Saturday, 8 October 2011

What are you able to build with your blocks?

[Hilda Boswell's 1963 illustration for Block City by Robert Louis Stevenson]

Recently I read my children a few poems from a tattered old book of mine; Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. It's always wonderfully nostalgic for me to spend time looking through its worn pages. Hilda Boswell's sentimental, pastoral illustrations immediately transport me back to when I was small; I can remember losing myself in the old-fashioned, softly-coloured idyllic scenes that mirror the text so beautifully.

One of the poems I read to them was Block City, written in 1885. I was curious to see whether this quaint nursery verse, with its rather old-fashioned language, would resonate or inspire them at all. Here's an extract:

Block City

What are you able to build with your blocks?
Castles and palaces, temples and docks.
Rain may keep raining, and others go roam,
But I can be happy and building at home.

Let the sofa be mountains, the carpet be sea,
There I'll establish a city for me;
A kirk and a mill and a palace beside,
And a harbour as well where my vessels may ride.

Great is the palace with pillar and wall,
A sort of a tower on top of it all,
And steps coming down in an orderly way
To where my toy vessels lie safe in the bay.

This one is sailing and that one is moored:
Hark to the song of the sailors on board!
And see on the steps of my palace, the kings
Coming and going with presents and things!

Well, no sooner had I finished reading it than Buddy announced he wanted to build a city of his own. 'We could use Lego bricks of course,' he reassured me when I remembered that we'd recently stored our blocks away in the loft. We used a blue blanket as the base - for the sea and river that would run through his city - and covered our sofa in a green throw to create a grassy hill behind it.

Buddy usually makes vehicles and spacecraft with his Lego bricks, so I was curious to see how he would fare with architecture. Initially he needed help, and at one one point I thought he might lose interest - it certainly took him much longer to construct walls than wings, but I could see him gradually finding short-cuts; adding lots of doors and windows, and only making the front and side faces of the larger buildings.

I managed to drift away from the play and then Daisy - though still a bit young for independent Lego construction - began joining in, happily contributing a few bricks to some of the buildings. Between them they made a palace, a bridge, a jail, a school, an aquarium and a little house called Sweet Cottage. Buddy named the city Hollywell Village and then the Lego figures moved in.

I was so pleased to be able to share with Buddy and Daisy the magic I felt as a child looking at A Child's Garden of Verses. And I'm hoping some of the other poems in this beautiful book might inspire their play in years to come.


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  2. I too owned a copy of RLS Child's Garden of Verse with the Hilda Boswell Illustrations when I was a child back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These illustrations sure do bring back some memories.


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