Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Terrifying E-book

I fervently hope that Children will always have access to real books.

Illustration by Susie Tyler

I've been seeing a lot of articles lately, about the popularity contest between e-books and real printed books. There is a great deal of enthusiasm around e-books as well as a great deal of reluctance and resentment. It seems that a lot of people who remain loyal to real books are trying to express why e-books should not replace printed books and praising the virtues of real books by listing the qualities they possess that e-books never will, such as smell, tactility, the joy of page turning. No matter how convenient e-books are, many people still want an object, a soft or crisp page to turn and beautiful books to line up on their shelves. I know I do. But figures are being bandied about to say that sales of ebooks topped printed books in 2011 and 2012.

My concern is not just that we lose something that we love, but that emerging generations will be relying on technology for information and stories as well as social media and correspondence. EVERYTHING will be digital and something has got to keep kids grounded in reality.

So much of our world relies on us reading from screens. While technology enables this and developments mean that screens are getting kinder and kinder to our eyes, they are still a screen, something we have to lock into, focussing on something that is not there, drawing us in to a digital, untouchable world. Something that takes our attention, stops us listening to our friends and family, makes us blind and deaf to the people around us. A virtual coma, making us separate and unapproachable. I love technology and I love my phone and my computer. I love that my husband gets so much reading pleasure from his Kindle, and reads to me aloud from it. But I know it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in a game on a DS, or absorbed in a chat on facebook on your phone, making anti-sociabilty acceptable. What about board games and playing with toys or playing outside? What about face to face conversations and eye contact? What about letting someone you love know how important they are to you by switching off all tech and giving them your UNDIVIDED attention?

In the end, what I’m trying to say is that it’s not a war. Both e-books and real books are valuable, to a lesser and greater extent for different people and different circumstances. But however useful and convenient e-books, and all digital screen-based devices are, don’t let children rely on them. Don’t let children grow up thinking it’s ok to be immersed in screens in all their free time. Encourage them to remember and value real books, real games, real conversations. With their eyes and hands and voices. Help them to appreciate it by doing it with them, showing them that digital tech is not real life.

Obviously, these things in themselves are not wrong, but our addiction to and reliance upon them is.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Inspiration and Delight

I would like to share with you a delightful discovery that I happened upon this week in the world of internet pootlings and wanderings. I found the blog of children's illustrator Emma Chichester Clark and it is delightful and dribble-worthy. 

Many of you with small children may know her stories about the ever endearing Blue Kangaroo or the loyal and loving Melrose and Croc. Emma Chichester Clark has a very individual style of drawing that, once your eyes have alighted on them, will know her pictures anywhere. She has illustrated her own version of Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks, and Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales, as well as many other individual picture book stories that she has written herself. One of these is Will and Squill, the first of her books I ever saw, which introduces us to a sweet boy and his crazy red squirrel friend who lives in his garden.

But, as if all this was not enough, here is her blog, I do love it:

Emma Chichester Clark

This space on the internet is where Emma faithfully illustrates the happenings that occur in the life of her pet dog Plum. I must just say that Plum is an excellent name, and one that we had shortlisted for our cats. But neither of them look like a plum so it is on the shelf .. if we ever have children ... 

Emma Chichester Clark

I love the luminous quality of Emma's drawings. Although they are soft and seemingly simple they are completely believable and give you a very real setting enhanced by lovely lighting. I only discovered this gem of a blog by accident.

Through facebook I had heard about an illustration project called Bear With Me, the adventures of a travelling sketchbook.

This is a wonderful collaboration featuring the work of some of the best British illustrators around today. Each artist can add their own interpretation of a red bear, doing whatever they like and in their chosen material. The sketchbook arrived with Catherine Rayner first, back in November,  and has since been drawn and painted in by Leigh Hodgkinson, 
Sarah Warburton, Chris Haughton, Alex T.Smith and Sam Usher, and of course Emma Chichester Clark, which is how I saw the link to her blog. It appears that there is some link to the Great Ormond Street Hopsital, with various celebrity actors and authors creating a separate doodly red bear to be auctioned with the proceeds going to the children's hospital.

Alex T.Smith
Many other artists are yet to receive the sketchbook to add their artwork and you can follow its progress around Britain via the postal system on the blog and through liking the page on facebook. 


I love the idea of something working it's way around Britain, gathering in creativity like a snowball. I am intrigued to see all the final artwork eventually; so far all they will show are snippets! Emma's contribution looks very leafy and gorgeous and I am keen to see the whole picture though I fear it may not be revealed for some time. 

Emma Chichester Clark

As for plumdogblog, I am very glad that such a beautiful and funny blog exists but I am not reading all the posts in one go. I am going to save some for days when I extra-specially need to be delighted. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Joy of Knitting

Only in the last couple of years have I really fallen in love with knitting. My Mum first taught me as a child and I have to confess I wasn't very patient and, sorry Mum, kept getting a bit grumpy with the whole thing. But since then I've tried again a few times and I finally took off, fledging from the need to have Mum rescue my dropped stitches or count my rows for me.  I even taught my husband, while we were engaged, and he promptly launched into knitting himself a lovely beanie hat which he still wears now, years on. 

I just thought it would be fun to share some of the loveliness of knitting because despite it having a real revival recently, I know so many people who claim they can't knit. Fair enough if you don't want to know; my brother says he can't knit and though I know he could master it if he chose to, I understand that he would rather apply his limited spare time to other projects and skills he is already interested in like taking apart a motor bike or carving exquisite walking sticks.

But for those who are either a bit nervous about trying, or have tried and not succeeded yet, do give it a go! I bet when you were learning to ride your bike you didn't succeed without a few swerves and scrapes and falls but you kept at it and eventually it comes naturally.

Most knitting books (which you can borrow for free from your local library, plug plug) have a section on getting started with knitting, with nice clear diagrams. But the best way, if you have the luxury, is to sit down with a friend or relation for a while and let them show you in person. With a cup of tea. And don't expect to grasp it immediately. 


And once you are pootling along with it to some degree there is such a mesmerising choice of wool and needles and patterns.  

Knitting is such a cosy thing to do, whatever the season. And for those times when you sit there waiting for an appointment or someone to arrive you can pick up your project and knit a row or two and be happy in the fact that no time has been wasted and you're a few stitches closer to being able to wear your scarf or jumper. 

Anyhow, having just been given some lovely knitting books for Christmas from our dear fambly I have initiated an indulgent and joyous little knitting corner on the bookshelf in our lounge. It consists of all the knitting books I own, which isn't loads but they're all very nice, and whatever books I'm borrowing at the moment, and a few loose paper patterns I've invested in.

Next to that are a couple of small boxes, each with a current project inside, with all the relevant wool. And then a huge box for all our wool, unassigned to any project and full of possibility. I like having this in the lounge; if I kept it in the studio I'd probably bung it haphazardly somewhere out of the way and never get round to doing much with it.

Andy also has his own knitting bag so he can take knitting out to people's houses if he feels like it. 

I've finally tackled a fully grown adult garment, making a big chunky jumper for my Mum for Christmas and a lovely cardigan for Andy's Mum, which was a team effort. Andy had found out about Mattress stitch which allows a seam to be completely invisible. Time consuming and quite fiddly but once you know how it goes it is so worth it to get a nice finish on something you've invested time into knitting.

We have a lovely knitting shop here in Cullompton, with very affordable wool and heaps of patterns to browse. The staff are all very experienced knitters and sewers and several times I've taken a pattern in that I'm struggling with and they've been happy to explain it.

For no pennies at all you can join Ravelry.com, where you can browse a squillion and one patterns, most of which are free to download. So if you want a pattern for a little bunny or a pair of socks or legwarmers or Star Wars figures (Yoda's pretty fab) then the internet is your oyster. 

 Charity shops are forbidden to display knitting needles but if you ask, politely, they are happy to bring out what they have and let you rummage. They all vary but it is common to pay only 50p per pair, less if you're buying a whole stash.  Nearly all our needles are from charity shops, and we do have a lot. From 12mm to an inch or so, they cater for a plethora of different projects and my favourites are always the brightly coloured plastic ones which are comfy and warm to hold, but you can get bamboo ones or metal too. Andy has insisted on us having a rather large assortment of circular needles as he is quite a fanatic of "knitting in the round."

This allows you to create an item as a tube, meaning no seams! Very cool, especially for legwarmers but also, funnily for hats and all sorts.
When it comes to circular knitting, for Andy, wherever there's a will, there's a way. Dear of him.

So there we go, knitting is accessible. And it's also lovely. Smiles.