As I write this we’re staying at Granny and Grandpa’s, by the seaside! Last week, as we eagerly anticipated our trips to the beach we looked out some lovely books and activities about the ocean to get us in the mood for our holiday.
We wanted to do something to spruce up M’s room so we settled on a wall frieze with an underwater theme, using several of the suggestions from an old Kids Craft Weekly newsletter dedicated to life under the waves.
First up we made sparkly starfish – cardboard cutouts in the shape of said animal, slavered in glue and then dipped in small, shiny beads.
Next up were some octopus triplets, made from balloons, string, beads, straws and sellotape. We had to finesse the Kids Craft Weekly instructions a little; to stop the string from fraying as we threaded on the beads made from cut-up straws we had to wrap a small piece of sellotape around the end of the string. Also, sometimes it was a little difficult to get the string all the way through the straw beads so then we used a cocktail stick to push the string through (perhaps we should have made our beads shorter when cutting the straws).
After finally getting dressed and various other *chores* we made swishy jellyfish. We spread a thick layer of glue on the inside of some paper jelly bowls (how appropriate is that?!), and then stuck strips of shiny paper (to act as tentacles) into the glue.
After having dried for a couple of hours we turned the bowls over and applied yet more glue and then dipped the bowls into some shredded sparkly paper (sometime ago I found a jar of this ready-made stuff on sale at a local discount craft shop – it’s great because it’s sparkly like glitter, but much cheaper and easier to clean up!)
Next we created some silvery fish to add to the scene. I drew some fish shapes on sheets of silver foil and then the girls coloured them in with permanent markers.
We gave the fish scales by putting the silver foil on our biscuit cooling rack and rubbing it, to give it texture.
Although M is good with scissors, cutting foil can be quite difficult to do without tearing, so it was left to me to cut the fish shapes out.
Finally, a day or two after we’d begun, we prepared the backdrop for all these wonderful creatures – a long piece of backing paper, painted blue and green, with bits of crepe paper for seaweed and iridescent film for shafts of sunlight shining through the water.
Alison Lester’s Magic Beach is a wonderful place to escape to. On each double page spread she describes in gentle, easy-flowing rhyme an aspect of this special place of hers and presents us with an accompanying illustration which is full of delightful detail. Verses depicting different parts of her (real) beach, such as the rock pools or the high tide mark are interspersed with imaginings of what else might happen on the beach, such as digging up treasure or sailing to unexplored islands – exactly the sort of day dreams you could have whilst lying with your eyes closed on warm sands, listening to the birds and the breeze.
We have a mini, hardback version of this book (only a little larger than a playing card) and in and of itself it’s a lovely thing to hold and look at. The shiny, glittery waves forming a border around the main image on the front cover create a sweetie-shop effect of desire on the beholder – or at least on me and my girls. It’s size is perfect for slipping in a a handbag or rucksack so that it can be taken to the beach, where it deserves to be read and read again.
Flotsam, by David Wiesner, tells a beguiling story of a boy who spends his day exploring at the beach (you can tell he loves this hobby – he’s even brought his microscope in a ziploc bag to study the small bugs he finds in the sand). As he bends down on all fours to take a good look at a crab a large wave takes him by surprise and breaks over him. When the water drains away a peculiar looking box draped in seaweed has been left on the wet sands, and upon closer inspection it turns out to be an underwater camera.
What else can the boy do when he discovers a film inside the camera than rush to get it developed as quickly as he can. When he finally collects the photos he’s amazed by the window he’s given onto a strange, indeed astonishing world under the sea with clockwork fish, shell cities and alien life-forms guarded by truly other-worldly looking seahorses. Most intriguing of all, however, is the last photo which reveals a young girl on some distant beach holding a photo of another young person, holding up a photo of another young person… Using first his magnifying glass and then his microscope the beachcombing boy gradually realises that this camera has been travelling the currents for many years, and each time it has been washed ashore the lucky finder has taken a photo of him or herself holding the previous photo.
With the day coming to an end and the boy’s family gathering up its belongings the boy takes a self portrait of himself holding the photo of the previous discoverer of the camera and then he tosses it back into the sea. The book draws to close with the magic camera being carried across the oceans by squid, pelicans and porpoises through the strange realms seen in the earlier photographs, eventually washing up on another shore where we’re left gazing at a young girl, intrigued as she reaches out for this wonderful piece of flotsam.
This is a stunning book. The story is told entirely without words and the illustrations are superb, with clever use of varying scale in the images to create pace and tension in a story that left me wanting to linger on the last pages, to prevent me from reaching the end, just like when it’s time to leave the beach at the end of the day. Like Magic Beach the book production is also worth mention – this is another beautiful book to feel and hold, gorgeous enough to give as a special present (even to yourself!).
We’ve been singing Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside and listening to a compilation of seaside songs from the Early Learning Centre. The CD doesn’t appear to be on sale any more I’m afraid… We’ve also had on Billy Bragg’s The Beach is Free (which couldn’t be more different than the ELC CD!), found via Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. Now that we’re actually down at the sea we’re gradually collecting what we need for a collage a la this posting at Kids Nature Spot, found via The Crafty Crow. We’re also toying with the idea of setting up a museum with the results of our beachcombing – in the Netherlands there are indeed several museums of this nature! For example the this one in Zandvoort an Zee, just west of Amsterdam or this one on the island of Texel.