The final day of 2018 was pretty perfect. A morning swim, an afternoon stroll and a child friendly firework display. The Christmas lights were sparkling and that special holiday feeling was still in the air. It was relaxed, stress-free and very enjoyable. In a way it was more enjoyable than Christmas Day. There was no pressure, no expectation and we didn’t need to spend lots of money.
There are many reasons why New Year is a more obvious celebration for a non-religious person like me. Christmas is hugely significant for christians but for everyone else it’s really become a celebration of consumerism (and too much food!). But New Year is for everyone. Muslim or jew, christian or atheist once the clock strikes midnight on December 31st the new year begins for us all. It’s a purely secular celebration and a truly egalitarian one. The earth’s journey around the sun affects us all in the same way young and old, rich and poor. As the old saying goes; “Time waits for no man”. New Year celebrations are about time, seasons and nature. Tangible things and earthly things.
Things that are essential for all of us. Things that can’t be bought in shops. That’s why New Year feels like the real event to me. A celebration not just for the humanists, the atheists, the environmentalists and the non religious, but for everyone. The earth rotated around the sun one more time and we’re still on it. Now that’s a reason to be joyful!
There’s something special about falling in love with a set of characters in a book and then discovering there are even more of them to enjoy. Christmas is the perfect time to introduce a new book series as a gift. Once the collection is started then it can be added to by anyone in the family looking for a gift idea. We’ve discovered eight series that are perfect for pre-schoolers and some are even suitable for ages up to six or seven. These are the ones that have really captivated Little P.
A precocious little pig who lives in New York and loves ballet and fine art. What ‘s not to love about Olivia?! She is fiercely independent and gets up to all sorts of antics. From circus adventures to spying on her Mum and even recreating a Jackson Pollock in the living room! Olivia makes Little P laugh out loud and she loves the unusual illustrations. There are some very witty lines that will have the adults giggling along too.
The Olivia books are written and illustrated by Ian Falconer and published by Simon & Schuster
There are 11 books in the original series and then 8 more activity/colouring/board books based on the TV series.
Squishy McFluff. The Invisible Cat.
Ava has the cutest fluffiest cat called Squishy McFluff but he is always getting her into hair raising scrapes. The trouble is that the only person who can see Squishy is Ava because he’s a very special invisible cat! Pip Jones has the remarkable ability to write stories uniquely from a child’s perspective. Little P adores these books even though they are quite a long read. Squishy is every child’s fantasy pet and every parent’s worst nightmare!!
Squishy McFluff. The Invisible Cat is written by Pip Jones, illustrated by Ella Okstad and published by Faber & Faber.
There are currently 6 books in the series and a new one on the way in 2019!
Mr Men and Little Miss
The Mr Men books were first published in 1971 but they are continually adding new books to the series. The sheer variety of characters and the ridiculousness of the stories means they’ll always appeal to children (that’s definitely why they appeal to Little P!!). With their pocket money prices they are perfect for collecting.
Mr Men & Little Miss are written by Roger and Adam Hargreaves and published by Egmont.
There are 52 Mr Men books and 40 Little Miss books. But there are many many more special editions, new adventures, board books and activity books in the series. You could build up quite a library of these!
These are ‘stepping stones from picture books to reading books’. Perfect for preschoolers who are looking for a more substantial story and for older children taking their first steps learning to read. There is a huge variety available including characters like Horrid Henry, Poppy the Pirate Dog and Emily Mouse.
Early Readers are written and illustrated by a variety of authors and published by Orion Children’s Books.
There are over 100 books in the collection categorised into blue (reading together), red (reading alone) and green (facts and non-fiction).
Pip and Posy
This little mouse and rabbit are the best of friends. They help each other through all the trials and tribulations of being a preschooler. Such as sharing, making new friends, using the big toilet and scary Halloween monster costumes. These stories are written by the illustrator of The Gruffalo so the illustrations tell a story in themselves.
Pip and Posy is written and illustrated by Axel Scheffler and published by Nosy Crow.
There are 8 Pip and Posy books available as well as board/activity books, an activity website and an app.
This little bear just wants to be hugged, especially by his friends the funny bunnies and the friendly sheep. Douglas often gets into bother when he’s out and about but everything comes right again with a little help from his friends. He is a lovely comforting character and makes for perfect bedtime reading.
Hugless Douglas is written and illustrated by David Melling and published by Hodder Children’s Books.
There are 20 Hugless Douglas books available.
Elmer the Patchwork Elephant
Elmer is an elephant who is a little bit different. Unlike his friends and family who are elephant coloured Elmer is multi-coloured and very proud of it too. Little P loves animals and so these books, set in the jungle full of monkeys, lions and tigers, really appeal to her. Elmer is a fun loving little character who loves playing practical jokes and the stories have plenty of laughs. Not to mention the wonderfully subtle message that it’s good to be different.
The Elmer series is written and illustrated by David McKee and published by Anderson Press.
There are 40 books available in the Elmer series.
Hairy MacLary and Friends
If you have a child who loves cats and dogs then this is the book series for them. Hairy MacLary is a little black terrier who lives on a dairy farm. Along with his other canine pals they must contend with the local cat gang led by ‘the cranky and crotchety Scarface Claw’! There are plenty of chases and high jinx in these action packed stories. They are written in rhyme and with great character names like Bottomly Pots, Slinky Malinki and Mushroom Magee. Very useful for young children learning the more difficult phonic sounds and early readers.
The Hairy MacLary series is written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd and published by Puffin.
Before I became a Mum I was all about the Christmas excess. I started my shopping in November and kept going until Christmas Eve. I used to spend a small fortune on gifts. Banjos, helicopter rides, expensive perfumes, cashmeres and computer games. Every Friday during November and December was Black Friday to me. So, naturally, I thought that if I ever had children I would go into festive overdrive. Santa pyjamas, selection boxes and Elves on the Shelves to beat the band!
But something funny happens when you have a child. Things that were once important suddenly don’t seem to matter anymore. Now Christmas shopping, Black Fridays and the endless stream of buying more stuff just rings hollow for me. Little P is only small so she doesn’t want loads of ‘stuff’ (a teddy bear is the only thing she has asked for this year). But at this point in her young life I know that I have the power to make her think that she wants loads of stuff. I could show her toy catalogues and TV ads, bring her to shops and turn her into a mini consumer. But why would I do that. She deserves more from Christmas.
When I think back to my childhood Christmases I get all misty eyed because they were very special indeed. But what was it that made them so special? It certainly wasn’t the amount of toys or presents. I can only remember two Santa presents in detail. One was a Wendy House and the only reason I remember is because there’s a photo of me in said Wendy House looking very pleased with myself after one too many Curly Wurlys. The second one is Crystal Barbie and let’s face it who could ever forget Crystal Barbie! It wasn’t the old cliche about family time that made it so special either. I was very fortunate to grow up with all my extended family living close by so I saw them all almost every day, not just at Christmas.
For me the really special thing about Christmas, the one quality that set it apart from every other time of the year, was the magic. The kind jolly man in a red suit who visited every child on Christmas Eve to deliver presents. We couldn’t even stay up late and meet him. He was almost too good to be true but we knew he had to be real because all the adults talked about him too. The magic began with the ‘Shop’ Santa visit in early December. it had to be the Dunnes Stores Santa because he definitely wasn’t one of the helpers. He was obviously the real Santa because he had a real beard.
On Christmas Eve we watched the news (even the news people knew about Santa!). We had to check if he had left the North Pole on schedule and had good weather conditions for his round the world trip. They even had official satellite pictures. Then the ritual of leaving out a carrot for Rudolph, a mince pie and a bottle of beer for Santa. Peering out into the stars before we went asleep and straining our ears to hear the sleigh bells. My parents were always just as excited as we were.
Then in the morning scrambling around in the dark for the lumpy stuffed stocking at the end of the bed. The bedroom filled with the scent of satsumas. We always waited patiently at the top of the stairs for Mum and Dad to fully wake up (there was no way we would dare to go down on our own). There were always tiny bits of white fluff that had fallen off Santa’s coat in the hallway. Finally, after plenty of build-up, Dad would open the sitting room door. The Christmas Tree lights sparkled and each one of us would make a dash to whatever surprise had been left under the tree. The half eaten carrot was left on the fireplace and mince pie crumbs on the plate. Santa had actually touched one of our plates. Imagine that!?
You see it didn’t really matter what we got under the tree, because the real magic was in how it got there. And that’s what I want to pass on to Little P. The magic of Christmas. A special and rare kind of magic that can be shared between adults and children alike. As Dr Seuss wrote way back in 1957:
‘Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, he thought, means a little bit more’.
I love children’s books to have a positive message that’s well hidden within a wonderful story. Such is the case with Britta Teckentrup’s Mole’s Star. It’s only when I was writing this review that I really teased out the beautiful messages about sharing, community spirit and empathy that are contained within this magical bedtime book.
Mole loves to come out of his dark underground burrow every night to stargaze. One lucky night he spots a shooting star and wishes he could have all the stars in the sky. But when his wish is granted Mole discovers that his gain is also a big loss for all the other animals in the wood. He soon realises that deer, mouse, bear, fox and owl love the stars just as much as he does. So, with the help of the other animals, Mole sets about getting the stars back up into the night sky where they belong.
This is a gentle and comforting tale just right for reading to little ones before they fall asleep. Teckentrup’s print effect illustrations capture perfectly the contrasts of the matte dark night sky and the sparkling illuminations of the stars.
Little P loves to hear about Mole as her bedtime story. The illustrations really capture her imagination and she especially loves the way he manages to get the stars out of (and back into) the sky! This scores a SEVEN out of TEN on the P-OMETER.
Mole’s Star by Britta Teckentrup is published by Orchard Books. ISBN: 978-1-40834-282-4
If you’re like me you probably don’t have very fond memories of your English/Irish dictionary or Fócloir from primary school. But if I’d been lucky enough to own a copy of Foclóiropedia with Fatti Burke’s eye poppingly gorgeous Illustrations then learning Irish would have been a completely different experience altogether!
This father and daughter team have covered every word and phrase you’re likely to need as Gaeilge and as an adult I’ve found really useful phrases that I didn’t know, for example: ‘Is math mar a tharla’ means ‘The story had a happy ending’. Everything is easy to find in the usual categories such as Numbers, Colours, and The Weather along with some creative new ones like Similes, Telling a Story and Small Talk!
It’s very intuitively categorised so you’ll find useful phrases such as ‘Tá sé timpeall an chúinne’ (It’s around the corner) in the Around the Town section with words for Bank, Traffic Lights, Post Office etc. Or ‘Á, nach bhfuil sé gleoite?’ (Ah, isn’t it cute?) beside the illustration of the red panda in The Zoo section.
The illustrations are a delight and sprinkled with familiar cultural references throughout. My personal favourites are the Loop the Loop, the Aisling copybook and the bag of Siúcra in The Kitchen!
Little P just loves this book because it has pictures of all of her favourite things. Children, playgrounds, farms, zoos, food, vehicles….the list goes on. It functions as a picture book for now and when she starts to learn Irish it will be a valuable resource. This is one of those special kinds of books that can be brought into a home and used by everyone, no matter what stage they are at in the learning process, for many years to come.
The illustrations are so detailed and there are loads of them on every large page so Little P gets totally absorbed in her favourite categories (currently Ar an mBóthar, Ceol and An Zú!). And I know she’s going to get years of value out of it so this scores an EIGHT out of TEN on the P-OMETER.
Foclóiropedia by Fatti & John Burke is published by Gill Books. ISBN: 978-0-7171-7554-3
A quiet house on a quiet street begins to fill up one by one with noisy little mice. But what exactly are they all getting up to in there?
Deutsch’s book is just perfect for preschoolers. Their curiosity builds with every page turn as each little mouse goes in through the red door with a mysterious package. Trukhan’s beautifully graphic illustrations include plenty of detail such as cats and goldfish peeping out through the windows of the neighbouring house providing a running commentary on the proceedings. There are different cut-outs on each page giving a tiny glimpse inside the house at the mice shenanigans! Little P’s favourite was the fox hiding in the bin who doesn’t reveal himself until near the final page.
Each mouse has their own little personality and mode of transport from a moped to skis! The pages even change with the weather, from sunshine and rain to a blanket of snow (hence the skis!). The mystery continues right to the last page. Convinced that the mice were all going to a party I was just as pleasantly surprised as Little P to discover they were all going to band practice! Each mouse has their own musical instrument and there’s an excellent picture glossary at the back of the book which names all the musical instruments, vehicles, colours and weather that feature in the story.
Little P is charmed by the quiet house particularly as she is a big music fan. The illustrations really tell the whole story so she can happily ‘read’ it by herself. This scores an EIGHT out of TEN on the P-OMETER.
A Quiet Quiet House by Georgiana Deutsch & Ekaterina Trukhan is published by Little Tiger Press. ISBN: 978-1-84869-845-1
A few weeks ago we were doing our food shopping. Little P was sitting in the trolley and I was strategically trying to wrestle a bottle of hand sanitiser away from her at the till (don’t ask, she has a thing about small bottles!!). There was a very charming American lady in the queue who started chatting to us. She asked Little P her name, her age and the usual stuff. When we were leaving we waved goodbye to her and she turned to Little P and said “You’re such a beautiful little girl, you’re like a real life princess”. We continued on our way and as we were packing the car she asked me “What’s a princess Mama?”. I was completely stumped. I had no answer for the child. The daughter of a King and Queen? That answer would only lead to “but what’s a King and Queen Mama?”. Because the fact is that princesses are no longer relevant in her life or any of our lives anymore. They’re a medieval concept so why do we hold them up as an aspiration? In this time of modernity and freedom and autonomy why on earth would anyone want to be a princess?
Like many people I am completely captivated by the Meghan and Harry romance. It put a smile on my face to hear their good news this week despite the fact that they have no relevance to my life whatsoever! Partly because it’s always inspiring to see two people so obviously in love and partly because it’s an interesting, slightly unconventional romance. Of course it was almost impossible to avoid the media coverage of their wedding and the one “fact” I read/heard repeatedly was that apparently every little girl wants to be a princess. So what is it about the princess trope that just won’t go away.
Is it the lovely dresses? We can all wear as many lovely dresses as we want, they’re not the sole preserve of princesses. It’s a free world. Is it something to do with money & wealth. Again that’s something anyone can achieve if that’s what they really want. Much better to aspire to be a business tycoon or an entrepreneur if money is the goal. Then at least the money you earn will be your own. Is it something to do with beauty? Surely we all know by now that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Anyway a good hairdresser and the right make up can make anyone look as good as a princess.
Maybe it’s a notion about having all of these things without having to put too much effort into getting them. Having it all just by being entitled to it. But I suspect that if any of us could see what life is really like beyond the palace walls we might feel differently. Every family milestone meticulously documented by the media, little freedom of expression and minimum privacy are just some of the downsides for a modern day prince or princess.
I also think it’s universally acknowledged by now that the fairytale story of a princess waiting to be rescued by her prince is one that belongs in another time. It’s been turned on it’s head in popular culture over and over again. My personal favourite has to be “Shrek”. This animated tale mirrors real life perfectly where, at times, we’re all the rescuer and the rescue-ee depending on circumstances. One could certainly argue that in this modern Windsor romance it is Harry that has been ‘rescued’ by Meghan and not the other way around.
It’s worth noting that Meghan Markle is not a princess. She has given up a highly successful career and a considerable amount of her freedom to take on her new role as the Duchess of Sussex. It would be difficult for any parent to see that as a desirable life choice for their daughter. Of course she wants to be with the person she loves but I suspect she also feels she’s going to be able to make some significant changes in the world in her new position. She already has a history of involvement in various charities including ‘World Vision’ and ‘One Young World’.
So someone who makes sacrifices for the greater good and wants to make a real difference in the world? Forget princesses, these are the kind of real life qualities that can provide inspiration for young women everywhere. Anyway, as Meghan herself knows, it’s a wonderful and exciting world out there for girls with plenty to look forward to beyond tiaras and fancy dresses. And for her and Harry I suspect the best is yet to come!