The Dog that ate the World by Sandra Dieckmann

Imagine being able to see a metaphor in emphatic detail like Sandra Dieckmann. She shows how scarcity unleashes creativity. Her metaphor is a simple one: we are stronger together. Her colour palette consists only of blue-green, orange-red and grey-black hues. And out bursts movement, music, emotive skies and landscapes alive with shape and texture.

The dog effigy of nature and its creatures howling at the black dog. I have howled like this in despair, pleading for hope. Haven't you?

The character of the black dog may symbolise many things, but one day I made the connection between it and depression, which is sometimes described as the black dog. For me, human connection has been the antidote to depression and this story takes individual characters from their siloed experiences and throws them together to face the black dog. For that I treasure this book even more. I love how good books give us the language to makes sense of our world. That is the first step to healing.

A brilliant mind puts one world in the tummy of another. I watch my children decode it and wonder at their conclusions.

The books I collect are an ode to life. And I offer them to my children as such. In perfect synchronicity, Dieckmann’s foreword includes this quotation, “Be a lover of the world, it is the only way to survive in it. – Janosh”.

Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd-Stanton

Arthur and the Golden Rope is the first of a series from Brownstone’s Mythical Collection. As I browsed the bookshop, I was drawn to the book by the style of the cover. It felt like I had stumbled upon an unfolding story that sucked me into its world of mythical beasts and unlikely heroes. I love this book.

Just taking in the delicious imagery in the book is a familiar pleasure. The colours are vivid and scenes so alive my brain automatically imagines the motion. The layers of endearing quirky detail tell their own little subplots. Each scene feels like a paused frame of an animation reminiscent of Miyazaki’s films.

The illustrations are so full of life I can see them move.

The hero on the cover looks like an ordinary child and I know my children will see themselves in the unlikely hero and play out his adventures in their own imaginary play. In his thought provoking talk on How Movies Teach Manhood, Colin Stokes compares movies for children today with The Wizard of Oz and observes that instead of just having one dimensional characters that predominantly fight to succeed, Dorothy makes friends with everybody and is a leader. Stokes asks, “Why is there so much Force — capital F, Force — in the movies we have for our kids, and so little yellow brick road?”

An adventure of pushing your mind and body to the limit, rather than a fight.

Our hero Arthur’s adventures aren’t about fighting. Arthur spends his time exploring the forest and getting to know the strange creatures who live there. He does a lot of problem solving, helping others and building relationships. He also tests his physical limits. He seems to spend a lot of time scaling great heights. By the time the story presents fighting as an option, you as the reader have already come to the conclusion that fighting is an incredibly limiting option and all the colour, humour and thrilling adventure happened because Arthur used his body and mind to follow his curiosity.

Toddler Garden Story Box

Once upon a time, a toddler called Little Lady sat on her back doorstep and lifted the lid of a sensory small world, her little garden. Earlier that morning, she sat curled up on Parent-in-Chief’s lap reading Sylvia by Christine Sharp. Jabbing at the pictures and babbling loudly over Parent-in-Chief’s attempt to do justice to the lyrical acrobatics of Sylvia snail professing through her silvery trail, her unwavering love for Simon Green’s greens.

A lyrical love letter to the food we grow and the little critters who share it.

Eventually, Parent-in-Chief decides that the Little Lady clearly had her own stories to tell of quibbling pushy potatoes, sulky strawberries and friends. The Toddler Garden Story Box is born. Rice dyed brown is put in an up-cycled food container. The veggies and fruit are painted stones. Wool is threaded through pom poms to make Fluffy Caterpillar. And the labour of love, the centrepiece, the chilli plant is made of woven bottle brushes, embroidery thread and felt.

And so, on that doorstep, the Little Lady dug a hole and planted her chilli tree. This is what happened next.

Dad jokes were not appreciated.

Emotions are running high mid-disagreement, and Clownish Cucumber tries to lighten the mood. He’s cool like that. Pushy Potato rolls her eyes.

Fluffy caterpillar said outrageous things.

Fluffy Caterpillar weighs in. He is all up in Pudsy Potato’s face.

Fluffy caterpillars intentions were indecipherable.

But Parent in Chief forgot to put eyes on Fluffy Caterpillar so it is entirely conceivable that he’s trying to diffuse the situation with the most fluffy shimmy.

The chilli plant simply fluttered its fruit...

The chilli plant rises above it all, well not really. She digs her heals in.

The chilli plant is taunting the others.

And so it goes on, with the Little Lady planting and harvesting her potatoes, cucumbers and strawberries while discussing the meaning of life with her fluffy caterpillar, as toddlers do.

The Worst Princess? The only kind worth being.

At the beginning of this year, with a three-year-old and six-month-old, I needed a good dose of guilt free art therapy, so it needed to be zero waste and all that good stuff. We needed to get presents for friends’ children’s birthday parties and thus, the concept of the Story Box was born.

I found The Worst Princess, cleverly written by Anna Kemp and cheekily illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. What a brilliant place to start. Let me set the scene…

Meet Princess Sue. She perches gloriously in her tower made from a leftover cardboard box and lined with scrap paper that I lovingly collect, looking across the rolling hills of split green peas. In the distance, the background of the scenes in the book which looked like the Scottish countryside are painted with a similar aesthetic on the walls (and bottom in case the child’s parent can’t be bothered dealing with the split green peas anymore).

Princess Sue, made from a wooden peg and clad in the gladdest of rags smiles confidently, her pink pipe cleaner arms stretch out as if to show off her guns. Little people, she is ready for action! Play on!

Does my horse look prettier than me?

Oh wait, don’t forget the Prince! He’s not a bad guy, just confused about the rules of the game. Kids, you make up your own rules, ok. So, here we have our besparkled Prince. He’s rocking his oversized sword and pantaloons, a little something for the parents to giggle at. The frog he just defeated sits sullenly in the pond of up-cycled shiny blue fabric stuffed with rice.

I am not a cow, I am a horse!

Introducing our cheery steed, who Captain G, our three-year-old pirate king, insists is a cow. Nevertheless, he does not let his appearance get him down. He knows of his outstanding utilitarian pegs for legs. How easily they slot onto the side of the Story Box, and how easily Princess Sue or the Prince can ride him. It is simply unfair to him and his maker to cast such aspersions.

My tiny claws bely the firs within.

And finally, enter the dragon. Isn’t he magnificent? Although hilarious, his legs had to be swapped with larger pegs to equal the utilitarian prowess of the cheery steed.

Don't you point that at me! Or your new nickname will be hotpants!

So here they are, the first Story Box cast. May they have many adventures, squabble often and reconcile with cups of tea.

Onwards and upwards my friends!