Hand-print Bookmarks

IMG_4472For Mother’s Day this year we made bookmarks using the hand-prints of the kids. I found some old scrapbooking papers that had pink or blue heart patterns on them to use as our base for the hand-prints.

Using the paint pad.

Using the paint pad.

A's hand-prints.

A’s hand-prints.

Each child chose the background paper to use, and the colour of paint for their hand-print. Predictably A chose pink on pink for her bookmarks. L used the rainbow paint pad for her hand-prints on the back on the blue paper.¬† Unfortunately the rainbow paint didn’t come out as clearly as the other paint, but L liked it as it was. The boys used blue paint on blue paper. Using paint pads for hand-prints makes it easy to get a good amount of paint on the hand, and is much less messy than using conventional paint.

Hand-prints.

Hand-prints.

After the hand-prints were dry, I carefully cut around each hand. The kids wrote some lovely messages on the back of one of their hands using a marker. A pushed down her marker quite hard, and the ink is visible through the hand-print. She also drew a lot of love hearts! I love it because it is so unique.

Writing a message on the back of the hand-print.

Writing a message on the back of the hand-print.

To finish the bookmarks I laminated the hand-prints. I arranged the hand-prints so that A’s hands and Baby T’s hands were together to make a bigger bookmark each, while L’s hand-print was big enough as one. I also did a single print of my hand to make a bookmark for my mum. Once laminated, I carefully cut around the hand-prints so that there was a small amount of plastic laminate around each one. The kids were happy with their bookmarks.

One of the boy's bookmarks.

One of the boy’s bookmarks.

A hand-print bookmark in my latest read.

A hand-print bookmark in my latest read.

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Pinecone Bird Feeder

Items we used.

Items we used.

A came across this idea in one of her kindergarten readers and begged for us to try it out at home!

Coating the pinecone with peanut butter.

Coating the pinecone with peanut butter.

We tied a piece of string to the pinecone so that it could be hung up in a tree when we were finished, and then I helped A to cover the pinecone in peanut butter. This was a little messy, but A didn’t get nearly as much peanut butter on herself as I had thought she would.

Rolling the pinecone in birdseed.

Rolling the pinecone in birdseed.

Then A rolled the pinecone in a bowl of birdseed. We used a basic parrot mix because most of the birds that hang about in our yard are parrots such as cockatoos and galahs. A pressed as much seed into the sticky peanut butter as she could, completely covering the pinecone. When the pinecone could hold no more seed, we took it into the yard and hung it up in a large bottlebrush tree.

Making sure the whole pinecone was covered.

Making sure the whole pinecone was covered.

And now we wait for the birds to come and have a feast.

Our new bird feeder hanging in a tree.

Our new bird feeder hanging in a tree.

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Star Jumps by Lorraine Marwood

IMG_4454Star Jumps by Lorraine Marwood, paperback verse novel, 128 pages, published by Walker Books Australia Pty Ltd in 2009.

Ruby is growing up on a dairy farm in rural Australia, which has experiencing drought conditions for some time. Ruby and her siblings, Keely and Connor want to help their parents to keep the farm afloat. Ruby is too young to help with the calving, but she watches, and tries to help where she can. If they all work together, perhaps they will see another year on the land.

Star Jumps is a touching story of drought and the struggle that accompanies it, told in beautiful verse from the perspective of a young girl on a dairy farm. The author has obviously experienced the vagaries of the weather for farmers firsthand, and has conveyed the sense of frustration and sadness that drought brings to those dependent on agriculture. The story also highlights the hardiness of those on the land, even the children, despite knowing the hardships, can still find pleasure and fun on the farm between jobs.

I’m not normally a big verse or poetry reader, but I found this book to be well written and moving. It is suitable for primary and lower high school students. Though I think children from country regions may be able to appreciate it more wholly than children without exposure to agriculture, it would be good for all children to read something a bit different. I will be adding Star Jumps to my daughters’ book shelf and encouraging them to read Ruby’s story. I hope Star Jumps will remind them that there is always some good in any situation, you just have to find it, or work to make it happen.

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

IMG_4458We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, paperback novel, 225 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.

Harris and Tipper Sinclair have three daughters, and their daughters produce a number of grandchildren. Cadence Sinclair Eastman is the eldest, but only by a few weeks. Next are her cousins Johnny and Mirren, one child for each Sinclair daughter, more grandchildren come, but these three are the first. The family is from old money, they are beautiful, they are strong, they seem to have it all. They even own a private island off the coast of Massachusetts, where the whole family spends their summers together. When Johnny’s mum finds a new partner, she brings along his nephew to spend summer on the island. Gat is the same age as Johnny, Cady and Mirren, and together they are the four liars, best friends growing up together, making mischief, having fun. In the summer before they turn sixteen something terrible happens, an accident, Cady can’t remember, and the family won’t tell her. What are they hiding, and why?

As I read the first page of We Were Liars, I prepared myself for a pretentious, overindulgent and vain story of frivolity and inconsequence. By the second chapter I was intrigued, and by the fourth, I was starting to race through the pages. I had to know what Cady had forgotten, and what was happening to the family.

The story is told from Cady’s perspective, and jumps between the summer of the accident, which her amnesia is blocking, and the summer two years on, when she has returned to the island and her memories are beginning to re-appear. The style of writing employed may not appeal to everyone, though I felt it fit the story quite well. There are elements of romance and family conflict, there are secrets and lies, all revolving around an intriguing mystery leading towards the truth. This book provided me with something that has become increasingly rare for me, an ending that I never saw coming, it slammed me, it made me cry, but it was so very very perfect.

I found all of the characters in We Were Liars to be well written with plenty of depth, surprisingly, I liked the four liars. These teenage characters of Cady, Johnny, Mirren and Gat had some aspects of spoilt rich kid, but they were still likeable. They were stifled and embarrassed by the behaviour of the adults, with ideals which were refreshing, but they still took it for granted that they would always have whatever they wanted. The way that Cady changes after the accident is interesting, she is a complicated girl, suffering debilitating migraines, and hovered over by her mother. Part of me wanted to dislike her for her assumption of continuous wealth and security, but I couldn’t, she was doing it tough in a lot of ways, and I felt for her.

The adults, though less central to the plot, were as expected of adults in a privileged family. During the summer of the accident, the aunties are arguing over money and property and the love of their father. Harris Sinclair is manipulative and uses his immense fortune to play his daughters off one another. Rich people are often portrayed in literature and film using their money as power and needing more and more no matter who they trample on to get it. Not knowing anyone with this sort of money at their disposable, I must assume that this is only a slight exaggeration of reality, and the behaviour of the Sinclairs is consistent with this image. I thought that the way the three women wheedled, connived and ingratiated themselves in order to gain favour with Harris was pitiful, yet completely plausible. I find this behaviour bewildering, but then I’ve never had lots of money to fight over before!

One of the best young adult novels that I have read in some time, We Were Liars, is a stunning read for high school students and up. Give it a go, it’ll surprise you, and it will stay with you for a very long time.

 

 

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Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

IMG_4426Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, paperback picture book, published by Alison Green Books in 2010.

Zog is the largest dragon in Madam Dragon’s class. He is learning to fly, roar and capture princesses, but while he tries very hard, he also tends to be a bit clumsy. Luckily for him, every time he hurts himself, a friendly girl comes along and helps him. As the years pass, and the girl grows older, perhaps they will find their true calling together.

Dragons, dragons, dragons. This book is about dragons, and much like they react to books about dinosaurs, my kids gravitated straight to this book. I was pleased to find that it is witty, amusing and fun with rhyming text (I really am a sucker for rhymes!). I like to read it aloud and laugh with my kids, we always crack up when Zog catches his own wing tip alight! The illustrations are perfectly matched to the story, and as always from Axel Scheffler, beautifully detailed with bold colours and memorable characters. I recognised some little creatures from The Gruffalo among the scenery too. I found the ending unexpected, yet perfect. A beautiful book to share with primary school children, Zog, will entertain parents as well.

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Jack and the Flumflum Tree by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts

IMG_4431Jack and the Flumflum Tree by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts, hardback picture book, published by MacMillan Children’s Books in 2011.

Jack’s Granny has developed the Moozles, and there is only one known cure, the fruit of the Flumflum tree. The Flumflum tree grows on the distant island of Blowyernose, but Jack is determined to reach it and return with the fruit to cure his Granny. He builds a boat, secures a crew, and gets ready to sail. Granny gives him a patchwork sack full of interesting objects that she thinks the adventurers may need, and they set off, but what awaits them along their journey?

Jack and the Flumflum Tree is another brilliant and engaging story book from Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo. The lyrical text, which just begs to be read aloud, sucks even the most reluctant reader into Jack’s story. There is action, misadventure, bravery and inventiveness along their journey, with plenty of laughs. Granny’s sack is a wonder, and what Jack does with each item is clever and entertaining. The repetition of Jack’s reaction to each new situation is memorable, and has spurred my children into using the phrase “Don’t get your knickers in a twist!” when someone is flustered, or just inserted into everyday conversations with no context!

All the pages are beautifully illustrated, with expressive characters, and interesting scenery. I particularly like Stu’s and Rose’s facial expressions each time another complication arises. There are many little creatures hiding among the foliage on the island of Blowyernose, which my kids like to spot.

Suitable for primary school students, Jack and the Flumflum Tree, is also great for parents, a book that will be hard to get sick of. All my children love this book, and it is often called upon for bedtime reading.

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The Candlestick Dragon by Melanie Ifield

IMG_4407The Candlestick Dragon by Melanie Ifield, paperback novel, 194 pages, published by Melanie Ifield in 2013.

Daniel is short for his age, wears glasses, and is constantly bullied at school. He never expects to experience adventure outside of a book, he can’t even swim, and he’s not very fond of physical activity anyway. Yet a simple excursion to the recycling centre with his mother, Darling, changes Daniel’s whole world. He brings home a candlestick with a statue of a dragon clinging to it, but it is no ordinary candlestick! The dragon blinks his eyes, shakes off his stoney exterior and speaks to Daniel. He is Nilofar, a small dragon, roughly the size of a cat, and he is on a mission, sent from his homeland, Novarmere, through a gateway portal to Earth. Adventure is at hand, with magic, wizards, a young princess, brave warriors and terrifying creatures that Daniel could never have imagined.

I enjoyed this fantasy adventure story, which was exciting, well written, and contained interesting and well described characters and landscapes. I particularly liked Nilofar. As a child I would have loved to have discovered a friendly dragon that was small enough to sit on my shoulder, wrapping his tail around me and chuckling smokey bursts about my head! Really, I would still like a friend like this! Cute and brave, Nilofar was my favourite character, though all the characters were interesting, and I came to feel rather protective of Daniel. Rishana’s attitude felt very true to form for a young teenage princess with so much power at her fingertips, I liked her vacillation between pouty teenager and easygoing comrade. We were able to see her in her role as the confident Princess of Novarmere, as well as the young and inexperienced girl that she actually is. And their immediate enemy, the evil wizard Rullin, was suitably evil, cunning and boastful.

Most suitable for middle primary school through to lower high school students, The Candlestick Dragon is still a good read for adults too. Some younger readers may find some of the action and the mythical creatures a little frightening. There is some fighting and death, though I didn’t feel that it was overly graphic. I am happy for my third grader to read this book, and will be encouraging her to do so.

I received¬†The Candlestick Dragon for free through Goodreads First Reads.¬†It is the first book in the Chronicles of Novarmere: Dark Wizard Quartet. The second book hasn’t been released yet, but I am very keen to read it and follow Daniel’s next adventure.

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The Ice-Cream Man by Jenny Mounfield

IMG_4309The Ice-Cream Man by Jenny Mounfield, paperback novel, 187 pages, published by Ford Street Publishing in 2008.

Three boys like to visit a secluded billabong to escape their everyday problems and the challenges that life has presented to them. Marty suffers from Cerebral Palsy and spends most of his time in a wheelchair, Rick is living with his alcoholic mother after his dad died in a car accident, and Aaron is being severely bullied by his older step-brother. Their difficulties bring them together as friends, but the encounter with the ice-cream man will bond them for life. It’s very hot this summer, and the ice-cream van has been doing the rounds about town, tinkling its music to let all the kids know that it’s coming their way. The boys decide to play a prank on the ice-cream man when he doesn’t stop the van for them. What seems like getting even has consequences that the boys are not prepared for.

The Ice-Cream Man is a thriller for upper primary school to lower high school students. It was a little creepy at times, with some foul language and violence, but it wasn’t too scary for kids to read. Though perhaps they might think twice about playing pranks on other people in the future!

The main storyline involving the prank and the scary, stalking revenge that the ice-cream man begins against the boys was interesting and suspenseful. I did want to keep turning the pages to see what would happen next. I hope there are no crazy ice-cream men out there terrorising children, but this book makes it feel like there just might be one lurking around the next corner, just waiting for the slightest provocation.

I also found that I was quite interested in the boys themselves. Each of their stories were different, and each of them were facing different challenges that most kids will not have to endure, yet they were still moving forward and were able to trust and rely on each other. Friendship is so very important in life, and this is a nice reminder that friends don’t care what you look like or where you live, but they will always have your back.

The three boys were well described, though I found Aaron’s hair colour to be incongruous to his character. I just kept wondering why he would dye his hair in a shade that would only antagonise his step-brother further, when he was already scared of him and trying to stay out of his way. Of course, it’s completely inconsequential, it was just one of those little things that get stuck in my head, and it certainly didn’t detract from the suspense of the story. Otherwise, Aaron was a little down-trodden, as could only be expected after the treatment he had been receiving from his step-brother. I thought he became more likeable as the story progressed. I liked that Marty felt liberated and empowered by his wheelchair, that he didn’t feel sorry for himself. He made for an inspiring main character. And I felt that Rick was leading the hardest and saddest life of the three of them. His mother should have been there for him, but in her grief, Rick was left as the responsible one. Sad though it is, it smacked of reality. All three situations were well written.

I think The Ice-Cream Man is a good introduction into this genre for kids and teenagers. It was a good story and well written. I am happy for my third grader to read it, though perhaps not just before bed!

 

 

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Octonauts Cake

IMG_4135

All my kids are Octonauts crazy and have been for ages, so when T’s birthday came around, it made sense for us to make an Octonauts cake. L suggested that I somehow sculpt a whole 3D octopod, she even drew me some plans! I thought this would be way too difficult and time consuming to manage, so I attempted something rather more simple using Octonaut figures (which I bought from Toys’r’Us)

This cake was still a little time consuming, but it was fairly easy to make. The cake base used a double quantity of butter cake mix (I had some Greens mixes in the cupboard that I used). The ocean used two packets of blue Aeroplane Jelly (berry flavoured, yum!), and the rest was butter cream and crushed Nice biscuits for the beach sand.

The cut-out section of the cake.

The cut-out section of the cake.

The cake was baked in a rectangular baking dish. Once it was cool, I cut out a section on the top where I wanted the ocean to be. I cut into the cake to a depth of roughly 1-2cm, leaving an edge to contain the jelly. At one corner, I left a larger section to make into a beach.

Nice biscuits.

Nice biscuits.

I made up the butter cream, keeping some of it white to use on the beach. I spread the white butter cream over the beach section and down the sides of the cake, then I made the ‘sand’. For this I used three Nice biscuits (any sweet light coloured biscuits could work), and laid them on some baking paper. I folded the baking paper over the biscuits, and then used my rolling pin to crush them. Once I was happy with the consistency of the ‘sand’ I transferred it from the baking paper to a bowl, and began spreading it over the white butter cream, gently pressing it down across the top of the beach and down the sides of the cake.

Crushed biscuit.

Crushed biscuit.

The sandy beach.

The sandy beach.

The rest of the butter cream, I coloured using blue food colouring with a dash of green to make it closer to the colour of the jelly. The colour was quite intense, and did stain my fingers a little while I was icing the cake. I covered the edges of the cake in blue butter cream, down the sides and around the edge of the cake directly onto the foiled cake board. I iced the blue part of the cake roughly to make it appear more like waves.

I smooshed the jelly with a spoon and added it to the cut-out section in the centre of the cake. I spread it out carefully to the edges, making sure that the cake was covered, but not overflowing. Then it was time to add the figures.

The cake ready for the figures.

The cake ready for the figures.

A and L helped me to place the figures onto the cake. Captain Barnacles went in the Gup E in the water with the fish rescuing net and some fish. Peso went directly into the water, while Professor Inkling was up on the beach. We raided our stash of animal figurines and found a palm tree and some funny flat bushes that A thought looked like seaweed. The palm tree went onto the beach, and A placed the seaweed around the edge of the cake on the icing on the cake board. All the figures were washed before and after use on the cake.

Just before the seaweed was added.

Just before the seaweed was added.

I was happy with how the cake looked, and it tasted delicious. T was also thrilled to get the Octonaut figures to play with afterwards. He asked to blow out the candles three times too!

 

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My Royal Story: Marie Antionette by Kathryn Lasky

IMG_4172My Royal Story: Marie Antionette by Kathryn Lasky, historical fiction, 221 pages, first published by Scholastic Inc. in 2000, this edition published by Scholastic Ltd. in 2010.

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna is the youngest daughter of the Empress and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and she is destined to become Marie Antionette, Queen of France. It is 1769, and the child Antonia is only thirteen, but she is soon expected to marry the dauphin of France, Louis Auguste, who will ascend the throne once his grandfather passes. Antonia must learn many things as she leaves her childhood and her home in Austria to evolve into Marie Antionette of France.

This diary style historical fiction is based on the teenage years of Marie Antionette, who ruled France with her husband, Louis XVI, in the late 1700s. It is a very interesting story told in first person diary entries beginning when Antonia is just thirteen. It explores her world as an Archduchess, and her transformation from child into adult, wife and future leader of France. So much is expected of her at such a young age. Her mother believes that her successful marriage to the dauphin of France will secure peace in Europe, and as such, Antonia has much responsibility and power resting upon her young shoulders. The extravagance of court and palace life is almost unimaginable, as is the strict etiquette and sheltered lifestyle these rulers lead. They are so far removed from those that they rule over, it is no wonder that revolution came to France.

An engaging story well executed, My Royal Story: Marie Antionette, is suitable for upper primary school students and older. This is a great way to introduce some history into your child’s life. By telling the story from Marie Antionette’s perspective as a teenager, it helps the young reader to identify and empathise with her. There were also some historical notes and family trees at the end of the story, explaining a little bit about the time period and what happened to Marie Antionette, Louis Auguste and their children. Using the story to spark interest in this part of history can be a springboard for exploring the life and death of Marie Antionette and the changes that descended upon France and Europe in the late eighteenth century more thoroughly.

My Royal Story: Marie Antionette is only one title in the My Royal Story series, and I am interested in reading more of these titles. History can be very dry, but I was pleased to find a book that makes discovering history fun and compels one to investigate the historical period and figures further.

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