My small business – SnotRagz

Setting up a small business is no mean feat. I started during my maternity leave as I needed something to do which could be worked on from home and occupy my time, as I was finding myself up at all hours unable to sleep, and it seemed that this midnight hour was also the time a lot of mums were online and available to talk to so I ended up finding a fabulous online community which led to forming friendships and more lucrative opportunities.

My business was originally all about finding clothes for Arlo as I was really disappointed with the clothing on the high street. The boys sections in particular seemed to be awash with navy, denim and cartoon character t shirts, none of which helped express his personality. With a background in graphic design and my illustrator mum to help I started creating my own designs and sharing them on my Instagram business page, and so my business evolved to become what it is today.

I’ll never forget the day I asked Arlo what he wanted on his t shirt for the day and he insisted on having a giant ant with all its body parts labelled, I was horrified at first but thought that it was very suited to him and it became an instant hit because so many little ones love hunting for bugs and creatures. Opening up custom order slots or surprise /mystery parcels was one of my favourite things to do as it gave me full creative licence.

After lots of trial and error I think I’ve nailed the sublimation process which is how I print my designs on to white t shirts – I’ll write about that in more detail over the summer but I do also love working with heat transfer vinyl because there’s more versatility with texture and I can use different coloured t shirts.

I’ve paused my small business recently as I have decided now to venture in to pastures new, and will be training next year to become a design and technology teacher. I’ll be sharing lots of creative craft projects and small business hints and tips whilst I have the summer off and I’m going to re-open my small business for a short time. To celebrate I’m offering one competition winner a free personalised t shirt. (Terms and conditions apply)

Click here or the picture below to enter

Looking after your teeth during pregnancy

I’ve written before about my horrific pregnancy experience. I suffered with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is basically extreme sickness throughout the entire nine months, and not limited to just mornings either. I was so weak and dehydrated that I was hospitalised several times. It wasn’t a great time for me.

Of course during this period I was extremely anxious and worried about a multitude of things, mainly concerning the baby growing inside me, and how feeling so unwell was affecting my ability to do my job but also spent a lot of time feeling anxious about my own health and well-being. My hair started to become brittle and weak and my teeth became something of a fixation.

Oral health needs particular attention during pregnancy. Teeth and gums are especially vulnerable to problems during this time. The reason again is hormonal: during pregnancy, women experience a significant boost in female sex hormones. In fact, women produce more estrogen during a single pregnancy than throughout the rest of their lives.

This surge in hormones is designed to help ligaments relax and to improve the formation of blood vessels, all of which allows a baby to grow and thrive in the womb. It’s good for the baby, of course, but not for the gums, which are at increased risk of periodontal disease as a result. The problem is compounded by the fact that during pregnancy we have a reduced flow of saliva, whose natural antimicrobial and antiviral properties would normally help to protect the teeth and gums. To make matters worse, women often crave high-energy, sweet foods that pose additional threats to the teeth.

“Maintaining good oral health during the prenatal period improves the oral health outcomes of the mother and the baby and may potentially improve pregnancy outcomes.” – Applied Nursing Research 2010

As well as this I was also concerned about the impact increased vomiting and excessive saliva was having inside my mouth, and I felt the need to brush my teeth much more often, but being extremely sensitive to taste and smell this act in itself made me wretch. There are some obvious and less-obvious solutions to hormone-induced oral health issues.

 

First, maintain a thorough home-cleaning and hygiene regime: brush your teeth regularly and use floss and interdental brushes.

 

Second, visit your dentist. This has become more difficult during the period of the pandemic, but dentists are best placed to advise on, and alleviate, any oral issues caused by hormonal changes. During pregnancy and twelve months post part in you are entitled to free NHS dental care which is a bonus.

 

Third, and perhaps less intuitively, chew sugar-free chewing gum. Research by the Department of Dentistry at King’s College London in 2019 found that people who chew sugar-free gum develop 28% fewer cavities than those who do not. The equivalent figure for fluoride toothpastes and other supplements was 24%.

Sugar-free chewing gum alleviates inflamed gums and dry mouth by stimulating saliva production by up 10 to 12 times the normal amount. This saliva neutralizes acid, soothes inflammation and rids the mouth of bacteria and plaque.

 

Multiple studies show that good oral health means a healthy oral microbiome, which in turn translates into good overall health. This is even more pronounced during periods of stimulated hormonal change in women. This is normal and there are effective preventative measures to hand, such as home-care and sugar-free gum. These can alleviate symptoms and prevent to onset of more serious problems.

As a woman it’s important to take note and maintain good oral hygiene as fluctuating hormones throughout our lives can also have an impact, from puberty and menstruation right through to the menopause – If you’ve ever noticed swollen or bleeding gums during your period, or ulcers, or swollen salivary glands, hormones may be to blame.

Top Tips to Enjoy the Sun Whilst Working From Home

We all wait for the summer months to arrive so we can bask in the British sun and get our money’s worth out of the deck chairs that spend most of their time stuffed into the garage. However, the reality is often really different when you’re stuck behind a desk for seven hours a day – even when you’re working from home. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of top tips that will help you to enjoy the sun and warm weather whilst still ticking off all of your to-do list.

Tip #1 – Make the most of your lunch break

As tempting as it is to make a quick lunch and collapse onto the couch with Netflix during your lunch break, or worse, skip your lunch break altogether, it’s one of the best times to get outside and enjoy the weather.

So prepare your lunch in advance, or prep something quick before grabbing your trainers and walking socks and heading out for a brisk lunchtime walk. This will allow you to bask in the beauty of the Great British weather whilst simultaneously getting some physical activity into your daily routine.

Tip #2 – Work outside

Ultimately, the best way to enjoy the sunshine when you’re working from home is to combine the two together. If you can work using a laptop, just move your office outside for the day. This could be in your garden, on a flat balcony, or even in the local park.

Lots of outdoor spaces have free wifi, especially if you can situate yourself near a cafe. Alternatively, use your mobile phone as a data point for your laptop. This is a great way to soak up some Vitamin D, and reduce your sunshine FOMO.

If you’re worried about screen glare, you can use this helpful hack guide that shows you how to create a DIY Laptop Sun Shade using household items.

Tip #3 – Work near a window

Sometimes, your day is just too jam packed with meetings and deadlines to get outdoors. If this happens, the best thing to do is make sure you’re working near a window so that you can still enjoy some sunlight exposure without disrupting your daily routine.

Research shows that people who sit in close proximity to a window are more likely to find creative solutions to problems at work, whilst also experiencing better sleep patterns than colleagues who sat away from their windows.

Plus, you can often feel the heat of the sun through your window, so grab your favourite summer outfit and your sunglasses, and settle in for a bright, sunny and productive day working from home.

Whilst it may not be possible to head to the beach during your working day (unless you’re feeling brave with your mobile data!), it’s certainly possible to add some extra sunlight to your daily routine, brightening up your work day.

Virtual First Dates

I was asked to think about online dating by some of my friends when I became single a couple of years ago and I brushed off the idea very quickly. Then lockdown happened and suddenly I’ve become used to having my social life existing online. In fact technology made lockdown almost bearable and suddenly the notion of online dating didn’t seem quite so daunting to me. With a little bit of encouragement from the “group chat” I started to think about what my perfect man would be like and wrote a tongue in cheek list.

Of course I have other important non-negotiables and this was only meant as a joke but then the girls group chat got out of hand and we started planning imaginary first dates with my “perfect man” – and we concluded that I would have to visit Belfast! Where else can you find the original locations for the Game of Thrones Set and that accent which is enough to make you fall in love? In fact it’s worth checking out this Belfast dating site

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

An hours drive from Belfast is this gorgeous scenic rope bridge and you can book a guided tour which takes you along to some of the Game of Thrones filming locations. I can’t think of a better first date idea than getting out and about, and doing something like this which gives you plenty of opportunity to talk about a mutual hobby and share a new adventure, a great opportunity to really get to know someone.

The Botanic Gardens

In the centre of Belfast the perfect spot for a romantic picnic for me would be on the lawns outside the Botanic Gardens. I would suggest that my date and I bring each other surprise baked goods. If the way to a mans heart really is via their stomach then I could impress – but I could also test out their cooking skills too and that’s important to uncover because I’m never going to be a housewife.

The Giants Causeway

Back to the great outdoors. I haven’t visited for a long time but I remember being overwhelmed by the scenery in this spot. I reckon you could get an awesome #couplegoals selfie at sunset in this spot and then find a nice quiet pub en route back to the city to have a cosy drink and meal. There’s plenty to be found in and around Belfast and that’s probably a more traditional date idea.

The Grand Opera House

I love live music and events, and so any date of mine would have to accompany me to various different kinds of shows – from mosh pits to river dance and everything in between. Belfast has many live music venues and none more special than the Grand Opera House which has hosted some awesome music events.

Of course the city is a vibrant place and there’s plenty of more traditional opportunities for Belfast Dating. A thriving restaurant community and bustling city centre for shopping, not to mention clubs and bars galore. What started as a little joke between friends has now firmly planted a trip to Belfast on to my bucket list.

Life After Lockdown

Dare I say it….. life has resumed a sense of normality and it’s strange to say the least. After a year of limited social contact, as a bonafide extrovert who thrives on human interactions I spent the best part of a year on social media. Somewhere along the lines I still managed to lose a sense of self. I spent most of the winter with my hair up in a messy bun and wearing my comfiest hoodies because it seemed senseless to make an effort, and at one point I was clocking in twelve hours of screen time a day with work and social apps.

Somewhere along the lines I realised that I didn’t recognise myself anymore. I was the career woman who was never seen without red Lippie and high heels and I wanted to find myself again. I set myself a series of thirty day challenges at the back end of last year – some of them I stuck to and others I saved for later, it’s important not to try to do too much at once, especially when life is changing so dramatically. Things like trying a new eyeshadow technique every day were fun, thirty days of progressively harder squat challenges, not quite so enjoyable but needs must!

One of my first affirmations to myself was to go on more adventures. As soon as restrictions lifted this summer we went on a little staycation to Dorset, revisiting some of the places we explored when I was on maternity leave and really enjoying my first experience of motherhood before realising I’d never be able to balance work and parenting and my own sanity. In fact, 2021 is the year of change and I’ve recently embarked on a change of direction and instead of pursuing my corporate career I’m going back to university to study and eventually become a teacher. 2020 made me realise that I needed this change. Not for anyone else, just for me.

In the meantime you’ll find me thoroughly enjoying myself this summer. I’m making a conscious effort to switch off from social media more often (which might seem like a contradiction at the moment as I’m supporting myself financially through blogging) but I find that giving myself time limits to using my phone really helps. I also like to do more things which distract me from the digital world and bring me back to reality.

I’ve joined a gym and begun group classes – I can’t check my socials in the middle of Zumba and of course the exercise has health benefits too. I’ve started eating more healthily – I love cooking fresh food and eating fresh fruit – I don’t know how I managed to slip in to so many bad habits over the last year but I’m determined to make changes. I even had a couple of hypnotherapy sessions to help me kick the fizzy pop habit which have worked for me.

I’ve also got lots of DIY projects on the go, I have a list of things I want to achieve, and completing tasks in small manageable chunks on a tick list is great for making you feel accomplished at the end of a day. I’m immensely proud of my pink pallet garden bench and my bright yellow fireplace, even if it did take me a month to complete as it spent thirty days raining.

I appreciate that my style and way of living isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m even thinking about getting myself back out there with online dating. Confidence is inspirational none more so that from this amputee dating app. I’m feeling ready for life after lockdown and I appreciate now that when left to my own devices my creative juices start to flow and that’s when I’m happiest. Smiles are contagious and attractive – I never thought I’d say it but sometimes the best adventures can happen at home.

Making it count

This is a collaborative blog post

Our year of home schooling is complete and whilst we’re all looking forward to a summer of fun with a roadmap out of lockdown it’s great to pause to reflect on what a year it’s been. There’s lots of things we have learnt over the last twelve months and some things we are going to change in our lifestyle forever.

I have shared lots of fun activities we tried over lockdown, including messy play inspiration, tuff tray set ups and weekly themes for longer projects. Having a pre-schooler at home 24/7 meant we had to come up with innovative ways to keep him occupied. I was one of those parents who was adamant my child wouldn’t use technology but I have changed my mind.

The are some really great resources out there when it comes to helping little ones learn through the use of technology, and calculators.org is one of them. A completely free online collection of educational games which is entirely ad free.

This website has a huge variety of interactive games, with a specific section for pre-schoolers which is great to support little ones on their learning journey. One thing we are currently working on is telling the time. We have a real clock, a wooden clock and a little watch, so we aren’t just relying on technology but it really is a useful aid.

The great thing about interactive games like this is that there’s audible feedback – so when you get the answer right. There’s three different levels of difficulty within this game. With whole hours, quarters and five minute intervals, and you can also switch languages within this game too, so if you’re multilingual then this is great.

The entire library of games has a really simple star rating to show how difficult games are and so you can really easily navigate to a game which is suitable for your child. There aren’t just maths related games either. This find the letter game has two modes – “fun” where there are no scores or timer and then “competitive mode” where there’s points for each answer and a 60 second timer.

This arcade style of game I think is a great way to introduce technology to little ones. Arlo is almost four and I have noticed how he can navigate through games with simple user interfaces independently with growing confidence – The positive effects of technology on early childhood education can be very beneficial. Educational and instructional practices, such as games and applications that improve cognitive skills, are among these benefits.

Life is better when you’re smiling

This is a sponsored blog post

We all know how important looking after your teeth is

You only get one shot once your adult teeth come through and so I’m determined to make sure Arlo has great habits when it comes to oral hygiene. Part of this is setting a good example myself. I’ve been brushing my teeth with Arlo ever since he was small enough to hold a brush. My top tip for parents is to introduce a baby safe toothbrush as a teething aid right at the beginning.

This week we took Arlo for his biannual check up at the dentist. I’ve been taking him since he was six months old, when his first baby tooth appeared. Not that they do much, it’s mainly about getting him used to the environment. Of course he takes it all in his stride. Strolling in as happy as larry – sitting back to do some “relaxing” in the chair and then waiting with his mouth open wide before the dentist has even prepared her mirror.

Arlo has twenty teeth now

– as per the dentists swift count and he was super impressed to receive a sticker and then hop out of the chair with the dentist promising to tell the tooth fairy that his teeth will be worth lots of coins. Mum on the other hand is in the bad books. I am a tooth grinder and this has become worse for me over the last twelve months – either that or I’m just more aware of it. I’ve had to have imprints taken to get a mouth guard to wear at night which I’ll pick up next week.

It’s made me think more about my oral hygiene and how important it is to make some changes. First things first adapting my diet. It might sound ridiculous but my consumption of fizzy pop has been way over the top ever since it was one of my pregnancy cravings. Arlo’s almost four now and I can’t use it as an excuse any longer – I ended up having a zoom session with a hypnotherapist recently to try to help me kick the habit.

The teeth grinding is down to stress I think – before lockdown I was also a pen lid chewer. When I am in the middle of a project I find chewing helps me to concentrate and focus. I’ve started to look at alternatives which will help me out. Sugar free gum is something I can turn to. For most health & wellbeing writers (and dental experts), the main benefit is in oral health – chewing Sugar free gum increases saliva flow, remineralises teeth and neutralises plaque acids, etc. All big pluses.

We have a good routine here when it comes to brushing our teeth in the morning and evening, but the challenge comes for me when I’m alone during the day, just after eating. This is when your teeth are more at risk from an acid attack, as the acid is produced by bacteria in our foods and drink.

Did you know that Chewing sugar free gum for up to twenty minutes increases the flow of saliva, speeding up the time that it takes for saliva to cancel out the acid?

During the time after lunch is when I find myself grinding my teeth absent mindedly, and this is where I find other benefits to chewing sugar free gum really come in to play – there’s an obvious stress busting element to chewing, and I’ve also managed to cut down gnawing on pen lids as chewing gum helps me to maintain focus just as well.

Sugar free gum is made from Xylitol, which helps to prevent plaque bacteria sticking to the teeth. Studies have shown that xylitol can help reduce tooth decay and even help reverse the decay itself by helping to replace the minerals in tooth enamel and I find this incredibly reassuring.

My only tooth concern right now is trying to convince Arlo not to pull his teeth out for the tooth fairy prematurely. He’s absolutely determined to meet her and get a coin, he asked me to tie a yo-yo around his tooth and the door handle recently so this crazy mum ended up rummaging around the arts and crafts cupboard close to midnight to conjure up a note from the tooth fairy…. leaving a trail of glitter and some coins behind in the hope that this convinces Arlo to hold on to his baby teeth a little while longer.

Chewing is now a recommended part of an effective dental care regime, alongside brushing and flossing, endorsed by all the major dental federations around the world. 

Being mixed race in the middle of a race debate

In 2020 the Black Lives Matter went viral. It’s always been present but this year, amplified by the lockdown and sociopolitical goings on racism was at the forefront of social media feeds and hashtags were trending. Now we see the royal family latest scandal centres around issues of racism too.

Today however I saw one comment on Twitter which stopped me in my tracks and I needed to pause to reflect.

Now this is just one of many comments I’ve seen over the last year which offend me personally. I find it divisive because I’m “mixed race” – or whatever the politically correct term for having two parents with different ethnic origins these days is. I’m also “white presenting” – which means that I don’t look black. I’m sick of having to define my percentage of blackness to people as if this is a factor in how entitled I am to have an opinion on any racism related conversation topics.

I am not trying to take away from the struggles that any person of colour, and more specifically black people may endure, but I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to say someone isn’t black enough to have experienced racism – there’s no requirement for anyone to prove their heritage via ancestry DNA testing to express they are hurt.

In fact, I think people who are mixed race have a unique set of life experiences which means they are more likely to encounter problematic conversations, as is Meghan and Harry’s experience with the revelation in the Oprah interview that a family member asked how dark their sons skin might be.

Mixed race people have two parents – now this could be any two races but for arguments sake we will put things in black and white. My parents dated in the eighties. My paternal grandparents were a black and white couple in Britain in the fifties. Their experiences of racism are passed down through the family anecdotally.

I’ve grown up in a different world. Racism undeniably still exists in this new century but it’s not as apparent as segregating people or physical violence. Micro-aggressions are a “thing” these days.

Like Meghan I am 25% black – when I was younger, people used to say “quarter caste” and that made it clear to anyone asking that one of my grandparents was “fully black” – and people did ask.

Often.

Where do you come from?

That’s one of the things mixed race people constantly have to encounter which is different. It’s not just “where do you come from?” but a full disclosure of your family tree. When the real answer all along is that you’re from Birmingham (in my case) and you’re British – that should be enough.

In mixed race families everyone is a different colour.

Is she your full sister?

Siblings can and do look different. My sister is a lot darker skinned than me. We’re close in age and so when we were younger other kids used to ask us if we had the same mum and dad. Then they would compare our different facial features and skin tones to our parents. Of course siblings are often compared if one has different eye colour but when one sibling has a different skin tone it makes a world of difference.

My sister had racist comments directed at her and I as the “white presenting” one didn’t experience the same things. Even when we were older and in the queue for a nightclub I waltzed in with no trouble whilst my sister was stopped for her ID and then directed to be patted down by security.

Racial Profiling

She experienced racial profiling and I didn’t. I was the one who made a big fuss about it whilst my sister told me to shut up and just get on with it otherwise we would end up being kicked out of the club. I was angry on her behalf, she was just used to it. We were siblings but didn’t share the same life experiences.

Interracial relationships

I’m single now but I’ve had boyfriends from different walks of life and experienced differences with the (what could have been) in-laws in the past. When two families are unified through one couple there’s always some differences and challenges – otherwise there wouldn’t be so many mother in law jokes in existence. You learn through being in a relationship and integrating in to someone else’s family that everyone has different traditions and values…. what time you open the presents on Christmas Day. How you celebrate birthdays. Who sits in which chair in the lounge etc.

Mixed race children have to encounter racism from conception.

When you bring in two different skin colours then more often than not you’re having to merge two different cultures and sometimes religions too. This brings its own unique set of challenges and compromises, which are made tougher if you have family members who aren’t willing to integrate and adapt so readily.

Your family is supposed to be your support network, the people you turn to when you need help. Mixed race people have a unique experience in that they will have two sets of grandparents and aunts and cousins extended family members who many not be as supportive of their parents interracial relationship. Family members who may perpetuate casual racism.

Admittedly not every family has the queen of England as their matriarch and has to worry about wether their child gets a royal title and security like their cousins but for mixed race children who don’t see anyone who represents them on either side of the family there’s a missing sense of identity. Representation is so important. We have had this conversation so many times this year because of the BLM movement but mixed race people often grow up as the first one of their kind.

I believe Meghan and Harry when they said that family members asked about how dark the skin tone of their child would be. I can imagine the conversation and it’s NOT the same as saying “I wonder what colour eyes they will have” – Not when it matters what skin colour the baby will be, and there’s any suggestion that a lighter skin tone would be preferred.

Charlene White made sure to point out on Loose Women that there is also an issue with the kind of rhetoric which excuses old people from making casually racist comments because “they don’t mean it” which was a point raised by Jane Moore to excuse or explain the rationale behind the question and defend it.

The point is Harry was upset by the question posed by members of his own family and wondered about the implications this has for his unborn son. He relayed this information to Meghan who was also upset. Therefore it’s not okay. Is she only supposed to experience 25% of the hurt from this?

“Mixed race people are the fastest growing ethnic group in the UK and numbered 1.25 million in the 2011 census

Please don’t exclude mixed race people from the conversation.

The books I used to read as a child and why they are problematic.

I am a self confessed book worm.

I always have been and always will be. Now that I am a parent there is nothing more delightful than sharing some of my most favourite stories with Arlo. For me it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and for Arlo he’s discovering new worlds for the very first time. Tomorrow is World book day, it’s not just a chance for parents to play top trumps with costumes, but an opportunity to invoke a love of literature in our children.

When our favourite stories create problems

This year there’s some discussion around problematic language and representation in books by Dr Seuss on social media. This has led to some stories now being removed from sale. I think it’s very important to make sure that we strive for equality and not hold on to stories based on a nostalgic view of things we remember from childhood. Last year I wrote about some of our favourite children’s books for an online publication and whilst I was researching I discovered that some of my favourite stories had also been edited and/or withdrawn from circulation. This was a learning curve for me, the action that publishers have been taking in some instances is somewhat refreshing and reassuring.

We read together every evening before bed, and the stories we reach for most often are those which I still treasure from my childhood. I have so many books with little inscriptions from my mother written in the top corner of the covers – “happy 3rd Birthday Lavania – July 1990” – I can delve in to a world created by Shirley Hughes, which are full of relatable stories and poems. “Things I like” is probably the one I would recommend to anyone as an introduction, as it’s a collection full of things which a toddler will experience. Not all books from our childhood have been “cancelled” – if you still have old copies, and you can check the date of printing in most books, you can then compare newer versions and see if you can spot any changes.

At the end of a day

We can sit together and read a poem about splashing in puddles or about leaves on trees which then helps us discuss things we have experienced ourselves that day. It reinforces learning experiences and we sit and pore over the pages together looking at all the little details. I read the words and Arlo explores the pictures. We point out things from the illustrations and we discuss them – from the colour of wellies matching our real life boots, to spotting little birds and insects dotted around the pages. We can count flowers and work on colour recognition and have an immersive and interactive story time. There’s not a single detail which goes unnoticed by my three year old.

This is why it’s so important that the illustrations are representative.

Continuing down the nostalgic childhood path, I must mention Janet and Allan Ahlberg. There are so many books of theirs which I could mention, Peepo, Each Peach Pear Plum and Funnybones – but the most popular on our shelf has to be “the Jolly Christmas Postman” This is probably one of the most innovative children’s books of all time and the work gone in to designing this is incredible.

In a world before iPads were invented this book captured my imagination and kept me busy for hours – a simple story following a postman’s journey delivering letters, with every other page featuring a real envelope containing surprise gifts for the reader to open and explore. The attention to detail is second to none and even now as an adult reading this book with Arlo I find things which I’ve never noticed before. It’s truly magical and one to put in the Christmas Eve box to treasure forever.

Books aid discussions

Another of my favourite books is by Nick Butterworth, and for a similar reason. His Percy the Park Keeper book has beautiful illustrations of animals and a series of fold out pages which open to reveal important story elements. This book is a firm favourite of Arlo’s right now because we spend so much time in parks and it’s so familiar to him. This book is a good one to aid discussions about changing of seasons and weather, not to mention all of the different woodland creatures.

We love books which have rhythm and rhyme, you’re probably all familiar with Michael Rosen and “We’re going on a bear Hunt” this is like a rite of passage for all children and it’s super easy to get kids motivated on the last stretch of an outdoor walk when their little legs are tired by chanting the rhyme – a great first introduction to this wonderfully eccentric poet is “freckly feet and itchy knees” – it’s a lovely little book and another one to help inspire interaction between parents and babies. I pulled this one out of the shelf recently and noticed that different skin colours were represented. The only problem with this book is it might be a bit too energetic before bedtime, at least it is when we read it out loud together and act it all out – It’s interesting that as I was researching for this blog I found a tweet by Michael Rosen:

The Anti-Semitic Works of Dickens and Shakespeare

A very interesting point for discussion, Charles Dickens is celebrated as an author, and a genius – but it is well documented that he expressed attitudes which were problematic – anti Semitic and racist – the most obvious example to reference is his portrayal of Fagin in Oliver Twist. “The novel refers to Fagin 257 times in the first 38 chapters as “the Jew”, while the ethnicity or religion of the other characters is rarely mentioned.” In revised editions Charles Dickens toned down his portrayal but the debate rages on long after his death as the character has often been been portrayed as a caricature / stereotype in film. Just like the character Shylock created by Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice.

We can’t possibly “cancel” Dickens and Shakespeare (although some publishers have removed this play from anthologies for younger children). These books and stories exist as a social commentary of the time in which they were written. These writers are considered to be literary geniuses. To pretend they never existed in an attempt to erase the past rather than confront the reality, however uncomfortable that may be would be ridding us all of the opportunity to grow and learn through discussion. We don’t know much about Shakespeare and his mysterious life but we do know that Dickens was strongly opposed to slavery but does this absolve his problematic works? We need to talk about this.

This isn’t just about words – illustrations alongside text in children’s books are designed to help encourage independent reading. It takes a special skill to create a book for children, who without knowing it can sit and listen to a story being read out loud by their parents and follow the story by pouring over the pictures and when they get a little older, by following text with their fingers. Good children’s books for toddlers have simple sentences and repetitive sounds, as a grown up now I have a repertoire of voices and sounds which I didn’t know I was capable of creating – it’s so much fun for Arlo he doesn’t even realise he’s learning. This is why it’s so important for the books we read to be representative. Children absorb so much, so it’s important that we analyse the images and content of stories to see if there’s anything problematic. This isn’t about cancel culture or jumping on a social media bandwagon, but about discussion.

A picture speaks a thousand words

I must mention Rupert Bear, which was originally a comic strip – my mum had the annuals every year as a Christmas gift when she was a child and we have kept up the tradition here. I’ve noticed with these books how they offer something to children of different ages. Each comic strip is accompanied by a rhyming couplet which perfectly represents the story, and so I can read these with Arlo and flick through the pictures to tell the story, but on the same page there’s also a full descriptive paragraph for each scene – these books provide different experiences to readers of different ages. A great example of how to engage children and teach them to love stories. However there are problems.

Rupert however was originally a brown bear. Created by Mary Tourtel in 1920 to be published in the Daily Express. It was however apparently cheaper to print a white bear, so this much loved character has also been a victim of whitewashing. There have been two Rupert Annuals from 1946/47 which are considered too racially insensitive to be republished. The language in several stories has since been edited – for example words like “coon” have had to be removed. The portrayal of the character Koko in the above example is just not acceptable.

I think Hamish McColl’s Paddington is probably the more popular bear about town these days, (perhaps because he’s been bought to life by Hollywood?) Rupert Bear stories have that “quintessentially British” feel about them and are just as delightful to read. There’s something wonderful about following a protagonist which is an animal, and children often find comfort in having soft toys which they recognise from their most loved books but have you ever paused to consider that Paddington is an illegal immigrant? Arriving from “darkest Peru” without an identity or a recognisable past. Michael Bond’s books (written in the fifties at a time when Britain was beginning to become more diverse) teach us to “please look after this bear” – it’s interesting to think about what things were like back when these stories were originally published in the fifties and what the subliminal messaging behind the apparently simple story is when we put this in to context.

It’s not just about racism

I have to pause here and give mention to Richard Scarry here, “Mr Frumble’s worst day ever” was given to me when my little sister was born so that I didn’t feel left out and the story follows Mr Frumble (another anthropomorphic animal – this time a pig) and a day of misfortunate escapades. It’s a really funny book and again there is a lot going on in all of the illustrations to create talking points for discussion. I have older editions of these books, which aren’t quite so politically correct these days but it’s reassuring to know that many of these books have been edited to reflect social changes so that the stories and illustrations are still relevant for children today. Alan Taylor put together this image which shows some progressive changes which have been made so that outdated gender stereotypes are not perpetuated through the books we use to educate our children. Women don’t exist just to cook breakfast and push babies in prams.”

Let’s talk about Enid

As I got older I delved in to the world of Enid Blyton and began reading independently, the Famous Five and Mallory Towers captured my imagination, in fact I was determined to follow in the steps of Darrell Rivers – I always wanted to go to an all girls school and be a prefect. My favourite was always “the Magic Far Away Tree” – a group of children discover an array of different worlds which appear as they climb a tall tree. It’s actually quite odd trying to explain it in words, the land of Topsy Turvy is a place the children discover where everyone walks on their hands, and then there’s the land of “do as you please” – each story has some sort of moral lesson, the children get in to trouble and have to help each other to make everything right.

The problem is that in some stories the “baddies” perpetuate racial stereotypes, Noddy being the most prolific example and for all of the female empowerment in the Mallory Towers series, there’s a constant gender issues when it comes to the Famous Five series where our favourite tomboy character George is often “mansplained” by her male cousins and Anne is constantly being treated as a doormat by them too. When I read these books I thought George was an inspiration. Girls can do anything and be just as good as boys.

Many of Blyton’s book’s were written over eighty years ago and have attracted critical backlash for various reasons over the years. As an adult I can read back some of these books and see why, but as a child I was blissfully unaware of the controversy, and I think I took more positives than negatives away from the stories – thankfully there have been many updates to Enid Blytons work to make the stories more appropriate for a modern audience. I feel really strongly about utilising books as resources to introduce discussions about racism, classism and gender stereotypes.

I grew up

As I grew older and went to secondary school I actually volunteered to help in the library and used to take home new books every evening. I used to have a torch to continue reading after lights were turned off to get to the end of a story, I slept with so many books under my pillow I had a crick in my neck. I would take the books from the reading list and read them over and over again.

My thirst for new texts meant that my teachers would recommend their own childhood favourites to me, Mr Jones lent me his copy of Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery which were challenging for me at the time, but are two books I always remember being fascinated by, and then along came Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I would have so many questions and found it fascinating that people could have different interpretations to the same story.

Our English teachers (by the time we got to our GCSE’s) would help explain the context stories were written in, both historically and politically and suddenly things would have eye opening different meanings when you’re learning to navigate the world as a teenager. We spent a term pouring over To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and I think this is one of the most important books for anyone to read, and more relevant than ever even now.

Books are important.

Whenever I read a new book I write my name in the cover and then when I’m finished I leave them for someone new to find. Arlo and I have also done the same and have hidden his books in the park and participated in book exchanges to share our love of literature.

I could talk about the time I went to a book store at midnight when I was a student to buy the last ever Harry Potter book as soon as it was released, and how disappointed I was to see JK Rowling apparently support a transphobic tweet, but that would require another thousand words, and I haven’t got time for that because I do still need to make a costume for tomorrow.

I’ll finish with a quote from one favourite book of mine which I think explains exactly how I feel about reading – there’s nothing more important than inspiring a love of book’s with your children. Being able to read means that children can then open their minds, enhance language skills and express thoughts and ideas better. I’m pleased to see Dr. Seuss are committed to action when it comes to representation. None of us ever stop learning and growing.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”