16 October 2021

What we learned at The Christmas Pig event with J.K. Rowling

What a fantastic evening we had at The Christmas Pig book launch event with J.K. Rowling. Her new book, The Christmas Pig, was launched on 12th October with a book signing event at Alexandra Palace Theatre, where she talked about the book and the inspiration for it. The Christmas Pig is now available nearly every bookshop, and in several languages across the glove. You can also get it online from Waterstones, Amazon UK, or Amazon US (affiliate links).   

girl standing in front of a giant christmas pig book

So what happened at the event then?

At the event J.K. Rowling talked about The Christmas Pig, the inspiration for it, and how it was born. She got the idea from the precious toy her son had. As it regularly got lost at bedtime and they'd have to hunt all over the house for it, she bought a replacement toy just in case - until her son found it in the cupboard and decided it was the brother of the precious toy. This then inspired her to think of the special bond children have with some toys and what happens when they get lost. 

And when it was time for reading the book... You could hear just the rustling of paper as J.K Rowling asked us all to take out our books and turn to page 56, Chapter 13. She remarked how lovely it was to hear that sound and how it took her back to her days as a teacher. It was such a treat to hear J.K. Rowling read her book to us, and make the voices and all, and despite this being a children's book I was instantly drawn to the story. 

Afterwards we had a short drawing session with the illustrator Jim Field, who has also illustrated books such as Oi Frog. He taught us how to draw Christmas Pig - and with his easy instructions even I, usually cack-handed enough to ruin a stick man, managed to draw something reasonable. 

The Q&A after the book reading and drawing class revealed some more information about the book, and also J.K. Rowling's writing. A few bits I remember were:
  • The Christmas Pig had been in the making for nearly 10 years, with the idea originating in 2012 and the writing finished during the pandemic, and thus the book had a fitting life lesson of rapid change in a new world. 
  • City of the Missed was her favourite world created for the book, and Jim Field had illustrated it perfectly, it looking just like it did in her head;
  • Her three favourite characters, other than Jack and Dur Pig, were three pigs, called Prudence, Hope and Patience (I hope I remembered those names right!);
  • There are no movie deals yet, but she thinks the story could make for a nice animation;
  • Her favourite snack while writing is pop corn, because it is easy to eat and not messy;
  • She doesn't really get writer's block, but if you find writing hard at times, the best way to get over it is just to walk away and it will come to you later;
  • Her favourite children's book was The Wind of the Willows, that her father read to her as she was sick with measles when five years old;
  • She says scone as in gone, not scone as in bone!

mum and daughter at alexandra palace

a ticket to a book signing event

table full of the christmas pig books

the book signing event at stage

jk rowling signing books

We then proceeded to queue to get our books signed by the one and only. There were lots and lots of people so while waiting for our turn my eight year old kept herself entertained by reading The Christmas Pig in the queue and got all the way to page 91. It was pretty interesting how they added a small holographic sticker to the book to prove it was at a genuine book signing event and her real signature - so an additional measure to prove the signature wasn't faked. It was all quite busy, and I think we were both quite star struck so no other chat than a simple "thank you" came from us as we got in front of J.K. Rowling, and we were ushered swiftly onwards by her staff after receiving our books back. It was like a military operation getting everyone moving and all the books signed, I bet her hand hurt afterwards! 

I've always been a big fan of Harry Potter series and J.K. Rowlings' writing, and I was probably more excited about attending the event than my daughter was. I don't think she quite understood how rare it is that J.K. Rowling does book events or book signings! The video from the event should be uploaded on J.K. Rowling Stories on 17th October, so check there if you want to see more of the event. 

I haven't read The Christmas Pig myself yet, but my eight year old finished it in two days. She says "The book is very very interesting. The only bad thing about it is that you can't put it down, because you are itching to read what happens next." A rave review there! Like I mentioned, you can get it for example from WaterstonesAmazon UK, or Amazon US (affiliate links) - and I reckon it will be a very popular book this Christmas!

a girl with a book signed by jk rowling


You might also like: 24 Christmas books for kids I recommend and How to do a Christmas book advent calendar

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4 September 2021

Musical and imaginative: Reviewing What the Ladybird Heard

We were invited to review the theatrical adaptation of What the Ladybird Heard, a beloved book by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Lydia Monks, at Palace Theatre. We visited as part of Kids Week, an annual August promotion where kids go free with a paying adult, but What the Ladybird Heard will also go on UK tour for the rest of the year, and will return back to West end in the summer!  

I had my three year old daughter with me, who sat through the show mesmerised. When asked what she thought of the show, her one word review was: "Good". 

She is a lady of few words, alas, let me review it on her behalf then!

what the ladybird heard theatre review

There were plenty of things to like about What the Ladybird Heard. The stage has been adapted to look like the storybook, apparently with the guidance from Lydia Monks. Part of the play includes looking for the ladybird on the stage, where she appears in different places. The kids in the audience had a great time interacting with this part of the play, trying to spot where the ladybird was.

One of the beginning acts of the play included the cast members forming the farm animals using the items on the stage. I must admit, at first I thought it was a bit strange, but then I got into it and it was a delight to see how a wheelbarrow became a pig, and a bicycle, a mop and a bucket became a horse, and so on. Kids absolutely loved this, and it felt like such a child-friendly way of getting the kids into the magic of the make-believe and theatre. 

In addition, I absolutely loved the musicality of the show. I enjoyed the songs - they were catchy and fun and well performed. It was also wonderful to see several instruments used and played during the play. 

There were a couple of things I wasn't too sure about, and didn't think worked as well as they could have. The play started with the cast choosing an "audience member" as a volunteer to fill in one of the roles. There were a couple bits of slap stick humour and fart jokes to appease the older kids, and it then proceeded with explaining the premise of the "fine prize cow". I must say I couldn't quite always follow the story or the jokes, and I did think more could have been made about the interactivity of the poem "and the cow said MOO! and the hen said "CLUCK!..." bits, and I'm sure the kids would have appreciated being drawn into that - at least that's one of the favourite parts for my kids. 

stage palace theatre ladybird show

mum and daughter standing in front of palace theatre

We visited Palace Theatre, which is close to Leicester Square and Covent Garden. It has good bathroom facilities and a cloakroom. Before the play the staff definitely made quite the push for merchandise. As I didn't want my kid to feel left out I forked £3.5 for a What the Ladybird Heard branded stick, that most kids in the audience were waving around. You could see quite a few of these around Covent Garden and SoHo after the play as well as all the families dispersed to continue their day out in the vicinity of the theatre - so it served as good marketing for the play too.

All in all, it was a great piece of children's theatre, and I am not surprised that it is one of those long-standing and well-thought of plays in UK! 

29 August 2021

What is new and fun at Madame Tussauds London 2021

Have you guys been to Madame Tussauds London? I visited it with my eight year old daughter in June, and it was a blast from the past for me. The last time I visited Madame Tussauds was well over twenty years ago, when I was a teenage tourist visiting London. There is definitely a lot more today and some new attractions added in 2021! Lots to see at Madame Tussauds, so here are some of the highlights of our visit. Scroll to the end to see a quick summary of the most important things you need to know.

madame tussauds entrance nicole kidman

madame tussauds helen mirren queen for a day photo

So what was included?

The biggest attraction is of course the wax dolls of famous people. The first collection is of various film stars and other celebrities popular right now - for example there was Helen Mirren, Eddie Redmayne, Kim Kardashian and so on. The next wax figure collection was film - so this included characters and mini sets from films such as Alien (separated from the wider collection as not suitable for littles ones), King Kong, E.T. Breakfast at Tiffany's and so on. Then the sports hall, where you could take pictures with a variety of sports stars, such as standing next to Mo Farah on a podium. Fourth major section was royalty and historical figures, fifth collection was of music performers where you could also listen to records by some of the people featured. 

Second major attraction was the historical section, which explained how Madame Tussauds started (by doing death masks of the executed during French Revolution) and featured some of her original work. There was also a "taxi ride" through the history of London, which as a nice little touch. You got to sit down for a short ride through different displays and a short story of London. 

Third major section was about the popular film franchises - so there was a Marvel section, a 4D cinema, and a Star Wars section. There were amazing places for taking photos with a wide variety of characters from Marvel, such as Black Panther, or Spiderman, and this collection ended with a 4D cinema experience (which is an extra £2.5 per person). 4D cinema is definitely worth it, even if you have to pay extra. It is short, so you might not need to buy pop corn though even if it is on offer ha ha! I'd say, sit at the back or middle to back for best views. Then finally there is the Star Wars collection, which as well, had fantastic photo opportunities with characters from all the films!

beyonce madame tussauds

mo farah madame tussauds

tea with the queenmadame tussauds

What did I think of the experience?

I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought, and my favourites were the Star Wars area, Marvel area, the history of wax works, and the 4d movie (extra £2.5/person). It was surprisingly fun to see what size celebrities are in real life, and see all kinds of animatronics, and learn about the history of wax works, especially as I've long put this place down as a gaudy tourist attraction. 

My phone almost died with the amount of photos my eight year old wanted to take. Every. Single. Figure.  Regardless of whether or not she knew who they were. She enjoyed listening to records by some of the notable musicians at Madame Tussauds, and is now a big Amy Winehouse fan. 

All in all, a fun visit. We spent nearly two hours there, and it is definitely a fun place for kids and teens! Good time to visit now as well with less tourists, so we walked right in, no queue and while busy inside, it felt OK. Very little social distancing or masks but there we go, if that's concerning than best avoid for now.

han solo madame tussauds

madame tussauds chewbacca photo opportunity

madame tussauds r2d2 star wars droid

rey from star wars madame tussauds

hulk madame tussauds

spiderman madame tussauds

et madame tussauds

king kong madame tussauds

Top tips for visiting:
  • As there are less tourists in London now, there are hardly any queues to get inside, so great time to visit Madame Tussauds!
  • Despite lack of queues and lower capacity taken in, it is busy inside. Photo opportunities are mostly quick to get in on though, so not that much waiting for them. 
  • Social distancing and corona safety: At times there are "traffic jams" of people so social distancing is difficult. Many people wore their masks, but whipped them our for quick photos with the wax dolls. More on safety restrictions by the attraction here
  • Perfect for 6+ to teens, and older kids are more likely to recognise the figures. My eight year old recognised hardly anyone, not even her favourite actors from Harry Potter series. Despite this, she enjoyed it a lot. 
  • 4D cinema is definitely worth the extra £2.5 per person - just make sure to sit at the back or mid to back for best views. It's a CGI film, and has some extra effects too! More on it here

Have you visited Madame Tussauds?

You might also like: Why visit Science Museum with kids in 2021? and SeaLIFE Aquarium London with kids

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outside madame tussauds

madame tussauds pinterest

madame tussauds pinterest

17 August 2021

What we thought of Code Ninjas Enfield overall and holiday camp experience

I signed my daughter up for Code Ninjas Enfield holiday camp, and here is my review of the overall set-up and the course. It was really interesting to find out more about this place as I have walked past it quite a few times when shopping in Enfield Town. Code Ninjas Enfield is run by a current Head of Computer Science, who is passionate for coding and all things STEM. 

Code Ninjas promises to teach kids about coding in a safe environment. The flexible curriculum for kids aged 7-14 teaches the kids 3 programming languages (JavaScript, Lua and C#), and there are also lessons for kids aged 5-9, and holiday camps at summer, and autumn and Easter half terms. Quite intriguingly there were also offers for a Parents Night Out, where you can leave your kids for an hour or two while you enjoy and adult meal... 

Anyway, on to the review!

Location and facilities:

Location of Code Ninjas Enfield is very central to Enfield Town, and easy to get to walking or driving. There are parking areas nearby, although a quick drop-in and drive is difficult as you can't park right outside it. 

Inside the facilities were clean and modern, and children's and adults bathrooms were separated. All staff wore masks, and parents were asked to wear masks too. 

There was a friendly staff member at the front of the house greeting incomers and ensuring everyone checked in. Outside the classroom dojo there are benches, where parents are asked to wait for their child, rather than going in themselves to get them. I really liked this from a safety conscious aspect as well - this meant no-one could wander in or a child could not leave without the staff noticing. 

Code Ninjas Enfield outside

Code ninjas enfield inside

General teaching 

My daughter tried an introductory session, which is a 30 minute play session with one of the senseis, who is quite intensively helping them to get accustomed to the computer and games. After the introductory session, if the children continue at the classroom by taking regular sessions, the senseis are hovering around helping them, but not as intensively and kids have more free time with their games in between learning about coding. As they learn more, they progress through different levels of coding skills. 

Much of the education on coding at Code Ninjas is learning through gaming, and Roblox and Minecraft appear to used a lot for older kids (+7yo). This will of course be a fantastic place for kids that love gaming, and gets them learning too! However, it is important to note that for kids (or parents) that aren't keen on gaming Code Ninjas might not be a right fit. 

Reviewing the holiday camp: Become a YouTuber course

Since my daughter has been talking about wanting to be a YouTuber for a while now, I booked her into the Become a YouTuber camp at Code Ninjas. This camp was three full days, from 9AM to 4PM, with one hour lunch (packed lunch to be provided by the parent). From a parental perspective, a full day like this was great as it allowed me to have a good chunk of hours for work during those days. 

During those three days she set up her own channel, having come up with her niche and name, learned about copyright and search engine optimisation (using descriptive language and key words), used Canva to design thumbnails, and an animated intro and end rolls for her videos, and shot six gaming videos for her channel. They also learned to do screen recording and some video editing, and how to do time marks for their videos. 

All in all, she was very happy and came back bouncing with excitement everyday. She had great fun with her gaming buddies everyday, and is now very keen to "get lots of subscribers and viewers" on her Harry Potter- inspired gaming channel. 

From my perspective, I was really happy to see how much fun my daughter had, how much the kids learned and got to do, and how confident my daughter became using a computer. An area of improvement could be to introduce some variety in the videos - now all of them were based on gaming, probably because it is easy to record and many kids love gaming. Introducing some variety, for example filming a review video or a tutorial, would teach kids about different types of content.  

Overall summary

All in all, I was really happy with the experience. Safety of kids at Code Ninjas Enfield was great, and my daughter really enjoyed her time there. I also really liked the look of some of the other courses, such as Adventures in 3D Printing, and Robotics Bootcamp Using Lego Solutions, and STEM-day courses and I am sure to book my kid on one of them in the future.  

That said, Code Ninjas are not the cheapest of courses, and they vary from £40 for a half day course, to £250 for a course of three full days. Similarly, the lessons are on the dearer side of children's hobbies. This is to be expected of course with technological costs, and small course sizes, but may be prohibitive for some parents. 

seating area enfield code ninjas

21 May 2021

Why visit the Science Museum with kids in 2021?

We visited Science Museum in London right before the second lockdown. It is a fantastic place to take your kids to, lots of interactive features and almost all of it free. Prior to going I did however wonder how is it currently, how do the current restrictions work and is it corona-safe, so wanted to share my 2020 and 2021 experience with you guys. 

kids at science museum exhibitions

brass steel and fire exhibition science museum

kids at brass steel and fire exhibition

two kids making a stethoscope craft

Why you should visit the Science Museum with kids

This is a huge museum, with several floors and massive exhibitions. Some of the highlights for me were
  • Exploring Space: space equipment on the ground floor, like the full-size replica of the lander Armstrong and Aldrin had in 1969, an actual descent module from another space mission, and many more space things;
  • Mathematics: Winton Gallery on the Level 2 - a really fantastic exhibition and a fantastic place to take photos with a funky pink background (bloggers' gotta do what bloggers' do I suppose...);
  • Free activities for kids! There was the Pattern Pod (kids under 8), a fun interactive exhibition for kids with lots of video and electronics interactivity and the Garden (best for ages 3-6) with water play and other equipment.
  • Wonderlab - this is a paid for activity, spread over several zones and where you can interact with scientific experiments. I'd say best for 4 years or older. 3 and under are free. 
  • Fun and free workshops and shows for kids - during weekends and half-term usually. For example we did a functional stethoscope the last time. 
And obviously - it is a great place to visit as an adult without kids, you'll probably just not have quite as much interactive fun and will be more enjoying learning aspect and awesome huge exhibitions. 

How to get tickets?

I've found that since the museum is massive, it is quite easy to get tickets even with the current restrictions, BUT, if you want to get tickets to the interactive bits for kids, you HAVE TO be organised. They go very quick, and you have to book them well in advance, possibly even a month if you are planning a weekend date. 

When you book your tickets to the museum, it will also ask you if you want to book a free 20 minute slot to Pattern Pod, and to the Garden - make sure you do if you are bringing kids. 

For Wonderlab, you need to book separately and if you book for a visit before the 16th July 2021 you get an annual pass for the price of a day pass. At the time of writing all weekend slots are fully booked a month in advance so be quick. You will also need to book general entry tickets to the museum in addition to Wonderlab. 

All slots are timed so don't be late!

pattern pod entrance at science museum

dad and child at pattern pod science museum

kid at pattern pod exhibition

kid at pattern pod video show

What we thought of the safety measures

The ground floor was very very busy, but if you went up a level or two it got really very empty, so I'd definitely recommend that for added social distancing. There were definite gems on upper levels too. 

The entrance was very handy, all touch free and you could easily scan your tickets on your own. Lots of spaces for hand sanitisers. Everything was very clean, and employees cleaned the children's interactive bits (Pattern Pod and Garden) thoroughly between the sessions. 

And a little tip...

Natural History Museum (fantastic for kids!) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (better for teens and adults) are literally next door, like literally. It is just a couple minutes a walk from exit of one museum to the entrance of another, so if you want to maximise your time, book an additional museum visit. Natural History Museum tickets are being booked like hotcakes though so again, you need to be pretty prepared well in advance in these strange social distancing corona-times where space is limited.  

My top tips:
  • Upper floors are emptier, less people and less hustle and bustle. 
  • Book tickets well ahead of time if you want to go to Pattern Pod, The Garden or Wonderlab! They sell out quick, Wonderlab weeks in advance for weekends.
  • If you book a visit to happen before 16th July 2021, you can get the annual pass to Wonderlab for the price of a day entry
  • Half term usually means extra activities - last time we made a functional stethoscope!
  • If you have time, consider getting tickets also to Natural History Museum or Victoria and Albert Museum - they are literally next door to the Science Museum
  • South Kensington Station (closest to the museums) is closed for Piccadilly line until March 2022 - but you can still reach it with Circle or District. 

Have you been to the Science Museum with kids?

You might also like: What is SEAlife London Aquarium like for kids?

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ticket entrance to science museum london

floating earth in science museum

challenger descent module at science museum

mathematics gallery at science museum

mathematics gallery at science museum london

kid posing at science museum

Why visit London Science Museum with kids - best tips on what to do and see from 2021 onwards

Best tips for visiting London Science Museum with kids in 2021 and onwards

How to make the most of your visit to the Science Museum in London and kids

How London Science Museum is like in 2021, and how safe is it to visit with corona restrictions

19 May 2021

What I've been up to in 2021 during my blogging break

Well hasn't it been a while!

While internet will never miss one woman, I've missed writing my blog. But alas, time (or rather, the lack of it) is the issue. So I took a somewhat unplanned five month blog break. I've been more active over on my Instagram, which is a bit quicker and easier to update. 

mum and daughters at kew gardens with pink blooms

During that blog break I have been, and we have been busy. In that time we have done lots of big house renovations - a roof replacement, two sky lights put in, windows replaced, house exterior painted, a total bathroom renovation with new pipes put in, oh, and a new boiler. There are still some small niggling issues to sort in the house and after they have been sorted the next renovation plan is to tackle the garage and garden. I am very much looking forward to all of this finishing as it is a major pain in the arse and disruptive in every way possible. While living in a period house has its moments, it is a lot of hard work. 

There was of course homeschooling too during the third lockdown. Less said about that the better ha ha! 

Now that places are again opening up I have been busy booking us all kinds of places. Our Saturdays are fully booked until July actually - and I've already booked a few August and Christmas things too! Museums, English Heritage places, weekend trips, art exhibitions - all kinds. Feeling like I may have gone a bit overboard after being limited to our Local Authority area too long, nice and green that it is, I have still missed going to the Big Smoke. 

Now that I am finally back here writing, which to be honest, I really have missed, I'm looking forward to writing about all the things we are starting to get up to, as well as finally finishing the dozens and dozens of drafts I have lingering in my folders... 

And if I do manage to get to the bottom of my draft bin you might find some very non-current content such as the monthly baby development pictures I took of my now three year old daughter that I was meant to publish and then, just never did. We shall see! On more current things there is our visit to the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Sky Garden, Wrest Park, Audley End and so on, so on - all lovely places and fun days out I'd love to share!

family photo at kew gardens

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