Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

October 28, 2010

5 is the magic number - Happy Birthday!

To celebrate my brilliant, fabulous, gorgeous and incredibly excited little man's 5th birthday today, I give you: Andy and Sid and the Number 5 Rap. Turn up the volume and enjoy!


October 27, 2010

Tiny Little Fly

'Tiny Little Fly' is a really gorgeous new children's picture book from former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen ('We're Going on a Bear Hunt') and with beautiful illustrations by Kevin Waldron.

This is a really lovely, funny, read-aloud story aimed at younger readers aged 2+. My three-year-old loved it immediately. The text has a lovely rhythm and pattern, which your child can quickly learn to repeat along with you, and the wonderful double-page spread illustrations allow the child to guess the animal before the full picture is revealed. Kevin Waldron's big, bold illustrations capture the antics of the animals brilliantly. The book is 36 pages in hardback and is priced at £11.99.

I recently interviewed Kevin about his work on 'Tiny Little Fly' and his involvement in designing the images for the Children's Book Festival in association with Children's Books Ireland.

How did you develop the poster for the Children's Book Festival?
Children's Books Ireland were great to work with. I often approach the pages of a children's book as if it were a poster- focusing on a strong graphic shape with a complementary font, but if you do this on every page you will overlook the timing and rhythm of the story which is crucial. The finished poster took about one week in total to complete. It is inspired by Paul Galdone and Eve Titus' Anatole and the poster art of Raymond Savignac.

How long did it take you to illustrate Tiny Little Fly?
Tiny Little Fly took forever! We already had a marvellous rhyme from Michael Rosen and I only had to draw one animal per spread (actually not even that, as they are cropped in half!), but simple is so very, very difficult. Artists like Paul Rand and Eric Carle can do it with ease it seems. I suppose that it took a year or more to complete this book, but in my defence I emigrated to America in the middle!

How did you get involved in illustration?
I knew in art college in Dublin that my career would involve combining text and image but I wasn't interested in children's books at that stage. I tried all sorts of approaches while attending Kingston University in London, with limited success. A project we set ourselves somehow morphed into a children's book and I've been making books ever since. I finished the book: Mr Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo for the end of year show and Templar published it the following year. I was looking at other children's books in the library at this stage and discovered how opinionated i really was about them!

How has technology influenced your work?
I would probably label myself a hybrid- I draw everything by hand and scan it in to manipulate the colours; effectively using technology to make something look old and worn. The idea that a book has been around for decades and appreciated by different owners appeals greatly to me- you could say that I'm trying to cheat it! The computer is a marvellous tool for creating smooth shapes with flat colours, excellent for communicating with a very young audience. I wonder if Dick Bruna ever wished he had a computer?

Kevin's book: 'Mr Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo' was recently featured as the CBeebies Bedtime Story.


October 20, 2010

The perfect woman

I have been tagged. By the 'be-wetsuited' London City Mum, no less. She is bullying me into confessing to some extremely personal details which, well, I suppose I'd better give you or she'll be after me with her snorkel or something.

So, she has asked me to give my recipe for Mr or Mrs Right - the top ten things I look for in a man or woman. As she pointed out in her own post about this, being married and all that (with an anniversary looming next week if you don't mind!), it's a bit too late to be pitching for the 'perfect man'. London City Mum got around this by opting to share her recipe for 'the perfect woman' and I'm going along with her, like a complete sheep.

So, ladies and gents, I give you 'The Hot Cross Guide To The Perfect Woman'

1. Must be able to handle their drink, and none of this 'I'll have a white wine spritzer nonsense' either - we're talking proper pints down the pub and plenty o'wine if at home.
2. Must also be able to scoff their way through an entire tub of Pringles in one sitting. None of this putting the lid back on to finish another night. What other night? Eat them all now!
3. Must not be incompetent at DIY stuff or incapable of cutting the grass.
4. Must have an interesting assortment of shoes and bags, but not enough to warrant a separate wardrobe for them. Talking of which....
5. Must have a totally disorganised wardrobe which the concept of 'capsule' has never got close to. Women with organised wardrobes frighten me and make me feel inadequate - just sayin'.
6. Must happily admit to watching 'The X Factor' and 'I'm a Celebrity'..., as a guilty pleasure if nothing else.
7. Must not watch soaps or anything with the word CSI in the title. Sorry - but the soaps are always on at kids bedtime and I've never watched a CSI anything, so we would probably have absolutely nothing to talk about. And that could prove to be quite awkward.
8. Must never decline pudding. Ever. Even if already feeling completely stuffed.
9. Must be calm in a crisis and not scream when confronted with mice, spiders or prawns with their heads still on.
10. Must have at least one entirely shitty day with their children per week which they bravely struggle through, shout at their husband about, have a small cry about, tweet about to anyone who is listening and then rectify the situation with a large glass of wine and some crisps (see points 1 and 2 above), and carry on the next day as if nothing happened.

I now pass the honour of this blogging task onto the following lovely people. Enjoy.

Zooarchaeologist at Being a Mummy


Are you sitting comfortably?

Now here's a trip down memory lane: Ladybird books. Who could forget Peter, Jane and Pat the dog and those first memories of putting sounds and letters together to make words. I remember standing at the teacher's desk and reading from the book I was on. We got a sweet if we read well. I loved reading - I got a lot of sweets!

And did you have the 'Things to Make and Do' books? I bet you did and I bet you would recognise all the activities if you saw the books again today. Check out the Vintage section of the ladybird site and you'll soon be 'ohhh-ing' and 'ahh-ing' at the pictures from your childhood - like this lovely little boy on, erm, stilts?!

My mother and father-in-law have kept all the classic Ladybird books which their children read, and we have brought them out of the attic, dusted them off and now their grandchildren are enjoying these tales all over again. How lovely is that? I also get a great kick out of seeing these books again - I vividly remember the illustrations - some I liked; some terrified me, like the picture of the wolf who ate all the kid goats. Shudder.

Of course, Ladybird also now have a brand new generation of books; just as lovely and just as excellent for helping your child to read. My five-year-old is just starting to read by himself and can now recognise simple words like cat, dog, rat etc. We have been helping him by reading the Ladybird 'Read it Yourself' series. This comes in a range of levels. He's starting, of course, on Level 1 and is loving 'Little Red Hen' The books are based on phonetic sounds and repetition of words to grow the child's confidence.

I am so excited that my little boy is starting to read, and so is he. In fact, he's so excited that we often find him sitting in bed, looking through his books by the light of his bedside lamp when we thought he was asleep ages ago. I kind of don't mind though - I remember doing the same!

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Ladybird books and


October 18, 2010

Dads are from Mars......

.....Mums are from an entirely different galaxy altogether. According to recent scientific research*, Dads approach parenting in an entirely different, and often bizarre, way to Mums. Evidence collected has highlighted a number of areas where the parenting techniques of Dads seem to be particularly odd.

Dressing children - Dads appear to, unfailingly, make very odd choices when dressing their children. Despite attempts at domesticity by Mums who store clothes in drawers and wardrobes in some form of semi-organisation, Dads have an uncanny ability to find only dirty clothes which have been left on the bedroom floor (and should have been put into the laundry basket days ago) and proudly put these onto the child - completely failing to notice the grass and yoghurt stains splattered all over them. Similarly, trousers with massive, gaping holes in the knees (which should have been sewn up, or disposed of months ago) miraculously re-appear from the back of the drawer - while the perfectly un-holed trousers remain, untroubled, in the wardrobe. When Mums expresses outrage at these crap outfits the Dads find, the Dads just cannot fathom what all the fuss is about.

Washing faces - Dads approach washing a child's face in the same way as they would approach washing a greasy bicycle wheel - a quick splash with icy cold water and a rub with bare hands will do the trick. This really irritates Mums, especially when they have bought special 'Toy Story' face cloths to please their child and made sure there would be plenty of hot water in the morning, specifically for face washing purposes. Also, the 'cold-water-hand-rub' method fails to get rid of sleepy dust, which Mums then have to remove with a bit of spit and a poke with a fingernail outside the school gate.

Going outside - Dads are immune to the cold and consequently think their young, frail children should be also. They set out to do digging jobs with the children in the garden on a chilly autumn day in shorts and a t-shirt and cannot understand the Mum's incessant fuss, fuss, fussing about the application of long sleeves, jackets, hats and gloves. Dads appear bemused and surprised when the children ask to go back inside 5 minutes into the gardening job because they are cold. Mums have to resist the urge to say 'I told you so'.

So yes, conclusive proof, if proof were needed, that Dads are from Mars and Mums are from, erm, Genius?

Please note that any Dads who are a bit annoyed after reading this and wish to comment on the post to disagree with the points raised, may do so by applying in writing to the Man in the Moon. Thank you.

*source unknown

As a final post script, this post was nominated for the 2010 Brilliance in Blogging Awards and was voted runner up in the 'Funniest Post of 2010' category. Frankly, I am stunned and very thrilled about this so thank you to anyone who read this and voted for me!


October 15, 2010

A Bit Lost

I love this book!

'A Bit Lost' written by Chris Haughton is a 14 double-page picture book. The story is very simple: a baby owl falls out of the nest 'Oh-uh' and needs to find his mummy. Helped by a squirrel and a frog, he is finally reunited with his mummy and heads back to the nest for some biscuits but......

What makes this book really special is Chris's wonderful illustrations, for which he won Gold at the 'Best of British Illustration Awards 2010'. The images look more like something you'd see in a contemporary art gallery than on the pages of a child's picture book; vivid, bold and very different to most other picture books, they made me laugh and completely captivated my 3 year old. The text, although simple, is witty and the last page makes everyone giggle. I recently interviewed Chris about his work as an illustrator.

How did you get involved with children's books?
I had been working for the past 10 years as an illustrator, mainly for advertising and magazines. All that time I was mainly working with other people's ideas and articles so I had always wanted to do something of my own from start to finish.

What is it about this genre which inspires your illustrations and how have you developed your personal style?
Through working on commercial jobs I have had to bend my illustration style to many different purposes. I have made repeat textile patterns for hand-bags and dresses but on the other hand I have designed animations and adverts that have to be simple and clear and tell a story. I think the style I have ended up with reflects some of that. My style uses some decorative elements in it as well as bold shapes to tell a simple narrative.

How long does it take you to illustrate a book such as 'A Bit Lost'?
'A Bit Lost' took three times as long as I predicted it would. I didnt realise how much craft is involved in reducing a story down to so few pages. There is a huge amount of work that I hadn't thought about – such as trying to set up the pagination so that the 'surprise' page falls on the turned page. Small details like that take a long time of shuffling and re-shuffling to get right. Right at the very end of the project I had to edit out the last few pages which was quite painful as I had worked on them for months. The illustration alone after I had settled on the story took took ten and a half months, it's the longest I have ever worked on anything.

How does it feel to be involved in children's books right now; a market which is thriving and producing a number of influential Irish authors and illustrators?
Illustration and particularly picture book illustration is a very exciting area now. Ireland does seem to be exploding with creative talent. Although we were always well known for our literary output I think its pretty safe to say we were never a country known for illustration or design. That has really turned around in the last few years. The recent annual Offset design festival in particular has put Ireland firmly on the world design and illustration map.

How do the type of stories, characters and illustrations which the current generation of children enjoy, differ from the classics?
There seems to be a lot more childrens books these days, its overwhelming the sheer volume of them, I think it takes a lot of wading through all the new publications to find the gems that can compare to the real classics, but great books are certainly still being made right now. I'm a huge fan of contemporary continental European picture books, in particular France. The publishing industry there gets support from the government and their strong culture of picture books has made it one of the best known in the world. If you walk into a good french bookstore you will be overwhelmed by the quality of the illustrations and writing. I think it's really important to show children quality books from the very start to develop a love of reading and an awareness of what good books can be. Beatrice Alemagna and Olivier Douzou's work are two of my world favourites. In Ireland there are lots of amazing talent right now from Oliver Jeffers to Niamh Sharkey. I think Kevin Waldron's work is outstanding, his excellent first book 'Mr Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo' won the coveted Opera Prima award in Bologna.

From an illustration point of view, digital production has really made life a lot easier for producing images. It can help illustrators to further refine their work and control every detail from the art desk to the printed page and in very little time. It has been a huge leap forward for the industry.

For further insight into the work of Chris Haughton, click here or visit

Check out Children's Books Ireland for details of events and activities taking place around Ireland during October as part of the Children's Book Festival.

October 13, 2010

Bringing them to life

I have some characters. They have names. They have children, houses, issues. They have quirks. They have a beginning, most of a middle and a definite end.

They live in my mind and I am trying to bring them slowly to life on the page. During the daytime they are quite neglected. Totally neglected most days to be honest.

In the evenings I think about them a lot and occasionally visit them and breathe a little more life into their imaginary bones – letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by carefully crafted page. Occasionally they get my complete and undivided attention for a whole, entire hour and then we’re really off and running, until I realise I’m exhausted or someone wakes in their sleep and needs me, and I have to abandon my characters again.

And they wait.

And I wait.

And as soon as I go to bed and switch off the light, they spark into life. They speak dialogue to me, offer me interesting twists and turns in their lives; offer solutions to plot dilemmas. I occasionally switch the light back on and scribble a few illegible notes on my diary – hoping I’ll be able to decipher them in the morning. I often wonder if I should just get up, turn the PC back on and start writing. But I’m knackered and have to be up soon to coax sleepy children out of their beds and coax breakfast into them and face the madness of another day - so I encourage my characters to go back to sleep and tell me more in the morning.

Unfortunately, just like my children, they are tough to wake the next day. I have to nudge them and nudge them to wake up as I sit patiently at the PC; the house quiet for a few rare hours, but they are hesitant. They shy away. Eventually, they stir and we’re off again; more words and more pages as I breathe more life into them. And then I glance at the clock and realise I am cutting it very fine to collect a child or other from somewhere or other, so I abandon my characters and hope they’ll wait for me. Again.

We will get there. I am determined to bring them fully to life in a complete manuscript. But it’s a bloody frustrating journey!
If you are a writer, please read these two amazing posts about the joy and frustration of writing from Marketing to Milk and Rebecca at Ramblings of a Rusty Writer.


October 11, 2010

A new addition

Well, I suppose it was inevitable really after all the talk of having absolutely no plans to increase the Hot Cross family any further. Yes, we went and added one more.

Meet 'Puffin', a 12 week old kitten who we re-homed from an animal rescue shelter at the weekend. She'd been left in a box outside the shelter with her mother and other kittens in the litter. There were about 6 kittens in the room we were shown; we could very easily have brought home all 6, but we'd agreed that we would only take one. We all loved the friendly, little grey and white one immediately; so she came home with us.

As she sat curled up on the sofa on Saturday night, watching the X Factor and purring and purring away, I think she knew that she was the luckiest cat in Ireland that day.

We got a kitten as a first pet for the boys. Our five-year-old is particularly nervous of dogs - in fact, he has been known to become hysterical with fear whenever a dog is within eyesight, let alone be anywhere near him. His fear is now being picked up by the youngest. We have no idea where this fear comes from, as we are very much 'animal' people and have never shown fear or hesitation about any animal in front of the children (well, perhaps with the exception of the massive python which was brought to a party at the creche once - shudder).

So, we hope that Puffin will help the boys get over their anxiety about animals, and that by having a pet of their own to care for, they will learn to understand animals a little better and gain confidence when around them.

Watching the boys' delight as Puffin does her cute kitten things and seeing them happily stroking her, playing with her and rushing to see her as soon as they wake up in a morning, I think it is already working.

Lucky cat. Lucky us.


October 7, 2010

Interview with Mini Grey: children's book author/illustrator

As part of the Children's Book Festival being celebrated across Ireland this month, I will be reviewing a number of children's books on the blog and offering a fascinating insight into the world of children's books authors and illustrators.

Today, the featured book is 'Three By The Sea' by award winning author and illustrator Mini Grey. This is a wonderful book with a warm message of friendship portrayed through the extraordinary characters of the culinary-minded Mouse, the gardening Dog and the wonderful eye-patched Cat, and of course one very foxy Travelling Salesman! It is engaging, witty, quirky and has brilliantly detailed illustrations which the boys love; they spot something new every time we read it and we've read it lots of times!

I asked Mini the following questions about her work.

How important is illustration in engaging children in books? In picture books, Words and Pictures are a fantastic double act, each doing a different job, maybe even telling a different story – but you need both of them to have the whole story. So the illustration is a totally key part of the story-telling. Even the very youngest people are expert readers of pictures. Pictures can convey complex and subtle messages, and more information than pages of words could describe. When you open a picture book you get to enter a whole different world – but there are still things your own imagination has to fill in as you turn the pages, so the reader is a vital collaborator in telling the story.

Where do you get inspiration for your illustrations and how have you developed your personal style? You might notice from some of my books that I absolutely LOVE drawing food. A lot of inspiration comes from looking at ordinary things around me and imagining them coming to life, or looking at everyday things from a different point of view. Also from seeing the ways things look a bit like other things - for example sausages that look a bit like fingers, spaghetti that looks rather like serpents – the secret identity of things! My very first influences were probably the TV programmes of the Clangers and Mr Benn, which both had a very home-made (even knitted) quality. I love old recipe books and children’s encyclopedias.

What comes first: the words or the illustrations? It can be either or both! Some of my stories (e.g. The Adventures of the Dish and The Spoon) started by drawing lots of little pictures of my characters in different situations (car chases, tied to railway lines, etc). Others I’ve written down first. But then I get out scissors and glue and chop up the words and doodle pictures with them to see if any thing interesting starts happening. The magical bit is putting the words and pictures together.

How long does it take you to illustrate a book such as 'Three By the Sea'?
To actually just make all the pictures seems to take about 6 months. For Three By The Sea each double page took me about a week. I spent a lot of time painting pebbles! My pictures are usually made on very heavy watercolour paper. I use liquid watercolours, Quink ink, bleach and pencil scribbling. It’s good to let some accidents happen – I like a bit of splattering.

Does illustrating always come easily to you, or do you ever suffer from 'illustrator's block?!I am always daunted by the prospect of trying to draw something on a clean page. I find drawing people particularly difficult. If I’m stuck I draw a tiny scruffy sketch on a scrap of paper or in my sketchbook, then scan it and enlarge it and draw over the top of it. I have a light box and I’m always using it to trace things. Cutting and sticking is another way out - make bits & pieces and cut them out and move around. Also – nothing beats drawing a real thing - drawing a real thing tells you unexpected things about it that you wouldn’t necessarily have imagined.

Which children's books illustrators do you admire the most? My first children’s book influences were Dr Seuss, Edmund Dulac, Heath Robinson and I loved Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice through the Looking Glass and Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll. The illustrator who really inspired me to want to make my own books was Lane Smith (The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs) who pictures are edgy and a bit dangerous but also almost edible-looking. Shaun Tan’s books, e.g. The Arrival and The Lost Thing, give you the feeling of being adrift in extraordinary worlds. There’s a whole load of exciting author-illustrators making picture books right now, both new and established - the list would be a long one!
I previously reviewed the fantastic 'Jim' which Mini illustrated, and we also borrowed 'The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon' recently from the library - a book which was selected by The Guardian earlier this year as one of the best children's books for 5-7 year olds. Suffice to say, we love them all. Me and my children and very big 'Mini' fans - I cannot recommend her books highly enough.


October 5, 2010

4 things to love this month

Kissing. Before you do anything else today, give someone a Big Kiss. A virtual one that is! Last year, I was very proud to be involved in the Pampers/UNICEF campaign to combat tetanus in developing countries. This year, Pampers are asking you to help by simply clicking the Big Kiss button on their site and they will donate the cost of 1 vaccine against maternal and newborn tetanus to UNICEF. Easy peasy - but SO important and incredibly worthwhile.

Flowers. What a lucky lady I am being sent these beautiful flowers from the lovely people at Interflora UK. They, very thoughtfully, sent the arrangement in my blog colour scheme and getting these delivered to my door reminded me how lovely it is to receive flowers. Email schmemail - send some flowers!

Your hair. Liz Earle have a scrumptious new hair care range. I'm a relatively recent convert to their Cleanse & Polish skincare routine and they kindly sent me the new 'botanical shine' shampoo and conditioner to try. I have to say that I love both the products - with naturally active ingredients, none of the nasty stuff, a lovely, fresh smell and for only £8.75 for a 200ml tube, your hair will feel much loved and very grateful.

Children's books. What's not to love about children's books? This month is the 20th anniversary of the Children's Book Festival in Ireland and I will be reviewing some of the best contemporary children's books and interviewing some of the best authors and illustrators over the coming month. Watch this space. In the meantime, you can read this article about how children's books have changed from those we grew up with ourselves.

So, plenty of things to love. And of course, there's always conkers, chocolate and Masterchef: The Professionals to add to the list.


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