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Tuesday, October 30, 2012


If at all possible, I buy books for my kids to bring to birthday parties. I don’t know why really, there’s not a lot of pleasure in watching the recipient loudly announce “book!” in a flat voice and quickly pushing it aside to make space for the next gift;  “Yay! Lego Star Wars!” 

 Another thing is that once wrapped, books can look so small - I mean we all want to be the mother of the child arriving with the big box, right? How I get around that is give the book in big paper bag with handles and sometimes (oh the shame of this!) only tear off half the price tag or “forget” to take the receipt out of the bag.

Anyway, if you do decide to take the Connect 4 or Guess Who? route for party gifts, most of the below are small enough to be rolled-up to fit into a Christmas stocking.

So, focusing this week on the seven to ten year olds, here are some nice presents they might not already have on the shelves in their classroom libraries.

For boys and girls beginning to read independently, Snipp, Snapp and Snurr  and Flicka, Ricka and Dicka are something a bit different. They are both sets of Swedish triplets who embark on wholesome adventures in about thirty pages, all illustrated in colour. The books were created in the twenties, so the illustrations are vintagey and gorgeous. There are numerous books in both series.

For readers who have finished the many Horrid Henrys, meet little Tomi of 26 Fairmont Avenue . The opposite of Henry, Tomi is a nice little person, growing up in the forties in Connecticut. There are three books in the series. At about the same reading level  are the two Parrot Park books, by Mary Murphy, the wonderful Irish writer on whose board books (I Like It When and How Kind!) my eldest son was raised.

One step up on the reading ladder, there is Emil. He isn’t like Henry either, being in possession of an abundance of intelligence, wit and curiosity. Living on a farm in Sweden, Emil is impossible to dislike and, as he was created by Astrid Lindgren, his adventures make a great read. He has three books to himself.

Tired of rereading the Wimpy Kid’s? Nicholas is funny too.  He is the product of half of the Asterix team, Rene Goscinny(with illustrations by Jean -Jacques Sempe) and there are six in the series.

Slightly older boys and girls who have enjoyed Skulduggery Pleasant and Harry Potter should like Philip Pullmans triptych His Dark Materials. There are three to four hundred pages in each, so if that’s a bit daunting there is also Four Tales. The hardcover version of this is very special, the ideal present for a godchild.

And lastly, for kids who “don’t read” try the Artemis graphic novels; Artemis Fowl and Artemis Fowl: The Artic Incident. Or Smile.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

kids books by Irish authors

It’s no secret that I love all things American. Every book I recommend, every blog I pore over, every stitch I buy for myself or my kids seems to from the good ol’ U.S. of A. 
Gap, Gapkids, Babygap, Old Navy, Ll Bean, Oshkosh and Gymboree are all old friends of mine.

Sometimes, just after I have finished hanging the clothes out and am propping up the clothes line with a plank,  I  can see that almost everything on it  has been shipped from the States. (Via China, of course.)

At night I tuck them in with A Balloon For A Blunderbuss, Ira Sleeps Over, A Sick Day for Amos McGee and Make Way for Ducklings. Alone, they read the A to Z Mysteries, The Brixton Brothers and Chasing Vermeer. Colour is spelled color in all of these books.  

It has been ever thus. At five I remember my Great Aunt Gertie visiting Galway from Boston, bringing exotic rarities like fitted sheets, Crayola crayons and a Mrs Beazley doll. (currently sleeping in a drawer upstairs).

Later, when I was a student, I crossed the Atlantic for the first time. I’ll never forget sitting on the bus that collected us at Logan Airport and gazing out the window. I saw my first brownstones, and streets that were exactly like Sesame Street.  Suffice to say, I was not disappointed.

But I am Irish and as my readership grows, I feel it is my duty to draw attention to the fact that there are also good things right here, in Ireland. In particular, many great kid’s books.

I'll start with The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. (Ages 8 to 12, this would be great to read before a visit to the capital city.)
Sadly, Siobhan Dowd died way too young and left one book unfinished. This was developed and completed by Patrick Ness. I haven’t read it but it has garnered rave reviews. It is called A Monster Calls.

For younger boys (or tomboys), I like these first chapter books:
And, The Legend of Captain Crows Teeth, both by Eoin Colfer.

Eoin Colfers Artemis Fowl books(the first two are also available in graphic novel form – fantastic) and Benny books for older boys are well known (and great) but I think these little ones are wonderful too. I’ve heard The Legend of Spud Murphy as an audiobook and it is unforgettable.

Another Irish graphic novel is The Blood Upon the Rose, which is factual (its about the 1916 Rising in Dublin) and pretty good. For kids who might be interested in history or just guns and fighting, it’s perfect.

Also of a historical bent but more likely read by girls there is the hugely popular famine series that starts with Under the Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon McKenna.

Eagerly awaited here is every installment in the Skullduggery Pleasant series. (I  met Derek Landy once and he was extremely nice.)

And of course, lastly the stunning debut from me:

Ok, I was joking about the stunning bit (although it’s not too terrible). I know Amazon say it is currently unavailable and that they will ship it when they can but believe me, it is unavailable forever. There was a small print run originally and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t a massive seller.  Oh well, I have a copy for my grandchildren, that’s the important thing.

P.S. There are many, many more titles written by Irish authors that I have not mentioned, but my kids are on their way back from the cinema and I need to post this before they get here. What I mean is, this is just a start.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I like that toilet

We have speech therapy on Friday and I am very, very nervous.

It’s in a health centre and the therapist is sweet, kind and very skilled at getting my son to work with her. She’s nice to me too, making it slightly less necessary for me to do the grovelling act of proving myself…Which is how I usually behave with medical people I see with my kids. You know the whole “Look at what a down-to-earth-sensible-clued-in-and-yet-not-pretending-I-know-it-all- mother I am.” It’s a relief actually. That act is hard work.

So why am I scared?

Well, this is what happened. Last week we arrived for our appointment and passed a man standing outside smoking, who looked pretty surly. Once we were in the waiting room I realised he worked on reception, and smiled to myself imagining his job interview.
“So do you enjoy working with people?”
“No, I hate them.”
“Great, we’ll put you in reception in our health sector.”

Then my son needed the toilet. We found two of them but the only one not occupied had a sign saying “Employee toilet. NOT for visitor use.”  The other one just said “Toilet”.

My law-abiding little boy was worried, but luckily, in time I persuaded him that sometimes it is ok to break the rules, and swore I would stand holding the door and deal with any disgruntled employees.(which, in fairness, I did.) 

After a few minute of waiting and “Yes, I’m still here”ing, the other door opened. Mr Surly came out and nodded at me.  Unable to stop myself, I said, “This is the employee toilet, right?”  He nodded to the sign as if to say “Obviously”, and went to walk past me. 
But I hadn’t finished. “You work here don’t you? Why don’t you leave that toilet for visitors?”

“I like that toilet.” he said, and marched off.

In the heel of the hunt, we were called to an office for our therapy which was then interrupted by Mr Surly's supervisor who wanted to know what my problem was with the toilet situation in a less than polite way. Totally forgetting my kind-nice-blah-blah mother act, I wasted a few valuable minutes of speech therapy telling him exactly what I thought of him and his staff and then the therapist wasted more looking very panicky and asking if I needed a complaints form.

Anyway, driving away l noticed he was there at the door again, smoking. So, seeing as the car was moving and the doors were locked, I made quite a rude hand gesture in his direction. It was a short lived moment of victory really, as my husband pointed out when I got home “You have to go back next week!”

Monday, October 15, 2012

books, books, books

I’ve had to change my hiding places this year.

You see, every October I start stocking up on stocking stuff. Christmas stockings, that is. The way I see it, the later I leave the presents, the more desperate I am, the more I spend. And also, once we figure out what is expected, the budget for nice kids’ books goes out the window and that makes me sad.  Rarely is a book going to be near the top of the list but then rarely do we get as much value from an Xbox game as we do from a book that is loved. And also, as the weather starts getting colder and the drudge of homework and making school lunches gets me down, the pleasure of hearing the doorbell and knowing that the postman is going to hand me a few lovely books is wonderful.

And, as the books I’m buying are getting smaller (We are moving away from the big format picture books and onto graphic novels, little series’s and young adult fiction), I don’t have to hide them in the hot press anymore. So I no longer have to wait until the coast is clear to get a clean towel.  These small ones so can mostly be stuffed behind my shoes.

So when I should have been emptying the dishwasher and sorting out the mountain of stuff that has accumulated on windowsills and under the couch, I’ve been trawling kid’s book blogs in search of lovely and different books for my boys. (These blogs are all in my reading list. Don't be deceived by the titles, Dinner A Love Story is a great source for kids book ideas!)

This is what I have come up with;
For my two year old, I cannot justify buying picture books, we have too many as it is. But, then, I came across the Little Golden Books Classic Collection. These are books that were published in the fifties and sixties in the States in a cheaper than usual format, using well established authors and illustrators. They cost me just over €3 each and I am SO happy with them. The titles I chose were the ones that came up when I asked Google which Golden Books were the most popular – The Little Pokey Puppy,  The Sailor Dog, The Happy Man And His Dump  Truck, The Color Kittens and Seven Little Postmen. They’re all available here;

For my seven year old, I’ve gone for the A to Z mysteries (not all 26, just C to F) ( The Bat Poet by Randall Jarrell (, although that might need to be transferred to his Dads stocking. It has a beautiful, classic look to it that may not at first glance, appeal. Also for his Dad, I think I’ll have to get Wolf Story by William McCleery, said to be one of the best read-aloud stories for little boys of five or six and up, ever. ( It’s another one with that vintage look that I love, (it was written in the sixties and has recently been reissued) but will probably have to prove itself to the kids.

For my nine year old who is more into mystical stuff than mysteries, a book of Tashi stories ( will hopefully finally persuade him that there is life after Beast Quest.  And to sweeten the blow, a graphic novel from George O’Connor’s Greek Series (

And for the eldest, who is eleven, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin                                       ( is a non-fiction account of the making of the atomic bomb written for young adults. It seems like as good a way as any to channel the violence that is so popular on the Xbox into factual, written form. And for light relief, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel about a girl (he would never choose a book with a female lead, but if found on his bedside table, he will read it) who has a difficult time with dental braces in high school.
P.s. If any reader can tell me an idiot-proof way of writing a link using just the book title, I would be very grateful! The comment box is below!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A lovely, open face

Every time another mother mentions to me that she is on the way to music lessons with her children I feel a quick stab of fear. Music lessons! We should be doing music lessons! My children should be exposed to music because if they are not I will never know if they are “musical” or not. 

(Which makes me hope they are not. Which is wrong. Right?) Because if they are children born naturally gifted musically, I am the mother who just didn’t bother. Who let them melt their brains on the Xbox while I drank cups of tea, read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (excellent, excellent book) and said “Shag their talents, I’m enjoying this. Now where are the biscuits?”

What I really don’t want is to hear that one of them is “musical” when it is too late to do anything about it. And actually, what I sort of do want is to hear are stories about people letting their children give up piano and guitar because they just got sick of doing it. (Yay! So the whole “good ear” thing meant nothing!)

My mother was a secondary teacher in the school I attended. So she knew my classmates well. She used to say things like “Mary’s a lovely girl, and they’re such a musical family." Musical” She even said the word in an irritatingly singsong way. This make me feel first guilty for giving up piano after about six lessons, and then irritated with Mum for making me feel guilty, and then irrepressible hatred of said Mary.  

“She’s got a weird face though” I would retort which got earned me a hurt, cross look.

“That’s a particularly nasty thing to say, Lucy. And I think she has a nice open face.” The ultimate insult as far as I was concerned. I think if anyone’s mother had ever said that about me I would have shot myself.

 “Does she not have any friends?” Mum would continue, worrying and making me feel so bad that I would give up trying to follow the Cosby Show and announce a trip upstairs to study.  There, I would put my Suzanne Vega tape on the radio cassette player (“But Mum! It helps me concentrate!”) And stare blankly at my books. Reading the words “Agrarian outrage…” I usually pondered on issues such as whether my pencil skirt will be the right thing to wear to a party that weekend.

So in an effort to raise children unlike myself, I’ve enrolled the elder two in recorder. Thus far, their teacher has reported that they are “Getting on grand.” Which is exactly what I wanted to hear.

Friday, October 5, 2012

dancin' in the disco, bumper to bumper

It is a truth universally known that the first thing a toddler will do on entering his parent’s bedroom is drink whatever water is left in the glass beside the bed. It may have been there a week or a month, but he will drink those dregs with the thirst and gusto of someone who has'nt consumed anything in a long time. (Or, someone who has drunk an awful lot the night before.)

Anyway, it’s what my own toddler was doing while I counted the holes in the belt I was trying on. I’m currently using it on hole number four, but after looking carefully, I could see the hole I had made in it while I was in college, when even hole number one was too big for me. I was puzzled actually, because I’m thinner now than I was then. 

I was a hearty eater. Student dinners were spaghetti bolognaise or chicken fricassee made with cream, followed by cups of tea and chocolate hob nob biscuits followed by heartburn, followed by, if it was a Wednesday, which was bar extension night, three to four pints of Guinness. So how on earth was I able to wear my belt so tight?

Aha. I remembered. The way I wore my jeans then was very different. As were the jeans in fact.  Levi’s men’s 501’s, button fly, 32 leg, 32 waist. The waist was yanked tight and belted high, thus somewhat explaining the four inch difference in belt size. 

I thought I was the bees knees in those jeans, particularly when they were worn and faded, and partnered with my bottle green Oasis “body” (Don’t ask me to explain what that was), Doc Martens and the ubiquitous Penny’s bulky winter jacket, which would spend the evening rolled into a ball under a bar stool. Remember the days when you looked for your coat at the end of a night out, and finding it was still where you left it was a pleasant surprise? (Remember how careful the leather jacket owners were?)

Ahh, those were the days. Rimmel coverstick on my chin (Nowhere else, just the chin. Why blend? No one else did. I think I actually liked the look of a white chin.), haired moussed and diffused with a borrowed hairdryer and heart full of song: 

I think I was most often found punching my fist to “Give me HOPE Joanna!” or, very appropriately bopping along to “Dancing in the disco bumper to bumper, wait a minute, where’s me jumper?”