The Way of the Sword

Well, it’s the end of another couple of weeks of school holidays, and Evan has really enjoyed a bit of down time. It’s really wonderful having him home to hang out with, and I particular love seeing him curled up in the corner of the couch, on a cold winter’s day, devouring one book after another.

I’m finding it quite hard to keep up with his reading at the moment, he gets through books so quickly. He has recently raced through a couple more of the Young Samurai series, which he introduced us to a couple of months back.

He’s kindly put together a review of book 2 in the series, and I’m so pleased to be able to share it with you:

The Way of the Sword, by Chris Bradford
The Way of the Sword is the sequel to the first book The Way of the Warrior in the Young Samurai series and I could not resist reviewing this book seeing how I enjoyed the first book so much.

Just like I said with the first book, this is a book that keeps you reading from start to finish. I recommend this book for kids over 9. On the back cover it does say 11 plus – but I don’t think it’s that bad.

The series is about a boy named Jack Fletcher whose dad was killed by a ninja called Dokugan Ryu in a boarding while they were trying to find Japan in a trading ship called the Alexandra. Jack then gets found by a samurai called Takeshi Masamoto and is trained as a young samurai.

In this book it is Jack’s second year as a samurai in training and he trying to get into an ancient ritual called the Circle of Three which tests the young samurai’s skill, courage and spirit.

But at the same time he is in danger from the Scorpion Gang and their leader Kazuki. Still, this is not his biggest problem – he is now a target of his ninja enemy Dragon Eye.

Getting into the Circle of Three is essential for Jack’s survival and then being able to be taught by the highest-ranking master, Takeshi Masamoto, at his samurai school, so that he can learn the  invincible samurai technique, The Two Heavens.

If Jack does not learn this technique he will be easy prey for his enemies Kazuki and his gang and even more so, Dragon Eye.

I thought this book would be great and I was completely correct! I finished it in a mater of days because whenever I started reading I just couldn’t stop. Whenever I had spare time I was reading and I can promise you I’ll be reading the next one! This book is exiting, scary at times but most of all it’s compelling and it makes you want to buy the next book so you know what happens next. 

Given that he didn’t get his head out of this book until it was finished, I’d say Evan was pretty impressed with this novel. A very good way to keep a kid occupied for a couple of days!

And now I have to let him go back to school for another term. I’ll be counting down ’til the next break…

Art of the Brick

It was Evan’s turn today for a city day-trip, and along with some school buddies we headed off into Federation Square for a bit of Lego action. I’ve been really looking forward to seeing Nathan Sawaya’s Art of the Brick, and it did not disappoint.

I’m pretty sure I’m safe in saying that once a Lego kid, always a Lego kid, and I am most certainly a fan of the little plastic block. In saying that, I wouldn’t have been as interested in seeing a Legoland type of display – cityscapes, spaceships, car-like creations. Although these types of structures require immense talent and incredibly steady hands, it’s not so much the type of things I’m interested in seeing.

Nathan Sawaya’s exhibition is very different to this. His work is sculptural, emotional, and in many ways very mature. It’s a fascinating contrast between medium and content. It’s a bit like seeing the Mona Lisa drawn in crayon…it perplexes one just a little.

And although I think the boys were a little distracted by the prospect of laser skirmish in the afternoon (oh boys…), I think Evan got into the show almost as much as I did. He was suitably impressed by the level of difficulty, both in terms of the construction and the transportation of the sculptures. I think he got the contrast too. He was compelled to get up very close, to look at the details, to study the expressions on the Lego faces all with a little frown on his own face.

He loved the dinosaur, huge and tactile, and he spent a fair while studying the globe of the world. He was also very keen on the coloured skulls, bright and bold on the black wall – he was really fascinated by their symmetry, four skulls exactly the same, only different in colour.

Personally, I particularly like Mask and Yellow, and I’ll admit I would have liked one the skulls to take home for my wall.

We didn’t stay for ages, just long enough to look at everything a couple of times. It was pretty busy, but not overwhelmingly so. Just the right amount of action to make you feel you were in the middle of a pretty exciting show. I noticed that the ‘Play and Build’ sessions were solidly booked out for most of the day – luckily the kids weren’t that keen on doing building of their own, but had they been, pre-booking would have been a must.

This is a really interesting show, well worth looking at as a day out. Being in Federation Square, it’s in a great location too, very easy to get to. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can check out their link on Little Melbourne’s site.

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Oscar’s laughing

Now this was an interesting one…Walt Disney’s Fantasia at the Palais Theatre. To me, it was a perfect combination, but I really wasn’t sure how it would suit Matt and the boys. Still, being hell bent on getting us all along to many and varied types of outings, I insisted. It was a completely perfect day for a family outing and a great day to head down to St Kilda. We even managed a little walk along the foreshore, albeit a chilly one.

Evan was suitably impressed with the Palais, and kindly indulged me by listening to the stories of when I saw the Arctic Monkey’s from the balcony, and how I saw Bob Dylan play there when I was a teenager. Matt and I enjoyed the novelty of visiting the Palais during the day, something neither of us had done before. It was also a bit of fun to be able to stroll around the dress circle a bit more casually than you would normally be able to.

Oscar was just excited about being taken to the movies again, and was quite thrilled to be amongst so many other little kids.

I don’t think I’ve seen Fantasia before, at least not in its entirety. It is such a beautiful experience. It mesmerises and quietly inspires. I particularly liked the opening sequence and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. 

Evan wasn’t quite so sure about this part of the film, I think the the unicorns were a little too ‘My Little Pony‘ for his tastes, but he really seemed to enjoy The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the film overall. It took him a bit by surprise that there was no story as such, but he quickly got used to it.

Oscar really got into the The Rite of Spring scene, which was probably no surprise…what kind of kid doesn’t get into some dinosaur action! The dancing hippos and crocodiles in Dance of the Hours had him laughing out loud. I’ve not actually ever heard him laugh like that at a film before, it was a special treat. He really seemed to enjoy the music too, he even tried at one point to sing along with the orchestra. It was a nice follow-up to his jazz experience last month.

It was very cute to hear all the kids, including Oscar, ooh and ah throughout the film. The absence of dialogue seemed to give them license to chat more than they would normally, and they loved pointing out what was on the screen. It was interesting that this type of film experience seemed to be less immersive, less all-consuming than say a Pixar or Dreamworks film, the kids moved and chattered and laughed out loud…something that doesn’t seem to happen so much in the cinema normally. It was a nice experience, to hear them interpret what they were seeing as they were seeing it.

This screening was held as part of the Music on Film Festival. I really love the idea of this festival, and will be keeping an eye out for it next year. I wish I was a little freer today, if I was I’d spend the whole day watching films – they’re having a Scorsese Sunday!

Finally, I really have to thank Little Melbourne again. Firstly for making sure that we knew about this great event and secondly, for running the ticket give-away…I can’t remember the last time I won a prize, and it was perfect! Thanks guys, you rock!

And next for some lego

What have you got planned for the second week of these wintery holidays?

When Bond meets Pixar, it’s gotta be a blast!

Every school holidays I try and take the boys to at least one film. I love the movies, and going with the kids is a great excuse to indulge in some Pixar magic. I left the choice of film up to them, but I have to admit that I was quietly pleased when Oscar’s pick was Cars 2.

Booking online takes so much pain out of the school holiday movie process, and with our home-printed tickets we skipped the line and cruised into cinema 2 with no further ado.

We settled in with popcorn, chips and choc-tops, thoroughly enjoyed the short Toy Story film (Pixar always include a little short-film treat), and then got geared up for what turned out to be a surprisingly different film to original Cars. Yes, the characters were much the same but the storyline was so different it  was almost unrecognisable.

The movie begins as a carbon-copy James Bond intro with a perfectly cast Michael Caine getting into all sorts of trouble as Finn McMissile, including an exciting explosion-rife and gadget-reliant car chase. After this somewhat unexpected introduction to the film, we pop back to Radiator Springs where we get a quick refresh of characters and back-stories and it quickly becomes obvious that this time round Mater is going to be the star of the show.

The story goes that Lightening McQueen and his small-town pit-crew travel around the globe to compete in a World Grand Prix. The international race is a brilliant vehicle for some spectacular scenery, a major drawcard of the film. The Pixar gang have absolutely outdone themselves this time around…the scenery in Japan, Italy and London is just to die for. The Italian Rivera almost brought tears to my eyes – the blue waters peppered with yachts and villas made me even more aware of the fact we’re smack bang in the middle of a grey, cold old Melbourne winter. Tokyo and the rainbow bridge in Japan was gorgeous too.

I’m pretty sure that this side of the film was pretty much lost on the kids, but they did seem to really get into the action and excitement of the races and the secret mission storyline that Mater finds himself part of. Oscar still hasn’t stopped talking about how Mater got gatling guns (just great! not…) I get the feeling that the details of the plot might have been a little tricky for the younger ones, but older Evan seemed to really get into the intrigue. Oscar seemed happy with the colour and motion, and the grown-ups in the cinema seemed to giggle at the in-jokes in all the right places.

I’ve got to admit, I liked the first Cars film more, and I think to be honest the boys did too. In saying that, there is nothing actually wrong with this film, and as I mentioned it is spectacular to look at. Well worth a trip to the big screen, and a good one if you’ve got a few kids of different ages to entertain.

The film’s website is worth a look too, it’s a bit of fun.

Coming up…
I’ve got a couple of exciting things coming up over the next few days. I was lucky, lucky, lucky and won tickets (big thanks to Little Melbourne) to see Fantasia at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda.

This very special screening is part of the Music on Film Festival being held at the moment. You can find out more information here, and it’s well worth a sticky-beak as there’s some great films showing over the weekend. I’m really looking forward to showing the boys one of my favourite venues in Melbourne.

I’ve also just booked tickets to see The Art of the Brick in Fed Square next week. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is more about my love of Lego than anything else, but I’m sure that the boys will love it too.

I’ll share my thoughts on both of these, and then head off to my book club meeting next week, after which I’ll give you a run down of what we made of the novel Room by Emma Donoghue.

P.S. Don’t forget to enter the running for this month’s give-away, full details here…entries close 14 July.

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Use your words

Oh dear, it’s a grey old day in Melbourne. Not much point going out and shivering with my coldy kids, so we’re staying put at the moment. Once Play School and Sesame Street are finished for the day, this means plenty of time for reading.

We discovered Maisy’s Amazing Big Book of Words, by Lucy Cousins at the library last week, and it’s had a daily run ever since. Oscar is absolutely loving it, and I’m very happy that he’s taken a shine to it.

Oscar talks a lot. He chatters away pretty much all day, to me, to his Dad, to his brother, to his toys. Problem is, up until quite recently, he was very difficult to understand. His chattering made very little sense to any one other than himself, and sometimes me.

For a long while this didn’t seem to bother him at all, but of late he has started to get a bit frustrated by not being easily understood, so I thought now would be a good time to work with him to help get his speech up to that next level. I wasn’t quite sure how to do this, as neither he nor I are flash-cardy kind of people, and general daily chatter didn’t seem to be doing the job quickly enough.

Cousin’s Maisy’s Amazing Big Book of Words was just perfect for the job! It’s a great way to practice a great range of words, some of which he knew, and others brand new to him. It’s bright and colourful, and he of course loves the pop-ups and surprises on each page. It includes inside words and outside words, farms and beaches, bath time and bed time. It’d be great for the really little ones too, it could easily be picked up and put down again after a page or two.

Photo: Little Red Riding Nook

Because Oscar love Maisy, this practice doesn’t feel at all like a chore and he’s happily working his way up from picture recognition, to recognising some of the written words. It’s quite fun too to make up stories based on the pictures on each page, I reckon lots of games could be played this way.

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get Oscar to relinquish this one back to the library. I guess I’ll just have to find something just as fun to distract him with!

Do you have any tips for helping kids with their pronunciation? Any good books that have helped?

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Letting off some steam

I was kind of surprised when Evan’s teachers decided that they were up to the challenge of taking a big group of ten and eleven year olds toCircus Oz – Steam Powered last week, but they’re a brave lot and took it on. It was the first time this year that the kids have been on an evening excursion, and of course the kids were all abuzz about being allowed out so late on a school night. Under fab supervision, they excitedly made their way to Birrarung Marr to hang out under the big top.

It’s been many years since I’ve been to the circus, but the thought of it always makes me feel a little flurry of excitement. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of being taken to the Great Moscow Circus in Launceston, an amazingly big deal for a small town Tassie girl.

As such, I would have quite enjoyed going to see the show myself, especially as I quite like the whole ‘steampunk’ theming that Circus Oz have gone with this tour, but I was pleased that Evan got to have a fun night out with his mates. I did pick his brain though, and he’s given me a bit of a run down on how it was…

What was the best thing about the performance?
The hilarity! I loved how they made it serious and exciting, but still hilarious to watch. My favourtite act was Fantasia Fitness, it was really funny how she kept falling over, saying that she meant to do it, and then doing sit-ups and push-ups [nothing like a bit of classic slap-stick, hey?].

Was it scary?
I got a bit nervous for the people doing the tricks, but it wasn’t really scary.

What were the costumes like?
They seemed a bit olden-days, they looked like the kind of the clothes that people wore lots of years ago, especially the hats.

What kind of acts did they have?
They had lots of different acts – juggling, lots of acrobats, a giant see-saw, some really weird magic acts, and a bike that kept falling apart.

Who do you think would enjoy the show?
An entire range of people, from young to old. There were lots of families there (including a Grandma who had pink hair) and they all seemed to have lots of fun.

Photo: Circus Oz


You can check out their promo video here, it’s pretty cool.

Circus Oz – Steam Powered is in Melbourne until July 17, and then moves on to tour Australia. You can find all the dates and details here.


On Evan’s recommendation, it sounds like a pretty good fun night out.

When was the last time you went to the circus?

Happy Birthday Eric Carle

I’ve been working this week with My Little Bookcase to help celebrate the birthday of a very special children’s author, Eric Carle.

By Eric Carle

Carle’s work is amazingly timeless, I loved The Very Hungry Caterpillar when I was a kid. My eldest son was given a beautiful copy of …Caterpillar about 10 years ago accompanied by a toy that I’d have loved when I was little, and which really brought the story to life for him. And now I continue to enjoy Eric’s stories with Oscar. Decades of enjoyment. Thanks Eric…


To help mark the occasion, you’ll find my review of Slowly, Slowly, Slowly said the Sloth on My Little Bookcase’s wonderful website here…

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All aboard for Swing City

I was quite thrilled a few weeks ago when I discovered that my three-year old Oscar liked jazz music. I’m no aficionado, but I like a little jazz, and it most certainly makes a nice break from listening to kids shows, dinosaurs and super heros in the background, during the sometimes longish days at home with little Osc.

So, when I came across the link to Play School’s Big Jazz Adventure on Little Melbourne’s site, the timing could not have been more perfect. I bought tickets and this Sunday just gone, Oscar and I took ourselves off into the city for a Mum and Bub big day out.

As well as being a mini-jazz fan, Oscar absolutely loves Play School. This is a fixation I wholeheartedly support, as it’s much more age appropriate than the Ben 10, Star Wars and Harry Potter that he’s often obsessed with (the joys of having both a 3 year old and 10 year old in the house). Before the show, he let me know that he was particularly excited about seeing Humpty Dumpty and his Dad had asked him to say a big hello to Big Ted for him. Much to his delight, both Humpty and Ted put in an appearance, as did old favourites like Jemima and Morris.

Oscar was so engrossed, so enamoured with the whole production (the music and a stage set-up quite obviously Play School-ey) that he didn’t even move for the first couple of songs. He sat there, wide-eyed, mouth agape…it was, simply put, one of the best things I’ve ever seen. As a Mum, there is nothing quite like getting to see first hand, your child really enjoying something, really taking it all in. I was happy to see that I’d gotten it pretty right with this gig.

After a little while, and a few pokes from me, he started to dance and sing along with Teo and Rachel. The show itself was a really fun mix of nursery rhymes and more jazzy numbers, and both Teo and Rachel managed the songs beautifully. Oscar and I had made a bit of a list of songs that we thought we might hear, and many of them made it into the show. And, there was most definitely no shortage of animal noises and tea-pot actions for the kids to have fun with.

To top of the day, Oscar convinced his push-over Mum that a Humpty Dumpty toy (a big one, a big one mum!) would be just the ticket to round off this jazz adventure. It is now his new favourite thing, they’re quite inseparable.

I’ve got to admit too that playing with Humpty Dumpty on the train home made me very nostalgic…Humpty really hasn’t changed all that much since I was a kid. A bit of trivia for those playing along at home, Play School turns 45 years old this year. They must be doing something right.

In short, I can’t think of a better way to have spent my Sunday – thanks Mr. Oscar for a wonderful day out in swing city.

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Mum-friendly kid treats

Very little time in front of the computer this weekend means that I’ve got a couple of things that I want to share today – a book, a gig, and an exhibition.

First up is a book that I meant to mention a little while ago, before I got a bit carried away with all this going-out-in-public stuff.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Lisa McCune has released a book, Hopscotch and Honey Joys. It’s essentially a cookbook, beautifully put together by Lisa and her good friend Di Thomas, but it is also much more than a collection of recipes. It’s been put together like a lovely, personal scrapbook of ideas…a Mum’s guide to lovely things for kids and kin.

Between them Lisa and Di have six children between the ages of four and nine, and as such the content is really helpful and fun for a pretty wide range of us, from those with really young kids as well as those whose kidlings are a little more grown up.

I’m thinking that Hopscotch and Honey Joys would be a really great gift for a new Mum, as it’s got some really great ‘basics’ in it, like tips for travelling with kids, party games, knowing your different types of potatoes, etc.

It’s an effective blend of tips and recipes, and I particularly like the fact that many of the recipe ideas would be great for cooking with the kids. I’m really finding that including Oscar in the cooking process is helping with his pathological dislike for anything not vegemite, so any ideas for kid-friendly cooking goes down really well with me.

My personal favourites; creamy rice pudding (yum, yum, winter fun), potato printing (might try this one this afternoon), shaving cream play (never mind the mess guys), and the carbonara gnocchi bake (my mouth is watering just thinking about it.) If you’re keen for a sneak peak, you check out a couple of pages here.

This is a really well put together book, with a wonderful balance of fun and function. Check it out.

Now, I’ve been doing a fair few outings on my own, which has been a very nice treat, but I was starting to feel a little guilty.  As such, I had a bit of a look around on Little Melbourne and found some great kid’s gigs coming up in June. I’ve picked out one for Evan, and one for Oscar and I’m looking forward to some nice one-to-one time with each of them.

I’ve just bought tickets to see Play School’s Big Jazz Adventure, running 12 and  13 June at Melbourne Town Hall. This caught my eye for obvious reasons (Play School + three-year old = happy) but also because I discovered last week that Oscar quite digs jazz. Let’s see if we can’t make him even cooler than he already is.

Given that I didn’t think that the Play School gig was really going to cut it with my ten-year old, I found something different for Evan. We’re thinking of getting along to see The Art of the Brick at Federation Square. I’ll admit, this is also a little self serving, as I’m a very big lego fan, but I do think that the boy will get into it as well. Should make for a nice day out regardless.

So here’s to hoping my energy holds out, it’s looking like June’s pretty packed too!

May your May be very busy…

The day has wizzed by me I’m afraid, and I’ve only gotten a fraction of the jobs done that I’d hoped to. I am now miles behind myself, which probably serves me right for galavanting around town this week.

Despite this, I’m pleased to say that I’ve not learnt my lesson, and that I’ve got more than a few outings on the cards for the next couple of weeks. May is certainly turning out to be a busy month.

First on the cards is Art Melbourne, the affordable art show which is being held at the Royal Exhibition Building this weekend.  It opens tonight (I’m fairly sure tickets are still available through their website), and the show continues until Sunday. I’m hoping to get there myself on the weekend, and I can’t wait to check out some of the artistic talents around, local and otherwise who are looking to spruik their wares.

I’ll be especially on the look out for Joi’s Oodlies, which’ll be at stand S19, and I’m keen to see local gallery Suburban Gallery in stand C19.

If you’re keen on coming along at some stage, tickets are available online or at the door.  If you don’t get there, I’ll be sure to share a few of the stand-outs next week.

Next up is the 2011 Bayside Literary Festival which opens tomorrow night and runs until 27 May 2011. It’s a pretty jam-packed program featuring a really great range of authors, illustrators, experts and thinkers.  You’ll find the program here and I’ll have a bit more of a chat about a few of the events in tomorrow’s blog post.  In addition, if you’re in Brighton or Beaumaris, you might like to pop in to their libraries’ as they’re featuring art by Nicky Johnston and Pete Pascoe (Nicky at Brighton, Pete at Beaumaris) to complement the festival.

Finally, as a bookish aside, I bought Evan a new book today. He needed a book for on the bus when he goes on camp, and so I thought I’d better just take a punt and buy him something today (although normally I’d make sure he was there to help choose.)  Anyway, hoping for the best, I got him a copy of a book call Olaf the Viking, by Martin Conway. It looks to be pitched about right, and seems to have a bit of humour about it.  Stay tuned to hear Ev’s verdict.

In short, May may be very busy, but most certainly it’ll be full of fun.

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