Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Crankiness, mothers and bears

The bear in Nick Bland's "The very cranky bear" is not a mother, and there are no mothers in his story. However, it is very easy as a mother to identify with Bear's need for sleep and peace and hibernation - and to understand his crankiness when he is interrrupted by little ones looking for a perfect place to play!

This is our three-year-old's most requested story at the moment. Joe loves the beginning - In the Jingle Jangle Jungle on a cold and rainy day - and the rhyme of the story which makes your voice lilt up and down as you read it.

This picture book tells the story of Moose, Lion, Zebra and Sheep, four friends with different looks and personalities who attempt to play a game in a cave without realising that a cranky bear is trying to sleep. While Moose, Zebra and Lion are the braver and more flamboyant characters, it is plain Sheep who manages to save the day and appease Bear.

There is lots of repetition which is fabulous for little ones, and the rhyme makes it a wonderful read-aloud book for toddlers and preschoolers.

The illustrations, also by Nick Bland, use broad brush strokes and larger than life characters so that the animals seem vivid with lots of personality.

And as today is a cold Melbourne October day, it seems like Bear has the right idea for hibernating!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Moon books

Our moon books are made of different bits of black and silver paper, with some graph paper and photocopy paper thrown in the middle for drawing. I cut them on my small guillotine, creased them and sewed them down the middle on my sewing machine.

We have gone out every night to check on the moon. It felt like such an exciting adventure, to be out in the back yard, at night, in the dark, looking for the moon with Tom's telescope. Usually at this time we are deep in the midst of dinner, bath/shower time, bed time - but not these school holidays ...

BUT ... it has been so cloudy, that we have not seen the moon! Not once! So while the kids have sketched the backyard in darkness, and noted the day and time, and researched moon phrases and star facts on the internet, it was not quite enough.

So today, on the last day of school holidays, we went to the Scienceworks Planetarium, and we did indeed see the moon and many stars, and said hello to this floating astronaut! We watched the short film 'Tycho to the moon' and then listened to and watched a show about the moon and constellations.

The kids loved it, and it felt like a fitting finish to our moon week - or lack thereof! I think we'll have another go at moon watching in the September holidays.

Some of the books we enjoyed reading this week were:

* Fancy Nancy sees stars by Jane O'Connor
* When the moon smiled by Petre Horacek
* How to catch a star by Oliver Jeffers
* Where on earth is the moon? by Ruth Martin
* Draw me a star by Eric Carle
* Man on the moon (a day in the life of Bob) by Simon Bartram
* The sea of tranquility by Mark Haddon
* When you wish upon a star sung by Judy Collins, illustrated by Eric Puybaret

I also gained many ideas from Mariah Bruehl's book 'Playful Learning'. She has some fabulous projects.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pages and paint

It has been a while since I have posted here, but I have been busy! I've enjoyed a trip to Broome with a friend, written the first draft of a children's novel, finished a writing course at Writers Victoria, edited a few bits and pieces, including the third issue of BIG Kids Magazine, and I have started an online art course this week!

The art course is called Pages and Paint, taught by Sarah Ahearn Bellemare, and organised through Squam. I am only three days in, but already I have organised my studio space in my study, started my sketchbook and added to my inspiration wall.

I am really enjoying all of Sarah's videos and guidance, as well as all the interaction from the other participants.

It feels as though my kids are doing the course alongside me. Every morning, they watch the videos with me, create in my study/studio and are working on their moon sketchbooks (more about that later).

A photo of my new art space ... in a corner of the study.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bedtime story pyjamas from Oliver and S

Warning - this is a sewing post, not a book post - but it does mention the word 'story'! This week I have sewed three pairs of pyjamas for my kids, each one a little faster and neater than the one before. I have used this pattern, Oliver and S bedtime story pyjamas, before but I was stuck on the neckline, and just hashed it together so it would hold.

This time, I floundered a bit for for the first pair for Joe, but managed to work out my error with the next pair for Tom. Then I sewed Annalise's pjs in one day, over a few hours!

I knew it was me - I have used Oliver and S patterns many times before, and the patterns are always, always correct.

I just needed a good night's sleep and fresh eyes - plus a cup of tea and some early Easter egg chocolate!  - to gain some perspective.

I did have Tom's striped blue material at home but I bought the other fabrics from Duckcloth - they have such a lovely range.

Last night, when I checked all three chickadees before I went to bed, they were all tucked into their beds, sleeping in homemade pyjamas. I want to remember this when they are teenagers, and will only wear black and grunt at me!

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?

Monday, February 20, 2012

School beginnings

This book, "Splat the Cat" has it all:

- an adorable feline
- a teacher called Mrs Wimpydimple
- alliteration with a tail that wiggled wildly with worry
- many novel excuses for not going to school  - "The front door won't let me out, Mum" or "The gate won't let go of my fingers, Mum." 
- a clever pet mouse called Seymour who lives with Splat
- a cat worried about starting school, who learns some amazing facts, saves the day with Seymour and looks forward to coming back to school!

Rob Scotton, the author and illustrator, has created a very likeable character, who is a little anxious about starting school.

My very likeable 8yo and 5yo characters drew some pictures of Splat with charcoal today. While I admire Scotton's incredibly detailed illustrations - look at the individual cat hairs on the cover! - I am equally awed by Tom and Annalise's 'smudged to perfection' charcoal cats!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Settling into school books

I thought I'd do a little series on settling into school, for all the little ones beginning school and for any anxious older ones. It is always comforting to know that others have gone before you, and have faced similar situations, regardless of whether you are a cat or a witch's child. In fact, sometimes the more fantastical the setting or character, the less 'preachy' or moralistic the story.

In this story,"The witch's children go to school" by Ursula Jones, the witch's children don't really go to school, but they meet Gemma who is about to have her first school day. But only if she is brave enough to move past the Class Three kids.

The oldest child of the witch has an idea - and uses a spell to change Gemma into an ogre, "because ogres aren't scared of anyone." The fun begins now - all teachers, caretakers, students and animals are turned one by one into a storybook creature - so that Gemma the ogre does not feel so alone.

The witch's children get a little carried away, and haven't learnt enough about spells to change anyone back.

"Now we've got trouble," mewed the school cat.

The only person who can help is Mum! So the witch's children summon Mum.

And the Eldest One shouted, "I've lost my pants."
"I can't find my dress," the Middle One wailed.
And the Little One yelled, "Where are my socks?"

Mum not only knows where the missing clothes are, but she knows how to turn the ogre, the storybook, the dancing princesses, the tiger, the swans, the gingerbread men and all the other storybook people back into students, teachers and the school cat.

Russell Ayto's illustrations are hilarious - there are definitely no traditionally scary witchy figures here at all. Lots of bright colours and active characters. My favourite double page spread is the one with the three open-mouthed children, shouting for Mum.

It was a bit like that at 5.30pm in our house today!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

After Christmas

Well, my Christmas posting every day did not really happen. Too many birthdays, end of year celebrations, Christmas preparations, Christmas sewing and cooking. I really should know myself - and my usual Decembers - better! So here are a few random photos of the Christmas Advent activities we did, with future posts to discuss all manner of wonderful picture books!