This weekend, my sixth-grader made an utterly enchanting Wind in the Willows diorama, jamming a whole delightful world into a tiny 9×6″ box. Since Thursday night, our kitchen table has been host to a glorious assortment of cereal boxes, cotton balls, glue, thread, acrylic paint, and a whole lot of happiness.
Since the project was due on Monday — she takes a wonderful liberal arts class from St. Raphael School online four mornings a week — Aveline worked diligently all weekend long, putting in about twenty hours (!!) between Thursday night and Sunday night.
Every time I walked into the kitchen, she was joyously hand-painting microscopic details onto a woodland character, or a tiny fried egg, or a strip of bacon. (Personally, I adore Mr. Badger’s goldenrod slippers.) She was also very, very patient as a curious three-year-old wanted to poke his fingers into every part of the process.
Other than photographing the final product, the only thing I helped her with was figuring out the angle of the snowbank which forms the roof of Mr. Badger’s cozy home. Everything else was purely her own project. And she even wrote the rest of this blog post!
Aveline writes, “This scene is set in Mr. Badger’s home, underground in the Wild Wood. Mole and Rat are there because Mole got lost in the Wild Wood, and Rat came to find him. They discovered Mr. Badger’s door after Mole cut his leg on Mr. Badger’s door-scraper. It is now the morning after that, and Mole, Rat, and Mr. Badger are having breakfast. Two hedgehog brothers, lost on their way to school, have found Mr. Badger’s house. It is a snowy, cold day outside.”
She continues, “The objects in Mr. Badger’s home were inspired by this passage, from the chapter Mr Badger from page 58 in the Puffin Classics edition:
'...and at once they found themselves in all the glow and warmth of a large fire-lit kitchen. The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burnt a fire of logs, between two attractive chimney-corners tucked away in the wall, well out of any suspicion of drought. A couple of high-backed settles, facing each other on each side of the fire, gave further sitting accommodation for the sociably disposed. In the middle of the room stood a long table of plain boards placed on trestles, with benches down each side. At one end of it, where an arm-chair stood pushed back, were spread the remains of the Badger’s plain but ample supper. Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased and eat and smoke and talk in comfort and contentment.'
These are the objects that I included from this passage:
- Fire in the hearth
- table with benches
- an armchair
- dresser with plates
- a ham
- a bundle of herbs
- a net of onions, and
- a basket of eggs.”
Aveline explains, “To make the items inside Mr. Badger’s home, I mostly used thin cardboard from a cereal box, a hot glue gun, and paint. The dresser was made by folding a piece of thin cardboard to form a sort of box, except with no back and no bottom. Then, I cut out another piece of cardboard, and cut out six rectangles. I glued on plastic wrap for ‘glass’, and cut out plates of thin cardboard and painted them. Then I glued them all together!”
She continues, “I used a similar method of two layers for the fireplace, except I just cut out two pieces of the same shape and cut a rectangle in one of them, to make a recessed area. Then, I cut out a fire of normal paper, painted it, painted the cardboards, and glued them all together!”
Don’t you just love all these details?
Here’s more from Aveline: “Mr. Badger’s armchair was made out of white oven-bake clay and painted. Hanging the items from the ceiling was a little bit crazy, actually, because I couldn’t hang them until the table and characters were in – that way I knew how long to cut the threads. The hanging items were actually the last thing I added. To do it, I had to slip the end of the tread between the two pieces of cardboard from one of the items. Then, I had to add hot glue into it and squeeze it together. Once that dried – and if you have ever used hot glue, you know that’s pretty fast – I added a dot of hot glue to the ceiling, and pressed the thread in. It helped when I turned the diorama almost upside down.”
She explains, “The outside of Mr. Badger’s home was inspired by this passage, from the chapter The Wild Wood from page 54 in the Puffin Classics edition:
'In the side of what had seemed to be a snow-bank stood a solid-looking little door, painted a dark green. An iron bell-pull hung by the side, and below it, on a small brass plate, neatly engraved in square capital letters, they [Mole and Rat] could read by the aid of moonlight: MR BADGER.'
Aveline says, “I used a bead for the handle of the door, and a bell that actually does jingle. I ended up painting the MR BADGER sign a light cream, and placing it above the door.”
“For the scenery, I mixed some blue glitter paint with a normal blue paint,” Aveline tells us, “so the sky has a little bit of glitter if you look closely. I also mixed some metallic bronze paint with a normal brown paint, so the dirt in Mr. Badger’s home shimmers.
The snow was not actually originally planned when I started the diorama, but I realized that would be a really fun addition, so I brushed on school glue with a small paintbrush, one section at a time, and hand-placed the snowflakes. The tree trunks are popsicle sticks cut to size and painted dark brown, and the leaves are dyed cotton balls. I mixed acrylic paint with water, dunked a cotton ball in, swished it around, squeezed it out, and left it to dry.”
Aveline continues, “The animals are at breakfast, with eggs, buttered toast (with a butter dish – you never know when you might want extra butter!), and bacon. All the food, and the plates too, was made out of thin cardboard cut and then painted.”
“Although the actual book says that Mole and Rat woke up late and found the hedgehogs already at the table, eating porridge,” says Aveline, “I decided to play with the timeline a little bit in my diorama and have Mole, Rat, and Mr. Badger already at breakfast when the hedgehogs came in.”
“To make the characters,” Aveline explains, “I first drew them in pencil on normal paper. Once I was happy with them, I scanned them individually with a scanner app, and printed them all at the appropriate scale. Then, I cut them out, glued them to thin cardboard, and painted them very carefully. When they were dry, I added another layer of thin cardboard to the back – not because they needed to be thicker for strength, but because I glued the characters to the wrong side of the cardboard! I didn’t need a barcode or ‘NUTRITION FACTS’ on the back of my characters! When I was ready, I hot glued them to the floor in the right spots.”
Aveline concludes, “This diorama took me about 20 hours to make – painting, cutting, gluing, washing brushes, etc – but it was really fun!”
Thank you, Aveline! What a joy to step in to the enchanting world of the Wind and the Willows. And thank you, Mrs. Savić, for assigning such a delightful project!