Adventure Day: Dublinia

This week we went to Dublinia for Adventure Day, to experience Viking and Medieval life first-hand. We had been preparing for months by reading Chris Judge and Mark Wickham’s Brian and the Vikings and our Usbourne Norse Myth and Legends.  We have been searching far and wide for an accessible non-fiction guide, but they tend to be geared towards older children.

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Dublinia is laid out over three floors. The entry level display focuses on Viking life, the first floor focuses on Medieval Dublin and the second floor houses a display about the science of archaeology. We also climbed the 100 steps of St Michael’s Tower, which gives a fine panoramic view of the city.

Most of the historical material is presented through interactive scenes. We got stuck inside a Viking hut for a while, the boys eating sandwiches on the bench the Vikings used for sleeping. There is a lot of historical text displayed on the walls, which was a bit off-putting for my illiterate pair, but much of it was also narrated.  There was good attention to sensory experience too, with displays that invited you to guess what goods were in the barrels at the Medieval port and a market stall was filled with scented spice drawers.

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Highlights for Milo (4) were throwing balls at the prisoner in the pillory (above), feeling the weight of the Viking’s iron mail, and rubbing his name in futhark (below).  He was very disappointed by the fact that many of the repro artifacts (in particular the weapons) were glued down, so you couldn’t really interact with a lot of the displays. He was also disappointed that there was no “living history” aspect, like at Dalkey Castle. Although there is a daily costumed tour at 2.30, it was pretty busy the day we were there, and my two small boys and a crowd is never a great idea. Highlights for Solomon (2) were the ramps and the display on death and disease. Both were also very taken, as usual, by the gift-shop, and its array of wooden and plastic swords. 

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Accessibility: This is a great family friendly museum, though ticket prices stack up once children are over 4 (Adults: €8.50, Children over 4: €5.50). We found it pretty busy, though we were there mid-week and off-peak, so that is definitely something to consider if you are planning a visit. There are good facilities for families, though you would not want to be in a hurry to use the toilets, as they are placed near the exit of the first floor, and there is no shortcut if you have a toddler emergency.

Dublinia host a Family First Saturday once a month, with historically themed workshops for children. They have just announced their new season, which includes storytelling and Viking Runes. http://www.dublinia.ie/category/events/

 

 

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Adventure Day: The Foggy Dew at the RHA

We have been talking a lot about 1916 these days. The posters for the RTE series Rebellion that adorn Dublin buses at the moment have my four-year old aflutter with ideas for Rebel roleplay. In the battle-filed of our bedroom I am always the British, unless we are playing War of Independence, where the line between goodies and baddies depends on which side of the treaty you are on. We are all goodies or baddies, then, or ‘Mum, why were they fighting again?’

This week for Adventure Day, we started the first of our 1916 explorations at the RHA gallery. Mick O’Dea is a well-known painter of photo-realistic historical work, and he has drawn inspiration from 1916 before. So I was expecting some large-scale paintings of city battles, which I could chat about with the boys. And, indeed there are 4 monumental canvases, lining each side of the huge upstairs gallery. However, I wasn’t expecting the amazing sculptural work that accompanies the exhibit: cardboard soldiers suspended from the ceiling and an enormous embodiement of Britannia charging across the floor. My boys were mesmerised by the scale and the visual effect of the falling soldiers in the gallery’s dim light, which spin slightly as you move around them.

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On the way out we were offered a few nicely-produced children’s sheets, which give a small bit of context for the exhibition and a prompt (and space) for drawing something of your own. It reminded me that it is always good to ask if they have any material for children as you enter/leave a gallery. Kids are, after all, scavengers. Even if they are of limited use for your particular child, they are good mementos.

On the way home, the four-year old asked if we could to make our own version of the exhibition, which given my limited capabilities will be a challenge. But it felt like a victory for form. He is always happy to look at a painting, but he has very limited interest in being a creator yet. He proclaimed O’Dea’s exhibition “a really good craft.”

*(To take the Toddler Tour of the RHA see my earlier post).

Baby Book Club: A Visit to the Library

I had a voracious appetite for books as a child and my mother would bring us to our local library, which was just around the corner from my primary school, several times a week. (I also had a voracious appetite for junk food, and the reading incentive campaign sponsored by the local McDonalds – !!! – kept me focused on finishing the entire Enid Blyton catalogue over the course of a single summer.)

My favourite thing about the library was the fact that I got to choose my own books, and I regularly came home with books my mother deemed ‘trash’: early Judy Blumes, Point Horrors, The Babysitter Club, The Bobsy Twins. It was the library. I had my own reader’s card. It was my choice.

I love to watch my boys interact with books the library (once they have stopped trying to move the attractive furniture of course). My four-year-old regularly goes shelf-hunting and comes back with something entirely inappropriate (a fantasy novel about vampires for 10 year-olds for example), and my two year-old inevitably toddles up with a book we have at home, but some of our favourite books have been chosen by them on our weekly visits to the library.

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(The New Kid by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick)

We currently have 2 copies of Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s The New Kid on loan, which I would never have picked up for them myself, while we recently bought our own copies of Rebecca Cobb’s Paper Dolls and Aunt Amelia because we had renewed our library copies so many times it was embarrassing. Of course, the boys often present a book-bundle full of what I would call ‘trash’ – namely Star Wars comics – which I pretend to check out but sneakily slip back onto the bookshelves. Still, if they want to read cereal packets, I should proably just let them, it was how my own love for reading was confirmed.

 

Adventure Day: Dalkey Castle

Thursdays are Adventure Days at our house: my older boy bunks off montessori and we go and do something cultural or outdoorsy. Last Thursday we were supposed to climb Kiliney Hill but it was pouring rain so we decided to head to Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre. It was a perfect day for it, as the place was deserted, and the staff were only delighted to welcome us into the castle, and to tailor their brilliant Living History tour to our young demographic.

We skipped the introductory video and were brought straight to the graveyard where the Cheevers’ archer, Rupert, told us that the family were preparing a feast to celebrate King Henry VIIIs birthday. He showed us the tools and weapons common in 15th-century castle life, and let theweapons-enthusiast hold his longbow; a knee-high highlight for him.

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Rupert then brought us upstairs to the castle’s living quarters, where he talked us through the various vittels of the day, laying special emphasis on gory details and offering us a tase of pig’s head and ears. After showing us the bathroom facilities in the garderobe, he left us in the capable hands of Lady Catherine, who told us all about how to get ready for the party (which involved a lot of drinking of pee) and took us up to the battlements to take in the view (of mist and fog).

Our version of the tour was considerably less than that of a regular visitor (my older boy kept asking where the other characters that featured on the posters were), but in scale and duration it was perfect for our small group. The actors’ improvisation worked brilliantly for our crew, who thoroughly enjoyed the role-play aspect, fervently agreeing that, yes, their castles too had sheep intestines instead of glass in the windows.

Facilities:

The gift shop was an enormous hit with the children, and they spent a good 20 minutes trying on helmets and engaging in swordplay, which the generous staff thankfully tolerated.

There are changing facilities in the disabled toilets, but the castle is a castle, and not buggy friendly.

There is no cafe on site, but the castle sits on Dalkey’s main street, and the Tramyard next door is large enough to accomodate buggies, with a big outdoor space, if it isn’t raining, where kids can wander.

Admission:

Adult entry is €8.50; children €6.50; family of 4 €25. Children under 4 are free.

 

Baby Book Club: The Princess and the Pony

The Princess and the Pony

By Kate Beaton

Walker Books

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My two boyish boys loved this story, which gently needles the gender sterotypes that shape our children from their earliest engagements with other people. It is the story of Princess Pinecone, the smallest warrior in a kingdom of warriors and how she overcomes her frustration with being treated differently than her fellow fighting peers. “Most warriors get fantastic birthday presents. Shields, amulets, helmets with horns on them. Things to win battles with. Things that make them feel like champions.  Princess Pinecone got a lot of cosy sweaters. Warriors do not need cosy sweaters.”

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It turns out warriors DO need cosy sweaters, even the fiercest warriors in the Kingdom, who reveal their soft sides when confonted with Princess Pinecone’s unbearably cute pony (another proper gift for a princess) at the annual tournament.

Beaton’s book is very funny and the spread of cuddly sweater-clad warriors at the end really fired our imagination as we thought up of fiercest warrior names to contrast against the rainbow and teddy themed jumpers. I, personally, could have done without the fart jokes, but my two year-old and four year-old did not complain.

A winner of a book for 2.5 plus, and an inspiration for little boys and girls to defy the social standards set for them.

 

Baby Book Club: The Snow Beast

The Snow Beast

By Chris Judge

Andersen Press

The Lonely Beast, Chris Judge’s debut, was the first book my son chose for himself at our local book shop. He was 18 months and he was drawn to the fuzzy black shape of the eponymous beast with his bright pinprick eyes. We  followed the adventures of the Beast as he travelled to the city to find some fellow beasts, and, in Judge’s second book, The Brave Beast, we saw the Beast take on an unknown enemy who was terrorising a nearby island. Though my son is now 4, he and his younger brother still love the books, and we were really excited at the prosepct of The Snow Beast.

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The Snow Beast follows the formula set in the earlier books by sending the Beast on a journey, in this case across a snow-covered landscape. The dastardly Snow Beast  appears stealthily, a white mirror of the Beast camoflagued in the snow, and we had fun spotting his shape on the various pages. The plot – some missing tools – is a bit weak, but the Snow Beast’s iceberg mansion is a winner. We were delighted to get a second glimpse inside in the party scene on the final page.

The Snow Beast is a nice seasonal supplement to Judge’s first two books, but if you haven’t met the Beast before I would recommend starting with the earlier installments.

Baby Book Club: Review

The Dormouse, The Creature in the Jungle, and The Elf’s New Clothes

By John Crawford and Paula Bowes

Vocal Minority, €6.99

I have a great deal of sympathy for first-time picture book writers. How to make an impression in a world saturated by Julia Donaldson? The difficulties must be redoubled for the self-published author. Vocal Minority are a husband and wife team, John Crawford and Paula Bowes, who have just published 3 picture books for children, The Dormouse, The Creature in the Jungle, and The Elf’s New Clothes. The Dormouse is a sweet moral fable about a dormouse who is too fat to fit into his burrow for hibernation. In The Creature in the Jungle, a group of animals marvel at the discovery of a naked boy in the foliage. In The Elf’s New Clothes, an elf kits himself out for winter.

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The books are very attractive. The board book format is sturdy, with thick pages that are a good weight for young hands. The illustrations are detailed watercolours with a pale palette that recalls Romantic fairytale prints. The rhymes and rhythm recall a Limerick-type form and they fairly skip along, but the stories are bit old-fashioned. The vocabulary, meanwhile, is quite sophisticated. I fully support challenging children but the stumbling block for me came with reading it aloud.

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There is a lovely website, www.vocalminority.ie, which gives a full impression of Crawford and Bowes picture-book world, and where you can view samples before buying direct from the company. It is worth checking out if you are tired of looking at the same titles in your local bookshop.