A book? Can it tweet? A mummy fighting for the protection of books and reading in a digital age.

“How do you scroll down?
“I don’t. I turn the page. It’s a book.”
“Does it need a password?”
“No.”
“Can you make the characters fight? Can it text, tweet, toot?”
“No, It’s a book”

[Lane Smith “Its a Book”]

What on earth is this? A book. Made from paper? Monkey is reading a book. His friends don’t understand what it is or what it does. “It’s A Book” by Lane Smith is a funny, but scary commentary of books in our increasingly hardwired social networked lives.

As I sit in my little study, surrounded by my rotary phone, Oliver typewriter and piles of books, I feel grounded and calm. Ok, I have also been staring at my MacBook Pro for the last two hours, but I feel I have counter-acted some of its power by wearing my latest glasses to remove the evil blue-light glare, intent on destroying my melatonin and squashing my brain cells.

My husband doesn’t understand my need for books. He doesn’t understand the need to touch them or the comfort they bring on a bookshelf. Neither does he share my sense of peril about technology. Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I spent the last 5 years implementing massive technological programmes into companies and changing their ways of working with new software. However, even as a technophile, I have always had a healthy suspicion of technology.

Perhaps it was my reading of “Fahrenheit 451” as a young adult. The idea of zombie-like families standing in bare rooms mesmerised by the virtual reality television images and adverts displayed on all four walls, definitely scared me. As did the firemen burning outlawed books.

And now, as I listen to my husband wax lyrical about the sublime beauty and joy he got from trying out the latest VR technologies of Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, it feels as if Ray Bradbury’s world is becoming a reality. He was fully immersed in a world that he said was even better than reality. He even had an appreciation for how he did everyday things – like – pick up an apple without even thinking about it, but that in the virtual world he had to almost re-learn this skill. It was euphoric and life affirming. Can a book compete with that?

But its not us I worry about so much, as the new breed of Techno-Toddlers. As a watch a 5 year glued to Minecraft, or hear about a friend’s kids watching you-tube videos of other people making toys – I worry for my own children.  I have some mummy friends that haven’t even been to a library with their children yet. I see parents walking in the park with their babies and an iPad mounted in the hood! My toddler already ‘reads’ the language of technology better than her grandparents. When they have forgotten their passwords or succumbed to a mountain of spam I just point them in her direction. She understands a ‘tick’ means to progress and how to swipe and scroll. And so, I militantly and naively give books to all my nieces and nephews as presents, thinking I can counteract this technological childhood onslaught.

But do I worry because I still remember a world without digital enhancements and think it superior?  Have I already reached that age where I harp on about my good old days? Bah Humbug.

Science seems to back up my innate worry, with constant studies being published about the effects of screen time on our children’s development, social skills and the potential loss of concentration, attention spans and imagination. There are those who warn that the onslaught of memes, hashtags, text-speak will ruin language. We even shortcut our emotional statuses by using Gifs.

Will all of this prevent our children from being poets and authors themselves? And growing up into Vloggers and Bloggers instead.

But, then there are others who say that we cannot disadvantage them by removing all exposure. While Baroness Susan Greenfield even said that technology could literally blow our children’s minds, Oxford researchers said this was rubbish. In fact they argued that social networking was good for developing real social relationships. My husband even credits his surgical skills to his childhood gaming.

And so it continues. No screen time before age 2, now the age of 3, well maybe a bit of exposure, and a tiny bit of smart phone interaction, but no blue light before bed. Aaarrrghh! I feel like I’m lost in a box of my husband’s cables with the confusing amount of contradictory information being pumped out daily to my mummy media feeds. Insert confused smiley face.

So can today’s picture books compete with the omnipresent social media platforms, the multiple offerings on children’s TV and the multi-dimensional interactivity of games?

Antonio Faeti, President of the Jury for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair believes that there is a new “global urgency” to connect our children with books. And today’s authors and illustrators are definitely trying. With their use of mixed medias, beautiful imagery and mesmerising graphics there is a new generation of books that are simply stunning.

The books coming out in the last few years are definitely of a different quality. They are immersive, tactile and lyrical and works of art in themselves. Think Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer, Wild by Emily Hughes, The Day the Crayon’s Quit, Oliver Jeffers, This is Not My Hat, John Klassen,  Flotsam, David Wiesner, The Bear and the Piano, David Litchfield and the Jennifer Adams’ ingenious BabyLit Series.

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I love the new Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s A Child of Books. It seems to encapsulate this new fear and a renewed vigour to show how stories are part of what make us human – and we should fight to keep that link with our children.

“I am a Child of Books.
I come from a world of stories,
And upon my imagination, I float.”

I truly believe that the books I read as a child have shaped my future, my morality, my desires, my empathy and my confidence.  They definitely crop up in my psyche in odd situations. I still think of Roald Dahl’s cloud men when I fly and it makes me a little less scared of turbulence.matilda

I feel the new children’s authors and illustrators offer a real glimmer of hope.

I am also comforted by the fact that my own techno-toddler who adores endless hours of Sarah & Duck cartoons and online games, also loves to sit and flick through picture books on her own. She laughs and screams for more Please Mr Panda (Steve Antony) when we wave the funny faced lemur at her. And when I’m not looking she likes to make up her own stories to the pictures that she adores. Our favourite is one of her earliest creations; Little Chick…”Once Upon a Time, a little chick, the end.” Short, yet profound.

Even as my back aches arching over to read Little Red Riding Hood for the eighth time this evening, my heart glows, because this little person is growing up to love books. She may also grow up to love Grand Turismo as her daddy likes to have her on his lap while driving. But this balance might not be the end of the world. However, as a secret luddite, I must keep up my end of the resistance against my techno-husband. So I’m off to the library.

Just like the Jackass in “Its a Book,” hopefully our children will still find magic in being lost in a book even if they do look for their VR headsets later.

Come to School Too – Blue Kangaroo – Mummy and Toddler Review

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Come to School Too – Blue Kangaroo.
Emma Chichester Clark

Miss Beany started Nursery School for the first time a few weeks ago. Just a couple of mornings a week – but it was still the longest she had been away from me with strangers. I felt woefully under-prepared as we walked into the cloakroom to see all the other children’s nicely labelled coats and toddler rucksacks. Poor Miss Beany had her mummy’s old tatty black urban rucksack and a hoodie and a packet of mushed crisps I had found wedged under her car seat. The first day she ran off without saying goodbye – so I though – yay, great. She loves it. Oh dear, the next day she realised what was happening and burst into floods of tears.  The next week various soft toys made the journey to nursery school as well, until “Blue” the stuffed – I want to say hamster but it could be a guinea pig or donkey – was left behind!!!

Well, all I can say is thank goodness for “Come to School too, Blue Kangaroo”.

The Summary

  • Why? Because this book is all about a little girl, Lily, who is worried about starting school for the first time. Her Blue Kangaroo, however, is super-excited to try new things, learn and meet new people.

The Nuts and Bolts?

  • Blue Kangaroo gets left behind at the school, but ends up having a wonderful time playing on his own in the dark school.

Mummy’s Favourite Bits?

  • Blue Kangaroo really shows Lily why school is so much fun. So while Lily is nervous and anxious, Kangaroo is there with upbeat enthusiasm, pulling her along.
  • I love books with lots of detailed pictures. I find it helps build vocabulary and teach children about different environments. The classroom illustrations are full of lovely detail on the walls.

Miss Beany’s Favourite Bits?

  • Blue Kangaroo curling up on the cushions to read his own story. Miss Beany loves reading to herself – even though she is making up the words.

Not So Favourite Bits?

  • For me, there are too many auntie’s involved. I feel the mummy should have more involvement in this special time in a child’s life. That’s probably my nuclear family upbringing coming out in me.

Learning Outcomes?

  • This is great for explaining how to overcome anxiety. Finding positive things to focus on – like making friends, playing new games, learning new skills.

The Mummy Score?

  • 9/10 – I sometimes struggle to hold her attention right to the very end of this book, but I think that is just her age.

The Toddler Score?

  • 10/10 – Knowing that Blue the hamster-pig-thingy was having a wonderful time at nursery while we were at home, definitely got though the bedtime routine. Thank goodness Sheepy stepped up as a last-minute replacement. Otherwise that would have been one rough night!

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Goodnight Spaceman – Mummy and Toddler Review

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Goodnight Spaceman by Michelle Robinson and Nick East

I love all things spacey and science fictiony. I lay the blame on Roald Dahl and the Great Glass Elevator and his wacky Vermicious Knids. This love has now merged into a unhealthy collection of Kurt Vonnegut, John Wyndham, Jules Verne and Star Trek movies – what I like to call the clever person’s Star Wars! (I’ll be divorced by tomorrow if my husband reads that bit – lol).

But my toddler (Miss Beany – 2 and a half years old) needed no encouragement. She went to see a puppet show version of The Way Back Home (Oliver Jeffers) about a boy who rescues an alien and she was hooked. Now all she talks about is being an astronaut and finding aliens. In the last week she has realised that a pull up nappy over the head looks remarkably like a space-helmet. We had a big fight trying to wrestle that off her at bedtime. She now goes to sleep mumbling about picnics on the moon.

Finding suitable space books to read to her has been hard as most are too complex or too basic. Goodnight Spaceman, however, is perfect.

The Summary

  • This is a book about two boys whole love all things space and are saying goodnight to their spaceman dad, aboard the International Space Station.

The Nuts and Bolts?

  • This was inspired by astronaut Tim Peake (the first British ESA astronaut!) and his sons. What would they be thinking and doing while their dad was whizzing far away above their heads in space.
  • The pride the whole country felt for Tim was immeasurable. It was made even better that he seemed so generous with his time and willingness to connect with anyone and everyone interested in space.

Mummy’s Favourite Bits?

  • Beautiful big pictures and glowing stars. Plus, I like all the lovely detail inside the space station.
  • Also the subtle amount of science that is dropped into the rhymes. “Goodnight rocket ships and shooting stars, Saturn, Venus and Mars.”

Miss Beany’s Favourite Bits?

  • Miss Beany loved the two children in the spacesuits. “That’s me mummy, and that’s daddy and that’s mummy and that’s ME.”

Not So Favourite Bits?

  • I just wanted it to be longer!

Learning Outcomes?

  • You can get baby rocket ships…I think Miss Beany meant the capsule that separates from the main rocket.

    Miss Beany: “Mummy I grow bigger and bigger and be astronaut, and daddy be astronaut and mummy be astronaut and go have picnic on moon and see aliens.”
    Mummy: “That sounds lovely darling. What do aliens eat?”
    Miss Beany: “Blueberries”
    Mummy“And what colour are they?”
    Miss Beany:“Red.”
    Mummy:”Not green.”
    Miss Beany:”No.”
    Mummy:“Ok.”

The Mummy Score?

  • 10/10. Beautiful images and wonderful rhyming phrases.

The Toddler Score?

  • 9/10 – One mark off for no aliens.

 

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood (retold by Susanna Davidson) – Picture Book

Forlittle-red-riding-hood-susanna-davidson the past two weeks bedtime stories have been dominated by one book. Little Red Riding Hood. My two and a half year old, Miss Beany, is completely obsessed with this book. I have even tried hiding it under the bed, but she can sense its whereabouts with her toddler tracking beacon.

Now obsession is a strange concept for us as parents, as Miss Beany has no affinity for anything apart from her mummy (naturally) and doughnuts. Even stuffed toys are mere acquaintances to her, and she would unfriend them in a heartbeat should a doughnut come along.

But Little Red Riding Hood, she could quite happily read four or five times a night and again at breakfast. Even after lights out she wants me to tell it to her again from memory. On a few occasions I have left her to it, only to come back around 10pm and find her sleeping with the book on her head. Is she trying to take it in by osmosis?

The summary

Its a re-telling of a classic. Little Red Riding Hood has to take her Grandmother some Brussel Sprout Soup – for no particular reason – other than a lovely visit. I remember other versions that Granny was sick or lonely – hence Little Red’s visit. The wolf tracks her from the outset, but as the woods are dark, the wolf soon loses her. When he finds her again he realises that he can get a nice 2 for 1 meal if he gets to Granny first. Both Granny and Little Red are gobbled up, only to be rescued by the Woodcutter and his scissors. The resourceful Little Red fills up the wolf’s tummy with stones so he can never surprise anyone – or more importantly – eat red meat again. And so he, and his offspring are condemned to lives as vegetarians and Brussel Sprout Soup.

The nuts and bolts:

Its a great re-telling by Susanna Davidson. Funny, quirky and engaging. With lots of added comments from the characters. Although where is the daddy? I always feel a pang of guilt when I read that Little Red Riding hood lives with just her mummy – so many books forget the daddy characters.

dsc_0105But despite this oversight, I feel Susanna has really spent time really getting the practicalities of this story right. If you are walking into a deep dark wood – you probably wouldn’t see a wolf. So naturally, this Little Red Riding Hood, trips over him. Although it doesn’t help that her eyes are closed Mr Illustrator!!!  Yes you – Mike Gordon. Little girls “skippety-skippety, skip[ping]” on forest walks need to keep their eyes open.

Mummy’s favourite bits? 

  • dsc_0106Miss Beany loves saying the “Ow! Argh! Oof!” of the wolf, as Little Red stumbles into the wolf, treading on his toes and bashing him with her basket.
  • Good language to introduce to a toddler and some that I don’t often use, like “stumble,” “leaped,” “gobbling”. Miss Beany loves the word gobbling.
  • Brussel Sprout Soup – a long forgotten recipe from the 17th century? I feel the wolf in this story gives it a bad rep. I love brussel sprouts. They are baby cabbages, what’s not to love. And paired with bacon. Yuuuuummmmy. However, Miss Beany thinks that all soup is now Brussel Sprout flavoured.“Look mummy, baby wolves eating bix. He’s eating bix, he’s eating more bix, and he’s eating bix. All eating bix.”
    “That’s Brussel Sprout Soup, honey”
    “Wolf eating soup, he’s eating soup, all eating soup.”
    “Mmm yummy.”

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Miss Beany’s Favourite Bits?

  • She is fascinated with the Wolf. All day every day she is on the lookout for wolves. She is delighted when she can tell me she has found one. Does she relate to him more than Little Red Riding Hood? I can’t really tell, except that she did have a preference for a Red coat when we were shopping in TK Maxx the other day. She also prefers dinosaurs to fairy princesses…should I be worried? I don’t even know what the ramifications are? Is she just incredibly empathetic to a poor starving wolf? I feel this needs more psychological analysis at bedtime tonight.

Not So Favourite Bits?

  • I fear that in the night we will be woken up by the sound of snip snip snipping of teddy bear bellies.Miss Beany: “Mummy, I want to do cutting?”
    Mummy: “Er…ok? What do you want to cut?”
    “Paper”
    “Phew, I mean, ok darling.”
    “What shall we make? A dinosaur card? A magic tree?”
    “Hmm, Wolf!”
    “What about play-dough instead?”

Learning Outcome?

  • In my previous life as a trainer, we would evaluate every resource or slide for the learning outcome. I’m not sure that a toddler is old enough to understand that they shouldn’t talk to strangers. It’s difficult when you are also trying to teach them how to interact and be polite to people.
  • Miss Beany talks to everyone. And I mean everyone. She is as bad as my parents for keeping me waiting, talking to check-out works, the postman, old women in the street. I love that she is so friendly to everyone. Occasionally taking them by surprise with her little “Hello’s”. I would never have thought of striking up a conversation with a ‘heavily tattooed death metal fan’ in a tiny lift – but Miss Beany chatted to him as if he were a long lost relative. But maybe with this story I can occasionally let her know that there are Wolves about, without changing her personality too much.

The Mummy Score?

  • 7/10 – one mark off for scissor cutting peril, one mark off for bad surgical stitching and post-operative care and one mark off for the omission of the daddy.

The Toddler Score?

  • “All the scores out of ten mummy”