A couple of weeks ago (already!) I reviewed Stone Age Boy by Satoshi Kitamura. It was the perfect picture book for M – full of detail, both in the illustrations and the text, and bursting with imagination. The historical facts washed over much younger J, but I didn’t want her to miss out on her own stone age experience so I succumbed to temptation and bought my own copy of Cave Baby, the most recent book by Julia (“Gruffalo”) Donaldson this time teaming up with Kate Greenaway Medal winner Emily Gravett.
As an adult I might describe Cave Baby as being about the sheer delight one can take in painting and drawing and how being creative is both stimulating and a source of comfort. Through my kids’ eyes I might say that Cave Baby tells the story of a stone age toddler who, bored one day, discovers a pot of paint and sets about decorating his family’s cave. The stone age parents are none too pleased (note to self: next time J scribbles on the wall, try not to act like a Neanderthal and instead recognise my child’s creativity ) and threaten the child with the possibility of mammoths throwing the young artist to the local big brown bear. Indeed a mammoth does then steal the toddler away in the middle of the night, and as they travel under the stars everywhere they turn the big brown bear seems to be lurking in the shadows. Eventually the toddler is deposited in what appears to be the bear’s cave… is he going to be eaten? Is he going to make it out of there alive?
With a clever twist in the tale everything of course ends well. The boy gets to paint to his heart’s content, and his exuberant cave paintings are much appreciated. He’s finally returned to his bed where his multicoloured dreams are full of the joy and delight he’s had whilst playing with his paint pot and brush.
Julia Donaldson’s rhyming text trips off the tongue with the greatest of ease and seems to add an extra dimension as the tension rises. As a parent it’s great fun (and easy) to read, and for both my kids it’s clearly a delight to listen to – J in particular rocks along with the rhythm and very quickly learned to finish all the lines herself. Emily Gravett’s illustrations are sumptuous. Some spreads are richly dark and brooding, others full with fireworks of colour. Whilst Donaldson will no doubt forever be associated with Axel Scheffler (as illustrator of The Gruffalo), this new team of Donaldson and Gravett is tremendous, an outright winner. I hope it’s a collaboration we’ll see again soon.
With a cave already and waiting (inspired by Stone Age Boy), it didn’t take any persuading for the girls to get out their art materials and start creating their own cave paintings. First the girls used charcoal to draw pictures of animals and hunting.
The charcoal was pretty messy – I’d definitely recommend having a wet flannel on stand by
Next we tried some stencil painting, inspired by the cave art where you see an outline of (typically) a hand surrounded by fine spray.
Originally these stencils were made by using a pigment filled tube and blowing through the tube to spray the pigment or by spitting the pigment directly from the mouth through pursed lips.
Not keen on encouraging spitting ;-), we opted for a technique that would give a similar effect but without risk of flying saliva, and instead used a spatter screen (you could use a grater or a sieve instead), a toothbrush and a little paint. M draw images of possible cave art symbols, cut them out and then sprayed them with paint.
Finally, inspired by the artwork actually in Cave Baby we created “ink bursts”.
The girls used pipettes to drop ink onto card and then blew the ink all over the card using straws.
Here’s what our final gallery looked like before we hung it in the cave!
Cave Baby: *** (3 stars)
Here’s some of the music we enjoyed whilst painting:
Here’s some more inspiration if you fancy doing cave painting with your kids:
We’re now waiting for the release later this year of Werner Herzog’s latest documentary – all about the art work in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave, a site in southern France that contains the earliest known cave paintings, dating back at least 30,000 years. Titled Cave of Forgotten Dreams, it debuts later this month at the Toronto Film Festival. We’ll have to wait a little longer to visit Britain’s only known Ice Age Rock Art – at Creswell Crags, as kids under 5 are not allowed in the caves.
On a final note, it just so happened we picked up our copy of Cave Baby at a signing with Julia Donaldson – here she is with M and J!