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.

Join us:   Facebook  and  Twitter

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?

Join us:   Facebook  and  Twitter

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?

Frankly my dear…

I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with how words work, and how they can be used for better or worse to influence people. For this reason, Words that Hijack the Brain seemed right up my ally.  I was keen to hear some ideas that might shed some light on how those pesky little songs, nagging trends and clever jingles burrow themselves deeply into our brains and pass from person to person so readily.

The lecture was presented by Judi Menzies, the moderator of the Philosophy Group (an informal group that runs out of the library and meets to discuss the big questions) and she kindly presented the lecture as part of the 2011 Bayside Literary Festival.

Although the lecture itself didn’t hang together quite right, it introduced some really interesting ideas.  Not the least of which was the basic idea of Memes, a term used to describe “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme is by definition self-replicating, and as Judi notes, is a little like a virus that spreads through a culture, most often harmlessly. Interestingly they can at times take on a more sinister shape.

I didn’t completely agree with everything that Judi put forward, and I think it might have been beneficial to hear more about her fear of the more negative, fundamental memes (statements of religious zeal, slogans of violence or revenge etc). Likewise, I would have liked her to venture a guess as to what it is that makes phrases like ‘Chick, chick, boom‘ or classic lines like ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn‘ strike such a cultural cord, taking root quickly and immovably. Is it that they’re particularly clever? Is it that they are annoying? Maybe it’s that they have a sing-song quality, making them easy to remember (or hard to forget)?

There’s no doubt, the ideas presented were very interesting and I might spend a little bit of time looking into this further.

Image: Nicky Johnston

The event was held at the Brighton Library, and so I got to check out Nicky Johnston’s art while I was there. It was really great to see a range of Nicky’s illustrations and scenic pieces.

Nicky is the author of two great kid’s book, Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts and Happy Thoughts are Everywhere written to help parent’s work with anxious kids, as Nicky says – their ‘little worriers.’ She’s also put together resource kits to further assist families for whom childhood mental health issues are presenting challenges. If you’d like to find out more about her books, you can check out further information at her website…

Before I go tonight, I’ve got to confess that against my better judgement June isn’t looking much quieter than May was. I’m very pleased to have picked up some tickets to see the play The Haunting of Daniel Gartell, starring John Wood, Samuel Johnson and Marcella Russo, showing at Fortyfive Downstairs. Check out discount tix here. I’m also pretty keen to get along to a couple of kids’ events in the next couple of weeks, which I’ll post about over the weekend.

As an aside, I’ve promised myself that I’ll get some reading done this weekend. I hope that you can put your feet up and steal a few reading moments for yourself this weekend.

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?

Join us:   Facebook  and  Twitter

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.

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.

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?