November Reading 📚

Good morning all and a very happy Little Christmas Eve / Christmas Eve Eve… ❤️🎄 we are just about ready for Christmas to arrive here and settling down for a few weeks of quieter life again here as lockdown begins again on Boxing Day. Been without a phone I could WordPress on the last few weeks so have missed a wee browse and scribble here but newly back up and running now so been enjoying catching up on reading some lovely posts this morning, and thought would catch up (very late!) on November reads.

📖The Sealwoman’s Gift ~ Sally Magnusson 📖 My first read of November was Sally Magnusson’s historical novel, set during the pirate raids on the coast of Iceland in 1627 and following the story of the family of Olafur Egilsson, a real-life pastor abducted with 40 others from a small island on the South coast. Choosing to focus on the untold story of Olafur’s wife Asta, this book imagines what this historical event must have been like not for the men whose experiences tend to be more well-documented but for the women whose stories are much less known.

Asta’s narrative is a raw and honest one and this is a heart-breaking and thought-provoking book about survival and holding on to a sense of self through great hardships. Icelandic folklore, the stories of many generations and the memories of a home far away weave through this compelling story, and as Asta forms relationships in the new world she finds herself in, similarities and differences between the cultures, religions and histories play out poignantly.

My mum had bought me this book a couple of years ago and I’d been really looking forward to getting it to the top of the to-read pile, but it was chosen as our book club book for this month and so I enjoyed reading it along with the others and having our usual virtual chat all about it last week, where it had been so well received by us all.

I especially enjoyed reading it at this time of year, as the twice I’ve been to Iceland, a place I love so much – on our honeymoon initially and again a couple of years later – were both in early November; – so in this at-home year it was so lovely to journey to a favourite place at a favourite time of year in Sally Magnusson’s beautiful descriptions of the sweeping Icelandic coastline and the unraveling tales of the Icelanders’ sagas.

📖 Christmas at Liberty’s ~ Fiona Ford 📖 I crossed over into the Christmas reads earlier than usual this year and am sure I will have more of them than normal too – I just absolutely and unashamedly love a cosy, comforting Christmas story so much; – and really enjoyed this first book in Fiona Ford’s Liberty Girls series, set in London in 1941, warmly telling the story of Mary and her friends and colleagues in the Liberty’s department store as they navigate the joys, heartache and everything in between of careers, relationships and the ever-progressing war, pulling together throughout no matter what they face. ❤️🎄

📖 Midnight Dancer – Running Free ~ Elizabeth Lindsay 📖 I never like to let too much time go by without returning to my beloved pony books, and this is one of my favourite books in my very favourite childhood series. I loved spending my evenings for a few days back in the wonderful world of Black Rock and Llangaby Farm more than ever – Mory, Josh, Cara and Lionel adventuring out on the hills with their ponies. What I love most about these books is Mory’s relationship with Dancer and how they grow together throughout, it’s always reminded me so much of mine with my own Charmer.

I picked this up again a couple of months ago and put it back down, with Charmer newly retired and my mind full of worries of how badly he was coping with his arthritis at the time and how uncertain his future seemed to be even just enjoying life in the field. Now, a couple of months on and my old man much more stable and thoroughly enjoying his life of leisure, it was so lovely to read it again, reminisce about all our yesterdays weaving between trees and flying over fallen logs, and appreciate so much how very lucky we are to still have each other and be enjoying this new stage too.

For anyone who loves pony books, I would so recommend Elizabeth Lindsay’s Midnight Dancer stories. Just six short books, they are just full of the warmth of family relationships, the rugged beauty of the sweeping Welsh countryside and the hard work and great rewards of life on a farm, with plenty of jumping or gymkhana practice and a good dash of adventure thrown in – just the perfect horsey escape!

📖 The Story Girl ~ L.M. Montgomery 📖 I love the Anne of Green Gables books so much and could read L.M. Montgomery’s beautiful writing all day so have been meaning to get more into some of her other works. The Story Girl was a lovely enveloping story full of the magic of childhood woven together with folklore. I had read that this was Montgomery’s own favourite of her novels and that strong autobiographical elements were tied in to some of the characters as well as many stories handed down from her Scottish and Canadian heritage, so I was all the more interested to read this – and I really enjoyed it and found it, as ever, a captivating and lovely read.

📖 One More for Christmas ~ Sarah Morgan 📖 As we move ever closer to Christmas I am looking forward to it so very much and loving reading some cosy festive books. This one was new for this year and I really enjoyed it. I’ve never read any Sarah Morgan before but I really liked all the characters in this book that was part romance (of course!) and also a very readable and complicated family story working itself out, and to the backdrop of the snowy Highlands. I just love warming uplifting Christmas books at this time of year and really liked this one. 🎄

November was a lovely reading month for me, more than ever just reading exactly what I fancied – an old favourite pacy pony book, two warming Christmas novels, a new branch of LM Montgomery’s incredible work in The Story Girl and Sally Magnusson’s compelling Icelandic historical novel The Sealwoman’s Gift. Both The Story Girl and The Sealwoman’s Gift were celebrations of stories themselves and beautiful examples of just how important they are; and I enjoyed all these stories very much in a wrapped-up November.

Hope you’re all now having a wrapped-up December and wishing you all a really lovely Christmas. X

The Little Ones’ Books ~ Pt 2 ❤️

I’ve been meaning for a while to write about some more of the favourite books of the young team here in our little house! I have always had such a love for children’s books, some of the favourites from my childhood treasured and re-read over and over; and I’ve loved getting to know some beautiful books for very young children ever since my oldest daughter arrived. I did write one post away back at World Book Day a couple of years ago that I had always meant to be the start of many but never quite got round to it. Now, though, I’m so enjoying writing about all my own reading on here that thought it would be a lovely time to start writing about our very favourites just a few at a time.

Last time had a look at Carson Ellis’s Home, Julia Donaldson’s The Highway Rat, Jonathan Emmet’s Mole series and Janet & Allan Ahlberg’s classic Peepo!

They are all still very well-loved additions to our bookshelf. Our Julia Donaldson collection has grown and definitely now have more of hers to cover! The Mole books and Home still make for lovely quiet reading and Peepo! especially has been a frequently-selected bedtime story for the last couple of years here and is one of the many our biggest girl loves to recite from heart after so many readings. It’s become even more special to us too since our littlest daughter arrived – we love the sister squabbling for the baby on her knee, all the chaos around the littlest member of the Peepo family, and most of all that he finds so much love and security in it despite its noise and bluster. ❤️

Old Bear books, by Jane Hissey

Starting with an absolute favourite of mine, and a collection so well-loved by us all, Jane Hissey’s Old Bear books are so very special thanks to the perfectly drawn characters, the warming stories and the detailed and simply beautiful illustrations. Although like so many others we’ve got really into, these are favourites from my own childhood (my copy of Old Bear dated to me at Christmas when I was one, and a story I’ve never forgotten), it is actually some of the more recently written books that are the best loved here. The All-Together Painting, published in 2013, is a really lovely one, and the newest addition to our bookshelf is the most recent, Happy Birthday, Old Bear, a beautiful 30th anniversary special, with all the old favourites and a new character, Elsie the little grey elephant, too – who has become as much of a hit as Old Bear, Little Bear, Bramwell Brown and all the rest.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram

This is a simple and lovely bedtime story that I never get tired of and that both girls love. Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare’s lovely exchanges as they move gradually closer to bedtime are just perfect, and it’s a beautiful little book.

Baby, I Love You – illustrated by Helen Stephens

We have two copies of this very special book and I’m actually going to keep them both so both girls have one – this is a UNICEF books created and published to support babies and new parents in those blurry early days and is just so beautifully done – the illustrations are perfect. I love that there’s mess, there’s imperfections, but there’s so much love in every drawing. These are gifted here as part of babies’ first Bookbug bags, and I loved receiving them both times, a really lovely, calming and reassuring gift for all the family to mark such a big moment.

Alfie: The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook by Shirley Hughes

This is one that arrived with us in lockdown – our biggest girl got a wonderful birthday present from her grandparents of the chance to choose a book a month through the year. We have had a great time doing it (mostly having them delivered as it’s turned out instead of bookshop browsing as planned!) and it’s been so nice that it can grow with her and be the perfect book for now. All our outdoor play in lockdown – gardens and tents and exploring the world on our doorstep – lent itself perfectly to being completely swept up in Alfie’s adventures, and all his games with his little sister Annie-Rose were wonderful too as we adapted to sibling relationships here. Shirley Hughes’ drawings bring nature to life in such a beautiful way, and this is a lovely collection.

There are so many books we’ve come across and loved, will definitely write with some more soon!

Hope you are all having a good weekend. X

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

Wisdom from Green Gables: An ode to Anne, a kindred spirit…

I loved so much writing a while back about my favourite pony and animal books from my childhood, and about what an amazing outlet they provided for passions which have defined so many stages of my life. I knew then I would love to write too about some of the other books or series which have been friends to me throughout the test of time, and as I have recently been cosily reading through the Anne of Green Gables books – their joy undiminished by the passing years – they seemed a perfect place to start. Anne Shirley gets a free pass to be included here first off purely because I love her so very much, but also because she holds in such high esteem family, friends, home, and the wonderful world around her – all things I do too, and love to pour into this little blog.

Some of her favourite phrases are ever-present at the back of my mind – whenever I meet someone new I love to see in them a “kindred spirit”, and when all else fails it is as Anne says “truly lovely to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

Her enthusiasm for life, her unwavering faith in the beauty and wonder of the world around her, her flaring temper and her equally passionate love for her people all contribute to her well-deserved status as one of the best loved children’s characters of all time – and a true favourite of mine.

Anne treasures home to her heart among her very closest loves, a tendency I identify with very well:

““I wonder if it will be – can be – any more beautiful than this,” murmured Anne, looking around her with the loving, enraptured eyes of those to whom “home” must always be the loveliest spot in the world, no matter what fairer lands may lie under alien stars.” – Anne of the Island, L M Montgomery

At this time of year particularly I understand her most of all – I don’t think a day has gone by in this beautiful and ever-changing month that I have not thought how grateful I am for October…

Source: Thediaryofdaveswife.com

… And now as we approach November, possibly my favourite month of all, I long to see those crimson sunsets and hear those deep passionate wind songs in the pines once more.

(Source: Cranialhiccups.com)

This weekend has been spent mainly comfy on the couch, a spiced apple candle lit and the wind billowing outside while I read Anne’s House of Dreams – in between trips to the farm for autumnal rides in the golden-leaf-framed world and time with friends old and new, hands wrapped round mugs, appreciating the company and good times.

 In her spirited approach to every challenge she meets, her romantic streak and her settling as the years go by into the warmth of the people around her, Anne’s outlook on life is one of hope and unwavering optimism, and she is forever an inspiration to me and truly a kindred spirit of mine.

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.