Greek Myths re-imagined for toddlers – book review and giveaway

How cute are these Mini Myths books? When Abrams & Chronicles Books asked if I’d like to review them, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

I loved the idea of children getting a (very) early introduction to the classic Greek mythology. It’s foundational to Western literature, after all.

But could complex and somewhat terrifying stories like those of Pandora’s Box and Hercules’ Twelve Labours really be re-imagined for toddlers?

Mini Myths-2-2

Mini Myths-3-2

Three-year-old Talitha and I love these books. She requests them over and over and I’m happy to read them repeatedly. She even asks me to read the section at the end which tells the original story in full.

In Be Patient, Pandora, Pandora is rei-magined as a mischievous tot who opens a box of cupcakes her mother tells her not to. When the contents come flying out, only one with a heart remains, symbolic of hope.

Using humour that young children immediately get, the book goes to the heart of the myth’s message. The same can be said of Play Nice, Hercules.

Instead of killing his whole family (eek!), Hercules wrecks his sister’s building blocks. As he helps her put them together again, those familiar with the story will notice that each block bears an image representing one of the labours Hercules had to accomplish to redeem himself.

In fact, when we’re reading the story in full, Talitha loves to identify a block for each labour.

Mini Myths-4

Play Nice, Hercules
and Be Patient, Pandora, written by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli are truly beautiful and imaginative hardcover books. I’d love see Holub and Patricellis’ take on more of the ancient myths in future.

Abrams & Chronicles Books is giving away three sets of these books to readers of this blog. To be in with a chance of winning, tell me what your favourite Greek myth is and enter the Rafflecopter widget below. If you’d like to purchase your own copy, the books retail at £4.99.

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Giveaway ends 12.00am on October 2nd 2014. Open to UK residents only. Entrants’ email addresses will be passed on to the Circus Queen newsletter – you can opt out at any time.

Vanilla Salt – a book review and giveaway

You might remember that one of the items on my summer bucket list was to read five novels before Autumn officially starts. I’ve only read one so far, so I’m rather behind but one is better than none!

I’ve just read Vanilla Salt, a first novel by Iberian chef Ada Parellada.

Admittedly it isn’t my style, really, and the translation felt clumsy to me but what a fun romp. What’s more, it’s full of powerful culinary descriptions that reveal where the author’s true passions lie. Alex is a fiery an opinionated chef (think Gordon Ramsay with a lot less charm) whose restaurant is going out of business because he’s alienated his customers, critics and employees. Annette is an explicably sweet French Canadian who is an enthusiastic social media foodie. She comes to apprentice in his kitchen for an experience and certainly gets one.


To win a copy of Vanilla Salt, enter the Rafflecopter below and tell me how you find the time to read.

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Alma books sent me a copy of Vanilla Salt and are fulfilling this prize.

UK residents only

Post listed with Loquax and The Prize Finder

Little Readers’ Day Out – Saturday 28th June

I think we started actively reading to Talitha when she was three-months-old. We felt a little ridiculous reading to this tiny baby who hadn’t a clue what was going on but persevered, hoping that she’d come to share our passion for books. In many ways, books were the best part of my own childhood.

I love seeing Talitha really taken with them now. She can often be found on the sofa “reading” to herself. She also loves to bring books to “read” to Ophelia. When we’re out and about, she usually wants to know if there will be children’s books wherever we’re going. She’ll play for a while then tuck herself away for a little quiet time having a flip through a book.

She’s started obsessively asking us what each word says, recognises a few short words and can even sound some out. It’s so interesting seeing this process of learning to read unfold, interwoven with a desperate love for books.

So we’re looking forward to going to the Routes to Reading Little Readers’ Day Out this Saturday (June 28th) at At Bristol Science Centre from 10.30am to 3pm. It’s going to be a fun day of story-telling sessions, rhyme time, workshops, live window art, competitions and giveaways, and expert advice and support – all aimed at 0-3’s and their families (older children will also be catered for).

They’ve said that popular children’s authors Paul Stickland (Dinosaur Roar!), Michelle Robinson (How to wash a woolly mammoth) and Jan Dobbins (Driving my tractor) will be making guest appearances. If you live in or around Bristol, hope to see you there?

Little Readers Flyer

Follow Routes to Reading on Facebook or Twitter (checking them out has just informed me that Peppa Pig will be there on Saturday!)

Breastfeeding and Birth books for children – review and giveaway

It always surprises me how interested children are in reading about the everyday. As in, I think we’ve probably read a book about going to the library – at the library. Books can powerfully demystify potentially scary or confusing experiences like going to the dentist or feed their natural curiosity about things like plane journeys.

That’s why I love these two books published by Pinter & Martin: Monica Calaf and Mikel Fuentes’ You, Me and the Breast, and How You Were Born. We’ve had You, Me and the Breast for quite some time and will be donating the copy Pinter & Martin sent us to our local La Leche League group.

It’s one of Talitha’s favourite books. She will request it over and over, given the chance – usually wanting Daddy to read it. So it’s given me the giggles hearing Laurence read: “When you came out of my tummy…”

To be honest, I didn’t really “get” it for a while. It just seemed weirdly over-factual for a children’s book, if that makes any sense. But now that she’s at the age where she’s asking questions about everything and we talk about things that she did when she was a baby (mainly because she has a baby sister), I can see the appeal. The Picasso-style drawings seem more adult than kiddy, really, but she likes them.

How you were born

I like that the baby grows into a child who is clearly a child but still breastfeeding. She can identify with that and, even if she couldn’t, because it shows how normal breastfeeding past infancy is. It’s also great that it ends with the boy not needing to breastfeed to sleep anymore. It’s a hint that he’s on the path to weaning but that it’s not a sudden thing. For us, that’s been a part of our conversation around weaning and that it will some day happen.

As for How You Were Born, I think we love it equally. There is so much to talk about in the images and it gave us lots to chat about regarding Talitha’s birth as well as Ophelia’s. The birth described is natural, straightforward and at home.

It may not be exactly the way it happened with both of them but it’s a lovely image of birth that I’d like her to have. I love that contractions are described as waves. All in all, birth is not at all painted as something to be feared but a beautiful, peaceful and powerful experience. I love that this is her introduction to the process.

Talitha reading

We’ve already read it many times and this quote gets me each time:

“They say that the two most important days
in your life are the day you are born
and the day you find out why.
We will always be with you on this journey.”

Pinter and Martin is giving away a copy of each of these books on this here blog as part of the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt. Comment and tell me what you want your children to know about breastfeeding or birth and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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Giveaway ends midnight Tuesday 8th July 2014. Winners will be contacted shortly afterwards. UK entrants only.

The books retail at £6.99 each but with code “HYWBBLOG200” you can get £2 off per book plus free postage when you buy directly from Pinter and Martin.

Win competitions at

“Breastfeeding Made Easy” by Carlos González – Book Review and Giveaway

Dr Carlos González is something of a legend among many breastfeeding supporters. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve been party to that opened with concern over a child’s fussy eating and concluded with a recommendation of his book My Child Won’t Eat. I flew through my own copy of it last year, both reassured by his scientific understanding of what was going on with my toddler and frustrated that he wouldn’t give me any quick and easy fixes (because, well, she’s human so there aren’t any!). I haven’t had a chance yet to read his other book Kiss Me, though a review in The Guardian made me desperate to get my hands on it.

I was excited, then, to hear that he’d written a book on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Made Easy is published by Pinter and Martin who also published La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. The book is an extensive guide to breastfeeding, drawing on González’s evident experience and knowledge as a paediatrician and breastfeeding supporter. He has a real gift for making the scientific accessible without dumbing it down. Breastfeeding Made Easy arms mothers (and those around them) for success with common sense supported by properly cited references.

If I had to sum up the over-arching message of this book in a word, it would be “believe”. González admits that if every woman believed that breastfeeding works, he wouldn’t have to write this book. The book tears apart myths that stand in the way of breastfeeding, providing solid information on how things happen. He tackles the ordinary breastfeeding experiences as well as the extremely rare problems. Everything from plugged ducts to prescription drugs, hypoplasia to HIV, baby led weaning to guilt gets a look-in. If something is unlikely to be the case, he’s not only frank about that but he’ll even give you an idea of what the odds are.

And it’s all very conversational. This isn’t a hefty textbook. It’s a friendly guide that would make a great gift for a new mother or a friend who is expecting. You can dip in and out, looking at sections of particular interest or fly through it, cover to cover, as I did.

In the interest of balance, I noted two points for concern though I feel both are minor. In the section on pumping, González suggests giving the bottle of expressed milk a good shake, which as far as I know is no longer recommended because it disturbs the composition of the milk’s particles (though it’s still good milk). The other is that he doesn’t seem to believe that medical galactagogues (drugs that stimulate milk production) work. I can’t agree with that, personally, but then I’m guessing that medical opinion must be divided on this point.

Having begun a second breastfeeding journey, I found Breastfeeding Made Easy a helpful read. It’s one of the books I wish I’d read it before I’d had my first child. The insights aren’t restricted to the newborn period. There’s lots here to take the reader through the six-month mark, past the first birthday and even into the third year or so. And, as with so much of González’s writing, we’re not just talking about process, mechanics and facts here. Primarily, this is a book about love.

If you’d like to win a copy for yourself, a friend or your local breastfeeding group library, tell me in the comments who you’d like to win it for.

THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW ENDED. Congratulations, Fiona!

Toddlercalm – A Gentle Parenting Read

For ages I’ve been telling people that I’m reading this fantastic book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith called ToddlerCalm: A guide for calmer toddlers and happier parents. She sent me a copy as a thank you for providing a quote at the book’s start. Yet I hadn’t got around to finishing it because I have an unrealistic reading list at the moment. Instead, I read the introductory chapters and would dart in and out of other topics as I hit times of stress with my toddler.

ToddlerCalm quote

Talitha, at two years and eight months has leapt to a new stage in her development where she often automatically tells me “no” when I ask or tell her to do anything. She also often does exactly what I instruct her not to do. It’s frustrating because this new expression of will isn’t one I’ve yet developed the creativity or calm to cope with. So, just as she’s growing and changing, I need to as well.

With the new baby imminent (38 weeks tomorrow!) I devoured ToddlerCalm. It’s such a quick and accessible read. I feel like I’m sitting with Ockwell-Smith, chatting about all things child, one to five.

As I sip my coffee, I don’t feel she’s condescending to me. She doesn’t present herself as the expert. In fact, she affirms that I know my child better than anyone. I moan about selective eating and tantrums I don’t understand. She doesn’t whizz in with one-size-fits-all answers but helps me to think things through, equipping me to reach my own solutions.

She’s pulling from personal experience (her own and others’) which reassures me that I’m not the only one walking this path and making mistakes along the way. Yet she also pulls together an impressive amount of research, drawing from neurology, child psychology and other disciplines. In fact, many of the books she cites are ones that have long been on my parenting reading list.

ToddlerCalm isn’t a religion. I don’t feel I have to agree with everything. Most of it does speak true to me, though. I’ve never been comfortable with using praise, rewards or punishments as disciplinary strategies, even when I couldn’t explain why. This book gets inside why they don’t work for all children in the long term and what our alternatives could be. I’m not, however, too hot on the potty training views. I believe that babies are born ready, we just don’t listen to their cues to help them with their elimination needs.


While ToddlerCalm very much focuses on understanding young children and learning how to parent them with unconditional love, this isn’t to be confused with parenting permissively. This isn’t a framework in which children have no boundaries or discipline. It’s simply thinking about how we can guide them while respecting them, and with long-term effect. Sometimes, they will cry. That’s unavoidable. There is space for both compassion and limits here.

I’ve previously taken a short parenting course with ToddlerCalm, so was already familiar with some of the concepts the book held key. However, this was such a helpful and timely read for me. Even since finishing it last week, it’s helped me to be more patient with both Talitha and myself. Already I’m finding that I’m enjoying our time together more. I’m also beginning to address habits I’ve not felt good about for quite some time. I feel freer to follow my instincts on a lot of things. All in all, I’d lend this book to anyone with a whole-hearted recommendation.

PS: I’ve included an affiliate link to Amazon. That just means that if you click through and buy it, I’ll get a few pence to spend on a cuppa or something.

Pregnancy Tales – Journeys into Parenthood

I just finished quite a fun read, Pregnancy Tales – Journeys into Parenthood, edited by Amy Tilston. I zoomed through it, in fact, as it’s a light and often entertaining read. The book claims to gather together stories of parents telling their stories as they really are. From conception to birth, young mothers to mothers with many years between their children, unplanned pregnancies to long struggles to conceive, a wide range of experiences are told. The book is at times humorous and often heartfelt. I imagine it would make a good gift for a pregnant friend, especially if it’s her first pregnancy.

The stories are told through a cacophony of voices. At times, it’s a bit Mumsnet and, at others, it’s kind of The Vagina Monologues. I admit, I found the use of acronyms a bit distracting though I understood that they’d been retained for authenticity and there were a few typos here and there. Overall, though, I felt like I was in a room with those women, listening to their stories. There was something quite enjoyable about that. I would have liked for the book to have included more of the longer stories, where we got to stay with a woman for an extended part of her journey. I was drawn into Kathy’s story of falling pregnant at university and finishing her degree regardless, and found that I would have liked to have stayed even longer with her.

I must admit, too, the birth stories chapter left me a bit sad in the way that watching One Born Every Minute does. There were hardly any stories which weren’t highly medicalised or which featured the calm, gentle births I believe women can have. I understand that all the mothers were just speaking from their experience and telling it like it is but as someone who is preparing to do it again and doesn’t believe it has to be that way, I’m not sure I want to read this right now. It’s great to hear that women can get through just about anything but it would also be great to hear more stories where they didn’t have to.

Pregnancy Tales ends with some final thoughts from a second time mother, which for me, provided the greatest gem in the book since I’ll be doing the newborn thing while doing the toddler thing. Rachel writes: “First: being a mum is a noble task. But that task is made up of hundreds of menial tasks. The challenge is not to mistake menial as meaningless.”

On the whole, I think the book encourages women to talk about life-changing experiences that others may not consider so important and that’s pretty valuable in itself. Pregnancy and birth connect us to other pregnant and birthing women as a universal experience. And we are not alone. We never have been.

Over to you – how much would you have liked to have heard (or would you like to hear) about pregnancy and birth beforehand?