4-7 books

WEEKLY ‘WHAT’S ON THE SHELF?’ THE BOG BABY by Jeanne Willis and Illustrated by Gwen Millward

‘Do you believe in Bog Babies?’

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I first came across this magical story when I was a teacher. I attended an amazing course run by the CLPE and ‘The Power of Reading’ Project. The CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) is a charity working to improve literacy in primary schools. ‘The Bog Baby’ is a winner of the Booktrust Early Years award and it is not hard to see why.

This story is about two little girls, who on hearing a rumour of a magic pond in Bluebell Wood, go exploring in the hope of catching a newt. However, they catch something much more exciting than that! They find a Bog Baby, carry him home in a jam jar and decide to keep him a secret. They fall in love with him, share him with their friends and take care of him the best they can. All goes well until their new ‘pet’ takes a turn for the worse and falls ill. After confiding in Mum (who as it turns out isn’t a complete stranger to this delightful creature), they learn a valuable life lesson and discover that sometimes if you really love something you have to set it free.

I introduced the story to my nearly three year old and six year old in the same way that I did to my Year 2 Class when I read the book to them. I disguised the front cover and read to just past the initial description of the Bog Baby. I then provided them with a box of goodies containing:

  • Blue soft dough – I got ours from the ELC (with added glitter and sparkle!) but any brand would do, or you could make your own.
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Lollipop sticks
  • Mini Pom-poms
  • Googly eyes
  • Sequins

I explained that we were going to make some Bog Babies of our own and excitement took over! This is a great activity for a rainy (or snowy day) and afterwards my daughter asked what other book characters she could make out of dough.

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Jeanne Willis’ descriptions of the Bog Baby are just so perfectly pitched at the imaginations of young children. My daughter carefully ensured that her Bog Baby had ‘ears like a mouse’ and that he was the exact ‘size of a frog. I’ll think you’ll agree that they captured his ‘boggly eyes’ perfectly. Now, please don’t think that just because I am a ‘teacher Mum’, that everything in my mission to get my children reading runs perfectly! In the process of us being creative and using our ‘visualisation of a character’ skills the two year old squashed and flattened the six year old’s Bog Baby at least twice (and yes he is wearing a hat indoors – it was a ‘snow day’ and therefore a woolly hat was essential attire at all times!).

After they had made their creations, I continued reading the story and finally showed them the illustrations. Their faces lit up as they realised that they had produced their very own Bog Babies, just like the one on the pictures (well almost!). Inspired, my six year old drew us a map of where her Bog Baby could be found. We discussed how we were going to look after him and what kind of habitat he might like to live in. We are now in the process of creating a shoe box habitat for him to reside in.

The illustrations by Gwen Millward are beautiful. My daughter studied the landscape of the Bluebell Wood in detail, spotting all the woodland bugs and creatures hiding in the foliage. The Bog Baby is quite possibly one of the most adorable fictional creatures I have ever seen portrayed in a children’s picture book. His comical yet cute expressions show his loveable personality and when he begins to get ill, we feel it with him.

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Just when you think that the story has finished, there is a delightful surprise ending. which I shall not spoil for you if you haven’t read it. There is also the most brilliant page at the back of the book entitled ‘Notes about your Bog Baby’ for your child to complete, with the invitation to make some notes and a small sketch and send them to S.O.B.B (Save Our Bog Babies) at Puffin Picture Books. I’ll keep you posted as to whether we receive anything back!

This is a story of magic, childhood, love and loss with a lovely underlying theme of nature and keeping living things where they belong. I would recommend this story for 2-7 year olds, with so much scope for imaginative play and further activities. I would love to see some pictures of any Bog Babies that you find!

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