Sunday, 29 April 2012

Geocaching for Beginners

Sunday's been interesting. It's involved rain, some more rain, and then a tad more rain. In between the downpour, Has-Bean and I decided we all needed some fresh air. Taking into account the chill, we wrapped Little Bean up in many layers. By the time we’d finished the sun started blazing. Then by the time we were in the car and on our way, the heavens opened again and we got hailed on. As I said, an interesting day. 

Look, 2 minutes of sunshine!

Has-Bean had suggested we go feed the ducks at the pond down the bottom of Ruislip high street. I should have known something was up as he’d never usually suggest giving food away.

Indeed, no sooner were Little Bean and I duck watching, then Has-Bean disappeared into the bushes, only to reappear a few minutes later looking rather shifty. He did the same near the Manor House and then again when we walked past The Orchard pub on the way home. What the hell was he up to?

Eventually I couldn’t stand it any more.

Me: Playing hide and go seek with the pigeons?
Him: No, just looking for caches. 
Me: Oh…’caches’. And what exactly are caches?!
Him: (Rolling eyes as if everyone knows what a cache is) A cache is a little box containing something that someone else has left behind. Geocaching is where people put caches in hiding places and you have to find them using the given coordinates.
Me: So it’s like a treasure hunt?
Him: Exactly.
Me: What sort of treasure?
Him: Sweets, trinkets, marbles. And a logbook you have to fill in.
Me: And what do you do with the treasure?
Him: Well, you replace it with your own treasure. And usually fill in the logbook.
Me: This sounds like something for kids?   
Him: Incomprehensible mumble. Then defiantly… And big kids too.  

As luck would have it tonight on Countryfile there was a short snippet on geocaching by Ellie Harrison (Has-Bean’s favourite TV totty) which gave me more of an idea what he was on about. Catch it on iplayer here. And doing a bit more research online I've discovered he's quite right. It's a worldwide treasure hunt and although perfect for getting kids outdoors, it's a great excursion for adults too. If you log on to and input your location you'll be amazed at how many geocaches are right on your doorstep.

Learn more about it here:

Friday, 27 April 2012

Mummy porn

Goodbye The Hunger Games. Your number one spot on publishers’ bestseller lists is no longer available. Because the adults have finally claimed back books for grown-ups. No more teen angst or crossover novels. This is pure adult fare. And so titillating it’s even got Ellen Degeneres blushing. See her here reading Fifty Shade of Grey otherwise known as 'mummy porn'.

Edible Art

Food and I get on very well. Sometimes too well. I will happily hoover up meat like a carnivore, brussel sprouts like a bohemian and chocolate mousse like…well the true chocoholic I am. Nothing is safe from me. Except perhaps baked beans which have yet to work their bean magic on me.

Fortunately, so far my Little Bean seems to be just as undiscriminating. In fact, at the moment she shows signs of taking this to extremes by thinking the remote control, pillows and sometimes my nose are all rather tasty.

I am constantly warned by my more experienced mother peers that this will not last. She will become fussy. She will devour something one day and spit it out the next. The writing (or food in this case) is on the wall.

The trick, knowledgeable parents tell me, is to make food interesting. Now, I was always under the impression you were not supposed to play with your food but apparently this outdated belief just shows my age. The rules have changed and dinner time is the new playtime.

This clever mama at clearly does not believe that slicing sandwiches at an angle makes for an interesting lunch. Edible art I’d call it and although I doubt her little boy has any qualms about devouring her amazing creations, I think they’re almost too lovely to eat. 

For Very Hungry Kids
Perfect for a rainy day

 Do you have any tips or tricks to get your little ones to eat healthily (or at all)?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Rainy day shopping

It's cold, it's wet, it's raining. The perfect conditions for online shopping!

Here's a few ideas to keep the little ones warm and dry (with a literary theme of course):

The Very Hungry Caterpillar umbrella



Paddington Bear Duffle Coat

From £13.83


Thomas the Tank Engine Wellies



And to keep them from getting cabin fever, how about some baking in this gorgeous little Gruffalo get-up.

Gruffalo Apron Set

Dunelm Mill

And here's hoping for some sunshine tomorrow!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Today was Little Bean’s first proper swimming lesson. Despite being on high alert for tears and tantrums I’m happy to say it passed rather…er…swimmingly. Everyone got wet, kicked, splashed and had a giggle. Tick.

On the way home my mind wandered and I started thinking about the old children’s classic: The Water- Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby, which I remember being read to during storytime when I was 9 or 10. 

At the time I thought it was an epic book and I would never have attempted to read it on my own. I’m an instant gratification kind of girl and if I know I won't be able to finish it within a few days I’m not interested. Probably why (shockingly) I’ve never finished Shantaram. I do recall loving The Water-Babies though – and it not being an entirely comfortable read – but that’s all I could remember. Thank goodness then for Google, Wikipedia and Amazon, who furnished me with this blurb.

Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls asleep, and becomes a Water Baby. In his new life, he meets all sorts of aquatic creatures, including an engaging old lobster, other water babies, and at last reaches St Branden's Isle where he encounters the fierce Mrs Bedonebyeasyoudid and the motherly Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. After a long and arduous quest to the Other-end-of-Nowhere young Tom achieves his heart's desire.

Of course the villainous chimney sweep is called Grimes!

Queen of the Fairies.
Illustration by Warwick Goble.
Published in 1863 it is described by one reviewer as ‘Alice in Wonderland under water’ which is probably not too far off.

This all rang bells and I’ve now ordered a copy to see if it’s still as wonderful as I remember. I'm also heartened to see that it's not quite as epic as my 9 year old self thought at the time.

What surprised me in my quick search though was learning that, in the style of most Victorian-era novels, the book reflects common prejudices of the time,  including dismissive and insulting references to Jews, blacks, Catholics, the Irish etc.

Clearly, I don’t remember any of these references but it did get me thinking to other classics, many of which must contain similar bigotries.

Have you come across any glaring prejudices when reading books to your little ones? Enid Blyton, for instance, came under a considerable amount of criticism for some of her books (Noddy aside) which is such a shame because I loved reading her when I was little. Do kids pick up on the inferences, do you think? Perhaps subliminally it affects them? Or are we as adults reading too much into it? 

And if you do have an ancient-looking copy of The Water-Babies gathering dust on your bookshelves,  it might be worth getting it valued. Some editions are selling for over £2000.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Best time to blog?

Twitter and time management. Two concepts that really do not belong in the same sentence. A bit like Tescos and lingerie. Or green beans and pancakes. Or gin and… (struggling to think of something that doesn’t go with gin actually).

Anyway, since starting this blog I have had to carve out the time to write from somewhere. Not to mention finding the time to tweet. So I'm sure it’s unsurprising to hear that while I’m feeding Little Bean her porridge with one hand, I am also checking emails and Twitter with the other. This has resulted in the odd strawberry up her nose but overall no major incidences.

Now she seems to be settling herself into some sort of routine though, I’ve decided that I should follow her example and add some structure to my life too. Gina would be proud. After much thought and consideration I broke up her usual naptimes into time slots allocating when I would  attend to email, phone calls, admin, housework and the blog. This time-tabling took me a whole naptime. So, already behind schedule, I had a cup of tea. Then, distracting her with a noisy toy while sitting in my lap, I couldn't resist checking my audience stats. Russia? Who’s reading my blog in Russia?

Now, Little Bean is a fairly opinionated baby and she’d clearly decided she’d put up with quite enough. Blowing a rather large raspberry she leaned over and promptly shut down the laptop with a rather forceful blow to the keyboard. Evidently she doesn’t much care about her mother’s newfound fame in Russia.

Subtle as this hint was, I did come to the realisation that perhaps dancing around the room singing Michael Jackson for her amusement will have longer term benefits to our relationship than checking my Klout status. That’s not to say I’m taking a step back from social media – not at all. I’m just going to have to be more organised (and sneaky) about it. I’m bad, I’m bad, I know it. 

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Mistaken Identity

Yesterday at 5pm there was a mass exodus from the Earls Court Exhibition Centre as the London Book Fair came to a close. No more double airkissing for another year. Or so I thought.

Waiting for the tube, I caught sight of Thomas, a German publisher I’d met a few months ago. I went over to say hello and we both got on the tube together, anticipating a good old chin-wag. We started off by trading pleasantries on how we’d found the week and if business was good. Then I asked when he was heading home to Germany and he said he was actually doing a 5 month stint in London – and anyway, Switzerland was home. Strange. I looked a bit closer. It was Thomas, right? He looked a bit more tanned, and now that I thought about it his hair was a bit different…

Further careful chit chat revealed I had indeed made a mistake. This man was an absolute stranger and my enthusiastic witterings about his family and what he’d been up to for the past few months were completely misplaced. Clearly he’d been humouring me thinking that
a) perhaps he’d met me somewhere before and was trying to place me, or b) London publishers were exceptionally welcoming to foreigners.

I think it dawned on both of us in the same instant that we were indeed complete strangers. But what next? I had another two stops to go. Should I confess that actually I’d made a horribly embarrassing faux pas and the airkisses meant nothing? If it had been a private conversation I might have but we were on the tube - there were other people listening. Also, the train was moving incredibly slowly. So instead, my automatic nervous chatter reflex kicked in and the poor guy listened to absolute random waffling while the bloody train groaned along at snail’s pace prolonging my agony.

Finally, we got to my stop, but of course Fate decided that this should be his too. But this was too much for me. I pretended I had a few more stops to go and waved cheerfully goodbye to my new friend. I then waited till he was walking down the platform, before jumping off just before the doors slid shut trying not to look like a poor extra on Spooks. I then picked a very broad, tall man and shuffled along closely behind him just in case ‘Thomas’ turned round and saw me. Oh, to be the person watching the CCTV cameras.

The worrying thing is this is not the first time I’ve done this. A few years ago I was in a bar (so at least on this occasion I could blame the alcohol) and started chatting to Mike, a guy I knew. We chatted for about five minutes until he told me his name was not Mike, and although he recognised me from the gym, we’d never actually formally met. Oh. Ah. Oops.

Two weeks later I saw the real Mike, who smiled welcomingly at me so I went over, said hi and told him about the mortifying scenario a few weeks ago where I’d started chatting to a stranger thinking it was him. It was hilarious, I giggled. The poor chap thought I was completely bonkers. At this point, the poor guy sighed and informed me that he was (still) not Mike and yes, he did think I was a bit odd.

Please tell me this happens to other people?!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A Grown-Up Day

Today saw me wrestle with my pre-pregnancy smart trousers, swap Converse for heels, and unearth my tube pass from the very bottom of my handbag. Imagine that, a real life handbag. Not a changing bag masquerading as a handbag.
Then I waved goodbye to my little bean, left in the very capable hands of her Mary Poppins of a Grandma and skipped off to the London Book Fair for a day of *actual* work.
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t an overwhelming success. The tube was ghastly for a start. I forgot quite how depressingly bleary everyone is on rainy mornings. But once there, I immersed myself in all things booky which raised my spirits and kept my mind off the shenanigans I was missing out on at home.
In between meetings I managed to rush off (well, to be fair, it was more like tottering given my lack of practice walking in heels) to some very interesting seminars. I managed to catch an interview with the very hilarious Caitlin Moran, a talk on optimising social media, and a demonstration of the opportunities available in children’s ebooks. 

Unfortunately the demo was very technical in nature and had to be delayed because (I am not making this up) the right cable could not be found. Hmm… Still, it was so interesting that I wanted to find out more and searched out the company’s stand where I persuaded the CEO to give me a full demonstration. It was very impressive. The company will take a current ebook and either follow your directions on where to make them interactive, or make their own suggestions (children touch the lights in pictures and they switch on etc). One of the examples that raised my eyebrows was an illustration of a messy room with various items strewn everywhere. By clicking on the various items and moving them towards the cupboard or drawers, your child can ‘tidy up’ the room. Now, I’m all for the value of educational games, but surely physically tidying the room would be more productive? Just saying.
It was just about this time that my husband received a phone call. Apparently the GPS in Mary Poppins’ umbrella had stopped working and Grandma and Little Bean were lost. Neither of them happened to mention this little episode to me when I rang for welfare checks during the day. Another example of grandparents and grandchildren being in cahoots. 
Anyway, they managed to get home in one piece. Much later so did I – with sore feet from shoes and exhausted brain from playing with grown-ups all day. Tomorrow, round two…

Monday, 16 April 2012

One week birthday

The Little Magic Bean blog is now one week old. Woohoo! So, what have I learnt this week?
  1. My husband is surprisingly ok with how much time I’m spending on the laptop. Must have been a busy week of football.
  2. Bloggers (and tweeters) are a funny (and alarmingly prolific) bunch. They are also overwhelmingly supportive of newbies.
  3. Refreshing the viewing counter on Blogger is addictive and as useful as waiting for the kettle to boil. Keeping an eye on the ‘Audience’ stats is fascinating though and a good refresher in Geography - I now know exactly where Peru is on a map. 
  4. Some days I’ve been able to write a whole blog in Amber’s morning naptime. Other days it has taken me all day to do a first draft. And then scrap it.
  5. Tweeting one-handed (while other hand is feeding baby, pushing vacuum, potting sweetpeas - hell, I’m such a cliché!) WILL result in Twitter faux pas. I have replied instead of retweeted, posted half written sentences and favourited a few randoms. It’s a bit like being a new driver on the roads – you sort of hope everyone else will look out for you and make up for your inadequacies.

So the learning continues. I had no idea so much fun could be had (legally) online. Sorry folks, looks like I'm sticking around.

If any seasoned bloggers (comparatively to me that means having blogged for more than 7 days) have any advice on how to improve/get more followers etc then please get in touch. All feedback gratefully received.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Firsts and lasts

One thing people always impress upon new parents is to keep track of baby’s first tooth, step, word, sneeze, favourite toy, etc. How you are meant to do this through a haze of sleeplessness, nappies, mountains of bottles and neverending laundry is beyond me. Clearly there are glaring blanks in our own baby record book. I always tell myself I’ll remember when she first started giggling but to be honest, I was probably too involved getting her to do it again or trying to capture it on video. Running off to get the diary wasn’t top of my list.

To make me feel worse, Google Chrome made this beautiful video ad which never fails to reduce me to floods of tears. 

Such a lovely idea and a much easier way of keeping track of landmark moments using video and photos (bit tricky sticking a video into my Beatrix Potter record book). My only concern with online records is that by the time my little one is able to appreciate them, technology will probably have moved on to such an extent that these files may no longer be accessible. 

Possibly more poignant than firsts though, is remembering ‘lasts’. In this beautiful article Jonathan Sale talks about the ‘final’ moments of parenthood: the last time your child wanted to be read to, the last time your boys played football with you before moving on to more worthy competitors. 

On the evening when I read the last bedtime story to the youngest child, I was not aware that this was anything more than another instalment of a Swallows and Amazons novel.
"I think I'd like to read to myself from now on," she said politely when I appeared after bathtime the following day, Arthur Ransome in hand. And that was it. She had closed another door and, indeed, book. If I'd realised in advance how significant the previous evening was going to be, I'd have hired a brass band and got Michael Morpurgo in to do the reading, with a film crew to record it for the family archives.

So I’ve dug out the embarrassingly empty baby book and am trying to fill it in – bearing in mind firsts and lasts. I’ve also transferred any videos I’ve taken of her to a dedicated file on my laptop. It’ll be interesting to see which of the paper or digital she finds more relevant in the future. I guess we’ll have to wait and see...

Have you kept a diary/record of your child's milestones? Where are you keeping the videos of first steps etc?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Jabberwocky mama

Yesterday I tweeted about buying a lottery ticket. I asked for a pick and mix until the women’s blank stare suggested to me I may have got this wrong. Apparently what I was after was a lucky dip.

Nevertheless, it did get me thinking to my poor, ill-used vocabulary. Despite being an editor, and therefore one would assume (and hope) somewhat of a wordsmith, the sad truth is that, particularly when talking, huge chunks of vocabulary tend to go missing.

Of course, I could blame baby brain, but if I’m entirely honest with myself, I’ve always suffered from this particular affliction. I do think it’s getting slightly worse though and naturally I blame my baby for this, not least because she can’t (yet) pipe up and defend herself. 

The problem is that babies like singing and varied pitches; no matter how tone deaf you are, singing to them never fails to delight. The problem comes about when you start rhyming randomly, making up words as you go along. As far as your baby is concerned you could be singing in fluent Italian, running through the periodic table, or reciting one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Clearly I started with this repertoire but then decided as she doesn’t know any different, ‘Twinkle,  twinkle little star, where’s the boogy bogey bar’ would do just fine. Alas, adults are not quite as forgiving so I’m trying to reign in the snogglejums so my recited shopping list sounds a bit less like a follow up to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.  

And by the way, my pick and mix lottery ticket was a winner! Sweeties all round with my £10.


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Miffy About Children’s Book Apps?

Iconic children’s book character, Miffy, has an iPad app. The 84-year old Dutch creator Dick Bruna doesn’t sound quite as enthused as I suspect the publishers would like him to be. "I think babies and toddlers need to get used to books first, feeling the covers and turning the pages, this is part of their learning," he said. "I wouldn't want too much interactivity – something to do on every page for instance – as I think that would make it too complicated for a young child."

Although a large number of parents would agree with him on this and to a certain extent I do too, I also believe it's pointless burying our heads in the sand when it comes to new technology. According this recent survey, 19% of  kids between the ages of two and five can play with an app compared to only 9% that can tie his or her shoelaces. 

Kate Wilson, founder of the brilliant children's publisher, NosyCrow, maintains publishers have really had no choice but to engage with new technology. The alternative, according the Guardian, is irrelevance in a digital future. The demand is there and even Miffy's resigned herself to progress. 

I see Wilson's point but I do think it’s important that whatever platform you use for entertaining you kids, it’s important for the parent to play too. Show your child how to use the app. Play with them and discuss the characters and activities. For instance, in this trailer for NosyCrow's Three Little Pigs book, the kids are talking amongst themselves and commenting on their favourite bits of the book. 

Personally, I think my little girl is just too young for apps just yet. She seems quite happy with her cardboard books and the only interest she's show in my iPhone is to chew on it. This is not encouraged I might add as she's also got to the banging/flinging stage and I'm quite attached to my gadgets. I suppose chewable/unbreakable iPads are in the pipeline though?

Do you have an iPad or similar and use apps with your children?
What are your thoughts on children being tech savvy before learning other life skills?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Beautiful Activity Book

Following on from my previous post, here is the cutest video of Belle and Boo's activity book. We've just had bathtime which is what got me thinking about it.
Belle & Boo - Bubbles Before Bed To Do Book by Mandy Sutcliffe from belle & boo on Vimeo.

Literary Decor for Baby's Room

Decorating a baby’s room just so is one of the more bizarre instincts that inflict the pregnant. It is also one of the most enjoyable.

Unfortunately, bad taste is a common side effect for those who are expecting - and I'm not talking about weird food cravings. For example, look at this weird moon that Christina Aguilera thought should be a focal  in her baby’s room when he was first born. And here I thought the idea was to try and avoid sleepless nights?

I spent hours on Pinterest looking up ideas for Little Bean’s room, as only an obsessively nesting mum-to-be can. Luckily when they’re quite young they really don’t have much of a say when it comes to their personal preference in décor and I pretty much had carte blanche. So I went with a literary theme in keeping with my own interests. I found some really lovely prints at Paperchase of classic children’s illustrations (Paddington Bear, The Owl and the Pussycat and Beatrix Potter) and had them framed in white. 

I’d also seen this illustrator’s work before (Belle and Boo) – I think it may have been on Etsy – and absolutely love her pictures so they went on the wall as well. And now I’ve just discovered that she’s written children’s books too. A few more to add to Amber's reading list then. At seven months she's already building quite a library!

Doesn't it just!

We're All Going on a Book Hunt

Hopefully the next spate of bank holidays will be sunnier and warmer than these Easter ones just gone.

But if not, here are a few (literary) ideas for days out with the kids. Although, to be honest, I’ve done some of these without kids too and found them just as enjoyable. 

Roald Dahl Museum

Great Missenden

Not your average stuffy museum by any means. In my opinion a museum with a chocolate room (it smells of chocolate, you can’t eat it, alas), makes this an instant winner. With loads of activities to entertain little ones, and the most exhuberant staff I’ve ever come across, this is well worth the trip. It’s also cleverly placed among a number of cute little shops for grownups to browse through which makes it worthwhile for everyone.

Thomas the Tank Engine

Events nationwide
My four-year-old nephew has Thomas the Tank Engine books, toys, lampshade, bed, toothbrush, wellies, underwear etc. So you might say he’s a real fan. Future trainspotters will love these events.

Your Local Library

At a time when many libraries are shutting their doors due to cuts in government funding, there’s never been a more pressing reason to visit one. Use it or lose it.
If you’re not already a member find your closest library here. Best visit the library and stock up on books to read prior to the bank holiday of course - it's likely to be closed then.
If you're struggling for entertainment for the kids outside of the bank holidays, many libraries do storytime for little ones too which is a great opportunity for you to let someone else do the entertaining for a few minutes and zone out. 

The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction

Bowness-on-Windermere, The Lake District
One of my childhood favourites: Jemima Puddle-duck, Mrs Tiggy-winkle, Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin – they’re all here ready to enthral your little ones, and take you for a trip down memory lane. And if you time your visit well, you can take tea with Peter Rabbit himself.
If you’re interested in the whole collection, the entire box set is available from The Book People at an absolute bargain. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

Once Upon a Time...

It's spring and in the spirit of new beginnings and fresh starts I've decided now is the perfect time to unleash my blog on you. I have been threatening this for some time but having a newborn has muddled up most things in my life, most noticeably my vocabulary. Even now it's a bit iffy at best so if you notice an odd word in the middle of an elephant please skirt around it - I'm sure you'll still be able to determine what it is I'm trying to say.

Although at the moment my daughter is devouring books in a very literal sense, I hope that one day she will realise that there are words next to the pictures (and food is far more nutritious) and so will begin a long and healthy relationship with reading. At the same time, my career is in publishing and I am too well aware of the drastic changes in the industry and of the rise of technology, in particular with regards to ebooks.


A few months ago this YouTube video caused a stir worldwide and shudders down the spines of a large number of book-loving adults. In it a one-year-old little girl struggles to get to grips with a magazine as the ‘screen’ doesn’t respond to her touch in the same way her daddy’s ipad does. Without reading too much into it, it does raise the question: is this how our children will be reading in the future?

I’m not against innovation at all. In fact, with a personal and professional interest in new technology this blog is likely to be both bookish and geeky. My intention with it though is to provide a literature-based space to discuss, review and recommend all things bookish for the little ones: new books, old books, apps, author tours, exhibitions, film adaptations, shows – absolutely anything.

Welcome to Little Magic Beans!