The no interest phase and noisy baby books 

Straight after I started my blog series about sharing books with my baby daughter – Reading with Felicity – she pretty much lost all interest in books. She was about four to five months old and from chatting to other mums I knew this wasn’t true of all babies. In fact around the same age some of my friends were saying that their babies were starting to snuggle up during their bedtime stories – enjoying the cuddle time even if not getting to grips with the intricacies of picture book plots.

Snuggling up for bedtime stories is practically the pinnacle of my idea of contented motherhood so I was a little sad that Felicity was more interested in whacking stuff and, at sixth months, crawling everywhere. Any attempt to read a picture book was met with firm wriggles and trying to escape from my lap, over enthusiastic readings of rhyming books that she loved when really little were not as fun as trying out her new crawling skills. Bedtime stories got borderline hilarious in their lack of interest from her. We’d decided to read the same book every night before bed, partly so if she really did hate it as part of getting ready for bed (sleeping has never been her favourite thing), then it would hopefully just be Goodnight Moon that she disliked rather than books generally. This was not an unmitigated success. Perhaps the lowest point of book before bedtime was reached when Will had to read Goodnight Moon whilst (gently!)  holding on to her ankle to stop her crawling off, whilst she continued determinedly trying to head in the other direction. This really wasn’t the image I had of lovingly sharing books with my daughter.

Usborne's Noisy Animals

This phase did pass (thank goodness) but, even at her most disinterested, books that mooed, sang and generally made lots of noise when pressing buttons were still a winner. Felicity’s particular favourite was Usborne’s Noisy Animals, illustrated by Stephen Cartwright, which I’m pretty sure I now know by heart: ‘This is Mrs Boot with her children…’ And it is still loved even now she’s enjoying all sorts of different types of book. It’s entertained her on car journeys, pressing one of the noise buttons would attract her enough to crawl over to me even in the midst of mischief making and above all she would sit and look and sometimes turn the pages when nothing else could keep her in one place.


It may not be the most beautifully illustrated or original children’s book (although finding the Usborne duck on every page is a classic of children’s literature in my opinion) but sharing it with her really did help us introduce her to the idea that reading books are fun, as well as allowing her to get an idea of how a book physically works by turning the pages and listening to us read the words.

 

Word for 2017: Make

As I mentioned in my 2016 post, last year I didn’t do very well at concentrating on my hopes rather than drifting into making-myself-feel-slightly-guilty resolution territory. Feeling bad because of a date on the calendar isn’t something I really want to do deliberately! At the same time the turning of the year is still the main benchmark of time passing, along with birthdays and anniversaries I guess (and my birthday is pretty much at the end of the year so all gets bundled together anyway!) so I still like to mark it.


I’ve seen lots of people choosing a word to sum up the upcoming year for them. I think this started with this email course, which I confess I haven’t done. ‘Make’ just kind of came about organically. I started off trying to write about my hopes again and the post just wasn’t working, although I realised that every one of my hopes revolved around making, so much so I was trying to find synonyms so I wasn’t overusing ‘make’. This seemed to be a good indication it is something I should focus on this year.

I want to make by crafting more – if I’m making something (anything) I’ll be happy. I’ve already kicked this off by starting to use up various craft kits I’ve never used. I’m not worrying about what I’ll do with the finished item, just enjoying the process and making some space in the cupboards too. I’m also looking forward to starting to do some basic crafts with Felicity – she’s just starting to enjoy scribbling and I’m looking forward to some crafty fun with her this year.

It’s also about making the most of time this year. I find that my ‘free time’ is limited – on a good evening we get around an hour and a half after Felicity is in bed to relax. Often we have chores or life admin to be doing, and on the bad nights she wakes regularly and I’m up and down stairs all evening. It’s too easy to sit and mess about on the internet rather than actually making the most of my time – by crafting, reading or putting a little thought into really enjoying our downtime (otherwise known as hygge).

It’s also making time to do fun stuff with Felicity and engaging with her properly. I’m aware that sometimes my phone is too much of a distraction, I don’t want this to be the case. I’m not going into a smartphones are evil rant as they’re not. Having busy whatsapp groups constantly chattering is a wonderful way of feeling connected with the people I like best. But I probably don’t need to check Facebook twice an hour (especially as I don’t often post) to get that connection. Not frittering, not being super productive, just making the most of my time.

Another element to ‘making’ is that 2017 is the year where we’ve got to get a lot done on the house and make it into even more of a home. We need a new kitchen, which is going to be a huge project and will be one of the first (and definitely the most expensive) way of putting a permanent stamp on our house. I’m hoping to continue getting pictures on the walls, as we still have things propped up on the dining room floor – two years in is getting silly – and generally just nesting.

I’m really looking forward to seeing if using a single word like this is going to be something I enjoy thinking about over the year too. We’ll see how it’s gone this time next year!

Farewell December and 2016 hopes 

Happy belated new year to you! This post is a little bit late as we saw 2016 out with Will’s parents at their new house on the North Norfolk coast, which is internet free at the moment – is near a rather lovely beach where we saw a stunning Winter about to set sun.


Our November run of illnesses and breakages unfortunately continued into December. After a bout of a vomiting bug, more colds and the house still being a tip after the leak that happened whilst the boiler was being fitted (they’d had to rapidly move the piles of stuff we’d cleared for them to do the fitting all over the place as they were trying to find the leak as quickly as possible and were taking the floorboards up!) we called time on the plan of us hosting Christmas, as Will’s lovely Mum offered to cook lunch at their house instead. 

We were so grateful and it was a good thing we’d changed the plan as the oven then conked out a few days before Christmas. What with that and the dishwasher breaking, and the fact that the rest of the kitchen is heading towards the end of its life anyway we are going to replace the whole thing (if it’s in anyway in our budget from the money we’ve been putting aside for the purpose – a big if!). What with all this, and the general grimness of the world more generally – I am not sad to say goodbye to 2016.

December wasn’t all bad though – we celebrated my 30th with a trip to the Ritz for afternoon tea. It was lovely and I’ll write a whole post about it at some point! After we recovered from our various bugs and finished work for Christmas we did manage to have a lovely relaxed time, pottered about at home, had a wonderful Christmas Day thanks to Will’s Mum and Dad, had a day out to London Zoo using the membership we got as a Christmas gift, then topped it off with our trip to Norfolk. Hoping this means a good start to 2017!

2016 Hopes

I’m not a big one for New Year resolutions – mainly because I tend to make lots of ‘must do better’ resolutions and changes throughout the year and I prefer being a bit gentle and hopeful with myself at the start of the year in the dark and the cold. I think last year’s hopes strayed a little bit into resolution territory and I didn’t do so well with them as I did the previous year as a result. I’m going to take a different approach for 2017, but I thought this was a good time to reflect back on my 2016 hopes.

They were:

Being more thoughtful: this was all about remembering to think about our wonderful friends and family more, and generally I think I managed this quite well. Going back to work has meant I have ‘the book’ of organisation which if I lost it would mean we don’t know what we’re doing, eating or anything really. This has helped me keep track of things more which is great at feeling less reactive and guilty when special days for people go whizzing past.

Enjoying my particular life: not overly comparing myself to others (especially where parenting is concerned) – this had mixed results. I can definitely not claim to have never got stressed about Felicity’s sleep in comparison with others, or doubted my decisions, not helped by Health Visitors who just tend to lecture me about how all her sleep habits are wrong when I see them. But generally I’m aware we’re doing things the best way for our family and we’re all happy and healthy. I also read a great polemic by Zoe Williams about the sometimes toxic nature of modern parenting advice and judgement which helped to clarify things – I’m now reccomending it to pregnant friends!

Making – this just did not happen. Aside from helping out a bit with a friend’s wedding (lots of pom poms) I haven’t really been making anything. This is entirely due to a lack of free time, and energy to work out what I should make. I haven’t given up though – this is making a reappearance this year.

Sleep. Ha! Felicity’s sleep is so much better than this time last year, but I still might have cried if you’d told me that her sleeping through the night, even once, hadn’t happened yet. I have had seven hour stretches of sleep a couple of times, but generally I’m functioning on a few two or three hour spells over a night, which after fourteen months is rather draining.

A lot of thes were a bit too much like a resolution to actually work in the way I wanted. I hoped to think of things that I could achieve the spirit of which I will try to do in 2017.

November – blah blah blah 

Autumn leaves My looking back at November post was all ready to publish, the general tone was a bit of a moan about feeling like the whole month had been about everything deciding to break at once and everyone being ill. How our boiler had started to go wrong, dishwasher suddenly completely broke (the worst – I love it so!), a light bulb exploded glass everywhere and we’ve also had a mouse infestation in the loft. All very first world problems, but combined with the three of us alternating colds and various bugs all month I was very ready for November to be over. Especially as all our lurgy meant cutting short one planned weekend trip to see friends and having to cancel going to Jennifer’s for Thanksgiving. I then went on a happy little burble about how much better December would be.

Why did I do that? December then got worse! The boiler replacement (always a horribly expensive thing at the best of times) ended up bursting a pipe and causing a bit of a dramatic leak through our hall ceiling and meant lots of floorboards were ripped up and had to be reassembled. At the same time Will came down with a nasty case of what we think was sinusitis, so I was doing the cleanup/parenting on my own. Thank goodness for grandparents living nearby! I also have no idea how single parents manage with toddlers – I’m doing the Hunger Games solidarity salute thing in your direction if that’s you. I was (not even just metaphorically) on my knees after a few days.

So I’m counting December as actually starting from today when we had a lovely grown-ups only day in London for a celebration of our birthdays. The rest of the month is looking happily busy with Christmas, my 30th, and family catch ups. So a bit better than November hopefully!

Christmas books for babies and toddlers – alternative advent calendar inspiration

In the happy world of Pinterest I have seen many ideas for ‘alternative advent calendars’; countdowns to Christmas that you can either buy or make that go beyond the standard chocolate affairs. One idea I really liked was of sharing a different book on each day of advent. Combining this with my slight fear of the Elf on a Shelf phenomenon (it can’t just me that finds that elf creepy looking?!), I was inspired to think of 24 books I’d share with Felicity that would appeal to babies and toddlers. Lots are about Christmas, but some are just about snow and winter more widely too.  There’s one for every day in the countdown to Christmas from the first of December, but I think this year we may use the list more as a starting point to get some good idea for Christmas and wintry themed reads. I’ll definitely not be organised enough to wrap them up and display them in a suitably Pinterest friendly way, but I have enjoyed getting into the Christmas spirit by discovering some new classics. There are a few of the obvious big Christmas hitters on the list (like The Grinch and The Night Before Christmas), but I have saved some suitable for older children to look at in later years as well. Also, it would be mega expensive if you were to buy all these new – there’s no reason you can’t  get them from the Library to enjoy during Advent. Our local libraries have already got a special section in devoted to Christmas books out and ready to go. Happy Christmassy reading!

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Any list of children’s books has to include a Julia Donaldson in my opinion. Stick Man is our favourite Christmas related one (Santa makes an appearance). The rhyming words are Julia Donaldson’s with Axel Scheffler’s illustrations – the same team behind The Gruffalo. I got a little bit too invested in poor Stick Man’s quest to return to his family, it seems very emotional for a children’s book!  

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. ‘All through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’. No Christmas book list is complete without this classic rhyming book. I can still remember the illustrations in my childhood copy so clearly, and there are dozens of different picture book editions to choose from. If doing the advent calendar – surely this is the only choice for the Christmas Eve book?

Lucy and Tom at Christmas by Shirley Hughes. This is another from my childhood – Shirley Hughes is the only person honoured enough to be on this  list twice. Possibly a little bit grown up for younger toddlers, but Hughes classic illustrations are beautiful and capture the gentle magic of a home based Christmas for young children. One to treasure for years and years.

That’s Not My Elf by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Rachel Wells. There are many Christmassy/winter options to choose from in this ubiquitous Usborne touchy-feely series. Including Not My Reindeer, Santa, Polar Bear and Penguin. Felicity is still a big fan of these as they are very easy for little hands to turn pages as well as feeling the different textures on each page.

A Christmas Carol, illustrated by Alan Marks, with sounds. Felicity has always been a fan of a noisy book, and this combines a reselling of the classic Dickens tale,with sound effects. I really want to have a tradition of a reading the original aloud when she’s a bit older (we’ll see how that goes) this is a good starting point.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. This is possibly a little old for most toddlers, but a great book to save for years to come. Especially when combined with the TV ‘Walking in the Air’ version, which I’m very much hoping will include the David Bowie introduction I remember from when I was little after his sad death earlier in the year. For those not familiar with this 80s childhood classic, it’s all about a snowman coming to life one magical night.

Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star by Petr Horacek. Horacek was a new to me author until recently, but I’m such a big fan now (as is Felicity). Something about his illustrations seems to capture her imagination and I love his slightly quirky stories too. Silly Suzy Goose is one of our favourites, so I’m looking forward to this Christmas story featuring Suzy.

Mog’s Christmas or Mog’s Christmas Calamity by Judith Kerr. Although not usually tolerant of books for slightly older children (the books are quite long), Mog is magic and keeps Felicity absorbed, even reading all the words. So I had to include the Christmas adventures of the Thomas family and their ‘nice but not very clever’ cat Mog.

Winter Garden by Ruth Brown. I’ve mentioned before about our love for Brown’s A Dark Dark Tale. This book is more specifically designed for toddlers but contains the same quality of gorgeous illustrations. It looks at all the creatures and wildlife that visit a garden in winter, perfect for cozying up with indoors whilst looking out at a wintery garden.

Norman: The Slug Who Saved Christmas by Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet. Possibly a bit long for very little ones, but the bright illustrations (and glitter) more than make up for this in Felicity’s eyes. Also a book where the slug is the hero, and snails are used as replacement reindeer, is definitely a nice change of pace for a Christmas story.

The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter H. Reynolds. This is a great bit of respite from what can feel like the tide of plastic uber-consumerist Christmas. Disappointed with his one small  present on Christmas morning, Roland wants something bigger. This is obviously not the point of Christmas, as is then demonstrated in a modern gentle morality tale.

Spot’s First Christmas by Eric Hill. For ages she wasn’t bothered, then almost overnight Felicity was won over by the institution that is Spot the Dog. Much like Mog, there is some sort of magic dust on Spot which make him and his groundbreaking lift-the-flap format irresistible to little ones.


Dear Santa by Rod Campbell. This is a Christmas version of the bestselling Dear Zoo, with the zoo animals being replaced with presents from Santa.  We’re already getting a lot of finger points to read this again and again here, even if it is still November!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss. I’m simply not worthy of providing an introduction to this classic. Like a lot of Seuss it may be a bit long for younger toddlers – though Dr Seuss’ rhymes are great for non-moving little babies – but is such a classic it was one I felt should be on our bookcase.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle. My Hungry Caterpillar needs no introduction. There is just something about Carle’s illustrations that both please parents, and delight and captivate children. So I just had to include this, his Christmas offering, on this list.

Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan. This is a take on the nativity story, from the perspective of the Inn Keeper, who just wants to get to sleep but keeps being woken up by Mary and Joseph, some Shepherds and a very bright star. This is a clever book that retells a the story in such a way that it would work for Christians, but also as a good introduction to the Christmas story for everyone, without overtly concentrating on the religious aspects.

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes. Another from Hughes, there’s something about her illustrations that capture the liveliness of children so well. I also particularly like them because they feel like real families rather than stereotypes. Lucy and Tom I remember from my own childhood but I never discovered the Alfie books – so I’m looking forward to looking at the illustrations in this book with Felicity.

First Snow by Bomi Park. This is from a Korean illustrator and I really like it as a change from looking at snow from a very rural perspective – this has scenes set in an obviously urban environment. The illustrations are unusual and stunning and immediately caught my eye as something very different from many children’s books.

Little Christmas Tree by Jessica Courtney-Tickle. If you want a more sophisticated lift-the-flap book then this is an excellent choice. It also emphasises the natural world in its depiction of wildlife gradually decorating the little Christmas tree. A book that is likely to be picked up for longer than other more primary-colour based lift-the-flap offerings.

The Red Sledge by Lita Judge. This is a lovely looking book. I want to get Felicity a little red pixie hood because of it. This book has no words aside from onomatopoeic sounds that help tell the story, so it’s a good book to have lots of fun reading by putting a lot of effort into the telling. There are some wonderfully expressive noises to represent the animals getting up to high jinks on the borrowed sledge.

Santa’s Busy Day (Bloomsbury Publishing). Mirrors are always a big success with Felicity, she’s a big fan of her own reflection! This book has a mirror at the end as we see Santa’s lead up to Christmas. Bloomsbury’s children’s books have really impressed me since having Felicity, so I’m hoping this goes down as well as some of their other board books we’ve tried!

Usborne Touchy-Feely: The Nativity  or Nativity Flap Book (also Usborne). I think one traditional retelling of the nativity is a must for every Christmas book list, even if not for religious reasons, it provides a background to the traditions of Christmas. There are literally hundreds of different versions. I’m still looking for one that I really like in the more traditional picture book format – my ideal one would include non Westernised/caucasian depictions of the family – but these two are very good for this age group (even if Mary is blonde in one – grrr).

Bear & Hare: Snow! by Emily Gravett. I have a big soft spot for the work of Emily Gravett, and this is a lovely feeling (as well as looking) book. In the hardback edition at the least the pages are thick and really show off the lovely almost watercolour illustrations very well. The plot is all about how Hare really likes snow, but Bear isn’t quite sure to begin with.

Twelve Days of Christmas by Alison Jay. I’ve been surprised by how much Felicity loves books that you can sing to her, so I think she’d love us singing the Twelve Days of Christmas accompanied by the gorgeous illustrations. There are lots of other options as well including noisy Christmas song books that when you press the button play the tune, or Usborne do a collection of some of the most well known carols. As with the nativity books, there is something in this genre to suit every taste.

And that’s the end of the list – I’d love to know if you feel I’ve missed off any absolute Christmas must haves for very little children!

24+ Christmas books for babies and toddlers. Book Advent calendar ideas

October: birthday and back to work 

October is now a special time for us as it’s Felicity’s birthday month. A year has gone very quickly and she is most definitely a toddler, she’s rampaging everywhere now and we have even had a few tantrums – eek!

Look - a butterfly!

Butterfly house exploring

We had such a lovely time celebrating her birthday though. The actual day was one of my working days, so Will and I booked the day off and took her to the zoo with my parents. She was very very impressed with the butterfly house, it was small enough that she could toddle round and admire (chase) the butterflies. Elephants were dull in comparison. We’re currently debating whether we should get a membership so we can go back with no pressure to see everything in a day.

Happy birthday baby

First birthday puffin cake

We also had a little birthday party with lots of baby friends, it was a little manic but very enjoyable. I even managed to make and ice a cake half-neatly. My grand plans to make elaborate decorations didn’t happen, but luckily my sister-in-law had crafted an amazing puffin to go on top – Felicity’s favourite book is about a puffin, quite a lot of the presents ended up being puffin themed too.

October also saw my proper return to work, rather than just the odd day. I am really enjoying this, but I have been putting a lot of  energy into getting back into the work mindset, as well as getting Felicity used to her new routine and making the most of our days together. And that’s without making sure we’re all clothed, fed and living in a vaguely clean house. 

My big hope for November is that I can maybe do something that isn’t work/Mama-ing/housework or watching Gilmore Girls whilst slumped on the sofa exhausted. Gilmore Girls is obviously time well spent, even if we’re only averaging an episode a night, but I’m hoping I can maybe get my hygge on with some candles at the same time, or actually pick up some knitting or crochet. Wild ambitions!

Bonding and books – reading with Felicity

I always say to people who ask what it’s like being a parent that it is a world of extremes – you’re either bursting with love or want to jump out the window and run away with the overwhelming nature of it all. A few weeks ago I had a bad parenting day. Felicity was going through a clingy and upset phase, I think down to a mixture of teeth and frustration at being able to toddle a bit but not really walking well. She was similarly grumpy just before she got the proper hang of crawling. We’d been to get her first shoes in the morning, which wasn’t a roaring success – she hates shops if not in a trolley where she can peer about – and randomly having her feet prodded did not endear her to shoe shopping either.

I then made the error of deciding to pop into Toys R Us next door to look at potential first birthday presents. I assumed they’d have a little section, like our Early Learning Centre does, where she would be able to have a little crawl and, you know, play with some toys. How naive. I hadn’t grasped the whole ‘it’s a massive warehouse with too much stimulation with nothing she can actually play with to maximise parental stress and likelihood of impulse buys and therefore our profits’ element of the shopping experience.

By the time we came out Felicity was so tetchy and fresh air starved that I decided I couldn’t face half an hour of screaming if I stuffed her into the car so went to get a coffee for me and a snack for her before heading home. This then meant we were late for her lunch, then she wouldn’t nap and was generally quite cross about what a terrible day I’d given her. I was very tired and stressed by the time she had another meltdown when I gently dared to try to get her to nap as she was overtired and unhappy.

I’m sure a lot of parents can identify with these days when there’s nothing overtly wrong, just timings have been off, the baby didn’t want to do what you wanted/needed them to participate in. After all, they get no say on whether they feel like going shoe shopping. You haven’t quite got the magic ratio of doing stuff/going out/food/sleep right. As a result you’re worn down by constant demands on you and feeling like you’re failing as a parent as all you want is to have five minutes of peace. By this point they’re so overtired peace is the last thing they can give you. These days are fairly rare for us but still draining when they arrive, always on a day when I’m least equipped to deal with it as well!

This particular day did get better though  because after failed nap attempt number three I reached for a book: A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown. I inherited this copy from my grandmother as she used to read it to me when I was a little girl. I’d put it on Felicity’s book display although thought it would be one for when she’s a bit older. Will had picked it up after she pointed at the cover and discovered she loved it.

If you’re not familiar with the book it follows a black cat around lots of dark creepy places only to discover (spoiler alert) a very adorable mouse all tucked up in bed at the end. I find it completely charming and it’s a great slightly spooky but not really scary book for Halloween as well. I think it’s generally classed as a book for older children although the one sentence every page turn works well for Felicity as the story moves quickly and there is a lot to look at thanks to the beautiful illustrations. She also gets the point of the plot- the first time Will read it and she reached the end and saw the mouse she squealed with delight. She still grins and points when we get to the last page.

All this is a very long winded way of taking a moment to appreciate how magical sharing books can be for both babies and parents. On this day, still sitting in her darkened ready-for-nap-bedroom we must have read that story five times over as she gleefully squealed at the end. Seeing her enjoy it so much immediately relaxed me as she was happy again, and sharing something I’d loved as a child is a special moment of bonding. The whole day went from tiring and stressful to joyful and content.

I wanted to record it on this space as this isn’t something I explicitly realised would happen when sharing books with my child. I think a lot of people would say they read for pleasure, escape and distraction – and children need that too. I obviously had it in the back of my head that I wanted her to enjoy reading. But I also know I’ve been guilty of thinking too much about the utilitarian and educational ‘you can learn a, b and c’ side of things. It was a much needed reminder of the magic of reading.