Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

Flower Power

Posted on | August 19, 2009 | 1 Comment

flower-power

A couple of weeks ago we came across The Three Little Wolves and The Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury in a charity shop. I had not heard of the author but Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations are always gorgeous so we paid out our 70p for it, and once we got it home and read it properly we realised we’d got ourselves a bargain.

Once upon a time there were three cuddly little wolves with soft fur and fluffy tails who lived with their mother.” So begins this funny and clever retelling of the traditional Three Little Pigs story. The original structure of the tale is more or less adhered to whilst the villian is this time the pig, and his victims the wolves.

Three times the wolves try to build a home for themselves, each time more secure than the last, and each time the pig huffs and puffs and finds a way to destroy the home; the wolves first home, made of bricks is destroyed by the pig’s use of a sledgehammer. Their second home, a concrete bunker, fall victim to the big, bad pig’s pnuematic drill. Determined not to give up, the wolves build their third home out of “barbed wire, iron bars, armour plates and heavy metal padlocks” but when the pig manages to destroy this with dynamite, the croquet- and hopscotch-loving wolves realise they must try something completely different to save themselves from the pig.

Realising their increasingly defensive stance has not made them the slightest bit more secure (their third house looked like a fortified military base in a war zone) they now instead use  marigolds, roses and daisies to build a “rather fragile” but “very beautiful” house. Given that their new home sways in the wind there seems little chance that it will be able to withstand an attack by the big bad pig, and sure enough the outlook does not look rosy when he turns up and starts to huff and puff.

But then… something wonderful happens! As the pig draws a deep breath he is quite overcome with the delicious fragrance of all the flowers, and the heady, sweet scent makes him realise the error of his destructive ways. Before he knows it he is dancing and making friends with the wolves and as befits a magical fairy tale all live together happily every after.

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Every time we read this book we end up smiling and laughing – just like the pig in fact. The story is reassuringly familiar in its structure and yet at the same time all upside down, with well adjusted, friendly wolves pitted against the pig whose actions in  their over-the-topness seem outrageously naughty rather than ominous. Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations perfectly match the story: their stylistic execution could be described as quite traditional (the colouring and use of pencil and watercolour wouldn’t look out of place illustrating a book from the 1930s) but their content couldn’t be more unexpected -  cuddly, kind and innocent wolves playing whilst being watched by the bristly, mean pig (you can almost hear the pantomime boos and hisses when he appears in a page), or the delighted pig as he watches the third house explode. The combination of Trivizas and Oxenbury is certainly a winning one, and we will now be on the look out for more of Trivizas’ work (he has apparently written a lot for children in his native Greek, but only a couple of books are available in English).

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It will come as now surprise that having seen how wonderful it made the pig feel, we just had to try building our own flower house.  First we got a large block of floral foam (from ebay, but also available at Wilkinsons and of course florists) that we cut to make a basic house shape. We soaked the foam in water (just place it on the water and it will sink down – don’t push it into the water as this can create air pockets inside the foam), which took about a minute and then put it inside a deep baking tray (to act as a vase so we can top up the water over the coming days). We hadn’t used floral foam ever before and found some good tips on how to handle it here.

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We collected flowers from the garden (cornflowers, sweet peas and nasturtium flowers) and also some from the market (dahlia, chrysanthemum, carnations, roses, gypsophila and some lilies – we chose these primarily based on cost, having sturdy stems and flattish heads, and then the lilies into the mix for their heady fragrance) and cut them so that their stems were fairly short – about 10cm worked well. M then had free rein to push the flowers into the foam however she saw fit (we learned from experience that it was best to push the flowers in using the short stem, rather than holding onto the flower head in order to prevent the flower head from snapping off or the stem from buckling).

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Once complete, we added some water into the baking tray and then M arranged all her animals around the house, with pride of place going to the Big Bad Pig! Although this wasn’t a cheap activity (it cost about £20 in total for the foam and the flowers), the result is really beautiful and as a special one-off activity I think it was worth it for the fun of playing florist as we prepared the flowers and then the delight from handling and smelling the flowers. Although it would have been cheaper to re-use the silk flowers from our hat-making days the end result wouldn’t have been half as much fun to create or to look at now.

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The Big Good Pig!

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As our first foray into flower arranging this was a great deal of fun. However we’ve since found out this sort of sculptural flower work is all over the place. Jeff Koons created a rather larger floral work of art than ours in 1992 entitled Puppy. Every 2 years there is a rather splendid carpet made out of flowers in Brussels and clearly the Lalbagh flower show in India is a place to visit for spectacular displays – M particularly loved this dinosaur made out of flowers!

3-little-wolves-frontcoverThe Three Little Wolves and The Big Bad Pig: 3star
We’ve been listening to Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf (but mixing up the lyrics to suit this story) and also Ten in the Bed by Allan Ahlberg as an audiobook – a *brilliant* story similarly inspired by traditional fairy stories with some fantastic twists and lots of humour (watch out for the Big Bad Wolf who sounds like Russell Crowe!)  Further inspired by the flower house, we think we might make a flower cake for a grandma’s birthday present in the future – something like  this one.

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Comments

One Response to “Flower Power”

  1. Margo Dill
    April 3rd, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

    Hi! Thanks for reminding me about this book. I actually do know about this book. In the United States in the Midwest, it was in some basal readers for third graders when I first started teaching in the mid-1990s. I love fractured fairy tales! :)

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