What would you do if your child painted on the walls?

posted in: Emily Gravett, Julia Donaldson | 17

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 πŸ˜‰ ) 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.

Photo: Neanderthal Cave art Le Moustiar - SKI tripper

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 πŸ™‚

Next we tried some stencil painting, inspired by the cave art where you see an outline of (typically) a hand surrounded by fine spray.

Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands), Argentina

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:

  • Cave Baby by The Mudcakes
  • The Big Dark Scary Cave by Cosacomicakids
  • Stone Age Kid by Mr Seley

  • Here’s some more inspiration if you fancy doing cave painting with your kids:

  • Cave art comes alive from Art Lessons For Kids
  • Dirt, Caves and Art from KinderArt – painting with mud!
  • The Origins of Cave Paintings from Art History for Kids
  • Cave Paintings on sand paper to feel like rough rock from Art is Messy

  • 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!

    Today I’m linking up with stART at A Mommy’s Adventures – I do hope you have the time to head on over there and see what other stories + art families have been up to!

    17 Responses

    1. Beckicklesie

      My initial reaction was, if my son drew on my walls I would go bloomin’ nuts!

      Then I read your post.

      How fab are those drawings and paintings? You have very talented little ladies! Cave Baby sounds like a fantastic book and I will definitely be buying it. My little boy just LOVES Donaldson. How lucky are your girls meeting her? So fab!You must have been delighted.

      I think it’s great how you create activities based on books you have read with your children. You’re definitely a supermum!

      Go you! Much Love xx


    2. Lynn

      Wow, can we come over to paint sometime? It looks like you all have a lot of fun! πŸ™‚ We don’t get messy often enough with our art around here. Love all of your ideas.

    3. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Thanks Lynn, you’re always welcome here πŸ™‚ Yes, there was some mess, but it’s been the last couple of days of summer holidays here (M goes back to school today) so we were making the most of it!

    4. maggy, red ted art

      πŸ™‚ how wonderful so many different techniques. Your girls are going to SHINE in art classes… or more like their art teacher will be coming to you for inspiration!!!


    5. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Thanks Deb! My favourite was using the ink – in fact I thought it looked rather like seaweed and was sure it could be used to create fantastic underwater scenes. M enjoyed the spattering best – simply because it’s quite physical and slightly “wild”!

    6. Zoe

      Hi Beckicklesie

      I’m sure your boy would love Cave baby – it really is a great read. The rest of your comment really made me smile – yes, we were thrilled to meet Julia Donaldson. The girls immediately started telling her about the cave we’d made and the artwork we’d done (we had had a copy of Cave Baby from the library before we bought our own copy) and for me it was lovely hearing the girls enthuse about their projects. But then my bubble was burst when Donaldson turned to me and said “Oh, you’re one of those mothers who make the rest of us mums feel inadequate”. That made me feel _really_ terrible! I guess she does so many of these signing things that coming up with something to say can be a pain, but I left the bookshop rather blue instead of bouncing if truth be told. Still, it’s a fantastic book. And I really hope it won’t be long till it’s available in paperback.

    7. Zoe

      Thanks Maggy for your kind comments πŸ™‚ I do wonder whether their art exposure will influence their experience of art at school – whether they’ll enjoy it more than I did when I was in school and saw it just as a rather boring class! Now there are few things I enjoy more than sitting down with pens/paints/paper and making “masterpieces”! πŸ˜‰

    8. Choxbox

      WOW. You met THE Julia Donaldson?!

      As you said, she will forever be associated with Axel Scheffler in my head, but this new one sounds delightful. Thanks for this, will certainly check it – had seen it in the bookshop, next time will pick it up.

      And your art ideas – fab as always.

    9. Zoe

      Hi Kristine,

      Lovely to “see” you – have been wondering if everything is ok with you. I hope it is! Yes, the splatter screen was fun to use, but I think you could use a sieve or grater (perhaps you could get one cheap at a second hand shop?) and get a similar effect, if you can’t find a splatter screen per se.

    10. Louise at Tales from the Sandpit

      Hi Zoe, I have just discovered your blog via your post on Let the Children Play – lovely to have so many great children’s books introduced with some very authentic activities – and it was reassuring to read that you are “real” as in your reaction to Julia Donaldson’s remark – poor you….

    11. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Louise,
      Thanks for the support! Have you seen the film Julia and Julia? There’s a scene in it which I was reminded of – the one Julia is cooking all the recipes in the cookery book of the other (famous) Julia and blogging about her experiences. Julia 1 is devastated when she finds out that Julia 2 does not approve!

    12. Zoe

      Hi Ian, πŸ™‚
      I just discovered some fresh real scrawls on the walls of M’s room today…. But I think they were actually put there by J, cheeky little sister that she is!

    13. Rebecca Clay

      Hi There

      I work for Creswell Crags and really loved your article. I really hope you do decide to visit here when your children are older. This half term we are running art activities inspired by rock art created by different cultures.

      Rebecca Clay

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