This Castle’s a Keeper

illuminated castle tissue boxOn the market for some truly radiant real estate? Perhaps this elegant castle votive will do! This simple, but way cool project was part of To Be Continued, our story time for kids ages 6-8.

We read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (Puffin, 2015). Castle Hangnail isn’t the most ideal evil castle. For starters, it’s situated on grassy hills peppered with flowers (as opposed to, say, a wind-blasted cliff or a lonely moor). But an ever bigger issue is that currently, it doesn’t have a resident Evil Master or Mistress. Soon, it will be magically decommissioned and shut down for good. Desperate, the castle’s faithful minions send out a final round of invitations. They get just one response. A 12 year-old Wicked Witch named Eudaimonia. Or at least the girl says her name is Eudaimonia. In reality, her name is Molly, and she is a maybe-not-so-wicked witch who has told some whopper lies to her parents in order to fill the castle’s vacancy. Molly quickly falls in love with Hangnail Castle and the minions. In fact, everything appears to be working out beautifully – until the real Eudaimonia shows up. Will Molly and her friends be able to win Castle Hangnail back from the Evil Sorceress?

A shadow spell plays an important role in the book, so I wanted to do a project that involved castles, light, and shadow. Also, we had only 20 minutes at the program to complete the project, so I needed something simple. This castle votive project fit the bill perfectly!

illuminated castleYou’ll need:

  • 2 castle template pages (more on this below), printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • An x-acto knife
  • A small box with a window in the lid – the top of a small tissue box works great!
  • 1 large square of tin foil (mine was 12″ x12″)
  • 2 castle borders template pages, printed on 8.5″ x 14″ paper
  • Scissors and glue for construction
  • Metallic markers (optional)
  • 1 LED votive
  • Hot glue

Usually, I draw the project templates myself. But while researching the project, Marissa discovered this beautiful little castle votive by artist Lova Blåvarg. Lova’s castle is in color, but we thought it looked more Gothic when we printed it in black and white. The template and instructions for making Lova’s castle can be found here.

castle template finished

Castle by Lova Blåvarg for Sweet Paul magazine

The most time consuming part of the project is cutting all the little castle windows out with an x-acto knife. Marissa, the champion of all things x-acto, printed, cut, and hot glued 16 castles in preparation for the program. That’s 64 castle panels and 640 tiny little windows! Daaaaang.

You could make the castle, drop in the LED votive, and stop there. But I wanted to add a base to give the project a little more heft. I used these window boxes from Discount School Supply. The boxes are nice and sturdy, but a set of 12 costs $17, which can get pricey.

window boxA cheaper option is to use the top of a small tissue box. Cut approximately 2.5″ off the bottom of the box. If you don’t like the pattern, cover it with your choice of construction paper. Remove any plastic from around the mouth of the box, and your base is ready to go!

cut tissue boxLine the inside of the box with a square of tin foil (if you’re using a tissue box, you’ll need to secure the tin foil in place with tape and peel it back from the mouth of the box).

foil inside boxNext, print the castle borders template and select your favorites. Glue the borders to the sides of the box, Then hot glue the castle to the top of the box. Done! Here’s the finished window box version:

finished castle window boxAnd here’s the finished tissue box version:

finished castle tissue boxWe offered the kids metallic markers for additional decorating, but this step is totally optional. Finally, drop an LED votive into the box and bask in the glow! Here’s the illuminated window box version:

illuminated castle window boxAnd here’s the tissue box version! The halo of light coming out of the bottom is rather cool, don’t you think? In fact, I believe I like the tissue box version better than the more expensive window box version.

illuminated castle tissue boxAnd speaking of glowing, when we did the project for the program, I darkened the gallery, turned out the lights, and had the kids create by “candlelight.” The effect was very cozy actually. Ah, home sweet castle!

working on castle

These Butterflies Can Book

these butterflies can bookRecently, while in Brooklyn, I wandered into a little toy store called Matt & Juliette. There, I discovered some neat-o wind-up butterflies by Seedling. The clerk at the toy store explained that some people like to put the butterflies inside birthday cards. When the recipient opens the card, the butterfly flutters out. If it works for cards, I thought, it’ll totally work for books! I immediately purchased a pair to test out. They retail for $3 each and come in 4 different colors and styles.

magic butterflies by seedlingAs you can see, the toy is pretty simple. You hold one half and twist the other half. This motion winds the 2 rubber bands, which ultimately propel the toy skyward.

butterfly toyThe directions warned that winding the rubber bands too tightly could cause them to snap. This is true. Over the course of 20 test flights, we broke 2 rubber bands. But there are two spare rubber bands in each package, so no problem! Alas, one of the plastic hooks on the smaller butterfly snapped within 5 minutes, rendering the toy useless, but the other one held out just fine. Ready to see a butterfly in action?


There’s no denying it. It’s fun to have a butterfly sail out of a book. But the toy is erratic. Sometimes it flutters around the table, sometimes it dives to the floor, and sometimes it tears out of the book and zooms away like a bird.


There is absolutely no way to predict, or manipulate, the butterfly’s path out of book. Especially when it decides it wants to attack you.


The erratic flying made me wonder if this toy would freak out kids. So I tested it out on my unsuspecting children (ages 5 and 7). They loved it! There was no flinching or shrieks of alarm when a butterfly suddenly flew out of the book. In fact, they took turns winding it up and releasing it from their hands. This made me realize that the toy is a simple machine, and might work at a STEM program too.

In short, for $3, this is an inexpensive piece of magic for your next story time or program. Just make sure to buy extra butterflies in case the plastic breaks. Happy flying!

The Reference Reptile

the reference reptileWow I hear that new librarian is a total dragon. Like…literally.

We read The Library Dragon, written by Carmen Agra Deedy, and illustrated by Michael P. White (Peachtree, 1994). Miss Lotta Scales, the new librarian at Sunrise Elementary School, is, in fact, a dragon. A dragon who takes her book-guarding duties very seriously. The students (and the staff) are all but exiled from the library, lest they face the wrath of Miss Scales and her fiery temper. Then one day, little Molly Brickmeyer wanders into the library, looking for her lost glasses. She happens across a book and starts reading aloud. Shocked but entranced, the other students gather in the library to listen. Mean Miss Scales moves in to grab the book…but then stops. Hmmm. The children appear to be enjoying themselves in the library. And the book is about a magic dragon so…Miss Scales finishes the story herself. And as she reads aloud, her formidable scales fall off, revealing Miss Lotty, the new, and very kid-friendly, librarian.

We transformed into dragons with wings, tails, and heads with crackling tissue paper flames that activated with a quick puff of air!

dragon in the libraryYou’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 dragon head left section template, printed on 8.5″ x 14″ paper
  • 1 dragon head middle section template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • 1 dragon head right section template, printed on 8.5 x 11″ paper
  • 2 sheets of green poster board
  • Dragon decorating supplies (more in this below)
  • 2-3 rectangles of orange & red tissue paper (approximately 4.5″ x 7.5″ each)
  • Hole punch
  • Green yarn
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, cut the lid and tabs off one side of a box (or, if you’re using a large tissue box, just cut the entire top off). Set the box aside for a moment.

We spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to make the dragon head template fit easily over a box. The final template turned out to be over 22″ long, so I broke it into 3 separate pieces to create a printable template for you.

Print all 3 paper template pieces and cut them out. Place the middle section down first, then lay the left and right sections on top of it, using the curves of the dragon’s nose as guides. Secure the 3 template pieces together with tape.

assembled paper dragon templateNext, lay the paper template on a piece of poster board (we ultimately decided to use light green). Trace the template on the poster board, then cut the entire thing out as one big piece. You’ll notice that there are 2 dotted lines on the paper template. Fold the poster board template downwards along the dotted lines. Then slide the poster board template on top of the box, and hot glue the sides of the template to the sides of the box.

dragon head step 1Next, hot glue the middle section of the template to the top of the box.

dragon head step 2Trace the forehead template onto green poster board, and tape it to the front of the dragon’s head.

dragon head tapedNow decorate! We used markers to create spots, slivers of self-adhesive foam for nostrils, some embossed foil paper for hair, 2 sparkle stems for horns, gold mirror board pieces on the forehead, and a craft tie curly whisker. Our eyes were 2 jumbo pom-poms with self-adhesive foam pupils. You could also just use markers or construction paper to decorate the head.

decorated dragon headTo create flames, cut 2-3 rectangles of tissue paper into flame shapes, then staple them together. Hot glue (or tape) the flames to the underside of the nose. Make sure to attach the flames to the end of the poster board nose, not the end of the box. Otherwise, the flames won’t flutter properly. Here’s a shot of the underside of the box, so you can see where the flames are attached.

attached flamesTry your head on. If it’s a little loose, stuff the back and front of the box with sheets of tissue paper. To breath fire, simply blow upwards and outwards on the tissue paper flames!


Now for the wings and tail! Unfortunately, the templates for these were too big to fit on a printable page – you’ll have to freehand them. We drew half a wing, then traced it onto a folded piece of poster board. Unfolded, our wings were approximately 12″ x 22″. Bendy straws make awesome wing ribs, and so long strips of mirror board. Punch 4 holes in the wings and run yarn through them. Knot the yarn around your shoulders like backpack straps!

finished dragon wings with bendy strawsHere’s our dragon tail, which was roughly 6″ x 19″. We decorated ours with a couple pieces of mirror board (some kids went with drinking straws or just markers).

dragon tailYou’ll notice that the tail in the above photo has a 2.25″ fold at the top. The folded end tucks into the back of your pants (or, if you’re wearing a dress, punch a hole in the tail and run a yarn belt through it).

tail tucked in placeIf you’d like dragon claws (and some kids really liked this part), wrap a 3.5″ x 4″ piece of green paper around your finger, then secure the tube with tape. Wrap one end of the tube with green masking tape and cut the  masking tape into a point. Here’s Marissa modeling a fine set of claws and a truly awesome dragon onesie.

dragon clawsNow go forth dragon, and guard some books!