Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Picture Books To Blow You Away

My background is in books.  

And Children.

Nothing has changed really, I still love both but my particular area of interest in books is the amazing world of picture books.  The quality of story and illustration available once you scratch the surface quite literally blows me away.

When I wrote this post a few weeks ago about buying toys for children, I mentioned the concept of educating children in beauty.  It is something I believe very strongly.  Children are made of body and soul.  We feed the body as best we can.  Make our own baby purées with locally sourced organic ingredients (Oh Yea :-)), spend hours on end poring over ingredient lists on packages in supermarkets, check out suppliers and sell-by dates and restrict such evils as sugar, salt and MSG.   And rightly so.  Our child's nutrition and bodily needs are important and as parents or grandparents, or carers we naturally want to do our best.  

But what about the soul? I'm sure the souls of children in our culture feel like the Who's, shouting 'We're HERE!! We're HERE!!' But nobody can hear them, nobody really believes they're there.  But believing, or not believing something doesn't make it so.  They are here, those souls of our children, and they need to be fed and nourished even more than those precious bodies.  

People might not agree with me here but I detect a crassness that has slipped gradually into children's culture this last two decades.  Children's TV show characters and presenters seem to shout...all the time...all at the same time.  Even the traditionally beautiful children's movies and animation are often filled with double-entendres designed to enhance the stature of block-buster stars rather than capture the enchantment of childhood. (I'm speaking generally, there are always exceptions to be found.)  The same with children's books.  I love looking back at the history of children's illustration and the work of amazing artists like Mabel Lucie Attwell and Arthur Rackham and how they captured beauty and gentleness and the magical world of the childhood psyche. 
Compare that to what sits on today's bookshop shelves...mass produced, computer generated, sometimes bordering on ugly and mostly quite frankly...boring.  I feel so sad that this is all that's being fed to children's minds.  What goes in is what comes out.  If potty humour, early sexualisation (a blog post for another day) and bland and visually uninspiring artwork is what goes into a child's mind...don't expect to churn out great thinkers and philosophers and lovers of truth and beauty at the other end.  That's what I think anyway...and I think I might be right.

But help is at hand...

...Here I am!!

I have picked the most beautiful children's picture books I have come across, both from my work with books, including being a buyer with a substantial budget to spend as I saw fit.  But even more importantly in my years as a mother trying to feed my children's souls with a beauty which reflects the mind of God.

I think you'll love what I am going to show you.  I was going to divide my selection between two posts as there's a lot but I've decided against that as Christmas is in just two weeks and I really want children to receive some of these books.  In fact, I mentioned that a lot of people in the book industry become collectors of children's picture books...a beautiful picture book can sometimes hit the nail on the head for an adult too.


I can't decide how to order my selection so I think I'll just arrange them randomly.
The number below the title of each book is the ISBN to use to search for it.


In No Particular Order..

...May I Present

A Feast Of Truly Beautiful Books.

All the Places to Love

I still haven't managed to read this book aloud to the end for any of my children. I gave my sister a gift of it and she has the same problem.  Nuff said.


The Crown on Your Head

This book is  quite simply a masterpiece. I particularly recommend it as a gift for a family with a child with special needs, health problems or difficulties of any kind.  It triggers healing tears.

Just watch this trailer:

And check out her other gorgeous books, like this one..


Jan Brett Books

( 0399234772)

A lot of Jan Brett's books have a Scandinavian tone and the artwork is beautifully detailed.

Check out her website here for some really different printable colouring pages and activities.


Badger's Parting Gifts

This is the nicest children's book I've come across that deals with the topic of death, particularly that of an elderly person or that of a person who has had a long illness.  I remember reading it after my own mother died and the piece where the author describes the moment of death is just so perfect.  I like that it acknowledges an afterlife too as a lot of children's books dealing with death addresses only the child's loss with no mention of heaven or life after death.  Watch a reading of the book in Japanese here.


The Lonely Doll

I'll be honest about these books.  When I got these for my girls on the basis of the beautiful photographic illustrations, I became quite haunted by them.  There's a ghost-like mysterious element in them which I'm not sure whether Dare Wright intended.  In fact, Dare Wright herself has an ethereal mysterious beauty.  The stories seem to represent something else...but what? In fact while looking for a picture of one of the books I came across this article from the New York Times which by total coincidence exactly describes my feelings about these books.  Our girls love The Lonely Doll...Louise has decided she's Edith, which doesn't surprise me as she's usually up to the same sort of unintentional mischief as her. I will never throw them out.

I'd definitely recommend these for an adult collector too.



This book came out years and years before the animated TV series.  I think the book is better.


Bubbles Before Bed

One Word:



Goodnight Moon
My favourite read-aloud toddler book.

And if you look carefully you'll see that the pictures on the wall link up with another of Margaret Wise Brown's books:

The Runaway Bunny


The Big Big Sea


'I'll always remember just Mama and me and the night that we walked by the big, big sea'



Where The Sunrise Begins 

It's like falling asleep and having a wonderful dream.


No One But You
( 076363848X)

In fact all of Douglas Wood's books are stunning.  
I think Santa might bring a few more this year.


All The World


Step Gently Out
( 0763656011)

These pictures just speak for themselves..


Angel In The Waters

This is probably the most beautiful child's book I have ever seen depicting life before birth.
It will teach your child the preciousness of unborn life in a gentle and effortless way.

You can read the entire book online at Angel In The Waters website.

It's a perfect girt for a pregnant mother.


And Finally...

...Just for me, because I love his books.

(For adult collectors or slightly older children, 
they might be a bit scary for small children 
because they are pretty surreal and dream-like.)
(except Polar Express, that's for small children too.)

Anything By Chris Van Allsburg

He is an amazing illustrator.


Let me know what you think of my selection...have you any favourites you'd like to add?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

How I Didn't Tell My Husband I Ruined My New Boots

I don't really shop for clothes all that often. It takes time and the need to try on clothes with small children in tow tends to transform retail therapy into an experience probably requiring therapy. As well as that, with eight to feed and clothe there's usually plenty of things with a greater call on my funds than shopping trips for myself.

 I have to say I really find it difficult to pay the money that's asked for decent clothes but I still like half decent  things to wear.  As a result I tend to be a bit of a sales and TKMaxx gal. When I lived at home with lots of sisters I was renowned for arriving home sometime in March wielding my latest bargain which I'd picked up at the tail end of the January sales. Back then I was shaped like a hanger with skin on so I was able to avail of the tiny sized clothes reduced from £100 to 99p.

With a slightly more filled out figure of 'contented spread' I can't find those sort of bargains any more but it still sticks in my craw to splash out on clothes.

Sometimes my husband, who incidentally also loves TKMaxx,  suggests to me that I just go into a proper shop and get something good for myself. I've yet to do that so you can imagine my guilty delight when for my birthday this summer he insisted he buy me these:

They're probably the best item of clothing I've ever owned and when I put them on I felt like Cinderella slipping into her glass slipper.

I could hardly wait for autumn to come to start wearing my beautiful new boots. Every so often I'd peep into the box to admire and savour the new leather smell like a child anticipating her new back to school shoes and then carefully pack them away again.

The first few times I stepped out wearing them I'd put them on just before going out and then to keep them good, I'd change into my older boots when I returned home. I never never wear slippers and only own a pair in case of hospital trips and I never wear bare feet either. My shoes go on in the morning and on they stay till bedtime.

Well about the sixth time my new boots had an outing I returned home a little late with a hungry family to prepare dinner for. I can't remember exactly what I made but there were boiled baby potatoes anyway. When they were almost ready I decided they looked a bit boring so I thought I'd fry up some chopped bacon in garlic butter and oil to toss the potatoes in to spruce them up a bit.

Just as I was about to serve the dinner to the table I happened to look down and to my utter horror saw that my boots were completely splatted with bacony, garlicky, greasy, ugly...splats. The soft un-sealed leather had absorbed every bit of oil and one boot was much worse than the other. They were quite simply ruined.

I felt the blood flow from my face as at that moment I heard a familiar key turn in the latch. Oh No!!! How can I tell him what I've done to his present??

I grabbed my magic phone and ran past as quickly as I could before he opened the door and as he walked in he caught a brief glimpse of my tail end guiltily disappear around the upstairs banister. The poor fellow followed me up to say hello and was met with

'WHY are you FOLLOWING me??!!"


Oh my goodness!! The poor fella! He didn't know what he'd done!

"I'm doing something PRIVATE"

 I managed to rasp, now short of hyperventilating with the shock of my predicament. I ignominiously bundled him out of the room before he could spot IT and once he had safely gone down to the children I grasped my magic phone. Click, click, click What am I going to do?? This site, that site, professional them to the then...a tip which looked manageable. Talcum powder.

Carefully following the instructions I liberally sprinkled baby powder from the tub I'd purchased after the tip I read on this funny post about how good it is for removing sand from skin at the beach (it is), wrapped the boots carefully in a towel and hid them in my wardrobe to be checked four hours later. I nonchalantly returned to the dinner wearing my slippers and continued as though nothing had happened.

Four hours later I slipped away to check my boots, unwrapped them and fluffed away the talcum powder to change. Oh no!! In desperation I repeated the process, this time using much more powder and vigorously massaged it into the stains. Wrapped the boots again and left them overnight.

Next day.. boots were good as new!!

So there you have it. Baby powder will not only remove sand from legs at the beach, not only turn your baby into an aromatic puff will also well and truly remove egg from your face.

I told John about three weeks later. Just for the sake of honesty you know.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gifts For Men Link-Up Party

I absolutely love Hallie Lord's blog Moxie Wife.  Today I'm joining in her link-up party she's hosting in response to the difficult task many women seem to have of buying an interesting gift for that special man in their lives.  I know every year my imagination is stretched to capacity in trying to think of what on earth to give my husband, my father and my father-in-law.

I really can't wait to read the other blog posts and glean a few ideas I can unashamedly pass off as my own. Head on over to join the party here when you're finished here. I don't know whether you'll get much inspiration from me, I hope you do!

~Here Goes~

~In no particular order~

Remote Control Helicopter.

I got this for my husband last year and it really was a great hit! The fact that it was for him and not one of the children's toys made a big difference as it was up to him to master the controls.  He genuinely got a lot of fun from it until it had a little crash during the summer.  I think Santa might repeat himself on this one.  I got it from Hawkin's Bazaar which has been one of my favourite sites for quirky gifts for about ten years now.  If you're buying from them, try and get your hands on their printed catalogue.  The inspiration for the company was the hilarious Ellisdon's Catalogue from the 1930s~1970s and I think they have managed to capture the tone.

Gifts Involving a Hint of Inebriation

~ Julöl ~

When John was a student we were friends with a guy in his year who was Swedish.  He introduced us to lots of culinary delights like the very very stinky but yummy Swedish Raclette cheese and the very fun and sociable way of cooking and eating it at the table with the grill of the same name.

I recall a delightful road-trip home from France  one summer carrying an entire raclette cheese in the boot.  Lets just say that in spite of numerous wrappings, we were very happy to arrive home...whiffy.  It doesn't taste so strong though.

Well anyway, back to Julöl, it's a  Swedish Christmas beer that our friend brought over a few times.  We haven't seen him for years and years, I think he's a plastic surgeon somewhere in America now.  About five years ago I was talking to a Swedish girl who was a friend of my sister and I had the sudden inspiration to ask her whether she knew anybody who'd be travelling from Sweden who could bring me over a bottle.  I was in luck as her brother was coming a few days before Christmas.  So Christmas Eve I found myself driving to the middle of nowhere and interrupting a Swedish family baking Christmas Cookies to collect several bottles of Julöl for John.  It comes in lovely Christmassy bottles and John couldn't believe his eyes when he came into the kitchen for Christmas breakfast to find a chilled bottle of this amber delight waiting for him! 

That was definitely a successful present.

Oh, By the way...Patrik...if you're reading us!!

~Brideshead Revisited~

John and my favourite thing to watch together is the 1980s production of Brideshead Revisited.  It's also my favourite book, like, ever.  When I finished reading it I didn't partake in any unnecessary conversation for several days, I needed to ponder.  Well either last year or the year before we were on a christmas outing in Dublin with the children, looking around the magical old backstreets and antique shops when I spotted two champagne saucers just like those used by Charles and Sebastian.

Oh swoon...

We don't manage to knock back quite as much as they got through but it's a real treat to pour some Lidl  prosecco into our Brideshead glasses.  Oh here...I'm off to pour a watch this...I'll be back in a minute...

The boxed set would be a good gift too but we already have it.  Did I mention we love it?  Oh yes, I did mention that.  And Charles...Oh swoon...

~Traquair Ale~

When we lived in Scotland one of our favourite haunts was Traquair House, a place seeped in history of the most exciting type, which you can read here

There is a small specialist brewery attached to the castle and they sell small quantities of Jacobite Ale.  It's not my cup of tea but John likes it so one year I asked some friends who were coming over to bring some I could give him for  Christmas...


Traquair Ale has a very limited availability but another specialist beer or ale might be a good idea. A reader on my Facebook page suggested an enthusiasts membership of a brewers guild, I thought that was a great idea for the right person. 

Gifts Reflecting My Husband's Maturity

~Judge Dredd Mugs~

I bought John a set of four...he loves them...

The same way he loves this...

Which you can buy here.

All Roads Lead to...

While browsing online last year I spotted a sheet of GIFTWRAP for £3.

I bought it for John's Christmas present.

And got it framed...

It was one of the best presents I ever gave him..

As a matter of fact the lady who owns the framing shop told me a man begged and pleaded with her to sell it to him while it was waiting for me to pick it up.  Thank goodness she refused.

A Few More Suggestions 

I asked on my Facebook page for a few suggestions:

Red Letter Day...a day at the Race Track with a Formula 1(or 2) experience. The husband who received this gift was grinning for days.

Simpsons or Football Club paraphernalia.

Swiss Army Knife 

Funny PJs

Gig Tickets

Yearly Pass to a Water Park  
(Clearly this one comes from sunny Australia, not Ireland :-))

Surprise trip to visit an old friend
(I love that one)

A BBQ Cooking course.

(see above)

And finally, the best present I ever gave my father.  Being the eldest of his generation, he owns the >200 year old family  ancestral cottage in Connemara in the the West of Ireland.  It is such an amazing place.

It's the (smaller) little white cottage to the left of the picture here.  It no longer has the thatched roof but is just as magical.  I know it's probably his favourite place in the world.  Well one Summer's day I was sitting in an armchair looking out the door at the dry stone wall and the fuchsia bush and windswept garden with a camera in my hand.  I was just clicking away at the timeless scene when I had the GREAT idea of getting one of the resulting photographs blown up and printed on a canvas for his upcoming 80th birthday.

I have never been so satisfied with any present.  I can't locate the picture in the computer just now but it was just perfect.  He can sit at home in the East and imagine he's sitting in Connemara.

Well I hope that's triggered a few ideas.  I'm heading over to Moxie Wife now to get a few ideas for myself. See you there x