What makes a children’s book ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Today’s blog post has been inspired by my university studies. I’m studying children’s literature and at the moment focusing on what people consider to be good or bad books for children.

For my own child, I often pick or suggest to her books that I read and enjoyed when I was young, such as the works of Roald Dahl. I’d like to introduce her to Enid Blyton next and I’ll probably recommend Jacqueline Wilson as she gets a bit older. As she gets into her teenage years, I’ll encourage her to read some classics, like Austen, Bronte and some more modern works like Orwell but I wonder how much she’ll ignore me and read contemporary books instead. How much should this really bother me?

One thing that’s really surprised me in my studies is discovering that Dahl and Blyton, the very books I’d consider to be very good books to suggest to my own child, were seen as having low literary and moral standards pre-1960. Debates from the time about whether these books might be bad influences on our children remind me a great deal of the debates over the influence of violence in films and video games that have been going on for the past couple of decades (and show no signs of ending).

On first thinking about it, I couldn’t really think of a book that I would disapprove of. But now I’ve realised that’s not quite true at all. I often steer her towards books that might provide her with more of a challenge, not wanting her to get something too simple. I might tell her and myself that it’s because I think she’ll get bored of something too simple but is it really because I’m drawn to the idea that every reading experience she has should be an improving one? I have once or twice surreptitiously gotten rid of books that I’ve found to have grammar or spelling mistakes, while despairing of whichever publishing company let these through the editing process.

Am I worrying too much about what my child reads? Or is this exactly what, as a parent, I should be doing? Isn’t it my responsibility to make sure she’s getting the best experiences possible? I find it difficult at the best of times to find a balance between guiding her in the right direction (or at least what I perceive as the right direction) and letting her be independent. She’s a very strong-willed person and I’m happy with that, especially as it took me years of purposefully forcing myself to be more assertive to be even slightly sure of the choices I make. But I know that being strong-willed might lead to a tendency of not listening to other opinions, of being blinkered to your own view of the world which you are convinced is the correct one. I definitely don’t want this for my daughter. Again, it seems to be a matter of balance.

I’m very interested to get opinions from other parents (and indeed anyone who chooses books for children in any capacity) on this. Do you choose books for your children or just let them pick whatever they like? Do you attempt to steer them in certain directions regarding what they read? Are there any books (aimed at children) that you would not let your children read or at least would strongly disapprove of?

My January 2016

I feel like this month has gone by very slowly. Christmas feels like so long ago.

Looking back on the goals I’ve set myself for this year, I’ve made pretty good progress this month.

I wanted to visit ten new places this year. I’ve already been to one. Last week I took a walk to Llandaff Cathedral. It has been recommended to me from a number of sources as a beautiful building, well worth seeing. I worked out that walking there and back would take me about three hours. After weeks of being stuck indoors while the weather was utterly miserable outside, being outdoors for a few hours in the sunshine was really wonderful, even if it was pretty chilly!

I’ve been busy with studying this month, making progress towards completing my degree – another of my goals. I’ve just completed my third assessment of my uni course, an essay written about the play of Peter Pan. The text itself was pretty simple and obviously I already knew the story, as I think most people do. The analysis was a bit more complex than I was expecting though – a good challenge. Reading the play also added towards my goal of reading twelve new books this year – bonus!

I wanted to try out some new activities this year and also teach Pip some new skills. I managed to do something towards both of these this month as we had our first go at loom bands. Yes, I know we’re a bit late to the party but Pip is really only just reaching the point where she can really concentrate enough to do this. We’ve really enjoyed coming up with different patterns and designs.

Trying out twelve new recipes was another goal for me. I’ve tried two this month – coq au vin and beef stew, both in my new slow cooker. Husband and I both really enjoyed the coq au vin and I cooked it again when we had some guests over for dinner. I really liked the beef stew but neither Husband nor Pip were very keen so I don’t think I’ll be making it again!

Filling my new photo album is proving to be quite as much of a challenge as I thought it would be. I need to add about six pictures per week. This is fine at weekends when we’re busy with fun stuff but on ordinary week days, there aren’t many opportunities for photography.

I’ve had a little try at some comic book style drawing. If I can improve enough, this might be the way I go for my creating a piece of art goal. So far, I’m reasonably pleased with my efforts as a beginner. I’ll just have to keep trying and see how much better I can do.

So it’s been a good month, especially for January which are notoriously a bit crap. On with February!

 

 

 

 

My Tropical Fish: Six Weeks

I’m now six weeks into my second attempt at keeping tropical fish. It’s going fairly well, or at least better than it did last time. There was a minor white spot outbreak. This common fish parasitic disease wiped out my first lot of fish so I was pretty panicked when I first spotted it. However, it appears this group is made of stronger stuff and I only lost one neon tetra. The rest are now entirely spot-free and have been so for about three weeks.

My favourite fish is definitely my Siamese Fighter, or Betta, called Obi. He’s a beautiful creature and very active. For this type of fish, he’s surprisingly relaxed and non-aggressive. Siamese Fighters are well known for ‘flaring’ (flaring out beard-like flaps just beneath their mouths) and attacking, or else hiding away and being very skittish. He’s neither. I haven’t seen him flare once and he quite happily swims around with my two platys. Unlike my previous Siamese Fighter, he spends very little time in his hiding place. He does like to hang around behind the filter sometimes but never for very long.

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At first, I wrongly thought my Mickey Mouse Platy was female but, possibly due to growing up a bit more, it’s now pretty clear that he’s a boy. He’s called Chewie and my Blue Platy is called Han (anyone noticing a pattern?). There was a bit of aggression between these two for the first week or so but I haven’t noticed any nipping or chasing lately and they usually swim together. I haven’t yet made any firm decisions on adding to my aquarium but some more platys might be a good choice, I think.

My five neon tetras are simply called ‘The Jawas’. Since it’s impossible to tell them apart and they’re always in a shoal, I thought a group name made more sense. There were originally six but, as I said above, one was the only casualty of the white spot outbreak.

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I haven’t really named my cherry shrimp. I originally had three but I haven’t seen more than two at any one time since their first day in the tank. When I do see them, they seem happy and healthy enough so I leave them to it.

All of the fish have come to recognise the sound of the cabinet beneath their tank opening as a sign that food is coming and all rush straight to the top. There’s the occasional awkward moment when the food doesn’t come, because I was actually retrieving or replacing something else. They tend to then hang about at the surface for a few minutes until giving up, except Obi, who will continue to stare at me through the glass for quite a while.

Unfortunately, getting photos of the fish is pretty difficult since they move so quickly, hence the photos I’ve included are pretty rubbish. However, I am putting together a video of them so I’ll post that in due course!

 

Slow Cooking Beginner

After months of procrastination, searching for recipes I might use and trying to choose which model I prefer, I have finally purchased a slow cooker.

Since it’s something to experiment with (which could well end up not working for us at all)  I went for a fairly low cost model, the Cookworks 6.5l slow cooker from Argos . It’s not very fancy, although I think it looks just as nice as much more expensive models, and it has near perfect reviews.

I have such a long list of recipes I want to try out. Last night, I had my first go at using it. I made Coq au Vin for myself and the Husband (I’ll pop the recipe further down) and we were both really pleased with it. I had to tweak the recipe a little bit since Husband can’t eat onions. The flavours were really rich and the meat was ridiculously tender – it fell apart when I tried to get it out with tongs and it could be cut up with fork!

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I’m planning on trying out a beef stew this weekend. I don’t often cook beef as I’m always worried about it being tough. I reckon slow cooking is the answer. I’m always very keen to try some sweet recipes, such as rice pudding and poached fruit.

Here’s the recipe for Coq au Vin:

100g bacon

4 chicken breasts, each cut in half

2 tbsp oil (I used vegetable oil)

25g plain flour

200ml red wine

400ml chicken stock

  1. Heat the oil in a big pan and fry the bacon for a few minutes then remove from the pan.
  2. Coat the chicken in flour and cook in the pan for a few minutes on each side until nicely browned.
  3. Put the bacon back in the pan and add the wine and stock. Bring to the boil.
  4. Put everything in the slow cooker and cook for 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low (timings might be different for your slow cooker, this is correct for my model).
  5. Serve. Eat. Enjoy.

 

I served the chicken with mashed potato and greens beans and gravy made from the cooking sauce mixed with a teaspoon or so of gravy granules.

I’ll add more recipes as I try them out. Do you have a favourite slow cooker recipe? Do share it below!

 

Ten Goals for 2016

I’ve been thinking about things I’d like to achieve this year. About halfway through 2016, my degree will be complete. I’ll have no more studying to get on with. I want to make sure my extra time isn’t wasted. So here are my goals for the next year:

  1. Going fossil hunting. I thought it would be nice to pick just one thing from last year to do again this year. It’s a great day out and it would be nice for Pip to have another go now that she’s had a little practice. She hugely enjoyed it but didn’t find much herself last time so it would be nice to see her makes some of her own discoveries!
  2. Visit at least 10 new places. I’ve got a really long list of places I’d like to visit and I want to at least tick ten off the list this year. We’re not planning a holiday for this year so I’d like to make sure we still have plenty of adventures.
  3. Try out 5 new activities. I was a ridiculously shy and cautious child and now that I’m an adult (still feels weird to say that), I’d like to make up for lots of opportunities I turned down. I can’t ride a bike, for example, and I’d really like to learn to.
  4. Try out 12 new recipes. It’s far too easy to get stuck in a routine with cooking. We probably have about ten different meals I serve up over and over again. I want to be a little more adventurous and offer my family more variety food-wise. One new recipe a month should be easy to stick to.
  5. Fill my photo album. I filled a 200 slot album last year. This year, I popped on Amazon to get another for this year and bought a rather pretty one without realising it holds 300 photos. So I’ve accidentally just given myself an even bigger challenge than last year.
  6. Graduate. Yes, the final year of university is finally here. It feels like I’ve been studying forever and while I’m really excited to be finished, I’m also a little daunted by the prospect of the gaping hole it’s going to leave in my life. But anyway, hurrah for graduation!
  7. Read 12 books. This should be helped along by studying as I’ve got quite a few set books to get through on my current course. Once university is done with, I’ll be able to actually pick out some books for myself, something I haven’t really done in about six years!
  8. Produce a piece of art. Husband suggested this one and I’m glad he did. I’m not very artistically talented but I do enjoy drawing and painting so I’m looking forward to spending some time on this.
  9. Complete a computer game. I love gaming, mostly RPGs. Dragon Age: Origins was probably my favourite ever. But so often I start them and never finish, due to other things distracting me. This year I really want to start and finish a good computer game (suggestions are welcome!).
  10. Teach Pip 5 new skills. As a parent, I see this as a really important goal. These aren’t going to be academic things, since we do those anyway. They’re going to be practical skills. Things that might help her to be a happy, well-rounded person when she leaves home someday. It should be lots of fun too – she loves learning new things and it’ll all be enjoyable stuff, nothing too arduous or boring.

Looking Back and Planning Ahead

Looking back at the beginning of 2015, I was unemployed but positive for the future. I found a job this year. It’s not a job I’ll want to keep forever but it’s good for now. It’s providing a little extra income and some extra experience for my CV.

We didn’t have any holidays in 2015 but we did have a few trips to interesting places.

We went Fossil Hunting at Penarth beach (something I’d love to do again this year).

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fossils & stones collage

We went to Castell Coch, a beautiful fairytale castle.

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We went to Bristol Zoo, to visit the baby Gorilla Pip has adopted.

We went to Roath Park and the conservatory there.

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This year I decided to start keeping tropical fish. The fish attempt did not go well. The fish sadly all passed away due to white spot (a common fish illness). The retailer I bought them from took responsibility and replaced them. The second attempt, so far, seems to be going well. I’m being extremely vigilant for any signs of illness or stress though. Fingers crossed they’ll still be here when 2017 begins!

Pip started her second year of school. She settled in brilliantly and is doing really well. I was so proud on hearing a glowing report from her teacher on parents’ evening and even more so when I saw her performance in the nativity play.

2016 should be one to remember. All being well, I’ll complete my degree this year. This feels like a really huge achievement for me – someone who dropped out of sixth form ten years ago. I’m hoping it can lead me on to better things.

Everyone makes New Years resolutions about losing weight. I do it every year. I normally succeed for a month or so then fall back into my bad habits. This year I feel a little differently about it. I don’t just feel a bit down about my appearance, looking distinctly chubbier than I once did. I feel unhealthy. I feel a little worried that those bad habits are going to actually start to have an impact on my future. I’m not just chubby, I’m properly overweight. If I want to live a long, healthy life, I need to change. I fear becoming a parent that can’t run around the park with my child. I’m hoping these worries and fears can finally motivate me to make a proper change to my lifestyle. This isn’t a resolution exactly. Those just don’t work for me. It’s more of a realisation.

I’m hoping we can take some trips to new places this year. I’ve already got some ideas but I’ll keep them under my hat for now!

2015 has been pretty good. Let’s see if 2016 can be even better!

 

 

 

My December 2015

December has been a ridiculously busy month. We’ve had various family visiting (and more visiting this week), new fish delivered, birthdays and too many school events for me to keep track of and that’s before we even get to, you know, Christmas happening.

I think the first festive thing was Pip’s school nativity play. She played the innkeeper’s wife and was just brilliant. She made everyone laugh, which she was thrilled with. Husband and I both managed to be there – a first for us as usually at least one of us has to work.

The two weekends following that we had family members visiting. It’s lovely to see people we don’t often get to and meant that Christmas sort of stretched out into weeks before the actual Big Day and with another visit this week, it feels like it hasn’t quite ended yet.

The weekend before Christmas, disaster struck. Our oven broke. This meant no Christmas baking, which is one of my favourite activities in the festive season. Despite my landlady’s best efforts in trying to get an electrician to fix it, it wasn’t fixed in time for Christmas (and, in fact, still isn’t fixed now). Thankfully my landlady lent us a mini oven, which cooked our little chicken (no point in a turkey when there’s only three of us!) perfectly, even if the roast potatoes didn’t crisp up at all.

On Christmas Eve, I had to do a shift at work. It wasn’t long and while I was out, husband and Pip had some quality time together (by which I mean that they shot each other with Nerf guns). In the evening, we enjoyed our usual tradition of drinking hot chocolates with marshmallows and cream and watching Muppet Christmas Carol. Pip was allowed to open two presents – a pair of new pyjamas and a little toy dog, which she has named Dudley. After she went off to bed, we watched Die Hard, another tradition of ours. Call me sentimental, but it just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I’ve seen a Bruce Willis repeatedly escape what should be certain death to brutally gun down an office tower of mercenaries armed to the teeth, all while barefoot and bleeding.

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A trio of geeky mugs, obviously

Pip is unique amongst all children I have ever known in that the only lie in she ever has, for the entire year, is on Christmas morning. We woke up at 8am. That might not sound exactly late but on a normal weekend, she’s out of bed at 7am, if not earlier. It was a leisurely morning of opening presents and eating pastries for breakfast. I continued in a relaxed and calm manner until I realised that I was whole minutes late to start my intricate dinner cooking schedule and went straight into a state of utter panic.

Dinner was ready on time though. The mini oven wasn’t perfect but it did the job and that was better than nothing.

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The afternoon was spent on the sofa in a food-induced stupor, watching mostly disappointing television. Except for the Doctor Who and Downtown Abbey Christmas specials, which were both utterly brilliant. That’s all I shall say – no spoilers here.

We had a honey glazed gammon joint for Boxing Day dinner and for dessert my favourite festive pudding – Panetonne bread and butter pudding. Very yummy, if I do say so myself.

The rest of the weekend has been pretty slow and relaxed. I had wanted to get outdoors for a nice walk but the weather has been pretty dismal so we’ve been almost entirely indoors, except for a brief trip to the shop for some essentials. Or rather, more cream for the mince pies and reduced price chocolates.

I hope you all have a had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you an awesome 2016!