Wednesday, 20 December 2017

We Have Winners!

Remember those bookish competitions? Time is up and here are all the answers!

1st and 2nd class questions (click on the link to see what they were):
1) Baloo, Winnie the Pooh and Paddington are all bears
2) Mog is the odd one out as he is the only cat in this list; all the other characters are dogs
3) Horrid Henry (you ALL knew that one!)
4) the Gruffalo
5) Captain Underpants (you all knew this one, too!)

3rd and 4th class questions (click on the link to see what they were):
1) Captain Underpants
2) Mr Gum
3) Tom Gates
4) Danger is Everywhere
5) How to Train Your Dragon
6) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

(for these, if you gave me a particular title of a book in the series, I counted that as a correct answer)

5th and 6th class questions (click on the link to see what they were):
1) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
2) The Diary of a Wimpy Kid
3) Peter Pan
4) Holes
5) Knights of the Borrowed Dark
6) Alex Rider
7) Little Women
8) The Gruffalo

The winners have been notified and given their bookish prize.
A huge well done to all!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Baby Book Club: the Christmas Special!

We had a brilliant session to finish off 2017 with the babies last week. In the whirlwind of the school fair, Baby Book Club was the eye of the storm, an oasis of quiet, great concentration... and driving Santas.
We read not one, not two, not three but FOUR books on various festive themes, from Maisy's Christmas Tree to the Noisy Book of Christmas, the hilarious Santa's Beard and Whizzy Santa (where Santa drives around on a magic scooter and, in our version, crashes with a toy school bus from the resource room we were in).
The babies loved listening to the Christmassy sounds, 'driving' the scooter book (it comes with cardboard wheels!) and wearing Santa's facial hair!
Inspired by Maisy and her friends we then decorated our own Christmas trees with sticky maize (aka Magic Nuudles or Amazing Maize, etc.). Aren't they pretty?

And of course, Santasaurus dropped by!

As promised, the links to festive songs and videos!

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year - The Muppets Christmas Song 

You're a mean one, Mr Grinch (Original 1966 Version) 

Watch the Snowman, based on the book by Raymond Briggs

For an amazing display of lights, check out Trista Lights 2016 Christmas Light Show - Featured on ABC's The Great Christmas Light Fight.

And for something closer to home, watch this short video of the Wild Lights festival in Dublin Zoo, or get there yourself if you can!
Or you can simply tune in to Christmas FM online or on 105.2 FM.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fishy goings-on

Last week at Baby Book Club we were all about those fish as we read and read and read Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins. It was a great success and the babas spent ages looking at and chatting about all the strange creatures on the page, pointing out shapes, colours, numbers and lots more.

We then made our very own fish tanks (with baking parchment!) and turned them into lanterns.
As promised, here are the links to more underwater fun!

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Once I Caught a Fish Alive from Neurotic Films Official

That’s What Makes the World Go Round (the fish scene from the Sword in the Stone)

And for real marine life, The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great YouTube channel with lots of videos. Try the Bell Jellies (, the Galloping Bay Pacific Seahorses ( or their Bite-Size Ocean Clips playlist!

Thanks all and see you next time for our Christmas special!

Friday, 1 December 2017

Books to put under the Christmas tree!

Here is a selection of some of the best books published in the past year, for all ages from babies to Young Adults. Which one will you ask Santa for? 😉

Bathtime for Little Rabbit by Jörg Mühle

Little Rabbit is going to have a bath and he needs your help if he is going to be squeaky clean! Can you help him turn the tap? How about blowing away the bubbles on his head? And can you rub him dry? A lovely, interactive book for very little ones! (ages 0-3)

Yoga Babies by Fearne Cotton and Sheena Dempsey

‘We’re the yoga babies, see what we can do!’ Roll out your mats and pull on your yoga pants for this one! Follow a tribe of babies as they try a range of simple poses explained through bright, friendly illustrations and a bouncy rhyming text. Whatever the mood (cranky, lazy or over-excited), there’s a pose for that! (ages 2-6)

Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Cheeky Triangle, who lives in a triangular house with a triangular door and triangular windows, wants to play a good joke on its friend Square (who lives in a square house, etc.). This is a really funny story where the humour is carried by very few words and wonderfully expressive minimalist pictures. This new book from the award-winning duo who gave us the brilliant Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is a gem! (ages 4-7)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari has passed his swimming test. He is ready to jump off the diving board. At least, that’s what he’s saying… It will take the gentle guidance of his dad and his own pluck to help Jabari through his self-appointed challenge. Fabulous illustrations of a sunny day at the pool will have you long for summer. (ages 4-7)

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes

Follow brothers Charlie and Mouse as they go about their day, attending an imaginary party or trying to make a couple of coins selling rocks. Three stories in a book that will bring lots of smiles to young readers’ faces (and their grown-ups’, too). Charlie and Mouse is ideal for beginner readers who can combine sounding out and their knowledge of tricky words to make their own way through the book. (ages 5-7)

This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

How do kids around the world go to school? What do they wear? What games do they play? And what do they get for breakfast? Find out all about it and much more in this beautiful book following one day in the lives of real families in Japan, Uganda, Russia, Iran, Peru, India and Italy. (ages 5-8)

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

An action-packed and magic-filled adventure featuring Morrigan Crow who is a perfectly nice and normal girl except… except that she is cursed! Anything that goes wrong (from burnt toast to heart attacks) is blamed on her and to top it all she is meant to die on her eleventh birthday. It’s no fun being Morrigan Crow! But then the mysterious Jupiter North turns up and everything changes… If you’ve loved Harry Potter, this is one for you! (ages 9-12)

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

When Fidge finds herself accidentally falling into a magical world in her awful cousin Graham’s basement, the last thing she expects to meet is a bunch of toys from her little sister’s bedroom. Toys that have somehow come to life and, for some of them, developed very nasty personalities. There’s tons going on here and it’s so, so funny. A brilliant read! (ages 9-12)

The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters by Kara Lareau and Jen Hill

Sisters Kale and Jaundice Bland LOVE their very boring lives: always the same, always predictable, no surprises, be they good or bad. But when they get kidnapped by a bunch of crazy pirates, things are thrown upside down and they don’t like it one little bit. Come aboard for a zany adventure, you won’t regret it! (ages 9-12)

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue and Caroline Hadiladsono

Meet the Lotterys, a family of two dads, two mums and seven children, plus an assortment of pets all living in the rambling house of Camelottery. Life is a bit mad for narrator Sumac with so many siblings and grownups to deal with, but it’s nothing compared to what happens when Grumps (a cranky grandad she’s never met) comes to live with them. (ages 12+)

Who Let the Gods Out? by Maz Evans

Elliot’s life is hard enough as he tries to hide the fact that Mam is slowly but literally losing her mind. Yet things are going to get a lot more complicated as a young Greek goddess lands in his garden shed and as they accidentally free the Daemon of Death from his millennial prison under Stonehenge. Cue a mad race to track him down and bring him back behind bars with the help of a crew of mad gods who are nothing like what you’d expect. Action-packed and hilarious! (ages 12+)

Marvel: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Squirrel Girl has the tail of a squirrel and its amazing abilities for jumping, running, gliding and stocking nuts in her cheeks. But Squirrel Girl can’t let anyone know about her powers. She’s just moved to a new town where she’s trying hard to blend in, make new friends and figure out where the recent wave of crime is coming from. Squirrel Girl is awesome and super funny, and it pokes fun at Iron Man: what’s not to like? (ages 12+)

Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais

Hakima, Mireille and Astrid have been voted winners of the Pig Pageant, that is to say ugliest girls in school. Once the initial shock of the news has subsided, what are the girls going to do about it? Mireille has the answer: they’re going to show the rest of the world that they don’t care! Follow the girls as they hop on their bikes for a hilarious road trip through France, it will put a spring in your step! (Ages 14+, Young Adult)

For more great book ideas, head over to Inis magazine, where you will find books for all ages in English and Irish. Your local library should also have a copy of this year's Inis Reading Guide, which contains over 250 quick reviews of books for babies to young adults: picturebooks, early readers, chapter books, big, fat novels, fact books and poetry.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Christmas Competition 5th and 6th Class

Back by popular demand, our bookish competition kicks off this week. Will you get all the right answers? Good luck!

Christmas Competition 3rd and 4th Class

Back by popular demand, our bookish competition kicks off this week. Will you get all the right answers? Good luck!

Christmas Competition! 1st and 2nd Class

Back by popular demand, our bookish competition kicks off this week. Will you get all the right answers? Good luck!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Look at me, reading a grown-up book!

There is a life beyond kids' books. Apparently.
Once in a while, I venture out of the kids’ section of the bookshop or library and find myself in the grown-up aisles. Usually this happens when I’m on the look-out for the latest title from Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Coe, David Mitchell or ArtoPaasilina, but occasionally I end up with books that I haven’t looked for at all and didn’t even know existed. Such was the case with Jo Baker’s Longbourn, a hand-me-down from a friend who has recently been converted to the joys of tidying and did a clearout of her shelves.

I am a long-time fan of Jane Austen’s, whose books I have read and re-read a respectable number of times (which is quite a rare occurrence for me). Why, I even wrote a thesis on Presentation and Representation of the Body in Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Sanditon! A clear favourite, as for a lot of people, is P&P which I have read enough times to feel like I could quote the dialogues verbatim (but I can’t really), which I’ve seen adapted numerous times on TV and on stage, and of which I have read a handful of spin-offs. Among the latter, I would heartily recommend Natasha Farrant’s Lydia, the Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice: a brilliant, brilliant take on the original that gives Wickham a break and Lydia a chance, and is a great teen novel in its own right.
But back to Longbourn. Longbourn is the Upstairs Downstairs version of P&P, with a main focus on Downstairs, as we follow Sarah the maid in her interactions with her peers, her immediate superiors (Mrs Hill) and her ‘betters’. With Sarah we scrub, we brush, we polish. We scatter tea leaves to help sweep up the dust, we trim bonnets and wash Mrs Gardiner’s kids’ stinky nappies. We trek through the muddy lanes of Meryton, avoiding dodgy militiamen and trundling carriages. Young Polly’s less-than-thorough approach to most jobs quickly irritates a reader who is wholly on conscientious (but not all-accepting) Sarah’s side; or at least until we find out Polly is only twelve and way too young by modern standards to be doing most of the work that is her lot.
Baker has done her research very well and wears it very lightly and yet it’s in plain sight. The craftsmanship of Sarah and her colleagues as they go through their unforgiving chores is fascinating and, perversely, a joy to behold. The dirtier, the better. Suddenly, the likes of Elizabeth and Jane appear much more alive and human now that we know how their soiled linen is washed and boiled be it as part of the dreaded weekly washday or following their ‘monthlies’.
Who do you think curled that hair and laundered that frock?
And yet, at the same time, they remain figures at the periphery of Sarah’s life and story. The Bennets are, ironically, enormously absent, even though their requests and needs dictate what goes on downstairs. Shadows and shadow-puppet masters at the same time, the family cannot claim Longbourn as their own and the novel is not Pride and Prejudice. Cleverly, the original gives Baker’s book its tempo and an initial framework, but not its plot. All the events that readers of Austen know are only relayed in so far as they impact on the maids and cook and footman, all the social engagements becoming another chore on an infinite to-do list, the balls equating to somebody waiting half the night in the cold by the carriage… Darcy’s declaration is a non-event, it only features in as much as Sarah opens the Collins’ door to him on the fateful day where he makes a complete idiot of himself. But she’s not in the room to see it and nothing transpires below stairs.

As Baker puts it in her afterword, ‘where the two books overlap, the events of this novel are mapped directly onto Jane Austen’s. When a meal is served in Pride and Prejudice, it has been prepared in Longbourn.’

'When a meal is served in Pride and Prejudice, it has been prepared in Longbourn.’
Not all Austen fans will be charmed by Baker’s take as it will be seen as ‘tinkering’ with beloved characters. She adds nothing that isn’t already there in so far as the Upstairs are concerned, but she digs deeper behind the scenes and pushes some traits, sometimes to the extreme. Lizzie isn’t all that nice and charming when dealing with people are not on her social radar (‘Oh! Smith! You mean the footman! (…) You called him Mr Smith, that’s why I misunderstood you; I thought you meant someone of my acquaintance. I thought you meant a gentleman.’) And as for Wickham, suffice it to say that he definitely does not get a break here.
Baker’s prose is masterful and so self-assured that it is hard to believe this is her début. Just as she’s not afraid to unpick the fabric of P&P, she boldly goes at the fabric of language, often playing with nominal sentences that, despite their lack of verbs, are hugely dramatic and bombard the reader’s senses. When Sarah and Darcy finally come face to face (not by the Pemberley pond, not in a bathroom, but in a perfectly respectable drawing-room scene), in the closing pages of the novel, here is what we can read: ‘Sarah risked a look at his big handsome face, the meat of him: the sheen of cheekbone and nose, the gloss of eyes, the smooth rubbery flesh of his shaved lip. He was descended from a race of giants; he must be.’

‘The meat of him’!
This is a rich, daring, vivid and, yes, meaty, reimagining that more than stands on its own two legs and has a lot to say about the horrors and joys of work, the place and consideration of women and girls, the passing of time, the madness of war, and the importance of making a place your own, be it Pemberley or indeed Longbourn.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

All Aboard, a Baby Book Club about things that go

We were all about cars and things that go last week at Baby Book Club, as we read Christophe Merlin's The Garage. We followed Mr Bear as he looked for his fellow mechanics to help him fix his car. Thankfully, we had plenty of assistants in the room. Armed with cardboard tools and plastic cars, they did a great job screwing, hammering and tinkering generally. And then there was the driving!
We enjoyed pulling the flaps, guessing what might be hidden behind them and laughing at what we sometimes found (what was that pair of pink knickers doing in the engine??).
There was also a lot of sharing going on (well done, team) and problem solving as some of us decided to drive in tunnels and explore the dark space Under the Table.
Our craft this time involved drawing with cars. We taped markers to the back of our motors and wheeled them around the paper, adding houses and trees along our 'roads' to make them more scenic.

As promised, here are the links to the songs and videos!

The Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang song!

Drive My Car by the Beatles

For an action-packed day at ‘Digger School’, watch Here Comes A Digger

See you all next time!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Can you guess the book? A game and a competition!

Inspired by the National Book Tokens' Hidden Books Game, the kids and myself have come up with a kids' books (and characters) alternative. It's completely homemade, low-tech and you won't win a year's supply of books if you can crack it. But can you?
There are 12 childhood characters and/or books to find, from picturebooks to novels via manga and all are favourites in our house. Pics of close-ups below.
Do share and let me know how you got on at juliette[AT]juliettesaumande[DOT]com and be in with a chance to win a book or two!
You have until Friday 8 December
Have fun!







(7) & (8)
(ok, this is a tricky one as there are in fact 2 sets of clues rolled into one picture:
a) bird and feline on the bottom sign go together
b) the other 6 signs go together)





Friday, 20 October 2017

Baby Booooooook Club

Today was our Halloween Special here in Baby Book Club. Witches! Black cats! Owls! and even monsters! To help us with ambiance we enlisted world-famous witch Meg and her companion Mog, created by Helen Niccol and Jan Pienkowski. The babies helped Meg getting dressed for the spell party, provided appropriate miaowing sounds and really listened.
We then got to our artistic work and were busy making monsters out of playdough, pipe cleaners and Halloween-themed pasta!

As promised here are the links to the songs and videos that will get you and your little ones into the spirit of the season!
(nothing too spooky!)

Halloween Rules by Bounce Patrol (a family favourite)

Ghostbusters dancing version by Just Dance

The Monster Mash by Bobby Picket

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, the Disney version

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Spooky reads for Halloween

Fancy something a little (or very!) scary this Halloween?
Why not sink your fangs into one of these?
Feel free to read up or down the age groups, but beware!
Some are proper spooky, some are funny, and there are a few terrifying ones in there too. 6th class, I know from our chats last year that you can take it (remember the light-bulb-eating woman?), but maybe don't read those too late at night...

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Children's Books Festival in Cavan

And here we are, myself and my kids' books colleagues, back on the roads of Ireland hopping from county to county, jumping on buses, catching trains, hiking rides from passing hot air balloons... This month is Children's Books Festival month in many corners of the island and nothing will stop us in our quest for delivering the best talk/workshop/bit of entertainment to the story-hungry masses.
Thus it was that I found myself in Cavan yesterday (in spite of Bus Eireann's best efforts to mislead me into Meath and keep me there*).
We had a great time chatting about Disaster David and Mad Cap, doing some crazy writing, drawing and extremely-loud-reading.
Special mention to the girls who fancied themselves as superheroes (you rock), the guys who created the very striking kingdom of sky mice, the writers who came up with the idea of playing football with a giant ball made of all the rubbish from the dump, the 6-year-olds whose writing hands couldn't keep up with all their ideas, the lady who had plans to publish her own story (keep at it!), the group who wrote the first ever riddle to come up in my writing workshops.
Also, apologies to anyone who may have been offended by:
a) my use of the word 'kick-ass';
b) the mention of 'knickers';
c) the suggestion that homework be cancelled for the day that was in it.

And finally, what better place to talk about giants than Cavan's super duper red-brick Johnston Library in the company of PJ Lynch's own (and Swift's!) Gulliver?!

*(Fear not, Meath, you'll get your turn soon)

Baby Book Club: the New Season!

Welcome back to our veterans and welcome to our new members! It was lovely to meet you all on Friday!
This week, we read all about Rosie, a very lucky little hen who goes for a walk. But who is that on her tail? A silly old fox!
We had a great time looking at all the farm animals (let's not forget we also spotted A TRACTOR) and trying to guess whether the fox was going to get Rosie this time. There was already a lot of learning going on here, about making predictions, connections and sequencing. Not bad for a crew of 4-month-olds to 2-and-a-half-year-olds, don't you think?
We then enjoyed painting our very own chickens (and the grown-ups' clothes, sorry) using square and triangular bits of sponge, to create colour and patterns, like on Pat Hutchins' bright illustrations.

As promised, the links to the songs and videos:

Rosie’s Walk, the animated version

Sandra Boynton’s Philadelphia Chickensby the Bacon Brothers

Chicken song - [Geco Remix] – for some mad dancing

And for something out of this world… Takeo Ischi - New Bibi Hendl (Chicken Yodeling) You have been warned!

Thanks all and see you next time!

Friday, 6 October 2017

We Are Back!

Welcome back to a new school year and welcome to the blog of the Patron of Reading for Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál Inchicore!
What is a Patron of Reading? It's a children's writer (me!) with a special link to the school and whose job is to create a buzz around books and reading for pleasure. Head over here to find out more.
I'm Juliette Saumande and I am very proud to be Patron of Reading again this year. I am a writer, a reviewer and a reader of children's books. You can see the books I have published in English here and my books in French there. I am also a Book Doctor, which means I get to wear a white coat and recommend great new reads to young patients of all ages during the free Book Clinics run by Children's Books Ireland.
This year, you can expect more fun activities around books in the school and on this blog, with themed book lists for all ages, ideas for getting kids into reading, creative writing tips from our Writing Club afterschools, competitions, class visits, pics and news from our glorious Baby Book Club and more!
If you have any questions or suggestions about what your Patron of Reading could do in the school (creative writing for parents, anyone?) or about books and reading in general, use the comments below!
Have a great new school year, one and all!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Team up!

Often desk-bound for long hours at a time, with only an attention-seeking cat (maybe) for company, and kept afloat by the faint hope of a parcel delivery for a bit of human interaction ('Sign here!'), the writerly life can feel lonely sometimes, as I'm sure must feel the life of the illustrator.
This is why the Tandem Fair project is such good fun. Set up a few years ago by a bunch French writers and illustrators, it is now in its 18th edition. What, you ask, is a Tandem Fair? The idea is simple: writers and illustrators are invited to send a sample text or an image to the Fair host; the host, on a given date, publishes the pieces on their blog together with contact details for all the contributors; writers and illustrators (who have contributed or not) are then invited to have a look at what is there. If anything takes their fancy, it's up to them to get in touch with the creator and suggest a text for an image they like, or an image for words that have caught their imagination.
There is no guarantee of a book deal at the end, only that of a fun, creative moment and, perhaps, a new friendship...
The Tandem Fair is open to everyone regardless of where you live (although it might be handy to have one language in common with your new partner!) and what your level of experience is.
For this edition, super-duper illustrator Élice is your host. So please, don't be shy and send in a pic or a text. All the details can be found on Élice's blog here; contributions to be in by Sept 24.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Year of Patron of Reading in SMGS

In pics and a few words, a little recap of the year.
(You might need to activate Flash for this to work!)

Huge thanks to all who took part
in writing clubs, book clubs, competitions and class visits.
It's been a hoot!

Have a brilliant summer all!

SMGS Patron of Reading: 1 year on!

The school term is coming to a close and with it my year as Patron of Reading for SMGS National School in Dublin 8.
It's been absolutely brilliant and I'm very grateful for the school who essentially said yes to every crazy bookish idea I threw at them, from Writing Club after schools to Christmas competitions and Baby Book Clubs.
Here's a wee video showing all the hard work done and all the great times had.
(You may need to activate Flash for this to work!)

Thanks all and have a brilliant summer!

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Wilds of Kildare

Last week was another busy week, as I was invited to take part in the Children's Books Festival organised by the Kildare Libraries: Newbridge, Athy, Kildare Town, Maynooth, Leixlip, Naas, Celbridge... the county holds no secrets for me now.
I met with hordes of enthusiastic Senior Infants, 1st and 2nd class, plus, once, an entire school where children aged 6-12 all had some excellent questions about the writer's job and the intricacies of Disaster David. They were not alone in this. Everywhere I went, the kids were full of chat and ideas and comments, in the best possible way.

We did a lot of predictions and wondered if people could break their legs in a book for children (they can). We looked at how a book was made and explored the role of the illustrator, the writer and the printer (sorry editors and publishers, you were only briefly mentioned!). We talked about giants and about how we might live if we suddenly became one: would we play football with the moon or basketball with humans? eat our breakfast out of a bathtub? use lots of planes as a jetpack to go about the world? wear trees or houses for clothes?
There were some brilliant suggestions there and some terrific drawing of what life might be like if we had a Gigantor (a gun for making everything giant-sized), if our entire family could fit in the palm of our hand, if we could (literally) break into banks and so on. Some of our giants were too big to fit on the page, one of them (stroke of genius!) even had her head on the other side of the paper!

A week before the end of the school year, one might have worried about a certain lack of focus or too much excitement (in one school they still had the bouncy castle from Active Week up and running, an actual BOUNCY CASTLE!). There would have been no need: those kids were so on the ball and into it, and SO well behaved. Special mention of the school I met in Athy who came into the library, sat down on the mats and just listened without anybody telling them to do any of these things. And also a special shout out to the ladies of Presentation Girls in Maynooth, all 60 of them, who were awesome.
To everyone, thank you so much! It was a pleasure meeting you and sharing stories with you (some young writers in Celbridge actually brought in their own productions!). Have a brilliant summer!