Imagine if you asked the Zoo for a pet… And then they said yes.

There aren’t many books that were firm favourites a quarter century ago when I was a toddler, and still are today for me to read to my own son. But Dear Zoo is a classic for a reason. Bright colours, fun and educational flaps (made before flap books were commonplace or even seen as helpful to children and pre-schoolers) and a whimsical storyline, it’s almost enough to make us parents not mind reading it for the 17th time in an evening. (Almost.)

This Autumn marks 30 years of the best-loved children’s book, and I was lucky enough to be invited along this afternoon to Pan Macmillan to meet the man himself and enjoy a party in celebration of the anniversary. We had so much fun!!

Before we went, I was nervous that R wouldn’t be old enough to behave himself nicely and take part properly. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My baby boy was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a confident toddler who swiftly began colouring the adorable Dear Zoo worksheets in with chunky crayons, brought me various Campbell classics to read, (I’m Hungry, Spin and Say, and his personal favourite-Oh Dear!) and most incredible of all, joined all the other children in sitting in an ordered huddle to listen to the storyteller. Just watching him emulate the older children and join in the activities would have made the whole experience worthwhile alone.

But it didn’t need to! From scanning the room I know I wasn’t the only adult there who was enjoying the interactive storyteller’s rendition of the classic a little more than we were supposed to. (This is for the kids right?) I practically burst with pride as R got 3 whole animal noises correct as the story was told. A huge step up from the ubiquitous “ssssssss” we were being given a few weeks ago.

Rod joined us for a Q and A session, and was charm itself. Hard to believe that this man was fully trained in Science and knee-deep in research before his love of painting brought him to children’s books. Imagine how different so many of our bookshelves would look! R spent the Q and A throwing Rod a Dear Zoo anniversary balloon back and forth, probably to the annoyance of the rest of the guests. Rod however was patience personified, and for once I didn’t try and get mother of the year award by making him stop. It’s Rod Campbell! And my son is playing catch with him!

Not much has changed since I was a kid, and party bags were always my favourite part of any birthday. This one was pretty awesome, with limited edition dear zoo mugs, board books, a gorgeous photo frame, puzzles and activities galore, as well as the piece de resistance, the brand new Touch and Feel version of Dear Zoo itself. I have to say, I was very excited to see what they had done with it, and the book doesn’t disappoint. Great varied sensory ideas on each page, and very different from the original. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was R’s reaction. He was unimpressed to say the least! Because it is such a favourite in our house, he knows the book back and forward and upside down. He spent the whole time I was trying to read it to him getting more and more frustrated that he couldn’t find the flaps! It annoyed him to such an extent that he couldn’t listen to me telling him to touch the furry or sticky or bumpy bits, and he ended up shuffling off my lap and finding another book instead.
My point I suppose is that the touch and feel version is a GREAT present for someone who doesn’t already love Dear Zoo, or perhaps a slightly older child who will appreciate the coolness of comparing the two versions and getting something different from each one. For a slightly OCD partially sighted toddler who likes things to be exactly how he remembers them… don’t even go there.

Rod signed books and was happy to take photos as guests mingled and healthy snacks were ignored by children who know better than to accept carrot sticks when there is birthday cake to be had. And we had a truly fabulous time! Arming our goody bag and our balloon puppy (it is the perfect pet after all) we left the party with matching grins. This book isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, I have a feeling I’ll be itching for an invite to it’s 60th anniversary party!

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Do the French hate their children?

I’m a big advocate for children’s literacy. I believe that we all should be reading to our children every day, and that once they can read themselves, this should be encouraged with every tool a parent has to use, bribery and corruption included if it becomes necessary.

However, if I lived in France I think I would have a different opinion on the matter. I definitely wouldn’t be letting my son loose in a public library very often.  I stumbled across the following examples of literature from across the pond, and (with thanks to 22words) just had to share!

The Weight of Sorrow.

Two authors and a publishing house all agreed that this was an appropriate message to be sending to small children. If I wanted to show my son that the world is a sad and heavy place to live in, and that he could one day develop sad eyes like the half man half mountain above, I would let him read non fiction. No-one needs books describing what a miserable place the world can be. Especially not children.

Revenge of the Rabbits

What was that sweetheart? You want a pet? Sure! Mummy and I are completely supportive of that, we’ll go have a look at the pet store this weekend! I’m the best? No worries darling. … Oh by the way, completely unrelated, we got you a new bedtime story. 

Lily’s Thief

Obviously the usual “don’t accept sweets from strangers” or Topsy and Tim have a visit from the Policeman weren’t strong enough messages for our foreign friends. Instead, watch a innocent young girl get carried away in her pyjamas by a giant angry running man. Maybe your child has red hair or special blue slippers too? She can identify with Lily and be much less frightened if she ever gets kidnapped herself!

The Day Daddy Killed his Old Aunt

Doesn’t this sound like the title of a serial killers testimony in court? I’m not sure if this is a memoir, or whether they got actors in for the front cover… but if it’s the latter, what are the chances they told the kids parents what they were modelling for? Don’t pretend you aren’t a little intrigued as to the plot-line of this one.

 

The Visit from Little Death

What is the problem? Do French children settle too easily at night? Do they laugh themselves to sleep so loudly that it’s keeping all the adults awake? Are they so very happy with their lot in life that parents think they wont cope in the real world? How can these books get the approval of not just agents and publishers and book stores, but the writers themselves? Oh yes, I write children’s books. Mainly horror aimed at toddlers. It’s wildly popular. Why don’t you try them out on your kids and see if we can start a trend. And don’t worry about bad dreams;  the French are already a step ahead in preparing for the inevitable.

My First Nightmare

Look who’s talking. (R’s story)

Boy, what a terrible afternoon I’ve had. You just wouldn’t believe what my Ima has put me through.

Today I wasn’t with my Ima, because she didn’t exist. Everyone knows when you don’t see someone, they don’t exist. Anyway, I was at work, watching and playing with the nice lady who cooks much nicer food than my Ima, (even though I admit it does look the same) and suddenly my Ima existed again. No warning, nothing, she just arrives while I was eating my supper. Well that put me right off my food, and no matter what coaxing and distracting she tried, I wasn’t going to have one more bite. No sir. I didn’t mind as I was sure there wouldn’t be any consequences.

Anyway, then I wanted to leave right away, and my mean Ima made me have a clean nappy, (what was wrong with the old one?) shoes, (does anyone know the point of those?) and a hat (I didn’t mind that so much-I do look pretty fly in a cap) before we left. Finally we got out of the door, and my Ima tries to put me in the buggy. The buggy! I can’t remember exactly what was so bad about it, but I know I was definitely not going to get in there, so I started walking in the right direction. But Ima wouldn’t listen to me and kept making me go the other way. She seemed to be getting frustrated every time I went the right way again, so even though I was correct I let her make the wrong decision and followed her instead. Eventually we got to the park. It took much longer than usual. I’m sure it would have been quicker my way, and definitely if Ima had stopped asking me to get in the buggy every time I stopped to look at flowers and leaves.

The park is my favourite place, but someone had forgotten to open the windows or put the fan on, cause I was very hot and uncomfortable. I can’t see how that would affect anyone else, so I was hoping that Ima would be especially good and well behaved to make me feel better. No such luck. First she offered me some water, which I drank. But then she took out my juice. I’d never seen it before, but it must be mine-as everything is. She started drinking from MY juice! I let her know how upset I was by throwing my glasses on the floor. That’s the best way to show her that I’m cross. She had the cheek to tell me off about my glasses, but didn’t make me wear them again. She gave me my juice back, and I took a sip and decided to keep the lid in my hand so she couldnt put it away. She asked me for the lid. I said no. She asked again. I didn’t answer as I’d already told her no. My poor Ima, she only recently started understanding yes and no, so sometimes it’s hard for her. Then you will never believe what happened, she SNATCHED the lid out my hand and put it back on the bottle! Boy was I angry. I sat on that climbing frame and kicked and shouted. But nothing, she just walked away like she couldnt even see me. Eventually she came back with more juice, and the ultimate insult- a straw. What does she think I am? A baby?! I threw the straw on the ground where it belongs. Gosh I was hot and uncomfortable, and something else… that’s right, hungry. Why was I hungry? Didn’t I finish supper? Why didn’t my Ima let me finish my supper? I couldn’t remember but I’m sure it was her fault. This day was going from bad to worse.

Just then my phone rang from Ima’s bag, and she had a quick chat with the man inside the phone. He sometimes sounds like my Daddy, or Ima’s friend Auntie M, but mostly he sounds like my Nana. I wanted my phone very much, but Ima wouldn’t let me have it for no good reason. That upset me for nearly 7 seconds until I found a breadstick. Remind me what was wrong again?

Things were looking up. I decided to find a new game, and started climbing up the stairs to the slide sideways. How fun! Why do people do it frontways? I wondered. But here comes Ima again, spoiling all my fun. Yes yes, I hear you telling me to turn around and climb properly, but I don’t want to. No, stop it! Stop lifting me off the slide, I want to climb this way! Ok FINE. I can wait.. I can be patient… Let’s pretend I’m walking towards the swings… and yes! NOW! I ran towards the slide and started climbing sideways again, but … OUCH! Why am I on the floor?! Why am I all dirty? Why does my arm hurt? Where’s my Ima and why did she let this happen to me? Horrible terrible parent, why didn’t she warn me this could happen???

For some reason, it was my Ima who looked like she had had enough of the park and the whole afternoon, even though it was me having such a terrible time, and she picked me up and after a quick cuddle put me in the buggy. I was about to moan for food, when she read my mind and gave me a whole packet of breadsticks to eat. Boy, that’s more like it. Normally I only get one or two, which would make me cry when they were done. As I finished the breadsticks, she already had a peppa pig ready on the magic phone for me to watch. It was amazing. She must have been feeling very happy to give me so many treats all in one go. I hope she knows how lucky she is not to be hungry, tired and far too hot like I was, and feeling so rubbish. But I didn’t dwell on it. After all, I wasn’t hungry any more after the 17 breadsticks, and much less tired and hot after the shady ride in the buggy home.

But when I got home, I was angry. What a bad day I was having. Ima didn’t seem to understand, or at least, she wasn’t doing anything about it, so I decided to cry and whinge non-stop for a while. But if anything-she got less sympathetic. I wasn’t sure I could take much more of this treatment. She carried me to the bathroom and started running the bath. A bath! I don’t want a bath, I shouted, I hate baths!

(Ten minutes later.)

Why are you trying to take me out of the bath? I want my bath! I shouted. I love baths!

You probably wonder why I decided to have an Ima in the first place after all this negligence on her part. Well, on days like today I wont pretend I don’t ask myself that question. But most days aren’t like this. Most days she doesn’t make the world too hot, or keep me hungry for what must be hours, or refuse to play with me or be wantonly mean. Most days she tries not to give me too much time to myself, and offers me lots of delicious broccoli and not too much yucky chicken. In fact, as crazy as it may seem, once we all go to sleep at 7pm, I will probably miss her, even today. I will probably miss her enough that after a little while, I will cry very loudly so she comes in and I can have just one more quick cuddle. I know that she doesn’t mean to be difficult. She just doesn’t know any better yet. She’s only an Ima after all.

Loneliness

He stood in the centre of the world, and watched the people passing by. An old couple hand in hand walked silently across his path, and he smiled at the idea that they had been holding hands for a lifetime, even though for all he knew they were newly-weds. He didn’t think so though. Something about the way they had no need for speech, and the uncanny way they almost looked the same as one another, gave the impression they had spent decades not just falling, but growing in love.

A child skipped past his feet, lost in his own world of thought. He looked instinctively for the parents watching, and found a young mother across the way, never letting her eyes move from his tiny figure as the child enjoyed his imagined independence. The boy’s innocence was palpable, and as he watched his limbs dance to silent music, he tried to suppress the white envy from spreading across his chest. He moved his gaze from the child and shook his head in self directed frustration. Children should be innocent, and the boy didn’t deserve to be looked at that way.

A young couple arguing caught his attention through the crowd of faces. They moved their arms in passionate gestures, talking over one another, each clearly desperate to win, rather than be heard. He clucked his tongue gently, knowing that the lesson couldn’t be taught until they were ready to learn it. The intensity of their argument moved him somewhat. You don’t argue unless you care. He hoped one day they would learn to talk as emotively as they fought.

Faces and figures passed by, some he knew, some he didn’t. He saw wives, and thought of his own, who knew him better than he knew himself most days. He saw siblings arm in arm, and thought of friends who were closer than brothers to him, and family members who almost filled that gap, in fact-so closely that an outsider wouldn’t see the hairline fracture which kept them from slotting in as neatly as they would in a perfect world. He watched parents lamenting the crises their children weathered alone, and wondered if his own parents were looking down on him and if they were proud.

As he watched the population of the world move seamlessly in unison, like a dance too impossibly complex to choreograph yet still somehow working perfectly, he knew that all those people were here somewhere, hidden by time and space and sometimes mere fate. He wondered what he would say to any of these people if they were standing close enough to ask with genuine concern why there were tears on his face.

He might try to respond with the truth, and let the crushing weight of sympathy take his breath away from the pain for that single moment. He might laugh it off and give the questioner the relief of not having to find some words to fill the empty silence. He might pretend he hadn’t heard them, and start a new conversation, drawing attention to all the things they had to talk about rather than the one thing they didn’t.
In all honesty, he’d probably just turn away and get lost in the crowd once again. They wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. And there was nothing more lonely than that.

100 words that change me (The Hundredth blog)

After two sugars, it isnt getting any sweeter, you’re just adding sugar.

Ima.

You can’t make a half sandwich. That would be a piece of bread. What you have there is a smaller sandwich.

“What’s wrong?”
“It’s your dad..”

Let’s have takeout tonight.

It will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.

We’re all so involved with the ‘urgent’ of our everyday life, that we may neglect what’s ‘important’ in our actual life.

Is it progress for a cannibal to use a knife and fork?

I loved your blog today.

Imagine if we never met?