Sail away on a story…

Tall Ship Mural

Pirate Ship Library Display

What’s not to like about a pirate ship? It embodies the spirit of adventure and brings to mind history, stories, excitement, action, romance and heroism. All the things that spark the imagination and encourage young readers to dive into a new book.

As I was painting this gorgeous vessel, I kept imagining the faces of the kids as they walked into the library to see it for the first time. I wasn’t disappointed – the gasps of delight were wonderful to hear.

Instead of asking the students to create their own artwork, or colour in a small picture as I usually do, this time I asked them to write a short imaginative line or two, as though dipping into the middle of an exciting novel. Thus, our lovely library ship is sailing on a wonderful sea of words. Kids come close to the artwork to read all the terrific ideas making up their ocean. Here are some of their efforts…

Words on the waves

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More words on the waves

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… and just a few more wonderful wavy words.

Pirate Ship Close-Up

Pirate Ship Close-Up

Wide view of our latest library display

Wide view of our latest library display

Hop into our library for some artistic inspiration!


Mother frog and baby tadpoles (or are they bookworms?)

A frog in the library? What else! As you can see, she’s a mother-of-thousands, and all her little tadpoles have a lot to learn. They’re reading up a storm, even before they get out of their eggs.

Our wonderful librarian read a book about the life cycle of frogs, then asked all the students to consider what type of book their tadpole would be reading. The kids came up with some great ideas that they incorporated into their artworks. Here are just a few…

How to Swim Underwater

Shakespeare (Tadpole Edition)

How to Make Green Friends

Froggy Potter and the Chamberpot of Tadpoles

How to Train Your Tadpole

How to Jump and Croak

This display gradually grew and developed over 8 weeks. Initially I painted just a large green frog, then I added some reeds, a large lilypad, then some more lilypads with a waterlily, then a dragonfly. Meanwhile, the kids were adding tadpoles… and more tadpoles… and more tadpoles! Take a closer look below.

Floating lily pads and water lily bloom

Water lily and lily pads

Dragonfly painting


Happy frog on a pond

Green frog painting on a large lily pad






A flight of imagination across the library wall

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I had no particular reason to choose a hot air balloon as this term’s topic for our library display… I just thought the kids would get a kick out of it. To relate the topic to reading, I gave one of the pilots a book to hold, and I painted a bookish banner across the balloon. Then I decided that each child could colour a little house, but I had trouble thinking of a way to relate houses to reading… until it suddenly occurred to me that each roof was book-shaped. Problem solved!

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Not very happy with this one, but you can’t win ’em all

New Books Poster

After an author visit at our school, I decided to take down our welcome poster and put up a poster highlighting our new books display. It took me a while to think of an appropriate picture to use, but I eventually thought that a stork delivering new “baby” books would be fun.

This poster looked great when I drew it as a small A4 line drawing, but I must admit I wasn’t very happy with the end product. For starters it looks more like a pelican than a stork. And the eyes turned out quite strange, even after many attempts. Oh well, luckily the kids aren’t as picky as I am. And it’s still nice to have something fresh and new on the libary wall, even if it ain’t perfect.

There’s a dragon in the library (and it’s not the librarian!)

Finished dragon 002

Many of the dragon images I’ve seen are quite aggressive-looking, so when I drew this one I softened its appearance quite a bit. After all, I didn’t want our kindergarten kids to be afraid to visit the library.

There was some dispute in my household about my choosing to paint the dragon blue, but I stuck to my guns and I think he turned out quite nicely in the end. To link the theme to the library, I placed a pile of books under his claw rather than the usual pile of treasure.

To involve every student, I drew a couple of flying books and asked each kid to write either their favourite title and author on the cover or the imaginary title of a book they might like to write themselves one day. They had great fun decorating their books, and some went to a great deal of trouble to include publishers’ logos, back-cover blurbs and even barcodes on their covers. I also asked the 6th class kids to make small flames out of cellophane, which I then individually blu-tacked to the wall.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I like to add something to the display every week so that it continues to grab the kids’ attention, so for the first week I painted a large background scene. The second week I added a small fairytale castle to the scene, and next week I’ll add a knight on horseback. After that, who knows? Perhaps a small wood and a wolf?

From experience, I knew that the kindy kids – who were yet developing their skill with scissors – would have trouble cutting out their artworks, so I drew the books and wings as simply as possible. Unfortunately this means that most of the front and back covers are obscured. Mmmm… could have done with more thought.

Flying book birdwing

Flying book dragonwing

Flying books

Part-painted dragon

Part-painted dragon

Liddle priddy bits in the library

Lid mobile

Recycled rubbish becomes a decorative mobile

All the kids in the school happily donated their discarded plastic lids so I could make this “curtain” in the library. I first washed all the lids, then drilled two holes in each one. They’re held together with fishing line, with a shirt button at the bottom to provide a sound base. Each one is tied to a small hook screwed into the woodwork.

The students were astounded and delighted to see their rubbish become something beautiful, and it’s now an interesting talking-point for visitors to our library.

Lid mobile close-up

Close-up of lid mobile

It’s OK to drool over these tiles – they wipe clean!

Mosaic close-up

Now here’s a school decoration that’s gorgeous, long-lasting, practical and has sentimental value into the bargain. I spotted these mosaics above each of the banks of bubblers (water fountains) at a local primary school. Every tile is unique and signed by the pupil who made it, and they’ve been skilfully put together into a lovely free-flowing design.

These bright and colourful decorations are perfect for viewing up close as the kids take a drink, and I can imagine they will be happily viewed by ex-students when they re-visit the school in years to come.

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You don’t need your glasses to read this canteen sign!

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After the old junk-food advertisements were (thankfully!) taken down from above the school canteen, it was looking a little drab, so a friend and I painted this sign one weekend. I drew the lettering freehand on a large piece of paper, then cut out the letters to make a stencil. Unfortunately, it happened to be very windy on the day I tried to put it up on the wall, so my struggles with the enormous cut-out would have been hilarious if there had been any onlookers (though the swearing wasn’t pretty). Somehow I managed to stick it up long enough to draw the outlines on the wall… eventually.

I really like the fruit and vegetables we painted within the lettering, but in retrospect I think the bees buzzing around may be a little too suggestive of flies (or is that just me?). I also think the lettering is a trifle too large, and I regret not having painted the background. Overall though, it’s a big improvement, and the colours fit in nicely with the existing rainbow painting and the murals we painted on the nearby columns.

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(Don’t mention the elephant in the library…)

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Elephant display made from pages of a dictionary

I thought a full-size elephant display would have some impact with the kids, but I couldn’t decide how to relate it to books. Until, one day when I was working in the library and disposing of some old student dictionaries, I realised that the grey print of the dictionary pages would suit an elephant’s hide. I drew the outline of an elephant onto large paper, then pasted pages of the dictionary over the whole thing. By orientating the pages in different directions, I found that the stripes of the text gave some definition to different parts of the animal, then I simply painted in some shading to give some roundness to the end product.

To involve every kid in the school, I asked them to choose to decorate either a flower or a water drip, which I then individually blue-tacked to the wall. Their efforts gave the finished display both colour and movement, and they were delighted with the results.

To maintain interest in this display over the course of the term, each week I added a few little mice to the picture. Each mouse was reading, holding or playing with a book. Each class enjoyed trying to spot the tiny mice hidden on the display.

I suspect when we take this display down we’ll have lots of entries into the draw to win the elephant – most of the kids are very keen to put this one up on their bedroom wall!


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Mouse 004

Mice on Elephant 005

Olympic fever

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I painted this quick-and-easy display for the London Olympic Games. I simply found a couple of small pictures and, using a grid to ensure the figures were vaguely in proportion, transferred them onto large paper. Time was short, so I painted them quickly in flat colours.

To link the theme to the library, I gave the weightlifter a barbell made of books, and I gave the hurdler a large book to jump over. Then, to get the students involved, I drew a simple medal with the words “Champion Reader” written on it and photocopied it onto gold cardboard. Each of the kids in the school wrote their name on a medal, cut it out and punched a hole in it to attach a ribbon. It looked great when several hundred medals were hanging from the ceiling, swaying nicely in the breeze.

The display made a great backdrop when the school was visited by Paralympian Matthew Cowdrey. And when the display came down, each child proudly wore their own medal home.