The one where I confess I’m indoctrinating my friends kids…

…because it’s true. I really am.

Those who don’t share my faith beliefs may think I’m about to confess to forcing them to read the bible, go to church, Sunday school, bible camp!

Nope.

It’s in a different way. I’m encouraging them into becoming fully fledged bookworms.

Granted, I’m not around them as much as their parents and teachers. So you know, my influence is fairly minimal. But yesterday I was thinking about my two awesome godsons – the eldest of which will be NINE (yes, I’m freaking out about that) next year. The other will turn 1. Elastaboy loves a book, and though it’s tough to tell at 4 months old, it seems the Grand Duke is heading in the same direction.

"Don't let them buy anything" said their Mum. "Ummm....books don't count right?" said I.

A day out so their Mum could pack for surf camp in 2014 without ‘help’ from their youngest son (out of shot climbing on a wall). “Don’t let them buy anything” said their Mum. “Ummm….books don’t count right?” said I. (You can’t go through life without having read Charlotte’s Web in my opinion).

One of my favourite things to do with all my friends kids is read with them. It is by far my favourite part of babysitting getting to do the storytime part of the bedtime routine. I did this with my little sister who I also created stories for, and my little brother, who was so good at memorising every.single.word of his favourite books he would correct you if you didn’t get those bedtime stories word perfect. Then I had about a 10 year gap before I really got to do it again, and that was for Miss Sweetroot. It’s no secret that I was overjoyed when she fell in love with the books of Jacqueline Wilson – my favourite author as a kid. Through Miss Sweetroot I fell back in love with Children’s Literature, and took no shame in borrowing her books after she’d finished them. Because quite frankly I wanted to find out how they ended (this is the problem of only doing some bedtime routines – you miss bits of the story!). Every time I visited Elastaboy and Mr Teapot they would drag out books for me to read. And pretty much every Christmas and Birthday my friends’ kids get a book from me. As I mentioned the other week, I read to my newest godson (the Duke) and as he sat peacefully and didn’t cry I’m going to take that as a good sign.

Miss Sweetroot, now a high school student has developed the same tendencies of being found to be reading way past her bedtime, and having a constant stack of unread books because she buys more than she has time to read. Can’t think where she’s learned those bad habits from, but I fear calling her out on this would be hypocritical. Last few times I’ve seen Elastaboy, he’s opened up the book I’ve given him and completely ignored well…everyone…as he immediately started reading it. Last time I saw him in October, he got told off by his Dad for reading a book while we were sitting in a restaurant. I used to do exactly the same thing when I went shopping with my Mum – I would end up doing things like finding a spot underneath a rack of clothes or some other random corner where I could cosy up and just start reading. She also had to curtail my book buying for holidays because we

1) couldn’t afford all the books I could get through in a 2 week holiday

2) needed space in our luggage for clean clothes and beach towels.

And I’m pretty sure when I was his age, I probably got bored halfway through the meal and pulled out a book too, and hoped that by sitting at the end of a table no one would notice that I’d checked out of the grown up’s conversations.

So beware if you let your child communicate with me. They just may need a bigger bookshelf soon…

🙂

 

 

BK’s Book Pouch: A Christmas Edition

Yes, I’m a terrible video maker and editor. Yes, I used my webcam because it was easier and I don’t have a tripod for my camera. No, I don’t get paid by Waterstone’s to promote the books they sell. Or any of the authors whose books are featured!

But hopefully you will survive my rambling and I’ve cut out my rant about nativity books, nativity scenes and nativity plays…

Here is me with Eliza, Olaf, Piecrust Bear and the Reindeer with No Name introducing you to my favourite Christmas reads.

Every society tells stories, but I’m afraid to tell mine…

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I wanted to be two things when I was growing up. A dance teacher and an author. Both these dreams got shot down pretty quickly by family members because apparently those aren’t ‘proper jobs’. However, while I know deep down that becoming a dance teacher is out of the question now, being an author is never out of the question. But I get scared of being rubbish, scared of being rejected. Like I know incredible authors got a ton of rejection letters before they got published…but it doesn’t make me feel any less anxious about the whole thing. And it stops me from finishing the stories I have in my head.

More specifically I’ve wanted to write children’s books. I still love children’s books which my friends think is an amusing quirk – though they’ve given me credit on occasion for finding books that their kids/nephews/nieces love. 🙂

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Discovering some children’s books at a vintage fair.

But oh the fear! I went to an incredible conference at my university a couple of years ago which one of my Germany roommates invited me to (she was doing a Masters in Children’s Literature and Literacy). It was all about picturebooks, and it fuelled that fire even more. Through going to different conferences mainly aimed at children’s librarians (another job I would love, love, love…and another job that our government is cut, cut, cutting) I met the head of Children’s library services for our city, and he invited me to become a judge for this incredible writing competition we have each year for primary school children aged between 7-11 years old. It has become my favourite weekend of the year when I go to the central children’s library to pick up 100s of entries and take them home to read to whittle it down to 10 entries for the final judging panel. Their creativity (when teachers have allowed it) just makes my heart more full, and I often annoy the snot out of everyone around me by bursting in a room or calling on the phone exclaiming “oh my gosh, this is amazing!” before proceeding read them a poem or short story I’ve discovered that has made me smile or laugh.

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Distracted by books at a market stall in Paris. I’d found the French translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

And stories are important. Not just the life stories, but the imagination stories. I do believe that fairy tales were often the ways in which morals and life lessons were taught to children by their families back in the day. A few friends continually tell me that I need to share my own story, but I worry that there’s no point because no one would want to read it.

But worst would be if the characters in my head never get to be loved and read. There are my reindeer and there are my superhero wannabe brother and sister duo, Mattie and Zander. I worry they’ll never make it from my imagination to paper. But somehow I worry more that they will and people will just go “Pffffftttt”.

Yep. I still haven’t been able to combat my fear of failure!! (Clearly).

My fictional female role models…

As a young girl, it was tough to find role models. When I became a Christian, I discovered that there were a whole new bunch of expectations on young women that I didn’t feel I would ever live up to. When you are younger, if we can’t see what we want in our immediate life – we often look to the arts for inspiration. Books, TV and film often give us ideas and possibilities of what other options of being are out there. And too often as girls we were shown examples of needing to find a guy to come save us and love us to be complete. Thankfully it wasn’t always the case, and I wanted to share some of the fictional female characters that have given me hope throughout my childhood, teen and young adult years…

Abby Sciuto – Abby, the ‘happiest goth you’ll ever meet’ who is a forensic scientist at NCIS. Always compassionate, loves hugging Bert the Hippo, goes bowling with nuns, builds houses for charity and is every bit as capable with IT as Timothy ‘I went to M.I.T.’ McGee. Which is probably why he admires her so much. I love that none of the more conservative characters like Jenny Shepherd or Leon Vance ever try to make Abby dress differently. They accept her for who she is, because they respect her, her work ethic and her talents.

Professor McGonagall – A single woman, a fair if stern teacher. But one that clearly has her pupils’ backs. She never disciplines simply to exert her power and authority. She supports her fellow women. She doesn’t back down from a fight, and she is fiercely loyal to Dumbledore and to Harry. I always loved those little snippets you got of her mischievous side, as she mumbles to Peeves how to unscrew light fittings and in the film that moment of “I always wanted to use that spell!”

Sally Fletcher – The adopted kid of Tom and Pippa, the girl who had the kind heart and got teased for her imaginary friend ‘Milco’. The one who got bullied, was good at school and worked hard at school. No surprises then that she ended up becoming a foster Mum and a teacher…always giving the underdog kids who had had a rough start in life a second chance. Sally was always just that few years ahead of me on TV as I grew up through primary and secondary school watching Home and Away and as the swot of the class, she made me feel a little less alone. (And yes, I did bawl my eyes out when she left Summer Bay).

Miranda Bailey – I know, I know… I’m supposed to love McDreamy, or Meredith. But Bailey was always my favourite character in Grey’s Anatomy. I loved that she was short.  I loved that she wasn’t sleeping around (like all the other surgeons were). I loved that she refused to get a full wax when after her divorce she is trying to find love again (oh, and as a Health Promotion grad was very proud at her responsible attitude to STD protection!). I loved that she was an African-American woman in old white men’s club. Yet she is exactly where she should be as a competent, highly skilled, hard working surgeon. Oh, and did I mention that she is a Star Wars fan?

The Babysitter’s Club – It’s tough to pick one girl out of this group, because they all had their moments. Jessi Ramsey was the ballet dancer of the group but she was much better than I ever was! Dawn was the only one who never seemed to feel like she had to be someone else to impress a guy and I appreciated that about her. I think I most identified with Mallory Pike. Mallory was the big sister, the one that wore glasses, wanted straight hair, had braces, wanted her ears pierced, wanted to be a writer and really sucked at and did everything she could to avoid  PE. I don’t think I was quite so insecure about my looks as Mallory was, but I could empathise with her struggle. Each of these girls had something to offer and their own strengths and weaknesses. It was also refreshing to see that they came from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds and their families all looked different.

Haley James – I used to get One Tree Hill shipped on DVD from the USA (because I couldn’t afford a TV license and it took sooo long to come out on DVD here in the UK and it worked out cheaper usually anyway) and my friend and I watched it weekly at my flat when we were students. The girl who took a while longer to have close friends that were girls, the one who worked part-time, who liked to teach, who loved to sing. I loved that Haley was willing to wait for the right guy, and that even though she was the sensible one she still got pregnant in high school. I also liked that she wore her ponchos and hats that she got teased for, and that she never bailed on a friend. She never tried to dumb herself down and even when she was afraid of failing and pursuing her dreams she found the courage to go out there and try eventually.

Rory Gilmore and Lane Kim – I love Rory and Lane. I kinda loved last year when me and one of my friends (who is a fellow Gilmore Girls fan – several of my friends have borrowed my DVDs) took one of those BuzzFeed quizzes that I came out as Rory and she came out as Lane. That seemed just totally perfect to us. Rory and Lane are equally awesome in my book. Again, two ladies who didn’t act stupid to get boys to like them. Two ladies who knew what they wanted and worked to achieve their dream. Yes, Rory gets a little derailed, but she gets back on track eventually. I’m kind of glad that they showed that part because so many of us have to make mistakes to learn from them. I’d love Lane’s record collection and Rory’s book collection. Oh, and they were Brownies as revealed  by Lane’s note to Rory in 1995.

Lucy Pevensie – I was so mad when my cousin named her daughter Lucy as that was what I’d always wanted as a name for a daughter. Lucy Pevensie is probably the reason why. She’s not the oldest or the obvious leader. But yet she’s the one who finds Narnia, the one who always sees Aslan before the others, and is the one who reawakens the trees. There’s also a glimpse you see of Queen Lucy in the Horse and His Boy where you find that although her sister is off finding suitors, Lucy is not. She is willing to battle with the boys and is a proven warrior.

Precious Ramotswe – Mma Ramotswe is probably my favourite character written by Alexander McCall Smith. I love that her wisdom, her kindness and that she doesn’t feel the need for a husband. When she realises that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is worth teaming up with, she says yes to his proposal. But I love that they are equals in their marriage. And he is a great guy who supports her in her business, and continually fixes the little van because he knows how much it means to Mma Ramotswe. And if you’ve never picked up the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books, um…well…you are going to be lost in many conversations I have with you.

Mulan – because finally we got a Disney Princess who didn’t either a) spend the whole film searching for a husband or waiting for him to save her (yes Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Anna, Ariel…I’m looking at you) or marry a guy that was a bit sketchy (Belle, Pocahontas…). And she basically saves the army, and then saves them again along with all of China. She could have decided to stay, work for the Emperor and possibly be near Li Shang. She chooses to go home. And doesn’t show any romantic interest in Shang until he respects her as a woman. Go Mulan. Until you, the only strong females in Disney were all animals (Duchess in The Aristocats, Nala in The Lion King).

I’m sure there are more that I’ve forgotten, but did you have fictional characters that inspired you, encouraged you or gave you hope growing up?

BK’s BookPouch: A Boy Called Christmas

So after working for 14 straight days between bagel and bear making (and 2 Girlguiding trips and 3 Girlguiding meetings), on Friday I had a day off. This day was spent sleeping, washing my hair, delivering a Christmas gift box and meeting a fellow bagelista who I hadn’t seen in a while. Reindeer onesie on, Eliza the Elf and I settled down under fairy lights to finish reading the book I’d only gotten a few pages into at work the other weekend.

Matt Haig‘s ‘A Boy Called Christmas‘ came out this year, and tells the story of a Finnish boy called Nikolas. With shades of Roald Dahl grossness in places, but also a sort of stream of consciousness way of narrating the story that made me love Miika the Mouse, Donner the Reindeer and Little Noosh who welcomes Nikolas when he goes searching for his father in Elfhelm. It also has some fun illustrations which add so much to Nikolas’ story drawn by Chris Mould.

Definitely a book that Primary School aged children will love in the lead up to Christmas, and adults too!

Get your copy of A Boy Called Christmas on Hive if you can’t get it from your nearest bookshop!

BK’s YouTube Picks – Mog’s Christmas Calamity

Ok. Sainsbury’s, a round of applause to you as you’ve officially sucked me in with your Christmas marketing. Last year I wasn’t convinced by the chocolate World War 1 advert but this year you’ve got me with Mog and children’s books. And sharing.

Yep. Hook, line and sinker. Now I’m going to have to explain to University of Glasgow that you may be in part to blame for the lack of money in my bank account to pay tuition fees because how can I not by the Mog’s Christmas Calamity book? It’s a cat, it’s Christmas, it’s promoting children’s literacies, and it’s MOG. And Mog almost got squashed by a clock and then run over by the fire brigade!! EEK!

And of course, a little reminder that there’s still time to sign up for A Very Airmail Christmas. All you need to do is send me your postal address details in an e-mail to forrobin_christmas AT hotmail DOT com. And then next (Black) Friday when I get home from building bears I’ll e-mail you with the address of another participant for you to mail a Christmas card through the post to in honour of Smiley Kylie Myers!

BK’s BookPouch: Lion Practice…

 

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With some time to kill, I went into Waterstone’s (I really need to stop going in there when I’m early for things) and took the opportunity to spy out some future birthday and Christmas gifts. This book by illustrator, Emma Carlisle caught my eye.

I opened it up, and wouldn’t you believe that the character’s name is pretty similar to mine…and is all about a little girl who decides she is going to pretend to be a lion. The only problem is that her lion antics are not quite so appreciated by her parents and baby sibling…

…the book ends with a happier note when her family feel a bit bad for losing their temper, and make it up to her. And give her an idea for another animal to practice being the next day…uh oh!

🙂

Any new books you’ve spotted that you think might make a good Christmas gift?

PS Please don’t forget to sign up for A Very Airmail Christmas if you haven’t already.

BK’s BookPouch: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

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It’s not unusual for friends to ask me for children’s book recommendations as apparently it’s not a secret that I’m passionate about ‘children’s’ literature and indeed books in general. Last week a friend was asking for recommendations for a 9 year old, and one of the (many) books I suggested was The Arrival.

I credit my friend Dani and her peers that I met at the Picturebook Conference at University of Glasgow last year for introducing me to Shaun Tan’s work. I’ve always loved Picturebooks, and they too often get classified as being for Preschool children only. Picturebooks can tell incredible stories – sometimes with words, or in the case of this one…no words at all.

The Arrival tells the story of immigrants from around the world – why they leave their countries, the struggle of leaving loved ones behind, the challenges of the journey, being somewhere new and trying to acclimatise to a new place that you will have to make your home. The illustrations are creative, powerful, poignant and it was clear to me without the note at the end that Shaun had done plenty of research into the real life stories of immigrants that informed his art.

I managed to get this paperback copy at Waterstones but you can also get it by ordering a copy from your nearest independent bookseller or online through Hive. The hardback copy makes a beautiful gift to someone (or a treat for yourself).

BK’s BookPouch – The chewable, washable caterpillar

cloth version very hungry caterpillar

 

If you are a close friend of mine that has had a baby in the last seven years, the likelihood that your child has received a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar from me is fairly high. I love books, and my favourites are still found in the ‘Children’s’ section. As a child I used to love writing my own short stories for my sister to enjoy and regularly read to both her and my youngest brother. In fact, I may have turned my Dad’s garage into a school which my sister and several of her large toys including ‘Dolly Anne’ and Chrissie the Giant Panda attended where I made workbooks and taught them how to read and write based on my observations of my teachers at primary school and how they accomplished this task with my classmates.

I don’t have children of my own, and my younger siblings are now all ‘grown up’ so now my crazy passion for encouraging kids to love books is taken out on my friends’ kids. Luckily my close friends are cool with this and their children accept my gifts of books every birthday and Christmas. One of my favourite memories of this summer was giving my godson his belated birthday present and having him barely talk to me (or anyone else) for an hour because he immediately started flicking through and reading Flat Stanley.

Although I’m totally anal about how my own books are kept (in pristine condition as possible and in their ‘place’) I do not expect kids to do the same. Especially when they are babies and toddlers. I strongly believe babies should be allowed to explore books whatever way they see fit. Whether it’s chewing them, wearing them as hats or doing strange things while working out how to turn the pages (even if the book is upside down) – this way books can be fun and there’s no pressure about reading them the ‘right’ way.

I was super happy to discover the cloth book version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar when I was searching out a copy for my friend’s baby girl last year (her brothers have it, but everyone should have their own copy, right?). This summer I may have bought all the copies available in Edinburgh’s bookshops.  It’s great as it’s washable, can’t give you paper cuts, doesn’t hurt if you drop it and can be cuddled, felt, chewed on, puked on, dribbled on as well as read. 🙂

It is fantastic to see more books being published in creative ways. Whether it’s having different textures, or lift the flaps or books with no words at all…all of them contribute something to the world of literature.

BK’s Bookpouch: The Day The Crayons Quit

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Picturebooks really don’t get enough credit, and I think that they should be read more widely rather than be seen as just for children. So often, they can tell a story and start discussion in a way that no other format does as well.

I was in Waterstone’s West End (possibly one of my favourite places in the world) looking to spend a book token when I came across this book that I hadn’t seen before. Of course I picked it up and started flicking through. And then I snapped this picture and sent it to my friend in Italy who has a MEd in Children’s Literature and told her she had to try and find a copy. (When I get a paying job, I may have to get a copy to post out to her!)

The Day The Crayons Quit is a series of letters written to a boy called Duncan (owner of said crayon set) who are resigning from their job and stating their complaints about their treatment and use. From the red crayon who is fed up being used to colour in fire engines to the black crayon who is wants to be used like the other colours to be a filler not just an outline to the pink crayon who is annoyed at never being used due to gender stereotypes… it’s a very funny tale that both children and adults can enjoy, with a beautiful ending.

The book is written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers who has created other wonderful picturebooks you may be familiar with, such as ‘How to Catch a Star’ and ‘Lost and Found‘.

It is currently (or at least it was on Friday) part of the Buy one get one half price deal in Waterstone’s. If you can’t find a copy in your local bookshop, you can order it to be sent to your nearest independent bookshop or home through Hive.