27 January 2010

Books, books and more books!

The lovely people over at Random House sent me a couple of children's books to review this week, which was very kind of them. Both are picture books, so me and the girl settled down at bedtime to have a read.

First up was Little Croc's Purse by Lizzie Finlay. Sadly, this one was a huge disappointment.

Little Croc finds a purse filled with money, and has to decide whether to do the right thing and hand it in at the police station, or spend spend spend on lemonades and some rather natty new cowboy boots. Not surprisingly, he does indeed give the purse to the police crocs, the owner is traced in a mysterious manner, and Little Croc is rewarded for his honesty.

The pictures are great (the design of the purse really stands out), and there's some lovely in-jokes for the grown-ups (the cafe is called Croc Monsieurs, for example) but the story is awful and preachy. I know, I know, we should be teaching children that honesty is the best policy - but can we at least have some decent dialogue/plot?

Having said all that, M loved it, and wanted it read again. It's one of those annoying books that children like but make you want to scream. I'd recommend borrowing it from the library, and then getting someone else to read it to them.

Our second book was Box of Tricks by Katie Cleminson. And it *was* completely magic - one of those breathtakingly simple books that you could look at for hours.

Eva is given a box of tricks for her birthday, and becomes a magician (complete with rather fantastic cape). She conjures up a pet (Monty the polar bear - who is rather larger than she thought), rabbits out of hats, and a fabulous party complete with cakes and magicians. Eventually, when everyone's worn out, she clicks her fingers and they all disappear. Or do they?

We both loved the beautiful ink illustrations. And fell about laughing at the bit where Monty appears, and where the rabbits are playing cards and pulling more rabbits out of hats. It's completely charming - especially the dancing rabbits.

And what else is so nice, is that it's a book about a girl who isn't sparkly and pink and faffing about with fairies. The colours in this book are gorgeous, strong reds and blues - and Eva's a pretty strong, imaginative character. It's great - thoroughly recommended. We can't wait for her next one.

Now we're back to George's Marvellous Medicine (you can't beat a good bit of Roald Dahl), except that I'm not allowed to read it because "Daddy does the voices better". That's my dreams of reading Book at Bedtime dashed, then.

26 January 2010

Cheap days out (3): The supermarket

Not necessarily where you would think of for an afternoon of fun, but it can be done. Not only do you get your weekly shop done, it's educational into the bargain!

First of all, get your small child on board with the idea. Let them decide what to have for tea (M usually picks sausages, or pasta), and write a shopping list of what they'll need. In our case, it turned out to be toad in the hole, so we needed sausages, eggs and milk (we already had flour). M's into writing words, so she wrote the list, and drew pictures of the things as well. I then issued her with a shopping bag, and put £5 in her purse so she could buy the ingredients.

It then helps if you have a small shopping basket, or one of those little plastic shopping trolleys. Sling it in the car, and tootle off to your local friendly branch of Sainsbury's/Morrisons/Lidl etc. Collect your grownup-size trolley, and let your small companion wheel theirs next to you. This should give the staff and fellow shoppers a bit of a giggle.

Proceed with your weekly shop, making sure the small child is looking for the things on their shopping list too. It's excellent for looking for food beginning with a particular letter, reading words on boxes and packets, finding special offers (and explaining why 2 for 1 is a bargain). Don't forget to look at the deli counters for free samples...

At the checkout, let your helper unload their trolley contents and pay using the money you've given them (which hopefully you didn't have to raid the piggy bank for). Load all the shopping into the bag you gave them earlier, and check the receipt (it's never too early to start on this one, plus you get to plug how reading is useful for all kinds of things, not just books). The receipt is strangely popular in our house. Not sure why.

Take your food home, unpack, and then cook your tea (I guarantee this escapade will take all afternoon, and you'll probably be in need of a little something by the time you get back).

22 January 2010

In the pile by the side of my bed...

...are several books which I got for Christmas, or have acquired by nefarious means. As you might have guessed, they are mostly food-related.
  • Delia Smith's Frugal Food. This is something of a first - I've never owned a Delia cookbook until now. It's not bad (the egg and bacon pie is rather spiffing), and it's hilarious to see what we were cooking in the 1970s.
  • Nigel Slater's Tender. It's Nige. Say no more - it's brilliant, and I can't wait for volume 2.
  • Rachel Allen's Bake. Good pictures, nice recipes - her soda bread one was excellent. I'm desperate to try making pretzeln - I've not had a good pretzel since working in southern Germany in 1995.
  • The Great Allotment Cookbook. Duff index, great recipes. It will come into its own during The Great Courgette and Gooseberry Glut.
  • The Allotment Gardener's Handbook. Had you forgotten I had an allotment? Never fear - the endless photos of tiny runner beans will reappear later this year.
  • Claire Tomalin's biography of Samuel Pepys. This is completely marvellous - Claire Tomalin is my heroine. She makes what could be dull history fascinating, and most importantly readable. Mr Pepys was something of a lad, which also helps.
  • Isabel Allende's Ines of my Soul. Picked it up in my local library, and it's pretty good. It's quite nice to have a novel on the go, as well as all the other lot.
Whether I finish all of these by the end of the decade or not, remains to be seen. Actually, I'll have to - I've got my eye on the next instalment of the Michael Palin diaries that I gave to my dad for Christmas.

19 January 2010

Arts Corner: January is film month

Now the sledging season's ended, I seem to have taken up film-watching. I've caught more films this month than I probably did in the whole of last year - I suspect that's because (a) they're quite good for keeping small folk amused at the end of a long, cold day and (b) I've been ill, and there's only so much of Radio 4's afternoon play you can listen to before becoming slightly deranged.

So far, the list includes:

Fantastic Mr Fox at the Sunday morning cinema (followed by some rather excellent buns at the Chinese bakery). It was fantastic in every way - I especially loved the design of the sets, and the opening sequence when the two foxes chase across the farm.

Ice Princess, while swathed in blankets on the sofa. Don't laugh, it was quite good, especially if you're partial to a bit of ice skating. Might watch it again with the girl at some point.

Nanny McPhee, on a freezing cold Sunday afternoon while recovering. We made popcorn, and snuggled up on the sofa. I loved this - it was brilliant at working on grown up and kid-levels. M liked the silly things - the worm sandwiches, the toad in the teapot, the dyed lambs at the wedding (and, of course, the magic). I loved the set design again (gorgeous use of colours), and the timeless nature of the story (you know it happened sometime in the past, but it doesn't really matter when). Oh, and Colin Firth's quite watchable for an hour or two, obviously.

Up in the Air, at a real, grown-up cinema (the Tyneside). Comfy seats, mocha coffee, the works. Fabulous. And a fantastic film too - funny, not-too-schmalzy (I loved how the ending was relatively downbeat instead of the usual romantic nonsense) and with some great shots out of aeroplanes. Gorgeous George was pretty good too.

I'm not sure what's next. We found Moulin Rouge and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the charity shop for 10p, and got Bolt on DVD for Christmas...I'll let you know.

09 January 2010

On sledging

Growing up in the middle of the Fens didn't do a lot for our sledging. Despite having The Best Sledge Ever (TM), which my Grandad made for my Mum back in the 1950s, it only came out on rare occasions.

Roman Bank (approx 2 metres high, and a few hundred meters away from our house) had a couple of small inclines, but that was really your lot. We used to head into Norfolk, all the way to Sandringham Woods, before you could get some proper downhill action (as long as you remembered to avoid the trees/stumps).

I think that was our downfall, the time we all managed to fit on the sledge. Grandad's sledge has a red slatted seat, cast iron runners, and goes like the clappers. You can easily fit three small children and a grownup on the back - and in this case, we'd sandwiched me, my brother *and* my mum and dad onto the hard wooden seat. We hurtled down from all of ooh, probably about 5m above sea level, at breakneck speed, until we hit a stump. The sledge slewed sideways, tipped over, and we all fell off in a heap in the snow. My mum's still not forgiven us all for it.

The sledge is still doing pretty well, 50 years on, and has been dragged out of the garage, revarnished, and posted north. This time we've got hills - so it's been out more times over the last couple of weeks than in my entire childhood. M is besotted - we've delivered Christmas presents on it, towed it up and down the street for hours, and flown from the top of the park down to the bottom (perilously close to the lake). Tuesday was perfect - one sledge, one grownup on the back for braking and three excited small children sandwiched on the front, shouting "wheeeeeeeee" in unison.

Even the lions in the back yard are starting to look fed up