Category Archives: Reviews

Book review: Around the World with the Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure

ingreedies-main-photo

When I was asked to review this recipe book for children, I was in two minds. My children are firm believers that if they’ve not eaten something a hundred times before or if it isn’t coated in breadcrumbs then that’s their cue for a bout of overdramatic gagging.

But then I thought: Goddammit! Thou shalt eat foods that aren’t yellow! One day we shalt go on holiday and you shalt eat something other than chips!

My kids aren’t unique or peculiar, their foodie horizons are just limited like those of thousands of other stubborn pint-sized stick-in-the-muds out there. It’s this that the couple who created Around the World with the Ingreedies, Zoë Bather and Joe Sharpe, are cleverly trying to address.

This isn’t just another cookbook for kids that persuades them to eat by making faces with tomatoes or sailing boats from stale bread. This is a beautiful, imaginative book packed with geographical foodie facts and exciting recipes and ideas. Chris Dickason’s illustrations of the Ingreedie characters will take you right back to the 1980s and Pedro Orange and Merv Marrow in the Munch Bunch books.

Aesthetically, the book won me over as soon as I opened it. In practice? I was sceptical. There needed to be a taste test. To do this I asked my kids to pick a recipe and then pitted them against the book’s ‘Mealtime Manifesto’.

australia-page

“We think family mealtimes should be fun. There’s a wealth of exciting dishes out there that the whole family can enjoy together”

Agree. Who wants to spend an hour banging their head against a brick wall telling their kids to eat their broccoli? This book certainly has a range of dishes that I’d be happy to eat – with or without the kids. The issue we had was finding something we could “enjoy together” because the youngest taste buds in our house only want fifty shades of bland. My little darlings refused to try anything in the book other than the Australian Fusion Burgers (minus the chilli of course).

“The book is full of fascinating food facts from around the world, along with a recipe for each country we visit”

Absolutely. This is far more than just a recipe book (there are only 13 recipes included). The pages are packed with facts, maps and information – and humour (think Richard Scarry). Did you know that Napoleon asked for his bread to be made long and thin so his soldiers could carry it down their trousers? Is that a baguette down your trousers, Claude, or are you just pleased to see me?

chopping-vegetables

“We don’t expect kids to like everything they’re given to eat. But we do believe if you tell them about the history and culture of food, it will inspire them to try something new”

Predictably, my kids didn’t like the burgers. I’m not sure knowing the “recipe fuses the flavours of Thailand with the famous Aussie meal – the barbeque” inspired them, but at least they tried the tiniest fleck. Mummy was of course wise enough to have bought some plain bulk standard burgers in anticipation of this.

australian-fusion-burgers

“We want to encourage the next generation to become inventive, passionate cooks, and leave them with a greater love and understanding of food”

We had great fun cooking together and the recipes were easy to follow. Ultimately, the recipes may be a little too adventurous for kids like mine. But you know what? If it gets kids enjoying the creative process of cooking, who cares if you end up having to substitute their food with something less exciting (and probably yellow). It’s about setting in place skills for the future and leaving their minds open (or at least slightly ajar) to the potential for a world beyond cheesy strings.

In short, a fabulous book that looks great and is fun to read. If you know any children with even slightly more culinary balls than mine, then you won’t go too far wrong buying them a copy for Christmas.

Around the World with the Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure is published by Laurence King Publishing, £12.99, ISBN 9781780678290.

Book review and giveaway: My Stinky New School

starting school

It’s that time of year again. The time when, amidst overturned boxes of toys and washed out camping holidays, parents’ thoughts start turning to September. If you’re a parent who is getting ready to send a little darling to school for the first time then you are probably oscillating between dread and joy. Perhaps you’ve passed through denial and are looking for ways to ease the transition. For me, as with solving so many things in life, that means turning to books.

We’ve read about Topsy and Tim’s and Maisie’s first days at school countless times now, so it was a delight to be asked to review something new. My Stinky New School by Rebecca Elliott introduces your child to the prospect of something potentially scary with humour and beautiful illustrations.

The book tells the story of Toby as he starts school and tackles worries about making new friends. According to Toby, his new school “stinks of pigeon poop, ogre armpits, and sadness”, yet he makes it through his first day thanks to a string of characters: spacemen, aliens, pirates, mermaids and dinosaurs. Throw in “astro poop” and bad smells and you have everything a 4-year-old loves.

At the end of the day, Toby claims not to have made any friends. Really? When my kids have done any activities without me, I ask “And did you talk to anyone?” and the answer is always “No”. Yet without fail, it eventually emerges that they did indeed make friends without realising. The same is true for Toby who, through sharing his wild imagination with other children, leaves on his first day with a wave to his troop of new pals. This bit does need some explaining to 4-year-olds (who tend to take things literally) but with a couple of reads they soon grasp the idea.

My Stinky New School is a lovely book to add to your arsenal of preparing-for-school-tools. Just make sure your child isn’t expecting there to be any real pirates at school. They’ll either be racing into their uniform several weeks too early or refusing to go without a cutlass.

My Stinky New School by Rebecca Elliott, Lion Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99. For more information visit the publisher’s website.

WIN!

I’m giving away a copy of My Stinky New School. To enter please scroll down and leave a comment telling me who you’d most like to meet – dead or alive, famous or infamous – who would it be?

The closing date for entries is noon on August 18th, 2015. Entries from the UK only. Only one entry per person. The winner will be chosen completely at random.

Disclosure: A big thanks to the publishers for giving me the opportunity to review the book and give away a copy.

Book review and giveaway: Kids Don’t Come With A Manual

Parenting books

After the baby years, there was I thinking I wouldn’t bother with any more parenting books. Despite my best intentions, I never got to the end of them and what I did read was 20% useful and 80% forgettable when faced with a bawling child. When I was asked to review Kids Don’t Come With A Manual: The Essential Guide To A Happy Family Life by Carole & Nadim Saad I expected it to join my other good intentions on the dusty pile under my bed. But I was surprised. It’s the first book focusing on children (rather than babies) that I’ve managed to read from cover to cover. More importantly, it’s one that I’ve been able to apply to my own daily battles with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, with – dare I say it and tempt fate? – a degree of success.

As the book proclaims: ‘Parenting is a Balancing Act!”. The book was driven by the authors trying to reconcile their opposing parenting styles. Throughout the book, both give their perspective on how taking a new approach has forced them to adjust their behaviour, reassuring you that no parent is perfect. But the book isn’t about how to fix your parenting differences with your partner. Its real focus is on providing balanced, practical tools to help you deal with the everyday challenges your children present you with, helping your children become happy and self-reliant adults and maintaining a good connection with them throughout their lives.

The authors’ objective was to “find practical, tried and tested evidence” for a balanced (and effective) style of parenting. That they have formulated their own approach by bringing together existing research and parenting books makes me less inclined to feel lectured at and more inclined to take on board their advice. Parents are sensitive types when our methods of parenting are called into question! The commonsense approach may on occasion make you feel you’re being told what you already know, but this is in fact reassuring – it confirms that good parenting isn’t rocket science. What I like about this book is that it’s very easy to remember the practical advice and then apply it in those moments of need when anything more than simple coping strategies would fly from your mind.

The initial chapters on ‘preventative tools’ are fascinating. They look at how to parent ‘pre-emptively’ rather than ‘reactively’. This lies in recognising that children’s behaviour demonstrates their desire to gain control over their lives and achieve a sense of belonging. Understanding why children act as they do and how important our reactions are can help nip difficult behaviour in the bud before it flares up, as well as build a more positive, nurturing environment. The ‘What a child may be thinking’ sections in the book force you to step into their shoes and shine a torch on your own behaviour – not always a comfortable experience but nonetheless an invaluable, mind-changing insight. “It can be difficult to accept and admit”, write the authors, “that despite all the love we have for our children, we may be exacerbating their ‘mis’behaviour through our own reactions.”

Whilst the authors recommend reading the chapters on ‘preventative’ tools first, this doesn’t stop it being a book you can dip into and still find useful. There are practical tools throughout for dealing with different challenges and, as the authors say, the “beauty of this is that even if you were to read and apply just one tool alone, in isolation, you would be very likely to experience a significant and positive difference”. The final part of the book deals with troubleshooting the ‘top 20 parenting challenges’ (eg, refusing to cooperate, whining, taking too long to do everything – sound familiar?) and is a quick reference to the best tools to use. I can see myself filling this section with post-its.

Truth is, we can read as much about parenting as we like but if we don’t find the advice easy to put into practice then we might as well never have picked up the book. Kids Don’t Come With A Manual has taught me new tricks for managing situations that would have previously resulted in me losing my cool and spiraling into the ugly vortex that is Parental Guilt. I knew that some of my ‘techniques’ were far from satisfactory but this book has given me a deeper understanding of why they were failing. This new insight has provided the kick up the backside that I needed. I can honestly say I feel a long way towards being a calmer parent. Of course, the tantrums haven’t disappeared completely nor has my children’s hearing improved significantly but I can deal with everything more effectively and with a renewed determination to remain calm. (And, yes, I’m feeling a little bit proud of myself!)

If kids did come with a manual then this book would probably be it.

Kids Don’t Come With A Manual: The Essential Guide To A Happy Family Life by Carole and Nadim Saad, Best of Parent Publishing, paperback, £12.99 (Kindle £6.99). For more information visit: www.bestofparenting.com/books.

WIN!

I’m giving away 3 copies of Kids Don’t Come With A Manual. For your chance to win one please enter below. Entries from the UK only. The closing date for entries is midnight on April 1st, 2015.

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Review: Bopping Babes Disco

Discos for children

Imagine a place where no one cares how you dance. A place where your kids are still young enough not to be embarrassed by you. What could make it even better? Oh yes, a bar. Too good to be true? This isn’t Shangri-La. This is Bopping Babes.

I’ve been harassing a certain well-known provider of baby discos for some time trying to persuade them to do an event in St Albans. Sadly, they weren’t biting. (Do they not know that we’ve got small people coming out of our ears here?! You can’t move without tripping over one.) To say I was excited to see Bopping Babes launch earlier this year then would be an understatement. Bopping Babes runs discos for adults and children up to the age of 6. Their flyer asks: “Miss those days when you could dance the night away?” Hell, yeah.

It’s not quite a night out (more of an afternoon) but Bopping Babes does its best to recreate the mood. The Crumbs & Pegs family headed to the latest Bopping Babes event in Harpenden suitably attired for the Superheroes and Princesses theme. More Superman than Superfly – we’ll save our white Travolta suits for next time. On arriving, we discovered a potentially bland British Legion hall transformed into a discotheque – and, yes, there was a disco ball.

Superhero

On stage were the DJing team (Disco-D-Light) armed with bubble machines, puppets and the energy that can only be mustered by those well used to working with tough, knee-high audiences. Music-wise, they were more down with the kidz than I’ve been for a decade and it wasn’t just Bob the Builder on loop. Thank god. (We’ll gloss over the popular tune played that wasn’t the ‘radio edit’ – something for the adults.)

Bopping Babes isn’t all about strutting your stuff on the dancefloor though. The organisers work hard to make sure it’s an event that will keep children (of all ages) entertained. For starters, there was fantastic face painting and  glitter tattoos by The Glitterbox (where my 2-year-old got his first tattoo). Add to that lush cakes for the kids to decorate from Let Them Eat Cake and you’re left feeling disco sparkly inside and out. For babies there was a large separate area with soft matting and plenty of appropriate toys – all safely away from the stomping feet of the older boys and girls. And when the disco beat got too much there were regular story sessions from Speaking Works, entertaining kids with drama and adventure.

The adults aren’t forgotten. There was the bar. There was the bar. And the bar. Bar! And of course (focus!) the chance to swing your pants with your little lovelies and generally watch them have a ball. You may not spend hours rolling around afterwards looking for a minicab or wake up with a hellish hangover but a good time will be had. All I would ask Bopping Babes is to make the venue a bit darker – for atmospheric purposes of course, obviously not to hide my dancing.

Many thanks to Emily at Bopping Babes for kindly giving me a family ticket. The next Bopping Babes disco will be at the Charles Morris Hall in Tyttenhanger, St Albans, on Saturday 7th December, 1-4pm. Tickets are available in advance (£5 for an adult + 1 child, £5 for each additional person, or £10 for a family ticket (2 adults + 2 children)) from boppingbabes@yahoo.com. You can also follow Bopping Babes on Facebook.

 

 

 

Review: Raising Children – the Primary Years

Liat Hughes Joshi

Can any parent fail to be drawn to a book subtitled ‘Everything Parents Need to Know’? With the pressure to be perfect, the promise of ultimate knowledge packed neatly into 240 pages is even more appealing than a child-free weekend lie-in.

Liat Hughes Joshi’s book addresses the key challenges that parents of primary school children face, from playground friendships and behaviour to homework and pocket money. It provides practical, common-sense advice and avoids, unlike some parenting ‘manuals’, the temptation to preach. As the author says: “Sometimes there’s more than one approach to an issue … as all families are different”.

The author, a journalist and mother, is assisted in the book by two child psychologists. There is enough formal psychology to be interesting but not so much as to scare away parents looking for quick, accessible tips they can use every day. The trickier issues it covers, for example bullying, make for unsettling reading but, as any parent with crayons and paper supplies in their bag knows, forewarned is forearmed.

Hughes Joshi’s realism and humour throughout the book are a godsend for any parent bashing their head against a brick wall. She acknowledges, for example,  that kids would rather be “boiling their own head” than do homework. She also utilises the expertise of those at the coal face – real-life parents. Over 400 were surveyed, the results of which are included in the book as invaluable ‘Parent Panel’ tips. Few things make a parent feel better than knowing others have been through the same and survived.

If you’re looking for reassurance that what your kids are “up to (probably) is normal and that you (probably) aren’t rubbish parents who are getting it all wrong” then you’ll find it here. Set down the medicinal wine bottle and pick up this book.

Raising Children: the Primary Years: Everything Parents Need to Know – from Homework and Horrid Habits to Screentime and Sleepovers by Liat Hughes Joshi, Pearson Life, paperback, RRP £10.99 (Kindle, £5.66).