How the Sun got to Coco’s House

posted in: Bob Graham | 4

sunfrontcoverGentle cadences full of poetry and quiet snapshots of the waking world fill How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham, one of my very favourite of all books published last year.

It playfully follows the sun as dawn breaks in different locations around the globe, introducing readers to all sorts of children and their families and showing a moment in time that we all love to experience whatever our backgrounds and wherever we are in the world: the delight that the first rays of sunshine can bring – the warmth, the hope, the sense of adventure and optimism. Eventually the sunshine makes it to Coco’s home, presaging a day of joyous outdoor play with friends, leaving readers with a gentle and lovely glow of joy and delight in something so simple and universal.

Graham’s storytelling is full of tiny but magical moments – capturing the sun shining on a kid’s bicycle bell or making shadows in the snowy footprints of a young child. Lyrical and understated, you’ll appreciate the first rays of sun you see after reading this in a brand new light (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Whilst capturing the drama of beams of light when all around is dark has been brilliantly achieved by others (for example Klassen’s illustrations for Lemony Snicket’s The Dark), Graham dazzles with his sunbeams even when they are surrounded by brightness. Equally successful in bringing focus and intensity to vast landscapes as capturing the epitome of personal warmth felt in homes, between loved ones, Graham’s soft, pastel-hued illustrations really bring the world alive, helping us find wonder again in the everyday.

cocoinside3

cocoinside1

cocoinside2

Having delighted in How the Sun Got to Coco’s House I gave my kids a slip of paper with the word ORRERY on it. Words are such fun, and this one is a real delight. The challenge was to find out what an orrery is, why it’s relevant to this book and then to build (a simple) one. This treasure hunt introduced us to:

Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery, possibly after Charles Jervas oil on canvas, (1707) NPG 894 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery, possibly after Charles Jervas
oil on canvas, (1707)
NPG 894
© National Portrait Gallery, London

and to

"Graham portrait" by Unknown - http://cosmone.com/timepiece/agenda/look-graham-london-legacy. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Graham_portrait.jpg#/media/File:Graham_portrait.jpg
“Graham portrait” by Unknown – http://cosmone.com/timepiece/agenda/look-graham-london-legacy. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Graham_portrait.jpg#/media/File:Graham_portrait.jpg

and then eventually led us to this:

orrerybackgound

orrerybackgound2

orrerybackgound3

and finally to this:

orreryinaction3

orreryinaction

Watch our play in action!

This small orrery shows the relative movement of the moon around the earth, and the earth around the sun, enabling me to explain to my girls how it is not that the sun actually moves around the earth (the descriptions of the sun’s movements in How the Sun Got to Coco’s House might lead listeners to think that this is the case). Rather, what’s happening is that the surface of the earth facing the sun changes as the earth rotates, giving the illusion of the sun moving around the earth.

Now I can’t claim any of the honours for this fabulous orrery. During our treasure hunt for information about orreries we discovered the inspirational videos created by the amazing Mr Newham who works at Ivydale Primary School in South London. In this video he shows how to make a simple orrery with very basic materials:

What’s even more brilliant is that Mr Newham sells kits to make these orreries (and many other brilliant D&T projects) and so we thought we’d give one a go. At £6 I don’t think I could have bought the materials cheaper myself and the service provided by Ivydale Science & Technology Service (Mr Newham’s shop front) was super swift and efficient.

I don’t normally recommend specific products of companies but I can’t resist doing so in this case because the kit and service was so good, and what’s more, the kits are available for entire classes, or individually for families at home. I’ve ordered a whole selection of kits now and so far every one of them has been a huge hit with my girls. So a big hurrah for Mr Newham and the way he’s facilitated my kids (and me!) getting excited about all sorts of aspects of science, design and technology!

Whilst making our orrery and space background (by running our fingers over toothbrushes covered in white paint) we listened to:

  • Sunny Day by Elizabeth Mitchell
  • Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles
  • Sunshine Through My Window by Play Date
  • And all of our favourite science CD – Here Comes Science by They Might be Giants (you can hear a little accidentally in the background of our video above)


  • Other activities which would work well alongside reading How the Sun Got to Coco’s House include:

  • Investigating how plants will go to all sorts of ends to follow the sun, by making this bean maze
  • Playing with mirrors to direct sunlight where you want it. Be inspired by the communities in these valleys in Norway and Italy who alleviate winter darkness by redirecting the sun’s light with giant mirrors. Here’s a more fully fledged lesson plan for older kids which explores similar ground.
  • Carry out science experiments which require the sun. Here’s one to create clean(er) water. Here’s another which investigates UV light. Or what about this one which helps kids understand how sunscreen works?

  • If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me:

  • Solar powered jars of happiness (inspired by The Jar of Happiness by Ailsa Burrows)
  • Creating planets from polystyrene balls and marbling paints (inspired by The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets)
  • sunextras

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    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.

    4 Responses

    1. What a great idea for a picture book! My daughter has two clocks in her room – on on British time and one on Chinese time (she is adopted from China). So we often think about what children on the other side of the world are doing at a particular time which keeps the big, wide, world in our minds. This book tunes right into that.

      I love the ‘treasure hunt’ you gave the girls with the word ‘orrery’. It’s got me thinking – what words could I do it with….

      Thank you.
      Claire Potter recently posted..Moany, groany kids? Get them to keep a Gratitude Diary

    2. Bob Graham

      Thank you Zoe for your insightful and generous review of “How the Sun got to Coco’s House.” My publisher, Walker Books emailed it to me last night, and I loved the creative ideas and activities coming off the story. “Sunny Day,” by Elizabeth Mitchell provides a great soundtrack to the book. I so liked the banjo and the little girl’s voice together, and the animation too.
      Normally I try not to go too far to find my stories. They are elusive and hard to recognise even when I’ve found them; often they just reveal themselves over time. So I try to keep them in reach of my drawing board.But somehow “Coco’s House” unfolded in a wintry northern hemisphere, a long way from my desk down here in Australia.
      I just wrote it down quickly,( the sun already knew where it was going,) drew the pictures and finally received your comments. That’s a pretty good cycle of events in itself.
      Cheers,

      Bob Graham

      • Dear Bob, How kind of you to take the time to leave a comment – it’s very much appreciated. And thankyou for the insight into the storyfinding process.

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