Monday, March 19, 2012

A classic school tale

'I'm not interested in creating a book that is read once and then placed on the shelf and forgotten. I am very happy when people have worn out my books, or that they're held together by Scotch tape.'
Richard Scarry

Richard Scarry is a writer and illustrator from my childhood, and his books are definitely classics to keep. His annotated pictures offer plenty of opportunities for young readers to pore over the details and to make the connection between the pictures and the words.

'Great Big Schoolhouse', another school story for my school series like this one and this one, tells the story of Huckle, a young cat. Huckle rides the school bus, learns something new every day from Miss Honey, his teacher, plays in the playground with his friends (remember Lowly Worm, anyone?), learns the alphabet, counts to ten, learns how to tell the time and the months of the year, among many other things.

This book is fabulous for encouraging kids to look at books by themselves, as the labels for all the different objects make it easy for 'pretend' reading aloud. There's also lots of humour in the story and illustrations.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Autumn leaves for art and story-telling

It is Autumn in Melbourne, and the weather in the past week has definitely left Summer behind - even though the forecast for the next few days will make a liar out of me!

So thanks to a leaf template from Alphabet Glue, Volume Three, this week I made an Autumn tree for our pinboard - the same pinboard that was covered in this a year or so ago.

Sometimes it's fabulous to create a new project alongside the kids - other times it's great to put it all up and surprise them. This one was a surprise - the big kids came home one day from school and found this ...

And then they promptly added their own touch to it - which was exactly what I wanted!

Annie at Alphabet Glue suggested using these leaf templates as bunting to showcase your child's story. I decided to use the leaves to create an ongoing story, written a leaf at a time, by anyone who felt like it. I used brown packaging paper for the tree and odd bits of scrapbook paper for the leaves. I pinned the blank leaves to the tree, and then used string and pegs to attach the 'story' leaves as they are written.

Our story so far includes a tree, an alien and a paper plane - who knows where it will finish?

Monday, March 5, 2012

"This is almost easy" cupcakes

We have been without an oven for six months. Six months! I kid you not! While waiting for a part to arrive in Australia (thanks to our inherited Italian oven), we have cooked pasta, stir-fry and risotto, and pan-fried or barbequed our meat. But the list of what we have missed is long - cakes of all descriptions, this blueberry scone, slices, rhubarb crumble, chocolate pudding, roast lamb, zucchini slice, chicken parmigiana, these chocolate chip biscuits, scones, baked snapper, homemade pizza ....

But last week, the oven part arrived and was installed by my wonderful neighbour - and we have literally been cooking with gas!

Annalise requested cupcakes, and we chose our recipe from this picture book - "Ruby and Leonard and the Great Big Surprise" by Judith Rossell. Ruby and Leonard are two mice who decide to cook some cupcakes as a surprise for their brothers and sisters. "It will be easy," Leonard said.

I am slightly biased towards this book as Jude, the author and illustrator, taught me in an RMIT writing course last year. And now I am even more biased after cooking her cupcake recipe!

This is a lovely book for kids who love to cook. My kids have cooked enough with me to know that of course, you need eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla essence etc to make cupcakes. So the instructions in the story are already familiar. Annalise tended to agree with Ruby - "This is almost easy," said Ruby.

The humour comes from the illustrations - gorgeous mice with heaps of personality who are cracking eggs, sifting flour and mixing ingredients. The scale of the illustrations - small mice trying to manage large cooking utensils - really appealed to Annalise's imagination.

And the cupcakes really appealed to all of us! The kids mixed up the icing - Tom's lurid blue is nowhere near as delicate as Jude's colours - but apparently it tasted good!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

'Hugo' book vs movie

My Mum, being the literary trendsetter that she is, gave me a copy of 'Hugo' when it first came out in 2007. I loved the combination of illustrations and words - a perfect blend where, as in all good picture books, the illustrations tell the story when the words are silent.

Over the Christmas holidays, I read it to Tom and Annalise. It was really for Tom (age 8), but like most second-born kids, Annalise (age 5) did not want to miss out on anything that Tom was doing. They both felt that listening to the whole thick book of over 500 pages was quite an achievement, and like me, they loved the combination of illustration and words. Needless to say, there has been quite a bit of detailed cross-hatching drawing going on!

While I promised both the kids I would take them to see the movie once we had read the book, I decided to take just Tom. That's one of the differences between a book and film - the scary parts of a film are really magnified. I was glad that Annalise stayed at home, cooking with her Dad, rather than seeing the film - I think it would have been too complex for her.

Tom and I were both enthralled! I loved all the Paris scenery and Tom loved the cogs and wheels of the clocks. Being a fix-it, muck around with bits of wire and wood sort of kid, he was fascinated with the mechanical man.

We both liked the way the characters were portrayed - I can forgive differences in the plot but I dislike changed characters from the book to the film.

I'm glad the film used one of my favourite scenes from the book, where Hugo and Isabelle look out over Paris from one of the largest clocks in the station.

Hugo tells Isabelle: I like to imagine that the word is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.

Quite a liberating thought, isn't it, that we have exactly everything we need and that there is nothing else necessary. Parenting seems to require a spare part for everything - extra lolly bags in case an extra kid turns up to the party, the ubiquitous set of spare clothes in the car, small packets of tissues in every pocket, handbag and backpack, prepared snacks in case we are ever stuck anywhere without food ... Although I am reluctant to give up my extra tissues, perhaps I can take comfort in the fact that just maybe I have everything necessary within to parent my kids?