One More Month of Vacation!


Treasure Collection #1

It’s almost August, and for anybody with school-aged kids that means one thing: one more month of vacation! It’s a great time to go over that list of things to do during summer break: are there many left?


Treasure Collection #2

Here’s the report on this family’s side: I did make one of these lists a month or so ago (and I have the proof – ambitious, I know). I have to admit that we’re nowhere near halfway through it. We did do many things that required little planning and so far that seems like the best way to go. We had fun, learned about nature, relaxed and picked some treasures along the way. Living on an island with every possible land form helps, but is not necessary.

seacucumber  sanddollar

So, in case you are in a rut for things to do over the next month, here are some ideas (mostly in the “less planning is more” category):

– Playing in the water. Any kind of water will do: sometimes the backyard sprinklers are just as fun as the water park.

– Checking out books at the library. And while you’re there, stay a while: many public libraries have story time, crafts or, at least, air conditioning (never to be discounted) and many, many books to browse.

– Visiting a museum, discovery center, zoo or aquarium. Have you ever seen the look on a preschooler’s face when they first see a dinosaur skeleton or a live shark?

– Spending time out in the nature: it can be as committed as camping, but playground and a picnic are much more doable in some cases.

– Looking for “treasures”. Any kind of treasures. The first time we did this, Julien asked me if we’re going to find some money like the pirates. I told him that we probably won’t but “treasures” can be many other things that we like a lot. The idea sank in pretty fast and half an hour later we had a bag full of leaves, flowers, rocks and A LOT of sticks (he’s 3).

– Making something with the “treasures”: collages, rubbings, drawings, pressing. Perfect if it ever rains.

Still looking for ideas? Check out my good old list on Pinterest. Maybe you’ll have more luck than I did in checking off some things.

Talk soon,



Hey Diddle Diddle

Hey diddle, diddle,

The Cat and the Fiddle

The Cow jumped over the moon,

The little Dog laughed to see such fun

And the Dish ran with the Spoon.

Nursery rhyme #2 in our series happens to also be dated, chronologically, right after Mary, Mary quite contrary. Again, here too there are many theories as to the origin, and the fact that these rhymes have been transmitted mostly orally throughout history doesn’t help matters.

Robert Dudley and Elizabeth dancing

The most common theory about Hey Diddle, Diddle connects it to queen Elisabeth I of England, Mary Tudor‘s not-so-beloved sister (and also Mary Queen of Scots‘ nemesis).

Hey Diddle, Diddle was originally published in 1765, as High Diddle, Diddle and reflects the popular use of nonsense phrases in songs and rhymes. Shakespeare himself used the word diddle in his writing.

The cat is believed to represent Queen Elizabeth I who was nicknamed ‘The Cat’ because of the way she played or fiddled with her cabinet members, much like a cat will play with mice.

The cow and moon seems to point to other members of the Court, involved in intrigue that was a huge part of life in the Elizabethan era. There was very strict protocol regarding the behavior of members of court towards each other and towards the Queen and it is not surprising that nicknames would have been given to the various players.

The little dog was reportedly, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Some believe Elizabeth loved Robert while others feel that they were simply very close friends. It is said that Elizabeth once referred to him as her ‘lap dog.’

Elizabeth’s serving lady represents the dish and the spoon was the designation of the royal taster. These two servants fell in love and secretly eloped and ran away from the court. When they were captured, Elizabeth had them thrown into the Tower of London.

As all the pieces fall in place, the interpretation makes sense. Still the image of the cat playing the fiddle and the cow jumping over the moon are so familiar and dear to generations of children that I think I will stick with them for now.

Talk soon,


Mary Mary Quite Contrary

The first time I started looking up nursery rhymes was a few years ago, after Baby #1 was born. Not having grown up with Mother Goose, I did not have many associations with the different rhymes. I just liked them for what they were. And because some of them did not make that much sense, I also started looking up their meaning. What a great surprise to learn about the more or less gory origins of many of them: plague, executions, terrible monarchs, battles of long time ago. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I like these things, but it was very interesting to see how the popular culture dealt with these negative events and characters and turned them into them into children’s rhymes: harmless play and history lesson to be remembered, at once.

As I decided to illustrate some of the rhymes, I kept the childish, light-tone that makes them great for kids. But, I also went back to the original meaning and researched it a little more. Not all of them have hidden connotations, and of those who do, it is not certain how much was added much later. Regardless, they do make for intriguing bits of historical trivia and over the next few weeks I will share with you some of my findings.

Here is the first one:

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockleshells

And pretty Maids all in a row.

The first theory on this rhyme involves Mary I of Scotland. The first line how does your garden grow possibly refers to the length of her reign (25 years, during which she lived mostly in France). Silver bells would be a reference to the church bells of the catholic cathedrals. Cockleshells could be an underlying statement that her husband was unfaithful and pretty maids would be a line about the death of her babies.

Another of these theories is about Mary I of England, also known as “Bloody Mary”. Mary Tudor was well known for her obsessive mission to return England to its Catholic religion. The most popular theory about Mary, Mary quite contrary is the one that describes the how does your garden grow as the growing size of the graveyards. The graveyards were growing so rapidly because there were Protestants who were executed because they were unwilling to give up their faith and practice as Catholic. Silver Bells and Cockleshells refer to torture devices. Silver Bells were thumbscrews, which caused the thumb to be smashed between two flat surfaces by a screw being tightened up. Cockleshells were a device for torturing that was placed on the genitals. Then of course the pretty maids would refer to the guillotine type machine called “the maiden.” Beheadings and being burned at the stake were very popular during the reign of Mary Tudor.

As I was saying, executions and mean queens, the stuff of children songs… More to come.

Talk soon,


Lucy in a Simple Drawing

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she’s gone.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain,
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies.
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers,
That grow so incredibly high.

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore,
Waiting to take you away.
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds,
And you’re gone.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Picture yourself on a train in a station,
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties.
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile,
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds”

When I was in school, a long time ago, in a land far away, I used to spend many hours trying to come up with essays about the hidden meanings in poems, novels and such. A real torture! I remember thinking all along: why do we have to write about this? Can we just enjoy the images as they come to life? Now that I don’t write about it, I just enjoy the images and sometimes draw them. Like I did with “Lucy”.

OK, so it’s not Wordsworth, but “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is one of those songs that everybody knows and sometimes wonders what it is about. Well, it turns out that (contrary to the urban myth) it’s about this drawing made by Julian Lennon of his school mate, Lucy. And about things that a kid could dream up. At least, that’s how I saw it and I’m sticking to it!

Getting to the final version wasn’t all that obvious, because I kept second guessing myself about this or that color and this or that composition element, but in the end it all came together. I have had this idea about starting a series based on miss-interpreted songs. There are at least a couple that I can think of that could use to be put just plainly in a drawing. I will keep you posted when that happens. In the meantime, there are a few other ideas that really need some attention.

Talk soon,


(Disclaimer: Shameless self-promotion) You can find beautiful full color art prints of “Lucy” in the Picture a Tale Society 6 store.

Story Time – “DIY Fairy Tale”

Ok, I admit it: the storytelling games in my last post were more on the “ready-made” side. And while there’s nothing wrong with that from time to time, in my mind there’s no replacement to good old pencil and paper when it comes to fun.

Here is an idea for a DIY storytelling game. It encourages creative thinking and develops drawing skills, although no pressure on the latter.

Most fairy tales are made up of 6 elements. So, to start, each child takes a piece of paper an draws a circle that she then divides in 6 slices. Then, in each slice, they drawn answer to the following questions:

1. What is the main character? Where does he/she live? What is the landscape there like?
2. What is her/his quest/mission/problem to solve?
3. Do they have somebody helping them? How?
4. What obstacle comes in the way of the character’s quest?
5. How will he/she deal with it?
6. What happens in the end?

When they are done drawing, everybody will tell their story to the others. Then they will file the drawing away for later, when they are comic book artists and need some inspiration.

(This game appears on, a great website for teaching resources.)

Enjoy story time and talk soon!