Happy 2019!

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Happy new year, readers and fellow bloggers!

I hope you all had a good break and got plenty of reading done. My holiday was a rather different one this year. Straight after Christmas I was with family in East Anglia, so there was very little reading time. We then went on a family skiing trip to a very beautiful and very snowy Austria for New Year. (We love skiing, but I am always relieved when we all come home injury-free!)

It was probably our best family ski trip ever, in an area we have never previously visited, Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis in the South Tirol. There were very few British accents to be heard and fellow skiers were overwhelmingly Austrian, German or Dutch so it seemed to us to be well-kept secret. It was stunningly beautiful and we enjoyed the unusually bountiful snowfall, even if that caused us some problems getting back home.

the overstory imgDespite being outside skiing all day I did get a fair bit of reading done and managed finally to break the back of a book I have been reading for some time now – The Overstory by Richard Powers, the final one of the Man Booker Shortlist 2018. It’s a wonderful and brilliant novel, but it’s very long and quite hard work. The prose is a joy so much so that you simply have to read every word, which makes it doubly time-consuming. So, it was the perfect holiday choice. I’ve still not quite finished!

 

 

becoming imgOver the holiday I also completed Michelle Obama’s Becoming. This is a much faster read and very different, though also thoroughly enjoyable. Look out for my reviews of both books over the next couple of weeks.

I’ve been putting some thought into my reading plans for 2019 this last few days and have just launched this year’s Facebook Reading Challenge. If you’d like to join us do pop over to the page to have a look at the list of themes for the year. The title for January is Beryl Bainbridge’s The Bottle Factory Outing, which I gather is very funny so I’m looking forward to starting it.

 

I’m also planning to visit the Hay Festival again this year, which I attended for the first time in 2018. I loved it so much that I now intend to make it a regular part of my annual calendar. I am lucky enough to live in Manchester where we have a fantastic literary festival every Autumn. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make any of the events last year (the speakers I wanted to see all sold out very quickly so I need to be more on the ball this time) so that will also be a priority for 2019.

My other big goal this year is to attempt to get my own book published. I’ve been working on it for about 18 months now and finally finished the revisions to my second  draft in December. I feel it’s now time to put it in front of someone else for feedback – a terrifying prospect, but a necessary one. I feel sick even thinking about it!

I hope the year ahead will be joyfully book-filled. What a wonderful hobby we share!

What are your literary plans for 2019?

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All your literary Christmas viewing right here!

Apologies to overseas readers of this blog, this is very much a UK-focused post.  It’s the shortest day today, the winter solstice, but the hours of darkness remain long for some weeks yet, so I will be spending plenty of time indoors. On winter evenings I love reading, but I also love a bit of telly (just a bit!) – it’s a creative industry and there is some fantastic work out there. I am always on the lookout for literary adaptations. I love to see what Directors do with books and stories, how they draw out the salient events, whether they see the characters in the same way as I do, how they visualise each scene. I also love re-watching some of the classic television adaptations of the past. Apart from the wonderful and vital activity of reading with children, it is generally a solitary hobby so TV and radio can enable you to share the joy with others and can turn it into a family or group experience.

Every year I buy the bumper two-week Christmas edition of the Radio Times and go through it in some detail highlighting shows I want to watch. That sounds a bit sad doesn’t it! I do not enslave myself to the schedules, I just want to make sure I know what’s happening when so I don’t miss something wonderful. I may also choose not to watch as we know many programmes and films come around year after year. Here is my pick of all the literary links I can find in this year’s schedules. I have stuck largely to the free channels.

Family viewing

So much to see!

Plenty of Roald Dahl about: the wonderful film The BFG is on BBC1 on Boxing Day, or on the same day there’s The Witches on ITV. Then there’s the Gene Wilder film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (so different to Johnny Depp) on 30th December on Channel 5.

xmas 18 25For little ones there’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt  on Christmas Eve on Channel 4 (might have to watch that even though mine are now teenagers!). Or the wonderful Paddington movie on 30th December on Channel 4.

Both the classic and new versions of The Jungle Book are on BBC1 this year – the 1967 film on New Year’s Day, and the 2016 version on Christmas Day. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without Mary Poppins on Christmas Eve on BBC1.

Other things you might want to catch are The Snowman (Raymond Briggs) on Channel 4 on Christmas Day, The Railway Children (E Nesbit) on BBC1 on New Year’s Day, Jim Carrey’s The Grinch (Dr Seuss) on ITV on Christmas Eve, the brilliant Robin Williams as Mrs Doubtfire (Anne Fine) on channel 4 on Boxing Day, Watership Down (Richard Adams) on BBC1 on 22 December (tissues at the ready), and Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome) on 2 January on BBC2.

If radio is your thing or if you are travelling, try another Mary Poppins (this time with the wonderful Juliet Stevenson) on Radio 4 Extra on 30 December, or Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology on Radio 4 on Boxing Day.

The Classics

There are always a few adaptations of the classics around at this time of year. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published 175 years ago this week and in its honour you can watch the classic 1951 film Scrooge with Alistair Sim on Channel 5 on Christmas Eve or the 1984 film on Channel 4.

xmas 18 26Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd (one of my favourite Hardy novels) is on BBC2 on 23 December, Jane Austen’s Emma (with Gwyneth Paltrow) is on BBC2 on 28 December, Pride and Prejudice (starring Keira Knightley) is on More4 on Christmas Day, and the brilliant 2011 version of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (the one with Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester) is on BBC1 on 2 January

The big new six-part adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables starts on BBC1 on 30 December, and there’s a film version of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (starring Ben Whishaw), which I wasn’t aware of, on BBC2 on 28 December. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is on ITV1 on 30 December.

Chaucer and Shakespeare

Yes, Geoffrey Chaucer! If like me you’re a fan of Radio 4’s The Archers you’ll be delighted to learn that this year’s Christmas performance of The Canterbury Tales can be heard in full from David and Ruth Archer’s barn in Ambridge on Radio 4 on 29 December.

And for some Shakespeare you can watch Twelfth Night on BBC2, sadly on 23 December and not on 6 January (surely a scheduling oversight!), and Romeo and Juliet on BBC2 on Christmas Eve.

Crime and Thriller

As expected, there is no shortage of Ian Fleming on ITV1 if you’re a James bond fan: Casino Royale on 22 December, Quantum of Solace on Boxing Day, Skyfall on 27 December, and Spectre on New Year’s Eve.

And if Agatha Christie is your thing, there is a bounty of TV for you: the much publicised new series of The ABC Murders (starring John Malkovich as Poirot, and Rupert Grint, aka Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame) starts on BBC1 on Boxing Day. For a real Christie binge, settle down to BBC2 for New Year’s Eve afternoon and watch Peter Ustinov in Death on the Nile (1978), followed directly by Evil Under the Sun (1982). Or to compare and contrast versions of Murder on the Orient Express watch Albert Finney on ITV3 on New Year’s Day, Kenneth Branagh on 22 December on Sky Thriller or David Suchet on ITV3 on 23 December.

Modern

2016-08-06 07.07.14Finally, for something a little more up to date, you could try The Revenant (Michael Punke) on BBC2 on New Year’s Day – brilliant book, brilliant film, brilliant Leonardo di Caprio. The wonderful Dame Maggie Smith in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van, with Alex Jennings as the author, on BBC2 on Christmas Eve. Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi is on E4 on Boxing DayThe film was not as well-received as the book, but watch it to make up your own mind. Finally, the adaptation of the first book of Elena Ferrante’s fantastic Neapolitan Novels My Brilliant Friend is now available as a box set on Now TV and Sky TV. Hope I can watch that one.

 

Hope there is something there that tickles your fancy. This is me signing off for Christmas, so have a good one and I will be back blogging in 2019.

Thank you to all followers of this blog, particularly anyone who has liked or commented on my posts this year. 

Latest films with literary links

I am so excited for the new upcoming Mary Poppins movie, although a little apprehensive too as it was one of the very first films I saw at the cinema as a child with my Mum, and it remains one of my all-time favourites. I’ve seen it countless times. I doubt the new version (or rather sequel, apparently), starring Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda, will be able to live-up to the charm and magic of the original for me, but it has had some decent reviews. And it stars Meryl Streep. It is released in the UK on 21 December, so perfect timing for a Christmas Eve outing or an excuse to leave the house in the days after Christmas.

As ever, I am always on the look-out for literary links to films that are out. They can be a great way of getting kids who may normally be reluctant to pick up a book, back into reading; if they enjoy the movie they will have an incentive to relive the experience through the book and may be able to imagine the scenes more easily. Here is my list of current and forthcoming films that have a literary link.

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The Grinch 

I saw this a few weeks ago with my 12 year old daughter and we both really enjoyed it. It is, of course, based on Dr Seuss’s wonderful How the Grinch Stole Christmas and is currently on general release.

 

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Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald

Needs no introduction, of course. Not exactly based on a book, but written by the awesome J K Rowling, and follow-up to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which she wrote in 2001. I haven’t seen it and it has had mixed reviews, but my 12 year old loved it when she saw it with her friends, and I feel sure it will not disappoint Ms Rowling’s many many fans.

 

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Widows

I am a big fan of Steve McQueen and his latest movie has a fabulous cast, including Viola Davis (The Handmaid’s Tale, Orange is the New Black), Colin Farrell and Liam Neeson. The film is based on the 1980s TV series (left) of the same name (I remember it!), which was of course written by the wonderful actress turned writer Lynda La Plante. The film has a 15 certificate.

xmas film 4It’s a Wonderful Life

This film is showing in a lot of cinemas this Christmas and is the eternal pick-me-up. Another one of my all-time favourites. But did you know it is actually based on a short story called The Greatest Gift by Philip van Doren Stern, published in 1945?

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Disobedience

Definitely one for the grown-ups, this film is set in an Orthodox Jewish community in London, where two women, one who left many years earlier and one who stayed and married the rabbi-to-be, pursue a forbidden affair. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman. I’ve seen it and it’s great.

 

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Finally, this PG-rated movie has had some solid reviews and is of course based on the Marvel Comics hero of the same name. Spider-Man is not just your average super-hero, though. He is a complex and troubled character and these traits can often be explored more thoroughly on the page than on the screen. If your kids love the movie, you could also look out for the graphic novels, of which there are many.

Later this week I’ll be poring over the Christmas broadcasting schedules, flagging up the literary links for you.

In the meantime enjoy these final frantic days!.

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Gift ideas for book lovers

With Christmas now less than two weeks away, I’m starting to get that ever so slightly panicky feeling. I think that people generally divide into two types: those who are incredibly organised, start early and finish most of their Christmas shopping by Black Friday; and those of us who can’t even think about it until the first window on the Advent calendar is open (at the earliest!) and then get it all done in a frenzy in the last week or so. I am in the latter category. If that’s you too, then you might still be looking for gift ideas. Last week I posted three blogs of book recommendations for children and adults, but I recognise that it’s not always easy to choose a book for someone else.

So, if you know a book lover, but can’t necessarily predict what they might like, here are a few ideas for you.

Bookends

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I’ve seen loads of these this year, and they are great because you can combine two interests that your recipient has, eg bookends in the shape of bikes, dogs, children’s characters and many more. The Literary Gift Company has a great selection.

 

Tote bagsxmas 18 20

I have picked more canvas bags from courses, conferences and open day events than ever I had plastic bags! Most are just cheap advertising and will probably end up in landfill, sadly, but the literary ones I’ve seen are just beautiful. I love the Penguin classics ones which come in a whole range of titles.

 

Stationery

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In my experience, most book lovers are also stationery lovers and list makers. There are some fabulous notebooks with literary covers, notecards, pens and pencils. My blog and websites like Goodreads enable me to keep track of what I’ve read these days, but I still love a reading journal. I love all the notebooks in the Listography range and the literary themed one is great too. Available from the obvious high street outlets and online retailers.

 

Bookmarks

xmas 18 22It’s an expensive time of year and sometimes you just need a little token. Bookmarks are wonderful for popping into a card and can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, can convey a warm message, humour, be beautiful or functional (eg have a reading light on the end!). Go as cheap or as pricey as you want, maybe even make yourself, like these gorgeous watercolour ones from The Hob-bee Hive

 

Games

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Particularly good for kids, for example, there’s a great range of Roald Dahl themed options, such as Matilda playing cards and a game in the Brain Box range. There is also Roald Dahl Monopoly and, for the grown-ups, ‘Bookopoly’.

 

I hope that has given you a few ideas. There is always, of course, the option of a book token, either for a specific store or a National Book Token. Again, great for kids as it will actually get them into the bookshop, browsing and making them think about what they’d like to read.

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Books for Christmas – adults

And finally, that’s the children sorted out with fiction and non-fiction recommendations.  How about some ideas for the grown-ups? Walk into any bookshop at this time of year and you will be spoilt for choice; there are lots of celebrity biographies, cookbooks, beautifully illustrated books featuring plants and animals, compilations, self-help books and gorgeous coffee table books. Many of these can be quite expensive.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed, here are a few ideas.

xmas 18 10Becoming by Michelle Obama

You would have to have been living under a rock these last few weeks to have missed the publication of this! I wouldn’t normally recommend a celeb biography, but I can’t not. If it’s a bit big or a bit pricey, you could instead try the Pocket Michelle Wisdom which I spotted in Foyle’s in Birmingham last week.

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A Keeper by Graham Norton

I loved Graham’s first novel Holding and I’ve read some good reviews of this one too. I hope Santa brings it for me!

 

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Normal People by Sally Rooney

Recently announced as the Waterstones book of the year. The story centres on the intense relationship between Marianne, who is young, clever and affluent but shy, and Connell, a likeable boy, but living in the shadows of his family’s poverty and reputation. An unlikely pairing that will have consequences for them both.

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21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

More accessible philosophy from the bestselling author of Sapiens and Homo Deus. In this book Harari focuses on the present and invites us to consider issues such as nuclear weapons, fake news and parenting. With so much debate about the future of our species, this is a must for high-brow dinner party goers.

 

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Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Listened to it, read it, loved it, reviewed it and will be giving it. Fab book about how to survive the challenges of modern life.

 

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Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

For fans of the wonderful BBC series Killing Eve which was screened in the early autumn, here is the book on which the series is based.

 

 

 

xmas 18 14Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi

I have followed Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes in The Guardian for years but have rarely cooked them because they are usually far too complex or involve way too many ingredients. In this, his latest publication, Ottolenghi takes on that criticism and all the recipes in this book are said to be quick to make and contain fewer than ten ingredients, without sacrificing flavour. What’s not to love!

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Vladimir Putin: Life Coach by Rob Sears

Browsed through this in the bookshop and thought it was hilarious. Great little stocking filler.

 

 

 

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Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

This book has been a sensation this year and is a must-read. The author grew up in rural Idaho as part of a survivalist family and was not allowed to go to school until at the age of 17 she took matters into her own hands. She went on to study at Harvard and Cambridge Universities, but at what cost to her relationship with her family? Has won oodles of prizes.

 

 

So, I hope all that gives you food for thought. Would love to hear any recommendations you might have.

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Kids books for Christmas – fiction

Blog number two on book recommendations for the young people in your life…or perhaps the not so young! I read this week that about a third of books sold in the UK are those aimed at the children and young adult market. It seems that the golden age of children’s literature that we are in is prompting adults to turn to kids books as well. I think that’s fantastic. As with so many things in life now, boundaries imposed on us about what we should be/read/wear/do are being constantly challenged.

With so many truly fantastic children’s fiction titles about, it seems rash to pick a handful, but I’m going to anyway! You could pick almost anything for keener readers, including a book token which will be double joy to a book loving kid, so I’ve picked books that I think will have an appeal to those who may be a bit more reluctant. As ever, the age recommendations are fluid, it’s more about emotional maturity and awareness of issues discussed than it is about reading ability. Here are some books that have caught my eye.

Primary school age

Ella on the Outside – Cathy Howe & The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q Rauf

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I’ve grouped these two together since they both deal with the complex issue of childhood friendships and are both about children who find themselves on the ‘outside’. Ella is a new girl at school and is isolated at first, but then finds herself being befriended by the most popular girl in school, whose motives she does not understand. Ahmet is a refugee in The Boy at the Back of the Class and the story is about the challenge of integration and how other children who are at first wary, become interested in his story.

2018-12-03 13.06.51The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator – Matilda Woods

Beautifully illustrated and a magical story about smart, imaginative Oona who dreams of an exciting life at sea, on a voyage of discovery. Perfect for winter bedtime reading.

 

 

 

 

2018-12-03 12.57.28Ladybird Tales of Adventurous Girls 

A collection of short stories, some of which are a retelling of traditional fairy tales, where girls are the heroes who save the day (Gretel and Hansel?). Perfect for challenging some of the stereotypes that abound in fiction for children.

 

 

 

2018-11-30 16.15.43Dog Man Lord of the Fleas – Dav Pilkey

This is the fifth book in the Dog Man series, from the author who brought us Captain Underpants (which was a favourite of my 17 year old when he was younger), a new hero for a new generation. Love these books!

 

 

 

 

2018-12-03 13.06.04Flamingo Boy – Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo needs no introduction, and this is his latest book, published in October. Set in France during World War Two its central character is a young autistic boy. When the Nazis invade he makes a connection with a German soldier who has a son at home the same age.

 

 

 

Late primary/early secondary

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My Mum Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson

Tracy is all grown up and is now a Mum herself. She is a single parent, and is devoted to her daughter. This book will I am sure be a thrill for youngsters who read (or watched) Tracy Beaker when they were younger.

 

 

 

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The Guggenheim Mystery – Robin Stevens

The second mystery to be solved by young sleuth Ted Spark. Whilst in New York visiting his aunt and cousin, Ted has to solve the mystery of a painting stolen from the Guggenheim Museum when Aunt Gloria is accused of the theft. Kids love series, so this is a good one to get them started on.

 

 

 

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The Graveyard Book Graphic Novels – Neil Gaiman

Death, ghosts, an eccentric childhood and a hunt for a murderer! Neil Gaiman’s book was a sensation when it was first published ten years ago. It is great to see it now in graphic novel form, a brilliant medium for reluctant readers, and a genre that has expanded hugely for all age groups in the last couple of years. This book is also available in two volumes if you want something slimmer and/or cheaper.

 

Teens

2018-12-03 12.59.19Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy

This book was published last year, but is set to be released as a film on Netflix next year. Willowdean Dixon is a brilliant heroine who starts a relationship with handsome and popular local lad Bo, whom she never thought could be attracted to her. She is then beset by self-doubt and to overcome she takes part in her town’s beauty pageant, busting all sorts of myths about what is meant by beauty.

 

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Obsidio: The Illuminae Files 3 – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

The third book in the Illuminae Files series, the first and second being Illuminae and Gemina. The books are set 500 years in the future in a dystopian universe, it is about warring factions, survival, has loads of action and is presented in an unconventional style that many teenagers may find a bit more engaging than the traditional chapter format.

 

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Scythe – Neal Shusterman

Another sci-fi novel set in the future where death from disease, crime and war have been eliminated and the only way left to die is to be randomly taken by professional ‘scythes’. Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been chosen as reluctant scythe apprentices who must come to terms with their new roles.

 

 

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I Am Thunder And I Won’t Keep Quiet – Muhammad Khan

Muzna is a young Muslim teenager who starts a relationship with Arif, a handsome and popular boy. However, Muzna learns that Arif has a dark secret and is forced to confront a choice that challenges her integrity and beliefs. This proves very difficult for the girl who is normally very reserved and not used to pushing herself out of the shadows.

 

I would just love to read all of these myself!

If you have any other recommendations, I would love to hear them. Or, if you buy any of these books, I would love to get your feedback.

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Kids books for Christmas – non-fiction

As promised, the first of three blogs this week on book recommendations. Even though my children are now teenagers, they still get a book or two in their stocking – I live in hope! In my experience younger kids are easy – you can just buy them a story or picture in some subject they’re vaguely interested in and they will love it. Older children are not so easy, especially if you don’t know them that well. Having said that, I don’t always get it right for the kids that live with me either! Oh well, it’s ALWAYS worth giving a book, in my view, and you never know, you might even spark a new interest – kids are notorious for sticking with what they know.

So, if you are looking for some ideas for the young people in your life, here are some fab non-fiction titles that I have spotted.

Primary School

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There Are Fish Everywhere – Britte Teckentrup and Katie Haworth

Stunning illustrations, informative, weird and wonderful facts about sea creatures. Beautiful.

 

 

 

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Young, Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present  – Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins

Short biographies of towering figures in Black history, some you will have heard of and some less well-known, but equally important. Boldly illustrated.

 

 

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The Human Body: A Pop up guide to anatomy – Richard Walker and Rachel Caldwell

Anatomical books make very popular gifts and the pop-ups in this one are wonderful. Has the added twist of presenting it from the perspective of a 19th century medical student, so something for those with an interest in history too.

 

Late primary/early secondary

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Code Like a Girl: Rad Tech Projects and Practical Tips  – Miriam Peskowitz

I’m all for a book that busts a gender stereotype – boys can like fashion, girls can like coding.

 

 

 

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Unlock Your Imagination: 250 boredom busters – published by Dorling Kindersley

When you try to peel your children off their devices, how often do you hear them cry “But, I’m bored!”? There is an argument that our kids should be more bored, as this can stimulate creativity. This book may help and many of the activities are short and straightforward, so could be done whilst travelling. Suitable for younger kids too, so good if you have children of different ages to please.

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An Anthology of Intriguing Animals – Ben Hoare

This is a beautiful book, taking a close-up look at 100 animals and their special talents and characteristics. Lovely short chapters with some off the wall facts, and a mix of stunning photographs and illustrations.

 

 

Teens

Many teenagers are happy with adult books, but we all know that they can also have some very unique and specific needs and interests. Thankfully, the book market in recent years has evolved to cater to this very special group, when interest in books can really fall off a cliff.

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Zen Teen: 40 ways to stay calm when life gets stressful – Tanya Carroll Richardson

This book will be published on 6 December and I’ve already got one on pre-order! Many teens are interested in mindfulness now as a way of managing the pressures in their life, and this can only be a good thing. This title looks as if it will be a worth addition to any teenager’s library.

 

xmas 18 8Cooking Up a Storm: The teen survival cookbook – Sam Stern & Susan Stern

Teenagers love independence and at some point that is going to mean cooking for themselves, so you may as well get them started sooner rather than later. This book dates back to 2014, but is a good one, with real food, and not just the sugary bakes that are often marketed at this age group, and particularly females. Boys need to know how to cook too!

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Would You Rather Randoms: A collection of hilarious hypothetical questions – Clint Hammerstrike

My kids’ favourite dinner table conversation seems to revolve around such questions as would you rather eat the same thing for the rest of your life or never eat the same thing twice???? Hmm. They love it though. This little book could spark some similarly edifying conversation in your household.

 

I hope there is something here that is useful to you. I’d love to hear your suggestions too.

Look out for my fiction recommendations later in the week.

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