It had been a very busy morning in the calf shed. I came in for a lunch break and as I was coming through the back hallway, I could hear Julie, my daughter, saying to Ricky, my grandson, “Here’s Granny now. She’s really good at this kind of stuff. Granny will help you.”

The farm apprentice, Sinead was out sick and I didn’t have a lot of time. A note had come from playschool. The day after was World Book Day and the boys and girls were asked to choose their favourite book to bring to school. That was easy. They were also free to dress up if they so wished. Ricky loves costumes and has lots of books – so a choice had to be made.

Ricky had the iPad in his hand as he went to the corner of the living room and selected three books. One was The Gruffalo and two others that were pristine clean. Making a costume for the Gruffalo would be difficult. I knew the favourites were in the bed and well-worn from frequent use. The draw of the iPad is fierce and it is a challenge to parents and grandparents to provide activities that will surpass the electronic devices. Ricky was happy to get the choice made quickly so that he could get back to the screen but Julie encouraged him to go to his bedroom and select one from there. Reluctantly, he set off. A few minutes later, he returned with a frequently paged book called The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson with beautiful illustrations from Axel Scheffler. It’s an age old story but one of kindness and imagination. I said, “That’s it Ricky, we’ll make a whale costume.” The little boy’s eyes lit up as Julie wondered what the next steps would be. Nevertheless, she said to Ricky, “See, I knew Granny would know what to do” as she detailed the costumes we’d made over the years.

Where to begin

When you are faced with a challenge like that, it is important to keep it simple and include the child in the creation of the costume. These opportunities to stimulate a child’s imagination are important. Children have so many distractions that the simple act of making and doing at home can get lost.

The first thing we needed was a white shirt. I raided the army officer’s wardrobe that is still in my house. It contains several white shirts. I selected the most worn one. I’m sure he won’t miss it. If he leaves them in my house, they are fair game for costume creation. I cut off the collar. I took out the sewing machine and made a big seam from top to bottom to reduce the size of the shirt. I cut off the sleeves to Ricky’s size. At that stage, he wasn’t very impressed. Then I mentioned the ‘p’ word. “We’ll have to paint the back of the costume black for the whale’s back and the belly will be white.”

That’s it Ricky, we’ll make a whale costume

We have a box of poster paints with nice big brushes. Julie and Ricky painted the back of the shirt and the tops of the sleeves. The paint dried into the material, making a hard back just like a whale’s. The best part for him was that he had painted his costume. I also found a big snail shell that I had for years and Ricky and Julie made a snail for the shell out of playdough. In the morning, we prepared Ricky’s presentation introducing the book. His imagination took off. He lay down on the floor and said he was beached on the sand. He flapped around and explained that the snail beside him had hitched a ride. It was the simplest of costumes, but did the job perfectly.

In the 20 years of measurement of children’s reading, researchers have found that reading books is at its lowest level to date. We can improve this by giving books to children and more importantly reading with them. Happy St Patrick’s Day.

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