CBBC presenters at work

I had been preparing my daughters all morning for disappointment, you know how it is, ‘that they might not see anyone they know,’ ‘how telly people were always busy and might not have time to stop and chat.’   How wrong could I be!  For young girls,  this weekend was what dream’s are made of.

It was the CBBC Summer Social at Mediacity in Salford.  I’ve worked for the BBC, and had my suspicions that access would be very controlled, but it was the complete opposite.  In the bright sunshine, my two completely overwhelmed daughter’s mingled with the presenters, saw actual people off the actual TV and were spoiled by lots of photos and autographs.  Everyone couldn’t have been kinder. (Blue Peter’s Lindsey Russell, Karim, Lauren, Hacker, the vet’s off Pet Factor need a special mention!)

It was such a great day.  My highlight, other than seeing the huge smiles on the girl’s faces, was unsurprisingly book-related.   The books tent wasn’t hidden away in some dark corner, ashamed to be alongside the blogging, u-tubing generation.  Instead it was right there, in a prominent spot for all to see.  Most ‘Awesome Author’ events had been sold out, and every hour queues formed outside as fans queued desperately to see their favourite author.  It was just so heart-warming to see!  And the authors were good, I’m talking Liz Pichon (Tom Gates), Pamela Butchart (Baby Aliens Got my Teacher series – very funny!!)  and Robin Stevens (Murder most Unladylike series).  There were more, but these were the ones that seem to feature most in my house.

Liz Pichon, Greg James and Chris Smith!

We also caught the tail-end of a book-signing with the very lovely Greg James and Chris Smith, who despite the heat and the length of queue couldn’t have been more accommodating.  They were promoting their first book, ‘Kid Normal,’ which I suppose I could be sniffy about, celebs turned authors etc but if it gets kids reading then why not? More the merrier and having already had a quick flick through the book I really hope there are more in the pipeline.

My oldest has come home and has barely taken her nose out of her new Tom Gates book ever since.  She’s never read one before, but is now determined to finish off the entire series over the Summer. My little one is still amazed that she meet Rastamouse, and last night took her new book from the series to bed with her.  To me, it seems that meeting the presenters was an unbelievable, exciting but short term experience.  I reckon the discovery of new authors; authors that are fun, bright and truly interested in them, will last much longer.


This is all a bit left-field I know I as bang on about books all the time, but I also just want to underline the importance of reading other stuff as well, not just books. I hate the fact to ‘be a reader’ you have to have read the most recent Booker Prize list, and know what’s in this weeks top ten. You don’t. You don’t even need to read books; magazines, newspapers, recipes books, instruction manuals etc anything as long as it interests you and fires off your imagination.

If you are visually happy, comfortable or whatever it is with whatever you are reading, that then it going to give off super positive vibes around the house. To be interested in what you’re reading is the key, whatever the age. It drives me potty when school books are slid into my daughter’s book bag of which she has absolutely no interest in. What is the point of that? I know it’s part of a drive to teach her comprehension skills, but as an adult you know that if you are in a meeting that you are not interested in, you switch off. Same with this. Usually, I pretend it’s been read after a quick skim read and wait for the next one in the hope that it will get better. There is a vast range of subject matter out there, and the reason is because thankfully, we don’t all like the same thing.

What I am most desperate to get rid of, is the label that reading is some kind of punishment, or forced activity. ‘Sit in the corner and read a book!’ ‘Go upstairs and read a book!’ Two phrases that I really hope aren’t used any more. Reading should be a pleasurable, leisurely activity, one that has good connotations for all.  If exposed to books, a child who likes reading will pick one up and get started. A child that doesn’t, must be shown that books shouldn’t be sneered at. There will be something out there that they like!



1 Magazines – for younger children the BBC ones are all great as they teach early phonics too

2 – Jaquliene Wilson magazine

3 – Footballing magazines full of facts

4 – Comics (Beano – yes, it’s still going!)

5 – Joke books

6 – Graphic novels

7 – Stories on the ipad

8- Cook books (think of the fun you can have cooking together)

9 – Annuals

10- Guiness book of World Records

I will get on to the subject of i-pads, apps and computer games soon enough but it is too big a subject to write about here.



I’m a Mancunian but I haven’t visited the floral tributes.

I haven’t fully explained what happened to my daughter, 8 years old and a huge Ariana Grande fan.  She knows the briefest details, but that that is all. Not that people were killed.  Only hurt.

I watched the concert, donated money but that is all I have done.

In all honesty, Manchester, I feel a bit of a coward.

I’ve worked as a journalist here in the city, brought up two children here and still haven’t felt validated to add my voice to all those already on social media.  But then I went abroad and got sad, really sad.   Gone were the ‘You’re from Manchester?  Manchester United – the best football team in the world!’ And instead we got, ‘Oh.  Manchester, you say.  Terror attacks.’  Now that hurt.  Really hurt.  How dare our amazing, creative, multi-cultural, busy, fun city be tarnished by such cruelty?  I remember looking out of the taxi window with tears in my eyes, not knowing how to explain how wrong they were.

On arrival back home, I thought long and hard about what to do.  I thought about my children and what their future holds.  I’ve always worried that my daughter’s school cares more about attitude than academia, but have they got it right after all? This term they have celebrated friendship, team work and tenacity.  They’ve both come home with certificates for ‘ always doing the right thing’ and the teachers have held celebration assemblies to ensure all the children know what is expected of them. Could this be exactly what I need too?

If there is anything I have taken away from this terrible, turbulent time is joy in the space we’ve created where it is OK to express love and support.   In the past, I have been terrible at this.  Insular and a little under-confident I haven’t ever really made much effort with the people around me.  New neighbours moved in six weeks ago and I have barely said hello.  An elderly lady lives two doors down and I have never checked on her to see how she is doing.  This has got to change.  I have got to change, and I want to follow my daughter’s example and not be afraid to celebrate what’s good in the world.

I’m not brave enough do any big gestures to help those directly affected, but I can do lots of small things to help those that weren’t.

I want to be a better person.

Thanks Manchester. You’ve shown me the way.




It’s a biggy.  Books and the bedtime routine.

This one is again about removing any fear of books/reading off the agenda, and making kids see reading as a lovely, shared activity.  It is now actually full-on, proper advice that the NHS give to get your little one to bed. Known as the 3 b’s (bath, book, bed), find details here : http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/getting-baby-to-sleep.aspx

I can’t stress enough how a bedtime routine keeps everyone sane. Having kids up with you in the evenings when you’ve already had a long day with, or without, them is no fun. What’s great, is that if your routine happens the same way from day one, then the child never knows any different and it won’t complain. It will never become a battle as they just presume the rest of the world lives like this! Also if you’ve had a really busy day at work, then that child knows this sliver of time is all theirs and no one else’s. It often means you can trick them into looking forward to getting into bed…and ultimately giving you that precious evening of peace!

In my house, and I’m not saying that I’ve nailed it every time, the reading part of the routine is the bit we all look forward to. My little one has to be limited to three, as otherwise we’d be there all night. (She knows more books mean less time asleep so I have to be tough.) After her bath/shower she picks them off her bookshelf, she then decides the order and then we are off. (Inside, this can be the point you are thinking ‘we are nearly there!’) Actually, when I say she chooses them, I don’t let her pick pop-up, noisy, lift-the-flap ones as I want her to stay as still as possible, and basically give her the best chance to nod off. Story-books are the way forward.   It’s more than likely that the books that are chosen are ones you’ve read a zillion times before but that doesn’t matter. Grin and bear it as often they are the books that make your child get to sleep faster. It’s all about security, knowing what’s coming next, the familiar routine which is so important at bed-time. (As a tip ‘the favourites’ are the ones to read if you are trying to get them down early if you’re going out as they are the ones that will relax them more.  Take a look at my book box ideas for a list of our all time favourites if that helps!)

When they are super small, you might feel like it’s a bit pointless to read a story to them as they clearly can’t understand it, but it is so important for them to hear your voice, changes in intonation, and have that bonding time when everything is a bit quieter and calmer. It can take a while to get there, and I remember saying to my Mum when my first one was born that bedtime seemed to take ages, but it’s been well worth it. Both children sleep really well and have always been fine about going to bed.

(The other great tip my Mum taught me was to get the baby to know the difference between light and dark, ie when it’s time to go to sleep! This means setting up the bedrooms BEFORE they go in it. Curtains closed, blinds down etc and nightlights on so that everything looks lovely and cosy. I promise, it makes all the difference. In Summer they then also question less why they are going to to bed in the light…)

As for older children, I still read to my 8 year old and it has only recently crossed my mind that one day, probably pretty soon, that is going to stop. However, at the minute, we are on a magical journey together, sharing books that I loved as a child. It’s been brilliant to re-read them and bless her, there’s a big list I want to get through! These reading sessions are less about getting the child to sleep, and more about chilling out at the end of the day. This is the time that any worries or anxieties can surface, so sometimes the reading time is replaced by just talking, which is just as important.

To sum up, my tips for a straight-forward bed time:

1 – bath etc before your child is too tired and can still enjoy it

2- pj’s on in already darkened but cosy room

3 – choose books

4- read books together, ideally with the child already tucked up in bed

5- Goodnight hugs and SLEEP!

6 – the happy sleep jig and a cold glass of wine…

If anyone has any other tips to add/share then I would love to hear from you!

OK, so here is my box book idea for ages 1-4.  Book boxes are something that I have thought of to encourage families to have books in the house.  We all have toy boxes, so why not book boxes?  You don’t have to be a reader yourself, this is an easy way to let your little ones explore books and never have to fear them.  1-4 years is my all time favourite age as reading is still just a massive adventure for them.  It might be a bit time consuming as they want to try and read stuff themselves but stick with it, as this is when you can really fire up their enthusiasm for books.  The list below doesn’t contain anything particularly new, instead just stories that have captured both my girls imaginations.  Some are classics so if you want to copy head to your library, charity shop or local independent bookshop to see what you can find.


1 -Mr Men series – Roger Hargreaves

I’ve gone all retro again, and I can’t say I agree with all the books in the series as they can be a bit out-dated, but what I do like it that they give kids exposure to words that don’t usually appear in their books. I swear these have helped give my daughters a wider range of vocabulary than normal.  If you read them enough (if you are anything like me it will be every night for about two years….zzzz.)  Anyway, they allow your kids to get to know standard emotions such as  happy, funny, mean etc and action words like sneezy, rush and so on and they get to learn what they mean through osmosis.  They are also small, so fit perfectly in your suitcase or bag whenever you go anywhere. The set is pricey (much better at The Book People) but you can buy individual ones for a couple of pounds. Our all time favourites are Mr Nonsense and Mr Funny.


2 – Literally Anything by Julia Donaldson

Here she is again (she also appeared in my 0-12 months list) , but this time it’s for The Gruffalo, The Smartest Giant in Town, Highway Rat, The Snail and the Whale, Zog etc. All wonderful stories that will be enjoyed over and over again. The way she rhymes is so simple yet so accessible to kids.  They are the perfect length to read at bedtime and use language that children can understand. The woman is a genius so I will say no more.  They also make great birthday presents.

3 – You Choose – Nick Sharratt

Image result for You Choose nick sharratt book copyright free

I think this is my all time favourite children’s book. There are very few words but the possibilities are endless. Put simply, you and your little one choose what ever they like from the pictures on the page, they then can be the inspiration for stories, characters, role-play etc. I use this book at work on kids right up to Year 5 and they love it. Simply brilliant, especially as it doesn’t matter if you can read or not as you still can get the same pleasure from it.  (Nick Sharratt also appears in my 0-12 month list.  The man is simply a god.)


4 – Oi Frog/Oi Dog – Kes Gray, Jim Field

These are such funny, clever, engaging rhyming books that will make you both laugh. They are great for word-play and such fun to read out loud. The kids love the characters as well, as they are really beautifully drawn. They really encourages kids to try out their own rhyming skills and I never seem to get bored of reading them, as you find something new every time you do. I love books that have something for the adults as well as the child.

5 -Dogs Don’t Do Ballet – Anna Kemp

Now I don’t actually own this one, but we must have got it out of the library about a hundred times! It really captured my older one’s imagination when she was little, as she loved spotting the cheeky dog on all the pages. It’s a lovely story to read at night as it teaches them all about getting stuck into something if you really love it. Again, humour is the key here.


6 – I love You, Blue Kangaroo – Emma Chichester-Brown

We love all Emma’s books, but Blue Kangaroo is the most popular in our house. My older one has a taggie that she adores, so I think she could relate to Blue Kangaroo in this story. There are other stories about Blue Kangaroo, and a lovely one for Christmas too.


7 – Totally Wonderful Mrs Plumberry/ Our House– Michael Rosen

He’s back!   My ultimate hero in kid’s books. These books also appear in my 0-12 month list as they are suitable for all ages.  He just seems to find a way of bringing alive something that is so important to children, but of which they might not be able to articulate. The child in Mrs Plumberry is just like both my daughters. So desperate to show something at school, but then someone else comes in with something bigger and better. Everyone should have a Mrs Plumberry in their classroom. As for Our House, if you have ever watched a group of children play you will understand this book.

8 – The Princes Bedtime – Joanne Oppenheim

Another beautiful rhyming one, that I did spend a full year reading as my daughter’s ‘last’ book at bedtime. It works wonders on kids that have a habit of nipping in and out of bed as it basically tells them to curl up and go to sleep. (It also makes you feel pretty smug and it says you are doing the right thing by reading them to sleep.) Lovely illustrations too.

9 – The Queen’s Knickers – Nicholas Allen

The title says it all really! It’s about a Queen and her choice of knickers. Now I don’t know about you but pants/knickers etc get talked about a lot in our family so this is just great to make you child laugh. It’s also got a bit choice for the child (she can choose her own favourite ones) and the ending makes them think that it’s possible you Queen might tip up at their school one day.

10 – Mrs Wobble the Waitress – Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Stepping back in time again, but I can’t really put into words how important these writers are to the world of children’s books. Their rhymes are so skilful yet so simple, and they can teach them so much. This one is part of a huge series, Mrs Plug the Plumber, Miss Jump the jockey etc and although a bit out-dated in parts the use of language is so important. Investigate all their work as you will find some real classics that you might even remember from being small.

* I use The Man Who Wore All this Clothes (just by Allan this one) to help reluctant readers as the repetition and routine within it is very good for making children feel secure with their reading. This is part of a series that they really enjoy.

As you can see humour, repetition and rhyming wins out in my family.  Have you got any other tips?  If so, I would love to hear from you. I’ve really enjoyed putting these lists together, I really hope you get the chance to have the same amount of fun!!