Film Review: The BFG

I date many of the things I remember in my childhood by the Steven Spielberg film which was out at the cinema at the time. My sister loved ET and I remember her being in reception at school whilst I was learning to read. She got an ET keyring after seeing the movie and we both cried about ET going home. Raiders of the Lost Ark made archaeology seem glamorous and perhaps influenced my future career as an archaeologist. Twister was at the cinema when I was at uni and so on. So you can imagine how exciting it was to be invited along to the UK premiere of The BFG.


The photo above shows us sitting by the tree from Giant Country. The whole of Leicester Square was transformed into Giant Country and it was absolutely magical. That wasn’t all the children were thrilled to meet Lindsay from Blue Peter who told us that they were covering the premiere on the programme so do watch out for that!

The BFG is one of my favourite Roald Dahl books, I’ve written a lot on this blog about how brilliant his books are. Not least because you can read them and enjoy them as much as an adult as you  can as a child. Its basically the story of orphan Sophie ( loosely based on Sophie Bfg1Dahl the authors grand-daughter) and her dreamlike adventures with a Big Friendly Giant. If you’ve read it you wont need me to say anymore, if you haven’t – well- I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

The film features Mark Rylance as The Giant, a role which he performs superbly and Ruby Barnhill as Sophie. They both give brilliant performances and the mix of animation and live action does work surprisingly well. There are some real visual treats and an epic music score. We all loved the fact that Sophie had a northern accent, a treat since we had assumed she would be American.

Have  a look below and check out the Facebook page here:

However, as much as I’d love to say that we really, really, really loved the movie, it was just a little too long. It seemed a little bit like a series of scenes threaded together and I found myself counting down the plot points from the book. Now, that said, I read the book many years ago and my 9 year old happens to be reading it at the moment. He tells me that it isn’t quite the same story as the book in places- inevitable- but I guess this could be a bit disappointing for big fans (I’d have to read the book to check though).

From what I recall, The BFG was quite a multilayered book and is actually really quite dark, even sinister in places. The brilliance of the books is that they are just that little bit un-nerving. I think this is where the movie goes wrong, because it all feels a little bit Hollywood and magical. Its a beautiful looking movie and there is a fairytale ending. It just didn’t feel quite like the book felt when I recall reading it, or how my 9 year old feels reading it at the moment.

Overall, we enjoyed the movie. It isn’t a bad movie, it works in lots of ways and is a good film. I suspect its just not for hardcore Dahl fans and more for Spielberg fans. To be honest I’m wondering if i’ve finally grown out of Spielberg. The kids liked it, I suspect they wouldn’t put it at the top of their list of this summers recommended cinema viewing but it wont be at the bottom. A firm 3.5/5 from us.


From the imaginations of two of the world’s greatest storytellers, Roald Dahl and Steven Spielberg, THE BFG tells the extraordinary tale of a young girl named Sophie (played by British newcomer Ruby Barnhill) and the Big Friendly Giant (played by Oscar Winner Mark Rylance) who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. Together they embark on a marvellous and buckswashling adventure filled with snozzcumbers, dream jars, frobscottle and even the Queen! The mismatched pair form an unlikely friendship that will inspire enormous bravery in the BFG and give Sophie a taste of the family she dreams of.

Directed by three-time Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg, the film reunites the director with his Oscar-nominated collaborator on “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” Melissa Mathison, who adapted the childrens author’s timeless adventure for the big screen. “The BFG” is produced by Spielberg, Frank Marshall and Sam Mercer with Kathleen Kennedy, John Madden, Kristie Macosko Krieger and Michael Siegel serving as executive producers.

The film stars three-time Tony Award®, two-time Olivier Award, BAFTA and Oscar® winner Mark Rylance as the Big Friendly Giant; Penelope Wilton as the Queen; Comedians Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader as Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler; Rebecca Hall as Mary, the Queen’s handmaid; Rafe Spall as Mr. Tibbs, the Queen’s butler; and introduces newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie.

The story was first published in 1982 and has been enchanting readers of all ages ever since. Dahl’s books, which also include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” are currently available in 58 languages and have sold over 200 million copies worldwide.

The BFG will visit cinemas across the UK & Ireland from July 22nd, 2016.


Feeling Brave Books and a special guest blog post by Avril McDonald

Five images fan







This household is always a melting pot of different emotions, with three children there is always something going on from different factions emerging and people feeling left out, to fears about bullying at school and change. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have managed to build a rather lovely library of books to help the children manage these feelings. I’m also becoming increasingly interested in the use of Social Stories to help explain situations to children.This series of five books helps to fill some gaps in the 4-7 year old age range, although I’d argue its useful for older primary school children as well. They also provide a familiar character in the form of wolf (who is good rather than typecast) for children to empathise with.

In each of the stories Wolfgang is faced with a big feeling and his friend spider helps to offer some perspective on it. This is great, and the use of perspective is a very key part of CBT and incredibly useful to learn and if possible embed into children’s minds. The text is engaging and the pictures are visually engaging and modern. These are appealing books for the age group and really have that added value which you want for you every crowded bookshelf.

Avril McDonald is a woman on a mission, ‘I have a bold goal… to give ALL children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their creative potential’. I think she has made massive strides in getting these books published and out there. They are something which every school should have on their shelves. Our favourite is The Wolf and the Baby Dragon which helps children manage anxiety, but there is real value in the others. I’d recommend The Grand Wolf in particular which deals with loss and change which really fills a gap in children’s books, the only other book I can think of dealing with this is the wonderful Grandads’s Island. Be warned though, this one is quite hard to read as an adult as well!

We are very fortunate in that Avril McDonald has kindly written a guest blog for us. I asked her if she could help with an area which i’m currently grappling with for little Ned- how to manage big feelings!

10 Top Tips to help little children manage big feelings By Avril McDonald

It can be a bit of a shock when you realise that your children didn’t come with instructions! You can read books, ask ‘Dr Google’ (with caution) or see your GP to help you navigate your way around managing their physical bodies but it’s not so cut and dried when the time comes to help them manage their emotional bodies! Issues like nightmares, fear of the dark, being left out, change, loss and grief (to name a few) will invariably come up and they will look to you to give them the answers that they need!

Although our world has never been more distracted and stressful than it is right now, it’s also never had such wonderful opportunities (through research and technology) to understand how our brains operate and strategies to help children adapt and thrive. Here are my top 10 tips to help little children manage big feelings:

  1. Teach children about their brains as soon as you can

You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to lean that at a basic level, we have 2 brains; The ‘Old Brain’ (responsible for basic physical desires, motives and emotions such as the fight, flight or freeze responses) and the ‘New Brain’ that sets us apart from animals. This part of the brain enables us to think, imagine and reason and gives us our sense of self.

Our new brain capabilities can easily be hijacked by our old brain feelings, emotions or desires. The old brain is most useful to us if we can train it using our rational new brain. Young children can be introduced to this concept by imagining that one part of their brain is a bit like a ‘Cheeky Monkey’ and that another part is like a ‘Wise Owl’.   Sometimes the Cheeky Monkey can get a bit too excited or if it feels scared or angry, it might want to scream and run away or do things that might hurt other people like hit or say unkind words. The Wise Owl can train the Cheeky Monkey so that when feelings come up, the Cheeky Monkey can stop for a minute while the Wise Owl helps it do something really good with those feelings (even if the feelings are bad).

  1. Regularly practise calming down

‘Mindful breathing techniques’ or ‘Gratitude Exercises’ are a great way to help calm children down and can be easily accessed on the internet. They release happy hormones (e.g. Dopamine) and reduce stress hormones (e.g. Cortisol) putting children in a powerful positive mental state. Practising calming techniques regularly make them easy to access in times when we most need them.

  1. Practise Empathy

Empathy plays a vital role in preventing bullying and building social tolerance. You can encourage children to practise empathy by asking them to reflect everyday on something kind that they did for someone (or that they saw someone else do). Or get them excited about carrying out ‘Random Acts of Kindness’. Reflecting on tough situations from a different perspective (e.g. looking down from high up in the sky) can also help children step out of difficult situations, consider other people’s feelings and process their own.

  1. Use stories to take away fears

If a child is worried about nightmares or certain situations and scenarios, try creating new stories together and make their scary things become funny or small and cute. This is a very simple Cognitive Behavioural Therapy called ‘Re-framing’. Or try ‘Role Playing’ Children love nothing more than role playing a tough situation they are facing when you play the part of them or you share a similar story from your childhood. Role playing gives them a safe environment to try out different scenarios.

  1. Encourage children to get comfortable with their own company

If children can learn how to ‘Make their own fun’ and get comfortable doing things on their own from time to time, it’s a great tool for them to use if they ever feel ‘left out’ or are in a new situation without their usual support group. This can also help to open up opportunities for children to make new friends because children are generally attracted to other children who are engaged and happy in a fun activity.

  1. Help children express their feelings through art

Giving children the time and initiative to draw or paint how they feel about something can help them explore and process feelings without having to find words to describe them (words which children might not even have yet).

  1. Help them build a Growth Mindset to build resilience

Help children build what Carol Dweck coined as a Growth Mindset . Encourage statements like ‘Mistakes mean I’m learning’ or ‘It’s not that you can’t do it, you just can’t do it yet’ and praise and reward the ‘process’ of learning rather than just the end results.

  1. Help them practice risk in safe environments

Give children opportunities to experience risk, problem solve and to manage disappointment in a safe environment. We only have a limited amount of time to coach them in ways to cope before they will be out in the world reacting to real life situations based on the tools we’ve given them.

  1. Be open about change, loss and grief

It’s not only death that causes us to feel grief. Our lives are in a constant state of change, and grief is something that we will all experience to varying degrees. Being open with children about change, loss and grief, and practising ways to cope, can help to prepare them to manage their own difficult feelings.

  1. Play!

Having fun and laughing helps the brain to regulate the body’s stress hormones (e.g. cortisol and epinephrine) and increases happy hormones (e.g. dopamine and oxytocin). Group games also help to build relational skills through interacting with others and learning how to be a good loser and a good winner which helps practise social tolerance and resilience.

About the Author

Avril McDonald is the Author of the Feel Brave Series of books (little stories about big feelings for 4-7 year olds) and founder of   She set up the charitable arm with the vision to give all children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their potential working with Educational Child Psychologists. Avril is an ex Primary School Teacher, Business Woman and a Mum. She is also a fellow of the RSA which has a mission to enrich society through ideas and action.

Book Review: Shadow Warriors by Chris Bradfield

shadow warriorsBarrington Stoke are a great publisher to look at if you have a reluctant reader. I’m rapidly becoming a fan of their books because they offer something different. The stories are usually original and tackle some interesting issues and the books themselves are well produced with consideration for children who find reading difficult or unappealing for various reasons (including dyslexia).

Shadow Warriors is a brilliantly exciting story which just the right amount of violence to keep your little ninja engaged and enthralled. The book is well written, researched and beautifully illustrated. My 9 year old liked the quizzes at the end of the book and saw them as a bit of an incentive to keep going with the story. For him, this is the ideal book, the content and the size are perfectly pitched. This meant could finish it in a reasonable time and feel a sense of achievement alongside enjoying the story.

The one criticism which my son levelled was that he didnt like that the story was told in flashback, as he felt he already knew the outcome. However, this is the first book he has read with this sort of structure and so I think its as much a matter of what he is used to than anything else!

As a parent I thought this was an excellent book, its a reasonable price, well produced which makes its nice to read and is appealing. If you’d like to find out more have a little look here.

Book Review: I Have and Orange Juicy Drink by Andrew Sanders

i have an orange juicy drinkIf you like your picture books to be good looking from the point of view of design as well as being great little stories then this book is for you.

This is the story of a small boy and his orange drink. It has a strong message about sibling love and simply asking nicely. We loved this book as its so amusing in the hyperbole of what the character does when someone tries to take his drink from him. If i’m honest it reminds me of my eldest who makes outlandish threats about what will happen if we do various things.

I like a book which encourages literacy skills and imagination and this book is perfect for that. We have hours of fun talking about what might happen in various circumstances. What might your child do if someone tried to take their drink? Crush them with an ocean liner, send an elephant to sit on them? It’s all about expanding imagination and from that helping with sentence construction. Children don’t get many opportunities to develop creative writing in primary school these days as there is such a focus on grammar.

If you’d like to find out more and order the book have a look at FatFox Books website here.

Let me tell you about BookTrust

letterboxI’m absolutely thrilled to have been chosen as a blogging ambassador for BookTrust. BookTrust is my number one charity choice. BookTrust is a fabulous charity which inspires a love of reading in children and this is such an important thing because it can make a massive difference to children’s life chances.

I knew that BookTrust have a fabulous scheme whereby they give free books to all children at various points in their life. This means that every child in the UK has at least one book of their own, for some this really is a big thing. However, BookTrust do loads of other things which I think they should shout about more loudly than they do.

The Letterbox Club is an award-winning programme managed by BookTrust, in partnership with the University of Leicester, which aims to provide enjoyable educational support for looked-after children aged 5-13. Each month, for six months, children receive a parcel containing books, maths activities and stationery with a supporting letter – often from a top author – delivered to their home. In 2015 Letterbox Club parcels were sent to 10,451 children.

The Letterbox club is the sort of thing which makes my hormones feel all wobbly, it is such an amazing initiative and one of those things that really makes such a big difference to some of the UK’s most disadvantaged children. I think its fabulous that BookTrust have the support of all these amazing authors who put themselves out to personally write to the children. If you’d like to find out more about the scheme then have a look here.

The other programme that I thought I’d mention here is Story Hunters. This is a  new paid for (the school pays a small amount towards the cost of the scheme) reading initiative for Year 4 children, designed especially to help struggling or reluctant readers. Each pupil gets their own personalised pack of selected books and activities, once a month for six months, from October 2016 to March 2017.

As the mum of a reluctant reader currently in Year 4 i’m slightly disappointed that this is rolling out too late for him. It sounds like a fabulous initiative to get children reading. If you have a reluctant reader I’d urge you to encourage your school to sign your child up to the scheme as its often things like this which encourage them to read. We have been lucky in our household as I am so fortunate in that I get sent lots of books to review for the children and it means that we often have a wide variety of things for him to test out. At the moment he is reading (with the odd bedtime reading session from us), the Middle School books and I don’t think he would have read these if they hadn’t been gifted to him by a publisher.

If you’d like to find out more about the Story Hunters scheme (and perhaps tell your school to sign up) you’ll find more information here.

Booktrust Bloggers
BookTrust Bloggers

These are just a couple of the amazing things that BookTrust do and I’ll tell you about some of the other things over the next few months. There is a great team of bloggers on board, some of which will be new to you as they are not part of the parent blogging world. Have a look at the review of the BookTrust Brunch we all attended here on the Words and Pictures Blog.