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
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:
Other activities you could get up to alongside reading Night Tree include:
Is it cold where you are? Or are temperatures beginning to warm up and fill you with thoughts of hot summers?