How to Screen Your Dragon

popcorn vikingVikings and Dragon Riders! Don your horned helmets, grab your shields, and get ready for the ultimate How To Train Your Dragon theater experience, complete with real reptiles!

blue-tongued skinkAfter watching How to Train Your Dragon with my kids, I was delighted to learn that the movie was based on the book series by Cressida Cowell. When the Princeton Garden Theater (our local, non-profit movie theater) gamely agreed to a book-to-film outreach collaboration, How to Train Your Dragon was the first on my list.

Our program had three parts. Viking activities in the lobby, a live reptile show, and then the film itself. We’ll start with the lobby activities first. There were tables for making helmets and shields, a replica of a Viking game, and a local artist making custom sketches of the movie’s characters.

Viking helmets were a must, and we needed something quick and easy-to-assemble. Here’s the gang, sporting some seriously awesome headgear.

the gangYou’ll need:

  • A long strip of silver poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 24.5″)
  • A short strip of silver poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 14″)
  • White poster board for your Viking “horns”
  • Stapler
  • Metallic dot stickers (optional)

First, circle the long strip of silver poster board around your head (we purchased our poster board online from Blick Art Materials). Staple it. This is your hatband. Next, staple the short strip of poster board to the front and back of the hatband. Tab and staple a pair of white poster board horns to the sides of the hatband (here’s our horn template if you’d like it). Decorate the hatband with (optional) metallic dot stickers.

viking helmet stepsIt never hurts to thrown in a little history, so we included informational table signs at all the hands-on activity tables. Here’s the table sign for helmets. Next up…shields!

shields

You’ll need:

  • 1 silver poster board circle (approximately 5″ in diameter)
  • 1 circle of corrugated cardboard (approximately 14″ in diameter)
  • 2 strips of poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 11″)
  • 2 brass tacks
  • Metallic markers
  • Hole punch
  • Stapler

Since we needed a slew of shields, we used cake circles and – believe it or not – the silver foil circles that fit onto take-out containers. Both were purchased at a local restaurant supply outlet. But you can cut a shield from any corrugated cardboard box, and the silver circle from silver poster board.

Hot glue a 5″ silver circle onto the center of a 14″ brown cardboard circle. Push the prongs of 2 brass tacks through the cardboard shield (one on each side of the silver circle). Decorate the shield with metallic markers.

viking shield stepsNext, loop 2 strips of poster board loosely around your forearm. Stapled them closed. Punch a hole in each loop, then thread the prongs of a brass tack through each hole. The back of your shield will now look like this:

back of shieldDone! And here’s the shield table sign. By the way, did you know that metal knob in the center of a shield is called a “boss?” I did not know that.

girl with shieldNot far from the helmet and shield tables was the very talented Keenu Hale, a local artist who is the master of quick cartoon sketches. The kids kept him very busy drawing their favorite Dragon characters (they got to take the sketches home too)!

keenu hale

Here’s a set I posted on our Instagram. Keenu drew these in minutes. Wow.

hiccup and astridThe final activity table was a replica of a Viking game. It was WAY popular. Marissa found it in Hands On America Volume 1: Art Activities About Viking, Woodland Indians, and Early Colonists by Yvonne Y. Merrill (Kits Publishing, 2001). It’s a snap to put together.

viking game being played

You’ll need:

  • 1 white bandanna
  • Fabric or permanent markers
  • Air dry clay

Use markers to draw the game board below on a white bandanna (I bought ours at Michaels Craft Store). The runes are optional, of course. Our runes spell out the names of the different types of dragons. Can you spot “Night Fury?”

game boardThe game pieces are little birds (about 2″ long), made with air dry clay.

game piecesTo play the game, toss the clay birds onto the game board.

You get 1 point if a bird lands upright anywhere on the board
You get 2 points if a bird lands in a circle
You get 3 points if a bird lands upright in a circle

Here’s the game table sign, should you need it. We offered winners 2 prize choices. The first choice was a plastic gemstone. Each gemstone was worth 1 point. Win 6 points, and you got to select 6 gemstones! We provided 3″ x 4.5″ cotton drawstring bags to hold your riches (I bought my bags from Nashville Wraps).

bag of gemstonesThe other prize was a chance to win a cardboard Toothless standee (purchased on Amazon for $30). Kids automatically got a chance to win when they first entered the theater, but at the Viking game table, 1 point equaled 1 extra chance to win. So 3 points equaled 3 more chances to win. The kids really liked that!

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Image courtesy of the Princeton Garden Theater

In addition to the hands-on activities, there was a reptile exhibit and live show by Enzo from The Lizard Guys. Enzo brought a terrific array of critters, and shared an astounding amount of knowledge with the kids and their parents.

reptiles

Here’s Marissa bonding with a blue-tongued skink. Soon, she will be a mighty Dragon Rider of Berk!

marissa pets the skinkFinally, it was time for the film. Having only seen it on my laptop, I can say I was completely blown away watching it on the big screen. The flying! The fire! The CLOUDS!

how to screen your dragon

I’d like to express my extreme gratitude to the Princeton Garden Theater for collaborating with us on this program. They were up for anything, and didn’t bat an eye when I asked if we could take over the lobby with multiple craft projects and bring in live reptiles. In fact, their response was a very enthusiastic “YES!” Thanks so much guys!

viking enjoying popcorn

Misako Rocks!

misako rocks Manga fans, sharpen your pencils! We were delighted to host Misako Takashima (popularly known as Misako Rocks!) at an intensive drawing workshop for 10-14 year-olds. Check out our interview with Misako at the end of the post!

misako's workThe workshop primarily focused on character development, as well as a little history on Japanese culture and manga. After a hilarious PowerPoint presentation about growing up in Japan and coming to America, Misako jumped right in to the art. Wielding a variety of markers, she demonstrated how to structure faces and make mouths, eyes, and even hair expressive.

easelsThe kids were loaded up with paper and pencils so they could sketch along with Misako.

kids working 2My favorite part, however, was when Misako would circulate among the young artists, commenting on their work, making suggestions, and giving mini-lessons to help improve their drawings.

kids working 3Another fabulous thing about the workshop? The kids’ art! In addition to some spur-of-the-moment sketches, many of them brought their portfolios with them. Here are just a few…

manga twinsblonde braidwolvescharactersyellow houseposterguitarred girl


In addition to publishing her own work, Misako has been featured in magazines and newspapers, including Elle Girl and the New York Times. The BBC and TV Asahi featured her in a documentary about her comic book life, and her Instagram flows with photos, sketches, and artistic exuberance.

misakoWhen did you first start drawing manga, and why did it intrigue you?

I started drawing when I was 8 or 9 just like any girls copied their favorite characters. But professionally I started drawing in 2004. It was my first dream that I wanted to become a puppeteer in Broadway (to work for Lion King musical!), but I gave up on myself.
Then I noticed that Japanese pop culture (anime and manga) was getting pretty popular around that time. I thought that I had to switch my career when this was pretty trendy! That’s how I started making my story and drawing.

Describe the steps you take to draw a single page in one of your books.

First I roughly draw panels and add lines to the characters. At this time I don’t draw backgrounds. Then I start polishing each page: 1 draw with blue pencil. 2 draw with calligraphy brush. I draw background separately. Scan everything and color with Photoshop.

What’s more difficult for you…writing the story, or drawing the art?

Writing the story is more difficult for me, because English is my second language. I am still learning! My study will never stop! But I do have so many ideas, so I don’t have any problems to come up with a theme!

Name some other artists you love!
Yukari Ichijo is my favorite manga artist, Klimt, and Charles Burns, the graphic novel artist of Black Hole. Art Spiegleman, the graphic novel artist of Maus might be my No1!

What’s one of the most unusual things you’ve received from a fan?

A photo of her tattoo…she used my illustration!!! I was blown away by it.

What’s your advice for young artists who want to draw manga?

In order to make stories, I always advise them to go outside and have fun! Because those days really help them to create interesting and exciting stories. Also give yourself 1 min sketch practice. I sat on a bench in a park to draw people sit in front of me for one minute! I kept doing a lot to develop my drawing skill.

What are you working on now?

I am working on my weekly web comic: BOUNCE BACK. The theme is a school bully, racism, friendship, finding identity etc, etc. But it has a fantasy character, so it’s still entertaining! I bet readers will feel related to my characters Lilico and Paige.

Also I am working on Japanese manga comic too. I go to Japan often to be on TV and radio show to talk about my projects. Sometimes I visit schools to give a motivational speech. This is very exciting!


Artist photo courtesy of Misako Takashima. 

Quoth the Raven

quoth the ravenThis a not just a raven. It’s THE raven. The raven believed to have inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write his famous poem. If that isn’t enough of a distinction, this same raven (his name is Grip) was once the the beloved pet of Charles Dickens. After Grip died, Dickens had him stuffed and it’s reported that he arranged the foliage in the display box himself. Grip was a minor character in Dickens’ book, Barnaby Ridge. Poe, who was working as a reviewer in Philadelphia, read the book and remarked that the raven’s “…croakings might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.” Four years later, he published “The Raven.”

Grip the raven is just one of the treasures in the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia. I spent a happy afternoon there, learning about the history of the book and enjoying a massive cheese steak, both provided compliments of Joe Shemtov, Rare Books Librarian. Ready for a little history lesson?

envelope and tabletFirst, Joe brought out this Sumerian clay tablet and envelope (ca 2000 B.C.E). That’s the envelope on the left, and the tablet on the right. The envelope is, of course, clay, and was cracked open in order to gain access to the tablet. Interestingly, the tablet is a contract for a delivery of lard with a penalty clause. All business, those Sumerians.

papyrusNext, we move to a papyrus manuscript from Ancient Egypt (ca. 700 B.C.E.). The image above is a section from a Book of the Dead, which the wealthier Egyptians were privy to. Interesting fact – while the scribes were producing these, they would leave blank spaces for the names of the book’s future owners. The manuscript is written in Hieratic, a cursive writing system that allowed scribes to write more quickly than with hieroglyphs.

scrollThis Meghillat Esther scroll is a beautiful reminder of how the reading experience has changed over time. We flip pages to read, but before that, we scrolled. I suppose with computers, we’re back to scrolling. Huh.

vellumMoving forward, we start to see manuscripts and books written on vellum (i.e. the skin of sheep, calves, and goats). Vellum was sturdy, but rather tedious and time consuming to produce. The size of the animals limited the size of the vellum, which inadvertently resulted in more standardized sizes of books.

book of hoursThis is a Book of Hours (ca. 1475), a religious book that was the “bestseller” of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. From the mid-13th century to the mid-16th century, more of these books were bought, sold, bequethed, inherited, printed, and reprinted more than any other book, including the bible. A Book of Hours was a book of prayers, but also contained a calendar of feast days (which commemorated the days on which particular saints were believed to have been martyred, as well as the important days of Christ and the Virgin).

gutenberg bibleAt this point in history, books were still written entirely by hand. Until this came along. Above is a page from a Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed on a printing press. Johann Gutenberg invented his press in the 1450s and thus ushered in a new age of literacy. Gutenberg also popularized the use of plant-based paper rather than vellum. While opinions and records vary, it’s generally believed that approximately 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible were printed, and only 21 complete copies exist today.

chapbookSprinting forward to the 19th century, books were looking very much like the ones we know and love today. And because of the plethora of printing presses, books were selling cheap. An 1840 chapbook like the one above would have cost mere pennies. This made the books more affordable to the lower classes, which  that meant more people could afford to start learning to read and write.

Of course, there were still some fancy books out there. Are you ready to see something really, really, cool?

fore-edge 1This is a book with a fore-edge illustration. While it’s a little hard to see in the image above, the edges of the pages are gilded (i.e. burnished with gold). But, when you fan the pages  just so…

fore-edge 2…the pages reveal an illustration! How completely and totally amazing is that?!? Man, I love rare books! Even better, this book has a double fore-edge. If you flip it over and hold the pages just so…

fore-edge 3There’s a different illustration on the other side. Unbelievable. While the Rare Book Department has been giving history of the book tours for some time now, they were recently awarded a Hatching Innovation Grant to create a traveling educational program to local schools and library branches. Congrats Joe!

The Rare Book Department at the Philadelphia Free Library is open to the public and free of charge (they’re on Facebook as well). The library is open Monday-Saturday with daily tours starting at 11:00am. You are also free to visit their exhibit galleries, which are absolutely lovely.

exhibit hallTheir new exhibit space, the William B. Dietrich Gallery, is currently showing Sacred Stories: The World’s Religious Traditions. The exhibit draws from “one thousand years of human history, illustrating the ways we have written, printed, decorated, and illuminated our Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.”

dietrich galleryWell, we began this post with Dickens, it seems only appropriate we end with him. This is the Elkins Room in the Rare Book Department, a gorgeous wood-paneled paradise filled with books, artifacts, sculptures, and artwork.

elkins roomSee the desk to the right? That, my friends, is Charles Dickens’ writing desk. Originally, it resided in Gad’s Hill Place, Dickens’ country home. The great man himself sat right there, wrote amazing things,  and even carved his initials in it! And there’s me, hopefully absorbing some of that writing power into my own fingertips.

dickens desk


Many thanks to Joe Shemtov and the Rare Book Department staff for an amazing afternoon! Sacred Stories: The World’s Religious Traditions is showing through January 30th, 2016.