Guest Blog – Make A Story in a Bag

Wow, it’s been some time since I’ve opened up my blog – a break I never intended but as life has a tendency to do, it’s been hurtling a few unwelcome things my way to deal with. So I was delighted to be contacted by Seisha Lock from Education.com who requested to do a guest blog and came up with this wonderful story activity and a way to recycle those threadbare socks!

make-a-story-in-a-bag-slideshowmainimage

Make a Story in a Bag

For lots of kids the beginning, middle and end don’t always come so easily. Ask a first grader to tell a story of the day, for instance, and often the result will be hilarious because it’s all mixed up. As fun as it is to listen teaching kids that stories have an order is important. Want to give your kid some practice? Make some puppets and put them to work!

What You Need:

  • 3-4 old socks
  • Glue
  • Markers
  • Construction paper
  • Yarn (for hair)
  • Book of your child’s choice (from school, home, or the library)
  • Brown paper lunch bag

What You Do:

1. Set it up.  Explain to your child that you are going to read a story and then act it out! Let your child pick whatever book she’d like and start by reading the story together. Stop after every 2-3 pages to talk about what’s happening. At the end of the story, ask your child:

  • Who was the story about?
  • Where did the story take place?
  • What happened in the beginning of the story?
  • What happened in the middle of the story?
  • What happened at the end of the story?
  • Help your child write down the answers to each of those questions, to use for a puppet show later on, or take dictation if your child struggles with this task.

2. Reuse those socks! Sure, your toe may have wormed a hole in the tip, but old socks make perfect puppets. Just throw them in the wash first! Once they’re clean and dry, tell your child she’s going to make puppets for each of the characters in her story, and then act it out!  Give your child the craft supplies and let her use her imagination. Yarn makes great hair, googly eyes add a fun touch. And old ties or bandanas serve as great “costumes”. If she’d like, she can use construction paper to make background scenes, houses, or any other important settings from the story.

3. Act it out. Gather the family and announce the performance. Let your child take the lead and tell you whether she’d like to play all of the characters, or whether she wants some acting backup from you or a sibling. Once the show is over, place the sock puppets, scenery and written story summary in a brown bag and have your child write the story title on the front.  Be sure to keep your “story-in-a-bag” for future shows! This is a fun way to see if your child really understands and remembers a story, and who knows? It may become a new family tradition!

Thank you Seisha, it’s always good to pair up with others who enjoy promoting the fun in literacy.

I hope to get back into my blogging soon so watch this space for more to come.

Nature Narratives

Encouraging your child to write doesn’t mean they have to be stuck in the house chained to a table and told to churn out dozens of accurate lines. Writing is about conveying experiences, observations, reactions and feelings and one way to help children bring all these responses together onto one page is to get them outside and interacting with nature.

Today I’ve simply put together a mini scavenger hunt which purposefully includes things to collect for reactions and feelings, things to spot for observations and things to do for experience.

These templates can be printed and laminated for use in the garden or in the woods. They are best suited for A5 size. I then hole punched the corners and tied them together so they were easy to carry around.

Scavenger Hunt to Collect

 

Scavenger Hunt to Spot

 

Scavenger Hunt to Do

Your child will also need a small bag containing a piece of coloured or plain paper and coloured chalk for the bark rubbing and to collect and carry any of the scavenger items pictured. You can also include a piece of paper for the petal picture or it can be put together on the grass or ground. If possible take a photo of the petal picture to take home with you so your child can remember what it looks like.

Scavenger Hunt 2

When you return from the scavenger hunt ask your child to write a short story using items they saw or found on their scavenger hunt to inspire them. Tell them they can include as many of these things as they like. Let them think about the following questions to give them more ideas.Writing Nature Narratives

Don’t concentrate on grammar or sentence structure too much this is a light-hearted activity designed to encourage your child to use their imagination and create some crazy stories by showing them how to look for new ideas in unlikely places.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – Part 2: Visualisation

Perhaps you’re not a big fan of the idea that you can determine your life path through creative visualisation, after all that would need to be accompanied by belief. It’s a subject which is often dismissed as a little new age and far out. However, whether you warm to the idea or not is irrelevant here as regardless of your beliefs there is no doubt that we all use visualisation on a daily basis. That may be to remind ourselves of the next turning we need to take when finding the right route home for example, picturing the choices we have for breakfast, formulating ideas for a flyer for a new business, imagining stories or our next holiday. We may not always be aware of it but we are regularly using it to get to where we want to be and our children are no different. However the more aware we become of the images that we’re creating and thinking about the more power we have to change them or strengthen them to our advantage. Today I’m reviewing a book called Nightlights which can help a child do just that.

Understanding Visualisation

Visualisation is the word we assign to the act of forming images in our minds. It’s in all of us to be creative creatures. How we express that is very individual but to start being creative first requires us to use our imagination. We can form these visual images in our mind as a fleeting natural reaction to a given situation or a deliberate act of intent.

Book Review on Nightlights by author/s Anne Givardi, Kate Petty, Joyce Dunbar and Louisa Somerville.

Nightlights

What’s it all about?

Nightlights begins with chapters dedicated to useful support for the adult on how to use and make the most of the book covering topics such as Imagination and Creativity, Finding Identity Through Stories and The Art of Reading to Children. Next follows twenty interactive stories which encourage your child to relax and concentrate on the story, to close their eyes and purposefully visualise the story as it’s being read to them.

The stories themselves carry an uncomplicated and gentle tone. Each bright and detailed digital illustration maintains a contemporary appearance for a book which tackles such an ancient topic. Each story is between three and five pages long so just the right length to be read at bedtime. This book encourages your child to imagine themselves in the story and in so doing shows them how to mentally create pictures in their mind with purpose to help organise their thoughts, dreams and ideas and help make sense of them. At the end of each story is a list of related affirmations to reinforce the values behind the story, although to me they’re more akin to wise advice than affirmations.

After the stories we’re offered some additional relaxation and visualisation techniques which focus on specific worries. These techniques can be easily remembered and practised when required. The book talks about these skills as the premise for meditation, breathing and concentration techniques. At the very back of the book is an index of values and issues which makes it easier to pick the right story for the right situation or current concern for your child that day.

Which age group is it aimed at?

This children’s book is advertised on Amazon as being aimed at ages 3 to 7. I see no reason why this book can’t have a positive effect on any child’s mindset but to truly appreciate this book I would recommend waiting until ages 5 upwards as any younger I feel they may not have developed the level of concentration required to see the whole story through to the end in the way that’s required of them.

Conclusion: Nightlights has been a permanent fixture on our shelves for some time now. It’s the type of book that I like to dip into every now and again as it’s something quite different to your average children’s book. I consider it an invaluable book for teaching children the skills to be creative with their lives. It covers a complex topic in a very organised and systematic way. It’s a book to be read out loud to a child and in small chunks. To get the most out of this book I’d suggest a little extra time should be taken to orientate yourself around it before sharing with your children.

Story Editor: Anne Civardi.

Author/s: Kate Petty, Joyce Dunbar, Louisa Somerville.

Introduced by: David Fontana.

Publisher: Duncan Baird Publishers (2003)

Our Rating: 4 out of 5

CLICK TO BUY Nightlights: Stories for You to Read to Your Child – To Encourage Calm, Confidence and Creativity

Next week in PART 3 I will be reviewing a book about how to think positively.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 1: Emotions.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 3: Positive Thinking.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 4: Overcoming Fears.

 

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

You’re a Funny Man Mr. Stanton!

The Cambridge Union Chamber with Mr Stanton

Mr Stanton was an animated middle aged man with a curly black beard, bright spectacled eyes and arms which flapped like an owl trapped in the House of Lords. He was an unexpected surprise who hated being serious or limited to reading one type of book. What he liked was acting the fool, reading books, twisting a tale, having the audience in hysterics, writing stories, being silly, taking the mickey, guzzling water, reading and eating pizza and… did I mention books?

Only those of you who have read You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum may recognise some distant similarities to that quirky introduction.

Mr Gum 1

I’ve just returned from an afternoon in Cambridge with my family having been thoroughly entertained by Andy Stanton, children’s author of the Mr Gum series (published by Egmont), as part of the line up for the Cambridge Literary Festival today. His zany approach was both refreshing and uplifting and cleverly appealed on many levels to both adults and children.

He began by reading various amusing excerpts from his childhood schoolwork followed by some story ideas he’d written for Mr Gum which never reached the final book. A great message I thought for all writers young and old, that even though not all ideas will come to fruition keep writing them down. You never know how they may be used in the future.

Mr Gum 2

Mr Stanton was able to mix the trivial with the serious and jump from wacky to informative in the flip of a coin and was almost lyrical about his expulsion from Oxford University. He said “picture a vast meadow where you might want to look at a tree, a stream and a patch of grass or a flower.” For him reading is like being able to look at each of these elements separately or combined but he felt the university was putting constraints and limitations on which elements he was allowed to focus on. I see an even greater message lurking here. One that says you should always follow your heart – or maybe I’m misinterpreting it when really Andy is saying that “the truth is a lemon meringue.” Friday from Mr Gum would understand.

Mr Gum 3

It was clear Mr Stanton enjoys performing. He was consistently engaging as he continued to tease and interact throughout. He even got those who don’t like putting their hands up to put their hands up. My youngest particularly loved the conversation between the crow and Old King Thunder Belly. Andy continued his light hearted pantomime approach right through to the grand finale of question time.  He is a true entertainer and it was hilarious to experience his personality.

If you liked the sound of this event, please follow me on Twitter Amanda Lonergan (@lonerganbooks) and Facebook to hear about other upcoming author events, book crafts, news on children’s book releases and much more.


CLICK TO BUY You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum!

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk

Rabbits & Bunnies in Picture Books

In the run up to Easter, I’ve found some super bunny themed picture books to pop in a bag with a chocolate egg for Easter. So hop on over and take a seat to choose your favourite one from my bunny line up.


What Small Rabbit HeardSheryl Webster (author) & Tim Warnes (illustrator); Published: OUP Oxford, 2 Sept 2010.

An adorable rabbit who just wants to play. Follow Small Rabbit having fun whilst his mum is running along behind him trying to keep up and look after him.

CLICK TO BUY What Small Rabbit Heard


The Rabbits John Marsden (author) & Shaun Tan (illustrator); cover design by Tony Gilevski; Published: Lothian Children’s Books, Hodder Children’s Books, 16 Sept 2010.

A picture book aimed at older children and adults depicting the effects of colonization on the environment. Although not a cheery bedtime read and this book has attracted much debate and criticism due to the subject matter it remains an extremely relevant topic in today’s political climate. The quirky illustrations successfully add to the impact of the message.

CLICK TO BUY The Rabbits


The Rhyming RabbitJulia Donaldson (author) & Lydia Monks (illustrator); Published: MacMillan Children’s Books, 24 May 2012.

A glittering publication filled with rhyme and a gentle story of how being yourself and being different is special. To successfully distinguish between the character’s rhymes and the story the text is written in part rhyme and part prose accompanied by clear and vibrant illustrations.

CLICK TO BUY The Rhyming Rabbit


The Black RabbitPhillipa Leathers (author/illustrator); Published: Walker Books, 6 Mar 2014.

I love the contemporary illustrations in this original rabbit and wolf tale. Rabbit is afraid of his own shadow but soon finds out that his shadow is his best friend.

CLICK TO BUY The Black Rabbit


That’s Not Funny Bunny!Bethany Rose Hines (author/illustrator); Published: Top That Publishing, 18 Feb 2015.

The message this story conveys is clear. Don’t try and be something you’re not, always be yourself. The lovable characters, text repetition and soft illustrations all help to make this an easy book to remember.

CLICK TO BUY That’s Not Funny Bunny (Picture Storybooks)


Big Bad BunnyMelanie Joyce (author) & Maurizia Rubino (illustrator); Published: Igloo Books Ltd, 1 Dec 2014.

A rhyming story about a new bunny in the wood who persists at creating havoc with his loud and rude behaviour but goodwill and kindness from the other creatures prevails in the end. A sweet story with bright illustrations. Sadly the rhyme at times feels a little out of sync but the message is spot on.

CLICK TO BUY Big, Bad Bunny (Picture Flats)


Lion vs RabbitAlex Latimer (author/illustrator); Publisher: Picture Corgi, 7 Feb 2013.

A brilliant and funny story which keeps you chuckling beyond the last page. Lion is a bully. So who is brave (or tricky) enough to stop him being mean? You don’t want to beat a bully with fists or weapons so it’s a delight to see how the clever rabbit thinks differently to the other animals and ends up out smarting the lion.

CLICK TO BUY Lion vs Rabbit

I won’t rabbit on anymore (oh groan) but don’t forget to carrot rate your books with Ralfy Rabbit (book by Emily MacKenzie).

Sources: Library or private copies.

 

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

 

Fabulously Festive Picture Books

I couldn’t resist putting together a list of some of my favourite Christmas themed picture books around at the moment. Some excellent present ideas. There’s nothing better than reading a Christmas book to add to the excitement and anticipation of the family festive spirit. As usual these have been rated by my two boys of 6 and 9 years. The first rating is from my eldest.


Father Christmas on the Naughty Step – Mark Sperring (author) & Tom McLaughlin (illustrator); Published: Puffin 2013. Rating: 6/10; 8/10.

Who’d have thought Father Christmas can be naughty too! This is a brilliant spin on the usual Christmas Eve tales and a lesson in how to say sorry – something every child can relate to – and worth remembering that even Santa has to say sorry sometimes too!

CLICK TO BUY Father Christmas on the Naughty Step


Norman the Slug who Saved Christmas – Sue Hendra (author) & Paul Linnet (illustrator); Published:  Simon and Schuster Children’s UK 2015. Rating: 10/10; 10/10.

Norman is a surprising yet adorable hero for Father Christmas. He’s a very thoughtful snail who does a good deed and expects nothing in return. Although I can’t help feeling a little sad that Father Christmas completely forgot about Norman. Nonetheless it’s a fun, happy story with cute illustrations and all in all a humorous delight to read.

CLICK TO BUY Norman the Slug Who Saved Christmas


Socks for Santa – Adam and Charlotte Guillain (authors) &  Lee Wildish (illustrator); Published: Egmont 2015. Rating: 8/10; 9/10.

Santa gives out millions of presents every year but nobody stops to think about giving Santa a present – except George. George is a little boy who reminds us that Christmas is about giving and not receiving.

CLICK TO BUY Socks for Santa (George’s Amazing Adventures)

 

The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas – Peter Bently (author) & Garry Parsons (illustrator); Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books Ed. 2015. Rating: 10/10; 10/10.

Beautiful bold and bright illustrations accompany this sweet rhyming story about how the Tooth Fairy and Santa help each other out one Christmas Eve.

CLICK TO BUY Tooth Fairy’s Christmas


Tales from Christmas Wood – Suzy Senior (author) & James Newman Gray (illustrator); Published: Lion Children’s Books 2015. Rating: 8/10; 9/10.

As the animals of Christmas Wood are busy preparing for the upcoming Christmas festivities, this magical collection of five stories and pretty illustrations shows that Christmas is about gathering together and spending time with friends and family closest to us with the final story depicting a pretty nativity scene to remind us of the meaning of Christmas. A longer than average picture book which could be read over several nights.

CLICK TO BUY Tales from Christmas Wood


The Christmas Carrot – Alan Plenderleith (author/illustrator); Published: Ravette Publishing Ltd 2013. Rating: 9/10; 10/10.

He’s running for his life as everyone wants a bite of the Christmas carrot. Enjoy some light-hearted fun with this funny and engaging vegetable chase.

CLICK TO BUY The Christmas Carrot


Kipper’s Christmas Eve – Mick Inkpen (author/illustrator); Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books Ed. 2014. Rating: 9/10; 10/10.

The lovable character Kipper charms the socks off us again with another gentle, heart warming story which captures the warm festive glow of friendship, anticipation and excitement perfectly.

CLICK TO BUY Kipper’s Christmas Eve


The Lighthouse Keeper’s Christmas – Ronda & David Armitage (authors/illustrators); Published: Scholastic Children’s Books Ed 2014. Rating: 7/10; 5/10.

George has an unexpected Christmas stranded at the lighthouse. How will Santa know to come to the Lighthouse? How will Mrs Grinling reach them? Christmas songs, decorations and treats (including chocolate biscuits for breakfast apparently – perhaps this should be made into a national Christmas tradition!) but the best presents are the things that matter most to each of us. Making Christmas special no matter where you are.

CLICK TO BUY The Lighthouse Keeper’s Christmas

There’s so many fantastic books out there to choose from. What are your favourite Christmas picture books?

Source: Private or public copies.

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk

Child Authors: Learning from Children

Express Yourself Through Writing

Lately, my eldest has been devouring books like a caterpillar expecting an immanent leaf shortage. So much so that despite his shelves being laden with books his hunger for new, uncharted territory is proving hard to keep up with. With our library being a decent drive away and not wanting to rush out and buy new ones each time, I had a brain wave (they may be scarce but they do happen!). I remembered that my husband had read a fantasy fiction book called Eragon a few years back by the author Christopher Paolini who was fifteen years old when he wrote it. I thought perhaps it would be a good contender to satisfy this insatiable hunger. So we sifted through some old boxes in the garage and managed to find Eragon and Eldest, the first two from a series of four books. Both are fairly hefty books so I gave myself a pat on the back for successfully slowing him down until Christmas!

My eldest and I share his bedtime reading of Eragon and it keeps us both suitably engrossed. Some sentences sound a little over written in places to me but the story line is original and the vocabulary is impressive. It is hard to imagine a fifteen year old wrote such a book. As an older writer I like to think that life experience is my advantage in that it has given me greater empathy and expanded my mind since I was fifteen years old. However being a parent, I can also see many advantages for a child to read a book which is written by a child. So my curiosity has been tweaked.

The age of an author is not something a reader would readily know. It’s not emblazoned across their book cover (thank goodness!). Nor is it normally of particular importance to the reader – if the book is good, the book is good regardless of the author’s age. However, who is it that truly knows what makes a child tick? Who knows what is cool, awesome or totally pants? Who knows the latest hot topic in the playground? It can only be a child of course. They don’t have to rely on memory; they are the ones in the thick of it. They are experiencing childhood right now and by recording such moments their points of view can become an invaluable source of understanding for other children.

An excellent example is Help, Hope and Happiness which was written by Libby Rees when she was nine years old. Having gone through the pain of her parents getting divorced she wrote the book to try and help other children cope with divorce. Similarly nine year old Alec Greven’s idea to write How to Talk to Girls came from his playground observations and desires to help his classmates get credit for their chat up efforts. Jason Gaes wrote My Book for Kids with Cancer when he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at age seven. It’s a book which continues to help many children of all ages.

Another one I’m particularly interested to get my hands on is The Strand Prophecy written by Brianna and Brittany Winner (otherwise known as the Winner twins). The book tells the tale of Strand the superhero with a troubled past battling to save the world. Though not a self help book the twins wrote this book when they were twelve years old despite both having been diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. In a past blog on dyslexia (The Dancing Book) I once wrote “if you think differently to the average person, you have the power to achieve more than the average person so how can we teach children with dyslexia to draw out their unique abilities?” What an incredible example these twins are of what can be achieved and overcome. Since publication they have also became co-founders of the non-profit organisation Motivate 2 Learn which aims to promote literacy and inspire children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Child authors have been getting recognition since way back. One of the most well known being Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl written by Anne as a Jewish teenager in hiding during the war. It was later published in 1947 and gives a true view of what it was like to live in constant fear of being caught whilst simultaneously attempting to maintain a small sense of normality in her childhood.

One of the youngest, if not the youngest writer was American born Dorothy Straight who was just four years old when she wrote How the World Began which was published in 1964. Obviously this and many others are exceptional examples of young writers. After all most four year olds haven’t even mastered writing single letters let alone a whole book! So don’t expect miracles from your tiny tot but if they do love writing let them write and express themselves in their own way. They may surprise you and have something outstanding to say. Something which could one day help many children navigate their way through the confusing path of childhood.

Children’s Author Museums Around the World

Last week I posted a link on my Facebook page to an article announcing that Astrid Lindgren’s apartment in Stockholm, Sweden has been opened for small tour groups to view as a museum of her life and where she wrote her famous children’s books about Pippi Longstocking.

So why do we find it so fascinating to walk the floorboards of an author’s home, see photos or read about events in their lives? Are we just nosy? Or is it natural curiosity? Perhaps it is like being given a glimpse into a successful mind or the hope that we can just walk into their world of fantasy and take a little of their magic home with us.

Despite most of us gaining access to only a very small percentage of published children’s books in our lives, of which many are also limited to our immediate culture, children’s books are a great credit to the universal desire to teach, entertain, support and communicate with our children. Children’s books are something we can all relate to as having contributed to our childhood learning so it’s not surprising that many museums have been set up around the world to commemorate the lives and imaginations of some of our most famous children’s authors who have in turn touched our own lives. So next time you’re out and about on your travels, here are eleven museums which may tickle your taste for childhood memories or create some new ones for your own children.

Anne of Green Gables Museum – Park Corner, P.E.I., Canada

AUTHOR: L.M. Montgomery; BOOKS:  Best known for Anne of Green Gables.

Grimm World – Kassel, Germany

AUTHORS: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (otherwise known as the Brothers Grimm); BOOKS: Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel and many, many others.

The museum opened summer 2015 .

Hans Christian Andersen Museum – Odense, Denmark

AUTHOR: Hans Christian Andersen; BOOKS: The Emporer’s New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and many, many others.

Kinglsey Museum – Clovelly, Devon, UK

AUTHOR: Charles Kingsley; BOOKS: Best known for The Water Babies.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House – Massachusetts, USA

AUTHOR: Louisa May Alcott; BOOKS: Little Women, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

Musee Herge – Louvain-la-Neuve, Brussels, Belgium

AUTHOR: Herge; BOOKS: Tintin.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art – Amherst, MA, USA

AUTHOR: Eric Carle; BOOKS: Best known for The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Busy Spider and many, many others.

Tampere Art Museum Moominvalley – Tampere, Finland

Author: Tove Jansson; BOOKS: the Moomin series of books.

The Lewis Carroll Centre – Cheshire, UK

AUTHOR: Lewis Carroll; BOOKS: Best known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre – Great Missenden, UK

AUTHOR: Roald Dahl; BOOKS: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox, James and the Giant Peach and the list goes on!

The World of Beatrix Potter – Cumbria, UK

AUTHOR: Beatrix Potter; BOOKS: The Tale of Peter Rabbit and his many friends such as The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher plus many, many others.

Back to School with Children’s Books

Books about School

After weeks of no homework (for some), no deadlines (except for those of our own making perhaps) and the occasional pyjama days, the new school term is now in full swing and I, like millions of other parents, am just beginning to once again get my head around the daily routine of taxi-ing to and from school and a whole host of other favoured activities of the moment.

School dominates children’s lives; it’s somewhere they have to go, even when they don’t want to and a place where they are pushed to achieve every day. So why then are schools such a popular topic in children’s books? Surely the last thing they want to read is a story about being at school again? Wouldn’t they rather escape to a fantasy world on planet Bish Bosh than somewhere they already go to everyday?

I couldn’t resist last week re-tweeting (@lonerganbooks) the picture of the timetable board at Kings Cross, listing Hogwarts train as being “on time.” J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has made Hogwarts the most famous fictional school in the world now. So much so it has become a part of our lives. So what makes Hogwarts such an appealing setting? Is it because the extraordinary occurs amidst a familiar setting or is it because our imaginations could almost believe that a school like this could really exist?

Using familiar settings in stories is about sticking to a situation a child can identify with but twisting it and making the mundane interesting and the opposite of what might be expected. One of the first British writers to start the trend was Angela Brazil with The Fortunes of Philippa in 1906. Due the books success she went on to write a total of 49 novels based on life at boarding school. Since then many authors have followed suit with their own twist on school life.

There are schools for everyone in the book world. Schools for unlikely spies (Spy School by Stuart Gibbs), space travelling dinosaurs (Astrosaurs Academy by Steve Cole), L’Etoile for those who want to become famous (School for Stars by Holly & Kelly Willoughby), a school for ghosts (Mountwood School for Ghosts by Toby Ibbotson), budding ballerinas (Ballet School Secrets by Janey Louise Jones) and even the differently gifted at the Alice B. Smith School (Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell). The graphic novel, Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown cleverly combines a familiar school setting for trainee Padawans with the Star Wars planet Coruscant. If we have schools on earth, why shouldn’t there be schools on other planets?

However, it’s not just about who the school is for; there are many other ways to put a twist on school life as we know it. Flour Babies by Anne Fine is set in an average comprehensive school but she develops a humorous situation by observing how the characters interact and the relationship between pupil and teacher. It’s feels good to laugh at all the things that can go wrong when looking after a flour baby and to make fun of the teacher’s attempts to make lessons more interesting. Its’ a book about school life and how the children and teachers learn to deal with each other.

Other books focus on delighting in mishaps and chaos. Children find it amusing to read about things they know shouldn’t happen at school. Darrell Rivers and her friends provide the reader with endless entertainment doing what they’re not supposed to do in Malory Towers by Enid Blyton and Rafe Khatchadorian racks up thousands of points breaking every school rule in Middle School by James Patterson.

Another way to make school life more exciting is to create unusual characters who can do things a child might wish would happen in school. The magical teacher known as Mr Majeika by Humphrey Carpenter who turns St Barty’s school bully into a frog and then forgets the spell which changes him back again is a good example of this. Other authors switch the writing style to a day to day diary format such as Tom Gates by Liz Pichon and Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Often these books are written from the pupil’s point of view and concentrate on common issues that occur in schools as in Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson which broaches bullying but with a very humorous angle to it.

So next time your children are struggling to come up with ideas for their creative writing homework, try and get them to think about mixing the absurd, unexpected and surprising with everyday occurrences to help put an interesting spin on their writing.


CLICK TO BUY Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: 1/7 (Harry Potter 1)

 

 


CLICK TO BUY The Fortunes of Philippa

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Spy School

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Astrosaurs 1: Riddle Of The Raptors

 

 


CLICK TO BUY First Term at L’Etoile (School for Stars)

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Mountwood School for Ghosts (Great Hagges)

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Ballet School Secrets (Kelpies: Cloudberry Castle)

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Ottoline Goes to School

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Jedi Academy

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Flour Babies

 

 


CLICK TO BUY 01: First Term (Malory Towers)

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life: (Middle School 1)

 

 


CLICK TO BUY Mr Majeika

 

 


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The Story of “Puy du Fou” – A Magical Experience

For me story related events are just as important for encouraging children to read and write as a book itself. Well……. I think I may have found the ultimate land of stories, a place that wholly draws you into its world of fantasy.

That place is a theme park situated in the Vendee region of France known as Puy du Fou. Like all good theme parks you have the option of staying in one of their four themed hotels where your surroundings are a stage in themselves. However toss aside any images you may have of fast rides, plastic characters and cinematography and replace them with theatrical productions of myths and legends on a scale which will continue to amaze you long after you’ve left. If you ever get the chance to visit, prepare to be wowed again and again.

All the hotel themes are packed with elaborate detail. We stayed in the Gallo Roman Villa. I’ve included a picture of our neighbour whom we got chatting to through our hotel room window.

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The park is set in 50 hectares of immaculately kept gardens and forest. Even the gardeners were in costume! It hosts five main signature shows varying from approx 20-40 minutes in length and several other shows. All shows are based on historical stories of the region. As we were only staying over two days and one night we made sure we scheduled in the main shows (see later below), plus one shorter show, The Knights of the Round Table…..

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…..and a night show, The Organs of Fire a stunning light show of musicians and dancers choreographed to emotive and powerful music.

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On entering each show you walk into a totally different and incredible set and when the show starts the atmospheric surround sound makes you feel like you too are a part of it. By the second or third show you learn to expect the unexpected. However it is not only the shows which will astound you but the sheer size and level of hydraulics and engineering both over and underground it must have taken to construct the sets. Walking into a full sized reconstruction of an amphitheatre with the capacity to hold six thousand people is an experience you don’t come across every day.

Triumph’s Sign

The amphitheatre came alive the minute we sat down as the Gauls Vs Romans got us cheering and jeering and Mexican waving. We were entertained with chariot racing, wild animals parading the arena and gladiators fighting for their lives – and the damsel in distress.

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The Vikings

This was the first show we saw so after walking into the impressive set of a reconstructed 1000 year old fortress we didn’t really know what to expect next. We were soon met with flashes of hot fire, dramatic fighting and unexpected feats – and of course the saving of a damsel in distress!

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The Phantom Birds’ Dance

Magnificent hunting birds skimmed the top of my head and landed on perches only a few feet away. The falconer’s skill is clearly demonstrated with a vast array of species including the The Secretary Bird and The American Bald Eagle pictured below. The birds also play an integral part in saving the (yes you guessed it) damsel in distress!

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The Secret of the Lance

From stunt riders travelling at break neck (luckily they didn’t) speed in front of a reconstructed Middle Aged Castle, to entire buildings moving. A fast paced drama to save the damsel in distress!

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Richelieu’s Musketeer

I was too mesmerised to be taking pictures of this one. This is an indoor theatre with a circular stage which adds to the illusion that the show is happening around you. The stage floods with water and a flamboyant display of drums, dressage, sword fighting and flamenco dancing splashes before your eyes.

All the shows are obviously in French so audio translations are available but in my opinion not necessary as the shows are too loud for you to hear the audio properly anyway and as you may have noticed, the majority of the story lines tend to centre around the familiar theme of true love and a damsel in distress. However, you are not there for a complex story line, you are there for the show and there is enough to keep you amazed for this to fade into insignificance so understanding French is definitely not essential.

It was refreshing for a theme park that we experienced very little queuing and the majority of the tourists were from the hosting country. In between shows there are several reconstructed historical towns and villages to visit too with working artisans and themed shops so you are immersed in their make believe world at all times. At no point are souvenirs thrust in your face and much of what is on offer is true craftsmanship.

The Medieval City

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The Market Town in 1900

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I wanted to try and show you from the photos exactly why I am in such awe of this place without spoiling any of the anticipation and surprises so have deliberately omitted some of my pictures. Having said that, this is undoubtedly a moment when a photo can only spark your interest and by no means lives up to the wonder of the park. It is a place you have to experience to fully appreciate its brilliance. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stay for their ultimate night show, the “Cinescenie” and by no means saw all the other shows or areas on offer but this is one place I was happy to leave open a good excuse to return some day!

Truly captivating and an inspiration for all story tellers.