Category Archives: review

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

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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.

 

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.

Are Your Kids Fussy about What They Wear? Let Them Design Their Own

All three of my girls have gone through a fussy stage at some point. My eldest wouldn’t wear anything on her waist and had to pull everything down to her hips and all three have gone through a phase of only wearing dresses.  My youngest is the most particular about what she wears. We have a wardrobe of clothes that her sisters loved but for some reason she turns her nose up at.

We were very excited therefore, when we won a custom-made dress from The Patchery in a prize giveaway.   The Patchery began when a mum was sewing clothes for her kids. Immersed in the creative process, she thought, “Why can’t this be available to everyone, even if you can’t sew?” And that was the beginning of The Patchery.

To design your own clothes you choose a design and fabrics and then the garments are custom-made and shipped to your address.   My daughter chose the kimono dress. She chose her fabrics for the bodice , skirt and sleeves and then chose a different fabric for the back. We went through the design a few times to make sure she was happy.

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Her face was a picture when the dress arrived and she tried it on.  “Do you think people will think I’m weird because I have different colours on the front and back?” she asked. I told her that nobody else would have a dress quite like it, so they would think it was really cool.  “Could I wear it both ways? The blue side one day and then turn it around to the orange side?” she asked.  “Perhaps if we cut the label out” I replied. I think she has a pretty cool idea for making her dress even more unique.

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It turned out so beautifully and the quality is stunning. It is such a great concept, I just had to share it.  It makes a wonderful gift for young children.  Baby clothes are also available so next time someone I know has a baby, I’m going to order a custom-made outfit. What a special gift that would be.

disclaimer: this is a personal recommendation. I did not receive payment or products for writing this post.

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.

 

 

 

‘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.

 

 

 

Woodland Park Zoo for Under 8’s

zoo offer

When I ask the girls where they would like to go, a popular response is the zoo.  In the UK we were members of Bristol Zoo and visited there regularly.  Having membership made our visits more relaxed, we didn’t have to run around trying to see every animal and if the children wanted to play in the playground all day that was fine too.

Woodland Park Zoo is more spacious than the zoo back home so we are able to see larger animals. Recently, we were invited to Woodland Park to see some of the activities available  in the Zoomazium  – a nature inspired play space for the under 8’s.  To be honest we have always avoided Zoomazium during previous visits, expecting it to be a large, noisy soft play.  I was pleasantly surprised however, to see a mix of play spaces and activities.  There is a designated space for toddlers, fully enclosed and safe, with a library  area to the side.  The children can also explore the cricket exhibit.

toddler play space
toddler play space
library area
library area
cricket exhibit
cricket exhibit

The play area for older children has rope bridges, places to climb and lots of little caves that are perfect for hide and seek.  There are also tables with toys for building, a stage area and a sensory area to explore.

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Zoomazium is the perfect place to explore if you want to escape the heat (or cold) for a while but it is also a good starting point for your visit to the zoo.  Creature Feature occurs every morning at 10.30 and encourages children to get close to some of the smaller animals at the zoo and learn about them from zoo staff.  Our visitor was an armadillo.

armadillo

My favourite Zoomazium offering was activity backpacks that the little ones can take with them around the zoo.  Each one has a different theme and they are packed with activities, toys, books, magnifiers and things to look out for during your visit.  After a lot of deliberation,the girls chose one each; the back yard and big cats.

zoomazium backpack

I love the design of the backpacks, they look so cool and we had lots of comments as we wandered around.  The backyard backpack had a number of activities to complete in the backyard of the Zoomazium or  when exploring the rest of the zoo.

Can you find these things?
Can you find these things?
“This feels smooth”

The big cats backpack was a good starting point for exploring the new Banyan Wilds exhibit.

finding big cat markings

tiger markings
I found a tiger.

Having the backpacks, encouraged us to take it slowly as the girls wanted to stop and take in the contents of their packs.

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The squirrel puppet from the Backyard pack was a definite favourite and was a constant companion.

IMG_0802Completed activities can be traded for Nature points at Zoomazium’s Nature Exchange.  The points can be exchanged for interesting, rocks, fossils and natural materials on display.  Nature loving children can also create projects at home to earn additional points. Older children are not left out, there are activity sheets to suit all ages. My eldest chose a worksheet relating to the otter exhibit.

otter exhibit worksheetOur favourite part of the day was having the opportunity to feed animals.  Bird seed on sticks can be purchased for $1 and the birds fly down to feed from your hand.

Feeding the birds

The best experience of all though was getting close to the giraffes and hand feeding them. The keeper was great at encouraging the children to ask questions and it was a truly memorable experience for all that I will definitely do again.  Giraffe feeding is $5 per person and under 5’s go free with a paying adult.

giraffe feeding

A day at the zoo was perfect for my nature explorers.

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Membership Offer

Zoo membership is perfect for families with young children. There are a number of membership options to suit different needs and admission is free for children under 3.

Right from the Start readers can benefit from a special offer.

Quote MOM15 at checkout to receive a 10% discount plus entry into a draw to win 2  giraffe feeding tickets and 2 tickets for a carousel ride.

Disclaimer:  Complimentary tickets for 4 people were received.  All opinions are my own and we were under no obligation to write about our visit.