Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure by Helen and Thomas Docherty is one of the most imaginative, fun and gloriously silly books I’ve ever read. The story begins when the single, remaining swing in Ruby’s poorly-maintained local park breaks. The other children head for home, but Ruby stays and meets a mysterious ice-cream van. The proprietor gifts Ruby her last ice lolly and on finishing it, Ruby notices that the stick says, ‘plant me’.
The choice of words here are so perfect – mimicking the ‘eat me/drink me’ instructions of Alice in Wonderland. Ruby dutifully pushes the stick into the earth and is rewarded by a large tendril of rainbow-coloured vegetation which begins to sprout play-equipment. Responding to Ruby’s imagination, the play-park spreads out across the city, bringing everything to a standstill. Instead of being cross, all the grown-ups begin to join in, leading to a glorious, chaotic mess of adults, zoo animals and shopping-trolley roller-coasters!
Eventually, the mayor – who bears a rather striking resemblance to the ice-cream van proprietor – intervenes and Ruby sends the play park home. Soon, the neglected play-equipment the book began with is repaired by the council and Ruby and her friends can play there safely.
I love pretty much everything about this book: that Ruby genuinely feels like a child – forgetting, but meaning to, say thank you at multiple points; the completely whimsical story; the colourful, rainbow illustrations and this ‘Wonderland’-ish sense that Something Is Happening.
One of the Story Sacks I made focused on this book.
With this book, I included another called How Things Grow by Usborne. There was also a set of reusable lolly moulds, some beans and a game of snakes and ladders (known colloquially in my region as ‘chutes and ladders’, chute being the dialect word for a slide).
To go with this, I prepared a sheet of ideas for discussion and games – you can download it here: Ruby Nettleship PDF Download
If you haven’t already got a copy of snakes and ladders, you can print one here for free. It’s in black and white so won’t eat up lots of ink, and you can colour it in afterwards! Alternatively, you could always make your own, either by drawing a grid and adding your snakes and ladders over the top, or by sticking squares of paper onto a larger sheet. After that, you only need dice and a few counters (anything will do – buttons, small figurines, tiddlywinks etc). Lolly moulds can be purchased cheaply, or you can improvise and make your own from plastic beakers (where the rim is wider than the foot) with a plastic spoon, or you can push a plastic spoon through the lid of a small yogurt pot, removing both lid and pot when you want to eat it.
In place of the beans, you can use dried peas from any dried soup mix. Legumes are particularly good for the growing experiment outlined on the above PDF but any other large seeds you have to hand should work too, whilst information about how plants grow can be found on Wikipedia, or BBC Bitesize.
I’d love to see some pictures of any Snakes and Ladders games you manage to make – why not share them on The Inquisitive Newt facebook page?