Life with two Smalls and a fistful of daydreams

cbaNNigel Hinton’

I discovered Nigel Hinton’s work when I was at primary school – my teacher of the time, Mr Galbraith, used to read a chapter of a book to us each day and one time he chose a book called Beaver Towers and I fell in love (with the book, not my teacher…)

Something about the world of Beaver Towers, the baby beaver who can’t say Phillip properly (‘Flipip!’) and the three Mechanics (hedgehog siblings), the magic and mystery and danger clicked with me and I wanted it all and I wanted it now.

I’m fairly sure he read us the whole series – or at least the first two or three – and after each one I dragged my Mum down to the library so that I could get it out and read it again (and again and again). There was just something about the books that I couldn’t get enough of – I bought myself copies of the entire series when I was studying a Writing For Young People module at university because I wanted to read them all again, even then.

Now I think about it, Mr Galbraith introduced me to a lot of books I adored and it was definitely him who really kindled my desire to write and planted the determination in me to carry English through to at least college level (and in the end, University too). He also kept poking me to get my handwriting to an at least readable level so that when I did my writing other people could actually understand what on earth I’d put on the page – my writing is still scruffy but it’s a lot better than I think it would have been without his stubborn coaching!

My next Nigel Hinton discovery was The Finders, which my Mum gave me for Christmas and I have also read and re-read it countless times. A story of magic and faith in friends, The Finders ticked all my boxes with flying, furry angels and an angry Djinn (a great word for Scrabble I have since discovered – lots of points and several alternative spellings!) I know it so well I can picture scenes from it in my head as I type and am now fighting the urge to grab it off the shelf behind me and read it again. If you ever want to buy a book for a nine-year-old, I suggest this one or the Beaver Towers books – they are great.




So often Christmas turns into nothing but flashy lights, presents, money, tinsel and noise – the spirit of it gets buried in the wrapping paper and stresses about turkey. This week my three songs are ones that remind me to stop and remember that Christmas is about love, hope, faith, sharing and celebrating the arrival of Jesus.

New York City Christmas by Rob Thomas

Peace On Earth/The Little Drummer Boy by Bing Crosby & David Bowie

Saviour’s Day by Cliff Richard

Three more next week!!

341decArthur went to a birthday party today and his party bag was full of pirate goodies so the theme for the afternoon was very much treasure and pirate ships!

342decIt was Arthur’s turn to find the right book in the Advent Book Calendar box tonight. It’s a great way for him to practise his numbers without knowing he’s doing it ;)

343decI am so proud of how well Tori is doing with her reading at the moment. I love listening to her read in the evenings.

344decI put the Christmas decorations up whilst the kids were at school today and the look of wonder and joy on their face when they got home made it totally worth it.

345decHow fab is the last page of the book they had in their calendar today?!

346decIt was Tori’s school carol service this afternoon and I just adore this shot of her with one of her friends at the end :)

347decToday the Smalls and I headed off to Leeds for a Christmas dinner and party at a friend’s house – we were meeting Caius there (he’d been in Edinburgh with work all week). We had to catch four trains and I have to say that the kids were brilliantly behaved and the whole journey was a lot calmer than I had feared it would be. The party was well worth the trip, too :)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Illustrated by: N/A

Series: N/A

Published: Harlequin Teen, 2014

Edition: Paperback

Print Length: 384 pages

Narrated By: N/A

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Romance, LGBT Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Where Did I Get It? I borrowed a copy off Liberty Gilmore

Blurb: In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

Opening Line(s):

The white people are waiting for us.

My Review: From the moment Liberty started reading this book, she started telling me that I needed to read it. She was right.

Lies We Tell Ourselves paints an all too clear picture of how it must have felt when desegregation first began in schools. Talley doesn’t hold back and it gets pretty brutal – it was scary thinking all this happened within living memory and pretty much still happens in some places. It showed just how far we have come – racism when I was at school was never said with any more venom than jeers about glasses or getting straight A’s. I had to think really hard to even remember any happening – the idea of spitting on a classmate just because their skin was a different colour occurred to me about as much as spitting on someone because their pencil case was blue. It just didn’t cross my mind.

But back then it did and Talley transports you there with alarming clarity, not just showing the violence from the pupils at the school but the lack of response from the teachers and the pressure put on the coloured students by their own parents. They were expected to stand up straight and walk on through it even though they were just teenagers at an age when such self-confidence is often low at the best of times. The fact that Sarah and her sister, Ruth, did just that – with a quiet, solid certainty in their step – is utterly remarkable. Their bravery throughout the book, even when they were questioning themselves was inspiring and the fact that society is where it is today proves that there were some real Sarah and Ruths out there when it was all happening.

Having Sarah and Linda battling with feelings for each other as well as trying to overcome their differences with regards to race was a brilliant twist to the plot. It brought depth to the story that a mere friendship couldn’t have done – the hurdle they had to climb was much larger and much more emotionally charged.

The extra challenges this relationship brought in regards to Sarah accepting herself were particularly poignant as she struggled to reconcile her feelings with her strong religious beliefs. In our current society, where the war of same-sex marriage is still being constantly fought all over the world, this storyline feels very relevant and makes it even easier to relate to. The fact that Sarah finds peace with herself and trusts that God made her as she is and therefore loves her regardless will hopefully bring reassurance to some who read the book – I felt it was sensitively and cleverly covered.

I remember Noughts and Crosses causing a storm when it came out whilst I was at school and I think Lies We Tell Ourselves is even better and will hopefully get as much attention – it is a powerful novel and, I think, an important one for teaching acceptance and tolerance in all things.

My Rating: 5/5*




Books have always been a part of my Christmases and the same goes for Caius. We are doing our best to give the same warm memories and fondness to Tori and Arthur as they grow. If you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook then you will no doubt have seen that this year I have made the Smalls an Advent Book Calendar to really make sharing winter and Christmas stories a part of the season. I only bought one new book to put in the box, my mum provided one new one and the others I found on the kids shelves and from my old book collection – this means the kids will discover new stories, revisit old favourites and get to share in stories that I loved as a child. I can’t wait to do it all again next year with a few new books in the collection alongside favourites from this year and again and again as they get older and the books mature with them.

Sorting through all these books made me think about favourites – and this post stars four books that are firmly in that category: On Christmas Eve is one Caius & I both had as children, Stick Man is Arthur’s favourite, Tori loves reading The Christmas Kitten and The Night Before Christmas is quite simply essential Christmas Eve reading (it is the number 24 book in their calendar).

As somebody on my Facebook said, you can’t go wrong with the duo of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and Stick Man is a perfect example of their combined genius.

The illustrations are bright and detailed with lots of detail to talk about and keep the attention of even the most scatterbrained child (such as Arthur) and this, coupled with Julia Donaldson’s funny, rhyming text makes for an immediate winner.

The repeated phrases through the story make it great for all joining in together and the rhymes make it flow smoothly all the way through (aside from the one couplet where ‘scarf’ is supposed to rhyme with ‘laugh’ which doesn’t work if you’re of Yorkshire descent, like me.) The appearance of Santa causes squeals of delight every single time we read the book even though we read it a lot and I love the fact that the Gruffalo makes a cameo appearance as a tree decoration part way through. It’s the little details like that which show how much love went into making the book and make it so much easier to love as a reader.

I am fairly certain my mum bought Tori her copy of The Christmas Kitten by Caroline Repchuck a few years ago and it became an immediate favourite. It is a very large book, hardback, with thick pages that can withstand little hands and make the book feel as beautiful as it looks. To add to the feel of the book, each and every page is embossed so you can feel the rich illustrations as well as look at them – this simple addition brings another dimension to the story and makes the book really stand out from the crowd.

The story itself is sweet and full of feel-good moments as everyone in the forest works together to unite the Christmas Kitten with her intended owner after she accidentally falls out of the back of Santa’s sleigh. It’s the sort of book that makes you want to have big, warm cuddles afterwards and leaves you feeling fluffy inside.

A beautiful book that relies entirely on pictures with no words at all (aside from those on the girl’s Christmas list in the pictures) On Christmas Eve is a delightful story that perfectly ‘explains’ how Santa can find and visit children in houses that don’t have chimneys.

The easy-to-follow story is funny and charming and easily accessible and makes for both a great sharing book and a good one to read alone even when you aren’t a confident reader.

I love the use of traditional-style Christmas fairies – they are so festive and magical, it’s just perfect. Combined with the snow and almost soft-focus illustrations, On Christmas Eve is one of the most festive books I have ever read.

The Night Before Christmas is just something I can’t remember a Christmas without. Do people go through Christmas without reading/quoting it? We had a gorgeous pop-up version at my parents’ and Tori and Arthur received their own copy as part of the Parragon Book Buddies scheme last year which made me very happy – it didn’t really feel right not having a copy at home.

The classic poem by Clement C. Moore is full of the magic of Christmas Eve and paints such a delightful picture of the house, the family and of Santa himself – it is just perfect for reading right before turning out the lights on Christmas Eve, leaving you dreaming of reindeer on rooftops and Santa with his cheeks like roses and nose like a cherry.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!



The Diggers by Margaret Wise Brown

Illustrated by: Antoine Corbineau

Series: N/A

Published: Parragon Books, 2014

Edition: Paperback

Print Length: 32 pages

Narrated By: N/A

Genre: Children’s Fiction, Picture Book,

Where Did I Get It? I received a copy as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Scheme in return for an honest review.

Blurb: DIG DIG DIG! The Diggers are digging holes.

Animals and machines dig a journey of discovery in this hidden treasure from Margaret Wise Brown, author of the children’s classic Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny.

Opening Line(s):

DIG DIG DIG. A mole was digging a hole.

My Review: Sadly, the more of Margaret Wise Brown’s work I discover, the less I seem to enjoy it.

This book felt distinctly like a book of two halves. The first half was a nice jaunt around the world looking at things that dig – from moles to pirates looking for treasure – and then suddenly it was all about a digger making a tunnel for a train for the rest of the book. It seemed disjointed to me and I just didn’t like it.

The illustrations were bright and chunky and had plenty to look at. There was just enough detail to keep it interesting without being too busy and the way that the text wound down the tunnels that were being dug was very clever and looked pretty on the page.

Luckily, the kids (and my other half!) all disagreed with me and seemed to enjoy the book, which I suppose is the important thing. It won’t be one that I choose to pick up and read with them again, though.

My Rating: 2.5/5*




I have seen a few reviews of this on blogs and websites and I would love to get a copy for Tori and Arthur. The message of sharing and acknowledging the fact that there are children in the world who are perhaps not as lucky as others is one that I feel is important and the Smalls are old enough now to understand it.

The illustration style is beautifully detailed and it comes in a presentation pack that relates to the story – with the book in a ‘Special Delivery’ sack and a tiny silver bell from Santa inside so you can recreate the magic of the story with your children. Maybe even encouraging them to join Drew in donating a toy or two back to Santa in the sack (you could take them to a charity shop) and rewarding them with the bell on Christmas day.

I love the magic of Christmas and this book feels as though it would add even more to the season than there already is.


It’s Christmas! There will be carols and candy canes and sparkling presents under the tree! But what about children whose families have no presents to give? Kind-hearted Drew wants to help them-but how? A magical story of how one little boy received a very special Giving Bag from Santa-and how his Christmas wish came true.

What books are you lusting after this week?


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