Nurturing Activists of All Ages: Luis Sepulveda and Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy. The God of Small Things. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

By complete coincidence, I recently reviewed two books written by authors with impressive histories of political and environmental activism.

Luis Sepúlveda‘s life story is one of breath-taking courage and adventure so it’s hardly any wonder that his book for children, The Story of a Snail Who Discovered the Importance of Being Slow inspires individual thinking and heroism.

I thought this was a fine story to read to young childrem. Read my review here.

Luis Sepulveda. The Importance of Being Slow.

Arundhati Roy‘s new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, was heralded as the most anticipated book of the decade. As one who was bowled over by The God of Small Things, I dived into this with high hopes. Read my review here.Arundhati Roy. The God of Small Things. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

What are you reading at the moment? I’d love to know.

Also, anyone know who stole the summer?

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‘The book doctor will see you now.’

Adding a final flourish to PJ Lynch's art at Lismore Castle.

That’s what they said, seriously, and Small Girl got such a kick out of it. Let me explain.

We traveled, on excellent advice from Welovelittlethings, to the Towers and Tales Story Festival at Lismore Castle.

Traditional shop front. Lismore. Ireland.

Lismore is a quiet, picture book quaint, Irish village smack bang in the middle of exactly nowhere. Apparently, the townsfolk were ecstatic in 2015 when they got a bus shelter.

Defunct shop window. Lismore, Ireland.

You do, however, get the impression that it was a much busier place in a long bygone era.

Mc Grath's butcher shop, Lismore, Ireland.

In actual fact, Lismore has a cathedral, which makes it a city, albeit a remarkably tiny one.

Lismore Castle. Co. Waterford, Ireland.

Lismore Castle is a real, proper castle, built in 1170 as a bishop’s palace before becoming home to Sir Walter Raleigh (yes, he of the potatoes, the tobacco, and the cloak on the puddle story). On Raleigh’s demise the castle was taken by Elizabethan colonist, Richard Boyle. Boyle’s son Robert was THE Robert Boyle, as in ‘father of modern day chemistry‘ and Boyle’s Law Boyle.  Since 1775, the castle has been owned by the Duke of Devonshire (not the exact same duke, well, let’s hope not). The Astaires, The Mitford sisters, Cecil Beaton and JFK are just a few of the names in the guest book. No matter what age you are, this place is built from the stuff of fantasy. I just checked out the website; you have to apply for a secret code to access an inner, concealed website where the rental prices are. I didn’t go that far for fear my credit card would have shriveled up in horror.

Lismore Castle, Waterford, Ireland.

The castle is not usually open to the public so it was a real treat to get a peek inside. It was, mind you, a well-guarded peek. While the guest writers (Michael Morpurgo, Lauren Child, Ryan Tubridy and more) were staying in the castle we lesser mortals were confined to the courtyard.

To keep us from peering though keyholes, we were encouraged to add a final flourish to some wall art by Children’s Laureate P.J. Lynch. Small Girl felt that P.J.s palate was very limited and that the vital element was, without doubt, a big pink flower.Adding a final flourish to PJ Lynch's art at Lismore Castle.

The highlight for me was the poet Tony Curtis who told stories, recited poems and sang songs to a small guitar, all inside the shelter of a tent while rain kept time on the canvas. A proper troubadour.

Tony Curtis at Lismore Festival.

From Tony, we raced to our appointment with the Book Doctor. The girls waited nervously in the waiting room while the doctor’s assistant filled in their Reading Passports and made a note of their particular bookish likes and dislikes.

Dr. Juliette then sat down with each of the girls in turn, assessed their reading temperature and prescribed the appropriate treatment. Absolutely brilliant. I so wish they had a grown-up department.

CBI passport and book prescription.

The Book Doctor is run by Children’s Books Ireland, keep an eye open for them at festivals around the country and don’t miss an opportunity to get their specialist opinion. Irish, Munster, and especially Cork readers might be interested to read their interview with Jessica O’Gara (wife of rugby legend, Ronan) about reading with their bi-lingual children in France.

Small Girl’s most memorable moment, other than a gigantic icecream cone, was an encounter with the waffleword-spouting BFG. He might not have been quite 24 feet tall in real life but he had me convinced.

IMG_6539I found out about this festival a month ago and by then all the ‘big name’ events were already booked out. Thankfully, the only event with tickets remaining was with Sarah Crossan who is Middle Daughter’s new favourite author. It feels like all of five minutes since she was obsessed with Jacqueline Wilson but, God help me, she has made the leap to Young Adult.

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It’s a bit scary when your child moves from reading children’s books  that you can consider safe to reading YA fiction which, it seems to me, goes out of its way to deliver all the horror the world has to offer. What’s more, the higher the quality of YA literature, the more depressing it seems to be. I must admit that I’m struggling with this at the moment.

Sarah Crossan YA books.

I’m shadowing my twelve year old’s reading but not censoring it. I have to believe that they will hear about all the shite, racism, sexism, bullying, parental abuse, you name it, one way or another and, at least, these books offer some degree of guidance on how to deal with it. Also, I want to keep her reading.

Brian Conaghan (also pictured above) remarked that one of his books, about a boy with Tourette’s Syndrome, has been banned in several regions due to excessive swearing. Clearly, I’m not alone in my confusion about what is and is not appropriate reading for this age group.

How do other parents of young teenagers feel about their reading habits? Help me out here!

I’ve about thirty pages left to read in We Come Apart which Sarah Crossan co-wrote with Brian Conaghan. So far, I’ve been by turns appalled by the gritty nature of the content and impressed by the extremely impressive writing and pure genius of the collaboration. I’ll let you know more when I’ve finished.

Sweet Pizza by G.R. Gemin.

My Cooking The Books article for Bookwitty.com this month features a wonderful book called Sweet Pizza by Italian-Welshman G.R. Gemin. I was hugely honoured that Giancarlo emailed me to compliment my minor variations on the theme of his excellent recipe. Interestingly, he mentioned that the book is sometimes pushed into the category of YA fiction simply because it contains some (minimal, I promise you) swear words. I can’t say I even noticed any swear words. It’s a truly lovely book. For the review, and the recipe, Click here.

Grow your own lunch.

Finally, on a completely unrelated note, I also wrote up an article last week which has been, quite literally, growing on my windowsill for the last two months. As we all know, I am of the most haphazard and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants variety of gardeners so, if I can grow my lunch on a windowsill, anybody can. Read more here.

I’m off to plant more radishes. Have a great weekend.

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Soup and a good book.

I have forsworn cake for lent. It’s not that I am worried about my eventual entry through the gates of heaven (though it could be a tight squeeze) but that I am concerned with the close-fitting nature of my jeans.

I have tried re-introducing the family to salads but the family was having none of it. They complained vociferously and informed me that it’s still too chilly for cold dinners. They have a point. It is surely the season for soup.

Aztec Soup

For my March edition of Cooking the Books, I have devised the ultimate soup recipe. It was almost too easy this time. The book, Umami by Laia Jufresa, practically spelled out the recipe to me. It all came together like some sort of literary magic.

 Find the review and the recipe for Aztec soup here.

Today is World Book Day. Small Girl is very excited about finally qualifying for a free book voucher and I’m happy to have an excuse for a bookshop outing. The books look great this year. Take a look at the list on WorldBookDay.com. I won’t be able to resist the Famous Five stories and I suspect Small Girl will want the one about underpants.The gallery of World Book Day doodles by well known illustrators is also well worth a look.

I like lists. I am a maker of lists and a dedicated ticker of lists. Best of all the lists, of course, are book lists and there are some fantastic book lists out there. If the internet had been invented just for the book lists it would have been worth it. These are some of my favourites:
The Agnes Reading List. I’m blowing my own trumpet here since I compiled this list of books for teenage girls. My all-time most loved books are on this list.
The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge. Rory Gilmore is one extremely well-read young (and fictional, by the way) lady. These are all the books she reads or mentions over the seven seasons of The Gilmore Girls. You can tick the books you’ve read on this VERY good list (SO satisfying, I’m at 64 of the 339 books).
The Guardian’s list of 100 best novels ever written in English is a SERIOUS list, developed over two years by Robert McCrum. It’s compiled in chronological order. I’ve read 25 which is hardly very impressive.
The 100 Best Children’s Books from Time.com is a thing of beauty. I could flick through this quite contentedly all day long.
The 25 greatest cookbooks of all time is calling to me. So much temptation. The only one of these I own is Moro. My birthday is coming up soon…hello, family…can you hear me? Hint, hint, etc.
My favourite cookbooks are listed here.
Barack Obama’s Reading List: The 79 books recommended by a very bookish president during his time in office.
J.K Rowling’s Reading List: The books which have most influenced the world’s most successful author.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for in any of those lists you could take a glance through the books I’ve read since starting this blog in May 2015.
I hope you find a book you love today.

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Jammy Out!

Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I’ve been fairly up to my eyeballs in books lately and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t be happier. Husband’s phrase of the week has been,‘you are SO jammy!’ which roughly translates from Corkonian to English as, ‘how did you get so lucky, getting paid to read the books you love!’

He’s right, of course, and I can hardly believe it myself. The latest development has been the delivery of some Advance Reading Copies from Penguin and Vintage which had me dancing reels around the kitchen table with excitement. You never saw anybody get so excited about a book lacking its proper cover!

My balancing act now will be to keep up with the list of classics I am determined to read, which won’t necessarily bring any income but will surely feed my soul, while producing timely reviews of new releases. On top of that, I have a tiny seed of an idea germinating in my head which is, I think, a good idea but would involve a mountain of reading….waahhhh… I need an extra brain.

I am loving it though, every second!

I love the variety of books I’m reading. I must credit my Middle Girl, a voracious reader, for recommending some excellent children’s books. She is a great fan of Jacqueline Wilson and it’s easy to see why. Clover Moon is a historical drama suitable for children of around 9-12 years old. You can read the full review here.

Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson

I bought The One Memory of Flora Banks for Teenage Daughter but, such was the hype, I read it myself first. Like all YA fiction, it’s an easy read. I was a little disappointed but I suppose that’s the danger of believing the hype. My full review is here.The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes was a Christmas gift to myself. This type of book is a real guilty pleasure for me. I know it’s not making me a better person but it’s so nice to sink into a really comfortable, unchallenging and entertaining book. I have found that it can be almost impossible to find easy books that are also well written. This is a good one. The full review is here.Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Both Husband and I read Alain de Botton‘s The Course of Love. It cut uncomfortably close to the bone and came close to causing a riot (not the good kind)in our bedroom. I would recommend it wholeheartedly for anyone searching for a deeper understanding of marital relationships. Full review is here.The Course of Love by Alain de Botton.

One final reminder: if you are looking for a bookish Valentine’s gift or a seductive Valentine’s dessert, look no further than Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Review plus recipe here.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

I get a kick out of putting the photos together. I wish I had a little more skill but I’m learning on the job. The light levels have been abysmal lately which doesn’t help.

I’m not a great fan of yellow/orange but these colours seem to be popping up all around me. I ordered some yarn online (I never learn) which I thought would be cream (it was labelled buttermilk) but it is quite definitely yellow.

I’m reading The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser, an absolutely fascinating book, and reading By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder to the Small Girl at bedtime. Bizarrely, both Clover Moon and Silver Lake feature the dire effects of Scarlet Fever reminding me again how grateful I am to Alexander Fleming!

Our telly went on the blink last week and we spent several hours playing Bananagrams…if you haven’t tried it, you should!Laura Ingalls Wilder.

That’s all for now. I’ll be painting pantry shelves all weekend so stand by for the big reveal!

Yep, life these days is pretty jammy, or, to give it the strictly correct Cork phraseology: Jammy Out!

Have a great weekend.

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The Midnight Gang Might Cure You.

Review: David Walliams. The Midnight Gang.

If my instagram feed is anything to go by, it would seem that there are quite a few poorly children propped up on pillows out there. We have been battling bugs here too, nothing serious but enough to make some of us feel quite sorry for ourselves. You might not believe me but I am here today to testify that this book really did make me feel better, much better.

I picked up The Midnight Gang after teatime and kept reading into the night to the very last page. It is that good.

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My eleven-year-old daughter knows good books. I have learned to trust that when she leaves a book on my bedside table with a quiet recommendation that I should read it, I should read it. Previous gems have included R.J. Palacio’s Wonder and Lois Lowry’s The Giver both of which are the kind of book that have the power to make you a better person. Having read all of David Walliams’ previous books, I was prepared for  The Midnight Gang to be an altogether rowdier kettle of fish…Click here to read on.

Knitting Mum and the Great Slytherin Defection.

Knitting pattern for Slytherin scarf.

 

We have a defector in our midst. Middle Daughter, heretofore a stalwart Gryffindor, has taken a shine to Scorpius Malfoy and requested a transfer to Slytherin.

In considering this, I have realised that my lovely baby girl was born (in April, 2005) into a house deeply engrossed in all things Potter. We were already six books, three movies and seven gazillion pieces of Lego deep.

The Half-Blood Prince was released in July of that year and I have the warmest memories of spending two whole days seated on our back porch, nursing the babe in arms while reading. Life does not get better than that.

Anyway, it dawned on me that, even though Middle Daughter imbibed Potter with her mother’s milk, The Cursed Child was the first book which  she could call her own. I pre-ordered it from Waterstones in her name and she was allowed to read it first. Oh how she LOVED knowing what happened while the rest of us killed time with bated breath. In as much as any of us can own any book, she owns that one.

Her request for a Slytherin scarf was a treat for me…an excuse to indulge in some yarn shopping, faff about with possible designs and then relax into easy-peasy knitting.

I made a Gryffindor scarf a couple of years ago but, as a last-minute Halloween costume request, it was a rush job of super-chunky garter stitch in unpleasant (I’m being generous there) yarn.

This Slytherin scarf, by contrast, was a labour of love. I ordered Sylecraft Special DK, which is unbeatable for colour choice and value for money, from Wool Warehouse.

This one is definitely not just for Halloween. Middle Girl has been wearing it with swagger. It even looks terrific with her school uniform which includes a bottle green jacket. Happy Girl, Happy Mum.

Knitting pattern for Slytherin scarf.

You can find my pattern, for completely free, and read the knitty-gritty details here. I’ve also included suggestions for the other house colours.

Slytherin scarf with knitting pattern.

This one is dedicated to Alan Rickman, greatest of Slytherin alumni, who melted my heart, always.

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A Feast of Pure Imagination.

I have become slightly obsessed with the food I read about in books. I have a notion that it is as honest a peek into the author’s mind as we are likely to get. There can be no food in a book that isn’t, in some way, autobiographical. What follows is an article I wrote (and cooked) for Bookwitty on the subject of food in children’s literature:

‘The high tea that awaited them was truly magnificent. A huge ham gleaming as pink as Timmy’s tongue; a salad fit for a king. In fact, as Dick said, fit for several kings, it was so enormous. It had in it everything that anyone could possibly want. “Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, radishes, mustard and cress, carrot grated up – that is carrot, isn’t it, Mrs. Penruthlan?” said Dick. “And lashings of hard-boiled eggs.” There was an enormous tureen of new potatoes, all gleaming with melted butter, scattered with parsley. There was a big bottle of home-made salad cream. “Look at that cream cheese, too,” marveled Dick, quite overcome. “And that fruit cake. And are those drop-scones, or what? Are we supposed to have something of everything, Mrs Penruthlan?” Enid Blyton.

Children’s books are jam-packed, stuffed to the gills with food. The smallest toddlers begin their bookish adventures with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Each Peach Pear Plum, a Big Pancake, an Enormous Turnips and an unstoppable Magic Porridge Pot.Roald Dahl holds young readers in thrall with a Giant Peach and a Chocolate Factory.Paddington, Pooh and Bilbo Baggins all call halt for elevenses be it marmalade sandwiches or hunny with condensed milk (hold the bread). Julian, Dick, George and Anne have unfathomable appetites for hard-boiled eggs and who could forget Louisa May Alcott‘s Jo, reading and weeping while munching an apple? The fictional store cupboard, it seems, is never bare.

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Given that fictional characters don’t even need to eat, why do they continually snack, forage, feed and feast?

Read on to see what I cooked up…