Playing by the book

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

Blue horses, babies and brilliance

Posted on | September 26, 2011 | 9 Comments

In my experience of parenthood so far Eric Carle and the birth of babies go hand in hand.

If a newborn is going to receive a book or two as a welcome-to-the-world gift, it’s a nigh-on certainty that there’ll be stories or illustrations from Carle included. I know when M was born we were sent multiple copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and the first book I specifically bought for M, when she was still in utero, was Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?

Next week sees the publication of the first new picture book by Eric Carle since I last had a newborn of my own: four years after Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? (which co-incidentally was the first book I bought specifically for J), The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse is about to start making its journey into homes, hands and childhoods.

I am an artist and I paint…” not quite what you might expect.

Although the book follows a pattern that mirrors Brown Bear, Brown Bear and its partner books, with a single boldly coloured animal in instantly recognisable Carle style on each double page spread, there is something of a surprise thrown in. Not one of the animals is the colour they “should” be; there’s a blue horse, a yellow cow and a green lion, for starters.

Children will enjoy the humour in these “mismatches”, but the book also contains a powerful message about creativity, imagination and being encouraged to explore beyond what is expected of you. The artist who paints these “wrongly” coloured animals is described as “a good artist“.

Although I suspect this book will be bought primarily for the preschool crowd because of its simple text (most pages have just 4 words on them), I actually think this is a great picture book for slightly older children, in their first years of schooling. Inspired by the work of the Expressionist painter Franz Marc (the book includes examples of Marc’s paintings and a short biography inside the back cover) it’s a great catalyst for discussing “What IS art?” and how we decide whether we think an artist is any good or not.

Thus my advice would have to be, next time you’re buying a gift for a new baby, choose The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse for the baby’s older sibling and treat the new arrival to Brown Bear, Brown Bear – together these books make a brilliant introduction to Carle, colours and creativity.

Inspired by Eric Carle‘s textured collages the girls set about exploring his technique. First they spread paint over large sheets of card before using various implements to make marks in the paint.

A plastic fork was J’s favourite tool…

… whilst M enjoyed making patterns with her fingers in the paint. We also used bubble wrap, rollers, sponges, sieves and “combs” made from cardboard. Given the pretty physical nature of this painting and exploring of the paint I’d definitely advise using card rather than paper; paper might tear too easily when covered in wet paint and “distressed” with different tools.

When the card was dry the girls snipped out shapes…

…and J used these to make creatures of her own.

Not very à la Carle, but we couldn’t resist adding Googly eyes :-)

The girls really enjoyed this simple but very expressive, sensory activity. And it was a moment for me to reflect – as an younger child M hated all messy play (she wouldn’t even play with playdough as she didn’t like the feeling on her skin). But now, looking at her get stuck in, I was delighted to see she no longer had that fear of feeling!

Whilst we painted we listened to:

  • Black Horse Blues by Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • I am the Artist by The Annies
  • Everyone’s An Artist by Tom Knight


  • Other activities which go well with The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse include:

  • Making a mobile out of the animals featured in the book using this classroom guide to to The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse.
  • Playing with your food – use food colouring to make normal food look very unusual – for example cook a supper of green rice, blue scrambled eggs or purple cake.
  • Exploring Jean’s blog The Artful Parent for ideas about creative art with children. Jean’s Artsy ideas to get you started is a very good place to begin.


  • Do you have a favourite Eric Carle book or image? Have you ever tried Eric Carle style collage with your kids? Do let me know your thoughts and experiences :-)

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    Comments

    9 Responses to “Blue horses, babies and brilliance”

    1. Katherine
      September 26th, 2011 @ 11:53 am

      My go-to book for new babies is The Baby’s Catalogue, but I’m always looking for ideas for alternatives, especially for 2nd and 3rd babies. I borrowed Eric Carle’s autobiography/artist book from the library last year and it really inspired me to explore his work further. I was thinking about books to buy our little one next year and I’ll definitely be picking up a few of his board books.

    2. Zoe
      September 26th, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

      Hi Katherine, you’re right, The Baby’s Catalogue is a fantastic book for new babies :-)

    3. Even in Australia
      September 26th, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

      This sounds great. I always give a new baby a book with photos of babies (my favorite is DK’s Baby Talk) and a book with a touching element (Baby Talk actually has flaps but I also usually give something from the That’s Not My ______ series by Usborne for the sensory element). I also like Martine Perron’s What Do You See?, Mary Murphy’s I Like it When and Barney Salzberg’s Peekaboo Kisses.

    4. choxbox
      September 26th, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

      Cool! Look fwd to this book :)

    5. choxbox
      September 26th, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

      Oh and there was this ad one time about a pre-school chain which had a purple mango with text under that said ‘While painting children tend to mix their colours up. At XYZ playschools we ensure they don’t’.

      Wonder how they’d react to this book!

    6. Darshana Khiani
      September 26th, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

      Cool Art Project Idea!

    7. se7en
      September 26th, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

      Oh how lovely a new Eric Carle – we are huge fans and we often paint paper just to do collage with it – a great for all ages. Here are our Eric Carle Rockets: http://www.se7en.org.za/2008/11/18/eric-carles-radical-rockets

    8. Becky from babybudgeting
      September 26th, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

      Franz Marc ismy dfavourite artist..how wonderful this boook looks. i recetnly heard a lasy speak on cretaivity and chilrenand her asvice was to show young children many examples of artisits so they didnt believeart art was just accurate copying. Lovely

    9. Silvia
      October 4th, 2011 @ 8:58 am

      I’ll never forget my first grade teacher because she bought me The Secret Birthday Message as a surprise birthday present. To this day, I still give it to 5-6 year olds on their birthdays and they seem to be as delighted with it as I was. It’s most definitely my favorite Carle book because it is beautiful, fun, and brings back great memories!

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