All you need is a stick

Things-I-have-learned-as-a-parent number 359: A walk for the sheer fun of it, in our local park or nature reserve, is never complete without a stick.

The sooner the girls can find one which meets their ideals for the day the happier they are. A big one to lean on, a little one to become a wand, a bendy one to be a flag: a stick is an essential acquisition on any sort of exploration.

Image: Daniel Baker

And so it was with some eagerness that I accepted The Stick Book by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks for review. Would the girls and I get new ideas and be inspired in new ways? Would it encourage us out on those days we were suffering from inertia? Would it make me look with refreshed, delighted eyes at the pile of sticks by our back door that grows and grows and normally has me rolling my eyes in slight desperation?

The Stick Book contains 70 different ideas for using sticks in outdoor play. There are 8 themed chapters, for example one on “Stick games” (including pick up sticks, capture the flag, and tracking with stick), one on “Adventure sticks” (including building dens, swords, catapults and spear throwers) and on on “Watery sticks” (including pooh sticks, making a mini raft and measuring the depth of a stream). Each activity is accompanied by a photograph and tips or brief instructions on the activity in question.

Essentially, this is a craft book, not unlike those you might get from the library packed with Easter crafts or Egyptian crafts. It’s just that this time the unifying theme is outdoor play with sticks. And like many craft books, with the advent of the internet, and great sites like Let the Children Play, the ideas you find within the pages are probably available for free somewhere online, and many of them are so simple (such as playing pooh sticks) that you might wonder if this really is a book worth buying.

It’s definitely worth seeking out. By bringing all the ideas together in one place it IS stimulating. It has motivated the girls and me get our shoes on and go walking and looking for good sticks. M in particular has enjoyed reading the book herself, and choosing an activity she’d like to do. I particularly like the fact that all the people who feature in this book’s photographs are kids. There’s not an adult to be seen in this idyllic, natural landscape full of potential for adventure.

As children increasingly lose contact with outdoor play, and adults become less confident and comfortable with it (after all, isn’t it easier to put on a DVD?), this book will hopefully be a useful reminder of how simple and enjoyable it is to play outdoors. All you need is a stick and a little bit of inspiration.

If you want a gorgeously delicious, funny and charming slice of inspiration then look no further than Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley, illustrated by Neal Layton.

I read this picture book in a bookshop and couldn’t put it back on the shelf. It went straight to my heart and reminded me so vividly, so excitingly of why a stick is such a good thing to play with.

Hegley’s text is about a boy called Stanley on the way to the beach with his parents. As always Stanley is carrying his stick with him and over the course of the book we are introduced to all the different ways Stanley plays with his stick. It’s been a Stickosaurus, a slug life-guard, a secret message writer. You are left in doubt as to how important Stanley’s stick is to him; he even tries to name his stick, though it takes a very dramatic event for Stanley to strike upon just the right name for his favourite toy.

I try hard not to reveal too much of the plot in any review I write, and certainly not to give away any final twist. But this time, I’m struggling so hard to resist temptation. Layton’s illustrations are fun and lovely but it is Hegley’s rich, clever, light, expressive language that make this a picture book which (I’m confident) stands head and shoulders above just about any other you will read about today. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Hegley, after all, is an accomplished poet and is passionate about creativity. And the way he finds to round off this perfect picture book is… well, it is absolutely word perfect.

Stanley’s Stick is a book to buy, to read, to roll around your tongue and savour, to hug, to take with you as you walk through the park stick in hand. Yep, I really do quite like this one!

As luck would have it (or not), we’ve been experiencing the wettest April in what seems like living memory. We’ve had day after day after day of rain and so photo opportunities for stick play outside have been few and far between. Instead, this weekend we raided our stick stockpile, left two to dry on the radiator overnight and then transformed them into magical objects by decorating them with ribbons, pipecleaners and beads.

The girls have been using them as wands, trumpets, banners and flags, and can’t wait for the rain to dry up so the sticks can come out with us on an adventure.

Whilst making our decorated sticks we listened to:

  • Stickman by Pencilhead and the Playground Punks
  • Let’s Stick Together by Bryan Ferry
  • Up a Tree by Frances England

  • When the ground is a little less sodden, we’re planning to do several project from The Stick Book, including:

  • Building a Den. Here are some tips from The Eden Project on den building.
  • Making a star wand – using willow, or other pliable sticks, to bend into star shapes. You can get an idea of the end result from the photos on this website.
  • Making woodland monsters using clay – the Coed Bryn Oer website has a simple tutorial

  • And if you wanted to make a bundle of stick books to enjoy, you should include The Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Not a stick by Antionette Portis, and A stick is an excellent thing by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

    Today I’m joining up with the weekly celebration that is Nonfiction Monday. This week’s host for Nonfiction Monday is Gathering Books. Do click on through to see what other books are included in this week’s celebration of children’s nonfiction books.

    Disclosure. I received my copy of The Stick Book from the publishers (Stanley’s Stick I bought myself). My review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion.

    18 Responses

    1. Polly

      In the grip of Harry Potter fever Bill recently forked out his own money on one of their branded plastic wands. He has discovered though that it is MUCH less satisfying than the bounty of free wands to be scavenged in the garden/woods. They have better magic (of course). I like the fact that a stick wand can accomplish so much more and be much more creatively used than the stick guns/swords that we had plenty of before.
      Polly recently posted..Buying comics

    2. Helen Dineen

      I love the idea of this book, it’ll be going on the wish list! And am thinking of gifting the two books together as a birthday present, think it would be a lovely bundle.

    3. choxbox

      The books sound wonderful!
      Was going to suggest Stickman but you obviously know of it 🙂

      This also brings to my mind a vivid image of the time we were in the Heath – it had just rained and my daughter and her friends took turns in stirring this big puddle of muck with a long stick. They played on for almost two hours – best example of why we dont really need plastic toys!

    4. Zoe

      Hi Polly,

      I’m completely with you. And the feel of a wooden wand is also so lovely.

      Helen, Yes! I think they would make an absolutely super birthday bundle 🙂

      Aah Choxbox, sticks and MUD – a very good combination!
      Zoe recently posted..All you need is a stick

    5. Nonfiction Monday Round Up «

      […] from Playing by the Book offers us a lovely pairing of the nonfiction The Stick Book by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks and the very lovely picture book Stanley’s Stick by…. As per usual, Zoe shares with us an array of activities she has done with her own children as […]

    6. Rainbow Prams

      I was just saying to a friend of mine how I’ve removed the PS3 from the house as I’m getting agitated with the kids staring at a screen for numerous hours! It’s so true how the simple and best things are free. I think a walk in the great outdoors is on the agenda!

    7. Zoe

      Thankyou Rainbow Prams, Sue, Mrs Brown and Sharon,

      yes, hopefully the weather is such you can get out with sticks soon 🙂 (or if not, that you have good clothes for wet weather exploring / fishing / stirring with sticks!)
      Zoe recently posted..All you need is a stick

    8. Jeanne Walker Harvey

      What a great idea for a book! I fondly remember all those rainy days I headed outside with my sons and they floated sticks (I mean “boats and ships”) down the “creek” next to the street curb.

    9. Myra from GatheringBooks

      I love the pairing of these two books, you always have the most inspired ideas, Zoe. Pick-up sticks was one of my favorite games when I was a child – on hindsight, that must have been what strengthened my visual-motor coordination skills. If there are sections on twigs and branches and how they can be pulled apart and used in ingenious ways, I’m definitely in. Thanks for sharing these two with us! The picture book also seems to have gorgeous illustrations/artwork.
      Myra from GatheringBooks recently posted..March AWB Reviews

    10. Zoe

      Love the image Jeanne. We’ve certainly got “creeks” next to our street curbs at the moment.

      Myra, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes, the 2 books go well together – also they’ve made me think about how the same subject can be approached in different ways – here one fiction, the other nonfiction, and in doing so you might appeal to different types of readers or different settings for reading.
      Zoe recently posted..All you need is a stick

    11. sandhya

      Sticks indeed make for very ingenious imaginative playing. I remember when A was younger, she and her friends in our area would collect as many sticks lying around as they could, in the play park, and make an ‘Eeyore’s house’.

      Now of course, being a Harry Potter aficionado, the same girls spend a lot of play time deciding what wood their ‘wands’ are made of, with what core. There is of course a lot of ‘spell casting’ and mock fights. 🙂
      sandhya recently posted..An answer to a question- why set age limits?

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