The Old English Beowulf manuscript is believed to date from the 11th century, making it 1,000 years old.

The Old English Beowulf manuscript is believed to date from the 11th century, making it 1,000 years old.

I learned a new word today: kenning. This is an ancient Anglo-Saxon poetic device that describes an object or person in a round-about way which sometimes takes the form of a puzzle. The epic poem Beowulf is one source of these intriguing word-pairs that describe something quite simple in a clever way. For example, a ship is described as a “wave floater” while the sea is a “whale road.” The word body becomes “bone house” and a sword is a “battle light.” Each of these paired images is far more evocative than the simple noun they replace. I particularly like “battle light” as I instantly imagine the flash of sun on a metal blade.

At my Patron of Reading school, Comely Park Primary, the P2 classes have been writing kenning poems. Today Miss Lucas sent me eight of them, and I thought they were so good I wanted to share them here. Instead of telling you what they are about, I think in the true tradition of a kenning poem, you must puzzle it out for yourselves:

Kenning 123Have you figured it out yet? I particularly like the images of a “web dangler” and a “banana hider.” Enough to give one nightmares! Here are three more poems to give you further clues:

Kenning 456Clearly Mr Colvin and Miss Meyrick are not fans of this particular creature! I can quite understand, as I’m getting the jitters thinking about a “carpet crawler” and a “house scamperer“! I quite like the image of the “bath slider” too, as you can picture the helpless beastie slipping down the shiny porcelain…

Kenning 78I like Ava’s “web weaver” and Tegan’s dramatic “people poisoner“! I think by now you must have guessed that these kenning poems are all about a spider. I wish they had sent me some drawings to go with the poems, but instead I will provide this failed banana hider:

banana spider

Comely Park Primary class P3/10 have sent me a new kenning poem they wrote together, inspired by the P2 spider poems and by a particular film trailer. See if you can guess what the film might be:

BFG kenning poemIt sounds like a pretty scary film! Here’s a link to the trailer on YouTube: The BFG trailer

Did you guess?

Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool in Seattle has a new community library. From www.teachertomsblog.blogspot.co.uk

Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool in Seattle has a new community library. From http://www.teachertomsblog.blogspot.co.uk

It’s nice to know that in these days of library closures and cutbacks, the desire to share books and celebrate reading is still a powerful force in many communities. I follow the blog of a preschool teacher in Seattle called Teacher Tom, who recently posted about the new community library he has installed (with the help of a parent who built it!)

The idea of providing free access to a small collection of books on a local level has been around for generations, and one particular movement called Little Free Library developed recently in the United States. Its aim is “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.”

The first Little Free Library, from https://littlefreelibrary.org/history/

The first Little Free Library, from https://littlefreelibrary.org/history/

The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin. It was designed to look like a one-room schoolhouse, and was created as a memorial to Todd’s mother Esther Bol who was a teacher. He filled it with books and set it on a post in his front garden for anyone in the neighbourhood to enjoy. I think the concept may have sprung in part from the American tradition of the curbside mailbox.

The traditional mailbox found in rural and suburban settings in the USA.

The traditional mailbox found in rural and suburban settings in the USA.

These are similar in concept – a box on a pole at the end of the drive – and can be quite fanciful in design, ranging from red barns and Victorian houses to boldly painted American flags. There is just as much variety in the Little Free Library designs, and many have outdoor seating and shady umbrellas for your reading pleasure.

Todd Bol’s original library spawned a growing movement, and by the summer of 2010 little postbox-style structures made of recycled wood were popping up all over Wisconsin. By the end of 2011 there were four hundred of them across the United States. Today that number has reached 36,000 and is still growing!

Anyone in the US and Canada can order a Little Free Library box online to install in their own neighbourhood. Its location will then be pinpointed on a map on the Little Free Library website. If you live elsewhere in the world, you can still be part of the scheme by registering your own mini-library with Little Free Library. This will put you on the map too!

If you happen to live near Minneapolis, Minnesota, you can catch the first Little Free Library Festival:

LFL Festival

The festival will feature live music, poetry, storytelling and of course library-building. That last option appeals to me, as I love all the amazing designs and would quite enjoy giving my library a colourful and distinctive paint job!

One example of a rather unusual mini-library is this TARDIS one from Macon, Georgia:

The TARDIS Little Free Library built by Christopher Marney. From www.littlefreelibrary.org

The TARDIS Little Free Library built by Christopher Marney. From http://www.littlefreelibrary.org

It has room for all sorts of books and access for all heights, from the smallest readers to the tallest ones. Not everyone can have a TARDIS in their neighbourhood (although I do!) Ours is a real Police box that now serves as a tiny coffee shop outside the Botanic Gardens. I wonder if they might consider having a collection of free books on one shelf…

 

Winnequah Dream Park in Monona, Wisconsin. Photo from www.mymonona.com

Winnequah Dream Park in Monona, Wisconsin. Photo from http://www.mymonona.com

Recently I was doing some research for a simple, non-fiction book about playgrounds (published by Cambridge University Press) and I was amazed at all the brilliant and imaginative play spaces I found. Wooden castles with giant serpents, crazy ice palaces, wild water jets and wonderful animal sculptures – there was no end to the inventive playgrounds I came across. It made me wish I were a kid again!

On Wednesday 4 May, the Duchess of Cambridge will officially open a new playground at Hampton Court Palace in what used to be King Henry VIII’s tiltyard (where he held jousting tournaments). It’s called the Magic Garden, and it features bright red and blue towers (King’s and Queen’s), a moat, a secret grotto and a very scary smoke-breathing dragon!

Hampton Court Magic Garden, from www.hrp.org.uk

Hampton Court Magic Garden, from http://www.hrp.org.uk

You can see the dragon’s head on the left of the picture above. Close-up he looks like this:

The Magic Garden dragon, from https://londonist.com

The Magic Garden dragon, from https://londonist.com

Apparently every hour his eyes light up and steam rolls out of his mouth! Behind the dragon on a grassy mound is a large metal feature that is shaped like King Henry VIII’s crown. From up there you can survey the entire garden (and spot your family if you’ve lost them!)

If you like the idea of climbing all over scaly monsters, here’s another surprising playground feature: a giant pike! It was designed by a Danish company called Monstrum, and stands in Annedals Park in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Monstrum pike, from their website at www.monstrum.dk

The Monstrum pike, from their website at http://www.monstrum.dk

Monstrum create all sorts of amazing wooden structures for children’s playgrounds, including moon rockets, submarines, snail shells and a haunted house. The company was started by two men who were set designers and builders for Danish theatre. When one of them joined the parents’ committee of his son’s nursery to look into buying playground equipment, he realised he could design and build something much better himself. That’s how Monstrum was born.

Brumleby play area in Copenhagen, from www.monstrum.dk

Brumleby play area in Copenhagen, from http://www.monstrum.dk

The wonky buildings in this playground in Copenhagen reflect the design of the surrounding houses in a comical and surreal way. What child could resist exploring this weird play space that includes three houses, a baker’s shop, a slide and a rope bridge? Do take a look at the Monstrum website to see the amazing designs they have built all over Europe, Scandinavia and even Russia. I wish I spoke Danish so I could work for them!

Another company that makes fun wooden playground equipment (among other things) is Adirondack Storage Barns in upstate New York. The boat above is like a little Noah’s Ark, which you half expect to find full of animals in pairs. It would be great to climb inside and peek out those portholes. If you don’t fancy a boat to climb on, how about a wooden train?

I can imagine all sorts of kids having fun on the train, though there might be some disputes about who is going to drive… Adirondack also make a tractor and trailer that would hold a good crowd.

Tractor and trailer from www.adirondackstoragebarns.com

Tractor and trailer from http://www.adirondackstoragebarns.com

But not all playground equipment is made of wood. What would you think of exploring a huge amusement park made of ice? Every year in northeastern China, ice sculptors gather to create the most amazing play space for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

Children enjoying the slides at the Harbin Ice Festival in China. Photo from www.mymodernmet.com

Children enjoying the slides at the Harbin Ice Festival in China. Photo from http://www.mymodernmet.com

Blocks of ice are taken from the Songhua River to build impressive castles and super-fast ice slides. They look best at night when lit up by colourful lights. Looks like fun, but you’d have to bundle up!

At the other extreme, when the weather is way too hot, you can always get yourself to Washington Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, where there’s a brilliant interactive water feature. Over 130 pop-up jets spray water in time to music and lights, and everyone just jumps in!

The walk home would be pretty soggy, but it would be worth it!

Every few months, our local Botanic Gardens hosts a weekend Cactus and Succulent Show. Growers bring a wide variety of prickly cacti and smooth succulents, from pin-cushion size to almost shrub proportions. At the last show, my daughter found the little ones irresistible, and came home with six tiny prickly things in pots. Given her busy student lifestyle, these are perfect on her window sill, waiting patiently until she remembers very occasionally to water them.

cactus n aloe veraBecause I live in a flat two floors up, and our shared north-facing garden is damp and uninviting, I do all my gardening on my kitchen window sill. As it faces south-west, I have the illusion of being a brilliant gardener because everything flourishes happily there. The spiky Aloe Vera you see above was once the size of my hand, but several pots later it is now taking over the kitchen! Next to it is my Christmas cactus, which bursts into riotous pink bloom every November. Now that spring is on its way I can see some new pink buds developing…

money treeI had a very old Jade plant for several years but it was getting tired, or so I thought. Then I noticed it had snuck one branch into a neighbouring pot and sprouted a new plant! When the sprout got to be about 8cm tall I took it out carefully and put it in a new pot. In no time at all it grew into the giant tree you see above. All it took was a little watering now and again. You can see why I’m a fan of these amazing regenerating plants!

jade plant flowersI discovered recently that a Jade plant (official name Crassula ovata) can have pretty white flowers like the ones above. I must find out how I can encourage my plant to do that!

At the last cactus show I stopped to chat with a grower about a tall, pink-tinged plant I quite liked. He explained how easy it was to start a new plant from a cutting or even just one leaf. He broke one off the tall plant I was admiring and gave it to me. Hurrying home, I found a pot and planted the little leaf. I placed it in the sunny kitchen window next to my Jade plant and waited.

baby cactusAnd waited. And waited. After about six months I could tell that the leaf was more firmly rooted (like a baby tooth becoming less wobbly). Then a few days ago, a tiny sprout appeared! My husband is dubious, and thinks this may be a weed, but I am not so pessimistic. It is growing bigger every day so we’ll soon see what sort of plant it is. I am convinced it will be a glorious succulent like the one I admired at the show.

If you’re looking for tips on how to grow cacti and succulents indoors, there are some good pointers HERE in an article by Heather Rhoades. I also found all sorts of interesting facts about cacti and succulents on a Texas website where these plants are native and grow outdoors. It even includes some cactus recipes!

WBD HDlogo

March 3rd 2016 is World Book Day, and in schools and libraries across the country everyone is getting involved in the celebrations! To get kids reading, National Book Tokens have teamed up with publishers and booksellers to give everyone in school a free book of their choice. The £1 book token can be used in bookshops to buy any of the following excellent options, or you can use it to get £1 off another full-price book or audio book.

2016 book titles from the World Book Day website

The 2016 £1 book titles from the World Book Day website

On Thursday the 3rd, lots of people will also be dressing up as their favourite book character and donating funds to Book Aid International to send much-needed books to libraries in Africa. If you’re looking for last-minute dress-up ideas, check out their World Book Day Dress-Up webpage. Over the past 60 years, Book Aid International has sent 31 million books to African countries. Here’s a great video they have created called The Journey of a Book which shows every stage, from the initial printing of a book to its arrival in African schools, libraries and universities.

Book-related activities are happening all this week, and lots of children’s authors like myself are visiting schools and libraries to share their stories. I had a great time on Tuesday visiting the P3 and P4 classes at Darnley Primary School. I brought Lewis, Harris and Skye for a fun puffin-themed writing workshop. The puffin toys got a great reception (lots of ooos and ahhhs) and the children enjoyed a sneak preview of Skye the Puffling which comes out in a week or two.

puffin holiday plan

On Thursday I’ll be visiting Holy Cross Primary School, where authors and other interesting characters (such as North American hockey players and Scottish movie stars) are invited every World Book Day to share their favourite children’s book with a class. I’m going to read Gabrielle and Selena by Peter Desbarats, first published in 1968. The illustrations are in black and white and the text is quite long, so it’s very different from picture books you see nowadays. But the story is clever and very funny, so I’m sure the children will enjoy it!

A friend of mine works in a nursery, and she has invited me to come on Friday and read to the three- and four-year-olds she looks after. I’ll choose my simpler books, like One Potato, Clementine’s Smile and Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose to entertain the little ones. It’s lovely to have a chance to nurture a love of books with very small children. The sooner they discover the joys of reading a story, the better their chances of reading for pleasure when they grow up.

If you’re looking for ideas to celebrate books this year, have a look at the Big Book Off on the World Book Day website where you’ll find suggestions like making a book-based game, discovering a new author or illustrator, creating a picture of your favourite scene from a book, or acting it out for an audience! There are also lots of online games on the Play and Win page, where you can answer questions about Harry Potter or go on a Young Bond secret agent mission, among many other games. Time to get reading! Happy World Book Day!

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