Using words to see images in the mind

posted in: Jeanne Willis, Sarah Fox-Davies | 45

Mole’s Sunrise By Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies, published just a few weeks ago, is the most recent picture book to find a home on our shelves.

Vole has risen early to see the sun rise. His friend, Mole, is curious; he’s never seen the dawn but has heard it is very beautiful. So the two friends walk down to the lake, where they meet their friends Rabbit, Squirrel and Sparrow and sit and watch the sun reach up over the horizon gradually rising higher and higher till morning has well and truly arrived.

This deceptively simple story has a clever twist that is only gradually revealed to young readers and listeners: Mole is blind and so seeing the day break is actually not nearly as straight forward as one might imagine. Instead of being able to use his eyes, Mole relies on the descriptions provided by his kind friends. And what descriptions!

“Here comes the sun!” said Vole.
“I can just see the top of its head.
It’s like the soft yolk of a fried egg.”

The sun rose right out of the lake.
“Now the clouds are like scoops
of raspberry ice cream,” said Rabbit.
“And blueberry!” added Vole,
“swirled with steaming custard.”

Photo: jcookfisher

In fact the whole book is brimming with delightful descriptions highlighting senses other than sight.

Mole felt the damp mist in his fur.
He heard the crackle of leaves under his feet.
Mole sniffed the air. He could smell the lake.

The evocative text from Jeanne Willis is wonderful to read aloud and listen to; this picture book is one that will work very well as an audiobook. The fact that the two best friends, Mole and Vole, sound so alike draws listeners in to empathizing with Mole’s situation – not only does it give the prose text a certain rhyming cadence, listeners have to actually attend to listening, just as Mole does.

The text deserves high praise, but so do the illustrations by Sarah Fox-Davies. They are beautiful and worthy of savouring. Drawn in gentle pastels, matching both the colours of day break and the glowing spirit of friendship between the animals, Fox-Davies’ illustrations will make you want to set the alarm to see the sun rise yourselves (that is, of course, if your young children don’t wake you up themselves that early!)

If you liked Chris Wormell‘s illustrations in his recent book Scruffy Bear and the Six White Mice (which I reviewed here), then I’m sure you’ll love the pictures in this book.

All in all a great book to read aloud (which also works well for early readers reading to younger siblings), all about kindness, friendship and savouring through all our senses the beauty around us.

Having read Mole’s Sunrise we tried a couple of activities to explore our senses of smell and touch, senses that Mole depends on in order to “see” the sunset in his mind.

Both activities were inspired by posts from Jojoebi over at A bit of this and a bit of that.

The first involved me preparing 8 balloon by filling them with 4 different substances (I used rice, muesli, sand and water), so that there were two tied balloons with each filling. The girls had to choose a balloon, feel it and then find the matching one in terms of what the filling felt like (here’s the original post from Jojoebi).

The second activity again involved matching, this time 4 different smells in 8 small bottles. I used samples from The Body Shop for the different smells and soaked vermiculite in the scented oils so it would be easy to empty the bottles and reuse them at a later time for another project. If your bottles or jars had wider necks you could use scent-soaked cotton wool instead (here’s the original post from Jojoebi).

The girls loved the touch game but found the smells in the bottles unpleasantly strong. They were quite overpowering so by the time we reached our third pair our ability to distinguish the scents was somewhat hampered by having had our nostrils blasted by the earlier smells – if you try this at home, perhaps just go for a couple of pairs at a time!

Whilst exploring our senses we listened to:

  • Here comes the Sun by The Beatles

  • Morning has broken by Cat Stevens

  • The 5 senses by The Wiggles

  • Smell Is Invisible by Doc Dauer

  • Other activities and books that could go well alongside Mole’s Sunrise can be found in this past post on Playing by the book, all about shifting perspectives.

    Given that Mole’s Sunrise is all about the ability to see images through the use of other senses, it’s fantastic that this lovely book is also available in a format specifically designed for blind children. Tactile picture carvings and audio description (by Jim Broadbent) bring the book alive – more details can be found here and here.

    I’m reviewing Mole’s Sunrise today as part of a blog tour, one of many events in the coming months celebrating Walker Book’s Picture Book Picnic campaign. This campaign aims to encourage a child’s love of reading by sharing books with family and friends as you would a picnic. During the blog tour there will be a chance to win copies of all the books highlighted during the campaign.

    The tour kicked off on Friday at Wham-Bam with a review of the lovely book Hello Tilly by Polly Dunbar (do head on over there – there’s a chance to win your own copy!)

    If you’d like to find out more about the Picture Book Picnic, visit the dedicated website at where you’ll be able to find tips on reading, enjoying and interacting with books. Over the coming week’s there will also be exclusive content from Walker Book’s talented picture book writers and illustrators. Indeed, the campaign is being supported by a stellar cast of ambassadors: Bruce Ingman, Petr Horacek, Viviane Schwarz, Polly Dunbar and Chris Haughton, some of whom I’m hoping to interview in the not too distant future!

    Walker Books is very kindly offering two copies of Mole’s Sunrise to readers of this blog. To enter this giveaway all you need to do is leave a comment on this post.

    If you want extra chances to win this book set you can:

  • Tweet about this giveaway

  • Mention this giveaway on your blog

  • Link to this giveaway from your Facebook page

  • For any of the extra entries to count you must leave a separate comment here on this post saying what extra chance you’ve gone for (eg tweeted about the giveaway etc).

    This giveaway:

  • is open worldwide

  • is open until 6am (UK time) 11th April 2011

  • The winner will be selected randomly with the help of, and announced here on Playing by the book sometime during the day on 11th April. Good Luck!

    The next stop on the tour is over at Mad House Family Reviews tomorrow, Tuesday 5th April. Cheryl will reviewing (and giving away!) a new book illustrated by the brilliant David Lucas, Lost in the Toy Museum.

    Disclosure: I received my copy of Mole’s Sunrise gratis from the publisher. This review, however, reflects my own and honest opinion.

    45 Responses

    1. maggy, red ted art

      Oh my, the book sounds beautiful – reading your description sent shivers down my back. Wonderful. We would love to explore this together!

      And a lovely set of activities!


    2. Tasha Goddard

      What a wonderful review and great activities, too, thank you.

      I would love to win a copy and think the girls would both enjoy it.

    3. Kat Yeh

      What a lovely review & post – was actually really moved by it and love the attention and time spent exploring the ideas behind the book. Thank you.

    4. Tasha

      Ooh – yes please. Milo loves books with moles in so we would definitely enjoy this. Am tweeting about your giveaway on Twitter and sharing on FB 🙂

    5. Leica

      My little sister would absolutely love the book and activities! I will look out for it in Australia. Should be a heart warming story, can’t wait to read it!

    6. Sarah

      I came across this brilliant website as a result of a link to the Living Paintings website. Jeanne Willis & Walker Books very kindly allowed us to publish an accessible version of Moles Sunrise on the same day as it was made available to sighted children. It is already a very popular book in our free library for blind children and adults.

    7. Janelle

      We adore reading books about the simple pleasures of life. You may have inspired me to wake up early just so I can view a sunrise once again. It’s been far too long.

      I need to work with my kids on their descriptive skills and a book like this would help immensely.

    8. Read Aloud Dad

      A beautiful book! Thanks for the giveaway.

      Tweeted and shared on the Read Aloud Dad FB page.

      (On the off-chance that I win, I’ll send it as a present to someone is not old enough yet to read this blog!)

      Read Aloud Dad

    9. Di Coke

      This sounds like a wonderful book, and I’m delighted to see my best friend @jojoebi namechecked in your post. Both your blog and hers are an inspiration!


    10. Jane Willis

      What a lovely book! I’m no relation to Jeanne Willis (but I wish I was)

    11. sarah allcoat

      This book sounds delightful. there’s nothing better than an amazing book to share with your children. Unfortunately my daughter is long past this stage, sadly, but I have a lovely niece whom I love to share books with. Thanks for the lovely giveaway xx


    12. Linda Kish

      Sounds wonderful. Please include me

      lkish77123 at gmail dot com

    13. Celesta Espinosa

      This is a great book. It introduces sighted children to being blind and blind children to a sunrise with some adorable descriptions. We would love to read it and your activities sounded fun.

    14. Ashleigh

      this book looks lovely, my daughter would love it, please enter me


    15. Melissa Taylor

      I’m in the states so you don’t have to include me – just wanted to say how much I loved the way you extended the learning!

      Melissa @imaginationsoup

    16. Jill Jones

      What a lovely book – the illustrations look fabulous and colourful.

    17. Sishya

      lovely read! my girls are just 18 months and giggle when i read it aloud to them!!
      thanks for sharing..
      happy holidays.

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