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.

 

Can you imagine if all bookshops were like this?

I love visiting my local bookshop. I love that if I go with my children there is a play table for toddlers with a playhouse, a tea set and pretend food, teddies and books. I also like the fact that they placed a comfy bench nearby so that I can sit down and flick through books while my little ones are having fun.

But not all bookshops are created equal, and my kids know an exciting place when they see one. You should have seen them in Boston last winter in Curious George’s bookshop! It occupies a lovely building in Cambridge, a couple of minutes from Harvard campus, and it makes the most of its fun round shape with plenty of reading nooks. For those of you who are curious, see why it’s been voted best toystore in Boston in 2013 here!

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Now back to our shores, this secondhand shop in Leicester is a truly fun space for little ones which shows that even with a modest budget, you can build an inspiring place.

From outside it looks quite traditional, nothing fancy, one of the other Loros charity shops really!

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But look inside and hey presto you’ve got something else altogether. A magic enchanted forest, adorned with super cute mushroom stools!

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LorosBookshopLeicester2The architects who took on this project work at Heterarchy studio and have created something unique which would get my children excited for sure. I hope you enjoy this great space, and next time you’re in Leicester, pay them a visit and buy a book or two!

 

 

Do you like slimy slugs…in your stories that is?

For the last few days, my children have reminded me how much they love reading about yucky things. Alice Bell has a brilliant post on poo books that I suggest you have a look at if you’ve ever wondered about the why of poo literature. I have already written a couple of posts on poo literature myself, so you may be thinking; what?! Another post on poo?! Not quite. I will spare you and focus on a slightly different topic today, but expect a gruesome (and slightly delayed) French Friday that will no doubt include the p word this week end.

Gareth Edwards’ and Hannah Shaw‘s The Disgusting Sandwich starts off with on the one hand a boy going to the park with a truly beautiful sandwich, and on the other hand a very hungry badger salivating at the sight. But almost as soon as the little boy gets into the playground, a girl bumps him and his sandwich falls in the sandpit. Does he apply the 2 second rule? No! This may be because the girl tells him: “Well you can’t eat it now. It’s disgusting!” or maybe because he has experienced the unpleasant grittiness of sand on food before, we don’t know.

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But from then on, we follow the sandwich as well as the badger who is trying to catch it. Before he can grab it, the sandwich is picked up and discarded by a squirrel, a frog, a crow, and finally a fox.

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And every time the sandwich gets dirtier and more disgusting until it is “covered in sand and smelly green goop and big squish marks and hundreds of ants and grimy old feathers and slippery slime and oozy grey bubbles”.

DisgustingSandwichScooterBut the badger is still ravenous, his tummy still rumbles and his hunger has to be satisfied, so guess what he does? I’m not going to say! All I will say is that my kids love this slimy and yucky ending. The repetitive pattern and lines, the funny faces the animals make, and the yucky, slimy sandwich are winners with both my children. Almost every single time we’ve read this book, we’ve discover new details about the park, its inhabitants, and those who use it daytime or nighttime. From the yellow wellies worn by the frog to the little boy in a wheelchair playing tennis, it abounds in fun details.

If sandwiches are your thing, go and see this post which gives you additional reading suggestions including a great pop out book I did not know about and ideas for activities!

And for a bit of drawing and assembling, download this activity sheet by the illustrator to make the squirrel’s sandwich or make a beautiful sandwich truly disgusting!