Tag Archives: fanciful creatures

Chimeras, Evil Laughs, and Vampire Bats

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MakerSpace was great on Sunday, August 9th. I had been looking forward to cutting up stuffed animals and sewing the parts together to make new, made up creatures, and I was not the least bit disappointed. For those of you who don’t know, MakerSpace is a concept being adopted by many Asheville schools and other programs for kids. As the name suggests, it is all about making and creating, whether it’s through cooking food, making arts and crafts, building and inventing stuff, etc. My Unitarian Universalist church’s RE program (religious education, a UU’s equivalent to Sunday school) does all sorts of different MakerSpace activities over the summer. August 9th marked the third time I’d helped out with MakerSpace this summer. The first two times, I helped with cooking activities, something I hope to do more of with kids.
Cooking was fun, but August 9th was the first time I got to see just how creative these kids are. They are in grades kindergarten through sixth, and they all came up with the strangest, silliest, most original creatures to make with old stuffed animal parts. Some of these chimeras were: An elephant with the body of a teddy bear, a squirrel with bat wings and a dog’s head, a horse with a penguin’s head and purple monkey arms (wearing a panda mask no less), a penguin with a dog’s head (with hair pretties on her ears), a dog with a monkey’s head and antlers, a penguin with a polar bear head, a guinea pig with a teddy bear’s body and corduroy bear legs (I helped cut that guinea pig’s head off), a bunny with a teddy bear body and a frog’s leg for a tail, and a vampire bat; a long stuffed animal’s leg that’s been made into a baseball bat with a face and sharp teeth. The kids seemed to really enjoy making these creatures. Needless to say, I think they also enjoyed cutting up old stuffed animals. The leader of this activity even encouraged them to start the session with an evil laugh! These funny, creative kids were a pleasure to work with. I got to hang out with some of them after we were done.
Here are some of the quotes from me, the kids, and the other MakerSpace teachers I wrote down while we were doing this:

“Who wanted the bunny head?”

“Here’s a bunny body for whoever wants it.”

“I’m cutting off his ears!”

“Let me find a head for you.”

“Hey, that’s my body! You have a penguin body!”

“Somebody lost a tail.”

“Here’s a purple arm.”

“Did somebody take the guinea pig feet?”

As these quotes suggest, this was a fun, creative, hilarious, somewhat evil session in MakerSpace. Most of the kids loved it and took home the stuffed creatures they made, with two exceptions that I know of.
There were two little girls who didn’t enjoy this session. One of them is the daughter of the woman I usually ride to church with. She knew it would be too traumatic for her to see stuffed animals get chopped up, so she didn’t even go. There was another little girl who went and did the activity, but didn’t want to take home her stuffed creature. That was OK, though, because I had brought a teddy bear for the kids to chop up, but before we started, this child decided he was too cute for that and asked if she could take him home. I said yes. So I guess she saved the life of at least one of those animals. Some of the other stuffed animals didn’t get cut up at all. There were also lots of leftover heads, limbs, tails, and bodies, which I imagine will be used when we do this again next summer. If I’m in charge then, I’d tell the kids to try their best to use the body parts we already have before cutting up more stuffed animals. We will always need more animals for this, though. I will too, because I’m going to try doing it myself. I wrote down the basic supplies I’ll need, and maybe people can help me sew the parts together. Maybe someday I’ll post my own pictures and directions for making stuffed toys this way.
Anyway, MakerSpace is almost over. Next week we’ll be making chalices (the Unitarian Universalist symbol) out of clay, and we will end the summer with a garden party. Then it will be time for regular religious education, where I will be telling stories and helping with more hands-on activities. I can’t wait to be trained for those two things!

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Review of Elsa Beskow’s “Children of the Forest”

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Being written and illustrated by a Swedish author, the illustrations in Elsa Beskow’s Children of the Forest are very different from most American illustrations. Both the illustrations and the story are fanciful, while many, if not most, American stories and illustrations for children (that are not about talking animals or ordinary people) are more whimsical than fanciful. My definition of whimsical versus fanciful illustrations and stories has to do with fanciful stories and illustrations usually involving fanciful creatures the reader already knows about, such as dragons, unicorns, fairies, or other types of Little People (like the Forest People in this book). Whimsical illustrations and stories, on the other hand, usually involve fanciful creatures no one has ever seen before. Dr. Seuss’ characters are good examples of this. Well-known fanciful creatures, however, can be whimsical if drawn differently from how people normally think of them.

Another way this book’s illustrations are different from those in many American picture books is that even when there’s activity going on in the pictures, the illustrations are usually very quiet and calm. The Forest Children playing with the squirrels, for example, is a very gentle scene despite them being active.  Harriet, the older of the two forest girls riding a bat and being watched by frogs and her siblings is another example.

Though the illustrations are different from those in most American children’s books, they are no less enjoyable. I love how on every text page, there is a small black and white illustration related to the text, with a full page color illustration next to it. I also love the very vague face on the moon in one of the night scenes. My three favorite illustrations are the two forest boys being pulled in a sledge by a hare, the owl teacher with all her animal and forest child students, and the Forest Children on a seesaw with forest fairies. The only thing I’m not sure about here is the fairies being all white. Aren’t fairies colorful?

Being a relatively simple story, and a common type of story at that, the story of Children of the Forest is much more similar to American children’s stories than the illustrations. Like many other stories around the world, this story is all about a normal year in the life of its characters. Sometimes that’s all a story needs in order to be interesting, and I really like stories like that. An American children’s book like that is Charlotte Zolotow’s Over and Over. That’s a wonderful book that I hope to eventually review on this blog. Children of the Forest, though, is an excellent example of using this type of story to introduce a fantasy world and its inhabitants.

The only thing I don’t like about this story is the part where the Forest Children’s father kills the snake. Sure, the story later says to never harm a creature of the forest unless it means you harm, but I think this book should have emphasized getting away from predatory animals, only trying to kill them when you know there is no escape. By teaching their children to kill predatory animals every time they see them, I can’t help worrying that the Forest Parents are teaching both their children and the readers that the world would be a better place without certain animals. That is hardly ever the case. In fact, a book like this should try to teach children the importance of every creature in an ecosystem, including the ones that don’t seem friendly. Like I said in my The Night Fairy review, animals eating other animals is not an evil deed, and I don’t like it when authors treat it like it is.