Playing by the book

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

2 books which shouldn’t be shelved: High Times and Swan Lake

Posted on | September 19, 2012 | 11 Comments

Once you’ve finished a book what do you do with it? Shelve it away so it can barely be seen?

How about, instead, exhibiting it on a window sill or mantelpiece to invite comment, to become an ever present part of your life?

Not all books lend themselves to this of course, but High Times: A History of Aviation by Golden Cosmos, and Swan Lake by Ping Zhu are not your everyday sort of book.

An almost wordless, non-fiction accordion book, High Times: A History of Aviation takes you on a journey from Icarus via Leonardo da Vinci, to the Wright Brothers, through the Second World War on to Concorde and the Space Shuttle. Key dates and inventions are picked out and briefly explained in the book’s wrap-around cover, which acts as a key for details to spot in the exciting and broad landscape presented as the book opens out.

Ping Zhu’s Swan Lake, which takes the same format, is entirely wordless. One side of the book shows the audience watching a performance of the ballet, whilst on the reverse you can see behind the scenes as the ballerinas prepare themselves to go on stage.

Both books are wonderfully tactile to hold and interact with. Printed on heavy-weight card these are books you really want to feel between your fingers.

Swan Lake‘s illustrations reminded me of 1960s illustrations, and the girls really enjoyed exploring the audience and making up stories about the different characters they could see, from the bored looking lady with a pearl necklace to the rather mysterious animals who have somehow snuck in to the theatre (they made me think of a Finnish illustrator I like, Hannamari Ruohonen, who also creates fabulous wordless picture books).

The printing technique and bold colour scheme of High Times ensures the book feels both retro and modern. Again, there is lots of fun to be had looking for details, from the family going on holiday with their rubber duck, to the zoo animal being transported by Boeing 747. This book is a great example of how science (in this case, engineering and inventions) can also be explored through art. Team it up with The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith, illustrated by Eva Montanari (which I reviewed here) and The Story of Inventions, by Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Adam Larkum (which I reviewed here) and you’ve got a terrific trio of books to inspire the next generation of flying machine inventors.

But these books are not just for the young. Both NoBrow books are immensely stylish, and as such, will no doubt appeal to adults as well as children. I can easily imagine them unfolded and on display in beautiful, architect designed houses. And why not?

Displaying stories and illustration on your walls is great way to integrate books into your lives, and at £10 a pop I can’t think of a cheaper way to get some eye catching, discussion-inducing art up on your walls.

Inspired by the idea of displaying an illustrated story, the girls set about making their own “mural book”. I blu-tacked a length of fax paper (yes, such a thing still exists, I got mine from Rymans) up our staircase and the girls took turns to illustrate a story chinese-whisper style.

M would illustrate a stretch of paper, then J would take over the story and add her twists and turns. Because I was nervous about pen marks going on the wall I illustrated a simple border along the length of the paper and explained that the girls had to draw inside the border. This worked really well and The HWA (Humane Wall Association) can confirm “No walls were harmed during the making of this book”.

The story grew and grew…

The narrative was somewhat complex, with lots of free association going on, but some of my favourite cameos were these:

“Zeus sent down thunderbolts onto the dinosaurs escaping by bicycle.”

“The dragon and the unicorn came to the magic castle.”

The girls’ mural book is still up on the wall and it’s the first thing anyone sees when we open our front door. I rather like how a story welcomes people into our home.

Whilst we were all illustrating we listened to

  • Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky (although dancing on stairs is not to be encouraged…)
  • Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines
  • The Flying Machine by The Sippy Cups


  • Other activities which could be fun to get up to alongside reading High Times: A History of Aviation or Swan Lake include:

  • Making an accordion book. Here’s a tutorial from Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord.
  • Watching Swan lake ballet clips. making peg doll ballerinas and more – as per our Swan Lake round up from last year.
  • Creating a cardboard airplane you can fly in – I love this one from Joe’s Secret Lab.


  • What books have you enjoyed recently that are gorgeous enough for you to want to display them as art?

    Disclosure: I received free copies of High Times: A History of Aviation by Golden Cosmos, and Swan Lake by Ping Zhu from NoBrow Press. I was under no obligation to review the books and I received no money for this post.

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    Comments

    11 Responses to “2 books which shouldn’t be shelved: High Times and Swan Lake”

    1. Stacey
      September 19th, 2012 @ 1:40 am

      What lovely books. Both new to me! And the dragon and unicorn are gorgeous- what a fun project!
      Stacey recently posted..The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas

    2. Kerry Aradhya
      September 19th, 2012 @ 1:52 am

      These books are both new to me, too….but so cool! Thanks for sharing the books and your activities. I love the looooooong story!

    3. choxbox
      September 19th, 2012 @ 3:37 am

      Zoe, you have a special brain you know. The things you think up of!
      And the books sound really good :)

    4. Jackie Small (@littlebookcase)
      September 19th, 2012 @ 5:24 am

      What a brilliant and creative idea. This would work wonderfully with a school class too.
      Jackie Small (@littlebookcase) recently posted..Real Life: A pre-schooler, a belly and trying to get cosy at story-time.

    5. Zoe
      September 19th, 2012 @ 7:39 am

      Thank you Jackie, Choxbox, Kerry and Stacey,

      Yes! I think this idea would work really well with a class – winding its way around the walls of the classroom :)
      Zoe recently posted..2 books which shouldn’t be shelved: High Times and Swan Lake

    6. Elli
      September 19th, 2012 @ 9:09 am

      That mural is absolutely fantastic! I’d love to do that with my lot once they’re old enough to be trusted with pens near walls.
      Elli recently posted..Making Macaroni Cheese

    7. Ann Wright
      September 19th, 2012 @ 9:23 am

      What a fab idea – lovely way to welcome people into the house. Amazing how books can inspire in this way.

    8. Zoe
      September 19th, 2012 @ 9:27 am

      Hi Elli, I was nervous about the pens on walls thing too – hence the border, and also using “washable” pens, but actually the border seemed to suffice

      Hi Ann, yes, I hadn’t thought about it before setting up the paper where I did – it’s a serendipitous outcome!
      Zoe recently posted..2 books which shouldn’t be shelved: High Times and Swan Lake

    9. Polly
      September 19th, 2012 @ 11:36 am

      copying that RIGHT now. well not right now. they’re at school and I’m not at Rymans. But Very Soon. Fabby fabness.
      Polly recently posted..Hello Baby

    10. Zoe
      September 19th, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

      I have to thank you Polly – it was the post on your blog about these books which spurred me on to get ahold of them.
      Zoe recently posted..2 books which shouldn’t be shelved: High Times and Swan Lake

    11. Amanda @gidders1
      September 22nd, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

      WOW, I not only love the look of these, and I’m sure my girls would love them, so I have made a note of them for christmas.
      I also love how you have develoed this idea into an activity, so imaginative!!
      Amanda @gidders1 recently posted..Nottingham Contemporary : Kids Get Arty with Francis Uprichard

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