Tag Archives: friendship

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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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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Pomelo est bien sous son pissenlit, or how a tiny pink elephant can make your day

Pomelo est un petit éléphant charmant et un peu peureux qui vit tranquillement sa vie dans un potager au milieu des escargots, fourmis et autres insectes locaux. L’album Pomelo est bien sous son pissenlit est un florilège de trois histoires. Dans la première, on apprend à connaître Pomelo. Par dessus tout, il aime sa tranquilité, mais aussi faire des grimaces, bricoler et essayer d’épater les fourmis en faisant la fontaine avec sa trompe géante.

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Sa trompe gigantesque lui cause d’ailleurs quelques soucis, elle se coince au moment les plus inopportuns, l’empêche de respirer s’il veut la discipliner en s’en faisant un collier, et lui vaut l’affection indésirable des bébé escargots. Les yeux de merlan frit des bébés escargots ne manquent d’ailleurs jamais de nous faire rire!

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Même l’histoire  dans laquelle Pomelo nous raconte ses frayeurs a de quoi faire sourire ses lecteurs. L’ombre des poireaux la nuit et leur raideur menaçante saura peut être émouvoir vos plus petits, mais je vous défie de résister à Pomelo en petit chaperon rouge (qui a peur de se retrouver dans la mauvaise histoire), ou à l’image qui illustre sa peur de voir sa trompe ne jamais s’arrêter de grandir!

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Le ton des trois histoires a beau être changeant, on ne peut que sourire et se dire que vraiment Pomelo est un attachant petit personnage. La preuve en images? Regardez ces petits bouts de chou de maternelle approcher et caresser le modèle réduit de Pomelo que la bibliothèque de Liévin avait mise à disposition pour une super expo l’hiver dernier dans le Pas de Calais! Quel potager! Un vrai régal pour les yeux, et quelle bibliothécaire, vraiment!

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Les plus grands aimeront sans doute dans d’autres albums comme Pomelo grandit la myriade de questions et réflexions philosophiques sur le fait de grandir.

En bref, à mettre entre toutes les mains de 3 à 7-8ans de préférence.

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Pomelo is a tiny pink garden elephant, so tiny that he likes nothing more than sitting under a dandelion. Pomelo likes his freedom and enjoys his own company. At times, he feels cheeky and makes cracking faces, at other times he prefers riding his Italian snail-friend Gigi across giant carrot fields.

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Ramona Bădescu and Benjamin Chaud render the ever changing mood of Pomelo with both tenderness and accuracy. For toddlers who often struggle with their emotions, it is very reassuring to see this little elephant being upset, and clumsy. With my older daughter we talked about his utterly funny yet irrational fears like when he finds himself in the wrong story.

Pomelo’s books have been translated in several languages including English, and the various titles in which he stars range from simple picture books for the youngest to more elaborate ones where Pomelo questions growing up and changing.

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Here is a link to a review and pics of one of his translated stories where Pomelo explores colours. If you want something more detailed and you’re curious about the illustrator Benjamin Chaud, go and see this page where you can see him in action in New York last spring. My advice is, do give this adorable elephant a try, you won’t regret it!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Have you had your dose of Rabbityness today?

Now you are probably wondering what on earth this title means?!  And unless you know Jo Empson‘s work, the title of this post  will indeed remain obscure. Empson’s  illustrations are visually stunning and the cover was certainly what appealed to my son when his eye caught Rabbityness at the library

Rabbityness is the story of a very special rabbit who likes doing rabbity things such as hopping and burrowing.

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But unlike other rabbits, he also likes doing unrabbity things like painting and making music. And this is what makes him truly special. So special in fact that he fills the woods with colour and music, and makes all the other rabbits catch his happiness.

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But one day, rabbit disappears and the woods become quiet and grey, that is until the other rabbits find in the deep dark hole that he has left, a pile of things to inspire them to do unrabbity things too.

By remembering him, and by using the instruments and tools he has left, the rabbits fill the woods with colour and music, and feel happy again.

Now, expect questions when you will be reading this book as the rabbit’s sudden and unexplained disappearance was puzzling to both my children. But I found it an interesting blank or void. You may want to discuss loss and pain, or some less abstract possible scenarios, this is your choice, and I definitely appreciate the freedom this book gives you in terms of where you want to take it.

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Because the end is colorful and full of joy, younger readers may even forget about the grey and somewhat scary episode in the middle of the story. But whatever you make of the plot, this is an explosion of colour, a great incentive to take your painting kit and (or) your favourite music outside and to enjoy it all together. Come on, you know cleaning up won’t be as bad if the painting is done outside! And if messiness is not your kind of thing, why not improvise a disco in the garden or the park? Happiness and joy do not need to be time or material intensive!

 

Who are these groovy elephants in my house? I blame the Elephantom!

In 2013,  the National Theatre created a new show for the Shed, a place where we had already seen a brilliant version of Romeo and Juliet.  Because we’d really enjoyed our experience in this venue, I was a bit sad that the busy festive season meant we could not see the Elephantom. At the time, I remember seeing the bright blue elephant on posters around town and thinking how joyously cheeky this giant pachyderm looked.

The show is based on Ross Collin’s book the Elephantom that I refrained from reading before the show. Why? Simply  because I  did not want us to have any expectations. That being said, it became clear that we were part of a minority once in the London New Theatre since most of the children around us not only knew the story very well, but some had even brought their favourite toy elephant(s)!

This show revolves around a little girl whose house becomes haunted by a big fat elephantom. At first, because her parents seem too busy and too self-absorbed, she is delighted to have a new companion. However things degenerate quickly and the elephant’s tricks start  to get her in trouble. Her parents, who are obviously incapable of seeing the elephantom, can only notice the havoc it causes and blame her. The family’s well-oiled morning routine is impeccably rendered by the live music and the actors’ impressive choreography. As a result, it is both a shock and a delight when things start to unravel as the elephant tries to pour tea over the mother’s head or steals the parents’s toasts. But the worst for the little girl and the best (for us anyway) is still to come since the elephantom invites his buddies for a crazy party which turns the house upside down!

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This fiesta had my children dancing on their seats to the tunes of Mc Hammer’s Can’t Touch This and Dee Lite’s Groove is in the Heart and  there were many other kids who, like them, could barely refrain from joining the four giant elephants dancing around the theatre!

The second part of the show, when the little girl gets her grandmother to help her deal with the increasingly disruptive and fast growing elephantom, was a little bit nebulous for my four year old son. He did not seem to understand why she was looking for a shop offering ghost removal services, or how the box she was to take home was going to help. My older daughter however loved seeing the little girl fly and jump over obstacles carried by the multi-talended actors/puppeteers.  She was full of questions about the making of the puppet and, once at home, we enjoyed watching this video showing the making of the show, the rehearsals, and the work that the actors have put in. And of course, since then we’ve been re-enacting the crazy disco and pretending we are big and clumsy elephants!

I can’t help but wonder but how my children did not even notice that there was barely any dialogue. Anyone (regardless of their language ability) could see this show and enjoy it thanks to Adam Pleeth’s live music, the brilliantly animated puppet and the magic character of this story. For another (happy) take on the show, read Sarah McIntyre’s post after her visit at the Shed, and expect at least another couple of posts about elephants on this blog in the near future.

Swimming in a gigantic bowl of creamy milk, what a dream!

I wish I’d had this dream, but this is Colin’s, the cute and fun cat in Leigh Hodgkinson‘s book Colin and the wrong Shadow. My son picked it  up at the library and decided that reading it twice was not enough (which I guess is always a good sign). Since then (a mere 10 hours ago) we’ve probably read it another six or seven times, and I would not be surprised to hear that his father has also been solicited! I am not sure what my son prefers in this book but here is a list of the things he has appreciated and underlined as we read together:

1-the cereal shaped ‘o’ going from Colin’s head to the giant bowl full of milk he is dreaming about      

2.the giant elephant shadow and the little pink mouse Vernon

3-the bouncy flowers that make Vernon jump like a super-dooper star and his tuba&mask at the end of the story

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From this list you would not know that this book is all about Colin’s search for his lost shadow, but it is. After realising that the funny feeling he has when waking up is due to his new mouse-shaped shadow, Colin tries to ignore the sniggering of other cats. But this is really hard. Finally sad and frustrated, he manages to spot his original shadow and chases it down. It turns out that Vernon, a little pink mouse, has ‘borrowed’ his shadow while he was sleeping. But Colin is not happy with this switch-swap and wants his shadow back. After a heart to heart conversation, Vernon and Colin finally come to an agreement and swap shadows again before having a lot of fun together.

While my son was curious about the interchangeable shadows and the details of the collages making up part of the illustrations, I could not refrain from admiring the various levels this story could be read at . You can look at it as a simple lost&find type of adventure, but the story is also about appearances and the way individuals perceive each other and act accordingly. The fun these two improbable companions eventually have proves everyone wrong in the end, which is a relief.  The ‘all is well that ends well’ cuppa that Colin and Vernon share was a highlight for both my children, who seem to understand instinctively that this special tea&cheese break stands for both resolution and comfort .

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As for me, I loved the attention to texture, layers and details of Hodkinson’s illustrations. Colin’s soft looking fur, Vernon cracker-sofa, and the fun camembert on the back cover all added to my enjoyment. There are several other books by this author including one starring Colin again, so I suspect we will be reading more of these this summer…and you may read more about them in another post.

(To be continued)