Extracts from the Usborne Young Readers Edition of The Phantom of the Opera, which features Carlotta eating chocolates in bed, Count Raoul, water that magically bursts into flames, and Madame G. Not Madame Giry, just simply Madame G (in da opera house).

And poor Phantom only takes Christine under the opera house because he only wants a wife and a family…and he signs his notes “P”, not “O.G.” - these are both signed “P”, who the hell is he? (Still goes, I guess.)

I found this book at the Opera Garnier gift shop on my trip to France. I almost bought it, but I ended up buying a paperback version of the original Leroux novel (in French. I think my spoken French is a little better than my reading of French.)

For my present-and-hopefully-future UK readers:

I’m so happy and proud and excited to announce that Usborne has just published Anna and the French Kiss! As an American who is one of those embarrassing, crazed, over-the-top Anglophiles, this is SUCH a thrill for me.

(I mean. Of course that’s why Étienne St. Clair has an English accent!)

Thank you to my wonderful new publisher—especially Amy, Becky, Rebecca, and Stephanie—for treating me with such kindness and enthusiasm. *And* for these chocolates that arrived on my doorstep this morning. Gorgeous, right?!

The first chapter is available to read here, and Usborne created an adorable Anna Pinterest account here.

The making of a bestseller

First published in 1999, the Usborne ‘That’s not my…’ series has gone on to become one of the bestselling series of baby books on the market today. Their touchy-feely patches and simple repetitive text have won the hearts of parents and babies everywhere. Fiona Watt, the creator and author of the series, explains the creative process behind these much-loved books, and gives an insight into one of her favourite titles in the series, That’s not my elephant…:


Above: Fiona Watt, creator and author of the bestselling ‘That’s not my…’ series.

'When we start a new ‘That’s not my…’ book, I think of at least six attributes that relate to the subject and would also work as touchy-feely patches – in this case I was inspired by photos I’d taken of elephants while on holiday in Botswana.

Keep reading


Portraits of Dogs in Cars, by Martin Usborne

The Silence of Dogs in Cars

I was once left in a car at a young age. I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside a supermarket, probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back. The fear I felt was strong: in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.

Around the same age I began to feel a deep affinity with animals – in particular their plight at the hands of humans. I saw a TV documentary that included footage of a dog being put in a plastic bag and being kicked. What appalled me most was that the dog could not speak back.

I should say that I was a well-loved child and never abandoned and yet it is clear that both these experiences arose from the same place deep inside me: a fear of being alone and unheard.

When I started this project I knew the photos would be dark. In a sense, I was attempting to go back inside my car, to re-experience what I couldn’t bear as a child. What I didn’t expect was to see so many subtle reactions by the dogs: some sad, some expectant, some angry, some dejected. It was as if upon opening up a box of grey-coloured pencils I was surprised to see so many shades inside.

There is life in the darkest places inside us.

-Martin Usborne for “The Silence of Dogs in Cars

Preschool Prep

This is far from expert advice, but nomadsoul asked me to share my tips and well, here is what we did to prepare for preschool. Hope you find it helpful.

1. Classes: We have been taking a variety of classes since C was several months old: music, swim, ballet, cooking, soccer to name a few. Last winter, we started taking weekend “prep pre-preschool” classes at Bubbles Academy. The beginners class was a few hours, but parents were required to attend. She loved going and hardly knew we were there, so for the second semester, we opted to move her to the next level (sans parents) and she had no separation issues whatsoever. It was a great opportunity to expose her to instruction, socialization and a structured morning- a perfect introduction to preschool.

Frankly, I think the many classes we’ve taken were instrumental in her socialization and development and helped ease this transition.

2. Learning & Activity Books + Educational Apps: I picked up a few preschool skills books for C to practice with (lots at Costco). We set aside 20 mins or so each morning to do some tracing, letters, numbers etc. 

The Brain Quest Books and Flash Cards are great, and we are HUGE Usborne fans. 

Educational Apps: Alpha Tots, Tally Tots, Monkey Lunch Box and Endless Alphabet are a few of our favourites.

3. Read & Discuss: We would talk about preschool and all the new friends, teachers and things she might do. But, reading about it was definitely helpful. 

4. Spend A Day In Their Shoes: Our preschool had us attend a day of orientation prior to her first day. It was nice since I could observe the class and activities and gradually ease her into it.

5. Gear: Most preschools will provide you with a check-list, but here’s what I found helpful:

Backpack: These backpacks are the perfect size & the personalization is brilliant (one less thing to label). The mini-backpack works great for us -it was a perfectly timed, thoughtful birthday gift, thanks and kudos to the lovely.

What to pack? A Box of Wipes, Kleenex Pack, Sunscreen/Bug Spray, a hat, and a Ziploc bag with a change of clothes + underwear (in case of an accident).

Mabel’s Labels:  I asked and resoundingly heard that these are the best, so I ordered this combo pack.

Clothes: I want C to look cute, but let’s face it most of the stuff she wears to school is going to get ruined. Enter, H&M (now online, hurray and 20% off kids until August 25 code: 0736!),  tonnes of adorable and affordable stuff, that I don’t mind her ruining.