The New Small Person by Lauren Child – Book Review

My children and I are long-term fans of Lauren Child, and we have a great number of her books on our bookshelves. This particular title is full of her trademark style – collages of pattern and texture combined with bold, colourful drawings that are deceptively simple in style but convey a whole world of emotion in those simple strokes.

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Windows by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale – Book Review

Not so much a story, as the chronicling of a journey, Windows is an absolutely gorgeous picture book by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale. The book follows a young boy as he takes his dog on an evening walk, past the brightly-lit windows of his neighbourhood. Each of these windows tells a different story, as do the streets themselves, all backlit by beautiful sunset.

Windows is such a bewitchingly lovely book that we had to include on our list of our 23 favourite picture books staring BAME boys. Read on to take a peak inside and find out why we love it.

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Pet Show! by Ezra Jack Keats – Book Review

Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983) is one of the giants of children’s picture book publishing. If you’ve never come across his work before, you are in for a real treat. And if you have read one or two of his books before, go find some more because he was both varied and prolific and you are bound to find something marvellous. To put it simply, his books are a joy!

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The Kiss by Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle – Book Review

The Kiss, by British author Linda Sunderland and illustrator Jessica Courtney Tickle, is a fantastical tale, beautifully illustrated with rich, glowing colour and fabulous detail. It is one of those books where the illustrations are so mesmerising, it’s easy to get lost exploring every page.

Children's picture book 'The Kiss' by Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Beautiful children’s picture book ‘The Kiss’ by Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle.
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Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall – Book Review

Gaia Cornwall’s charming picture book, Jabari Jumps, tells the story of a young boy on a trip to the pool. But, like all the best picture books, it’s the story behind the words that really moves you. Beautifully illustrated, and full of gentle warmth and wit, Jabari Jumps is so good, it made the list of our 23 favourite picture books staring BAME boys. Read on to take a peak inside and find out why we love it.

Children's picture book Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
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Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love – Book Review

Jessica Love’s groundbreaking and utterly beautiful picture book, Julien is a Mermaid, is the simple story of a boy who decides to dress up as a mermaid. Celebrating being who you are, it’s a book that encourages children to find joy in self-expression. At the same time, it also gently challenges conventional gender and identity stereotypes, and shows children wonderful examples of acceptance and inclusion.

We made a list of our 23 favourite picture books staring BAME boys, and Julian is a Mermaid had to be on it. Read on to take a peak inside and find out why we love it.

Children's picture book - Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Julian is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love
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The BEST 23 diverse children’s picture books staring BAME Boys

If you’ve ever tried to find diverse children’s books with BAME (black, asian or minority ethnic) characters, you’ll know that they are as rare as a Disney princess who can’t sing.

And as for picture books with a BAME boy as a main character? They are even harder to find.

Yet right here is where I’ve got the good news…

While there aren’t nearly as many as there should be, there are already some fabulous diverse children’s picture books out there staring BAME boys as main characters, and I’ve got the creme de la creme all lined up to share with you. So read on to find out all about them…

Pile of 23 picture books that star a BAME boy as the main character.
Our favourite picture books featuring BAME boy main characters.
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Grapat Free-Play Box Review

Playing in a Grapat Free-Play Box

Focus. Do you ever wish your kids had more of it? That they would concentrate more fully on the activity in front of them, rather than being constantly distracted by a million other little things? One answer is a play frame, and there is none more beautiful or practical than the Grapat free-play box.

The marvellous One Hundred Toys were kind enough to send us one of these trays, so we could test it out for ourselves. Read on to see what we thought, and if it really did make a difference to our play…

grapat free-play box with building blocks inside
Simple, yet beautifully made and full of play potential.

The Toy Distraction

I love toys. Possibly, it’s true, even more than my kids. I try to make sure that (most) of the ones we buy are good quality and with an educational or developmental benefit. Yes, even the Peppa Pig ones.

But when it comes to playing, more and more and more research says that having less toys around is actually better for our kids. Children will play longer, with more imagination and creativity, and exercise more social skills, the fewer toys available to them.

The Grapat Free-Play Box

The Grapat free-play box isn’t actually another toy. Rather, it’s a tool to facilitate better and more satisfying play.

As such, I think it’s fair to say that it’s one of those purchases that the grown-ups are always going to be more excited about than the kids. At least until the play starts!

Ours arrived charmingly wrapped in plain brown paper and string – not a plastic wrapper in sight. The only mark on the paper was a beautiful blue stamp of the rings of a tree trunk. Just a hint at what was inside. And the string was tied with a little tag saying simply ‘Felic Joc!’ – essentially ‘Happy Playing’ in Catalan.

grapat free-play box wrapped in brown paper packaging
Maria Von Trapp would appreciate this parcel – plain brown paper tied up with string, beautifully stamped with the rings of a tree trunk. Simple, lovely packaging worthy of what’s inside!

It feels almost bizarre these days to get a toy in such plain wrappings. There are no bright logos or pictures of grinning kids to show yours how the toy should be played with. And there are no instructions or suggestions either.

But this feels also really liberating. There’s no right or wrong way to use the Grapat Free-Play Box. This forces both kids and parents to think more carefully about what goes inside it. And then what kind of play these things might lead to.

Natural Beauty

Once we’d ripped off the wrapping paper (and, yes, I’ll admit we did cut out the log image to keep!), we discovered inside a large, shallow tray beautifully made out of beech wood. This pale wood was stamped with lovely images to evoke the four elements.

My favourite image is the feathers (for the element of air). But they are all gorgeous. There areflames for fire, that also look vaguely like clouds for the water-raindrops. And the rings of a tree trunk for earth is the same image that was stamped on the wrapping paper.

Simple yet evocative, these images can be incorporated into play and act as imaginative prompts, yet are subtle enough not to be distracting.

grapat free-play box interior images
Beautifully made out of beech wood, and stamped with elemental images.

And that’s all you get. A (beautifully made, simply but charmingly decorated) wooden tray.

It’s lovely to look at and has great proportions, but there are no bells, whistles, rainbows or lights with this. It’s really up to you and the kids to make it something more.

The magic box

The funny thing is, though, that you hardly need to do anything at all.

As soon as you put toys into the Grapat free-play box, it is instantly transformed.

The box becomes a frame that says to the kids ‘look inside, ignore outside’. It becomes a mini-playground where the kids are in control, free to set up play any way they want. A space they own.

And it becomes a little world that has reassuringly defined limits. It can be moved if necessary so it won’t be hoovered over or accidentally trodden on. And they can make as much ‘mess’ within its borders as they want.

Natural materials and hand-painted peg dolls in a Grapat free-play box
The subtle images printed inside the grapat free-play box make a lovely prompt for imaginative play or pattern making.

A focus for concentration

I found it amazing how something as simple as setting up play within this box has helped improve the kids’ concentration. Merely by giving them defined space for their play. My two – and our guest baby tester – have played much longer and with greater attention when using it.

I cunningly threw in a few unloved toys to see what would happen. And fantastically, the kids also played happily with those toys, which they hadn’t looked at twice before.

I’ve also found – much to my ever-lasting joy – that they’ve been much happier to tidy up after themselves too. I’m guessing perhaps that the reason could be it is a limited area to tidy away. This makes it less daunting a task for them than when toys are strewn all over the place. It certainly is for me!

Child playing with toys in a Grapat free-play box
Whatever they choose to play with, the Grapat free-play box can be the perfect playground.

Tray Work

All this has been understood by teachers for a very long time. Montessori educators, for example, use trays to contain and define the activities that the children in their settings work on. And this approach has spread to many mainstream education establishments too.

It makes perfect sense to bring this idea of contained and framed play-space into the home. Where, let’s face it, there are likely to be just as many distractions around.

Child building a castle in a Grapat free-play box
Children are able to construct their own worlds within the borders of a Grapat box.

There is no limit to the ways in which the Grapat free-play box can be used. Here are just a few of the ways we use ours, to get you started.

Sensory Play

Those tall-but-not-too-tall sides are the perfect height to contain materials like sand, rice or pasta.

I must admit I’d be worried about using anything dyed in there, though, as I’d worry about colour transferring to the wood.On the other hand, I can see that would probably just add to the beauty.

Once the newness has worn off, some coloured rice, dyed pasta or – gasp – bright play dough will almost certainly find its way into our box.

Baby playing with natural materials in Grapat free-play box
Babies love simple sensory play with natural materials.

For now though, we’ve stuck to all natural materials.

Bright green and yellow split peas were not only colourful, they also felt wonderful too. Our guest-baby absolutely adored sitting at the side of the box and just running her fingers through them.

A few simple extras kept her busy for ages – just some pine cones and pebbles, and peg dolls. You might guess from the expert paint job – courtesy of my youngest – that these are not Grapat Nins!

All equalling one happy baby!

Baby grabbing dried peas in Grapat free-play box
With a play frame, even everyday objects become the focus for play.
Baby touching pebbles in Grapat free-play box
A few finds from the garden or a walk in the park, and you’ve got the contents of a fabulous sensory play session.

Small World Play

While older children love a bit of sensory play too, I find that to hold my guys attention it helps to incorporate it into a play set-up that’s just a little more involved.

Those same yellow and green dried peas become a grassy meadow and sandy beach. All by just by adding a strip of foil for a river and a boatful of toy mice.

Maileg mouse on toy boat in Grapat free-play box
The best small world set ups are simple – allowing kids’ imagination unlimited potential for play.

Again, the key here is not to swamp the play with too many toys, accessories, or details. A character or two, or a vehicle, or prop is great for building a story around. But children don’t need much more than that.

Most kids will happily take it from there, bringing in anything extra as the play requires.

Girl playing with toys in grapat free-play box
Large enough for a pretty big ‘small world’, yet still easily portable.
Looking down onto small world play in a grapat free-play box
It’s amazing how many adventures you can fit in a wooden box!

Building and Constructing

The Grapat free-play box is also absolutely perfect for building inside, as its smooth, solid base is perfectly flat.

Wooden blocks are an obvious choice, but it works brilliantly for any type of construction play (*cough* Lego… *cough*), as any little bits are prevented from wandering by those high sides.

Child building with blocks in a Grapat free-play box
Building blocks go perfectly with the Grapat free-play box.

The box is also a great size for more than one child to play at (or in!) at a time, so is a lovely way to introduce co-operative play.

Mind you, my two are quite competitive builders. Building together rather than in the vicinity of each other is something we’re still working on!

Child building a castle from blocks in Grapat free-play box
As well as enclosing play to give kids a sense of security, a play frame can provide a solid base on which to build!

Pattern-making and Puzzles

As well as building, my guys also love pattern making. We use all sorts of random things for this, mostly just things gathered from around the house.

We’ve used everything from curtain rings to dried beans and pasta, but the kids’ favourite is a bit of pirate treasure.

The Grapat free-play box makes a perfect frame for laying out a pattern, and I’ve noticed this is something my youngest especially will come back to time and time again.

Something we’ve yet to try in this box is drawing patterns and letter shapes in sand. I have a feeling that will be a popular one too!

Making patterns with treasure in a grapat free play box
Pattern-making with loose parts is a great activity for kids – you can use anything for this, but who doesn’t love a pile of sparkly jewels and gold coins?

Puzzles and more

The box is also great for doing puzzles in – especially as the kids graduate onto more complicated ones. Lots of room for laying out the pieces but those sides keep anything from getting lost. In fact, that’s true for any kind of play in the Grapat free-play box – containment really is a wonderful thing.

There must be a million other things that can be done with or in the Grapat free-play box. These few categories probably cover the basics, but it also depends on what toys or bits you use with it. I’d love to know what else you use yours for, so drop me a line in the comments!

Felic Joc!

Wooden building blocks in a Grapat free-play box
Sometimes the simplest things really are the best.

We were very grateful to receive this Grapat free play box from One Hundred Toys for the purpose of this review. All opinions in the review are our own. If you’re looking to buy an open-end toy or a play frame like the one reviewed here, check out One Hundred Toys Grapat’ selection to see the full range of Grapat toys they stock.

100 Toys

One Hundred Toys is an online toyshop, based in the UK. Their ethos is to provide a carefully curated collection of the one hundred essential toys, games and DIY things-to-do that will engage and delight your child. The website also includes lots of free activity ideas and a great blog, so check them out at

One Hundred Toys logo

More from Rhubarb and Wren

Looking for more great toy and play ideas for your kids? Take a look at some of the other reviews we’ve done for One Hundred Toys.

Maileg Mouse - Big Sister - sitting in oversized matchbox bed
Big Sister mouse is a beautiful, heirloom-quality toy from Danish company, Maileg. One of a whole family of mice, rabbits and other stuffed toys, we reviewed this pocket-sized darling for One Hundred Toys.
Box of HABA's Terra Kids tools on workbench
One Hundred Toys supplied us with some HABA real woodworking tools for kids – find out what we thought, and why woodworking is a great hobby for even very young kids, in our review

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Grapat free-play box - wooden block play
Play inside the box – for better, more focused play!
Grapat free-play box - sensory play
Small world and sensory play

Grapat free-play box - wooden block play
Building blocks, puzzles and patterns
Grapat free-play box - sensory play
Imagination and inventiveness

Hazel Village soft toys – review

A Hazel Village friend

Woodland animals and children go together like jam on toast – and never more so than when the animals in question are the charming, quirky, soft and cuddly organic cotton toys from Brooklyn company, Hazel Village.

So when the equally charming Yoyo & Flo asked if we wanted to review one of their organic woodland animal toys… Well, I couldn’t say no!

Hazel Village soft toy, Flora Fox, with cardboard gypsy caravan
These utterly charming woodland animal toys come from Brooklyn company, Hazel Village.
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