The Wooden Dragon by Joan Aiken & Bee Willey

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I first took The Wooden Dragon by Joan Aiken and Bee Willey out of the library in 2013 when we lived near Bury St Edmunds and it, or its Aberdeenshire counterpart, has been coming home with us regularly ever since.

The story is a lovely one, about discovering how to use your strengths to overcome your fears, and how, no matter what your abilities are, there’s scope to help others.

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Set in the autumn, the illustrations are full of really rich textures, and earthy colours which match the tone of the prose perfectly. I really love how no surface is just one flat shade, but instead, is composed of layers of different colours. No one could ever say that the illustrations are ‘realistic’ – they’re heavily stylised – but they’re so lively and full of character that they feel very real.

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This is a wonderful book in which the power of stories helps the protagonist overcome the difficulties in their narrative. I’m a sucker for this plot, which I guess makes sense, given how many times reading books has rescued me. 😉

Farn ❤

 

 

The Library by Sarah Stewart & David Small

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Ironically, for one of my favourite children’s books – I know, I say that about all of them! – I don’t have a lot to write about The Library by Sarah Stewart and David Small.

That’s not because it’s not deserving of praise, mind you. The Library is an absolutely amazing story about defying social convention and indulging your passions. Also, it’s essentially about our house, which increasingly looks like a bookshop exploded in the centre of it and is still expanding…

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The reason I don’t have an awful lot to say about the book is because it tells its own story so neatly and succinctly in verse, that I feel as if I’m doing it a disservice by paraphrasing.

In short, it’s one you need to get hold of, and read and savour…

Farn ❤

The Gifts of Autism by Katherine Uher

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The Gifts of Autism by Katherine Uher is a fairly rare thing – being one of only a handful of books I’ve come across so far which is both written specifically for children, and aims to highlight the positive aspects of autism.

Whilst other factual books exist about autism, they focus on parts of the condition which might result in a child feeling stigmatised or even inferior to their peers. This book, conversely, describes various autistic traits – as the title suggests – as gifts.

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I always feel that you can tell the quality of an alphabet book by the choice of word for the letter Q and this didn’t disappoint – the word ‘Queen’ doesn’t make a tenuous appearance and the alternative word isn’t something entirely un-Q-related with the word ‘quite’ whacked in front. Whilst this might not seem like big praise, but you’d be amazed at how often the above happens, so full marks there!

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The book also contains a section designed to encourage self-reflection with a focus on positive autistic traits – indeed, positive traits for anyone to possess. I really like this invitation to praise oneself in detail – whilst drawing in a book, or even drawing-at-all, might not be every child’s cup-of-tea, the art pages can still serve as cues to think about what makes us awesome. Autistic or not, self-praise is something that doesn’t happen nearly enough – particularly not in the UK, where we seem to be bound by some unwritten law to downplay our own achievements for fear of sounding like we’re boasting. I think we’d all feel a lot better if we took the time to acknowledge the things that make us great, whether we’re autistic or not.

I also feel like it’s important to add that this is an excellent book for any child. As I’ve said above, the vast majority books that I’ve found on autism focus on traits that are often perceived as negative, even if the book is trying to take a neutral, fact-based approach. If we want to live in a society which values everyone for the contributions they do make then we need to make sure we that we focus on this when we explain the world. By thinking about the gifts of autism, the condition becomes a lot less isolating and neurotypical children might begin to see their autistic peers in a more positive light. And a little understanding can go a very, very long way.

Do you know of any positive books on autism I might not have come across yet? I’d love to hear about them if you do!

Farn ❤

Pass it on by Sophy Henn

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Pass It On by Sophy Henn is a lovely little book about happiness, and how we can share our joy with others.

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It covers the big, exciting things in life – like spotting a whale! – and the smaller things which bring joy from day-to-day like jumping in puddles.

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The illustrations are fun and stylish, and the poem which forms the text of the book is nicely written, though at times, I feel like my accent works against me with the rhyme scheme and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

This is a great book to couple with those about more unpleasant feelings. If you’re looking to start a collection of stories which deal with emotions then this is definitely a nice one to keep in there. It’s easy to focus on the things a child might find difficult – sadness, anger, frustration and fear – and forget to provide examples of the more positive things in life. This isn’t a failing on our part – just a tendency to take for granted the ability to shine a light on the things that are good. I know this is something I’ve been guilty of in the past – trying to help my children navigate and accept their big feelings through stories but neglecting to remind them to celebrate the good they find along the way.  I’m forever telling them that they can’t control what other people do, only their own actions and Pass It On is a really lovely reminder of the positive things that can happen when you make the decision to share what’s good in your life.

Which are your favourite books about being happy, and about sharing joy?

Farn ❤

Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

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Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang is probably as old as I am, if not older. Whilst it could conceivably be argued that I’m reviewing it for nostalgic reasons, this isn’t one of the books that I (knowingly) enjoyed in childhood. For me, this was another golden charity shop find and has since been adored by both Son and Daughter for the past seven years.

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First of all, I love the artwork – the book’s blurb describes it as having, ‘rich, bold colours’ and I couldn’t agree more. I also love the language used – in all the (many) books I’ve read to my daughter in the last seven-and-a-bit years, this is the only one which has referred to a girl as strong in the physical sense of the word. Later books – intended for older readers – have used the adjective to describe personality but bodily strength is not a characteristic that’s normally attached to female protagonists. Which is an issue, when you’re raising a girl who happens to have the beginnings of a six-pack.

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I love the realism of the book – that there are seven shoes along the edge of the bed, one half of a pair temporarily misplaced. I love the detail in the illustrations – the cat that’s present in nearly all of the pictures seems to be up to something new in each one. I love that it’s Dad, tenderly putting his daughter to bed and that this isn’t a laboured point.

The poem that carries us through the countdown is simple and neat, but equally warm and affectionate. Whilst I can pretty much recite it from memory, I haven’t grown tired of it yet, which is always a good sign.

This is another older book that I really would urge you to go out of your way to find. As you can tell from the pictures above, our copy has been well-loved and though both children are, if I’m being honest, too old for it, I can’t imagine not having it in the house so I’m on the hunt for another copy.

Tell me I’m not the only person who can’t let go of books – which have you clung on to?

Farn ❤

Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

I feel like Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers is the author’s love-letter to planet earth.

Full of Jeffers’ usual humour, beautiful illustrations and important information, this is a lovely book to share with very young, very curious people.

Jeffers talks about land and sea, the sun and stars and everything in between. Familiar characters feature …

… such as The Penguin and The Boy from ‘Lost and Found’, in addition to various other animated animals and people.

There’s not a vast amount that I can say about this book – beyond, “it’s fabulous and you should own it,” – because the subtitle does it all for me. Technically called Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, the book is just that – a series of notations about the world – this is what land looks like, and sea, this is the sky in the daytime and at night, here are constellations, here is a city, here is a forest, it can feel as though time can move slowly or quickly, people are mostly concerned with eating and drinking and staying warm…

There are so many things to like about this book, but they’re the sorts of thing that I can say about any of Jeffers’ works and the title of the book explains the rest, so I’ll just leave you with the above pictures and the promise that there’s a high probability your local library will have a copy you can enjoy…

Farn ❤

Story Dice

About a year ago, a friend gifted my children this set of ‘Story Dice’.

Whilst they’re not technically a book, they’re a great tool for encouraging story telling – either as a group or as a prompt for creative writing. The dice pictured above aren’t official ‘Story Cubes’, but the principal is certainly the same.

The child (or adult!) rolls the dice and has to come up with a story about the things they see. In the image above – for example – I might tell a tale about a duck, who had to deliver a letter through the pouring rain. He might shelter under a flower and notice that the envelope he held was starting to get wet. He feels terrible that he’s ruined the letter but on delivering it to his friend, he discovers that the sender had stuffed it full of ice cream which subsequently melted. To cheer the duck up, his friend takes him out for a burger. The end….

These have been brilliant for camping trips, long car journeys and waiting in restaurants – they take up next to no space in my bag and double up as blocks for stacking for younger children.

You can use them as a memory game (hide them under a napkin, turn the face of one over and have the kids try to figure out which block has been turned) or play “the first to throw a…” and assign a picture, taking it in turns to roll the dice until said picture emerges. My kids particularly enjoy, “the first to throw a duck” because of the images that conjures but there’s also a picture of a poop on one of the faces and that has also been an enormous success.

With a set of branded story cubes costing around £10, they’re not a cheap toy, but it’s easy enough to create something similar with different coloured dice. For example, by writing a key –
Red dice: 1 = bear, 2 = paint pot,  3 = chef’s hat, 4 = train, 5 = sad face, 6 = TV
Green dice: 1 = sea, 2 = viking hat, 3 = parcel, 4 = bus, 5 = scissors, 6 = arrows
Blue Dice: 1 = T-rex, 2 = bed, 3 = pizza, 4 = a magnifying glass, 5 = book, 6 = lips

Obviously these are just examples and you could do various lists to suit each child. You could also use some small, wooden blocks and add a sticker to each face which might be better for pre-readers.

At the moment, these are one of my favourite ‘wordy’ games, which is saying something, because I secretly really love i-spy (I know, I know…). Which are your favourite games which play with words? I’d love to hear them!

— Farn ❤