Monday 22 June 2020

Space on the Bookshelf –first talking event – Civic Square – The Front Room - Saturday Session

Image @_TheFrontRoom Twitter

So after blogging and creating story sacks for seven years here on SOTB, on Saturday 13th June we did our first talk. The amazing team at Civic Square Birmingham invited us to join them for their ‘Saturday Session’ virtual talk via Zoom.

Being passionate about Story Sacks, and how they are such a great versatile way to encourage children to engage, share and foster a love of reading, I was delighted to accept the offer. However my lack of skills and general inept-ness with new technology had me panicking as to whether I could actually work Zoom well enough to do a half decent presentation.

Images via @ThatNikkiBi & @ImmyKaur Twitter

Thankfully, I have family who are more tech savvy than me, so I had on hand tech support. Also any nerves were eased by the amazing Civic Square team, Imandeep Kaur (and her helpers) and Nikki B.

So I presented talk that I had put together introducing the concept of story sacks, going through their uses, and variations, (to be utilised and adapted for middle grade, young adults and even adults), plus tips and hints on how to compile them especially on a budget. Plus navigating around difficulties in getting the components especially for books featuring diverse characters.

With having a now large back-list (as it were) of story sacks, I managed to find either actual sacks of photographs to illustrate all my points. I also made some SOTB sheets on ‘Hints and Tip for making Story Sacks’, and ‘Tips on Using Story Sacks in Schools and Nurseries’. Please e-mail if you’d like me to send you the PDFs.

Everyone at Civic Square The Front Room, Saturday Session were all lovely and welcoming, plus enthusiastic, asking lots of interested and varied questions, and most importantly still awake at the end –phew! Our discussions have also inspired me to make some story sacks on particular themes – thank you Rob and Ivor! 


After seven years making story sacks, it was really affirming to know that people are interested in the posts, and talking about them really made me think of how to best articulate all my years of experience in making them in a way that was (hopefully) logical and helpful and interesting.

I’d live to say a BIG THANK YOU to Civic Square for inviting me, and urge everyone to visit their website to learn all about the amazing work they are doing: press here. or follow them on Twitter @CIVIC_SQUARE and @__TheFrontRoom

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Story Sack: ‘The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was none of his Business’ 30th Anniversary!

So a certain mole turns 30 this month, along with his farmyard friends - not forgetting Basil the dog – so here at SOTB we thought we do a Story Sack (or two) to celebrate.

In case you are not aware of this classic picture book from the genius minds of Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch, it’s about a mole, who sticks his head out of his hole, only to have something unmentionable land on it. The Mole then goes on a mission to find out who the business belongs to, asking all the farmyard animals, who prove their innocence by demonstration, covering the poor mole in further excrement. It is not until Mole meets some helpful flies, that he finds out the identity of the culprit and can exact revenge.

It may sound like silly book – which it is – but as funny as it is , it is also educational. I had a friend who was a naturalist professor at The Oxford University, who told me they use the book to teach students how to identify and track animals, using their poo.

So before we begin, here’s a reminder about what a story sack contains… 

Story Sack Checklist… 

  • A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel).
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally soft toys for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

So, as I said we have not one but two ‘The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was none of his Business’ story sacks, one for younger children and one for older readers.

Story Sack One – Younger Readers


We have paired ‘The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was none of his Business’, with the beautiful picture book ‘Life-Sized Animal Poo’ by John Townsend, which is a beautifully
illustrated non-fiction book, that does exactly what it does on the tin, explains about animals poo, in actual size pictures. It is fun and not too wordy. 


For both story sacks, we have manged to source a 25th Anniversary edition Little Mole plush, and we have added various soft toys of a similar size, for each of his friends that he encounters. For the flies, we have found a small pack of plastic figures.


Because it’s fun, and educational and will be of interest to all young buddying naturalists, we have ‘Who Did This Poo? A Matching & Memory Game’, by Magma for Laurence king, featuring beautiful illustrations by Charlotte Coulais. We have also found a more physical game which ties into Little Mole’s story, ‘Poo Head’ where you try and catch poo’s on your head.


Usually I have to get up thinking cap on and get crafty for this element of the Story Sacks, but as it is the 30th Anniversary publishers Pavilion have produced downloadable activity sheets which you can find here.

Story Sack Two – For Older Readers

For this story sack for older children you will see we are using many of the same elements as the first storys sack with the exception of…

Non-Fiction Book

For the older children, we have paired ‘The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was none of his Business’ with ‘Animal Science Poo, A Natural History of the Unmentionable’ by Nicola Davis and illustrated by Neal Layton. 


This non-fiction picture book, is just a humorous and educational as Life-Sized Animal Poo’ but it has more fact and text, which is more appropriate for older readers.


For the older children we have swapped the memory game for ‘Plop Trumps, a poo-centric Top-Trumps card game, which has more factual content.

Anyway, this is Space on the Bookshelf signing off and wishing Little Mole, and all his friends a happy 30th Birthday!

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Picture Book Review: Emma Lazell’s That Dog!

That Dog! Is the tale of one very clever dog, who outwits the town's cunning yet inept dog-nappers, rescuing all the stolen pets and bring the culprits to justice.

Emma’s vibrant and fun illustrations really bring the story to life, as you follow the story which is unusually told from the villain’s point of view as they pursue their latest target –the spotty dog, with long floppy ears and a even longer tail. 

That Dog, is mischievous and humorous read accompanied by exquisite illustrations.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Ways into Stories - Helping Children Become Storytellers.

Once a long while ago when my children were small a very wise and experienced teacher friend gave me some advice she said:

‘Children cannot learn to read or write until they can tell a story.’

I believe that she is correct. Reading and writing are quite abstract concepts, and it is a lot easier to get your head around them if you understand the concept of stories and storytelling.

Indeed many anthropologists, state that we are a species are storytellers, and that it is at the core of why we’ve been so successful, (that and having thumbs!)

However some children find storytelling difficult, even intimidating, so this is a post all about finding ways into stores to help children learn to tell stories, and therefore foster a love of them, and hopefully reading and writing too.

As a writer myself, I can tell you there are few things more daunting than a bright white blank piece of paper. I like many writers, don’t start with the writing straight away, but begin with brainstorming ideas, doing character profiles, and even looking for pictures of characters and places in magazines and making mood boards. So why would we thinking asking a child to imagine and tell a story without any kind of preparation of stimulus would be easy? So here a few ways that can help children into their stories…

Prompts are great!

Story Cubes

One of the easiest prompts you can have for story telling are Story Cubes. These are dice with pictures on each side. You throw them and make up a story based on the images that land face up.

Story dice can be used as a fun family game, or as a prompt for inspiring story telling. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to carry around in a handbag or changing bag, to be used when kids get bored whilst out and about. They also come in different sets, like a horror, fairy tale and science fiction, so you can story tell in other genres.

Story Wheels

For younger children, Story Wheels are great tools to prompt story telling. These have full colour illustrations or characters, animals, settings and props. You spin the arrow, and see where it stops, and use these as starters for storytelling.

A good few years ago, I utilised these while doing a remote author project with a pre-school. With small groups of the older children (aged 3-5), we spun the wheels to pick the character and settings. The children were very young, and were initially very wary about telling stories, but when they had characters and places picked for them at random by the Story Wheels, they become engaged and excited and their creativity shined through. The children then made up the beginning of the stories, which I wrote down.

I then send these story beginnings to authors Chitra Soundar and Rita Borg who wrote the ending of the stories.

I use the same children’s paintings, to illustrate the complete stories, and we printed them into a book.

The children love reading the endings of the stories, and seeing them illustrated with their own art-works.

Story Puzzles & Games

There is a whole array of storytelling card games and puzzles, which can be used to inspire storytelling. From the puzzles games for younger children, where you put together a liner story with piece depicting scenes that you used to tell a story, to card that do a similar thing but that can also be used as family games.


An animation set up and ready from filming circa 2012

In this day and age many children have access to devises which you can download animation aps to. Unlike when I was child trying to do stop-motion animation on a Super Eight movie camera, these aps make creating your own stop-motion. Children can use them to make animations, and in doing so they are also telling stories. This is a great way to encourage children who are reluctant storytellers, to begin making up their own tales.

Drawing Stories

Many years ago I took my son to meet Old Bear and owner and author/ illustrator of the Old Bear books Jane Hissy. In her talk, she told the children that she set up all the toys to create the scenes form the books, and sets about drawing them. These drawing are the illustrations for her books.

When we got home, my son (a reluctant story teller but keen artist) went about setting up scenes with his favourite teddies, and drawing them. He then made the drawing into a story, that we got printed into a book.

Story Starter Boxes

For older children, a good way into stories is via a Story Starter Box. In fact recently in the news, there has been a story about a Sorcerers Box, that has been found in Pompeii –which immediately has all my writer friends on social media saying what a great inspiration for a story. The same goes for the Victorian Vampire hunter set that was found a few years ago, or even any time capsules that are found, they just get your creative mind going.

So to make you own, Story Starter Box, just find a box, anything will do an old shoe box, a matchbox, and old biscuit tin. Fill it with things that may be interesting or a bit quirky, here’s my list of suggested contents…
  • Photographs
  • Pictures or articles from magazine/ newspapers
  • Small toys, 
  • Jewellery, fossils, stones, leaves. Dried flowers
  • Maps/ drawing
  • Anything small and interesting.

Give this box to your child, and ask them to write a character profile, or short stories about the contents of the box.

Thanks for stopping by, please comment if you wish, and good luck to you with any endeavours you may have getting into stories!

Friday 24 April 2020

Lockdown Special: Creating Story Sacks for home – with a little help from the internet! BUG Belly Babysitting Trouble by Paul Morton

In this our second lockdown stock sack special, we are going to show you how you can compile story sacks, by shopping online, opposed to purchasing the components from bookshops, charity shops and toys shops on the high street.

So for you all out there here’s a reminder of what a story sack consists of….

Story Sack Checklist

  • A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel).
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally  soft toys for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.


The book I’ve chosen to construct the stock sack around is Bug Belly written and illustrated by Paul Morton. It’s an early reader chapter book, about Bug Belly the greediest Frog who has to save all his nephews and nieces he’s babysitting when their pond begins to drain. Using an ingenious plan Bug Belly outwits Heron, Pike and Snake, who are all ready to goggle up him and the tadpoles, on their journey form Top Pond, through Middle Pond to Bottom Pond. This funny and vibrant book is an excellent read for the time of year, as it’s tadpole season, plus it supports the Key Stage One Curriculum. It’s perfect for home educating! 

I’ve paired Bug Belly with Scholastic’s From Tadpole to Frog early reader by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, which is an early reader photographic non-fiction book about the life cycle of a frog.


For soft toys I found a Wild Republic frog, which was relatively inexpensive. Of course you can get other frogs, from finger puppets (Ikea do a cheap one) to larger toys, to suit every budget.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find ANY plush tadpoles, so I got my so to sow some from felt and buttons. These were easy and inexpensive. 

Snake toys you can fairly cheaply and easily on line if you wish. Pikes, are trickier but you can buy a 45cm Pike toy/cushion for £8.99 from Ebay. Heron’s get pricier but it’s worth looking around. 

For budget sake, and to keep my son company as he made the tadpoles, I made this like Pike, (sorry sowing isn’t by strong suit). But making characters with thing you have around the house is a good activity for lockdown!

Game / Toys

For the game element I have included an Insect Lore frog life cycle set of figurines, which again is good for home educating.

For printable activities, you can also visit the bug belly web-site  Here

The whole story sack cost (including postage and packaging) cost less than £20.00 and all arrived in a week. So thereby showing that you can produce story sacks from home.

Monday 20 April 2020

Lockdown Special: Story Sack Challenge – can you make a story sack from stuff you find around the house?

So, at Space on The Bookshelf we do a lot of features about Story Sacks. Story Sacks are a great educational tool, they’re fun, and can use play and stories to help learning and can be used in line with the curriculum. With lockdown extended and people Home Educating, this is exactly the time when Story Sack could really help people to entertain, engage and educate their children.

However it is lockdown and therefore shops are closed and people are stuck at home, so compiling story sacks isn’t as easy as it was. So, here is a blog post to show it can be possible to construct a story sack with things around your home. So I devised a challenge for my teens – which severed as both an activity to keep them busy, and to show you it is possible to create story sacks from home especially if you have a bookshelf (or two).

The Challenge

I game my children a print out each of what you need in a story sack. I then gave them an afternoon to compile their story sacks. At the end of the day me (an avid story sack creator) and my husband (who works in education) would pick a winner. 

So for you all out there here’s a reminder of what a story sack consists of….

Story Sack Checklist

  •  A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

Meet The Competitors

Team B’s Story Sack …

So B, went for a classic picture book to construct her story sack around, picking our ancient copy (from when I was a toddler) of ‘the Tiger who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr.

She paired this with a non-fiction picture book that we had yet to re-home about Big Cats.

For toys she raided her teddy collection and found a plush Tiger and cub. For the game element she manged to find a Trivia Pursuit special expansion pack about Wildlife. She also went the extra mile and found some activities, a colouring in sheet and big-cat themed word search on the internet and printed them out.

Team S’s Story Sack …

So S, an avid keeper of beetles, stick insects, hissing cockroaches, praying mantis and giant African land snails, went for an insect themed story sack. He picked the picture book ‘Moth’ by ‘Isobel Thomas and Daniel Egneus’ which is a beautiful book that is all about moths and their evolution.

He then paired this with the equally beautiful ‘Insect Emporium’ by ‘Susie Brooks’ and ‘Dawn Copper’.

For toys he put in his much loved TY beetle plush, which is always on his bed. For toys he went with the amazing tile game HIVE which features an array of insects.

The Verdict

Both story sacks were well thought out and ingeniously constructed with books and games and things from around the house (they were not permitted to use anything form my Story Sack stock). But the overall winner of the challenge, just taking it for going the extra mile and finding worksheets, was Team B’s Tiger story sack!

Thank you stopping by and we hope that this maybe inspires you to see if you can construct a story sack in isolation from bit and pieces you find around your home.

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Budget Story Sack – The Kiss That Missed – David Melling.

I’m often told by people that they like story sack but they are too expensive to put together so every now and then I like to do a post where I put together a budget story sack. I achieve this by setting a budget and timescale to assemble the story sack in and then go and out and see if I can actually construct a story sack within both the finical and time constraints. So this is my latest Budget story sack feature, but before we being let’s have a reminder of what is in a story sack…

Story Sack Checklist

  • A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

So my Budget was set at £10.00 and the timescale at a week (obviously this was done pre-lockdown!), and I went out to my local town. So in my first job is to look for a suitable book to construct the story sack around, here’s a quick tip; if you are going to do a budget story sack then stick to popular topics, like, dinosaurs, space or as I have in this one – knight and dragons – as you will find more choice of cheap components in charity shops, toy shops and pound shops etc.


So I was lucky enough to find a lovely good quality second hand copy of David Mellings beautiful ‘The Kiss That Missed’ for £1.00. The story is of knight who is on a quest to find and bring back the Kings Kiss for its intended recipient the prince. The knight journey is perilous and funny as he has to bravely tackle magical forest and ferocious dragons.

In the same shop I found a good condition copy of the book ‘100 Facts – Knights and Castle’ which provides the non-fiction related picture book which is crammed full of interesting knight educational facts, for only 50p.


For the toys I was lucky enough to find a BNWT ‘Puppet Company’ dragon & knight finger puppets for £1.00 each. I also found a BNWT box of ‘Tellatale Cinderella Finger Puppet’ set that provide the royal household for £3.00. I was stuck a little for a toy to be the Knights loyal steed but we happened to be going to Ikea that week and serendipitously they has a white horse finger puppet for £1.49. So we ended up with a whole cast of finger puppet characters which not only keeps the cost down, but also makes the story sack non-bulky and easy to transport.


For the game I found a complete unused second hand box of ‘Usborne Knights and Castles Snap’ for £1.50. Which can be used to play snap or utilised to play storytelling games - like story dice. As a bonus, I happened to find a foam knights shield for 50p, to encourage make-believe play.

All in all the Story Sack came in a budget just £9.99. Proving that with a bit on imagination, and a keen eye, you can construct a story sack on a limited budget.

Also if you would like to hear David Melling reading ‘The Kiss that Missed’ press here.