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Pirates next door

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The Pirates Next Door {what we’re reading}


Perhaps I should have saved this for Talk like a Pirate day, but this week we’ve been having swashbuckling adventures, prompted in some part by a little too much Jake and the Neverland Pirates at some unearthly hour on Sunday which Kitty insisted was morning, while I dozed under a quilt on the sofa with Sophie Giraffe squeaking somewhere around my knees, and a lot by this lovely read; The Pirates Next Door.


I think I could have chosen this for the cover illustration alone, but that’s just a taster of what’s inside.  I grew up near a little seaside town, so Dull on Sea, “too busy in the summer…and in winter it shut down…”, sounded remarkably familiar, although I’m sorry to say that we were never turned on our heads by pirates in quite the same way – I’m holding the very visible Navy presence responsible for putting them off.

Dull on Sea, without the benefits of a Naval College on the hill, is much more susceptible to benign pirate invasion.  But of course the residents aren’t quite so keen on the new arrivals, save for little Matilda, who is just thrilled to find a pirate-boy next door.


As with all good swashbuckling tales the pirates aren’t quite what they seem and despite everyone trying to get rid of them, they leave with the upper hand.



I love picture books where the pictures are an integral part of the story, not just a pretty accompaniment, and Jonny Duddle has hidden so many plot twists and little jokes in the illustrations that in focussing on the words I missed a few for the first couple of reads; the skull and crossbones that crop up everywhere, including the corn flakes packet, and that town clerk accepting the petition to get rid of the pirates who looks remarkably familiar, to name but a couple.


The words are worthy of the attention mind, lovely rhythmic rhymes, and lots of different voices.  Sat up in landlocked Warwickshire, I don’t need asking twice to roll out a good incomprehensibly Devonian pirate accent, if only to make sure that Kitty and Elma can understand family patois both north and south.


It’s one of Kitty’s favourites, and Elma seems to be joining the fan club, although I think at least part of that joy must be assigned to the fun of wearing pirate hats (I knew Cath Kidston hankies would come in handy), playing ships with the laundry baskets,


and drawing our very own treasure maps.

I should note that if you’re looking for treasure, Elma’s map is, shall we say, a little sparse on the details, so good luck identifying your whereabouts based on three green dots, a yellow smudge, and five red dashes. The treasure is below an inlet on a line running second red dash to third green dot.

Kitty’s map is much more detailed, but as well as the more traditional palm trees, volcano and fish, those details also include Grandad and Daddy holding stripy umbrellas in the rain, which I suspect means her treasure is buried in an allotment in Yorkshire where we huddled the extended family under golf umbrellas against a torrential downpour on our last trip north.  The treasure is also likely to be a handful of moshi monsters and one of my orange gym weights.

So I think I’d pass on the treasure, and having a read instead, although with one caveat.  Because however funny and detailed the illustrations, however much sparkle and mischief is drawn into little urchin Nugget, and even however many times we giggle out loud, one thing is indisputable:


I have the cutest pirate!

Maggie Stone

To see what we’ve all been reading this week, click on the button, or follow the linky below, or better still, join in!

A Year in Books Books Elma Family Kitty

One for them and one for me: books for August


With all forms of recreational typing, knitting, sewing and crochet off limits while my wrist and elbow started to heal, I’ve had plenty of time for catching up on some reading this month, and so I have not one, or even two, but three books that I’ve read for me this month, which must be some sort of record.

but first, one for the little ones:

One for them: The Jolley-Rogers and the Monster Gold20160809-DSC_0235

“Matilda lived in Dull-on-Sea …”, and with that we were hooked on the Pirates Next Door, Jonny Duddle’s first picture book featuring the Jolly Rogers. It was a tiny Elma’s favourite read (I can’t believe how much she’s grown since those days of being a teeny tiny pirate in a laundry basket), and well loved by all of us.

So when we spotted a sequel in the bookshop we knew it was coming home with us. And what I really love is that the format has ‘aged up’; the toddlers who loved that picture book are hitting primary school and learning to read and so The Jolley-Rogers and the Monster’s Gold has grown up with them.  It’s a book that Kitty could definitely read with help, and still a great story for reading aloud; something that she’ll listen to now to fall in love with the story and then in the future pick up herself on a rainy afternoon, a perfect early addition to her ‘proper’ library.

One for me: The Lady’s Maid, Rosina Harrison


Eighty-five years before the Spice Girls re-invented girl power, Nancy Astor took charge of some literal girl power, becoming the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons, and in the process smashing beautifully through a glass ceiling.  She was charismatic, generous to a fault, viciously tempered and on occasion quite spectacularly rude and while my views differ too much for her to be one of my heroes exactly, I love her confidence that there was nothing she couldn’t do just because she was a woman.

She was the subject of my school project when I was eleven, and as with all people who’s names you have carefully inscribed in mock calligraphy at the top of pages of careful handwriting, my interest as always been piqued by any mention of her.

The Lady’s Maid was republished when Kitty was a baby, possibly cashing in on a bit of Downton Abbey fever; it’s the memoirs of Rosina Harrison who served as Lady Astor’s lady’s maid for most of her life.  It’s fascinating as an insight into the organisation of a very big household at that time and even more so as it explores the relationship between the two women.  They would never have described themselves as friends and yet they were probably much closer, and were certainly very well matched, to the point that family members used to sneak nearer to listen to them having some humdinger rows.

When I bought it I read it cover to cover through the night feeds over a couple of days and I was prompted into re-reading it this month by a bit of a Dowton Abbey binge watching of my own in the first few days post car prang when everything hurt, and that also led me to my second book for the month.

Up and Down Stairs is a history of the big country house servants from Tudor times to their near extinction in the modern day. Rose Harrison is quoted extensively on the section on the 20th century, along with a number of her fellow servants, and while it’s certainly interesting to see just how much nicer the residents of Downton are to their servants than their supposed contemporaries, I found myself most caught up in watching the way that the role of a servant evolved from it being a mark of status to have a visibly large household, to the Edwardians’ preference that their small army of staff be not seen and not heard.


And finally, and continuing with the vaguely Downton theme, another of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s pieces of adult fiction, The Making of a Marchioness.  This is beautifully written comfort fiction; Emily Fox-Seton, a young lady of 34 with no family and very limited income, earns her living by running errands for the aristocracy.  She is sweet and good natured and unknowingly lovely, and the perfect Cinderella to be swept off her feet by if not a prince, then at least a marquis (given the title, I’m certain this isn’t too much of a spoiler). But where Cinderella ends after the big society wedding, Emily has to settle into her new life, and deal with her husband’s deeply unpleasant heir presumptive. Yes it’s a classic Frances Hodgson Burnett plot point, but it’s beautifully done, and you know it’s a story where you’re going to enjoy the ending.


This month’s year in books I’ve been horribly disorganised so it’s just me for now but do go and check out Claire’s beautiful beautiful pictures of her time in Norway and Katie has a very excellent excuse for not having been reading or blogging so much of late so do go and say hi!

Books Family Kitty Reading what we're reading

The Fairytale Hairdresser {what we’re reading}


On the whole we try to avoid overtly girly books for our little two, especially the sit still be good and beautiful sort (which is probably why we love the Worst Princess so much). Their shelves are full of adventures, of pirates and kites, of worlds of make believe, under the sea adventures and a whole hoard of rhinos, penguins, giraffes and the rest to accompany us along the way.

But I’m trying to be careful not to go too far; to devalue everything pink in a quest to avoid gender stereotyping.  It’s mainly because I rather suspect that if I said no to every princess book, to everything glittery, twinkly and shiny it would only make them all the more enticing to a little girl whose favourite colours are indisputably pink and purple.   There’s nothing as attractive as the forbidden, as I discover to my cost every time I think that it might be a good idea if chocolate wasn’t one of my major food groups, and so a little glitter is a nice balance, to keep everything in moderation.

But more than that, it would show a lack of trust in what we’ve modelled to Kitty. If everything I talk to her about, every passion that we encourage, and the way we try to live our lives shows her that she can be whatever she wants to be and do what she dreams to do if she puts her mind to it and works hard enough, is that really going to be undermined by the occasional story about a princess being rescued by the prince?

And so I’ve reached a compromise of sorts with myself; she may choose whatever she likes from the library, but H or I get to vet it if we’re going to be buying it.

But I don’t think we’ve needed to say no yet; by luck or chance her choices have been pretty good, and her latest find is just wonderfully fun and very her: The Fairytale Hairdresser.

What we're reading - The Fairytale Hairdresser - Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life What we're reading - The Fairytale Hairdresser - Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

The subtitle might be “or how Rapunzel got her Prince”, but it’s really the story of Kittie Lacey, the best hairdresser in the whole of fairyland.  She can cut and style anyone’s hair and make it beautiful, from a very demanding Goldilocks, all the way to a certain elderly gentleman in for a beard and sideburns trim while he reads up on the latest in the reindeer world!

What we're reading - The Fairytale Hairdresser - Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

What we're reading - The Fairytale Hairdresser - Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And with talent like that, it’s no wonder that she was summoned to sort out a very big problem.

What we're reading - The Fairytale Hairdresser - Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Miss Rapunzel, with a very bad, tower-filled-to-the-brim-with-hair kind of bad hair day.  Kittie wades in (literally) and soon has her client surrounded in a cloud of golden waves, before making a hasty exit from the evil intentions of the witch, rapelling down the tower with the assistance of a rather nice neat plait.

What we're reading - The Fairytale Hairdresser - Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Rapunzel might be rescued by her handsome prince in the end; she’s a little more maiden in distress and a little less Tangled, but Kittie is the true heroine; she’s courageous, self-reliant, and she’s doing what she loves.

It’s sweetly illustrated too, with a nice sprinkling of in-jokes; Goldilocks runs a locksmith and the Three Little Pigs have a construction company to name but a few.

What we're reading - The Fairytale Hairdresser - Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And Kitty loves it, and more than anything that’s what matters right now.  I could read her the Encyclopaedia Britannica every night (well an extract at least), and it probably would be educational, but unless she’s somehow become fascinated with aardvarks, it’s not going to hold a vast amount of appeal to a three year old.  Right now it’s time to fill her up with a love of stories, of all sorts and shapes and sizes, from fairytale hairdressers to the Shark in the Dark and back again.

Space for the Butterflies: What We're Reading

Thank you so much to Mummy Hearts You and Great British Family for joining in again last week. I’ve duly added Dear Zoo to my list, and I can never get enough of talking about The Pirates Next Door!

And if you have a favourite why not share it here; each linky will stay open for a week so there’s plenty of time to join in.  And so, without further ado, it’s over to you.  I’ve told you what we are reading, now tell me what we should be reading!

Elma Family Kitty Milestones Motherhood Pause for Thought Photography Pip

Boys or Girls: does it really matter when you’re one?


Space for the Butterflies - Boys vs girls - at what age does gender make a difference?

When I was expecting Pip we got plenty of questions about whether we wanted a little boy or were trying for a little boy (we didn’t mind/weren’t, we just wanted a baby we got to take home from the hospital in a car seat), but even more, people wondered what would I do if it was a little boy, how would we make room for all the new toys and the steady influx of everything and anything embellished with diggers/fire engines/pirates.  The unsaid assumption was that baby boys must somehow be a completely alien species to my two baby girls.

I’ll admit that changing the first nappy in the hospital there was a feeling of “well this is new!”. But you get enough practice at nappies with a newborn that we were all sorted within 24 hours, and from experience, baby girls are just as good at springing surprises on the changing mat as baby boys.  Beyond that it was hard to tell in those first few weeks, one variety of newborn baby is very much like another.  There were differences between Pip and his sisters; his objection to dairy in my diet was stronger, he slept less, has never sucked his thumb, and much preferred being in the sling, especially while we figured out his dairy tolerance levels, but I don’t think that’s a boy/girl thing, just a ‘different person to his sisters’ thing.

Our toys are just toys, and while we did acquire some new babygros with boats on that was mostly because they were incredibly cute and he was a good excuse. He would have been just as warm and snug and cosy in a pink bunny outfit and had he been a girl I’d probably have bought the boat babygro anyway (though perhaps not three times).  In his fourteen months he has worn sleeping bags covered in pink princesses and ones with Noah’s ark, he wears polka dot vests and DC Comics vests (mini Sheldon, it’s so cute!), and his current pyjama collection includes purple owls, pink sea horses and some very smart blue flannel checks.

He loves his wooden car, building towers out of blocks and knocking them down again, giving cuddles to his baby dolly and his teddy and banging the doors on the play kitchen, the bath, being sung to to the point of falling asleep during the hymns in church and big snuggly cuddles. So far, so very much like his sisters.

The first difference that we did notice, and are constantly noticing is that this boy can climb.  As in seriously climb. If you came to our house in between meals you’d think we were the messiest people around because all of our dinner table chairs are either pulled out all higgledy piggledy or lying on their sides, because if they’re anywhere near the table, and we’re not actually sat on them, young master Pip Squeak is more than happy to use them as a ladder to climb onto the dinner table, where he will sit, quite happily pouring the water from the jug into each and every one of out table tea lights, or emptying out the crayon box or anything else we’ve tried to store out of his reach.  He’s figured out how to push a chair around to get it to where he wants a leg up and the other day H found that he’d upturned a laundry basket in front of the washing machine and stood on it to reach up and turn the kettle on.

And it would be easy to think of that as being pure boy, and a mark of nature over nurture but in this case I know for a fact that Pip is merely the Sherpa Tensing to Elma’s Edmund Hillary.  She could and still can climb just about anything, even when walking across a nice flat surface was a bit of a challenge for her. That Pip can reach higher and climb further is simply because he’s a lot taller than she was at a similar age; taller even than Kitty at 14 months.  Climbing, it seems, is just one of those things my children do.

But there is one difference that I think might be more than just the superhuman strength of a very tall baby. Because I think young Pip Squeak might just be lining himself up to be the next England cricket hero.  Baby led weaning means all three of my little ones have had a good go at chucking a bit of food around from time to time, usually when it’s sticky on their fingers, but Pip is the only one of the three to have hit the wall from the far side of the dinner table.

His overarm throw is pretty impressive, and pretty painful if he happens to be wielding something solid (the magnifying glass, wooden blocks and board books being his favourites) and every time I see him sit down in front of the tray of blocks and proceed to use both hands to ‘bail’ them over his shoulders I can’t help but giggle.

Three is a fairly small sample set but I have no recollection of the girls ever doing something similar. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary throwback; baby boys have an inbuilt spear throwing reflex while the girls have, I don’t know, what would be a baby gesture for gathering seeds and berries?

But I’m curious now, up until a couple of months ago I’d have said no, at one there really isn’t any difference between baby boys and girls, but now I’m wondering whether we’re on the cusp of seeing some of those differences come through.  And so I’m throwing it open to all of you who’ve walked this path before; tell me, at what stage did you feel that you could see a difference between your baby boys and your baby girls?


Elma Family Kitty Living Arrows Photography Pip

Living Arrows 49/52


Once upon a time there was a very solemn little pirate. But happily she wasn’t too solemn for very long.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

My lovely aunt celebrated a milestone birthday (which frankly I refuse to believe she has reached!) with what looks to have been the most amazing pirate party and so when those of us that couldn’t quite manage a night of swashbuckling gathered for lunch the next day, the assembled great nephews and nieces were not in any way shape or form short on props.

The six of us cousins have all had our babies fairly close together; eight of the ten having made an appearance in the four years between Kitty and her youngest second cousin who arrived a couple of months after Pip, so even when some of our number are missing, there are still a good clutch of little ones running around.

It’s so funny watching that initial cautious wariness between little girls who know that they know each other, know that they like each other, and have been excitedly telling everyone in earshot all day that they’re going to see each other, and then become suddenly so very shy when actually presented with the reality of their friend.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Of course give them an hour or two and they’re completely inseparable, running around the farm, hiding behind the sofa deeply immersed in some game that is unfathomable to the rest of us.

It’s so very familiar from my own childhood too; it seems to play out to a well rehearsed formula from the bustle of arriving, the hugs and excited greetings, especially for Pip who was meeting a little more of his extended family for the very first time, to catching up and sharing the family news over the most delicious roast lunch, a little stint outside in the fresh air, and then as the light faded, retreating back indoors to sit in the warm comfortable glow of the lamplight and just enjoy being together as the pirate piñata met its end at the point of the poker and the jelly babies that spilled out disappeared into the cousins.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

The pirate hat was passed from cousin to cousin, each one possibly cuter than the last (Elma says “Aaaarr!”), though we stopped just short of waking Pip up to see what a pirate baby would look like; epic sword fights were enacted; and in between the pirates pooled resources of stickers and colourings in to keep little hands occupied.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

The family itself may ebb and flow; but there is something so very lovely and that leaves me feeling so very loved in watching my own little ones fit into a rhythm of family that has been a constant since the days when I was smaller than Kitty.

living arrows