Playing by the book

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

Handmade Christmas (book) decorations inspired by Ernest and Celestine

Posted on | December 12, 2013 | 10 Comments

A good story can right the world.

It can draw you back from lonely grumpiness, or fed-up tiredness. It can make you feel human and connected once again.

ernestcelestinefrontcoverAnd this truth is at the gentle heart of Ernest & Celestine: Merry Christmas by Gabrielle Vincent, a charming, restorative seasonal read.

Celestine is full of hope that this year she and Ernest will throw a big Christmas party. After all, he had promised her they could have one. When Ernest says they can’t afford a party, Celestine persuades her good friend that with the help of handmade presents and decorations, a little bit of music and some thrifty good cheer, a great party needn’t cost much.

With Ernest won over, the ensuing party is indeed delightful and full of games, but there is one guest who won’t join in. He’s sullen and rude. However, as Ernest starts playing music on his fiddle, and then reads all the party guests a story… something changes. He’s drawn in and his bad mood lifts. When the party comes to an end, who do you think thanks his hosts for “the best party ever”?


All Ernest and Celestine stories have warmth, generosity and kindness overflowing their pages in a quiet, understated way, and this Christmas offering is no different. The text is pared back to its very bare bones; close attention to the graceful, loose, old-worldly and hugely appealing illustrations are necessary to complete the story. It’s a lovely and timely reminder that we don’t need to splash out on gadgets and gizmos, we just need to give in to a little time, thoughtfulness and playfulness, throw in some great music… and of course a good story, and you’ve got all you need for the best Christmas ever.

Capturing the handmade, simple-pleasures spirit of Ernest and Celestine’s Christmas, we set about making our own Christmas decorations and tree… but out of old books.

For the first three types of bauble we made we needed lots and lots of circles cut from picture books. Using Red Ted Art’s instructions we created a simple bauble with folder circles glued together.


Moving up a level in complexity we then created baubles using circles again folded in half but this time attached to each other alternating at the top and the bottom, creating a bellows or fan effect. As you can see in the image below we stapled the circles together rather than glued them. Older children might be able to manage this on their own. It’s useful to have quite a small stapler for this.


The next type of bauble is fun for exploring geometry!


You’ll need 20 circles of the same size, plus an equilateral triangle which fits just inside the circles. Use the triangle to fold the edges of the circles up, before stapling them together as shown below.


We then made two types of decorations using strips cut out from books.


Take 8-10 strips of the same length and width and punch a hole through either end. Then use a split pin to join them all together before fanning out the strips to create a sphere. Even young kids can assemble this, and there’s something very magical about opening out the flat strips into a sphere.

Any strips you’ve left over can be used to make good old paper chains!


And all these lovely baubles need a christmas tree, so what better than one made out of books?


The trick for this tree is making sure you have 5 or 6 books of exactly the same height for each “layer” of the tree.

And you can’t have a naked tree, so we made hanging decorations out of Shrinkie plastic (Shrinky Dinks), tracing some much loved illustrations.




Can you recognise any of these?

Whilst decorating the house we listened to lots of folk music recommended to me by a children’s book illustrator, Joel Stewart, who’s also a folk musician, and who’s great at suggesting new and interesting music to listen to including:

  • Lady Maisery‘s new album, May Day
  • Josefina Paulson
  • Thanks also to @chatiry and @jonnagl for suggesting a Christmassy album that we enjoyed a lot: Kate Rusby’s Sweet Bells

  • Other decorations we could have made from old books include:

  • This intricate woven star from vintage book pages
  • Decoupage glass baubles with a little bit of glitter
  • Quilled mini Christmas trees to hang up
  • Paper ribbon ornaments
  • Origami paper stars

  • If you think you like the spirit of this Ernest and Celestine book, you might enjoy this article by George Monbiot, “Don’t Spend, Mend”, and also Project Wild Thing, pledging to spend time with your child playing outside, as an alternative Christmas present.

    Will you forgive me for cutting up books this Christmas? Would you come to my Ernest and Celestine style party if I threw one?

    Disclosure: We were sent a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

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    10 Responses to “Handmade Christmas (book) decorations inspired by Ernest and Celestine”

    1. Colin
      December 12th, 2013 @ 2:45 am

      The baubles and paper chains look wonderful! I like the tree too, but is it as precarious as it looks? I suspect it must be quite stable (or you wouldn’t have suggested making one!) but it reminds me of a house of cards which could collapse at the merest touch. But I love your whole approch to handmade decorations, Zoe.

    2. Zoe
      December 12th, 2013 @ 7:12 am

      Hi Colin, the trick is to make sure each of the books on any given level is really the same height – if you can do that than yes, the tree is pretty stable. I probably wouldn’t have put it up if my kids were still under 3 as one good shove and it would fall down, but as it is, it’s plenty stable.
      Zoe recently posted..Handmade Christmas (book) decorations inspired by Ernest and Celestine

      December 12th, 2013 @ 8:00 am

      Another delightful post, Zoe. Thanks so much for presenting the instructions for the baubles. i’m looking forward to making some.

    4. Catherine
      December 12th, 2013 @ 8:21 am

      Zoe, these look awesome :) I have seen the Ernest and Celestine book reviewed several times this year. I don’t know it but the illustrations are beautiful :)
      Catherine recently posted..Peck Peck Peck by Lucy Cousins

    5. Readitdaddy
      December 12th, 2013 @ 9:18 am

      Have to say, we LOVED this book and particularly the message. No plastic noise-making toy can actually match the amount of enjoyment we get from crafting and making, or just having fun with a good bunch of friends. Actually a really nice non-commercialised message in the book, we really couldn’t leave it out of our Booky Advent Calendar.
      Readitdaddy recently posted..Indie Pen-Dance Wednesday. Spotlight on Inkology and Dom Conlon’s fabulous stories for children including “Tiny the Giant” and “Tommy Tickletail”

    6. Zoe
      December 12th, 2013 @ 11:06 am

      Hi Simone, let me know how you get on with the baubles. I found them very satisfying to make!

      Catherine – there are several Ernest and Celestine books. I love The Picnic especially.

      You said it Readitdaddy!
      Zoe recently posted..Handmade Christmas (book) decorations inspired by Ernest and Celestine

    7. julie rowan zoch
      December 12th, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

      Such lovely ideas. Thanks.
      julie rowan zoch recently posted..It’s a Wrap! – my holiday contest entry

    8. Mrs Brown's Books
      December 15th, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

      Can you come spread some Christmas magic at my house? Love the baubles and the sound of the book.
      Mrs Brown’s Books recently posted..A Letter for Bear and more Christmas picks

    9. Zoe
      December 15th, 2013 @ 7:59 pm

      I’d love to Mrs Brown!

    10. Alex Baugh
      December 17th, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

      Zoe, these are just wonderful and look so beautiful. They are right up my alley, too – hand/home made. I have always loved and made paper garland, but the others are new and something I will have to try.
      Thank you for sharing these.
      Alex Baugh recently posted..Your Hit Parade: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

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