Topsy & Tim book review

This week we’ve been sent a new range of Topsy and Tim books to review and I hope that they will help O with the transition to “Big School. We have two “wipe clean” books – First Spellings and First Sums – and one sticker book –First Words -, both of which support Key Stage 1 learning. We’ve had a go with wipe clean books before and they’re great for helping pre-schoolers and new starters learn how to write.

“Topsy and Tim have all sorts of new experiences – just like you!

Jean and Gareth Adamson have sold over 21 million copies in fifty years of their iconic Topsy and Tim books, the most popular titles were re-issued in April 2008. Topsy and Tim help guide children through various ‘new experiences’, such as starting school in Topsy and Tim Start School, a new baby in Topsy and Tim: The New Baby and recycling in Topsy and Tim Go Green, with captivating storylines fun characters and engaging pictures.”

We’ll start with the First Spellings book:

The book is split into sections:

Fill in the gaps, where the child has to choose the correct vowel to complete the word. There are pictures to help and also a space for more advanced children to write the whole word again once they’ve filled in the gaps with the right letter

Family and People is, as the title suggests, a list of family members and types of people (boy, girl, baby, etc) with the words dotted for the child to trace.


Spelling patterns identifies words with letters occurring in the same places, such as “rain” and “paint”.

Numbers shows the child how to write numbers by tracing the word, and there is a space for them to write it again.

Question words shows each question word (Why, What, When, Where, Who, Which, How) in a box at the top of the page and then has a list of questions for the child to decide the correct prefix.

Colours is a page with a small box at the bottom with the name of each colour and a star in the corresponding colour to help the child identify it. There are 11 pictures of various objects (green tractor, red satchel, etc) with a space beside them to write the correct colour.

Shapes has large, colourful shapes in the middle of the page with the corresponding names in a box below. Once the child has identified which word is right for which shape, they can write them inside the shape.

Tricky words is a list of words that are hard to sound out with phonics such as “their” and “only” for the child to trace and then write again in the space at the side of each word.

Nouns and Verbs are laid out on facing pages with pictures to help and spaces to trace and rewrite each word.

At the end is a page for practising words, whether those are some of the trickier words in the book or spellings sent home from school.


I think O enjoyed what he was able to do of this book, but only having turned four in June he still has quite a short attention span for anything that feels a bit too much like hard work. He actually spent quite a long time on the Family page though, and we helped him to identify each word as he wrote it by saying things like “I am your-” and pointing to the word “mum”. We will definitely keep using this book to help him learn how words looks on the page, but also as a way of practising his handwriting. The words to trace are a reasonable size, but they are smaller than O is used to writing right now (like most four year-olds, he can fill a page just writing his name) and I think they will help him control his handwriting better as he gets more used to the letters.

The First Sums book was a real success with O. Unlike me, he seems to really enjoy and understand numbers. Like the First Spellings book, this one is also split into sections.

There are pages at the beginning for Adding up to 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. These consist of four simple sums for each number and there are pictures to help. For example, the sum is represented in a box above with cats and dogs (4 cats + 2 dogs = 6).

1 more and 1 less has shapes with numbers for the child to trace and asks them to write in a box below either 1 more or 1 less. There is a number line at the bottom of the page to help them identify the correct number.

2 more and 2 less is the same kind of thing, but with -2 sums and no numbers to trace, presumably as this is for children who are more familiar with subtraction.

Tidy up and take away represents the sums with toys that Topsy and Tim are tidying up. In order to find the correct answer to the sum, the child is asked to cross out the number of toys that have been tidied away and count the remaining toys to find the answer to the sums.

Seaside subtractions uses things like sandcastles and seagulls to represent numbers, so there are questions like “Draw 5 sandcastles. 3 get knocked over. How many are left?” The pictures can be drawn on the page and then rubbed out, which also encourages a little creative flair to keep things interesting.

Sums to 10 shows all the ways to make 10 in the form of sums to complete with the reverse subtractions. It’s quite tricky for a child just getting used to numbers, but the print on these pages is large and there are numbers to trace to help the child commit them to memory.


O had so much fun with this book, although we used toy blocks to help him with the sums so he had something physically in front of him to help him. Once we introduced the blocks he got really into this and we spent quite a lot of time on it and I think it will really help him to understand simple sums and hopefully make it easier for him to grasp the concept of basic math when he starts learning it at school.

We also recorded the First Words sticker activity book, which helps children learn every day words, such as mum, dad, cat, mug, boat, etc. O really enjoyed this because he loves sticker books and he already knew all of the words, so he found it really easy to identify which stickers he needed. Each of the spaces for stickers has a “shadow” of the correct sticker to make it easier for the child to find the right one if they don’t yet know the words by sight.


Overall, we had lots of fun with these books. There were parts of them that were beyond O at the moment, but he has a real thirst for knowledge, so I imagine if we get them out again in a few weeks he will probably surprise me with how much he knows! I think they’re both great books for introducing pre-school children and new starters to spelling and maths, and they are challenging enough that they could quite easily be useful learning aids throughout the first and probably even second year of primary school.

All of these books are available from the Penguin website and there is also an App available for iOS. You can also find Laybird on Twitter @Ladybirdbooks.

Disclaimer: These books were sent to me by Penguin in return for this review. The above review is a true and honest reflection of my experience (and O’s) of these products and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

It’s NOT okay. Okay?

When I tell nosey people who ask when I’m “having another one” that I can’t have any more babies, they unanimously do this incredibly fucking rude thing where they ask “WHY?” whilst salivating over the possibility of a story about some peculiar uterine wasting disease which has rendered me infertile. So I suppose it’s kind of disappointing when I explain, through gritted teeth, that my husband has had a vasectomy. But then they bypass social etiquette altogether and say – with a cheeky wink that never fails to make me feel sick – “HE can’t have any more children, but YOU can!” Are you fucking kidding me? In what universe is it okay to even vaguely suggest that I might as well just go ahead and get myself knocked up by someone – anyone, apparently – other than my husband? Thanks and everything, but no. JUST NO.

Of course, the next thing they ask me is, “Don’t you want any more babies?” You know what? Yes. YES. I DO want more babies. In fact, whenever I think about the fact that I’m not going to have any more babies, I feel a certain sense of grief. But there’s a difference between what I want and what I know is good for me and my family. So, Random Stranger full of personal questions, thanks a fucking bunch for that. I didn’t get sad and wistful about it quite enough by myself.

And then there’s my favourite question:

“So why did your husband have a vasectomy if you wanted another baby?”

Really? You really want to talk about this? Alright. I’ll bite. Let’s do this.

Because we both have shitty jobs and we can’t afford another baby.

Because our house is too small and we don’t really want to move ’cause we’ve spent a fuckload of money on this one.

Because I like my car and I don’t want a people carrier.

Because SPD and constant nausea aren’t really my idea of a good time.

Because the first six months of F’s life passed in a blur of misery and sleeplessness and, although I’ve tried really hard to block it all out, I know I’ll never quite forget how shit it really was.

Because we might actually get divorced next time.

The truth, Random Stranger, is that my husband and I made the decision for him to have a vasectomy together. But he walked into that procedure room alone, both physically and mentally. I, on the other hand, sat in the waiting room trying to write and occupy my mind while it screamed things like “you’ll never feel a baby move inside you again” and “you’ll never see your newborn for the first time again” and, my personal favourite, “you’ll never have another chance to put right everything you did wrong”.

Do I want to talk about it? Do I want to tell you all of this? Do I think you need to know? No, no and er, NO. And I wonder, if I did have three children, would you still ask? At what point do I have enough offspring for you to just stop fucking asking already?

I don’t know what it is about motherhood that makes it perfectly acceptable for everyone to make such blunt, frankly unacceptable statements with nothing short of aplomb. It’s not like anyone has ever asked me what position I conceived my babies in or whether I did that legs-up-in-the-air thing afterwards. But I’m not really sure why the Personal Inquisition Squad get that those aren’t appropriate questions and yet see nothing wrong with suggesting that I start shagging random men in the name of completing my family. Whatever the fuck that means.

So, do you know what? I’m changing my story, Random Stranger. I just need to come up with a realistic-sounding name for a fictional uterine wasting disease first…

The monster under the bed

I want to talk about phobias today, so I want to warn you that this post could be triggering for those of you who are battling one – or more – of your own. If that applies to you, please proceed with caution.

Phobias are life-limiting. On the darkest of days, if you let them, they can consume you. I know this because I have a phobia that I battle with every single day of my life. Sometimes this phobia makes crazy thoughts appear in my head. The only reason, I believe, that it hasn’t yet taken over my life is that I know that allowing it to do so would actually be crazy. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t tried more than once. And, if I am completely honest, it does stop me from living a strictly normal life. It does mean that many of my days are tinged with an undertone of worry.

I am emetophobic.

For anyone who doesn’t know, that means I have a fear of vomiting. For me, it is specifically a fear of vomiting myself. For others, it covers anything and everything to do with the subject. So I suppose, in a warped kind of way, I should consider myself lucky in the grand scheme of things.

There’s a backstory here, of course. Phobias, I have learnt, don’t just come out of nowhere. Something triggers them.

Last May O had an asthma attack serious enough to land him in hospital. For most of the day I sat with him and he talked to me through an oxygen mask. After nine hours of this, N came to take over for the night and I went home to look after F. When I left there was talk of intravenous steroids and I walked out of the hospital feeling tight-chested and haunted.

In the very early hours of the following morning I started throwing up. Looking back, I think it was the shock. It only lasted a couple of hours, but at some point I got something lodged in my windpipe and started to choke. I very clearly remember thinking, “So this is how I’m going to die; on my bathroom floor covered in puke”. In those few seconds, I just kept coming back to how ridiculous it was that this would happen on the one night when there was no one there to help me. I was desperate and terrified and I guess my survival instinct just took over. I used the very last of the air in my lungs to cough hard, knowing that it was over if that didn’t work. When you truly and honestly think you’re going to die, it’s amazing how strong your will to live becomes.

Obviously the coughing worked and I am still here. But even now, I can’t think about that night too much without feeling the fear of what could have been. Of the fact that F could have woken up later that morning and had no idea why his cries went unanswered. Of what N and O could have found when they came home. It sounds dramatic, even as I type the words. The whole thing sounds like the kind of story that makes you want to roll your eyes a little bit. To be honest with you, sometimes I wonder if it truly was as desperate as I thought it was. But all I really know is that I was so, so scared that night.

So now I’m afraid of it happening again. And, as any parent knows, kids pick up a lot of bugs. If my boys come home with snotty noses, aside from the fact that I hate to see them suffer, I am not in the least bit bothered. I will let them wipe their little snouts all over me and not give a damn when I inevitably get a scratchy throat a few days later. But if either one of them throws up and I know there’s no possible explanation other than a stomach bug, I am immediately almost paralysed with fear. I will clean them up with a pounding heart and shaking hands while crazy thoughts of surgical masks and latex gloves spiral through my head. And it’s not the vomit itself that bothers me; it’s the fact that I know I might be next.

This also means that soft play centres are a horror story waiting to happen for me. When O was about 18 months old he caught norovirus from a soft play centre, which N and I also came down with a few days later. So I know that they are breeding grounds for the dreaded stomach bugs and I find myself feeling panicky every time we go to one, which usually results in me avoiding food for a few days afterwards while I wait to see if anyone has picked up a virus. If I could avoid the wretched places, I would. But one thing I am utterly determined about is that this phobia is not going to rule my children’s lives the same way that it tries to rule mine. It is not going to stop me from being the mother they deserve, no matter how scared I am.

The thing is, whenever I’ve tried to explain this phobia to anyone, they’ve pretty much looked at me like I’m crazy and said, “Nobody likes being sick!” which is, to be blunt, just about the worst possible thing you can say to an emetophobe. Because it’s not that I “don’t like” being sick. It’s not even that I absolutely detest being sick, in fact. It’s that I am utterly petrified of it. And sometimes I wonder, when fears of spiders and flying and the dark are perfectly legitimate phobias… How come my fear – a fear with a very solid foundation – is somehow less believable or “normal” than any other, more common phobia? Because every time I think about what could have happened last year, I get this horrible falling sensation and I know that what I am feeling is not just fear; it is terror itself.

So… That’s me. That’s my daily struggle. Thanks for sticking with me.