Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas lanterns and Santa sacks - days 7 and 8

Oops, missed yesterday - too much going on! Yesterday we were going to make Christmas lanterns like these ones but there was too much basketball and playdough happening. Another day. But our willow branches are starting to look lovely with the Advent stars hanging on them.

Today we pulled out the Santa sacks, one for each of us. I bought the plain bags a few years ago from Andrea at Flora and Ceres and embroidered our initials.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Setting up the nativity - day 6

Today we read Martin Waddell's "Room for a little one", one of my favourite Christmas stories. The story and the illustrations are gentle, and my kids enjoy hearing the traditional story of the nativity told from the animals' viewpoint. We are always repeating the title, "There's always room for a little one here!" as someone tries to squeeze in on the couch or find a spare knee!

The Christmas star in the Advent calendar for today suggested we should set up our nativity. When my Grandad died about eight years ago, Mum gave me his old nativity set. We set it up for a few years but each year another piece would literally crumble in our hands. So a couple of years ago we bought a beautiful wooden set from Honeybee Toys. We use the kids' farmhouse as the stable, and today they pulled out the fairy/farm playmat I made for them a couple of years ago. (Not really sure how many fairy flower rings there were in Bethlehem!) Tom found our farmhouse animals and aded them to the stable too, even the wonky sheep.

When we chose our wooden nativity set, I wanted one that the kids could play with, one that wasn't precious or just for looking at on a high shelf. Annalise made up her own nativity story - Mary, Joseph and Jesus were lost by our windowsill - but, wait, wait for it - their guardian angel came flying, flying, flying all over the family room until she found them and showed them the way to the stable.

I hope Grandad would approve of this modern version ...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas carols - day 4

Twenty minutes last night searching for the Christmas CD. One minute to put it in the CD player. Thirty seconds for the kids to open the fourth window in the Advent calendar this morning. One second for me to press play. Voila - our Christmas carols!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas wreath - day 3

Our Christmas wreath is very simple - a green one with a big red bow and a stem of red berries wrapped around it. We had good intentions to hang it on the door today, but a family birthday kept us busy. So here leans our wreath, on the hall table, about three feet away from the front door. Maybe tomorrow ...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lighting the Christmas candle - day 2

Annalise opened the Advent calendar window this morning - and there was an invitation to light the Christmas candle. We did light it for breakfast this morning but we will light it for dinner every night and perhaps for bedtime stories. The scent is divine!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Advent calendar - day 1

Last year we did something a little different with our Advent calendar. Instead of filling it with the usual lollies, chocolates and small treats, I placed a cardboard Christmas shape with a string for hanging and a message. The message gave the kids an idea for doing something Christmasy.

This year, we're going to do the same, and I'm going to blog about it each day. (Is that a little ambitious - a blog post every day in December? A December which already seems to be filled to the brim with family birthdays and end-of-year gatherings?) Wish me luck!

I have already cut out star shapes using a Christmas biscuit cutter, and hole-punched them with a string for hanging. My three kids will take it in turns to open a box in the Advent Calendar each day (thank goodness 24 is divisible by 3!) and can then hang the star on our willow branches in a vase. I have written all the Christmas ideas on the stars, with a few blanks for flexibility. Some of the ideas are very simple, so we can do them in five minutes before school. Other ideas are for more leisurely weekend crafting.

I am hoping this will spread out the Christmas cooking, decorating, eating, crafting and giving, and build up - in a gentle way - the Christmas excitement.

This was all inspired by Madeleine L'Engle's "The twenty-four days before Christmas". I loved her book "A wrinkle in time" and have recently read her wonderful series for young teenagers about the Austin family. This Christmas book is about the Austin family but can be read as a story alone and is suitable for younger readers. Vicky, the main character who tells the story, is seven. I'm planning on reading the first chapter to my bunch tonight - although it might turn out to be a book just for Tom (nearly eight).

I'd love to hear what you are doing for Advent!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Qantas strike as explained by a picture book

The Qantas strike has meant we are still on holidays in sunny Queensland, unable to fly home. Isn't that devastating - another day or two or three of holidays?

At the fabulous local bookshop here, I bought a picture book called "Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type" by Doreen Cronin. Intriguing title, isn't it? Farmer Brown has a problem - he has cows that can type demanding letters. And they have threatened to hold back their milk if their demands for electric blankets aren't met. And the cows are typing letters for the hens as well - the hens are witholding their eggs. Farmer Brown calls on Duck, a neutral party. There are more typed letters and negotiation until the terms are settled.

Can you guess where I'm going with this? Yes, you can use this story to explain the Qantas strike to kids! Unhappy workers (3 unions/cows and hens), demands (equal pay/electric blankets), strike action (cancelled flights/no milk or eggs) and neutral party (Duck aka Fair Work)... You can see the similiarities, can't you?

And after all that, it is just such a fun book to read aloud - Click clack moo, Click clack moo, Clickety clack moo!

Meanwhile, I'm just going to sit by the pool, read this story again to any of my kids who aren't in the water and wait for the cows and Farmer Brown to stop typing letters and sort our flights out ...

Monday, October 17, 2011

BIG kids magazine

BIG kids magazine is here - a fabulous magazine for kids which values the art of children alongside that of artists. I have been lucky enough to be involved with BIG as a copy editor - a wonderfully creative collaboration with Jo and Lilly. But even though my kids have seen the magazine in draft form and enjoyed some of the activities when they were still in proof form, they were so thrilled to see and hold the 'real' magazine!

So far we have built boat parts, cooked artcakes, coloured in the artprint, shown our bird's nest photo featured in the miniature art gallery, painted birds outside and read the 'First Flight' story over and over again! And there is still a lot more to discover!

One of my favourite things about BIG is that for every copy sold, another copy is provided to a child who may not usually have access to such a resource.

I am also enjoying our conversations about exactly what bravery, imagination and generosity means ...

The second issue will be available in February.

Jo and Lilly interviewed me on their BIG blog - please go and visit!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our awesome books

I had heard about this book by Dallas Clayton, "An Awesome Book" but had never been able to track it down. Bookshops told me it would be available in March 2012. But I knew that it had actually been published! It wasn't until Katie and Lou at We heart books explained to me that Dallas had self-published his book, but had subsequently signed a contract with Harper Collins to publish "An Awesome Book" with them. A-ha!

Luckily for me, Katie and Lou have limited copies at their online bookshop, We heart books. They also have a wonderful selection of really unique and special books. Such good quality and so many books I had never heard of - and I do spend a fair bit of time in the children's section of bookshops! I bought a couple of fabulous books for Annalise's birthday from them - that's for a later post - and they arrived immediately, beautifully presented.

Once Tom, Annalise and I had read "Awesome", we dreamed a dream as big as big could ever dream to be ... and we made our own awesome books! I spent an hour one night, writing the prompts for their blank books, based on the ideas in Dallas' book, and left them out on the table for them to discover in the morning. The photos tell the rest of the story. (The food in the last photos were to make magic watermelon boats ... maybe ours weren't magical but they were certainly edible!)

Tom's dream is to be a fabulous basketball player. I would suspect Annalise dreams of being a princess. When I was small, I told Dad my dream was to be a Mummy and an Avon lady ... so far, I've only achieved one of my childhood dreams ...!

If anyone would like a list of the awesome prompts I wrote for our books, please contact me and I can email you the list. You can also go into a draw to win a copy of "An Awesome Book" by responding to the launch issue of BIG magazine - more on this wonderful new magazine soon!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Silhouette pictures for Father's Day

My husband received a pair of slippers for Father's Day from the kids because his old pair were nearly trotting themselves off to the rubbish bin - too many holes even for ventilation purposes! But we also made him a present that was just for him - three silhouette pictures of the kids.

Brooke at Inchmark has made beautiful silhouettes in many different forms and her instructions are clear to follow and inspiring. I took an individual, profile photo of the kids - not easy when the two-year-old wants to wriggle and look in every other direction! I printed the photos, cut around the heads, then traced them onto black cardboard, cut them out and framed them.

Lots of wonderful Dads in these picture books. Dads who build cubby houses, carry small boys on their shoulders to provide a different viewpoint of the world, look for lost toys, care for injured birds, realise the importance of bedtime kisses, put up with grumpy behaviour ... The wonderful character of Dads represented in these picture books, just as in real life, are far more unique and individual than a pair of slippers!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Week in Australia

It is the Children's Book Council of Australia Annual Book Week! Lots of events going on - I have already visited a fabulous bookshop, a new (to me) local online bookshop, a school book fair and am looking forward to kinder duty later in the week with a 'come as your favourite book character' theme!

The books in the photos below were purchased at Books Illustrated, a beautiful Melbourne bookshop in Middle Park. I did buy most of them as presents for my kids' birthdays - I hope I can keep them hidden for that long ...

As you can see, a couple of them were signed by the author or illustrator, which always makes a book feel more personal to me.

Books Illustrated was open to the public last Saturday for National Bookshop Day. Usually, they are open by appointment only, as they focus now on travelling exhibitions. They specialise in Australian children's books, and are a wonderful showcase for picture book illustrations - you can buy many original and limited illustrations there. Lots of wonderful stories, beautiful illustrations - and I was met at the door by two dogs and offered a cup of tea (not by the dogs!) - what more can you ask for in a bookshop?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alphabet Glue and Monet

I recently came across an art and literature magazine for kids - via BIG Kids magazine - which just made my heart sing! Alphabet Glue is created by Annie Riechmann, of Bird and Little Bird blog. It's an affordable, downloadable magazine which you can print out - there are two issues available now. We made three activities within three days of reading them!

Alphabet Glue includes suggested reading lists for kids, print-outs for library catalogue cards, bookmarks, reading records and story cards, as well as instructions for book-making projects and detective activities.

Our story lanterns were based on Laurence Anholt's "The Magical Garden of Claude Monet". We loved the idea of a circular studio room. Monet tells Julie, his young visitor that he is trying to paint the most enormous water garden in the world. When you stand in the middle, you will feel as if you have dived into a pool. 

There is factual information about Monet at the end of the book. Annalise's favourite page - below - opens out to present Monet's pond. The brush marks glowed like flowers in a garden. This picture book is quite long - more for younger primary school students than kinder kids - you might need to turn it into a "chapter" book and read it in two or three sections for small ones.

Laurence Anholt has written a series about famous artists and his books tell a lovely story, while giving seemingly incidental snippets about the artists. Anholt illustrated all of these artist books - imagine being able to imitate the artistic style of not only Monet but Picasso, van Gogh, Degas and Matisse as well!

Tom used a jungle theme for his lantern, Annalise a garden. Annie's instructions were simple to follow, and the kids feel really proud of their lanterns, especially as we leave them on the table and light them for dinner.

Thinking these might make fabulous Christmas gifts for those special grandparents and teachers ...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Zoo art

Sometimes literature and art just need to be simple. Less is best. "My heart is like a zoo" is one of Joe's favourite books. One of his party tricks is to imitate all the animal noises - such a rite of passage for a two-year-old!

The short amount of text on each page is just enough to hold his attention. The similes are unique and imaginative - rugged as a moose or bothered as a bull with a hornet in its hair or peaceful as a portly walrus lounging on a towel.

The illustrations are made of heart shapes - Michael Hall used hundred of hearts to create his zoo animals. The last page is gorgeous - one of those "a-ha" moments for adult and child readers alike. Won't spoil it for you! Annalise just had to have a go at creating her own heart collages.

I traced around our set of heart-shaped biscuit cutters on construction paper, cut them out and then Annalise glued them on scrap paper.

I'm not sure that her animals are anatomically correct - they are her "made-up animals, you know" but they're as wonderfully bright as Michael Hall's animals.

More zoo books here and here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Melbourne outings

It's been a while since I've posted. But even though I've been busy with editing projects and writing courses, we've still been reading, of course!

Pamela Allen's book, 'Alexander's Outing', is set in Sydney but here in Melbourne, we have taken it to heart. During our own outings in the recent school holidays, we have quoted extensively from Alexander's mother, "Stay close, take care!" Most of the time it was a gentle reminder to my kids - but sometimes it was a rather loud or anxious quack!

Alexander and his mother and four brothers and sisters set out in search of adventure. But unlike his brothers and sisters, Alexander did not stay close or take care. So of course he gets into trouble, and it takes many interested onlookers and a brilliant idea to rescue him.

There are gorgeous, active illustrations which show all the drama and fun and problem-solving. Lots of white space so the flapping wings really stand out.

My two-year-old loves ducks, and loves this book because of all the "quacks". Remember this post? We might have to make some yellow playdough again. Or perhaps see whether Alexander has meandered down to a local Melbourne park?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The best blueberry recipe

On this first day of Autumn, I am looking back wistfully to summer's blueberry bounty to bring you our favourite blueberry recipe and our favourite blueberry book. Yes, of course, there is a blueberry book - 'Blueberry Girl' by Neil Gaiman!

It is the perfect present for a baby girl, or a girl of any age really. Who doesn't need to be blessed like this: Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear.

Or perhaps like this: Truth is a thing she must find for herself, precious and rare as a pearl. Give her all these and a little bit more ... gifts for a blueberry girl.

I love how the blueberry girl - a different looking girl throughout the illustrations - is watched over by ladies of light and ladies of darkness and ladies of never you mind. (Annalise and I love to say that line aloud - go on, say it aloud for yourself!)

The story is a prayer, a wish for the unborn daughter of the author. One of the first illustrations by Charles Vess is of a pregnant woman.

Whether you picture your daughter or your six-year-old neighbour or your sixteen year-old niece, this is a beautiful book to read aloud to a special girl.

And this is a beautiful recipe to share! This scone is meant to look rustic and to be devoured within minutes. We have cooked it twice this week for friends - it is best served immediately so I tend to cook it when I invite friends and family to our place. It is also a child-friendly recipe - both in the cooking and eating! And while my daughter is the one most interested in cooking, it is my two blueberry sons who always ask for second helpings of this dish!

Blueberry Scone (adapted from a recipe by Bill Granger from an old Delicious magazine)

250g plain flour
1 tbs caster sugar
2.5 tsp baking powder
100g unsalted butter, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
125 ml cream
100g blueberries, tossed in a little bit of flour
an extra egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Add the sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and a pinch of salt to the food processor and pulse briefly. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture becomes coarse crumbs.

Tip the mixture into a bowl and carefully mix in the 2 eggs and cream - don't overmix the batter. Gently stir in the blueberries.

Turn the dough onto the baking tray and mound into a circle, about an inch and a half high. (It is better to go flatter rather than taller so your scone doesn't burn on the outside while still gooey inside).

Divide the scone into 8 wedges with a knife but don't cut all the way to the bottom. Brush with the extra beaten egg. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Serve immediately with butter. Enjoy!

"Come over to play at the Childhood 101 We Play link up."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Castle stories

Knights, princesses and dragons - it doesn't matter how old you are, castle playing is always fun. Our wooden castle has seen several jousts, medieval quests and rescues. Many a dragon has been spotted flying overhead or sneakily lurking around the turrets. The king and queen have told their stories and been entertained in turn. The valiant knights have shown remarkable chivalry. Horses have galloped through the drawbridge, just before it has been pulled up. Occasionally a lego figure or a zoo animal finds its way along the musty corridors, and the knights merely nod in passing.

One of our favourite knight stories is "Small Knight and George" by Ronda Armitage. Small Knight is told by his dad:

that it is time for Small Knight to have his first suit of armour and his first horse and his first shield and his first sword and to go out to fight his first fierce dragon.

But Small Knight doesn't even know what a dragon looks like, let alone how to fight one. Small Knight didn't feel big and brave; he felt little and frightened.

On his journey he meets several people who answer his request for a fierce dragon sighting with the same phrase - "Don't talk to me about fierce dragons ... are you sure you want to fight a very fierce dragon?"

Of course, our small hero's confidence wanes with every negative conversation. Finally he meets a small displaced creature whose home has been taken over by fierce dragons. Together they turn back home to the castle, to be met by frightened shrieks. Can you guess why?

Lots to love about this book - fabulous repetitive phrases, encouraging story of feeling brave and facing your fear and detailed pictures of castle life by Arthur Robins.

It doesn't matter how many stories of brave knights or fierce dragons you have heard - kids are very good at imagining their own tales of quests and adventures!

"Come over to play at the Childhood 101 We Play link up."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dreaming BIG

Our family nest of five is flying haphazardly through February - new routines for school, kinder and work. There is a little bit of nudging, shoving, pecking, some very excited flapping and singing, and yet quite a bit of soothing ruffled feathers, as everyone adjusts to their new rhythm.

We did manage to find time in the last week of the school holidays to make our family collage - inspired by BIG.

BIG is a brand new magazine, coming out later this year. It's about art and creativity and kids - three of my favourite things! The bird gallery there looks amazing - it's very inspiring to see the creative work of kids presented beautifully next to an artist's interpretation of the same theme. Tom, Annalise and I spent two afternoons crafting our birds and their nest, and they feel very proud that their work is featured on the BIG blog.

There's still time for kids to draw, paint, sculpt or write about the theme of birds - any photos sent in by Monday February 14th will be posted on Jo and Lilly's BIG blog.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Seven steps to create your own art gallery

Your own art gallery might sound ambitious but with a few children, twenty minutes before dinner, a couple of hot weather days (or rainy days), you will be charging admission prices before you know it!

1. Visit a gallery
During the school holidays, we visited the Heide Museum of Modern Art. We were all impressed by an exhibition called Freehand: Recent Australian Drawing.

2. Clear the walls
 Then we came home to our empty pinboard, emptied of school and kinder artwork, of Christmas cards and homemade decorations. Can you guess what happened?

 3. Find small pockets of time

Our drawing wall evolved day by day. Fifteen minutes here to fill in the grumpy time before dinner. Half an hour after lunch to settle us down. An hour on a hot day with books and paints and pens spread all over the table. Five minutes to quickly catch an idea. One evening I laid out paper and pens on the table, ready to start drawing before breakfast the next day. Sometimes I sat down with Tom and Annalise and drew with them, other times I left them to it.

4. Limit your materials - less is best!

To make it look more cohesive, we stuck to brown artist pens with cream, white or brown paper. We did add watercolour paints for some experimenting towards the end. We imitated Heide and used dressmaking pins to tack our art to the wall. I pinned our pictures to the wall every day, so we could admire our growing gallery.

5. Turn to books for inspiration

One of the most useful books we turned to was the 'Usborne art book - Big book of things to draw'. The suggestion for doodling was wonderful. I laid out a huge piece of paper from a cheap roll, splattered paint all over it, painted a few shapes, lines and squiggles and then we spent three rainy days on and off drawing around the table. I had forgotten how relaxing it is to NOT have an agenda, to NOT do something for the sake of being productive. It's so relaxing - you just sit and draw whatever you feel like. And the splodges and splatters do invite you to be more imaginative, more inventive, more creative.

We also followed the Usborne book for drawing city buildings and painting them with watercolour, and Annalise really enjoyed looking at Stephen Michael King's 'Leaf' and splashing green paint over her figures.

6. Themes are fun
Sometimes one of us would suggest a theme - animals, weather etc. I was inspired by Jean at Artful Parent and drew lots of different frames to fill in. (Jean has some amazing art ideas!)

7. Enjoy the gallery!
Once you have filled your wall, it is time for the launch - yes, with a glass of wine and a cheese platter! If you are lucky you may find a local artist to talk you through their work...

"Come over to play at the Childhood 101 We Play link up."