Playing by the book

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

The Flying Bath and developing a bathroom library

Posted on | August 11, 2014 | 8 Comments

With pretty much all clock-watching abandoned for the summer holidays we’ve been sneaking reading into unusual places. First we boosted breakfast feasting on books with our toast rack displays, and since then we’ve been squeezing in extra reading at the other end of the day – at bathtime. When the kids were little we were big fans of the plastic books you could immerse in water but now we tend to have a stack of comics and magazines (for all ages) on hand in a magazine rack.


It doesn’t matter so much if comics and magazines get wet – a short spell on the washing line or a radiator fixes that, and if they end up really too wrinkled and dog-eared for reading, they’re ripe for recycling as collage material.


Of course, another way to enjoy reading at bath time is simply to sit on the floor and read a favourite book to your kids whilst they can’t escape from the tub, and what better than a bath-time themed book for such an occasion (Scottish Book Trust has some great recommendations here)?

When news of a flying bathtub which saves animals in distress reached our ears we had to check it out…

flyingbathIn The Flying Bath by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by David Roberts there’s a hotline to a team of firefighting, thirst-quenching, mud-washing pals who use their bath to fly the world over, saving animals who have come unstuck thanks to a lack of water.

As you’d expect from Donaldson, the superhero antics are told in rhyme, with a refrain which kids will quickly sing-song along with. Roberts’ illustrations are detailed and have an older feel to them especially when compared to some of the other illustrators Donaldson is often paired with. I personally love his eye for pattern and texture. His architectural drawings are beautiful in their clarity and precision, and Roberts has had enormous fun with the choice of telephones used to dial 999.

Despite all this, I have to admit that this isn’t a book I’ve fallen madly in love with. I found Donaldson’s text requires a little practise to read out loud (a surprise, given that normally her poems-in-picture-book form trip off the tongue). This makes me too aware of the technicalities of the rhyme to simple enjoy the ride with the rescuing animals. And the text is more a series of flights of fancy rather than an extended narrative with a traditional story arc.


However, however, both my kids thought this book rather delightful and funny, and had a lot of fun spotting nods to other books Roberts has illustrated. Indeed my kids enjoyed this book so much they immediately came up with an idea for ‘playing by the book’ by creating a bathtime mosaic set, mirroring the tiled wings of the flying bath.

We grabbed a bunch of foam sheets (such as these) and cut them up into squares before letting them loose in the bath.


The kids loved having the tiles floating all around them – it was like “bathing in a rainbow” said J! Both kids enjoyed making different tiled patterns around the bath, exploring repetition – a visual rhythm, if you like!


Whilst it turns out this book was great for maths play, it’s also a book that could be used in science classes for kids in nursery and the first years of school, gently exploring drought, forest fires, and the need for water for life (both for animals and plants). You could team it up with some research about water charities, for example Waterbridge Outreach.



I’m a supporter of this particular charity because it aims “to give children in developing communities hope for the future through nourishing their minds and bodies with books and water.”

Yep, water and books. A good combo, no?

Waterbridge Outreach donates books in English and local languages and funds clean water and sanitation projects in communities and villages in the developing world. You can read about some of their projects here.

So it turns out that even if a book isn’t the best thing I’ve read all year, there’s still a lot to be said for it. It can inspire play, it can make children laugh, it can start conversations, it can even lead to a good deed or two!

If you want music to go along with reading The Flying Bath you could try these songs:

  • Bartleby Finkleton Will Not Take a Bath by Steve Weeks
  • Bath Time by The Sing Sings
  • Bathtime Blues by Uncle Moondog (listen for free on Myspace)

  • For more extension activities which work well with this book why not try:

  • 15 Fun Bath Time Activities That Don’t Include a Rubber Duck! (from
  • Water Math & Science Activities for Kids Ages 3-6 from The Measured Mom
  • Taking books and bath times one step further with this bath tub made out of books!

  • Are you a bath or a shower person? Do you have a bathroom library?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Flying Bath from the publishers.

    Transform a bread bin into brilliant book storage!

    Posted on | August 7, 2014 | 10 Comments

    Perhaps it was the toast rack that done it.


    Mooching round the local junk shop recently I spied a bread bin and suddenly I could see pop-up reading nooks everywhere…

    With a lick or two of some thinned-down PVA glue…


    …and some cut up comics and book covers from magazines…


    …M soon had her own book box she could fill and take out and about with her to wherever she wanted to do some pop-up reading.




    I can imagine making these for the tree house, the bathroom, the allotment… Where else might you create a pop-up reading nook out of a bread bin?

    Wolfman by Michael Rosen & Chris Mould: Those we demonise are human underneath

    Posted on | August 4, 2014 | 5 Comments

    Wolfman is terrifying!

    Wolfman is threatening!

    Wolfman is unstoppably destructive!

    And he’s coming your way!

    wolfman-picturebook-03But let me reassure you: Wolfman by Michael Rosen and Chris Mould is also so funny, you might just wet your pants :-D

    On one level a moral about how those we demonise are human underneath, this wickedly enjoyable book about what can turn us into monsters is an enormously enjoyable book to read aloud. It’s thrilling and frightening, secretly appealing to many kids’ desires to wreck havoc and run wild, whilst (without revealing the brilliant final twist of the tale) drawing on a situation just about every child can identify with (one of Michael Rosen’s especially honed skills).


    Chris Mould’s illustrations, with a limited and unusual palette, are sublime. Scary and scared eyes pop out everywhere and the scratchiness of the drawings befits Wolfman to a T.

    Rosen’s story was first published 16 years ago and I haven’t been able to track down a copy to see if it was illustrated then, but Mould’s illustrations exude the vigour and excitement of the story in such a way as makes the text and these images seem inseparable. In fact, the penultimate page of this edition is one of my favourite illustrated spreads of the year; its drama and framing guarantees reader and listener will be holding their breath and scared to turn the page at that precise moment. (You’ll simply have to read the book yourself to see what I mean – it’s far to much fun to give the game away here!)

    bookplateAttention to detail in the production of this book is another of its delights. From the name plate which encourages reading as a shared experience, to the die-cut “rips” in the front cover this is yet another great book (designed in such a way to support parents with dyslexia) from Red Squirrel.

    Hair-raising and horribly fun, Wolfman is a riotously funny read, bound to be requested time and time again.

    Once we’d stopped giggling and got our breath back J decided to make herself a Wolfman mask using a paper plate and some wool.


    I cut out two small eye holes in the plate and drew the outline of large eyes. J then painted the plate with a mixture of poster paint and glue.


    Having mixed in the glue with the paint, it was very easy for J to stick on lengths of wool all around the edge of the plate, as well as adding two ears cut from a brown paper bag.


    J scrunched up the rest of the paper bag for the nose, added a few white paper squares as teeth and taped a bamboo pole on the back to hold the mask up to her face.


    Then all that was left was to rush around the garden terrorising everyone :-)


    Whilst J made her mask we listened to:

  • Smokestack Lightning by Howlin’ Wolf
  • Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Here’s the Disney version:
  • Raised By Wolves by Barney Saltzberg (you can hear a sample on his Crazy Hair Day album here)
  • There’s also Radiohead’s A Wolf at the Door with an interesting Red Riding hood themed video, but perhaps neither the music nor the video are so young-kid friendly.

  • Other activities which would go well alongside reading Wolfman include:

  • Playing “What’s the Time Mr Wolf?”, a golden oldie, but with the same deliciously fearful anticipation as Wolfman.
  • Talking about the things that make us mad or irritable. I know I turn into something like Wolfman when I get really hungry!
  • Using a pair of toy glasses to give yourselves eyes just like the characters in Wolfman – find some with a black rim, and then cover the lenses with white paper with tiny holes cut out for looking through. The back of these toy glasses (found here) gave me the idea:

  • What makes you grizzly? What naughty-but-nice picture books have you read recently?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Wolfman from the publisher.

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