Who can resist a troll? Photo ©Andrew Dunsmore/Rex

Who can resist a troll? Photo ©Andrew Dunsmore/Rex

The P2 classes at my Patron of Reading school, Comely Park Primary, are looking at the 1960s (“When Gran was a girl”) this term, and it just so happens that I am a 1960s baby. It’s a bit scary to think that I could be a grandmother, since my own kids are just teenagers, but I am looking forward to visiting the school in April to share my memories of those Olden Days!

I was thinking back to my favourite toys when I was very young, and thanks to Google Images I was able to find all sorts of them to show you! I couldn’t resist that troll picture above. Trolls were hugely popular in the early ’60s and I remain a big fan. Who could resist such a face? In researching this topic I have just learned that the first troll doll was carved from wood by a Danish man called Thomas Dam. He made the doll for his daughter but soon everyone wanted one, so he made more and more until he had to set up a factory!

One of my earliest memories from my childhood was a trip my parents went on when I was about six and my little sister was four. We stayed with our grandparents for a week, and when our parents came to collect us, they brought us each a very special present!

Skipper dolls

Everyone knows about Barbie, but have you heard about her little sister Skipper? My sister and I got identical Skipper dolls with bendable knees and long auburn hair. I really wish I had kept mine, but sadly she is lost now.

Easy Bake oven

Another thing I remember very well was my Easy Bake Oven! It came with little packets of cake mix which I would put in that red bowl and mix up with a bit of water. I’d pour the mixture into the steel baking tray and then slide it into the side of the oven. Amazingly, the little cake would bake with only the heat of two incandescent light bulbs! It was like making one fairy cake, but it really did seem like magic!

tiny rubber dolls

Another toy I used to love playing with was a tiny rubber doll, only 3 inches (8cm) high. She had jointed arms and legs, was very bendy and could fit in the palm of my hand. She looked just like the ones in the picture above, with her painted face and hair, and little painted shoes and socks. Apparently these were made in Germany back in the 1960s. Can you still buy them today?

Silly Putty

I also remember a little plastic egg that broke open to reveal some strange pinkish goo that was stretchy and soft (a bit like blu-tack). It was called Silly Putty and if you rolled it into a ball it would bounce! You could also flatten it out and press it down on a newspaper or comic and it would pick up the ink, creating a picture on the Silly Putty that you could stretch out of shape. Once you’d done that it got a bit dirty, though!

fancy rat

When I think of it now I’m amazed that my Mum allowed Silly Putty in the house. Even more surprising is the fact that I was allowed to have a pet rat! Her name was Whiskers and I think we rescued her from a science lab. Whiskers was very clever and she loved to run through the mazes I used to make for her out of a cardboard box. I let her wander all around the house, and she was easy to pick up and play with. The only time she ever bit me was when I stuck my finger in her cage with some peanut butter on it. “Ouch!” I yelled, pulling my finger away. And then for some reason I tried again, and this time she licked the peanut butter very carefully!

slinky

Another fun thing we had was a Slinky. I think you can still get those, so maybe you have one too. In the 1960s they were always made of metal and were quite heavy. This made them perfect for sending down the stairs, because the weight of the coiled metal would hold the “foot” of the slinky in place as the top flipped over to the next step. The only problem with a Slinky is that it is easily bent and even more easily tangled. Once that happens it is sadly never the same.

Monkees

When I was young I loved watching cartoons on a Saturday morning. I watched Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner and lots of other shows, but my favourite one of all wasn’t a cartoon – it was a comedy show about a boy band called The Monkees! They were always doing silly things and getting in trouble, and of course on every show they would sing a song. To this day I still think Daydream Believer is the best song they did, but perhaps I’m a bit biased because Davey was my favourite of the four.

Gabrielle cover

I’ve already written about my favourite book I read as a child. You can see more about Gabrielle and Selena HERE. I still have my copy of the book (rather old and battered now) and I am looking forward to reading it to a new generation of children who are learning about life in the 1960s!

After Dr Seuss, my favourite author who both writes clever rhymes and draws brilliant cartoons is Shel Silverstein. I didn’t know about him growing up, although he was writing books and silly rhymes in the 1960s when I was little. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that someone gave me a copy of A Light in the Attic to read to them. From that moment, I was hooked!

Something Missing, from A Light in the Attic ©1981

Something Missing, from A Light in the Attic ©1981

This has got to me my favourite Shel Silverstein poem, not only because it’s so funny but also because the poem is brilliantly written, leaving the reader to finish the final rhyme. I love the loose and exaggerated style of his pen and ink drawings, and it’s been really hard to choose which poems to show you here as there are so many good ones!

Me Stew from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

Me Stew from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

Me Stew is another brilliant example of Shel’s clever poetry, which often involves eating. From the same collection you have little Melinda Mae who takes eighty-nine years to eat a whale, Hungry Mungry who eats the whole world and then starts nibbling on himself, and Peanut-Butter Sandwich in which the king gets his mouth stuck shut and even the fire brigade can’t unstick it!

The Farmer and the Queen from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

The Farmer and the Queen from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

This poem about a visit from the Queen is good fun, and I think the illustration really shows off Shel’s amazing skill at capturing the essence of both people and animals in a comical way. If you haven’t discovered the wonderful Shel Silverstein already, go and find some of his books right now!

The opening page from Anna's award-winning comic, Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

The opening page from Anna’s award-winning comic, Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Another budding cartoonist I am very fond of is my daughter Anna. I have lots of her drawings on my website, and she won the Reading Zone Picture Book Competition with this charming character Bea. I am always amazed at how she can draw with just a fine-tipped black pen, without even sketching it with a pencil first!

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

As you can see, Bea is a sweet little character, but she has hidden powers…

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Anna has always loved drawing cartoons and she is especially good at conveying emotions on her characters’ faces. If you’re a keen cartoonist like Anna then perhaps this worksheet of Bea’s facial expressions will help you perfect your technique:

©Anna Rickards 2012

©Anna Rickards 2012

I think if you click on the image it should be possible to print it, and then you can practice your own cartoons. Have fun!

Dr Seuss ABC

One of the first books I remember from my childhood is Dr Seuss’s ABC. Like millions of other North American children, I was introduced to the alphabet with the whimsical rhymes and wacky illustrations of Theodore Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr Seuss. From Aunt Annie’s alligator to the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, the silly surprises on every page opened up a wonderful world of rhyme, rhythm and reading. My favourite page of all was the letter M:

nice mice

Mighty nice indeed! (I’ve always had a soft spot for mice). As I grew older and mastered reading on my own, I graduated to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, a collection of highly engaging characters that had me hooked! Not only were the imaginary creatures and scenarios great fun, but the rhyme was a real pleasure to read aloud. I am convinced that Dr Seuss was a huge influence on my own writing, which (if you’ve read any of my books) you will know is largely written in rhyme.

fun is good page

Here’s one of my favourite pages from One Fish, Two Fish. I also love the seven-hump Wump, Ned and his little bed, the Zans for cans and the Ring the Gack game. If you haven’t read this book, do find yourself a copy and take a look! (You can “Look Inside” on the link above).

Ted_Geisel_NYWTS

Theodore Geisel was born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. As a young man he worked in advertising, drawing cartoons for various commercial products, and political cartoons for newspapers and magazines. His best-known book, The Cat in the Hat, was a direct result of a discovery in the 1950s that American children were not keen to read. The problem was blamed on the boring “primers” of the day, the Dick and Jane books. (If you click on that link you can see just how boring they were!)

I remember the Dick and Jane books when I was learning to read, but luckily my parents got me The Cat in the Hat too, which was so much more fun! Dr Seuss was given a list of about 300 simple words that 6- and 7-year-olds need to learn. He honed down the list to about 240 words and wrote a brilliant rhyming story about a troublesome cat that was an instant hit! I read it over and over when I was a kid, and then when my own children were little I could recite it off by heart!

Grinch blog

Other favourites of mine from the Dr Seuss collection are How the Grinch Stole Christmas (including the cartoon version that we watched every year on TV at Christmas time) and something I discovered later and read to my kids, The Sneeches and Other Stories. I especially like the Sneeches because in it the author teaches a very valuable lesson about treating each other with respect and as equals. Here is a page from the beginning of the story, when the star-bellied sneeches are looking down their noses at the plain-bellied ones:

sneech page

The brilliant thing about Dr Seuss is that he can convey a really important message in a way that is not preachy or heavy-handed. This collection explores intolerance, cooperation and unfounded fears, and each story is charming and funny with wonderfully expressive illustrations.

Seuss Google

Because Dr Seuss is so inspirational, and his books have helped generations of children to enjoy reading, on March 2, 2009 (his birthday) a Google Doodle appeared online to celebrate his work. In addition, the National Education Association in the USA has chosen Dr Seuss’s birthday as Read Across America Day. This coming Sunday would be Dr Seuss’s 110th birthday, so I hope you’ll take a moment to enjoy some of his fantastic rhyming stories, wherever you live!

My friend Abbie from Comely Park Primary has asked me to write her a story about horses. This is quite a challenge for me, as I know very little about them.

When I was about ten, most of the girls in my class liked horses and would gallop around the playground at break pretending to be champion stallions or their riders. On weekends they would go to the local paddock and ride in a line around the nearby fields. The idea of sitting on such an enormous animal scared me to death, so I got myself a little reference book and became the class expert on dog breeds instead!

Miniature_Horse_Show

Miniature Horse Show 2007 – Photo ©Agriflanders

Recently I have discovered a type of horse that would have suited me perfectly as a child. For the past 20 years or so a huge following has developed for miniature horses which at their full height are only about as big as a greyhound. Now that’s a horse I could handle!

Photo ©Agriflanders 2009

Photo ©Agriflanders 2009

There are miniature horse associations in America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the UK and Europe. Although miniature horses have existed for many centuries (and were particularly popular among European nobility in the 17th century) it was not until 1978 that the American Miniature Horse Association was formed to establish the miniature horse as a distinct breed.

The British Miniature Horse Society was formed in 1992 and it promotes the idea that miniature horses, unlike Shetland ponies and Welsh ponies, should have the same proportions as a standard-sized horse. There is some disagreement about this among miniature horse breeders, as certain associations allow pony characteristics (a longer body, larger head and shorter legs). The Anglo-European Miniature Horse Society explains the different types of horses HERE.

There are now thousands of mini horse fans around the world, with annual competitions, showjumping events, harness driving and obstacle racing. The AMHA produces a glossy 132-page magazine full of beautifully photographed horses in romantic poses:

Miniature Horse magazine

Here is an inside spread to show you the wide range of articles they publish:

Mini horse mag index

Although a miniature horse can be friendly and affectionate, it can’t really live indoors like a pet dog or cat. They are promoted as ideal for young people or those not physically strong enough to manage a full-sized horse, but you do have to give them the care and facilities that all horses need, and they are too small for an adult to ride. In some places they are used to help people with disabilities (like a guide-dog) but this can be problematic when they need to stay indoors for long periods, or get in a taxi! It must be remembered that a horse cannot be housetrained, so having a guide-horse could get a bit messy!

I wish I had known about miniature horses when I was younger. Then I might have joined in the galloping at lunch break!

girl and horse

Photo ©Miniature Horse World

icy pine needles

After 20 years in Scotland, I have got very soft when it comes to braving the icy chill of a Canadian winter. This Christmas, however, my family and I spent a great week experiencing snow, ice and winter sports in the small Ontario town I grew up in.

As it turned out, our timing was perfect. We arrived right after the worst ice storm in a decade, which coated trees and overhead wires with such heavy ice that many branches came down, crushing cars, damaging roofs and knocking out power for over 300,000 people! The city of Toronto was very badly hit, and lots of residents sent in their photos of frozen branches and fallen trees to a news website HERE.

Luckily for us, the worst of the storm had passed by the time our plane touched down in Toronto Airport, so we were able to collect a rental car and drive very carefully along Highway 401 to Guelph. The next morning we took our first walk out into the winter wonderland, bundled up warmly in down-filled jackets and woolly hats!

ice storm damage

The snow was still falling as we hiked down the empty roads, marvelling at the size of some of the branches that had been sheared off by the weight of the ice. Down by the river there was a keen wind that made my nose and fingers sting – a sensation I haven’t felt for a long time!

sparkly trees

The next day was bright, and the sun transformed the ice into a billion sparkling diamonds covering the trees. We set off to a nearby golf course where six inches of powdery snow lay on top of a slippery layer of ice underfoot. The kids borrowed Flying Carpets and climbed a short hill to start off with, just to test out the equipment.

snowy climb

They soon discovered the plastic sheets were incredibly slippery, but they also allowed you to feel every bump of the ice underneath!

flying carpet ride

Once the kids mastered the small hill, they headed for a much bigger one! I stood and watched for a while, but the minus 5 degrees Celsius soon got to me and I headed off for hot chocolate and a warm kitchen. When the kids finally came in, they were caked in snow with bright pink cheeks and frozen fingers. The great Canadian outdoors had been a big success!

city hall rink

One final winter sport had to be experienced – the outdoor ice rink. This one at Guelph’s City Hall was just the right size for my daughter to do a few laps. My son and I stayed warm and cosy in the music shop across the street, watching the skating through the shop window as we sampled electronic keyboards and plucked on ukuleles.

For me, this was a lovely trip down memory lane, visiting family, old haunts and childhood friends. For my own family it was an exciting taste of serious winter, though I think the novelty of snow and ice would soon wear off if it happened every year! Our flight home was on time and quite uneventful, but we arrived back in the UK just before a huge Polar vortex rolled down from the Arctic and plunged much of North America into record-breaking low temperatures.

frozen niagara falls

Even Niagara Falls, which sees more than six million cubic feet of water flow over it every minute, froze over completely! Thousands of flights were cancelled as temperatures dropped to minus 25 degrees Celsius and the wind chill factor brought this down to minus 50 or more. Although there have been milder temperatures in Canada and the US more recently, it seems weather forecasters are expecting another cold snap to follow shortly. I for one am very glad to be home!

frozen berries

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