Sugared Orange: Recipes and Stories from a Winter in Poland by Beata Zatorska and Simon Target – Review

The sequel to the award winning culinary memoir “Rose Petal Jam ” and as its predecessor, sumptuous in its design, this could be seen initially as one of those ‘Gastro Porn’ books destined only for the coffee or bedside table to be read in greedy furtive spurts and never to be cooked from. Sugared Orange continues Beatas touching story of a childhood in rural Poland, with 50 new recipes and treats, plus a winter journey that takes in the cities of Lublin, Warsaw, Kraków and ód, as well as some of the oldest forest in Europe and the frozen Mazury Lakes.

However the recipes beg to be made. Like much of Mittel to Northern European cookery, the flavours, techniques and ingredients are warm, comforting and designed to keep the body and soul working. From St. Nicholas’ Day to the vigil of Christmas Eve and the mid-winter revelry of a Sylwester New Year’s Eve Ball, the major festivals and timetable of Christian Human life is set out alongside the more everyday task of feeding a family in a memoir format that tells me so much about a country, relatively unfamiliar.

My favourite recipes? Gingerbread cake made with chocolate; dark, dark chocolate and honey. Ebony deep, sticky and Wintery this is grown up Gingerbread. Usefully another pleasing meal can be made in the main from leftovers and is not costly- Beef Rissoles with chili and breadcrumbs: the chili cuts across any tendency to denseness.

The Food Of Morocco by Paula Wolfert – review

 

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This scholarly book exploring the cuisine and culinary traditions of Morocco is the result of more than forty years of experience of world travel and gustatory exploration. Interspersed with glossaries of ingredients and techniques are essays about Morocco, its history and people.  The recipes are comprehensive and even easier to achieve now because of the wider availability of the ingredients; when we first bought this book, living in a large city with an expat population was a must. Wide margins make it a book for scribbling in, adding thoughts and comments – it invites this and is definitely a book to hand down as it deliberately ignores culinary fashions for hard core exploration and is the perfect companion to Wolfert’s classic, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.

PAULA WOLFERT, a resident of Sonoma in California, is the author of eight previously published cookbooks, all considered classics. Among them: Couscous and Other Good Food From MoroccoThe Cooking of Southwest France, and five books on Mediterranean cuisine including the much praised Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. She has won the Julia Child Award three times, The James Beard Award five times, The M. F. K. Fisher AwardThe Tastemaker Award and been a finalist for the British Andre Simon Award. She is the creator of the open Facebook Moroccan Cooking Group, an invaluable source of support, enquiry and information.

Some of our favourite recipes in this book are the blood orange and almond lettuce salad which is redolent with the colours, tastes and scents of this magical country. The Berber Couscous for Spring is a perfect distillation of the early season bounty- Broad beans, Courgettes, Spring Chicken meat, Cinnamon, early Tomatoes and the first of the years cream as cows start giving milk again. Wolfert ensures we understand why certain ingredients are the herald of their season meaning these recipes earn a place in the home of the local and seasonal food lover.

Children’s books we love

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These gorgeous books come in a series- crab cat, spider cat etc and were much loved by my daughter. Crab Cat is a cat who wants to be a crab. He imagines lurking in a rock pool waiting to pinch children’s toes (which would make my daughter squeal and curl her toes up), the illustrations are rich in detail providing plenty to point at and talk about. These tiny little books are perfect.

Aviary Wonders Inc: Spring Catalogue & Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth

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This might be the weirdest picture book published this year although its central premise- that in the future (2031 to be exact) birds will be extinct, or at least, birds as we know them- isn’t that left field, sadly. It begins, “Whether you are looking for a companion, want to make something beautiful, or just want to listen to birdsong, we’ll supply everything you need to build your own bird.” The next 30 pages are an illustrated catalog of wings, legs, tails, combs, and feathers for kids to choose from. In the back are “Assembly Instructions” (“Step 2: Attaching The Beak.”) The illustrations are serious art — full-color paintings that would look at home in a museum. At its heart the book is a warning about habitat destruction, but mostly, it will make you laugh, and children with a sense of whimsy will be delighted to imagine building a bird. (For ages 9 to 12)

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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How could we possibly leave this wonderful series of books off our review pages? Recommended by the Local Editor from Leicestershire who writes- “This book is perfect for Christmas, for children aged anywhere from 3 to 11. With beautiful illustrations, it’s the first of the famous stories of this pioneering American family. It has a wonderful Christmas scene in it that is guaranteed to make you cry. And the best last lines of all: ‘She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.’ I’m off to weep right now..”

My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson

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OK, here’s a good one for small children – and especially good for their parents. My Big Shouting Day, by Rebecca Patterson. This book tells you EVERYTHING you need to know about having a toddler and a baby at home at the same time.

Superworm by Julia Donaldson

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The wiggly, squiggly superhero is now available in paperback. Never fear, Superworm’s here! He can fish Spider out of a well, and rescue Toad from a busy road. But who will come to Superworm’s rescue, when he’s captured by a wicked Wizard Lizard? Luckily, all of Superworm’s insect friends have a cunning plan. With impeccable rhythm and rhyme, wonderful illustrations by Axel Schleffer, this book is a must for the bookshelf.

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden

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The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden

Thankfully newly reprinted, this book was made into a wonderful yet disturbing children’s TV series in the late 70’s. Telling the story of Kizzy, a little girl badly bullied because she is half Romany Gypsy, the themes are of even greater relevance today. Full of cultural detail cleverly woven in, the book has held up well and treats its subject with dignity.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden

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Another beloved book from my own childhood with themes of being far from home both in distance and culturally, explored sensitively. When little Nona is sent from her sunny home in India to live with her relatives in chilly England, she is miserable. Then a box arrives for her in the post and inside, wrapped up in tissue paper, are two little Japanese dolls. A slip of paper says their names are Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Nona thinks that they must feel lonely too, so far away from home and Nona has an idea – she will build her dolls the perfect house! It will be just like a Japanese home in every way and will even have a tiny Japanese garden. And as she begins to make Miss Happiness and Miss Flower happy, Nona finds that she is happier too.

Doodlebugs

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Doodlebogs by Nikalas Catlo

Crammed with creepy-crawly doodles to create and complete, Doodle Bugs also includes fascinating facts about the insect world – a perfect gift for any budding ‘bugologist’. Let your imagination run wild. These doodle books are so popular with every child I have bought them for. There are every permutation of subject available (including some less appealing gender stereotyped editions ie pink for girls) so finding one to suit your child’s tastes won’t be hard.

Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah

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Suitable for children aged thirteen and up. Alem is on holiday with his father for a few days in London. He has never been out of Ethiopia before and is very excited. They have a great few days together until one morning when Alem wakes up in the bed and breakfast they are staying at to find the unthinkable. His father has left him and it is only when the owner of the bed and breakfast hands him a letter that Alem is given an explanation. Alem’s father admits that because of the political problems in Ethiopia both he and Alem’s mother felt Alem would be safer in London – even though it is breaking their hearts to do this. Alem is now on his own, in the hands of the social services and the Refugee Council. He lives from letter to letter, waiting to hear from his father, and in particular about his mother, who has now gone missing…A powerful, gripping new novel from the popular Benjamin Zephaniah.

Vikings Sticker Book

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The Story Of The Vikings by Megan Cullis

Delve into the past with this extravagantly designed sticker book, packed with over 100 stickers of amazing artefacts from the Viking World. An interactive way of finding out about Vikings’ everyday lives: their clothes, food, homes, weapons, culture and their legacy. For children interested in history, for reluctant readers and to back up school history, this is a great choice for over 8’s.

Duck, Death and the Tulip

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Duck, Death & the Tulip

This book will break your heart. I read it in the bookstore and sat weeping in the corner of the store. Death and broaching the subject with our children – any children- is always going to be difficult but this book does it beautifully. 

Duck strikes up a friendship with Death, a slightly sinister skeletal figure that lurks nearby. Death is treated as a normal part (or consequence) of life as Duck learns to first tolerate and then accept its presence eventually finding a kind of solace in its proximity. Finely drawn illustrations and gentle leading prose means the moment when Duck grows tired and lays down is not such a shock. The only problem with this book is wondering how on Earth you can read it without bawling.

Architecture According to Pigeons

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Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather, Stella Gurney and Natsko Seki (Designer)

One of those books that makes me think ‘why didn’t I think of this?’ so cool and clever is its central premise – that pigeons make the best guides to the basic principles of architecture with their birds eye view. Speck Lee Tailfeather, the pigeon in question reveals that pigeons are great aficionados of architecture and delivers an account of a journey around the globe with fun facts about each of the iconic buildings he visits. The book features the Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and dozens of other buildings in a non didactic and engaging manner. I loved this book and will be adding it to the list of books bought for all the children in my life.

Wow Said the Owl

Wow Said the Owl
Wow Said the Owl

This super cute little board book is a great budget buy for babies and toddlers and will help them learn their colours. The extremely alluring thought of being awake when you are ‘supposed’ to be sleeping is brought to life when Owl decides to stay awake all day, only to be wowed by the colours and sights. The idea of not taking for granted that which is most famliiar is emphasised by Owls realisation that the stars that light up the night sky are, to her, the most beautiful of all. 

Owls big eyes will be appealing to babies who tend to focus most upon these. The illustrations we felt, would be more suited to older toddlers with their melded shades and less defined outlines.

“In the belief of the Gond tribe, the lives of humans and trees are closely entwined. Trees contain the cosmos; when night falls, the spirits they nurture glimmer into life”

The Night Life of Trees

The Night Life of Trees
The Night Life of Trees

Created by hand and illustrated by tribal artists of India, each page tells the folklore that surrounds a different tree. The tree artwork is silk screened onto black paper, creating vibrant  images that would make beautiful art works in themselves. 

Follow that Line by Laura Ljungkvist

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Follow the Line Around the World by Laura Ljungkvist

One single line carries you through every spread of the whole book forming the shapes for illustrations along the way. Kids run their finger along the line tracing their way around the World. By bus, helicopter and ship (among others) we discover the glories of both the natural and man made world. This is just one of a whole series too.

This is London by M Sasek

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This is London

With the same wit and perception that characterised his quirky and gorgeous little books on Paris, New York, and San Francisco, M Sasek presents stylish, elegant London in This is London, first published in 1959 and now updated for the 21st century.  Highly stylized and loving in its depiction, with some of the landmarks no longer in existence, this is still a relevant book to own and share with a child (or just for you!)

Oh, the Places You’ll Go Pop Up by Dr Seuss

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go Pop-Up Hardcover by Dr. Seuss

Or how to find your own pathway through this life… In celebration of its 20th anniversary, this classic bestseller has been transformed into a pop-up book by master paper engineer David A. Carter. Fantastical, breathtaking and glorious paper constructions  retain the whimsy and deep deep emotional intelligence of the original text. Apparently this book is bought for many a graduating young person and is then filled with written messages from family and friends. A treasure in the making.

Tiddler, the Story Telling Fish by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

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In which the tiniest fish can tell the biggest, tallest tales. Every day Tiddler’s lateness at school is explained away by increasingly fantastical tales involving flying rays, mermaids and Gruffalo fish. Children will enjoy the rhythmical flow of the story which encourages chanting of the dialogue and the ever captivating, vivid and alive illustrations of Schleffler.

The Sea Witch by Annie Stewart

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Ellie and Lucy are twins holidaying with their Grandmother in Devon; a holday which is about to take a strange turn after their discovery of a seashell on the beach. Their newly struck friendship with a sea witch called Mia comes to their assistance when another friend goes missing and is feared kidnapped. 

Full of fun, suspense, witchery and drama, this novel reflects a long tradition of child as detective aided by the mystical. As limitless in imagination as that of the children who will read it and suitable for ages 8 plus.

Shh! We have a Plan by Chris Haughton

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 ‘Shh! We have a plan’ follows four hapless characters in the woods, looking for birds. The smallest, quietest one is ignored by the other three who are determined to get the bird by brute force. The story shows that diplomacy and understanding wins the day. Chris Haughton is a fantastic illustrator and clever storyteller and Oh No George is a huge favourite of my many children. A fun story that is perfect for reading aloud, predicting events and is open ended, giving you the opportunity to explore what might happen next.

My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards, Illustrated by Shirley Hughes

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Lovely, timeless stories with great illustrations. A favourite of mine when I was young and my daughter and son loved them too. Lovely language and great stories about the naughty antics the little girl gets up to.They are quite old fashioned but this seems to add to the appeal and the description of the birthday trifle that Bad Harry and naughty sister end up devouring after they find it in the larder has stayed with me since first reading about it over forty years ago.

Read the Mumsnet webchat with ‘My Naughty Little Sister’  illustrator Shirley Hughes and her daughter Clara Vulliamy.

Cosy Classics : Jane Eyre / Moby Dick / Huckleberry Finn and others by Jack Wang & Holman Wang

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Cosy Classics

The Cozy Classics board books retell “cozy” versions of hefty stories like Les MisérablesWar and Peace, and Jane Eyre. Better yet, they’re illustrated with lovable photographs of painstakingly needle-felted scenes from classic literature. Classics never go out of style and the concept for this series of books is simple: every classic in the series will be condensed to 12 child-friendly words, and each word will appear alongside an illustration. Each word is carefully selected to relate to a child’s world, such as “friends”, “sisters”, “dance”, “muddy”, “boat”, and “leg”. The books work as word primers, even without any reference to the original stories. If you, as a parent, can fill in some of the original tale as part of the reading experience, so much the better.

 

Cozy Classics are not intended to provide babies with any kind of academic leg up and unfortunately, in the minds of many, classics are associated with academics. However, no classic was written for the classroom; every one was written to give pleasure and these books offer a fresh and simplified (but not dumbed down) take on these timeless stories.

 Haiku Baby by Betsy E Snyder

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This totally adorable board book introduces infants to the ancient Japanese art of haiku poetry, as well as key early literacy and education concepts like sounds, seasons, and nature. All in a baby-friendly format.

Haiku Baby follows a tiny bluebird, the book’s would-be protagonist, as it visits its various animal companions–from an elephant that shades the bird with a parasol to a fox in a meadow and a whale in the ocean. The little bird’s story is told primarily in pictures, and through the book’s six haiku: rain, flower, sun, leaf, snow, and–of course, it would not be a board book without–the moon, making it ideal for the bedtime line-up. Adorable collage-cut illustrations work nicely with the haiku form to give the book a whimsical, yet serene, feel. And the haiku are light and fun without being too cutesy. Index tabs on the right margin, with pictures that tie to each of the poems (leaf, raindrop, snowflake, etc.), create a unique look, and make it easy for toddlers to flip through the pages on their own without having them stick together like they can with other board books.

Babylit Series by Jennifer Adams & Alison Oliver

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The BabyLit series uses literary classics as loose inspiration to teach subjects like colors, numbers, and counting, and includes gorgeous riffs on Alice in WonderlandAnna KareninaDraculaPride and PrejudiceJabberwocky, and others. In ‘Moby Dick’ Little Master Melville teaches little ones the language of the sea: from ships and sailors to squawking gulls and moody good captains, Alison Oliver’s brilliant illustrations and Jennifer Adams’ clever, simple text will make a sea dog out of any young shipmate.

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The Tell Tale Heart

One of the most inspired adaptions of this series is Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tattle Tale Heart’ in which the plucky, mischievous toddler Edgar the Raven is at it again in a spirited story with some important lessons. What will Edgar do when he accidentally breaks a statue sitting on a dresser? Will his sister, Lenore, tattle on him? Will Edgar tell his mother the truth? Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” little lit lovers will delight in this new adventure with characters illustrated in a most “poe-etic” way and without the appalling Gothic darkness of its original tale which is most definitely NOT for tiny readers.

Andy Warhols Colours by Susan Goldman Rubin

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In the vein of fine art for babies, Susan Goldman Rubin’s awesome board books use classic and modern art to teach infants concepts like colors and counting. In Andy Warhol’s imagination, horses are purple and golden monkeys wear pink baubles on their tails and the simple text “Big Red Dog Barks Bow-Wow-Wow,” and such is the kind of repetitive funny wording that appeals to babies and toddlers. Other featured artists in the series include Jacob Lawrence, Wayne Thiebaud, Matisse, Magritte, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Touch Think Learn Series by Xavier Deneux. 

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I really like the way the stylish die-cut illustrations in this board book series teach shapes, numbers, and colors in a hands-on, multi-sensory way — babies can experience what a circle actually feels like by touching the shapes while hearing the words and seeing the pictures. Such a clever way to translate abstract concepts.

Wiggle by Garo Tomi

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 I’m a total sucker for Taro Gomi’s whimsical, playful doodles, and was stoked to discover that he’s authored several board books just for babies. I love the interactive element ofWiggle!, which features illustrations that are incomplete without a wiggling finger — including an elephant’s trunk, penguin’s beak, chameleon’s tongue, and robot’s nose. And it’s up to young readers to help them out. Kids can finish the illustration by wiggling their fingers through suitably placed die-cuts. Children are sure to giggle at the silliness of turning their fingers into elephant trunks and chameleon tongues—and learn a bit about animal features on the way.

The Quiet Books by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska

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What does “quiet” mean? From “Top of the roller coaster quiet” to “First look at your new hairstyle quiet,” The Quiet Book looks at all kinds of quiet with the help of impossibly sweet bears, rabbits, fish, birds, and iguanas. With its soft covers, rounded corners, and sturdy board book pages, this is a perfect addition to baby’s first library.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis 

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 This adorable board book has received tons of reviewer and librarian accolades, and it’s easy to see why. A box is just a box . . . unless it’s not a box. From mountain to rocket ship, a little bunny stars in this story that puts an updated spin on the timeless idea that you can be transported wherever your imagination will take you. In addition, anything that encourages children to play with toys that don’t cost hundreds of pounds from Rip-Off-Parents-R-Us is a bonus. Just read this with them and then give them a big ‘ole cardboard box.

Some great book selections from Harris & Harris Books, Clare.

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The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

The title of one story, ‘Nettle Spinner’ is enough to transport the adult imagination let alone that of a child. This book is bursting with magic castles, enchanted forests, fairies, trolls (not the Internet kind) and magic aplenty. Some lesser known tales will keep the story reader interested. This book is definitely for older children, the lack of illustrations making it perfect for independent readers or a bedtime story read by an adult. Definitely one to be dipped in and out of and to keep for future generations. 

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Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

“An utterly believable world that is very much like ours but different” in which Lockwood & Co exists as an agency set up to tackle the very real problem of ghosts. Lucy, the narrator has recently to London in search of an exciting career and she certainly finds it when she joins this ramshackle ghost management agency! For older readers, this book delivers what Roald Dahl always knew children needed- a good scaring!

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The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse

“Something was approaching the burrow. Something deadly. Something that made Sylvan’s fur bristle with fear . . . ”

Tom Moorhouse is an ecologist and it shows in his accurate and mesmerising depictions of animals in this adventure. Sylvan and his brothers embark upon an epic journey after their water burrow hole is threatened. Beautiful illustrations make this a great ‘show and read’ book and the non Anthropomorphic treatment coupled with a non preachy ecological message makes this a wonderful choice for those nostalgic for Ratty and Mole.

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Gabriel’s Clock by Hilton Pashley

Jonathon is half-angel, half-demon, and the only one of his kind. But he has no clues as to his true identity, and now a rogue archdemon wants him for his own sinister purpose….For older readers of around 10+, this book covers love and loss, issues of good and bad and of finding your real place in a World that is not what you thought it to be. Exciting, fast paced and with enough meat on its bones to challenge avid readers.

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Cinderalla- illustrated by Sarah Dennis

Using the fresh and popular technique of paper cutting, Sarah Dennis has designed an exquisite version of the old favourite ‘Cinderella’ by The Brothers Grimm. As pleasing to adults as it will be to children, this is one to keep well out of the hands of toddlers for safekeeping until they can be careful. Definitely a book to buy as a special gift- for a christening or from a Godparent although this perennial story will never tire in the retelling.

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Picasso’s Trousers by Nicholas Allan

Picasso doesn’t want to conform. Picasso has his own ideas about what his art should look like. “‘You can’t paint faces from the front and the side at the same time’ they said. ‘No, no, no Picasso’. But Picasso said, ‘Yes’. 

Full of colourful pictures and a special surprise fold out, children will be both inspired by and identify with Picasso’s need to determine himself. This book has rave reviews down to its blend of art education, fabulous illustrations, simple repetitive rhymes and themes that appeal to children. Art is for all and Allan’s book breaks down any sense of loftiness and inaccessibility. This book is fun!

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Twinmaker by Sean Williams

Set in the near future, one beset by massive tidal surges because of global warming which has forced humanity to take great steps to reduce their impact and emissions, Twinmaker follows Clair Hill on her mission to save her best friend.

Readers will confront important themes – technology; the power it wields and whether it is in itself inherently bad or the way in which we choose to apply it. The ability to use technology to ‘improve oneself is another theme which has resonance in this age of photoshopping, plastic surgery and illusion. Young Adults are increasingly exposed to and immersed in a multimedia world of instant gratification and to a certain extent this novel taps into this with its vivid chases, gunfights and action packed scenes. Yes it does ask the reader to engage in a moral process, but it does this via stealth and is devoid of that preachiness much detested by children.

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The Taming Of The Tights (The Misadventures of Tallulah Casey) by Louise Rennison

Described by young reviewers as speaking in an authentic voice of a 10-15 year old (ish), Tallulah Casey is the madcap cousin of the author’s other popular heroine, Georgia. Tallulah Casey is putting all thoughts of wild boy Cain behind her. He is literally an animal in trousers….Not like nice boy Charlie (who she’s totally not thinking about either). The Tree Sisters are chasing those golden slippers of applause at performing arts college but Dr Lightowler seems hell-bent on spoiling everything for Tallulah.

And with all her mates loved up, can Tallulah resist the call of her wild boy?

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Great Explorers by Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty

Another exquisitely designed book that doesn’t dumb down the epic nature of the great explorations it retells. Each journey of discovery, whether it be by sea, air, space or land is inspiring and is explained by detailed technical drawings, fold out cross sections, maps and panoramic storytelling. 

The imagination of a child knows no bounds and I would argue that this characteristic is retained by many great explorers. I would have loved to own a book like this when I was growing up although there is also a market for books that highlight the great discoveries of Females too and gives some background about why women weren’t so celebrated or encouraged to be explorers. 

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Asylum by Madeleine Roux

This photo novel, described as perfect for lovers of ‘Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children’ is thrilling, unsettling and creepy, packed as it is with photographs of real abandoned asylums. This new format for fiction is one I find exciting and definitely appeals to more visual readers.

For sixteen-year-old outcast Dan Crawford, the summer program at New Hampshire College Prep is a lifeline. Finally, a chance to make some friends before college. Even if that means staying in a dorm that used to be a old asylum. Soon Dan’s hanging out with Abby and Jordan, and summer is looking up. But then he learns that the asylum was not just any sanatorium – it was a last resort for the criminally insane. As Dan, Abby and Jordan explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they discover it’s no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. And that some secrets refuse to stay buried…

Perfect for young adults and advanced readers of ten plus.

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How They Met (and Other Stories) by David Leviathan

Love is a complicated, addictive, volatile, scary, wonderful thing. Many of the stories in this collection started out as gifts for the author’s friends. From the happy-ever-after to the unrequited, they explore the many aspects of the emotion that has at some time turned us all inside out and upside down.  A collection of stories about love, full of ‘Meet-Cutes’ and other whimsy. From coming out on a prom date to being fixed up by a 6 year old, these short stories are ideal YA material and will suit readers who like to dip in and out of a book.

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The Super Swooper Dinosaur by Martin Waddell and Leonie Lord (illustrator)

“But just what can a boy, a dog and a dinosaur play together?”

True friendship transcends physical differences in this tale of a dinosaur who swoops in and wants to play. Energetic, clear and lively illustrations reinforce the can do message. We have always loved the work of Martin Waddell and in Leonie Lord, he has a fresh and lively collaborator. 

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Z Is For Moose by Kelly L Bingham and Paul O Zelinsky (illustrator)

Zebra is absolutely certain he’ll be able to direct everyone to appear on the correct page, at the appropriate time, without any mishaps, unnecessary drama, or hurt feelings. It’s an ABC book, for goodness’ sake. How difficult can it be? Oh, dear. Zebra forgot about Moose. Any parents of toddlers and preschools will recognise that sense of frustration when things don’t go to plan….

A witty and madcap reinvention of the classic alphabet book full of suspense, zaniness and anticipation- something young children adore.

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The Library by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Smalls

Elizabeth Brown doesn’t like to play with dolls, and she doesn’t like to skate. What she does like to do is read books. Now that she’s grown up, her collection is so big all the shelves are collapsing. Her front door has disappeared entirely. What in the world will she do? The reclusive Elizabeth Brown surprises everyone with her splendid solution.

How do private libraries come to exist? This book is infused with a love of books themselves. A book to treasure indeed which should resonate with every book lover contemplating being pushed out of their own home by their growing book collection…..

‘Manly Food’ by Simon Cave- Review

 

 

Being an unmanly Female means that using this book makes me feel like a fraud. The themes are ‘blokey’, ‘hearty’ and ‘flavour first’. Clearly as a Female I prefer my food to be somewhat less flavoured and preferably pink. And not rare meat pink either. 

Designed to appeal to the Man who becomes truculent if not given free rein with the barbecue and the knife steel, the book is divided into sections – ‘Pure Meat’; ‘Wild & Foraged’; ‘Chilli & Spice’, all accompanied by clear instructions and photographs. Should you lack those manly skills of Butchery it even teaches you how to prep carcasses and cure bacon. Should you be ashamed of having a sweet tooth then fear not- the desserts in here fall into the ‘Manly Desserts’. No worries about being mistaken for a girl here,  mate.

Recipes are actually very good and appeal to the Wo (man) in me which is rather worrying me that I am in fact turning into a man. ‘Hearty’ beef rib roasts (man food), curries that swipe chili heat viciously across the tongue (man food), Griled Corn, Chile & lime (man food)- all particular favourites and clearly meals that will put feathers upon the chest of any woman. 

Paella with Rabbit looks interesting and something that worked out well when we followed the recipe, having a delicacy that belied the subtext of the book. I am assuming this is ‘manly food’ because Real Men eat rabbits whilst real Women merely want to cuddle with them. Same with Gravlax. Is this a Manly recipe because of the use of heavy weights to press down on the curing fish? Maybe.

Eggs Benendict I assume is in here for when Caveman drags a fresh Cavewoman back to his cave and still feels the need to impress her the morning after. The Sorrel soup was epic. I love Sorrel with all its lemony ferrous glory. This was worth the price of the book alone and would impress me enough to stay the night in that cave if served the night before. 

We hope this book is tongue in cheek. If not, it’ll look lovely cuddled up to my pink cupcake books. They’ll have a long, happy and traditional marriage for sure.

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The Bildeston Crown Hotel & Restaurant – Review

 

 

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This lovely 15th century coaching inn is located in the heart of Suffolk and surrounded by the most beautiful walking and touring countryside, making it a great pit stop. We stopped here quite by accident whilst driving through en route to Hadleigh one cold January afternoon which made the wooden floors, inglenook fire and requisite dog waterbowl all the more alluring. Hessian upholstered sofas, rich heritage paints and a mixed bag of relaxing and comfortable seating plus more formal dining areas offers plenty of choice for the mud splattered walker or those intent on the Big Night Out.

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Bar snack are available including a haute-bas Fish finger sandwich but we decided to eat from the lunch menu in the smoke painted dining area, stripped back in design although not in service and welcome. The menu is modern English in style with classical French underpinnings and has a carefully edited selection of starters including smoked haddock and hens egg fishcakes with chive veloute, potted shrimp with Melba toast and English snails with parsley butter. I ordered Jugged hare with chestnut gnocchi adding in a less usual side of Rocket salad with Parmiggiano which although a starter, proved substantial enough. Sticky, reduced and intense enough to coat the back of a spoon and clearly finished with a good scoop of butter, the Hare melted on the tongue and was as rich and wintry as everything jugged should be.

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Gnocchi can be leaden little carb bombs but these were fluffy and bosky, referencing nearby woodlands and damp hedgerows. The dish was strongly reminiscent of the rich Hare stews of the Italian Le Marche region, the Rocket salad cutting any tendency to adipose richness and further riffing off Italian bitter greens. My husband had the curried parsnip soup accompanied by spiced apple and walnut bread. Like a frothy, spiced vegetal milkshake, the soup was delicately spiced to the point of being a tad under although being a salt hound I am prepared to concede that my palate may be a little warped. Husband loved it.

Much vicarious pleasure was had from observing other customers demolish piles of Crown fries served in little fryer baskets accompanied by teetering Crown burgers served with a paving slab of my favourite local cheese- Suffolk Gold. Husband ordered the fish pie with greens and smoked haddock croquette. Being Pescetarian, he often struggles to find adequate choice on a menu but actually had one this time- Wild mushroom risotto with poached duck egg; fish and chips; spinach, feta and pine nut tortilla and Eggs Benedict. The fish pie came with great waves of virtual reality piped creamed potatoes in the manner of Joel Rebuchon’s seminal signature dish- melty, loaded with butter, cream and super luxe offset by a crunch coated croquette that offered some textural contrast to all the unctuousness. Well worth a stolen taste and worth risking a stab from his fork as Husband assertively defended his plate. Always a good sign. The chef clearly intends to breathe new life into established classics be they bar food (burgers) or ‘faine dining’ (Chicken Liver Parfait) using local ingredients..Seasonal. Fresh.

The oft neglected skills of the Patissiere and Chocolatiere are finally making a comeback and The Crown has some spectacular themed puddings (Tropical) alongside the more trad; Creme Brulee, Pots De Chocolat and Crumbles. Being rammed to the gills we chose Petit Fours and coffee and were duly presented with four little morsels of such cuteness that I wanted to name them and take them home as pets. Pate De Fruit was pure essence of grainy pear and showed a light hand with the gelatine. No Melton Fruit style gelatinous bounce in the mouth here. Dark chocolate Bon Bon filled with icy berry sorbet, a brandied cream chocolate encased square and a block of peanut butter fudge were all perfectly made and presented with the understatement that always accompanies the spectacular. It just knows it needs no extra fanfare.

Pretty disgusted with ourselves that it took so long to discover this place. Early adopters we are not. The prices are good considering they charge similar to what many chain ‘Bistro’ places charge- those establishments nicknamed  ‘Maisons’ De La Casa House’ by Calvin Trillin with their bought in melange of cucina rustica. This place is the real deal and the Chef Zack Deakins and his team are to be congratulated.

We paid for our own meal and the restaurant neither solicited this review nor knew we were coming.

Feeling the love for Harold and the Big Purple Crayon

 

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This book, beloved of myself from the moment I was given it aged four and much loved by my children, is relatively unknown in the UK, and undeservedly so. On a superficial level it is a lovely simple picture book with bold line-drawings that jump off the page, telling the reader about a sweet baby hero and the adventures he gets into. On the other hand, Harold And His Big Purple Crayon serves as metaphor for childhood and for growing up, dealing as it does with so many childhood challenges and fears. Harold has to manage himself with regard to the way night-time separates him from his parents; his subsequent travels away from the safety of his bed and the fact that he has to problem-solve without their assistance.

As the book opens, we see Harold has scribbled meaninglessly across the flyleaf and opening page but as the story starts and we read the first line of text, “ “One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight,” Harold’s crooked and meandering scribbles become a purposeful straight line from left to right, mirroring the English language. As the character explores what is imagination and what is reality, the process of artistic creation is laid bare. Harold is the embodiment of the art of drawing, something the artist Paul Klee describes as “taking a line for a walk.”

What does it mean to be real and how does something become real? For children, living lives of magical realism where the boundaries are blurred between reality and what feels like it, this is an ever shifting concept. Must we experience things for them to be ‘real’ or can they simply exist in our minds? Does their retelling in a story realise them? By interacting with them in a physical manner, Harold gives them a sense of universal actuality and through his understanding of what the drawn objects mean to him, they become imbued with a rationalists sense of reality.

Harold is followed by a moon that he himself had to draw because he awoke and noticed that it had mysteriously disappeared. His imagination, whilst unbounded, needs first to make tangible something both mystical and mysterious, and something of huge practical importance too: moonlight will help him navigate the darkness.

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The knife edge of hazards that parents must help their children negotiate is reflected in Harold’s falling into the ocean he draws and tumbling down the hill that he climbs. But good parenting builds resourcefulness and Harold draws himself a boat when he tumbles into the ocean. In this way we arrive at the idea of fate and external locus of control versus control of our destiny and an internal locus of control. Harold’s own actions lead to possible danger- dragons and water and hills to tumble down. He starts to learn that one faces the consequences of ones’ own actions and eliminating risk is not the answer; it is how we manage and react to it that is the more important.

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When Crickett Johnson submitted the first draft to the legendary children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom, her first reaction (as she later admitted in her own words) was luke-warm and unenthusiastic although she acknowledges that on the day it arrived, she was so “dead in the head that she’d probably pass up Tom Sawyer.” Later on, Nordstrom writes to him and aplogizes: “I think it is FINE, and the little changes you made are just perfect. Thanks for the part about the forest, and for all the other little touches.”  

Crockett Johnson went on to write several more Harold books under her capable hands and sold more than two million copies of the first ‘Harold’ book. It has never gone out of print.

Nordstrom, the director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, went on to edit many other classics, including The Carrot Seed, written by Johnson’s wife, Ruth Krauss.  Crockett Johnson illustrated his wife’s book and he drew that same large bald-headed boy in an earlier comic strip called Barnaby. In an NPR article, Crockett Johnson is described as saying that he drew people without hair because, `It’s so much easier. And besides, to me people with hair look funny.’ He too, was bald and Crockett’s  animal characters in Will Spring Be Early? Or Will Spring Be Late?, published in 1959 also share that naive and bald headed quality- his skunks, ground-hogs and bears lack any discernible fur.

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Maurice Sendak himself was a protogee of Crockett Johnson, and the style he adopted in “Where the Wild Things Are” was floridly different to that of Crockett Johnson. Nonetheless, Johnson and Ruth Krauss had a creative hand in the wild abandon of Sendak’s famous illustrated book.  Like Where the Wild Things Are, Johnson’s book acknowledges that the imagination of a child can carry him away from the safety of his home and his parents and after spending a safe amount of time out in the wilderness, the child desires to go home and is thus able to.

 

 

 

The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yumoto and Komako Sakai – Review

 

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Bear is grieving for his little friend, Bird. He has gently laid him to rest in a box lined in the softest moss,leaves and feathers and has a desperate need to talk about Bird with his other friends but they all urge him to move on. Bear doesn’t want to and is not ready to move on either. He wants to both mourn and celebrate his friendship and feels isolated by his grief from his friends and from the World.

One day Bear meets a Wildcat sitting alone next to a violin shaped box and after asking about its contents, confides in Wildcat about Bird, “You must have loved Bird very much” is all Bear needs to hear to unlock the torrent of love, longing and memories inside him; memories illustrated beautifully by the vignettes of Bird’s life- a life well lived. The celebration and commemoration continues as Bear decorates Bird’s box with bright leaves as his new friendship grows and we see those vivid memories come to life. In this, children learn that eternal life can mean living on in the hearts and minds of those left behind, irrespective of religious belief.

The messages in this book are wonderfully pragmatic, healing and heartbreaking for both parent and child. We are slowly guided to the realisation that memories must be cherished, celebrated in an every day manner and friendship never dies. Grieving is honourable and a new friendship is not a betrayal- it is part of honouring those that have gone before. Indeed we realise that the best way to love again is to have loved before.

I would recommend this as a supervised read for a child (and adult) that has recently endured loss and it will help stimulate age appropriate chats about feelings and experiences at a difficult time. The book also serves as useful preparation for hamster owners, being creatures prone to short lives.  Yes the topic is a painful one- it had me weeping in a hidden corner of the store, but it is a necessary one too.

 

Book sold by Waterstones Bury St Edmunds

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Mothers Day & the modern mother

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This time of year can bring with it a warm glow of self-worth and validation to mothers everywhere as they stalk streets garlanded with banners and posters, proclaiming their value. Their offspring are encouraged to purchase wonderful gifts and plan celebratory feasts, make-overs and Mothers Day waxing offers because every mother must have a bald pudenda on feast days celebrated in her name.

Like the majority of my female friends, relatives and colleagues, I consider myself to be a 21st century woman with a long and sometimes successful history of being all things to all people. My interests are many and varied: some you might expect, some you might not, but I do not favour pink above all other hues. I do not like cupcakes or pink cupcakes or pink cake-stands. I do not especially want or need books on how to bake cupcakes nor do I want beauty bibles or style bibles or how to fucking lose weight bibles. I like chocolate but it is not a treat nor something I want as a gift,chocolate being an ordinary, staple foodstuff  in our home. I love flowers (preferably growing in a garden) but they don’t have to be pink and after nearly fifty years on this planet, I have learned how to dress myself and find ‘how to’ guides on style a bit patronising seeing as I have yet to go out accidentally wearing just my pants in winter or confuse the beach with the office. I love reading: I live in a house that is insulated by walls lined with books but I don’t gravitate towards ones with pink jackets or glitter and the term ‘chick lit’ makes me want to hurl. Yet a wander around the nearest town seems to suggest that these gifts are what I, and other women, would most like to receive for Mothering Sunday. Even the champagne on display is pink.

Until the time of the first World War or thereabouts, the predominate colour for girls was blue- described as ‘more delicate and dainty for the girls’- which may be why Disney’s Cinderella and Alice still wore it. The Virgin Mary appears to us robed in the palest of blue. At first, whether a girl or boy wore pink or blue was often determined by hair and eye colour: brown-haired or brown-eyed children wore pink and blue-eyed or blondes wore blue. This was a terrible bugbear to the writer of the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series of books, Laura Ingalls Wilder, who longed to see blue bows on her brown hair and rejoiced one day upon noticing that Ma had muddled up her hair ribbons with those of her blonde-haired sister. She railed against the Ma’s firm adherence to the belief that ‘Mary had to wear blue because her hair was blonde’.

Blue pigments were the costliest and the most long lasting, holding their tone and depth long after all other primary shades faded. In fifteenth-century Florence, even the least costly of the blues was more than three times the price of red or yellow pigments and the precious mined reserves of Lapis Lazuli, hewed from the rocks of faraway lands such as Afghanistan, had long been coveted and held in the highest esteem. Crushed into a clear shade of aquamarine, the precious rocks gave the Virgin Mary’s mantle its well known hue- the colour of the skies, the colour of Heaven- not the colour of all girls, but most certainly the colour for the wealthiest or most worshipped of them.

The decision to change this appeared to be a commercial one, and a relatively recent decision to boot, as the cost of making blue dyes collapsed and democracy in colour tastes began to impact. The seventies saw a firm rejection of pink for girls and blue for boys because of second-wave feminism and general consciousness-raising. The avalanche of pink for female toys, clothing, and even pens and hair straighteners, is a commercial construct and obviously makes handing that pink box of toys down to a son that much harder when he has been so firmly inculcated with the idea that pink is Very Bad for boys. So parents go out and buy new. Great for the shops, not so great for us.

This leads us right back to the idea of Mothering Sunday gifts. I am not so much of a curmudgeon as to advocate a return to giftless celebrations, being aware of the economic importance of such purchases to our regional businesses and the pleasure such gift-giving (and choosing) provides. The procession of children at schools end, homemade cards and gifts tightly clutched in glitter and glue-sticky hands is a fond memory and I can’t be the only one who hoards these precious potential family heirlooms, even if the 3D flowers and fluffy creatures on them are now a little balding in places.

No. What I would like to see is a little more thought and imagination as to what mothers might like to receive and a little more concern regarding the messages we transmit to our sons and daughters about gender roles. People choose gifts from the choices available. We don’t always have the time to forage about the High St in this busy old life so I don’t buy the argument of stores that this is what people ‘want’.  In a shop containing thousands upon thousands of books, why is the selection chosen for Mothers Day displays so limited and limiting? We don’t need to spend a lot but we do need to be aware of the hidden cost of curbing and warping the aspirations of both sexes.

Ultimately though my message to families on Mothering Sunday is probably the reason why De Beers has yet to call on my services for their next advertising campaign. Bearing in mind that research shows a working mother often does the lions share of the housework, I suggest that  ‘This Mothers Day, don’t give her a diamond. Give her a hand.”