As I write this, there are only 8 more sleeps till Christmas, and only two more weekend days but as usual, I have only just begun the annual tradition of making a Christmas gift each for Miss Missy and the Young Lad.
Of course I left deciding what to make till the last minute. For the Young Lad, I finally settled on a Batman cape and cowl. And some gauntlets. And a utility belt too. But when I asked Uncle Google for patterns, I just wasn’t happy with any of the suggestions. They seemed to be either waaaaay too complex (how to’s for making a latex full-face Batman mask) or didn’t really look like Batman (why do so many people think that a Zorro-style mask will do the trick?) or waaaay too simple (I’m talking something that looked like a pillowcase with a couple of eyeholes).
This simply wouldn’t do.
What is a librarian to do? Why, look for a book, of course!
And this is what I found:
Super Hero Sewing by Lane Huerta. Although there isn’t an actual Batman costume, I felt like these ones could easily be adapted to what I had in mind. There are lots of really cool costumes and accessories, including pirates, butterfly wings, and cute animals. And what do you know? the other day I came home to see the Young Lad wearing a Batman-T-shirt-Superman-cape combo, and Miss Missy told me he had said “I wish Mum could make me a Batman cape!” That’s the way to melt your mother’s heart, Young Lad!
I also found How to Make a Onesie by Janelle Fischer. I briefly considered switching from cape and cowl to a superhero onesie, but I think the Young Lad would rather look like real Batman, than like Batman-in-his-PJs.
Now, if it wasn’t enough to make all those costume items, I then decided that of course Batman would also need his sidekick, and that a Robin soft toy was going to be essential. Last year, right in time for handmade gift madness, I discovered Happy Quilts! by Antonie Alexander, and used the robot quilt applique blocks to make a cushion for the Young Lad. At the time, I was torn between that, and one of the co-ordinating toys.
So, naturally, this year a bedtime superhero toy is a must. Giving the pattern a Robin look has actually been quite easy, and it’s coming along amazingly quickly! Just the cape and mask to go now! The book is really easy to follow, and all the patterns are included on a disc, so you can just print them out instead of having to trace them off a pattern sheet.
Of course, I also have a gift for Miss Missy to make… maybe she’d like a little bag…?
… How many days did I say there are till Christmas?
Several years ago now, I bought Mystic and the Midnight Ride by Stacy Gregg as a Christmas present for Miss Missy, my daughter. We read our way through all the Pony Club Secrets books as I (and other members of my family) bought them for her as Christmas and birthday presents. Miss Missy quickly become a huge Stacy Gregg fan (seriously, just the other day we were chatting about favourite authors, and Miss Missy said, “Jacqueline Wilson and J.K. Rowling are great of course, but Stacy Gregg is the author I’ve been the most obsessed with.”)
I even persuaded my twenty-something year old brother to get a signed copy when Stacy attended Storylines in Wellington. He willingly, if somewhat embarrassedly, stood in line with a crowd of young pony-mad girls to get her signature. Miss Missy was very excited when, a few years later, Stacy visited Christchurch Storylines, and willingly signed the rest of her entire collection of books (there are a lot!!) We sent Stacy a photo of Miss Missy’s dedicated Stacy Gregg shelf, which Stacy then shared on her blog—super cool!
So I sort of feel as though I’ve been with Stacy Gregg from the start. I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read (though I haven’t kept up with them all, I have to admit). I loved The Diamond Horse, and have just finished The Fire Stallion. I think it’s my favourite book so far, although I’m now reading The Princess and the Foal, which I didn’t read at the time when Santa gave it to Miss Missy — I think it might be my favourite too.
First of all, what gave you the idea of writing about Brunhilda? I was fascinated to learn a little about her, and about Viking girls. I’m curious: Did you like the story of Sleeping Beauty when you were little? What were your favourite fairytales?
I think my favourite fairytales were always the creepy ones. Hansel and Gretal hanging in a cage in the witch’s living room while she fattened them for the pot, wolves eating grandmothers whole, that kind of thing. The romantic ones left me cold. Brunhilda is all kinds of mythic and historic figures. Yes, she’s the origin story of the Sleeping Beauty myth, and she’s also the Queen of the Valkyries from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and she’s the Icelandic Princess who is central to Snorri Sturluson’s Eddic poem. There are different versions of her throughout time – this is the update in which Bru reclaims her power and stops waiting for true love’s kiss to wake her. I don’t think girls have time for that anymore.
Brunhilda and her brother had some pretty serious sibling rivalry, and so did Anna Orlov and her brother. Do you have any brothers and sisters? If so, did you fight with them a lot?
I know! What’s my problem with siblings? You would swear I have a brother that I hate like poison. In fact I have just one sibling, a sister, and we get on famously – although we did fight like cat and dog when I was a kid so I do understand that complexity of being rivals I guess.
I was surprised by some of the things I read about the Vikings in your book. What was the most fascinating thing about Vikings that you learned while you were researching the book?
In the past I’ve written books with historical narratives anchored in the time of Empress Catherine the Great in Russia, Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus in Spain and the Italian Civil War, but this one with Vikings was definitely the most fun yet. They had such a brutal and noble way of viewing the world and their pantheon of gods is so nutty, so there’s a lot of Norse mythology in this book – Thor, Odin and Loki all make an appearance and I really enjoyed researching them. And of course travelling to Iceland and visiting Thingvellir – standing on the Law Rock where the Viking counsel held their AGM – that was very inspiring. The landscape of Thingvellir is spectacular – it’s the shooting location for everything “Beyond the Wall” in Game of Thrones – so dramatic and beautiful.
What did you enjoy most about Iceland? How cold was it when you were there? You’ve been to Russia too; do you enjoy the cold?
I had originally planned to go to Iceland in December until I realised that it would be too wintry – Iceland only has a couple of hours of daylight a day in that month. By the time I went it was spring – which meant minus five degrees during the day. I really feel the cold so I pretty much lived in a massive duvet-like Canada goose jacket the whole time I was there, sometimes teamed with fleece lined overalls. So no, I don’t theoretically like the cold, and yet I would say that Iceland and Russia are my two favourite places that I’ve ever been. Russia for the food (I know! Who would have thought?) and Iceland is just so outrageously beautiful. The next book is set in Berlin and Poland I’ve just been there on a research trip and it was freezing too! I need to start writing in warmer places.
What’s the weirdest things you’ve eaten in your travels? And what is your favourite food?
Fermented Greenland Shark is the iconic traditional food in Iceland. In my book Hilly explains how you take the shark, which is totally toxic if eaten fresh, and crush the poison out by burying the shark under boulders on the beach for a month. All of which is true. By all accounts it tastes disgusting. I never gave it a go because the Icelandic people told me it’s just for tourists now – the Vikings ate it out of necessity. Puffins are on the menu for tourists too – they catch them in giant butterfly nets and they taste a bit like muttonbird apparently. I didn’t eat them either on the grounds that they are too cute. I did eat reindeer carpaccio at an amazing hotel called the Ranga down on the southern coast which is the best place to see the Northern Lights. And in Russia my favourite meal was probably raw mince with raw quails eggs and pickles. I thought I was ordering a burger at the time but it turned out to be amazing.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve been able to do because of being an author?
I was incredibly lucky when I was working on The Princess and the Foal to be given full access by Princess Haya’s staff to do my research in Jordan. I spent time at the royal palace where she grew up and spoke to people who’d known her as a little girl. I visited the royal stables and rode Arabian horses in the desert and floated in the Dead Sea and ate amazing food and was made to feel so welcome. Afterwards, when the book was published in Arabic, I did a book tour in Beirut fell in love with the place. It’s a really liberal Middle Eastern society there, with a strong French influence to the food – again it’s all about the food!
I’m wading my way through various titles on Hitler – the new book is set partly in Berlin from 1939-45. I haven’t struck one book yet though that has gripped me. I try not to read when I’m writing as I’m a terrible mimic and I adopt other people’s styles too easily so I have to read in the gaps between writing. The last book I read was Paul Cleave’s The Cleaner and I’m onto the sequel – Joe Victim. Cleave is very dark and very funny and Joe is my favourite psychopath since Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
Did you enjoy English when you were at school? What was your favourite subject?
I loved English. But I always tell kids that if they want to be writers it’s not all about getting the best marks in class because sometimes within the school system I’m not entirely sure being creative is rewarded. Passing exams is about ticking the boxes not thinking outside them. I also think that grammar skills don’t really get taught in English at school. I didn’t really learn how to use apostrophes until I was working on newspapers as a journalist. I learnt my writing skills being chastised by sub-editors. As a consequence I think my copy is very clean now and my editors don’t have to correct much. The most important thing you can do if you want to write is read, and think critically about the work you are reading and then try and utilise what you’ve learnt in your own writing.
Do you (as an adult) read pony books by other authors?
No. I read the “Jill” books by Ruby Ferguson as a girl. I don’t read any modern pony fiction and I guess now I don’t really consider my books to be pony fiction. I think of them more as far-flung epic action adventures that just happen to feature girls and horses.
Are there any authors that you’d recommend to girls who’ve read all your books and are wondering what to read next?
I think I’m more in the vein of adventure – I write for strong, brave independent-minded readers who aspire to be heroes. I’d probably be inclined to point them towards male authors who occupy similar terrain – like Rick Riordan or Michael Morpurgo. I’m not a girly writer, despite the glitter on the jackets.
Blaze from Pony Club Secrets always reminded me of another pony called Blaze from a picture book Billy and Blaze by C.W. Anderson which I loved as a child. How do you come up with all the names for the horses in your books?
Oh it was really hard to name the horses in the Pony Club Secrets series! That’s because the name of the horse features in the title. And often in real life a horse is given a human name – our horse for instance is called Cam, and he shares a paddock with a horse called Dennis. But you can’t really have a title like “Dennis and the Golden Trophy” because it gets confusing. Who is Dennis? Is he human or horse? So the horses have to have ‘horsey’ names like Blaze and Fortune and Storm.
Although Pony Club Secrets is set in New Zealand, when I was reading the books, I thought it seemed like a slightly English version of New Zealand. Did you do this on purpose?
Well the books were always intended for the UK market and my publishers HarperCollins are based in London so it kind of naturally evolved to be slightly a combination of the two countries which I think works.
Do you have a favourite horse colour?
I like a really bright bay or a very rich golden dun with black points. Although lately all the horse-protagonists in my books seem to wind up being grey for some reason.
Do you have a favourite character (girl and or horse!) from your books?
I am totally besotted with the two girls in my new book, The Fire Stallion. Especially my Viking princess Brunhilda (Bru for short). Bru is so sword-wielding and stoic and yet she’s still sensitive and devoted beyond all else to her horse. She’s a hero in the true mythic sense and she just sort of leapt onto the page right from the start and gripped me by the throat and said “let’s do this”. I want to be her.
Did you have a pony when you were young? Can you tell us about your first horse?
I had to beg my parents for years. They were convinced I was going through a phase. When I finally did get a pony (her name was Bonnie) they didn’t have a clue what to do. Neither did I although I was convinced I was a genius. I was very lucky that they enrolled me in pony club. My sister rode too and we competed every weekend but we never had starry ponies and we wore homemade jackets and jodhpurs held up with safety pins. My daughter was lucky to have a horsey mum I think, and also times have changed and everything is so much swisher now than it was back then – there’s so much gear to buy and the horses are so fancy now. Cam is actually my daughter’s horse but I’m lucky I get to ride him quite a lot at the moment as she’s busy working on Power Rangers!
Do you have a special place where you write your books?
The Fire Stallion is dedicated in part to the Sea Breeze Café in Westmere – which is where I am sitting right now answering these questions. I’ve just bought a new apartment and also a new desk in the hope that I can spend more time writing at home in future.
You were a journalist before you became an author. What did you like most about that job?
I loved the variety. I did everything from features and fashion so one day I’d be interviewing Donna Awatere Huata and the next I’d be down at Mount Ruapehu because it was erupting and then I’d be in Sydney for a Louis Vuitton launch eating fancy canapes and drinking champagne. Journalism taught me so many skills that I use all the time – I research in the same way now that I did back then and I’m pretty fearless about bowling up to people that I need to talk to and asking them the right questions. Plus I can hammer out a super-huge word count under time pressure. It’s also the reason today I like to work in a café – it reminds me of the buzz of the newsroom.
Did you always want to be an author?
Totally! I just didn’t think it was a realistic expectation. I mean riding horses and writing – it doesn’t sound like a real job does it?
What is the best thing about being an author?
Everything. I love the freedom of it, creating your own routines. The flipside is that it’s a very uncertain profession. You have to have a bit of steel in you to get through the phase when you’ve been working on a manuscript for three or four months and no one has seen it yet and you’ve hoping it’s as good as the last one and that you’ll be able to continue to pay the rent. That sort of existence is not for the faint hearted.
Do you think being a journalist has made you a better writer?
Absolutely – although I was always a “style writer”. I did features, not hard news reporting. I never actually went to journalism school – I don’t think I would have survived that environment of nuts and bolts reporting. I managed to pester my way into a job at More Magazine and I learnt from the editors I worked for – Lindsey Dawson, Warwick Roger, Paula Ryan, Donna Chisholm, Wendyl Nissen, Stephen Stratford, Steve Braunias. It was an education.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an author?
You need a back-up career – books are a slow business and even once I was getting published with Pony Club Secrets it took about three years for the royalties to begin coming in. The average author in the UK earns two thousand pounds a year. In New Zealand I’d think it’s probably about the same. If you are determined to do it, look at the market and do your research and think about your career as a big picture, not just one book. And then write. And rewrite. And get your manuscript into perfect shape before you approach agents to take you on – you’ll only get one chance to impress them so the work needs to be tight.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?
What? In my entire whole life? Like I’m going to tell you that! I am mortified by things all the time that I do and I have no memory of my victories but a long memory for all the times I’ve been a twit. My days as a fashion editor left me open to daily embarrassment. I was at the Viktor and Rolf show at the Tuileries in Paris and I was allocated a seat in Row Z but I was so busy chatting to my friend Lisa Armstrong who was front row I didn’t realise I was single-handedly holding up the runway show because Vogue editor Anna Wintour couldn’t get past me to get to her seat. Her people had to move me on. That was a bad moment.
Lastly, where did you get those amazing silver boots you wore to WORD? Do you have lots of shoes?
When the Sunday Star-Times first launched their magazine “Sunday” I was their fashion editor and I had a column called Shoe of the Week. So yeah, it was a work-related hazard that I developed a shoe obsession. The silver boots are Balenciaga and despite the fact that they look crazy to walk in they are super comfortable. They were also nose-bleed inducingly expensive. They have since been surpassed on my latest London/Berlin trip by a pair of black patent Prada stilettos and some furry Birkenstocks that make me look like an Ewok. I shall have to write a lot of books to pay for them….
The Fire Stallion by Stacy Gregg is available now ($24.99 RRP, HarperCollins)
The Fire Stallion
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
I’ve been having car trouble lately. If Sheldon Cooper rode shotgun with me, he would have a complete meltdown, because Daisy’s check engine light came on over a week ago, and I haven’t checked her engine. So, anyway, the other morning, on the way to school with the Young Lad, despite the warming up and molly-coddling, I felt that all-too-familiar stumble-chug as we were driving along. I asked the Young Lad if he thought it would help if I gave Daisy some razzleberry, dazzleberry, snazzleberry fizz like the family in Rattletrap Car. And you know what he said, that boy of mine? “I’m too old for rhymes, Mum!” (with audible eye rolling in his tone.)
I know what he really meant. He meant that he’s too old for silly nonsense, like a car that can be repaired with random items stuck on tight with “chocolate marshmallow fudge delight.” Just like he’s too old for cuddles from Mum before he goes off to his classroom in the morning. *sob*
But honestly, how can anyone be to old for rhymes and stories? I say you’re never too old for a great picture book!* And lets face it, life is too short to read boring books. If you’ve got a littley to read to, you’re gonna want to enjoy what you’re reading too. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites with you.
First up: Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals. I spotted this one on the shelf the other day, and I absolutely love it! It’s sort of like an in-flight safety instruction card for babies. The road-sign style illustrations made me giggle, and who wouldn’t laugh at Willems “instructions” about available activities (“sleeping and waking, eating and burping, pooping and more pooping”) and log-in codes (“Do not worry. You do not need to know any log-in codes, yet.”) Or his warnings about unpleasant possibilities, like “fighting and wastefulness and soggy toast” or the ice cream disasters that no-one is exempt from. Technically, this is not actually a picture book, which is all the more reason to share it with you, since you won’t find it in the picture book bins at your local library. When you look for it (and you really should!) you’ll find it in the non-fiction section.
Henry Finds His Word by Lindsay Ward. When he was a little younger, the Young Lad enjoyed reading this book with me. He always loved books with nonsense words, and this one, with Henry’s baby-babble-nonsense as he tries to make himself understood by the grown-ups was no exception. Henry decides he needs to find his word so people will know what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t know what words look like. Are they big or small? Fuzzy? Prickly? Could one be hiding under his blanket? You’ll have to read this sweet, quirky story to find out!
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall is a great story about a crayon who just can’t seem to draw red, even though that is what his label clearly says. His friends all think he needs practice, or should try harder, but no matter what he does, all Red’s drawings turn out to be blue! A wonderful message of acceptance, and being who you are, told in a delightfully funny way. I love the brightly coloured illustrations too, they are a mixture of collage-style shapes and crayon drawings, that really make the story pop.
Before & After by Jean Jullien is a hilariously simple book that explores the concept of before and after in funny and surprising ways. This is also not technically a picture book, but will be found with the board books. While you’re looking for it, you might also want to look for Jullien’s equally hilarious This is Not a Book.
Reading The Scariest thing in the Garden by Craig Smith always involves lots of noise and hilarity. Would you believe that an aphid could be the scariest thing in the garden? It is to a really, really scared Brussels sprout. What about a lady-bird? They are pretty scary to an aphid. It’s fun to try to guess what the scariest thing could be each time, and to scream along with the scared bugs and animals. And you’ll laugh when you discover what the scariest thing actually is!
Although you wouldn’t actually readABC Dream by Kim Krans, I’m sure you’ll love sharing this beautiful and absorbing wordless picture book with your littlies. The illustrations are simply beautiful, and it’s lots of fun trying to work out all the things that begin with each letter — some are really quite tricky! I’ve shared this book with lots of children who’ve visited the library, and have been blown away by some of the things they think of. Don’t you just love it when kids surprise you?
And finally, no list** of my favourite picture books would be complete without Captain Pugwash by John Ryan. I just love this series of Pirate stories about Pugwash and his crew, who are the laziest afloat. Although Pugwash thought himself very brave and clever, it was always Tom the Cabin Boy who saved the day. Dad gave me this book for my 5th birthday, and it is the very first book I ever read to myself. The stories are still just as exciting and funny as they ever were, so if you have a small person who likes pirate stories, I’m sure you’ll love these books as much as I do!
After all that talk about being too old for this kind of thing, The Young Lad surprised me last night by telling me he wanted to come to the library and listen to me sharing Storytimes with the little kids. I guess you really are never too old for picture books!
**I had a really hard time choosing which books to share in this blog post, because once I got started…I just couldn’t stop! So naturally, I also put together a list in our catalogue of a few of my favourites. I managed (with difficulty) to keep it to just 40 books. And I’m sure I missed out at least one fabulous book that I just couldn’t remember the name of.
Ever since she was tiny, Miss Missy has loved books and reading. She never had a security blanket—instead she had to have Peepo by Janet and Alan Ahlberg in her cot to go to sleep. Our best “look what my baby can do” party trick was getting her to bring us alphabet letters from the fridge. She could find the “S for Sausage” or the “G for Genevieve” or the “H for Helena” (her BFF) long before she could say any of those words. When she got bigger, she went through chapter books so fast that on trips to the library, she’d have finished a book before we even pulled up the drive.
It was a fast paced and exiting story, which ended with Celestine on the run, so Miss Missy and I were both eagerly awaiting Perfect, the next book in the series!
Much as I wanted to enjoy it, I couldn’t help thinking that Perfect was, well, less than perfect. I expected it to pick up just were Flawed left off, with Celestine on the run, and determined to take down the evil Guild that controls the world she lives in. But Perfect doesn’t take off at a run. Instead of running, Celestine decides to hang out on her Granddad’s farm for a couple of weeks, going no-where, doing nothing. And of course, she almost gets caught. Once she finally starts running, I expected her to go get the vital evidence she needed to bring down the evil Judge and his Guild, but it took her an absolute age to figure out what I already twigged onto–that she’d been given the evidence secreted in an unexpected gift. She’d had it since the first book, and it took her half the second one to figure it out! I got a bit annoyed with her naivety (stupidity?). She was just too trusting, and it kept getting her into trouble.
But maybe I’m being to harsh! Miss Missy loved it, and once it got off the ground, I did enjoy reading it. I think Perfect just suffers a little from Sequel Syndrome (I thought I was being clever coming up with that, but a quick Google search will show you its not a new thing!) Is it cynical of me to think that Ms Ahern’s publisher just wanted her to spin the story out into two books instead of one? All in all it was a pretty good book, and if you enjoyed Flawed, it’s definitely worth reading this to find out what happens, so don’t let me put you off!
And maybe you’d like to tell me about a sequel that you thought fell a short?
by Cecelia Ahern
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
I love me a good craft book. Sometimes I take them home just to drool over, and sometimes I actually make some of the things! In the last couple of months, I’ve found some really wonderful craft books, and I just had to share. Maybe you’ll find something to make too!
First up, is Felt Wee Folk by Salley Mavor. This book is full of adorable little figurines, with the sweetest faces, little acorn cup hats, and beautiful felt clothes. I really wanted to make some fairies for the Christmas Tree, and a Nativity, and maybe a winter scene, too. I found it before Christmas, and I really would have made some if I hadn’t discovered book number two just a week later…
Book number two is Happy Quilts! by Antonie Alexander. This book looked so bright and fun I couldn’t resist bringing it home, and as I pored over the cute projects, I realised that here was the perfect inspiration for the Young Lad’s homemade Christmas present. Even though this is a book of quilts, I didn’t make him a quilt (remember I took this book out just before Christmas, even I wouldn’t contemplate making a whole quilt with just three weeks to do it. I may be good, but I’m not that good!)
I thought about one of the soft toys, but the Young Lad has just turned eight, and I wasn’t sure how well a rag-doll would go down, even if it was a superhero rag-doll. So I decided to use one of the robot quilt blocks, and make him a cushion. I had a lot of fun choosing colourful fabrics from my stash, and was really pleased that the only things I ended up buying was background fabric and buttons. The huge grin on his face, and the bear hug he gave the cushion when he opened it told me I’d chosen just the right thing to make!
The last book I want to tell you about is Wedding Jewelry by Sian Hamilton. I spied this book on the new books shelf and couldn’t stop myself from picking it up and flicking through. See, my little brother is getting married this year, and I want to make something for his fiancée. Even though the brides in the book all have rather pained expressions on their faces — according to Miss Missy, several of them look like they’ve just noticed bird poo on their shoulder — the instructions are really clear, and there are lots of interesting techniques. When I showed the book to my future SIL, we came up with a plan for me to make a beaded hair comb, and I’m really excited about getting started on it!
Have you discovered any great crafting books lately? If so, please tell me your finds!
First up, we learnt that Pony Movies are almost all made from the same basic recipe, which goes something like this:
The Horse. It wouldn’t be a pony movie without a horse, of course.
The Girl. Obviously the Girl loves horses. Sometimes she has never, ever ridden a horse, but she will instantly be a better rider than anyone else.
The Father. The Father is generally either dead or the girl has never met him. Either way, he usually is (or was) a great rider. If there is no Father, there will be Horse-trainer-father-figure.
The Tragic Accident (optional). Someone will often have had a terrible accident while riding. It could be the Father, the Trainer, or the Mother, and sometimes it’s fatal. This generally leads to the Girl being forbidden to ride. Or the brilliant Trainer refusing to train.
The Villain. This is usually a rich neighbour, and possibly the neighbour’s bratty son. They will probably buy, steal, or have other treacherous dealings with the Horse. Or it could be a bratty girl who has been riding all her life and always wins every single competition.
The Colic Episode (add for extra spice). Colic is a very common equine ailment in pony movies. Everything will be going along swimmingly, and then the Horse gets colic. Everyone will be in a complete and utter panic, the Horse will be on death’s door, but will be restored to full and perfect health after a night of being lead around the stable by the Girl. Or perhaps by some horse-whisperer who will have to be dragged from his bed in the middle of the night just so he can put a hand on the horse’s belly and magically cure the colic.
The Competition. This could be show-jumping, rodeo, or a long distance race, or some such. Spoiler alert: the Girl will win. Even though she’s never ridden a horse before, remember?
The Foreclosure (optional). The parents or step-parents of the Girl will be about to lose their house, farm, horse(s), or all of the above. Usually the villainous rich neighbour will offer to buy them out.
Choose your optional ingredients and extra spices and mix all together. Bam! You’ve got a pony movie.
Sometimes, the result will be a fun and exciting family movie. And other times…
Which leads us to the other thing we learnt: sometimes watching bad movies can be just as much fun as watching good movies! Miss Missy and I have just loved picking the plots to bits, spotting the stunt and pony doubles, laughing at bad riding and total lack of horse sense, and “predicting” the ending (will she win?? will the farm be saved??).
The best Pony Movie Marathon moment was when we were watching Amazing Racer, and Miss Missy struggling to hold her derision in, snarkily told the TV to “pick a plot-line!” The makers of that movie clearly thought that more would be more, and threw everything in the mix: not only a dead father, but also a long-lost-thought-to-be-dead-but-not mother, and mean foster-parents (or were they an aunt and uncle, we started to lose track…). There was also a tragic accident (just for variety, it was the Girl who had the accident!), a near fatal equine illness… the list goes on! If you’re curious, you could watch this movie yourself, or you could read this deliciously snarky review.
Pony Movie Marathon Awards
Miss Missy and I couldn’t resist bestowing some Pony Movie Marathon Awards, and decided to award Amazing Racer our Best of the Worst Award.
Honourable Mention goes to: Virginia’s Run. Yes, this was your typical pony movie, but it stood out a little from the crowd. The first thing it’s got going for it is that it stars Gabriel Byrne as the father, and there are some genuinely funny moments. Yes, (spoiler alert) Virginia wins the race, but we cheered when plucky Melissa come in last on her little pony, long after the crowds had gone home.
The Worst of the Worst: No question about it, this award goes to… A Pony Tale! This movie took “bad” to a whole new level. To be frank, I’m not even sure you could really call it a movie. It’s all of 88 minutes long, but I am not kidding when I say that half of that time is scenery shots that are completely unrelated to the plot, or even the location. There are also the random scenes of the Girl riding the Horse round in circles for no apparent reason. And let me also add that this is a movie about a talking horse, but they didn’t even bother to put peanut butter in his mouth, so the scenes where he talks are literally just shots of a motionless horse! We actually decided that watching this movie is a form of torture, and that the worst punishment I could possibly inflict would be making Miss Missy watch it again!
And finally The Best of the Best Award goes to: Horse Crazy. We loved this movie! It was wonderful to watch a pony movie that didn’t stick to the recipe! Not a girl but a boy, no tragic accident, or dead parent, and no miraculous riding ability to win the big competition. I don’t want to give the story away, so let me just say that there is a horse (of course) and a villain, three cheeky kids, a couple of gormless adults–and a whole lot of fun!
Any favourite horse flicks of your own you’d like to suggest?
When I moved into a flat of my own, one of the first things I did was call Mum to ask how to make carrot coins (aka honey glazed carrots) and call Dad to ask him how to make yellow rice (aka turmeric rice). Those were two of my absolute favourite things to eat when I was a kid, and I love making them to this day. There is nothing quite like the comfort and nostalgia of cooking things “just like Mum used to make.” So when I saw Rachel Allen‘s Recipes From My Mother: Delicious recipes filled with memories I was sure it would be just my kind of cookbook.
And I was right!
It is a beautiful book, full of family photographs, memories of mouth-watering meals cooked by loving mums and grandmas, and, of course, a multitude of delicious-sounding recipes that I just couldn’t wait to try.
There are simple ones, like “Scrambled eggs back in the shell,” and “Sweet eggy bread” (which is a souped-up version of french toast). Classic ones, like “Kedgeree” and “Apricot and cardamom bread and butter pudding.” Fancy ones, like “Amma’s icelandic kleiner” a sort of knotted doughnut, and “Lemon meringue pie.”
I find it fascinating that although Rachel Allen grew up in Ireland with her Icelandic mother and Irish father, many of the dishes she remembers loving as a child sound so familiar to me though I grew up here in New Zealand, with my Scottish mother and English father. The first thing I learned to cook was semolina, back when I was small enough to need a chair to stand at the stove. Mum created a recipe for me that included beautiful pictures for instructions, because I struggled to read till long after I was a dab hand at making semolina. And what do you know, Semolina is the dish Rachel remembers most from when she was very young.
Still now I find a bowlful of this rib-sticking pudding the most comforting food of all.
You and me, both, Rachel! Her recipe includes a instructions for making raspberry jam to dollop on the top. I wasn’t making jam with mine as a little girl, but it does sound lovely!
The “Beetroot and hazelnut slaw” reminds me of the delicious beetroot salad my foster mum used to make; while “Baked creamy vanilla rice pudding” reminds me of the tasty meals I enjoyed while boarding in my first year of University. Although I’ve never liked cauliflower cheese, Rachel’s description of the memories it invokes makes me wish I did!
For me, cauliflower cheese is serious comfort food. It comes with a shed-load of nostalgia, too, as I think of the round terracotta dish it was always cooked in at home. It would come out the Aga golden and bubbling.
Doesn’t that sound delish?
There are so many recipes in this book, I’m sure that you too will find something that takes you back! Not to mention something delicious!
I just love it when the library gods smile at me by sending me the right book just at the right time! I have been lamenting to myself for a while about the arduousness of baking for midweek work meetings. I love to bake—and more importantly, I love to eat good home baking—but sadly, I am not Wonder Woman, and often the thought of whipping up a batch of cookies or a cake in the evening after work is just too much.
Here it was, the answer to all my baking dilemmas! What could be easier than making several batches of cookies at once in the weekend, and then pulling them out of the freezer to bake when needed? Sounds as easy as falling off a log, and a whole lot more delicious! I couldn’t wait to try the recipes! The first one I tried was Sugar and Spice Snickerdoodles, and they went down so well at work that everyone is clamouring for the recipe!
Next up, I tried the Ginger, Ginger Cookies. The photo looked just like the yummy Gingersnaps that my family loves, but I hardly ever make, because rolling all those little balls of cookie dough takes soooo darned long! As I mixed, I was sure I had a complete failure on my hands. Could this sticky, squishy mess possibly be rolled into a sausage and sliced up?? But amazingly, they worked! The cookie sausages where certainly floppier than I expected, but because they were sliced up when still partially frozen, they worked just fine. The Beecrafty family were very disappointed when I said they were for work—but then I left the cake-tin on the bench when I left, and they got to eat them after all! (My team mates were not as happy as my family were!)
Last weekend, I decided to try the Double-Spiral Cinnamon Crisps that Miss Missy had been begging me to make for our Movie Night treat. I don’t have a cake mixer, which all the recipes claim to need, but so far my hand mixer and a wooden spoon had worked pretty well. Of course, a hand mixer is not a good tool for cutting butter into flour. If you try this, you are likely to send clouds of flour all over the place. A food processor is a much better option. I already knew that, of course, but it didn’t stop me giving it a go with the beater anyway. Yeah. It doesn’t work. But luckily I do have a food processor, and that worked a treat on these delicious treats! Next time I make them, I think I’ll do a double batch, they were so good!
I think I’ll try the Squared-Off Lemon Shortbread next. Or maybe the Chocolate-Dipped Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. Or Vanilla Cookies with Fudge Filling. Or…
Some people might say they’re just here for the kai, but I would say I’m just here for the tuhinga pikitia*. I love picture books, I really do. A good picture book is a work of art.
One of my all-time favourite picture books is Kei Te Pēhea Koe? by Tracy Duncan. I love it because the illustrations are so evocative, just one look at the picture for “makariri” makes me shiver, and there’s no mistaking how hungry the little girl on the “matekai” page feels. The words are in both Māori and English which is great for people like me, who aren’t fluent in te reo.
Another favourite of mine is Ngā kahumoe o te ngeru by Catherine Foreman. I remember the first time I read this book, when it came through the returns slot one quiet evening at Fendalton Library. The cat looked so sweet, tucked up in bed with his colourful pjs and his cuddly little rabbit, that I had to read it, even though I knew I probably wouldn’t understand a word. This is a lovely story, about a cat who wears a different pair of pyjamas each night, which inspire wonderful dreams…but when he wears his MONSTER pyjamas — well you can guess what happens! I understood all of this, just from the pictures. Because, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I enjoy the English version too, but somehow, when I read it, it doesn’t seem quite as magical as that time I “read” the te reo version.
Just the other week, I discovered a beautiful new favourite — Hush by Joy Cowley. This is a kiwi version of the classic lullaby, beautiful illustrated by Andrew Burdan. When Miss Missy was a baby, I used to sing Hush Little Baby to her, but I couldn’t remember the words properly, and made up my own version — I wish this book had been around then! Joy Cowley is much better than I am at making up words! The te reo translation is at the back of the book — I think it’s a shame the two languages aren’t together on the same page, but still, it’s a lovely book, and a beautiful song to share with your tamariki.
If you like waiata, then Sharon Holt is worth keeping an eye out for. She has lots of te reo titles, which include CDs to sing along with, which is a great way to learn the reo. Kei te Peke Ahau is lots of fun, with all the rere, peke, and pakipaki (flying, jumping, and clapping). Each page has a different animal and action to do, ending up with e moe pēpi — sleeping like a baby (not an animal, I know…unless it’s jungle hour, then babies are definitely animals).
Speaking of pēpi, it is the beautiful illustrations of pēpi and tamariki in Kanohi by Kitty Brown that make this book. This bilingual pukapuka is full of gorgeous, cheeky kids, with text in both te Reo and English. I can’t quite make up my mind if my favourite is the taringa picture or the ngutu one. This series of board books are perfect if you want to teach your tamariki a little bit of te Reo, or maybe learn a bit yourself. In fact, it was Kitty Brown’s desire to reconnect with her reo that prompted her to write the books. You can read more about this in our interview with her.
Nineteen forty-seven was hell for little bony girls like me who couldn’t wear the New Look. Then again, 1947 was hell for any girl who would rather work calculus problems than read Vogue, any girl who would rather listen to Edith Piaf than Artie Shaw, and any girl with an empty ring finger but a rounding belly.
It was a surprising, rabbit-warren of a novel, following the interconnected paths of two very different women, and spanning both world wars. One path is the story of Charlie St Clair, the little bony girl with the rounding belly, on her way to an Appointment to deal with her Little Problem. The other is the story of Eve Gardiner, a stuttering half-French girl plucked from her life as a file girl in an English law office and dropped into the spy network in France during World War I. It’s also the story of their two quests—Charlie’s search for her French cousin Rose, missing since 1944, and Eve’s quest for retribution and for peace.
And, it’s the story of Louise de Bettignies, code named Alice Dubois, queen of spies.
Have you heard of her? If you have, you’re doing better than me! Before reading this fascinating novel, I knew nothing about women spies in WWI apart from some vague recollections about Mata Hari. I was surprised when I realised that I was reading about a woman who had truly risked her life providing the allies with information. I mean, I’m not completely ignorant about the world wars. I studied Gallipoli in History and War Poetry in English, not to mention a having a fair few novels set during the wars on my Completed Shelf. But Louise de Bettingnies was a stranger to me. It’s a shame she isn’t better known, as Kate Quinn says of her in the authors note:
The courage, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of the woman christened the queen of spies needs no exaggeration to make for thrilling reading.
Not only was Louise a real person, so too were several other characters, and many of the events in the story are based on historical events. I didn’t realise this while I was reading, so this realisation, at the end, made the book even more enjoyable.
This book is, by turns, exciting, harrowing, poignant, a little romantic, and quite funny. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Charlie, after being refused access to her own bank account because she’s lacking a man, decides to pawn her grandmothers pearls, and Eve surprises her by pretending to be the said grandmother and browbeating the pawnbroker into giving Charlie a decent price. I’m definitely going to be adding Kate Quinn to my list of must-read authors, and I hope you do too!
The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand