Holiday reading for the kids

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It’s that time when school holidays start to pepper the calendar and the terms seem to grow shorter and shorter in inverse relationship to the lengthening days. The Millers Tale has compiled a selection of brilliant activity books covering all manner of subjects from fossils, doodling and colouring books filled with magical forests to the most exquisitely illustrated encyclopaedia of animals that will enthrall adults, let alone their kids. Finally, there’s a few story books too for when they are eventually poured into bed (check out the jazz rat!) plus a great looking guide to growing up specially written for teenage boys on the autism spectrum. Enjoy!

642 Places to Draw by Chronicle Books.

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A follow-up to the hugely popular 642 Things to Draw, this esoteric assortment of locations to sketch will send casual doodlers and serious artists on a creative adventure, be it to remote locations (Mt. Fuji wrapped in mist), just down the hall (under your bed), or to the height of their imaginations (over the moon). One for the older child and a little bird tells me that adults are obsessed with it too. Yours won’t be the first kid to come down in the morning and find their parents have already ‘contributed’.

Maps Poster Book by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska

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Quite simply one of the loveliest designed map books I have ever seen, the large-format maps printed on gorgeous textured paper will bring the world alive. The authors and designers, Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 2007 and were nominated for the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2010. Previously available as a best-selling children’s style atlas simply called ‘Maps‘, this new compilation includes detailed maps of countries, along with a map of the world too that will brighten the bedroom (and indeed any room) of your child’s home. Twenty eight maps cover national costume and monuments, natural features and food; right down to the tiniest of insects.

Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom

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Marketed in the blurb as a ‘stunning colouring book for adults’, I’d happily give this to a child aged from 10+ who likes intricate and finely wrought patterns, is patient and able to cope with not finishing in one day. Millie Marotta is a very popular illustrator and here she offers delicate outlines of forest scenes, birds and jellyfish trailing intricate tentacles printed on thick pages although I would avoid alcohol based felt pens to minimise bleeding through. There are composites of flowers that add up to a giant grizzly bear and other outlines that aren’t all they seem with ! A non prescriptive approach allows the artist to make the designs their own in what could turn out to be one heck of a trippy book with authorial suggestions for things to add when your own imagination starts to fade.

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Superbook for Superheroes by Jason Ford

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Here we have a ‘compendium of ideas’ from simple drawing and colouring to activities that allows you to create your own crusaders for justice who do battle with super villains and unravel their crazed schemes for taking over the world. Children will learn to draw villains such as the Mad Scientist, Bog Creature and Evil Robot, while also creating superheroes, their sidekicks, secret hideouts, outfits and super gadgets. And there are superpowers to discover such as invisibility, super strength, speed, flight, heat vision, teleportation and X-ray vision. A brilliant primer for the child who finds existing superheroes lacking and wants to invent their own.

Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman

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There are no words for how much I would have wished for a book like this as a child, both in design and contents (my tastes haven’t changed that much).  A collection of best-loved animals from all over the world are chosen for their special talents and characteristics, made vivid and characterful in the illustrations by the author. Divided into witty and inventive categories such as ‘the architects’, the ‘noisy neighbours’, the ‘homebodies’, the ‘forever faithfuls’, the ‘champions of forgetfulness’ and more, including animals ordered through colour and habit too, this fact stuffed book will keep young explorers busy for hours.

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Usborne Step by Step Drawing Animals

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All these beautiful books packed with critters means your kids will want to learn how to draw them, an exercise that can often lead to frustration when the creatures in their minds eye do not match those they put down on paper. This book can help bridge that gap with its clear, easy to follow tricks and techniques that help kids create a lively and personality filled sketch.  The double colourful pages have step-by-step drawing instructions, space to practise and doodle in, and ideas for colouring in or adding backgrounds to help develop imagination- a useful counterbalance if your child baulks at following too many instructions. This is part of a series of books; others have mermaids, people, comics etc.

My Pop Up Body Book by Jennie Maizels and Will Petty

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A bright and bold interactive book that shows kids how it all works and takes them on a journey of discovery right from the very start- conception. There are pull tabs, lift flaps, turn wheels and pop ups plus tiny windows that show what happens internally, including the journey food makes along your alimentary tract in all its wonderful, kid friendly grossness. Useful as a visual guide for tinies and a jumping off point for more detailed explanation to the olders, the book is fun and funny, versatile and relatively hard wearing compared to a lot of interactive books which can make the mistake of sacrificing sturdiness for a design that sadly appeals more to a parent than it does to a child. This book doesn’t make this error.

Holiday Pocket Puzzle Book by Alex Frith

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Costing less than £1,50, these little portable books are ideal for backpacks and jacket pockets. Even the meanest of airplane carry on allowances shouldn’t preclude taking one of these for kids aged 6+. Featuring mazes and logic problems to solve, wordsearches, codes to crack, number puzzles and more, this book is a boredom-buster, ready to use any time you have a spare few moments.

Pirates Maze: Maze Craze Boon by Don- Oliver Matthies

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Priced at less than a fiver, this maze and puzzle has been very well received by the five and overs. Taking readers on a pirate themed fantasy where they board Captain Silver’s pirate ship, encounters with fish, mice, an octopus, a map in a bottle, and a super treasure hunt in an ancient Incan pyramid will keep them interested. Finding the lost gold and jewels whilst negotiating barriers and blocks to bewilder you and your gang of pirates challenges in a safe and non frustrating manner- handy if you need a few child free moments yourself.

Secret Garden: an Inky Treasure Hunt & Colouring Book by Joanna Basford

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An absolutely divine book that most adults would covet. Tumble down the rabbit hole and find yourself in an inky black-and-white wonderland where interactive tasks take you on a ramble through a secret garden created in beautifully detailed pen-and-ink illustrations. The pages beg to be brought to life through colouring and reward the child who is prepared to explore and pore over each page as each drawing also shelters all kinds of tiny creatures just waiting to be found. And there are also bits of the garden that still need to be completed by you. Appealing to older children and YA’s, the intricately-realized world of the Secret Garden is both beautiful and inspirational and pretty much a modern day meditative activity.

Minecraft: the Official Construction Handbook

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Again, costing only a few pounds, this is the handbook to expand Minecraft addicts abilities. This official handbook is packed with tips and step-by-step instructions from master build team FyreUK. You’ll learn how to construct houses, bridges, ships, floating islands and rollercoasters of the highest quality. There are guides to wooden houses, n impressive tower bridge build, a Nordic hall, palace gardens, mage city walls but whilst some designs have some step by step instructions (galleon ship, fortified wall, rollercoaster), others such as the Steampunk City serve a more inspirational role and don’t have instructions.

Stone Bone Girl: the Story of Mary Anning of Lyme Regis by Laurence Anholt

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History is not littered with tales of great female derring do and not because women (and girls) didn’t actually do anything. Here, the story of Mary Anning, who is probably the worlds best known fossil hunter, acts as useful counterbalance and is a well loved heroine of mine as a result. As a little girl, she found a fossilised sea monster, the most important prehistoric discovery of its time and in this lovely book, best-selling author Laurence Anholt turns her fascinating life into a beautiful story, ideal for reading aloud. Sheila Moxley’s luscious pictures vividly evoke the coastal setting and the real-life dramas of this spectacular tale. Mary Anning is a role model, inspirational especially because she came, not from a wealthy family that could afford to indulge its cossetted offspring, but from a family that actually had to live off her earnings from her beachcombing finds.

Sticker Activity: Fantastic Fossils

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Packed with over 250 easy-peel, re-usable full-colour stickers, this inexpensive book costing less than £4 takes you around the world to unearth the weird and wonderful creatures of the past and offers lots of fun activities. Become a fossil hunter: discover the most famous fossil finds, put together an Ichthyosaur, build a museum exhibit, match the fossil to the animal, go collecting fossils and put them on display. This is a book I’d recommend buying in conjunction with the story of Mary Anning featured above.

 Big Top Burning by Laura A Woollett (pub 15 June 2015)

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Big Top Burning investigates the 1944 Hartford circus fire and invites readers to take part in a critical evaluation of the evidence, helping develop their ability to pay attention and detect from the evidence presented. On July 6, 1944, thousands of fans made their way to Barbour Street in Hartford, Connecticut, to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus performance. Not long after the start, a fire broke out and spread as panicked circus-goers scrambled to escape. Within 10 minutes the entire big top had burned to the ground, and 167 people died. The book recounts the true story and follows the tragic stories of the Cook family—including children Donald, Eleanor, and Edward, who were in the audience that day—and 15-year-old Robert Segee, a circus employee with an incendiary past. Drawing on primary sources and interviews with survivors, author Laura Woollett guides readers through several decades of investigations and asks, Was the unidentified body of a little girl nicknamed “Little Miss 1565” Eleanor Cook? Was the fire itself an act of arson—and did Robert Segee set it? Young readers are invited to evaluate the evidence and draw their own conclusions. Combining a gripping disaster story, an ongoing detective and forensics saga, and vivid details about life in World War II–era America, Big Top Burning is sure to intrigue any history or real-life mystery fan.

The Growing Up Book for Boys: what boys on the autism spectrum need to know! by David Hartman

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The Growing Up Book for Boys explains the facts behind the growth spurts, body changes and mood swings of adolescence for boys aged 9-14 on the autism spectrum, a time which can be very confusing for all adolesecents. Using direct literal language and cool colour illustrations, this book tells boys all they need to know about growing hair in new places, shaving, wet dreams and unexpected erections. It’s full of great advice on what makes a real friend, how to keep spots away, and how to stay safe online. Most importantly, it explains that every body is amazing and unique and encourages young boys with autism to celebrate difference!

The Black Dog Mystery by Ellery Quenn Jr

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A gang of young sleuths and a trusty terrier put their noses to a bank robbers’ trail in this adventure packed with thrills, danger and suspense.  Ellery Queen’s young apprentice, Djuna, is preparing for an afternoon of fishing when a stranger leans out of his car window and asks for directions to Canada. A few minutes later, Djuna watches as the man’s friends come running out of the local bank and into the getaway car, guns blazing, before taking off for the Canadian border. It is a mystery that could baffle even Djuna’s famous boss, but with the help of a ferocious black Scottie named Champ and a few crime-solving friends, he will find the culprits. It will be the greatest adventure of his life.

The Hungry Toilet by Jason Hall

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Not a new release but who cares when a book is so witty and perfect for scatologically inclined children?  There’s rhymes, gruesome-ness and a few questions at the end plus a mystery to ponder…There is a mystery surrounding Cresington Town. People are going missing and no one knows how or why. Your will meet some fantastic and hilarious characters on your way to solving the mystery. Includes the bonus story – Going on a Bat Hunt.  The Hungry Toilet is a Top 10 Best Selling book with the author being described as the “New Roald Dahl of Rhyming.” If your children enjoy Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and David Walliams they will love this book too!

Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss

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Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is a wonderfully wise and joyous ode to finding one’s path through the maze of life. In celebration of its 20th anniversary, this classic bestseller has been transformed into a popup book by master paper engineer David A. Carter. Filled with glorious pop-ups, detailed pop-up booklets, special effects, and the complete original text, this classic bursts with vibrant new energy. It’s the perfect gift for kids of all ages, and an ideal gift for anyone starting out on a new adventure- why not buy for a child embarking on his first overnight school trip or as preparation for a first holiday?

Kids Made Modern by Todd Oldham

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Fashion designer Todd brings us a thoroughly up to date take on children’s crafts books, weaving in examples of grest design such as Mid-Century Modern as a point of inspiration. Packed with craft ideas such as decoupage, the book assumes that no child is too young to have their own aesthetic. Crafts are integrated with a first rate modern art education but kids can shoot straight to crafting if that doesn’t interest them so much.

Cool Daddy Rat by Kristyn Crow

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Bursting with potential for parental scat accompaniment, in this divinely cool story a young rat hides in his father’s bass case and tags along as he plays and scats around the big city. A celebration of NYC, of fatherhood and jazz,  the lively rhythmic text is perfect for young kids and fabulous illustrations give that cool cat (or rat!) feel that lends itself so well to the slow winding down that a bedtime should be. Accompanied by some slow bluesy jazz, what better way to send them off to sleep?

Five Wounds by Katharine Edgar

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I recently interviewed the author for The Bury Spy books page and having read this wonderful book, I came away feeling educated and entertained,  Young readers will find the books sixteen year old heroine, Nan, a relatable character and one who offers an important alternative to some of the inane role models they are currently exposed to. Fans of books such as ‘The Hunger Games’ with its dominant female heroine will also find interesting parallels in Nan- parallels that transcend time and remind us that human emotions and motivations have remained fairly constant. It is 1536. The north of England has boiled over into rebellion against Henry VIII. Sixteen year old Nan Ellerton must choose – help the rebels, even though it could mean paying the brutal penalty for treason, or betray her beliefs and risk eternal damnation. A stunning historical novel for teenagers from debut author Katharine Edgar, Five Wounds tells a story of adventure, passion and courage, set against the background of the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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This was hugely popular in the sixties and has stood the test of time as a wacky tale of childhood boredom and a boy who ends up in a fantasy land of words and numbers. It operates as both corrective to and depiction of adult boredom and through alliterative rhyme and gentle wit, it encourages readers to reconnect with the wonders that exist in our world.

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For those of you reading this in Suffolk and Norfolk and surrounding counties, here are a selection of local book shops who, if they don’t stock these books, will be happy to order them in. Shop local, shop in real time as there’s nothing like stepping through the door of a book shop.

Harris & Harris books, Clare

Landers Books in Long Melford

Kestrel Bookshop in Friars St, Sudbury (no website)

Ketts Community Bookshop in Wymondham

The Holt Bookshop

Aldeburgh Bookshop

Waterstones in The Arc, Bury St Eds (and there is also a Buttermarket branch too with cafe)

Norfolk Children’s Book Centre

Jarrold Books, Norwich

Book Hive, Norwich

Beccles Books

Topping Books, Ely

Bertram A Watts, Sheringham

Diss Publishing Bookshop 

Browsers, Woodbridge

Heffers, Cambridge

The Angel Bookshop, Cambridge (no website)

 

 

 

Libraries helped to build this girl

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Photo by Jan Willemsen, by permission- Flickr commons

I have a lot of books. In piles by the bed and underneath it, lining the book cases and shelves that in turn line the narrow upstairs passages of our late Victorian home. They are stacked by easy chairs, ready to soothe and transport an uneasy mind, slotted into gaps between kitchen units and propped up on bathroom radiators. They fill the cellar, lay in wait on stairs, accompanying me up and down them from the moment I leave my bed in the morning, stumbling and heavy lidded until they return upstairs to accompany my slide into sleep. I have read many of these books but many more await me, making me worry that I will run out before the books do – all that great writing published after I shuffle off this mortal coil that I will never get to read.

Schopenhauer said, over one hundred and fifty years ago, ‘It would be a good thing to buy books if one could also buy the time to read them: but one usually confuses the purchase of books with the acquisition of their contents.’ Sadly the last few years have been marked by an increasing lack of time to sit and read and I resent it, I truly do. If books build a person does that mean that my busy-ness has caused my construction to come to a temporary halt? Will I slip into a slow autophagy, a gentle and gentile decline in the manner of a stately home without National Trust guardianship unless I maintain an unspecified quota of books read?

I have always identified myself first and foremost as a bookworm from a very young age. A sticker on the front of a book I pulled from a shelf in the town library showed a pale young girl, eyes huge behind owlish glasses, her open book illuminated by the glow worm sitting on her shoulder. She sat late at night, the bedclothes tented over her head, (a nylon blanket and wincyette sheet set no doubt), reading in defiance of her parents who probably wondered why she took so long to rouse of a morning. I had found a graphic rendition of my own bookish existence at the age of eight and although my sheets have a much better thread count these days, I haven’t really changed all that much. The bedpost on my husbands side of the bed is festooned with a selection of eyemasks to better enable him able to cope with my late night reading.

Henry James may have referred to the city of Florence’s ‘many memoried streets’ but for me, Sudbury library with its separate children’s library and galleried upper floor containing the ‘big books’- encyclopedias and reference, is my street of memories. I started in the children’s area then ventured out into the wider spaces of this cavernous former corn exchange on the Market Hill. Tall, slightly dusty and echoing as a ‘proper’ library should, walking around here was, to me, as important as the hidden and darker corners of European cities, a surprise that taught you something around every corner and to a small child, as big and safe a city as they could ever need.

And if you are a bookworm, a library is the only way you can satisfy that intense hunger for books and choice because to buy all the books that I wanted to, and indeed did read, would have cost a small fortune. For children worldwide, the library is the place where their background and their income is irrelevant. Back in the early seventies, Sudbury had several independent book shops on Gainsborough and Friars street with fine collections of books but if, like me, you could read a Roald Dahl in three hours, the cost would soon become prohibitive. The desire to explore subjects and authors unknown was also inhibited by the risk of spending pocket money on a book that may turn out to be a dud and the comprehensive encyclopedias were completely financially out of reach. For children and families not born into stately homes with their own libraries, the ones in our towns are a fine substitute with the advantage of staff trained to guide children towards books best suited.

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Illustration by Chas Robinson via Flickr Commons

Before Sudbury library, there was the one in my junior school in Mexico where I started, aged four in the first year, the only English girl and the only blonde in a sea of inky black haired locals. Their library contained shelves edged with strips of onyx, lined with imported Jane and Peter books from the USA, classics such as the Phantom Tollbooth and Harold and His Big Purple Crayon (the latter went on to become a life long favourite of mine) alongside books of the saints and martyrs which terrified me. At the school library entrance stood a lurid plaster statue of Mary the Virgin pointing to her exposed and bleeding heart past which I scuttled on my way to the books. I learned to avoid the stories of saints, broken by torture and other terrible fates for as the only non Catholic in the school, the promise of eternal reward did not sit as comfortably on my shoulders and I grew impatient with their motivation. Instead I cajoled the library assistant into sharing her comic books and learned to speak Mexican Spanish via Yogi Bear, Speedy Gonzales and Porky Pig. I sat on her lap, ate bread dipped in milk caramel, read my books and tolerated her plaiting and replaiting my locks- she had never seen white blonde ringlets before.

From the library of another country to the one in my English high school: a place so alluring that aged fifteen, on being asked to write out the games lesson register at the start of the Autumn school year, I simply left my name off it and enjoyed a blissful year tucked away behind the shelves, reading for that double period instead of freezing my ass off on the hockey field. Nobody noticed me there, not least the school librarian who had developed the habit of walling herself behind stacks of returned books and only emerging if she absolutely had to. I read ‘Heart of Darkness’ with old copies of National Geographic on my knee, the glossy photos of old Congo and the Ivory Coast and Algeria acting as back up for my over worked imagination. I read ‘Sons and Lovers’ and ‘The Waves’ and Plath’s ‘Ariel’ and came up against race and class, mental illness and structural inequality all in one cold Winter term, my back pressed against a radiator, its paint thick and smelling of hot dust as it heated up.

I moved to the countryside as a young adult and had my first child where the long distances to the nearest town coupled with the pre internet age meant the mobile library van was a safeguard against losing my enquiring mind. Or rather it was the lack of opportunity to have my enquiries answered that was the threat then. A librarian prepared to ignore the ten books maximum rule, careful cross referencing of the Times and Guardian book review pages followed by the ordering of the books reviewed, ensured I retained my sense of being a participant in a world that was moving so fast I worried about dropping off. Staggering across the green to the giant orange library bus parked up against the kerb – squalling baby under one arm, carrier bags full of books in both hands then that journey reversed, back home, ‘Please, please sleep baby’ and my excitement that an ordered book had arrived.

A move to London meant an embarrassment of library and bookshop riches. The British Library- hallowed halls but nothing, absolutely nothing in comparison emotionally to the libraries that came before. Libraries that, when I moved back to Suffolk, became the same home from home for my now two children, books borrowed by them then purchased by me because they despaired at the thought of their return for some other child to enjoy. Using the online ordering service at Bury St Edmunds Library to locate the niche, and my particular love, kitschy American cook books then using it to order books for the children and they, in turn, learning patience and delayed gratification through this. It is never just about a ‘book’. My then training as a mental health professional and a post grad in health promotion in part belonged to the libraries of Suffolk (and the local hospital library) – the patient trawling of their staff through computerised lists of elusive and niche books to keep my studies going in the small hours, my children asleep and me nearly so, nose touching pages and pages of close type.

For a happy life, Montaigne wrote, we “should set aside a room, just for ourselves, at the back of the shop” and so I have. Mine is lined with books, their spines colourful or tastefully subtle, some with deckled page edges, others smoothly uniform: a psychological  ISBN in my head that helps me make decisions or defer them; helps me cope and understand and interpret; long for, settle or decide to avoid. That room in my head has been stocked with the help of our nation’s libraries and it will be a tragedy if, in the future, cuts to library services mean that generations of children grow up with their own bookshelves depleted- the ones in their heads and the rather more literal kind.

I’ll leave the last word to E.B White:

“A library is many things,” E.B. White once wrote in a letter to the children of a small town to inspire them to fall in love with their library. “But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books… Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had.”

Further information on East Anglian library services and Bookstart-

The Suffolk Library Service

The Norfolk Library Service

The Suffolk Book League

Bookstart Suffolk

Bookstart Packs