The Wind in the Willows is a classic tale written by Kenneth Grahame that has been retold by Lesley Sims and illustrated by Mauro Evangelista (published by Usborne) for young readers.
The story tells of four friends, Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad. Toad is the rich resident of Toad Hall, an eccentric character who is wowed by the new and the novel. Usually, his obsessions fizzle out as quickly as they begin but not so for his newest love – cars.
Toad becomes completely absorbed in the world of cars, so much so that it lands him in prison. He manages to escape only to find that Toad Hall has been occupied by stoats and weasels, so he hatches a plan to get it back.
The story is accessible for young children in this simplified version, with only the main scenes and actions included from the original tale. The illustrations accompany it perfectly with likeable characters and plenty of action beautifully depicted in shaded pastel colours and soft lines.
My bigger boy loves the fight scene at Toad Hall towards the end of the story. A swashbuckling sword fight is happening on the dining table with the sounds of a battle written across the picture for extra emphasis when you’re reading!
I used this version of The Wind in the Willows to familiarise my boys with the story before taking them to a very exciting performance set around the beautiful town of Knaresborough in North Yorkshire.
This was a performance with a difference, a journey-based performance with all the scenes acted out in different areas of the town along the river. I didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t imagine how it would all come together. I was also unsure how much my three year old would take to a play that he had to follow by walking a mile and a half. Thankfully, we were not disappointed, it was magical!
Knaresborough is one of the most picturesque places you could visit and the play started up at the castle (where there is a stunning view over the River Nidd) with Toad in handcuffs. Pleading to be saved he set us a task of finding his friend Badger who would know what to do to help him.
Toad was dragged off to the castle prison so we set off in search of Badger. We soon came across Mole who took us down the winding steps to the riverbank where Ratty was looking after his boat.
After much persuasion and audience participation we convinced Ratty to tell us where we could find badger and we followed the road alongside the river bank heading for the Wild Woods. On the way, we met gangs of gossiping ducks who told us the news of Toad’s escape from prison as it happened.
A daring journey through the Wild Woods led us to Badger’s house.
The children in the audience banged on his door until he eventually let us in and told us of the plan to take back Toad Hall from the Weasels.
Each child was given a party blower to use as a signal to Toad who would secretly break into Toad Hall via a secret passageway.
Conyngham Hall was the setting for Toad Hall where a banquet was taking place in honour of the Chief Weasel’s birthday.
The party was in full swing when the signal was given and Toad burst in throwing the Weasels out on their tales!
I was really impressed with how the performance was put together and how well all the actors managed to engage everyone, especially the children. My three year old was completely enthralled and talked about it to our friends and family all weekend. One of the highlights was after we left Badger’s house to go to Toad Hall; Badger had told us to hide behind the trees on the way so the Weasel security didn’t see us. It was so fantastic to see all the adults and children running between trees and ducking down when they heard the whistles. The story had truly been brought to life and we were a part of it!
Many many thanks to everyone involved in the production, it must have taken a huge amount of organisation with multiple performances a day and each one starting half an hour in to the previous one. The actors were brilliant, we particularly liked Mole (whose digging my three year old also spent all weekend copying) and the ever so charismatic and funny Ratty.
You can read more about the performance on the Knaresborough Wind in the Willows website here which also has links to colouring sheets and information about the real animals you might spot along the River Nidd.
Local artist Ray Mutimer has created a wonderful set of pictures to accompany the performance, you can view and purchase limited edition prints here – do have a look, they are beautiful.