Family Book Festival

Family Book Festival: Sara Merkel Wilson and The Hobbit: There and Back Again

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Family Book Festival is a project to help chase away the doldrums of winter by jumping into the favorite books of our author, illustrator, blogger friends. It was our hope that, throughout the course of this month-long event, that families and parents would not only find new and exciting books to read with their children, but also the chance to take a sweet walk memory lane with remembrances of their childhood favorites.

We are so excited to have Sara Merkel Wilson from Love in the Suburbs here with us today!  Sara co-authors monthly theme guides with Eileen Straiton for Little Acorn Learning is part of the much respected Waldorf community.

Sara, share with us why The Hobbit:There and Back Again touches your heart.

I remember falling in love with The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien as a child. My father loved it and my mom and he both read it to me aloud. When the Rankin/Bass animated film came out in 1977, we saw it in the theater. Later we had a special book with pictures from the film. I remember poring over those pictures often.

My husband, Ian, also has a love for The Hobbit, and last spring vacation, when we were all sick for about ten days, Ian started reading it aloud to our sons and me. Our oldest was 9 at the time and our youngest, 5. I thought perhaps they wouldn’t take to it and I emotionally prepared myself for the possibility that they wouldn’t like it. Ian and I were delighted when both of our sons became captivated by the story.

Since that time, Ian has read all three books of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to them. Again, we thought all the slow, trudging parts of the trilogy would bog down the children and they’d lose interest, but it never happened. My older son, Lucas, became captivated by all things Elvish, and our little guy became obsessed with Dwarves!

When I asked them what book I should write about for the Family Book Festival here at Jump Into a Book, they quickly answered The Lord of the Rings. Since young and middle grade readers are more apt to be tackling The Hobbit, we easily settled on it instead, with no less enthusiasm.


The Hobbit:There and Back Again
(photo of illustration by Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass)

We started with discussing our favorite parts of the book. Naturally, Lucas prefers the part with the Murkwood Elves, and the part where Bilbo Baggins meets Gollum, and the fantastic battle of five armies at the end. Asher is fascinated by dragons, and loves the part where Bilbo steals Smaug’s cup to show to the Dwarves of Thorin’s party. He also likes the battle with the spiders, in which a newly emboldened Bilbo rescues his friends with cunning, his sword Sting, and some help from the Ring.

We all chose our three favorite parts, and then looked for overlap. Ian kindly reread these favorite parts for us while we dreamed about an art project we could do together.

We considered several great options. It took some time and discussion to arrive at a single scene to depict for you here, which was a great exercise in family diplomacy. There were so many we were interested in! We finally settled on a diorama of the scene between Bilbo and Smaug, set within Smaug’s mountain. Bilbo is there to burgle for Thorin and the Dwarves some of the gold Smaug is hording, and he and Smaug have a great conversation.

The Hobbit:There and Back Again
photo of illustration by Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass

Activity: Building The Hobbit diorama of Smaug’s Mountain

The Hobbit & Smaug's Mountain diorama


  • diorama base (wood, cardboard box, Styrofoam packing insert, etc.)
  • paper (brown grocery sack paper or black butcher paper, or both)
  • low-temperature glue gun with glue
  • gold foil, aluminum foil, or paper sprayed with gold spray paint
  • modeling material (air-drying clay, model magic, etc.)
  • craft paint (reds for the dragon; earth tones for Bilbo)
  • jewels and/or gold glitter
  • battery operated candles for lighting the scene

diaorama of Smaug's Mountain


Start by deciding the scale for your scene. We opted to make Bilbo quite small and Smaug’s head quite large. We wanted to show the inside of the Smaug’s cavern and his enormous pile of treasure. But if you wish, you can craft the entirety of Smaug’s body.

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Cover your base with crumpled paper; it will look like rocks if you use brown, gray, or black paper. Hot glue works well, but you could also use staples for this part.

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Sculpt your dragon head or entire dragon. In our family, everyone got a turn to make Smaug’s fearsome head. We use model magic so that we could sculpt and resculpt until we were all satisfied with Smaug’s head shape.

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Don’t forget to add teeth, scary eyes, and maybe even some spikes. Your dragon will look more realistic if you make both an upper jaw and a lower jaw.

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If you wish, you can also sculpt some front claws. It’s wonderful if you can read this passage of The Hobbit aloud as you are sculpting together, or listen to an audiobook. (You can even find Tolkien himself reading aloud from The Hobbit on YouTube!) For our diorama, most of the dragon’s body is out of the scene, hidden by complete darkness in the giant cavern, so we only needed a head and claws.

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We curled one claw around a bottle of paint, so that when it dried it would have a curled shape.

Now, sculpt a tiny Bilbo. A simple figure will work fine. I made Bilbo’s feet rather prominent, both to give him some stability and to suggest his Hobbit nature. You may wish to make a few bones to add to the pile of hoarded gold!

Allow these to air dry completely before you paint them; this might take a couple of days, depending on your medium and how large your pieces are. Painting may require several sessions, as you may have to let parts dry before adding more colors. Take this opportunity to read more from The Hobbit with your family!

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Decide where in your diorama the dragon will be and then create a mound of treasure from your foil or gold-painted paper. If you want to add some bling, you can put some white glue on and then sprinkle some gold glitter, or glue on few fancy gems.

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Place in your figures to make sure you’re happy with the design. You might try a couple of different arrangements. Which arrangement is the most dramatic? Next, add more paper to create the sides of the cavern.

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Finally glue in your figures so they stand where you want them. You may wish to add in battery operated candles to give an eerie glow to your diorama.

Congratulations on completing a wonderful, book-inspired family art project! We hope you enjoyed making your diorama as much as we enjoyed making ours! Hmmm … should we do the spiders next, do you think?

Sara Merkel Wilson

Sara Wilson is a writer, work-at-home book editor, and mother of two young boys (6 and 10) living in Fair Oaks, California. She is the co-author of the Little Acorn Learning Festival E-Books with Eileen Foley Straiton (Midsummer; Autumn Equinox & Michaelmas; Advent & Saint Nicholas; Winter; and coming soon, Spring Equinox & Easter). She has published articles on a range of topics including family, health and exercise, community, education, and spirituality. On her blog, Love in the Suburbs (, Sara shares her joys, learning, craft tutorials, photography, observations, challenges, and occasional frustrations with family life. Sara and her husband are educating their children in the Waldorf philosophy, with all its beauty, rhythm, and soulful qualities, but also have their feet firmly in the world. You can connect with Sara on Pinterest and Facebook

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