For the last couple of weeks any spare minutes of peace and quiet have been spent delighting in (the) Play Pen, a treat of a tome for those of us who love children’s book illustration. Written by Martin Salisbury, Reader in Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art, this book has helped me discover many new and inspirational illustrators from around the world including Istvan Schritter (from Argentina), Kristin Roskifte (from Norway) and Günter Mattei (from Austria).
One book inevitably leads to another, and thus I’ve now reservations at the library for many of the author/illustrators in Play Pen – hopefully I’ll be able to share more with you soon – but the first of my new discoveries to make it into our arms on the sofa for an afternoon of cosy book reading is Mabel’s Magical Garden By Paula Metcalf.
Mabel is proud of her garden full of beautiful flowers. Her friends also admire it and are thrilled one day when they discover flowers just like Mabel’s growing in their own garden. Mabel, however, is not at all pleased and accuses her friends of stealing her prize plants. To protect her flowers from theft Mabel builds a high wall around her garden. This not only prevents her friends from visiting, but it also stops the sun from reaching into the garden and soon her beloved flowers are wilting and dying.
One day Mabel peers over the top of her wall. How can it be that her friends’ flowers continue to flourish and spread? Suddenly a gust of wind blows up and with it a shower of flower seeds. Suddenly Mabel realises her friends have not stolen anything, but rather the seeds have spread on the wind. The friends make amends, together take down the wall and then sit down to enjoy the wonderful field of flowers spread out before them.
This story works for us on many levels with themes that leave plenty for talking and learning about, including friends falling out and making up, gardening, the science of what is needed for plants to grow, to say nothing of the wisdom (or otherwise) of shutting oneself off in a doomed attempt to avoid bad or difficult feelings. Although the story deals with some serious issues it never feels laboured or as if it were written to tell a moral (much as I enjoyed Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle which is also an allegory about trying to protect oneself, I feel Mabel’s Magical Garden does it in a way that is more accessible to younger children).
The illustrations are a big hit with my girls – slightly soft focussed, exuding warmth and gentleness. If you’d like to see more take a look at the examples on her webpage, although unfortunately those that come from Mabel’s Magical Garden are not clearly labelled as such.
Inspired by Mabel’s Magical Garden we spent an afternoon collecting as many different seeds as we could from our garden, and a nearby park (think conkers, acorns etc).
Some seeds were immediately used up in “Seed Soup”…
…but other made it inside to be turned into seed bombs. A seed bomb “is designed to enable seeds to be sown in a hard to reach place and in locations where a gardener is unable to spend long preparing the ground for conventional sowing“. They are a favoured weapon of guerrilla gardeners – people interested in turning neglected public spaces into green oases of bounty and beauty.
There are many different ways to make seed bombs, but given the resources we had at our disposal here’s how we did it:
We used strips of wafer paper (easily degradable) to create little pouches, by wetting the edge and folding one third over. The girls filled the pouches with a little soil and a selection of seeds before sealing the pouches by folding over the final third of the strip, using a little more water (or actually food colouring just to add a bit of brightness) to act as glue.
The matchboxes are what the girls had used to collect their smaller seeds in, and the cow just came along for the ride.
Armed with a box full of filled pouches ie seed bombs we went to wage war on a neglected open space nearby.
Whilst I’m not sure how successful our bombs will be (such a grassy location may not be the ideal germination ground), it was a wonderful way to get outside and revel in the space, the greenery and the fresh air – something I need a little nudge to do now that autumn days are drawing in and it’s cooler and wetter.
M ended up where she’s always happiest – at the top of a tree! (And yes, that’s a second tooth she’s lost )
Mabel’s Magical Garden: ** (2 stars)
Songs we’ve been enjoying include:
Apart from guerilla gardening and making seed bombs other activities which would pair well with this book include:
Do you have a favourite picture book about seeds? Who’s the most recent discovery you’ve made when it comes to new illustrators?