little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: children’s books

A little bit more of this

I read an Enid Blyton story to Rabbit last night — a morally saturated tale about a girl who missed a trip to the seaside because she stopped to help a boy who fell off his bike while her friend ran on to get the bus and didn’t tell the teacher to wait, but it all worked out because the boy’s mother was both grateful and had a sports car so she took the girl and the boy to the beach anyway and they got there at the same time as the bus even though they had to stop and clean up the boy’s knee because sports car and morals and then the boy and the girl became friends and played happily together every week because they were both kind.

So, cheers for all that instruction, Enid, but it did lead to a conversation with Rabbit about kindness. First, he declared that he would definitely stop to help the boy and take him to his (the boy’s) house and if they didn’t have any bandaids there, he would bring the boy to our house and one of the adults would fix up his knee. And then he told me about how his friend was riding his bike and the front wheel hit a rock and the friend fell off and got a cut on his knee and Rabbit took him to the sick bay. “How did it work?” I asked. “Could he walk or did you have to help him?” “Oh, we held hands and walked together,” said Rabbit.

And it’s sappy, but I actually think that would be great, if everyone took the time to hold their friend’s hand and walk with them to the sick bay when they fall off their bike.

Focus

While I was cooking dinner, the Rabbit came into the kitchen and collected a pair of scissors. He made some modifications to his hut, then I lost track of what he was doing. I caught sight of several bits of paper and the stapler, and I told him how to spell “home” and “work”.

After a good 15–20 minutes, he came in looking upset. “I’ve stuffed it up”, he said. He’d made a book and written “Rabbit’s homework” on the cover, but he had done it so that either the text was upside-down or the staple was at the bottom.

Trying to be helpful, I suggested several solutions: using the book with the staple at the bottom, changing the name to “Rabbit’s upside-down homework”, etc — overly complicated ideas which Rabbit swiftly let me know would NOT DO AT ALL.

Tapping into my Better Self (International Women’s Day at work again), I stopped what I was doing and got down to his level. “Well,” I said, “let’s look at all the things you’ve achieved. You found some paper, you stapled it together and you wrote a cover. I’m sure you can solve this problem.”

His face brightened immediately and he said, “Of course! I’ll just take the staple out and put it in the other end.”

Sometimes it’s the smallest things.

This could take a while

The Cat has decided that he would like to write a book. I offered to help him, and that usually means typing as he dictates. We started tonight and it fairly quickly emerged that this was to be a book about soccer, specifically a World Cup co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. The teams will be All-Stars teams with the best players of all time from each qualifying country.

We got through the first part of Chapter One tonight, and this is how it went:

France vs Brazil

Brazil kick-off. Garrincha passes to Pelé, who blasts the ball over Barthez from the halfway line, but it hits the crossbar and it goes in over Gylmar’s head for an own goal. Garrincha passes to Pelé again, who passes to Tostão, who dribbles it around the entire French team, including the keeper, but then he whacks it over the crossbar when it should have been a tap-in. Barthez boots the ball upfield from the goal kick and scores. The teams do lots of passing (and tackling) around the pitch until it’s halftime.

A streaker goes on the pitch and kicks the ball in the Brazilian goal. Amazingly, the goal counts. Brazil do quite a lot of shots, but don’t seem to get anywhere until in the 87th minute Pelé takes a shot from the edge of the area and it flies into the top corner. Then it’s a France kick-off and Ribéry immediately gets tackled by Garrincha. He starts dribbling the length of the field, but Ribéry slide-tackles him from behind and gets sent off. The resulting free kick is closer to the halfway line than the penalty area. Pelé takes the free kick and it looks like it’s going out for a throw in, but then it swerves into the bottom corner of the goal like a missile. Pelé tackles Zidane near the touchline and whacks it in the goal from range. Pelé gets a hat-trick. Then with the last kick of the game after a Vieira cross and an Henry flick-on header, Zidane bicycles it in off the post, then the crossbar, then the other post, then the keeper’s leg, and in.

Score: France 4 Brazil 3

Typing this up took about 40 minutes, with frequent breaks to change players, modify the play, and correct my spelling and use of accents.

About halfway through, I confirmed my suspicions: this book is going to be a rundown of every match in this fictitious tournament. We did some quick calculations and worked out that we’ll be doing 80 matches.

Parenting. It’s not what you think it’s going to be.

Also, I have no idea about hyphenation with soccer terminology.

Marmalade days

The llama made marmalade, marmalade jam.

Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam, Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Illustrator)

P1070335Well, I did it. I made marmalade. It’s like I joined the matrilineal mafia in one long evening of chopping, stirring, sugaring, boiling, testing and bottling. When I say “I”, I’m lying. I did the chopping, slicing grapefruits, a couple of oranges and some lemon into fine golden slivers, and I added the sugar and water and turned it all on. I washed the jars and put them in a low oven, and I poured the final product into the jars, screwed on the lids and wiped down the benchtops, but Ian led the charge on the stirring and testing regime, which I nearly fucked up by removing a pile of cold plates from the fridge at the tail end of the process when we were both hot, tired, frustrated and TOTALLY OVER IT ALL. And then, BOOM, we had a beautiful collection of jars filled with glowing, softly jellied, sweet, sour goodness. Jam —and all its kin — is magic.

When Mum died, I thought we’d finish the last jars of marmalade, then never eat it again. I couldn’t imagine making my own, and store-bought seemed like a sacrilege. My childhood was filled with marmalade, with the hunt for pulp in the freezer section of every supermarket, with weekend afternoons in the kitchen, the sweet, steamy smell of sugared citrus all around me, with a pantry full of agee jars, with toast and marmalade at the sticky heart of every breakfast.

P1070339Then a little while ago, I inherited my grandmother‘s marmalade jar, one of the few remnants of her rich, full life to pass to our side of the family. It sits in my cupboard, pushed back out of the way of clumsy hands, and comes out each morning, bringing a little grace and history to our bright, battered kitchen table. I’ve been buying marmalade, trusting in a facsimile to carry the past for me, which it does, a bit, through the alchemy of an old jar, sunlight, butter.

P1070337But now I’ve made the real thing, and how much more powerful that alchemy is when you add effort, love, a mess created and cleared, the lessons I should have learnt while I still had the teachers. I’ve been making oatcakes too, a sort of light, crisp, aniseedy alternative to the stock-in-trade porridge and toast I grew up on. Put butter on one of those babies, add a spoonful of marmalade, pour fresh coffee, sit in the sun, and you’ve got a fine breakfast on your hands, my friends. A fine breakfast, some gentle ghosts, a lick of the past.

P1070337

 

Fourteen things

One: Going home
Vincent O’Sullivan has written a 14-episode account of Ralph Hotere’s journey home. The number recalls Hotere’s use of the number, his referencing of the Stations of the Cross and of his 14 siblings. Frustratingly, the full version is only available to subscribers (when did the Listener change that?).

Two: Favourite birds (my son will be so cross that I haven’t used the proper full names, but the truth is, I can’t remember them)
godwit
kingfisher
pelican
spoonbill
robin
shag
plover
kea
bellbird
crane
heron
mandarin duck
black cockatoo
superb lyrebird

Three: Books that got me through my childhood, and my children’s
Corduroy, Don Freeman
Any of the Frances books, Russell Hoban (illustrated by Garth Williams)
Tell Me What It’s Like to Be Big, Joyce Dunbar (illustrated by Debi Gliori)
Mr Gumpy’s Outing, John Burningham
Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury)
The Ramona books, Beverly Cleary
Big Sister and Little Sister, Charlotte Zolotow (illustrated by Martha Alexander)
Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault)
Come On, Daisy!, Jane Simmons
The Raft, Jim LaMarche
The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog books, Judith Kerr
Dogger and everything else, Shirley Hughes
far too much by Noel Streatfeild
Anne of Green Gables and all the rest, LM Montgomery
bonus: Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henke + about a hundred others

Four: Authors I’ve found myself consuming in bulk
George Perec
Italo Calvino
Primo Levi
Laurence Fearnley
Janette Turner Hospital
Nigel Cox
Sara Maitland
Jeanette Winterson
Maurice Gee
Philip Pullman
Ann Patchett
Jim Crace
Michael Ondaatje
(see the children’s list above)

Five: Foods that make life better
avocado
pistachios
chocolate
smoked salmon
salad, lots of it
roast chicken, then chicken soup
oranges
peaches
eggplants
poisson cru
tomatoes
fennel seed and olive oil biscuits
bacon
lasagne

Six: 14-letter words

Seven: What I want in a house
a chair by a window, just for reading
a kitchen that I can eat, cook, talk, and read in
a space for the kids to play
a front porch
a sheltered space to eat outside
plenty of trees
a glasshouse
vegetable patches
a workspace
bookshelves in every room
a woodburner
insulation
flowers
light

Eight: Condiments, loosely interpreted
lemons — fresh, juiced, zested, preserved
honey
mustard
fennel seeds
yoghurt
parmesan
sea salt
pepper
tomato sauce
mint
coffee
a book
a friend
quiet

Nine: Punctuation that makes text prettier
fanciful ampersands
the Oxford comma
double quote marks
em-dashes
en-dashes
ellipses
semi-colons
full stops
question marks, sparingly
well-placed commas
accents
tidy, well-aligned bullet points
parentheses, occasionally
spaces

Ten: Plants I like to have in my garden
tulips
crocuses
sweetpeas
roses
azaleas
ferns
mint
thyme
sage
peas
beans
lettuces
zucchini
potatoes

Eleven: The elements of a fine day
rain
sun
a small boy’s arms around my neck
that first cup of coffee
a shower
a walk, run, or yoga class
music
writing
banter
a kiss
friends
seeing something through my children’s eyes
lunch
supper

Twelve: A 14-year-old dancer

Thirteen: Colin McCahon’s Stations

Fourteen: A sonnet, of course
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers’-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
“Look what I have!—And these are all for you.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

More than the sum

This video features Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler talking about how they have worked on children’s books together over the last 20 years. The conversation has a really gentle, reflective tone — just the thing if your day’s a bit frazzled. Partly it’s the voices, partly it’s Scheffler painting as they talk. Like a good children’s book, the combination of words and art is more than the sum of its parts. Magic.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler on A Squash and a Squeeze

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