Category Archives: reading

Roald Dahl Inspired Clothing from Boden


Image credit: Boden US

It isn’t often that I feel compelled to write about a product I haven’t tried out for myself, but when this new collection by Mini Boden popped into my feed yesterday, I was so excited, I had to share it.

To mark Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, Boden have created a limited edition children’s clothes range, inspired by Roald Dahl’s most loved books.  Every piece in the Roald Dahl collection is beautifully thought out and the attention to detail is exquisite.  I’ve always loved Boden clothes. I don’t often buy clothes in this price range for my kids but this range would make extra special Christmas gifts for my kids and our friends and family.

I showed them to my twelve-year-old. She loved the Fantastic Mr Fox gloves and the Matilda dress. With its book themed lining, this would be perfect for her but sadly she is too tall now for the children’s range.


Image credit: Boden US

We also loved the ingenious design of the golden ticket sweater with its sequined logo that can be swiped to change colour. It is even machine washable!


Image credit: Boden US

My eight year old loves the girlie, sparkly rainbow drops dress.


Image credit: Boden US

“How is it a Roald Dahl dress though?” she asked. “It is meant to be like lots of tiny sweets”, I told her. “Ah, I get it now.” she replied,” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

We are currently reading The Twits, so my six-year-old and I loved the Twits inspired sweaters.  My personal favourite is Mr Twit, I love all the little details poking from his beard.


Image Credit: Boden US

The one item that really caught my eye though, is the BFG inspired cape coat.  Throughout my college years I always longed for a full length cape (I think as a literature student, I saw myself as a romantic poet, or maybe the French Lieutenant’s Woman).  I never had one, but this coat brought it all back – I so wish they made one in an adult size! I love the lining depicting a London landscape, if I were a little girl again, I would treasure this coat.


Image credit: Boden US

Now all I need to do is start saving and keep hoping that one day they’ll make Roald Dahl inspired adult clothes too. Take a look at the collection. Which are your favourites?  Sadly, for my British readers, the collection is only available in the United States but browse this visual spectacle anyway; they are guaranteed to make you smile.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.  All recommendations are personal and no payment or goods were received for writing this post.  Boden US granted full permission for use of images in this post.

Picture Books for Children Who are Afraid of the Dark.

Fear of the dark is fairly common amongst young children. It often arises around the age of two or three when their imaginations develop and they begin pretend play.  Often, children become fearful about what might be lurking in the darkness but sometimes it is also tied up with other anxieties.

Sharing a book is the perfect way to invite a child to talk about their fears. Children’s fears are real so it helps to listen to them and work out strategies for alleviating fears together .  When my daughter was young, she developed an extreme fear of darkness, so bad that she would cower and cry if I left the curtains open as it was getting dark. It turned out that she had very poor eyesight but was too young to articulate it.  When it was dark, she could barely see anything at all.  Once her eyes were tested and she wore glasses, her fear was more manageable.  She still gets scared sometimes when she gets up in the night, but having a night-light by her bed (preferably one she can carry) helps a lot. When her fear was at its height, sharing stories helped a lot. I even wrote a book just for her, about a magic elf that she could call upon whenever she was scared.

Fears are helped when children can talk to you about them and what better way to start a conversation than reading a good book together. Below are some of my favourites; let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions.

  1. The Moon Inside by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

This new title, is the story of Ella who grows more comfortable with darkness as her mother gently encourages her to appreciate  nature’s night-time wonders. Ella’s favourite colour is yellow and she feels sad as the yellow disappears at dusk.  The illustrations move from an indoor world of yellow, black and white to an outdoor twilight of green, red, blue and oranges.  Ella looks and listens as she explores with her mother and finds many beautiful things. She finally decides that if she leaves fewer lights on inside, then she can experience the glow of the moon from her bedroom.

Talking points for children

  • What can you see at night?
  • What can you hear at night?
  • Does it feel darker inside or outside?
  • How does it feel to look out of your window at night?
  • What would happen if we didn’t have night? What would you miss?

2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Lazlo is afraid of the dark but the dark usually lives in the basement. That is until one night when the dark, in its personified form, enters Lazlo’s bedroom and takes him on a journey through the house to the basement. Once there, the dark shows him  a drawer where he finds night-light bulbs and Lazlo and the dark live in harmony ever after.  This book combines sumptuous, descriptive text with pictures that show the stark contrast between the shiny blackness and the light of the flashlight.

Talking points for children

  • What does dark look like?
  • What does dark feel like?
  • What can we do to make the dark feel different?

3. Can’t you Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth

This timeless classic tells the story of Big Bear and Little Bear. Little Bear can’t go to sleep because he is afraid of the darkness all around. Big Bear brings lamps of different sizes to help Little Bear, but he is still afraid.  When Little Bear still can’t sleep, Big Bear takes him outside to see the light of the moon and stars. Finally convinced that he is safe, he falls asleep in Big Bear’s arms, in front of a warm fire.  If comfort food came in book form, this would be it.

Talking points for children

  • What helps you when you can’t sleep?
  •  Why aren’t grown-ups afraid of the dark?
  • How do you feel when you look up to the sky when it is dark?

4. The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson, illustrated by Paul Howard

Another timeless classic, this time in early chapter book format.  Plop is a barn owl, but unlike all of his friends, Plop thinks the dark is scary.  Each chapter deals with a different aspect of darkness as Plop learns  through his many adventures, that dark is exciting, kind, fun, necessary, fascinating, wonderful and beautiful. This is a perfect read-aloud book for young children.

Talking points for children.

  • Why do you think dark is fun, fascinating, beautiful etc.?
  • Can you think of other adjectives to describe the dark?
  • Have you ever been convinced by someone else that something you thought was scary wasn’t actually that frightening at all?

5. I’m Coming to Get You by Tony Ross

I first came across this picture book as part of a children’s literature module back in my student days and it is a personal favourite. Though not strictly about a fear of the dark, it is a book about putting fears into perspective.  As a creature from outer space hurtled towards Earth, it warns Tommy , “I’m coming to get you”.  Tommy  searches for it as he goes off to bed but can’t find it. In the morning, the monster gets ready to pounce, only to find that he is smaller than a matchstick in the human world.

Talking points for children

  • If you could squish one fear with your shoe, what would it be?
  • What things are you scared of that might in reality be more frightened by you?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

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 


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.




The Elephant and the Bad Baby: Why DoToddlers Like Repetitive Books?

All 3 of my girls had the same favourite book at the age of 2. I didn’t encourage it, but somehow ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby’  by Elfrida Vipoint hit the spot for all of them.
The story is highly repetitive, so much so that it drove my husband insane every time he read it. It is also quite long.
So why would it be so popular?

The repetitive text is most likely what they love the most.

Repetition is important for young children as it helps them to remember and learn. Knowing what comes next is comforting in a generally unpredictable world. Small children love repetition, it means that they can join in and demonstrate how much they know. As they hear the story language time and again, they come to anticipate words and phrases and will insert the vocabulary if the reader pauses at key points, as seen in the video clip.  They will even correct you if you get it wrong (as I did).   Children, as they become older, memorise repetitive books and can be seen to be ‘reading’  them to themselves, before they can actually read the text.  This is a very important starting point for learning to read.

Other repetitive books:

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen

The Very Busy Spider – Eric Carle

Peepo – Allan Ahlberg

Hairy Maclary – Lynley Dodd

Farmer Duck – Martin Waddell

A Squash and a Squeeze – Julia Donaldson

The Little Red Hen

Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

Bark George – Jules Feiffer

Goals, Early Literacy and What is Really Important?

alphabetOne of the biggest parental concerns when children start school is how easily their child will learn to read.  This eagerness to give children the best start is driving academic instruction at an early age.  I recently heard of a school that had under 2’s learn flashcards, before they could move into the 2’s classroom. This anxiety about children reaching goals is often well-intentioned but it is a little like teaching a child to walk before they can stand.

Research suggests that there is a strong correlation between a child’s vocabulary and how easily they will learn to read.

Years of research has  told us that language is the foundation for literacy. Children arriving at school with lower levels of oral language proficiency, for whatever reason, are therefore at a distinct disadvantage for learning.

explain Professor Courtenay Norbury and Debbie Gooch in their article “Too much too soon? What should we be teaching 4-year-olds?” They recommend that the first year of school, is focused on developing these oral skills.

In Finland, children are only taught to read in kindergarten if they are able and interested. A far cry from the expectation that children will read in the US and UK systems. If the academic benefits aren’t convincing enough, then recent research from Stanford University suggests delaying kindergarten and prolonging play are also beneficial to a child’s mental health.

What about those children who already have the foundational skills for reading?  Would they be left behind if a play based curriculum without direct reading instruction was introduced? My belief is that most children who have developed an interest in reading and have the foundational skills, will read quickly and easily. Children who are ready to read, will have individual attention and not have to complete easy worksheets with the rest of the class,  in a school system that is released from the constraints of ensuring all children will learn to read in their first year. The teacher will be able to support those children to develop their literacy in a meaningful way.

If we want our children to be interested and skilled in literacy what are the most important factors? My article for Parentmap ‘What’s really important in early literacy?’ explores this further.

I sometimes wonder what parents aspirations are for their children.  If we constantly drive them towards academic goals and achievements, to extra credits, advanced classes and better colleges so that they can have careers that demand long working hours but good pay, what message are we giving children? That working hard, earning money and being successful are important at the expense of life experience, family life, fun and hobbies?  I wish it were easier to stop worrying about what our children will achieve and think more about what sort of people they will be.