Bloomsday and the Boys

We celebrate Bloomsday every year by climbing the Martello Tower in Sandycove, the starting point for Leopold Bloom’s journey in Ulysses, and where Joyce once lived with his mad friend Buck Mulligan aka Oliver St John Gogarty. The tower now houses the James Joyce Museum, and our Bloomsday adventures are always peppered with impromptu performances from some of Joyce’s texts, which probably make more sense to the kids than they do to me. This morning, under a leaden sky, we were treated to part of an opera based on Ulysses, and the sight of locals variously attired in Edwardian gear.

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I am a veritable expert on Joyce’s life, if not his literature, so, in true juvenile style, I use the weirdest anecdotes to regale the children with as they rush past the glass exhibition cases and up the, extremely narrow, extremely steep steps, which my two hardy knights are adept at climbing. (Incidentally the first time we climbed them, my 4 year old was 2 and my 2 year old was a baby in a sling). The tower-top is very secure, though, and there is a cannon and a brilliant view of ‘ghost ships’ on the foggy horizon.

Now, I know what you are thinking, what could a 2 and a 4 year old possibly care about Joyce or his books? Well, here are my Top Toddler Facts about Bloomsday:

  • James Joyce was shot at by his friend one night when he was mistaken for a black panther.
  • The sculpture of his head in the museum is actually a copy of his death mask.
  • Leopold Bloom eats a gross-out breakfast of “giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
  • Oh, and he wrote two children’s books, The Cat and the Devil, and The Cats of Copenhagen, pictured below, so I suppose you could also say he had a thing about cats.
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Baby Book Club Review: Wolfie the Bunny

Wolfie the Bunny

By Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHara

Anderson Press

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This week’s favourite addition to the laden bookshelves is Wolfie the Bunny, a sweet tale about accepting difference in a family and a brilliant subversion of lupine stereotypes. When Dot’s parents take in a foundling cub, the bunny is beside herself: “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP.” He doesn’t though, but he does eat all the carrots, and a trip to the supermarket for supplies gives the unusual siblings a terrific bonding opportunity.

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The illustrations are thick with unexpected detail, and my boys were particularly taken with the back fly-leaf cover: a reverse glimpse of Wolfie with his tail popping out of his baby-gro. Dyckman’s text is great to read aloud, and the themes will resonate with anyone in blended families or adopted/fostered children. Recommended for 3+ (though my 2 year-old really loved it).

 

Baby Book Club Review: Let’s See Ireland

Let’s See Ireland

By Sarah Bowie

O’Brien Press

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We are delighted by the current wealth of picture-books that are helping us explore our native land. We regularly pull out Irelandopedia by Fatti Burke and John Burke, an enormous illustrated map book, to help us plan weekend trips or put into context the blur of a round tower we pass while speeding on the motorway. My boys are a bit too young to fully appreciate it yet, but anyone with kids in primary school chould have a look at it: it would be an original, and visually stunning way, to make geography more attractive to the reluctant student.

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Let’s See Ireland by Sarah Bowie provides a more basic introduction to famous sites around the country. As Molly and her parents embark upon a road trip around the island, their cat Mipsy hides in their luggage and goes along for the ride. The sites chosen are the obvious ones – The Giant’s Causeway, Newgrange, Hook Head Lighthouse – which are introduced in spare, cursory text. I would have loved to see a bit more detail given, as it makes the read-aloud quality a bit thin. There are further elaborations at the end of the book, but young children aren’t really fond of end-notes! My kids, however, really enjoyed trying to find Mipsy on every page, and that has sustained us over multiple readings. It would make a particularly great gift for young friends or relatives visiting Ireland for the first time.

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Theatre Review: The Magic Bookshop

We were thrilled to see The Magic Bookshop pop-up at the Ennis Book Festival earlier this month, where I had dragged the kids along to spread the Baby Book Club news. Produced by Monkeyshine Theatre, the performance is a 30-minute adventure through fairytale- land, bringing well-known characters to life and thwarting expectations with unexpected endings.

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Booksellers Peter (James Jobson) and John (Nicholas Kavanagh) are crammed into a tiny booth, taking care of ‘new arrivals’, the poor unloved and bescribbled books that are so far gone they will have to be shredded. Work is not as much fun as breaktime, however, when Peter and John get to indulge their preferred practice of recycling old books; turning them into 3-D pop-up paper-cut-outs that they use to animate a variety of well-known stories.

Monkeyshine have great fun confounding traditional plots but they also draw attention to the traditional structures of fairytales, and their telling gave rise to many conversations withe the 4 year-old about what other stories might have matched their settings. Although the stage and props were small, the gestures were big, and the balance between that energy and the delicacy of the physical worlds they created was particularly stimulating.

The age guide the company give for The Magic Bookshop is 5. Both my boys are younger, but they still loved every minute of the 30-minute-long performance. The 4-year-old loved the storytelling; the two-year-old loved the animation of the performers. I, meanwhile, have a longstanding obsession with paper-cut-outs, and I was amazed by some of the skill in Jobson’s prop-making, many pieces of which I would house on my own bookshelves (wolf mask please) .

At the end of the performance, you are invited to give a book to the proprietors and choose another from their well-stocked shelves in exchange.

Such a delight that we will be heading along when it plays at our local theatre in Dun Laoghaire.

Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, Sunday March 20th; Draíocht, Blanchardstown, Saturday March 26th. Siamsa Tíre, Tralee Saturday April 9th. The Dock, Carrick on Shannon, Thursday April 14th; The Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, Saturday April 16th. Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Sunday April 17th.

 

CD Review: Singalong Songs From Glasses Island

 

Due to their parents’ intolerance of children’s techno, my boys have had to suffer my idiosyncratic renditions of popular children’s songs for far too long. We were delighted, then, to hear about The Speks, a 6-piece Irish trad band, who are giving traditional nursery rhymes the traditional Irish treatment. The sound is authentically Irish without being diddli-i and the musical instruments are refeshingly recognisable, giving rise to lots of chat here about fiddles, accordions, whistles etc.

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The children’s favourites were Miss Molly (who we call Miss Polly) and Hey Diddle Diddle, which is spliced together with an Irish nursery rhyme they didn’t know called ‘Johnny Sat Down.’ Mine was Dilin O Deamhas, which I used to sing in three-part harmony in my school days. The CD is cannily pacakaged with inserts that tell the story of the band (a fictional comedy), and they have produced a nice little book to accompany the CD, which has sweet home-drawn illustrations. You can listen to most of the songs for free on their website, which also gives an insight into the history of the songs and their composition. Their live shows are hugely popular, and they can be seen in May 28th at Glor in Ennis, and on June 11th at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway.  We hope they make it East soon.

 

http://www.thespeks.com

TV or Not TV, That is the Question

Television is a constant source of conflict in our house. Unfortunately most of that conflict is between me and my husband, who aren’t on the same page when it comes to screen-time. He works in TV and grew up in front of it, playing toys while his older siblings watched their choice of films. TV barely features in my own childhood memories, meanwhile; I was always too busy playing on the street.

There are fairly strict parameters around TV time during the week, when I am boss. The 4 year-old watches @40 minutes, mostly after Montessori. The two year-old often, but not always, joins him; he is fairly choosy about what he likes.

The repetoire is also fairly rigid: a rotation of Puffin Rock, Dora The Explorer and Diego!, with the occassional dose of Max and Ruby if I am feeling generous. We will, very rarely, watch a Jackanory or some Barefoot songs after dinner, or a film if someone is sick.

At the weekend, however, the 4-year-old is constantly looking for TV. My husband is a lot more lenient and they will watch various iterations of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, old B-movies from the 60s, Countryfile, David Attenborough. Basically anything my husband fancies watching, the 4-year old is happy to join in.

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To give credit where credit is due, my husband is a very active viewer. A cookery show is an oportunity to chat about spices. Time Team becomes a discussion about Ancient Rome, which is often followed up in their table-top games later. I understand the educational role that TV can play. I also appreciate it as an artistic medium (and hope to add some film reviews to the blog soon). But sometimes a Saturday might involve more than 2 hours of TV (rarely consecutive hours, but still). I feel it is too much for a 4-year-old and disasterously habit-forming. I also hate having to deal with the 4-year old’s tantrums when the TV goes off (something often initiated by me).

I would love to know what rules you have at your house when it comes to screen-time. And I would really really love some recommendations for high-quality kids programming, which seems thin on the ground.

 

Baby Book Club: Hoot Owl

“Everybody knows that owls are wise, but as well as being wise, they are Masters of Disguise.”

This picture-book by Sean Taylor,with vivid illustrations by Jean Jullien, has just been nominated for the 2016 Laugh Out Loud Book Awards, The Lollies. My older boy loves this comical tale about an Owl who will go to any lengths to find something to eat. He variously disguises himself as a sheep, a carrot, an ornamental birdbath, and, eventually, a waiter, the perfect way to catch a pizza, apparently.

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It took me a while to appreciate the book’s not-so-subtle absurdity (I have a preference for prettiness and poetry over humour), but it is hard not to find the funny in an owl in a carrot costume. Kids who love pretending to be super-heroes will discover a new and original role model in Hoot Owl, and his catchphrase has become a popular refrain around our house.