family. If you don’t know Nancy, you might think from this description that she might not be role model material. But Nancy isn’t pretentious. Oh no! She uses a mop and broom to create a canopy bed for herself. Sticky-tape is evident among the fanciness. This is not designer fancy but homemade fancy. Her parents and younger sister keep her well-grounded. There’s a disaster or two, with a lesson to be learnt. You would be more than happy for your daughter to visit their house, with such sensible parents. Your daughter would come home, though, thoroughly glittered, sparkled, frilled and speaking French. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Hand-me-down boots for Annalise, with a broken zip that was 'fixed' using sticky-tape, so she could be fancy!
I love how Nancy lingo has extended our family vocabulary – “My favourite colour is fuchsia. That’s a fancy way of saying purple.” We are always finding a fancy way to say something. My sisters-in-law introduce their small daughters to a new ‘fancy’ word a day, thanks to Nancy. It’s wonderful to think that two-year-olds can use the word “splendiferous” in conversation!

Jilly's cot, comfortable but perhaps a bit plain
I love how the gorgeous, detailed pictures by Robin Preiss Glasser capture Nancy’s spirit. There is something new to discover on every page, even after the hundredth reading.

I love how my son at four and five found Nancy quite humorous and liked quoting her.

And I love being fancy with my girl!

Jilly's 'fancy' cot - paintbrushes and hairbands make a wonderful makeshift canopy bed!
PS. There are other Fancy Nancy books to be reviewed here. I’m just introducing you slowly, lest you feel too “understated” in her presence. Let me know if you have any Fancy Nancy stories to share.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Potion potential

There were a lot of arguments in our house between the two older ones. Typical sibling stuff. I tried to block my ears so I could concentrate on cooking dinner. Then it became quiet, too quiet.

Annalise had started mixing glue with water to try a little painting. Tom decided it was worth joining in. Then the small cups of gluey water with sequins, pipe cleaners, feathers and staples were taken outside so that grass, chalk, leaves and twigs could be mixed in. More water was added so it would “grow”. It had become a potion!

The potion in this green bucket does not have quite the same magical power as the potion in this witch’s cauldron. Lucky – I don’t really have the storage room for a witch’s broom…

Julia Donaldson’s books are made for reading aloud – the rhyme and repetition are fabulous. We have used them as a reader for Tom because there is such satisfaction in saying the lines aloud.

How the cat purred
and how the witch grinned,
As they sat on their broomstick
and flew through the wind.

But how the witch wailed
and how the cat spat
When the wind blew so wildly
it blew off the hat.

The witch in “Room on the Broom” is a bona fide witch because she has a long hooked nose with a wart. But she is quite a kind witch and very hospitable to the animal friends she meets on her travels. Which is just as well really, because she needs their help when she bumps into a dragon.

Even a reluctant reader would feel satisfaction at saying this line aloud –

“Buzz off! –
That’s my witch!”

Windy night here in Melbourne. Wonder whether there are any witches flying around, looking for a pre-made potion? Wonder whether you can make a potion to promote sibling peace and harmony?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An "ahh..." book

This book, "On the Night You Were Born" is one of those “ahh…” books. It gave me shivers the first time I read it to Baby Joe. I bought it for his first birthday, and really, every single baby should be given this book, by Nancy Tillman, in their first year.

Read this aloud to yourself now –

On the night you were born,
the moon smiled with such wonder
that the stars peeked in to see you
and the night wind whispered,
‘Life will never be the same.’

Because there had never been anyone like you …
ever in the world.

Every single baby deserves to have this passage read to them lovingly.
Every single child needs to feel that the world welcomes them for their individuality.
Every adult needs to be reminded that

…never before in story or rhyme
(not even once upon a time)
has the world ever known a you, my friend,
And it never will, not ever again …

Monday, August 16, 2010

A soft, stretchy, slightly straight scarf

After I cleaned up the lunch dishes, tucked Baby Joe into his cot, discovered (and then dismissed) the mess in the family room, I really needed a cup of tea. In peace. So Annalise and I sat on the couch, with a pile of books, our own individual pile of books, and read. Except of course, that Annalise found my book more interesting than hers. And then the man from the bank called. And then Joe needed to be settled again.

But then, Annalise found this project for herself in Kelly Doust’s “The Crafty Kid”. And I thought, why not?

Kelly’s suggestion for a new, recycled scarf is an old t-shirt, but we found an old bunny rug instead. Stained but soft and stretchy. I cut a slightly straight scarf, avoiding the stains, then cut out a gorgeous red circle from Saffron Craig’s owl panel. (I have framed another of her owls in a wooden hoop - love them!) I blanket-stitched it onto the end of the scarf (you can also use overcasting stitches). Ta-dah!

Only took half an hour. Time for another cup of tea.

I think we will be creating a few more things from this book – there are patterns for an apron, a wonderful tablecloth, a little girl pinafore, a beanbag, a library bag. The emphasis is on recycling materials, and creating projects with and for children.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It’s my birthday …

Yes, it’s my birthday today! My gorgeous children and husband have spoilt me with homemade cards, hugs and lovely, thoughtful presents. I had a fancy lunch out with friends, and my family came over for pizza tonight. Perfect.

While the anticipation for an adult birthday does not match that of a child’s excitement for their own birthday, it’s still absolutely a day worth celebrating. I think as an adult, birthdays can become just as much of a measuring tool as a milestone. A bit like New Year’s Eve but without the fireworks. Time for a stocktake. Time to count your blessings. And there is plenty to be grateful for.

In this book by Helen Oxenbury, the little boy tells all his friends that:

It’s my birthday, and I’m going to make a cake.

Beautiful watercolour illustrations from Helen Oxenbury. Lovely story about everyone contributing. A funny, hold-your-breath ending. And it does end with cake, so all’s well in the world.

Lucky me, look at the cake my clever brother-in-law made! Would you like the last piece?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Laundry inspiration

I'm not really sure that there is such a thing as laundry inspiration! Washing that needs to be soaked. Clothes that need to be ironed. Washing that needs to be re-washed because the strawberry stains didn't come out the first time. Clothes that need to be handwashed. Clothes that absolutely cannot, must never go in the dryer but accidentally did. Clothes that were nearly dry from hanging on the line which are now wet because of a sudden shower.

So today, in the midst of a wet winter washing day, I’m focusing on four washing books, well chosen by Grandma for Annalise, to make me smile.

“Washing Line” by Jez Alborough - this is “a flip-flap book’, with bright, humorous pictures of animals waiting to put on their clothes which are hanging on the line.

“What are we going to do now we’re all wearing our dry clothes?” asked the flamingo, the orang-utan, the mouse and the giraffe.

Just guess what the elephant decides to do next!

“Mrs McNosh Hangs up her Wash” by Sarah Weeks – Mrs McNosh not only hangs up all of her clothes but

She hangs up the dog
And his dish and his bone.
She gets a wrong number
And hangs up the phone.

I think toddlers will find the odd things hanging on the line very amusing.

“Miss Llewellyn-Jones” by Elaine Forrestal – the repetition in this book makes it appealing for little ones.

Miss Llewellyn-Jones hung her jeans out to dry. The wind blew. The pegs snapped. Her jeans flew … flip flap.

The humour lies in the illustrations which show just exactly where her jeans flew.

“Zippity Zebra and the Windy Day” by Claire Henley – this book has ‘fuzzy’ black and white striped clothes to find on every page – it’s nice to read a book where kids are encourage to point and touch.

We made our own washing line picture, because somehow a miniature washing line and tiny clothes and pegs just seem like a lot more fun than a grown-up laundry basket full of ironing! We used the back of a large cereal box, and glued on our painted picture. A holepunch made a hole on the two short sides, and we threaded a string through, using sticky tape at the back. Two icy-pole sticks for the supports. Thanks to Grandma for the tiny clothes and pegs!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Soup night

Soup for dinner. This version of lamb shank soup, really hearty and nourishing, was adapted from a Notebook magazine recipe.

Lamb shank soup
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 lamb shanks
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, green fronds removed, finely chopped – use half if you think the flavour might be too strong
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1L beef stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Serves a family of five

Heat olive oil in a large, deep pot. Add lamb shanks and brown on all sides for about five minutes. Remove from the saucepan.
Add carrots, celery, onion, fennel and garlic and cook for three to four minutes, until the onion is soft.
Add the lamb shanks back into the pot. Add the stock and tomato paste.
Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for two hours.
When the meat is falling off the bones, remove lamb shanks from the pot. Shred the meat and add back to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Like lamb shank soup, there are quite a few versions of this traditional story, “Stone Soup.” We have the Zen version by Jon J Muth, but there is also one where the fox makes the soup with the help of other animals and another which has a traveller as the soup maker and an old woman who finds all the vegetables. This Zen version doesn’t focus on the stone soup maker, out to gain some food, but rather tells the story of three Buddhist monks who wish to spread enlightenment. The author’s note provides a lot of detail about the origins of the story and the symbols he explored using a Buddhist story tradition.

Hok, Lok and Siew travel to a remote village in China, where the villagers are fearful and selfish.

“These people do not know happiness,” they all agreed.
“But today,” said Siew, his face as bright as the moon,” we will show them how to make stone soup.”

The soup begins with a stone, until the curious villagers begin to appear and gradually offer a vegetable or spice.

Siew took a taste. “The last time we had soup stones of this size and colour, carrots made the broth very sweet.”
“Carrots?” said a woman from the back. “I may have a few carrots! But just a few.”

Of course, the soup becomes more and more delicious as the villagers become more and more giving.

“And to think,” said the monks, “to be happy is as simple as making stone soup.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Eggs with hats and eggs with flutes

Everyone knows the story of Humpty Dumpty. Not so many know the story of his little sister, Dimity. Now her story can be told …

What an epic opener for a story about an egg! “Dimity Dumpty, the Story of Humpty’s Little Sister” by Bob Graham balances evocative, lyrical writing with an original, exciting, funny plot.

Dimity’s parents and her brother Humpty are part of a travelling circus. They perform on the trapeze, no mean feat for a family of eggs. Dimity, however, is more retiring, and prefers to play

her silver flute –
soft as a snail on a cabbage leaf,
quiet as the grass growing on the hill,
gentle as a beetle’s breath,
making sounds known only to birds
and things that slide in the night.

No light had ever caught Dimity in its bright glare.

However, when she is needed, Dimity finds her voice and her courage.

The illustrations are a great discussion point for perspective and size – you can see the wonderful contrast between Humpty and the soldiers and their horses – yes, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” do get a mention!

Our own eggs for dinner were not quite as adventurous as Humpty or as musical as Dimity. However, they did look pretty! The instructions for the hats came from “Usborne Activities – Easter things to make and do”. The hats were made in the time it took for the eggs to boil! 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Painting fruit

We have some new watercolour paints, and looking around for a few models, I found this book, “Orange Pear Apple Bear” by Emily Gravett. After all, if fruit has been the subject for many a fine artist, it is surely good enough for us!

The simplicity of this book makes it perfect for toddlers. Easy to read, easy to understand and beautiful to look at. And once you look at the pictures in order to recreate them, you start to realise that the simplicity is actually very clever. A bear that looks like a pear? How unusual! But how apt!

My kids have enjoyed this book as babies, toddlers, early readers, and now, we're using it as an example for art. Excellent value.