Ten ‘Relationship Affirming’ Films for Valentine’s Day

I have conflicting feelings about Valentine’s Day. On the one hand I find the consumerism a real romantic turn off but on the other hand I think it’s wonderful to have a day in the calendar where love is celebrated. I’ve always found love, romance and relationships the most fascinating of subject matter so books, music, art and films that deal with them in some way never fail to interest me. However I do prefer films that deal with relationships in a more realistic way rather than romcoms or the overly romantic ‘slushy’ types!! All of the films on this list show us that relationships, even the really good ones, are far from perfect. Some of these films are dark or sad, others hilariously funny and some are even tragic but they all confirm that love really can change life, and people, for the better…..

Moonstruck (1987)

The fabulous Cher plays Loretta who is engaged to decent and sensible Johnny Cammereri. However she can’t ignore her ever deepening feelings for his far more exciting and broody brother Ronny, played by Nicholas Cage. This is a great story about being true to yourself and your feelings even if it means going against the status quo.There is a fantastic supporting cast including Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia. The chemistry between Cher and Cage is electric and there are plenty of very funny moments in there too.

Walk the Line (2005)

A biopic of the late great Johnny Cash but one that puts his relationship with June Carter centre stage. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon make a fine job of capturing these two country legends onscreen. They had one of the strongest and most enduring relationships in the music business and if you watch this movie it’s easy to see why. Hard to imagine how Cash would have even survived beyond his forties had it not been for Carter and her family, let alone leave such an amazing legacy of music.

The Painted Veil (2006)

Based on a novel by Somerset Maugham this is the story of an idealistic young doctor (Edward Norton) who marries a high society girl (Naomi Watts). They relocate to Hong Kong where he battles a cholera epidemic and life for his new bride is very different from the privileged one she left behind. Their marriage is tested by infidelity on both sides but the hardships they encounter manage to bring them closer than they thought possible.

Carol (2015)

Both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara were Oscar nominated for their moving performances in this story of repression and persecution in 1950s America. Blanchett is the well heeled Carol who has long buried her true sexuality in a marriage to an influential New Yorker. But when she begins a relationship with young and confused shopgirl Therese (Mara) they take risks which lead to Carol almost losing everything including her young daughter.

Frida (2015)

A biopic of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek. This story centres around the most significant relationship in Kahlo’s life her marriage to Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). Although they went through many ups and downs including illness, infidelities, multiple miscarriages, and even divorcing and remarrying each other, Rivera always remained Kahlo’s champion. As a feminist way ahead of her time his admiration and respect for her both as a woman and an artist never wavered.

The Age of Adaline (2015)

This is a story that uses the device of time travel to explore how all of our relationships, even the ones that don’t last, can have a lasting effect. Adeline (Blake Lively) has a freak accident involving a lightening storm which leaves her ageless. She passes through the decades unchanged with her daughter, the only one who knows her secret, out-aging her. A chance encounter with an old love (Harrison Ford) leads her to experience love once again. This is almost like a more sophisticated (and less weepy!) version of The Time Traveller’s Wife.

The African Queen (1951)

Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn are reason enough for watching this movie and it was also directed by the wonderful John Huston. The story is an adventure/romance and a forerunner of the Romancing the Stone movies of the 1980s. But this film is particularly special because of the age of the protagonists. Charlie and Rose are not star crossed young lovers but they are both well past middle age. This doesn’t mean the passion is any less intense though and the fact that they are complete opposites makes the first half of the movie a ‘will they, won’t they’ affair.

The Remains of the Day (1993)

Based on the Booker prize winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro this stars Anthony Hopkins in one of his finest roles. Hopkins play Stevens a butler so dedicated to a life of servitude to his employer the politically dubious Lord Darlington that he completely suppresses the obvious feelings he has for head housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). There is so much left unsaid in this film it can be difficult to watch at times and you often want to reach through the screen and shake the repressed Stevens as he lets his chance of happiness slip away.

In and Out (1997)

Kevin Kline is Howard Brackett a strait laced English teacher living a seemingly perfect life in idyllic small-town Indiana. However he is in complete denial about his sexuality. So much so that when ex student Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) thanks him for inspiring his role as a gay soldier as part of his Oscar acceptance speech Brackett’s life is thrown into chaos. His parents, friends and fiancée Emily (the hilarious Joan Cusack) are convinced that Drake has made a huge mistake but Brackett begins to wonder how he will ever come out to his small town community without losing their love and friendship. This is feel good comedy at his best with an amazing cast including Tom Selleck and Debbie Reynolds. Packed with real laugh out loud moments.

On Golden Pond (1981)

This is a beautiful study of a married couple whose relationship has moved into old age. Their daughter has long left home and returns to spend some time at their lakeside holiday home with her fiancé and stepson. There are a number of relationships explored in this story father/daughter, grandson/grandfather and mother/daughter but it is the marriage between Norman and Ethel, played so authentically by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, that is so heart warming to watch. If you are the type of person who hopes to grow old with your partner then this film is sure to move you.

Picture Books with Attitude

There are so many fantastic picture books available we are often spoilt for choice. But sometimes you could be looking for something a little bit different. Maybe to explore a particular issue or pique the interest of a child who is not an avid book fan. Here are three unforgettable books we discovered recently that celebrate all that is different and tackle some very timely issues.

Frockodile written by Jeanne Willis & illustrated by Stephanie Laberis is published by Hodder Children’s Books

Cliff is a little crocodile who really enjoys dressing up in pretty dresses and high heels. But when the sneery hyenas discover this they waste no time in threatening to tell Cliff’s rather macho Dad. To save face he tells them he’s rehearsing for a show which he then has to go ahead and perform. Although he worries about what his Dad will think, with the help and support of his froggy friends, Cliff decides to stage a show that celebrates his true identity (complete with dress and heels). But the biggest surprise of all is the absolute delight of his Dad who turns up in a pair of red stilettos!!

Cannonball Coralie and the Lion written & illustrated by Grace Easton is published by Lincoln Children’s Books

Coralie reminds me very much of Pippi Longstocking. She is a brave independent girl who lives alone in the woods. She has taught herself how to juggle, balance and do all sorts of tricks. One day a travelling circus passes through the wood and she decides to join. Coralie becomes very fond of the circus lion but the ringmaster is not impressed with her tricks and tells her she must become the human cannonball if she wants to stay in the circus. The ever brave Coralie takes up the challenge with the help of her new lion friend. But when the ringmaster is still not happy she leads a rebellion against his bullying ways. Soon the whole circus follows Coralie back to the wood and there they live happily together performing their tricks free from rules and bullies!

The Bandit Queen written by Natalia O’Hara & illustrated by Lauren O’Hara is published by Puffin

A group of bandits kidnap a little orphan girl and decide to turn her into their queen. She turns out to be more than they bargained for as ‘she screeched and roared and peed on the floor’!! But they love her anyway and use their thieving ways to lavish her with all the material goods she could possibly want. However when the bandit queen grows a little older she realises that she needs more than material possessions so she decides to run away to school where she can make friends and learn about the world. Meanwhile the bandits miss her so much they decide to do some growing up of their own and mend their raucous ways. Eventually the little girl misses her tribe of bandits too so she returns to the place where she belongs.

I have read all these books for Little P and although she was interested (particularly in Coralie and the Lion!) they are probably most suitable for older children, possibly right up to age 7 or 8.

Memory Box

Childhood Memories

Little P scatters toys randomly around every room in the house. I sporadically find tiny figures in the cupboards, crayons in my shoes and playing cards in my bag. Sometimes when she is franticly looking for her wooden mermaid that she left in a mystery location yet again it can be infuriating. But last month I started thinking about a time when she won’t be leaving a trail of toys everywhere and I’ll be remembering that little wooden mermaid with misty eyed nostalgia. So, I had the idea of creating a memory box of her favourite toys. The toys that will trigger all the memories for me (and hopefully for her too!) when she is older.

Memory boxes, or shadow boxes, are very easy to create. They originated from the boxes that sailors used to carry their personal belongings from boat to boat or ship to ship many years ago. These boxes were imbued with a great sense of superstition and reverence. Once sailors passed away their family or friends were reluctant to remove the objects from the box and they were often put on display in pubs or taverns. The box was considered to contain the essence of the owner’s life. All their worldly possessions.

My memory box for Little P’s childhood is currently only a temporary work in progress. She’s nowhere near ready to hand over these toys yet! But I selected an old wooden toy box in yellow (her favourite colour) for the finished piece. The selected toys will be fixed inside the box using a combination of fishing wire and glue. The arrangement of the pieces just happens naturally once you begin to assemble. It’s almost like they find their own place in the box. Once completed it will be a piece of permanent art. A forever reminder of a special time built from objects that could have been sadly discarded.

Giraffe Problems written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith

Anthropomorphism has been used as a story telling technique way back since Aesop wrote his fables. It has worked successfully for children’s authors from Beatrix Potter to Julia Donaldson. In the best stories it’s easy to forget that the characters are actually animals at all. Such is the case with Giraffe Problems. Edward the giraffe and Cyrus the tortoise practically leap off the page they are written with such personality.

Edward the giraffe is very unhappy with his neck. It’s too long and draws far too much attention from the other animals. He tries to hide it by covering up with neckties and scarves or camouflaging himself among the trees until sunset. But then he meets Cyrus the tortoise who has been admiring Edward’s impressive neck from afar. This little tortoise has his own body issues. His tiny, pathetic excuse for a neck! When Edward effortlessly picks a banana from the top of the tree, to give Cyrus his first taste of the sweet fruit, he is beyond impressed. They soon become firm friends and begin to appreciate the qualities of their own unique necks!

This is a witty, warm tale about self acceptance and how good friends can help us to appreciate our best qualities. Little P has completely fallen in love with Edward and Cyrus. They make her laugh out loud. She loves John’s conversational writing style and the gorgeous textured illustrations from Lane Smith. There is also a wonderful pull out page of Edward picking the banana from the tree to show off his impressive neck.

Giraffe Problems gets a big thumbs up from Little P and an impressive eight out of ten on the P-OMETER.

Giraffe Problems written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith is published by Walker Books. ISBN: 978-1-4063-8316-4.

Our Top 5 Books for Bedtime

What is the perfect recipe for a bedtime story? In my experience it’s loveable characters, a gentle story, not too much action and a reassuring and comforting conclusion. Here are five of our favourites that send Little P to sleep with happy thoughts every time.

Lily is a little bunny who is finding it difficult to sleep with all the noises in her farmyard home. Her mother manages to quiet all the distracting sounds while Lily gets some help from her animal friends. A lullaby from duck, a bedtime story from cow and some nice soft straw from the hens. Eventually Lily falls fast asleep and makes quite a bit of noise herself (snore snore!!).

Hushabye Lily is written by Claire Freedman, illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello and published by Little Tiger Press. ISBN: 1-85430-811-4

Twinkling stars, a cosy underground home and gentle woodland creatures. Mole’s Star even leaves me feeling wonderfully relaxed at bedtime! Mole loves the stars so much that when he finds a shooting star he makes a wish to bring them all inside his dark underground home. But when Mole realises just how much the other woodland animals miss the stars in the night sky they all work together to get them back up there.

Mole’s Star written & illustrated by Britta Teckentrup is published by Orchard Books. ISBN: 978-1-40834-282-4

This is a perfect book for establishing (and maybe reinforcing!) a bedtime routine. Everything from bathing to the brushing of teeth is part of this comic and affectionate story. Little P‘s favourite part is the selection of ‘cuddlies’ to take to bed. But when the friends find a lonely little creature hiding under their bed with no cuddly of his own they’re all willing to share. This is a great book for children who love to bring their own special cuddly toy to bed.

Once Upon a Bedtime written & illustrated by David Melling is published by Hodder Children’s Books. ISBN: 978-0-340-98970-8

We return to Winnie the Pooh at bedtime time and time again. Our favourite stories are: In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place, In Which Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents and In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition [sic] to the North Pole. A.A. Milne’s writing is so fluent and easy to read. The characters are gentle and friendly and every story has such a heartwarming ending. The stories are just the right length for bedtime and sometimes a paperback, with only a few pictures like this one, works well at bedtime because Little P just sits back and listens to the story.

Winnie the Pooh written by A.A. Milne & illustrated by E. Shephard is published by Penguin Modern Classics. ISBN: 978-0-14-240467-6.

There’s nothing like a magical story before bedtime to make sure that little heads have sweet dreams! Two adventurous girls discover a bog baby on a fishing trip to the woods. He is such a cute little thing they decide to keep him as a pet. But when the bog baby starts to look sad their Mum teaches them one of life’s great lessons. Sometimes if you really love something you have to set it free. This is a wonderful story for nature lovers and the illustrations of the woods are almost dreamlike they are so beautiful.

The Bog Baby written by Jeanne Willis & illustrated by Gwen Millward is published by Puffin Books. ISBN: 978-0-141-50030-0.

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

While I was reading this to Little P the author’s voice and the tone of the book felt so familiar to me. I did some research and discovered why! Mo Willems used to be a writer and animator on Sesame Street. I adored Sesame Street as a child and this book is imbued with the same wonderful optimistic, cheerful, slightly zany and friendly spirit.

Nanatte has been given the awesome responsibility of going to buy the baguette. The warm, delicious baguette. She can’t resist the temptation (who could!) and soon the baguette is no more. Nannette is obviously very worried about returning home empty handed. When she does eventually muster up the courage her Mum’s reaction is one of those heart warming moments that will make every child smile. Reminiscent of when mother Owl returns home in Owl Babies! But what her Mum does at the end of the story will make every child howl with laughter!!

Little P loves Nanette. Like all children she’s a funny impulsive and excitable character. Using illustrations that are a combination of 2D drawings on 3 D backgrounds Willems creates a colourful French village that’s just as inviting as Sesame Street.

We have read this book many many times and each reading brings more laughter from Little P so it has to be an eight out of ten on the P-ometer.

Nanette’s Baguette is written and illustrated by Mo Willems and published by Walker Books. ISBN: 978-1-4063-7621-0

Is New Year’s Eve the New Christmas?

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!