Saturday, 31 October 2015

Happy Hobbitween

OOOOOhhhhh Halloween! The time of year when parents love to dress their mini-mes in cute costumes such as pumpkins, witches, or skeletons. Or something much creepier. I am not loving the supermarket array of zombies and bloodied costumes. Not for us, thanks. I am not the biggest fan of this occasion (apols to my penpal Erin who loves it) as I am a huge scaredy cat. Since the (toffee) apple doesn't fall far from the tree I was not sure if Matt would want to dress up at all but he said he wanted to.

First, he announced he would like to be a witch.  A boy witch. And he picked up a broomstick in the supermarket. But then he announced he wanted be a wizard and would need a magic wand. Grrr I thought as these were £4 more expensive than the brooms. Anyway I had just started to plan what would make a great wizard costume when Matt announced that he did not want to be just any wizard. One of the proudest moments of my life as a mother was to follow. It is up there with the moment the two year old Matt asked me if we could play libraries. It is up there with the moment he successfully recited his My Dad book. Matt announced that this Halloween there is absolutely only one wizard he wanted to be: Gandalf the Grey.

Let's back up here. This summer we made our annual retreat to Scotland. I dreamed of reading some great Scottish books. I thought we would sit beside a loch and read Katie Morag. Or, when the weather changed, we could snuggle in the log cabin reading Six Dinner SidThe reality was rather different. Matt just wanted to play sheep farmer in the woods (it was a gate thing) or watch How to Train Your Dragon 2. Our holiday reading really did not work out how I had planned but it all turned out even better in the long run. Matt may not have been interested in reading but I was completely absorbed by my book and could not help sharing it. By the process of osmosis my book enthusiasm has now produced the greatest Tolkien fan ever- despite him not reading a word. 

It had started briefly with The Hobbit. (Despite the nature of this blog I am often late to the book party.) Matt liked the cover and would ask questions so I started to give him brief chapter updates: Bilbo has a magic ring etc. When I started LOTR,  Matt was most interested to hear what Gandalf was up to and where he lives. He renamed one of his toy horse's Shadowfax. One day at the park, Matt and his cousins set up a Middle Earth game. I loved watching them argue over who was Frodo and who was Bilbo!

I enjoyed The Hobbit but I was completely in Middle Earth with LOTR on holiday in the Highlands.  I had time on my hands to think about the book and the landscape really lent itself to the tale. Every evening I would have a steaming hot bath and catch up with my hobbit friends. Matt would hover, eager to know what was happening. We went to a second book shop and found an old Illustrated World of Tolkien book. We spent ages flicking through it and Matt was genuinely delighted to see pictures of Gandalf. LOTR has really fired his imagination. He cannot wait to be old enough to read it with me. I don't want to rush the time. At all. But the thought of sharing these books with him in a few years fills me with hope and excitement.  By holding off children's books for a week and allowing my love of books to spring forth I have found a different way to invest in Matt's literary future. 

And it has started to pay off with this Halloween. I am as pleased as punch that he has chosen the good and great Gandalf. I am also glad we have made it a fourth year without him dressing up as something grim. I am relieved most of all that he has not asked me to make a Nazgul costume.

So I have spent this week cutting, sewing, glueing, and manipulating three pillowcases into a Gandalf outift. I am not a pinterest mama by any means but the costume works for us. 

The dress rehearsal.

Party One: Despite his initial excitement, Matt refused to wear the beard or hair. 

Party Two: We arranged the hair (ponytail) and beard (off chin) to accommodate the little man's needs. He mounted Shadowfax and became Gandalf...

However, we had not even got through the gate to the party when Matt decided he needed to remove the beard, hair, and hat. Harrumph! Someone thought he had dressed as a Jedi!

Party Three: 
We arrived at the car park and he announced that he just wanted to be Matthew now.
Fine, I said. Really. After all that work? Fine, fine, fine!

It was a fun Hobbitween but let us all remember that Gandalf is for life not just for October. I really need to keep Matt's LOTR enthusiasm going so he can wear the gear again next year. 

However, should I fail in my quest he can always be Obi Wan Kenobi. 

Pride (in the name of booklove)

It was the anniversary of my birth at the weekend so the three of us went to Wales to celebrate in style. Ish.

We started the weekend with a trip to Hay On Wye. I bought some books off my long list and Matt selected an odd bunch of books. The best thing that I found on the trip turned out to be a bucketful of pride for the boy we are raising and a tap on the back for the job we are doing with him.

The first moment my heart swelled took place when we entered the first bookshop. Matt was genuinely excited to be surrounded by the endless bookshelves. Until he saw a dog in the shop. He then went into supermarket sweep mode and grabbed some dodgy titles but it was his enthusiasm that warmed my cockles. 

The second event was a somewhat cloudier moment of pride but it was there all the same. It came when Matt had a mini meltdown. We were in another bookshop when I had to ask him to put a pig book back on the shelf. I suggested we find the children's section after Mummy had looked at the grown up section (not the same as Adult section). What followed was a range of emotions for the tired and overwhelmed boy: sulking, muttering, whingeing, pushing, then tears. We left the shop as a noisy rabble and, despite the looks of bookshoppers and book keeper judging how we could not manage this situation more quietly, quickly, and conveniently, I secretly loved that Matt was exhibiting the gottahavethisbook feeling.

We sat on a bench outside the shop and had the talk and a cuddle. Matt apologised and said he was tired and thirsty. I suggested the boys hop it to a cafe and leave me to it. Matt was torn. He loves a cafe but asked 'what if someone else buys the piggy book?'  I explained that I could not imagine  that there were many shoppers in a town full of second hand, antiquarian, specialist, and random bookshops, seeking out a £1 book of paintings and poetry about pigs but I sure appreciated his irrational attachment to a book. We agreed to purchase it at the end of the day if he booked his ideas up (love it, don't you?).

In a nutshell, people of Hay of Wye and the rest of the world, children get tired, children have meltdowns. If my son is going to be emotionally overwhelmed I would rather it is in a bookshop (but definitely not a library for the shush factor). It shows he has his priorities right. So, instead of your glances of judgement I would have appreciated, and in future I will expect, applause and cheers that my son cared enough to express strong emotions about a book. 

Wow, isn't it amazing how clearly you can read a situation through birthday book-tinted specs?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Well, What Do You Know?

Here be the answers you seek. 

I showed the clue to TTWCTT to Matt. He got the answer once I had explained that the red item was a golf tee and not a 'golf pointy thing'. We adore this book. I will dedicate a future post to Judith Kerr so hold on tight until then. 

I set the GCD clue up when Matt was not around as he would have definitely offered his creative input. I was chuffed with the dancefloor, dancing people, and the long-necked wall flower but Matt did not get it at all. Maybe it is because he has no concept of a disco! For Matt, dancing involves spinning around on your head in the hallway to 80s hip hop. It is Matt who spins, very much not me.

TWB was probably pretty obvious except if you are four. I am still trying to get Matt into this book. His main question after seeing the clue was 'when did you bath my babies?'

I thought that TDTPAP would be a cleaner book clue than The Dinosaur That Pooped the Bed. Matt got this one but mainly because he loves a poop story! He also had the benefit of seeing the clue in real life. I fear the toilet roll did not come out very clearly on the photo. You are free to use this excuse if you did not get this one.

TINMH is a classic Klassen book. It is a firm favourite in our house. However, the clue was possibly the hardest for everyone else to get. I blame the actor. I asked Matt to wear my old hat and do a face that said 'this is not my hat'. 

Exhibit A
Exhibit B

Some days later I showed the photo clue to Matt and his answer was 'Mum's Hat'. Never work with children or hats.

This was an easy clue for FS . Matt got it straight away. All I could see was the filthy carpet.  Next time I photograph a fox in socks I will try to scrub the calpol stains out of the carpet- or just take the photo on a clean surface. Maybe your house?

There was a slight spoiler alert on facebook regarding the Seabiscuit clue. A pal's 6 month old son, Teddy, found it rather amusing. He must have been laughing at how easy it was. Having said that, Matt did not get it! His answer was: The Biscuit Who Went to Sea. It does not sound like a story with have a happy ending.

I thought that the PP clue was a stroke of genius but it may have been a leap too far. The Other Parent, my Sister, my Brother in Law, and Matt, all struggled with this. They all said T instead of t. My sister also said dish instead of pan. T-Dish was not an acceptable answer. I really thought the pea, the t, and a pan would delight and amuse you for days. Maybe I need to work on my letters and also my understanding of what pleases other people. 


TEC was gifted to you with an easy clue. I did find it a little difficult to set up the clue as the lego man just kept looking in proportion. However, I decided you could use your imagination to make him seem massive. Well done if you did so. Matt got this answer correct mainly because it is our only book with crocodile in the title.


KN is a lovely bedtime tale but it was a tricky clue to set up. I had to get Matt in on this one. My initial idea was to take a photo of Matt in his knight costume in the dark but he hated it. He stepped out into the garden in PJs and wellies, with a torch and sword. The helmet was impolitely turned down. He was outside for about 2 minutes before he mounted his steed and charged indoors. 

So then I asked Matt to pop his knight's gear on and climb into bed. He replied: can I pretend I am a Roman? So he did and the rest is (medieval) history.

So let's see how you fared.

Really? We either have an obscure book collection in this house or you are unfamiliar with children's books in general. Stick around and we can sort you out.

Not great is it? You have shown a smidgeon of knowledge but there is room for improvement. Stick around and we can sort you out.

Not bad. I knew you would do well. Wonder which ones tripped you up? Maybe you still need to stick around and we can sort you out.

Whoa. Well done. You have excellent knowledge of the children's book titles that we have on our shelves. I am not sure I am comfortable with your familiarity but you are obviously on our wavelength. Either way, you need help. So...stick around and we can sort you out.

And that concludes the quiz. 

I definitely enjoyed it more than Matt and possibly more than you. It was an interesting process to see how familiar he was with the book titles. It made me realise that Matt does not see the titles in the same way as me the grownuptypeperson. Book titles amuse me, interest me, invite me. But book titles mean less to Matt firstly because he cannot read. He recognises books from their covers. Secondly, the titles, for Matt, are merely descriptions of the book. He looks beyond the title and identifies with the story within. 
A lesson for us all?

This exercise has also made me realise that, sometimes, I have too much time on my hands. Maybe I had better go and clean the carpet.

Ha! As if. I have just got returned from Hay On Wye and have some reading to do. Sssshhhhh!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Oooh You'll Never Guess

How about we shake things up a bit with a quiz?
I know, how exciting? 

Seriously, I have been spending a shameful amount of time thinking about compiling this high brow test. In my head the photos and props were slick and the clues teased you just enough to get the little grey cells working. In reality- sigh!

I have avoided a strict list of terms and conditions on account of there being no prize.Shocking. Don't be put off. How about the prize be the potential to gain increased book knowledge? Or what if we say that it is the taking part that counts? Yeah, Matt doesn't accept that either.

The following photographic images contain clues to the titles of children's books classic  and modern.

The quiz was originally intended for Matt but then I thought of you. Then I thought he could help. Then I realised he is four and no. Some clues Matt tried to help me with. Others he was not party to. With other clues he really was no help at all. I then made him sit the test. I mean fun quiz, obvs. I will reveal his answers to the ones he was not party to in the next post.

For now it is suffice to say that you have had a narrow escape. Whilst musing over which books to use Matt suggested this one:

Not today thanks.

I can see you are chomping at the bit to get stuck in so without further ado I can now declare this literary challenge open. 












I will return with the answers after my weekend of sheer debauchery. By debauchery I mean dragging Matt and the other parent around bookshops and then being dragged around a shire horse farm. See you on the other side. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You Read?

Greetings. Brown Bear's the name. After great discussions with Matt's mater we agreed that I would be the best one to write a Bear Book Blog post. I wasn't entirely sure what a blog was but I understand that I get to have my say on my favourite books and that suits me just fine. The mater will type it up as my lack of fingers rather hinders the process.

I imagine you would like to know of my credentials before we commence? I am a rather fine specimen of bear who lives at a lovely Montessori nursery. I spend my days watching the children play and grow. On some weekends and holidays I am invited to visit one of the children in their own habitat. As a highly evolved and civilised creature I have a suitcase and I will travel. This year, in our corner of The Shire, the children were fortunate to have a seven week summer holiday. I was somewhat concerned that this would have been an awfully long time to sit on a shelf on my own but I was told that I would be going to spend the holidays with Matt.(I am not sure how I feel about shortening his name but his mater has ultimate editorial control). Matt was excited that he was the chosen one. The mater was very excited (overBEARingly so). I was determined to reserve my judgment until I had seen the bed and breakfast arrangements. 

All was in order at the homestead so I eased my frown and tried to settle in. Bears are pretty adaptable, you know. Look at Paddington. I was most happy when the first evening commenced with a bear book session. 


On my visits to the various nursery children I have been read many books- mainly about bears. I consider myself quite an expert and I feel the need to share the bear books that I enjoy and, most importantly, the books that put us bears in a good light.

Bear Necessities
I feel compelled to mention Winnie The Pooh and the aforementioned Paddington Bear immediately. However I do not intend to spend time discussing their collections of books. Firstly, there are so many books to consider. Second, they are both givens, classics, and I would like to think that you do not need me to tell you that they are a vital part of a child's reading list.  Third, the books are a little older than the books Matt and the mater are reading at the moment so they will fully embrace them in the near future: when the mention of Pooh Corner does not make the Mater grab the wipes. Finally, I have a problem with these celebrities of bear literature. There is a lot to learn about the world from Winnie the Pooh and a lot to learn about society from Paddington but their popular personae have overshadowed the stories. The Disneyfication of Winnie The Pooh and the latest Paddington film have diverged from the beauty of the original tales. Winnie the pooh is most intelligent writing; it is philosophical and wise. Yet it has been reduced to a an oversized keyring on a handbag. All the merchandise has sucked the soul out of Winnie the Pooh and gang. It saddens me. I say take back the toys, duvet set, and jumper, and READ the books. Similarly, whilst Paddington is a fitting icon for us bears far from home, trying to assimilate, it is his books that tell our plight and they tell it better that the latest movie. I am, of course, bitter because these bears are the reason that the world thinks we just eat honey or marmalade. For the record, my favourite food is cake. 
Yawn. I need a rest after all that growling...

Bear faced cheek
Another classic that you may be surprised to see omitted from my list is We're Going On A Bearhunt. As a Montessori bear I believe children need to play. So whilst I support the adventurous spirit of the children I am obviously totally opposed to bearhunting: real or pretend; actual or implied. I may need to ask Nicola at the nursery to only read the book when I am on my holidays. I do like the ending whereby the bear is left in peace but the story leaves me cold. Some of us left the cave a long time ago. For the ones that stayed this story is far from comforting. Neither is Matt a great fan. He has reached the point where his Grandad can read a sedate version at his house but under no circumstances can that book enter the sanctuary of his bedroom. The mater says it is a classic but she has never had a book inviting children to hunt her down. No persecution, no comment.

Bear Essentials

One book that children enjoy reading with me is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Matthew's cousins read it to me at the library and very nice it was too. The illustrations are typical of Eric Carle. However, I wish he had persuaded the author to give Brown Bear more of a character and, most importantly, some of the food from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This book is an essential introduction to colours and animals. I am, of course, biased since the book shares my name.

Postman Bear by Julia Donaldson is another great bear book. The rhymes are easy for young children to memorise and join in with. They also love the flaps but I find them difficult to open with my paws. I like this book because Postman Bear actually bakes his own cake thus proving that we are resourceful and capable creatures. We can make cakes without making a mess too- take note, Paddington. I would like to think that the lead character is a professional postman but I fear he is an amateur as he does not wear a uniform. JD missed as opportunity here as it is important to show young bears the range of career paths available. Criticism withstanding, this book is an essential lift the flap book. 

Peace at Last by Jill Murphy is one of my favourite books. Matt's book has a note inside which warns that it belongs to Emma Williams. I have no idea who she is but the book seems older than me and I am sure she won't mind my reading it. The story is about a Papa bear trying to get to sleep in his noisy home. The anxiety of not being able to find a place to sleep amuses me but Matt's mater says she really relates to it. She also says that Jill Murphy really understands parenthood. I love the story because it paints a true and lovely portrait of a civilised bear family in an ordinary life.  I also get to see this endless night play out in many a home that I visit. It is, all in all, an essential bedtime tale- as long as your child does not take on the role of the lively son at bedtime. 

Hugless Douglas by David Melling puts the bear into bear hug. This is a heartwarming and funny tale about a bear seeking his best hug. It is what semi-wild bears are about. I love Hugless Douglas' pyjamas and his big indulgent yawns but I do wonder where his manners are. I have never blown my nose on a rabbit's bottom. Nor do I intend to. The best thing about reading this book is that Matt gives out huge hugs afterwards. It is an essential cuddle book. 

Bear With
The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers is an entertaining read. It starts off with trees mysteriously being chopped down. We then meet a bear who appears to be ethically challenged. As the story unfolds you are taken through a criminal investigation and you get to hear the bear's plight. You are drawn in to the woods and wonder how it will be resolved. But all ends well. If you bear with this story it will stay with you. It has two great messages too- teamwork and tree protection. The book was HarperCollins' first picture book to be printed on The Forest Stewardship paper so my bear relations stand to benefit too. This is an essential book for championing not just literary bears but real ones too.

So, bear you have it. These are my recommendations. I urge you to read about bears but please read widely to avoid typecasting. Some of us have suitcases and pyjamas. Some of us live in woods, semi detached houses, or caves. Some like privacy, some like hugs, some have animal pals, and some have human companions. But all bears have a tail to tell. 

Hearts laid Bear
This is the rest of the tail of my summer with Matt.

Farewell Friends, BB.

Bearly Made it
After a tearful parting with Brown Bear (Matt cried a little too) we had to rebuild our lives. We decided to console ourselves with a library trip. It was here that we discovered a fantastic new bear book. Grrrrr by Rob Biddulph is the story of two bears competing to be the best bear in the wood. The story is entertaining, the illustrations are bold and colourful, and I love the inventive use of speech bubbles. Brown Bear would have loved this funny book about friendship as much as we did. Maybe the next child to have BB could read it to him. Please? And maybe, if you see him, remember me to him? Thanks.

Reading more  bear books than usual made a nice change from the horse and dragon tales that shaped the summer. But of course this is only part of the story.

The Third Law of Matt: When life hands you a bear turn him into a viking.