Travelling back at least 10,000 years in time

posted in: Satoshi Kitamura | 14

For us, summer holidays are all about doing a few crazy things we wouldn’t normally have the time or energy for, and also about living the simple life at a slower pace, and today’s book ensured both these things happened for us this week.

Photo: Canon in 2D

Stone Age Boy, by one of our favourite author/illustrators – Satoshi Kitamura, has been out for a couple of years although it is new to us. As soon as I came across it, I knew we just had to read it together – it’s a powerful combination of a great history lesson (that could easily inspire you to try digging in the dirt) with Kitamura’s great storytelling and fabulous illustrations.

Told in the first person, this is the tale of a boy who whilst adventuring in the woods one day trips and falls down into a hole. With the help, perhaps, of a little bit of magic he recovers to find himself somewhere unfamiliar. Upon exploring he comes across a family, but this is no ordinary family, “They looked very strange, but they were kind to me and gave me some stew. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying“. The illustrations make it clear that the boy has found a family living in the stone age (probably Upper Palaeolithic) and soon we learn along with the boy about all the different aspects of life in this different time and culture. Detailed illustrations show us how fire and tools were made, how food was prepared and cooked. The boy delights in the excitement of a hunt and joins in with the celebrations that evening around the fire.

One day, after several weeks have passed, the young daughter of the family takes the boy to a very special and mysterious place – a cave full of paintings. Mesmerised by what he sees, the boy does not notice the approaching bear until it is too late. He ups and turns, trips and before he knows it the ground beneath him has given way and… he finds himself back in the 21st century.

When I told my family what had happened, they didn’t believe me. They said I’d only been gone a few hours and I must have fallen asleep and dreamt it.” A twist in the tale on the very last page will let you decide for yourself whether or not the boy’s adventures really did happen, but whatever your believe in, this book is definitely a testament to the power of dreams – the boy’s experience, real or imagined, leads him to pursue a career in archaeology, a career, I suspect Kitamura might choose for himself if he could in another lifetime.

The opening of this wonderful story reminded me of not only of how the caves of Lascaux were discovered, but also of how Alice makes it into Wonderland, or Lucy into Narnia. Children may not get these cultural references, but they add to the enjoyment for me as an adult reading (and re-reading!) this book. Every page is packed full of information about life in the stone age. Whereas the last couple of books I’ve reviewed have technically been non-fiction books that could share a shelf with great fiction, this offering from Kitamura whilst catalogued a fiction picture book is so informative and detailed I’m sure kids (and adults) will learn more from it than from many a non fiction book on the same topic. The framework of a great story makes absorbing the facts go by almost unnoticed, but an index and a timeline add further opportunities for learning. The detailed text has meant this was a great book for reading with M, whilst the intricate and colourful illustrations were a huge hit with J too.

Having fallen in love with this book we set about creating our own stone age cave. Following the instructions at we made a geodesic dome out of rolled up newspaper to form the framework of our cave.

We didn’t join up all the base triangles but rather left two unattached so that we could create an entrance to the cave. This meant the structure wasn’t as robust as it might otherwise have been, so I sured up the dome with a couple of sheets of cardboard from a large box.

We then covered the dome in wallpaper – we had a roll of horrible wood chip paper lying about in the back of a cupboard and it did the trick here perfectly as the texture looked a little rock-like! I covered two panels in the roof of the cave with transparent polythene (I use it in the garden so had some spare), to make sure the inside of the cave wasn’t too dark. You could use bubble wrap perhaps as an alternative.

Once the dome was covered we painted it grey (if you’re going to follow our lead and make your own cave, do put down an old sheet under the cave before you start making it so that it doesn’t need to be moved when it comes to painting it) and then we completed our stone age setting with some rocks and twigs for a fire and a sheepskin rug we happened to have.

I made the basic cave-girl costumes by folding over a length of fake fur (twice the length from shoulder to knee for each girl and as wide as the girls’ chests plus about 10cm, and with fur on the inside), cutting a diagonal across the fold leaving a strip about 10 cm for the shoulder strap, and then sewing up either side, leaving another 10cm gap on the shoulder side for an armhole. Clear as mud? Perhaps the diagram will help… Infact, with J’s costume I couldn’t sew it all the way up as I hadn’t cut the fabric wide enough – not all my projects work out perfectly! Anyway, I hope you get the idea. Even though they were far from perfect they did the trick – the girls insisted on wearing them even when we went to the supermarket!

Stone Age Boy: *** (3 stars)

Cave girls love to dance!

And here’s some of what we danced to:

  • Big Hairy Caveman by Barnes & Barnes
  • Caveman Blues by Art Sirota
  • Caveman Blues by Kelly & The Rockman, or indeed anything from the album Rock From The Stoneage

  • We also watched some Flintstones on YouTube – I’m not really sure about the attitudes towards women and relationships in The Flintstones but the music is fun (as is having a pet sabre tooth tiger) and the stone age setting worked just perfectly with all the play we’d been getting up to.

    Any self respecting stone age cave must have some art in it, and sure enough it wasn’t long before the walls of my girls’ cave was covered in stone age art – but more of that in future post where we’ll be reviewing the latest book by Julia DonaldsonCave Baby… Stay tuned 🙂 In the meantime, here are some other stone age and archaeological activities you could get up to with your kids that would work well alongside reading Stone Age Boy:

  • Cooking meat or fish over an open fire
  • Heating up water using hot rocks – here’s a YouTube clip of one way of doing this
  • Inspired by this treasure hunt from let’s explore you could set up an archaeological dig
  • Try some of the online games and quizzes about prehistoric man at Mr Donn’s great site

  • Do you know any other picture books set in the stone age? Or any great non-fiction books about early humankind?

    14 Responses

    1. Kristine

      I love your opening sentences for this blog. What a great philosophy. This book sounds fascinating. Your cave looks great – what an amazing effort. It would also make a great igloo. The costumes look fabulous too – I’m sure the ‘animals’ would have happily given their life for these outfits!!!
      Scary fact – some one surveyed Aussies and found 70% believed humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. The researchers called it the ‘flintstone factor’. Extraordinary really!

    2. Sam

      What a fantasitic sounding book. My education was mostly in evolutionary biology, so I’m going to be just as interested in this one as my son Boo will be. I’ll probably wait until he’s a little older before checking it out of the library, but it’s definitely going on my list now. Thanks.

      Also, you’re amazingly innovative (and thorough!) on the pretend play front. I’ll have to check back frequently for ideas to steal, er, borrow.

    3. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks so much for your kind words! Check back for the review of Cave Baby – a similar theme but much better suited for the younger crowd (although my 5 year old definitely enjoys it, my 2 year old adores it). I’d be thrilled if you felt inspired to try out some of our activities with your own son.

      Hi Kristine,

      I’ve surprised myself at how much I’ve enjoyed having the 2 kids all day (I thought I would find myself at the end of my tether rather more!). Because M is bigger and able to do so much more we’ve had lots of fun doing bigger projects with the time and energy we’ve had. It really has been a lot of fun. J and I are going to miss her when school returns in a couple of weeks’ time. Aah. The Fintstone Factor. I have to admit that the girls did grab their numerous cuddly toy dinosaurs and bring them into the cave to play with and I wasn’t going to let historical accuracy interfere with a fun time (or at least not this time!)

    4. Sam

      Thanks for the recommendation of Cave Baby. And it’s Julia Donaldson (who I’m not at all jealous of you getting to meet) to boot!

      • Zoe

        Thanks Charlotte for the tip – it does look good indeed. Definitely one to track down 🙂

    5. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi janelle,
      Yours looks great! I think because I fortified the sides with ours it made it possible to do with just one adult (though the final bit of sticking the pieces together was almost impossible with the “help” of the children!)

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