Bedtime Reading

Every night before bed, we have been reading The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles DeLint, illustrated by Charles Vess.  It's an intriguing (slightly spooky) story woven through with folklore sprung from imagination of the author. And though the story is new, it has the feel of being deeply rooted in old tradition.  Plus, we simply cannot get enough of the illustrations by Charles Vess.

Having recently created a book trailer of our own, I've come to appreciate and enjoy the concept of book-trailers... All to say, I went in search of a trailer so I could share a peek inside The Cats of Tanglewood Forest with you, but there was no trailer to be found.  Instead, I found a beautiful trailer for another book called Instructions.  The author of Instructions is Neil Gaiman and the illustrator, Charles Vess, is the same as The Cats of Tanglewood Forest.  I hope you like this video as much as we did.


Making Peg Dolls at Castle in the Air

photo courtesy of Castle in the Air

Have you ever been to Castle in the Air in Berkeley?  If not, I hope you have a chance to visit someday.  It's a treat...

photo courtesy of Castle in the Air

They carry books, crepe paper and Dresden trim, ribbons, materials for creating toy paper theaters, and other supplies, too many to name... every inch of the store is sparkling with magic.

photo courtesy of Castle in the Air
Castle in the Air also offers classes and I've been lucky to have taken a few (you can see photos here and here.)

photo by Margaret Bloom
The full schedule of spring & summer classes for Castle in the Air is posted here... and look who's teaching a class on June 30th!


Little Button Mouse

Little button mouse,
Hiding in my house.
Upstairs or downstairs,
Where can he be now?
Susan, look and see now!


One of the earliest games I taught my children was "Which Hand."  It's likely you already know this little game; it's played by hiding a button, pebble, penny, marble or other small item in one of your hands. You then present 2 closed fists to a child and ask, "Which Hand?" The child chooses one hand and if the first hand is empty, he may choose the second hand.  When he finds the button (pebble, penny or marble) he wins the game.  It's so simple and we play it over and over!

Last month Susan Perrow was visiting us for a few days during a break in her ambitious schedule of workshops and speaking engagements across the US.  Over dinner one night, my little one was getting restless at the table and so I started playing "Which Hand" with him.  Susan offered to teach us her version and we gladly accepted!

Little button mouse,
Hiding in my house.
Upstairs or downstairs,
Where can he be now?
Susan, look and see now!

The words Susan taught us are sung in a sing-songy chant, and instead of the fists presented side by side to the child, the fists are set one on top of the other. Then the fists are switched from top to bottom in repetition to the rhythm of the chant.

Besides the sweet little chant which goes with this game, there are little rhymes which are said in response to the guesses.  Did the child choose incorrectly?  Then you say, "No, not there.  Try elsewhere!"  And when he finds the button mouse, you can exclaim, "You're right!  You're right!  What a delight!"

Also, I have written Susan's name into the rhyme, but of course, the child's name would be substituted here.  My toddler learned this rhyme quickly and sings it to me often.  He has cleverly substituted in my name, so that he chants the final line, "Mama look and see now..."

Of course, a button, pebble, penny or marble can always always be found to play this game, but I couldn't resist making some tiny mice to play with.  Imagine how surprised my boys were when I opened my hand and, instead of our usual button, there was a little mouse!  The knitted mice were created from a pattern in this book here, and the wee felt mouse is from a pattern I adapted from this book.

Little Mr. loves playing with the mice...

The other day he used them to tell a funny story about a mama & papa mouse who longed for a baby.  They found a magic walnut shell and were very surprised when a baby mouse hatched from the shell as though he were hatching from an egg.

Finally, just for fun, Casey's Wood sells these very tiny mice  Aren't they darling?

Little button mouse,
Hiding in my house.
Upstairs or downstairs,
Where can he be now?
Mama, look and see now!



A few weeks ago I decided my wee fellow might really enjoy baking bread.

 He was very excited about pouring the flour in the bowl and stirring...

He helped with the kneading and loved sprinkling more flour to keep the dough from sticking.

We halved this recipe here and used all unbleached white flour (we were out of whole wheat.)

Baking bread with him was an enormously fun (and messy) adventure.  The sad part was setting the dough to rise.  We placed it in a bowl, covered it with a "blanket" and said night-night.  However, despite my assurances that the dough needed to "sleep," my little one was not convinced.  Tears were shed, but during his afternoon sleep, I shaped, let rise (again), baked and cooled the bread. When we served it, my little one was very proud of his work.

Have you ever baked bread with your favorite toddler?  Are you planning to try?



Little Mr. has named his new friend Slowpoke...


Small Hands, Greiving Hearts and a Peg Doll

I love sitting at tables covered with glue & paint, surrounded by children eager to begin creating.  I especially enjoy the moment when a hush falls as the group settles into concentration, applying paint carefully to the small wooden dolls they hold in their hands.

Being part of this movement which encourages nourishing toys for children is an honor, but I  sometimes wonder about this work I am doing. There is such clear value in researching cures for dangerous diseases; value in seeking to heal the wounds to our earth caused by pollution; value in working towards peace in war-torn nations; value in assuring that children of the world who hunger are fed.

image from Making Peg Dolls by Margaret Bloom

Then, last week I was humbled by an email from Melainey who wrote to me from the Midlands, England.  Melainey's story gave me a reminder of what was right in front of me all along --  of the true & deeper value of encouraging the creative work of children.  With Melainey's permission, I am sharing her words with you:

Hello --

I am writing on rather a sad note, but a lovely one at the same time, if that is possible.

My daughter is 9 years old.  She and I love your book and we have been creating all different kinds of peg people.

Two weeks ago a school friend of my daughter became unwell, and by early evening he had passed away. Our school has dealt with this sad and tragic loss with sensitivity.  They have had counselors in the classroom along with the teachers to assist and give guidance to the children.  We were also given literature to help us, as parents, understand what the children will be going through. 

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I sat and watched my daughter create a peg dolly designed wearing the little lad's favorite football team jersey.  She put a number 1 on the front of the dolly and the dolly had become a miniature of the little lad.  He was gently wrapped in tissue paper and taken to school to go on a memorial table which our school had set up, but something truly magical happened when the peg doll was placed where the little guy had sat in school.  The children in his classroom started to interact with the peg dolly; children who were finding it hard to talk about their little friend, talked to peg dolly.  The children sat with the doll; he was hugged and cradled in little hands. The teachers were amazed and touched by what was happening. They were overcome and saddened by the tragic loss of this lad, and to see the children coming to some terms with him passing by means of this peg dolly was meaningful and very touching.  I was in tears when the school told me.

The peg doll now stands on the memorial table. I have been told by some children that the peg dolly is looking after all the tributes left on the table. The little doll will then be put in a memory box for the the parents of the lad and his family.

My heart goes out to the family who lost their precious son.  And to Melainey -- thank you for sharing this story.


Peg Doll Swap Wrap-up: Wee Folk & Magic Critters

doll & photo by Tanja: Watermellish

Wecome to day #2 of my Blog-iversary Peg Doll Swap Wrap-up. Below you will find more wee folk (and charming critters) made by swap participants.  

To start off, Tanja (VIC, Australia) modeled her dolls after the character of Pelle from the book Pelle's New Suit.  She wrote:
I based my peg dolls on a favorite story in our house – Pelle's New Suit by Elsa Beskow. 

It's the story of a little boy, Pelle, whose clothing is becoming too small. He finds a solution to this problem by shearing his lamb and trading his labor (weeding gardens, feeding animals, running errands) to have his grandmothers card and spin the fleece. He dyes it blue himself, and again trades his labor to have his mother weave the yarn into cloth. Then the tailor sews him a new suit. The book ends with Pelle wearing his new blue suit and thanking the lamb for it.  

I painted the Pelle and made a simple lamb from a pipe-cleaner and carded wool.

photo & dolls by Dee: Triskele Threads

Dee (VIC, Australia) of Triskele Threads created these sweet autumn folk.  I love the leaves and acorns embroidered on their gowns, and the distinct reminder that, as we in the Northern Hemisphere are turning towards Spring, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are in the thick of Autumn!

 And here is more autumnal beauty from my darling friend Clare (ACT, Australia.)  Clare calls these wonderful little folk "beechlings," and about them she wrote:

Heath, Myrtle, Fagus and Tanglefoot are the common names given to two Tasmanian deciduous Gondwana cool temperate rainforest species that grow as either a shrub (in poor conditions) or tree (in sheltered, nutrient rich and warmer valleys) of Nothofagus cunninghamii and Nothofagus gunnii. As the weather becomes cooler, like all deciduous plants the leaves change colour as the plant begins its Winter domancy.

The leaves are dark green to olive green becoming tan, tangerine, rust, orange coloured as the temperatures drop. They are slightly transparent when the sun filters through almost like living tissue paper. The leaves don't always fall in winter leaving an extremely colourful spash of orange across grey/green/olivine/white lichen encrusted boulders high on the exposed slopes in mountainous Tasmania (and some parts of Victoria).

photo and dolls by Kelly: Happy Whimsical Hearts

I grinned wildly when saw these peg dolls by Kelly (ACT, Australia.) Kelly's dolls are patterned after the characters Snugglepot and Cuddlepie from a book her mother read to her when she was "a little tacker."

illustration from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs

Here is an illustration of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (after which Kelly styled her dolls.) Are you grinning now, too?

photo and dolls by Karen: Bridgit's Bell

Karen (New Hampshire, USA) of Bridgit's Bell created this royal family of peg dolls.  The details on these dolls are meticulous.

photo and dolls by Karen: Bridgit's Bell

I especially love how Karen used tiny punches to create the designs on their wee royal cloaks.

photo & dolls by Lacey: Life as a Schoolhouse

Lacey (NC, USA) of Life as a Schoolhouse has very cleverly used colored string to decorate the bodies of her peg folk.

photo & dolls by Jen: SEWNnatural

Here is a work-in-progress photo of matrioshka style peg dolls by Jen (Ontario, Canada) of SEWNnatural. I love their traditional red headscarves (and am always a sucker for gold embroidery...)

photo & doll by Melissa: Wild Faerie Caps

Melissa (FL, USA) of Wild Faerie Caps created this wee mousie peg child...

photo & doll by Melissa: Wild Faerie Caps

And also a golden version of a peg child critter -- this one seems rather leonine to me...

photo & dolls by Amanda: By Hook and Thread

For a swashbuckling, romantic tale (and close-up photos of these sweet dolls) you can visit Amanda (Nova Scotia, Canada) at her blog By Hook and Thread.

photo & dolls by Amanda: By Hook and Thread

Amanda also created this porcine trio -- you can read her hilarious version of the traditional piggy-tale here.

photo & dolls by Kat: The Awakened Heart

Kat (VIC, Australia) was inspired by the work of Mama Westwind when she created these love-bunnies.  Do you see the pocket that Kat has added to the back of the cape to hold a jelly bean egg?  Ingenious!

photo & dolls by Megan: Giants, Wizards & Dweebs

Last but not least are these snail folk by Megan (CA, USA) of Giants, Wizards & Dweebs.  When I first saw this photo I did a happy dance to the tune of an idiotic little song, the lyrics of which went something like this -- oh my, oh my, oh, love, love, love!  These peg dolls make me think of my toddler who has recently learned about snails and slugs.  When he finds one, he likes to give it a gentle poke, which causes it to retract it's antennae.  Then he waits patiently for it to put out the antennae again, and gives another little poke.  Did I already mention how much I love these peg dolls?  (oh, yeah, I guess I did...)

To see all the peg dolls from this swap (and also peg dolls from the swap I hosted in 2011) you can have a look here. All the photos are now posted in the Peg Doll Gallery -- Cheers!


Peg Doll Swap Wrap Up: Butterflies & Blooms

dolls & photo by Margaret Bloom

Dearest Peg Doll Swap Participants, I want to thank all 21 of you for joining in the fun -- And I offer a special thank you to those who have made photos available so we can all have a peek at your delightful dolls! 

The dolls from this swap have been so innovative that I am excited be able to share them here on my blog.  In today's post we have the first batch of butterflies & blooms (you can see my own contribution in the photo above.)  Please come back tomorrow for a look at wee folk and magical critters.

doll & photo by Stephanie: Knitty Gritty Homestead

Stephanie of Knitty Gritty Homestead (Ontario, Canada) left me feeling a bit swoony over these tiny (remarkably eency weency) luna moth wings...

doll & photo by Stephanie: Knitty Gritty Homestead

And these monarch butterfly wings which Stephanie created are perfect in every detail.

dolls and photo by Anette Grostad

Anette Grostad (California, USA) created a beautiful mama rose & baby rose (don't you love mama's fashionable ruffled collar?)

dolls by Anette Grostad

And she also created a pair of delicate snowdrops (I am lucky to have this pair sitting on my mantlepiece... they are so very pretty!)

dolls by Painting Pixie

The very talented Painting Pixie (Colorado, USA) stitched these exquisite pixies for the swap.  The perfection & intricacy of her cherry blossom embroidery is a bit mind-boggling...

dolls & photo by Marcy: A Simple Life

And here we have Flora & Blossom, created by Marcy of the blog A Simple Life (NY, USA.) Their inspiring headgear is bold, stylish and perfect for spring, is it not?

dolls and photo by Kenda

Kenda (MO, USA) stitched up these pretty flower fairies based on patterns from Wee Folk Art.  The colors Kenda chose are so cheerful and her embroidery adds a nice touch.

photo & dolls by Sara: This Mom Loves

And the last dolls for today -- softly colored springtime gnomes embroidered with tulips (and mushrooms!) by Sara (WI, USA) of the blog This Mom Loves.

I hope you will come back tomorrow to see the rest of the gorgeous peg dolls from this swap!


Making Peg Dolls Launch Events

Making Peg Dolls?

 Yes!  We've been making peg dolls!

We launched Making Peg Dolls at Kepler's Books in February. I am ever so grateful to Angela who organized the whole event, and my gratitude reaches further to the delightful families who joined us at Kepler's and other recent bookstore events to have fun and... make peg dolls!


The next event on the calender is June 30th at Castle in the Air in Berkeley.  If you are interested in hosting an event or workshop for a bookstore, craft store, school or library, please let me know! (note: I am currently only available for events in the SF Bay Area, however I hope to be able to travel beyond the SF Bay Area by the end of 2014.)


Happy Poisson d'Avril (a repost from last year)

This is a re-post of something I posted on my blog last year for April Fools Day.  I had so much fun creating the dolls for this post; however, I'm very sad to tell you that no one (not one person) has taken me up on the challenge I issued at the very end of the post. Go ahead -- take my challenge -- I dare you!!

I'm not sure where I first heard of Poisson D'Avril... the origins of this odd observance are rather obscure.  One theory I came across credits Pope Gregory for creating confusion when he set up his eponymous "Gregorian Calender" in 1562.  When Pope Gregory instituted the calender, the start of the new year was moved from April 1st to January 1st, and those who persisted in celebrating the start of the year on April 1st were called "April Fools."  What this has to do with fish (and French fish, for that matter) I have no idea, but Google and Wikipedia seemed to think that, somehow, the two are linked.

The one place I was able to track down a story linking fish and April Fool's Day was within the book All Year Round by Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton and Marije Rowling. According to the authors of All Year Round, the celebration of April Fools Day commemorates the birthday, on April 1, 1752, of Olaf Toyou, the first born son of Hungarian fisher folk.  The story goes as follows:

When Olaf was 6 months old, a strong earthquake struck far out in the Mediterranean. Olaf was sleeping in a cradle slung from the branch of a tree while his mother worked nearby.  The earthquake caused the sea to race up the beach so quickly and quietly that she didn’t notice the waves had carried Olaf away until it was too late.  She ran to save her son, but all she found in the cradle was a small fish.  Olaf's mother ran to find her husband, crying that their baby was gone, and while her back was turned, a second tidal wave miraculously removed the fish and returned the baby to the cradle. When the husband looked inside the cradle and found his son, he berated his wife as a fool.  She, however, remained convinced that her son had the power to turn himself into a fish at will!

To this day, people in France must beware of turning their backs on April 1st.  They may later discover a paper fish pinned to their jacket and realize with embarrassment that they have become the ‘Poisson d’Avril’(‘April Fish.’)


 Hungarian fisher-folk? French fish?  Again, I'm a little confused.  And what, pray tell, does all this have to do with peg dolls?  Well, in 2011 , I hosted a peg doll swap and my friend Caroline signed up to participate. She couldn't decide what type of doll to create for the swap but told me that, because of her love of cooking, she felt her inspiration would surely come from a recipe.  I glanced over at her four shelves full of cookbooks and came up with some helpful (okay, appalling, if truth be told) suggestions for her peg dolls: Poached flounder with butter & herbs? Chicken vindaloo? Shrimp ceviche? A cheese & mushroom omelet? Needless to say, she did not take any of my suggestions.  I, however, decided to rise to the challenge.  I submit to you a Flounder Peg Doll... my very own Poisson D'Avril.

Have you ever come up with a creative idea, so peculiar that you simply had to see it through?  This sort of endeavor reminds me of the beer milkshake, dreamed up and desperately craved by the character Doc in John Steinbeck's book Cannery Row.  Perhaps, even at this moment, you are feeling inspired by my Peg Doll Flounder.  Is it time for you to try to out-do me and create the most dreadful peg doll ever? Something even uglier than my flounder?   Now that will be quite the task...  I dare you!