Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

Mix it Up! And let the wonder in

Posted on | September 1, 2014 | 6 Comments

When M was about 9 months old she was sat in a bath and became transfixed by the steady trickle of water coming from the tap. Time and time again she tried to grab the stream of water and was utterly puzzled: Why wasn’t it possible to hold onto the solid-appearing rod of glinting water? I had a moment of delight and clarity as I watched M explore this ‘illusion’. As an adult I of course know a liquid cannot be held onto like a solid can, but when and how had I learned this? Here were M learning it right in front of my eyes and it felt like a moment of brilliant revelation, an instant when one of the secrets of how the world works was revealed.

mix-it-up_9781452137353_350Hervé Tullet‘s Mix it Up! allows us all to experience the same thrill of discovery, the buzz that comes from a lightbulb moment; it takes us back to the very bare bones of colour theory and shows us magic at our own fingertips. That mixing yellow and blue should give us a total different colour… well that’s pretty cool if you think about it.

Listeners and readers are invited into a wide open, imaginative space where their physical interaction with the book (tipping it, tapping it, slamming it shut) has the power to transform the pages. On one level we know it is an illusion, but the way the book addresses us directly and apparently responds to our commands instils a thrilling sense of both powerfulness and playfulness.


This books shows paint as your friend and as such is a fabulous doorway into the world of art.

This book makes scientists of its readers and listeners, asking the to predict what is going to happen and then making it so.

Mix it Up!‘s simplicity is deceptive and will be enjoyed by older children and playful adults, even if they’ve long since learned all they technically need to know about primary and secondary colours. A worthy follow-up to Press Here, this unadorned, uncomplicated book will cast a spell over you and allow you to see again some of the wonder around you.

Inspired by the page in Tullet’s book which shows a hand amongst paint-covered fingerprints we draw around our hands and cut out hand templates. These we temporarily stuck to a sheet of card (using masking tape).


Next we went wild with finger painting, starting with three bowls of primary colours (soaked into sponges so that the paint stuck to our fingers more evenly)…


…before mixing the primary colours to make secondary colours.



When the paper was full of prints I then carefully removed the hand templates to leave white shadows.


We used the now-covered-in-fingerprints hand templates to stick on a second sheet of white paper, creating an “opposite” image to the hand shadows.

Both are now up on the walls in the girls’ room. I think they make very effective pieces of art but perhaps more importantly, the process was hugely enjoyable.


Whilst we painted we listened to:

  • Mix It Up by The Marvelettes
  • This Too Shall Pass by OK Go – for the playfulness and final scenes with paint I think Tullet would approve of.
  • Mixing Up by Yo Gabba Gabba!

  • Other activities which would go well with reading Mix it Up! include:

  • Using sweet wrappers to change the way you view the world (and learn about mixing colours as you go) – using this tutorial from Mylittle3andme.
  • Adding shaving foam into the mix to give mixing colours a different sensory slant – using this tutorial from Nurture Store.
  • Combining science and colour mixing, by getting coloured water to move from two cups to third, all by itself – using this tutorial on All for Kids.

  • What do you take for granted but have recently see with new eyes?

    Disclosure: A free review copy of Mix it Up! was sent to me by the publishers.

    36 books to look out for this autumn!

    Posted on | August 28, 2014 | 12 Comments

    I love a good bit of juicy anticipation and so today I bring you a round-up of the books being published this autumn which I’m most looking forward to reading.

    Out in September

    Bears Don’t Read by Emma Chichester Clark (Harper Collins)
    How to Hide a Lion from Grandma by Helen Stephens (Alison Green Books)
    A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin (Phaidon)
    The New Small Person by Lauren Child (Puffin)
    Is there a dog in this book? by Viviane Schwarz (Walker)
    The Fairytale Hairdresser and Father Christmas Paperback by Abie Longstaff (Picture Corgi)
    The Moon Child by Cate Cain (Templar)
    Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah (Hot Key)


    How to Write a Story by Simon Cheshire (Bloomsbury)
    The Giant Game of Sculpture by Hervé Tullet (Phaidon)


    Out in October

    I am the Wolf…and Here I Come! by Bénédicte Guettier (Gecko Press)
    Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle (Chronicle Kids)
    How the Library (not the Prince) saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown Petrie (Frances Lincoln)
    Snow by Sam Usher (Templar)
    Wall by Tom Clohosy Cole (Templar)
    Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well Paperback by Elli Woollard and Al Murphy (Faber)


    How to Train Your Dragon: A Journal for Heroes by Cressida Cowell (Hodder)
    The Adventures of Hermes by Murielle Szac, translated by Mika Provata-Carlone (Pushkin)
    The No. 1 Car Spotter Goes to School by Atinuke, illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell (Walker)
    The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett (Bloomsbury)
    A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond (Hodder)
    The Rising by Tom Moorhouse (OUP)


    The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton, with new illustrations by Chris Riddell (Andersen)
    How to be a Space Explorer by Lonely Planet Kids (Lonely Planet)
    Book by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer (Walker)
    Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland (WideEyed)
    The Dolls’ House Colouring Book by Emily Sutton (V&A)
    Gravity by Jason Chin (Andersen)
    Star Cat: Book 1 by James Turner (David Fickling)


    Out in November

    Claude Sets Sail by Alex T Smith (Hodder)
    Pigsticks and Harold and the Tuptown Thief Paperback by Alex Milway (Walker)
    Les Miserables retold by Marcia Williams (Walker)
    Papercraft Christmas Paperback by Ellen Giggenbach (Templar)
    Write and Draw Your Own Comics by Louie Stowell (Usborne)
    The Story of Britain by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Franklin Watts)


    I’m also really looking forward to a new novel from Mal Peet, The Murdstone Trilogy – though this is being marketed as an adult book.

    Dates for publication listed here may be subject to change. A couple of these books have already been released in the US, but will be making their UK début this Autumn.

    What new book are you most looking forward to reading this autumn?

    The 2014 Summer Picture Book Party

    Posted on | August 25, 2014 | 13 Comments


    My girls were away for a couple of days last week staying on their own at their grandparents and whilst I LOVED having a bit more time to myself, I couldn’t resist a special welcome home picture book party; a day spent reading, playing, eating and dancing.

    zebraOn the evening they arrived home I gave them invites inspired by the artwork in The Zebra who Ran Too Fast by Jenni Desmond. Set on the African plains, this book explores rings of friendship, how they can break and make up again – a simple, kind and non-threatening exploration of a situation many children find themselves in at one time or another. Desmond’s use of muted stone and moss colours is stylish, and the illustrations feel loose and free with lots of “scribbles” and splashes.


    I used Desmond’s sun motif to form the basis of the party invites; a round piece of watercolour paper with flamecolour centre, surrounded by drops of ink, blown outwards using a straw.


    Whilst I made these invites, the process is definitely easy enough for kids to enjoy too (if you’re worried about kids drinking up the paint/ink accidentally you could use food colouring instead).

    vanillaThe following morning we started as we meant to go on. We made vanilla ice cream (without a freezer) and tested different vanilla flavoured icecreams to discover our favourite. This was inspired by Vanilla Ice Cream by Bob Graham. Graham is THE master of global perspective. He knows how to zoom in and out of scenes and stories like no other teller of tales I know, and once again he works wonders with this understated story, following a sparrow who hitches a lift on a cargo ship. Masterful picture books often include a clever “reveal” in their final pages, so I should have known something was coming. Still, I was taken by great (and joyous) surprise with the twist Graham pulls off in this colourful, delightful story endorsed by Amnesty International.

    To make icecream without a freezer you need cream, sugar, icecubes and salt. The cream and sugar go in one bag – here’s the cream, sugar (and vanilla in our case):


    And below you can see it having frozen; the cream-containing bag is put inside a larger bag full of ice and salt. Because salt lowers the freezing temperature of water, the icecubes melt, extracting heat from the cream as they do so. After about 5 minutes shaking the icecubes were mostly melted and the cream mixture was like soft icecream.


    And here’s the final result – definitely the most luxurious vanilla icecream I’ve ever eaten!


    For full details on how to make your own icecream without a freezer and in under 10 minutes, do take a look at these instructions from the National STEM centre.

    helpI love a good book about books and storytelling and Herve Tullet has created a mischievous and inventive interactive piece of theatre exploring story characters, plot and the need for a title in his Help! We Need a Title!. A motley collection of characters are in need of a good storyline and a punchy title. They appeal directly to you the reader/listener for help. With plenty of surprises this book is lively and highly amusing.

    If you like the sound of Tullet’s book do look for Do not open this book by Michaela Muntean, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, one of the funniest books in our home – an absolute must-have for families who like a bit of interaction with their books and harbour dreams of writing stories.

    Taking our lead from characters who walked in and out of the pages of Help! We Need a Title! I set up a book “stage” with the help of the patio doors, a basket of dressing up costumes and a selection of liquid chalk markers (you could also use whiteboard markers).

    My girls love drawing on photos in newspapers and magazines so it was a natural extension that we then drew “on” the characters who walked into our patio-door picture-book.


    And finally the contents of our picture book were included too.


    brunoAfter lunch, for some chill-out time, we got out good old staples: lego and the wooden railway, this time brought to life by Bruno and Titch: A Tale of a boy and His Guinea Pig by Sheena Dempsey. Bruno has always wanted a guinea pig. Titch, a guinea pig, has always wanted to be taken home from the pet shop by a Big Person. One day their paths cross – but does it work out how they’ve each always imagined it would? Deadpan guinea pig humour (yes, really!) and fabulous illustrations full of new details upon each reading add something special to this tale about friendship, imagination and looking after pets. We especially loved Bruno’s passion for invention, right down to the poster of Einstein by his bed.


    Our interpretation of Bruno and Titch’s lego/railway play:



    francesNo party is complete without dancing, so following a reading of Frances Dean who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif we cleared the kitchen to create space for a good old boogie, aided by a prop or two.

    Put your cynical adult brain to one side and remember a time when the phrase “dance like no-one’s watching” felt like something utterly joyous and liberating. Sif’s book is all about holding on to that freedom and not being afraid of a little bit of exuberance mixed in with a good shot of rhythm. It’s an encouraging story about holding on to what you care about, even when others seem to doubt you, a message I think every child deserves to hear time and time again.


    For a book bursting with so much heart and happiness, the colour scheme is particularly interesting; there are lots of natural greens and browns rather than the bright sparkly jewel tones often used by illustrators to convey intense happiness. For me this speaks of the impact being connected to the outdoors can have on feeling content and happy; indeed all of the scenes showing Frances Dean dancing take place in parks and forests surrounded by space, trees and wildlife.

    We reused embroidery hoops and ribbons to create waves of colour we could dance with.




    Jumping for joy? Yes, that pretty much sums up our 2014 Picture Book Party :-) An all day festival of playing and reading – just what summer holidays are made for.


    Disclosure: All the books featured in this picture book party were sent to me a free review copies by the Walker Books, as part of the Picture Book Party blog tour. See how how more families have been partying at the following stops on the tour: 26 August:, 27 August:, 28 August: and 29 August:

    keep looking »
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