Great picture books for 3-6 year olds are plentiful in the world, much to my delight. I never expected to have so much fun discovering new authors and titles for kids, nor indeed in rediscovering favourites from my own childhood. There really is a magical and vast universe out there to explore in junior kidlit, and I've vastly enjoyed sailing on that ocean over the past five years or so.
Even in a generally strong field, though, there are stand-out titles, books that really grab children and adults alike with the freshness of their voice and the richness of their vision. One such title in our house is Bob Graham's 2003 story, Jethro Byrde, Fairy Child.
Jethro Byrde is based on the simple and often-used conceit that only children (and the child-like at heart) can see fairies, who might be anywhere at all. What sets this book apart is that the little girl who sees the fairies, Annabelle, spots them amongst the weeds and concrete in an inner-city neighbourhood, rather than the traditional woodlands-and-tinkling-waterfalls setting; and, more, the nature of the fairies themselves. For Jethro Byrde, fairy child, and his family (father Offin, mother Lily, baby Cecily, and Grandma) are Fairy Travellers, on their way to the Fairy Traveller's picnic in their roadside hot dog van. In his jeans and backwards baseball cap, Jethro doesn't look like a conventional fairy, but it's soon clear that he and his family are going to bring some wonder and delight into Annabelle's concrete world.
There is so much to like about this story - the illustrations are beautiful, the rhythm is just right, the characters are enormously appealing, and the themes are so gentle and lovely. My girls have always had an especial fondness for the ending, where Annabelle falls asleep clutching Jethro's fairy watch and listening to the stream of fairy travellers in the sky outside her window. On that last page, "long after she fell asleep, their busy chattering and the buzzing of their wings and their faraway music filled her dreams."
Fairies can be anywhere, in any shape or size, in any guise, if your mind's eye is open to them. This charming book is a favourite for speaking this so clearly to my little girls.
My two eldest girls decided to make an outdoor cafe yesterday afternoon. It all started out very prim and proper, with outdoor chairs, a length of purple sparkly silk for a table cloth, play food and the teaset all laid out neatly.
Then they started serving Rose Petal Soup, Weed Stew, and Grass Muffins, which created a bit of mess, but not too much.
Then someone had the brilliant idea of putting Mud Pies on the menu!
Much hilarity ensued (and a bubble bath immediately followed ;-)
The ever-lovely Veronica over at Sleepless Nights has started a monthly sharing-the-love meme-thing, whereby she invites readers to share a favourite blog each month. She's so right - you just don't see those kind of "hey, look at this blog" posts much anymore, and it's kind of a shame, because that's how I found some of my perennial favourites. Perhaps it's the changing nature of the blogosphere (and people's relationship to it), but I'm happy to be part of the counter-revolution in this regard.
Anyway, this month I have three blogs to share.
Firstly, although I'm sure most of my readers are already aware of it, I must mention the brilliant, insightful and passionate Spilt Milk. Written by Elizabeth, Spilt Milk is often characterised primarily as a Fat Acceptance blog, but it is much more than that. It is a feminist blog, a humanist blog, a mother's blog, a woman's blog, a writer's blog. It is never less than thought-provoking and often deeply moving.
Secondly, I have been reading, and really enjoying, Irretrievably Broken, a blog ostensibly about a divorce (and life post-divorce) but in fact a blog about a life (in which a divorce has featured). This is a writer who knows how to write - the prose is evocative, engaging, and potent. I find it engrossing.
Thirdly, for something completely different and completely mouth-watering, I'd recommend my friend K's food blog, Inspired by Wolfe. Like me, K is a detective fiction aficionado, and is particularly a fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, the gourmet eating, orchid loving, uber-crime solver. Her blog documents her culinary adventures in reproducing Wolfe's dishes, cake decorating, and general nomminess. Don't read it if you are hungry!
I was putting the toddler to bed an hour ago when the phone rang. The 5-year-old answered it. I could hear her side of the conversation from my seat in the toddlers' room.
"Hello?" Pause. Then, "No, you can't talk to Mummy, she's busy." Then, suspiciously, "Hey, are you a tellymarker or something?" Pause. "Well, I don't think you should bother to call back again. Mum says we don't buy stuff on the phone, and anyway, we already have a telly." Clunk.
This will be a very quick one, due to a) a neck injury that is severely limiting my screen time at the moment, b) a toddler that needs some playtime, and c) housework that's waiting none too patiently!
This week, my 7 and 5 year olds have been teaching the 20-month-old about colours and numbers. A favourite game has been sorting things into piles. The big girls start the pile off with one colour, then encourage the toddler to find matching objects. They are wonderfully affirming of her efforts too!
My 5-year-old was stargazing last night. "Mummy?" she says. "Mmmmm," I replied, sleepily snuggled up to the warmth of the dozing toddler. "When I grow up, I think I might be an astronaut," she says, "and visit other worlds." "Do you, love?" I say. "What other worlds do you want to visit? Mars, maybe?" "No," she muses, "much farther than that. I think I will visit planets near stars a long, long way away." The 7-year-old interjects, "You can't do that, they haven't found out how to bend space and time yet!" she declaims. G and I raise eyebrows at each other. The 5-year-old frowns at her sister. "Well, they will, then I will go visit O'Brien!" Ummmm... "O'Brien, love?" I say. "Is that a star name that you've made up?" "NO, Mummy!" in exasperation. "O'Brien! You know, with the belt?" Trying not to chortle out loud, her father says, "I think that's O-RION, E." "Oh," she says, "alright then. Well, there. And Cirrus the cloud star, too." "Sir-IUS?" I guess. "Yes!" I was awaiting the next stellar mondegreen with interest when she nicked off to play dolls with her sister instead.
Back in 2005, a a few online friends and I, who'd met on a Yahoo group for pregnancy and new mothers, decided to chronicle a day in our lives. We thought it would be an interesting thing to do, given our geographical and cultural spread (3 Australians, 2 Scandanavians, 6 Americans, 2 Canadians, 5 Brits, 3 French, 2 German, 2 Japanese and 4 Singaporean) and our vastly variable numbers of children, family circumstances, work situations and so forth. The results were indeed interesting, and I fell into the habit of refreshing the experiment 6-monthly on my old blog for a time.
However, I haven't documented a day for quite a while now, and with an extra little person in the mix, I thought it might be revealing to do so again. So here goes ... Tuesday 5 October in the life of us.*
12:05am 19-month-old toddler wakes. She is confused, cranky and wants her daddy (the go-to man for pre-2am wakings, normally). Daddy, however, is away for a few nights for work, so she has to make do with Mummy, cuddles and a breastfeed. Initial exasperation aside, after a long, langorous feed in bed, she redeems herself by pulling off at 1:30am with a smile and "Ahhhhh! I yuff you, mine Mummy".
1:45am Toddler has fallen asleep next to me. I carry her back to her cot and return to bed, asleep again sometime shortly after 2am.
5:55am Toddler wakes. Toddler wakes me. I bring her into bed & breastfeed her.
6:15am 7-y-old gets up, goes to the loo, and settles herself on the couch with a rug, a bottle of water and her current book (something about Sky Horses, I think).
6:35am Toddler and I get up. I go to kitchen to prepare breakfasts and school / kinder lunches and snacks. Toddler pulls apart the Tupperware cupboard while I work.
7am Lunches & snacks are made, and so is breakfast. Toddler, Miss 7 and I repair to the dining room to eat. Miss 7 has 3 Weetbix and a glass of mango juice. Toddler has a weetbix mixed with apple puree and a cup of milk, and also steals bites of mine and Miss 7's meals. I have a bowl of rice porridge with a banana mixed in, and a cup of strong unsweetened black Orange Pekoe tea. I read books to toddler as we eat, and chat to Miss 7. After we eat, Miss 7 goes back to her book, toddler to generalised mischief, and me to the breakfast dishes.
7:30am I finish the breakfast dishes and call Miss 5 to get up. Predictably, she is barely awake and doesn't want to.
7:40am I climb the steps to Miss 5's loft bed and lie down next to her, talking about the day to come as I tickle her toes. She laughs, begrudgingly, and gets up.
7:55am Miss 5 is eating breakfast - oat porridge with banana, and a cup of juice. Miss 7 is still engrossed in her book. I log on my computer to quickly check work messages. I do so, there are 3 that need a response. I knock off the quickest two.
8:25am Everyone is still in their pyjamas ... Wait, EVERYONE IS STILL IN THEIR PYJAMAS!! Manic dressing, hair-brushing and arranging, tooth-brushing, and nappy-changing ensues. Miss 7 co-operates. The toddler runs around the house chortling in glee and thwarting attempts to clothe her. Miss 5 stages her not-atypical I Don't Do Mornings rebellion. We avoid tears (narrowly) and yelling (even more narrowly) but there is tension in the air.
8:50am We pile into the car, high-fiving ourselves as we should beat the first bell at school unless we are unlucky.
8:56am We pull up at school. Car spot! First bell ringing now!! 5-y-old bursts into a rendition of We Are The Champions as we all kiss Miss 7 and wave her off to class.
9:02am We arrive at kinder and walk Miss 5 in. This is accomplished without incident, other than the happy serendipity of Miss 5's bosom buddy arriving at the same time, which leads to mutual expressions of undying devotion and intentions to sit together at Brain Button time.
9:10am Toddler and I leave kinder. We make a pitstop at the servo to fuel up and to use the flexiteller.
9:35am We arrive at gymnastics. The gym is not holding classes this week but the office is open for payments. We pay for the big girls' term fees, inspect the renovated building (v nice) and shoot the breeze with the coaches for a bit.
10am We arrive at a local cafe, where I very cleverly managed to leave our pusher behind when having brunch with friends a few days ago. Pusher is reclaimed, and I sit down at an outdoor table with a decaf cap. Toddler eats strawberries and a vegemite-flavoured breadstick, and plays with a few random other kids she finds. I take my first deep breath of the day, or so it seems.
10:28am We leave the cafe and drive to my mother-in-law's house via a bakery, where we purchase some bread rolls, a sponge cake and a family pie. MIL has only been home from hospital one day and although my sister-in-law is there with her, we wanted to visit too and see how she's going. We find her improved in body but very teary and emotional as her reduced mobility is starting to really sink in for her. I make a cup of tea and cut spongecake for her and my SIL. SIL takes Toddler to the chook pen to pat chickens and collect eggs. I reassure my MIL as much as I can. Toddler snuggles her, and munches down a banana, half a bread roll and a hunk of cheese.
11:35am We head towards kinder to collect Miss 5 and her friend who is coming to us for a play today.
11:55am Oh noes. Toddler is asleep. Kinder pick-up isn't until 12:30pm.
11:57am Nil desperandum! Another friend will drop both girls to me. Community FTW.
12 noon Toddler transfers from car to bed without a blip. I take a load of washing out of the machine & go outside to hang it, refresh the dogs' water, and do a dog poo collection. (Not fun, but hey, someone's gotta do it...)
12:40pm The girls arrive. They immediately commence a game of dominoes in the lounge room while I make their lunch.
1:00pm We eat. Ham, cheese, fairy bread, strawberries, apple, banana, crackers and tomatoes on a plate for the kids. Leftover roast veggies, a cup of Earl Grey tea and some blueberries for me. Yoghurt for all for dessert.
1:25pm Toddler awakes. She's a bit discombobulated. I give her a breastfeed, as she ate lunch before her sleep. The girls head into the bedroom to explore the swanky new loft beds. They take a megatonne of Barbies up the steps and spread them out on Miss 5's bed. Happy chaos ensues.
1:45pm Toddler "helps" me sort laundry. We then read 6 books, including her current favourites, Charles Fuge's I Know a Rhino and Mem Fox's Time for Bed.
2:00pm Toddler, Miss 5 and their visitor upend the block box and the plastic animal basket and begin building a zoo. While they play together, I quickly nip back into work online and answer another email.
2:35pm The visitor's Mum arrives to get her. We all walk out together, chatting.
2:50pm We leave to go up to school.
3pm We wander over to the big sandpit at school. Miss 5 and the Toddler see some friends there. I let them take off their shoes and have at it.
3:15pm Bell. Miss 7 emerges, sees us, and smiles. That just never gets old with me, her hometime smile.
3:30pm Sand play finished, we finally head back to the car. It's warm, and we stop on the way home for lemonade icypoles.
3:40pm Home. Straight into the yard via the side gate (hooray for having the forethought to bring the key!) Three girls and a Mum stretch out on the trampoline, licking lemonade icypoles, making patterns in the white puffy clouds, cuddling, talking. I start to feel dangerously sleepy.
3:55pm I haul my backside off the tramp before falling asleep, and swing Toddler in her swing for 15 minutes before heading inside to check work, start dinner, and put more washing on. Miss 7 takes over the swingage for Toddler.
4:15 Neighbour kids arrive and request admittance. Word of the loft beds has spread, and they are curious. Three altogether, they join with my three and play in the sun for a bit. I chop bacon & onion and pumpkin, think through a tricky work issue, and listen to thesixtyone on my computer.
4:40pm Everyone piles inside. I am almost ready to put the risotto in the oven so I ask Miss 5 to amuse Toddler for 10 more minutes, which she does. Dinner in the oven, I pick Toddler (who is getting very scratchy) up and carry her off for some quiet stories, freeing the other 5 kids to go to town on the loft beds. Which they do. Oh me. Oh my.
5:25pm Dinner is ready. I send the neighbour kids home, serve up, and we eat. I read a chapter of Trixie Belden for the big kids, interspersed with Who is Hiding books for the Toddler.
6:00pm Dinner is eaten. All bowls are clean - risotto is such a favourite with them all. We go our separate ways, me to wash dishes and make a work phone call in the kitchen, the big girls to play with their guinea pig things (those weird Zhou Zhou pets the kids are all into at the moment) and the toddler to hang out with her sisters.
6:30pm We reconvene in the bathroom and have a community shower. I think this is the key plank in our water-saving strategy - group washing!
6:50pm Everyone is washed, dried, dressed, and hair dried. We spend 20 minutes doing a house pick-up - putting toys back in boxes, rubbish in bins, clothes in drawers etc. At the end it isn't perfect but it's a darn sight better.
7:10pm I put Toddler in her sleeping bag and take her to the lounge room for her bedtime breastfeed. The big girls play Uno together, then the 5-y-old reads while the 7-y-old does her maths homework. They are in their room, at their desks. I put the TV on muted and read the news ticker on Sky News as I feed the baby.
7:40pm Toddler has fallen asleep at the breast, so I take her to bed and go into the big girls. We chat for a few minutes, then I send them to brush their teeth & go to the loo. After that, they head up to their loft beds. I lie with first one, then the other, for 10 minutes apiece, singing songs and talking.
8:20pm I make a cup of white tea with vanilla and sit down at my computer to do some consolidated work.
9:30pm I can't work anymore; everything is blurring together. Still, at least I got some stuff done, and stole a few minutes to read the latest entry at Shakesville and reply to private email.
9:45pm After brushing teeth and using the loo, I climb into bed. I start reading James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small, my current re-reading book. I read about 5 pages before drifting off.
10:30pm A dog is barking somewhere down the street. It is loud, furious and constant. I lie in bed willing it to shuthehellup. It doesn't. Toddler calls out in fright, "Mummm-eee! Dog barting! 'Top, dog! You no bart! Mummm-eeeeeeeeee!" I go to her and pick her up, murmuring a lullaby as I do so. It's pointless at this stage, though - until the dog shuts up, she won't settle down. So we sit on the chair in her room and rock quietly, snuggled up together.
11:15pm The dog FINALLY shuts up. 'Bout bleeding time.
11:45pm Toddler is back asleep, so I lift her into her cot and return to my bed, where I flake out within 5 minutes.
And THAT was our day!
*I chose Tuesday knowing it would take me three or so sessions to write this, and it has!
Spring has sprung, and one of its many joys has been the opportunity to revisit one of our very favourite places in the world ... our Magic Beach (the girls named it for Alison Lester's wonderful book, which I would highly recommend to anyone unfamiliar).
A quiet, deserted bay beach a little out from Melbourne, our magic beach is about 20 minutes drive from where we live, the latter part of which is through farmlets and market gardens and open fields.
I've never been sure why this beach doesn't attract much traffic. It's usually calm, shallow a long way out, possessed of a grassy field ideal for picnics, has white shelly sand perfect for building sandcastles with, and is a stone's throw from a bijoux marina where tiny sailing boats bob at anchor.
It has darting silver fish, interesting seaweed, is clean and safe, and is far from the madding crowd. Whenever we go, we see a few locals walking dogs, perhaps one or two children and parents out for a play, and that's all, ever, no matter what time or day.
I don't doubt that at some point, the world will catch up with our Magic Beach. No doubt it'll become popular, busy, and trendy.
For now, though, it's one of our treasures, home to many a treasured experience, and we love it dearly.