A new house

posted in: Betty Fraser, Mary Ann Hoberman | 8

We had a wet summer this year, but since September we’ve had almost no rain and when M has come home after school we’ve been able to play outside, much to everyone’s delight. With our sunflowers well and truly past it the time came to uproot the giant stalks, but instead of immediately chopping them up for the compost bin we used the giant stems to make a tipi, our home for the afternoon.



We leant the sunflower stems against each other and then tied them together with string. We covered the basic frame with various large pieces of material from my stash including a couple of saris (I’m a huge fan of saris for building dens – they are easy for the kids to use as they’re light, drape well and are easy to clip on to things, plus being slightly see-through they let in light, and of course they are often beautiful! Apologies to those of you who think this sounds like I’m repeating myself 😉 ). We used butterfly clips to fix the material to the frame – butterfly clips are relatively easy for M to use by herself and and J for some reason finds them intrinsically desirable. I like them because they are *strong* – much better than normal washing pegs/clips – I definitely recommend having a bunch of them stashed for making dens.


I put a tarp down on the grass inside the tipi and then we made our afternoon abode a whole lot comfier with various quilts, blankets and beanbags. Despite the autumnal nip in the air, you can see why the girls insisted on having their supper in the tent!


Unfortunately our beautiful home-from-home was a fleeting beauty as we are already getting heavy dews overnight with the cold air and so everything had to be dismantled before bedtime, but it was definitely worth the effort!


Whilst a supply of outsized sunflower stems may not be locally available to you, you could do this with bamboo stems (the tall ones you can get from garden centres), or anything else you can find about 2m tall (?pieces of downpipe, real tent poles, narrow planks of wood…). A few bed sheets would suffice to cover the frame and if you don’t want to use your regular sheets, you could get some second-hand ones very cheaply from charity shops (then keep them safe as part of your den building stash!).

Of course some reading also got done in our cozy tipi, including a new book for us – A House Is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser. This book was first published 31 years ago and yet I only came across this book thanks to a comment left here on the blog (Thanks again Chrissy!) – and boy am I grateful for that comment because this book is absolutely wonderful, one that I think every family and school should have, and one which I’ve now recommended to our public library too as they didn’t have a copy. I don’t know how it is that I had never come across this book before – I can only suppose that it is because it is an American book, and because we’ve got a fairly vibrant kids’ lit scene here in the UK, books from elsewhere often don’t get the publicity they warrant.


But back to this gorgeous book which is wonderful to read, great to listen to, and utterly delightful to look at. (Yes, I know I’m gushing, but it really is that good!). Mary Ann Hoberman has written a bouncing poem with strong, effective rhymes about all the different types of homes and houses one can find. She starts with the names for different animal homes, for example in the opening lines:

A hill is a house for an ant, an ant.
A hive is a house for a bee.
A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse
And a house is a house for me!

As the book progresses Hoberman widens her interpretation of “home” to include all sorts of containers and their contents, for example:

Barrels are houses for pickles
And bottles are houses for jam.
A pot is a spot for potatoes.
A sandwich is home for some ham.

This imaginative redefining of “home” brings a great deal of (slightly zany) humour to the poem, which eventually ends a reminder that “Each creature that’s known has a house of its own / and the earth is a house for us all.

This poem is a great vocabulary builder, with its inclusion of a wide variety of animal homes (eg. coop, sty, fold, hutch), but over and above this educational aspect, Hoberman’s text is simply great fun. Her creative take on “home” is really stimulating – it keys into a childlike/fairytale belief that apparently inanimate objects can have lives of their own, and before long M and I were laughing as we thought of other “homes” (“My mouth’s a home for some chocolate! or “My bed’s a home for my ted” “Your armpit’s a home for a tickle!”). The rhymes always work well and make the book a pleasure to read aloud, as well as appealing to young ears (I think the sing-song rhythm is why J, at just 1, enjoyed listening to this book with us).


So the text is definitely a winner… but then there are the illustrations… and they are so very lovely, detailed and beautifully coloured, creating a world that I simply want to step into and be part of. Each time the line “A house is a house for me” is repeated, Betty Fraser has drawn a different childhood den – the stuff of dreams – from tree houses and seaweed shelters at the beach, to under-the-table retreats, or a blanket thrown over the washing line. M has spent quite some time pouring over the images, enjoying finding tiny details (like the inclusion of a small owl and pussycat in a pea-green boat sailing on the ocean which is home to a whale) in the illustrations which fill each page to bursting. Betty Fraser’s style reminded me of some of the Little Golden Books – her use of colour in particular gives her images a vintage feel.

One final point I think is worth making is that with A House Is a House for Me you get quite a lot of book for your money – over 40 pages – which seems to be a lot for a £5 picture book these days.

a_house_is_a_house_for_me_frontcoverA House Is a House for Me: 3star

Whilst outside we didn’t listen to any music, but we have recently had on some goodies: Elvis Presley’s version of There’s no place like home, Home on the Range sung by Roy Rogers and Build My House by Woody Guthrie.

For some more den inspiration take a look at this great round up of outdoor dens from The Crafty Crow – check out the link to Ikat Bag in particular as she has a really inspiration list of links for table tents – I have drooled so much over these I think I shall now have to make one for a christmas or birthday present for me the girls…

What good memories have you got of making dens as a kid yourself, or with your own kids?

8 Responses

  1. LiEr

    Hi there! Thank you for inviting me over to visit – that is a very fun-looking tipi you made. And so clever to use old sunflower stems! Thanks for the link back to my little playhouse, too.

  2. Kristine

    The tipi is beautiful. I imagine the girls probably wanted to do it again the next day! I’ve always wanted to try growing sunflowers in a circle so that as they grow they form their own little hide-away.

  3. Michelle

    This looks like so much fun…i am so glad you commented on my blog so that I could find all these great ideas. I am really enjoying all the things that you do :0)

  4. vanessa@silly eagle books

    That Tipi is absolutely beautiful! I am in love with it– I especially like the sunflowers coming out of the top! I am also intrigued by the book you suggest–we love vintage books and are definitely looking for this one at the library next week. Glad I found your blog! Mine is similar–I record the books I read with my daughter and the activities we do with them.

  5. Ashley

    The tipi is fabulous. As a child you wouldn’t have got me out of that! What an incredible idea, it’s just great. The weather looks wonderful too, it’s done nothing but rain here for weeks.

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