Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: I’ll Love You Forever by Owen Hart and Sean Julian

Review: I’ll Love You Forever by Owen Hart and Sean Julian

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Though seasons may turn,

bringing sights new and strange,

My love is the one thing,

that won’t ever change.

A polar bear guides a cub out of the den and across the landscape, from winter to spring and through the first year of life. All along, adult bear reassures the cub of unending love.

A gentle rhyme to share with the very smallest children.

Reading is about so much more than language acquisition. It is a bonding time, and books like this give children the space to ask very big questions. Will you always love me? Even when I’m grown up? As adults, we take these things for granted but children need the space to ask these questions. 

Little bear gains confidence, exploring for himself and straying further from the adult but at the end of the book, the bears are cuddled back together. This gives the reader an important message – even when they spend time away from their loved ones, the bond is never broken.

The bears are not gendered or named as parent and child. This makes the book accessible to all sorts of family units. It would be a lovely book to gift to a new baby or to give to a child on the edge of a new milestone who is nervous about the changes.

This is also a lovely story for talking about seasons. Winter turns to spring, and then summer. Big polar bear introduces different features of the seasons – snowflakes, blossom, migratory birds and golden leaves indicate that the seasons are changing. The soft colour-pallette and gentle brush strokes match the tone of the rhyme. This is a safe landscape. A landscape ready to explore.

A warm and comforting narrative which will make a beautiful gift for small children. A must-have for any early bookshelf.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of I’ll Love You Forever. Opinions my own.

 

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Amy Wilson talks Snowglobe, fairytales and creating magical settings.

IMG_E6003The first book I reviewed for BookMurmuration became a lifelong favourite. A Girl Called Owl is a story of frost magic, the search for family-identity and a hidden world where a magical council controls the seasons. 

Amy Wilson has now published three books, each as fantastic as the other. Her latest novel, Snowglobeis a story of three magical sisters, manipulation and the importance of grabbing life with two hands. Like all her novels, it is set in a world with hidden pockets of magic and wonder. 

I am delighted that Amy has agreed to take part in a Q&A about magic and fairytales and all things winter. Her answers will leave you daydreaming and grabbing for a pen to write your own magical tales. It is a pleasure to have Amy here on my blog. BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Your debut novel, A Girl Called Owl, takes us into Jack Frost’s wintery world and your latest story Snowglobe features a room full of magical snowglobes. Why are you drawn to snowy landscapes?

I love the blank page of a snow-filled street. The sense of possibility and magic that comes with all the ordinary being hidden away. And the danger that comes with the beauty feels like such a truth. Many of us are lucky enough that we spend most of our lives cushioned from the harsh extremities of the world. Snow – winter – reminds me that we are still, always, at the mercy of our environment.

 

Do you have any favourite stories set in snowy worlds? What do you love about these stories?

CS Lewis’ Narnia stands out immediately. I have such a sense of the wild and the cold, and the snap of branches underfoot. The danger, and the suffering of those who need spring so desperately. I love the heart of the characters, the friendship offered when there is little else to give. I’ve recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and I suppose it seems natural that I would love it, but I LOVED it so much. I loved the old myths and legends, the wilderness, the magic. All of it!

 

Snowglobe and A Far Away Magic feature houses with magical secrets. The houses are unique to your stories. Please do you have any tips about creating magical houses as settings?

See them as a character. These houses have been around for longer than the characters themselves, and if there is magic in your world, and in your characters, then that magic may have infused the place. See normal things: a kitchen sink, a clock, a chest of drawers, with infinite possibilities. Even a settee is capable of much, in a magical house. And we all know about wardrobes…

 

The magic in your stories is subtle – other people in the same world may not be aware it exists. Why do write magic in this way?

I want it to be so nearly real that you can truly be there, even if you’re sitting on the train reading. Like shadows in the corners of your eyes, or the mist rolling over the fields in the very early morning that could be more than it looks. Powers that work like a sneeze, or the tingling of skin with a shock. The sensations are real, it’s just a question of taking that one step further, and then wondering, if that did really happen, if I could do things that we believe are impossible, would other people believe it? Or would they just blink and think they’re tired? Would they see it? I think that even if it were real, some people perhaps wouldn’t see it because they don’t open their eyes to see the magic that is in the world, they’ve trained their minds in other ways.

 

Snow melts shortly after it settles, especially in the UK. If you were given magic to turn a snowflake into an object you could keep, what would that object be? Please can you describe it for us? 

I would turn it into a unicorn – a Pegasus actually, because it would have wings, and we’d travel the world, at night, and have the most incredible adventures. And then one day we’d find a whole heard of snow-Pegasus’ and I’d have to leave her there but every winter she’d come and graze in my garden, and give my children rides up to the stars.

 

If you could choose any magical power, what would it be and why? 

I’d like to talk with trees. I’d like to hear their voices, to know what they think of the world.

 

Win a copy of Snowglobe – thanks to the lovely people at Macmillan Children’s Books UK, I have three copies of Snowglobe to give away to readers in the UK or Ireland. Check out my Twitter feed for a chance to win. Competition ends 16.12.2018 at 11.59pm.

A huge thanks to Amy Wilson and Jo Hardacre for your time.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · craft · Guest Post

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts

 

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts – a collaboration with Lisa’s Notebook

There’s no better time for quick crafts than in the run-up to Christmas. Whether you’re looking to distract the children for half-an-hour, to make a last-minute gift or for a bit of time out, factor some craft time into your festive agenda. 

This post is a collaboration with Lisa from Lisa’s Notebook. I adore Lisa’s blog. With regular features about gardening, self-care and kid-friendly activities, there is something for everyone. Be sure to check out Lisa’s post and see how she got on with the same crafts.

We chose some crafts from Pinterest – collaborating was a lovely way to motivate each other to do the crafts, rather than just pinning them to our boards. It was also a great way of finding things we might not have picked ourselves. Our theme was ‘nature’ and I love how we interpreted this in different ways. 

The three crafts featured here are:

  • A pine-cone elf
  • Bird feeders
  • Star decorations made from twigs 

Check them out below, then have a look at Lisa’s post to see how her crafts came out. 

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Pinecone elf – 

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This was the first craft I picked. There are many examples over Pintest and by looking at these I decided I wanted to keep my elf simple, to add a jingle-bell to his hat and to have accessories in two colours. 

The fiddliest part was making the hat, but once I found a template it came together quickly enough. The result was very sweet and I think these would make lovely little gifts or table-favours. 

 

You will need:

  • Sheets of felt
  • One pinecone 
  • A wooden ball 
  • Jingle bells
  • A pen to draw on the face
  • A glue gun 

 

Instructions: 

  1. Cut out the hat. There is a great template here which shows you the shape to cut the felt. Stick the hat together using your glue gun and add a jingle bell at the top. 
  2. Cut out the feet and scarf.  
  3. Stick the hat to your wooden ball, then stick the head on to the pine cone. Add the feet and scarf. When everything is dry, draw on the face. 

 

Bird feeders – 

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You will need – 

  • Dry mix: Birdseed, currents, sultanas, oats 
  • Fat. I used vegetable fat. 
  • Cookie cutters laid out on a baking tray. You need open cookie cutters, not the ones with patterns in. 
  • Straws (Paper ones work just fine.) 

 

Instructions –

  1. Measure out your dry ingredients. I used a ratio of 2 parts dry ingredients to one part vegetable fat, so I used 500g of dry ingredients to 250g of vegetable fat. Mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Melt the fat in a saucepan. When it is ready, pour it in with the dry mixture and stir until all the fat is soaked up. This step should be done by an adult. 
  3. Distribute your mixture between the cookie cutters, patting it down with a spoon. 
  4. When you’ve filled your cookie cutters, stick a straw in each one near the top of the cutter. This will form a hole so you can hang up your bird-seed cake when it is set. Leave your bird-seed cakes to set. 
  5. When your bird-seed cake is solid, remove the cookie cutter, tie the string through the hole and hang it on a branch. 

 

Twig star decorations:

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Never again will I judge a craft by the picture on Pinterest. When I saw this, I thought it would make a nice, easy extra. Little did I know how difficult it would be. The tricky part was cutting twigs to equal length and laying them out in a five-pointed star. They move so much that it was like a game of pick-up sticks. I am pleased with my final result and would try this again. 

You will need –

  • Twigs (we picked up longer sticks and branches and cut them to equal length. This should be done by an adult.)
  • A glue gun
  • Raffia or any ribbon or thread to wrap around the centre. 

 

Instructions – 

  1. Cut the twigs to equal length and lay them out in the shape of a five-pointed star. This is easier said than done. My advice is to draw the star out on paper and not overthink the layout. See how it comes together. 
  2. Stick your star together. Before you get the glue-gun out, look at where your twigs overlap and make a plan. I started with the overlaps nearest the bottom and worked up. 
  3. When your star is dry, tie raffia on to the twigs and wrap it around the decoration. This is a very kid-friendly part and you could use all sorts of ribbons and spare bits of thread. 

 

Final thoughts – 

Thanks again to Lisa for joining me in this collaboration. Our nature theme got me outside looking for bits and pieces, and it was lovely to take time out of the busy Christmas schedule for some crafting time. 

Have you tried any of the above crafts? Do you have any favourite Christmas activities? Let me know in the comments below. 

Chat

Chat: Hibernation urge – how to go forward when all you want to do is crawl under a blanket.

Hibernation urge – five simple ways to feel better. 

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Adapt your routine as the days get colder.

September: Even those of us past our uni days invest in planners and highlighters.

January: Reading trackers, fitness monitors and every other type of goal setting under the sun.

What falls between is November. If you are currently huddled under a fleece-blanket and wishing you could lock yourself away from the rest of the world, know you are not alone. Welcome to the November-slump.

It hit me as Halloween approached.

Regular readers know I am editing a middle-grade manuscript. Since I returned from my trip South, I have been thinking about my writing beyond this project. The average number of manuscripts written ahead of publication is four. There won’t be any need for me to set resolutions in 2019 – the year will be about working through as many novel-sized stories as possible.

In the week of Halloween, I sat down to develop some ideas. Ten minutes later I was hit by the strangest feeling – I wanted a plot then and there or I was crawling under the covers with a family-sized box of Quality Streets and staying there until mid-April.

This attitude does not a story write.

 It was only when I returned to my social media that I figured it out. There was a prevalent mood across my Twitter feed. The wording of each tweet was slightly different – some said demotivated, others tired or in a slump but they were saying very nearly the same thing. The sky is darker, the nights colder and it is too early to put up the fairy-lights.

When I realised I was not alone, I changed my approach. November-slump would be better known as the hibernation-urge. It comes as surely as the desire to buy a box-file comes in September. Instead of working against hibernation-urge, I chose to embrace it.

That’s not to say I put on a onesie and locked the door. The Quality-Street-and-a-blanket plan could only be healthy as a short-term solution. What this mood tells us is it is time to pull out the fleece-lined boots, cook porridge for breakfast and take care of ourselves. It sounds indulgent but putting these changes in place now might mean a more productive and happier winter.

Here are five ways to embrace hibernation urge and take care of yourself this winter.

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Eat a warm breakfast:

Start the day as you mean to go on. My hot breakfast of choice is porridge – cook a batch at the weekend and you can microwave it each morning. Porridge can be dressed up with cinnamon, honey and raisins. Those flavours combined give me an instant boost and I am warmed to the tip.

 

Dress for the weather:

Fleece-lined boots, thermal leggings and winter-tights are my go-to clothes for keeping wrapped up outside the house. Evenings are about winter pyjamas and warm socks. Sort your wardrobe so you are wearing the right gear.

 

Keep hydrated:

As we crave sugary chocolate-drinks it can be easy to forget the most important thing – water. To keep motivated we need to drink enough water. Carry a bottle and aim to refill it several times a day.

 

Light the room:

String-lights. Candles. Sparkly lamps. Our spirits lift at Christmas and it is not all to do with the joy and goodwill. We add light to our homes and hang decorations like tinsel which sparkle as they reflect the light.

It may be too early for the tree but now is a good time to put out extra light. My friend bought me some kitty-shaped string lights for my birthday. I’m going to put them in a jar for some instant sparkle. 

Use scented products:

Scent is the sense we neglect most often despite the fact that smells we associate with particular things have the power to affect our mood. Smelling basil reminds me of holidays in the sun, while ginger and cinnamon remind me of making gingerbread ahead of Christmas.

Using ginger bath products or lighting a scented candle is an easy way to lift my mood.

Make a list of scents which remind you of a time when you felt comfortable then make a shopping list. Whether it is bath bombs, essential oils or scented candles, this could be a simple way to make yourself feel cosy and warm.

 

Have you experienced hibernation urge? What little things help you to keep on track in the winter? Let me know in the comments below.

Chat · Lifestyle

7 things which brighten my February

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The tinsel is back in the loft but we’ve still got six weeks of winter. How does that even work out? Like many bloggers this week I am asking myself what is the point of February? Dark mornings. Dull skies. Rain. Endless rain.

We talk about seasons as if they are places we arrive at, fixed destinations when in fact the world is always turning. February is part of that cycle and it seems a pity that so many people want to put it on fast-forward. When I look past the rain there is really quite a lot to love about February. There lies the trick. The sun may not be shining right now but that doesn’t mean we create our own warmth.

This list is by no means exhaustive but here are some of the little things which brighten my world. What’s making your day brighter?bird

String lights: One reason January and February hit people hard is the post-Christmas blues. As winter rolls in we string up tinsel and fairy lights. Our houses twinkle and glitter throughout December. Why is it tradition to take those lights down in the darkest weeks of the year? 

String lights are cheap and cheerful and they bring back some of that festive glow. Suggestion: add string lights to a glass jar.

img_4807Book Post: Publishing people. I love you regardless of whether you send me post. You turn manuscripts into stories, you turn stories into masterpieces and you create something which genuinely makes the world a better place. You’re fantastic guys. BUT. When book post lands in my letter box it brightens my day. Every. Single. Time.

Migratory Geese: I live near a salt marsh. From October through to Spring we share our local area with migratory geese. Twice a day they fly past my house – on their way to feed and as they come in for the evening roost. Right now the geese are gathering ready for migration. This afternoon the sky filled with geese and it was the most beautiful sight.

img_3882Kitty Snuggles: Maisie comes to me when the house is quiet. She’s a Heffalump of a cat who rolls around when she wants a tickle. Willow is Little Miss Dainty Paws. She is a hunter, a burrower. Her favourite thing is to crawl beneath a blanket or dressing gown and snuggle right up to her chosen human. There is no doubt my girls play a big part in my life.

img_4881Cosy Boots: I don’t care what they look like on my feet. My booties are like a hug for my calves and feet. Cosy anything sounds about right. Onesies, leggings and bobble hats are all welcome here.

Bath stuffs: The Body Shop outlet sold off Christmas bubble bath in bundles. I kid you not. Our bathroom is all about frosted plum and vanilla chai. They smell so nice it is a wonder we ever emerge from our bubbly kingdoms.

 

Monty Don:  As much as I love the Solway it isn’t the sunniest place in the world. No worries – Monty Don is bringing paradise gardens right to my living room. Did you know pavilions came into being because nomadic people based them on tents? Dream fodder. 

 

What is brightening your world? Perhaps you enjoy the long, dark nights? Let me know in the comments below.