My girls are going through a phase where what they most want to do pretty much all of the time is create miniature landscapes, with building bricks, playmobil, sylvanian family furniture and animals, supplemented by all sorts of knick-knacks that little children have a magical ability to accumulate. These “set-ups” as the girls call them are often inspired by the books we’re reading, and the latest book to be given the landscape makeover is The Children of Hat Cottage by Elsa Beskow.
In a nutshell, The Children of Hat Cottage tells the sort of tale many parents will recognise – about children trying to be helpful, but ending up making a bigger mess than there was before.
A mother lives with her three young children in a cottage shaped like a hat. One day she has to leave them at home whilst she goes off to buy yarn to make new clothes (isn’t it liberating and exciting how in fairytale-like stories, it’s perfectly possible to leave children at home alone!). Whilst their mother is away the children decide to do something nice for her; they clean the cottage chimney. But one thing leads to another and disaster strikes… their beautiful little hat home burns down.
Fortunately there is a friendly neighbour who comes to the aid of the children, and together they work to save the day. The mother returns, and though initially shocked, everyone shows great composure, makes the best of the situation and out of hard times, lots of love (and a new home) flourishes.
This is a sweet little story with simple, but lovely illustrations. The themes of independence, triumphing over adversity, and keep one’s cool in the face of disaster are great for shared storytime. The fairytale aspects of the setting will delight children who want to believe in gnomes and little spirits, and the poise with which the mother picks up the remains of her burnt-out life and makes the best of it is something I shall aspire to when things are higgledey-piggeldy in my life.
There’s plenty to like about this story, but hand on heart, I don’t believe this is one of Elsa Beskow’s greatest books. The illustrations are somewhat sparse compared to some of her work. They are quick, fluid sketches rather than the detailed images you find in, for example, Around the Year or Children of the Forest. Still, we’ve enjoyed it and it has inspired plenty of play in our family, as I’m sure it will in yours.
Here are some scenes from one of M and J’s “Hat Cottage set-ups”, including a little cottage we made inspired by the one in the illustration above.
We made the little house by hot-gluing a load of kindling to a plastic tub and then sticking some birch bark rescued from our Norwegian armour onto a card cone. I used a little toy stuffing for smoke from the chimney and a gold button for the door handle.
The Fly Agarics were made following the instructions in this video:
Whilst making our house and then setting out the lie of the land we listened to:
Other activities we could have enjoyed alongside reading The Children of Hat Cottage include:
Before leaving you for today I have to mention a small detail from the story that I particularly loved. The mother from Hat Cottage initially doesn’t have much luck looking for yarn. At one point she asks the spider if she has any spare silk, but unfortunately she doesn’t. This little cameo made me think of the utterly amazing cloak which has just gone on display at the Victoria and Albert museum, which is made entirely out of spider silk.
It’s straight out of a fairy tale, don’t you think? Here’s the link to the exhibition at the V&A.