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Imagine a world where kindness is the order of the day. Where cynicism is put to one side and a simple innocence is instead allowed to blossom into imaginative storytelling. This is the world of Celestine and the Hare, a place full of gentle adventure, generosity and respect for each other and the world around us.
Three uplifting tales of a band of furry friends form the first books from felt artist and début author Karin Celestine. In Small Finds a Home an act of selflessness is the starting point for a lasting friendship. In Paper Boat for Panda, a friend goes the extra mile to make a dream come true, and in Honey for Tea, the friends find an creative way to show their gratitude for something they love.
A spread from ‘Honey for Tea’
A spread from ‘Paper Boat for Panda’
The delicate, finespun storytelling avoids cloying sentiment (helped by a hint or two of mischief occasionally alluded to). The felted friends exude an enormous amount of charm and – if I can coin a word- cuddlability. Echoes of Bagpuss mingle with reminders off the small world play beloved by many children; the use of favourite toys (whether playmobil, lego or plastic animals) and found objects to set up scenes and scenarios is where many children first and most freely experience themselves as storytellers, and Karin Celestine’s wonderful, life-affirming books encourage us all to keep in touch with and to nurture the playfulness, exploration and hope of childhood. These are books that make the world a better place.
The second part of each Celestine and the Hare book features well-explained and amusingly illustrated instructions for a least one craft project related to the story at hand. These invitations to take the story out of the pages of the book and into the living-breathing lives of readers and listeners naturally appealed enormously to all at Playing by the Book Towers. Thus a happy and relaxed day was spent making, sailing and flying boats and bees – a delightful day, the sort I wish all children (and their grown ups) could share.
A spread from the craft activity pages in ‘Paper Boat for Panda’.
Inspired by Paper Boat for Panda we made a flotilla of paper boats and sailed them down a nearby stream.
On some of our boats we wrote poems for the fish and ducks to enjoy!
We didn’t manage to keep our socks dry, but felt all the more like intrepid explorers for that!
As well as setting our boats on the high seas, we made bees out of alder cones and ash keys, inspired by the craft project in Honey for Tea.
A spread from the craft activity pages of ‘Honey for Tea’
My kids are always happy to have an excuse to climb trees, especially if it’s a means to spreading a bit of joy; the sight of these bees amongst the first blossom of spring certainly made us smile.
Whilst we folder our paper boats and made our bees in preparation for launching them all out into the wide world we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside reading these heart-warming stories include:
Capturing your kids’ stories which they tell with their toys – use your camera or phone to take photos, print them off and write the text together. You could even try creating comics together with your kids’ favourite toys, using this helpful how-to guide from Neill Cameron
Ever wanted to be a little more adventurous with your family? To take on the role of intrepid outdoor explorers? To feel inspired to leave the cosy comforts and instantly gratifying screens indoors for the wind in your hair and the sun on your face?
Both books offer up a banquet of ideas for family activities and explorations outdoors ranging from building dens with branches and leaves to sleeping outdoors without a tent, from fishing for your supper to foraging for food from hedgerows, from flying kites to learning to kayak.
The Meek Family have taken a year off from their regular jobs and schools to spend 12 months adventuring around the UK in a camper van (you can follow their journey on their blog). 100 Family Adventures is their first book and draws upon their experience of making a conscious effort to spend more time outdoors as a family. As well as 100 activities, there are jokes, tips and facts contributed by the entire family, including the children.
In Wild Adventures, Mick Manning and Brita Granström also draw upon the outdoor play and activities they enjoy with their four children, and whilst there is some overlap in the projects suggested in the two books, the approach taken in each is quite different.
Making and sleeping in a homemade shelter: 100 Family Adventures
Shelters: Wild Adventures
100 Family Adventures is full of photos of the Meek family and their friends doing the activities suggested, whilst Wild Adventures is richly hand illustrated in pencil and watercolour, giving it a hand-made feel rather than something rather sleek and glossy. Whilst photos are “evidence” that the activities suggested can genuinely be done by children and families, Granström’s illustrations show a different truth; that the great outdoors can be enjoyed by any child, not just white able-bodied children.
Sometimes when I read activity or craft books my reading is aspirational; it’s about daydreaming a life in different circumstances. Sometimes, however, I want something with the messiness that is more familiar from my family life. For me, 100 Family Adventures falls into the former category. The adventures they suggest are all amazing, but quite a lot of them require expensive equipment, relatively long distance travel and some serious planning (for example skiing, sailing, kayaking and even some of the camping adventures they suggest e.g. winter camping). Wild Adventures, on the other hand, is much more “domestic” in scale. Although the projects are designed for engaging with a wilder outdoors than that simply found in your back garden, they are not about extreme adventuring. Having said that, 100 Family Adventures is partly about going out of your comfort zone and extending yourself and your family and so it’s not surprising that some of the ideas require more money, time and preparation.
Tracking and casting animal footprints: 100 Family Adventures
Making plaster casts of animal tracks: Wild Adventures
Whilst Wild Adventures is perhaps the book I would choose for my own family, I really like the physical properties of 100 Family Adventures. It has been produced in a chunky format with a flexi-hardcover, making it easy to bung in a rucksack and take on adventures outdoors. Manning and Granström’s lovely book on the other hand is currently only available in hardback with a dust jacket, making it more suitable for reading indoors.
Having listened with interest to what translator and editor Daniel Hahn had to say recently about the value of opinion alongside fact in a day an age of easily found information, I’ve been thinking a lot in the past few days about my reviews and the balance between fact and opinion. These two books, both from the same publisher, on essentially the same topic have reminded me that different styles of books suit different people and that I should remain aware of this when reviewing books. Something I read may be just the sort of thing my family will love, but I shouldn’t forget that other families may like different things. So whilst Wild Adventures is my book of choice today, do look out both and see which suits you and your family… and then let me know which of the two YOU prefer!
Inspired by Wild Adventures we took to the seaside last month and made faces out of objects we found along the shoreline.
There really is nothing like having your own family adventure outdoors.
Born in 1874 Elsa Beskow published 40 odd books in her lifetime, many featuring children exploring fairy tale worlds where respect for nature plays a major role. She is credited with having been the first author to bring Swedish children’s literature to an international readership and her books are nowadays particularly popular with followers of Steiner and Waldorf education methods.
A family of forest people live under the curling roots of an old pine tree, deep in a forest. They go about their lives playing, exploring, observing nature and overcoming danger and the book follows their simple and happy lives through the course of the four seasons. They make friends with frogs, fight (and kill) a snake, collect mushrooms, harvest cotton grass and feed their animal friends when the snow comes. Their life is almost carefree and idyllic, in harmony with nature and their surroundings.
Children of the Forest
The original Swedish text was written in rhyme, but this has not been retained in the English version. Perhaps this was a wise decision, for the text certainly never feels like it is a translation. One of my favourite quotes is “They paddled and splashed in the stream, damming it to build a water mill. No one card how wet or muddy they were for no child of the forest can catch cold“. This made me think of the forest kindergarten movement, a type of preschool education which is held almost exclusively outdoors.
The illustrations will delight you if you like Beatrix Potter or Jill Barklem. They are the perfect mix of reality (in so many details, such as the mottling on the silver birch bark used as a shield by the father of the family) and fantasy (pint sized people, trolls and fairies). There is nothing modern, avant garde or unsettling about
Things-I-have-learned-as-a-parent number 359: A walk for the sheer fun of it, in our local park or nature reserve, is never complete without a stick.
The sooner the girls can find one which meets their ideals for the day the happier they are. A big one to lean on, a little one to become a wand, a bendy one to be a flag: a stick is an essential acquisition on any sort of exploration.
Image: Daniel Baker
And so it was with some eagerness that I accepted The Stick Book by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks for review. Would the girls and I get new ideas and be inspired in new ways? Would it encourage us out on those days we were suffering from inertia? Would it make me look with refreshed, delighted eyes at the pile of sticks by our back door that grows and grows and normally has me rolling my eyes in slight desperation?
The Stick Book contains 70 different ideas for using sticks in outdoor play. There are 8 themed chapters, for example one on “Stick games” (including pick up sticks, capture the flag, and tracking with stick), one on “Adventure sticks” (including building dens, swords, catapults and spear throwers) and on on “Watery sticks” (including pooh sticks, making a mini raft and measuring the depth of a stream). Each activity is accompanied by a photograph and tips or brief instructions on the activity in question.
Essentially, this is a craft book, not unlike those you might get from the library packed with Easter crafts or Egyptian crafts. It’s just that this time the unifying theme is outdoor play with sticks. And like many craft books, with the advent of the internet, and great sites like Let the Children Play, the ideas you find within the pages are probably available for free somewhere online, and many of them are so simple (such as playing pooh sticks) that you might wonder if this really is a book worth buying.
It’s definitely worth seeking out. By bringing all the ideas together in one place it IS stimulating. It has motivated the girls and me get our shoes on and go walking and looking for good sticks. M in particular has enjoyed reading the book herself, and choosing an activity she’d like to do. I particularly like the fact that all the people who feature in this book’s photographs are kids. There’s not an adult to be seen in this idyllic, natural landscape full of potential for adventure.
As children increasingly lose contact with outdoor play, and adults become less confident and comfortable with it (after all, isn’t it easier to put on a DVD?), this book will hopefully be a useful reminder of how simple and enjoyable it is to play outdoors. All you need is a stick and a little bit of inspiration.
Sticks are super… but how to broaden our horizons when we’re out exploring? What else could we and the kids look for? How do we learn to identify what we find? Today I’ve once again got one fiction picture book and one non-fiction book that go together really well, and which could help us answer these questions.
Having packed a rucksack full of sandwiches they launch themselves into the sort of knowing pretend play that my girls adore, imagining that ordinary objects in the garden are actually terrifying and dangerous safari animals. There is the croco-logus emerging from the pond, the snake-pipe slithering across the lawn and the hippo-potta-compost at the end of the vegetable patch, and young and old delight in scaring and being scared by the fates that might befall them if they were to be captured by these wild animals.
The adrenalin filled safari is going thrillingly well until the clothes-lion roars and sends Lollipop and her grandfather rushing back to the safely of their home. With all the familiar, delicious relief that readers and listeners feel with We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, Lollipop and her Grandfather do reach their house just in time, but then comes an unexpected twist – will they actually be safer inside?
Lollipop and Grandpa’s Back Garden Safari is great fun! All about entering into the spirit of things, relishing imaginative play, safely being frightened, and the sheer enjoyment that’s possible when playing outside, this book has become pretty popular in our home. This book really invites you to play the story, to play by the book. My kids think it’s such a hoot when they “see” threatening animals (the apple tree, the water butt, the bamboo sticks) and I act terrified. All powerful M and J have conjured up these creatures which have the power to scare me – the girls just can’t get enough of this!
Cate James‘ textured illustrations have a child-like quality to them, with lots of scribbles, and people with straight arms and legs rather like stick men. For a book which is all about really entering the mind of a young child, this style of illustration works really well.
Pretend safaris (also possible indoors!) are fab! And they complement “real” safaris too. Not, unfortunately to see lions and tigers, of which there are very few roaming the streets in central England, but to explore the animals and natural environments which are on our doorstep.
Although there’s something of a holiday / celebration at the end of this month to enjoy first (!), I’m already thinking about next year, planning projects, drawing dreams and envisaging adventures, not least of all here on Playing by the book (do let me know if there’s something you’d particularly love to see here in 2015).
This forward and full-of-hope looking at the future, with plans for play and learning, is also found in the latest offering (in English) for fans of two of my very favourite book characters: Findus, Food and Fun – Seasonal crafts and nature activities is a calendar of craftiness from my long term Swedish sweethearts, Findus and Pettson, or rather from their creator, Sven Nordqvist, assisted by Eva-Lena Larsson, Kennert Daniels and translator Nathan Large.
Findus is a cheeky, cheerful cat on the ramshackle farm owned by grumpy but loveable Pettson. Stories of their life together are full of mishaps, mysterious little creatures called muckles, kindness and compassion. The illustrations are scrumptious, drawn with delicious humour and attention to detail. I don’t think there is another series of books which I’ve dedicated so much time to on Playing by the book. Perhaps that alone tells you how wonderful I think these books are and how much I want to press them into the palms of everyone and anyone who stumbles upon my blog.
This latest book isn’t a story book, but rather a compilation of crafts and activities very much in the spirit of Findus and Pettson, with lots of outdoor exploration, tinkering, making, pottering, discovering and being resourceful. The crafts are themed by calendar month and richly illustrated with Findus, Pettson, chickens and muckles getting involved and trying out the projects at hand. The choice of crafts is wide ranging and includes the unusual; from propagating succulents, to using ants to dye bluebells, to making your own weather station to weaving a rug, there’s a mixture play and exploration driven by interacting with the natural world and/or being inspired by the farmstead on which Findus and Pettson live.
An interior detail from Findus, Food and Fun.
I suspect many readers will come to this wonderful book because they are already solid fans of Nordqvist’s lovely world where problems are solved with kindness. cooperation and respect. However, if you’ve not met Findus and Pettson before there’s still an enormous amount to enjoy in this book; the crafts are quirky, sometimes a little bit crazy, and ideal for anyone who wants to encourage natural play and exploration.
The first project my girls chose to try was making necklaces out of dried beans; first you have to soak them overnight and then you can thread them onto thread (as the book advises, dental floss is good because it is extra smooth and slidey). One packet of mixed dried beans meant for soup were sorted into bowls and left to soak:
Next morning the girls were intrigued to see how the beans had changed, and were soon up and running with threading them into necklaces.
Compare this with the photo above!
With lots of opportunities for learning about science, plant life and even maths (via patterns on the necklaces), this project – like so many in the book – could be used for more structured learning, as well being simply an enjoyable experience. These lovely chains of beads could be used as alternative Christmas decorations too – perhaps alongside popcorn strings.
Whilst making our necklaces we listened to:
Black Bean Soup by David Soul
Beans In My Ears by Serendipity Singers
Oats and Beans and Barley – there are loads of versions, but I like this one for its melodeon
Findus, Food and Fun: Seasonal crafts and nature activities is so packed with activities I won’t suggest any more here, other than to also point you to another craft book from the same publisher, Making Woodland Crafts by Patrick Harrison, a trainer of Forest School leaders. Many of the activities in this book are ones I can imagine Findus, Pettson and kids and families who love the outdoors relishing.
What nature crafts have you enjoyed recently? When did you last take a book outdoors to read under (or up) a tree?
Don’t forget to leave me a comment if you’ve any ideas / suggestions about how you’d like Playing by the book to develop in 2015
Earth Day is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment, and is held annually on April 22. Although it originated in the US, it’s now celebrated in many places across the globe. And to help you get involved with your kids, here’s Andi’s selection of exciting books and her reviews of them:
I consider this to be the classic environmental education fiction story and have read it to countless numbers of children of varying ages and all have found something that they like about it (would you expect anything else from Dr. Suess?) The story of the Lorax is told by the Once-ler, an unknown creature who lives in an old boarded-up house in the middle of a barren land. The story is about a beautiful landscape that is threatened when someone decides to use the tufts of the beautiful Truffula trees to make Thneeds (something that everyone needs) and the Lorax who “speaks for the trees” tries to stop the destruction of the forest and ponds and fields of his beautiful land. It is full of the rhyme typical of Suess books, and although the land is decimated at the hands of the Thneed creator, the last page is one of hope.
This story takes place in the rain forest, where the great Kapok trees rise high into the sky. The story is of a man who enters the forest with his axe, ready to cut down one of the giant trees. He soon grows tired, and is lulled to sleep by the heat of the forest. While he sleeps, the animals of the rainforest appear one by one and whisper in his ear, asking him to save their home. It is wonderfully illustrated with the bright plants and animals of the rainforest coming alive on each page.
Sometimes I love the books I read with my daughters because of the delightful, uninhibited play they inspire. Other times I love the books we read together because they engage us with something bigger; they cause us to reflect upon our actions and the world around us and encourage thoughtfulness and care. Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson is a recent find that has done both these things for us.
Mama Miti is an enduring story with fable-like quality about a woman who loves trees. She knows which trees are good to harvest for firewood, which trees are best for building with, which tree leaves have medicinal properties as well as the trees which provide food for both people or animals and she happily shares this knowledge with the women she meets. In doing so, these women, armed with knowledge (and saplings!) are able to build better homes and communities, to provide more for their families and to build a more sustainable future – in fact all the things I try to do in my own small way.
It’s a fantastic book for stimulating discussion with your kids about plants and trees around you and what uses they have, what you can harvest from them, and why we might want to ensure that we continue to have plenty of trees and plants around us.
It’s a brilliant book for encouraging you to keep faith in the idea that small changes will eventually add up to something substantial that makes a difference.
It’s an inspirational book for anyone, but particularly girls wanting to read about amazing, strong women – it is actually a biography of Wangari Muta Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I left out this fact till now as Mama Miti is one of those non-fiction books which probably provide librarians with a puzzle – should it be shelved with literature, perhaps amongst picture books for slightly older children, or on the non fiction shelves (Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca which I reviewed here is another such dilemma posing book). Mama Miti is definitely a story that can be enjoyed for its writing and resonance first and foremost – the revelation that it is actually a true story about a real woman only further delighted M (and me!)
Kadir Nelson’s illustrations are amazing – yet another reason to love this book! He has created artwork primarily using scraps of African cloth, providing his illustrations with great visual texture which reward repeated, detailed observation. The use of African fabrics paradoxically really roots Napoli’s t
With daytime temperatures in our neck of the woods barely making it above freezing this week, winter has surely arrived. We’ve had a flurry or two of snow, enough to get the kids excited but not enough for sledging… Of course, M and J are keeping their fingers crossed that all of that will soon change
Night Tree tells the story of one family’s Christmas custom to venture into a small wood near their home every 24th of December to decorate a tree with food for the birds and animals. Told in the present tense (a decision which brings an immediacy and vitality to this story perfect for helping children to imagine they too are going alongside for the adventure in the dark – though do read this great article by Philip Pullman on the overuse of the present tense), this gentle story is perfect for reading snuggled up on the sofa with frost outside.
Ted Rand’s illustrations of the mysterious and magical nature of the trees at night bring just the slightest suggestion of suspense, essential for later creating a feeling of magic and awe, especially successful in the spread showing the the beauty of the tree laden with gifts for the animals of the wood.
I also like the fact that whilst this is most definitely a Christmas book it is not full of snow and the usual wintry scenes. It’s also a children’s book that people who don’t celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas can still enjoy and incorporate into whatever seasonal celebration they may be having (there is one mention of the carol “O Come all ye faithful” but that’s the full extent of any mention of faith).
M and J immediately wanted to play out the story exactly as it happens in the book – surely a strong recommendation for any book. Given that Christmas isn’t quite upon us yet we did the next best thing and decorated two trees in our garden ready for hungry visitors. There’s a great round up of bird treats to make here at The Crafty Crow. We decided upon dried fruit necklaces, popcorn and peanut chains, orange swings, and yoghurt pot bells.
4 Comments on Frost, birds and the countdown begins, last added: 12/2/2010