November reads for children

Hi all. Well that’s it for November. It’s been a pretty mental month. We opened 3 new shows in work and I have been out pretty much every night working. As a chorister in a Opera company, the fact that I hate having a show every night is a major flaw. As a mum with young kids it’s pretty pants. I take the girls to school and nursery in the morning and am often gone before they get back . I feel like the worst mum at drop off saying “see you tomorrow morning Edie.” God knows what the teachers think I do for a living. Because I am not doing proper mothering during the day, my girls are constantly waking up at about 3 am and looking for some mum time. I feel and look a little like a zombie.

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker.
  • Bram Stoker born 8th November 1847.

A dramatic retelling of Bram Stoker’s classic horror story retold for children ready to tackle longer and more complex stories. Jonathan Harker has no idea of the horrors that await him in Castle Dracula. An ancient evil is alive and hungry for new blood. Can Jonathan and his friends defeat it? Part of the Usborne Reading Programme developed with reading experts at the University of Roehampton.

We read this at the beginning of the month when Edie was still on a high from Halloween. My daughter is all about the scares and I remember being similar at her age. Witches, ghosts, vampires all completely intrigued me. Edie is also a sucker (๐Ÿคฃ) for a love story and that is essentially what Dracula is about. I think if you want to introduce your kids to a little scary then as long as good triumphs over evil then all is well. I would also like to do a big shout out to the Usborne Young Reader books. They are utterly brilliant. The titles are very varied, the illustrations are fabulous and thanks to this range I have introduced Edie to some brilliant Classics which I hope she will love forever.

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
  • Neil Gaiman born 10th November 1960.

There is something strange about Coraline’s new home. It’s not the mist, or the cat that always seems to be watching her, nor the signs of danger that Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, her new neighbours, read in the tea leaves. It’s the other house – the one behind the old door in the drawing room. Another mother and father with black-button eyes and papery skin are waiting for Coraline to join them there. And they want her to stay with them. For ever. She knows that if she ventures through that door, she may never come back.

Gaiman is an author I only really started to get into last year. The Ocean and the End of the Lane was my favourite book last year. I think Edie is a little young for this (although I did read a review of a 4 year old boy who listened to it on audio and loved it). I think we will try it in a year or two.

Coraline is a great heroine and a great role model for kids…..

โ€œBecause,โ€™ she said, โ€˜when youโ€™re scared but you still do it anyway, thatโ€™s brave.โ€

๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Coraline is quirky, independent, adventurous, intelligent and curious. Gaiman is a master at writing non-condescending books that appeal to adults as well as children. I also applaud the fact that he doesnโ€™t shy away from the creepy… I often feel that as parents we are so scared of our kids being scared. Edie definitely handles creepy things like a pro. I think as parent I am happy for Edie to read something a little scary as long as there is no gratuitous violence and also makes the point that good can conquer evil. I donโ€™t want her to feel that the horror can continue. In Coraline, Gaiman does just that.

  • Some Dogs Do by Jez Alborough.
  • Jez Alborough born 12th November 1959.

All dogs walk and jump and run, but dogs don’t fly – it can’t be done…can it? Jez Alborough’s uplifting tale will fly off the page and straight into the hearts of anyone who has ever, just for a second, stopped believing in miracles.

Some Dogs Do is a fave in our house. When asking Ceci (3) what she likes about it, she said she likes it because itโ€™s sad. Morose little thing that she is. Itโ€™s not particularly sad but as Sid loses his self belief, he finds that he can no longer fly. ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ

Edieโ€™s review was just as entertaining. โ€œItโ€™s a book of lies mummy. Dogs cannot fly.โ€ ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚

Anyway, I guess that was Alboroughโ€™s point. Dream big little ones. Lovely book, lovely rhymes, pictures and message.

  • The Legend of the Great Pumpkin by Charles M Schulz.
  • Charles M Schulz born 26th November 1922.

Celebrate Halloween with Linus, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang in this shaped board book with holographic foil on the front cover!

Linus loves one thing more than his cherished blue blanket: The Great Pumpkin! He believes that on Halloween night the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the pumpkin patch to bring presents to all the kids in the world. Will Linus and his friends ever finally see him? Learn all about the legend of the Great Pumpkin in this adorable board book based on the classic Peanuts comic strips!

Thanks to Birthday Reads I am trying to make a real point of introducing myself and the children to authors born in the current month. As a result there have been some hits….The Secret Garden (Oct) and also some misses….The Selfish Giant which I loved but Edie thought was boring (Oct). There have also been some misses for me. I canโ€™t stand The Rhyming Rabbit by Julia Donaldson (Sept). My husband and I both try to scarper when Ceci requests this. ๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿฐ

Unfortunately The Legend of the Great Pumpkin by Charles Schulz (Nov 26th) is another miss from me. Yes itโ€™s seasonal, but the story is utter pap. Schulz himself seems to get bored of his writing and finishes the book without resolving the already tenuous storyline.๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ Anyway, thanks to that Law of Sod, Cilla ADORES it. When asking her why, she says because itโ€™s scary (itโ€™s not) and exciting (itโ€™s not). ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ

Happy Birthday for the 26th Mr Schulz. ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‚

And the last book of the month and the biggest hit…….

  • The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith.

The book behind the viral internet sensation of “The Scottish Granny” reading this story to her grandchild, viewed over 3 million times.ย Based on the popular song, THE WONKY DONKEY has sold over one million copies worldwide.ย Who ever heard of a spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey?ย This hilarious picture book will have children – and adults – braying with laughter!

One for the grown ups more than the kids I think. Ozzie (my husband) would admit to not being a lover of books. For him to enjoy reading to the kids it has to be a funny one. I think the pic shows how much he enjoyed it. ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚

The Wonkey Donkey started out as a bit of a YouTube sensation of a Scottish grandma reading it to her grandson. It really is hilarious.

๐Ÿด๐Ÿด๐Ÿด๐Ÿด๐Ÿด๐Ÿด๐Ÿด๐Ÿด๐Ÿด

Anyway thank you Craig Smith and Katz Cowley, this is utterly hilarious.

Children’s Reads for September

I have decided from now on to do something different with my blog. Each month, ย I am going to focus on books whose authors were born or died during that month. There will be some exceptions like when I have a specific book to review or I am just so excited to share a book with you all. I will also be doing this in my posts about adult books. One thing I have noticed, is that with a lot of modern book releases, it is hard to find a date of birth of some authors, so apologies that during some months, I may have to bend the rules.

  • Jane Hissey. 1st September 1952.
  • Ruff

A woolly dog bounces into the playroom with no name and no home. But worst of all, he says he has never had a birthday! Luckily, Old Bear and the other toys are bursting with brilliant birthday ideas for their new-found friend.

I remember reading these books with my sister when we were children. Picking them up again 30 years on and they haven’t aged at all. Both my girls enjoyed the books – Edith (5) more than Ceci (3). The pictures are absolutely stunning and Edie loved reading about Old Bear and Ruff to her school of toys.

  • Julia Donaldson. 16th September
  • The Snail and the Whale

One little snail longs to see the world and hitches a lift on the tail of an enormous whale. Together they go on an amazing journey, past icebergs and volcanoes, sharks and penguins, and the little snail feels so small in the vastness of the world. But when disaster strikes and the whale is beached in a bay, it’s the tiny snail’s big plan that saves the day!

I think The Snail and the Whale is one of my fave Donaldson books. I love the sentiment that no matter how small you are, you can still do amazing, brave things. Also how humbling it is to be aware of the size and magnificence ofย our planet. Its impossible to mention Julia Donaldson without a massive nod to Axel Scheffler. I say his name and a rock star image is conjured up…..Axl Rose. Scheffler is nowt like Axl Rose ๐Ÿ˜‚. His illustrations are completely epic. Really engaging and there are always lovely little details to spot. Ceci (2) loved looking for the tiny snail in every picture.

  • The Detective Dog

There once was a dog with a keen sense of smell.
She was known far and wide as Detective Dog Nell.

Peterโ€™s dog Nell has an amazing sense of smell. Her ever-sniffing nose is always hard at work solving mysteries and finding all Peterโ€™s lost toys. But Nell has other talents too . . .

When sheโ€™s not cracking cases, Nell goes to school with Peter and listens to the children read. Books about dinosaurs, books about space and even books about dogs โ€“ Nell loves them all! But one day Peter and Nell arrive at school to find all the books have disappeared! Who could have taken them, and why? Luckily, Detective Dog Nell, with help from the whole class, is ready to sniff out the thief!

Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by the multi-talented illustrator and print-maker Sara Ogilvie, The Detective Dog is a fast-paced celebration of books, reading, libraries and the relationship between a little boy and his rather special dog.

The story is about Nell the Detective Dog who helps a class hunt down a book thief. Ted (the thief) is overjoyed to discover that he can borrow books for free from his library. His stealing days are over!!!

Any book that promotes the use of libraries is top banana! As children, my sister and I were taken to the library a lot. As a mum, I go at least once a week…storytime, rhyme time and just taking books out. I remember, as a child being so excited to take 8 books home. Playing librarians was a common childhood game. I used to be intrigued by the barcode scanner….this has now lost its joy when I am standing at the self checkout in Sainsburyโ€™s and the scanner goes on the blink.

For a book to be a hit for Edie and Ceci, the story has to be fast paced, exciting, brilliant pictures with tons to look at and it is a massive bonus if the word โ€˜pooโ€™ appears. โ€˜Pooโ€™ makes an appearance on page 2 so my discerning girls are happy. Is is also important to say that Sarah Ogilvieโ€™s pictures are fab with tons to spot. Brilliant book. Happy Birthday Month Julia Donaldson!

  • Eric Hill September 7th.

Eric Hill OBE. What a legend. Born in 1927. The Spot books have been translated into 60 languages. It is reported that he said “children have far more intelligence and style than many adults credit them with.”

This book is a special copy for me. My dad bought it for my eldest daughter Edith, on a shopping trip. It means so much because it is always Nana who spoils my children, bringing them presses and cakes. This was a gift chosen by ‘Pampa’ with no input from Nana, so to me, it is very special.

  • The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield.

One day, a young bear stumbles upon something he has never seen before in the forest. As time passes, he teaches himself how to play the strange instrument, and eventually the beautiful sounds are heard by a father and son who are picnicking in the woods. The bear goes with them on an incredible journey to New York, where his piano playing makes him a huge star. He has fame, fortune and all the music in the world, but he misses the friends and family he has left behind. A moving tale of exploration and belonging from an exciting debut author-illustrator.

This book is very loved in our family. My sister bought it for Edith and it has been one of those books that I buy for all my friend’s children. The sentiment behind the story is beautiful: your true friends will support and encourage you in your talents without envy. Your true friends will let you spread your wings and fly and when your heart leads you home, your family will be there with open arms. Edie, Ceci and I had a funny chat about things that make us so happy you forget where you are….Edie – sweets and Ceci – her dummy. Nothing as profound as music. ๐Ÿ˜‚. As an over emotional musician, I find the book ridiculously moving. Edie tells me off for crying at the end! The illustrations are so beautiful. Can’t wait to read the next book The Bear, the piano, the dog and the fiddle.

  • Hide and Seek by Taro Gomi

In the tradition of classic hidden pictures, international favorite Taro Gomi slyly infuses his dynamic original art with objects that don’t go where they belong. A crocodile’s grin is a toothbrush; a butterfly’s dots are hearts. Young readers will delight to find the unexpected treasures hidden in the brightly coloured illustrations.

My little Cecilia/ceci/Cilla. I can’t say she lives in her sister’s shadow. Ceci is a force to be reckoned with, but when it comes to choosing the films we watch or the books we read, her older sister often overrules. At 3, she has grow out of the brilliantย That’s not my….series and the constant asking for Peppa does get a little boring. Ceci does however love this book by Taro Gomi. Gomi is a very famous Japanese author. Ceci loves spotting the everyday objects hidden in the animals . If you are ever looking for a good book for a little one, give this a go.

  • Dr Seuss. Died 24th September 1991.
  • Horton Hears a Who

Horton the kindly elephant has his work cut out saving the tiny Whos who live on a speck of dust โ€“ no one else believes they are there! But Horton eventually convinces everyone that, โ€˜a personโ€™s a person, no matter how smallโ€™!

โ€˜A personโ€™s a person, no matter how small..โ€™

Horton the elephant sets out to save the inhabitants of a speck of dust, in this classic and hilarious tale about friendship and respect, from the inimitable Dr. Seuss.

Born Theodore Seuss โ€œTedโ€ Geisel in 1904, he wrote and illustrated over 60 childrenโ€™s books. In our house Horton is a massive favourite. Edie loves the book and the Jim Carrey film. The message in the book โ€˜a personโ€™s a person no matter how smallโ€™ combined with the idea that if people work together as a group they have the strength to change things is so important and relevant to teach to our children.

Hilariously, the Grinch cartoon is on our tv very frequently. It is watched at least once a month so we feel festive all year round. Edie is obsessed with the scene when the grinch does his massive smile. Dr Seuss you are a legend. Thank you.

  • T.S. Eliot. 26th September
  • Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Happy 130th Birthday T.S. Eliot. Old Possumโ€™s Book of Practical Cats was written in 1939. Cats was one of the first shows I ever saw in the West End. I remember the band starting and literally just crying I was so excited. I remember really wanting to be the white cat. I found it on YouTube the other day and Edie was utterly entranced. She now knows all the words to Jellicle Cats. For me though, Gus is my favourite. I bought this book, illustrated by the legendary Axel Scheffler quite recently. Itโ€™s a brilliant way to get kids into poetry.

Happy Birthday to Stan Berenstain. One half of the Stan and Jan duo who wrote the Berenstain Bears. I think these books might be relatively rare over here in the UK. My sister and I discovered them when we were children and we were on holiday in Canada. Our older cousins loved them. Interestingly, they were inspired by the Dr Seuss books. The Berenstainโ€™s wanted to write a series which focused on the issues parents faced. They were criticised for not moving with the times but I think this is part of the charm. Too Much Birthday has a very special place in my heart and is a phrase my parents used to use when we got a bit over emotional at our parties. Edie loved it as she is the same age as Sister Bear. She now wants a birthday party with ponies and a carousel. I remember feeling exactly the same after reading it at her age.

Thank you so much for reading. See more updates on Instagram @ellamkpbooks. Next month, I am going to combine some birthday reads with some spooky favourites. Edith loves a good scare.

Somewhere over the rainbow. My miscarriage story.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I landed in this strange bubble world of sadness and disconnect. On the 11th August we lost our baby of 20 weeks. Two weeks on and I feel just as sad and empty but with an added fear that the world is still turning and at some point I have to start turning again with it. I just don’t feel ready to do that yet.

This is a very personal but necessary post to write and for me it has been really therapeutic. Late miscarriage is thankfully rare. At the doctor’s surgery last week, I was told that I was the only late miscarriage they had had this year. Last year there was only two. I have joined a couple of late miscarriage Facebook groups and the support the ladies give each other is invaluable. Still however, the group is full of questions and not many answers. Last night a lady posted who had lost her baby at 17 weeks. She was due to go into hospital the next day and she had no idea what would happen. She was terrified. If this post lifts the shroud of secrecy, mystery and darkness around miscarriage then it’s done it’s job. If it helps one person then great.

This baby would have been our third daughter. I have always wanted a big family. I remember my husband being more reticent: we have 2 beautiful and healthy daughters, why ask for more????I have crap pregnancies, why go through it again???? I saw his logic but I couldn’t shake the image of myself as Ma Walton or Sally Field in Brothers and Sisters. I want a brood of children. I don’t want it to be neat and tidy. I want a mess of emotions and megabloks united in a big family. I got my wish. We got pissed one night and I got pregnant. Easy.

This pregnancy fell under the radar a bit. I didn’t worry. In fact I was blasรฉ. I knew the drill, I had done it twice before. I was so busy with the girls and work I didn’t really think about it. I had a bit of a wobble before the 12 week scan when I was a little worried my age (37) would increase the risk of downs etc but generally I took it all in my stride. When I lay on the bed and saw our little bean on the screen, I cried. It was moving about like something possessed. My blood results came back and there was minimal risk of any genetic problems. Suddenly seeing the baby on the screen made it so real. I realised we were so lucky to be in this position again.

On the 9th August it was raining….maybe that was prophetic after weeks and weeks of blazing sun. My 2.5 year old and I went to me routine midwife appointment. She used the Doppler to listen to the heartbeat and couldn’t find one. I knew then. She sent me to hospital for a scan. I left the midwife and tried to call my husband who eventually answered, left work and rushed to meet me. I remember walking through the hospital thinking ‘in 5 minutes I will know and I will either be devastated or beyond relieved.’ In 5 minutes I did know. The baby had died. “It’s not good news” said the man doing the scan. My husband arrived just after I was told and we just sobbed.

We were ushered out of the room, past the couples who were waiting for their scans of their living babies and into the counselling room. Midwives and consultants came in and apologised for our loss. It was a blur of words and despair. I was advised to come back on Saturday and be induced. I was given a pill to stop the pregnancy hormones. I was given tea with sugar and then we left, clutching my maternity notes that 6 weeks previously showed the scan of our baby and now listed the sad words intrauterine death.

On Saturday we arrived at the Delivery Suite and were shown into a room called The Forget Me Not Suite (I mean really?!?!?!?). I remember walking in and being overwhelmed by the sight of the bed where soon I would be pushing out my baby. My midwife Anne came in. What a shit job that must be. I wonder if they had drawn straws to see who had the miserable task of manning The Forget Me Not Suite that day. As she was trying to find a vein to insert my cannula I asked “Do you get many of these?”

“Tricky veins?” She answered.

“No,” I replied. “Dead babies.”

“No, not that many.” I couldn’t work out whether to be comforted or gutted by her response.

There was a TV in the room. Thank God there was a TV in the room. Rather naively, my husband and I had no idea how long the whole process would take. It’s long. Arduous. I was given a tablet every 6 hours. We arrived in hospital at 8am and my Labour didn’t really start until 8pm. We spent the time drinking bad cups of tea and watching totally random shit on tv….power walking, endless gardening. Daytime TV on Saturday is bad. My husband was angry and frustrated that we weren’t prepared for how long it was going to take. I was grateful that I didn’t know.

The day passed in a bit of a blur. I remember feeling so sorry for the lady who came in to take our food orders. You could tell she was terrified what she would find behind the door of the Forget Me Not Suite. At 19:30 a new midwife came on, Araminta. This midwife found it harder than Anne. I called her at 20:00 when I went to the toilet and had started bleeding. Araminta found me sobbing on my husband. This was the bleakest time for me. Usually labour pains signify the start of a new phase in your life. I remember in NCT being told that every contraction brought you closer to seeing your baby. This time every contraction was bringing me closer to the end of something I so longed for. Araminta helped me into bed, cuddled me and had a cry herself.

Labour pains weren’t as bad as the previous times. I guess due to the fact that I didn’t have to get to 10cm. Earlier in the day I had been completely torn about pain medication. I was in such emotional pain should I use meds to dull the physical pain? Alternatively would the physical pain give me a good excuse to scream out some of the emotional pain? In the end I plumped for co-codamol and gas and air. In previous labours, gas and air made me feel a bit sick. This time however, it made me feel just out of it enough that I could almost disconnect with what was going on.

Labour proper started during the film Pitch Perfect 2. Ironically I had been discussing the merits of the Pitch Perfect trilogy only a few days earlier with a colleague. A few days earlier, when I was happy and confident I was carrying a healthy baby. When the baby came out, Araminta kept saying “sorry, sorry, sorry.”

I saw my daughter. Initially I was too scared. I was worried that every time I closed my eyes, she was all I would see. The midwife told me she was beautiful. I didn’t like the idea that she would only be seen by the midwife. I had to see this little life. My daughter, my little girl. She was beautiful. Tiny. The size of my hand. She won’t ever know her big sisters, she won’t argue with them about whether to watch Dugee or Ben and Holly but for a little while she was alive and because of that, as her mum, I had to see her.

After she was born we had to wait for the placenta. Because the umbilical chord was so thin there was a worry that it would break. After numerous attempts to extract it manually I was taken to Theatre and the whole thing was over at 6:30 am.

So what have I learned? I am now a member of a quiet, sad group of women who are praying for their rainbow. This word has a new meaning now (rainbow is a baby conceived after a loss). I now know what all these initialisms mean: BD (baby dance….sex), TTC (trying to conceive) and MC (miscarriage).

I have learned about grief. At 37 I realise I am pretty lucky. My parents are alive and well as are my husband’s. Life has been good to us so grief is an emotion I haven’t had much experience with. I knew I would go through feelings of anger. I was expecting these feeling to be aimed at people who were pregnant or those with newborns. This hasn’t been the case at all. I don’t want their babies. I want my own. Surprisingly, in the beginning I was angry at the baby I miscarried. I feel there is a bit of a non written contract when you get pregnant. I, as the mother promise to eat the right food, drink the right drinks, exercise when I am knackered, inject myself with blood thinners (to stop clotting), take daily vitamins, puke my guts up etc. You, as my baby just have to stay alive. Keep that heart pumping. If the worst should happen, please miscarry in the first few weeks (the pessimist in me expects that). Please don’t die at 20 weeks and give me no indication of your passing. I feel almost wrong footed by the baby. I turned up at my midwife appointment, with my 2 year old, confident that all was well. I think partly this grief is tainted by shock. I was confident in this pregnancy to the point of almost being cocky. I had two successful pregnancies this baby would be fine. The fact that this has happened and I was so unprepared has shocked me to the core.

What has been hard??? The day my husband went back to work was horrid. Seeing people carry on with life is awful when I feel like I am permanently on pause. People saying “it just wasn’t meant to be” is horrid. Being exhausted. Grieving is utterly knackering. I spend the day in a constant haze and then when I crawl into bed I am wide awake.

There has however been humour. Pretty dark humour granted but there have been some laughs. I had my first counselling session the other day. The lady gave me a diagram about how men and women grieve differently. Apparently at the moment I am floundering in ‘The Whirlpool of Grief” while my husband is trying to stay afloat in “The River of Life.” There have been a few jokes about this….mainly sung either to the tune of The Rhythm of Life or The Circle of Life.

People have said I’m brave and lovely as that is it’s one thing I’m not. I think you are brave if you choose to do something that scares you. I’m not brave. I had no choice but to go through this and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I know with time it will get easier but at the moment I don’t feel like the girl I was 3 weeks ago and at the moment I am trying to work out where I fit in a world in which I feel so disconnected.

4 Very varied book reviews.

It has been yonks since I put up some book reviews and the irony/impropriety of reviewing a children’s book, a parenting guide, a wine guide and a book of poetry based on depression is not lost on me. If this grouping of books offends you, please stop reading now. Interestingly, I did not plan to read these books around the same time but for me, they are beautifully linked. I am a parent to two girls under five, I have depression and I really like a glass of wine. There, all linked and packaged up with a nice bow.

A LION IS A LION by POLLY DUNBAR

Is a lion still a lion if…he wears a hat? And carries an umbrella, too?

And is a lion still a lion if he says, “Oh yes, lunch would be lovely, thank you.”

And he asks you for…a BITE?

Firstly, I would like to say how much my daughters and I loved Polly Dunbar’s illustrations. My 4 year old told me ‘they were easy to understand.’ I think by this she means that the pages weren’t so busy that her 4 year old brain suffered with sensory overload. I often find books for children are so full of bright colours, big words, all singing and all dancing that children are so distracted that they lose the thread of the story. Not so with the book. The pictures are simple and beautifully drawn. My children and I particularly likes the ‘danger moments.’ This is when the lion decides he would quite like to eat the children in the story. Cleverly, Dunbar uses the colour red as a page background which prompted a lot of discussion with my 4 year old about red meaning danger. She is apparently steering clear of red food for a while. The message behind this book is also really empowering to children, particularly before bedtime. If something scares you/tries to eat you….chuck it out of your house and tell it ‘No! No! No! NO!’ This is a lovely book, really enjoyed by my 2 and 4 year old.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book.

I initially requested this ARC because I want to read more poetry. I am sorry to admit that I am a bit of a novice when it comes to reading poetry and my vision of it is fuelled by memories of plodding through A Level poetry which I often found tedious. So far, in my tasting menu of poetry, I am really enjoying modern poetry and I thought the subject matter of Benhaim’s new book of poems would definitely be something I could relate to.

Benhaim, is not a poet I am familiar with so before embarking on her collection I sat down with a cuppa and got onto Google. I was hoping to find a Wikipedia post giving me some background. This was unfortunately not to be. Instead, I became immersed into the world of Slam Poetry. To Slam Poetry virgins like myself, Slam is a competition which originated in 1984 in Chicago. It was intended as a way to move poetry away from stuffy libraries and bring it out to audiences. Poets take to the microphone and compete against other poets. Slam poetry is Benhaim’s background. It is worth watching her perform her poem ‘Explaining my depression to my mother, a conversation.’ This video has been viewed 6 million times on Youtube.

Having watched everything of Benhaim’s I could find, I embarked on her book. I loved these poems. So many of them spoke to me and even though the main subject matter is depression, a had a wry smile on my face as so much of what she said made sense to me:

In some stories,

the protagonist has to kill the bad thing to

release its light.

in my story,

I am the protagonist & the bad thing,

I have to learn how to bend the light out of myself.

I can do that magic.

So many beautiful thoughts and ways of expressing them. I think my favourite poems were ‘How to fold a memory’ – her words created such wonderful and fragile imagery. ‘Another plain truth,”poem for the moment after you left,”so my friend tells me she identifies as a mermaid,”feed a fever, starve a cold,’ ‘what I told the doctor, the second time,’

These poems, short stories really came alive to me after having watched how she performs. I completely have her voice in my head and it really helped my to get used to her conversational style.

A really wonderful book of poetry and I will definitely recommend it to others.

Oh Helen McGinn where have you been all my life??? Thank god I have found you now. I feel as I am now in my late 30s (argh) it is time for me to get into the club. The club I talk is the Club of Wise Ones What Know About Wine. I had friends who joined this club in their early 20s and I thought it was all a bit pretentious. I just wanted to get pissed on whatever was cheapest in sainos. If something was on offer, I would buy it….as long as it was in the ยฃ6 and under price bracket. In the year before we jumped on the baby train my husband and I went on our last big holiday. We went to America and spent a lot of time in Napa. We hired bikes and I have slightly soft focused memories of us cycling around various vineyards, trying to pretend we weren’t pissed and that we knew vaguely what we were on about. We didn’t, and it made me realise I wanted to be part of this club whoย didย know.

I live in South West London which is an area often referred to as Nappy Valley. Everywhere you look, there are pregnant people, Range-Rover priced buggies, sleep consultants, breast-feeding consultants, mothers who are wearing jumpers with slogans describing how they are just blagging motherhood (they aren’t. Their idea of blagging motherhood is to feed their kids chicken nuggets one night a week instead of organic bolognese). Controversially, i have found since living here, I am slightly allergic to this group of women ( by all means, it is not the women round here) who quaff prosecco whilst holding baby Zara (who is dressed in Bonpoint) wanking on about how knackered they are. As a result, i tend to veer away from blogs and books with the title ‘The knackered/yummy/ confused/baffled/hysterical mummy.’ Helen McGinn has without a doubt proved me wrong and made me realise that my prejudice is ridiculous.

This book is so readable without being too easy. It is definitely a book which I shall keep and often refer back to. This does not read like an idiots guide to wine, but its simplicity in content makes you feel that you are getting to grips with how wine works without being bamboozled by the complicated stuff. ย For a wine beginner, this is definitely the book for you. Its humour, lack or pretension and brilliantly structured chapters make it a really fun read. The chapter about book clubs and wine has inspired me to start my own wine tasting/book reading club. Thanks Helen. Top work.

 

My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC of this book.

In my review above I have already given my opinions on the trend that is self-deprecting parents writing books and blogs on how they bare winging parenthood. This phenomenon has really taken off in the last few years and I feel we are inundated with similar parenting manuals. Having said that, I requested this ARC because I hadn’t read anything from the father’s point of view.

Sam Avery is a funny guy. He should be…he is a stand up comedian. He also has twin sons which will provide him with enough funny material for the next 15 years. His first chapter, entitled Diary of a Two-Year-Old made my openly guffaw on the train. I made my husband read it whilst we were trying to stay awake over a glass of wine last saturday. We did that knowing laugh, that parents do when we discover that we all go through the same thing. Also, his chapter on soft-play was brilliant.

My only issue with this book, is that for me, I think I would have enjoyed it more had I read it a little more sporadically. Avery is hilarious but if you read it in one sitting you get slightly bored of the humour. Pretty much every paragraph has a simile or analogy which eventually become totally frustrating. I felt I was drowning in Avery’s need to make me laugh every 5 seconds and as a result, as the book continued, to became less funny.

Having said that, it was really refreshing to read a man’s take on parenthood and it would be a great book to give to any soon to be dad’s.

 

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas people.

I am happy! Am I happy?

Mentally I am struggling at the moment. The hamster wheel seems to be turning much quicker than I can currently run and there have been a couple of times in the past week when I have fallen off. Bruised, embarrassed and ever so slightly mortified I have to brush myself down and jump right back on.

Generally I have what I call a Windscreen of Sanity (it’s pharmaceutical name is Citalolpram) which I use to con myself and others that I am doing ok. To be fair, the majority of the time, I usually am…doing ok. This week however, my windscreen seems to have developed a couple of hairline fractures which we all know, in winter can develop into full on cracks.

The first chip was last Saturday. It was my daughter’s 2nd birthday. In true Motherland style my husband was in Margate on a stag and my wonderful and very helpful in laws were down helping. I have had shows nearly every night and we were had an opening night that evening. I knew I was in a state when I was quaffing room temp, pink prosecco which I had won in a tombola, whilst searching in the bins for stickers which had been chucked out with the wrapping, and trying not to lose my shit with my MIL who wanted to know where the most useful place was to store the cheese grater. Needless to say, I lost my shit. I started crying and had to pretend to my daughter that it was because there were raw onions in the bin.

Chip 2 happened when a very good but often slightly aggressive friend took a joke the wrong way which upset me. I literally wanted the ground to swallow me up.

Anyway the hairline chips now feel like cracks and I am trying to claw my way out of the pit.

All very dramatic I know.

So, I decided to go against the grain and not do a Friday Rant on FB. Instead I did a Dig Deep Friday in which I asked people to name things which made them happy. Not saccharine things like kids, dogs and husbands but random things like getting your teeth cleaned at the hygienist and a good deoderant.

My happies were anchovies, capers, Parma ham, Riverdance and well shaved legs. The comments started rolling in….some really good ones:

1. Cups of tea with exactly the right amount of milk drunk at exactly the right temperature.

2. Baby puffins being called pufflings.

3. Bake off.

4. Muppet Christmas Carol

5. New PJs

6. Avoiding kids bathtime

7. Alpacas

8. Bacon

9. A new book.

All in all 76 comments. Funnily however, it left me and others feeling a little empty inside. It was slightly akin to that feeling you get on NYE when YOU MUST HAVE FUN! Maybe Friday Rants is a bit of reverse psychology. The feeling of getting a rant off your chest and others agreeing with you is brilliant. Maybe it’s because I am British and I love a moan but now when something annoying happens I jot it down and store it up until Friday when I know I can mention it on FB and it will be much less annoying and hopefully a little uplifting. Who doesn’t love a moan and who doesn’t love a moan with others agreeing? Anyway I think Dig Deep Fridays is a useful exercise and one I think I will post every 3 weeks. I already have a few happies written down which make me smile when I look through them.

Anyway what are your rants? What makes you smile?

Thanks so much for reading and have a good week.

Just trying to keep up with life

Today is one of those days when I get on the tube and breathe a sigh of relief and then remember it is only Tuesday. How is it only Tuesday??? I feel like I have been running at 100mph so how can it only be Tuesday. Then I think ‘Come on Els. Don’t get too excited for the weekend. They aren’t how they used to be.’

Writing this, I now feel unbearably guilty that I have kids, a fab job, lovely family, husband, friends etc and still have low times. But this, I’m afraid is a low time. I can tell I’m low because the slightest thing added to my already full plate is enough to send me potty. This morning it was an email from Amazon reminding me to return an item. It is now all I can think about. I guess because the little things (like the amazon delivery) I feel I can control. It’s the Hamster Wheel of Life I feel that I have no control of and I just want to get off for 24 hours.

Every morning the same. Youngest child comes into our room and only wants me. This should be nice and I should love it but sometimes it’s just exhausting. Eldest child has the same strops I used to have as a child….my tights are uncomfortable, my hair has bumps. There is a scene in Sing (which we watch every day) when Rosita the knackered-mum-pig makes a recording of herself so she can leave the house and do something she wants to do. That’s what I feel like doing for the morning routine. I swear I say literally the same thing everyday at exactly the same time. 7:52 is the row about tights and 8:01 is the row about bumps in hair. Eventually they look presentable and we head downstairs to have a row about breakfast. “No you can’t have f&@ยฃing chocolate cake.” 10 minutes later….”fยฃ&k it. Have chocolate cake but make sure you have a banana with it.” We leave the house. Youngest child is insistent on bringing a telephone on a string everywhere we go…consequently we are late. Have I mentioned that I still haven’t had a shower and I have last night’s dream dribble crusted around my mouth????

Finally I get on the tube to work and I start breathing again. Wow. Sometimes I feel like I’ve totally got it. Other times I feel like I am just pretending and I need someone to lock me in a room for 24 hours where I can just rock and hum random tunes to myself. The funny thing is, that this 100mph living becomes the norm. Almost a habit, so it becomes almost impossible to relax even when I have the time to.

I guess this is why blogging helps. For the last 15 minutes I have ranted at my 30 followers and I now feel better. So thanks guys and if any of the rest of you feel like exhausted hamsters, please know you are not alone and I feel your pain.

Motherhood Reimagined by Sarah Kowalski

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this novel.

This is a book which will stay with me for a long time. This is the first book on fertility issues I have read but the book was calling to me as I am now at slap bang in the โ€˜baby phase.โ€™ My friends and I have moved on from weddings and we are now at that stage of having and trying to have babies.

Fertility is something which is taken for granted. When you first become sexually active you spend your life trying not to get pregnant and living in fear that a โ€˜mistakeโ€™ would be made and you would fall pregnant. As young women, we brazenly go through life assuming that we are all fertile goddesses and, if you happened to have unprotected sex, you will become a mother nine months later. When you plan your life do you ever allow for infertility problems, divorce, illness? Of course not. You assume you will breeze through life unscathed by the ups and downs. They happen to other people. People on Eastenders and Hollyoaks. Not to people like you.

Sarah Kowalski was one such woman. As a child, she loved children and assumed she would always become a mother. Like a lot of modern women, her career and life in general took centre stage โ€˜somewhere between my rocket-speed career and my jet-setting, single life, Iโ€™d completely lost my resolve to have children.โ€™ She became a high powered  corporate litigator. However disaster struck and she was diagnosed with a type of repetitive strain injury called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. She went from an energetic, sociable woman to someone who was in constant pain. She didnโ€™t have the strength  to wash her own hair or even put her key in the lock. She left her job and started to research alternative therapies like Feldenkrais and Qigong. It is through Qigong that Sarah met the most patient man in the world. Chris. Through Chrisโ€™s Qigong sessions Sarah decided she would start the journey to motherhood and she embarked upon Project Baby. As any woman knows, when Project Baby starts it is completely all encompassing. 

This is when the book became slightly frustrating for me. As a woman who struggles with depression, I have always gone for the quick fix….medication. Counselling didnโ€™t work for me. I didnโ€™t want to chat, I wanted a cure. This is where Kowalski and I differ.  I struggled with Kowalskiโ€™s initial objection to IVF, donations and her disregard to the information provided by the medical experts. The odds were so stacked against her, her time was running out and it was incredibly unlikely that acupuncture and Chinese herbs were going to make a difference. But that was her journey, and although the constant sobbing phone calls to Chris were irritating for me as a reader, Kowalski felt she had to run through all her options before she moved onto donation. On finishing the book, my feelings of frustration changed into feelings of respect. This was a process that Kowalski had to go through. She felt she had to exhaust all her options before she moved onto IVF and donation. Luckily Kowalski was not constrained by her financial situation. Money was no object in quest to have a baby. This is obviously not the case for a great many women out there and I wish Kowalski had acknowledged this. Her route to motherhood would not necessarily have been the one I would have taken. but it was herโ€™s and that was an inspiration. 

I use the word โ€˜journeyโ€™ because that is really what this book felt like for me as a reader. Fertility is such a massively contentious issue. I was lucky enough to fall pregnant easily but I know a lot of people who didnโ€™t. As one of the ones who didnโ€™t struggle, I often feel like I am not qualified to have an opinion on fertility issues and I am so scared of saying the wrong thing. All I can say is, as a mother I can only imagine how it must feel when you are faced with the very real possibility that you might not have children of your own. For those amongst us who have always planned to become parents, to discover that you might not be able to fulfill that destiny. When you feel your body isnโ€™t doing what it should. When everywhere you look, you see pregnant people. Utterly heartbreaking. 

Sarah Kowalski is a woman we should all admire. To go through this journey alone is utterly inspirational. In a sense Chris almost became her partner. Lacking the steady constant a partner or family member would provide, Chris took on the role. He helped her choose a sperm donor, channeled her anger and was even present during her labour.  I wonder had Sarah had that sounding board in the form of a partner maybe she would have come to the decision of donation quicker? If she had that person who could literally take the decision out of her hands things may have been easier. I wanted her to have someone to say โ€˜Stop. This isnโ€™t working. Letโ€™s try something else.โ€™

As I have made clear, this was not an easy read. I feel like I went through the whole range of emotions with Sarah. Hope, frustration, excitement, disappointment, happiness. This was the kind of book that made me actually audibly react on the train which was often embarrassing. I also often felt quite stressed on arriving at work having read a few chapters on my journey. I want to make it clear that by no means is this a criticism of the book. I completely engaged with it and learned a lot. This book should be read by anyone who wishes to become a parent. Who knows if your journey will be easy but if itโ€™s not I am sure Kowalskiโ€™s book will offer hope and comfort.

Thanks again to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.