There are many things that transport me back to my childhood. The smell of rice pudding. Getting car sick in the back of a car. Crunching over berries that had fallen from a nearby tree in sturdy shoes. None more so that I-Spy books though.
In fact, although I grew up as a technology lover (the rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum is still a fond memory), the I-Spy books were always present.
Bought by my mum, who seemed to think that the best way to entertain a travel sick child was to make him read in the car. (Quick tip: This increases the chance of a vomiting child by about ten fold!) Mum soon worked out that the I-Spy books were best used in the relative safety of an area that wasn’t whizzing past my eyes.
The garden became a favourite haunt. Backing onto a busy railway line some 100ft or so away, and beyond that a large open field, the garden was home to various bits of wildlife that enjoyed the freedom offered by the openness at the back of the house.
The I-Spy books, for those who don’t know, are small books based around different subjects. Described as “educational and interactive guides for children”, they provide the perfect way to enjoy an active day out, long car journeys or routine even shopping trips!
Each book contains up to 200 colour photographs which can be ticked off and points can be gained. When 1,000 points are scored your child/children can join the I-Spy club and apply online for a certificate of achievement.
The idea is that you flick through the book and tick off things that you see. In my case, this was various bugs and insects. For as long as I can remember, and certainly up to the present day, I’ve disliked creepy crawlies. But the I-Spy books, and my burning desire to complete as many ticks as I could, meant that I was prepared to get closer than ever to these creatures. On some occasions, I was even within 10 or 20 feet of them (!)
Was that an earwig? Or a beetle? The answer to the untrained eye of a seven-year-old who was scared of both was whatever remained unticked in the book. Thanks to I-Spy, I grew from my infant years into my junior ones with a vaguely passable knowledge of nature. If nothing else, the books showed me what could be in the garden, even if I remained unsure whether they actually were.
I was surprised when I found out that the I-Spy books are still available. Published by Michelin (the tyre makers, no less), they are smaller than I remember and relatively cheap. Better than that is that there is a huge range available.
I was lucky enough to be sent some to try - Two London-based books, which was fantastic as they arrived just a few days before the kids and I visited London for the weekend, and two bug-based books which I immediately gave to Mrs DannyUK for her two kids. There’d be no insect hunting for this blogger, no sirree!
Now this is the stage of any review where I would normally wax lyrical about how much my kids loved the product. I’ve never lied in the past, and I don’t intend to in the future. The fact is that I generally only take products that I think will interest me or one of the offspring, which normally results in a favourable review.
With the I-Spy books, there was apprehension from the kids. Five minutes of flicking through the books, including many oohs and aaahs about what they had seen in the past, followed by… well… very little to be honest. It’s not that they didn’t like the books, it’s just that they didn’t embrace them as thoroughly as I thought they may.
That said, the books were packed and brought along on the trip and provided mild relief in the times of boredom. The eldest was quick to point out the likes of the BT Tower on the London skyline, and I think had I been a little more prepared, I could have made the books far more of a focus point of our day.
It was only towards the end of the day that I realised I would enjoy the books perhaps more than the kids would. Having been an early embracer of geocaching, finding the vast majority of things in an I-Spy book is much easier!
On each page is a photo of something related to the book title, as well as points for spotting said item. As mentioned above, if you reach 1,000 points you can send off for a certificate, and for every five books you can get a badge too, which are both added incentives for kids playing along.
There are around fifty different titles to choose from, including places such as Cambridge, Edinburgh and the Isle of Wight, generic books such as Book of Facts or Kings and Queens as well as On a Train Journey or On The Motorway which may keep the less-travel sick inclined kids busy.
Personally I’m also amazed at the little snippets and facts that were on offer in the book. As I’m due to spend a couple of days in London at the end of this month on a sightseeing trip, I’ll take the London I-Spy books along too.
The bug-based ones will be staying up North with the step kids, though. I think 200 miles between me and some insect hunters is enough!
The official Michelin I-Spy website can be found at ispymichelin.com/