Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

A real hoot of a book!

Posted on | August 11, 2011 | 5 Comments

Since Easter I’ve been reading twice a week at M’s school to two classes of 5 and 6 year olds. The idea behind this was to create a time when the kids experienced reading and stories as something tremendously fun, and not just all about literacy and the nuts and bolts of phonics.

"Daddy, how do you spell 'steam train'?" "The way it sounds." "Choo-choo-choo?" Originally found at Language Log (click to read another phonics joke)

Choosing books to read with the kids has been a treat and a challenge for me; I’m learning that books that work really well read aloud to a class of 30 5 and 6 year olds are not necessarily the same ones that work well with one quiet child in my lap!

I love getting the chance to put on my silliest voices and I always try to add to the experience by bringing in a prop or two to help transport us all into the magic of the story. So, for Mini Grey’s Traction Man stories I borrowed a (Tr)action Man and bought in a scrubbing brush whilst after reading Max’s Words, I gave each child a word (cut from a newspaper or magazine) from my own lexical collection.



One of the kids’ very favourite books last term was Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road by Joel Stewart, which I read accompanied by 30 very happy kids blowing away on party tooters (blowouts). The teachers hid, I lost my voice, the kids were in seventh heaven!

Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road makes me giggle every time I read it. It contains acutely recognisable observations about how kids can adore making noise, how they can be fearless, enthusiastic and full of beans. It is illustrated with romance and beauty and charm. It’s brilliant for reading aloud because there are lots of opportunities to use the full range (!) of your vocal abilities. And quite aside from the hilarious story and gentle and gorgeous illustrations, it’s really engaging for early readers to read themselves with a fun format borrowing some characteristics of comic strips.

Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie (who first hooked up with each other in an earlier Joel Stewart picture book) are having enormous fun hooting. Then, in an episode which may or may not be autobiographical (Joel Stewart is a big folk music fan, playing several instruments himself including two types of pipes; these and these), Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie make such a racket they get thrown out of town.

With their banishment, their adventures really begin! A charming prince, a slumbering princess, a quest to slay a frightful dragon and the creation of a wandering band of tap-dancing minstrels led by the hooting, tooting Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie all play their part in creating a modern, magical fairy tale that avoids all sense of the saccharine whilst being genuinely enchanting.

The peripatetic players charm their way from one end of the kingdom to the other but then trouble strikes: it seems they are simply unable to stop hooting, tapping, singing and dancing. What magic will still them? Who will save the day? Will quiet ever return to the kingdom?

Quite simply Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road is brilliant. And despite the groans I know will ensue, I can’t resist promising you will have an absolute hoot ;-) sharing this with kids young and old alike.

When I read Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road at home, M and J wanted to make their own hooters. Inspired by this, this and this video on YouTube we set about making our own satisfyingly loud and fruity sounding hooters.

We used:

  • a plastic bottle
  • a yoghurt pot with its base cut out
  • a balloon
  • tape (we also tried using elastic bands instead of tape, but found the latter worked much better)
  • scissors


  • We cut the dome off the balloon and stretched it over the smaller end of the yoghurt pot, fixing it in place with tape. We also made a small blow-hole with the scissors near the balloon covered end of the pot.

    Next we cut off the plastic bottle’s bottom and pushed the top half of the bottle inside our balloon-covered pot. When doing this there are two key things to remember: (1) the top of the bottle must touch and slightly stretch the balloon (2) the bottle must have a diameter only slightly smaller than the yoghurt pot.

    The next task was to make an airtight seal where the bottle meets the sides of the yoghurt pot – just use plenty of tape to join the two together.

    Now it’s already to blow!

    I wish my photos could capture how this construction makes a really, really satisfying foghorn type of noise! The kids adore it, and even I’m pretty pleased with how we were able to make such a substantial hooter from such simple household objects. My only concern is what the neighbours think…

    Whilst making our tooters we listened to:

  • Toot My Own Horn by Don Bartlett
  • Sound Your Funky Horn by The Wiggles
  • I Was Born To Blow This Horn by Michael-Leon Wooley


  • Other activities which could go well with Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road include:

  • Making your own party blowers (the ones that uncurl) with this tutorial from… Martha Stewart
  • Forming a wandering band with you kids. Busy Bee Kids Crafts has some ideas for home-made musical instruments – I particularly like the idea of their home-made tap shoes! NurtureStore also has a fun carnival of music and song full of ideas.
  • Learning a lullaby – here’s a brilliant resource packed with lullaby lyrics, tunes to listen to and stories behind the lullabies.

  • So far it would seem that books that are noisy, interactive, wacky and occasionally a little bit naughty go down the best reading to a whole class. If you’ve read to classes, what books have you found work particularly well with 5/6/7 year olds?

    Disclosure: I received Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road gratis from the publisher. This review, however, reflects my own and honest opinion.

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    Comments

    5 Responses to “A real hoot of a book!”

    1. sandhya
      August 11th, 2011 @ 5:23 am

      We love onomatopoeic stuff- must look out for this!

    2. Zoe
      August 11th, 2011 @ 6:13 am

      It’s absolutely lovely Sandhya! Hope you can find it in India.

    3. Isil
      August 12th, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

      Looks like you had great fun!
      About a month ago, I read a bilingual book at my daughter’s nursery. They do a language of the fortnight theme. I read them (4 year olds) Frog and the Wide World by Max Velthuijs. They were very interested and listened very well. I guess 5-6 year olds might love his books,too.

    4. Stacey
      August 12th, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

      What a great sounding book! I can’t wait to find it…

    5. Zoe
      August 12th, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

      I do hope you can get hold of a copy Stacey – I’m sure you’ll have fun reading it!

      Hi Isil, The frog books are well known and loved here at home – Velthuijs is Dutch writer and so we have lots in Dutch and yes, I think some of them would work well with the year group I’ve been reading to.

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