Category Archives: Education

Zeki Loves Baby Club

How to sing an Irish baby song in Urdu.

I was a lazy mother. Taking Offspring to playgroup was intended to take a load off me, for a couple of hours. The other children were meant to entertain, and so were the adult playgroup leaders.

Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson, Zeki Loves Baby Club

Here, in Zeki Loves Baby Club, the lovely parents all join in and play and sing with their child. True, the presence of the other babies means Zeki enjoys his Wednesdays, but there is a lot of adult playing and singing.

It’s a very sweet book, with quite irresistible illustrations. It makes you want to go to this baby club, where children and adults alike have a great time, and the children doubtless grow up to become good people.

At the back of the book you get the words to all the songs, including Rolly Polly in Urdu.

Malteser

There was an empty box – previously – of Maltesers that I needed to dispose of recently. I realised as I stopped to consider the ex-contents that I couldn’t remember what Maltesers taste like.

Although I no longer eat any chocolate, I can usually dredge up enough memory of what I used to eat and like. And then I want to cry.

But Maltesers? No. I did come to them late in my chocolate eating life, but still.

To me they have literary connotations. I was at the English department at the University of Gothenburg, when two of my lecturers happened to meet mid-corridor. One of them offered the other a Malteser, and then felt he had to offer me one as well.

Wanting to show my appreciation and also how well read and generally well educated I was, I mentioned that I’d just read a novel where Maltesers featured heavily. (And I’m sorry, but I can’t remember which novel. Maybe Graham Greene?)

‘Yes,’ said lecturer no. two, naming the book. I was so pleased he knew what I was talking about. These days I don’t think you could expect someone else to have read, and remembered, the same book. There are too many books we might be reading.

So we enjoyed some literary chocolatey bonding before we went to our respective classrooms.

Just wish I could recall what they are like. I’m sure I liked them, but not so much I’d buy them for myself terribly frequently. Now, give me Anton Berg’s chocolate covered marzipan any day! (Obviously I mean, don’t!)

Theory of battle

We arrived in the run-up to the Battle of Bannockburn 700th celebrations, which kick off big time today. The Resident IT Consultant has understandably been more excited than me. He is the historian of us, and the native. But I thought I’d be reasonably OK with going along to the new visitors’ centre to experience the battle.

Maybe I’d have been less underwhelmed if I’d studied the website in detail before going. I didn’t look at it at all, because in general I’d expect anywhere like that to be possible to negotiate without an instruction manual.

It was complicated, as well as dark and confusing and it involved standing up at all times, which pales rather when you’ve signed up for nearly two hours of battle. (I know. It was worse back in 1314. I shouldn’t moan.) I don’t take in unexpected oral instructions very quickly, and I feel if a venue has to send you off into battle with a written booklet (there wasn’t one) they have missed out in the design of the whole place.

I suspect what it is, is a lack of theory of mind on their behalf. They know how it works, because they built it and/or work there. I’d be a lot better on a second visit, but at £11 a pop it’s not something people will do (unless a member of the Scottish – or English – National Trust), or can’t do if they are visiting from elsewhere.

You start off with 3D glasses which put you straight into the path of battle. We discovered we were in direct line between the arrows being fired and their goal. We had soldiers impaled by horrible weapons right next to us, and horses riding by an inch away. That was very instructive.

Next you can meet and chat to a dozen or so people involved in the battle, from both sides. Technically it veered between very easy to impossible to get your hand-waves hit the right spot. But like the first bit, it was quite interesting and helps you understand war of any kind.

Then came the ‘shows’ we had time booked tickets for. I’d assumed sitting down. I’d assumed slightly bigger venue. Finding it was tiny and standing up, and nowhere near interesting enough (to me) to remove the claustrophobia from being foremost on my mind, I spent five minutes picking up the courage to leave the room. As I’d suspected, the doors were not easy to open, and required the help of the person running the battle show, which rather removed any hoped for inconspicuousness on my part.

Once out, I didn’t mind ‘losing out’ or having to wait for my historian to stand through the whole thing. Although, the only choices for sitting down (I had over an hour to wait) was the wall by the car park or in the café. I tried both. Outside was cold, and inside I found out exactly how uncomfortable those trendy Tolix chairs can be.

When I had also witnessed other visitors being unable to identify the correct door to the toilets and overheard a member of staff saying they were badly signposted, I could only conclude someone has forgotten that first-time – and possibly once-only – visitors need clarity, and in more ways than one.

It’s like starting a new school. You know nothing to begin with, but learn by returning every day. You won’t be going to Bannockburn quite as frequently as that.

But, all in all, a lovely concept. I liked finding out what it might have been like standing in that field 700 years ago. I would have appreciated more information beforehand, but then so would the soldiers back in 1314, I imagine.

If you are not phobic, do go. But watch out for the arrows!

George and the Unbreakable Code

Civilisation as we know it does not necessarily take much to break down. Give people what they ‘want,’ like unlimited cash or free plane tickets, and all hell could break lose. Lucy Hawking is playing around with how the world works in her and dad Stephen’s fourth George book, George and the Unbreakable Code. And it is surprising how scary that is.

So is finding old allies having a ‘funny turn’ and ending up so unreliable that you need to use all your skills on solving problems without them. George and his best friend Annie’s relationship with super computer Cosmos suffers rather. What’s got into Cosmos?

And what about the robot who arrives on Annie’s doorstep looking just like her dad? Friend or foe? That’s apart from this ebot dad-look-alike behaving in embarrassing ways, like parents do.

Lucy and Stephen Hawking, George and the Unbreakable Code

With the world gone mad, and seemingly Cosmos as well, what do you need? Well, parents to depend on, maybe. But Annie’s dad Eric is needed elsewhere in this crisis, which leaves George’s family, and their self-sufficient life style. And the woman from Bletchley Park.

Needless to say, this book is as exciting as the other three, and you can’t wait to see how George and Annie will save the world. There is no question as to whether they will. We know our cool heroes, and Cosmos or no Cosmos, they have the brains and the courage.

This story touches on disability and on understanding how society works, as well as what is most important in life. As always there are essays written by Lucy’s friends in the academic world, including one by her father. They are roughly on my level, so should suit young readers well. And there are the usual ‘pretty pictures’ from space. (Me, I want to be like Annie in her spacesuit. Cool.)

Science fiction as it should be.

Interning

We put Daughter on a plane yesterday, and then she put herself on yet another, bigger plane. She’s off to see whether Dr Sheldon Cooper is real, or not.

I believe he is. (How could he not be?)

Up, up and away

My eleven weeks of Daughterlessness is Pasadena’s gain. She packed a number of books to read for fun, which I applaud. Her choice of reading material was perhaps not what I’d like to tell the world about, so I won’t. Needless to say her suitcase was over the limit, but it appears ‘real’ airlines don’t fuss too much.

Now let’s see what we can get up to… I know! We could move house!

Arrowhead

Ruth Eastham’s Arrowhead begins with some pretty un-Norwegianlike behaviour among a group of school children in the north of Norway. But that’s OK, because they have a reason for it. They are not quite themselves.

Ruth Eastham, Arrowhead

The book’s hero, Jack, is Norwegian, but brought up in England, so counts as an outsider. He’s not the only hero; there is Tor, who is a dead viking, and Jack’s present day allies Skuli and Emma. They live in Isdal, which is as cold as it sounds, despite it being summer (sort of). And everything is a bit odd. No one behaves as you’d expect, apart from Skuli and Jack, and we soon find out why.

Arrowhead is another rewriting – or fantasy – based on Norse mythology and other old stuff. I noticed Beowulf in there. Odin obviously turns up, the way he tends to do.

In the end it’s up to the three live heroes and the dead one to work on setting Isdal – and the world – right. Can they do it?

Ruth has got most of her Norwegian facts sorted out. Even the local mountain has a good name. And people eat waffles in the town’s café. (That really impressed me, until I found out that some witch had had a say in that. But they should eat waffles.)

Very exciting adventure, and one I reckon would make an excellent film. I could see it as I read. The arrows. The fire. The fighting.

Bookwitch bites #121

I was a bit busy last week, so will have to join the rest of you in catching up on my favourite physics teacher, Lucy Hawking (here). You get a whole forty minutes of Lucy talking interesting stuff, courtesy of the Scottish Book Trust. Lucy has a new George book out – George and the Unbreakable Code – and you will hear more about that a little later. (My copy has had a close encounter with a black hole, mainly filled with water. Not of my doing!)

Lucy Hawking

More online fun for a new book can be found on various blogs this week, as Helen Grant spreads herself out with guest posts and things, to celebrate the publication of The Demons of Ghent on Thursday. Needless to say I bagged the 5th of June itself.

Helen Grant blog tourThe water-filled hole apart, the holiday reading chez Bookwitch Vacations is going well. Yeah, OK, so Birdie read complicated textbooks, but Daughter was wanting to prove my prediction on the likelihood of non-reading wrong, so has read several recent box office titles. She went to see the films and then decided to read the books (possibly to see what they got ‘wrong’).

The Resident IT Consultant, on the other hand, reads what he finds. I sometimes have to forbid him to go for what I need to read next, and he has been reasonably obedient. He did go looking for the charging cable for his Kindle, and was a little surprised when I said it was in the flower pot (I thought that was a good place for it). His main concern was whether it had been watered (like George, I suppose), but you don’t water artificial plants.

At least, I hope you don’t.

A change of scenery

‘All change, please!’ Except the guard didn’t say that. Instead, as we sat – packed like sardines – on the train from Copenhagen airport, the PA system indistinctly informed us something was about to change. Our end of the train was going no further. Only, he said it in Danish, and bad English, so it wasn’t either helpful or clear.

And we’d only just got acquainted with the couple out to celebrate Mother’s Day, whom we were sqeezed far too close to for polite company. So we ran for it at Malmö. Even Daughter made it, but only just. She was further in, so had longer to get out.

The drip in the bathroom has changed. It used to be considerable, becoming less with each passing day, while helpfully dripping into a rectangular former ice cream box. Now it refuses to drip into the box, and it is not slowing down, and I’m having to change its nappy, so to speak. (Square of towelling on the floor, which soon gets sodden.)

We’ve had Birdie with us for a week. She does incomprehensible subjects at university, along with Daughter. It means we’ve tried to explain some of the weird ways of Sweden, and we were working on the bottle and drinks can deposit system when we realised the smallest amount had doubled. After a while I hit on the reason for this. The place no longer has 50 öre coins, so can hardly have a 50 öre deposit. No small change here.

Birdie is staying on for the summer. Not with us, but with one of the country’s leading universities, which will mean a considerable change for her. She has spent her week here being led from one outdoor café to another. She’ll think we do nothing but eat. (She’d be right.) When not being force-fed cake, she has read incomprehensible books.

Speaking of books, I went into town (no, I never learn…) and wanted something from the bookshop. You know the drill by now. It had moved. Only about two doors down (or do I mean up?), so I found it easily enough once I could see I’d overshot. When I’d bought what I came for (amazingly they had it), I discovered it had changed names as well. It is now a completely different shop, except it’s the same, really. To me it will always be Larssons Bokhandel.

Went to look for the next thing on my list. Definitely didn’t get that. Mainly because the department store wasn’t there. In its place was a building site, and the only shop open for business was a – new – chemist’s. Presumably to make up for the halving of the old one and the moving of the door which they hit me with last year.

Remember the bus tickets? The ones that changed? Well, now they had to be ex-changed. Every four years your Oyster type card thingy has to be freshened up, so I came armed with the family’s tickets, with all of a week before they became invalid and fizzled into thin air. (I made that last thing up. We’d just have been stranded.)

And speaking of the bus tickets and being stranded; the unions have called a strike for Monday. Either they strike all the time, or we are simply extremely gifted at turning up when they do. May not be able to get rid of the Resident IT Consultant quite as smoothly as planned, because of this.

The Night Raid

Boys will be boys. They were – mostly – just the same back in Roman times. Or do I mean Greek?

Caroline Lawrence has written her first Barrington Stoke story, and it is both an exciting read and quite educational for people like me. If you’re a bit shaky on the Classics, then The Night Raid is for you.

Caroline Lawrence, The Night Raid

It begins with the fall of Troy, when two young boys, Rye and Nisus, flee for their lives, having lost family members. Both want revenge, but first have to start new lives with the leader of the Trojans, Aeneas.

The reader learns what happened to the Trojans in exile, and how they arrived in Italy, years later.

If the story sounds at all familiar, it will be because a chap called Virgil wrote a poem called the Aeneid, and Caroline has borrowed from that to tell us what happened to the teenagers, Nisus and Rye.

I think it’s fantastic the way an author can take something old and seemingly difficult and bring it to a new audience by re-writing something that many of us will happily avoid for as long as we possibly can.

Thank you for educating me a little bit, Caroline.

Bookwitch bites #119

There are things happening in Scotland. Just saying.

They give books away, for one thing. The Scottish Book Trust are giving books to children, again. Five different categories, from baby to Primary 1. Three books each. I think that’s really good, and while I know I didn’t need it for Offspring, it would still have been nice.

More on the Scottish front, Malorie Blackman is coming for a four city tour; Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I would love to catch up at one of these events, but it is a busy week at Bookwitch Towers.

Julie Bertagna has written a graphic novel, which is about time, since they were a major topic the day we first met, as she discussed cool stuff with Neil Gaiman. It’s called John Muir Earth – Planet, Universe, and because I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read it, I’ll say it’s a sort of green book. You can download it here, because – this is Scotland, again – they are giving it away to school children.

To prove this isn’t just about Scotland, here is the Branford Boase shortlist, which – as with all my recent reading – I have not got enough personal knowledge of to say very much about. Except that I wish them well, and let the best author win.

Winter Damage by Natasha Carthew, edited by Rebecca McNally
Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood, edited by Venetia Gosling
Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones edited by Mara Bergman
Red Ink by Julie Mayhew, edited by Emily Thomas
Alex the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Montgomery Ross, edited by Rebecca Lee & Susila Baybars
The Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss, edited by Imogen Cooper and Barry Cunningham
Geek Girl by Holly Smale, edited by Lizzie Clifford

Murderous mug

You know, authors can do just about anything. The other day I carelessly mentioned that this mug doesn’t worry me. It would almost be an honour to be killed off in a book. Wouldn’t it? It’s fiction. You’d live afterwards. (You would, wouldn’t you?)

And I annoy better than most.

As I said, authors can do a lot of things. I have to admit to certain maternal pride over this:

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

(I actually believe this is a book about me. I do wash regularly, but the alien-ness can’t be disputed.) It’s clearly a book to be dedicated to offspring, and I admire the lovely Steve Cole for his triple dedication, in one fell swoop.

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

 

So I don’t think Aliens Stink. They are the best.