Minature landscapes and giant hats

posted in: Elsa Beskow | 10

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:

  • Back Home by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. You can download it for free here! It’s a rap song for kids, so not very “Elsa Beskow”, but it’s a great song.
  • This Hat by Laurie Berkner
  • Burning Your House Down by The Jim Jones Revue (NOT a kids’ song, but my kids do love this – great for air guitar!)

  • Other activities we could have enjoyed alongside reading The Children of Hat Cottage include:

  • Visiting the children’s lounge at Stockholm Airport. The lounge is based on Elsa Beskow’s books and children can actually climb inside a real hat cottage whilst playing in this lovely sounding space.
  • Baking honey cakes (this is what the mother does at the end of the book). For some honey-cake-esque recipes you could try this “majestic and moist honey cake” from Smitten Kitchen.
  • Getting the children to make their own hats – that’s exactly what we did here, inspired by Peter Stamm and Jutte Bauer’s When we lived in Uncle’s Hat.

  • 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.

    Disclosure: I receive a copy of The Children of Hat Cottage gratis from the publisher, Floris Books. This review, however, remains my own and honest opinion.

    10 Responses

    1. Stacey

      I love the term “set up”. It is a set up indeed! I am not familiar with Elsa Beskow. I will have to look for her work. Thanks as always for sharing!
      Stacey recently posted..Series Books

    2. sandhya

      Wow! A lovely review. Sometimes I wish I had a child as young as your girls just so that we could experience the wonder of the lovely books you feature.:)

      You had me at “supplemented by all sorts of knick-knacks that little children have a magical ability to accumulate.” A very accurate observation, if I may so say!

      And I loved the rug that can be seen- it vibrant!
      sandhya recently posted..It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…please sir, I want some more!

      • Zoe

        Hi Sandhya, Hi Choxbox,

        Thanks, yes I’m lucky indeed to have young children to play so much with! Sandhya – each girl has her own “museum” ie an old printer’s tray in which she keeps her favourite knick-knacks – everything from erasers, buttons, broken bits of jewellery, thimbles, fossils and so on.

        And as for the rug, that’s one of my favourite charity shop finds – £4 – and yes, so bright and warm.

    3. sandhya

      Our home has a staircase which has a very spacious niche below it, that A has made her own. She calls it A’s Corner, after Pooh Corner! The stuff that she hoards there is all her own, she has to tidy it, but once in a while I have had to toss out many things from there. Of course, after consulting her, for what may be junk to me can be a treasure to her. And mind you, this stuff excludes her books, clothes, etc.:)

      Choxbox can vouch for this!
      sandhya recently posted..It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…please sir, I want some more!

    4. choxbox

      And my girls love to park in there too every time we visit.

      Which by the way somehow transforms into twice the time we’d have initially thought we’d stay for, or thrice 🙂

    5. Darshana Khiani

      Hi Zoe,

      I love your reviews! Never heard of this author, I will definitely be checking out her books. I love all the craft projects you do with your kids, very talented. My kids would love to do those projects, alas I don’t seem to have the time. 🙁
      Darshana Khiani recently posted..Liebster Blog Award

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