24 February 2015

Alfie and Grandma

My top three things about having kids are:
1. Going to fun places you're not allowed in without children. (I'm looking at you giant slide in soft play.)
2. Dressing them in fancy dress.
3. Children's books. 

I LOVE children's books and have constant urges to buy new ones. We read a lot in our house, first thing in the morning, at snack time, after lunch, and at least 3 books before bed. There's a lot of reading going on. Our current favourites are Don't Spill the Milk, (which has amazing pictures and such a sweet story), Paddington and the Tutti Frutti Rainbow (because it's about ice cream) and The Snail and the Whale (which has recently regained favour after we saw it 'live' at the theatre).

We also have a large collection of Shirley Hughes books. Dogger is definitely in my boy's top 3 Of All Time and Alfie Gets in First will always hold a very special place in my heart because it was the first 'proper' book I read to him where he followed the story, asked questions and really seemed to 'get it'. We still read it from time to time and it had come back in favour this week, which was great timing as we were sent a brand new Alfie book to review!

Alfie and Grandma is released on Thursday. It's a collection of 3 Alfie stories based at Grandma's house: Looking for Winnie, Journey to the North Pole and Lost Sheep. They are all old stories, but we hadn't read any of them before. 

On the morning the book arrived, I was about to switch on the tv babysitter and do some odd jobs, but as soon as we opened the parcel, they both wanted to sit and read it. My boys are 2 years 8 months and 14 months. The older one can really listen to a story, he's the book king. The other day we even read a book so long it had to be told in 2 sittings, and he could recall what had happened. The younger one... not so much. His attention span, understanding and concentration are roughly equivalent to an exciteable puppy, so 'reading' books to him mostly involves a repetitive, but joyful few rounds of "where's the..." with "..." hopefully being a farmyard animal.

Thank you Shirley Hughes for including lots of animals in these stories so I could read the book to one boy and simultaneously play 'where's the cat' with the other. It was perfect.

The thing I love about all Shirley Hughes books is the mundanity of it all. That sounds negative, but it's not. They are so simple and real. *Spoiler Alert* In searching for Winnie, a tortoise gets lost, then they look for it, they find it. Sounds dull right?  But in Alfie books, you feel every moment of it from Alfie's perspective so it's a pretty big deal! I especially love the way she doesn't sugar coat anything. At the end, Winnie the tortoise is reunited with her 'husband' tortoise Fred, but Fred doesn't care that she's back, he just stays hidden in his shell. That's the last line of the story. Not 'but then he was happy to see her the next day', no, just straight up factual tortoise life: tortoises don't care about each other. The End. I love that.

My boy's favourite part of 'Looking for Winnie' was this page:

He liked finding the tortoise in the row of stones, just like Alfie did, and thought it was really funny that she looked like a rock. Basically my son IS Alfie, so it's like reading about himself in slightly (very slightly) different situations. Even the age gap between Alfie and Annie Rose seems to match my boys' age gap, so all the 'big brother' aspects of Alfie's life resonate with his.

I particularly liked the realism of this page. Alfie and Annie Rose's interactions are so realistic and Grandma's response is exactly what a real Grandma would do! I also love the use of "struggled" into their coats and boots because it IS a struggle to get waterproofs and wellies on two little kids. Shirley Hughes just gets it. 

Both boys liked Lost Sheep the best I think. Especially the little one, who had wandered off to bash toys together during the middle story. He came back and sat through the whole of Lost Sheep. This is hardly surprising as 'where's the sheep' was particularly easy on those pages.

At the end of the 3 stories is a beautiful little map of Grandma's house and the places she takes them in the stories. We had read all 3 stories back to back so didn't spend long looking at the map but I will definitely look more closely with my older son next time. (When we're not being forced into sheep noises and impressions by the little one!).

Alfie and Grandma is a gorgeous book. Obviously. If you don't already have a vast collection of Alfie books and you do have a child aged 1-4 you should get some! You can buy Alfie and Grandma on Amazon here.

This is a lovely book for those kids who are story mad and can concentrate on a fairly wordy book. If you have a slightly younger child, I'd recommend Alfie Gets in First which has less text and includes a man up a ladder! Having said that, the illustrations in all the Alfie books are incredible so you could enjoy any of them with younger children. 

Shirley Hughes herself explains all about Alfie and his stories in this lovely video. I was a bit nervous watching this, but don't worry, Shirley is just as lovely as you want her to be! She's just earned herself a place in my 'people to have at an imaginary dinner party' list. 

I'll leave you with the subtext my son read into this picture: 

That sheep is saying 'can I have some cow milk please? From your cow boobies?' 
And the cow is thinking about it.

So there we are.

I was sent Alfie and Grandma for the purposes of this review. The gushing about Shirley Hughes and my obsession with Alfie books were not influenced by the free book. 


  1. That book looks gorgeous, we love Alfie in our house! x

  2. I LOVE Alfie - he really reminds me of Henry and lots of people have told me that his little sister Annie Rose looks just like Evie. Such special books. x