Thursday, 9 August 2018

A Cat For All Seasons

Today was international cat day, and it’s been rather a fun exercise to meander through the many shelves to pull out some of our brilliant picture book odes to the feline. Here's a miaow to our favourite classic cats, with new cats on the block and some marvellously arty cats to follow. We'd love to know your favourites too.

Some of my favourite illustrators of all time seem to harbour a penchant for the fabulous feline. My collection of Nicola Bayley's tales have been a treasured possession since childhood. The Patchwork Cat, by Nicola Bailey and William Mayne is a gloriously illustrated and lyrically written tale of a cat whose beloved blanket is disposed of for a newer version. But she loves her old rag and sets off in pursuit, finding herself lost and consigned to a dump... will she ever see her home again? Bayley also teamed up with Richard Adams (of Watership Down fame) to produce another catty classic - the poetic The Tyger Voyage about two adventurous feline brothers who set off to explore the world. Think Jules Verne for Tigers... Finally she worked with Antonia Barber on the classic Cornish tale of Mousehole fame about Mowzer the cat and her owner Tom who brave the Great Storm Cat to save their village and bring in some fish.




In a similar vein Richard Adams has also written a beautiful volume The Ship's Cat with Alan Aldridge which follows the swashbuckling adventures of another adventurous moggy - a thoroughly English cat, risking perils of the seas for Queen Elizabeth I against the Spanish threat; and Helen Cooper's The House Cat is a sumptuously illustrated and warmtale about a cat who is moved away from the place he really considers his home with owners who do not really appreciate him. We follow his harrowing journey home, all the way back to his little girl from the flat upstairs and the place he really belongs.


Another little beauty is A Dark Dark Tale by Ruth Brown "Once upon a time there was a dark, dark moor. On the moor there was a dark, dark wood. In the wood there was a dark, dark house..." A black cat creeps her way through the night following a trail through a mysterious old house. I used to love the creepiness of her journey, the suspense and the surprising coda.
  
Other treasured classic tales need little introduction , The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter, Judith Kerr's Mog, Dr Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, and various Ladybird classic versions of Puss In Boots and Dick Whittington.



Next, we have an appropriate marriage of two recently published celebrations of Edward Lear's most famous couple The Owl and The Pussy-Cat. Firstly a stunningly illustrated gift version of the original, then a sequel from the wonderful Julia Donaldson, herself a devotee of Lear and his talent for nonsense poetry. Lear originally wrote the illustrated poem for the poorly three year old daughter of a friend, and I've found it is one of the best first poems to introduce to a child. The girls particularly love the poem set to music as part of the fantastic Funkey Rhymes CD. Charlotte Voake's illustrations are simple yet dynamic. They convey movement, lightheartedness and a splash of childhood joy. I love how they look like watercolours and you can see some of the brushstrokes - a great inspiration for budding artists to emulate. Donaldson's sequel The Further Adventures of the Owl and The Pussy-Cat is also illustrated by Voake, and with Donaldson's seemingly effortless genius with rhyme, the tale continues in seamless form with the honeymoon of the unlikely couple. Following the loss of their wedding ring, the two are thrust on new adventures where they meet many others of Lear's colourful creations - The Pobble who has no toes, the Chankly Bore, even the Jumblies. It's brilliant. A wonderful Christmas gift for any child (the sequel even comes with a CD of Donaldson narrating the poem).

Finally, a couple of new offerings from classic authors.  Last year Quentin Blake was invited to illustrate an unpublished story by Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Kitty in Boots, rediscovered after 100 years. Potter said in letters that she had wanted to finish the story but "interruptions began", including the First World War, her marriage and illness. Her tale as she describes it is about "a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life". Beloved classic characters also make cameo appearances, but Blake's illustrations give the book a more modern feel.  





Meg and Mog by Jan Pienkowski and Helen Nicholl were also solid childhood friends. In 2016 Jan brought out a third title in a collaboration with David Walser. The illustrations are iconic - bold blocks of colour and distinctive soundbubbles. My edition of Meg and Mog is just about still in one piece...

Finally a huge success is Judith Kerr's latest feline picture book. 47 years ago Kerr wrote about her cat Mog, mentioned above as a true classic selling over 3 million copies. Mog has long since passed away - controversially perhaps Kerr even wrote about this in a lovely book about the loss of a pet. Last year Kerr, at 93 and having had 9 cats through her lifetime, brought out a stunning book with a new feline character (her latest cat Katinka) entitled Katinka's Tail - described by the author as "a white cat with a tabby's tail that doesn't belong". When people point out the incongruent markings, we are told she is a perfectly ordinary pussy cat... except for her (rather magical) tail. Culturetot immediately fell in love with this beautiful book, and so did my mum. At 93 Kerr's work is still exquisite, long may she continue to create. (For more on her background and inspiration see this post on The Tiger who Came to Tea).



Disclaimer: Most of the books discussed we own and several copies are being passed down the generations, but thanks go to Harper Collins, Warne and Puffin for review copies of recent editions.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Everywhere Bear

One of the more adorable shows we've seen this year is the warm-hearted, tear-inducing tale of a class bear, much loved and lost, sought and found. Each of Julia Donaldson's illsutrators bring a different flavour to her books and the combination of Julia Donaldson's storytelling and Rebecca Cobb's illustrations seem to produce tales uniquely brimming with emotion. Their first joint endeavour was the stunning Paper Dolls (probably my favourite of Donaldson's books). A loving mother helps her little girl make a chain of paper dolls, which become the child's most beloved play things. They accompany her on adventures, they face perils and experience wonders with her and all the time laughing and singing "You can't get us. Oh no no no! We're holding hands and we won't let go. We're Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow!". Then sadly one day a little boy snips and destroys them, believing they are gone forever; but of course they aren't - they fly singing into the girl's memory. They join her most treasured things and as she grows into a girl and a mother they remain in her memory and she too helps her own little girl make some paper dolls. This stunning book shows the real value of legacy, and how our acts of love and creativity with our children (and those of my own mother with me) will always live on. 

The more recent The Everywhere Bear has a similar flavour and skipping rhyming text. "With her blue pointy shoes and her hair in a bun, Mrs McAllister teaches Class One...." Just like many reception children (and Culturebaby as no exception) their classroom has a much loved pet that the children covet and wait in earnest to take home for the weekend. Ours was Charles. I must confess I have mixed feelings about Charles. Every Friday, Culturebaby would emerge from the classroom crestfallen: it wasn't her week. She hadn't done that special thing to earn her time with the picky penguin. But then her moment arrived, the look on her face, the excitement.... and the consequent memories. Perhaps it was worth the wait after all, and the pressure to show Charles a good time after his litany of weekend jollies to a range of exotic locations. Culturebaby took Charles on a boatride, to  Hampton Court, to the lido, he even did violin practice. Both girls still look back on it as a particularly happy weekend. 
Donaldson's Charles is the Everywhere Bear and he enjoys a range of activities with his Bijoux class of 19. Matt is new, so it is decided that he will take the bear home for the weekend. However, on the way to school the bear is misplaced and he finds himself disppearing down a drain, washed out to sea, caught in a net, displayed in a fish shop, thrown in a skip, and finally reeking of seafood he is picked up by a seagull and fortuitously dropped back near his school to be saved by the local librarian. 


The book is sweet, with adorable illustrations and Stickman-like it is an adventure with a happy ending. However, it is Peter Glenville's stage show that really brings this book alive, adding emotive episodes in spades and turning a cute book into a moving classic. In the show we meet Matt, not just a new boy but a nervous new boy with no friends yet. He is delighted to have the bear for the weekend and develops a close bond with him - spending quality time and growing very attached to him in the absence of real children to spend time with... it's hard being new. Matt is therefore completely devastated when, distracted by a cat in the rain, he misplaces the much-loved bear on his way to school. Wracked with worry he is unable to stop thinking about the lost toy. Meanwhile, nervous and alone, the bear is washed out to sea, destined for a series of challenging adventures as he journeys further and further from home - finally ending up in a tip alongside a Barbie with a broken heart. His care to an injured seagull finally leads to his happy return to the librarian that sees him home. The use of emotive music, humour, clever puppetry and additional scenes really add to the original tale, enhancing it and pitching it so beautifully as a tender tale of friendship and perserverance.


The children loved it and we were also privileged to attend a performance alongside Rebecca Cobb, who was clearly visibly moved to see the production for the first time. We asked her afterwards how it felt so see her work translated across to the theatre:
"It usually takes me about 6 months to illustrate a picture book and during this time I get very close to a story and feel very attached to the characters I am drawing. When I heard that The Everywhere Bear was going to be adapted for the theatre I was so excited but also nervous because I was worried about how I would feel when I watched the performance and I wasn’t sure if I would be happy with the way my drawings had been interpreted. But I really didn’t need to worry because as soon as I saw the puppets and the set I was overwhelmed with how brilliantly they had been created. I found it quite emotional to see all the work that had gone into transforming something that I had drawn on paper into 3D characters on a stage. The whole show was completely amazing and really true to the book and the rest of the audience clearly enjoyed it as much as my family and I did."

 

 The Everywhere Bear is on at the fantastic children's theatre, The Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, until 26th August. You can book tickets here.

Following the Polka, the show will tour to:

Thu, 13th September 2018 to Sun, 11th November 2018 - Little Angle Theatre, London

Thu, 29th November 2018 to Sun, 6th January 2019 - Royal and Derndale Northampton.



Disclaimer: We were invited to a press performance with a view to a review. As always all opinions are very much our own. With thanks to Amy Bramman at Kate Morley PR for arranging tickets and for press photographs, the Polka theatre for hosting us and Rebecca Cobb for sharing her thoughts.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Toddler Utopia: Dream Worlds, the Night Garden and Chaucer.


Last year I wrote about the simple and arresting joy of a trip to see In the Night Garden Live in Richmond and as we passed the inflatable snow dome this year (with children finally emerged from the target age category of this show) already they found themselves gripped with a nostalgia for these toddler household friends. I have re-posted a section from our previous review here to give you a taster for the show:

"In the Night Garden is an adorable production for the very young and rarely have I witnessed such unparallelled delight in little people as at the arrival of these household names in larger than life form before their eyes. In The Night Garden is one of those utterly bizarre, and probably genius, Cbeebies programmes that have captured the heart of a nation. At the slightest whisper of threat to children's programming, parents declare war in defence of Upsy Daisy the pacifier and Iggle Piggle the entertainer of their miniature brood. I'm not sure a few years ago that I could have imagined I'd be writing an article about this surreal toddler wonderland, but there too leapt I into the giant showdome, pre-schoolers in tow, and found myself surrounded by the Richmond parenthood chanting along in one voice to the unintelligible but gripping choruses of Makka Pakka, Akka Wakka, Mikka Makka moo! and Igglepiggle, wiggle, niggle, woo!  
I wonder what a future anthropologist falling upon some ancient footage might deduce from such scenes: who are these furry deities depicted on materials from dining equipment to painted bedroom walls, treasured in effigy and emitting strange and otherwordly chanting? But to the 2 year old, who sees true friends and companions in these colourful puppets, the whole phenomenon makes total sense.

There are again two shows available this summer, each covering a simple tale. Let's be honest these are not (for the adult observer) complex and gripping tales of adventure. In one Makka Pakka travels around the garden, introducing a range of his buddies and washing their faces. At one point he loses a sponge. The sponge is consequently r
ecovered. There are bubbles. There is dancing. In the Ninky Nonk show, which we saw last year, Igglepiggle loses his blanket and all his friends help him find it. But the joy created in this showdome is utterly infectious. It was a thoroughly happy event, with audible expressions of delight throughout from young and old alike. It isn't cheap and inevitably is rather commercialised, but it is a great child-friendly performance and good option for a first experience of theatre designed entirely for and on a perfect wavelength for the very young.

My (then) four year old, who in hindsight didn't consider herself too mature for the whole experience, was particularly taken with the sense of scale and use of various sized puppets to bring the Night Garden alive. A larger Makka Pakka emerged alongside the Pontipines, whilst a smaller puppet was used beside the enormous Iggle Piggle. There were glorious moments when Iggle Piggle's boat appears amongst the waves, when Upsy Daisy finally danced onto stage, and when projections of stars onto the ceiling made the whole experience multi-dimensional.

As I circled my toddler's palm with my finger as the show began and witnessed her childish awe at the familiar spectacle unfolding before her, the emotion associated with the brevity of this tiring but wonderful phase rather bowled me over. I found myself wanting Oliver-like to bottle the whole experience. For In the Night Garden - for better or for worse - seems to be a right of passage for today's toddler and now, as then, I recall the immortal words of Evelyn Waugh: "I should like to bury something precious in every place that I have been happy, so that when I'm old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up, and remember." "


Yet, what did I know back then as I noted the simple tales lacking complexity? This year I stumbled across a fascinating article in the New Statesman by Medieval and Early Tudor historian, Amy Licence. In her in-depth analysis of the plotlines and characters of this world between waking and sleep, with its utopian vision and eternal temperate summer, she unpacks its Chaucerian roots, including the strict literary conventions it follows from structure to setting and characters: "Parents can be reassured by the BBC’s admission that the “tone of the programme is deliberately literary” although it is perhaps more literary than they realise. What these tots are actually getting is a dose of the conventions of medieval poetry. Specifically, Chaucer’s dream visions."

"The programme begins with a sleepy-eyed toddler, lying in bed, having the palm of their hand stroked soothingly. “The night is black and the stars are bright and the sea is dark and deep” begins the song, almost hypnotically. Just as the toddler drifts off, so dream poetry often begin with the narrator lying down restlessly and hoping for the onset of sleep. As “the day began to fail and the dark night” arrives, as in The Parliament of Fowls, the boundaries blur between the conscious and waking worlds. Here, Chaucer’s narrator often meets a guide, who helps him navigate through this dream world. For CBeebies’ sleepy toddlers, there is the blue, fluffy figure of Iggle Piggle... Presented like a toddler’s drawing of a man, with his little shock of red hair and matching blanket, he is the “everyman” bridge between the worlds."


Upsy Daisy looks like, and is, a child’s doll. The heroines of Chaucer’s dreams are also similarly mannequinesque, with “golden hair and wide bright eyes.” One is even strangely boneless and unreal; her neck is “smooth and flat without hollow or collarbone” and “every limb rounded, fleshy and not over-thin,” while another is “a feminine creature, that never formed by nature, was such another seen.” They are as animate as the toys that people the Night Garden. Iggle Piggle’s little fabric heart, however, has been won. Quick to swoon in situations of intense emotion, such as a sneeze, he recalls the guide of The Book of the Duchess, eager “to worship her and serve as best I then could,” who declares his love but “she never gave a straw for all my tale.” The toys play with the ball, symbolic of the to and fro of romance. They are the lovers of medieval legend, forever enclosed within their perfect garden but childlike, safe and innocent. And, just as in The Parliament of Fowls, they have their own Cupid, the dumpy brown Makka Pakka, reminiscent of a little Renaissance putto." 

It's a fascinating piece - I recommend a full read here.

The magic of our last visit was also completed by a chance to meet the characters. Culturetot's little buddy found the experience a little too daunting (they are huge), but this year Culturetot really threw herself into the experience, chatting to the characters who were really excellent with the children. The joy was palpable. We also trialed a goody-bag. Often these sorts of themed packs can be poorly made, but the one we received had really high quality items - a soft toy, books and a breakfast set that is still a favourite a year on.

In the Night Garden Live runs annually and tickets can be booked at this site, though the website notes that this may be the last year in the showdome. The next two legs of the 2018 tour are at:

Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham
7 July - 22 July 2018

intu Trafford Centre, Manchester
28 July - 19 August 2018

There are 4 shows a day at 10am, 12 noon, 2pm and 4pm. There are no shows on Tuesdays. Each show lasts just under one hour.

We received a family ticket last year in exchange for an honest review of the performance. As always all views are very much my own. Photographs courtesy of In the Night Garden Live or our own.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

What the Ladybird Heard - Live on Stage



When Culturebaby was really young, one of the first pieces of childrens' theatre we went to see was the stage production of What the Ladybird Heard based on the modern classic by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Lydia Monks. It was therefore particularly lovely to revisit this all singing, dancing, rhyming celebration of brilliant writing for children.

The energetic cast of just four brings the book to life splendidly with catchy tunes, musical instruments and clever puppetry. Here we join a farmer and his yard of creatively crafted animals, including a prized cow who is frankly rather pleased with her own credentials. Using items from around the farm, the cast cleverly brings a host of animals to life. A horse emerges from a bath and a bike, a sheep from handlebars and a rug, a hog from a barrel and cart, a dog from a brush... Farmhands and theatre stewards double up as the crooks Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len who are determined to steal the farmer's prize cow and retire on the proceeds.
"Once upon a farm lived a fat red hen, a duck in a pond and a goose in a pen, a woolly sheep, a hairy hog, a handsome horse and a dainty dog, a cat that miaowed and a cat that purred, a fine prize cow... and a ladybird.

And the cow said, ‘MOO!’, and the hen said ‘CLUCK!’, ‘HISS!’ said the goose and ‘QUACK’ said the duck. ‘NEIGH!’ said the horse. ‘OINK!’ said the hog. “BAA!” said the sheep and “WOOF!” said the dog. One cat miaowed whilst the other one purred… And the ladybird said never a word."
Hugh and Len plan their great robbery meticulously - planning to follow the sound of the animals as they creep around in the dead of night - but with the help of an extremely talented ladybird, the animals are determined to protect their friend and foil the thieves' plan.

Julia Donaldson herself describes What the Ladybird Heard as one of her favourites amongst all the books she has written (she has since produced sequels including What the Ladybird Heard Next and What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday). She notes: "The germ of the idea was born when my youngest son, Jerry, had just started primary school and couldn't read yet fluently. The teacher asked the class to match up some animal words with their sounds. In Jerry's case the result was quite comical: a hen hisses, a dog moos, and so on. I couldn't help laughing (though not in front of my son) when I saw his piece of work, but I had no idea that many years later it would inspire me to write What the Ladybird Heard."

Donaldson has said how wonderful it is to see her characters come to life on stage and illustrator Lydia Monks has been involved in the development of the live show - which certainly captures the essence of her adorable illustrations. The challenge was to stray true to the short story, whilst extending it to an hour of theatre. The songs and audience participation achieve this in a seemingly effortless manner and the jolly cast managed to get everyone up dancing by the coda.

When we posted about our trip to see the show this half term at the wonderful Rose Theatre in Kingston, so many of our friends who have seen it agreed what a fantasic production it is. There are performances tomorrow in Kingston and then Ladybird will be touring the country. You can find a performance near you here.
"At the dead of night the two bad men (Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len) opened the gate while the farmer slept and tiptoe into the farm they crept. Then the goose said, “NEIGH!” with all her might. And Len said, “That’s the horse — turn right." And the dainty dog began to QUACK. “The duck!” said Hugh. “We’re right on track.” "OINK,” said the cats. “There goes the hog! Be careful not to wake the dog.” “BAA BAA BAA,” said the fat red hen. “The sheep! We’re nearly there,” said Len. Then the duck on the pond said, “MOO MOO MOO!” “Two more steps to go!” said Hugh. And they both stepped into the duck pond — SPLOSH!"
Disclaimer: We received tickets to the performance for the purposes of review. As always all views are very much our own. Images and quotes courtesy of the Rose Theatre Kingston and Ladybird Live. For more great family programming at the Rose Theatre see their website here. For more Donaldson, the Gruffalo's Child will be playing in October.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Let's All Dance: The Princess and the Frog


Since discovering Let's All Dance and their engaging, tailored and well pitched ballets for children, we've been to see The Owl and the Pussycat and most recently the Princess and the Frog. Short and (importantly) affordable, these productions feature two energetic dancers who engage with the audience and even have the patience to pose for a photograph with every single child after the production. This openness is indicative of the ethos of Let's All Dance which was created by founder Orit Sutton (who is always around to chat at performances) to combine fantastic dancing and beautiful costume with "crystal clear storytelling to engage and delight young audiences". We were sitting beside another family who admitted they were rather addicted to the series.

The Princess and the Frog is an original ballet and score, intended to open up classical ballet for the youngest of viewers. Based on a fairytale with an important message, the dancers bring to life the spoilt princess only concerned for her own games, and a frog desperate for a friend. Losing her golden ball into the pool, the princess uses the frog to retrieve it, promising a friendship she had no intention of keeping. However, little by little the frog and the princess become attached and as the princess's behaviour changes, ultimately she is able to free the playmate she has grown to love. 




As I've written before, one of the unique elements of the Let's All Dance Ballets is their intimacy. You feel closer to the dancers than in a normal ballet, with the Owl and the Pussycat it was almost as if the dancers had come to dance just for us in our own home, they were so close you felt as if you were on the stage with them. Though the Princess and the Frog was in a larger theatre the dancers still achieved this proximity to the audience, coming out into the aisles while they danced and inviting one lucky little chap onto the stage to take part in the performance.

Through having children I'm increasingly loving rediscovering fairy tales and myths and they remain core favourites in the bedtime story selections. Usborne does a great selection (from the very well known to the fabulous and more obscure) as part of their brilliant Early Readers series, likewise Ladybird has a wide selection and through the years has produced various versions of the Princess and the Frog - some strikingly 80s in style! Albert Einstein famously noted: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” The moral messages, the story construction, the imagination, their foundation in much adult referencing and fiction... Like myths and biblical stories, such tales form a canon of references that help us to understand our culture better. Seeing these stories come alive on stage in such a memorable way really adds to the magic of this discovery. We are loving Russian fairy tales at present. I'm even indulging in some adult editions. I highly recommend The Bear and the Nightingale and its sequel The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, and many of the ten year olds in our life are devouring the inventive School for Good and Evil.



Why not do some follow on science too inspired by the story? I've found that Spring is such a perfect time to explore the theme of life cycles. We have six brilliant Safariology life-cycle model sets which come in four or five stages of a creature's development and encourage exploration, sorting and play. The frog edition comes in five parts and is scrumptiously tactile for hands-on learning.


A few years ago I set up a simple pond-like sensory play tub with the frog set using a base of green water beads. This fun little resource (not for children who still mouth) grow from tiny beads with the addition of water, and they are slimy and squishable to the touch. Once the weather improved we also incorporated some of these little models in a spot of outdoor water play. We are also fans of pond dipping. See here for some associated summer activities.


Let's All Dance will be touring with their new production, Alice in Wonderland, from May.
Please visit their website for more info and to book tickets:
www.lets-all-dance.co.uk

Disclaimer: We received tickets for the performance for the purposes of review. All opinions are very much our own.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Baby at the British Museum

When I began writing this blog, Culturebaby was tiny and I was constantly on the look out for high quality, brilliant books for babies and toddlers to introduce them to art and history. Even 6 years ago there was very little on the history side. I gathered rather a lovely collection about art (see here) and began to piece together an Egyptian version (here and here) but with the exception of the gorgeous One Blue Hippo: An Ancient Egyptian Counting Book and quirky Tickle Tut's Toes there was little else for toddling archaeologists. I was therefore delighted to be approached last year to review the stunning progeny of a well matched marriage between The British Museum and publisher Nosy Crow. The resulting exquisite and fascinating books, which unpacked the collections of the museum in a bright and engaging way, really filled a gaping hole in early years provision for miniature museum-goers and their families. 

The first titles I'd like to talk about form part a series called Early Learning at the Museum. These four sumptuous and well designed board books are full of high quality photographs of items from the BM's collections, showcased against colourful backdrops. Covering Colours, Opposites, 123 and ABC (with others being published since), the books aim to develop the essential areas of learning for little people. I also love that these titles draw from a wide spectrum of the museum's collections from prints and drawings and paintings to textiles, jewellery, pottery and archaeological items. These may be objects found in perhaps lesser-visited galleries which encourage us to look beyond the sarcophagi to other intriguing realms. We journey from Japan to America, Africa to Scandinavia on a single page and are encouraged to look at the objects thematically, numerically, for their colourful properties or for their similarities across the ages or geography. Pitt-Rivers-like, we explore collections by theme, or we see wildly different items juxtaposed for their contrasting qualities.

The absolute winner of the pack for the girls who are now 4 and 6 is 123, which works from 1 to 20 items. The numerical element of this book allows for a kaleidoscopic array of items on many of the pages and the girls love working through it and selecting which item they would choose if given the option. We also play 'guess the oldest item'. Pages with selections of dolls, keys, bags, hats, spoons, cups and rings hold endless fascination.



The titles also come with internet codes for parents linking to further information, and are ripe for use with follow-on activities to discover the items in real life on journeys through the galleries. These I-spy activities are so effective and need little preparation (see here for an example with Tate's Matisse exhibition). I simply cannot rave enough about these brilliant and beautiful books.







Accompanying the Early Learning Series is a fabulous playbook, that suits a range of ages. Mixed-up Masterpieces again features a set of high quality photographs of faces from the British Museum's collections. From ceremonial masks to marble busts, Halloween costumes to figurines, again we travel through the collections meeting a range of characters. As babies finish with simple black and white shapes and begin to perceive colour (see here for why), they begin to be fascinated with faces. This book would be perfect for this earliest of stages; but it is also a creative puzzle for older children. The reader is invited to either discover the correct combination of facial features amongst 2000 combinations, or create their own weird and wonderful combinations.



Finally in the early years set is a new Egyptian title to add to our collection: Mummy! by Lerryn Korda. With the simplest of concepts and aimed at the 0-2 range, I thought when it arrived that it might be a little young for almost 4 year old Culturetot, but she's really taken to it. A little Egyptian girl can't find her Mummy and embarks on a journey on the banks of the Nile to locate her. Along the way she encounters a host of different Mummies - from animal to embalmed  - and finally finds her own. The loveliest feature of this little Board book is that it includes hieroglyph translations of a number of the key words, introducing the tiniest of readers to this most intriguing of languages.

For older children (as well as adults) there is also a beautiful set of several creative colouring books. Again inspired by the collections of the museum and with an inspiration guide at the end, these have been one of the most successful activity books for the girls as they loved the idea. Containing greetings cards paired with an envelope to construct, colour and decorate, and a sticker to seal it all, the girls were able to use this resource to make their own birthday and thank you cards for friends. Given the bonkers prices of greetings cards these days, these are also both excellent value and produce a rather more unique offering from the girls to any recipient. They even have a cute little box for them to sign "coloured for you by..."




Disclaimer: Nosy Crow is working with the British Museum in an exclusive partnership to create a broad range of children’s books to sell to the UK trade and beyond. The British Museum is ‘a museum of the world, for the world’. The books draw on the British Museum’s internationally recognised brand, its unparalleled collection of objects and its world-class expertise. We were sent copies of these books for the purposes of a review. All views are very much our own and we only ever review books we love and recommend.
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