Playing by the book

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

What makes a home?

Posted on | September 30, 2010 | 15 Comments

Earlier this month Jutta Bauer received the Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Award at the at the international IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) congress in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Interested to find out more about this German illustrator I tracked down one of the books she has illustrated – When We Lived in Uncle’s Hat By Peter Stamm.

Just as the book arrived I found out that Tutti Frutti Productions, a UK theatre company whose work is aimed specifically at family audiences was about to start touring with a stage version of When We Lived in Uncle’s Hat. Such a lovely coincidence ensured we read the book straight away, and were then quick to buy tickets for the production which is touring to a theatre local to us in a few weeks’ time.

The auspicious signs didn’t end there – upon reading the book for the first time with M and J I experienced a rather strange sense of deja-vu – as if the book had been written for me, right here, right now.

Photo: erix!

When We Lived in Uncle’s Hat is a series of cameo descriptions of different homes a family has lived in, in their search for the right place for them, the home that would suit them all. They try living in the forest, on the church roof, in a hotel and even on the moon, amongst many other places, before finally ending up in a house that makes the perfect home for them. The book closes with the lines:

Now our house has four corners.
And our year has four seasons.
We moved here four years ago…
So … this is where we’ll live for a very, very long time.

This book spoke to me as I too have moved very many times in my life – on average staying in any one place for only three years. But it just so happens that this month we’ve been in this home, where we are now, for four years. A funny case of life mirroring art, but one which further endeared me to this book.

The structure of the book opens up lots of opportunity for flights of imagination and connective moments of empathy. What different places could you live in? What would it be like to live in given circumstances? For example, at one point the family find themselves living under a bridge, where “it smelt strange and the names of people we didn’t know were written on the pillars.

The simple illustrations using a lot of coloured pencil (in addition to watercolour and collage) didn’t immediately grab me. Perhaps my expectations were too high given her recent accolade? They did, however, intrigue me. I imagine there were some interesting editorial discussions as a result of the content: several illustrations include German words, and these have been left in German in the English language translation, and there is also a (very small) drawing of a naked woman sunbathing – not something I imagine would be welcomed with open arms by most English publishers of picture books, although I have no worries about it at all.

If you like the work of Bruce Ingman I think you’ll enjoy Jutta Bauer’s illustrations – both have a certain “guileless innocence” about them. My girls certainly love searching out the details in both illustrators’ work even if they don’t set my heart on fire.

To go along with this book, and to prepare ourselves for our night out at the theatre (actually the show starts at 11am, but I’m sure we’ll still use it as an excuse to dress up!) we decided to try our hand at hat making. I found this wonderful, very easy to follow, charming video tutorial on YouTube all about how to make your own felted hat. The girls loved watching the tutorial – seeing another little girl do it all (with a guest appearance from a cat!) was very exciting for them, and made it seem like a very do-able project for us all. Here’s the video, which I encourage you to watch even if you’re not about to make your own hats:



The only tidbits I’d add to the instructions given in the video are these:

  • We used merino roving instead of alpaca, as that’s what we could get hold of (Thanks again, Kate!). We used about 250g of merino but I think you might be able to use less – our final hat was quite thick in places.
  • I’d recommend cutting off the legs of the tights – leaving them on just means more water goes everywhere!
  • It may take several days for your hat to finally dry – summer’s over here, but we’ve not yet turned our heating on, and it took about 3 days for the hat to dry completely.


  • Here’s M covering the ball with the mohair.

    Here she is having lots of fun spraying soapy water on the mohair.

    Water, water everywhere, but oh so much fun for both girls (and nothing that a few towels couldn’t deal with).

    The fact that the process of making the hat is quite a physical one is something that I knew would appeal to my girls. The mohair covered ball was bounced around a lot, and later on the felt got given a good beating too – both energetic activities which suited my girls to a T.

    And here’s M modelling her hat!

    M is very proud of having recently lost her first milk tooth…






    When We Lived in Uncle’s Hat: ** (2 stars)

    Songs we’ve been listening to the past few days include:

  • Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) in the version by Marvin Gaye
  • Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home sung by Dinah Shore
  • Dream Hat by Randy Kaplan (lots of laid back fun!)
  • Where Did You Get That Hat? by Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem or for something a little more “London” by Chas ‘n’ Dave


  • Other activities that would be fun to do after reading this book include:

  • Making a forest den – here’s some inspiration from In Haywood’s Meadow, and here’s a lovely article about the importance of den building, from The Guardian.
  • Making a dolls house – drool over this selection from The Crafty Crow and then take your pick!
  • Making a tent – even if it’s as simple as a sheet thrown over a washing line (my top tip – get a cheap double, or larger, duvet cover from a charity shop and cut it open along two sides so you have a very large sheet, perfect for hanging over a line or a table).


  • Whilst Bauer is prolific illustrator, and also an author in her own right, very few of her books are available in English translation, though in yet another funny, lovely coincidence her book Grandpa’s Angel was reviewed this week on Saffron Tree.

    Reading this book with my girls reminded me of a poem I love – House for Sale by Andre Frenaud (translated from the French). Its opening lines are “So many people have lived here, who loved / love, waking up and kicking up the dust.” You can read the poem in full if you scroll to the bottom of this page.

    What do you love about the house where you live? If you could live in any sort of house, what would it be?

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    Comments

    15 Responses to “What makes a home?”

    1. welcome to our wonderland
      September 30th, 2010 @ 12:50 am

      that hat is soo cute and pretty :)

    2. Zoe
      September 30th, 2010 @ 6:21 am

      Thanks, Welcome to our wonderland! It helps that the mohair we started with was so beautifully dyed.

    3. Kate
      September 30th, 2010 @ 8:30 am

      What a fantastic hat!!!

    4. Zoe @ Playing by the book
      September 30th, 2010 @ 9:03 am

      Hi Kate – well when I’ve got such excellent external consultants to work with what can I say?!

    5. sandhya
      September 30th, 2010 @ 9:30 am

      Really a lovely co-incidence! When I began reading your post, I thought I had read the name Jutta Bauer somewhere, and quite recently. As we often note some things subconsciously but not really register them, but we have this niggling feeling of “I know this!” Then I remembered that it was of the writer of a book recently reviewed on Saffron Tree.

      Thanks for reinforcing the name for me. The books sound lovely, and I will be looking out for more fare by Ms. Bauer.

      We also have an upcoming annual festival on Saffron Tree shortly, about which we will soon send you an intimation, and we would be glad if you could spread the word.

      Sorry for the mini-post!

    6. Zoe
      September 30th, 2010 @ 9:34 am

      Hi Sandhya,
      Do let me know the details of the festival – I’ll be very glad to spread the word!

    7. maggy, red ted art
      September 30th, 2010 @ 9:39 am

      Oh my!!!! You guys made a hat?!?! HOW COOL IS THAT! And what a gorgeous hat it is!

      Wow!

      Thank you also for linking up to Kids Get Crafty! Much appreciated! :-)

      Maggy x

    8. Zoe
      September 30th, 2010 @ 9:45 am

      Hi Maggy, it was really easy to be honest! I’ve got enough merino to make me a hat next… :-)

    9. Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook
      September 30th, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

      I have always wanted to live in a tree house but I would settle for this lovely home: http://www.simondale.net/house/

    10. Willow
      September 30th, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

      The hat is darling and clearly they had a great time making it!

    11. Zoe @ Playing by the book
      September 30th, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

      Hi Susan,

      Oh my goodness, what a gorgeous, gorgeous looking house. Like something out of a fairytale. I love the spiderweb effect of the beams in the roof. What a great place to tell stories.

      Hi Willow,
      Yes, definitely fun to make – and really surprisingly easy – definitely a project I’d recommend to others.

    12. Jeremy
      October 1st, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

      I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and enjoying it very much. Thank you for sharing your wonderful activities.

      Another fun story along the lines of “what makes a home?” is “We Were Tired of Living in a House” by Liesel Moak Skorpen. It was a favorite of mine when I was a child and now my own children enjoy it.

    13. Kimberly
      October 1st, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

      I used to want to live in a yurt,http://www.luxuryhousingtrends.com/archives/yurt-homes.jpg
      but now my dreams are upgrading to a mudbrick http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~glenora/main.htm

      (I know I should simplify..)

    14. vibha sharma
      October 2nd, 2010 @ 2:33 am

      loved the post and could see how much fun it would have been to do all these ‘hatty’ activities.

    15. Zoe
      October 2nd, 2010 @ 11:16 am

      Hi Jeremy,

      Thanks for the great recommendation – have added it to my wish list!

      Kimberly – love both the yurt and the mudbrick home :-)

      Thanks Vibha. Do try the hat project for yourself – I’ve got visions now of making these hats for presents.

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