Having three children aged almost 7, 5 and 16 months, I find there are now significant times when the play in our household includes all three girls in one game (such as the game of babies & mummies they are playing as I write, with their combined 10 baby dolls in the loungeroom).
In these games each girl will adapt the play to their own level of understanding - right now, the eldest child is narrating a complicated story about the birth, development and history of each "baby", while the 5-year-old busies herself changing nappies and singing lullabies, and the 16-month-old is rocking and "breastfeeding" her baby doll with little murmurs every now and then. Their play is integrated rather than parallel - they are talking to each other, building the game together, layering extra elements. This is often, if not usually, the case with their imaginative play.
However, as well as combined play, there are times when the kids pair off for play. As you might expect, this is often a matter of the two big girls wanting to do something that is not age-appropriate or possible for the toddler to do with them, although there are also times when the eldest takes herself off to bed with a book and the younger two play together.
This week, being a wet and icy cold one, the older girls have been asking to get out their paints quite a lot, which has posed a question of what the little girl can do while they create their masterpieces. 16-month-old C isn't a good risk with paint at the moment - while I have done fingerpainting with her (and she's loved it), she has a tendency to try to eat the colours and the older kids find painting with her frustrating, as they are at the stage where they are trying to create pictures / representational art rather than playing with colour.
The answer for C was fairly simple and easily found. C loves water, she loves to splash and play and explore it, and she loves to pretend to clean things. One sink with cool water, plastic crockery and a dish brush later, and she is happy as a clam!
So what we have been doing is using paint time as a transitional activity several times this week, marking the end of post-school wind-down and preceding the big girls' preparation for dinner. This transition is usually marked for us with outside play - the girls often go out and bounce on the trampoline, dig in the sandpit, or just ride bikes for the half-hour before dinner. This week has just been too cold for that, so instead I've set them up at the table with paints and brushes, then retired to the kitchen with C, got her established with the dishes, and then used the 20-30 minutes that follows to cook the dinner.
Colour and water have been our winter salvations this week!
The kids and I are still on an unbreakable ABBA kick after Sunday's trip to ABBA World. We're working our way through the albums, rediscovering (in my case) and discovering (in theirs) some cracking good songs. ABBA put out some duds, yes, but their win-to-fail ratio was, I would still contend, very impressive, especially given the conditions under which they worked. (Which you can find out all about at ABBA World!)
I was equally entranced by the responses of those who shared their favourite ABBA song and in the end I had to let fate pick the winner, as I liked all the answers too much to choose one. Random selection by virtue of child-drawn piece of paper with comment number on it was ...
commenter 4, Penni, who loves The Winner Takes it All - both ironically and without irony - which, as she points out, "is a very happy post-modern state of being."
Penni, drop me an email at kathypllrd24 AT gmail.com with details of where I can send the passes and I'll get them off to you tomorrow. I hope you enjoy the exhibition a lot!
A basket of leftover wool scraps, a cold couple of days, three girls and two neighbour kids, led to:
- home-made wigs in rainbow colors - sorting games with worms of wool - crafts galore - several plaited hair extensions for dollies to wear - stuffing of a paper "cushion" - a lot less wool left in the basket at the end!
I have always been very fond of ABBA. As a child, they were one of the few modern groups my parents enjoyed - otherwise a household situated firmly in the early 1960s of my parents' teen years, ABBA represented one of their rare forays into musical modernity. We all enjoyed ABBA, enjoyed the costumes and the dance and the infectious music.
My favourite band member was Frida, by a country mile, partly because she (like me) was dark-haired and dark-eyed, and partly because I thought she was feistier and cheekier than Agnetha. Even at 7, I liked feisty and cheeky in a female role model!
My girls, now almost 7 and 5, love ABBA too. Truly, madly, deeply they love them. My eldest, who loves to sing, has lyrics sheets for a few songs and belts them out at random intervals (it is endearing, if ever so slightly disconcerting, to hear Waterloo floating out of the toilet at top volume, although, as my husband remarks, it is oddly apt as well). My 5 year old is more about the dancing. She can do all the moves, and makes up her own dances, and emotively performance-arts to Fernando, The Winner Takes it All, and Chiquitita, her eyebrows waggling dramatically to denote the shifts and turns mood in the song.
So when I heard that the ABBA World exhibition was coming to Melbourne, I had mentally bookmarked it as a possible school holidays activity. I was delighted to be saved the trouble and expense when Nuffnang organised a family day at Federation Square today, which included family tickets to the NGV's Rupert Bunny - Artist in Paris exhibition and to the second ever day of ABBA World. Score!
My girls had some interesting observations about the Rupert Bunny exhibition, but I'm planning to save them for a post I'm working on about children and art appreciation. The highlight of the day for them both, though (and, truth be told, for me, ABBA tragic that I am) was the 80 minutes we spent in ABBA World.
ABBA World is ... intense. It is very full of sound, colour and movement, and thrillingly stacked with interactive activities for the kids and I to enjoy. While my husband long-sufferingly remained outside with the baby sleeping in her pram, A, E and I perused ABBA films, ABBA costumes, sang ABBA songs, had our photos taken as part of ABBA album covers, and read / listened to the detailed commentary of ABBA's journey. E, my 5-year-old, found the detail a bit much at times, but A and I were both a little bit nerdishly entranced at it. We came out singing a three-part Mama Mia and sang all the way home. It was really a fantastic exhibition, and excellent fun for both those who remember ABBa and those whose parents inflict ABBA on them at regular intervals ;-)
The folk at Nuffnang have kindly donated free double passes to ABBA World to all the family day attendees for giving away on our blogs. This is about $53 of value (yes, it isn't cheap, this exhibition) and the tickets must be used by 4 July 2010. So here is the deal:
If you are interested in a double pass to ABBA World, and are either in or prepared to travel to Melbourne, leave a comment telling me which is your favourite ABBA song, and why, by 5pm on Friday (25 June). I'll select my favourite answer and announce the winner on the morning of Saturday 26 June.
(This post is adapted from a 2007 entry on my private blog.)
One of the things about living (and writing) our life in books is that not all the books I read or want to talk about are children's books. I have a variable relationship with parenting books (and may discuss that another time), but I have a steady ongoing interest in both studies and fiction that write the experience of maternity, the experience of family, in interesting ways. As a feminist bibliophile raising intelligent, erudite daughters, reading deeply about these things, looking into the many mirrors of maternity that are available in texts, is a useful and sometimes instructive experience for me.
One of the books that has impacted most strongly on me in this space is Maternal Desire by psychoanalyist Daphne de Marneffe (2004). This book made a strong impression on me, for a range of reasons. The most important reason that the book resonated with me was that the author seemed at times to be giving voice to emotional responses and ethical dilemmas that I had been unaware of in my conscious mind, yet struck me as exactly right, precisely how I feel about matters.
The only other book about what I'll loosely term "the maternal experience" that has struck me so forcibly with a sense of concurrence with my experience is Naomi Stadlen's very different work, What Mothers Do (Especially When It Looks Like Nothing). While Stadlen's book is effectively a collection of wisdom and experiental tales from the many mothers she has counselled and assisted over the years, de Marneffe's work is a feminist, psychoanalytically informed attempt to address the depth, breadth and potency of maternal experience in the modern and postmodern Western world. Both books had me almost gasping with agreement at times; I'd read a phrase, a comment, and say "Oh, yes, absolutely!" out loud, bemusing my daughters and amusing my husband (to whom I read lengthy passages, trying to invest into my readings the meaning that I was finding in the words).
And unlike books about how to parent kids or how to treat them (of which I've read a few), these books are about the mother's experience of mothering, the role of maternity in making and remaking a sense of self, about how the transformatory nature, the extremity of the experience opens doors as well as closes them, and how the emotional subjectivity of the mother is never remotely the same after that first birth. This, to me, as a mother who is also a person and a feminist and a writer and a worker, yet has found the permeation of maternity into every aspect of myself both astonishing and amazing, is meat and drink. This talks about what I've felt, what I still feel, and what I sometimes find hard to convey.
One of de Marneffe's most valuable contributions is her systematic deconstruction of the characterisation of what she terms "maternal desire" (the desire to actively mother one's own children) as somehow regressive, or submissive, or anti-feminist. The way she describes maternal desire is so true to me:
"The desire to mother is not only the desire to have children, but also the desire to care for them. It is not the duty to mother, or the compulsion to mother, or the concession to mothering when other options are not available. It is not the acquiescence to prescribed roles or the result of brainwashing. It is the longing felt by a mother to nurture her children; the wish to participate in their mutual relationship; and the choice, insofar as it is possible, to put her desire into practice." (p 3)
This is a much more sophisticated and persuasive rendering of the theme sometimes heard now as "the feminist backlash", the objection to the idea that being a mother (and in that rhetoric, wife also) is unfulfilling and servile. What de Marneffe does is point out that:
a) the notion that paid work is always or even sometimes the best path to personal fulfilment and self-actualisation is not necessarily borne out by lived experience, and is in itself an ideological position; b) the notion that the care and raising of children is a profitless and unrewarding enterprise foisted on women by men is a reactive, un-nuanced and possibly quite erroneous assumption; c) the post-Superwoman dichotomy which holds that women can't have both successful, fulfilling professional lives and complete maternal experiences is in itself unimaginative and flawed.
She is not in the business of taking sides in that perennial favourite battleground of the Mommy Wars, SAHM vs Working Mums (aka Kids-atHome vs Childcare / Creche). As she points out, this is yet another diversionary tactic taking real debate away from the core issue: women's heartfelt and largely unacknowledged desire to bear, raise and nurture children. This is a desire that may coexist peacefully in many with a desire to achieve professionally, and actually has no direct relationship to the working and care arrangements in place in any particular family. Women may have a high level of attachment and responsiveness to their children whether at home fulltime or at work fulltime, or something in between, and maternal desire remains the lodestar of their life experience.
For me, de Marneffe's use of the phrase "maternal desire", and her very deliberate analogising of the concept with sexual desire, is a particularly powerful metaphor. She uses it to point out both the power and the curious unmentionability of the felt urge to mother, which is an urge as strong or stronger in many women than the urge to have sex. Admitting to being a sexual creature is seen as liberating, self-actualising for women, yet, as de Marneffe points out, admitting to an equally savage and irresistible desire to mother is seen as somehow self-suppressing, self-denying. This, of course, is not my own experience at all. I have never felt less suppressed or more alive in my life than since I've been given the opportunity to satisfy my strong maternal desire.
de Marneffe covers a lot of ground in this book - she has an interesting take on abortion, and she discusses, with sympathy (but it must be said, not empathy), the painful situation of women who have children and yet lack maternal desire. All of these discussions are interesting, but, to me, tangential to her main thrust, which is a demand that the legitimacy, power, depth and pleasure of maternal experience be recognised and celebrated. Her descriptions of the really great parts of mothering children sang in my head:
"There is the sensual, physical pleasure of caring for young children; the satisfaction of spending most of our waking hours (and some of our sleeping hours) with the people we love the most ... the delight in being able to make our child happy and being made happy by our child. There is the pleasure in being "alone together", of doing things near one another ... There are also the enormous gratifications of watching children develop, grow and change, and of being involved in the people they become." (p 9)
Yes, I thought when I read that, that's it, yes. My daily absorbtion in my children is not mis-imagined or programmed or invalid; it is real, it means something, and I'm not the only one who feels this way. And for giving me a name for what I feel, my intense wish and need to care for my own children, I thank Daphne de Marneffe sincerely.
I am a fairly simple person in my material desires. I don't crave lots of possessions or fancy clothes or a flash car or a pristine perfect mansion to live in. I don't see the point, or frankly the morality, of accruing more money than you need to support yourself and your family and provide a little for a rainy day (it is that impetus against surplus wealth that fuels what my husband wryly refers to as "Kathy's give-it-away-and I-mean-today philosophy of charity donation".)
I do, of course, have a major weakness though, and it is one shared by my entire not particularly materialistic clan.
Books of every kind, every shape, every tenor and tone.
Beautiful books and plain books, bestsellers and greats, classics and new finds, potboilers and cosies, science fiction and poetry.
The urge to acquire books (not just to read them), to treasure them and re-read them and lend them and trade them, is pretty deeply entrenched in all of us. My parents have two and half rooms filled with books at their large rambling house near the hills. My brother, otherwise one of the most spartan people I know (his entire wardrobe fits easily into a suitcase), has books stacked ceiling height in his rental property and several crates worth still in storage. My husband and I have added one new bookcase to our furniture roughly every 1.5 years of our married life (now 12 years in total). And my girls, oh, they are *all* about the book collecting too. They love books, love to revisit them, to get to know them, to become friends with them and to link arms with the world of the text anew.
So, we have books. Lots and lots of books. What we don't have, really, is lots and lots of *space*. We live in a house with three smallish bedrooms (the 7 and 5 year olds share one, the baby shares the other with two chests of drawers and - quel surprise - two bookcases) and there is no really obviously suitable space in the open-plan living area for books, at least not in the quantities we're describing here.
Over half my adult books are in storage at the moment as we search for a more long-term solution to our book dilemma, but it was very important, I felt, that the girls were able to have ready and inviting access to their books, to feel like they could make a little world within their books and have a basic reading space to do so.
The solution we devised - and it *is* a make-do, imperfect one - was to turn the hallway, which runs the length of the house and is quite wide, into a library of sorts. At the moment the library space is shared with the baby's change table, but as she's 16 months old and wriggly as all get-out, that's unlikely to be an impediment much longer. (When we move to changing her on the floor, I'll replace the change table with another bookcase, of course ;-)
The left side of the hallway is shelves filled with adult books, but the right side has been designated as the children's library. The key features of this are:
1. The books are all arranged at reaching-height for the 5 and 7 year olds.
2. The books are sorted into series or type where applicable (eg Famous Five, fairies, Trixie Belden, Mr Men, Golden Books, Charlie & Lola books, Disney books). This makes it easy for the girls to find what they are looking for if they have a fancy for a particular title or style of text.
3. Where they are not part of a series, the books are sorted by author (eg Pamela Allen books, Mem Fox books).
4. Where they are one-offs, the books are sorted by theme / the children's classification. (For instance, they have a small section that they've decided is for "books about nature with real facts in the stories", and another that's for "books that are funny.") They understand their system perfectly and reshelve appropriately!
5. Baby books, which are often oddly shaped and too small to fit comfortably on already crowded shelving, are stored in a large cane basket on top of one of the shelves. This makes it easy to grab a handful to read to the 16-month-old without disrupting the flow of the shelving too much.
6. Finally, we placed a small cane reading chair opposite the shelving. It might look very spartan in the picture, but I couldn't count the number of times I've found one of the girls (including the 16-month-old!) curled up perusing a book on it.
One of the things I'm considering as the kids get older and have more books is getting ceiling-height built-in shelving in the hallway with a rolling library ladder, to make it truly a "long library". For now, though, I think it works alright for the girls - their little makeshift library world.
My secondborn, now 5, will be starting school next January. Both she and her almost-7-year-old sister (who's in her second year of school) are getting very excited about that fact. The girls, while they have their share of sibling moments, are very close, and they miss each other when A, the eldest, is away for 6 hours a day at school. They are already plotting the games they'll play and the fun they'll have sharing recess and lunchtimes, and A is vowing to take care of E (the younger one) "ALL the time!"
As part of this school-preparation excitement, this week, A and E have started playing schools at home. A, who is convinced that her little sister is brilliant and perfectly capable of learning all the same things she is learning, has been spending patient hours sitting with E and their maths cards, going through times tables; reading to her sister, and getting E to read words back to her; and teaching her school protocols (they insisted on having their sandwiches on the weekend in school lunchboxes and timed their eating to the length of the lunch session at school!)
This is play that they have initiated themselves and involves both role-playing / norming behavioural play as well as keying into core interests for them both. A is loving the opportunity to teach what she knows to E, and is doing so with remarkable gentleness for a child her age. E is basking in her big sister's encouragement and between A's sessions and the phonics she & I work on together most days, she's reading (albeit haltingly) now.
I think it is great for kids to be able to recast their daily experiences through play and to be able to reinforce what they are learning by passing it on. It is benefiting them both, this schooly play.
At the moment, I am really, really tired. A night-waking toddler, crowded schedule, recovering from a cold & chest infection, busyness with both paid and volunteer work, and lots of family events have me burning the candle at both ends. So this week I have decided to make life as easy on myself as possible in the kitchen, and the menu plan reflects that.
Monday - Takeaway Chinese food: vegetarian Singapore noodles, mixed veggies in oyster sauce & vegetable fried rice (V) It's the Queen's Birthday public holiday, so to celebrate, I'm ordering in tonight.
Tuesday - Roast chicken with roasted veggies and steamed greens Roasts are warming, delicious, and easy to prepare. I just spend 10 minutes foraging in my garden and then stuff the fruits of my search into the chicken's cavity - usually an onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage, a lemon end up in there. It always tastes great and everyone loves it.
Wednesday - Pasta with tomato-basil sauce (V) This will be one of the many weeks that I bless my own foresight in making huge batches of pasta sauces to freeze in the summer!
Thursday - Chicken rice noodle soup I use the Trident Thai chicken soup packet mix for this meal - it's gluten free and surprisingly good. I'll bulk it up with leftover shredded chicken from the roast, sliced mushrooms, snow peas and possibly water chestnuts. Very quick & easy to prepare. Friday - Poached eggs on toast with leftover roasted vegetables (V) The last of Tuesday's leftovers plus soft poached eggs on toast. Homely fare, but tasty.
Saturday - Not sure, but not my bag! This is my birthday, so I certainly won't be cooking! We'll either eat out, hubs will cook, or we'll order in - remains to be seen.
"Is there anything worse than being forced to read bad books to children?" an acquaintance of mine asked the other day, as she hoisted yet another pile of Barbie books into her car at the library.
Her 7-year-old is obsessed with all things Barbie - books, dolls, movies, games, etcetera. This particular consignment represented the fifth week in a row that her child had selected nothing but Barbie books from the library.
I had observed them earlier in the children's section. "Mummy, look, MORE Barbie stories!" the 7-year-old proclaimed excitedly. "Oh, great," said the mother weakly. "That's really great, honey." Slightly depressed pause. Then, a faintly pleading note in the mother's voice: "Look over here, I've seen some Enid Blyton books! Why don't we get some of those, huh? I think you'd really like them!" The girl shakes her head softly and regretfully. "Oh no, Mum," she explains, "I only have enough slots left on my card for these Barbie books. And I do want them, all of them." The mother's shoulders visibly sagged as she contemplated her fate. Her daughter is not yet reading independently, so those Barbie books in her girl's hands were books that THE PARENTS would be reading her, every single word of them.
Hence the mother's throwaway remark to me as we both loaded our cars with children, groceries and books. The question was rhetorical, but it started a train of thought in my head about the whole vexed question of bad children's literature, and parents' role (if any) in selecting or guiding reading choices for children.
My own daughters have lovely instinctive literary taste in some respects. They fell in love with Sandra Boynton and Winne the Pooh as toddlers, devoured Mem Fox, Pamela Allen, Lauren Child and a world of beautiful classic and modern picture books as preschoolers, were lost for a long time in a passionate devotion to Wind in the Willows, all thing Blyton, and Edith Nesbitt. They are now engaging with texts as diverse as My Side of the Mountain, The Little White Horse, the Ramona books, Roald Dahl's many stories, Paul Jennings' tales and other great and varied books. Reading these stories to my girls, and watching the eldest (at almost 7, an avid and confident reader) read them herself and aloud to her sisters, has been purest delight for me.
However, not all my girls' choices have been so salubrious from my point of view. About a year ago they developed an interest in the Tiara Club books after one of them was given some for a birthday. Slightly later, they stumbled across the Daisy Meadows Rainbow Magic Fairy books (a franchise of well over 100 titles now, and still going strong). The eldest was recently waxing rhapsodical about yet another series, the Enchantia books or somesuch (I might have the title a bit wrong - they are about magical ballet shoes, in any event). Both my husband and I have perforce read a *lot* of these books aloud to the girls, and their interest shows no real signs of abating.
The thing is, these books are, I would contend, not enjoyable for adults to read. They are formulaic, and I *mean* formulaic, not in the traditional series sense of just "sticking to a theme / consistent characters" (think Famous Five, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden et al). They essentially have the same plot in each book, with very minor changes of scenery or detail. The writing varies from pedestrian at best (for the fairy books) to downright turgid (the Tiara Club books, my personal least-favourites). The characters, where they are given any airtime at all, are flat and featureless. The language is tired. There are no surprises, no discoveries, no flights of fancy to capture the imagination. And in most of them, the moral messages are heavy-handed, overstated, and clunky. (I must be fair and say that this is less apparent with the fairy books than the others I'm talking about here).
Here's the thing, though - I don't like these books. I think they are boring, repetitive, poorly constructed, and fall way short of the magic that so much children's literature has to offer. I don't have a good time reading them to the girls, and yet I do it anyway, and so does my long-suffering husband (albeit with frequent insertions of Dad-sarcasm to leaven the experience).
Why do I read them despite thinking they are essentially bad books? Because the kids choose them, and choose them unequivocally. Because these repetitive formulaic texts have struck a chord with them, alongside the wonder and excitement they are finding in the classic old and new that they are also reading and choosing. Because when I say these books are bad, what I really mean is that, in my literary judgement as an adult, they're not up to scratch - I'm not claiming they are unsuitable in content or approach, or unpalatable to children, in any way. (Clearly they are not the last, as evidenced by their wild success).
Allowing children to choose with as great a freedom as is consistent with their age and abilities is a central tenet of my overall parenting philosophy. Nowhere is it more important, I believe, than in the choice of reading material. Children's fascinations and motivations are their own, and often baffling to adults. The very repetitiveness of the plots has its own appeal for children, especially, I have noticed, for new readers (the fairy books helped my eldest make the leap from reader to confident reader, in fact).
The fact that these books do not appeal in any way *to me* does not render them valueless and does not mean I should direct my daughters away from them. After all, I read cosies - lightweight, low-gore mysteries - almost constantly, side-by-side with my more serious reading material. It would be difficult to argue (and I wouldn't so argue) that most cosies have any greater literary weight in the adult fiction scene than fairy books do for children. Yet they are comforting and enjoyable for me, and I relax when I read them.
So, for the foreseeable future, I think I'm resigned to the fact that I'll be reading books I don't greatly like to my daughters, alongside the pleasurable privilege of reading them wonderful, soaring children's books, both old and new. That's really OK with me. It takes all kinds to make a world ... in the literary sense as well as any other. And my girls' tastes will emerge as they read and are read different kinds of books and texts, and that's good too, it's as it should be.
Indoor activities are coming to the fore as winter sets in around here, but we were lucky enough to score a fine, if cool, day last week that coincided with a day off from school for my eldest. So what did three sisters want to do?
1. Stay in pyjamas all day - CHECK 2. Play outside until the chill set in - CHECK 3. Cooking-in-the-dirt - CHECK
My girls love to play in the dirt. It has a different fascination for them than playing in the sandpit; when they play in the dirt, they are more likely to involve multiple other objects from nature (grass, leaves, fruit, herbs, sticks, snail shells, feathers ...) and the elder two are often to be found engaged in extended imaginative play, usually involving cooking. We've had a large number of lemon-grass-dirt soups, "gorgeous" herb casseroles, "exquisilet" mudcakes (literally!) and dirt cookies coming out of our backyard kitchen.
Outdoor play is more restricted in winter so whenever health and clear skies allow, I like to let the kids have the run of their dirt kitchen.
Monday - Red lentil dahl with potato dumpling curry (adults); noodles with vegetables & egg (kids) (V) Meatless Monday rides again. We often have dahl on Mondays as a base because it is very nutritious and lentils are a great source of fibre and nutrients for a Coeliac such as myself who doesn't get as many wholegrains in my diet as the less gluten-challenged among us.
Tuesday - Oven-baked pumpkin & sweet corn risotto with not-bacon (V) This makes the house smell soooo good while cooking.
Wednesday - Pasta with tomato, zucchini & carrot sauce. (V) Quick cooking is always the order of the day on Wednesdays.
Thursday - Lamb & vegetable stew with rice The leftovers of last week's tasty batch.
Friday - Chicken, ginger & shallot stir-fry with rice (adults); polenta-crumbed chicken strips with mash & greens (kids) The kids don't go for ginger but oh boy, we do.
Saturday - Fish & chips Mum's night off!
Sunday - Roast corned beef with orange mash & steamed broccoli The Sunday roast, what could be better?
I entered the Nuffnang Win a Honda Odyssey for a Day competition on Childhood 101 back in May. You can read the details of the competition here. Today I had a phone call from the lovely people at Nuffnang to tell me that my entry was the winner and I now get the incredible luxury of 24 hours in a Honda Odyssey. The announcement is here.
We are in the market for a people-mover at the moment - with three kids we fill our trusty Holden station wagon to the brim with our own family, and this is proving often problematic for us. My mother-in-law is elderly and infirm, and we'd love to be able to take her out more often at weekends, but we physically can't at the moment unless the baby & I stay home and my husband & the older kids take her. Moreover, I am trying to be a contributing member of school car pools, but I can only take 1 extra child with me, which doesn't do the job most of the time. Thus, we've been looking to trade our 6-year-old station wagon for a people mover in early 2011. (We only have one family car - for a bunch of reasons - and that won't change, just the style of vehicle will).
As we started to do our research, my husband flagged pretty quickly that he favoured either the Odyssey or the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi. These are both great vehicles but deciding which will suit our needs is hard without the chance to put them properly through their paces. Now we have the perfect opportunity to road-test (literally!) the Odyssey, with children, mother-in-law and more on board.
Time to get on the phone to start checking my mother-in-law's availability for a day of adventuring ;-) I'm hoping to schedule it for during the school holidays when husband has a few days off. Squeee!!!
New Zealand picture book author-illustrator, Pamela Allen, has written 30-some picture books for toddlers, and they are, in Australia at least, ubiquitous - most people who read to their kids at all have heard of Allen, and have sampled at least some of her books.
Our first exposure to this children's publishing lion was in the form of one of her less salubrious efforts (to my mind, anyway) - Daisy All-Sorts, the story of a dog whose owner acquires a bicycle and thus changes her daily walk routine to a daily-chase-along-behind-a-bike routine. All becomes well in Daisy's world, however, when a kindly neighbour provides her with an incentive to keep up - licorice all-sorts. We had the book from the library when my oldest child was about 20 months old or so, and while she liked it, she didn't love it, and I found the story a bit ho-hum.
However, I quickly discovered that a) Pamela Allen is an acquired taste (the illustrative style and language use does grow on you) and b) This is by no means her best book. For Daughter #1's second birthday, we were given the much more charming Cuthbert's Babies, the story of a little boy, Cuthbert, struggling to adapt to the arrival of a set of quintuplets in his house through the use of imaginary friends and controlled naughtiness. We really liked this one, especially as Daughter #1's life had been interrupted only 3 months earlier by the arrival of Daughter #2. I thought the choice of quintuplets was a quirky and interesting take on the usual "new sibling in the house" story, and Cuthbert's story was funny, whimsical and enjoyable.
From Cuthbert's Babies, our Pamela Allen habit grew in leaps and bounds. Brown Bread and Honey, a Christmas present in 2007, is a very endearing and amusing story about how a gluttonous and rude king learns to appreciate the simple things in life (and on the table). Bertie and the Bear, first borrowed from the library but later purchased, is a fantastic cacophony of sound and motion, very rhythmic, and enjoyed by younger children than some of the others (my youngest daughter, now 15 months old, loves this one). Who Sank the Boat?, possibly her best-known title, is a wonderful, funny, and narratively deceptively simple mystery story of toddlers, and it's fun to read, there is scope to do a lot with it (voices and so on).
Still, I had some reservations. The Mr McGee books, of which there are 6, still struck me as a bit too odd, even for children's books (who IS this character who lives under a tree?) My oldest daughter was lukewarm on Share Said the Rooster, borrowed from the library, and none of us really went for Alexander's Outing.
However, Pamela Allen's place in the pantheon of our literary house was established beyond doubt in June 2006, when I took my oldest child to see a production by Patch Theatre Company of Who Sank the Boat?, a children's performance based on 8 of Allen's stories. The production was wonderful - lyrical, funny, engaging, odd moments of sadness and darkness, many moments of hilarity and colour and light. My then-almost-3-year-old was transfixed for the entire hour. And the play introduced us to two Allen titles we hadn't encountered until then - Black Dog and Herbert & Harry. Both of these books are sad and quite challenging in a way for toddlers, carrying themes of loss and the consequences of poor (in particular, callous) choices. My older daughter is still, 4 years later, attached to these stories in ways that don't seem quite explicable only by their familiar illustrative style and typically musical use of language. She likes to think about them and talk about them, often at moments when she herself is feeling a bit sad or reflective.
So, unusual drawing style, mixed themes and all, we are definitely a Pamela Allen fanhousehold. (Within limitation). I would highly recommend her books for toddlers aged 2 and up, with a caution that the beautiful and thought-provoking Black Dog be introduced only at a time when one is ready to field questions.