A child’s imagination can be a lonely place without an imaginary friend

Reading Eoin Colfer & Oliver Jeffers charming children’s book Imaginary Fred, the tale of a lonely imaginary friend, brought to mind my daughter and her own version – Ahsoka.

Star Wars fans will likely recognise the name of the famed Jedi knight and rebel fighter from cartoons and books. She has enthralled my daughter since first seeing her in The Clone Wars.  As a powerful, independent, confident, and loyal character, I couldn’t ask for a better imaginary companion for my daughter. 

My daughter’s friend is not the teenage or adult female version of Ahsoka. She is Ahsoka when she was a little girl, just like her. She is a part of our family, sitting with us at meal times, accompanying us when we’re out & about, sleeping in her room at night. Sometimes, my daughter leaves her home with me to look after.

She can also misbehave, which my daughter complains about because it annoys her. Ashoka often objects to things that we ask our daughter to do. For instance, me: “Do you want to come to the shops with me?”. Her: “Well, Ahsoka says she’s too tired to go.” When she can’t get to sleep, she blames Ahsoka who keeps talking to her. It is a real friendship, full of intrigue and dynamism.

Their relationship has evolved into becoming sisters, and we are her adopted parents. In context, all of this makes sense.

My daughter, unlike most of her friends, is an only child. And, much to her disappointment, she is likely to remain so. But she is a very social person, who loves spending time with her friends, and is constantly wanting to arrange playdates. She adores school because she gets to spend all day with them.

We do our best to play with her, crafts, LEGO, Star Wars, video games – but she has an emotional need for a playmate. With Ahsoka, they play dolls together, board games too. Sometimes they run around and chase each other.

In Imaginary Fred, the story develops that Fred (the imaginary), fades away into the clouds when a child makes a real friend – because he is not needed any more. But what has been an interesting development in my daughter, is that Ahsoka is becoming part of her playdates.

The other week we were in a playground with her best friend – her actual best friend, not the imaginary one. They were having a great time playing together, and when the activity turned to the imaginative, Ahsoka was brought into the game by my daughter. What really surprised me was her (real) best friend was going along with it too by involving Ahsoka in the game, and making sure she was ok.

I have worried – as parents are want to do – whether this focus on her imaginary friend is healthy. But this is only a fleeting concern. There have been many times when I have called her bluff on an Ahsoka excuse, and she has retorted “But Ahsoka’s only imaginary daddy…!”

I love our daughter’s imagination, fuelled by wonderful stories such as Imaginary Fred. Such an imagination is a wonderful thing, but it could be a lonely place to be in for too long – without an imaginary friend to share it with.

=====

‘Imaginary Fred’ is out now, and has an RRP of £12.99 hardback, or £7.99 paperback.

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with publisher Harper Collins. 

Family Fever

Zog and the Flying Doctors – by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Zog and the Flying Doctors is not only another delightful children’s book from writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler – it’s a great story to counter traditional princess stereotypes.

Since Donaldson and Scheffler’s first collaboration with A Squash and A Squeeze in 1993 their books – including the commercial juggernaut that is The Gruffalo (1999) and the follow up The Gruffalo’s Child (2005) – have delighted children (and parents) with their engaging stories, delightful rhyming prose, and irresistible illustrations.

The pair’s latest collaboration is another sequel, and to a particular favourite of mine. 2010’s Zog told the tale of the eponymous dragon in training who struggles to keep up with his lessons. Over the years a girl named Pearl is a recurring figure in Zog’s life, helping him in his times of need.

Pearl is revealed to be a princess, and in a key plot point she enthusiastically relinquishes her royal role to become the doctor she always yearned to be. She even inspires the dashing knight who came to ‘save’ her from Zog, Gadabout the Great, to do the same.

Zog and the Flying Doctors

The sequel Zog and the Flying Doctors picks up where Zog ended. Pearl and Gadabout are the flying doctors of the title (they’re the doctors, Zog does the flying part), and the three of them roam the land helping various creatures in need of medical assistance – there’s the sunburnt mermaid, a unicorn with an extra horn, the Lion with the flu.

To my delight, despite the title, this book really focuses on Pearl, and her struggle to leave her princess past behind her.

While out on their rounds, Pearl urges them to stop by a palace to see her uncle, a King. Turns out that he’s unhappy with Pearl’s decision to become a doctor –  “Princesses can’t be doctors, silly girl!”, he tells her.

In classic fairy tale fashion, the king locks up the princess – seeking to control her and impose his idea of what she should be – a life of “Sewing pretty cushions, and arranging pretty flowers.”

Zog and Gadabout set about to free Pearl. Thankfully, Donaldson subverts the simple trope of the dashing knight rescuing the damsel in distress – Pearl is a world away from the cliched helpless princess, and she engineers her own liberation.

This is yet another great addition to the Donaldson & Scheffler partnership, with each author playing up to their creative strengths. Donaldson’s trademark rhymes make repeat readings aloud fun, and Scheffler’s distinctive illustrations bring these characters to life. Our daughter has insisted on multiple readings already, and we’ve had it less than a day.

But the icing on the cake of this delightful book is the way Donaldson once again subverts the princess stereotype. Pearl was already a key character I referred to when discussing princesses with my daughter, and I’m so glad that Donaldson & Scheffler have revisited her (this is only their second sequel).

This is a worthy addition to your families collection of Donaldson & Scheffler books – and if you don’t have any, Zog and this sequel are as good a place as any to start.
=====

Zog and the Flying Doctors, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, is available in hardback now and has an RRP of £12.99. We were provided with a copy free of charge for the purposes of this review.

Our 5 Best Kids Christmas Books to Read Aloud

There is clearly no definitive list of the best kids Christmas books. However, one story tends to dominate this time of year. Despite those who claim that Jesus is “the reason for the season”, and the tale of the birth of Jesus is a great one, there are plenty of other wonderful yuletide stories to expose our children to at this time of year.

Some of the other best kids Christmas books also involve magic, mystery, the promise of a better world, and the power of love & family.

We read a lot to our daughter, and at this time of year we bring out our yuletide big guns to add to our arsenal of great Christmas books to read aloud.

So, in no particular order, this is our selection:

Our 5 Best Kids Christmas Books to read aloud

1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasThere are few children’s books I enjoy reading more than the best of Dr Suess, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is certainly one of those.

If your only experience of this story is from the ridiculous Jim Carrey movie, please do your best to remove that from your consciousness.

Then sit back and revel in reading this splendidly Seussian tale of the disgruntled Grinch who attempts to steal Christmas from the citizens of Who-ville.

At nearly sixty years old, the distinctive illustrations lend a nicely nostalgic element that helps make this an endearing Christmas tale.

 

2. Stick Man

Stick ManA writer whose children’s books I enjoy reading aloud as much as any Dr. Seuss is anything by Julia Donaldson. Famed for the Gruffalo, her rhyming prose is once again teamed with Axel Scheffler’s delightful illustrations for Stick Man – about a father who longs for nothing more than to be reunited with his stick family at Christmas.

This is an easy one to read again and again, but I warn you that before too long you’ll be able to recite off by heart.

“Stick man is lonely, stick man is lost, stick man is frozen and covered in frost”

Will he ever get home?

 

3. Madeline’s Christmas

Madeline’s ChristmasMore lovely rhymes and illustrations are abundant in Madeline’s Christmas, set in the charming Parisian life enjoyed by the young girl. It is one of the much-loved series written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans.

Despite being set in a Catholic boarding school, this adventure take inspiration from the likes of Arabia and Persia.

In this story, Madeline is the only one in her exclusive girls school to not be bedridden with a nasty Christmas eve cold – yet somehow she manages to engineer a magic carpet ride adventure.

 

4. Mog’s Christmas 

Mog’s ChristmasFor some, Mog’s Christmas may bring to mind this already classic christmas commercial, marking Judith Kerr’s wonderfully endearing feline’s screen debut.

However, the original book of Mog’s Christmas is a nicely realised tale that explores the disruption that Christmas can bring.

Mog – being  a simple cat – has trouble understanding why all the extra family are staying, why there’s a talking tree walking into the house, and why everyone is too busy to play with her. Basically, it reflects what a lot of young children may be experiencing at this time of year too. It all comes right in the end though.

A delightful read, with great illustrations as always from the author.

 

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before ChristmasThe story is more well-known as the 1993 animated movie, but this book is not an adaptation. It is in fact director Tim Burton’s original poem, with illustrations by him, that he put together in the 1980’s (before he hit the big time) as a potential TV project.

The plot is broadly similar, but very streamlined, focussing on the main story of Halloween Town’s Jack Skellington who – bored of scaring people – opens a portal to ‘Christmas town’ and is inspired to celebrate the season – only he doesn’t quite know how to, and things go a bit awry.

While revelling in the ghoulish trappings of Halloween, this is an ultimately heartwarming tale of Christmas redemption. It is a really fun way to introduce the story and concepts to little children.

Do be warned – this is an American book, so there’s the occasional rhyme that makes no sense, e.g. rhyming ‘job’ with ‘macabre’ :s

=====

Purchase these books from Amazon UK:

Purchase these books from Amazon US:

====

What are your best Kids Christmas Books?

What’s the real meaning of ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’?

What’s really going on in Judith Kerr’s classic children’s book ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’? Is there a deeper meaning?

Having read it MANY times, and over analysed it, I’m pretty sure it’s not about a Tiger coming to tea…

the tiger who came to tea analysis, the tiger who came to tea meaning, the tiger who came to tea subtext, the tiger who came to tea meme
‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.

After a bad day of parenting, who hasn’t wanted to blame the tiger for all the things you haven’t done around the house.

And some days, I have certainly fancied cracking open the beers early. Potty training springs to mind. But moving beer o’clock to before all the household chores are done is a clearly risky proposition.

Look at the dad’s face in this picture. He looks a bit like he’s heard this all before. All credit to him, he goes along with it anyway.