Category Archives: books

The Making of a Harry Potter Fan’s Holiday – Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Diagon Alley

My twelve-year-old placed the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio tour firmly at the top of her list of places to visit when we were in the UK.  Following our visit to the Dr. Who Experience her younger sisters were more cautious.  Friends who had visited previously, assured them that it was amazing and not a bit frightening but I’m not sure they were totally convinced. Of course, their friends were right, it wasn’t a bit scary.  You are taken on a journey to see how the film was created and  seeing the special effects behind the film alleviated all their fears, especially seeing how tiny the dementors are in real life.

dementors

Warner Bros Studio Tour is located North of London so we stayed nearby at North Hill Farm. As a family of five it can be difficult to find hotels and B&B’s that allow us to share one room.  The family room at North Hill Farm slept five and was perfect for all of us.

Excitement mounted as we drove into the car park and saw the signs and statues outside.  All visitors require advance booking with timed slots and this allows for a wonderful experience where you never feel overwhelmed by crowds and everything is easy to see without queues.

Hogwarts great hall

I have to admit to feeling a little emotional watching the introductory film and completely awestruck when the doors opened onto the great hall. Groups are led by a guide into these first two sections, while the rest of the tour is self guided.

audio tour warner bros studio tour

As a Harry Potter geek, my daughter listened to the audio tour.  I knew she would appreciate facts and figures but without it most exhibits have a guide or video screen telling you more about it.  My seven-year-old was enraptured by the talk at the wig stand and delighted in telling me stories about Malfoy’ wig.

There are plenty of exhibits young children can interact with from making magic to wand workshops and riding on a broom. The guides were so good at encouraging the kids as seen in this video clip.

Next stop Platform 9 3/4. Inside the Hogwarts Express, the carriages move through the movies in sequence , decorated with appropriate props.

Platform 9 3/4

This takes you to the outside lot where you can sample butterbeer or butterbeer ice cream. The detail in Privet Drive is wonderful, each certificate on the wall depicting Dudley’s pointless achievements.

 

The final lot features special effects, illustrated by a series of clever videos and the art of Harry Potter.  The tour ends with a surprise that truly takes your breath away, so I’m not going to offer any hints to spoil it.

Olivanders
Olivanders

 

There is so much to see at the Warner Bros. Studio tour. I would plan to stay at least three hours and allow extra time  for shopping. There is a lot of exclusive merchandise and entry to the shop is not permitted without a ticket for the tour.  We found some cool stuff although sadly I ruined my husband’s Slytherin Quidditch top with bleach after he had worn it once.  Looks like I have the perfect excuse to return some time. If you visit the café, the kids lunches come in this really cool knight bus box.

knight bus lunch box

There was never a complaint from any of the kids that they had seen enough, the whole experience was utterly engaging and we wouldn’t hesitate to return.  If you are looking for a full, well organised and good value experience I would put this top of your list. When I asked the girls what their favourite part of our trip was, the unanimous response was Harry Potter!  In case you need further confirmation, just look at these faces.

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Disclaimer: No payment or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.

 

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical

charlie-and-the-choc

 

I took a blogging break this summer to concentrate on travelling with my family and now I am back, I have lots to share from my busy summer.  Today is Roald Dahl day and would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, so I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts on the West End musical production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This was our first visit to London with the children.  We only travel home every few years, so we wanted to show them the sights and experience a West End show.  To be honest, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wasn’t our first choice of show and we arrived with a little uncertainty.  We couldn’t have chosen anything more memorable or spectacular.  From curtain up it was visually mesmerising.  Costume and set design were out of this world and totally lived up to the company’s aim to astound the audience.

Roald Dahl’s original story was preserved throughout but was cleverly tweaked with  modern touches. The children were characterised perfectly and wonderfully portrayed by the cast.  My kids spent time discussing who they would like to play;  ballet dancing Veruca Salt, video game obsessed Mike Teavee or Violet Beauregarde the acrobatic child star. The parents were also brought to life in quirky and interesting ways.

Directed by Sam Mendes, this is the first stage adaptation in 50 years and completely surpassed my expectations.  We all came out of the theatre feeling a little emotional. We had clearly witnessed something  unique and special.

If you get a chance to see it before it closes at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 2017, I highly recommend it.  Don’t despair if not, a UK tour is coming soon and for US audiences, the Broadway production will open in 2017.

Disclaimer: This is a personal recommendation, no monetary compensation or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.

 

20 Children’s Books to Prepare for a New School Year

Typically when I think about books that prepare children for school, stories about starting school come to mind.  However, when I received a couple of books encouraging self reflection for older children and teens, I was inspired to compile a list that could prepare children of all ages to face the challenges of the school year ahead.  I was helped in this endeavour by literary expert Sally Allen.    A writer and speaker, Allen advocates for reading books that inspire us to think more deeply about our world and to empathize with others’ experiences. In her latest book, Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers (Griffins Wharf, 2015), she explores these beliefs while providing reading lists that deliver on the promise of inspiring empathy. Sally’s recommendations are in the chapter book section. The list also includes recommendations from my 12-year old daughter.

Picture Books 

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Not to leave out books about starting school for the first time, my favourite starting school book is ‘I am too absolutely small for school by Lauren Child.  Narrated by the  charming and comical Charlie and Lola, it is a wonderful book for children who are anxious about starting school for the first time.

Ming goes to School  by Dierdre Sullivan

This picture book with simple text is perfect for younger readers or perhaps those who are beginning to read on their own.  The beautiful watercolour illustrations are delightful and tell the story of events in an ordinary school day.

children's books for back to school

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

This classic back to school book  deals with separation and the reassurance that you are loved, as you leave for your first day of school.

Something Else by Kathryn Cave

A heartwarming tale about being different and making friends and one of my personal favourites.

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

This children’s classic encourages children to share and find happiness through making friends.

Chapter Books

The Clarice Bean Trilogy by Lauren Child

This trilogy deals with many issues from childhood in a wonderfully humorous and endearing way. The third book in the Trilogy ‘Don’t Look Now’ finds Clarice in a turmoil when her best friend moves to a different country.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Ten-year old Auggie wants what most kids want, but a facial deformity has kept him apart from his peers. Told from multiple points of view, his story of seeking acceptance and community unfolds as he enters a regular school to attend fourth grade.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The first in Stewart’s series brings together a group of gifted children who go on secret missions to save the world. Beautifully written and moving, the story highlights how even the smartest among us benefit from friendship and teamwork to overcome challenges.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Witty and touching, this graphic memoir is named for the superhero personal Bell crafted for herself in childhood. She recounts her early hearing loss, growing up with a Phonic Ear and hearing aid, and the challenges of young friendships and first crushes.

Liesel and Po by Lauren Oliver

Oliver’s mesmerizing and brilliantly plotted story about loss has heavy and difficult but ultimately rewarding moments. With the help of a ghostly figure called Po, orphaned Liesel escapes her bleak existence and sets off on a mission to bury her father’s ashes at the place he most loved.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Autobiographically inspired, this poignant verse story describes the narrator’s last days in Saigon, fleeing from Vietnam, and struggling to adapt in a new country.

Give Me Liberty by L. M. Elliott

In the early days of the U.S. revolutionary war, a young indentured servant grapples with the contradictions and injustices contained within the emerging country’s battle for sovereignty.

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

A young girl, Penelope, travels spontaneously between her time (the 1930s) and the 1580s, where a plot is underway to save Mary, Queen of Scotts. In this potent meditation on the power of witnessing, Penelope cannot bring anything from one world into the next or affect the outcome of the doomed plot.

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Seventh grader Georges struggles to face up to bullies at school and a frightening situation at home. This heartening story is about learning to face up, speak up, and take control when faced uncomfortable and scary situations.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson’s moving and eloquent memoir in verse follows her from Ohio, to the Civil-Rights era South, to Brooklyn in the 1970s. Her exquisite sensory poems touch on race and injustice, friendship and family, and finding one’s purpose.

Books for Older Readers

how to be you

 

How to be You by Jeffrey Marsh.

This is an interactive book that is warm and upbeat and shares a clear message ‘There is nothing wrong with you’. It invites readers to write, colour and engage with the activities within to internalise the concept presented in the book. Interlaced with stories from real lives, a humorous voice and reminders that they are not alone, it is the perfect book for those who feel like an outsider.

self help book for teens

Start Where You Are – a Journal for Self Exploration by Meera Lee Patel

My personal favourite because it is visually stunning and includes inspiring quotes from many of my favourite authors and artists. It features Meera’s hand lettering and watercolour illustrations on every page, alongside exercises to spark reflection through writing, drawing and chart-making. I found it difficult to give this one up to my daughter. It would make a wonderful gift for anyone who wishes to reflect on life and get to know themselves better.   The exercises would be  valuable start of term activities for older children and teens.

Very Good Lives by JK Rowling

This is JK Rowling’s inspirational commencement address at Harvard University, in book form. It is perfect for anyone who finds themselves at a turning point in life.

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Helper

When her mother moves to start a new venture, Penny is made to leave her lifelong friends and city life to start again in a small town. This book deals with transition, change and friendships and the uncertainty and hope that accompanies a new life.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  Copies of some of the books on this list were received for review purposes. All books in the list are personal recommendations and no payment was received for writing this post.

Izzy the Very Bad Burglar

  Last Hallowe’en, my daughter decided she wanted to dress as a burglar. She chose the idea because “burglars are bad but not really scary like monsters or devils.” At school they are not allowed to dress in gruesome costumes but my kids believe that Hallowe’en costumes should be scary, to capture the true essence of the holiday.

One of our favourite books is Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. We laugh at the antics of Bill and the baby, every time we read it.  When another burglar book came their way, the girls were very eager to read it.

Izzy the very bad burglar tells the story of Izzy, a young burglar, who comes from a family of excellent burglars. Every time Izzy steals something, she gets a bad feeling in her stomach. Izzy tries to tell her parents but they tell her she must be a good burglar.   Izzy tries different ways to make the feeling go away but it always returns, until eventually she finds a solution that might just work.

My 7-year-old shared her thoughts about the title,

I thought it was going to be about a burglar who is really bad, you know, like she does bad things but really the title means that she isn’t very good at being a burglar.

The underlying message of the book  is to do what is right and not bow to peer pressure.This resonates perfectly with the 3-6 age group, who have a clear sense of right and wrong. It would be a perfect book for teachers to introduce a moral discussion.  Teachers could  talk about good and bad by introducing the following questions. Are burglars bad? Was Izzy bad?What does it mean to be bad? What made Izzy different to the other burglars? Do you ever get a feeling like Izzy did when you do something unkind?

Izzy the Very Bad Burglar is written and illustrated by Amy Proud is available in hardcover from May 3rd in the US and May 19th in the UK.

Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book.

A Book to Encourage Children to Achieve their Dreams?

 

 

front-cover banty chicken

Little Banty Chicken is a tale about the importance of dreams and how sharing them helps them come true. Written in the style of a traditional fairy tale, it tells the story  of a chicken who, on the moon’s advice, tells his dream to his friends. Each friend encourages him to move towards his dream and contributes to its realisation at the end the story.

Little Banty Chicken and the Big Dream is written by Linea Gillen, a teacher and counsellor for over 30 years and delicately illustrated by Kristina Swanson.

banty chicken page

The story is both engaging and inspiring but I found the talking points and activities at the end really captured my children’s imaginations.  The key question is “What is your dream?”  a question that young children may need to think about for some time.

My-7-year-old knew immediately what her dream was but in a very deflated manner said,

” I don’t think anyone will be able to help me make my dream come true.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, I want to stop all the animals from becoming extinct and I don’t think anyone can make that happen”.

This particular dream began after we read an article about the danger of large carnivores becoming extinct in the next 25 years.  She often asks how we will be able to stop people killing animals.  This is a big dream indeed and doesn’t have a simple solution.

We talked about how this is the kind of dream that can’t be achieved on your own.  Asking other people to help could be a way forward.

“But who could I ask? I don’t think anyone will know.”

“Well perhaps not now, but as you get older you will be able to find people who know how to help and work together.”

“You mean like a scientist?”

“Exactly, or groups of people who work together to help it to stop”.

Real, face-to-face communication is necessary for developing essential life skills such as empathy, conflict resolution, problem solving, and more. And when problems arise – when life hurts us – we need real world communities for support. Many adults see asking for help as a weakness and find it hard to delegate. These skills are an important part of children’s social and emotional learning. ‘Little Banty Chicken and the Big Dream’ is a perfect way to introduce these concepts to young children.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes.

 

 

 

Designing Monsters with Oil Pastels.

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For this months art lesson with First Graders, I wanted a project that came from their own imaginations and displayed their creative expression.

Knowing that my own children had invented wonderful monsters with charcoal, I decided to make colourful ones with oil pastel.

Some children struggle with inventing a character from their imagination, so I started the lesson with a book to provide inspiration and illustration of shape, texture and size.

sleepy monsters

I chose the book  Sleepy Monsters, Creepy Monsters because the text is simple and does not distract from the visual images and the illustrations depict a variety of monsters.

We talked through the pictures, noting features such as eyes on sticks, number of legs, spikes and shapes and discussing the function of these features.

Once the story had finished I instructed them to think for a few minutes about what they would like their monster to be.

Did it have a particular function?

Where did it live?

What would it eat?

Was it a kind or scary monster?

The children then drew their outline shapes on the paper.   Once I had checked the size of the monster, the children were given oil pastels to add detail and colour it in.  I asked them not to leave any white spaces, except for the background so that they would be as vibrant as possible.

When the children were satisfied with their drawings, they were show how to use a Q tip/ cotton bud dipped in baby oil to blend the oil pastels to a smooth finish, without any white spaces.

Finally they outlined their drawings with a black sharpie to add definition.

The background was applied with a watercolour wash.

IMG_1331

I asked my daughter about her monster.

The 2 eyes on the right can turn all the way back, so they can see behind them.

It has spikes to protect itself from people. Monsters are scared of people, that’s why they attack us.

It’s favourite food is carrots.

He is 8.

He likes to make monsters out of pipe cleaners.

‘One Thing’ – One More Absolutely Wonderful Charlie and Lola Book by Lauren Child

 

one thing

Don’t turn the page yet! Let me start with the biggest number; so 7 plus 3 is 10, plus 2, plus 1 is 13, plus 4 is 17, plus 5 is……. 22.  Now turn the page -Yes! I was right, 22.

This wasn’t a maths homework exercise but a bedtime story for my 5 and 7-year-old.

Regular readers will know that I am a huge Lauren Child fan.  Her version of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears features in my top 5 books for the Under 5’s, my eldest daughter read and re-read the Clarice Bean series and our visit to Lauren Child’s exhibition was like a step into Wonderland.

As  I was browsing books for the younger ones for Christmas, I discovered a brand new Charlie and Lola book called ‘One Thing’. With great excitement, I quickly contacted friends from the UK who were coming to visit and asked them to bring a copy. I didn’t know what it was about but as the Charlie and Lola books are amongst our favourites, I was looking forward to finding out.

As an additional surprise, a new Ruby Redfort book popped into my recommended items. It may seem a little sad, but I react in the same way to a new Lauren Child book as I would to news of a concert from my favourite artist. My eldest daughter loves Ruby Redfort and I usually pre-order them but somehow I had missed this one. Her face was a picture when she unwrapped it on Christmas day. She says this is her 2nd favourite in the series, beaten marginally by the first book. On finishing the book, she immediately wrote a letter to Lauren Child, explaining how much she enjoyed it, asking her questions and telling her about her own life. Through Lauren Child’s writing, children sense a genuine interest in what they think, feel and do which I believe, compelled my daughter to correspond.

One Thing is Lauren Child’s 5th Charlie and Lola book. Most Charlie and Lola books are adapted from the television scripts. The television series is based on Lauren Child’s characters and she collaborates closely with the script writers but there are only 5 Charlie and Lola books written by Lauren Child:-

Charlie and Lola: I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato

Charlie and Lola: I Am Too Absolutely Small For School

Charlie and Lola: I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed

Charlie and Lola: Slightly Invisible

and the new book  Charlie and Lola: One Thing

We love the television series but the Charlie and Lola books from the series don’t have the same sparkle for me, so I am always brimming with excitement when a new one from Lauren Child is released.

‘One Thing’ did not disappoint my giant expectations. In usual Lauren Child fashion, ‘One Thing’ captures perfectly the workings of a young child’s mind. The story begins when ‘mum’ promises Charlie and Lola ‘one thing’ when they go shopping. The book takes you on a number journey, tapping into the minds of children like my own, who count everything and work out number problems in their head.

Lola talks about numbers and Charlie gets frustrated, adding up the time it takes Lola to get anywhere. All of the number references are displayed as sums, puzzles or hidden numbers in the illustrations.  It is a wonderful introduction to maths for young children but ‘One Thing’ is more than an educational number book. The book recognises the natural way that children see numbers everywhere  and is full of discoveries for an inquisitive mind.

One Thing is a delight for adults to read. I particularly  identified with Lola’s constant distractions and Charlie and mum’s negotiations with her,

“What are you doing?” I say.

Lola says “I am just trying to count the dots on my dress but I am not sure what comes after twelve.”

I say “Missing going to the shops comes after twelve.”

It is a perfect example of a picture book where text and illustrations are dependent on one another, each enriching the other. I asked the girls what they liked about the book,

“I like finding all the numbers” said my 5-year-old “and I like Charlie and Lola”.

Each time we read it we find something new, from the title page with handwritten numbers,

Why did someone write on it?... Oh, I think it's meant to be like that. I think it is meant to be Lola's writing.
Why did someone write on it?… Oh, I think it’s meant to be like that. I think it is meant to be Lola’s writing.

 

…to discovering the number of minutes it takes Charlie to get ready hidden in the pictures,

“Oh look the toothpaste is a number 3”.

This was their favourite page.

one thing

They returned to it multiple times, trying to find the numbers hidden on the birds.  We couldn’t find a number 3, perhaps you will have better luck.

Thank you Lauren Child for another book to treasure.

One Thing is available in hardback in the UK and for pre-order in the US.

Disclaimer: This is a personal recommendation. I  completely, absolutely did not get paid or get free stuff for writing this post.