A couple of week’s ago I picked up a picture book, read it and didn’t feel any particular connection to it.
The illustrations were ok, following that school of illustration which imitates what children themselves might create. The text was simple, with the type of repeated refrain that can often engage little listeners, and a nice enough message about always looking on the bright side of life. Nothing of particular note, nothing that I found great or terrible. So I shrugged my shoulders and put it back on the shelf.
Except our bookshelves are so packed that at some point in the night it fell off and on to the ground. It was still lying on the floor the following morning when M bounded down for breakfast.
M picked it up, read it and then started badgering me to read it to her. Inside I was quietly groaning. “Oh M, we have so many lovely books, if I’m going to have to read a book to you when I’ve barely woken up, not yet had any coffee, am still fighting with my body to bring it into the land of the living, can’t you choose a book I love?”
Now M is able to read for herself, you can’t keep anything from her. “Mum, mum, it says the DVD is double sided, can we watch the other side?” “Mum, mum, it says you get sparkling white clothes if you use it!“, “Mum, mum, what does C -U -N …. umm, -T mean?” (the latter, I hasten to add was some graffiti on a pavement when we were out walking last weekend)…
The book on the floor had a little sticker style announcement on its cover. “For Free Song Go To….”. “Mum, mum, can we listen to the song?” “Mum, mum, mum…”
My body and my brain were still only reluctantly surfacing so I thought, maybe a video would give me a little more peace and quiet. I picked up the book and checked what it said about the free song, and then I saw that it was possible to see the whole book being read on You Tube.
Aahh. Hooray! Someone else could tell M the story whilst I emerged into the land of the living.
So I put the video on for M and the kettle on for me.
Before the coffee had even brewed, I was sat next to M swaying, clicking fingers and clapping hands. Wow! The video was really fun! M was immediately hooked. I was immediately hooked! And suddenly I had a lightbulb moment with the previously unloved book.
Borrowing heavily from the performers on the video I re-read the book, pretty much copying what we’d seen on YouTube. Wow again! What a transformation. Suddenly the book was tremendous fun to read, and clearly lots of fun to listen to. M was giggling, joining in, begging for more and more.
Next day I even used the book as an excuse to buy a ukelele (a long time hankering) so I could add a bit of what’s perhaps best described as “je ne sais quoi” to my own performance reading!
So what was this book that went from bottom of the pile to top of the pile in 4 minutes 25 seconds?
Pete the Cat: I love my White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (which has been out in the US for a while, but has only recently reached UK shores) isn’t the most beautiful or sophisticated picture book you’ll come across this year, but I can’t deny we’ve had a lot of fun reading it. If you enjoy the opportunity to sing, dance and make silly noises when you read a story, I’m pretty sure you and your kids will enjoy this book. A lot.
Of course, of course, what the girls wanted to do after I had to stop singing because my voice was getting hoarse and my unpractised fingers were getting sore on the ukelele was to try out what actually happens in the book – stepping in strawberries, blueberries and mud to see what would really happen to some white shoes.
We negotiated somewhat and in the end we agreed that we’d make coloured dye from a selection of different fruit. With the summer holidays just around the corner, a new batch of playdough seemed like a good idea and with some guidance from this post by Mini-eco on natural dyes and playdough we got going.
We followed (more or less) Mini-eco’s instructions to extract a coloured liquid from strawberries, plums and blueberries (we also started off with turmeric but I chickened out of using the yellow liquid created, for fear of turning everyone’s hands and the kitchen table yellow).
I love making playdough with the girls as they can do so much of it themselves – pouring, measuring, mixing and kneading. The recipe is simple enough for an early reader to read themselves, then there’s the maths involved if making multiple batches, the sensory experience of handling the flour, salt and the final playdough. All in all a great activity.
Although probably not necessary we mashed up the fruit in the saucepan before simmering it in water – I knew the girls would love the physicality of this. It also gave them the opportunity to see that the inside flesh of the fruit was quite pale, and not the same as the outside skin. Indeed, both girls were quite surprise by how “green” the blueberries were inside.
Maybe you’re better at keeping things under control than we are, but making playdough can be pretty messy!
Mini-eco’s playdough recipe worked really well, creating lovely-to-feel playdough. The colours extracted from the fruit were not quite what we were expecting (this little activity could make a great mini science project, predicting what colour you’ll get from different fruit). The plums gave us a pleasant pink, the strawberries gave us an almost red, whilst the blueberries definitely did not give us a blue, but rather a really vivid, rich purple.
I was quite surprised by how strong all the natural colours were. Also, the resulting playdough carries a surprisingly strong scent of the fruit used, particularly the strawberry playdough. I’m not sure how long the scent will last, and I’m monitoring the playdough to see how well it survives (I have slight concerns that having bits of fruit flesh in it may mean it doesn’t last so long, but so far so good!)
So there you have it. A book that didn’t immediately sing to me ended up getting me and my girls singing and doing science. In the words of Pete the Cat, “…it’s all good.” In fact, it’s really good!
Whilst we made our playdough we listened to:
Other activities we could have tried alongside reading Pete the Cat include:
What’s the last book you’ve changed your mind about? What helped you change your opinion of it?