BOOKS & STORIES, FAMILY

World Book Day ~ The Beauty and Joy of Children’s Books

I have blogged before about how much I love books, especially children’s books, and really enjoyed writing about my favourite pony and animal stories from childhood – and confessing (as I absolutely don’t mind doing!) that I still keep and re-read them now. I loved looking at the Anne of Green Gables series too, which I’ve fallen in love with even more as an adult than as a child and count some of (Anne of Green Gables, Anne’s House of Dreams, Rilla of Ingleside ♥️) as my very favourite and most sustaining reads.

I really believe that reading can form such a huge part of growing and developing – and one of the things I’ve always looked forward to about having children of my own is being able to share stories with them.

We’re very lucky in Scotland to have a real focus on the importance of reading from birth onwards and even before. In antenatal classes we were encouraged to get used to reading aloud during pregnancy, Scotland’s Baby Boxes have cloth books and ideas for learning and playing from the Play Talk Read government initiative, and across the country free “Bookbug” classes are available for children from birth to school age in local libraries, run by the Scottish Book Trust, and age- appropriate books are gifted at every stage from a month on through the health visitor scheme, along with a calendar full of ideas for learning and developing.

In our short parenting journey so far we have discovered so many beautiful books for all ages through these recommendations, gifted to us by friends and family, passed down from our own childhoods or found in book shops and libraries; and are loving reading them to our little daughter. As so many of them are so special, I thought I’d love to write about them here, just a few at a time – and World Book Day seems the perfect day to start!

Home by Carson Ellis ~

The simple concept of this treasure of a book is the focus on all the many places different people call home; and it is the intracacy of its beautiful illustrations as much as its few well-chosen words that tell these stories so relatably and capture the imagination.

The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler ~

Couldn’t possibly have failed to include The Highway Rat as it fits so perfectly with the theme of this blog! It was a book I chose to add to our collection as it featured characters so similar to our own pets – the swashbuckling “baddie” the Highway Rat and his obliging horse! Its rhythmic verse, humour and eclectic mix of animal characters make it a book I know will become well-loved in our home, as I’m sure so many other of Julia Donaldson’s will too!

Peepo by Janet & Allan Ahlberg ~

This is a truly timeless book, documenting with such poignancy a day in the life of a baby in the 1940s. One of the things I love most about Peepo is how it somehow mirrors the events of the same even in the modern day – the rhythmic simplicity of playtime, bathtime, bedtime and family values are the same, just with the rich historic backdrop of life in that era.

Little Mole books, written by Jonathan Emmett, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban ~

This is a lovely little series of books featuring Mole and his woodland friends, with a strong focus on relationships and morals woven into simple and engaging tales. From the classic Bringing Down the Moon to the vibrant autumn colours of The Best Gift of All, they are a warm and appealing collection. I actually came across this blog post by the author when writing this, and see we have one, Diamond in the Snow, still to discover!

These are just a few of our very first picture books and would love to write about more so probably will. There are so many we’re just discovering as well as so many classics – Winnie the Pooh, Old Bear, Spot – who could have a chapter all of their own and who I’m just itching to pass on.

A very happy World Book Day all, hope you are all having a good week. X

FAMILY, PET TRIBUTES

Our Ginny ❤

When I was growing up, our house was always filled with as many animals as people – often more. The family life I loved and learned in was defined by the happy stromash of an exuberant springer spaniel puppy, an ageing Labrador, three children, an assorted collection of small pets and a kitten who quickly grew into a cat but never forgot to remain afraid of the lop-eared rabbit who was once upon a time bigger than her. First pets of our own were our first responsibilities and such a big part of growing up – goldfish to begin with and later my little grey gerbil Rustler and my very first rats, Charlie and Brodie, beginning a lifetime passion. 

Above all, we were definitely dog people. My earliest memories involve lying by the fire with our old golden retriever Shane, and as I got older walking our dogs was a highlight of my day and gave me my solitude and thinking time in amongst all the inevitable ups and downs of adolescence. 

Thirteen years ago this spring, we had just lost our last dog, a beautiful old chocolate lab called Penny, and our home just didn’t feel the same. It was only a matter of time before a new member of the family found her way into our lives – which was how it came to be that in 2004, as I was turning 16 and studying for my first round of school exams, I was absolutely besotted with the little black and tan collie pup who had come to live with us. ❤ 

Ginny was very timid when she first arrived – she was only 9 months old and although she had been given to the rescue centre along with her brother, they had made the decision to rehome her away from him as she had struggled to move out from his shadow in her last home. In ours, she initially had only Corrie, our tortoiseshell cat, for company; and, we all firmly believed as the first few years went by, Ginny began to think of herself as a cat too, curling anywhere Cor did and loving nothing more than to sit in a lap and be stroked, with very little regard for how big she was! ❤ 

Back in those days, Gin was so lithe and active and we believed she had some whippet in her as she cut about the woods where we lived, turning on a sixpence and never running short of energy. Thirteen years later, we help her around on walks with a special harness supporting her back legs which are now prone to giving up on her much sooner than she is done with the excitement of being out for a walk. 

From the very beginning of her life with us, Ginny was so loyal and loving to us all. When we all lived at home and she was young and agile she would career through the house of a morning, finding us all in our beds – for years my days began in the best possible way, waking up being pounced on by the puppy, ready to play; a much-loved era and one any stay back at home always brings a happy reliving of nomatter how many years have gone by. 

A faithful sheepdog at heart, Ginny has always taken her self-imposed responsibility to round us all up very seriously indeed; and she has continued to keep tabs on us even as we’ve all grown up and come and gone from the family home; always one eye on the door if we’re not all together, and reaching a level of happiness and relaxation so lovely to see when she has achieved her goal in life and has all of us around her of an evening.

As is life’s way, there have been so many twists and turns in our shared story as the years have gone by, and such a huge expanse of time has been crossed together as a family. People, dogs and cats have merged into our little flock and Ginny has always accepted them without a moment’s hesitatation, adding them to her headcount and extending the same love and loyalty she offers everything in life. There’s no way of knowing what lies ahead, and quite how life might change for us all as it meanders on. But, come what may, I’ll always be grateful for all these years, and for our Ginny dog herding us together and being one of the lights of all our lives. 

With Corrie, 2005:

Playing in the snow, Christmas Day 2009:

Me with Ginny, our beautiful old deerhound Maisie (with us 2007-2014) and Charmer, 2012:

Summers in the garden:

Ginny, Maisie and Phoebe-cat out for a walk in their usual formation, 2013:

Getting ready for my wedding in 2014:

Waiting patiently for someone to come home, 2015:

Out walking with her new younger sister Katy, 2017:

Our Ginny…. ❤❤❤❤❤

BOOKS & STORIES

In praise of Pony and Animal Books… Childhood Favourites <3

Aside from my animals, another of my major passions in life – and one which has similarly been a constant throughout my childhood and adulthood alike – is reading. From as far back as I can remember I have loved to read, and some of my earliest memories are of my earliest books. I remember finally reaching the stage of being able to read by myself as the beginning of a magical era where I could just become lost in another world while I breathed in a whole story from start to finish. From the heart-thudding dashes I made through the caves of Kirrin Island with the Famous Five to the memorable day I was right with Harry, staring wide-eyed at Diagon Alley and Hogwarts for the very first time, I fell fully into the worlds on the pages before me and dreamed of them in games, daydreams and my own stories scribbled in jotters long after they were over.

Some of the books I loved most however, especially in my earliest days of reading, were animal and especially pony books. It’s a genre sometimes belittled or viewed as frivolous or unimportant; when in fact nothing that inspires a passion for reading in any child should be. Reading about animals or children relating to their pets and ponies drew on both my love for those themes and my growing love for being swept up in stories, and some of those books from my primary school years are the very same ones I find myself plucking off the shelf now when I need an  escape or want to revisit the long ago worlds I loved so much and that children’s authors took the time to create.

The Hodgeheg – Dick King Smith

This little story was of the first I can remember reading for myself, a beautiful book aimed at maybe ages 6-8ish and with large print but – so excitingly to me and I’m sure so many other children – in “novel style”, a paperback book with that real book smell, thin rustling pages and hidden within them a wonderfully endearing tale of Max, our unforgettable hedgehog-turned-Hodgeheg hero.

Animal Ark books – Lucy Daniels

The Animal Ark books came along at just the right time to be a firm favourite in our house, swapping them between us as children and always marvelling at who would be in what next – Goat in the Garden, Badgers in the Basement and Pony on the Porch becoming contenders for favourites, but nothing comparing to the first discovery of Puppies in the Pantry and Kittens in the Kitchen – the Hope family’s valiant efforts at helping and treating animals over and over again in the small village vets’ surgery as untiring as our appetite for the next book to appear. I remember being more disappointed than I should have been to learn in this modern Wikipedia world that “Lucy Daniels” was in fact a team of writers churning out these titles faster than any one person could – but in the end all that mattered was that, whoever it came from, we were gifted the ammunition for years of imagination-stretching vets’ surgery games in dens with our friends and entranced Christmas holiday reading.

The Animals of Farthing Wood – Colin Dann

The Animals of Farthing Wood – dashing Fox, wise Badger, poor Mole with all his self-esteem issues, Pheasant ever in a flap, and all the rest – had me utterly captivated as a child as they banded together to make their perilous journey onwards towards White Deer Park. In addition to reading first an abridged version of the book and later once I could the full one – and watching the TV show of course – , I collected the weekly Farthing Wood Friends magazines, and learned so much about wildlife as a result. They were always so educational, teaching about animals’ habitats and behaviour in great detail, and had me so interested in the world around me and engaged with all and any wildlife and nature that might cross my path.

The Jill Books – Ruby Ferguson

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Jill Crewe, like the Famous Five had before her, arrived recommended from the older generation in my family, and had already been the pony-book heroine of my mum’s childhood when she became mine. Headstrong, kind in spite of her flaws and not afraid to challenge the sometimes elitist world of horse ownership, Jill had me onside from the word go and made me laugh, swell with pride and smile as she navigated school, gymkhanas, ill-fated money-making ventures and general adventures with her faithful ponies Black Boy and Rapide.

The Midnight Fox – Betsy Byars

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In The Midnight Fox, Betsy Byars brought to glittering life for me the night sky on the farm, the uncertainty of Tom’s emotional turmoil at the beginning of the book giving way to first the lessons this unfamiliar rural life had to teach him and later completely to his desperate desire to save the black fox from her fate. An absolute treasure of a book, I learned with Tom that if you can find a passion that surpasses everything else, something to believe in and to strive for, you can find courage amidst self-doubt and make a difference against the odds.

Midnight Dancer books – Elizabeth Lindsay

Possibly my very favourite of all, Elizabeth Lindsay’s Midnight Dancer series truly had my heart, in spite of only being six short and relatively uneventful books. Mory and Josh’s childhood and upbringing by their parents and extended family closely resembled my own and I loved the familiar warmth of life at Black Rock. Mory always battled with her worst self but somehow managed to come out on top, appreciating and – when the situation merited it – fiercely defending her family, friends and pets alike. I liked her instantly, before even the world-changing moment when she looked up to the hill and saw the black pony standing there. Mory’s Dancer was everything I dreamed of in a pony and when a few years on I was lucky enough to come to own Charmer, my own midnight black pony, I shared her lack of ability to quite believe it – and in fact still do to this day, the best part of two decades on, often marvelling as we amble out on a post-work hack at how my trusty pony ever came to be mine. The Midnight Dancer books were being published annually in my later years at primary school and were the reason I waited for the book fair to roll in to school, always so excited to pre-order the next adventure, count down the days until the delivery arrived and trace my fingers over the red and gold embossed lettering that stood out on every cover throughout that long school day before I could run home to start reading.

All of these stories – poured into well-thumbed paperbacks, most of which I hold onto tightly to this day – made up such an inspiring chunk of my childhood. They taught me valuable lessons about the world around me, gave scope to my love of the animal world and inspired so many dreams of the future; and I will be forever grateful for them.