The Way Back Home: brilliant inspiration for imaginative play

The Way Back Home
The Way Back Home (pic from Foyles)

This has been one of Finn’s favourites ever since he was given it for a Christmas present. But I particularly wanted to write about The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers, because of the amount of imaginative play it has inspired.

Maybe it’s the simple but compelling story, or the simple but compelling illustrations, or the fact that it features a plane, a spaceship, the moon AND monsters… but something about it has really stuck in Finn’s head just at the age when he’s starting to make up stories as part of his play, and he is constantly recreating (or asking us to recreate) parts of The Way Back Home.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you but this is how it starts:

The boy finds a plane in a cupboard at home, flies into space and gets stranded on the moon (out of petrol). A Martian is stranded on the moon at the same time.

The next page is SCARY (as in, ‘NO! NO! Not that one!’ (but) ‘Read it again!’, ‘Draw them!’) as they each imagine who might be making those noises out there in the dark…

Then of course the Martian and boy make friends and start to plan a way back home.

There is just nothing excess in the drawings or the text – but both are so rich with life, for the adult and child reader to talk about.

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So far there have been planes made out of all kinds of materials (paper, lollipop sticks, actual toy plane, food, Duplo), flown to moons of various kinds and refueled from lots of different petrol cans (Duplo, lip balm tins) …

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A lollipop stick version of the plane…

The story features in a lot of paintings and drawings. I often get asked to draw the Martian and the Boy (thank goodness they are basically stick men with a box for a body – it’s much harder when I get asked to draw Katy Morag characters). Finn mostly does the dramatic spaceship crash scenes himself.

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Painting about the Martian and his spaceship

There was a long phase where Finn asked me to help him build the Martian, the Boy and various bits of Way Back Home set (petrol can, moon, Mars, spaceship, spanner…) out of Duplo every day, then made up stories with them.

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Duplo Martian and Boy

Not only has it inspired lots of play – the apparently simple story and powerful images have been a way to talk about things that are normally quite hard for a toddler to express. Like, how far away is the moon? how far away is Mars? why do things that are further away look smaller? what does it mean to shake hands? And also: fear of the unknown, nightmares and other bad things that are really in your imagination. We quite often say something ‘is like the moon monsters’ – very scary, but not real in the end. You need to read that scary page to find out why.

It would be great to hear other suggestions for books that inspire toddler play! Please share your favourites…

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