What a wonderful and colourful world

As it is feeling more and more like winter in London, we find ourselves going to either seasonal books (a selection of which I am working on) or really colourful ones. So to brighten up your Monday I’ve decided to review a colourful trio of books to be read with your loved ones.

Tom Hopgood is a favourite in our house, and since I’ve recently bought a bunch of books for the kids’ school including the first we enjoyed as a family, I thought it would be nice to tell you about it before we give it away.

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Wow! Said the Owl is a perfect book for babies and toddlers, but it also works with early readers who are keen to try reading bits of text since the font is clear and very kid-friendly.

When we are feeling tired and ready to go to bed, owls are just waking up, like the one in Hopgood’s book. But this little owl is very curious and therefore decides to take a long nap and stay awake until dawn. She can’t believe her eyes when she sees the wonderful yellow sun, the white fluffy clouds floating across the bright blue sky, and the pretty red butterflies fluttering over some gorgeous orange flowers.

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Not even the rain will dampen her enthusiasm, since it reveals a beautiful rainbow. As she catches the sunset and ponders over the magnificent colours that she has seen, she realises that “the night-time stars are the most beautiful of all.”

One of the last two pages of the book shows a circle of coloured dots and invites the reader to go back and find these on the pages of the book, a fun game my little boy likes to do. This is a perfect introduction to colour hunting, an activity that we regularly do and that can be adapted to be taken outdoors, as explained in this post by Valerie. All you need is a few paint samples and a perforator (or hole punch) and you’re good to go.

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Tim Hopgood’s blogs include lovely photos of school visits as well as tons of ideas to make craft projects, such as this nice little owl that I find adorable.

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Hopgood’s most recent publication is a joyous interpretation of  Louis Amstrong’s What a Wonderful World. A CD naturally comes with the book which includes a recording of Amstrong’s song and a reading of the book.

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Each page shows the same little boy enjoying the wonders of the world, from blooming red roses to the dark sacred night. Sometimes by himself, sometimes with his friends, the boy walks, flies and even rides a horse while inviting us to slow down and pause to enjoy our wonderful world.

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We are big fans of audio-books, but this is in a different league altogether from read-aloud recordings. It is not just a great way to get your child to flick through a book by themselves, it is an invitation to think about music and art as complementary means to appeal to our senses.

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I love Hopgood’s original idea which was “to capture the joy of the song in a picture book” and I must say watching my son chilling out on the sofa and enjoying the book makes me think he has thoroughly succeeded.

If you’re unconvinced by the idea of music as both a valuable and enjoyable element, and if you wonder why music delights not only our heart but also our brain, watch this fun little video.

NB: This educational clip mentions drugs so do not watch it with your little one unless you want to have a conversation about this particular topic.

Last but not least is Sarah Massini‘s If I Could Paint the World. In this funny story a little girl and her chameleon find a magic paintbrush which lets them paint the world. I wish she did not start by turning the world all pink (but this is me, my son did not object at all as he loves pink and yellow).

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After that things start to take a different and fun turn. For breakfast, she paints red juice, and purple cornflakes with orange milk, and brushes her teeth with black toothpaste.

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Once at school, she makes a few changes to the stories she reads and these crack my kids up. Meet little Little Lilac Riding Hood, and Pea Green and the seven dwarves! But there is a limit to craziness and after yellow tarts and blue baboons, the little girl declares: Stop!

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The reason she gives is the best of all: “when you really think about it, the world is perfect, exactly as it is”. In this story, mischievous changes and cheekiness go hand in hand. My children love the gorgeous illustrations and tried to paint blue bugs, peppermint puppies and purple pigs after reading this book, which shows you how inspiring it really is.

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For other ideas and activities involving colours, check this couple of suggestions, or go back to one of my post on diversity, which included several colour-related activities.

Look at this great lego game here, perfect for toddlers who very often go through a phase of filling in and filling out things. Perfect!

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For older ones, and future scientist or artists, here is a brilliant walking water experiment,  which teaches children about water, colours and science at the same time, a really wonderful trio, don’t you think?

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Finally, something that we have done many, many times but that keeps my children excited is the rainbow milk experiment. Check the tutorial and instructions at the Artful Parent, it is easy and worth a try!

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Nos voyages farfelus du pays magique à la planète bizarre

J’ai une confession à vous faire. J’ai un peu hésité avant d’associer ces deux livres dans un même billet et ce, même si,  tous deux sortent vraiment de l’ordinaire. Et puis vendredi soir, je suis allée voir avec ma fille Quentin Blake et Daniel Maja et ces deux acolytes ont annihilé tous mes doutes. Soyons farfelus, un peu fous, et même bizarres, peu importe!

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Tant de fantaisie et d’humour à respectivement 81 et 72 ans, vraiment chapeau! Alors pourquoi se retenir et faire dans le conventionel, on aura bien le temps d’être sérieux quand on sera vraiment vieux! Preuve en image que les deux artistes s’en sont donné à coeur joie, voyez par vous même, on s’est régalé et les enfants ont vraiment beaucoup rigolé:

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Au pays magique de François David et Éric Battut nous a été offert il y a quelques années mais nous aimons le relire régulièrement. Avant de recevoir ce magnifique album, nous connaissions déjà quelques uns des livres de Battut dont La Noisette, Deux amis pour la vie (une histoire de bagarre et d’amitié entre un éléphant et un escargot), et Le petit chasseur de bruit, mais nous n’avions jamais vu son travail à la gouache et il en vaut vraiment la peine.

Le format de cet album ne pourrait pas être plus simple avec un texte court, généralement une phrase sur la page de gauche et une illustration grand format sur celle de droite. Ce qui rend le livre inhabituel et si attachant, ce sont les attributs du pays magique. “Au pays magique, les arbres aiment se promener sur les nuages comme sur des tapis volants, les chèvres galopent dans le ciel avec des bottes de 7 lieues, et en haut des montagnes on peut boire le soleil à la paille comme un gros jus d’orange.”

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Mon fils aime chercher à voir les petits détails de chaque planche, et l’humour de certaines pages. Dans ce pays magique, il y a de bien belles choses comme des nuages roses pour protèger les amoureux, et des guirlandes tissées par les avions. Il y a aussi des choses plus incongrues comme des renards et des chiens qui sont copains, et des mouettes qui prennent des douches sous les jets d’eau des baleines.

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Pour certains, la conclusion semblera peut être trop terre à terre ou sombre. Moi j’y vois une façon de revenir une fois la fantaisie installée au quotidien puiqu’au “pays magique il y a une forêt secrète où le Père Noël trouve des forces pour qu’il n’y ait plus d’enfants malheureux”. Certes cette conclusion génère de temps en temps des conversations un peu ardues mais parfois c’est le reste du livre et ses jolies fantaisies qui accrochent l’attention de mes enfants. Je pense que la beauté des illustrations et le texte plein de poésie et d’inventivité vaut bien le risque de discuter d’un sujet sensible, qui est tout à fait compréhensible, même si je l’espère assez abstrait pour vos enfants.

Après avoir lu Au Pays magique, pourquoi ne pas leur demander à quoi ressemblerait leur pays magique? Voici la magnifique version de d’un groupe d’élèves de primaire. Je l’ai dénichée sur le sîte de Julie, une enseignante québécoise, qui avec d’autres met en commun plein de ressources.

Et si vous pensez que ce pays magique n’est pas pour vous, essayez un autre livre de Battut comme Entre chien et chat dont Télérama dit le plus grand bien ici.

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Pour compléter ce parcours (partiel) de nos lectures loufoques, je vous propose un autre livre: La planète bizarre de Voutch qui a un ton tout aussi décalé que le précédent mais assez différent.

C’est un livre petit format (il tient dans ma main et elle n’est pas grande), cartonné, très coloré, d’environ une dizaines de pages. Lui aussi décrit les particularités d’une planète bizarre où “les chats pondent des oeufs, où parfois il pleut des saucisses, et où toutes les mamans ont de grandes moustaches”.

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Je suis sûre qu’au graphisme vous aurez déjà deviné que le ton de La planète bizarre est plus comique et extravangant que poétique. Mon fils adore le côté loufoque et incroyable de cette planète où on donne aux enfants qui font des bêtises des gâteaux aux fraises.  La planète bizarre n’est pas mon titre préféré de cette collection (dont je reparlerai sous peu) mais la concurrence est rude et comme mes enfants l’aiment beaucoup, il était normal que je le présente dans ce billet.

Pour conclure sur une touche rigolote, je vous propose la comptine française des 3 éléphants, tout à fait improbable mais adorable. On aime la chanter en se tenant les mains même si nous ne sommes que deux ou trois, et se jetter joyeusement les fesses par terre au badaboum final de chaque couplet! A vous de voir…

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Today I decided that it would be nice for me to introduce you to two bonkers books. The first Au pays magique is by François David and Éric Battut. It describes a magical country where trees like to walk on the clouds, where scarecrows don’t scare anyone, and where snowmen never melt. The delicate details of the illustrations, the incongruous descriptions, and unusual associations make this book one of a kind.IMG_20141123_235031

Reading it is with children is a great experience as their imagination has no bounds and they will suggest more ways to describe this magical country. I have on occasions wondered how many of these attributes where actually inspired by kids’ words, since my daughter, when she was three, did ask me how planes managed to pull huge tinsels behind them.

My second suggestion is different in tone as it is less poetic and funnier. Voutch does satirical illustrations in magazines in France, and I think some of his deadpan humour filters through his books for children.

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On this bizarre planet, it does not rain cats and dogs but sausages, and naughty children are given strawberry cakes they need to protect because of hungry flying dogs!

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The conclusion left to a little boy who  says he will never visit such a place is unexpected, but in line with the rest of the book. It gives you a chance to chat about the places you might want to visit one day, and the surprises that might await.

To conclude joyfully, I have made a selection of songs that are not for children but that we like to listen to, and which are just a little bit bonkers. Here is a fun (non official) video for one of Émilie Loizeau’s songs, a French (yet bilingual) singer who has a tendency to make lovely yet slightly crazy songs.

And if you’d rather listen to one of her songs in English, have a listen at Madame Coconut. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Autumn books we love

Yes, the weather has turned to wet and miserable, but we can still rejoice at the thought of hot chocolate and biscuits, or whatever treat warms both your belly and your heart. Autumn is almost certainly my favourite season and Jane Porter‘s gorgeous illustration seemed to perfectly illustrate the joy this time of year summons in me. Don’t get me wrong, my kids and I love summer with all the opportunities it offers to spend time outside, but I like the fact that summer is precious because it is short lived.

If you don’t feel like braving the rain and wind, or if your kids need to be convinced that autum is a great season, then read them these two lovely stories. The first of these will explain to them why leaves fall, and the second will encourage them to be patient and understanding, so really, what’s not be liked?

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When we picked up Leaf Trouble written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church at the library recently, I wondered why it looked familiar to me. Then once home, I realised that Caroline Jayne Church had made a series of books that my son adored as a baby and toddler whose main character is a fun little puppy called Woof.

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Now in Leaf Trouble there is no dog, but a family of squirrels who lives in an big oak tree. Pip when he realises that the leaves are not only changing colours but also falling from the trees, starts to panic.

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He calls for his sister’s help and hopes that they can save the tree which is “falling to pieces”. After making a huge pile on the ground, this spontaneous rescue team tries to stick the leaves back on the branches, but of course this fails, and thank goodness their mum arrives and asks them what they’re doing!

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She then explains to them that the tree needs a rest and that when spring comes, the leaves will all come back again.

Relieved to hear this, they play beneath the old oak tree until sunset, collect some leaves to take back to their nest, and watch the gorgeous colours of the sunset which perfectly match the ones on the leaves. Seeing them happy and soaking in the scene contrasts nicely with their frantic panic and makes for a nice ending.

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This story gave us a chance to think about the change of season and what happens to trees and animals who live outdoors. If your child has ever wondered why it is that leaves change colour in the fall, read this great post by an expert who has tons of ideas to make this tangible and fun with experiments and activities.

Now for a visual feast you can’t really beat the lavishness of Helen Cooper‘s work. “Deep  in the woods there’s an old cabin with pumpkins in the garden. There’s a good smell of soup, and at night, with luck, you might see a bagpiping Cat through the window, and a squirrel with a banjo, and a small singing Duck.”

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Each of them has a special role in making this yummy soup: Cat slices the pumpkin, Squirrel stirs in the water, and Duck adds the right amount of salt. But one morning Duck wakes up early and decides to borrow Squirrel’s special spoon and to become the Head cook. Of course this is not going to work and not only because he is too short. The three friends start squabbling and arguing until Duck walks out, annoyed that no one will let him help.

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Contrary to what the Cat and the Squirrel thought Duck does not come back for breakfast, not even for lunch. The soup they make is not tasty and they don’t feel hungry anyway. So they start to look for him and to worry about where he has gone.

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After looking for a long time, they decide to go back home, see some light from a distance, and run to the house where they are finally reunited.

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My kids love pumpkin soup and understand all too well falling out with friends, so when the Cat and Squirrel decide to let Duck make the soup for the sake of their friendship, they understand why it is, believe me! And they love the look of the messy kitchen too.

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For another visual automnal feast, watch Co Hoedeman’s Ludovic who has been a favourite in our house for years. We have a DVD with several of this cute teddy’s stories but you can watch Magic in the air on the National Film Board’s website for free.

For more activity ideas, have a look at our seasonal pinterest board!

Finally here is some inspiration for those of you who like making yummy snacks together. Look at these maple roast pumpkin seeds or apple pie cups on Weelicious, don’t they look nice? I also love improvising with date-nut bites, there’s a good recipe here, but feel free to try your own combination. We like date+cocoa+walnut+almond butter, rolled in dessicated coconut to make them a bit less sticky. As long as you’ve got a good food processor, they are easy and kids love these energy balls.

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Just in case you get thirsty, why not try THE drink that says autumn: apple cider, a good old classic which makes the house smell like heaven. Here’s a link to a foolproof recipe with an option to make it plain, decadent, or even boozy.

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Des livres plein la maison pour les cocottes et cocos

Chez nous, il y a des auteurs comme Emily Gravett, Taro Gomi, Émile Jadoul, Jeanne Ashbé, et Ludovic Flamant qu’on ne se lasse jamais de lire. Même ma grande (qui a 8 ans) aime revenir à ces classiques surtout lorsque nous avons de jeunes visiteurs à qui elle peut faire la lecture.

C’est suite à une de ces récentes visites que je me suis dis qu’il serait temps d’ajouter quelques suggestions pour les plus jeunes. Et qui  choisir d’autre que Jadoul et Flamant?

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Des livres plein la maison est un petit album cartonné et coloré qui fait l’inventaire de tous les livres dans la maison d’un petit garçon, de ceux sans images pour papa et maman aux autres qui lui appartiennent. Le texte rime comme celui d’une comptine, les illustrations sont à la fois charmantes et drôles et les usages détournés que ce petit héros propose aux lecteurs montrent à quel point l’imagination des adultes peut être limitée.

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Les autres titres de cette collection sont dans la même veine et peuvent être lus au bébés sans problème. Alors si Des livres plein la maison vous tape dans l’oeil, essayez La soupe aux miettes par le même talentueux duo qui raconte comment préparer une délicieuse soupe aux miettes jusqu’à ce que maman s’en mèle biensûr.

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Dans ce billet, Élise vous conseille aussi On ne joue pas avec la nourriture parmi un florilège de livres qui aident à désamorcer les conflits autour des repas. Bref, vous avez le choix!

Pour finir, voilà un album tout court et tout tendre qui aide bien avec les petites angoisses liées au moment du coucher. Dans Bonne nuit, ma cocotte, maman poule, comme chaque soir, met cocotte au lit en lui faisant un gros bécot.

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Mais cocotte n’est pas rassurée, sa maman n’a t-elle pas mis son beau collier pour sortir? Est-elle encore là même si on ne l’entend pas? Que sont ces bruits bizarres, et pourquoi fait-il si noir ce soir? Tenant Lapinou, son doudou, bien serré contre elle, Cocotte questionne encore et encore, et appelle maman poule qui a, je dois dire, la patience d’une sainte et qui jamais ne se démonte.

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Pour les parents, l’heure du coucher c’est souvent le signal d’un peu de liberté retrouvée. On peut lire quelques pages tranquille sans interruption, siroter une boisson chaude sans devoir faire attention où on la pose, et même passer 5 minutes seul(e) dans la salle de bain!  Alors cet album qui met l’accent sur les petites angoisses des petits est un excellent rappel que ce qui nous semble parfois bénin ou trivial peut en fait avoir un impact beaucoup plus important qu’on ne le croit. Au final, cinq minutes de plus ou de moins, un bisou ou deux de plus, quelle affaire, ça ne nous demande pas un grand effort supplémentaire!

Si l’heure du coucher vous cause des soucis, pourquoi ne pas essayer de désamorcer la situation en l’apprivoisant plus tôt dans la journée? Il y a quelques années, on nous a offert le jeu Bisous Dodo, très sympa et simplissime. On l’a un peu mis de côté depuis, mais je suis sûre que si nous le ressortions, il aurait grand succès. Martine y consacre une rubrique qui vous explique tout dessus, c’est par là.


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Si vous êtes bricoleur ou bricoleuse, regardez les magnifiques marionnettes en feutrine faites par les bibliothécaires de St Brieuc pour la visite de Jadoul. Elles sont superbes mais ne semblent pas très compliquées à reproduire.

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Si vous ne vous sentez pas d’humeur, laissez donc vos têtes blondes s’y coller, avec des assiettes en papier, un peu de colle, de peinture, on peut faire des poulettes très convaincantes avec un tuto ici.

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Pour finir si vos enfants sont fans de poules et de poussins, quelques titres à la volée que nous aimons et qui pourraient leur plaire:

  • Le Poussin de Kimiko
  • Toute la série des P’tites Poules de deux Christians Jolibois et Heinrich pour les 3 ans et plus
  • Bébé Poussin d’Emily Bolam avec un super mini livre dans le livre que mes enfants a-do-raient.

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Émile Jadoul is a Belgian author and illustrator and I have come across quite a few of his books translated in English. Ludovic Flamant collaborated with him on several titles for very young readers. The two books I want to recommend today are great for babies and toddlers.

In the first Des livres plein la maison, we’re taken on a jolly tour of a house by a little boy and his dog. He shows us around and tells us about his books as well as his parents’s. I read this countless times with my daughter when she was a baby, because it is short, colourful and fun. It looks at books as reading tools but also as potential toys, building blocks, and even dens!

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This is a real celebration of books as material objects that need to be manipulated, played with, and not overly protected. We’ve always been quite relaxed about how books should be handled in our house. Apart from torn pages, there’s no ‘no-no’ really. We had quite a few books in plastic for the bath or for taking with us, and a smaller collection of lovely fabric ones that were great to play with. So of course Flamant and Jadoul’s playful approach is one that we endorse.

Bonne nuit, ma cocotte! although slightly longer is just as great for very young children. A little chick keeps calling her mother, finding funny excuses to make sure she does not leave her too soon. The book goes through a list of all the usual suspects: “the room’s too dark, my teddy needs a wee (and me too), what’s that scary noise? can I have a last kiss good night?”

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Mother hen’s patience is really impressive and may be something you aspire to. I remember reading this book during the day so that we’d get a chance to discuss bedtime and its routine before it happened. Maybe because we always read a story and spend a good few minutes cuddling and kissing, before turning the lights off, my kids have rarely made a big fuss about bedtime. But of course I know this is not the case for everyone. So if you are looking for additional bedtime related reads, go and read this post I wrote a while ago and good luck for tonight!

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God save the Queen

No, this blog has not turned into a political forum which hopes to to debate the virtues or monarchy. What interests me today is the figure of the Queen that I’ve seen popping up in a couple of books that we particularly enjoy reading at the moment.

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I can’t take credit for this first book by Tom McLaughin which tells the lovely story of Harry and the cat he gets for his birthday Mr Tiddles. My son who likes to romp about in the park after school introduced me to The Diabolical Mr Tiddles a couple of weeks ago. He ran to the display shelf at the library, picked it up, ran back to me, and said with a big mischievous grin on his face “Mum, my teacher read this to us last year, I love it, can we read it again?”. How could I not oblige him? And of course we took it home and read it quite a few times since.

After Harry’s dream to get a cat comes true, he does all he can to make him as happy as a cat can be. They watch TV and play video games together and slurp yummy looking milkshakes.

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Harry even strokes Mr Tiddles’s tummy until he drifts into a dreamy sleep at night. This seems like paradise, but like any honey moon, this period of bliss eventually comes to an end. On the day Mr Tiddles decides to show his love by bringing Harry a nice fresh mouse, Harry unsurprisingly turns a funny colour.

Mr Tiddles, who is not the kind of cat to let this mishap deter him, decides to get something else for Harry. This time he brings him his favourite treat: a triple chocolate cream-and-custard cake with extra banana jam. Who could possibly resist this? The trouble is that after that, every morning Harry wakes up to find more and more outrageously lavish gifts. Yummy jelly beans, a pogo stick, an electric guitar, a giant train set, the list goes on and on until one day he finds a horse in his bedroom!

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Harry who is both delighted and puzzled by this endlessly growing collection of things decides one night that he will follow Mr Tiddles to see where all these presents come from. And guess where he ends up?

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That’s right, the rascally moggy has decided to burgle the Queen’s palace! But the minute Mr Tiddles lays his paw on her Majesty’s crown, Harry shouts “Stop!”. Needless to say the Queen is not amused and asks her guards “to arrest these two intruders for Acts of Cheekiness Against the Crown.”

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Harry then pleads his friend’s cause and explains that he’s only been taking things because he cares about him so much. Her Majesty looks at Mr Tiddles long and hard and she tells him that it is wrong to steal. She can see that he has learned his lesson and decides that she will forget about it as long as he returns all the things he has taken to their original owners. When the two friends are finished, they share a big hug and agree that having each other is the best present ever.

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 The Queen’s forgiveness and the moral lesson she teaches Mr Tiddles are valuable. But what I like most is the ending which shows that love and affection is worth much more that material possessions. My children were wowed by the various presents that Harry got, but they agreed it was much more fun to spend time together, having a lovely picnic, with no external distraction. And because Christmas is just around the corner, I am happy to find subtle reminders that things don’t necessarily bring you long term happiness.

Now The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony is a different  kettle of fish. We went to a reading of his during half term and have been practicing drawing corgis, butlers and pandas steadily since.

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Bear with me if the panda does not make sense yet. The Queen’s Hat is a gorgeous picture book that can be read to toddlers, but that will also has appeal to older kids. The Queen who is on her way to visit someone very special, sees her hat flying away: SWISH! Breaking protocol, she and her guards start running after the lost hat which gets swept to Trafalgar Square, and all through London Zoo, and all along the Underground. The hat does not stop there and carries on all the way to the top of Big Ben.

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The fantastically detailed and fun pictures of these well known sights covered by swarms of red and black guards, the option to ‘spot the corgi or Queen’, and the fantastic floating umbrellas that bring them all to Kensington Palace are gorgeous eye candies.

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And what better end to a story than a happy baby, the one she was going to visit, her grandson (presumably).

This is a great book to read before a visit to any of London’s attractions and sights, or to offer to visitors regardless of their mother tongue since the text is easily translated. We love the guards’s shiny jackets on the cover, the fun ending, and the details of every single double page.

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If you want to learn how to draw a corgi, just start with a sausage and visit this page.

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Now for the panda reference. Steve has a new book coming out in January about manners, doughnuts, and pandas, a joyous combination don’t you think? He kindly read it after the Queen’s Hat and showed the kids how to draw a panda. FYI: the event we attended took place at Tales on Moon Lane, a great independent bookshop in Herne Hill (south London) specialising in children’s books.

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Now I won’t suggest you try to make the impressive triple chocolate cream-and-custard cake with extra banana jam as a follow up activity, but why not try these simple, tried and tested banana boats? They are yummy, easy and fairly quick too. In this house we like peanut butter, chocolate and dessicated coconut, but you could try any combination you like, by just following these instructions.

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Finally if you need a little bit of silliness after the seriousness of monarchy, then have a look at this classic camp song which includes bananas, corn, potatoes and apples. Have fun!

 

 

Embracing and celebrating diversity

The best books are sometimes the most simple and there are two that I really want to share with you today. My Nose, your Nose by Melanie Walsh, and Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly by Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt are great books for toddlers, but they also work well with children who are starting to decode and read as I discovered with my four year old son. They could also be great prompts to start discussing diversity, stereotypes, and peer pressure.

I have been thinking about the post I wrote on diversity in children’s books, I have read other bloggers‘s posts on the subject, and I also looked at many of the comments and conversations on the Guardian’s website. This is encouraging but what I would like these diverse books to be above all is great books, fun books, books that my children and I will want to read again, and again, and again. This is why these two books are so dear to me.

I could write a whole series of posts on Nick Sharratt’s work, and maybe I will at some point. His sense of humour and fun characters almost feel like they are part of our family.

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I will be honest though, there has been a few times when I wish we’d lost You Choose, since it probably is the book we’ve read the most in the last 7 years! But I still feel a bit sad that we do not live closer to Sheffield because there is a great looking show devoted to Sharratt’s work on tour from October to next summer.

In Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly, Sue and Nick are friends and they’re also two different ‘characters’ (although one may wonder whether they are characters or alter egos). NickSharratCrazyHairThe text accompanying the illustrations could not be simpler as it alternates between descriptions of what Sue and Nick like. For instance, Nick likes yellow socks, Sue likes yellow ducks. Nick likes red apples, Sue likes green pears.

One thing I like in particular is that contrary to gender stereotypes, Sue likes everything blue, while Nick likes pink and orange dinosaurs. When my son comes home and tells me that he has been told off by girls in his class because he wanted to play hairdresser with them, of course I’ll explain that he can play or like anything he wants, regardless of what others say. But what’s the voice of a mother when facing those of peers?

Finally what I value in Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly is the fact that it concludes on the absolute non judgmental: Sue likes Nick, Nick likes Sue, thus showing that you are worthy of both consideration and affection whatever you like and whatever you wear.

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Now My nose, your Nose also works on juxtapositions. Its clear simple text matches its bold and bright images. While Daisy’s skin is brown, Agnes’s is white but they both have cheeky pink tongues!

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The book goes on comparing  these children’s hair, their eye colours, and their legs among other things.

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There is something of the simplicity of Dick Bruna’s work in My Nose, your Nose, and I love this, certainly because it reminds me of my childhood.

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But among all these comparisons, Walsh keeps coming to a common ground whether it is their love for chocolate cake, their energy, or the daily rituals that they experience.

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I wish I had known about this book earlier since we only bought it a couple of years ago. I can see how it would be a great baby book, one that a child can grow with, and appreciate year after year. We regularly go back to Walsh’s ‘lift the flap’ books and we’ve had them for years in French. Like My Nose, Your Nose, they are simple, colourful, and fun.

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Additional ideas:

Now if you want to do more than just reading these two books, how about a game of colour match or colour hunt as suggested in the lovely blog It’s All About Stories?

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You could also try to make a batch of coloured rice! Jackie’s recipe from Happy Holligans is foolproof and you can be sure your children will have a ton of fun.

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Additional readings;

As for other reads, how about challenging gender stereotypes a bit more? Rosie is a brilliant and inspirational girl engineer, read about her in this review, isn’t she irresistible?

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And finally here’s Raffi, a boy who’s a little bit different, who loves knitting, and who after a while finds people who recognize his talents. See it reviewed here.

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Our top 5 spooky stories for Halloween

After the post I wrote on Zouk, the feisty little French witch, I thought it would be nice to rummage through our collection of books with subjects loosely related to Halloween.

My list will not be as long as this elaborate one where you will find great suggestions by age range. But our top 5 contains five tried and tested books that you can trust will please young readers in search of a not too frightful reading session.Room-on-the-Broom

First, I thought we should start with one of our favourite witches in the classic Room on the Broom by Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson. Do I really need to introduce Julia Donaldson considering the Gruffalo has sold over 6.5 million copies? I’m really not sure. My son’s currently obsessed with Superworm that he read at school, and I have read with him and his sister the Gruffalo, Zog, Stick Man and the Smartest Giant in Town countless times.

In this book, the witch loses her hat, her bow, and a wand, but luckily finds three animals: a dog, a frog and a green bird willing to help her find her possessions. For each loss she gains a new friend and each time she makes room on her broomstick and whoosh flies away. That is until the broomstick snaps in two, and they all tumble in a bog. Suddenly alone and face to face with a hungry dragon who’s eager to have witch and chips, she manages to escape thanks to her new group of friends. The care with which the story is written, its rhythm and its rhymes are a delight. No review can do justice to a reading, so here is a link to one that I like:

Now the fact that I have a child who’s allergic to cats does not mean that we don’t love feline creatures, quite the contrary actually. At the moment, we all have a bit of a crush for Wilburn, Winnie’s companion in the series of books Winnie the witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul. In Winnie Flies Again, my two kids love seeing Winnie both puzzled and scared when she turns her broomstick into a bicycle and later a skateboard in order to avoid the dangerous flying machines that she keeps facing in the sky. I’m not giving away the end as it is hilarious and unexpected, but trust me, this is a good one!

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A more recent discovery for us is Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock and Ali Pye. It is a mouse’s first night at school and it’s going to take all the patience of her teacher and the kindness of the other pupils bat, cat and owl to make her feel less shy. This album is full of exquisite details that my children love: the jars and books of spells on the shelves of the classroom, the tables and chairs that are just right for each of the creatures, and the shiny bits on the cover. You can see how welcoming the classroom is on the illustration I chose for the whole post.  This book would also be a great choice for kids starting school, one to read with their parents during a peaceful summer at home.

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Finally the last two titles we chose are quite different. If your children like books like Where’s Wally? and challenges, they will love The Best Halloween Hunt by John Speirs. Fear not and enjoy the mazes! All the answers are at the back if your little ones get too frustrated. This one is great to keep them busy on the train, or when you’re waiting for a meal at the restaurant.

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And last but not least, here is another book by Rebecca Cobb titled Spooky Sums and Counting Horrors.  I know I have already reviewed another book by Rebecca Cobb, but this is such a hit with my son who loves counting that I could not keep it off this list.

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Slightly older readers will delight in the gruesome details of the feast’s preparation. Look at these cocktails, aren’t they delightful?

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My son adores the ten dancing monsters all in pairs. the yeti, the mummy, the dragon and dracula are clearly having the time of their life. I like the fact that at the end of the party, the little ghosts, exhausted yet happy, and needing their beauty sleep go to bed like everyone else.

If your kids are into numbers, you should try some of these Halloween maths games. I like the idea of spooky sums almost as much as that of Frankenstein puddings (although in the case of the later, I would probably change the recipe for a pistachio flavoured custard and homemade double chocolate cookies).

For more Halloween ideas, see my thematic board on Pinterest and have fun this Halloween!

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More singing and more diverse voices please!

Last week the Guardian as well as other newspapers discussed and celebrated the list of diverse voices established by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books based in Newcastle. This list includes 50 of the best children’s books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK and it certainly reinvigorated a debate that established authors like Malorie Blackman have often engaged in.

Tariq Mehmood who in 2013 won the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award for You’re Not Proper declared at the time: “I have children who are not white, who read a lot, but they themselves are fictionally invisible. In Diverse Voices, I saw the recognition of the importance of creating a new literary landscape that reflected the world around us, that is blooming with thousands of different flowers, in which children are its scents.”

As a reader, I am all for a literary landscape with a variety of flowers and flavours, so I couldn’t agree more with Blackman and Mehmood. Take the challenge suggested by the authors of this article in the Guardian for instance and see for yourself: pluck 10 random books  next time you visit your local library and see what sort of leading character you get: chances are apart from animals, you’re quite likely to find a white male who lives in the UK or USA, and who has a fairly conventional family structure.

In case you wondered whether this is particular to the UK, read this piece by the late Walter Dean Myers published not that long ago in the New York Times: “Where are the people of colour in children’s books?” These discussions had me wondering about our readings, are they diverse enough? What sort of picture of the world do they provide for my children? What insight will they get from them? I want reading to be fun above all, but I also want reading to open my children’s eyes and to let them see the world in all its richness and diversity.

There are a few books that we keep on reading in my house that have not made it onto this list and I believe that collectively we can make a much better one, so how about you add to my list here, or write in the comments which book(s) celebrate(s) diversity for you?

The books that I want to share with you today are by Atinuke&Lauren Tobia.

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“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa”. This opening line is part of all the books of the series. In Anna Hibiscus’Song, a bright and beautiful picture book, we see how Anna loves to spend time in the mango tree as well as with her family. She loves to play with her cousins Chocolate, Angel and Benz, and she loves to dance with her uncle Tunde.

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She is so happy that she doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she asks for advice to all the members of her family. Each of them comes up with a different answer, but none really satisfies Anna who thinks that she is going to explode, until she climbs back up in the mango tree, sits still, sits quiet, and starts to sing.

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In case you thought I am over-enthusiastic, read the opinion of others, like Jean’s, who reviewed the series of Anna Hibiscus books on her great blog Artful Parent. Like me she goes back to these books again and again, as they simply are a joy to read with children say 5 and up. This is why I was delighted when I found out that the author and illustrator had teamed up to make a big picture book that my son and I have been reading regularly since he was three. Having re-read Atinuke’s The No. 1 Car Spotter last night, I also think he might be ready now for the adventures of Coca Cola and his best friend the No. 1 Car Spotter.

I have never met Atinuke in the flesh, but I  would love to, seeing how she tells stories. Judge for yourself with this video, and go to your library to read more diverse stories and to learn about others and yourself in the process.

A final little bonus, a video interview where Atinuke discusses her childhood in the UK and Nigeria and her writing of both Anna Hibiscus and the No. 1 Car Spotter.

 

 

 

Zouk, notre sorcière préférée

Je sais bien qu’Halloween n’est pas une fête traditionnelle pour les Français (de France) et que nous en sommes encore loin côté calendrier, mais l’école de mes enfants organise une ‘spooky night’ la veille des vacances et nous nous sommes donc replongés en famille dans des lectures saisonnières. Ce plongeon m’apporte une belle surprise à savoir que mon petit de 4 ans se révèle non seulement un fan de BD, mais aussi un amateur de  sorcières.

Zouk, la petite sorcière qui a du caractère, est le fruit d’une collaboration entre Serge Bloch et Nicolas Hubesch, et ses aventures sont aussi publiées dans la revue Les Belles Histoires. Si la patte de ses deux créateurs vous dit quelque chose, c’est que vous êtes peut être familier avec d’autres albums du prolifique Serge Bloch qui n’est autre que le ‘père’ de SamSam, Toto et Max&Lili.  Je ne peux donc pas m’empêcher de vous donner à voir, l’épique épisode de SamSam intitulé l’attaque des Pipiolis, un classique de chez classique pour les petits de 3-4 ans, à savourer si vous êtes en pleine phase de transition entre les couches et les culottes.

Mais revenons à nos moutons, Zouk est une petite sorcière pleine de peps qui ne se laisse pas marcher sur les pieds et qui fait aussi pas mal de bêtises! Dans le volume intitulé Danger Public par exemple, elle transforme une boule de neige en montagne géante, manque de faire manger ses amis par une bande de crocodiles, piranhas et araignées géantes et fonce à travers la ville au volant de la voiture de ses parents avant de s’écraser lamentablement dans un immeuble.

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Heureusement sa maman Salsepareille, la sorcière la plus forte du monde, veille au grain et n’est jamais très loin en balai magique! Et toujours et encore, après s’être fait gronder, Zouk promet de ne plus recommencer…jusqu’à la prochaine fois. Je ne sais pas ce que ma grande aimait le plus chez Zouk, peut être était-ce le fait qu’elle ne se laisse pas faire ou commander par qui que ce soit, mais clairement mon plus jeune se délecte des bêtises de Zouk. Il aime imaginer qu’il a des super pouvoirs comme elle. Parfois il me menace de sa baguette magique et semble vouloir me faire disparaître, à d’autre moments il me dit avec un grand sourire qu’il aimerait lui aussi savoir transformer les gens en gateau ou en tonneau.

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Dans tous les cas, si vous êtes en manque de tours de magie cocasses ou de lectures ou les sorcières sont bien plus sympas et moins effrayantes que d’ordinaire, je vous conseille d’essayer un de ces albums.

Et puis tant que vous y êtes faites-vous une baguette magique, ou inventez des formules rigolotes. Un petit tuto pour vous aider ici, même si en improvisant avec un pistolet à colle chaude, un bâton choisi avec soin, de la laine, et du papier coloré, on peut se faire quelque chose de très convaincant, croyez-moi!

 

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I know it is a bit early to celebrate Halloween, but my kids’ school has a spooky night coming up and this always gets them excited, so we’ve been following their hearts and reading seasonal books with Halloween and spooky themes.

The Zouk series is what I would call a cartoon for young readers, with usually 6 stories in each book. My daughter took to them when she was 6 years old, and it seems that my younger son (who’s now 4) loves them just as much.

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Zouk lives in a city that looks very much like New York with her mum and dad, and she is opiniated and full of mischief. Her faithful companions are a talking pumpkin Monsieur Potiron and her black cat Noyau. Like most children, she is spontaneous and outspoken which sometimes gets her in trouble. At the playground, when two  boys she plays with forbid her to climb on the equipment and threaten to turn her in girl’s juice, she retaliates by transforming the little bridge in a fragile structure suspended over scary crocodiles, piranhas and rats.

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In another of her adventures, Zouk sees joggers in the park, and decides that she wants to do the same. But she soon realises how tiring this is and decides to hop on her magic broom instead. But flying in this park is forbidden and a policeman close by immediately tells her so. If only the poor little witch could remember how to stop, maybe she would not end up crashing in a tree.

Zouk is a stubborn and fun character, who often needs her mum’s help to sort out the havoc she’s created and this is partly why, I suspect,  my son loves her so much. She is adventurous and disobedient but more often than not she means well. So how could you possibly remain cross with her?

In short, if you have a little mischievous wizard or witch in your house, you should definitely check Zouk’s books, or watch her happily fly on your screen.

 

 

Why oh why?! La valse des questions, ou comment faire face à un petit curieux

Les pourquoi, les comments et les combiens, est ce qu’ils accompagnent aussi vos journées?  Ma grande de 8 ans a les questions spécifiques et généralement pointues, du genre: dis maman, si ce conducteur est, comme nous venons de le voir, un chauffard mal luné, comment se fait-il que la police ne lui ait pas encore retiré son permis? Elle a parfois la question réthorique mais celle-ci récente était en l’occurence vraiment candide…

Quant à mon fils de 4 ans, ses questions sont bien plus diverses. Elles sont tantôt hilarantes ou franchement saugrenues, et le pire bien entendu c’est quand il nous colle, son père et moi…la honte! Enfin nous avons la parade parfaite lorsque nous lui répondons que la réponse est dans un de nos livres mais qu’il nous est difficile de toujours savoir lequel consulter! Vous comprenez maintenant pourquoi nous avons des bibliothèques jusqu’au plafond et dans presque toutes les pièces de notre maison. Avec des curieux en culotte courte comme ça, pas de choix.

Cela dit je ne me plains pas parce que ce bombardement de questions, mine de rien, me contraint à apprendre pleins de choses qui autrement me seraient sans doute totalement inconnues. Un example simple: savez vous combien de cheveux vous avez sur la tête? ou bien si on a jamais trouvé un mille-pattes à mille pattes?

Et bien je vais vous éclairer: le plus long mille-pattes observé n’avait que 752 pattes (l’arnaque) et des cheveux ont en a entre 100 000 et 150 000. Tout ça je l’ai appris grâce au super Kididoc des combien, un album ludique et plein de surprises qui vous apprendra plein de choses.

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Divisé en 17 sections très variées telles que le corps, les dinosaures, des plantes extraordinaires, en ville, dans le désert, cet album fourmille de volets à ouvrir et d’autres languettes qui, une fois dépliées, vous dévoileront tous leurs secrets. Tenez, regardez ne serait-ce que la réponse à la question sur les cheveux et son joli effet de surprise avec cette petite fille aux cheveux dressés sur la tête, un régal comique et ludique, c’est pas une réussite ça?!

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Les ouvrages kididoc sont en fait une collection bien sympathique, avec beaucoup de titres complémentaires. On a chez nous le kididok des pourquoi. et celui des combiens ainsi que quelques albums thématiques comme celui sur les pirates et la ville, qui sont plus pointus mais tout aussi réussis pour les curieux de 3-4 ans à 77 ans et plus.

Si vos curieux sont insatiables, je vous conseille aussi l’émission radio des p’tits bateaux qui concocte chaque semaine sur France Inter un florilège de questions d’enfants sur lequel se penche une ribambelle d’experts. De plus comme l’émission est disponible en ballado-diffusion, vous n’avez vraiment aucune excuse!

Maintenant si vous êtes arrivé sur ce billet via une recherche thématique sur les myriapodes, je suis désolée mon billet manque sans doute de contenu alors fan de mille-pattes allez consulter le magnifique blog de maman baobab et son billet sur un livre qui m’a fait de l’oeil la dernière fois que j’étais en France.

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If it was not for its biggish size, Le kididok des combien would be the perfect non fiction book to take on a train trip.  Reading conquers boredom and this is one of the many gifts you will pass on to your child if you raise them as readers, like Mary Anne, a true advocate of reading. You can read several sections of this big and colorful book in a row, or just a couple of pages at a time. You can use the table of contents to target your little one’s favourite topics (sports, space, dinosaurs), or just flick through it until something catches your attention like an elephant or a flamingo.

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It is full of bits to pull on and contains facts that your children will no doubt remember for a long time. How could they possibly forget for instance how big a blue whale’s poo is? Or that it is pink?! My four year old is now often reminding me that I should know this very important fact. How did I do to live until well past the age of 30 without knowing this, I wonder!

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The last couple of pages are set up like a quiz to see whether your keen readers have memorized any of facts that they read about. If you have older children, this would be a great group activity, with score-keeping for the more competitive ones.