This last month I’ve been on the look out for books with a wintry but non-christmas theme and the search has brought a few lovely, previously unknown books into our household thanks to the library reservation system. One in particular which has caught M and J’s attention is The Sea Mice and the Stars by Kenneth Steven, illustrated Louise Ho.
A family of mice who live on an old ship (which reminds me of the gorgeous Maggie B) have a special job every winter: when there is a shower of shooting stars it is their job to go on land, gather up the stars and distribute them to other mice, to light their homes and keep them safe.
One year they venture out to gather up the “pieces of magic” but a terrible storm brews up and whilst gathering the sparkling treasures one of the sea-mice children gets lost in the snow. Fortunately the light of the stars helps her family to find the young mouse and they are able to complete their mission; the land mice throw a great party to celebrate the distribution of the glowing stars and the sea-mice are able to return to their ship, happy and content after their adventure.
Re-reading my precis of the story I think it sounds a little strange, but actually the story is charming – just the right amount of adventure, fantasy and suspense married with sweet little mice-characters (with oldy-worldy names like Ashenteen and Filidore) and the enduring charm of sparkling stars. Indeed, I think the illustrations are what really capture the attention of my kids – the stars are all shiny and sparkly, and their lustre shows up particularly well against the purples and blues which dominate the pages of this book.
At the said mice party…
There were spicy hot drinks that made Ashenteen’s nose tingle, and singing and dancing that never seemed to end. “This is the most exciting night ever!” Ashenteen whispered to Willabee as they nibbled on special star-shaped biscuits, still warm from the oven”
And so, to recreate this celebration M, J and I made our own star-shaped biscuits and hot spicy drinks:
Hot Moroccan “Ginseng” (from Sophie Grigson’s Sunshine Food)
30g (1 oz) caster or granulated sugar
1 mace blade
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
2.5 cm (1 inch) piece of fresh root ginger, sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 allspice berries
300 ml (10 fl oz) water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Put all the ingredients except the lemon juice into a pan. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 5-8 minutes, stir in the lemon juice, then pour through a tea strainer into two small glasses.
The girls enjoyed making this (throwing all the spices in a big pan) but the flavour isn’t really a little person’s sort of thing. However I LOVE this drink – very warming, yet refreshing, just the sort of thing that is perfect for after being outside in the snow!
Danish Gilded Stars (from Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to warm the soul by Diana Henry)
125g (41/2 oz) butter
50g (2 oz) icing sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 small egg yolk
165g (5 1/2 oz) plain flour
100g (3 1/2 oz) icing sugar
edible gold or silver powder of glitter
Makes about 20 or so biscuits depending on the size of your star cutter.
1. Beat the butter, sugar and salt together until combined. Mix in the egg yolk. Mix the flour in by hand and ring the dough together in a ball, kneading lightly. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Roll the dough out to 3 mm (1/8 inch) thick. Stamp out biscuits with a star shaped cookie cutter and put them on a metal sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Leave to cool.
3. Once the biscuits are cool, put the icing sugar in a bowl and add enough lemon juice to make an icing you can drizzle. Drizzle on to biscuits and then spring with edible gold/silver powder or glitter.
4. Discover the delights of lemony icing sugar, lick your fingers, then push your hand through the icing which has drizzled on to the work surface and suck your hand…. [This bit, somewhat surprisingly, isn’t in the original recipe!]
The Sea Mice and the Stars: ** (2 stars).
In addition to the star songs I mentioned last week we’ve also been listening to:
Two other winter-but-not-christmas themed books we’ve enjoyed are The Mitten, adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett, The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg. I haven’t been able to get hold of the following books, but they all look like they would also be fun wintry reads:
In Need of Chocolate has a 3-part list of winter books that has lots to tempt you. 5 Great Books also has a winter themed list. What winter-but-not-christmas books would you recommend?