Just look up

The spaces between the clouds 
are secret stories waiting
To be found
By someone who cranes their neck
And stares for a little while,
Just watching
To discover a treasure
That most never know about.
So look up.

Patches of blue peeking through,
Like a child behind curtains
Playing hide
And seek, giggling quietly
As they crouch in the shadows
Patiently
Waiting for you to find them.
But first, you have to stop for
A while. Take a deep breath and
Just look up.

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Puppy’s first Christmas

Clara is a puppy who is excited for her first Christmas. She wants to know why we celebrate, and what everyone loves most about it.

Clara was a puppy. She lived with her Mummy and twin brother Rudy and their humans, Norah and Jasper. Clara was excited because it was Christmas soon. Clara wasn’t sure exactly what Christmas was, but by the sound of it, it involved lots of food, baubles to chew, and extra cuddles with their humans. It sounded amazing!

But today, Clara and Rudy were in the dog house. Apparently, trying to climb up the Christmas tree to eat the baubles was ‘incredibly naughty’.

The puppies had been told ‘no more treats today’. This made Clara sad. Her tummy was rumbling, and it was ages until dinner time.

“It’s not fair,” moaned Rudy, “I just wanted to eat that shiny star at the top of the tree. I love baubles.”

“Well, I wish that I hadn’t followed you. It was all your idea, and now I am in trouble too,” huffed Clara.

“You didn’t have to follow me up the tree!” Replied Rudy.

“I know that, but you called me a coward!” Said Clara.

“Hmph.”

“Stop arguing, puppies,” said Mum, “I am trying to have a nap.”

Clara walked to the back door and stared out at the garden. It was raining. Her tummy rumbled again. She sighed.

The next day, Clara tried to be well behaved, to please her humans. It was tricky. She really wanted to climb that tree and eat some more baubles. Sometimes it was hard being a puppy.

Jasper took her, Rudy and Mummy out for a walk to the park. Norah was wrapping presents, and apparently didn’t need their help, which was a shame. Clara loved the park: they could run around and meet other dogs. There were so many smells: grass, dogs, squirrels, poo. Jasper let them off the lead, and Rudy ran to smell a lamppost. Clara saw a friend, an old English sheepdog called Bert, and went to smell him. Then she licked his face.

“Bert, you are old and have had many Christmases,” said Clara, “what do you love most at Christmas?”

“Well,” replied Bert, “I love many things, but I suppose that my favourite is having my humans around, all of the kids  come and visit over the holidays.”

Bert’s humans were grandparents, and had their whole family round on Christmas Day.

“Oh,” said Clara. “I don’t know what I will love most, because this will be my first Christmas. It might be pigs in blankets. Bert?”

“Yes?”

“Why do we have Christmas?” Asked the puppy.

“Well, many years ago there was a baby born in Bethlehem. He was a special baby: he was called Jesus, the son of God.”

“The son of God? That sounds important. Why was he born?”

“To give hope to all people. He told everyone about God, and how much he loves them. In fact, Jesus died for our humans.”

“Oh. Does Jesus love dogs too?”

“Oh yes,” he loves everyone.”

Bert and his human walked away, and Clara went to chase Rudy around a tree.

When they got back home, Norah had hidden all of the presents: Clara had been hoping to have a peek. She was tired after her walk, so curled up next to Mummy and fell asleep. She dreamed of dancing pigs wearing tinsel.

It was Christmas Eve. Clara was so excited that she struggled to fall asleep. She closed her eyes and then thought of all the food and presents that she would get the next day, and jumped up, wide awake again. Rudy kept asking Mummy silly questions like how much food they would be able to eat, and whether it was allowed for puppies to climb trees and eat baubles on Christmas Day. Finally, after Mummy told her and Rudy a bedtime story called ‘The night before Christmas’, she nodded off.  

Clara suddenly jolted awake. She looked around, sniffing the air. What had woken her? She climbed gently out of bed so as not to wake her mum or brother. There! What was that sound? It sounded like… like… bells! Little bells jingling. She looked out at the back garden, but couldn’t see anything. Then she heard something from the living room. Very quietly, she pawed the kitchen door open. She popped her nose through the gap, sniffing hard. There was a new smell: similar to her humans’. Was there a burglar come to steal all of their Christmas presents? She would teach them a lesson! She would bite them hard on the bottom. 

Clara crept on tip-paws over the living room carpet. There, a fat man was standing by the Christmas tree! She would sneak up and bite him on his bottom before he even realised that she was there.

‘Chomp!’

Clara took a small bite of the man’s red trouser bottoms. 

“Yowch!” He shouted, jumping a couple of feet in the air.

He turned around. He had a big white beard and bright blue eyes. His hat was red… hang on, he looked familiar. 

“Oh no!” Barked Clara, “are you Father Christmas?”

“Ho ho, yes I am, young puppy. You have extremely sharp teeth.”

“I am so sorry, I thought that you were stealing our presents. Please don’t put me on the naughty list?” 

“Well, seeing as you were just trying to protect your home, I will let you off.” Father Christmas smiled.

“Yes, Mr Christmas. I promise to be a good puppy from now on. Please don’t tell Mummy that I bit you on the bottom?”

He patted Clara gently on the head. 

“Ok, I won’t.”

Clara noticed another smell and looked behind Santa: there was a small puppy, looking scared.

“Oh, Clara meet my newest pet, I just found her today. I was delivering over Finland when I noticed a little black nose sticking up out of a snowdrift. I flew in for a closer look, and found her, freezing cold. I put her in my coat to warm her up. Her name is Estella.”


The tiny puppy looked at Clara wide-eyed. Her brown fur looked like it needed a brush.

 “Hello Estella, my name is Clara. Would you like a treat?”

She nodded her head.
Clara gave her a puppy treat from her Christmas stocking that was hanging over the fireplace.


“I probably shouldn’t be looking in here, but my humans would understand.” 
She ate it up quickly, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” smiled Clara.
“Father Christmas, could I ask you a question?”
“Of course.”
“What do you love most about Christmas?” Asked Clara.
“Oh, that’s a good question. Let me see… well I love the snow; I love my big Christmas dinner that Mother Christmas makes me after I have delivered all of the gifts; but most of all I love making sure that everyone has a gift that they can treasure. Sometimes it is something small, but it brings them great joy.”


Clara smiled. 


“Now, help me to put your family’s presents under the tree, please?” He asked. 

Clara helped him to arrange them all neatly under the tree: Norah’s, Jasper’s, Mummy’s, hers and Rudy’s. She started sniffing her gift, but stopped when Santa looked at her.

“Could I open mine now please?”

“Ho ho, no young Clara,” laughed the plump old man, “you have to wait until the morning, like all of the other people and pets. Now, I must get on, it’s a busy night for me, you know.”

“OK, bye bye Father Christmas! Thank you for our presents. Goodbye Estella!”

“You’re welcome. Goodnight.” He popped the tiny dog into his front coat pocket.

“Bye bye,” whispered Estella sleepily. 

“Goodnight, safe journey! Sorry about your trousers.”

Santa turned around and headed back up the chimney. Clara noticed that he was wearing snowman pants underneath his red trousers.

She went back to bed, giving her present one more quick sniff on the way past.

“It’s Christmas!” Rudy was panting in her face.

“Get off!” Clara laughed, pushing him off her.

Rudy started running around the kitchen in circles, chasing his tail and then biting it. 

“Ow.”

Clara stretched and smelled the air. It smelled like turkey, roast potatoes and joy.

“Good morning puppies,” grinned Norah.

She was putting something delicious-smelling in the oven.

Rudy and Clara went to her for pats and cuddles, licking her hands happily.

“Where’s Mummy?” Clara asked Rudy.

“She is in the living room, let’s go see what Father Christmas brought us!” Replied her brother.

Clara remembered what had happened the night before, and smiled to herself as she followed Rudy out of the kitchen.

Jasper was handing Rudy his Christmas present – Clara recognised it as one that Father Christmas had brought.

“This must be from Norah,” Jasper said, “I don’t remember it.”

Rudy jumped in excitement and tore at the wrapping with his teeth. It was a squirrel squeaky chew toy. He threw it up in the air and caught it, tail wagging.

“And here is one for you, Clara,” said Jasper.

It was also one from Santa. She opened it – a snuffle mat with small treats hidden in it. Wonderful!

Mummy opened her present: it was a cosy red blanket.

“Let’s save your other gifts until after dinner, shall we?” Suggested Jasper.

Clara didn’t think that was a great idea, but she could be patient.

Jasper started cutting up vegetables and stirring things in big pots on the stove, so Norah took them for a walk. The frost on the grass was cold under her paws and looked like icing sugar, sparkling in the winter sunshine. All the humans were wishing each other “Merry Christmas” and they saw Bert again, wearing a fluffy red and white hat. They had a lovely walk but were in a hurry to get home, ready for Christmas dinner.

 After a delicious meal of turkey, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, honey parsnips and carrots, the family were snoozing in front of the fire. They would open presents after the Queen’s speech. 

“Mummy, what do you love best about Christmas?” Asked Clara.

“The thing that I love most about Christmas is seeing your and Rudy’s happy faces and wagging tails. And also the food,” Mummy smiled. 

Clara thought that she loved everything about Christmas.

The end

What do you love most about Christmas? Can you draw it? Have you written to Father Christmas yet this year?

For more literacy resources and stories for kids, please go to https://literacytrust.org.uk/

This story is dedicated to my labrador puppy. It will be her first Christmas this year. ❤

Sophie and the forest chapter 2

Chapter two: a storm and a squirrel


Sophie was on her way to visit her Gran who lived in the forest. A summer storm had sprung up and she was getting soaked. She met someone who offered to help her get shelter in an old house- it was a squirrel.

“You are not mad, silly human. I talk, so what? You got a problem with talking squirrels?” He asked, looking angry and holding tightly to the bag of peanuts.


“No… no, I don’t have a… problem with talking squirrels…am I still asleep? That’s what happened… I didn’t wake up earlier. I am having a lovely nap under that big tree, and the last hour or so has been a dream…” Sophie mumbled.


“You are awake. This is why I don’t talk to humans so often – they act all crazy like this. The last human that I spoke to jumped into a pond when I asked him for the weather forecast. Honestly, it’s like they think they are the only ones on the whole planet who can talk.” The squirrel grumbled.


“Oh, um, so I am awake, and this is real… and squirrels can talk English… sure, why not?”


“Ok, Mr Squirrel, so do you own this house? Because I am getting very wet, and I would like to get inside and have a lay down.”


“First, my name is not Mr Squirrel, is your name Miss Human? Huh? And secondly, no I do not own the house- you think banks give mortgages to wildlife now? Goodness me. But I can open the door for you, see? Then you can have a lay down on the sofa for as long as you like, ok?”


“Oh, ok. Sure, do you have the key?”


“Do I look like I have pockets?” He rolled his eyes. “No, but the door is on a latch, and I can sneak into that small gap in the door and unlatch it for you. Do you want me to, or do you want to spend the rest of the day chatting out here?”


“Y… yes please, do open the door… I would be most grateful.” Sophie swallowed nervously. She had never spoken to a squirrel before and wasn’t sure of the etiquette.


“Sure, no problem, Miss Human.”


The squirrel squeezed into a small hole at the bottom of the wooden door, and a few seconds later, it squeaked open on rusted hinges.


“Oh, thank you so much, here are your peanuts!”

Sophie ran into the old house, nearly soaked to the bone, but grateful to escape the storm.


“See you later then, human, and thanks for the nuts.”


The squirrel ran up a tree, bag of peanuts firmly clenched in his teeth.


Sophie sat down on the old leather sofa in a daze.
After a minute, she looked around. The house had obviously not been lived in for a long time: there were spiderwebs everywhere. The furniture was covered in dust. There was a small fireplace, and next to it, a book. Besides the sofa, there was a rough-looking table with two rickety chairs, and in the kitchen a stove that looked like it came out of the 19th century – a black one that needed a fire. Also, a table and a sink. A couple of plates and cups sat near the sink, as though someone had been doing the washing up before they decided to leave the house and never return. There were no electric lights – just a few candles dotted around the room. There was also another door that she assumed lead to a bedroom.


“Hmm, I wonder who owns this place,” she said to herself, “I think there is probably an interesting story here.”


Behind the door was a small bed. Underneath a grimy window, she could make out a wooden writing desk and chair. The desk had a pad of paper and a pencil. She read the paper – it said:


20 November
Difficult night. Getting low on firewood – going to have to cut down another tree soon. Don’t feel happy about leaving the clearing. It feels like I am being watched.


Oh dear, that didn’t sound good.


Sophie walked through the kitchen and opened the back door – it had a key still in the lock – and saw a small outhouse and a pile of firewood in the ‘back garden’ area. Another rumble of thunder, and two seconds later, a flash of lightning. The rain was barrelling down. It obviously used to be a clearing, but nature had encroached and there were thick brambles and weeds. The outhouse, Sophie knew from stories that her Gran told her about her childhood, was a small outdoor toilet. They were used before running water was installed, many years ago. The toilet didn’t flush – it was just a deep hole in the ground – a long-drop. Sophie thought that there must be a well nearby too, unless the owner used to visit the river for their water.


Sophie went back into the house. She snuggled up on the sofa, underneath a blanket that she found. She felt wiped out – as though she had been walking through the forest for days. After a rest and some food, Sophie managed to find a box of matches, and got a small fire going in the hearth. She took off her outer clothes and hung them up on the fireguard to dry off. While they were drying, she looked at the book.


“Carpentry for beginners. Sounds fascinating.”


Sophie wondered whether she should text her Mum to let her know that she wasn’t at Gran’s yet, and had got stuck in a storm, and that a talking squirrel had helped her get into a spooky old house…


“No, maybe not. I’ll text Mum when I actually get to Gran’s. That way she won’t worry.” She told herself.


After a while the storm moved on and the rain slowed to a drizzle.


She went back into the garden to look for the well – her water bottle was nearly empty. She spotted it in a tangle of brambles. How was she going to get to it without being scratched to shreds by the thorns? She looked around and found an axe near the firewood pile, as well as some wet gardening gloves. She put on the gloves, that were too big, and chopped at the brambles, trying to make a way to reach the well. Pouring with sweat, Sophie finally hit bricks. Thankfully, there was a bucket on a rope with which she could reach the water – she just hoped that it wasn’t full of mud. She drew up the water, and it wasn’t too bad, besides a few leaves and a water boatman, which she threw onto the grass. Remembering a survival show that she had watched once, she thought it would be better to boil the water before drinking it, so that she didn’t get a tummy bug.


She looked in the kitchen cupboards and found a battered pot, which she filled with the well water. She lit the kitchen stove and boiled the water. Once it had boiled, she let it cool a little before having a drink. By this time, she was very thirsty so gulped it down gladly. With the remaining water, she filled her bottle. She needed the toilet, so braved the outhouse. It was full of cobwebs.
I should probably get going now, she thought, Gran will be expecting me. Maybe I should write a quick note though.


Sophie went back to the bedroom and wrote on the paper that she had found.


I used your house today to escape from a storm and drew some water from your well. Thank you. I know that you weren’t here to ask, but I do appreciate it. I hope that you are ok.
Sophie (age 12)

Sophie felt her clothes – they were nearly dry, so got dressed and carefully put out the fires in the living room and stove. She didn’t want to accidently burn down the house. She saw that the rain had stopped, and the sun had come out.
She switched on her phone to check for any messages and took a photo of the living room, mostly to prove to herself that it hadn’t been a dream. She had a quick look at the map of the route to Gran’s house. She still seemed to be heading in the right direction. She tried to pick up a GPS signal to check her location, but it didn’t work, and her battery was now at only 3%. She switched the phone off again.


“Goodbye house,” she smiled as she left, pulling the front door shut behind her. She looked for the grumpy squirrel but couldn’t see him.


Sophie set off down the path, hopeful that there would be no more problems, or talking animals, on the way.


It was well into the afternoon now, and she was hoping that she would get to her Gran’s house before sunset. Her feet ached. She sat in the shade of a twisted tree which had the initials AH + JB scratched into its trunk. She wondered who those people were. After a few minutes, she got up and kept walking. Sophie started to worry that she might be lost – she had taken a path off the main track a while ago, thinking that it was a shortcut. Now she wasn’t sure.


“Stay calm, Sophie. Everything is ok. You have no reason to be scared. It’s just a forest. With talking squirrels.”


After a while, she passed an old tree – it seemed familiar. Was that… initials scratched into its bark? She looked closer. AH + JB! Oh no! She had been walking in circles! Sophie sat down. It was time to text Mum. She switched on her phone, planning to send a quick text. The phone lit up, asked for her password or thumbprint, and just as she pressed her thumb to the screen, the phone switched off. She tried again- as soon as she switched the phone on, it switched itself off again.

“Argh!”


Sophie put her head on her knees and sobbed.


“Are you ok?”


“Not really,” Sophie sniffed, looking up. “Oh wow, you’re a crow. A crow is talking to me. Why am I even surprised?”



That’s all for today. Join me soon for the next chapter. Have you ever met a talking bird?
For more literacy resources for families, go to www.SwindonStories.org.uk

Sophie and the forest

Chapter one

Once there was a girl called Sophie. She lived in town with her Mum. Her Mum was always busy at work. Her Grandmother was poorly so Sophie was going to visit her. Gran lived in an ancient cottage in the forest and didn’t have electricity. She only had a landline phone, not a mobile. She didn’t even have wi-fi.


Sophie’s mum was preparing food for Gran as she wasn’t well enough to cook for herself; and making sandwiches and packing snacks for Sophie’s journey.


“Now, you have the map to Gran’s cottage on your phone, don’t you?”
“Yes Mum, it’s all here. And I will have my GPS on, so I won’t get lost,” replied Sophie.


“That’s good. Have you packed your toothbrush?”
“Yes Mum.”


Sophie was going to stay the night at Gran’s house. It was a long walk, and it was the summer holidays.


“What about a cardigan? It can get chilly in the forest at night.” Said Mum, squeezing in a bag of crisps and some fruit.


The rucksack was so full that it would be difficult to close.


“Yes, it’s all there.”


“Text me when you get there, but I won’t be able to check my phone for a while.”


Mum zipped the bag closed with a sigh of relief, and picked up her thermos of coffee, heading out of the door, “I packed a first aid kit too. It’s got all sorts in there – you never can be too careful. Gran said that she is ok, just a cough and feeling run-down, but she isn’t one to moan. Right, I’m off to work a double shift. See you tomorrow evening.”


Mum gave Sophie a quick hug.


“See you later Mum, have a good time at work.”


Sometimes her Mum did double-shifts and spent the night at work. There was a small side room where she would catch a couple of hours’ sleep if she could.


Soon afterwards, Sophie set off for Gran’s cottage. She used her GPS and the map on her phone to help find her way there: she had walked there a couple of times with her Mum, but it was a long journey, so they usually drove a different way, missing out most of the forest.


It was hot, and Sophie had to stop a few times to rest in the shade of a tree for a drink. She sat under an old oak tree and rested her eyes for a minute- she wasn’t used to walking this far. Suddenly she jolted awake, and looked around, confused. She must have been asleep for a while- the sun was higher in the sky. She checked her phone before setting off.


“What, battery only 5% How did that happen?”


Oh no, the GPS had drained her battery, and she had forgotten to charge her phone the night before! She looked around – it was obvious that she had to go down that path, as she had definitely come from the other way. But would she really be able to find the rest of the way to Gran’s cottage herself? Sophie wasn’t sure, but as she had come so far already and had to get the food and medicine to Gran, she couldn’t go back home now.


Sophie looked around. The trees were huge here, and so close together. In the heat of the day, the birds were silent, and the silence felt oppressive. Almost like she was being watched. Sophie shook her head and told herself to stop being silly. She switched her phone off, to save the last few dregs of battery power.
She had been walking for a while, fairly confident that she was following the correct path, when it started to go dark. Oh no, not a storm? Luckily the trees would stop her from being drenched, but it wouldn’t be comfortable. She knew that there were a few old houses scattered around the forest but didn’t know if anyone was friendly or would take pity on her.

A crack of thunder made her jump in fright. She looked around for somewhere to shelter, perhaps a hole at the base of a tree. Not finding anywhere, Sophie decided to keep walking. Fat warm drops of rain started falling, and she moved to the shade of the trees to the side of the path. The sky got darker and the rain heavier. Sophie felt tired, wet and miserable.


Up ahead, she spotted a falling-down house in a clearing. Thank goodness! Hopefully the owner would let her inside until the storm ended. She knocked loudly on the door, but there was no answer. She peered through the grubby front windows: it was dark, but she could see an old sofa. Then she checked around the back, also knocking on that door and calling loudly. She tried both doors. The house seemed to be empty. How annoying!


She sighed and sat down at the front of the house, holding her backpack above her head to keep some of the rain off.
She looked up, glimpsing a movement in the bushes.


“Hello… my name is Sophie. I don’t want to cause any trouble. I just want to go into the house until the storm passes. Do you own the house?”
Silence.


“I have some food that I could share with you… a sandwich, or um, some grapes? Would you like some?”


No reply. Sophie thought that maybe her imagination was in overdrive, and she was talking to herself.


A quick flash of orange. Was the owner a hermit who never spoke to other people?


“Oh,” said Sophie, rooting through her backpack to find something to tempt the shy person, “I have a first-aid kit here, if you need a plaster or something? No? Oh, there are some peanuts here too… Gran loves peanuts… oh bother.”


Sophie sunk her head onto her knees and tried not to cry.


“I like peanuts.”


Sophie smiled to herself. She didn’t look up straight away, as she didn’t want to scare the hermit.


“Oh brilliant, thank you. If you let me shelter in your house, just while it’s raining, you can have all of the peanuts,” she replied.


“Ok, hand the bag over, and I will open up the house for you.”


Sophie looked up.


“Wait, where are you?” She looked around, confused. She was sure that they had been standing nearby, but now all that she could see besides trees and rain, was a squirrel – a red squirrel. They were quite rare.


“It’s ok, I will get the peanuts out of my bag now- so you can see I am not lying.”


Sophie took the nuts out and lay the bag at her feet.


“Ok, they are here for you to take – are you behind that chestnut tree? You can come out now.”


The squirrel darted forward and grabbed the nuts.


“Oh no, a squirrel has just nicked the bag of peanuts! I am so sorry; I will get them back… here squirrel squirrel…”


Sophie crawled forward slowly, trying to grab the snack before the animal ran into a tree.


“What, do you think I’m an idiot?” Asked the squirrel.


“What? Argh, a squirrel just spoke to me! I am going mad!” Sophie cried.


I hope that you are enjoying the story so far. Join me soon for the next chapter.


For more literacy resources for families, go to www.SwindonStories.org.uk

A video of me reading this chapter:

https://youtu.be/Hk7p64oOGxU

Autumn and Fluffy at home school

It was a grey and rainy day. Autumn watched the raindrops hitting the window. She sighed.

“Why does it have to rain so much?” She wondered aloud. “When can we go back to proper school?”

Autumn’s Mummy looked up from helping Fluffy with a maths question. 

“All the grass would turn brown if it didn’t rain,” she replied, “and wouldn’t that be sad?”

“Hmph.” Answered Autumn.

“And as for going back to proper school, I don’t know the answer to that… we will have to wait until it is safer, don’t you think?” Mummy said.

“But why isn’t it safe now? I miss my friends. I miss my school playground with the basketball net and forest school pond.” The young fox moaned.

“We all wish it were safe, don’t we Fluffy?” Asked Autumn’s Mummy.

“Yes. I miss school too. Although, I am glad that we live in the same house so that I can still play with you,” answered Fluffy. “Imagine if we lived apart? No friends to run around the garden with, or play games with then.”

“You’re right. I am glad that we live together too.” Autumn smiled for the first time that day.

“I still miss normal life though. School dinners were much tastier, you got lots of rice pudding for dessert…”

“Thanks a lot!” Laughed Mummy. 

“Sorry Mummy.” Said Autumn with a cheeky grin. 

“Oh, it’s time for your live English lesson soon.” Said Mummy. “I will just start up the laptop. Have you got your pencils and paper ready?” 

“Yes Mummy.”

“Yes Autumn’s Mummy.” 

The friends had some live lessons with their teacher on the computer. They couldn’t have all of their classes that way because their teacher Mrs Badger had to teach the key workers’ children at school too. It was quite complicated.

The live lesson started.

“Good morning class.” Said Mrs Badger on the computer screen.

“Good morning Mrs Badger!” Chimed the children simultaneously.

“Today we are going to practice writing the letter G.” Announced Mrs Badger. “So make sure that you have your sharpened pencils ready, as well as some lined paper. But first I will read you a story. Have you ever heard of Hansel and Gretel?” She asked.

A few children said yes but some said no.

“Right, well, let me show you the cover first…”

The teacher showed them the cover of the book with the title ‘Hansel and Gretel’ on it, and a picture of a gingerbread house.

“Can anyone find the letter G on the cover?” Asked Mrs Badger.

“I can!” Answered a boy called Fido. “There it is, in the title.”

“Well done Fido!” That’s right, because Gretel starts with the letter G.” Mrs Badger pointed to the letter.

“Once upon a time, there was a boy called Hansel and his sister, called Gretel. They lived in a little wooden cottage in the woods. They were very poor. One day…”

Blip! 

The laptop suddenly froze, with a still picture of Mrs Badger reading the book, stuck on it. 

“Oh no!” Sighed Fluffy.

“Mummy, the laptop froze again!” Shouted Autumn angrily. 

Mummy came rushing from the other room, where she had been trying to do some work on her computer. 

“Oh not again. Let me have a look at it.”

Mummy pressed a few buttons on the laptop, but nothing happened. 

“Why does it always go wrong?” Sniffed Autumn. “I am fed up with this home schooling!”

Autumn jumped up from the table and ran upstairs to her room.

Fluffy looked sad and watched as Autumn’s Mummy tried to fix the computer. Eventually, the picture and sound came back. 

“Well done.” Smiled Fluffy.

“Thank you.” Said Mrs Fox. 

He called up the stairs to Autumn that the laptop was working again.

Fluffy really enjoyed the story of Hansel and Gretel, even though she had missed some of it. He explained to Mrs Badger that his computer had gone wrong part way though. Mrs Badger said that she would send the story as a file to read with their grown-ups, for anyone whose video or computer wasn’t working.

Finally, Autumn stomped back downstairs. She still looked cross.

“I see that the stupid laptop is finally working again.” She said, sitting down at the table.

“Yes, your Mummy fixed it.” Replied Fluffy.

Fluffy’s Daddy came downstairs for a cup of coffee. He made one for Autumn’s Mummy too. He was a firefighter. He was working that night, so resting in the day.

“How are you getting on with the home schooling today?” He asked.

“Badly!” Replied Autumn. “Our laptop is so old that it doesn’t work properly. I just want to go back to real school now.”

Fluffy’s Daddy sipped his coffee thoughtfully.

“Do you know why you have to home school now?” He asked Autumn.

“Yes, because of the virus. It is safer for us to stay at home.” Said Autumn.

“The more we mix with other people, the more people will get sick.” Added Fluffy.

“That’s right,” replied Mr Hedgehog. “So even though home schooling is difficult and sometimes annoying, you are both helping to keep everyone safe.”

“Yes, but it’s not fair that we have an old computer. I missed the story today because it went wrong!” Answered Autumn.

“We are lucky to have two computers to use: one for your school work and one for Mrs Fox’s work. Some people can’t afford any computers. Did you know that?” Fluffy’s Dad asked.

“No.” Said Autumn. “How do they do their school work at home then?”

“Some of them just can’t. Others have to borrow their Mum or Dad’s phone, when they can.” Replied Mr Hedgehog.

“Oh,” said Autumn, “I didn’t know that. I suppose that our old laptop isn’t that bad after all.”

“Yes, it does work most of the time.” Agreed Fluffy.

“I helped put out a fire at a house last night,” said Mr Hedgehog. “They lost all of their clothes, toys and computers in the fire. That was very sad.”

“Oh no, were they all ok?” Asked Autumn.

“Yes, we got them all out safely.” He replied. “Look, the rain has stopped. Should we all go outside to play football for a while? It can be your PE lesson. After that, we can have hot chocolate with marshmellows.”

“Yes please!” Said Autumn and Fluffy excitedly.

Autumn thought that home school wasn’t so bad after all.

The End

I wrote this story, and my daughter Bethany drew the illustrations. We enjoy making up stories together.

If you have kids, there are many ways to encourage their love of books. You can read to them; make up your own silly stories; or draw your favourite story-book characters. 🙂

If you would like to find more literacy based activities, and stories to read with your child, have a look at https://literacytrust.org.uk

They have a wealth of resources for all ages.

Christmas memory baubles

It was 7 days until Christmas, and Leila was extremely excited. She loved Christmas. She loved the presents, she loved the crafts, but most of all she loved having all of her family together and eating too much.


Leila’s Mummy and Daddy had put up the Christmas tree, and Leila and Mummy were making some more decorations for it. They had already made some paper snowflakes and painted some wooden cutouts of the Nativity scene. Now they were working on baubles. These were no ordinary baubles though: they had little photos of their family members inside them. Mummy was cutting out the photographs and Leila was adding decorations like small sparkly stars and glitter, to make them look snowy. It was quite messy.


“Oops!” Leila cried as a pile of glitter landed on the floor. “Sorry Mummy.”


“Oh dear, not again.” Sighed Mummy, reaching for the dust pan and brush for the third time that morning.


“Glitter is quite messy, isn’t it?” Mummy asked.


“Definitely.” Agreed Leila.


Leila was filling up a bauble with a picture of her Gran and Grandad in it. They had big smiles. She put in extra glitter because she loved them very much.


“Mummy, I wish that Arlo could be with us this Christmas.” She said.


“Me too!” Agreed Mummy, reaching over to give Leila a hug.


“I really miss him.” 


“So do Daddy and I. We think about him every day.” Replied Mummy.


“How old would Arlo be now, of he was still alive?” Asked Leila.


“He would be 2 now. Just imagine, he would be getting his fingers in the glitter, and pulling the baubles off the tree!” Answered Mummy.


“Yeah, I think that he would be very cute, but also a mischief.”


“I think so too.” Agreed Mummy.

“Look, here is a photo of you holding Arlo when he was very little. Shall we make this into a special memory bauble?”


“Yes please. I think that it will be the best bauble ever.” Said Leila.


They had some tiny heart stickers, which Leila added to the outside of the bauble to show that it was an extra special one.


When it was finished, Leila held the bauble in her hand and smiled. 


“It’s beautiful.” Said Mummy.
“Sometimes I feel sad when I think that Arlo is missing out on Christmas.” Admitted Leila.


“Me too darling. But we will always remember him and always love him, won’t we? Do you remember that time that he weed all over Daddy when he changed his nappy?” 


“Oh yes, that was hilarious!” Laughed Leila.


Mummy and Leila hung all of the baubles onto the Christmas tree. They all looked good, but the one of Leila and her little brother was especially lovely. A ray of sunshine came in through the window and made it sparkle.
Mummy and Leila looked at each other and smiled. 


“It’s like he’s saying hello.”

Christmas can be a difficult time for bereaved people. If you have been affected by baby or child loss, here are some places that offer support.

https://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/family-life/bereavement-support

https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org

https://www.sands.org.uk

Autumn and Fluffy and the foggy day

Autumn woke up, yawned widely, showing off all of her sharp teeth, and peeked out of the window.  


“Oh no! The world has disappeared!” She cried.


The young fox ran downstairs to tell her Mummy.
“Mummy, the world has gone, look outside!”

She pointed to what used to be the back garden.
Mummy put down her cup of coffee and looked outside the kitchen window. Autumn was right. The back garden was gone. Instead, everything was all white.


“That’s ok Autumn, it’s only fog.” Smiled Mummy Fox.


“What’s fog and why did it eat our garden?” Asked Autumn, feeling concerned.


“It’s cloud. Thick cloud that is very low. Our back garden and the world is still there. It’s just that you can’t see it.” Explained Mummy.


“Ok. I am going to wake Fluffy, to show him the fog.” Replied Autumn.


Autumn ran up the two flights of stairs to the attic, where Fluffy and her family lived. Fluffy was a hedgehog. 


“Fluffly, wake up! There’s fog!” She shouted into the attic room.

Fluffy sat up in her tiny bed, looking confused.


“What’s fog? Where’s fog?” She asked, rubbing her eyes.


“The fog is outside of course!” Said Autumn.


Fluffy crept to the window and looked outside cautiously.


“Where has everything gone? Why is it so white?” She asked.


“I told you, it’s fog!” Laughed Autumn. “But don’t worry, it’s not eaten the whole world! It’s just a cloud.”


“Oh.” Replied Fluffy. “I thought that clouds lived in the sky.”


“They do live in the sky usually,” replied Mr Hedgehog, who had put his slippers on, and was now looking out of the window too.


“But fog is low cloud. It sits on the ground and makes it difficult to see anything.” He explained.


“Fog, like a stratus cloud, is a cloud which forms when cool, still air is trapped underneath a warm air. Fog normally occurs at a relative humidity near 100%…”         

 “Daddy, that sounds incredibly complicated.” Interrupted Fluffy politely.


“Oh, sorry kids. Sometimes I forget that you are still young and don’t have your science degrees yet.”


“That’s ok, Mr Hedgehog. We like to learn all of the facts that you teach us.” Smiled Autumn.


“I have a great idea!” Said Fluffy. “Let’s go and play hide and seek in the fog.”


“Ok  but only after we had breakfast.” Said Autumn. “I’m hungry.”


The friends went downstairs and enjoyed their breakfast.


Fluffy had slugs and snails on toast and Autumn had pickles and chicken on toast. Yum.


Then the friends went outside to play hide and seek. The fog was swirly and white. They couldn’t see much. Autumn held up her paw in front of her face.


“Oh, I can’t see my paw properly.” She said. “I know it’s there, but it looks… smudgy. Like I am a pencil drawing and the artist started to rub me out!”


Autumn giggled. Imagine her being a drawing? Wasn’t that a silly thought? She was a real fox, not just a picture! 


“You hide first, I’ll seek.” Said Fluffy.
“Ok, good luck finding me in this fog!” Laughed Autumn.


“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, ready or not here I come!” Shouted Fluffy.


Where could his friend be? He couldn’t see a thing. Maybe she was behind the shed? No. Perhaps Autumn was in the gazebo? Fluffy looked all around it. No, she wasn’t there. Maybe behind the apple tree? Fluffy crept close to the tree and peeked behind it. 


“There you are!” He cried happily.


“It was so easy to hide,” smiled Autumn. “The fog is so thick that I bet you didn’t see me until you got really close, did you?”


“No, not until I was right next to the tree.” Agreed Fluffy.


“Now it’s my turn to seek.” Said Autumn.


The friends played hide and seek for the rest of the morning, until they got too cold and had to go inside to ask for hot chocolate.


Later, they looked out of the window, and the fog had gone. The sun was beautiful and shining.


“Where has the fog gone?” Fluffy asked his Dad.


“The sun warmed up the air and so the fog went. We only get fog if the temperature of the air cools to the dew point, or if the dew point rises to be the same as the temperature of the air, fog will form.” Said Mr Hedgehog. 

    “Ok, thanks for all of the facts Daddy. Replied Fluffy.


“I do hope that the fog doesn’t go on holiday for long.” Muttured Autumn sadly.


“Oh, I’m sure that it will come back soon.” Said Mr Hedgehog.


The end.

My daughter Bethany and I wrote and illustrated this story.

Reading, writing and drawing builds confidence in kids, as well as developing their literacy and imagination.

To listen to stories, and access a great selection of educational activities, have a look at the National literacy trust’s website: https://literacytrust.org.uk

Autumn and Fluffy’s forest adventure

Autumn was a fox. She lived in Swindon with her friend Fluffy the hedgehog.

They loved playing in the forest, especially in Autumn when they could collect conkers and stamp in the crunchy leaves.

One morning, Fluffy and Autumn set out on Autumn’s tricycle to the forest. Fluffy sat in the basket, cosy in a blanket that Autumn’s Granny had knitted.

Just as they got to the forest, they ride over a sharp stone and the trike got a puncture.

“Oh no!” Cried Autumn. “How will be get back home now? It’s such a long way home, with lots of hills.”

“Yes, it will be very tiring walking the trike back, and carrying me!” Sighed Fluffy.

“Oh well, let’s just play for now anyway. We will worry about getting home later. Luckily I brought some snacks to keep us going.” Said Autumn.

So the friends left the tricycle by a tree and went into the forest. They stomped on crunchy leaves, played hide and seek and collected paw-fuls of conkers.

Fluffy dropped one of the conkers, and it rolled down the hill into a dark cave. He ran after it, straight into a big brown bear!

“Who woke me up?” Grumbled the bear. “I was sleeping.”

His tummy rumbled loudly in the cave. It sounded like thunder.

“Oh, I’m so hungry.” He said. “I can’t find my favourite blackberries this year, and now I have naughty mice waking me up.”

“I’m so sorry to wake you, it was my conker. And I’m not a mouse. I’m a hedgehog.” Replied Fluffy.

“And I am a fox.” Added Autumn.

“Are you? My eyes are so bad these days. Now get out of my cave. I don’t feel so hungry when I’m asleep.”

“So sorry to disturb you, Mr Bear,” said Fluffy. “We will go now.”

The bear followed them out of his cave, to make sure that they really were going. He felt tired and hungry, and didn’t have any patience for young animals.

And the two friends scampered out of the cave as quickly as they could. They were so scared that they ran up a nearby tree and hid in a hole.

“That was frightening!” Trembled Fluffy.

“Yes, I am shaking all over.” Agreed Autumn.

Suddenly a voice from just behind them made them jump.

“What are you doing in my tree? Get out! I am sleepy and cold.”

Fluffy and Autumn turned around to see who was talking. It was an owl.

“We are sorry, we didn’t know this was your house. We were hiding from a bear.” Said Autumn.

“Oh that would be Brownie. He is very grumpy. Now leave me to sleep. Brr, isn’t is chilly?”

The friends climbed carefully down the tree and went back to the trike. In its basket, underneath the blanket, were some snacks which they enjoyed. Fluffy slurped up some slimy slugs, while Autumn chomped on a chicken sandwich.

“Phew, what a busy day.” Said Fluffy.

Autumn looked at the cosy blanket in the basket. She had a thought.

“Maybe we should give the blanket to the cold owl as a way of saying sorry for waking her up. I know that Granny would be happy to knit me another one.” She said.

“Ok that’s a good idea.” Said Fluffy. “My mum says we should always try to be kind.”

So the friends took the blanket to the owl as a gift.

“Thank you so much!” Smiled the owl. “Now I will be nice and warm. People aren’t usually kind to me. Is there anything nice that I can do for you in return?” She asked.

Fluffy had an idea.

“Well,” he said, “Brownie bear is extremely hungry because he can’t see well enough to find any blackberries to eat. I know that owls can see really well…”

“Yes we can.” Replied the owl.

“So I was wondering if you might be able to find the blackberry bush,show us where it is, and we could take some berries round to Brownie’s cave.”

“Hmm, well I don’t usually go out in the daytime, but I suppose that I could, just this once.” Said the owl.

She she showed the friends where the best blackberry bush was. Fluffy and Autumn collected as many berries as they could in the basket. They took them to Brownie in his cave. Autumn quietly set the basket down in the bear’s cave and started to tiptoe away.

But Brownie had excellent hearing, and woke up.

“Not you again!” He sighed. “Why do you keep waking me up?”

His tummy growled loudly.

“We just brought you some berries,” replied Autumn. “We didn’t want you to go hungry.”

“How did you find these lovely berries?” Asked Brownie. “I have looked everywhere in the forest for the this year. But I just couldn’t see well enough to find them!”

“The owl showed us where they were.” Said Autumn.

“Oh, that would be Olivia. She doesn’t usually help others. She is a bit grumpy.” Said the bear.

“We gave her a cosy blanket,” answered Fluffy. “That warmed her up so she wanted to do us a favour.”

“And you chose to help me?” Asked Brownie, looking surprised. “Creatures aren’t usually nice to me. They just run away. I am not sure why.”

“My dad always says to try to be kind to others.” Answered Autumn.

“Thank you so much!” Replied the bear gratefully. A happy tear rolled down his furry face.

He ate the whole basket full of blackberries surprisingly quickly.

“I would like to be kind too. Can I help you with anything?” He asked.

“Actually, my trike got a puncture earlier… would you mind giving us a lift home? We would be awfully grateful. There are so many hills, you see.” Asked Autumn shyly.

“What, you expect me to leave my cosy cave, walk out of the forest, and carry you too and your trike all the way home?” He asked in a gruff voice.

“Y… yes p.. please.” Stuttered Autumn.

“Of course I will. You two are very kind friends!” Brownie smiled.

So he helped Autumn and Fluffy to climb onto his back, and picked up the trike.

“Hold tight!” He said, as he walked them home: out of the forest, over the hills, and back to their house in Fox Close in Swindon.

They did get a few funny looks from the neighbours. They had never seen a bear in their road before!

“Thank you so much.” Said Fluffy and Autumn, as they waved their new friend Brownie goodbye.

“What an adventurous day!” Laughed Fluffy. “Let’s ask my mum for some hot chocolate. I think we have earned it.”

The End.

….

My daughter Bethany and I wrote this story together one chilly Autumn morning. She did the illustrations too.

It’s fun writing a story with your child with some simple steps:

  1. Name your main character/s and think about how they look, and some things they like. This can be a hobby or favourite food.
  2. What is the setting? Where does the story take place? It can be a home, school or up a mountain. Let your child come up with as many ideas as they can.
  3. What goes wrong? There is usually a baddie, danger or problem to overcome in a story. It doesn’t have to be anything that will scare your child, keep it age appropriate.
  4. How is the baddie taught a lesson, danger faced and overcome or problem fixed? Ask your child for ideas, and you can narrow them down. It doesn’t have to be realistic. 🙂
  5. Are there any things that you would like to talk about? There doesn’t need to be a moral though, and a story can just be fun or silly. But in this one, I decided to focus in being kind. It could be something simple like sharing toys, or more serious like facing grief.
  6. Your child can do the writing if old enough, or you can do it. Remember to keep asking them what they think happens next, what the main character would say if that happened, etc. Let them input their ideas as much as possible while keeping to the storyline.
  7. Have fun! 🙂
  8. Encourage your child to do some drawings, because art is fabulous. It also improves their fine motor skills.

For more resources and ideas on encouraging children of all ages to read and write in a fun way, see the National Literacy Trust’s website:

https://literacytrust.org.uk