Mini-mes

The wheels on the bus…

A quick little post this afternoon, by special request of my boy Evan.

He’s off to camp soon, and he needs a book or two to read on the bus.  It’s a fairly long trip, so he wants to make sure that he picks something that’ll keep him interested.

Previously he’s been into the Beast Quest series and the Young Samurai books.  He also quite likes all those silly, Just Shocking type titles.  In other words, he’s interests are pretty broad.

So, in order to find something new, Evan has asked me to ask you guys for suggestions – do you have any ideas for books that’d strike a cord with a ten year old?

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Brainwashing al la Elmo

Oscar loves chocolate.  If we could have chocolate for dinner, we’d have a happy three year old and a very peaceful house.

But alas, apparently chocolate isn’t good for main meals, and so we must battle. Sometimes we reach a compromise and settle on vegemite toast, yoghurt or bananas for dinner but most often I stick to my guns and Oscar sits sullenly in front of a plate of untouched food, next to a nagging Mum who’s not only driving him nutty, but also the rest of the family.

I’ve tried negotiation.  I’ve tried flat-out bribery.  I’ve tried threats.  I’ve played good cop.  I’ve played bad cop.  All to little or no avail.

Oscar is a healthy, happy kid. He’s growing well and he never stops running, so my concerns are not nutritional.  Nonetheless, I do worry about the habits that are being learnt as he grows up…he is so quickly becoming a big boy and I know only too well how deeply ingrained eating habits can become. So I was getting desperate, I really needed to win this argument.

Last week I used a different approach in the hope of convincing Oscar that new food wasn’t enemy number one.  At the risk of being shown up as a not so perfect mother, I’d like to run this strategy past you as I’m interested to hear what people think about it…

I used the power of television. More specifically, the influence of one little red monster named Elmo.

Last week at the video shop, instead of Ben 10 or Toy Story, I convinced Oscar to choose Sesame Street’s Happy Healthy Monsters. After this, the ‘brainwashing’ commenced – happy monsters love to jump, happy monsters love to drink milk, happy monsters love to eat healthy, fresh food. And they do all these things with a great big smile ontheir face.

And guess what?  So did Oscar…

The process was helped no end by the play-along game Oscar found in the Extras section where Oscar was able to help Cookie Monster make salads, spaghetti and meatballs, fruit salad. I reinforced this by asking Oscar to help me cook dinner that night. I know it’s not a new idea, but I really did find that Oscar was much more interested in eating what he’d had a part in cooking.

We’ve had a much better go of it since then. It’s not perfect, but we’re certainly getting there. Oscar will now eat rice and vegetables, he’s loving fish and even though we have to call it ‘fish’, he quite likes chicken too.

So my question is this – does TV have a legitimate place in helping to teach children?  I know many people would say a big no, while others would say that it’s a means to an end and you do what you have to do to teach your kids the best of lessons.

What do you think?

The Way of the Warrior

It’s taken Evan a while to find a new book series that he’s really keen on, since growing out of Adam Blade’s Beast Quest series.  He was an extremely dedicated reader of the series, and new editions did us well for many birthdays and Christmases. He’s enjoyed a few new books, like Troubletwisers which he reviewed a week or so ago and the old faithful Diary of a Wimpy Kid but they’ve not grabbed his fancy in quite the same way as his Beast Quest collection.

www.youngsamurai.com

That is until this week, when he discovered the Young Samurai series.  His clever dad Matt picked it for him, and Evan’s not stopped raving about it since he started reading The Way of the Warrior.  He’s even spent a record amount of time not playing the PS3 this week.

He’s been surprised by how easily he’s gotten through ‘the longest book he’s read’ and made mention of the fact that he’s learnt a lot of Japanese words – a pretty impressive achievement for a kid’s adventure book.

Once he finished the first book in the series yesterday, he was very keen to share his thoughts on it – here’s his review…

The Way of the Warrior, by Chris Bradford

The Way of the Warrior sees Jack Fletcher, a young rigging monkey on a boat called the Alexandria, with his dad.  They are searching for Japan when pirates attack the ship looking for his dad’s map. They kill his family and the crew. His Japanese journey of revenge and studying begins.

Jack has many friends by the end but it’s a tough road for this young English boy and to many people he is just a gaijan (outsider barbarian).

From the moment I picked this book up I couldn’t put it down and I ended up finishing it in under a week. It’s a great book about a boy with ascary, confusing and extraordinary adventure – you really need to read it. It has a series of 6 books by Chris Bradford.

I recommend this book to around people 9-14 and a bit older. I can’t wait to start reading the next in the series. Reviewed by Evan J  


Ev’s moved on to reading The Way of the Sword now and is working on tracking down the third book in the series.  He doesn’t do things in half-measures, that boy, and that puts a big smile on my face.


Who doesn’t like the Easter Bunny?

It’s been a long while since I’ve gone to see a Christmas movie, and even longer since I’ve seen an Easter one.  Hang on a minute…I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Easter movie.  In fact, I can’t think of another Easter movie, unless you count the Sunday School classics from my childhood.

So, because I needed another way to hype up the kids’ need for chocolate (not to mention my own insane hankering for eggs, eggs, eggs) I took them to see the movie Hop this morning.  I thought we’d be some of the last to see it, but apparently a lot of families have left their Easter viewing until the last minute as the cinema was pretty full.

Hop is entertaining and delivers a few laughs.  The storyline is a little bit cheesy, but it’s really fabulous to look at – as you can see from the poster, the colours used in the film are beautiful and the candy and chocolate are positively mouthwatering.  Russell Brand is great as EB and Hugh Laurie is pretty good as Easter Bunny Senior (although probably not his best work.) I wasn’t impressed with James Marsden, but the kids didn’t seem to mind his slightly hammy performance.

Although it might be a little out of date after Easter, I did notice that it is still showing for a while after the big day.

The movie was just the start of a day of nice discoveries.

Being off the coffee bean at the moment (no mean feat, believe me) I thought I’d treat myself to a new tea.  Popped into T2 and found a yummy sounding brew called Creme Brulee.  A nice change from the usual dull old tea-bags that I’ve been ‘enjoying’ since making the change from coffee to tea. I tried a cup as soon as I got home, and I’ve got to say, it’s as yummy as it sounds! With a dash of milk and some manuka honey, it’s almost a dessert.

Once I got home, I put my feet up and caught up on a few weekend magazines from The Age (I had some from last weekend to catch up on) and I came across a review for a great looking Fiction podcast from The New Yorker.  It’s a series of podcasts featuring authors reading the work of other authors, most often of their own choice. And it’s free, so bonus!  I also subscribed to their DVD of the Week podcasts as well, so I’ve got plenty of listening ahead.

So, no guesses what I’ll be doing tomorrow night.  With any luck, I’ll be eating chocolate, drinking tea and listening to Mary Gaitskill reading Vladimir Nabokov. Nice.

Happy Easter all

Nothing quite like putting the kids to work on a public holiday.   This afternoon they’ve been hard at work making Easter cards, a most lovely way to spend a bit of family time.

Wishing you all a Happy Easter, and I hope you have a chance to put your feet up and read a good book for a bit.

Cheers, Mandi J

Am I in trouble?

I hate to sound cliched, but I really can’t believe that it’s school holidays again already – time flies I guess. Fortunately I really like holidays and very much enjoy having Evan at home for a bit. The slower pace is greatly appreciated, and Evan and Oscar really benefit from having some well-earned down-time.

But as the weather starts to crack up a bit, it does get a little bit tricker to avoid the lure of computer games and TV for hours on end.  It’s great to be able to break up the screen time with a good book, so it was very good timing when a couple of weeks ago we got hold of a free sneak peek (courtesy of Kidna Books) of a new kid’s series called Troubletwisters, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams.

Evan’s had a bit of a read of the teaser, and has kindly given me his thoughts on this new adventure series.

Troubletwisters, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Troubletwisters is about twins called Jade and Jack Shield.  The story starts simply, when their Dad comes home late, and while they are waiting for him they get a mysterious letter.  When the twin’s Mum sees this letter she gets very angry and takes it from them.

When their Dad finally gets back, late as usual, they help him take his bag upstairs.  While helping, the bag breaks and something very frightening falls out of his suitcase…when they touch the odd item, they get very dizzy and the room starts twisting and shaking. Jade and Jack hear a very mysterious voice and all kinds of trouble starts.

I think this is a very mysterious and interesting book and it reminds me of another series called 39 Clues which has a quite similar storyline.  I can’t wait to see the next book in this series.  I think it would be good for kids my age (10 years old) and a little bit older or younger.  I also think it would be fun for both boys and girls to read. Reviewed by Evan J

Sounds good to me.  I had a little read of the first chapter myself and it seems well written and I’d agree with Evan that it looks like it would appeal to both boys and girls.  Worth a look once the full novel is released in May 2011.

Do you or the kids have any suggestions for kid’s reading over the holidays?

Hoot hoot

For the last month, every time the boys and I have walked past the video shop Oscar has hooted…

He’s been very keen to see Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’Hoole. He seems to be quite fascinated by owls at the moment so this week,  needing an afternoon to get some work done (sorry, can I admit that?) I picked up a copy for him.  I hired it (old-school) as I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted this one permanently in the collection, not being quite sure if it could bear repeated viewing or not.

First thing to be said, it’s a beautiful looking film.  The animation is skillful and the owls make wonderful subjects.  It was really nice to see a film featuring Australian wildlife, without it being too cheesy.  In fact, the Tasmanian Devil at the beginning of the film is quite frightening, it made Oscar jump in his seat, which in turn made me laugh a little bit.

The characters were voiced by a plethora of Australian talent (must have been a slow month in the Australian film industry).  The old favourites – Sam Neil, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Geoffrey Rush, and Barry Otto made listening to this film entertaining in its own right.  The casting of Abbie Cornish, Joel Edgerton, Ryan Kwanten, David Wenham and Angus Sampson added some new blood to the blue blood, and lightened the mood a little.

So, the kid-verdict… Oscar, who is three, lost interest a bit during the first watch, although he did come back to it on subsequent viewings. He asked to watch it again (and again, and again) and I’m taking that as a sign that he enjoyed it. Evan, my ten year old really seemed to enjoy the film too, which I wasn’t so much expecting.  In saying that, he wasn’t all that interested in watching it over again so the appeal was a little limited for him.

As for myself, I’m a little unsure about it. Maybe I should have sat down and paid more attention, but I’ve got to admit that I struggled to keep track of which owl was which. Maybe I’m getting a little dopey in my old age, but the characters did seem to get a bit mixed up at times.

So, I’d say that this film is visually impressive and a pretty great story for the kids. It’s maybe just a little bit earnest for it’s own good, but overall it’s well worth a weekend watch.  It might give you a couple of hours off kid-wrangling to read a book or have a nanna-nap?

I’m kind of sorry I didn’t get to see this in 3D, I’d think it would have been quite a visual treat.  Did anyone see this at the movies in 3D?  What did you think?

You just don’t get it Mum!

Last day of school holidays, and Evan (my ten year old) is a little on the sad side. And who can blame him…late nights, Playstation, sleep-overs and plenty of time lounging around reading.  So, to ease the pain, we made a little stop at Kidna Books to buy a couple of new books for the last week of the break.

Now, these titles have most certainly not been written for my demographic – these are definitely pre-teen reading, and I think I can be forgiven for not quite getting what Captain Underpants is really all about.  So, I’ll let Evan describe them himself…

Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilet, by Dav Pilkey

“This is the second book in a series of stories about two boys who create a comic book about a hero called ‘Captain Underpants’ and accidentally hypnotise their Principal into thinking he is Captain Underpants.

In this book, George and Harold get detention for mucking up the entries in the the all important Inventions Contest. During detention they make a new Captain Underpants comic, put it in one of the new inventions (a new type of scanner-copier type thing) and from there the story takes off.

I think this book is very funny and creative.  It is a story like no other, as Captain Underpants is one of a kind!”

And from undies to zombies…

Zombieson’s Time Machine, by Knife and Packer

“This story is about a very freaky street, with four crazy families…the Humansons, the Wizardsons, the Aliensons, and of course the Zombiesons.

The Zombiesons are looking after King Tut’s treasured cat.  Trouble starts when the Zombiesons’ pet Zobbla (their three-headed dog) bites the sacred cats’ tale and gets zapped a thousand years into the past, to ancient Egypt.  The Zombiesons need to try and get their pet dog back from the evil Pharaoh Gruesomekamun.

I think this book is a great read and it’s very colourful and the pictures are really funny.”

It would seem that they’re a pretty quick read, but suitable for re-reading.  I tend to judge how good a book is based on how hard it is to get Evan’s attention while he’s got his head in it – these are both a ‘three repeat’ title (i.e. Evan, hey Evan, EVAN!)

Seems like a pretty good way to finish off the break.  Thanks for the reviews Ev.

Grown-up reading…

As well as continuing to read Murakami, I’ve set myself a little homework before next week’s Gala.  I’m hoping tonight to take a look at Sonya Hartnett’s Of A Boy before I hear her speak next week. I heard her talk about this book at the Popular Penguins Launch a couple of years ago and have been meaning to get to it ever since – I think now’s the time to at least have a quick look-see.

Has anyone read any of Sonya’s stuff?  Which titles would you recommend?

Reading about bears

I spent some time today reading with Oscar, my 3 year old son.  Being a child who knows his own mind, he chose the books from his very eclectic collection of books. We started off by reading one of those movie picture books, horribly abridged and terribly written.  It struck me how hard it was to read out loud, it had no rhythm. It also had horrible big gaps in storyline, particularly obvious if you’ve seen the film a few times (which as it happens, I have…more than a few, try hundreds).  The illustrations grabbed Oscar’s attention, because they’re so familiar, but that was pretty much the extent of its appeal.

What it did do though, was illustrate really well how delightful a well written kids book can be.  The second book chosen for story-time was The Bear’s Lunch, by Pamela Allen.  I love Allen’s work, and both the kids have always been pretty keen on them, and now I understand better why.

It was easy to read, a lot like a poem.  I’d even go so far as to say it was a pleasure to read out loud, almost soothing.  Oscar stopped wiggling (which is rare), and he stopped trying to turn the pages more quickly than I could read – because he was interested, but also because there was just enough going on on each page to hold his attention.

The story itself is really short, very few words and at times quite reliant on illustrations.  I particularly liked the fact that a couple of pages in when the kids get settled for their lunch, you can just see a small black bear in the background – nice tension builder, great for playing ‘spot the bear’ and a lovely little detail.  I’ve often heard children’s book authors talk about how hard it is to tell a whole story in such a small amount of words, and I can see the art in it in this case.

In short, I might be digging around the book bin tonight to find the other Pamela Allen books, and they might get put on high rotation for a few weeks.  Might even have to get a few more…www.pamelaallenbooks.com

Do you guys have a favourite Pamela Allen book?  Any other kids books that are particularly lovely or well received by the kiddlies?