A good story can right the world.
It can draw you back from lonely grumpiness, or fed-up tiredness. It can make you feel human and connected once again.
Celestine is full of hope that this year she and Ernest will throw a big Christmas party. After all, he had promised her they could have one. When Ernest says they can’t afford a party, Celestine persuades her good friend that with the help of handmade presents and decorations, a little bit of music and some thrifty good cheer, a great party needn’t cost much.
With Ernest won over, the ensuing party is indeed delightful and full of games, but there is one guest who won’t join in. He’s sullen and rude. However, as Ernest starts playing music on his fiddle, and then reads all the party guests a story… something changes. He’s drawn in and his bad mood lifts. When the party comes to an end, who do you think thanks his hosts for “the best party ever”?
All Ernest and Celestine stories have warmth, generosity and kindness overflowing their pages in a quiet, understated way, and this Christmas offering is no different. The text is pared back to its very bare bones; close attention to the graceful, loose, old-worldly and hugely appealing illustrations are necessary to complete the story. It’s a lovely and timely reminder that we don’t need to splash out on gadgets and gizmos, we just need to give in to a little time, thoughtfulness and playfulness, throw in some great music… and of course a good story, and you’ve got all you need for the best Christmas ever.
Capturing the handmade, simple-pleasures spirit of Ernest and Celestine’s Christmas, we set about making our own Christmas decorations and tree… but out of old books.
For the first three types of bauble we made we needed lots and lots of circles cut from picture books. Using Red Ted Art’s instructions we created a simple bauble with folder circles glued together.
Moving up a level in complexity we then created baubles using circles again folded in half but this time attached to each other alternating at the top and the bottom, creating a bellows or fan effect. As you can see in the image below we stapled the circles together rather than glued them. Older children might be able to manage this on their own. It’s useful to have quite a small stapler for this.
The next type of bauble is fun for exploring geometry!
You’ll need 20 circles of the same size, plus an equilateral triangle which fits just inside the circles. Use the triangle to fold the edges of the circles up, before stapling them together as shown below.
We then made two types of decorations using strips cut out from books.
Take 8-10 strips of the same length and width and punch a hole through either end. Then use a split pin to join them all together before fanning out the strips to create a sphere. Even young kids can assemble this, and there’s something very magical about opening out the flat strips into a sphere.
Any strips you’ve left over can be used to make good old paper chains!
And all these lovely baubles need a christmas tree, so what better than one made out of books?
The trick for this tree is making sure you have 5 or 6 books of exactly the same height for each “layer” of the tree.
And you can’t have a naked tree, so we made hanging decorations out of Shrinkie plastic (Shrinky Dinks), tracing some much loved illustrations.
Can you recognise any of these?
Whilst decorating the house we listened to lots of folk music recommended to me by a children’s book illustrator, Joel Stewart, who’s also a folk musician, and who’s great at suggesting new and interesting music to listen to including:
Other decorations we could have made from old books include:
If you think you like the spirit of this Ernest and Celestine book, you might enjoy this article by George Monbiot, “Don’t Spend, Mend”, and also Project Wild Thing, pledging to spend time with your child playing outside, as an alternative Christmas present.
Will you forgive me for cutting up books this Christmas? Would you come to my Ernest and Celestine style party if I threw one?
Disclosure: We were sent a free review copy of this book from the publisher.