Lily Brown’s Paintings, by Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis


Lily Brown’s Paintings by Angela Johnson and E. B. Lewis is a wonderful look at a child’s imagination. The book talks about the ways in which Lily uses paints to impose her imaginings on the world around her, setting sailing ships amid fields of corn and animals picnicking in her local park.


I love the soft, watercolour pictures of this book, and how it gives licence to those all-important daydreams that every child has. I love how Lily’s pictures mimic famous works of art without it seeming contrived. I love the tone of the book – how hopeful and full of wonder it is.

Which is why I made it the focus for another story sack.

Lily brown

In this sack, I included the Usbourne Children’s Book of Art, some water colours, some paint brushes and another book which is completely deserving of a dedicated review, Beautiful Oops!

To go with this sack, I prepared this sheet of ideas for discussions and games: Lily Brown PDF Download

If you don’t happen to have any water colours to hand, you can use any other art supplies, or even a paintbrush and some water on a concrete/tarmac/wooden surface outdoors – the water will act as a mess-free paint. My kids use old decorating brushes for this and it becomes a whole-body art-spree. Information about the history of art is available online and free art lesson plans can be found here.

I’d love to see some of the art you manage to create – why not share them on The Inquisitive Newt facebook page?

Farn ❤

Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure, by Helen and Thomas Docherty


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.

ruby nettleship

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?

Farn ❤

Millie’s Marvelous Hat, by Satoshi Kitamura


Millie’s Marvelous Hat, by Satoshi Kitamura is a wonderfully warm, tongue-in-cheek book which follows a young girl on her walk home. It begins when she stops by a hatter’s shop and tries to buy a glorious hat displayed in the window. On discovering she is penniless, the shop-keeper fetches her a ‘magic’ hat from the back room. This hat changes appearance, depending on what Millie sees and feels.


At face value, the book is a lovely romp through a child’s imagination, but it also offers a myriad of opportunities to discuss emotions and how the way we act can improve another’s day.

The passage which particularly helped to illustrate this was when Millie smiled at an old lady, causing some of the creatures from her hat fly over to the woman’s. The happiness felt by Millie was suddenly gifted to a passer-by through the simple act of smiling – something that all of us would do well to remember.


The beautiful, colourful illustrations feel like a breath of fresh air and the details in the various hats which Millie imagines kept myself and the children looking for hours. Even a child too young for the story itself would find value in looking at the pictures.


Whilst I do love the story, I feel that it’s the artwork in this book which makes it truly magical. I can’t imagine this working nearly so well without the glorious pictures.

This is the sort of book that I’d seek out in hardback to gift to people – a real keep-sake – and I wish that I could find prints of the illustrations to hang in my own bedroom, never mind the children’s! The palette of colours is so fresh and crisp that I can’t imagine ever getting tired of looking at them.

This story never fails to make me smile and inspire me – which books make you feel the same way?

Farn ❤

Story Sacks

I had originally intended to wait before posting about story sacks – at least until there were some reviews on the site! – but given that I’ve now finished the bags I was asked to create for use in our local community, I just couldn’t wait to share what I’ve been up to.

After looking through the existing collection to see what was lacking, I decided to focus my efforts on strong female characters, the inclusion of people of colour, STEM* subjects and encouraging a growth mindset. Our local Early Years Forum granted me a small sum of money with which to do this, but I have to confess that I cheated slightly by adding in some of our own books which no longer saw use, in addition to second-hand toys. As a result, I managed to make six bags with the budget I was given for two. Hooray for more stories!

The titles I selected, in no particular order, were:

Ruby Nettleship and the Great Ice Lolly Adventure, by Helen and Thomas Docherty

ruby nettleship

Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Iggy Peck

Dream Dancer, by Jill Newsome and Claudio Munoz

Dream Dancer

Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

ada twist

Lily Brown’s Paintings, by Angela Johnson and E B Lewis

Lily brown

Meet The Parents, by Peter Bently and Sara Ogilvie

meet the parents

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try and upload more information about each story sack – the list of contents and the ideas for activities which I included in each. As some of the items I’ve included are no longer in production, or have limited availability (i.e. the log-cabin building set with ‘Iggy Peck, Architect’ was bought during a special event at a German supermarket) I will try to list possible alternatives.

I’m really looking forward to covering these, and sharing the stories with you – I think Ruby Nettleship is my favourite children’s book of all time! Which is yours?

Farn ❤


*Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths


It’s a tricky thing, knowing where to begin. I have So Many Books that I’d like to share with you, but I’m really not sure which to speak about first!

So… I thought I’d give you a brief introduction to what I plan to do here instead.

Daughter is an avid reader – choosing books over toys time and time again… to the point where I donated my entire library in order to make space for hers*. Along the way, we’ve discovered some absolutely magical stories – tales which teach and entertain and comfort. There are books with beautiful illustrations, Books With No Pictures, and every so often, a wonderful book with no words at all.

I found myself recommending these stories to friends, other parents, playgroup leaders and eventually, our local early years forum. I seem to spend so long recommending books that it makes sense to gather mine and Daughter’s thoughts about what we’ve read in one place, so that in future, I can redirect anyone who asks.

For the longest time, I didn’t know what I was going to call this site. Nothing I came up with seemed to fit well, but eventually, I settled on ‘The Inquisitive Newt’ after reading a story from ‘Gordon, The Big Engine,’ to Son. Gordon gets stuck in a ditch and blows away ‘three tadpoles and an inquisitive newt’. Son proceeded to ask what a ‘quiltive newn’ was and, tongue in cheek, I told him he was. Slowly, my children became my inquisitive newts, and so did the site – a place full of books to inspire curious little minds.

I hope you find something you like!

Farn ❤


*I did replace all of my books on e-reader, though!

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