Take a trip with memory game Arabicity

Arabicity game by Daradam

This beautifully packaged memory game takes a familiar idea and carries it overseas. The first thing that struck me on opening the box was the sweet smell of plywood. Each smooth cornered square sports a miniature artwork, showing an architectural landmark from an Arab country, such as Jordan, Algeria or Lebanon, with the name written in one or two of three languages – English, French or Arabic.

I’ve always believed that reading and playing are two key ingredients for nourishing a child’s empathy and interest in the world. The third is undoubtedly travel. Arabicity is excellent example of how well this can work, encompassing all three elements as the squares offer glimpses of enticingly foreign settings, with each successfully matched pair providing an insight into a language entirely unlike English.

Arabicity game by Daradam1

The smooth, light playing pieces are a pleasure to handle, making this a refreshingly multi-sensory alternative to on-screen games. The illustrations by Noha Habaieb are exquisitely detailed too. Shady stepped streets, grand buildings and friendly locals abound, bringing a sense of distant cities into my chilly British living room.

Arabicity game by Daradam2

Arabicity is created by Daradam, a French-based publishing house that specialises in educational toys inspired by the cultural heritage of the Arab world. “Our concept is to awaken kids’ curiosity for this part of the world,” says founding director Hanna Lenda. “For instance, Arabcity takes players to the narrow streets of Sanaa’s old city, in front of the Samaraa mosque in Irak or to visit the Sursock palace in Beyrouth. Some of these architectural wonders are out of reach these days, and Daradam enables little ones to discover them in a fun way.”

I’m planning to take my younger two nephews on a whirl through Arabicity this Christmas, and I’m pretty sure their art-loving nan will relish the game just as much as they do.

Find out more at www.daradam.com, www.facebook.com/daradamkids and www.instagram.com/daradamkids/

Let them read poetry!

OverTheHillsAndFarAwayBuying gifts for other people’s children is never an easy task. Is that big plastic dinosaur really going to keep them enthralled pass Boxing Day? Why not buy them a poetry collection instead? There are plenty out there especially written for children, fun for adults too, and, brilliantly, they won’t take up space in the toybox!

Here are three that have caught my eye.

My Life As A Goldfish coverMy Life as a Goldfish by Rachel Rooney

This comical cover of this collection belies the thought-provoking poems within.

In Wide Open we’re shown the inside of unbroken eggs, the moon and stars and even told of the wide open eye of the title that “yesterday it spied on your nightmares/and tomorrow it will spy on your dreams.” This poem manages to encompasse all the wonder our universe contains – impressive in only a few lines. Elsewhere in the collection a wolf girl laps hot pea soup from a bowl, a lie slithers into a school bag, and we experience mundanity and drama of the world from a goldfish’s point of view.

One of my favourites is Stone, three elegant couplets that begin: “Stone remembers sea: its salty lap./ Sea remembers river’s winding map.”

There’s plenty of humour too, including Rooney’s witty limericks and riddles, a helpful advice poem (“never ask a hippo/ for a friendly game of squash”) and a lonely hearts advert from a wolf seeking “lady in red/ with plump and soft skin/ to share walks in the forest/ and cosy nights in.”

Werewolf Club RulesWerewolf Club Rules
by Joseph Coelho

At first glance, performance poet Coelho’s verses form a lighter, shallower collection. In fact, as you sink into works like Miss Flotsam you’ll suddenly realise you’re swimming through waters packed with life. Coelho weaves in a view of the world that will help children make sense of atrocities without soaking in their terrors. miss Flotsam is a hero who helps her pupils through some of life’s frightening moments without letting them know quite that’s what she’s doing – and Coelho shares her skill.

There are celebrations of food, of pets (particularly puppies) nature and education (even though in the  An A* From Miss Coo there’s a humorous yet alarming examination of the dangers of being ‘taught’ to write poetry).

Among the wealth of stories, imagery and ideas, there are occasional blips. In Wool the poet suggests sheep are skinned to make jumpers, which seems an odd oversight to publish in a book for children. Other than this, the riches are many, with plenty to make kids laugh aloud (I know my five-year-old nephew will love Animal Boy, and enough depth to enthral older children and adults too.

Over the Hills and Far Away collected by Elizabeth Hammill

This hardback, beautifully illustrated book is a rather different beast. Bringing together nursery rhymes gathered from across the English-speaking world, it’s the kind of tome you give as an heirloom gift, to be treasured by generations of children, parents, grandparents (not to mention uncles and aunts!). The book has been devised and put together by Elizabeth Hammill – co-founder of the marvellous Seven Stories in Newcastle.

As a writer, I was intrigued to read the different versions of familiar rhymes (in Australia, for instance, Little Miss Muffet faces up to a boxing kangaroo and a wombat – perhaps Australasian spiders would give little ones nightmares!), while absorbing poems from as far afield as Ghana and New Zealand and rediscovering some half-forgotten favourites.

Children will enjoy vivid poem tales from Jamaican, Inuit and Maori cultures, while eating up the energy-packed artwork – it’s just a shame it isn’t made clearer which of the 77 artists illustrated each nursery rhyme – this would have added a further dimension of pleasure for me.

To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Christmas gift ideas – a different kind of subscription service

Stack magazine subscriptionsI love magazines, and there are few things better than that moment when one drops through your letter box, apart, perhaps, from the joy of that initial flick through when you get to glimpse the riches within.

But receiving the same magazine month after month is nothing compared to the thrill of getting your mitts on one you’ve never laid eyes on before.

Stack have met this quandary head on with its recommendation and subscription service, which draws together independent magazines from across the globe.

By signing up to a single annual Stack subscription, you will be welcoming in a whole host of titles, with a different independent magazine falling through your letterbox each month.

Stack magazines

Packages start from £18 for three months. You’ll never know exactly what’s coming next, only that it will offer a view from outside the mainstream.

The Plant magazineCurrent titles signed up to the scheme include The Plant (‘A beautiful, poetic and disarmingly strange magazine about plants, flowers and trees’), Elephant (an art and culture magazine, and The Gourmand food magazine, all of which cost far more than £6 per issue when bought in shops.

“When we were researching Stack, people told us that their personal tastes were creative, intelligent and independent,” says Steven Watson, founder of Stack, “but when we asked whether they read magazines that reflected those values, nearly 60% said no. Stack aims to bridge that gap by making it easier than ever for people to get hold of fantastic magazines.”

Without the marketing budgets of the bigger publishing houses, independent magazines have always had to find creative and cost-effective ways of reaching readers, and Stack is just one innovation currently emerging from the UK’s cash-strapped independents. Plus it means you’ll have the opportunity to discover titles to enrich, intrigue and inspire you. Win-win!

For details, visit www.stackmagazines.com.