I love picture books.  They are classic and timeless and can appeal to children (and adults) of all ages.  Even now, though Meg and Eli are pushing the age bracket I have suggested above, they still find enjoyment in sitting down with myself or James and discovering a great picture book together.

It was difficult to whittle this list down to 5 as there are many books we have enjoyed as a family over the years, a number of which I remember from my own childhood but I have managed to select just a few which I think will appeal to a wide audience.

1. A Squash And A Squeeze by Julia Donaldson

I said last week that Julia Donaldson’s name would be cropping up a lot in these posts and no surprise, here she is again.  I could have listed a large number of her books including (but not limited to) The Gruffalo, The Smartest Giant in Town, The Highway Rat, Stick Man and Zog, all of which have been loved and enjoyed by Meg and Eli but A Squash And A Squeeze was one of the first Julia Donaldson books we ever bought as parents and for that reason it holds a particularly special place in our hearts.  It’s a silly story really, of a little old lady who lives by herself in a house and complains that it isn’t big enough for her.  So a wise old man decides to show her just how much smaller it could be by introducing a whole host of bothersome farm animals into the mix.  As with all Julia Donaldson books, this is a mastery of rhyme and rhythm and themes which will appeal to children of all ages.

2. Whatever Next! by Jill Murphy

Jill Murphy is another name which crops up often when discussing children’s books.  She is the author of the likes of The Worst Witch books as well as the series of picture books featuring the Large family (i.e. Peace At Last) but this is one which I remember being read as a child and I was very excited to read it to Meg and Eli.  Baby Bear wants to go to the moon before bedtime and to do that he finds a cardboard box rocket and heads off on his adventures.  It is a lovely and quaint story about children’s imaginations and one which is just sure to become a bedtime classic.

3. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

If your children are slightly older but still interested in picture books then Oliver Jeffers is the perfect author to turn to.  Again, and I know I sound like a broken record here, but I could have listed a number of his books in the place of Stuck.  Stuck is a charming story about a little boy whose kite gets stuck in a tree.  How does it decide to knock it down again? Why, by throwing a whole host of items including both his shoes, a boat, an orangutan and his front door up into the tree in an effort to get back his pesky kite.

4. Kipper’s Beach Ball by Mick Inkpen

The Kipper stories are fantastic if you have a little one who loves the idea of having their own cuddly dog and best of all, they cover a range of topics which will appeal to children from a sleepy puppy who just wants to create the perfect bed such as discovering hidden treasures in the form of a beach ball!  There are simply and interesting illustrations to accompany all of the books and just enough story to hold the attention of younger listeners.

5. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

This has to be one of my all-time favourite picture books and one which I never tired of reading to the kids.  It is the story of Gerald, the giraffe, who just wants to perform with the other animals at the Jungle Dance but everyone knows that giraffes can’t dance…until, Gerald finds his own rhythm and all the other animals come to admire as he dances to his own tune.  It is such a cute story and I’m actually pretty sad that Meg and Eli are too old to read it nowadays!

What do you think of my choices? Are there any you would add into the mix?

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February half term is by far one of the trickiest school holidays, in my opinion.  With Christmas out of the way and plenty of drizzly, grey days in sight, it can be tricky to keep the children occupied especially if you are stuck indoors and driving each other up the wall!

We are a family who loves to be outside in all weathers but even I can admit that sometimes it is too much, so having a list of fun, indoor activities you can enjoy is always handy.  If you are based in the North West then I threw this list together recently of places we have tried and tested.

One of the things I didn’t include, but which I perhaps should have as we have been before and thoroughly enjoyed it, is Gandeys Circus.  You can see our review from our previous trip here.  We have been invited to attend again this half term and I know Meg and Eli will be absolutely thrilled.  This year is a celebration of 250 years of the Circus with the theme The Greatest Showman and it promises to be a whole lot of fun.

‘Raising the bar sky-high and smashing expectations to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the creation of circus, THE GREATEST SHOWMEN will be staged in the fully-heated 1,500-seat Big Top, equipped with theatre-standard lighting and sound.

For the first time a galaxy of international stars – from Colombia, Cuba, Kenya, France, Portugal and the UK – are assembled in one glittering production proudly presented by HAYLEY and MARISKA, the fourth generation of the GANDEY family’s circus dynasty.
It is thrills and laughter all the way as Gandeys Circus takes to new heights a heritage of entertaining the entire family – from the youngest member to the oldest.’

There will be acts from all over the world and all the classic performances you would expect to see in a world class circus including wire walkers, acrobats, clowns, jugglers and plenty more.  Gandeys Circus is almost 100 years old and this year’s glittering spectacle will be hosted by the fourth generation of Gandeys.  We are very excited to be able to attend!

Best of all, not only did Gandeys get in touch and ask whether we wanted to go along and watch the show but they have also offered us a family ticket to giveaway to one of our readers.  Winning a free trip to the circus is definitely one way to keep the kids occupied over half term.  To enter, all you need to do is use the rafflecopter below.

The giveaway is for a family to ticket to the circus at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool but the winner can choose from any of the available dates. Best of luck, perhaps we will see you there!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We are being provided with complimentary review tickets.  All thoughts and opinions remain our own.

In my post last Wednesday I talked about why I think it is important that we encourage our children to read and some tips on how we can raise readers.  Today I am going to begin a series of posts where I recommend some favourite books of ours for different age ranges, starting with board books which are great for babies.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I think it is important to start reading to your children from a very young age, incorporating it into your bedtime routine as soon as you are able.  We have always read to Meg and Eli and we read a variety of books from age appropriate books to those above their age range.

Board books are great because they are sturdier than paper books, usually very brightly coloured with interesting textures or features and the stories are generally the perfect length for little attention spans.

Today I am just going to concentrate on some of the board books we have read and loved over the past 8 years of our parenting journey:-

1. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

A classic lift-the-flap board book which I can remember from my own childhood (it was first published in 1982!) and one which I absolutely loved reading to both Meg and Eli.  The basis of the story is that the Zoo is sending the ‘perfect’ pet and children must lift the flap to see which animal has been sent next.  There are so many layers to this story from simply reading it through to practising and discovering animal sounds along the way.


2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Another absolute classic which I’m sure many parents will remember from way back when, The Hungry Caterpillar is a bright and exciting story about a caterpillar who eats his way through a monumental amount of food before creating a chrysalis and turning into a beautiful butterfly.


3. Ten Little… by Mike Brownlow

We came across the ‘Ten Little…’ series quite late but they are such good books that I have since bought them as presents for various friends and family members who have young children.  There is a whole host of different themed books from dinosaurs to pirates, princesses to monsters and they encourage counting and rhyming as well as just being a little bit on the silly side.


4. ‘That’s Not My…’ by Fiona Watt (Usborne)

These books have come under a little fire in recent year but I think they are pretty classic as board books go.  They use simple language, have different textures for children to touch and explore as they get a little older and come in a variety of themes so whatever your child is into, there will no doubt be a ‘That’s Not My…’ book to capture their interest.  The books work on the premise that the duck or puppy or tractor etc are not the right one because of different reasons until finally alighting on the correct one.  We have had a number of these books over the years and they were always enjoyed and well loved.


5. What The Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson

Julia Donaldson is a name which you will see pop up a fair few times over the next week or so as she is undoutedly a favourite in this household.  From a very young age we have read her books to the kids with favourites being the likes of A Squash and a Squeeze, The Smartest Giant in Town and of course The Gruffalo.  What the Ladybird Heard is a lift the flap book which is brightly coloured and full of recognisable and much loved farmyard animals.


Of course there are many more books I could have chosen to include here but this is just a starter point.  Do let me know though if you have any recommendations or books you would include.  And pop back next Wednesday for my favourite books for children aged 4+.

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One of the priorities we set for ourselves when we bought and moved into our new house was renovating Meg’s and Eli’s rooms.  They were in a pretty rundown state so once we had moved into the house we immediately set out stripping them back to bare walls and floorboards. I had this idea that I wanted their rooms to be ‘properly’ done although in hindsight this may not have been the best idea as it took us a very long time to find a decent plasterer!

This is the first house we have ever owned and although we have added our own touches to rented homes in the past we have never been able to fully go to town in creating spaces for the kids that they can truly call their own.  I had so many ideas for Eli’s room but they all centred on the same point: this boy is an adventurer at heart and he needed a room which would capture this.

We quickly settled on the idea of ‘mountains’ being present in his room, both in the grey colour scheme that we chose and the use of triangles throughout. We felt that grey was a little bland for such a character as Eli however and wanted to bring in a pop of colour where we could, opting for a bright, almost turquoise blue, and orange.

The walls we painted in Rock Salt from Dulux which is a particular favourite of mine (we used this in the old house in Meg’s room).  I like that it is bright and clean but not completely white, giving the wall a bit more of an interesting tone.

When talking to Eli about what he wanted from his new room he really only had one specification, that he wanted a secret hideout, and as space was limited we decided to try to find him a cabin bed, with storage underneath to optimise floor space for playing and to potentially provide him with a hideout in the area behind.  With the budget that we had for his bed this wasn’t as easy as it first seemed but we did, eventually, find a bed from Dreams which we liked the style of, and which offered enough space underneath to be turned into a secret den.  A bonus was that it came with pale grey trimming which worked extremely well with the existing colour scheme.

Once the bed was installed, we discovered an odd little space at the end which was just crying out for something inventive.  After much scouring of the internet for inspiration, I decided to create a superhero dress up area.  For this we bought a wall decal and some clear plastic hooks: so simple and yet Eli absolutely adores it.  It makes a handy space to keep all his dressing up outfits as well and we purchased a Kvistbro basket from IKEA to keep loose bits in.

His wardrobe was also an IKEA purchase, and although we have bought doors for it, at the moment I quite like the open look.  It gives the concept of more space and encourages Eli to keep his clothes tidy as we can easily see if he is just shoving things in the baskets!  There isn’t space for a separate chest of drawers so we are hoping that this will offer him enough storage as he gets bigger.  I suppose the great thing about IKEA storage is that it is very flexible and we can chop and change parts as we think they are required.

Storage was always going to be something of an issue so we’ve had to try and think cleverly.  We were really pleased to discover the LEGO brick storage boxes which worked with the colour scheme of his room to store the thousands of LEGO pieces he has accumulated.  We also picked up some blue metal storage boxes from the IKEA bargain corner for around £4 each as they were being discontinued.

We have been careful about the items put up on the walls, not least because they were newly plastered! We’ve tried to keep it simple with a map to inspire future travels, and some wall art which I adore.  I chose the design and the wording myself and I am just in love with them.  I contacted a designer on Etsy who created the art for me and we used a local printer and some cheap IKEA frames to complete the look.

And finally…his rug, which is secretly one of my favourite elements of the room.  This came from La Redoute and was something I spotted quite by accident but just knew would tie everything together.  I love the haphazard look of the triangles and the fact that they aren’t all uniform.  It suits our ‘non-conforming’ wild boy just perfectly.

There are still some elements I would like to include.  I love this wooden wall hanging from this Etsy Store and we probably need to invest in some shelving for Eli’s growing book collection but for now we are really pleased with the outcome of this room for our little adventurer.

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I’m going to open this blog post by acknowledging that reading for pleasure isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  We don’t all always want to reach for the written word when we need to escape from the craziness of every day life and that is perfectly alright to admit.  For me, and thousands of other people, it will always be our chosen pastime and I know that reading has been something which has formed a huge part of my life from childhood right through to the present day.

I think that this is partly why I feel so strongly about instilling in our children a desire to read.  Whether they become adults who constantly have their noses stuck in a book or they only read as a means to an end, developing those skills early on will result in them having a skill which will only serve them well as they grow and change.

Whether you personally read for knowledge or leisure, and/or whether you want your children to form the same habits, raising readers is an important part of parenting. But, I figure if you are here looking for tips on how to raise readers then I’m already preaching to the converted!

Both myself and James are big readers so this was always going to influence the way we handled reading around the kids; they have seen us reading books from day dot and you’d think that would mean they also quickly developed a thirst for reading.  However that hasn’t been the case.

With both Meg and Eli we introduced a bedtime story from around 3 months old.  These books were sometimes age appropriate (think board books, touch-and-feel etc) and sometimes for a slightly older age bracket (i.e. Julia Donaldson’s work) but from a very early age we did the Three B’s: bedtime, bottle (later on becoming simply a drink) and a book.

Perhaps you would automatically assume therefore that both our children would love to read and certainly this was true when they were younger.  Brightly coloured board books, rhyming words, and silly stories all formed part of their younger years with both often reaching for a book and coming to curl on our laps as they went into through their toddler and pre-school years.

Then it began to change.  Meg has always been more capable of sitting still and engaging in an activity so reading by herself was a natural progression once she went beyond Reception age and she has the same sort of interest in it that I have always had, reading books which are way beyond her age range in her desire to escape into that world.

Eli, on the other hand, quickly began to lose interest in being read to once he started school and it has been a learning curve and a journey for us all, in finding those books which capture his imagination and encourage him to read.  I believe it has much to do with his personality, and the fact that once he started school, he was taught to read and ‘told’ to read…unfortunately  he is very like me in the regard that once he believes he is being corralled into doing something, he will try to do the very opposite!

So that is where we are coming from when we begin this journey encouraging others in how to raise readers.  We have two avid readers for parents, one child who loves the written word and one who has had to find his own path into the wonders of books and stories.

There is the very well known quote from Dr Seuss which says:-

‘The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’

I think that this captures, in a nutshell, why I think it’s important to encourage our children to read for pleasure.  I know that it can get tiresome with school reading books having to be read x number of times a week and that finding time to listen to your child read can feel like yet another thing on the never-ending list but I honestly believe that it will become something you won’t regret.  And the first time that you wander into your child’s bedroom and come across them reading on their own, out of choice…or the first time you catch them reading by torchlight under their duvet because they simply had to know what happened next…those will be special moments indeed.

I wanted therefore, to create a series of posts recommending books for all different ages and I will be doing that over subsequent weeks.  If you are also trying to #raiseareader then feel free to join me!  But for this first post I wanted to gather some quick thoughts on places to begin:-

1. Lead by Example

We all lead busy lives and this one can be particularly tricky if you don’t enjoy reading much yourself but I 100% believe that readers are raised in the laps of their parents.  If you still have young children then introduce a bedtime story into your nightly routine.  If you have older children then lead them into being inquisitive about reading by introducing it into your own life.  You never know, you might rediscover a lost love!

2. Read To Your Children

Another great way to develop a thirst for reading is to pick a book which you can read with your children.  For example, at the moment we are reading a chapter book called ‘Jack Fortune and the Search For The Hidden Valley’ by Sue Purkiss and Meg and Eli are loving discovering what adventures Jack gets up to.  We don’t read a chapter every night, just as and when we can fit it in but I am always surprised at how much they have remembered from the last time we dipped into it and how well they listen when both James and I read to them.  I’d choose a book which is perhaps slightly out of their reading range and make a big deal out of it.  It’s a lovely way to spend the final minutes before bedtime as well, especially as your children become older and don’t need your assistance as much.

3. Let Them Choose Their Own Books

Another key one as your children get older and begin to read independently and this was a real pivotal point in us finding what Eli liked to read.  Support your local library by going along and letting your children choose some books to read.  Not only is this free (yippee!) but you might be surprised at the type of book your children go for.  Let them know that it’s okay to choose a book and not enjoy it, and that they can try lots of different types of books to see which ones appeal to them most.

4. Don’t Give Up!

Your child might not automatically want to read, even if you do all of the above, but don’t give up.  There are a multitude of things people can read and novels and chapter books just might not suit.  Magazines, manga, comics and graphic novels are all great alternatives and shouldn’t be ruled out!

Keep your eyes peeled for my recommendations, coming next Wednesday.