Imagine if you had access to a machine which could make anything at all. The first thing you get your machine to do is make sweets, of course. A neverending supply of sweets. The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen is a story where this happens. But it wouldn’t be much of a story if it was about a machine that made sweets, so here’s our review.
The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen comes from Scholastic and is out now. In the book we meet eleven year old Olly, who receives a special delivery – a 3D printing machine. There’s a problem though, the machine has stamped on it ‘PROPERTY OF M.O.D and BRITISH SPACE AGENCY. WARNING. DO NOT TAMPER’ which when you’re eleven means you may as well have a go when nobody is around, right?
Even better, it prints anything Olly asks it to. So that’s a constant supply of sweets, a swimming pool for the shed and one other thing that Olly wants – his dad. His parents have separated and his dad moved out of the family home. So Olly with his brother and sister, Stevie and Bird created a Dad-bot.
H enjoyed reading The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen. We received the book when she was ill from school, and she had finished it by the end of the day.
H says “I liked this book because it’s funny but also dramatic.”
I asked her how it was dramatic, what happened?
“Bird tells Olly and Stevie to stop when they’re creating the Dad-bot. She warns them but the boys decide to carry on. She thinks she has added too many wires.”
What about the funny part – which bit did you find funny?
“At one point the Dad-bot ruins Stevie’s room when he asks him to tidy it up – that bit was quite funny!”
Would you recommend The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen to any of your friends?
“It would appeal to 7-10 year olds. I hope there will be more books about the Everything Machine!”
You can follow Ally Kennen over here, or over on Twitter here. This is Ally’s first book for younger readers, as she has written several books for teens – we’re hoping there’ll be more!
We’re part of a blog tour – check out the other reviews. Thank you for letting us join in – H had lots of fun reading the book – and also left a review in her own words over at Toppsta! The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen is available at all good bookstores and Amazon (affiliate link)
Reading Eggs is a website that endeavours to help children to read quickly, in a fun and engaging way.
I’m sure that most parents, of a primary school aged child, will appreciate the pressure that is on children to learn to read. My son, J, started reception in September, unable to read and barely able to write. However, by July, he will be expected to read well and be able to write a sentence or two. Frankly, to me anyway, this is scary stuff.
Now I am a complete bookworm and very keen for my boys to discover how fantastic reading can be. As a result, I had been curious about Reading Eggs but had never gone as far as to try it. I was excited to be given a years free access to the site and the Mega Book Pack to really explore and see what it was all about.
I will be completely honest. J is knackered, and still getting to grips with his full days at school. I will admit to being a little hesitant at giving him more school type things to do in the evening. However, in the name of research, I was willing to give it a go, as long as he wasn’t too tired or resistant.
On browsing the Reading Eggs site, I was very keen to get J on there to see his first impressions. The site itself is very engaging, bright and friendly. As his computer skills are just emerging, it was nice to see that everything is very user friendly and self explanatory. He only needed a little adult guidance in the beginning. Each of the initial levels concentrate on one letter at a time. These letters, and the sounds they make, are studied thoroughly, but not to the point of tedium, before moving onto the next level.
J really enjoyed his time on the Reading Eggs site. He was giggling when the marshmallow mouse came out, at the end of the first level, and at various other things. In the end, we spent a lot longer than we had planned to spend on there. J was very put out when I insisted it was very much time for bed!
After bed time, I came down to find an email from Reading Eggs with suggested homework. The homework focuses on the most recent lessons learnt, and easy ways that this can be supplemented at home.
Two weeks on and he is still hooked. I love the fact that J also has his own personal Avatar for the site. This is something that he really enjoyed making, and he gets excited to see, every time he switches on. J loves Reading Eggs, most days asking ‘can I do my eggs Mummy’ whilst his little brother goes to bed. It’s really nice to spend this time together, knowing that he is learning in a way that is fun to him.
Reading eggs are currently offering a four week free trial to the online subscription. Please click here if you would like to register. Offer is available until the 31st March 2017.
Yesterday we went to a preview of the Lego Batman Movie. Most cinemas are offering a preview screening this weekend. It’s a film we’ve all wanted to see for a while now!
The Lego Batman Movie comes from the same team who created The Lego Movie. As this is one of H’s favourite films it had potential to be a winner again. Generally if H likes a film she’s demanding we buy the DVD as we leave the theatre, and yet again she requested this.
So, what is it all about? Bruce Wayne is at a gala where the new mayor of Gotham is being unveiled, Barbara Gordon. Barbara declares that Gotham no longer needs Batman. He keeps saving the city, but the villains keep coming back, making it the most crime-ridden city ever. She suggests she takes over law enforcement as she is highly trained. Batman is sidelined, but eventually Barbara realises that Gotham needs Batman. She suggests they work as a team.
Batman works alone. He does not work as part of a team. Even his newly adopted son Dick Grayson and Alfred Pennyworth are not a part of his team.
Which is the message in this film. The Lego Batman Movie is about how much you need friends to get things done and work together. Sometimes you might even need your enemies to be a part of that team…
Oh, and what brilliant enemies make an appearance too – I won’t spoil things.
Will Arnett voices Batman again, with voice appearances from Michael Cera as Robin, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth, Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon and Zach Galifianakis as The Joker.
We popped into The Entertainer on the way home as there are Lego Batman Movie characters available in their latest range (£3 each, you don’t know which one you’re getting). Harley Quinn on Lego rollerskates eludes us for now…
So, our final thoughts on the Lego Batman Movie. We loved it! As I said before, H has demanded we buy the DVD when it comes out. Shaun and I were laughing out loud at several bits of the movie – it’s the little background touches. Two Shades of Grey at the Lego Movie (well, there are in Lego aren’t there), and a proper laugh out loud at the number plate on Bruce Wayne’s automobile. There are many things like this which you have to be quick to spot.
It’s a fun, cheeky, daft, hilarious movie with a message and best of all, classed a U so suitable for all. It references many different Batman moments throughout the years too. Oh, and I have to say a fabulous eighties soundtrack and references too.
The Lego Batman Movie gets a big thumbs up from us.
With our Tastecard Plus tickets worked out at £5.75 for adults and child ticket £4.50. We saved around £15 in total which is a great saving.
The Lego Batman movie opens on February 10th 2017. There are advance screenings in most cinemas this weekend. For more info head here.
It’s going to be a brilliant Lego Batman Movie computer game too – can’t wait.
Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond is the first fiction series that Sam Hearn has written and illustrated. We are taking part in a blog tour, here’s our review.
Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond is a story about John Watson starting the Baker Street Academy. While there he meets Sherlock Holmes and Martha Hudson, and the three of them try and solve a mystery.
The story tells through various ways which appealed to H. She liked the comic book illustrations and detective notes. You also read the story through school assignments, media reports and Watson’s blog.
Holmes and Watson go on a school trip to one of London’s top museums which is home to the world’s most famous jewel, the Alpine Star. But, someone has stolen the jewel.
They find the jewel, and the police close the case. Yet Sherlock Holmes isn’t so sure that it should be. John and Martha work with him to try and solve the mystery.
Our copy of Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond arrived on a day H was off sick from school. Until the postie had arrived she had been ambling from one activity to the next, not focused on anything. Since she started reading the book she hasn’t put it down. It’s a winner here.
It’s a nice easy read, and with the pages laid out like they are, it makes it a good attention-grabber. There’s plenty going on inside.
H says “I like that it’s like a comic strip, but also like a book. It’s half comic strip, half book. I like the detail in the pictures and how everything is in a logical way”
I asked her what she means by logical
“so it makes sense” she replied. “I like the blog part too.”
I asked her about the story
“They find the jewel, but it’s a fake. I like how Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and Martha Hudson all realise this and work out how to find the real one.”
I like how the start of the book has a few pages of character introductions. That kind of thing helps me a lot!
In summary, Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond is a good, fun read which she hasn’t put down. H recommends it for 7-10 year olds who like books that have mysteries in them which get solved.
We have one final question. Who is Sam Hearn….?
Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond is published by Scholastic. You can buy it now from all good booksellers, plus of course, Amazon. (affiliate link)
Have you heard of Dobble? We had, and it intrigued me. A card game which was suitable for all, pretty easy to learn how to play, and is down to observational skills. It has been on our wishlist for a while now, and we were lucky to be sent it by Esdevium Games right before Christmas.
Dobble is a really straightforward game. In fact, it’s so straightforward we were playing it within two minutes of opening the tin. The rules are really simple – there are 55 cards. They have eight pictures on them. You turn two cards over at a time, and spot the matching picture.
That might sound easy, but it isn’t – often the pictures are different sizes. Sometimes we’ll play and I’ll spot loads in a row, but then H will spot as many too – it’s a very random but good game.
This is the bit where maths come into it. There are over 50 symbols, there are 55 cards and only one will match per card. No two cards are identical either. With 8 symbols on each card, I’m still trying to get my head around how they manage to do it. It’s really simple and really clever.
H loves Dobble – she played it over Christmas with her cousins, her Nana, her Aunt, her Uncle and of course Shaun and I – and everyone enjoyed it. It’s the simplicity – and that everyone is on the same level.
You can expand on the simple game, and have tournaments. The Dobble instructions have points per image too. We haven’t gone there yet as we’re still having too much fun with the basic game!
There are also other mini games you can play which again we haven’t got to but will. There are five games in total.
I love that it’s a simple, straightforward game that up to 8 people can play. It doesn’t take long to master – it’s like an easier version of snap – you just need to spot the symbols and there will be a match every time. There’s a simplified version for younger children, Dobble Kids.
You can buy Dobble now – it’s available through all good retailers and costs £10.49. Amazon have it here (affiliate link) The link on Esvedium Games is here.
We were sent Dobble to review, it gets a big thumbs up from us and is the kind of game we’ll be buying people for presents this year – it’s a lot of fun!
I have been going to the York Panto since it first started in 1977. There has been one consistent force since then, the actor Berwick Kaler. This is his 38th panto. This year we headed out to see Cinderella at York Theatre Royal.
Cinderella at York Theatre Royal is 2016’s panto. This is the fourth production over many years, and of course is a story we’re all familiar with.
The ingredients for a good panto :
• slapstick. Essential, and must be executed well
• a dash of anarchy in a child-friendly manner
• the obligatory water scene
• a cast who work well together
• plot – not essential, but needs to get where it needs to be
• corpsing. It is acceptable to laugh at anything you weren’t expecting which happens during the panto, especially if you are a castmember
• catchphrases that return every year
• very famous people are NOT essential to make a panto good
I would say if there was a tick box of these essentials, then Cinderella at York Theatre Royal has them all. There has been one big thing missing this year though.
Berwick Kaler, the co-writer and the longest serving Panto dame in the country had a pacemaker fitted back in August. He’s fine now, and is back in this year’s performance. His trusty sidekick Martin Barrass had a horrible motorbike accident in September. He is recovering, but has had to miss this year.
Other regulars are present and correct. David Leonard (long-serving too) is back as the baddie – Baroness von Naff. Suzy Cooper has also done over 20 years at the Theatre Royal, and returns playing Cinderella. Making up the numbers is AJ Powell who takes what would be Barrass’ place alongside Berwick Kaler. They’re the ugly sisters Priscilla and Hernia.
The production starts with a song ‘It’s a Pantomime!’, and Berwick is on stage. I always well up a bit when he stands at the front, and says “me babbies, me bairns”. It gets me every time! I’m not sure when he started saying it, but it’s something which has always been there and that I’ve grown up with.
The story follows the classic Cinderella tale but with a few variations. The ball happens, the glass slipper is lost, and Prince Charming’s love needs to be found. There are references dropped into the show from 2016 – Brexit, Trump, Pokemon are three that I think happened. Pokemon had my nephew laughing out loud.
Cinderella has the usual films which feature in key parts of the show. They don’t disappoint. We get Carpool Karaoke with Suzi Quatro and Berwick Kaler which is good daft fun. Then there’s a Rocky Horror Picture Show tribute featuring Harry Gration. This had me laughing out loud and cheering by the end.
The York Rescue Boat features too. The boat works on the Ouse and Foss and has had a horrible busy year. There is an option to donate to them in the programme too.
There are plenty of references to things around York including the obligatory mention of the suburb Clifton Without. Wagon Wheels feature (we got one!!) and more. No more Newcastle Brown this year for the daddies, they’ve changed the beer!
People travel from all over to see the York Panto. I can’t even try to explain it, it’s bonkers. It’s Cinderella, but not as you know it. You’ll go once and you’ll want to return.
What I love about the York Panto is that it works on every level. We were sat up in the gods where I could hear my mum laughing out loud. Shaun was enjoying it, and I had H and her cousin next to me who were both laughing out loud.
It’s a small production – it runs without understudies. If someone gets injured, the show must go on. I do remember Berwick Kaler getting hurt one year and having to be careful in the water scene the following night. It’s a brilliant production and it’s the same cast, bar the children dancers, every night. It’s a team.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to bring H to the York Panto. Every year when I lived in York or went back for Christmas we would go on Christmas Eve. This year we went the day before, and we’re still talking about it! This might be as H got a shout out by Berwick and the gang during the songsheet section!
Cinderella at York Theatre Royal runs from 8th December 2016 to 28th January 2017. Just go. You won’t regret it. The York Panto always makes The Guardian Top Panto picks every year (possibly as Alf Hickling is an old York lad so he too grew up with it).
Thank you to James the York Theatre Royal Communications Manager for sending me the photos!
Books make the best Christmas presents – and within those books there may be stories for life. I know there are books which have stuck with me to this day, having made a lasting impression when I was young. We received a parcel from Penguin Books with three books inside.
The challenge was to get the three books and wrap them, and give them to someone who would also love them.
I have a bookworm here at home – a seven year old bookworm. She’s fed daily on a dose of books which she seems to devour with little or no fuss. Fruit and vegetables come as an optional extra. So getting three new books and keeping them away from her was a task in itself.
Today is the 5th December, which is a special day in mainland Europe. They give a present for Saint Nicholas Day. So I’ve let H open one of these presents early. I decided that Clare Balding’s debut book ‘The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop’ would be a fun read. H loves horse riding and has had a couple of goes this year. I like that it sounds like a fun story with the horse being the main focus, and getting him to actually gallop.
We also got a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Double Down. I know my nephew loves that series, so that will be one for him. I suspect there may be tears as H has recently declared a love of the Wimpy Kid books. The story is about a mum worried about her boy – Greg Heffley. She worries his brain is turning to mush from watching too many video games. So Greg has a plan to convince his mum that he’s actually a creative soul which he hopes will get his mum off his back.
There is also a Zoe Sugg book – aka Zoella. I have heard of this young lady, though as H isn’t quite in her age range she hasn’t made it into this house. My cousin’s eldest daughter is thirteen and I think this could be a good one for her. Girl Online – Going Solo is about a girl called Penny. Penny makes friends with Posey, and it looks like there’s a charming Scottish boy called Callum in there too. It sounds like a fun teen read anyway – so it’s all ready for her!
If I was to buy a book which was much-loved as I was growing up, then I know what it is. I was OBSESSED by The Famous Five. This was especially due to the 1970s tv series (which I now own on DVD). I think the tv series couldn’t actually adapt the first book as it had a different copyright holder. They touched on it for their first production. I had all the books, and they were all the 1970s TV series covers. But then I grew up. The books were given away… and only one was kept. But I kept it with me – it moved from house to house through the years and is still with me now. Given how H treats my Harry Potter books, she has not yet inherited it – maybe when she’s a bit older. You can quite clearly see the number 1 in the top right hand corner, so I’ve already defaced it a bit in my younger days – and there are scribbles at the back too. It is well-loved!
Ah, The Famous Five. A world which existed full of adventures, buried treasure, caravans, circuses, wrecks, Kirrin Island. Of friendship and being there for each other. Family too. I love that the books are available with new covers by well known artists. We’ve now got her the Box Set for Christmas – The Book People did a good deal. I think we may have to sell the older copies to make some space! H has recently moved on to Malory Towers, and I’m certain I still have all those books hidden away at my mum’s. At this rate she’ll end up owning them before I can find my copies!
H loves reading, and I love that stories I read when I was younger are still in print and loved by my daughter. Maybe her books will in turn be passed on to her children when she’s older?
You can’t beat the gift of reading – these are all stories for life.
The Von Trapp Family A Life of Music is out on DVD, and is available now. It tells the story of the Von Trapp family, who I’m sure most people are familiar with thanks to The Sound of Music.
The Von Trapp Family A Life of Music tells the story of the Von Trapp Family. This time it is from the perspective of eldest daughter Agathe.
You live your life, and your stepmother writes a book about it. The book becomes a film in Germany, which in turn leads to a Rogers and Hammerstein musical. Oh and it’s the most successful musical of all time. The only problem is, you feel like the actual story everyone knows isn’t your story. You feel like your father is a different person. Any problems you had with your stepmother were completely washed over.
You’re not happy.
Agathe Von Trapp, whose life story became The Sound of Music, wrote her own book which is now a movie. This time it’s The Von Trapp Family A Life of Music.
Don’t expect songs and dance and the sights of Salzburg. This is a far more accurate tale of the Von Trapp family story, but will still feel familiar.
Agathe is the second eldest Von Trapp child; the eldest was Rupert as the film swapped the sibling order. The movie starts where you see how close the Von Trapp Family are, and how loving they all are to each other. When their mother dies, Agathe looks after the children. They struggle, so Captain Von Trapp gets help – which is where Maria enters the story.
Following in Julie Andrews’ footsteps is an enormous task. But this time Maria is a part of the story, not the main focus. This is Agathe’s story, growing up in Austria. We see her lose her love of singing when her mother dies, vowing to never sing again, which lasts for many years. We see Austria being taken over by the Nazi’s. There are no mountain escapes here, as the Von Trapp family stayed in Salzburg for a while once the Anschluss happened.
We find out Captain Von Trapp loses his money when helping out a friend (relating to the Wall Street Crash), and they’re all left with nothing. We meet Agathe’s resistance fighter best friend Sigi that she has known since childhood. We see Agathe and Sigi make friends with the famous soprano Lotte Lehmann and how the Von Trapp Family begin singing together, paving the way for their journey to America.
As a fan of The Sound of Music, to see the story from this perspective was interesting. I haven’t read Agathe Von Trapp’s book, but did know a lot of the story having read most of Maria Von Trapp’s books. I will be ordering Agathe’s book now!
I would recommend The Von Trapp Family A Life of Music to anyone who wants to know the real story. There are still some changes – Agathe is still the eldest in this film – it shows why the Von Trapp family left Salzburg and Austria. Oh, and what they left behind too.
I haven’t mentioned the actors yet! Matthew McFadyen is a good Captain Von Trapp, Eliza Bennett plays young Agathe – I thought she was pretty good too. Maria is played by Yvonne Catterfield, a German actress who does a fine job.
The Von Trapp Family A Life of Music is released today, 31st October 2016. It is rated 12. H watched it with us and was fine – the scenes which could be troublesome refer to violence. You can buy the DVD from Amazon (affiliate link) and all good retailers.
It’s half term and H has been busy, as have we. There’s a film that I’m sure you’ve all had flashbacks to, and seen the posters. When we were in France in August we spotted them too – Les Trolls – or rather, The Trolls here.
The Trolls are those dolls that were popular back in the 90’s, though they date back to the 1950’s! Oh, and now there’s the film with tons more merchandise on offer.
We received a Poppy Wig and a Hug Time bracelet – something we didn’t get until we saw the film. See, the Trolls are happy little beings, and every hour it’s…. HUG TIME! They have little wristbands they wear which light up around each other. Oh, and they sing a lot and hug each other lots too. The leader of The Trolls is Poppy, a princess. Her dad is King of the Trolls.
If you’re aware of that catchy little ditty that Justin Timberlake sings, ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ features in the film. There are also several other happy pop classics (even The Gorillaz are in there).
Which leads me to how H reacted to the wig and bracelet, and a spot of Mr Timberlake. After our Frubes post, she was feeling confident with her dance moves, so did a few more.
We found the Poppy Wig was just a tiny bit too small – I managed to tuck H’s hair into a hairband which got it to fit. I’d say if your child has a large head circumference it may be an issue. (H was always in the higher percentiles for this!) The Hug Time wristband fits fine though – and it only makes sense once you’ve seen the film.
On saying that, she sat with her Poppy wig and flicked on the bracelet, announcing “HUG TIME!” and what with her being my bestest girl, I obliged with hugs. It would have been nice if the bracelet had done a bit more but H was happy with it.
The Poppy wig does have that classic style of The Trolls, although we had to work ours a bit – but I think it does suit H!
You can buy the Poppy Wig for £12.99 and the Trolls Hug Time bracelet for £9.99 from Argos.
We received both to review. All opinions are our own.
Recently we went to the launch of the vTech Kidi Superstar. H got to have some singing fun with CeCe Sammy, the famous vocal coach.
The vTech Kidi Superstar is a fun addition to musical toys in your house. It’s a microphone stand, with a console for added activities and effects. Also, you can plug in your iPod or CD player and sing along to your favourite pop songs.
When you’re seven and you think you know all about pop music, it’s one of the most fun toys you can have.
H is growing in confidence the older she gets. When she stood on stage for Jedi Training Academy at Disneyland Paris was a huge moment for me as a parent. She has never been a natural performer, preferring to hide in the background. She’s quite like me in that respect. I get the feeling she’s starting to grow in confidence – and I love that she’s doing this.
The vTech Kidi Superstar has several modes in the main console. You can do some tongue twisters, or even just a spot of beatboxing. There are many different things you can try – and H is enjoying playing around. I love that it’s intuitive so she gets on with it without having to ask for help.
When she had her lesson with CeCe Sammy, it was all about enjoying music. Joining in without knowing the words. Having fun. Feel the music. Don’t feel conscious about it. Again, H got on with it with little or no fuss. It was a special moment to see her doing things and being less self-conscious about herself. Then again, when I was seven or eight I remember singing along with the pop songs on the radio. This is the best feature of the Kidi Superstar.
Plug in your iPod or CD player, and there’s a button you can press which lowers the sound of the vocals of the song. This means you can sing over the top. Which is genius! We’ve found the best results come from a CD, though both are good.
The console can be removed from the microphone stand too, and easily carried around. Handy if you want to do a spot of dancing at the same time as singing.
Since H had her lesson with CeCe Sammy, she doesn’t need to know the words – she can just sing along to the tune. Ohh and she is too – a lot. It is possible the only words she knows in their entirety are for Courtney Barnett’s album… as seen with her ‘Elevator Operator’ rendition. We’ve also been getting ‘Hello’ by Adele, ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ by Justin Timberlake, ‘Lush Life’ by Zara Larsson and most of Madness’s backcatalogue.
One of the fun parts of the Kidi SuperStar is changing the microphone sound. There are five preset modes, with one of them being ‘normal’. Then you’ve ‘higher’, ‘lower’, ‘robot’ and ‘echo’. We like echo… it works quite well with pop songs.
In summary, would we have bought this for H? Before trying it I am not sure we would. Having played with it now I would definitely recommend. It’s a Kids Karaoke Machine and it is building her confidence. Every night after school she is on there singing a different pop song – and we’re having requests to invite friends over so they can have a go too. I think the vTech Kidi Superstar could be a popular toy this Christmas, and it’s loads of fun too!
Here’s a video from CeCe Sammy with some top tips.