Monday, 16 September 2013

Why Does Everything Happen to Me?

Winston is a dog who thinks he's hard done by and that nothing is fair. Abigail quite often feels hard done by and that nothing is fair, so it was quite nice to introduce them to each other. Winston is having a hard day because he has a thorn in his paw, and needs to get to the vet. As he walks along, his friends try to distract him with some doggy activities like digging holes and raking in bins, but Winston's paw is getting worse and worse and he lays it on thicker and thicker with each dog that he meets. Abigail, however, has spotted something. As Winston totters along in his self-absorbed world, his friends are being stung by bees or carted off in the rubbish truck. He's just a bit too worried about his paw to even notice their plights, never mind help them. There's a lesson in there, about there always someone being worse off than you, especially if you happen to be friends with Winston.

Maybe he's a jinx...

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Lola's Modern Classic

Charlie and Lola have a very special space on the Evie's Books bookshelf. Over the years I've found myself captivated by the two children, first from the TV series and then from the books. Whenever there is a Charlie and Lola book in the house, it's always top of the reading pile for both girls.

I have a particular fondness for Charlie. Yes, Lola is cute and funny and charming but Charlie is a really great big brother. I love that he has so much compassion for his sister, and that he finds gentle solutions to problems, even if he gets quite cross at first. I will not ever Never eat a Tomato is Charlie's solution to getting Lola to eat her dinner; faced with a long list of foods that Lola won't eat, he comes up with the trick of making the food exotic and tempting. Mash is cloud fluff, peas are green drops and carrots are orange twiglets from Jupiter. It's siblings without (a lot of) rivalry; it's fantastic to have a role model of an older sibling for Abigail who really struggles with being the big sister. Maybe she should adopt the mantra, 'what would Charlie do'!

Both girls are captivated by Charlie and Lola books, and especially love finding the little treats that Lauren Child hides in her illustrations. There are always squeals of delight when the see the pea with Lola's eyes, and they have great fun counting through the list of food that Lola won't eat. Abigail would like every one to please note that Lola will eat cucumbers, because cucumbers ROCK.

I'm always fascinated by the way that the words are laid out in a Lauren Child book. The words come in different sizes, some words are in bold, some are not. Sometimes the words wind round the pictures instead of sitting by themselves in a block in a corner or at the bottom of the page. I spend a great deal of time over-analysing what this could mean. I won't go on about it for hours, but I will say this: anything that makes language vibrant and alive for both adults and children is a good thing. For a child like Abigail who just is not keen on reading, seeing her follow the words around the page and engage with them in a way she never does with school reading books is a pure joy.

Long live Charlie and Lola.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Playground Bully

This year has been kind of tough. I've lost my job, my dad has terminal cancer, I've had two car crashes which have left me having anxiety attacks and now the girl's dad is showing signs that point towards being bipolar. The kind of stuff that X-Factor Journeys are made of. I've tried to hide it, but it's been tough.

Then someone else threw their lot in the mix: the playground bully. It started with excuses, always doing something else that put a stop to playdates. Not coming to birthday parties without explanation. It moved up a gear to Facebook blocking and then being totally ignored on the first day of school, looked through as if you weren't even there. With no explanation. Top it all off with a sprinkling of social exclusion, and there you have it, bullying complete.

Mum's are great, aren't they?

Monday, 2 September 2013

Difficult Conversations

It was the first day back as a P2 for Abigail this week. When I picked her up on the first day we had a chat about things went. Fine, said Abigail. I did some playing and Grace Long's mummy died; not the sort of thing I was expecting. Once we'd established this was real (there was a note) and not a misunderstanding, the questions came.

When are you going to die, mummy?

What happens when you die, mummy?

I don't want you to die. I'm scared of dying....

Difficult questions. But important ones. We had a talk through what had happened and headed home for some quiet time. Abigail headed straight for the book case and pulled out a couple of books she wanted to read: The Heart in the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers, and the Gift by Carol Ann Duffy. I have to admit to feeling a little relief that we had books that did help understand the more difficult things in life.

The Heart and the Bottle, if you've never come across it, is the tale of a girl who spends time with her Grandpa, learning and asking impossible questions. Then one day, his chair is empty. In order to protect her heart the girl takes it out and puts it in a bottle. Her heart is safe, but she loses all her joy in life and grows up missing a part of herself. One day she meets a small girl on the beach who helps her break her heart out of the bottle and help her deal with her grief and bring back her curiosity about the world. Abigail was able to take her own meaning and comfort from the illustrations and there was plenty for us to talk about and try to make sense of together.

The Gift is a book that before this week, I had read once and not really understood. In fact, I was quite shocked by the way mortality was approached and wasn't sure if I would ever read it again. But this time I found a new meaning it. At some point we all have to face our own mortality, and it's usually the death of a grandparent that a child experiences first. What Carol Ann Duffy does so cleverly here is to introduce death as part of the fulfilment of life; death is not something to be seen in isolation and feared, rather to be embraced as part of the circle of life. Death is never easy, but it doesn't have to be hidden.