Team Kingston does Stamptastic

label Stamptastic

Sunday night. I pull three only-slightly-damp pairs of trousers off the drying rack: one for the Boy to wear to pre-school tomorrow and two to pack in his bag for the inevitable accidents. I quickly check the labels and realise that two out of the three pairs are rogue – they have somehow escaped The Great Name Marking ceremony. Do you WEARILY PICK UP A BIRO? Go to page 2. Or do you TRY YOUR NEW STAMPS? Go to page 45.

Perhaps you will remember my wistful musings on the eve of my 3 year old’s first day at pre-school. Many of you commented on your own feelings at seeing your first-born head off into a new independence, or having to wave goodbye to your littlest child. Others commented on my struggles to mark every wretched item of clothing the Boy owned with his name, armed only with a biro. Overwhelmingly, you recommended a company called Stamptastic, saying how they had taken the pain out of labelling.

It sounded promising and I would probably have gone to check them out anyway, when they beat me to it and offered to send me a set of stamps to try out and review. As I watched my son’s name fade from his far-too-frequently-washed wee-soaked trousers day by day, I felt there was no time to lose and I wrote back saying yes please.

While I eagerly awaited the arrival of the stamps, the Boy started puzzling out what I had written in shaky writing on his lunch box and in his clothes. He recognised his first name, but pointed at the second word: “What you writing this one, Mama?”

“Kingston,” I explained. “That’s your name. And Mummy’s name, and Daddy’s name, and your sister’s name. It’s our special family name.”

“S. Kingston.” He tasted it. He decided he liked it. For the next few weeks he kept randomly announcing his full name, with great pride. Then he would explain to me, as if I wasn’t already aware, that his sister was A. Kingston, that I was “Mummy Kingston” and the Husband was “Daddy Kingston”.

Then he became curious about his friends. He had clearly grasped the principle of a family name pretty well, because he knew they would not be called Kingston. We had to run through everyone he could think of, and he tried and tasted their names and rehearsed them for me. The concept was not only instantly clear to him, but also instantly useful. Now, we could be a team. We adapted the Team Umizoomi song for all our errands: “Who’s going to take baby clothes to M? We are! Team Kingston!” (I know, it doesn’t scan, quit bugging me.) On the phone to Gran, he told her about his new discovery as well, and not only was she suitably impressed, but she managed to astound the Boy afresh by revealing that she was a Kingston herself: Gran Kingston (of course).

Then, amidst all the last name excitement, a padded envelope dropped on the mat one afternoon. I knew instantly what it was and saved it up until the kids had gone to bed. I got their new coats and laid them out on the floor, ready to give my Stamptastic stamps a trial run.

Of course, when given amazing ink that works on plastic, fabric and wood and that doesn’t wash off, the first thing I manage to do is this:



I was kicking myself, but then thought that perhaps it was a good thing, as someone looking for a review online might be desperate to know how to get Stamptastic ink off their finger, so I felt it was my duty to try various cleaning methods and report on the result. Turned out serial hand-washing, including scrubbing with a washing up brush, combined with the good ole’ passage of time got it off just fine. I also imagine that if you had white spirit around it would come off in seconds.

That done, I could get down to business. I am far too impatient to read instructions, but thankfully it was all quite straightforward and definitely easier to work out than breastfeeding. These were the tools provided:

the gear Stamptastic


I simply put ink onto the stamp with my son’s name, placed the stamp onto the label Sainsbury’s had thoughtfully provided in the coat (see first picture) and pressed down. The stamps are see through, so you can look through the top to make sure you have positioned it correctly. Not really needed for the coat, but once I had labelled that so beautifully I went round the house in excitement to see what else I could put the Boy’s name on, and found that you really need to be able to look through your stamp for the tiny labels in pairs of underpants and woolly hats.

In addition to handling indelible ink with care and reading instructions, I am also not so great at tidying up after myself, so the next morning the Boy found the stamps on the dining table.

“What you got there, Mummy?” he wanted to know and without waiting for an answer set about investigating for himself. “Oh! My name!” He watched in amazement as I demonstrated what I could do with the ink and his name.

“I try it, Mummy?” was of course what came next.

But Mummy said no.

He was desperately sad that I wouldn’t let him stamp his full name all over every piece of paper in the house. Although I am sure that for every person Googling ‘get ink off my finger’ there are probably 10 people looking for ways to ‘get Stamptastic ink off my pre-schooler’s fingers’, I felt that was taking my service to society a bridge too far. He would have to make do with staring proudly at his name stamped lovingly into his slightly damp trousers by his mother. And again later in the day when changing into a clean pair. And probably again just before home time when the long suffering teachers hoist him into his very final clean – and clearly labelled – pair of trousers.

I received two free name stamps and an ink pad from the wonderful Stamptastic to review on the understanding that I would give my honest opinion, which I have. Sainsbury’s sadly didn’t give me a free coat, I just magnanimously threw their name in of my own free will. You’re welcome, Sainsbury’s.


Old Favourites: The Snow Queen

It is the first Monday of the month: time to discover another beloved children’s classic! This month, Nell Heshram joins us in the sandpit to review The Snow Queen.

The Snow Queen

by Hans Christian Andersen

If, two months ago, you had asked me to list the favourite stories from my childhood, I wouldn’t have included the Snow Queen.

The beauty of reading to your child, is that there’s always the chance you will stumble upon a treasure from the past. And, when Austin and I were rifling through the books in the library the other day, I came across this classic that I’d long forgotten.

Kay and Gerda live next door to each other. They are inseparable, climbing over rose-strewn window boxes to see each other, every day.

And then, a piece of glass from the broken mirror of an evil troll (in some versions) or sprite (in others) becomes embedded in Kay’s heart and eye. This glass makes Kay, and all the other people who are pierced by the broken shards raining down from the sky, view everyone and everything around him as hateful and ugly. He turns against Gerda and his grandmother; then, his bitter demeanour allows him to fall under the spell of the Snow Queen, who whisks him off and holds him captive, alone, in her ice palace.

Most of the story describes Gerda’s quest to find Kay. She journeys through places that evoke a northern wilderness; reindeer, snowy forests  and peasant women from Lapland and Finland populate a stunning story-book landscape. While I was reading to Austin, several details jumped out at me from the book; details that felt shockingly familiar, which I realised I’d returned to in my memory over and over through the years, without remembering which book they originated from.

Illustration: Vilhelm Pedersen

The little robber girl who slept with a dagger under her pillow. The talking ravens. The reindeer that ran and ran with Gerda on its back, until it could barely stand. They were all still vivid, and reading about them again transported me back into the little girl who had once thrilled at the descriptions of these imaginative delights.

I was a precocious reader, and must have been very young when I first read The Snow Queen – maybe 5 or 6. So, even though I lapped up many of the smaller details, my conscious mind didn’t pick up on the grand fable of the story. But, as an adult reader, I can see why that little girl read and re-read the book so many times that its cover fell off.

To me, now, the metaphor is clear: the people in The Snow Queen who have glass in their hearts or eyes, are suffering from mental ill-health. To them, the world is a bad place. Their minds see those who are kind or beautiful, as ugly and crooked. The words and acts of other people are misconstrued; fearful and angry, they have no option but to turn inwards, and become increasingly alone.

And, to the little girl I was back then, growing up with two members of my nuclear family suffering mental illnesses that varied in severity from year to year, Hans Christian Andersen’s story would have been comforting. At the end, Gerda discovers Kay in the ice palace, trapped in the pursuit of an impossible task. His heart is melted by her tears, and the glass falls out. He is restored to his former, friendly and loving self, and he and Kay realise that they are no longer children; the journey has taken them back home, to the window boxes and grandmother. And they are happy, together at last.

Of course, in real life, neat, joyful resolutions like this never occur. But children’s books, especially fairy tales, work their magic by showing children the darker side of life, and then neutralising fear with a happy conclusion. The woodcutter kills the big bad wolf. Hansel and Gretel vanquish the witch, and take her money to their impoverished father. Bad stuff happens, but hope and courage allow those who are pure of heart and motive to vanquish the demons.

Re-reading The Snow Queen was, for me, a moving, revelatory experience. Austin’s only 3, and I think much of it was lost on him; however, he did enjoy the talking ravens. I doubt it will ever have the same resonance for him as it did for me. That can only be a good thing. Nevertheless, it remains a beautiful, timeless classic that has as much relevance now as it did when it was first published.

Nell Heshram blogs about her life as a stay-at-home Mum at the Pigeon Pair and Me. Our Time of Gifts, her new venture, is a blog about giving something away every week, and seeing what the universe brings back to her doorstep.



Kid Lit Blog Hop

Old Favourites: Harold and the Purple Crayon

Today marks the start of a new feature on Secrets of the Sandpit, in which nostalgic, book-loving bloggers review their favourite children’s books. Every first Monday of the month, come and nod along in agreement to someone’s appraisal of your own favourite books or discover classics you may have missed out on. The first tentative start to this feature was my review of Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, which you can read here.

Here to properly kick us off is Julie, English Lit graduate and self-professed needlecrafting maniac from Button, Button, with her review of Harold and the Purple Crayon. You should also know that she is American – just in case you are wondering why she spells ‘favourite’ wrong.

Ode to Harold and the Purple Crayon

It look less than a minute to choose Harold and the Purple Crayon as my favorite children’s book. Crockett Johnson’s classic has always been special to me. It doesn’t even live on the shelf with the nostalgic books from my childhood, I keep it on the ‘important’ shelf, with the fancy editions of Jane Austen, my vintage Nancy Drew, and my over-read, worn copy of Catcher in the Rye. It’s not just any old book.

Ode to Harold and the Purple Crayon

If you’ve never read Harold and the Purple Crayon, shame on you, but here’s the general idea: a little boy (Harold) heads out into the world with nothing but his trusty purple crayon and draws his way in and out of adventures. He crosses land and water, meets a frightening dragon, makes (and shares!) pie and finds his way back home when he’s ready. Harold’s purple crayon literally paves the way: when he needs a path, his crayon is at the ready to draw one for him to walk on.

Ode to Harold and the Purple Crayon

Wanting to know a little about Crockett Johnson and this book I’ve loved since before I can remember, I dug around in the internet a bit and became completely entranced. I would never have guessed Harold had been around since 1955 – of course I associate him with my own childhood in the 1980s – and that he was written by a man who had (at various times in his life), been editor of a “radical” political magazine, a cartoonist, patent-holder for a four-way adjustable mattress, praised by Dorothy Parker and painter of mathematical paintings based on complex equations. He and his wife (children’s author Ruth Krauss) also worked with and inspired the late, so great Maurice Sendak, and are known as the first children’s writers who wrote for children, not just about them. And yes, you feel that reading Harold and the Purple Crayon – this is not only a story about a boy, it’s from his perspective. He behaves like a real child – his imagination running wild, bound not even by the edge of the paper.

Ode to Harold and the Purple Crayon

Because it resonates with me on a personal level, especially at this time in my life, today I read Harold as a story about someone finding their own path, designing their own world – and navigating through it on their own, armed with creativity, curiosity and courage. He’s not afraid to ask for help, but it’s up to him to make the right choices. Of course, you may read it completely differently and it would still be a wonderful story – and isn’t that the way the best art should be?

Julie blogs about knitting, lace making, quilting, embroidery and more at Button, Button. She also designs and sells lovely embroidery patterns based on classic stories at Little Dorrit & Co

Kid Lit Blog Hop

Special Feature: Children’s Literature – Joan Aiken

Though I spent most of my degree unpicking the symbolism of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Salman Rushdie (to name but a few unrelated greats), it wasn’t until my final thesis that I got to sink my teeth into my first love: children’s literature. My topic was “Immigrants and identity in Australian Children’s Literature”, and I got to read stacks of wonderful stories featuring  young first and second generation immigrants to Australia. I felt a bit cheeky, like I was getting away with something.

In this special feature – which I hope to make a more regular thing – I would like to highlight one of my favourite children’s authors and hopefully it will encourage those unfamiliar with her to give her a go.

Joan Aiken wrote over a hundred books, but she is probably best known for her series of children’s novels set in an alternative version of the nineteenth century. It starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, published in 1962, and ends with The Witch of Clatteringshaw, published in 2005, a year after her death. Dido Twite, a bright and plucky street urchin with a dodgy father and an aristocratic best friend, is the heroine in many of these books. I have always loved these evocative books, imagining myself roaming the streets of London with Dido or sailing in a creaking ship across the Atlantic, stowed away in the hold. In each book terrible plots are uncovered. Nobody can be trusted, those closest to the main characters often turn out to have betrayed them. The stories have both a brooding darkness and a warm glowing light about them that I always found very attractive.

I first encountered these stories in my father’s collection of children’s novels. He had the first three books, which I re-read regularly. I was overjoyed when I discovered, on moving to England, that the story continued beyond Nightbirds in Nantucket and that Joan Aiken had continued writing about Dido Twite up until that very moment. The series now takes up most of the first shelf of my studiously alphabetised children’s library in my daughter’s room.

So go find The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and get reading! And feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.