Friday, 24 February 2017

Creating a Story Sacks on a budget - Oliver Jeffers - 'Lost and Found' Story Sack for under £10.00

Before Christmas we promised you an economy Story Sack feature to illustrate that it is possible to create one on a budget. Knowing that Christmas has come and gone, and that many of us are tightening our purse strings to save for our family summer get always, it seems like the perfect time to share this post to demonstrate that creating Story Sacks, doesn’t have to cost the earth. So armed with one £10.00 note, and with an hour on the parking meter, I headed into town to see if I could create a fun packed and engaging Story Sack for under a tenner.

Before I carry on with the results of my Charity Shop crawl, I will quickly remind you what a Story Sack is; it is a devise to help children engage with stories through play and learning, with the aim to help them develop a love for reading. The format is simple it’s a draw string bag full of fun goodies comprising of…

  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

So back to me, an hour and a tenner, I hit the charity shops, and struck gold in my very first one. Well not gold, but two books, and a soft toy, which is a very credible start to a story sack! My first find was a lovely hardback copy of 'Lost and Found' by Oliver Jeffers, about a; boy, a penguin, an umbrella, and a boat load of heart-warming friendship. I paired this with an Usborne non-fiction book about penguins, which like the first, book was in near perfect condition and cost a mere 50p. From the same shop I purchased a BNWT (brand new with tags) Penguin soft toy (with safety marks) for yet another 50p. Meaning that in shop one I had got about half of the contents for the Story Sack for only £1.50.

Felling very pleased with myself, I went to the next shop, and found a BNWT TY Boy plush for (you guessed it) 50p, and a woolly hat for him to ware for 10p, and the all-important ‘sack’, for 50p. This took my total up to £2.60.

Feeling rather pleased with my finds, but knowing that the most challenge part in any story sack creation, the finding of a themed game or activity, was next, I set off for the next charity shop. To my joy, I found a BNWT toy boat for £2.50, which would tie in very well, so I gave myself a metaphorical pat on the back, whilst imagining the plush penguin and boy using it to sail off on an amazing adventure, when I totted up the total which had raised to £5.10, and began to worry that I may not bring the sack in on budget.

With the remaining £4.90 jingling in my pocket I scoured the last charity shops in town and indeed the toyshop (which is one of a well know chain, which frequently has reduced toys) but could find not any toy or activity to complete the sack. Feeling despondent, I browsed in the local indie toyshop, at its beautiful rag dolls, and wooden castles with no expectations at all, when I discovered a wooden penguin puzzle for £4.50. So this lovely addition completed the story sack with 40p to spare.

The last inexpensive addition was to create a worksheet, so a minute on the computer and the use of clip art, I soon had an umbrella that can be photocopied and used to colour in and cut out, ready to take the penguin and boy on lots more adventures together.

With a complete story sack, created for under £10.00, and in under an hour, I am pleased to say that it is possible to create story sacks on a budget. Not only that, but I had a great deal of fun doing it. So I challenge you to do the same, go out with a small budget, and see if you can create a story sack, for your children, or better still with your children and donate it to your school.

For more article and ideas for creating Story Sack press here.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Stories of finding courage and hope after grief

Foggy February has been a time for reading atmospheric stories about the different ways of coping with loss and grief. Who'd have thought that means it’s been a month involving ghosts, time travel, evil doctors and alchemy.
‘Through the Mirror Door’ by Sarah Baker is the first story, of Angela, who has been moving around children’s homes since she lost her family. Then an aunt invites her on a summer holiday with her cousins as a final chance to see if they might get along well enough to adopt her.

Horrible relatives and a summer spent in a spooky, isolated French house create the perfect setting for mysteries that need to be solved and soon Angela has more on her plate than simply than putting up with Aunt Cece’s sour comments, and cruel jibes from her cousins. She quickly stumbles on a secret. 

There is a mirror in a deserted room that connects with 1898. And when she steps through to 1898 she finds a sick boy whom Angela realises only she can help.
Should Angela abandon all her good intentions and risk upsetting her aunt in order to save the boy? She knows if she flouts all the rules she will jeopardise a future outside of children’s homes. 
It’s a lovely story with great description that draws you right into believing that shimmering mirror. And it lets you straight into what happened more than a century ago and the dilemma Angela faces. 
Even better, admirably clever plotting and some deftly handled twists means past and present storylines start to intertwine in a very satisfying way as Angela’s determination grows to do the right thing in both time zones.
A really elegant time-travel adventure story.
Lucy Strange’s ‘The Secret of Nightingale Wood’ is set just after the terrible losses of the First World War. But Henry’s (Henrietta’s) older brother died in a terrible accident and the whole family is struggling with immense grief.

The War has also brought in a new vogue for researching mental illnesses and Henry’s distraught mother is moved to an isolated house to receiving cutting edge treatment.
Her father copes by throwing himself into his work and disappears on a huge engineering project abroad, abandoning Henry with little to do but explore the house and woods, listening into what is going on around her, until she realises that darker things are afoot in Hope House.
The story ramps up as Henry realises that Dr Hardy does not want her mother to recover, but would rather have her as a subject for his experiments in the new field of mental health. And with her father absent, if her mother is institutionalised, this would also leave the way clear for the scheming doctor to take Henry’s baby sister, known rather charmingly as Piglet. 
The threat is now to Henry’s whole family, and forbidden to even write to her father, each adult Henry turns to lets her down. This failure of adult help means Henry’s feeling of isolation is very scary. She is the only one who has her mother's best interests at heart.

And you can’t get a much nastier villain than Dr Hardy.

The fact that he is is no imaginary monster, but a figure of trust, puts Henry in the terrifying position of being the only one who can stand up for her mother and sister and prevent his evil plan of turning her mother into an experiment and stealing her sister.
Luckily Henry is the sort of redoubtable character well able to fearlessly stand up to wrongdoing and never gives up on saving her family. The plot is a great demonstration that being brave does not have to be about taking up a sword and slaying monsters – that evil can sometimes come with a trusted face and be very close to home.
A really scary and atmospheric adventure that takes an unusual and imaginative slant on the nature of evil and how it can be defeated.
Cathryn Constable’s ‘The White Tower’ also starts with a death and takes a journey into the dark heart of grief when Livy loses her best friend.
Her father gets his dream job running the library of a prestigious and ancient school and Livy knows it is the chance for a new start. But how can she move on and make new friends when she doesn’t want to forget her old one?

But others are interested in her. She shares a name with the founder of the school, which has a history of outlandish scientific experiments. Notes from daring experiments have been lost and many people seem keen to rediscover those secrets.
Livy is a character that makes you feel her sadness and understand how being surrounded by a treasure house of obscure scientific thought, she hurls herself into a frenzied sleepless world, trying to recreate ancient experiments in the forlorn hope that she can find a cure for blood diseases and stop others from dying.
But what if her ancestor really did make a breakthrough discovery? Did he find a way to stop time and death up on the rooftops? What if there is a way of cheating death? Livy’s journey takes her into asking some big questions. 
But the story at its heart is about letting go and moving on after loss – and how the lesson loss really teaches us is how to treasure those we have.
A foggy February, on the verge of spring is the perfect time for stories with grief at their heart and these three all provide moving and thought-provoking stories of people overcoming odds to emerge with renewal in their lives.
Perfect reads for those who like an emotional core of families in crisis, stories with an nicely old-fashioned feel and a hint of mystery and secrets.
Nicki Thornton

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson - review

Matty spends his day watching the lives of everyone in his street out of his bedroom window. So he is a crucial witness when a toddler is snatched from outside his home - and Matty really wants to help.

Only Matty is living an increasingly isolated life owing to his overwhelming fear of germs. 

His compulsion to clean, and to go nowhere near anything he perceives as remotely dirty, has resulted in him skipping school and hardly even leaving his room.

The crime, committed just outside his front door means Matty will have to overcome his crippling anxiety to do the right thing.

Readers of  Lisa Thompson’s contemporary debut for children ‘The Goldfish Boy’will be rooting all the way for Matty. He's a great character and his debilitating illness provides a unusual obstacles in his quest to solving a good mystery.

Matty gets the surprising help of two other lonely children in his street, so this is a story about courage and fighting your fears head on. It’s got a great message at its heart of the importance of community, and how, if you talk to people, you might discover that everyone lives with their own fears.

The biggest strength of the story is Matty, whom you are willing on at every painful step.

We learn he has more than one shameful secret in his past. He treated his best friend really shabbily when he was really needed and when stepping in would have made a big difference. Yet what is actually at the root of his obsessive compulsive behaviour is another issue entirely, one where Matty sees the consequences and feels blame, even though this time it is not his fault.

It is a strong recommend for reading groups with lots to discuss about mental illness, the nature of guilt and how letting things eat away at you inside can have consequences.

But it is also a very enjoyable mystery all about whether the fate of an eighteen-month-old is safe in Matty's very over-washed hands. 

Can he confront his fears, do the right thing - and, also, help himself on his own road to recovery?

A complex, emotional and uplifting story to start the new year.