Just before Christmas it was M’s 5th birthday. We had a really happy weekend, first her birthday at home with just the 4 of us playing, playing, reading and playing, and then the following day enjoying ourselves enormously at her dinosaur party (which I’m so happy to report couldn’t have been a bigger success :-)). Although new books frequently find their way into our home I had been looking since the summer for something special with a birthday theme to give to her, and about a month before the big day I struck gold with Box of Tricks by Katie Cleminson (for some reason retitled as Magic Box in the US).
This perfect story opens with the birthday girl, Eva, receiving a very special present – a large cardboard box. As we all know, cardboard boxes are full of opportunities for imaginative, magical play when it comes to kids, and this box is no different. As if like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Eva jumps into her box and is transformed into a master magician, able to conjure up delights, including what she wants more than anything else in the whole world – a pet polar bear called Monty.
Eva goes on to conjure up more fantastical magic tricks, throwing a wonderful party, with great food, great music and lots of carefree, joyful dancing, and when every one has had their full of celebrating Eva is able to magically click her fingers and quite by magic everything (well, almost everything…) vanishes.
I love this story because it captures the magic of the simple cardboard box and celebrates the power of imagination. Eva is a great little character – omnipotent, as all children like to be, and yet charming with it! She can magic up her greatest desires at will – an aspect of the story I’m sure appeals to M a great deal, even if she doesn’t express it quite in these terms 🙂
And if the story itself were not enough to make you love this book, the illustrations are fresh and gorgeous! Simple and uncluttered but oh so full of charm, delight, warmth and fun. Katie Cleminson primarily uses only 3 colours in her illustrations – black, red and blue, and pairs up her ink drawings with splatters and drops of paint (surely inspired by her declared passion for Jackson Pollock) that perfectly conjure up a sense of magic in the air.
I’m so glad I found this book, and if you have a birthday in the offing I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. We gave it to M along with a cardboard box and a large cuddly polar bear inside and it has definitely proved a big hit. I couldn’t be happier!
Inspired by Katie Cleminson’s illustrations we wanted to try imitating the splatter and drop technique used so effectively in the book. This is what we did.
1. We used a couple of tall candles to drip wax on to watercolour paper. By using tall candles M was able to do this herself and was mesmerised by the flame!
2. As soon as the wax had hardened (almost immediately) M used pipettes to drop liquid watercolours on to the paper. Initially she held her pipettes high in order to maximise the splatter of the drops on the paper, but then she became entranced by creating big bubbly domes of paint on the paper. To include J we gave her a piece of paper M had coverd with candle wax drips, and a paintbrush to do what she wished with.
3. We had to leave the paper to dry over night – M’s big bubbley drops took a few hours to dry. I think the results are lovely, and another successful variant on the wax-resist painting we tried before Christmas.
Whilst painting and attempting our own magic tricks with a large cardboard box we’ve been listening to:
We also hope to try some of these activities:
What favourite books have you given or received on birthdays? And do you know of any other great picture books with birthdays as a theme?