Bombmaking with children…

posted in: Paula Metcalf | 7

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.

Photo: Jenny Downing

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 🙂 )

Songs we’ve been enjoying include:

  • Planting a Garden by Gogo Bonkers
  • Out in My Garden by Gwendolyn And The Good Time Gang
  • My Little Seed, sung by Jack Elliott from Woody Guthrie’s Songs to Grow On

  • Apart from guerilla gardening and making seed bombs other activities which would pair well with this book include:

  • Seed mosaics from First Palette.
  • Seed sprouting necklaces from SusieJ
  • Handmade paper containing seeds from Kiddio
  • An experiment to see the effect lack of light has on growing seeds – try growing some cress with your kids and leave one tray in a sunny windowsill, and the other inside a box or cupboard.

  • Do you have a favourite picture book about seeds? Who’s the most recent discovery you’ve made when it comes to new illustrators?

    7 Responses

    1. Margaret Toft

      This seems like one of those amazing coincidences that you talked about in a recent wonderful blog, – like our recent town hat festival (what fun that was – the town square packed on market Saturday, with a sea of wonderful colourful and amazing hats) at just the same time as you were making hats! This time last weekend a group of us – all over 60, were also doing some guerilla gardening in our town – in the form of planting daffodil bulbs on a neglected patch of ground – wonderful fun – especially when an amused policeman pulled up to investigate – imagine the scene – we offered him some daffs for the brightening the police station so he could then be a ‘bloomin’ policeman’ 🙂 – If children’s illustrator Raymond Briggs were drawing his wonderful cartoons for a book on Guerilla Gardening instead of Father Xmas ( who said ‘bloomin’ rather a lot as I recall)- maybe our stories would get into it! Lets hope there will be more blooms blooming next spring in all our magical gardens wherever they may be!

      • Zoe

        Hello Mum! I’m always excited when someone comments for the first time, but especially when it’s you 🙂 I look forward to seeing the rewards of your guerilla gardening next time we’re visiting!

    2. Lynn

      What a wonderful companion activity, and I love how you have documented it all in photos. (The title of your post reminded me of a double date that my roommate and I went on in college with some brilliant geeky boys who at one point, during a lull, suggested we go back to their place and build a bomb, for fun. :o) A simple book I love about seeds is the Carrot Seed.

    3. Zoe

      Hi Lynn, Those sound like good memories! yes, we have a copy of the Carrot Seed and the girls like it too.

    4. Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook

      One of my favourite illustrators is Jeannie Baker who is a wizard with paper collage. I reviewed her latest book, Mirror, recently, and it is stunning.

      Next opportunity for bombing, why not see if the kids would like to add their seeds to a paper plane they’ve folded for themselves, or a parachute. I think they would enjoy watching their bombs glide or float down!

    5. iain mclaren

      Dear Lynn,

      Greetings from Vancouver B.C. Canada. I noticed that you and your family had listened to and enjoyed our song “Planting a Garden”.
      I’m not sure if you have our album – but it is now FREE for download (all 11 songs) here: – let your friends and aquaintances know.

      Also, your weblog is awesome!

      Thank you!

      iain McLaren

      Gogo Bonkers!

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