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Journalist and writer

Archive for February 2009

A better fortnight for food management

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Yoghurt. That’s my problem.
We eat stacks of it in this house and then, for reasons unknown, we just stop. But I keep buying it. And it goes off.
It’s been one of those fortnights: one of those “don’t fancy yoghurt” at any meal. Which means one litre of Greek yoghurt has glugged down the sink. At least I can recycle the tubs.
Apart from that, it has been a fairly good two weeks when it comes to food wastage.
Apart from the one litre of Greek yoghurt, I’ve only thrown away a large floret of broccoli and a couple of apples (and they went into the compost bin). I reckon that’s just about £2 worth.
The kerbside recycling bin is chockablock every two weeks with plastic, paper, tins, Tetra packs, cardboard and so on, while we average about 15 litres of landfill rubbish.
I think I’m getting better at food management – but no rosette yet. I’ve got about six overripe bananas that need to be made into a cake. And it should have made done a couple of days ago.

Written by CommonPeople

February 28, 2009 at 4:59 pm

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar – 40th anniversary edition

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Puffin, £14.99)

When it comes to classic books from my childhood, The Very Hungary Caterpillar is up there in the top two. That and The Tiger Who Came To Tea.
It is incredible to realise that this wonderfully simple and imaginative book celebrates its 40th anniversary next month.
To mark this milestone, Puffin has produced an intricate and stunningly colourful pop-up version that will as much fun for the reader as the
youngster who will interact with it.
This tale is of a little caterpillar who munches his way through a cornucopia of foodstuffs, including Swiss cheese, strawberries, chocolate cake,
before getting tummy ache.
Afterwards, he munches on a leaf and then falls asleep in a cocoon before – on the last page – transforms nto a beautiful butterfly.
This book never fails to impress even the tiniest of children, who are mesmerised by the colourful illustrations. The fact that it has apparently sold
one copy every minute since it was first published in 1969 shows just how enduring this book is.
The paper engineering in this new edition is great as it remains true to Carle’s style, but children can pull the caterpillar along a leaf with a tab, push
their fingers through the tiny holes and marvel at the seven pop-up spreads.
Just don’t let them get too excited with tugging at the tabs, though, as you might want to keep this as a souvenir edition.

Written by CommonPeople

February 25, 2009 at 8:29 am

Shortlist announced for the 2009 Red House Children’s Book Award

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Time travelling cows, a 17th century Japanese ninja and a young boy who mourns for his dead cat have made it on to the shortlist of a prestigious children’s book prize.


The Red House Children’s Book Award (RHCBA) has announced  the shortlist for 2009, chosen by children throughout the country from 838 submitted books published in 2008.


The award is unique because it is the only book award voted for solely by children. (While awards such as CLIP, Smarties and WH Smith/Richard & Judy celebrate children’s books, the shortlists are drawn up by adults and children vote for their favourite. This is not the case with the RHCBA.)


Children from schools, libraries and nurseries have spent the past 12 months working with regional testers from the Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG) and ploughing through the titles, which range from picture books to novels for young adults.


Each reader, aged three to 16, from the 13 Federation of Children’s Book Groups across the country, chose his/her favourites in the three award categories: books for younger children, books for younger readers and books for older readers.


The votes were collated and the eagerly-awaited shortlisted titles are revealed today:




The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg, illus. Bruce Ingman (Walker Books)


Beware of the Frog by William Bee (Walker Books)


A Lark in the Ark by Peter Bently, Illus. Lynne Chapman (Egmont)


The Three Horrid Pigs and the Big Friendly Wolf  by Liz Pichon (Little Tiger Press)




Cows in Action: Wild West Moo-nsters by Steve Cole (Red Fox)


Daisy and the Trouble with Zoos by Kes Gray (Red Fox)


The Cat Who Liked Rain by Henning Mankell (Andersen Press)



Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior by Chris Bradford (Puffin)


Blood Ties by Sophie McKenzie (Simon and Schuster)


Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine (Harper Collins)


Voting is now open to find the category winners and an overall winner.


Anyone under the age of 16 can participate by simply logging onto the RHCBA website, www.redhousechildrensbookaward.co.uk and completing the voting form before the closing date of May 11.


Last year, 59,339 votes were cast in this final stage, which saw Polly Dunbar win the books for younger children category with Penguin and Chris Riddell take the books for young readers prize for Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, while Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant took the award for books for older readers and scooped the overall prize.


Previous winners of the award, which has been running for 29 years, include Robert Swindells, Michael Morpurgo, Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson and Malorie Blackman. It was also the first book prize awarded to JK Rowling, who picked up the prize in 1998 for her first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

 (I’ll declare an interest here – I am being paid to be publicity officer for the RHCBA, but honestly – in my heart of hearts – think this is a fantastic award, which is why I agreed to do it.)

Book review: How Kirsty Stole the Elephant by Elen Caldecott

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How Kirsty Stole the Elephant

How Kirsty Stole the Elephant

How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant by Elen Caldecott (Bloomsbury, £5.99). Reviewed by Jayne Howarth


There are occasions when a writer is able to address really big issues, but do it so subtly that it isn’t signposted in neon lights, but offers obvious lessons.

Such is the case with Elen Caldecott, who manages to weave bereavement and depression into a story that exudes warmth, humour and child-like adventures.

Young Kirsty Jenkins is the apple of her grandfather’s eye and she adores him. But when he is taken ill and deteriorates rapidly, she makes a promise to him on his deathbed: that she will continue to look after his precious allotment.

Just a week after the funeral, she is devastated to learn that the council will not allow her to keep the plot. Angry and determined, she manages to persuade her half brother and sister to hatch a plan that will ensure she will be able to keep her promise.

In between the bonkers scheming to attract the attention of Mr Thomas, the council officer in charge of allotments, the sibling arguments and the grieving for their grandfather, the children have to contend with their father’s increasingly deteriorating state of mind.

The death of his father has hit him hard. He barely acknowledges them and hardly leaves his room. But, the children, in equal measure of desperation and concern, believe their ingenious plan will return him to rude health?

Caldecott captures the naivety of youth perfectly, portrays the straining of family relationships well and while the plan to keep the allotment might seem far-fetched, it is great fun and hints at just how resourceful children can be.

It is a touching and individual tale, but what does the elephant have to do with it? Read it and discover it for yourself.

Written by CommonPeople

February 13, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Book review:The Doppleganger Chronicles: GP Taylor

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The First Escape

The First Escape

The First Escape: The Doppleganger Chronicles by GP Taylor (Tyndale. £12.99)





How do you get reluctant readers to pick up a book and actually stick with the story until the final page?

GP Taylor, the Shadowmancer author, thinks he might well have cracked the enduring problem with his latest book, The First Escape, the first in the Doppleganger series.

The book combines text, full page illustrations, word art, graphics and a manga comic strip to tell the adventure story.

Each page has a black border, which keeps the child’s eye on the page. (It also mimics a computer screen.) In addition, the pages are tinted cream so that children with reading difficulties find it easier to read.

Apparently he has tested it out in schools with children who have dyslexia, ADHD and other special needs that cause difficulties with literacy to great success.

So, the techniques for keeping the children actually looking at the page work, but the story itself plays a crucial part in this tricky equation.

Luckily, GP Taylor has produced an exciting, page-turner of a read and the transition between graphic novel and manga-style comic adds to the dynamism of the story.

It centres on 14-year-old twins Saskia and Sadie Dopple, who live in the Isambard Dunstan School for Wayward Children. The place is run by the tyrannical Miss Rimmer, who hates her charges – especially the twins.

When creepy writer Muzz Elliott arrives at the school to adopt a child, she takes just one of the twins, leaving the other bereft.

When the twin left behind cooks up a plan with friend Erik Morrissey Ganger to find her sister, she discovers enemies a plenty and dangers that terrify them. They don’t know who to trust or who to believe, but our feisty girl is determined to overcome all the obstacles to be reunited with her soulmate.

It is highly recommended, but it isn’t just for reluctant readers. Everyone will enjoy this tantalising tale for young teens/upper Key Stage two.

Written by CommonPeople

February 13, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Am I winning the battle against waste?

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I can see the disappointment in your eyes; I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
I was meant to write a weekly blog post about my food disposal habits. My excuse is that I went away and the hotel’s wifi connection was down.
So, instead I have collated two weeks’ worth of rubbish (literally!) and put them together in one post.
After week four’s glowing report of a satisfyingly empty bin, this past fortnight sees me a little more circumspect.
As I suspected, week four was a blip, but I still think I’m doing well, even though the time has not been set aside to polish my halo.
However, the freezer is fuller than normal because I have made a concerted effort to save any leftovers that can be reused, turn stale bread into breadcrumbs and made sure anything close to its use by date that isn’t going to be consumed is packed up and sent to cold storage for another day if it can be, of course. Some things can’t, of course.
Last week (week five) it was fruit and vegetables that let me down – or, more accurately, we didn’t eat enough of them, so they go off. It’s incredibly soul-destroying to see fresh items deteriorate as they lay uneaten, their destiny only for the compost bin.
This week (week six), it’s dairy produce that has been left in the fridge to grow into something beardy and horrid that has let me down.
On the up side, our new recycling regime – introduced by the local authority has meant I have a very full 160litre bin of recyclable items and just a 30litre bag of rubbish destined for the landfill.
So the two week tally of thrown away food is as follows:
5 apples*
5 potatoes*
Two home-grown parsnips*
Three home-grown beetroot*
1 ½ packs of shiitake*
Entire tub of Quark
300ml crème fraiche
1/3 pint of skimmed milk
*= composted
That comes to about £4.70’s worth of food thrown away– not too bad over a fortnight, I guess, but I still have the magical goal of NOTHING being chucked out over a prolonged period. Soon? Fingers crossed…

Written by CommonPeople

February 13, 2009 at 1:20 pm

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Have a titter with Twitter for Comic Relief

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This isn’t a post from me, but I think this is such a great idea, I wanted to share it with you.

If you think you can contribute or help, please do contact the people who are listed below.

A new collection of comedy writing hopes to raise cash for Comic Relief – thanks to the micro-blogging site Twitter. Journalists Linda Jones and Louise Bolotin are working on collecting and editing submissions for the TwitterTitters book by tweeting about it regularly.

Just one day after first mentioning the initiative on Twitter, they have found an illustrator and first submissions have been received.

The deadline is Friday, February 20 at 4pm.

The resulting book will be published by self publishers Lulu.com, with all proceeds going to Comic Relief.

Short stories, scripts, poems and prose will all be accepted for the anthology and the word limit is 1,400 words. Copyright for the work is retained by the writer.

Staffordshire agency director Linda said: “I’m a fan of having a laugh. I’m a fan of short stories and I’m a fan of Twitter. This project brings the three together.

“Inspired by the Twitchhiker project where the Guardian writer Paul Smith plans to travel as far as he can on a sponsored ‘twitch hike’ I wanted to do something good through Twitter.

“The blogger Troubled Diva published Shaggy Blog Stories through Lulu a couple of years back for Comic Relief and I thought it would be fun to update it. “The actual writing for this book will not be published on Twitter as it only allows 140 characters per tweet. But we’ll tweet calls for submissions, link to a dedicated blog on Twitter and ask people to help via Twitter.

“We’ll also publicise the anthology through the many writers on Twitter and hope to choose the stories to be included with the help of people kind enough to offer their expertise and/or time, again through Twitter.”

Manchester journalist, blogger and author Louise Bolotin will edit the writing before publication. Artist Ash Lamont from Glasgow is designing a cover.

There are various ways the organisers hope the Twitter community can help. These are: Contributing a piece of writing/ask others to contribute. Publicising the call for submissions (via Twitter, their blog or included in media coverage of Comic Relief or Twitter) Taking part in the selection process.

They hope to put together an ‘expert panel’ Because of the influx of high-profile comedians, writers and TV personalities to Twitter, it’s also hoped that the collection can gain an element of celebrity endorsement.

Louise said: “With so many celebrities now frequenting Twitter and broadcasting their activities to a huge number of fans, we hope that some will consider helping put something back and support our Red Nose effort.

“We hope that they can at the very least help promote the book and it would be wonderful if they could consider contributing or writing a foreword.”

For more information, please contact Linda or Louise. Linda: Linda@passionatemedia.co.uk http://www.twitter.com/joner http://www.passionatemedia.co.uk Louise: louisebolotin@googlemail.com http://www.twitter.com/louisebolotin http://louisebolotin.com

Written by CommonPeople

February 11, 2009 at 6:12 pm

It’s snow joke (geddit) when we get bad weather*

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Anyone would have thought the UK was in the grip of a new Ice Age when it snowed yesterday. That’s right: in the middle of winter, it snowed. Quite a lot. And the whole country fell apart at the seams.

Our overseas cousins who live in cold climes be must howling with derision at our seeming inability to cope with any extreme weather.

A Canadian who lives in this country revelled in telling me how she chortled as we struggled to do anything ten feet away from our front doors because there had been a light dusting of snow. Where she was from they had proper weather: 35C in the summer and -30C in the winter.

No one missed a day at school or work because of it. They simply had the mentality to deal with it. She travelled on a Trans-Atlantic flight one winter and it landed perfectly well with no problems, even though the weather was Arctic-like.

On her return to England her flight was diverted to another airport because of the inclement weather. It was about -2C and there was about two inches of snow. It took half the time of the flight again to go about 100 miles.

That’s the problem with the UK in general. We can’t cope when it snows and we do nothing to show our mettle. Instead, we put the kettle on, have a nice cup of tea and wait for the nasty weather to go away.

One snap of proper snow and public transport grinds to a halt; people panic about making journeys; roads become gridlocked; the media becomes over-excited at the fact there is a white-out/a big freeze/snow joke etc. To the outside world we must look ridiculous. We are – in general – pathetic.

(Of course, as the subject is weather-related we Brits will talk about it. It doesn’t matter what the weather, we will be able to comment on it ad nauseam: a stiff breeze coming from the east? Oh yes, we will engage for ten minutes about it. Weather too hot? Well, we can regale you with tales of what it was like in ’76.)

But the thing that has narked me beyond belief is that school headteachers were practically falling over themselves to close. Why?

I’ll scream if anyone shouts “health and safety”. According to the BBC, Ed Balls, the schools secretary for England, told Radio Four’s World at One:

There’s always a balance to be struck. In retrospect maybe the schools could have opened.”

This is certainly the case for primary schools, as many pupils live nearby, although I concede there might be difficulties for some senior schools, as some pupils may have to travel long distances on buses to get there (assuming doting parents allow them to use public transport nowadays).

Schools close because it is difficult for the teachers to get in. And? I am expected to go to work in the bad weather. If I don’t, I, like millions of others, have either to take a day’s leave or go unpaid.  Teachers, on the other hand, will be enjoying another day or two’s PAID holiday to add to the 13 weeks+ they already get. I bet if they were told they wouldn’t be paid because of the weather they’d find a way of getting in alright.

Can you imagine what would happen to the economy if everywhere was closed because of the bad weather? The Federation of Small Businesses believes that 20 per cent of the working population didn’t make it to work yesterday. That’s 6.4 million people.

Estimates on the cost to the economy yesterday alone come in between £900 million and £1.2 billion.

That’s the sound of the credit crunching under your snow boots.

(* the headline, by the way, is meant to be hackneyed and cringe-worthy)

Written by CommonPeople

February 3, 2009 at 4:07 pm