Category Archives: Events

Autistic at YALC

Or any other busy conference really…


On Sunday I went to the last day of the three day Young Adult Literature Convention. It’s only its second year, and is held with the London Film and Comic Con (LFCC).

It’s only four months since I was diagnosed as autistic. Or technically, as having an “autistic spectrum condition” and I’m still fitting this into my self image and learning to own my autism. Because 39 years and 8 months of being undiagnosed autistic and of being “high functioning” and “coping” (Ha. Ha.) doesn’t lead to instantaneous acceptance or “feeling autistic”.

So. Autistic. Geeky conference. Day out without the children. Get to spend it with friend. Sounds great.

Considering that a much higher percentage of geeks are probably autistic spectrum than average population, my minuscule experience of LDCC made me think it pretty much sucked at autism friendly.

And I consider myself to have comparatively mild traits. Most of the time.

Not that I was going to LDCC, it was YALC. But I live in an Oxfordshire village and on a Sunday the earliest trains meant I got there after 11am, so LDCC was in full swing and the early entry for YALC was irrelevant.

If Jax hadn’t tweeted me that YALC was on level 2, I wouldn’t have known where to start. There was a huge mass of people. Dark corridors of people up and down in lines. Tables full of film and comic merchandise, blurring into a mass of colours. Cos players everywhere. People randomly stopping in front of you to take pictures of cos players. People all around. Noise all around.

(I don’t get cos play. I get being different but after several Joker / Harley Quinn couples, Batpeople of all sizes, Harry Potters, zombies, and hair in every shade of pink, blue, and green, it’s not so different any more.

I still want to dye my hair blue. I like blue.

Or maybe purple.)

I think it took me over twenty minutes to get from the entrance, and up a mere two stories to find YALC. Which was practically empty in comparison, and a much nicer set up to deal with.

The signposting at the venue was terrible. There were “maps” near stairs and lifts, if you could call them maps. I could just about work out what floor I was on from them, but it wasn’t easy to see where on the floor you were, and finding the stairs was a matter of walking around walls until you got lucky. And then the stairs were one directional, which was only signposted at the staircases. On A4 paper taped above the door.

There were also lifts. I got one from level one to level two. It was going down but I figured it would go back up after so I got on. Almost everyone else in the lift was also going up, but the staff member controlling it was going down first. Two people got out on the ground floor. Back at the first floor, one person got annoyed that the lift was going up.

I’ve spent my life thinking that everyone else got given a rulebook that I didn’t, and Sunday made that feeling even stronger. Fortunately I now know that most people did get that rulebook, but there are lots of people who didn’t either, and we rock at different things.

I openly stimmed. It’s not something I usually do, but I’m letting go and letting what happens happen. I sway back and fourth a lot without noticing usually. And clench fists. And open and shut zips. And bite lips. Okay, I stim a lot. On Sunday I noticed my hand doing some jiggling. I’m not sure what it did, I was concentrating on other things. It was a new one for me.

You may think I didn’t enjoy YALC. I enjoyed YALC. I may not have done half what I planned; I may not have heard three quarters of what was said at the workshop I did attend; I may have got frustrated (internally) at the staff member who didn’t seem to have been briefed on what she should be doing; I may have talked to only a handful of people, bought no books, and gone to no signings; I may have left earlier than I originally planned.


But I experienced what it was like. I know how to get to a new place I didn’t know how to get to before. I learnt a bit more about how London Underground works to get the right train. I stood about three feet away from Tom Savini accidentally (Tom Savini!) I saw lots of lovely books to drool at. I listened to people be passionate about books. I rekindled my knowledge that publisher publicity people are very lovely.

I also learnt that I’m probably not really going to be a YA blogger. I like YA and read it for me, but my passion is for fiction aimed at younger ages. I feel a lot more comfortable with picture book people.

I also learnt that I’m a lot more of an experienced blogger than I give myself credit for. I know what I need to know, even if I’m not the best at implementing things. I need to believe in myself more.

And I learnt that spending the day with a good friend lets issues and anxieties fade away. But I think I knew that anyway ūüėČ

26 Characters at The Story Museum, Oxford

If you’re anywhere near Oxford in¬†the next week, the Chaos family recommends you take a trip to central Oxford and find The Story Museum

Twenty-six stars of children’s literature dressing up as their favourite characters and being photographed? It sounds wonderful for a lover of kidlit like me. But taking children to the exhibition?¬†Wouldn’t they find it boring?

I had been imagining something like this:

26 Characters @TheStoryMuseum

But the 26 Characters exhibition is this:

26Characters @TheStoryMuseum

… and this:

26Characters @TheStoryMuseum

… and this:

… and so much more. I’ve spent over seven hours there now and I don’t think I’ve done a fraction of what¬†you could¬†do. I haven’t sat on the cushions and read, I haven’t listened to all the story extracts, I haven’t written a story…

But my two daughters have bounced on Max’s bed, made a pretend cushion bridge between two exhibits, dressed up, drawn pictures, spun the story wheel, played in Narnia*, and dragged me up and down and all around with excitement. I think they could easily visit again and again. So could I.

Your ticket lasts for the whole day, so it’s possible to do a quick tour in the morning to collect all the stamps for a sweetie treat (allow about an hour); have a lovely lunch in one of the many nearby options of central Oxford; then return for a leisurely few hours of play in the afternoon. Which is what we did. Twice.

26 Characters is open until 2nd November, when it closes for two weeks before re-opening in a slightly cut-back form until February. Details can be found on The Story Museum website, as can details of many more events.

* There is a wardrobe at the end of a corridor of Long John Silver’s pirate ship (where you’re welcome to swab the decks) and Boromir (with the Eye of Sauron looking out for you.) It looks like the end of the corridor. But open the wardrobe door, and there are fur coats hanging up, and if you push your way through… it’s breathtaking.

Interview with Stupendously Talented Author Caryl Hart

Caryl Hart is the stupendously talented award-winning author of amazing picture books such as Supermarket Zoo, Rhino, What Rhino?, The Princess and the Peas, Whiffy Wilson, and more. She is now also the stupendously talented author of early reader chapter books for children of all ages about Foxy DuBois and Alphonso Alligator.

Whiffy Wilson - The Wolf Who Wouldn't Go to School: Caryl Hart & Leonie Lord (Orchard Books, 2014)Hello, Caryl. Our first question is from your big fan Mighty-Girl (7) who is a writer and very interested in the writing process. She asks, what is your next book going to be? 

Hi! The next book to come out is a new story about Whiffy Wilson.¬† It’s called¬†Whiffy Wilson, the Wolf who Wouldn’t go to School, published by Orchard Books.

Luckily, Dotty is on hand to sort him out.  She takes him to her school and Whiffy is suprised to discover that school is actually lots of fun.  What a silly wolf he is!

I also have another Princess book coming out with Nosy Crow and a new Albie book next year with Simon & Schuster.

The next thing I’m starting work on is a series of three chapter books for 6-8 year olds for Nosy Crow.¬† It’s going to be about a girl called Little Pip and her friend Mervin Marvin.¬† It’s not out till 2016 though because I’m waiting for a very special illustrator to find time in her extremely busy schedule.

I’m also working on some baby books, but I don’t know if they’ll be published.¬† We’ll have to wait and see!

Wow, that sounds really busy! And great news for us: more Whiffy Wilson, Princesses, Albie and chapter books – perfect! The Princess and the Peas is one of Danger Girl (4)’s favourite books ever. Did you have a favourite book when you were little, and what was it?

My favourite book was Snuffy written by Dick Bruna. He also wrote the Miffy books and Snuffy was similar.  It was about a little brown dog who helps a lady find her lost child.  Snuffy gives the child a ride on his back when he takes her home.  I always wanted to be the lost child being taken back to her mummy!

Foxy Tales The Cunning Plan: Caryl Hart & Alex T Smith (Hodder Children's Books, 2014)I’ve not heard of that book, it sounds so lovely! Being lost is one of a child’s biggest fears and a theme¬†that seems to inspire a lot of picture books.¬†What books inspire or influence your writing?

Oh gosh, so many!¬† But the book that really inspired me to have a go at writing myself was Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell and Helen Oxenbury.¬† I adore the rhythm of Martin’s words and love Helen’s watercolour illustrations.¬† I think its a very clever book.

I also love Shirley Hughes Рshe writes great stories and beautiful, simple poems that I think children really relate to.  My children memorised lots of her poems when they were very small and we used to chant them together on long journeys.

Lots of my books have a moral or a message for the readers, and I think I get this from Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, which I read over and over as a child. They were written in verse and are wonderful stories about naughty children getting what they deserve including being eaten by lions and burned alive!¬† Not very nice, I suppose, but very funny!!

Those are all fabulous choices, and thank-you for reminding me about Cautionary Tales, I must see if Mighty Girl likes them, I loved them when I was little too!

Caryl Hart & Mighty Girl, Feb 2013

Caryl & Mighty Girl at the Red House Children’s Book Awards, Feb 2013

Before you go back to creating more wonderful stories, could you tell us about your event at Hoo’s Kids Book Fest?

I’m going to be reading from Foxy Tales, the Cunning Plan and Alex T Smith is going to be drawing some pictures.¬† He might even draw Alphonso in his knickers if you’re lucky!

We’ll also tell you a bit about how the book came about and how much fun it’s been to create it together. I’ve also heard a rumour that Alex is bringing his little dog Coco, but you’ll have to wait and see if that rumour is true!

How exciting! We can’t wait to see you there. The whole day sounds wonderful! How excited are you to be appearing at Hoo’s Kids Book Fest?

Like.. VERY!!

Thank-you so much for answering our questions, and we look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Caryl will be appearing at Hoo’s Kids Book Fest this Sunday with the equally stupendously talented Alex T Smith, talking about Foxy Tales, and being generally awesome.

Who’s At Hoo’s?

Hoo's Kids Book Fest logo

It’s almost like the Hoo’s Kids Book Fest programme has been made for the Chaos household. We have so many of the books that are the basis of author/illustrator talks and honestly, they are wonderful.¬†

The Power of Sloth: Lucy Cooke (Franklin Watts, 2014)The Power of Sloth: Lucy Cooke (Franklin Watts, 2014)
Who knew Sloths were so cute? Sloths aren’t really major characters in children’s media and aren’t exactly known for their cuteness¬†(well, there’s Sid in Ice Age, but he’s not really cute. Scrat’s cute.) but Lucy Cooke’s book (originally published as A Little Book of Sloth in USA) will make you fall in love with these amazing creatures. Written at an accessible level for young children, whilst remaining interesting for a wide variety of ages (approx 5-11) this is a gorgeous little hardback and one we will treasure.
Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, basis for The Power of Sloth.
Recent BBC News report on Sloths in Suriname.

Dixie O'Day: In The Fast Lane: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Bodley Head, 2013)Dixie O’ Day In The Fast Lane: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Bodley Head, 2013)
It’s less than three months until the second Dixie O’Day book will be published – how exciting (it’s being published in the same week as my birthday,¬†what good timing!) The paperback of the first book comes out next week – even more perfect timing. If you’ve not already grabbed a copy, treat your children (or yourself) to this absolute treat. Full review of Dixie O’Day: In The Fast Lane.


Foxy Tales The Cunning Plan: Caryl Hart & Alex T Smith (Hodder Children's Books, 2014)Foxy Tales The Cunning Plan: Caryl Hart & Alex T Smith (Hodder Children’s Books, 2014)
Sometimes I find it hard to start a book, because I love the creators too much and have a moment of panic that I won’t like their latest work. This always ends in me wondering why I could have possibly thought this in the first place. So, because I love Caryl, and I love Alex, I couldn’t read Foxy Tales: The Cunning Plan. Because it was different. It wasn’t a picture book. It wasn’t a Claude-style book. It is¬†a chapter book. These are¬†quite difficult to read to Mighty Girl and Danger Girl too. Danger Girl starts complaining about the lack of colour pictures (The Cunning Plan is packed full of wonderful illustrations, but they’re not in colour) and Mighty Girl complains that she can read the book perfectly well on her own. But¬†then proceeds to read something else instead. They just do not get that I need them for reviewing purposes. Ahem. So I put it off. And yet again, I am an idiot, and glad to be! The Cunning Plan is silly, funny, completely accessible for all children (boys and girls – and the main characters are female and male, but that’s a whole other blog post on how utterly wonderful this is.) In short, it’s everything and more that you could wish for from two talented stars. Even better, the second book in the series is out in June.

Ten Little Pirates: Mike Brownlow & Simon Rickerty (Orchard Books, 2013)Ten Little Pirates: Mike Brownlow & Simon Rickerty (Orchard Books, 2013)
This was in my top picture books for last year, and I’ve recently read Mike Brownlow’s post about how¬†he almost turned down the publishing deal (so glad he didn’t!) It was also the first book that Mighty Girl reviewed, so is very special to us. Ten Little Pirates is a little slice of picture book perfection. Ten Little Princesses is out in August, and there’s more in the series to follow. Full review of Ten Little Pirates.

The Queen's Hat: Steve Antony (Hodder Children's Books, 2014)The Queen’s Hat: Steve Antony (Hodder Children’s Books, 2014)
I’m not a royalist, I have no interest in the Queen, and I’m not a fan of London. This book should bore me completely. It would have to be something really special not to. Good thing it is, then! Not that my opinion counts as much as my daughters (lots of thumbs up) but this book is gorgeous. The artwork, using only black, red, and blue is stunning. There is so much to see in each spread, and the story is just right from young children to older as we follow the Queen chasing after her missing hat in a hilarious romp. Just published this week, an astounding debut.

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Tracey Corderoy & Steven Lenton (Nosy Crow, 2013)Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Tracey Corderoy & Steven Lenton (Nosy Crow, 2013)
Okay, this is one we don’t own (yet!) but have borrowed from the library, and having had the pleasure of meeting both Tracey and Steven (who are both lovely), I couldn’t leave it out. Shifty and Sam are great characters and this is a fabulously funny tale.


We’re focussing on picture books and younger readers because that’s the age range that fits Mighty Girl and Danger Girl, so these are just a few of the wonderful books that will be showcased on the day at Hoo’s.

Disclosure: We are receiving free entry to Hoo’s Kids Book Fest and received review copies of all the books mentioned (except Shifty McGifty). I wasn’t asked to write this post.

Hoo’s Kids Book Fest 2014

Hoo's Kids Book Fest logo

It gives me the greatest pleasure to talk about Hoo’s Kids Book Fest 2014. Firstly, because we get to go this year (woohoo!) and secondly, because we get to offer a family ticket to one lucky reader this year too!

I don’t think I ever went to a literary festival or book event before I had children. I’d been to book signings (mainly Terry Pratchett in my student and post student years. Huge queues. Wonderful man.) but not events. I still don’t go to many because finances don’t allow but blogging about books has introduced me to¬†wonderful authors and fab events.

Literary festivals are quite nice to go to, but children’s literary festivals are amazing. Hoo’s Kids Book Fest is held in the Luton Hoo Walled Garden, part of the Luton Hoo Estate. The garden was designed by the infamous “Capability” Brown and although I’ve never been to Luton Hoo, I used to live minutes away from Blenheim¬†Palace whose gardens were also designed by Brown so can imagine how wonderful the setting must be.

Hoo’s Kids Book Fest is a one day festival¬†with a packed programme of events. I’ve just been trying to decide what we’re going to do and came up with the following:
11.00-11.45 Tent of Terrific Tales: Roald Dahl event
12.15-13.00 The Creative Conservatory: Clara Vulliamy, Dixie O’Day
1.30-2.15 The Creative Conservatory: Petr Horacek, Puffin Peter LUNCH
2.45-3.30 The Marvellous Marquee: Alex T Smith & Caryl Hart, Foxy Fiction
4.00-4.45 The Pavillion of Possibilities: Steve Lenton, Shifty McGifty

Except… I also want to fit in:
2.00-2.45 Awesome Action Tent: Mike Brownlow, Ten Little Pirates
3.00-3.45 Awesome Action Tent: Steve Antony, The Queen’s Hat

Oh, and then there’s the Signing Tent, and the Comics, and the gardens…

Mighty Girl and Danger Girl love Clara Vulliamy, so her event is a must. Mighty Girl has met Caryl Hart and loves her too, and really I couldn’t miss Alex and Caryl as they are both so wonderful. Oh, it’s so hard choosing! And¬†I’m only focussing on the picture book events, there are plenty of things for children of all ages.

Entry for the festival is ¬£6 per person, with certain individual events costing an additional ¬£3 each. My plan of four events would cost ¬£72 for a family of four if paid individually, but¬†there are ‘Golden Tickets’ at ¬£25 for two allowing you up to six paid events saving over ¬£10 per person. Under 2’s are free to everything (and may like the Miffy and Kipper events especially…)

If you have children ages 7-11, the festival¬†can be especially bargainous as the Groundbreaking Tent has a day of events for free, plus the Comic Tent workshops are also free. There are¬†such a variety of activities for all ages that the day can be as packed or as leisurely as you’d like. I haven’t even mentioned the other activities on offer because I’m so excited about the author and illustrator events!

We will be travelling about 70 miles (each way) to experience this wonderful festival (I owe my husband for this as he has little interest in children’s books but I can’t drive annoyingly) and maybe we’ll see you there too?

This year’s festival will be held on Sunday 11th May from 10.30am – 5.00pm and I have a prize of one family ticket (4 tickets, one adult minimum) to give away. The tickets are ‘Golden Tickets’ so festival¬†entry and paid-for events are included. Travel, food, and any¬†other costs you might incur are not covered.

If you would like to be in with a chance of winning this fabulous prize (and can make it to Luton Hoo on Sunday 11th May) please enter via the Rafflecoptor widget below. It’s¬†one¬†easy entry, no social media following required (although that would be nice, but won’t affect your chances!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and Conditions
Closing date midnight (UK time) Sunday 4th May. Winner will be notified via e-mail and have 2 days to confirm or alternate winner will be chosen. Winner chosen at random. Prize cannot be transferred and no cash alternative is available. Tickets are to be collected from the festival on the day. The decision of Child-Led Chaos is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Ways into Reading: Oxford Children’s Book Group Conference 2013

Oxford University Press

image from Wikipedia

I am sitting here with about eight A4 pages covered in notes from the Oxford Children’s Book Group conference, wondering how to even start writing it all up. In summary: it was excellent. All of the speakers were interesting and informative and everything ran smoothly. The conference was held at the Oxford University Press offices, which was the perfect venue.

The day was split into ninety minute sections for the speakers. There were drinks and pastries on arrival, the same at mid-morning break and then a delicious buffet lunch. The OUP museum was also open for viewing, which I managed briefly after lunch, and Mostly Books were supporting with their travelling bookstall of relevant books.

My camera battery died at lunchtime so I have limited pictures but I spent more time making notes than taking pictures because the talks were so informative. All the talks were on the theme “Ways into Reading”, and the different methods available to encourage and support children to become readers.

The first speaker was Victor Watson, a retired lecturer and current author. His interest was in series fiction, which a child had described to him as entering a “room full of friends”. Series fiction is comforting to readers, you are returning to characters and places that you’re familiar with and you want to know more. He talked about how series fiction is often sidelined as being worthless, but argued against this premise. The series fiction author must provide a story that regular readers want, but make it different each time. He described the difference between progressive and successive series and the effect that time had on series written over long periods – for example the effect of the second world war and the sixties on series started in 1940’s and completed in 1970’s – and how different authors approached these changes. It was a fascinating talk, and I’ve requested his book Reading Series Fiction: From Arthur Ransome to Gene Kemp from the library.

Oxford Children's Book Group Conference 2013

Victor Watson, Caro Fickling, Tracey Corderoy, and some props!

Andrea Quincey from Oxford University Press talked about the perception of reading schemes and the aims of the Project X scheme. This was a great continuation from the theme of series fiction because reading schemes are series, however Andrea pointed out that becoming too attached to one series can have a negative effect so the aim is to create an interest in all kinds of reading. For some children, reading schemes are the only books that they come across in their lives so it was important to create something that will hold interest. Research states that the clearest indicator for a child’s future success is not economic status, family background or other social indicators but their ability to read. The details behind creating a 21st century reading scheme to hook children and the challenges faced in ensuring that the series can be read in any order but still make sense was fascinating.

As a picture book aficionado, Tracey Corderoy was my most anticipated speaker, and she didn’t disappoint. With a suitcase packed with props she exuded enthusiasm and wit. She talked about her childhood growing up in what she described as a grey and smoky Welsh town, in a school that was often closed due to chemical spills, and a childhood with few books. But being unconventional she turned into a literature student, a teacher, a parent and an author with 38 published books in three years. Tracey’s talk was all about setting children’s¬† “senses on fire” – using colour, props, crafts and singing to pull out a story and make it an experience. She talked about how she tells children that if they write stories then they are writers just like she is; this particularly spoke to me because it’s something that I do with my children. Tracey was incredibly inspirational, and a very humourous speaker. This was the highlight of an amazing day.

Tom and Caro Fickling talked about comics, and specifically The Phoenix. Tom talked about how comics are a way into reading that works because the child ‘owns’ the books by discovering themselves. As adults we’re allowed to look at pictures but children are expected to dump pictures at a certain age. Caro wondered whether declines in literacy were correlated to the lack of decent children’s comics in the last few decades and about how today’s ‘comics’ are thinly veiled marketing devices based on characters with printed matter not designed to stand up on its own and are thrown with relief into the recycle bin – I could completely relate to this having small children who are only interested in the plastic tat attached to the front! They talked about the medium of telling stories visually and how positioning and page turns affect how a story is read. Another fascinating insight.

Oxford University Press Museum

Oxford University Press Museum

Vineeta Gupta from Open University Press talked about the Oxford Children’s Corpus. This is not a term I’d actually come across before but with a background in analysis I now want to work for them! The Corpus is an enormous database of words used in writing for children and, more interestingly, in writing by children. The writing by children was collected in collaboration with Radio 2’s 500 words competition which gave them access to 160,000 samples of writing and over seventy million words to analyse. The Corpus is used to create dictionaries full of words that children actually come across in daily life, and to give real-life examples. Analysis of connections between words (for example, how often a word is used ‘near’ another word) means that, for example, ‘zoom’ can be illustrated by Harry Potter zooming around a Quidditch pitch making dictionaries relevant for today’s children.

Andy Mulligan only just arrived in time for his talk, having a journey cursed by public transport problems (Trains? Today? Of course they’re not running…) His theme was dangerous books and contemplating at what point children go from wanting to read “Shadow the Sheepdog” (Enid Blyton) to “The Fault in Our Stars”, and is something like The Fault in Our Stars a children’s book? Should children read books that don’t offer them reassurance that everything is going to end well? His talk was fascinating and engaging and covered a range of experiences. I now have all his books on my wish list too, especially The Boy with Two Heads and Trash. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, do go.

Finally the day was rounded off with Bill Laar, educational consultant, whose passion for sharing books and words spun into the room of fairly tired attendees. It is quite lovely as a ‘grown-up’ to have picture books and poetry read to you by such an enthusiastic reader. The perfect end to a packed day!

Thanks must go to everyone at Oxford Children’s Book Group who put together such a smooth-running and informative event whilst keeping costs low; and to all the speakers and publishers who provided their services, especially Oxford University Press. I had an amazing day, got to meet up with some people I usually only know on Twitter, and learnt so much.

Henley Literary Festival: Clara Vulliamy

When the chance comes along to see one of your favourite author / illustrators at a location nearby, you don’t say no. Unfortunately I worked out my finances and it couldn’t be done. I also had to cancel four other planned bookish events in London. With fortuitous timing, a BritMums offer of complementary tickets to Henley Literary Festival popped up and I was lucky enough to get two.

The lovely @chaletfan from DYESTTAFTSA had alerted me to the event in the first place, and kindly offered a lift part of the way when public transport failed me, and it was great to meet up with her again. She is as lovely in real life as you’d imagine, you can read her review of the event here.

I don’t know Henley at all but fortunately had @chaletfan as a guide. The train station was right by the venue (if there’d been a train on time!) although you’d then have to go into the town centre to find the ticket office if you didn’t have tickets. We parked near the centre and the ticket office and venue seemed easy to find with a short walk between.

The room for the event was set out well, with tables for the craft session ready at the back of the room, plenty of chairs for grown ups and lots of floor space for children. Clara was ready at the front as everyone arrived, and all the elements ran smoothly. Huge thanks must go to Clare from Random House who made it run like magic.

When the event started, Clara talked through some of the story of Dixie O’Day and showed some of her favourite pages. She then did a live drawing whilst reading part of the first chapter. This was amazing. Seriously amazing. The complexities of two different classic cars plus drivers plus following the story including a very clever ninety degree twist of the paper near the end was just breathtakingly good. I may have had minor heart palpitations when she scribbled over Lou-Ella, but it was all part of the fun!

Clara Vulliamy at Henley Literary Festival 2013

The model car with felt Dixie and Percy made by the awesomely talented Josie was also on display and wow, it is as great in real life as you would expect. I am thrilled I got to see it.

The creative part of the event was for the children to design their own cars. Clara¬† encouraged the children to use their imaginations to create any kind of car but also supplied a brilliant sheet of kit for inspiration. The pictures will be up on the Dixie O’Day website.

I was really impressed with DG’s creations. She made three using all the bits supplied, but spent longest on her first one. She coloured the taps in red and blue for hot and cold water, and put poor Dixie and Percy in a cold water bath! The ice cream is blue because it is blueberry flavour – DG loves blueberries. Mmmm…

Designing cars at Henley Literary Festival 2013

We all had a wonderful time. DG loved making her cars and seeing Clara again and meeting @chaletfan. I geeked out on the model, listening to Clara, meeting Clare, and chatting with @chaletfan (including discussing how embarrassing it is to introduce yourself in real life by your twitter name!) Then we all relaxed with a drink and cake in the hot October sun (what is with the weather at the moment?!) and all was good with the world…

Disclaimer: I received two complimentary tickets to this event from the organisers via BritMums in exchange for a review, travel not included. I loved the event we went to, thought everything was organised brilliantly, and will be looking out for it next year. Thank-you, Henley Literary Festival and BritMums.

Ways Into Reading Conference, Oxford

Next Saturday, 12th October, sees the bi-annual Oxford Children’s Book Group conference. This one-day event is packed with speakers from the breadth of children’s literature and is based on the theme “Ways Into Reading”.

Tickets are still available, and a booking form can be downloaded here. It’s ¬£30 for non-members and ¬£25 for members of Oxford Children’s Book Group (membership cost ¬£15 for the year and includes three issues of Carousel magazine.) The cost is ridiculously low for an event of this kind and includes lunch.

If you can get to Oxford for next Saturday, then this is going to be an event to remember. It’s being held in historic Oxford University Press buildings in Great Clarenden Street, Oxford, and tours of the OUP museum can be taken during the lunch hour.


09.15 – 09.45 Registration with coffee and Danish pastries

09.45 – 09.50 Introduction
Jo Steele and Kathy Lemaire (Co-Chairs OCBG)

09.50 – 10.40 A room full of friends – the appeal of series fiction
Victor Watson

10.40 – 11.15 Project X: The role of the reading scheme in the lives of 21st century
children Andrea Quincey, Senior Publisher, Primary Literacy team, OUP

11.15 – 11.45 Coffee

11.45 – 12.30 Ways into reading – picture books, story sacks and stories aloud
Author and illustrator, Tracey Corderoy

12.30 – 13.15 The comic gateway to reading
Tom Fickling and Caro Fickling, The Phoenix Comic

13.15 – 14.00 Lunch and OUP Museum visits

14.00 Р14.40 Mum and magic: children’s use of language and children’s dictionaries
Vineeta Gupta, Publisher, Children’s Dictionaries, OUP

14.40 – 15.30 Dangerous Books
Andy Mulligan, Author

15.30 – 15.45 Narrative: the journey and the destination
Bill Laar, Education and Literacy consultant

Brainiac Live Review

Brainiac Live! Promo Picture

A few weeks ago I was offered tickets to Brainiac Live! on stage to review, plus a competition. Yesterday, we managed to go to see it for ourselves. As it said that it wasn’t suitable for under four and a half year olds, we took one of MG’s school friends and his mum along.

Firstly, the theatre is very easy to find. It’s a short walk from Piccadilly Circus tube station and very visible. Our tickets were reserved at the box office, which was easily accessible. Getting there from Oxfordshire with two six year olds was not a problem, which is a very good start.

We were in the dress circle rather than on the same floor as the stage but this gave us a great view and as far as I could see there was no bad seating. The theatre was quite full, giving a good audience experience.

The show manages to pack a fair amount into an hour, so most people should find a few things that they particularly like. There were four “brainiacs” on stage, although “Brainiac Ned” was the lead and did everything with the others as support. He started with an experiment to see what materials it was possible to run through. The children found this hilarious, especially in any part where he might have got slightly hurt or fell over!

There was then a section on Mondegreens, including words to the whole of O Fortuna. There was a 12 volt electrified fence, lots of dry ice, and igniting balloons full of different gasses. They showed the famous selective attention test, used fire extinguishers as propellers and had a Brainiac vs Audience air bazooka competition as the finale. [Don’t follow any of those links if you don’t know what I’m talking about and want a surprise!]

This promotional video is an accurate representation of the show we saw (other than the audience)

I asked the two small children what they thought about the show and they thought it was awesome. Mighty Girl’s friend (boy, aged six) loves science things and came out of the theatre talking non-stop about all the explosions and all the different things he say. Mighty-Girl is quieter and not as keen on loud noises but she also enjoyed the whole thing, including the explosions. She did comment on the fact there was only one girl though. They both wanted to go back and see it again straight away.

The show is an hour long with no break, and is on two or three times a day. Because of this, it is very self-contained with stage clean ups happening as they went along, which meant a few ‘filler’ sections on screen when that was happening.

What didn’t work for me: The on-screen sections, especially the “Cambridge University” scrambled word study (it’s fake.) I’m the kind of person who already knows what a Mondegreen is and has done the selective attention test, and seen the ‘scrambled word study’ before, and who checks every round robin e-mail against Snopes. I guess I don’t really watch the show either, but I like the idea of having fun with science exploding things. The first five minutes seemed to be taken up with a voice over telling everyone how brilliant the next hour was going to be, which to me can only lead to disappointment, especially as most of the explosions were so obviously controlled (of course they have to be controlled, but so obviously?!)

What did work for me: I like liquid nitrogen. Some of the things they did using it were genuinely interesting (the balloon and the bottle, if you’ve seen the show.) The air bazookas filled with smoke were quite amazing to watch, and I was even hit with a blast of air up in the dress circle. The second half an hour was a lot more fun overall. The children were entranced by the whole show, and even the train being delayed and taking over two hours to get home didn’t bother them too much because they were happy.

Would I recommend Brainiac Live? Yes, if you’re within easy reach of London and enjoy the TV show. It’s something different to see in the school break, a show for children that most children will enjoy.

Disclaimer: We were given four tickets for our choice of Brainiac Live show in return for this review. All travel and sundry expenses were not compensated. Pictures are promotional shots and copyright their respective owners.

Jane Hissey at Mostly Books

Original Jane Hissey Art

I managed to miss out on Jane Hissey‘s books when I was a child, because I was a teen when most of them were first published, but I’ve been aware of the gorgeous art for long before I had children. The Old Bear stories seem older than they actually are (written from 1986 onwards) purely because they have a classic feel like they’ve always existed…

We were lucky enough to review Ruby, Blue and Blanket when it was first released and have a small handful of Old Bear books second-hand but I’m embarrassed to say only a few and I didn’t realise how many different books there are; or that there had been a TV series too!

Hearing that Jane would be visiting our lovely local independent bookstore, Mostly Books, I promptly booked tickets just before two weeks of endless sun in England! I panicked about the heat the day before, but as it turned out although there was rain, which cooled the air down, there was also fortunately no rain during the two (packed) sessions Jane held.

Jane Hissey is as wonderful in real life as you could imagine. Over an hour she emptied an enormous bag full of some of the stars of her books, including Old Bear himself; read three of her stories to the children and shared so many wonderful details about how all the stories were created, illustrated and animated. I missed some of the event because Mighty-Girl had a sore tummy and we needed to find some water (supplied in an instant by Nicki, thank-you!) but still learnt loads.

Jane Hissey, Old Bear and Friends at Mostly Books, Abingdon

Jane started by introducing some of the stars of her books one by one. One of the little girls in the audience was obviously an expert on the stories as she could name all of them. For each toy, Jane told the story behind where it came from and how they inspired her stories. I particularly liked how Hoot was handmade from the sleeve of a coat and that the other sleeve was used to make the model used in the TV series. Jolly Tall arrived in a box which inspired his tale, and many of the toys were handmade for her children.

She said that many of the stories were inspired by the toys themselves. Little Bear’s Trousers came about because she loved Little Bear’s legs and wanted to draw them, so decided to tell the story of how his trousers were lost and found so she could draw his legs! What happened with each toy who borrowed the trousers was easy – she just saw how they would use them (hump warmers, rabbit hat, bone holder!) and then saw what would happen – they would fall over rabbit’s eyes so he’d not be able to see…

One thing I found fascinating was that everything drawn in the books exists (or existed) in real life. In order for Little Bear to wear pyjamas, Jane had to make him some first! She shared a lovely anecdote about the bath picture in Little Bears Trouser’s where it took her two weeks (I think) to draw so her children couldn’t use the bath until it was finished! Each picture is created with coloured pencils and it was a thrill to see some of the original art there too, as well as a mock-up book.

We all loved the event. Mighty-Girl is always excited to meet real-life authors and illustrators, and she was certainly inspired by Jane Hissey. As soon as we arrived home, she grabbed a sketch book and pencils and announced “Right, I need some toys!” I’m looking forward to Giraffe in Dinosaur Land once she’s written it ūüėČ Mighty-Girl is shy when meeting people, so didn’t say much (or let me take pictures), but she went up to let Jane know that she liked to write too.

Destructo-Girl loves reading books, and happily turned the pages of her copy of Ruby, Blue and Blanket when it was being read. Jane kindly signed that for her, and a copy of Old Bear Stories I bought for Mighty-Girl. We do have second-hand copies of half the stories, but I wanted a special edition for my girls, and to compare the text as it’s been rewritten this year (another post, soon hopefully…)

You can read more about Jane Hissey at Mostly Books on their website, covering both events and with pictures from the midday event.

Destructo-Girl at Mostly Books

I’d like to thank Jane Hissey, Salariya, and Mostly Books for putting on a wonderful event. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank-you ūüôā