A few days ago, before I ended up languishing in an NHS hospital bed, the Monkey and I spent a lazy Saturday reading and having fun. The monkey’s fun of choice was me reading the Enchanted Wood to her and her reading assorted Biff, Chip and Kipper tales to me. There may have been a bit of snoozing, too…
The Monkey has it bad for The Magic Faraway Tree.
After a bumpy start in her Reception class, she’s settled back down and is adapting to the new school regime. Or maybe its the combination of threats/ bribery that are working. Who cares?
So I was a bit surprised when I collected her from my mother’s, last night, only to be told that she’d been grumpy again when her grandmother met her at the school gates. “I don’t want you to collect me, I want mummy to get me.”
I tried to have a firm but fair word with her about speaking like this to nanny – as well as trying to get to the bottom of what is wrong and why she doesn’t want nanny to get her.
“Because I wanted to come home and read The Faraway Tree with you, mummy.”
Be very, very careful what you set out to achieve and how you wish to measure success…
After another pregnancy-enforced hiatus, for which I apologise profusely, such a momentous thing has happened that even I must abandon my self-enforced ban on blogging when I should be sleeping and get on here to record it.
In the midst of what’s been a bit of a torrid time, the Monkey has started school and – although this has been trickier than I expected it would be, given she attended nursery there and has made great friendships – she has still made some astounding progress. On Friday, she came home with her first reading book, Hide and Seek, and despite her recent, surprising and upsetting proclamation “I’m never going to learn to read,” when I purposefully left the book on the kitchen table, she picked it up and softly began to read it to me. I knew she could, because of the work we’ve done together and the words she can spell in her head and read aloud, when of a mind to do so, but lately she has become more and more determined not to engage with us if she could tell “trying to encourage your child to read” activities were afoot. We felt that, underneath this, was a worry that, if she could read for herself, that we would stop our nightly story time with her. Despite reassurances to the contrary, the monkey has become more and more aware and resistant to any efforts of ours to practice her reading.
Her teacher had had great progress with her that day and so I was curious to know how we would get on with reading at home. Not our story-sharing-at-bedtime, but our school homework of encouraging her to read the schoolbook she has come home with. Hence my decision to leave the book in plain sight and leave it to her to make the first move.
She read every page (somewhat missing in plot and character development, I felt) and only struggled on the word Dad, which she spelled out phonetically and got it straight away… Then. she reread the book aloud over and over and over in obvious glee. I was completely thrilled – she has only been back at school for 9 days! Because of her recent reticence to try and read aloud for herself (even though we knew she could), we decided to reward her amazing achievement with some Lego.
Result? One thrilled little girl.
Because of my own physical and mental absence, the monkey has not been reacting positively to me at all which is always a flag that I’ve not been there for her as I should have. So I’ve taken over bedtime duties for a while and we are reading Up the Far Away Tree, my favourite childhood book. I’ve told her it was my favourite book as a child too, and every night she is completely wrapped up in the story, wanting the next chapter and wide eyes at its guile and it’s charm. It’s helped me find a way to reconnect with her again, to share part of my story with her and to show her just how much I love her.
This day has also reminded me, yet again that, just when you feel stuck as a parent or your child has hit a behavioural or developmental hurdle, to just hang on, encourage, be patient, stop pushing, keep loving. They get there.
And here’s what we chunked through at Library of Birmingham. We’d still be there now if we hadn’t insisted on leaving…
Since finishing Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, I’ve struggled to start let alone finish anything else. Its protagonist, Theo, so completely occupied me that I’ve not been quite ready to let him go as yet.
The weekend has helped galvanise me, though, like a lost love, to move on!
We took the Monkey to Birmingham to
watch a stage adaptation of The Gruffalo and in truth the weather was so dire, I was so preoccupied and weighed down by third trimester aches and pains and modern-day todo list angst, that I was truly wondering whether we should just bench the whole thing. I’d booked the tickets six months ago. Now, my daughter is at the gate, leaving the Gruffalo behind, or so I thought.
How wrong I was – what a funny, knowing, engaging performance. I laughed a lot and actually ended up with the Gruffalo’s Madness-esque song stuck in my head for a few days afterwards. Monkey face loved it and got stuck in with the audience participation. Of course she did.
I only marvel at how empty these Midlands touring performances are and his lucky we are to have bagged front row tickets to our last four outings with relative ease. In London it’s a battle to even get tickets to such things.
Afterwards, the monkey really wanted to go inside the modern wonder that us Birmingham library and my heart was glad that once she’d finished messing about on the escalators that made me feel like I was in a West End super club trying to score, she was very keen to explore the children’s section, in the basement.
We spent about 90 minutes, with a lot of other parents, relaxing and reading in the super comfortable chairs.
What a place! For the first time since moving, in a climate where we had to battle to keep our London Carnegie Library open against the slash of Lewisham council’s budget, I felt incredibly proud of where I now live. To not only retain a library, but to push forward with such an amazing, modernist and enlightened space that makes grown adults want to be there, to join, to play… I am in awe of Birmingham’s world class space and commitment to learning and the future. I left feeling renewed and inspired for the remainder of what was to be a very special weekend.
Now just to choose another book…
3 years since I started this blog, it’s hard to believe that the baby with whom I struggled to share books insists on reading together, morning and night and is taking her own first steps into reading and spelling as she prepares to start school in two weeks’ time.
For children of this age, the familiar is still preferred. And so, newly purchased books often languish on the shelf, making a blog about your shared book experiences either venture into the personal impact or the deeply mundane. Yes. We ARE still reading Mr Men books. Every day. Care to read about it?
However, my dear friend who teaches would-be teachers how to teach art, asked me a classic question, yesterday. What would be my top 5 illustrated children’s books, where the illustrations work magnificently with the text? The fact that so many of them are classics or have been in our possession for quite a long time made me decide I’d best step it up.
Here they are, in order only of recollection:
1. Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman and Dave McLean
2. The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schaeffler
3. The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers (in fact, anything by Oliver Jeffers)
4. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
5. Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen
6. Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski – I can’t count…
What are yours?
A wonderful day, here, at bookandbed towers. The sun beat down, the monkey played with her erstwhile classmates in the park and I realised just how much she’s growing up and -slowly – away in the process and she’d a few tears.
When we got home we did some girlie things and cuddled whilst she will still
let me. And at bedtime we read a book that we have had since I first started blogging, but have never read: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave Mckean.
It’s funny, acutely observed and of course ridiculous. We loved it, shared jokes about who we would and wouldn’t swap for two goldfish (nobody) and who we would swap for two rabbits (a boy at school whom she doesn’t like. How sad.)
Ending this lovely day by reading a new, great, long-awaited story with giggles and cuddles. So very special.
Today is my daughter’s last day of her nursery school.
It’s a portentous day – already more goodbyes, so soon after our last gut-wrenching move – but she seems to be taking it in her stride, rather more so than her mother, as is often the way of kids.
As I was rushing about, sorting out the things I realise I’ve forgotten to sort out, my daughter had bought a book down to breakfast. Significantly, she’s selected one of my favourite books: The Snail and the Whale.
I’m listening to mrbookandbed read this wonderful buoyant story to her with an enormous lump in my throat:
“And they sang to the sea as they all set sail
On the tail of the grey-blue humped-back whale.”
Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye …
A half-hearted bookandbed book effort, tonight, due to a tsunami of slackness.
We arrived late to collect the monkey from my mum, then hung out chatting, messing about together when we got in. And THEN, I capitulated and let her watch Wreck It Ralph. I know, I know! And thus, forty minutes late to bed… She was happy and hyper and took an age to calm down. Reading her choice of Mr Funny didn’t help much either. Much feigned hilarity at Mr Funny’s shoe-driving and toast-drinking, but how lovely to hear her laughing and messing about.
Encouraging her to sound-out words and figure out what they are is always difficult, because she knows most of her books so well, she knows what the word is supposed to be. So I changed tack. When Mr Funny arrives at the signpost, he decides to go to the zoo. “Can you guess which word says zoo on the sign?” I asked. And, quick as you like, the monkey pointed out the word ZOO. “How do you know that says zoo?” I asked her. “Because it says ZUH-OOO-OO” she retorted, as though I were some kind of illiterate. But what a thrill. ZOO!
Then came the inevitable drawn-out goodnights and she kept calling me back. “I’ve forgotten something.” Oh really? “Yes. I’m growing love for the baby. So when I kiss you, I’m giving you love that you can give to the baby. So, whenever you have a day when you don’t have any love left, just tell me and I’ll give you some. I’m a love shop.” I promise I’ve never played her any B-52s tracks.
On the anniversary of my first blog post, an unbelievable 3 years ago, I can’t believe how far we’ve come.
From our flat, with an infant child, desperately (so it seemed) trying to get back on top of our world, plans and dreams, simultaneously trying to make sense of possibly the world’s most complicated, convoluted company was the oddest, craziest trip. It felt like riding an out of control juggernaut. A kind of Emperor’s New Clothes situation, seeing things as they were and trying to find the courage to be and do what I knew was right. It was terrifying yet the making of me, thanks to the gorgeous people I was thrown into the mix with and the people I already had by my side.
Because of them, because of it, we are who and where we are now and we’ve made the dreams we had back then, that seemed further away than ever, come true.
In the midst of all of this institutional lunacy, and my own temporary loss of sanity, I had an infant I was trying to help learn to love books. An old work contact made a comment that I really SHOULD actually blog instead of talking about it. It became a place where I could start to make sense of the things that mattered to me in my life at the time. It was the beginning of starting to sort my feelings and make sound decisions. It also made me focus on my own reading, as well as that done with my daughter, which gave me some space and peace and sanctuary.
That situation and this blog gave me so much. Sometimes you have to just have to let go. Reading and writing helped me let go long enough to rest, so that I could get back on, on my own terms.