Archives for the month of: June, 2011

Do you have a pet? When I visit schools to read Jacob O’Reilly Wants a Pet, lots of children tell me about the animals they have at home. Some have dogs, some have cats, and some have hamsters or gerbils or guinea pigs. Lots of kids have fish. And once in a while a child will put up a hand and tell me all about a big snake or lizard they have as a pet!  Eeeek!

Before you decide on the right pet for you, it’s important to think about how you live. A pet becomes part of the family so it will have to fit in with your lifestyle. Here’s a little quiz to help you make the right decision:

Jacob O’Reilly’s Pet Quiz

1. Where do you live?

A In a giant castle with a forest all around.

B In a house with a small garden.

C In a cosy flat high above the ground.

2. What is your favourite thing to do?

A Run around outside, whatever the weather.

B Sit on the garden swing in the sunshine.

C Curl up on the sofa with a good book.

3. What is your favourite sort of animal?

A Big and lively with lots of energy.

B Small and cute and full of fun.

C Cuddly and sweet, all snuggled in your lap.

4. What would you name your pet?

A Rufus, Jasper or Duke.

B Corky, Snowball or Rosie.

C Tiddly-wink, Munchkin or Peanut.

So, what does all this mean?

A

If you answered A to most of the questions, you would make a great dog owner. The bigger your garden, the bigger your pet can be. If you live in a castle, you could even have a pet dragon!

B

If you chose mostly B answers, you are best suited to a small dog or cat. You can have lots of fun with them, but they don’t need too much space.

C

If you answered mostly C, you should have a small, quiet pet like an indoor cat or a hamster or guinea pig. Other cuddly possibilities might be a dwarf rabbit or a pair of gerbils. You can have these pets in a small flat and it’s okay if you have no garden.

If you do get a pet…

Looking after an animal is a big responsibility. Unlike toys, animals have feelings and can be hurt if they’re handled roughly. They must always be treated gently and kindly. They also need food, water and exercise every day, just like you! And if they make a mess, YOU have to clean it up! So before you get a pet, think about it carefully. Then you’ll make the right choice.

When my daughter was younger I made her a little brown rat with a pointy nose, shiny black eyes and a long tail. He was based on one of our favourite book characters, That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child. If you look at the cover of That Pesky Rat, you will see that our rat looks very much like him!

Anna called her rat Pablo, and she took him everywhere. He got bundled up for a trip to the beach, with warm tartan trousers and a hand-knitted scarf. Here is another picture from when I first made him:

That was back when his tail was made from a brown pipe-cleaner. It was soon broken, so later I made him a proper cloth tail.

We had lots of fun with Pablo, making him clothes from socks and scraps of fabric.  One Christmas I even made him a Santa suit! But he seemed a bit lonely, so I decided to make another soft toy to keep him company. The next one was a grey mouse called Paula, and then came Poppy, Pippa and Pierre. Each time I made a new mouse I got better at it, and I changed things here and there, so every mouse is different.

Anna’s friends liked her mice so much that I made a few extra ones for birthday presents. Eventually I think we had ten or twelve mice, and Anna ran out of names beginning with P!

As I ran out of fabric, the mice got smaller and smaller. Here are a few of Anna’s mouse children. Pippa is on the left, and she is one of the few grey mice. (I had a lot more of the brown fabric!) The next one is my favourite of all the mice. His name is Findlay and he is the smallest one (and the cutest!) Isn’t he adorable in his stripy jumpsuit?

Anna made all the clothes from baby socks. I think her little hoodies are very clever – she makes the hood from the toe of the sock. The mouse next to Findlay is Amelia. Anna made that mouse all by herself! The one in the pink dress is Emma. I made her but her little face turned out very thin, and her ears are a little bit crooked. (The ears are the trickiest bit to sew!)

Pablo’s house started out as a little bed in a drawer, but as his family expanded, he took over the whole of Anna’s wardrobe! Soon it was full of doll’s furniture, tiny posters on the walls and little beds made of shoeboxes.

Pablo and the other mice don’t go everywhere with Anna anymore, now that she’s so grown up, but we keep them all the same. Oh, look – baby Findlay is escaping! I’ll have to run and catch him…

One of my favourite toys (well, my children’s toys) is a baby orangutan that Anna calls Gerome. Here he is sitting on the sofa with a lovely jungle pillow. Isn’t he cute?

I think Gerome likes this pillow because it reminds him of home. Orangutans live in the rainforests of two islands in South East Asia – Borneo and Sumatra. The name orangutan comes from the Malay language, and it means “man of the forest” (orang=man and hutan=forest). The scientific name for them is Pongo pygmaeus. Perhaps we should have called Gerome Pongo instead!

Orangutans have long, strong arms that are good for swinging from branch to branch, and they live and sleep up high in the trees to stay safe from other animals that might eat them, like leopards, tigers and big python snakes.

They get quite big, around five feet tall, and weigh between 65 pounds (a small adult female) and 200 pounds (a big adult male). In the wild they live to be about 35 years old, and in a zoo they can get as old as 50 or more.

Orangutans like to eat fruit (berries and wild figs) as well as leaves, insects and birds’ eggs. They find all these things in the trees and hardly ever have to come down to the forest floor.

The fur of an orangutan is long, shaggy and reddish-brown – quite like a Highland cow! I think their fur is much thinner than the cow’s, though, because unlike the Highlands it’s very hot where they live. Female orangutans have a baby only once every 8 years or so, and the baby stays hanging onto its mum for the first year of its life. Over the next few years the young ones stay close to mum, until they are ready to strike out on their own at the age of 11 or 12.

Little orangutans like to play together, but when they grow up they are quite solitary animals. When a group of them are feeding in the same area, the young ones play but the adults ignore each other. Sometimes the males will fight over territory, but mostly they just live alone in the forest.

Did you know that orangutans are an endangered species? That means there are fewer and fewer of them in the wild, and one day they could disappear altogether! Lots of people care about orangutans and want to save them. There are organisations all over the world that look after them and raise money to help them.

One group I found is called the Sumatran Orangutan Society, and their website has lots of information about orangutans.

My friend (and very talented illustrator) Hannah Shaw has told me she sponsored an orangutan from the Orangutan Appeal. Their website has lots of brilliant pictures of orangutans and more information about how you can help.

My daughter Anna and I have published our first book together! I wrote the words and she has drawn all the pictures (very well, as you can see!) The book is a collection of poems for children, but it’s a special kind of book – one that doesn’t have any pages…

“A book with no pages?” I hear you ask. Well, as so many children know everything there is to know about computers, iPads, iPhones and so on, you will of course know all about ebooks. They are electronic books that can be downloaded and read on a screen.

Anna has a Kindle so she reads lots of books on that. Her brother has an iPad and I was pleased to see how good our book looks on his screen.

The poems in this collection include Groovy Goggles, about a girl who has trouble seeing things in class, Buster the Fly who really wishes he could be a more interesting bug, Gloria Boring who is a very difficult girl to entertain, and Invisible Pets, about a boy who can see all sorts of animals in his house that no one else can see.

There are lots more poems in the collection, so if you want to take a closer look, I’ll add some links here. If you live in the US you need to click HERE. If you live in the UK, click HERE. And if you live in Denmark, there’s a special link just for you HERE.

My friend Jane recently visited a huge Victorian manor house called Berrington Hall in Herefordshire. She walked round the beautiful gardens and had a tour of the house which is full of amazing furniture, rich carpets and sparkling mirrors. Then she came to the Nursery, where the children of the house were looked after by their nanny. And look what she found!

A rocking horse very like the one she has in her front hall!

If you look closely at the picture, you can see lots of details of how Victorian children lived. This rocking horse has special baskets mounted on each side of the rockers so favourite toys could go for a ride too! His padded saddle  looks very comfortable, but I think a small child would have needed help to get all the way up there.

On the mantelpiece you can see tiny figures of birds and people, with more animals below on the wall. They seem to be in pairs, so perhaps they were part of a Noah’s Ark set? There is a cotton nightie hanging on the fire guard (where it would get nice and warm before bed.) You can also see a china doll sleeping under a table on the right. She looks very comfortable on her two gingham pillows! (I am guessing she is a girl, because in Victorian times, blue was a girl’s colour!)

There are two picture books on the rocking horse, so these Victorian children probably enjoyed reading bedtime stories with their parents. And on the left behind the rocking horse you can see a high chair, where the baby of the family would have been fed.

The rug on the floor has a lovely forest design with trees, birds and flowers. It reminds me of the illustrations from picture books of that time, so it’s perfect for a children’s room.

If you’d like to see more pictures of Berrington Hall, just click HERE. And thanks again to Jane who sent me this fantastic Nursery picture!