Posted on | November 20, 2014 | 5 Comments
Illustrator Sam Usher burst onto the scene two years ago with with a riot of colour and pattern in Can You See Sassoon?, which was shortlisted for the Red House Children’s Book Award 2013. When your first book gets flagged up as a potential prize winner, there is some expectation and anticipation when it comes to future publications.
More than two years after Can You See Sassoon? was published, Usher is back, and like all good things, it has been worth the wait.
Snow by Sam Usher celebrates that wonderfully exciting feeling in the pit of your stomach when you open your eyes in the morning, draw back the curtains and… your world has been transformed by a deep blanket of snow. The potential for play, the white world waiting to be explored, the possibility to really make your own mark….ahh! Just how quickly can you get out there to delight in at all?
A young boy zooms through getting ready, frustrated by the time it takes his Grandfather to join him. Will it be worth the wait for other kids are already out there leaving footprints everywhere?
A whole lot of snowballs and a little bit of childhood magic later, Grandpa and child agree “some things are definitely worth waiting for“. With Snow, I couldn’t agree more.
Usher’s illustrations are full of life and energy; there’s a comfortable looseness about them, and I cannot help but draw comparisons (in the best possible way) with Quentin Blake. Perhaps it is because the Grandfather in this story physically reminds me of Blake, with his bald pate and avuncular manner. But it’s also in the noses, the wonky fingers, the hand gestures and I love this stylistic echo. Indeed I get a real kick from these potentially vulnerable pen lines that speak to me of a real person, drawing a line that connects creator, story, reader and listener together.
With another contender for my favourite page turn of the year, showing how an almost plain white page can produce both gasps and a burst of warm delight, Snow is a wintry classic that will bring much delight and joy, however long you have to wait for it.
Alas weather in our part of the world has been unseasonally warm so I don’t hold out much hope of snow any time this year. Ever the optimist, I instead made some snow to play with in the warmth of our kitchen.
Snow dough is a moldable yet friable substance akin to commercially available ‘moon sand’, made out of corn flour (corn starch) and oil. We mixed about one part sunflower oil to four parts corn flour, and just for good measure added in a few drops of peppermint essential oil so that our snow dough smelt like Christmas candy.
I smoothed out the snow dough to recreate that blissful untouched vista of snow, and brought out a load of playmobil people and plastic animals (matching those in the book where possible). A small pot of glitter, for pinching and casting over the scene to add a little extra sparkle completed the invitation to play.
Lots of tracks in the snow were made, and because the snow dough is moldable, caches of snowballs and even an igloo were also prepared.
The snow dough has a wonderful crunch to it when you mold it – satisfyingly just like real snow!
Cake and hot chocolate completed our afternoon playing in the “snow”.
Whilst playing in the snow we listened to:
Other activities which could work well alongside reading Snow include:
I know at least one of my readers has already got snow this November (Hello Donna!), but has anyone else had the chance to play in snow yet this year? Or are you heading into Summer?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Snow from the publisher.
Posted on | November 17, 2014 | 10 Comments
The Story of Money written by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura is a humorous, wide-ranging tale about the evolution of money, starting with what people did before money was invented, exploring why it came into being and how money systems developed before coming right up to date with a discussion of modern day bank crashes and their consequences.
Although satisfying and curious facts about (for example) money’s relationship to the evolution of writing, the everyday use of official IOUs even in the 21st century and the remarkably tiny total volume of gold that exists on planet Earth pepper the conversational text, Jenkins presentation of these nuggets is unusual; rather than short, sharp fact boxes, or framed individual paragraphs (writing styles which are very common in non-fiction for children), he weaves a story together creating sustained texts over each 2-3 page chapter (each with their own funny title, echoing Victorian novels).
This slim hardback volume, ideal for upper primary aged children, is richly illustrated throughout with Satoshi Kitamura’s quirky and slightly wonky comic strip style images; they bring their own brand of humour to an enjoyable, approachable economics text which manages to make things as foreboding as inflation, deflation and taxation come to life.
The Story of Money is a digestible and entertaining introduction to many aspects of pecuniary history which offers up plenty of starting points for both practical and philosophical discussions about the value of money. An index and short bibliography add to the book’s utility both at home and in the classroom. Prepare to finish it feeling surprised: Surely there aren’t many other economics books which end by reminding us that there’s a great deal more to life than accumulating as much money as possible?
A numismatist was selling low value world currency at a charity table-top sale we recently visited and I took the opportunity to by a bag of coins for £5 (yes, the girls and I did see the irony at using money to buy… money).
I threw in a few chocolate coins for good measure and then we set about investigating where our coins came from.
On a cheap wall map we highlighted the countries we had coins from, noting those countries which we had coins for but which no longer existed (e.g. Yugoslavia), and also those countries who have currencies are now something other than that which we had coins for (for example we had lots of pre-Euro-era European coins). Some coins also opened up new stories in history for the girls; we had several coins from former UK colonies which referred to their ‘Emperor’.
That £5 I spent opened up so much exploration; from what coins are made out of, to the sometimes exquisite art on them, via the history they reflect as well as the geography they open up, I was quite amazed at how much interest and enjoyment we got out of a small coin collection (to say nothing of the very tactile and romantic experience of handling coins that have somehow landed up on your kitchen table even though they were made 1000s of miles away, sometime more than 100 years ago – what stories led them into our hands we wondered?).
Whilst mapping our money we listened to:
Other activities which go well with reading The Story of Money include:
What are your favourite activities for helping your kids learn about money?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Story of Money from the publisher.
Posted on | November 15, 2014 | 9 Comments
Earlier this week I was contacted by a blog reader who is spending a few weeks in the UK and wanted some advice about the children’s literature highlights she shouldn’t miss whilst in the country. This got me thinking about dream places to stay for all of us who love to read.
Recently a central London Waterstones bookshop offered one lucky reader the chance to spend a night amongst its bookshelves, inspired by the case of a tourist who accidentally got locked in the store last month. Unfortunately it was a one-off opportunity to sleep in the bookshop, but here are 12 more places you can stay in on holiday and read to your heart’s content (and one place that might inspire you to never leave home at all..).
And if none of the above is quite what you are looking for, take inspiration from Michael Seidenberg’s apartment on the Upper East Side and transform your own home into a bookshop. That way you’ll always be able to sleep surrounded by books: