24 Nov

BookTrust Digital Advent Calendar!

BookTrust, Britain’s largest reading charity has launched the BookTrust Digital Advent Calendar featuring the very best children’s books that families might want to share this Christmas.

BookTrust Digital Advent Calendar

The BookTrust Digital Advent Calendar is launching very soon, and visitors will also get the chance to win all 24 books featured, and have them delivered in time for Christmas!

The BookTrust team chose the books that they feel children would most love to find under their Christmas tree or in their stocking. The selection, which is aimed at children up to the age of 12, features both classics and new stories and picture books from the very best authors and illustrators.

Each day leading up to Christmas Day, a picture of a specially selected book will appear behind a calendar window, along with the reasons it was chosen.

BookTrust Chief Executive, Diana Gerald, said: “This is good festive fun with a serious edge to it, we know that developing a love of reading brings enormous benefits and is linked to children doing very well at school and living balanced lives.

“Exposing children to fantastic authors and illustrators at a young age will encourage them to enjoy reading so we want to help parents by pointing them in the direction of books their kids will love.”

Included is Matt Haig’s fantastic new story, A Boy Called Christmas, [Canongate] illustrated by Chris Mould. Matt brings his signature wit and warmth to this seasonal chapter-book, which is sure to delight young readers.

A Boy Called Christmas

Another title, this time for younger readers, is Judith Kerr’s picture book, Mog’s Christmas [HarperCollins]. This classic picture book celebrates the joys of preparing for Christmas, although it all seems rather strange from a cat’s point of view!

Also hiding behind one of the windows is a beautiful non-fiction title, Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill [Flying Eye Books]. This marks the 100th anniversary of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, with informative text and a wealth of beautifully detailed coloured pencil drawings.

The calendar also features the nation’s favourite storyteller, Michael Morpurgo, with his new book, An Eagle in the Snow [HarperCollins]. Michael, who is also the BookTrust President, teams up with illustrator Michael Foreman for this short but immersive novel. Based on a true story of a highly decorated World War I soldier, children will love this thought-provoking tale. Another inclusion is the The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton [Walker Books] about Princess Pinecone who wants a warrior horse for her birthday but gets a short, fat, farting pony instead. This is a hilarious book with a feminist message that shows girls can be strong and creative.

The calendar goes live on December 1st, and will be found here:

http://www.booktrust.org.uk/advent-calendar or on Twitter #BookTrustAdvent

23 Nov

Project 365 – Week 47

Sunday 15th November. West Run London day – and it’s probably a good job I couldn’t take my camera with me. A photographer positioned himself in front of H and I and took a picture, never to be shown. Well firstly, we didn’t get the free Fun Run t-shirt everyone had (we got a number, mind) – though I’m hoping that will arrive in the post soon. It was a well-run event with changing rooms (I’ve never seen that before!) and goodies from Wholefoods afterwards too. Our sponsorship total is almost at 100% as well – and H and I ran the whole ONE mile which is quite an achievement for me, and H has never done anything like that before. Next stop Race for Life! Oh, and I’d recommend West Run London – but just make sure you get your t-shirt at the event.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Monday 16th November. Achey. Busy work. The District line has trains like on the Overground – you can get on at the furthest carriage and walk all the way up to the front!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Tuesday 17th November. The latest Okido arrived!

Okido November 2015

Wednesday 18th November. A Lovely album. Played a lot in the office, and I weakened and bought it. I don’t buy albums very often, so they have to be special.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Thursday 19th November – The Elves are in stock at Tiger Stores! Just £1 and much prettier than the ones on a shelf!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Friday 20th November. H got the class bear. We need to make our lives interesting for the next week. Super proud she is Star of the Week (she did well in her maths, she said other kids did more than her, but I pointed out it’s not about comparing herself to others, it’s about doing what her teacher wants her to do and getting it done accurately). So I’m happy with that!

H and clouds

Saturday 21st November. Blogfest 2015! So much to do, so little time. Brilliant content, yummy food, skipped the awards bit (as I didn’t really care) and hung out at the bookshop instead. My phone takes terrible photos, although this one at King’s Cross came out well. Not sure why. I attended the photography session and I’m going to get the DSLR out again and have a proper play, as it has taken a back seat this last year or so.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

15 Nov

Project 365 – Week 46

Sunday 8th November. A calm day after a crazy night before at the local bonfire. I decided I need to wear the clothes I buy rather than keeping them “for best” – so wore my lovely new Seasalt Cornwall skirt. Love it, and a good length for me too.

Seasalt skirt

Monday 9th November. Would I like to try some chocolate which has no sugar? Oh yes please. So I’ve been trying this, at my desk, at work. I’m not sharing, I need to test it properly.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Tuesday 10th November. Completely random – we were left a blank envelope on our doorstep which had this inside – a random act of kindness. I’m thinking about adding the amount to the sponsorship money we’re collecting for the fun run we’ve done, as we’re raising money for the Little Princess Trust. How random and kind though! I have to admit, once I’d got over how nice it was I then got paranoid – that’ll be living in London that does that to you.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Wednesday 11th November. I’ve been given the chance to test a Leafcard via work for £1 for a year – if you’re with someone and eat at one of their partner restaurants, you can get a vegetarian meal for free. So if I use it once I’ve made my money back. Interesting, but we’ll see how we go.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Thursday 12th November. Giant crumpets. So giant I had just the one and felt full. So good though, I do love crumpets. They’re also handy as a quick breakfast when you’re heading out for a fun run (I now speak from experience).

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Friday 13th November. Work is crazy at the moment, to the point I’m getting home and still doing some work. This is all due to our biggest album release (possibly ever) next Friday, and the lead-up to it and where my work kicks in. It has involved sleepless nights and worried days, but it’s worth it. Fortunately I keep my regular hours and work has employed someone to help me out (he was off sick for two days though, so Thursday and Friday wore me out) – so to get home and get a package for H from my mum-in-law was a good break from it all. There is a Christmas shop in Toodyay which is open all year round, and she sent H some things, two of which are here.

Aussie Christmas decorations

Saturday 14th November. Back in March I bought tickets for H and I to see Annie on stage in Wimbledon. She has never seen the stage show, and didn’t know the songs which didn’t feature in the films (until I bought her the soundtrack for her birthday), and I hadn’t seen it on stage since the eighties. We HAD to go. I may have had little tears in my eyes re-living my youth with my daughter, and she loved it. No Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan, we had Lesley Joseph (and I was fine with that) – she was good too, although I couldn’t spot her American accent too often! But she was well suited for the role.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

12 Nov

Aldi Winter Warmers

It is no secret I enjoy drinking a good wine. When Aldi got in touch asking if I’d like to try a bottle from their winter warmers range, I immediately agreed, after all, it’s wine and if I like it I’ll be going back to buy more. So what was the verdict?

Aldi Winter Warmers

Aldi’s new winter warmers range has a fine selection of wine and spirits. I was sent a bottle of white and red to try – and with both coming in at very reasonable prices, I wanted to see how they compared to wines we might buy closer to home around the same price.

I was sent the Vignobles Roussellet Pinot Noir (price £4.39) which is described as a delightful, elegant red with soft smooth flavours of rich red fruits and lush berries. With pinot noir grapes from across france, this wine is perfect with roast lamb.

Now, being a vegetarian I’m not about to try it with lamb, however, I can say this is easily one of the best red wines I’ve drunk in a long time. So much so, that when I went back to buy more I made sure I stocked up on this one for Christmas – it’s divine. You know how sometimes red wine has a certain taste, a heavier one? This feels light and fruity, without being too sweet. I loved it!

I was also sent The Exquisite Collection Gavi (price £5.49) which is produced from the cortese grapes grown around the town of Gavi in the Piemonte wine region. The Exquisite Collection Gavi is refreshing and has aromatic tangy lemon, weighty fruit and a subtle waxy nuttiness. This Italian white wine works well with antipasti, creamy pasta sauces or risotto. It’s a good wine too!

Both wines are available in-store at Aldi now in their Winter Warmers range – although if you’re anywhere near the Coulsdon branch then if there’s a shortage of these two wines, I’m sorry, I got there first…

We were sent the wines for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own!

10 Nov

How to be a Cowboy Activity Book by Alice V. Lickens

There comes a time in a little girl’s life when she needs some help. Sometimes it’s help that mummies and daddies can’t give, even though we try. Sometimes she likes to think she’s independent and doesn’t need us parents. When it comes to being a Cowboy, well, she’s going to need a bit of help, and this wonderful book from Alice V. Lickens is a very good place to start.

How to be a Cowboy by Alice Lickens

How to be a Cowboy is packed with fun illustrations and activities – and is ideal for any aspiring cowboys or girls. Inside you can find a map of Cowboy States, information about what is On The Ranch, and most importantly of all, information about Cowboy Boots.

As the book says, “A cowboy needs a ranch name to be shouted across the prairie. What would yours be?” – and there are plenty to choose from!

How to be a Cowboy by Alice Lickens

How to be a Cowboy also has a page on stetsons, so you know one from another. Add to that a page of stickers and at the back, a dress up cowboy doll, and it’s a fun book packed with information – and one H is really enjoying reading.

how to be a cowboy doll by Alice Lickens

I love the illustrations by Alice V. Lickens – they’re all very clear and bright. We’re familiar with her work, as we have her ‘Can You Dance to the Boogaloo’ book. There are maps (H LOVES maps) and trails, including some Cattle Trails marked out too. Have you ever wondered what each cowboy has job-wise when they’re on the trail? You can find that out in How to be a Cowboy too!

how to be a cowboy stickers

Of course, no cowboy is truly complete without being taught how to speak like a cowboy. Fortunately this book has plenty of phrases, including ‘Jackaroo’ which Shaun says is an Australian Cowboy. See! I’ve learnt something too.

Finally, when you’re at home on the range you need to have some basic meals to cook – and luckily, How to be a Cowboy has four of them you can try. I’m not convinced about Sock Coffee though!

how to be a cowboy food

All in all, the How to be a Cowboy activity book is lots of fun. Published by Pavilion Books, and with a RRP of £9.99, it’s available on 12th November – perfectly timed for any Cowboys who need something to read this Christmas!

Alice V. Lickens is a freelance illustrator, author and designer based in London. She has worked with Lonely Planet, National Trust, Random House, Pavilion Books, Walker Books and The Guardian. Alice is also one of the first illustrators in the UK who was chosen for the Sendak Fellowship, and went to work at Maurice Sendak’s residence in Connecticut in 2012. Her website is here. We also love that her site links to Maggie Li and Frann Preston Gannon – both are favourites of ours here!

We were sent the book for the purpose of review, all opinions are our own. 

08 Nov

Project 365 – Week 45

Sunday 1st November. The last day of the holidays, and a lazy one at that. Plus we were recovering from Halloween, even though we didn’t do very much apart from drink and be tired. H, on the other hand, went trick or treating with her friends and came back with all these sweets. Sigh.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Monday 2nd November. Sorted for the fireworks this Saturday!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Tuesday 3rd November. We got the Call of Dooom from school, H had been sick in class so that’s a straight 48 hour exclusion from her classmates from the last bit of sick. Luckily, the first bit was the last bit, but it meant Shaun took off Wednesday with her and I took off Thursday. So I took this photo to show her Nanna in Australia she was doing fine. Seriously, had she not been so tired, and been sick I wouldn’t have believed she was unwell!

H in bed

Wednesday 4th November. The only photo I took today was of my list of bands I have to check daily at YouTube which I’m not about to post here! So take my word for it that I posted a photo.

Thursday 5th November. H’s elbow and knee pads arrived from China, and they included this in the package which was sweet.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Friday 6th November. I ordered a Himalayan Salt Lamp on Thursday from Salty Lamps, and it arrived the following day – great service, and a lovely glow. I’m hoping it helps with how rubbish I always feel at home, as it’s meant to help clean the air. I always feel at my best when I’m by the sea, and being stuck in South London is too far away from it, for obvious reasons! So we’ll see how we get on.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Saturday 7th November. Fireworks, the annual trip to Carshalton’s display. It actually felt quite uncomfortable this year when they were cheering the guy (called Boris) until he finally burnt. I think I’m overthinking a lot this year! It was still enjoyable, and H got to play with her friends so she was happy (apart from when she wasn’t!). A good night.

Fireworks 2015

04 Nov

An Important Topsy & Tim Update

This was posted on the Topsy & Tim Facebook page this morning – in case you missed it, and it’s relevant for the episode next week (October 11th) ‘Lovely Mossy’

Topsy & Tim on Cbeebies

Mossy Storyline
(Plot Spoiler Alert!)

We can see there has been some speculation about Mossy on the Topsy and Tim facebook page over the past few weeks, therefore we are now confirming, for parents who would like to be forewarned, that we will be covering the death of Mossy in Episode 9 of the current series of Topsy and Tim. Episode 9 titled ‘Lovely Mossy’ is to transmit on Wednesday 11th November at 5pm (and again on Saturday 14th November at 10.45am and 3.40pm).

Also, at the end of Episode 8 titled ‘New Glasses’, Topsy and Tim see Dad head off to the vets to visit Grandma, who’s very worried about Mossy. Episode 8 is to transmit on Wednesday 4th November at 5pm (and again on Saturday 7th November at 10.45am and 3.40pm)

A great deal of consideration has gone into this particular story strand of Topsy and Tim. The current series sets out to reflect a time for the twins when there are many new emotional challenges to overcome as they grow up and settle into Year One at school. Topsy’s visit to hospital and Tim’s poor eyesight and subsequent visit to the optometrist reflect the sorts of challenges children of this age might face. We have been careful to handle these topics, and of course the big challenge of the death of a much loved pet, sensitively and we hope parents and carers will find these episodes useful as their children grow. In particular we hope parents/carers will find the episode Lovely Mossy valuable in helping their children experience, indirectly, the emotions involved in losing a much-loved pet. So if you do have any concerns about your child’s response to this storyline, we recommend you watch or record the episode or watch it on playback first and then watch it together with your child when you feel prepared for any questions they may ask.

This article may also be a useful guide – it’s written by the Blue Cross to help support a child at the time of losing a pet… (https://www.bluecross.org.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/Children%20and%20pet%20loss.pdf)

After Episode 9 ‘Lovely Mossy’, Episode 10 ‘All Change’ (due to transmit on Wednesday 18th November at 5pm, then again Saturday 21st November at 10.45am and 3.40pm) concludes the series with a story, some months later, about other changes in the twins’ lives. There is mention that Mossy has died during this episode.

We hope this information helps.

Source – Mossy Storyline (Plot Spoiler Alert!) We can see there has been some speculation about Mossy on the Topsy and Tim… Posted by Topsy and Tim on Wednesday, 4 November 2015

03 Nov

Professor Murphy Metal Puzzle Set

As Parragon Book Buddies we’re sent a different book every month, targeted at older readers. This month’s book is the Professor Murphy Metal Puzzle Set.

Professor Murphy Metal Puzzle Set box

The Professor Murphy Metal Puzzle Set consists of the kind of puzzles you occasionally find in Christmas Crackers – you know the ones. You have two pieces of metal and you have an objective – to get them to link together in a certain way.

The set also comes with a 16 page booklet explaining how the puzzles are solved, as well as 30 Insanely Baffling Puzzles – and they are too! Some are obvious, and some take a bit of thinking about. Try this one – ‘A man sits by a window reading. No light is switched on in the room, there is no moon outside and he has no torch, lamp or candle, yet he can still see to read – how is this possible? I got this one straight away (phew, I’m not losing my common sense just yet then!).

Professor Murphy Metal Puzzle Set open box

I like that this isn’t just for kids – the puzzles can be just as tricky for an adult, and I have to be honest, I’m the kind of person who ends up going to the solution when it comes to the metal puzzles – and the Professor Murphy Metal Puzzle Set has six of them!

I know this is the kind of activity book I’ll be getting out when I want to make sure H stays off the Wii U or her tablet – I like that it makes you think about things, and that you can recreate some of the puzzles too (the kind where a shape is built from toothpicks, and you have to remove two to create another shape, sort of thing). Definitely one which will be living on the games shelves and will be getting a lot of use!

Professor Murphy Metal Puzzle Set book and shapes

The Professor Murphy Metal Puzzle Set has a RRP of £6.99 and is suitable for age 6 and upwards.

We were sent a copy of the book for the purpose of review, all opinions are our own.

01 Nov

Project 365 – Week 44

Sunday 25th October. H was desperate to ride her bike, so we headed to Beddington Park. Actually, Shaun and H did, and I had a lie down as I felt achey. I drove up there and we stopped in the park for an Ice Cream (as you do in October), H was happy as they had Candyfloss Ice Cream.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Monday 26th October. A Rainbows Bear Hunt day which started well, but soon got a bit chaotic (and scary) when we were evacuated from Centrale in Croydon. Fortunately most girls were just worried, though one was scared. We got back into Build a Bear within 30 minutes, the girls chose their bears (and dog in H’s case) and got on with their party. I love this Princess Leia bear – I’d have bought the costume too, but it had sold out. Obviously popular…

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Tuesday 27th October. We did a daytrip to Dover today to visit Dover Castle. The journey was an hour and a half and clear, once we were parked and inside the castle there was tons to do – including a Ghost Walk suitable for kids which was particularly hilarious when we were stood by the trebuchet and Shaun decided to wander off to a tower which looked interesting, while H and I stood and listened. Just as Shaun was about to enter the tower, an actress dressed as a ghost came running out (as part of the walk) and scared the living daylights out of him. Fortunately I did not see this as I’d have laughed for the rest of the day!! It was an awesome day, a fantastic castle, and we’ve many more to visit now!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Wednesday 28th October . I can’t go for long without buying stuff. At Dover Castle found this excellent book which covers historical people – and has some H is doing at school at the moment. It was selling for £9.99, plus Shaun gets a 15% discount with his CSSC membership at English Heritage shops – and it’s brilliant! A great book, and now H has read up on Guy Fawkes, ready for tomorrow at school. I should also add, our Dyson v6 cordless arrived today – and Shaun, H and I have been fighting over who gets to use it. So far, so good (and so dust-free)!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Thursday 29th October. We headed to London Bridge to The Golden Hinde for a Tudor Fun Day. Lianna had spotted a deal via Little Bird where tickets were £3.50 each, and it was great fun. Mostly for the kids, but adults got involved too. Almost two hours of Tudor-based games and a good laugh, although it took H a while to warm up.

The Golden Hinde at London Bridge

Friday 30th October. A day off doing anything, just relaxing at home. I posted this picture from the day before on Instagram. H is pulling a “Mean Explorer” face.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Saturday 30th October. Halloween, and H is all dressed up. We never did Trick or Treat-ing when I was younger. Actually, that’s a lie – we did it once but my mum got cross and made us take the sweets back, so we never did it again. H does it with her friends and I don’t really know what to do apart from dress her up. Fortunately she didn’t want me to go with her at the last minute (as I wasn’t dressed up and felt a bit fragile), so she headed out dressed like this and had a ball. That’s my kind of night. I stayed in the house and watched the Rugby World Cup Final and tried not to depress Shaun too much.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

27 Oct

My Big Book of Monster Fun

My Big Book of Monster Fun is the latest Parragon Book Buddies book, which we received recently.

My Big Book of Monster Fun

My Big Book of Monster Fun is timed well for Halloween – with lots of monster themed activities such as ‘finish drawing zombies in the graveyard then colour them in’ – H enjoyed that one (she always enjoyed watching me play Plants Vs Zombies, so she knew which colours to do) – and as well as that there are plenty of colouring in pages.

The book is broken up into chapters – Scaredy Boo! which is a 25 page poem – I like it as it’s fun, and H likes it as she enjoys reading poems, so this was a good one for her. After that we have Monster Activities (where the previously mentioned Zombies live), followed by Monster Colouring.

After that, there’s a dinosaur section – T-Rex Terror, a cartoon style story strip, Dinosaur Activities and Dinosaur Colouring. At the end there are answers to the various questions throughout the book.

I did say Halloween, but actually, if your child likes monsters and finds the kinds of activities inside fun, this is definitely the book for them. The poem and comic strip make this targeted for older kids (definitely ones that are reading), whereas the puzzles would definitely work for younger kids.

H loves My Big Book of Monster Fun because she can dip in and out of it, and doesn’t have to do it in order.

I like it because there are word search puzzles and a maze, which are two of H’s favourite things to do puzzle-wise. As the back of the book says, it’s a bumper collection of monster fun!

My Big Book of Monster Fun is available now from all good bookstores, with a RRP of £7.99 – and is available from Amazon here.

We were sent the book for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own!