In the maelstrom that is two children asking questions at the same time, the washing machine running, the dinner cooking (but still needing some attention), sometimes words emerge that go WAY back.

Sometimes they come out at bedtime, when the noise level has gone down, and there’s a slight chance that you can hear your own thoughts.

Sometimes there’s a phrase that resonated many years ago, has almost been forgotten – then saw its chance and jumped out of your mouth again.


Mini has a particular bedtime routine just now, which includes a song I make up as I go along. Sometimes I need a few rhymes to help it along.

The other night I was singing it and needed a rhyme for ‘legs’. Lo and behold, what should come to mind but ‘toothypegs’ – the kind of thing that no doubt my mother said to me when I was at a much more tender age.

Toothypegs brought on some giggles, and now it has become part of the bag of words and phrases that get repeated over and over – while playing, while walking along, while waiting for the bus.

Some time back, it was ‘in the wars’ – and you can read more about being in the wars in a previous post. (I still rather like ‘in the wars’. It makes a random bump and cry afterwards feel much more heroic.)


It seems to me that it is very difficult to parent afresh. You can try fancy new routines – or new books – or new ways of conveying suspicious ingredients into your little charges’ mouths.

Every now and then, though, the ghost of parental sayings past comes floating by.

At those points, you are generally beyond stringing a sentence together, let alone summoning enough patience for the latest ‘is – is not – IS – IS NOT’ contest.

And so a word makes its way from your childhood vocabulary into theirs. It’s quite sweet really, but a bit disconcerting when you had done perfectly well without saying it, or thinking about it, for over twenty years.

Maybe it’s the verbal equivalent of ‘phone a friend’ from TV quiz shows.

You’ve used up logic, you’ve uttered several of those ‘remove that toy crocodile from your brother’s armpit before I do X’ phrases that you never realised existed before.

Just as you scrape the bottom of the linguistic barrel, and think you might as well go back to grunts – the kids do, don’t they? – you get the little bit of help you need.

And it sums up all that it needs to – because it was part of forming your world when you grew up.

And now it becomes part of theirs too.

Toothypegs. There, you’re welcome. Just don’t forget to brush yours tonight.


Lit Kid: books with counting

Cometh the reader, cometh the reading preferences. Which is fair enough really – and it keeps it fresh for the adult narrator too.

Junior Reader could be relied on to spot rhymes. Sometimes to guess a rhyme before I’d read it. Or to fill in the gaps where I left a space.

Mini Reader is very suspicious of gaps. Where are the words, please? But give an opportunity to count in a book – just as in real life – and all is well.

I’m more a rhymes gal than a numbers person, but that’s OK. I wasn’t much of a diggers and dumpers person either, but I learned fast when Junior Reader required it.

So in honour of books with numbers in them, here’s a few you can count along with.


The Bear with Sticky Paws – Clara Vulliamy

“I don’t like this book!” Mini informs me. “We haven’t read it yet,” I say. “I don’t like it!”

I start reading anyway, and soon Mini discovers the numbers element – and requests an immediate rereading. (Always a good sign.)

First up, I need to tell you that this is a really beautiful book. Some readers with aspirations towards princessly activity will love it simply for the look.

The style of the drawings is lovely, and I can only dream of living in a place as nice. Think French mansion with its own patisserie to provide all the cakes in the book, and you are somewhere close.

There’s some nice rhythms to it too, with the ‘girl named Pearl’ getting cross at breakfast time, and going on to discover a partner in crime when a small white bear arrives at the door.

The bear is very hungry all the time – so Pearl has to keep feeding it. 7 pieces of pizza, 11 carrots, and 15 iced buns. And that’s just for lunch.

Each food item is lovingly drawn so you can count them all out – and of course decide which is your favourite bun / ice cream etc on that particular reading.

I won’t spoil the outcome of the story, but the counting rounds things off nicely at the end too. Do give this one a go.


I did my shout-out for The Very Hungry Caterpillar recently, so it’s just to remind you that there’s some decent counting in there too.

Each day, the caterpillar eats one more item – and by Saturday, there’s significant eating to be done, and counting to go with it.


There are many many books that include counting to 10. Some are more appealing than others – and let’s face it, if you are going for multiple rereads, you really want to have an appealing book for counting and recounting.

Here are a few more at various points of the spectrum:

One to Ten and Back Again – Nick Sharratt and Sue Heap

Many of us know Nick Sharratt’s distinctive drawings. They are all over books as varied as Jacqueline Wilson’s teen chapter books and pre-school books with Julia Donaldson of Gruffalo fame.

I have only come across this pairing more recently, and it’s a pretty good one. As both authors are illustrators, you get a mix of two visual styles on the same page, which adds more variety.

Sharratt’s signature pictures are black outlined, but Heap’s aren’t generally, so the impact is a little softer.

What I like most, though, is that the book doesn’t stop at 10 – it counts up and it counts back down again, as the title suggests.

This makes it a bit longer and adds a bit of positive challenge for your confident counter.


Who’s Hiding in Princess World? – Marks and Spencer books

Counting in books also brings you nicely to ‘spot the…’ books ie those ones where you have to find various items within a busy visual scene.

I mention this particular book because for every double page spread, it offers the chance to count a range of different items e.g. starting from 1 crystal ball to 2 ice sculptures, and so on, up to 10.

The plus point of this is that pretty much everyone can spot the 1 item, the 2 items and so on, so it builds confidence for those who find counting harder  – or equally those who find it harder to spot items if a scene is very detailed.

For the really keen counter, there are usually items to spot where you have to count up to 20. This is harder to keep count on the page, but can bring in maths strategies such as finding ways to group what you’ve counted, or to work your way across the page.


Anno’s Counting Book – Mitsumasa Anno

Anno books were popular in the 1970s, but it took until I was in my 30s to be introduced to them. Anno is a Japanese illustrator who creates exceptionally beautiful books which bear many rereads.

Anno became famous for depicting different countries and historical periods, but he also had his own take on pre-school activities like learning numbers and letters.

The counting book is very clever, because (like many of his books) there are no words, but on each scene, there are multiple pictures that encourage you to count.

On the 1 page, there is one of each item; on the 2 page, 2 of each item and so on, but all arranged much more as elements in a landscape.

The book goes up to 12, so it naturally ties in with visuals for 12 months of the year, showing how counting ties in to other maths notions such as progression of time.

I confess I haven’t yet tried this one with Mini Reader yet, but I have a feeling it ought to go down very well with my counter extraordinaire.


Any counting books you like? Or ones where you groan at a further rendition? There’s always space for more recommendations.

On that note, I feel I should add another item to my ‘books with holes‘ list, and remind you of this classic version of The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.

It’s a 1970s edition, and I was delighted to snap up my own copy in a charity shop one time. It’s not too hard to find elsewhere online, if you feel like adding to your own collection.

In the time it takes to cook an egg

It’s that mad dash to put food on the table in the evening. Back from a sports class, small people’s need to eat – and their limited patience while food is cooking – mean it needs to be quick.

Mini and Junior aren’t entirely reading off the same menu at the moment. That’s OK. Tea for three of us on in the background (an easy favourite); and now to time an egg for Mini.

Mini has decided that egg white is OK; egg yolk is ‘yuk!’. So I decide on a well-done boiled egg – not quite a hard-boiled one, but done enough to make the yolk easy to scoop out.

So what can you do in the time it takes to cook an egg? (Seven minutes in this case, in case you were asking.)

Turns out, quite a lot.


Open window to check for favourable noises from small people on the trampoline. (So far so good.)

Get today’s lunchbox items into the dishwasher; try and assemble some food for tomorrow.

Haul the laundry basket in and see if there’s enough for a full load of either colour.

Put away some washing that’s dry but has been hanging about on a chair for a day or so.

Put other items away in Junior’s school bag; check for any significant paperwork that might not have been mentioned to me.

Put a few other items in the hall ready for tomorrow.

Round up a few stray pairs of shoes in the hall.

Realise I am in close proximity to a bathroom, with no competition for it. Seize the opportunity…

…and the timer for the egg goes off, just as I’m reaching for the tap. So be it.

I realised, as I was going around doing the various things, I was also starting to compose a blog post in my head. So that ought to count as an extra.


The thing is, it’s hard to get those few moments when the natives are quiet/occupied.
The ones which mean you can get a run at those tasks that have been eluding you.
The moments that might mean you have less to do in the evening.

(If only you can decide what is you actually want to do in the evening, after bedtime, once you no longer have small people in front of you, demanding any number of things.)

I wrote up this list, not to berate others (or equally myself, on the days when eating anything after five o’clock feels like an achievement). Maybe to capture some of that crazy back and forth productivity of parenting.

The type where some days, you’ve feel like you’ve conquered the world AND cleaned the cooker in just a few minutes, because nobody needed a) a story b) the toilet c) your peacemaking skills or d) made any other simultaneous demands.

Much of the rest of the time, it’s a-d (at least) and more besides.

Still. The egg calculation worked. The washing went on. And no one fell over a pile of shoes when coming back indoors.

I’ll take that as a win.

Lit Kid: books with holes in

I’m not here to encourage you to get the scissors out (and you’d have a hard time doing so with board books).

But I am being reacquainted with certain categories of books, following in the wake of Mini Reader, who has some very definite ideas about what makes a good book.

One with holes in, for example.


We can agree on a particular one, certainly, which is the classic book with holes: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle.

I’m sure I initially came across this in paperback – and you need to be a bit more careful poking your finger through the holes in paper. This works even better as a board book, though we have it in both versions.

The conceit, of course, is that the aforementioned caterpillar, being very hungry, needs to eat, and so there are little holes in the pages where he has supposedly chewed through them.

There is some gentle maths thrown in, where he gradually eats one more item over the course of each day of the week – plus you have the days of the week element too.

But there’s also the visual aspect: each day of the week has a food of a different colour, as you progress over strawberries, plums, and so on.

Saturday is the biggie, when the caterpillar has his blow out meal, and regrets it after.

(There may not be terribly many supermodels nibbling just one green leaf the day after breaking their diet, but surely ‘just salad’ is following in the steps of the caterpillar.)

Saturday is of course the day that sticks in my mind from reading it as a child. It is partly the greed factor of so many items of food, partly the attraction of all the different things.

I’m sure it also drew me in to notions of more cosmopolitan fare – its pickles and salami, for example – years before I sampled either.

Mini Reader doesn’t necessarily put a finger in the holes of the book. But the days of the week are flipped very fast, so that you have to read quickly to keep up with them.

And we’ve had some happy discussions about just what is going on in that cocoon to bring the caterpillar into being that amazing butterfly of the final pages.


Junior Reader and I are fans of Harry and the Dinosaurs: a small boy with a proud pudding bowl haircut, but also (importantly) a plastic bucket full of his special toy dinosaurs.

I’ve mentioned Harry before – particularly when his older sister Sam riles him – as a good example of recurring phrases. But Mini Reader has introduced me to another book with holes: a story where you see colours through a hole in the page.

Harry and the Dinosaurs Play Hide and Seek introduces colours and shapes, as does another in the series, Harry and the Dinosaurs have a Very Busy Day.

Harry is hunting for his dinosaurs – and thinks he sees a different shape, page by page. You then lift the flap to see a larger object, each with its own dinosaur on it.

The book is therefore an additional way to talk about form and colour – as well as a chance for your own mini reader to test your pronunciation of Apatosaurus and Scelidosaurus.

It’s lighter on words than the conventional Harry books – but if you are looking for quickies to add to the growing pile of bedtime stories (Mini’s book total at bedtime seems to be on the increase), it’s light and fun.


I’ll add in a slightly different book with holes: a fold-out book which then forms a series of dioramas. (Mini Reader rather likes it too, at least to look at.)

I have a copy of Thumbelina from my own childhood – and am very pleased to find
a picture of the same issue, so you can admire it too.

There are I think six scenes, with not so much text per page – just enough to take you through Thumbelina’s initial escape, and the other places she seeks to find a home.

The plus side of the book is that each double spread folds out, so you can see two or three layers into each page. But the big excitement is that the covers of the book have strings, so you can fasten the whole thing into a lantern shape.

I think the notion, for the publishers, was to create some kind of mobile (think decorative hanging device, for those gentle readers who might think just of phones). There is a little loop at the top too, so you can certainly hang up the whole book.

The downside of this is that the pictures are quite small and detailed, and at ceiling height, it would be harder to admire them.

And it is worth admiring them: they are reminiscent of a do-it-yourself cardboard theatre
(I had one of those too as a child), with lots of levels of scenery to look through.


I can’t leave without mentioning Peepo again – one that I referenced before, in relation to the way the text rocks you along.

Peepo allows you to see a tiny part of a scene – then you turn the page and see the whole scene.

It is partly the fun of imagining the whole before you see it all, and partly a play on the notion of the book: the peeper is a baby, exploring his home, the park, the back yard, and so on.

Peepo is a classic too – known in particular for its illustrations that conjure up a world of baths in front of the fire, coal cellars, children making their own toys, Dad in his ARP uniform, mum in curlers.

Even as an adult, we want to look through the hole in the book – back to the world we may only just remember, or (for me anyway) recognise through stories and films.

Whether we find out more with our eyes – or whether our mini reader explores with their fingers – a book with a hole is an invitation. The world we are about to find is engaging – and safe.

As long as we don’t eat too many lollipops on Saturdays.

Drawing breath

There’s a wild dance out there called the summer holidays. (And yes, it’s the footslog through the trenches too, depending on how long the holidays are near you.)

Every summer is different, I’ve found. One year, the kids need lots of structure – like going swimming every morning, so that you have something at the same time every day. (At least for a week.)

Another year, they need lots of rest: because school demands more of them, or it’s just been a really busy time.

Some years, they need lots of playdates outside the house, before they, you and the walls around you implode.

And sometimes, being with each other is enough. (Sometimes, even enough for you to grab another coffee and tentatively put your feet up for a bit.)

It’s also different every year because of you. What kind of a year you’ve had. What kind of a summer holidays you’ve steered everyone through.

Some years, it’s about keeping you afloat, through this five minutes, and the next, and the next.


Our dance is done for this summer. I can already feel the evening temperatures changing.

Soon we’ll be at that point where there are unexpected shrieks because the spiders have decided the same, and are coming indoors for the winter. (Usually early September, I find.)

When I was younger, I used to relish autumn the most. I don’t do so well in high temperatures, in general, and September is a great time for sunshine plus slightly cooler weather.

When you are at school, September happens to include other lovely things like choosing new pens and pencils for school, lining up the stickers for your pencil tin, maybe even finding the perfect bag to carry it all around in.

(That was me in my teens. I have moved on a little since then, but I still miss my favourite school bag, the one that I resewed so many times because it was the best, and I didn’t want to try to replace it.)


This year, September will be about brambling – because going for walks and coming home with free fruit seems like a good idea.

It will be about seeing lots of people at weekends. That’s the season we’re in at the moment.

It will be about finding new books at the library; working out how much homework we can actually get done while one swims and the other sort of works.

It will be about pushing the food boundaries a little more for one; protecting the sleep of another.

But mostly – and I am writing this to myself, to remind me – it will be about drawing breath. Because even though new pencil tins are lovely, drawing breath is what I need the most.