Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do


Posted on | August 5, 2010 | 35 Comments

Photo: Ctd 2005

Normally it happens here on Playing by the book that we come across a book that we love and then we find a way to “play” the book, but occasionally it happens the other way round. A couple of months back I saw this amazing water wall at Let the children play, and soon after the same idea re-interpreted by Teacher Tom. I knew this project would be a hit with my girls, involving as it does lots of “junk”, “engineering”, water and (as noted in the original water wall post) power tools

Using an electric drill and a load of bolts and butterfly nuts (also known as wing nuts) we attached various recycled containers to an old fence panel that had been languishing unloved behind our shed. I did let M use the electric drill, but taking a photo of that was a challenge too far!

We connected hosepipe cut offs to some of our bottles. To make a seal we used plasticine to fill the gaps and then our favourite all purpose heavy-duty, fix-it tape – duck tape.

We placed some collecting containers at the bottom of the panel so that we could recycle as much water as possible and then the girls were let loose with their watering cans.

They both absolutely loved making their own “waterfall-water-wall” and soon developed other ways of playing with their creation!

I didn’t manage to get any photos, but another thing we did was to put a water-colour tablet (like you might use to play in the bath) in one of the top containers and then watched how the water changed colour as it rushed down. If we had had a longer system for the water to travel down we might have tried colour mixing – say, putting a yellow tablet at the top, a blue tablet in the middle, and then hopefully we would have seen green water emerge at the bottom.

In planning for the water wall I tried to find a great book that we could read once back indoors drying out from all our water play. I did my usual series of searches, looking for a book either about rain or waterfalls and eventually decided upon Rain Rain Rivers by Uri Shulevitz.

Ostensibly, a simple observation of rainfall, first on windows, then down gutters, into streams and eventually into the ocean Uri Shulevitz has written a paean to the rejuvenating powers of water, the delights of being warm inside listening to, observing the rain, and the opportunities it brings for play, from sailing boats in puddles to stamping in mud and (in my favourite line in the book, reminding me of Oscar Wilde) “jump[ing] over pieces of sky in the gutter“.

Lots of alliteration helps capture the rush of water over the landscape, or in our case, down our waterfall-water-wall. Repetition and phrase internal rhymes create an accumulative rhythm, mirroring the onward flow of water downstream to its final destination.

A very subdued palette is used for the rain drenched illustrations (there’s more colour on the front cover of this book than anywhere else). Sometimes washed out, bleak and often expansive the images are calming and somehow comforting – the rain that falls, and us as we watch it, run in it, are part of some bigger continuity. Image and text are finely tuned, pared down to something simple, yet resonant.

If you and your kids are fed up of the rain this is the perfect book for you to fall in love with the wet weather again. If, on the other hand you’re missing the rain (as we are here) this book will only fill you with more longing! A picture book that both girls loved – uncomplicated and short enough to keep J’s attention and meditative enough to intrigue M. I’d also recommend this if you’re looking for a book for early readers that isn’t an early reader per se – the vocabulary is straightforward and yet the poetry of the text and the beautiful illustrations make for a very satisfying read for both child learner and adult listener!

Rain Rain Rivers: *** (3 stars)

We’ve been listening to:

  • Chase the Rain by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
  • Rain by The Candy Band
  • Robin in the Rain by Raffi
  • Ain’t Gonna Rain by The Hollow Trees
  • Here Comes the Rain Itsy by Genius + Love (this one has to get you dancing!)
  • Peace like a River by Elizabeth Mitchell – currently available on her Myspace page
  • Singin’ in the Rain sung by Gene Kelly (well, we had to include it didn’t we!)

  • Some more play and craft ideas that would work alongside this lovely book:

  • Play with liquids other than water – Deb from Science@Home has a inspirational list of ideas to get you going!
  • Create some art work using rain – here’s an idea from Let’s Explore, or another option from Ordinary Life Magic, and a similar take on this fun activity from Elsie Marley
  • Try this Rain in a Bag activity from
  • And if you’re after a DIY project I love the look of this rain guttering transformed into kids’ bookshelves from Raising Olives

  • What are your favourite rainy day books and activities? Can you recommend any other books that we might have enjoyed alongside making our waterfall-water-wall?

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    35 Responses to “Waterfall-Water-Wall”

    1. jojoebi
      August 5th, 2010 @ 3:07 am

      we have 2 beautiful books ‘whose air is it?’ and ‘forests make oceans’ by Shomei Yoh, they are bilingual Japanese and English and both explain about the eco system by telling jake the dog the story, the illustrations are cute too and printed on lovely paper, not sure whether you will be able to get your hands on it though, I picked mine up at a recycling shop.

    2. Zoe @ Playing by the book
      August 5th, 2010 @ 7:15 am

      Hi Jojoebi,
      Thanks for the suggestions – I’ve enjoyed looking at Shomei Yoh’s work on his/her (sorry – I don’t know anything about Japanese names) website:
      I can find several german language versions of Whose air is it? on abe books and there is an English lanugage version but it’s nearly £55 before shipping :-( Still, the author/illustrator is great to know about – thanks!

    3. Tweets that mention Waterfall-Water-Wall | Playing by the book --
      August 5th, 2010 @ 8:19 am

      […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Danielle Smith, Zoe Toft. Zoe Toft said: Raining where you are? Or are you fed up with the heat? Either way you could try making your own waterwall like ours: […]

    4. Choxbox
      August 5th, 2010 @ 10:06 am

      Lovely idea! Will try it and let you knwo how it went :)

      The book sounds awesome, would love to get it. Thanks! Incidentally another book by the same author was reviewed recently at SaffronTree by Sheela.

    5. jenny
      August 5th, 2010 @ 10:39 am

      Oh wow, I love it! Ours has unfortunately been killed through overuse and time outside and I hope to resurrect it in the summer. I’m saving your photos as a guide – love the idea to use the old fence panel. We have some wooden pallets lying around that might work just as well.

    6. maggy, red ted art
      August 5th, 2010 @ 11:36 am

      Zoe! You do out do yourself each week! what a fabulousy fun activity! Red Ted would have loved that!!


    7. Zoe
      August 5th, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

      Hi Choxbox,
      Yes, I saw Sheela’s review of How I Learned Geography – We’ve recently read The Map of Dreams which I think must be the same book published under a different title in the UK. Like Sheela I think it is a wonderful book and would whole heartedly recommend it.

      Hi Jenny,
      I’m not at all surprised to hear your waterwall has had a lot of use – ours certainly is much loved! We thought about a pallet but decided on the fence panel in the end as the wood is much thinner and therefore easier for a little person to drill through (at least in theory).

      Hi Maggy,
      Thanks! And yes, Red Ted I’m sure would love it!

    8. Mary Ann Dames - Reading, Writing, and Recipes
      August 6th, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

      How RubeGoldberg-ish! Love it.

    9. Zoe @ Playing by the book
      August 7th, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

      Hi Mary Ann,

      I had not heard of Rube Goldberg – but thanks to you I now have, and I’m so pleased – his sort of inventions would be so up my kids’ street! Do you know of any kids’ books about him – I think his life and inventions would make for a great book!

    10. Kristine
      August 9th, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

      Your waterwall looks like so much fun. I’d like to give it a go when the weather warms up. I like that the kids can reuse the water that reaches the bottom as I think our water restrictions are going to be even tighter this summer as we haven’t had much rain this winter.

    11. Zoe @ Playing by the book
      August 9th, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

      Hi Kristine,

      Yep, although we did loose a fair bit of water, I felt it was important to recycle what we could – although we in this part of the UK aren’t subject to any water restrictions at the moment, other parts of the UK are.

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      May 1st, 2011 @ 5:29 am

      […] enjoying this too. This is perfect for some summer water fun! Definitely hours of play! Visit Playing by the Book to see how they went about […]

    13. amber
      May 6th, 2011 @ 3:32 am

      This turned out so cool! Love it!!
      amber recently posted..Writers Club

    14. Marie-Eve
      June 25th, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

      Hi Zoe!

      Wow! What a wonderful well-rounded activity to do with the kids! I really love it and I decided to feature it on my website. You can check it out here:

      If, for any reason, you do not wish to appear on my website, just let me know and I’ll remove my post right away.
      Thanks for sharing this project!

    15. Jamie @ hands on : as we grow
      July 29th, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

      I love this water wall – still have yet to make my own, and I REALLY want to – I just don’t have the wall to do it on… but this may work! I included this fun, learning play in a roundup of ways to beat the heat with water and ice! Thanks for inspiring!

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    23. Upcycled101
      May 7th, 2013 @ 6:45 am

      totally nice idea! thank you for sharing!

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      May 18th, 2013 @ 9:52 am

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