Bloomsbury Middle Grade Double-Dip: Dogs, Doctors and Doings for the School Holidays…

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Seeing it’s the school holidays here in sunny (always, always sunny) Queensland, you should probably let your hair down and grab a tantalising treat to accompany your perusal of today’s double dip.  Both of today’s titles have been provided to us from Bloomsbury Australia for review.

First up, here’s book five in the Marsh Road Mysteries series by Elen Caldecott, Dogs and Doctors, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The final title in the brilliant Marsh Road Mysteries adventure series by hugely popular children’s author Elen Caldecott. For fans of the Laura Marlin Mysteries by Lauren St John.

Meet Piotr, Minnie, Andrew, Flora and Sylvie – the Marsh Road Mystery solvers.

Sylvie Hampshire is in hospital. She knows she’s responsible enough to take control of her diabetes medication, but now she has to prove it on the hospital ward. She’s only been there a couple of hours when Barry, a therapy dog, goes missing in suspicious circumstances. It’s time to bring in the gang! With their detective senses on high alert, the five friends set out to find Barry, but the stakes soon become much higher than they thought. Have they finally met their match? Not if Sylvie Hampshire has anything to do with it!

Dip into it for…  dogs and doctors

…a fun and funny mystery featuring dogs, doctors, a mysterious entity known as The Whiter and five good mates untangling the mystery of a stolen therapy dog.  Honestly, who’d steal a therapy dog? Well, that’s what Sylvie and her friends have to work out!  I hadn’t read the first four books in this series but I had no trouble at all getting into this one.  The relationships between the characters are explained neatly as they arise and the author doesn’t waste time lumping backstory into the action to slow things down.  The hospital setting makes this mystery stand out from the pack because it’s different and has its own set of tricks and traps to foil well-meaning child detectives as they go about their detective business.  The main characters all have their own strengths and character flaws that affect the investigation in various ways and the book even has some data sheets at the end showing each of the five kids’ stats for those who may not be familiar with them.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of meddling kids!  The only thing that annoyed me slightly about this was Sylvie’s initial attitude toward having to stay in the hospital for two nights for monitoring…but that’s just the grown up in me being sensible and boring.  Her reactions are perfectly age-appropriate and understandable if you’re a kid.

Overall Dip Factor

While not the most riveting mystery there has ever been, Dogs and Doctors is a fun light read with two mysteries left out for the kids to solve.  The ending is action packed enough to be a good payoff for the preceding detective work and Sylvie, as the main character, learns a thing or two along the way about being responsible and allowing others to come to the fore when needed.  There was nothing in particular in the story that indicated to me that this was a “final” book of the series, which may leave long time readers of the series unfulfilled, but as a standalone read this ticked all the boxes for kids meddling in dangerous situations and coming out on top.

Next up we have Andy Seed’s The Anti-Boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to Do, illustrated by Scott Garrett and just in time to combat the holiday chorus of “Muuuuuumm! I’m boooooooored!”  Here’s the blurb from Bloomsbury:

Say goodbye to boredom with this fantastic outdoor boredom buster book! From the hilarious Andy Seed, Winner of the Blue Peter Book Award 2015 for Best Books with Facts comes the fantastically busy Anti-boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to do.

The outdoors are boring right? Wrong! Not when you’ve got Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to do! Suitable for all seasons, find out how to set bug traps, create a rainbow, construct an amazing summer slide and much, much more!

But what about those rainy summer days we hear you cry? Not a problem! This book also includes awesome indoor activities about the outdoors for rainy days. Design your own mini parachute, create the worlds most amazing frisbee, or create a bird feeder to keep your feathered friends well fed!

A brilliant book bursting with amazing outdoor activities that will have you running for the door! Packed full of hilarious illustrations from the wonderful Scott Garrett, this book will keep you entertained for hours on end!

Dip into it for…  outdoor things to do

…a comprehensive collection of ideas to keep the kids busy in the great outdoors.  The book has ideas for all sorts of places, from the city to the beach, to the countryside to plain old indoors, so even if you’re headed off on holiday somewhere, it would be a handy tome to bring along.  The book is divided into the sections mentioned above, and lists a selection of activities for each environment as well as the things you’ll need to complete them and tips or instructions for how to get the best out of whatever the activity is.  As this is the book of outdoor things to do, activities range from kayaking around a lake to ball games to messy things to make and build.  For those who love their devices, there are also some photo challenges to do as well as maps to look up if your mini-fleshlings can’t go a day without looking at some sort of screen.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t immediately want to be cajoled into hiking up the nearest hill or building a canoe out of twigs and shoelaces, I suppose.  While many of the activities listed here will definitely keep the kids busy, a lot of them do require certain materials that may have the kids constantly asking, “Mum, where’s the sticky tape? Where can I find coconuts? Why don’t we have a limbo stick?” and so forth for the next two weeks.

Overall Dip Factor

There’s definitely something for everyone in these pages and I particularly like that the end of the book has a list of “challenge” activities that require a bit more planning and, more often than not, the involvement of an adult or at least a small group of conspirators.  Overall, I think this book is a great inspiration for those looking to develop more “unplugged” time as a family.

So there you are – an involving mystery and a bunch of outdoorsy things to do.  You can thank me later for making sure your school holidays are busy and booked up.

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Crochet Your Own Adventure (Let’s Go Camping!)..

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

I’m excited.

If you enjoy the outdoors, camping or textile crafts of any kind, then I have something today that will make your year.   It’s a crochet book by Kate Bruning (a canny Australian, don’t you know?) and it’s called Let’s Go Camping! From Cabins to Caravans Crochet Your Own Camping Adventure.

Finally!

A way to enjoy camping without having to worry about getting that horrid smoky smell out of my dreadlocks!

Now I know that title alone would have you bouncing on the balls of your feet and I will admit to being more than a little feverish when I discovered that Simon & Schuster Australia were deigning to send me a copy, but try and contain your excitement while you read the blurb – there’s plenty of time yet for giddy flailing!

Go glamping without the threat of unpredictable weather and nasty creepy crawlies, and instead crochet your own adorable camping scene that will keep any child entertained for hours and celebrate all that is great about camping.

Reminiscent of vintage camping memorabilia, you can create a nostalgic collection of crochet projects encompassing all aspects of outdoor life.

With mix and match projects ranging from vintage or Airstream caravans and ice cream trucks, to tents and teepees with all the camping paraphernalia of sleeping bags, backpacks and a log fire, as well as mountain and forest scenery you can create your own outdoor world. Or why not craft an alternative camping scene with a classic narrow boat, or a wooden lakeside cabin which can open up to reveal immaculately decorated insides.

Instructions for play mats will give children a fantastic base for playing, allowing them to create games and stimulate their own imagination.

let's go camping cover

Isn’t that cover scene just gorgeous? Being an avid crochet fan, I was itching to get at this tome and I nearly wept with joy at the innocent, light-hearted jollity with which the little Playmobil people were going about their outdoorsy business. The further I flicked through the playscenes, the more I was transported back to a simpler time when families had time to spend together and it didn’t really matter if dad insisted on wearing that silly towelling hat and tiny shorts, embarrassing you in front of the people from two caravans over.

Clearly, my crochet hooks could not remain inactive with such whimsical fun waiting to be created and so I dived into the patterns. Before I get into the technical nitty gritty, allow me to show you the fruits of my labour, as enjoyed by Bruce, Toothless and some Kiwi backpacker named Jono they picked up along the way:

camping wide shot 2_Fotor

As you can see, with the help of this book, I was able to create a natural, camping utopia in the climate-controlled environment of our own shelf! What a joy to see the excitement on Bruce’s stony face as he realised I could bring the outside in! Honestly, it’s moments like that that make this worthwhile.

Clearly, I only made a selection of things from the book – specifically the tent, the campfire, a mountain, a bobble hat and a scarf. I also whipped up a sun hat for Bruce to my own pattern. And while this picture may give the impression of a sweet, countryside idyll, it was about four rounds into completing the mountain – the first pattern that I tackled –that I realised that those of us who have taken up crafting since the advent of the internet have indeed been spoiled by sites like Pinterest and Youtube.

You see, when grabbing patterns from the internet, one often has the benefit of picture or video tutorials. This book was written in plain patterns and while this might be fine for more experienced crochet crafters, I suspect it would create steep learning curve for beginners.

I consider myself to be moderately skilled at crochet, but even I had some difficulties with items I thought I would find easy. Consider the mountain – mine being on the left and the image from the book on the right…

mountain_Fotor_Fotor_Collage

…while they are pretty close and I am happy with my finished mountain, I admit to wanting to stab myself in the eye with the crochet hook at multiple points during the making of it. This particular pattern has a number of fiddly bits that need to be sewn into the body of the pattern and without the benefit of imagery to guide me, I found it very tricky to figure out exactly how and where the insets were meant to be added.

Here’s my finished campfire, the crowning glory of our pretend camping adventure:

jonos bobble hat_Fotor

Again, I’m quite happy with the finished product, but again, it was fiddly and required a lot of sewing and the inclusion of a few bamboo skewers, which turned out to be more of a trial than I had anticipated. This was not the only project in the book that required bamboo skewers. The tent – which I found the easiest pattern to follow – also needed bamboo skewers added to create the structure (as well as straws, but I didn’t have any straws and frankly couldn’t be bothered going out to buy any).

Easy peasy, thought I, despite my experiences with the campfire logs.

Yeah. Not so much.

Although, I have always wanted to have one of those Pinterest “Nailed It!” photos to my name and making this tent allowed me to do it. Behold!

meme tent

So yeah, there were a lot of bits in the book that I found trickier than I thought they would be. Other bits, such as the hats and scarf, were great fun and super easy to complete. Toothless’s scarf was but the work of a moment and it was nothing at all to add a few tassels as requested by the recipient:

toothless scarf

Overall, I am very pleased to have found this book, but I would caution against jumping into the projects contained therein without proper preparation. The book suggests particular yarns and hook sizes, which I completely ignored because (a) I’m a rebel and (b) as I mentioned before, the whole “going out to purchase supplies” bother, but I have learned that following the pattern INCLUDING paying attention to the suggested materials often reaps better results.

Also, these patterns are probably going to take more time than you think, when you factor in the fiddly finishing off bits. But a book like this will just keep on giving when you consider that apart from giving detailed instructions for the creation of all manner of really cool items that can be used as toys, props and gifts, it is just a delight to flick through – both for aesthetics and inspiration.

I have to say thanks again to S&S Australia for providing me with a copy – you can be sure I’m not finished with the patterns just yet. We’re moving into summer after all.

Ice cream truck, anyone?

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha