Barn Dance!

posted in: Pat Hutchins | 5

The last few weeks have seen something of a Pat (Rosie’s Walk) Hutchins festival here at home. It all started with Kristine’s suggestion of Good-Night, Owl!, and quickly grew into an exciting adventure that led us to discover lots of new books.

Photo: minniemouseaunt
Photo: minniemouseaunt

Although some of our favourite books are by Pat Hutchins I simply had no idea how many books she has written – 5 novels and more than 25 picture books during the course of the last 40 years. Whilst we haven’t been able to read all of these in the last couple of weeks, of all the new books that we have read the one that I’ve barely been able to prize out of J’s hands is Barn Dance! – a story in rhyme of a Mum Pig, Sheep and Horse determined to have a good time.

One beautiful night the mums are all keen to go dancing, but with their little ones fast asleep in the barn’s hay they can’t leave for a night on the town. Instead…

They put straw on the floor
to muffle the sound,
then they bounced,
and they jigged,
and they leaped around.

Each mum dances until she is so tired that she has to join her young charge asleep in the hay. And once all the mums have passed out exhausted…

out of the straw
the little ones crept.
Now they could bounce
and jig and leap…

as all their mothers were fast asleep!


This book has become such a hit for a number of reasons.

1. As a mum who sometimes dreams of going out dancing of an evening I love how these mums find a solution that keeps their little ones safe but allows the grown ups to have fun and let their hair down.

2. As the mums dance they have one or two minor mishaps (for example the horse’s hooves pound the floor so hard that sparks set alight some dry straw!) and J in particular loves this element of calamity combined with comedy.

3. M and J think that the idea of sneaking out whilst Mum sleeps is *so* exciting (Mum, on the other hand is a little concerned that M might just act this out!)

4. This being Pat Hutchins the illustrations are of course a delight, even though they are quite different from the illustrative style I typically associate with Hutchins. In Barn Dance! the animals and trees are less stylized than in eg. Rosie’s Walk or Good-Night, Owl!, and Hutchins uses a lot of bold colours rather than the more muted and limited palette that is familiar from many of her earlier books.

The intense yellows, reds, greens and blues in the illustrations leap off the page not least because every page bar the last (when morning has arrived) also has a great deal of black or dark blue forming the night sky. The images of moonlit clouds and starry skies are a striking feature in the book, and they led us to try out some of our own art using just black and white – some wax resist painting.

I used a white crayon and drew some images in secret on pieces of white paper. When the girls decided they wanted to join me I gave them very watered down black paint and they got stuck into discovering what secrets the paper held.



For about 5 minutes this was exciting, but that was all. M wanted to do her own thing (of course!) and so out came the coloured crayons and she prepared her own paper.


As you can see, to get the desired effect she had to press pretty hard with the crayon, but the results were beautiful (if somewhat removed from the black and white images which had inspired this little activity of ours!)


Although I enjoyed the wax resist painting M and J didn’t find it terribly exciting. Instead they emptied out our bucket of plastic animals and told me they wanted their very own barn for their animals to dance in.


Fortunately a large parcel had arrived that morning (Thanks, Oma!) and so we set to transforming it into barn worthy of a wild, all night shindig. I cut some doors in the sides and then the girls painted the roof gray and the walls green.


We made some stalls out of plastic biscuit trays and added some straw from the pet section in the local discount store. In went the horse, pig and sheep, their little ones and a whole load of playmobil, the music was turned up, and crazy dancing began.





barn_dance_frontcover Barn Dance!: 2star (I give it 2 stars because, whilst the illustrations are lovely I don’t think they are quite as wonderful as her earlier books, although I’m sure M and J would give this book 3 stars)

And what did the animal (and human) mums and kids dance to? Lots of music played by Jimmy Shand, including The Gay Gordons, Strip the Willow and The Duke of Athol’s Reel.

Other night-sky inspired activities I thought would be fun to do include:

  • Just about everything in this Starry Starry Night post from the ever inspirational Crafty Crow
  • And even more great stuff from Kids Craft Weekly in this issue all about the night sky
  • As to farm related craftiness…

  • I like a lot of these ideas from, especially the mini-sheep!
  • And if we had a microwave I would be very tempted to make this lovely sheep rice pack from Mayfly
  • This tractor and trailer from Bankelele via AfriGadget also look great
  • Now I just need to find a real barn dance or a ceilidh that we could all go to…

    5 Responses

    1. Zoe

      Hi Kristine,
      Another new Pat Hutchins discovery was her book Bumpety Bump ( – if you enjoy gardening then this is a particularly lovely book. The illustrations are really wonderful – I would love to have them on my wall, but the text doesn’t quite work – half of it is in rhyme and then the bits that don’t rhyme seem very clunky. But the pictures are SO gorgeous that I have still added it to my wishlist!

    2. vanessa@silly eagle books

      I love Good-Night Owl–In fact, I just bought it for Juliet. She thinks it is completely hilarious when he hoots at the end and wakes everyone up. I love it for the illustrations.

      I was thinking, “wax-resist! That sounds amazing!” But now I am thinking Juliet would react like your girls and want to do her own thing as well. The make your own barn with real straw looks right up her alley, though! It looks messy and so much fun. Great ideas, once again.

    3. Ashley

      Love your barn and it just goes to show you don’t need to spend much at all to create a super farmyard setup. It’s the sort of thing children will just get hours of enjoyment from.

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