Why Doctor Who Will Make Us Cleverer. Oh, And Is He Able To Clone Professor Brian Cox?

When I was at school, I was something of a geek.  A swot if you will.  I turned up to lessons on time, completed all my homework and actually revised for my exams.  Of my own accord.

I remember being about 13 when a member of the cool gang – you know the type; tangerine foundation, no skirt, and eyes which could barely be opened underneath layers of clogged mascara – casually informed me that although I was “like, a proper swot like,” I was still socially acceptable because I “didn’t seem like proper f***ing into Science an’ that.” Oh, and I had nice hair.

Now, I could discuss how it should be possible to be clever and cool, adamant that we shouldn’t put people into boxes.  You can highlight all your notes and still care about your appearance you know, but that would be hypocritical.  The cool kid I’ve just described is, after all, straight out of a teen soap opera.  All we need now is a few nice-but-dim athletes dancing around a basketball court whilst harbouring a burning desire to sing musical numbers and we’d have the cast of High School Musical!

The fact is, most kids (and adults) are desperate to fit in.  And, as sad as it may seem, school-goers do tend to fall into one or other category.  There are very few who have the courage to stick their head above the proverbial parapet and shout, “Hey, I’m just me!”  Let’s be honest, why should they? Being a child is hard enough today as it is.

So, in the absence of bullying, these things themselves don’t really bother me.  What does bother me, and I mean really bothers me, I’m not talking a minor irritation or a bit of a niggle, here.  I mean fists clenched, blood boiling, steam coming out of the ears kind of bothers me, is this:

Why the hell is it so bad to be bright? Why is it cool to fail all your exams and so absolutely mortifying to be even the tiniest bit academic?  And Science? Well, that’s just the geekiest of the lot, right?

Before anyone points out that not everyone is naturally academic, that kids have different strengths and we can’t and shouldn’t judge everyone in the same way, I know.  That’s not what I’m saying.  I home educate my son largely for this reason.  I’m not referring to children who struggle with academic concepts at all.

I’m talking about the fact that so many of our young people, and their parents, seem repulsed by the idea of learning, of knowledge, of a thirst for information – in particular the scientific variety.  When I was still teaching in school, I met a parent who, when told at Parents Evening that their child was excelling in Science, actually rolled their eyes and commented, in all seriousness, “Yeah, they are a bit speccy, they don’t get it from either of us!”  I almost wept into my desk.

On facebook a few weeks ago, an old school acquaintance was having a virtual conversation with their daughter. They were probably sitting next to each other on the couch.  The parent was calling the 11 year old “a geek” for choosing to go into school in the holidays for a workshop.

These are just two examples.  It’s everywhere.

Scientists are constantly portrayed in films as mad, crazy, socially inept, psychotic.  The list is endless.  On the rare occasion when there is an attractive or socially functioning Scientist, it turns out that they’re actually an undercover journalist or also into pole dancing.  It’s unbelievable.

Even the New National Curriculum contributes.  Quite aside from other criticisms I have of it (which are perhaps best left for another time), the Curriculum due to be rolled out in schools from September 2014 has, in a lot of ways, dumbed down Science even more than it was before.

Let’s take light and dark for instance.  Under the Old Curriculum (I didn’t much like that either), children were taught at age 5 that we need light to see, that darkness is the absence of light etc.  Pretty basic stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.  Now it isn’t taught until age 7-8.  Earth and Space isn’t taught until between the ages of 9 and 10. So, potentially our children don’t even realise we’re only one planet in the solar system until then.  Or even what a Solar System is.  Or a planet for that matter.

Here’s where Doctor Who comes in. Finally, I hear you cry, she’s going to stop ranting!   Since it was relaunched in  2005 by Russell T Davies, the series has established itself as a firm family favourite.  The viewings of each episode in the 2013 series never dropped below 5 million and were usually considerably higher than this.  Last week, the marvellous Professor Brian Cox presented ‘The Science of Doctor Who’ with 2.2 million viewings (overnight).  Where else would you find people wanting to understand Science?  Hiding in laboratories with static wire hair and green potions probably!

We are desperate to find out how we too can travel through the universe.  Can time travel really be possible?  We want to know the science behind it.

Is there life on other planets?  How does a sonic screwdriver work?  How could you possibly refuel a TARDIS?  How does a TARDIS even work in the first place?

All burning scientific questions even if they have come from a fictional programme.

Even when he’s not talking about the Doctor, Brian Cox makes everything sound interesting.  His live series with Jodrell bank a few years ago and his programmes on the BBC all demonstrate how exciting and valuable scientific work is.  He makes it accessible for an everyman.  Without dumbing it down.

With such brilliant presenters and fabulous Doctors all over our screens at the moment, is this finally going to be the moment when we can finally say science is cool?  Will we be able to stop feeling odd for wanting to find things out?

I doubt it.

But at least we can all take heart from the fact that the Doctor will be igniting our scientific minds this weekend in the 50th Anniversary.  Maybe he’ll be able to clone our dear Professor Cox and send him into schools.

Are you fans of the Doctor and Professor Cox in your house?  Do you love Science? I’d love to hear about it.

A Simple Christmas? 8 ideas to Make it Wonderful.

Earlier this week, the Archbishop Welby said that families should not make their lives “miserable” at Christmas by putting themselves under pressure to keep up with the “over the top” consumerism of the festive season.  You can read the full story at the BBC News Website.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of articles all over the web, packed with ideas for how to have a simple Christmas: There are crafts; home made gifts and cards; ideas to set budgets.  You name it, there will be handy hints about it.

This morning, as I steeped fruits in Brandy in preparation for steaming the Christmas Puddings and wrapped my Christmas Cake batters up in their parchments beds, I began to wonder about this idea of a simple Christmas.

I’m all in favour of a Christmas without the materialism.  There is so much pressure on children (and hence their parents) to have the latest gadget, shoes, accessory or whatever; so many competitions between neighbours about who has the most fabulous display of lights, that we are in danger of forgetting the real meaning of Christmas. 

I’m all for the idea of making cakes and puddings.  I much prefer a rustic Mince Pie instead of a perfectly shaped (but not often perfect tasting) shop bought one and I love the special feeling that receiving a carefully chosen or hand made gift brings. But, and this is a big but.  I have a real problem with the term ‘simple’ Christmas.

You see, to me, the word simple conjures up an image of anything bland. Plain. Dull.  It isn’t well thought out or planned, it is mediocre – making do.  I know simple can be beautiful and that the simple ideas are always the best. See – I know all the sayings!

But the idea of a simple Christmas just fills me with dread.  It doesn’t sound special.  It sounds functional.  And Christmas should be magical.

So here I am, mid-November, trying to think of ways to make Christmas magical without costing the Earth.  Ways to make it wonderful without the all the excess.  Well, almost all!

Here are my top tips:

  1. Get Traditional

I don’t mean bring back traditions of years gone by, unless you want to of course.  No.  I mean create your own traditions.  Little things that you’ll do each year with your family to really bring the Christmas spirit alive.  We started a lovely one last year with our son who was then 2.  On Christmas Eve, probably mid-afternoon, I dashed upstairs with a note handwritten by Santa, to be delivered by his Elves.  The note talked about how good Jasper had been all year with a few references to achievements and things he had particularly enjoyed.  I left the note on his pillow with a new pair of pyjamas and a dressing gown wrapped underneath.  These were a special present from Santa to remind Jasper that he needed to go to bed early and hope to hear the sound of sleigh bells as Santa completed his rounds!

Another tradition I think is just beautiful is to write down on post-it notes  all the little things your child says or does throughout the year.  We always say we won’t forget but it is just so easy to when they grow up so quickly! Stick them in a shoe-box or jar then, on Christmas or New Years Eve, open them and read back.  You don’t have to limit it to children – you could do it just as a couple too.

2.  Make a meal of it!

The christmas Meal is usually the highlight of the day, but it’s so easy to get carried away with having hundreds of sauces, sides and stuffings, especially if you buy them all ready prepared.  I know it can be so much easier on the day when it can all be thrown in the oven without hours of peeling and chopping but if you create your family’s own perfect meal and stick to it each year with just a few tweaks, it really does become a doddle.

Lots of little snacks such mince pies that you can make with the kids throughout December; a pudding which you can steam a few months before and watch the brandy seep through as you feed it in the run up to the big day; a stuffing which you can knock up the day before.  All these things make it so much easier, cheaper and simpler on the day yet you’re still left with that really special Christmas feeling.  Probably more so because you have a house full of delicious smells throughout the festive season!

3. Get out into the Community

Whether you’re a Christian who celebrates the true meaning of the festival or, like us, a non-believer who uses the time to celebrate family and friendship, everyone can really get into the spirit of things by heading out into the neighbourhood.  Christmas lights in the streets, carol singers, Santa on his rounds and the general feeling of excitement in the air are enough to get even the most miserable of souls in the mood!

4. Do something good

In these hard economic times, when we’re all tightening our purse strings at Christmas, it can be so easy to forget that there are people so much worse off than us.  So many of us tend to have a clear out at this time of year in preparation for the influx of new things, so instead of binning or selling on ebay, why not take some of those no longer needed items to a charity shop? 

Take a batch of mince pies to an elderly neighbour who is alone or even have friends over for a cake and warming Christmas cocktail, ask everyone to donate a pound or two to help the charity of your choice.

Every penny counts.

5.  Sing

Gather around the fire, crowd around the piano or stick the radio on for a good old sing song.  Carols, Christmas hits or even one you’ve made up yourself.  Music has the power to really move us, so use it to make your Christmas special!

6. Cull your Christmas card list!

There’s been a huge increase in the number of people who send e-cards, especially as we’re all doing our upmost to save money.  Although these can be great to stay in touch with people who you might otherwise not speak to, don’t they take away a little of the personal touch which can mean so much at this time of year?

My Mum has a system whereby she uses a spreadsheet to tick off each year whether someone has sent her a card.  If they don’t send her one two years running and she hasn’t spoken to them in the meantime, she strikes them off her list.  When I was younger, I used to think this was awful and berate my mum for being scrooge-like and mean spirited.  But now I really appreciate why she did this and have even started doing it myself.  She saves time (and money) by not having to write and post hundreds upon hundreds of cards, yet she is still able to stay in touch with all the people she wants to reach out to.

A hand-written, personal note instead of the factory churned out Christmas wishes each year can really cheer someone up at Christmas, especially someone who might be on their own or vulnerable.

7. Get Crafty

While we’re on the subject of the personal touch, why not get the kids involved.  Haul out the glitter, get happy with the scissors and create cards and decorations of your own.  If you want to avoid the commercialism, this is a super way to really get your house feeling festive without looking the same as everyone else’s.  It’s also a great opportunity, especially with people being so time-deficient these days, to spend some quality time with your family.

And finally….

8. Smile

Laughter is indeed the best medicine.  In years to come, no one will remember how many gifts they got, whether you forgot to turn the oven on and how much you spent on the big day.  What they will remember is this:

A fun-filled, special day with family around them. 

So don’t spend a fortune, try not to be sucked in to the consumerism of Christmas (easier said than done with kids, I know) and have a lovely day surrounded by the ones you love!

Five Minute Friday: Tree – Living and Playing

It’s Friday again and that can only mean one thing:  Yes, it’s time for Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday.  Five minutes of unedited writing inspired by a given word.  Today’s word is tree.

Here goes…


The mighty oak which towers above.  A sprouting seed creeping towards the sky, vulnerable to trampling feet and hungry teeth.


A 7 year old’s hiding place from an angry mother.  A cosy nook for a lonely owl or family of woodlice.


Nature’s own climbing frame. A place to swing and play.


A watchman for all time.  Through life, loves, wars. Change.


Homeless wildlife. Flattened Forests.  Paper scattered.


A new house.  A shopping centre.  Concrete jungles. 






Sexism in the cult of Disney? Fictitious heroines one limited template? I don’t think so!

When I started writing this blog, I intended it to document our life as a new home educating family and to share some tips and activities about things which have worked for us.  My last post though was a tad – shall we say forthright?  I was passionate about the subject but after having said my bit, I was planning to go back to sharing some of the fun things Jasper and I have been up to.

But then I read an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, entitled ‘I’d happily blow the brains out of a Disney Princess’ written by Beverley Turner.  There are a lot of really valid points in the article; you can read it here but if you haven’t, the gist of the bit that drove me mad is essentially this:

The author fumes that ‘the cult of Disney’ brainwashes children into believing that women should do no more than wait around, doe-eyed and pathetic, for a charming Prince to come along and rescue them from whatever perilous circumstances they happen to find themselves in.  She argues that we should have more true-to-life characters because most women “prefer to do more than wait to marry a Prince, in a size 8 dress with hair down to their waist” and that the Disney princess image is damaging to young girls as it teaches them that they need to be aesthetically perfect and can’t do anything without a man.

Oh come on.

Firstly, I’m not at all convinced that Disney Princesses are the distressed damsels Beverley Turner seems to think.  Yes, they do seem to be motivated (at least in part) by the desire to marry a handsome Prince, but very few seem to sit around waiting for this to happen or indeed to be rescued.  I said very few, not none before you shoot me down.  They know what they want and they go after it, navigating treacherous paths and any number of obstacles on their way.

Let’s take Princess Jasmine.  As the daughter of a Sultan she is expected, under obligation in fact, to marry a Prince.  Yet all the ones she meets are arrogant fools who treat her as nothing more than a “prize to be won.” Refusing to buy into that idea, Jasmine defies the system and decides she’s going to marry for love.  Fragile maiden I think not.

Then there’s Ariel.  Again, yes I know she’s after a bloke, but he’s not exactly attainable.  Does this put her off?  Of course it doesn’t.  She’s prepared to leave her home, literally travel across the ocean and change her whole world to get what she wants.  Now the usual argument here is that yet again, a woman is made to change who she is for a man, but I really don’t see it like that.  I think you’ve got to have a hell of a lot about you to be prepared to give up all you’ve ever known and venture into unknown territories without even a guarantee that the one you want will love you back.

Belle refuses to marry Gaston despite all the girls in the town thinking he’s a catch because she wants something more and she’s prepared to give up her liberty to protect her father.

Now, I don’t have daughters.  But if I did, I’d be quite happy for them to look up to these girls as heroines.

Secondly, let’s look at the skinny thing.  I think there’s confusion about the effect generally size 0 women, and the way they are portrayed in the media, have on young girls.  To me, the problem is this.  It isn’t that there are skinny women in magazines and as celebrities.  If that’s a problem, that says more about our parenting – if our girls can’t see someone with an apparently near perfect body without suffering a huge knock to their confidence, we need to helping them develop their self esteem more.  If we get into the realm of banning and dictating to publications because we don’t like what they put on their covers, we’re in dangerous territory.  The problem arise when these women pretend that they don’t have to work hard to maintain their figures; when we show zoomed in pictures of their invisible rolls of fat when they bend over on the beach or claim that they have “ballooned to a size 10” and wonder whether this will affect the quality of their work.  The most worrying though is when we airbrush women so that they are flawless without making it clear to young readers that this has happened.  Magazines need to sell copies.  Fact.  So yes, they want something on the cover that looks good.  The damage comes when we make women look almost 2d and then let them claim that they “eat what they want” and can still be slim.  That’s damaging.  A confident, articulate Disney Princess who happens to be slim, isn’t.

I happened to see Kimberley Walsh on Lorraine this morning and she summed it up perfectly for me.  Talking about her style and body confidence, she said this:  “I do think women have to work hard to keep a good body shape.  I do work out a bit but I like food and like to eat what I want.”  She admitted that despite her enviable figure, she has days when she doesn’t feel confident.  Just like the rest of us.  It’s all about, she states, being confident in yourself and knowing what suits you and your body shape.

Beverley Turner mentions the fit, athletic women who inspired young girls as part of the Olympic games.  She talks about achievement.  Isn’t defying the system to marry for love an achievement?  Or being prepared to risk death to save your family?

Of course there are subtle messages in Disney films.  Disney is a huge corporation and we need to be careful about the messages such a powerful company is able to send out to our children.  Sometimes though, I think we should just let things be what they are.  And the films in which our Disney Princesses appear are just this: Fun-filled fairy tale adventures enjoyed by children for generations.

And Beverley?  Blowing the brains out of characters you don’t happen to like?  Great message to our daughters.

Women of the world unite? No thanks. My response to the Blogfest feminism debate.

I don’t know what I expected from Blogfest yesterday.  But it certainly wasn’t what I thought it would be.  I arrived at King’s place to a room packed full of influential women (and some men).  Women who have a voice and are not afraid to use it.  Intelligent women, strong women.  The high profile panelists and sponsors were a symbol of how far women have come and it was empowering to see the power that ‘Mummy-bloggers’ (but let’s not restart that discussion) have online.

Every session I attended was thought-provoking, insightful, useful.  The day ran seamlessly from start to finish.  From the debate about online abuse, to the most effective way to harness social media.  The delicious food and sumptuous cocktails, to the blog clinic and the writing tips from possibly the most informed panel of writers anyone could have hoped to see.

But we let ourselves down at the end.

The question ‘Can you be a mummy-blogger and still be a feminist?’ was always going to be controversial.  I think it’s safe to say, it was designed to be and yes, a lot of what the panel had to say was insulting – at best, but it was our response that I thought was most disappointing.  The twitter feed had to be taken down because it was too distracting for an audience of the intelligent women I mentioned earlier.  Eventually the whole thing descended almost into anarchy and the panel essentially shuffled off the stage before Jo Brand came on to rescue things. 

Everyone has a voice and we have a responsibility to use that voice.  Whatever sector we work in, whatever we choose to do, we have a responsibility.  It could be teaching our children that they can make a difference and that what they say really matters.  It could be arguing with the council that we need more parks; influencing multi-national corporations; even convincing the person to whom you’ve been on hold for 45 minutes that actually you are a valued customer and you do have the right to be heard. 

The point is it doesn’t matter. 

We are all influential in our own circle.  And if we’re not, we need to make sure we are.  I know it isn’t as simple as that, I’m ignoring many complex issues obviously.  I know there are glass ceilings and, to paraphrase a wonderful blogger in the audience at feminism debate , we live in a country where success is measured by wealth and earnings.  When you give up work to have and stay with your children, you necessarily lose that and it can be very difficult to find your voice let alone have it be respected. 

But we still can drive change.  We can teach our children to be good online and “real-world” citizens; we can show our children that women are equal to men; we are raising the next generation of world leaders.  If we sit and complain about how women have it tough and that they’re not taken seriously, that’s the message we’re giving out. 

In business, if our only concern is to get to the top, if we trample over everyone with our very non-feminist (ha!) high-heels, then we are perpetuating the view that career women are heartless bitches.  But what we really need to do is this.  If we want women to be (as they should be) thought of as equal to men then we need to stop this bickering, this judging, this petty-girly-back-stabbing because the ones who are holding women back in their fight for equality isn’t the men we complain about.  It’s us.  The women.

And to me that’s the issue.    I can’t work out whether Sarah Ditum was suggesting women can’t be “competent mothers” if they don’t go to university or not – I have heard there was a problem with the sound.  The sound of a shouting audience perhaps?  But so what if she thinks that?  If she does, she’s a pillock.  End of.  It isn’t insulting to women who didn’t go to university, it shouldn’t be taken as a step-back to women generally.  It’s her opinion.  As an individual. 

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that was the whole point of feminism in the first place?  For women not to be pigeon-holed and forced into one role or another.  For them to have a right to choose.  And by saying they can’t wear high-heels, they must not make jam (God-forbid) and absolutely must go to University and hate men is just forcing them into another box.

Feminism should be about women having the right to do what they want and choose to do. To have children and not be made to feel worthless; to be high-flying at work; to look like shit one day but a totally glamorous babe the next.  Every decision we make, whether good or bad, shouldn’t be affecting other women.  If a man does something wrong, whether heinously or not, we call him for what he is.  As an individual.  If a woman does, she’s doing woman-kind a massive disservice.  Whatever her point, Sarah Ditum was expressing her right to free-speech.  As an individual.  And our screeching, hysterical response was, quite frankly, a joke.   Women can’t park, women can’t drive, women can’t play football, play poker, have an intelligent conversation or heated debate without becoming emotional. Judge, judge, judge.  Blah-bah-blah.

Do you know what though?  I’ve very rarely heard this said by a man.  I know there are misogynists out there, too many of them, and I know that they seem to be the ones in power.  We cite David Cameron’s ‘Calm-down dear’ line  all the time as a prime example of this but having heard a lot of what else he has to say (regardless of his political agenda) I genuinely don’t think he is.  It was a stupid thing to say, certainly.  A very misjudged comment that has got him into a lot of hot water, at least as far as our perception of him is concerned.  But was it really an example of misogyny?  I don’t think so. 

It’s women who are more damaging.  We can’t do anything without fear of what our ‘sisters’ will think of us.  And it isn’t even just about giving women the right to be as, and I use this term very loosely, powerful as men.  Our friend looks nice, we tell her so.  But then comes the judgement.  She’s lost weight because she fannies around with herself instead of looking after her children.  Her hair has obviously been highlighted by a top stylist.  Shouldn’t she have been playing with her toddler?  She’s been promoted.  Bitch must be sleeping with the boss. She doesn’t spend any time with her family anyway, why does she bother having them? 

It’s pathetic ladies.

So I say this.  I’m not a feminist and I’m proud of it.

The feminists can shoot me down and quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.  I will continue to do what I think is best, for me and for my family. Not for the feminists, not for the women who scream and shout, not for the friend who will criticise me or my choices for being against woman-kind.  In the words of Jo Brand in her key-note speech, I will go forth “with a sense of righteous indignation.”but as myself.  As an individual. 




Five Minute Friday: Truth

Thanks Lisa-Jo Baker for today’s Five Minute Friday: truth. 

This is a tricky one!

Truth.  It’s a funny word.  We hold it in such high regard, yet we all seem to not only attach different meanings to it, but also adapt those meaning to suite our current needs.  Everyone’s truth is indeed different, especially when it’s so open to being edited!

So does truth really exist and, if it doesn’t, should we place such a high value on it, especially with our children?

‘Tell the truth.’ we demand when they argue and we want to get to the bottom of who smashed the window, or drew on the wall.  They tell us and yet we insist they’re lying.  We question, we interrogate, pick holes in their story as though they’re a criminal under oath rather than a willful child.  Whatever they tell us, we punish them anyway.  We know, we tell ourselves as parents, what happened.  We were children once.   So where is the incentive for them to tell us the truth if we’ve already made up our minds?

Then, not half an hour later, we find ourselves ten minutes late to meet someone.

“Sorry we’re late, the traffic was bad.” We apologise with a little white lie to disguise the fact that we were behind because the toddler wouldn’t eat his lunch, we forgot our coats or were still chatting on the phone when we should have been in the car.  The traffic was bad but it shouldn’t really have held us up.  So is half-tale really the truth?  We give our children such mixed messages, rarely bother to explain and then criticise and punish when they get it wrong.

As adults, lots of us believe it is ok to tell a small untruth to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid an argument.  We’ve had those ‘new’ shoes for ages or that new hair cut looks lovely on our friend but when children do the same, we talk to them about liars having their tongues cut out or sing rhymes about their pants being on fire.

We claim to have a greater understanding of truth; we say that we can tell when truth is important and when it is best not to voice it, but is this really true?  We want to avoid an argument or spare someone’s feelings but aren’t we just trying to avoid an awkward moment for ourselves?  I’m not saying we never should tell white lies, I’m ashamed to say I do it myself all the time.

But I am saying this.  Children need modelled behaviour.  They copy us, look up to us, we are their shining example.  And what they do need is consistency.  If we’re going to hold up truth as a beacon of all that is right, surely we owe it to our children to be truthful ourselves or at least be consistent in what we say truth is?

Or, if we are prefer to keep those lines muddied with a few fibs here and there, we should credit children with enough intelligence to explain to them why instead of punishing them when they try to work it out themselves.


Making Books with Young Children: Every Picture Tells a Story

ImageI have talked before about how we are a house full of story tellers and avid readers.  Jasper has begun creating his own stories; he’s used them in his play for a while – adding narrative as he acts out his ideas of pushes his trains around the track, but he has now started to ask, “Can I tell you a story?” This is always greeted, of course, with a resounding “Yes!”

So I thought it would be nice if we started to turn some of Jasper’s stories into books.  I’ve videoed lots of them and played them back to him, watching him squeal with delight (this could be more to do with vanity than pride in his story-telling – he does love watching and listening to himself!) but I thought it would be particularly meaningful if his stories were made into actual books.

Here’s how:Image

  • Take a piece of A3 paper and fold into quarters before drawing a frame in each corner.  (incidentally, this was a great opportunity to talk about fractions and how many more frames we needed to draw before we had filled all the quarters!)


  • Put the paper down so it’s landscape and then cut across the fold on the left to the middle.
  • Flip the paper over so the cut side is still on the left and draw 2 more frames, one above the other.
  • Fold in half (downwards) and then wrap the edges around so you have a 4 page book with front and back covers.

ImageThis idea was taken from Paul Johnson’s Making books – this is not an affiliated link.  If you click this link, I do not receive any money from Paul Johnson or amazon.  It is a wonderful book though, packed full of book making ideas including concertina books and pop up books.  I would certainly recommend you get hold of a copy for some truly marvelous creations!


Anyway, now you have your book and can fill it any way you like.  We decided to write our own version of a story we knew.  As I said earlier in the post, I wanted Jasper’s stories to feel really meaningful and be “published” for him so I wrote the story exactly as he said it (even if there were bits that didn’t quite make sense) on the left hand pages and he drew pictures on the covers and the right pages.  This gave us a great opportunity to talk about what you usually find on the cover of a book, how illustrators might choose what to draw and how to link pictures to the story.  It also was a great opportunity to practise the pencil-grip and shading – Jasper gets cross when I mention this usually but this morning, because he was so engaged with making the book, he made super progress with his fine-motor development.

ImageAs for the content, I mentioned in an earlier post that Jasper loves the story of ‘The Ghost Train’ by the legendary Alan Ahlberg and that we created our own version when we rode the steam train last week, in honour of Halloween.  Jasper changed parts of the story – we had a “bright, bright station” instead of a “dark, dark” one and he used so much descriptive vocabulary, particularly to describe how the smoke swirled around the train as it chugged through the tunnel. 

So I thought this would be a great story to write in the book.

Jasper had other ideas though.  He still wanted to tell a story about a train, but he decided it was going to be ‘more like the Dr Bones Bump in the Night’ story (another Alan Ahlberg one) and the trains were going to thunder down the track and bump into each other. In the end, there was of Thomas the Tank Engine too!  I asked him why there was so much thunder in his story and he replied that we’d a lot of thunder recently so the trains probably had some too! I couldn’t argue with that! And isn’t it just another example of the power of nature?!

Here’s the finished version:

Image‘Once upon a time there was a train and its name was Thomas.  He had another friend called Percy. ImageAnd they had some more friends.  One was Gordon, one was Henry, one was Edward, one was James.  They did a chug around chasing each other.  Another train called Hero bumped into them.  And then he chugged back.  He bumped into the track so hard he stopped.  Then there was a big thundering noise.  It wasn’t thunder, it was Gordon chasing the trains past hero. Then was another thunder but it wasn’t thunder, it was Spencer. They all had to go back to their sheds.’





World of your imagination – where has our love of reading gone?

I love books. 

Absolutely, utterly, completely adore them.  I could quite happily spend every waking minute devouring stories; flicking through pages, inhaling that new (or old!) book smell.  It never fails to thrill me that inside every cover exists another world: Worlds of adventure, mystifying magical lands, heart-wrenching tales and bellies full of laughter.

When I was pregnant, I used to read children’s stories to the bump.  I’d sing nursery rhymes, poems and create my own tales hoping to somehow instill this love of reading and stories into my unborn child.  If a fetus recognises its mother’s voice, then who is to say it can’t develop a love of literature too? That was my outward reasoning anyway although I suspect it had more to do with the fact that it gave me a perfect excuse to read some old childhood favourites!

We read to Jasper from the moment he was born – I used to breastfeed whilst reading aloud Christopher Robin’s adventures in the 100 acre wood.  He had a few bedtime stories that we’d read over and over again and other stories that we would dip in and out of.  He’d squeal with delight when animals would hide in forests, children would run and hide under beds and various creatures began their eipc adventures in the big, wide world.

We borrow books from the library regularly.  Jasper now rushes in desperate to find what’s hiding inside the shelves, searching for whatever he wants to read about that day.  My amazon basket is always full of books I think he’d like to share together and now, those he may be able to just start to read himself.  My favourite way to buy books though, is in a bookshop.  I know they’re cheaper online and I know we need to keep our libraries open and in order to do that, we need to visit them.  We complain they’re not stocked with the latest releases, that half the pages are missing and if you can manage to find what you want, it’s usually already on loan and you have to wait 6 weeks for the last borrower to return it.

Oh, but there’s something about a bookshop.  Sliding your fingers across the spines of freshly printed books, the rush you feel when you find a book by your favourite author that you have somehow managed to miss.  The excitement  when you notice that all paperbacks are on ‘buy one get one half price’ – you feel perfectly justified in spending money you don’t have on books you don’t technically *need* and end up buying bags full.  I don’t mean to sound frivolous, I’m not in any other way but with books, I just can’t help myself.  They’re like the purest form of escapism, new friends you care desperately about and can’t stop thinking about, long after you’ve closed the book at its final page.  Sometimes you even forget that the characters are just that. Characters.

I’m almost certain – I hope I’m certain, that my love of reading has been passed on to Jasper.  It’s the best gift I feel I could have given him.  He dances a jig when he is given a new book, he stares longingly at the pictures of other covers in the back of books he already has, wondering what joys he may find within their pages and begs to hear stories over and over again.

When we’re waiting for an appointment and other children around us are playing on their mother’s phones, Jasper will ask me to make up stories for him and sometimes I’ll ask him to make them up for me.  He’s three so of course has had very little (if any!) formal teaching yet he uses such descriptive vocabulary, he draws his listeners in – he gives voices to his characters, he uses adjectives and imagery.  Have I taught him this? Of course not.  Books have.

He sees us reading all the time because we genuinely love it.  Our house is full of books, they’re everywhere.  I have bought a kindle (as a space saver!) but I’ll never stop buying books.  Each one like a little treasure.

What saddens me though, and I mean deeply not merely in passing, is that something seems to have happened to our love of reading.  I teach primary school and we’re constantly bombarded with new initiatives to try to persuade children to read – let them watch the film, I hear; give them stories full of action; let them read comics; read an email or even a text.  I’m not suggesting for a second that everyone finds the physical act of reading easy (and hence perhaps not enjoyable) but a good story is magical.  No one can dispute that.

At home, we act out stories – we go into the woods on a bear hunt – perhaps red riding hood will be behind a tree or we’ll find the Gruffalo trudging along with a mouse.  We read Alan Ahlberg’s classic ‘The Ghost Train’ in honour of Halloween week and decided to go on a steam train to make up our own version.  Everywhere you go is the setting for a story, every incident the start of a wild adventure.  But so many of us would rather watch a film or play a computer game.

Recently, I was listening to John Suchet on classic fm.  He was talking about a performance of one of Haydn’s symphonies and how the interpretation had involved almost slapstick comedy while the orchestra played.  Before playing the symphony on air, he said he wasn’t able to fully describe the performance and that the listener would instead need to use their imagination as they listened. “Radio,” he said, “is better than television because the pictures are in your own imagination.”  He didn’t say this exactly (my memory fails me!), but that was the gist.  And isn’t it just the same with books?

So where has our love of reading gone?  Isn’t it about time it came back?



Five Minute Friday: Grace

It’s my second week of Lisa-Jo Baker‘s Five Minute Friday and this week the word is ‘Grace’

So here goes:

I recently watched this beautiful video by Shaun Lichti entitled ‘What she taught Me.’  The video shows Shaun, a young man who was home educated, reflecting on the love of reading instilled in him by his mum.  It was, he says, the snuggling on the couch reading stories, listening to her voice for hours, which made him want to emerge himself in the magical world of story.

When I first saw it, I cried.  Tears streamed down my face and it made me think of all the things I want to achieve as a mother for Jasper.  I want him to be happy; I want him to remember that I had time to play with him; to join in with him and not just shout at him not to get dirty, to tidy his room or wash his hands in time for tea.  I want to give him the opportunities to try everything and find what it is that he really loves; to help him not be afraid to speak his mind and to have courage in his own convictions.  I want him to be well-mannered and considerate; to be open-minded and polite; to always try his best and approach everything positively.

As I thought about these things, I thought about my own mum.  My lovely mum.  I argue with my mum a lot.  Not seriously, we’ve always had a fiery relationship and we make-up as quickly as we’ve fallen out, usually several times in a minute.  I complain that she doesn’t listen, she complains that I’m too critical.  But whatever our disagreements, I know this.  Everything I want for Jasper is based on what she taught me; what she showed me to try to be.  She was never afraid to be different, she doesn’t follow a crowd. She’d wait in the car for hours with a baby for me to finish my piano lesson; she’d spend all her evenings in a freezing swimming pool (no doubt with us screaming) whilst we all took turns to have swimming lessons.  She played with us- really played.  In the late eighties when we were growing up, it was the time when all the risk-aversion was just starting.  Was it safe to play outside?  Should you really make dens in the wood?  My mum said yes and we had a fantastic childhood.

Long before we had the internet, she’d spent hours scouring bookshops and newspapers, looking for stories we’d enjoy.  She was a whirlwind – whizzing all over town in her white metro, giving her children the best chance she could.

And the thing about my mum?  Unlike me, she does it all with grace.  I’m a tad shouty, I’m volatile, I’m opinionated and I swear too much (although hopefully not in front of Jasper).  Whenever people meet my mum though, they always comment, no one fails to notice.  She smiles; she connects with everyone; she’s well spoken and she’s kind.  Although she speaks her mind, she’s careful not to offend.  She’s sweet; she’s thoughtful; she’s beautiful but she doesn’t know it.

My mum is Grace.