Tag Archives: family

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?


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


“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.


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.


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.




A growing collection of charming dragons

We spent the summer enjoying the resources of our local library, but I must admit that I got lucky with books in charity shops too, hence our growing collection of dragons…

Guess what I Found in Dragon Wood by Timothy Knapman and Gwenn Millward is the story of a very special friendship. Benjamin is a cute little boy with blond curls and big red wellies, but he is not like in many other books the narrator of the story. A young dragon who comes across Benjamin on one of his walks through the woods is the one who tells us about his wonderful discovery.


Surprised and curious, the young dragon decides to bring Benjamin home and then to school to show him to everyone. Imagine what a wonderful show and tell session this will be!

As you would expect, Mr Rockface,the teacher, decides to cancel the volcano sitting class and to give all the little dragons a lesson in biology and anatomy.


But the lesson quickly takes a different turn since  it appears that Benjamin is both home sick and sad. Kindly, to take his mind off his family, the little dragon asks Benjamin what he can do if he can neither fly nor breathe fire. This is when the magic happens since Benjamin decides to teach the  whole class how to play football and this turns out to be a fantastic and eventful match.


But at the end of the day Benjamin still misses his mum and dad, so his new friend, interested in discovering the land of the Benjamins decides that he will help him to get back home. Together they fly over the quiet city and finally land in Benjamin’s front garden to the surprise of all the neighbours. When the dragon comes back to school and tells his friends what he has seen, they are amazed and ask whether he will go back. To which he replies of course, since he is going to be the subject of a lesson at Benjamin’s school.


My kids found this book to be great fun not only because it is told by a dragon but also because it shows how the ideas of make believe and stories are not set in stone. Benjamin and the little dragon get on very well in spite of their differences and look happy together.


The difficulties they face are often created by the fear of their respective communities. In short, this lovely story shows how young minds are often more open minded than adults who can come with a seriously detrimental set of prejudice and baggage. So hip hip hurray to curiosity, consideration and courage and long live dragon football matches!

If your kids are into dragons, there are tons of crafty activities to do with them, my favourite list is here, but I also love this array of projects using loo rolls.


Now if they love music and dragons, Eric Puybaret’s gorgeous paintings in Puff the Magic Dragon and the CD that comes along with songs by Peter Yarrow are a real treat, so try to find a library (or charity shop) that has them, and read this excellent post by Adam Mason on the theme song accompanying the book!