Buckets of imagination

posted in: Garry Parsons, Kes Gray | 10
Photo: Longhorndave
Photo: Longhorndave

Billy’s Bucket by Kes Gray, illustrated by Garry Parsons is both a wonderful celebration of the power of imagination and a warning to parents who do not take their children’s creativity seriously!

All Billy wants for his birthday is a bucket. Not a bike or a computer game. Just a bucket. His parents try unsuccessfully to persuade Billy otherwise but eventually a trip to Buckets-R-Us takes place. Billy returns home utterly delighted. He fills his bucket with water and so begin hours of play.

Every time Billy peers into his bucket he sees different watery worlds – crabs, sharks, divers, perhaps even a mermaid play in the water, and Billy is mesmerised by it all. His parents, on the other hand, are dismissive. They start off by humouring Billy (“What’s in your bucket now, Billy?” giggled his mum. “Seven sea lions and a walrus,” said Billy. “Of course there are, Billy,” laughed his mum and dad.) but soon they can’t resist teasing him a little; they try to persuade Billy to lend them his bucket so that they can use it for some household chores. Billy refuses. He loves his bucket and the worlds it contains. Indeed he goes to bed that night very happy – his bucket is “the best present in the world.”

The following morning Billy comes down to the kitchen to find his bucket missing. Although distraught it is Billy who ends up having the last laugh – it turns out his Dad borrowed the bucket to wash the car…and, well, let’s just say Billy’s Dad is now left looking somewhat foolish for not believing in Billy and the power of his imagination.


Please try to find a copy of Billy’s Bucket – the story is a fantastic testament to the power of imagination and a gentle reminder to those of us who might at times be far too sensible to believe in a little bit of magic. Kids will love it that Billy was proved right – there were, after all, marvellous sea creatures in his bucket, and parents will share a wry smile of recognition at the behaviour of Billy’s Mum and Dad. I also love the story for its delight in a simple birthday gift – a bucket – not a Wii or a trip to Disneyland – and in this respect it reminds me of Katie Cleminson’s Box of Tricks (which I reviewed here). Another book which could work well along side Billy’s Bucket is Polly Dunbar’s Penguin (which I reviewed here). All three are lovely birthday-themed books which rejoice in a child’s ability to imagine and create personal narratives.

The illustrations in Billy’s Bucket are bold and bright – J particularly enjoyed them. And whilst I don’t think they have the artistic flair of Katie Cleminson’s or Polly Dunbar’s illustrations they are nevertheless great fun to look at and an important part of why this book can hold the attention of both M (5) and J (1) at the same time.

To go with Billy’s Bucket we made our own buckets filled with sea creatures – but these were no ordinary buckets – their contents became our pudding one evening….

We used:

  • some glass jars and bowls which we turned into buckets by using pipecleaners to create handles.
  • a packet of gelatin, and sugar as per the instructions on the packet of gelatin (we got our gelatin in the form of leaves from a large supermarket)
  • some blue food colouring
  • an outrageous amount of gummy aquatic-themed sweets (dolphins, sharks, turtles, fish, starfish etc)

  • buckets1

    M made the gelatin as per the instructions on the packet, and simply added some blue food colouring for the “water” to go in the “buckets”. Jelly/Jello might work just as well, if you can get it in a blue colour . Once prepared, M poured the blue gelatin into the buckets where we left it to set for about an hour – just enough time for the gelatin to start firming up, but not for it to become too firm.


    M then used a fork to push the sealife sweets into the water. Because the gelatin was already partly set the sea creatures appeared to float in the water and not sink all the way to the bottom.


    Once the buckets were full of sea water and sea creatures they were left in the fridge to fully set.


    Am I really showing you a photo of the inside of my fridge?? This is not at all what I anticipated when I started blogging…

    Here’s our final collection of buckets full of wriggly sea life:


    Here are the girls enjoying their buckets after dinner!


    Billy’s Bucket:*** (3 stars)

    And here’s the music we’ve been enjoying alongside Billy’s Bucket:

  • My bucket’s got a hole in it by Ricky Nelson
  • Hole in the bucket sung by Pete Seeger
  • Buckets of rain by Bob Dylan
  • And just to show that some of my music is a little bit more up to date than the trio above we’ve also been listening to Ocean Night Song by Laura Veirs!

    Other crafty activities which could work well alongside Billy’s Bucket include:

  • These beautiful decorated buckets from Kiddley – you could use images from damaged kids books from charity shops perhaps.
  • Investigating centripetal force with a bucket full of water – one for when the weather warms up and we can go outside
  • Using Jelly/Jello for sensory play – a great idea from NurtureStore
  • 10 Responses

    1. Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook

      What a fun activity to help your kids connect with the book. It sounds a great story, too. Another activity your 5-year-old might enjoy is taking a bucket and seeing how many ways she can mime with it eg sitting on it as her tuffet, falling off it as Humpty, wearing it as a helmet, using it as a goal for an imaginary basket ball etc

    2. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks for the tip – I think that game would go down well. And the week after next we’re hopefully off to the beach so there should be plenty of opportunity for bucket play!

    3. Catherine

      I love your ocean in a bucket jellies.
      My son likes Harry and his Bucket full of Dinosaurs. It’s a TV show, I’m not sure if there is a book version. But the concept is similar – the bucket makes Harry’s dinosaurs real

    4. Ashley

      What a coincidence, I ordered this very book just the other day! We must be on the same wavelength 🙂
      Hasn’t arrived yet but thrilled to see from your review that it’s well worth having.

      • Zoe

        Oh Ashley 🙂 I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength! I’m sure you and your son will enjoy it – do let us know, though, when you’ve read it what you made of it.

    5. Caroline

      Zoe, this is one of my favourite posts; those under the sea jellies look great! We read Billy’s Bucket after a trip to the beach last summer, the ending is so funny – you can’t help feeling that the parents get what they deserve!

    6. Ian Newbold

      Excellent blog post, thought it is going to cost me money, just going to look for a copy of that book now! Also a great reminder to a photo I once took of my son playing with an exhausted roll of wrapping paper, with all his unwrapped presents laying abandoned. You need little else than your imagination.

    7. Ashley

      My latest book order just arrived and I love this story … it’s very funny, loved the description of the family shopping in BucketsRUs, haha. Sometimes the simplest of gifts really are the best as this story proves.
      I think if you liked this you might also enjoy Magic Shoebox Farm, which as the title suggests is all about a magical farmyard residing in an old shoebox.

      • Zoe

        Ashley, we’re not good for each other! I’ve already spent a fortune on Amazon this weekend and now I’ve had a look at Magic Shoebox Farm I think I would indeed love it (to say nothing of the girls – J ADORES Look at You! which is also illustrated by Paul Howard). Thanks so much for the tip!

    8. Kat

      Hi Zoe,
      Thanks so much for including one of our activities in this post. I adore what you’ve done here! Really love the idea of helping bring books to life for kids by pairing them with great activities. Thanks so much for sharing and I can’t wait to spend lots more time on your blog!
      Thanks again!
      Kat (Education.com)

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