Frost, birds and the countdown begins

posted in: Eve Bunting, Ted Rand | 11

With daytime temperatures in our neck of the woods barely making it above freezing this week, winter has surely arrived. We’ve had a flurry or two of snow, enough to get the kids excited but not enough for sledging… Of course, M and J are keeping their fingers crossed that all of that will soon change 🙂

Photo: *clairity*

With the drop in temparture, and the sharp frosts both heralding the start of winter and the beginning of the countdown to Christmas, this week we’ve been reading Night Tree by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ted Rand – one of the books that inspired me to start Playing by the book, when I first read about it two years ago over on The Crafty Crow.

Night Tree tells the story of one family’s Christmas custom to venture into a small wood near their home every 24th of December to decorate a tree with food for the birds and animals. Told in the present tense (a decision which brings an immediacy and vitality to this story perfect for helping children to imagine they too are going alongside for the adventure in the dark – though do read this great article by Philip Pullman on the overuse of the present tense), this gentle story is perfect for reading snuggled up on the sofa with frost outside.

Ted Rand’s illustrations of the mysterious and magical nature of the trees at night bring just the slightest suggestion of suspense, essential for later creating a feeling of magic and awe, especially successful in the spread showing the the beauty of the tree laden with gifts for the animals of the wood.

I also like the fact that whilst this is most definitely a Christmas book it is not full of snow and the usual wintry scenes. It’s also a children’s book that people who don’t celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas can still enjoy and incorporate into whatever seasonal celebration they may be having (there is one mention of the carol “O Come all ye faithful” but that’s the full extent of any mention of faith).

M and J immediately wanted to play out the story exactly as it happens in the book – surely a strong recommendation for any book. Given that Christmas isn’t quite upon us yet we did the next best thing and decorated two trees in our garden ready for hungry visitors. There’s a great round up of bird treats to make here at The Crafty Crow. We decided upon dried fruit necklaces, popcorn and peanut chains, orange swings, and yoghurt pot bells.

The orange swings were made using hollowed out oranges and then tying 3 pieces of string through them. We fill the swings either with loose nuts/seeds or with a fat and nut/seeds mixture – a packet of lard and a whole lot of nuts and seeds simply squished together in a bowl. There’s no need to melt the lard – it becomes soft enough just by squeezing the seeds/nuts into it and this is easy enough for the littlest of hands to have a go at.

The yoghurt pot bells were made by threading string through the bottom of a pot before filling it with the lard/seed/nut mixture (full instructions here at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). These have proved the most popular with the little birds in our garden!

The dried fruit necklaces were a big hit with the girls – the fruit is soft enough to make it very easy for kids to thread by themselves (the girls each had an embroidery/tapestry needle with a length of embroidery thread on it), although it can be a tad sticky.

The peanut and popcorn necklaces were a bit more of a challenge. Fresh popcorn kept disintegrating when we tried to thread a needle through it, but we discovered that if you used “stale” popcorn (we only left ours a few hours) then it no longer “shattered” when we stuck our needles into it. The peanuts in their shells were very difficult for M and J to thread – our solution was for Dad to make the holes first with a nail, and then the girls could thread them easily.

Decorating the tree was a lot of fun! We all wished we had made many more treats to hang up 🙂

Night Tree: ** (2 stars)

Music we listened to whilst we made our bird treats included:

  • Feed The Birds (Tuppence A Bag ) from Mary Poppins
  • Found a Peanut sung by Lisa Loeb (this was one of the songs we’d always sing on any long car journeys when I was a kid!)
  • Big Bags of Birdseed by Richard Popovic

  • Other activities you could get up to alongside reading Night Tree include:

  • An after dark nature ramble – dress everyone up warmly, take a torch and go for a walk even just around the streets where you live after dark and see what you can hear or see. My girls love this activity, and now that the nights are drawing in we can even do it before supper!

  • Make a bird bath – in the winter it’s often the lack of fresh water that’s more of a problem for birds than the lack of food. Here are some suggestions from the BBC, RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), or this fun idea from eHow.

  • Decorate your Christmas tree this year with birds – you could make papier mache birds like these from That Artist Woman, felted birds like these from Dutch Colours, gourd birds like these from maya*made (they might have to sit around the bottom of the tree because of their weight!), and of course some owls – Cassi at The Crafty Crow has a recent round up of lots of different ways to make owls

  • Is it cold where you are? Or are temperatures beginning to warm up and fill you with thoughts of hot summers?

    11 Responses

    1. Choxbox

      Lovely Zoe – the girls, their hats and the decorated trees, and of course your creative ideas as always.

      Is it cold here? Well Bangalore I must say has near perfect weather almost all through the year – lost of sun and just the right level of hot/cold. Prety much like San Francisco/Bay Area.

      Been hearing of the snow from pals in London and watching it on the telly and remembering the odd days we had snow when we lived there. One time we put balls of snow in the freezer and then took them out in the middle of summer!

    2. Zoe

      Hi Lynn,

      Yes, Owl Moon is a good book to pair it with – we have that one too and Mathilde loves the idea of going owling. We’re fortunate in that a tawny owl lives in the trees opposite us. We’ve never seen it but we hear it often.

      Hi Choxbox,

      Although it is a palaver to get out of the house (even more than usual) because of all the extra layers, I’m determined to enjoy the cold snap. The girls are ridiculously excited about snow so I shall try to borrow a bit of their enthusiasm!

    3. Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook

      Yes, it’s warming up and summer is officially here. Our birds (peewees, magpies, currawongs, willie wagtails, wattle birds, galahs, rainbow lorikeets, eastern rosellas, a coel and a bower bird) are having a lovely time finding grubs and worms, sipping nectar from grevillias, and squawking, chirping or carolling loudly.

      Do your girls know our satin bower bird? It is a very dark, midnight blue, and when it builds its bower, it likes to decorate it with blue things. So it will steal pegs, straws, toys, whatever it can find for its bower. The coel is also called the storm bird. It likes to sit outside our bedroom window and warn of impending rain at about 4.00 am by emitting shrill hoops in a constantly rising crescendo. For fun, it does it again, and then again. And again.

    4. Judi

      Heading to the library today – hope I can find Night Tree!

      It is cold here in Indiana – we had our first snow yesterday. We love to feed the birds and I hadn’t thought about making our own food for them. I bet my kids would love this! So many fun things to do – just never enough time! 🙂

    5. sandhya

      Sounds like a great deal of fun!
      We do celebrate Christmas at home, although not in the religious sense. I love the festive mood it brings along with it. We get a small tree at home to decorate-have been trying out the popcorn idea after watching it in a Pooh movie- and we write a letter to Santa, well in advance, so that he has time to get the gifts!:)
      A has never had a white Christmas, though, as the weather in Bangalore is quite salubrious, as Chox above says, and we have been in the UK with her during spring-summer-autumn. This year, we hope to have one, as we’re travelling to Shimla for the Christmas vacation- a town in the western Himalayas, where we’re hoping to have snow. A’s only problem is “how will Santa find us if we’re not at home?” I suppose Santa will deliver! She still believes in him, and I’m glad for that extra bit of innocence.:)

    6. Zoe

      Hi Susan,
      Your description is lovely – just the list of birds is so evocative! We didn’t knnow about the satin bower bird but I’ve just show the girls the photos here:
      The girls love the sound of this bird! I love it’s blue eyes.
      Hope the coel is letting you get some sleep!

      Hi Judi,
      Although we have feeders in the garden it’s the first time we’ve made treats ourselves for the birds. It’s worked really well in getting the girls more interested in looking at the birds in the garden.

    7. Alice

      I stumbled onto your blog today searching for Winter Solstice activities.

      Wonderful! Thank you for sharing!

    8. kathy

      My two eldest grandsons are still pretty young 2.5 and 3 years old…but I think they could do this esp the orange cups… they love to look at all the birds in our trees every since they were crawling.

      Thank you!

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