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!

Sneak Peek: Giant Floor Maze

giant floor mazeYou’ve been getting little hints on our Instagram, but here’s an exclusive first look at something big on our horizon. This month, my library is hosting a major math event. It’s called A Day at Digitopolis (named, of course, after the famed city in The Phantom Tollbooth). Today, you’re going to get a sneak peek at one of the activities – a giant 16′ x 16′ floor maze. But this is no ordinary maze! You have to get from start to finish without taking a single right-hand turn. Want to build one of your own? Read on!

I first encountered this puzzle at the Manhattan Museum of Math (home of the famous square-wheeled trike!). Their version, however, is a no left-hand turn maze that’s digitally projected on a big section of their exhibit floor. A floor projection wasn’t an option for us, nor was a vinyl mat, nor cardboard. The answer? $30 worth of green contact paper and a maze design by Robert Abott.

robot abott's maze

©2009 by Robert Abbott

I did have to make a couple tweaks to Robert’s original maze. In his version, there are a couple of sections where the path goes right to the edge of the maze (specifically, on the left, right, and top sides). I added a border of green boxes to keep the pathway entirely enclosed.

added boundriesOnce I finalized the maze design and decided that it was going to be 16′ x 16′, I had to calculate how much contact paper we needed. The rolls I found on Amazon were a standard width of 18″, so I just had to determine the length. I work best with models, so I crafted a little maze, in which 1″ = 1 foot.

dr. dana's modelOnce I added up the lengths of all the pink pieces, I had a rough estimate of how much contact paper we would need (112.25′). I ordered two, 75′ rolls, which left plenty of extra paper for mistakes. The task of actually building the maze fell on Marissa and Casandra Monroe. Casandra is a Princeton University student and super math whiz!

casandraCasandra sketched the maze on graph paper, in which 1 square = 1 square foot. Then she drew a 16 x 16 square and sketched the various pieces inside it. To make the calculations nice and simple, she made path through the maze 1′ wide.

casandra's diagramThen, Marissa and Casandra headed to the library’s cavernous main lobby and started building. They laid down the outer walls of the maze first:

arranging the exteriorAnd then cut and placed the internal pieces of the maze.

arranging the interiorWhile they were filling in the pieces, they used a measuring tape to keep the path as close to 1′ as possible (even though there were some areas where the path was wider).

measuring the pathwayMarissa and Casandra kept the backing on the contact paper. But to keep the pieces from curling up, they used masking tape loops to temporarily adhere it to the floor.

tape loop expertThey also used permanent marker to label the backs of all the pieces and match them to a diagram of the maze.

writing the lettersThe morning of the event, we’ll be able to glance at the diagram, check the backs of the pieces, and peel and stick the maze quickly (we’ll have a measuring tape on hand to remeasure the pathways too).

set-up diagramAll in all, the maze took about 3 hours to put together. Cue “Eye of the Tiger!”

eye of the tigerThree important things: 1) Don’t forget to mark the start and finish of your maze (we’re using extra pieces of contact paper with “start” and “finish” written on them in permanent marker); 2) At the event, make sure to have the solution posted somewhere nearby (or available as a handheld map); and 3) Test the maze!

Ian, our faithful maze tester, went through the maze and soon discovered that one of the green blocks was, if fact, making a necessary turn impossible. So Marissa and Casandra adjusted it, and sent Ian through again. No problems after that!

ian tests it outThe real test, of course, will be at the event. There might be some last minute tweaks or unforeseen problems when crowds of kids are introduced into the equation. I’ll dutifully update this post if there are!

This isn’t the first time I’ve used contact paper to make large-scale event activities. Check out our most popular toddler activity ever, right here.


finished eraser headsEvery writer needs a pencil, and at the end of that pencil is…an eraser. By why settle for the cylindrical pink variety when you can opt for a colorful, unique creation of your own imagination? Enter the Creatibles D.I.Y. Eraser Kit, which retails for around $12. The kit includes a rainbow assortment of clay colors that you can sculpt and bake into custom erasers.

creatibles eraser kitOur kid tester, Hope, is taking a break to tackle middle school madness (classes, school play, going to regionals for the National History Day competition…go Hope!), so Marissa took the Creatibles Kit for a test drive. Take it away, Marissa!

At first, the clay was dry and crumbly. I had to knead it and warm it up with my hands, until it had a consistency similar to Play-Doh. After that, it was no problem to use!

prepping the clayWhen working on my first eraser, I was conservative in my design and how much clay I used. I didn’t think there would be enough (each color is only 0.63 ounces). But I soon realized that I didn’t need that much (unless you’re making a gigantic multi-color dinosaur). The more comfortable I became with the clay, the more I experimented with detail and size.

eraser assortmentSome of the colors (like black, green, and blue) will rub off on your hands and table. So it’s a good idea to wash your hands in between colors. Also, use parchment paper. It really helps keep clay residue off your work table.

Making an eraser that fits onto a pencil is a bit more challenging, because once you start adding detail, the hole you created for the pencil gets squished or warped. So every once in a while, make sure to refit the eraser to the pencil.

refitting eraser on pencilWhen adding little detailed pieces to your erasers, make sure you stick the pieces on well! I had a few eyes and limbs fall off because I didn’t press them down hard enough. Eventually, I used a plastic knife for pressing. Clay modeling tools would probably help and look cleaner, but you don’t have to get that fancy – a plastic knife works fine!

using plastic knifeblue girl finishedThe erasers need to bake at 210-250 degrees for 30 minutes (I went with 250 degrees) then cool and set for 1 hour. I used parchment paper to protect my cookie sheet as well. The hardest part of this project? Waiting the full hour while the erasers cooled down and hardened! I kept checking them every 15 minutes (and if you poke them and they haven’t set, you run the risk of leaving a fingerprint or losing small pieces).

I’m happy to report that the clay doesn’t change color when you bake it. There was no melting or shrinking either! Once your erasers have cooled and set, you can try them out…

pink shark eraser testAnd they work! The pencil residue will stick to the erasers, so if you’re truly using them to erase, they won’t stay pretty for long (or rub the eraser on blank paper to clean it). The eraser doesn’t break or wear down quickly either. Even after some rigorous erasing, the pink shark’s chin was still intact!

pink shark undersideThere’s no stated age range for this kit, but I think it would be good for ages 6 & up. However, because the clay starts out dry and crumbly, younger kids might have a difficult time handling it on their own. But once the clay gets to Play-Doh consistency, it’s fine. Also (and it says this on the kit) the clay could stain “certain finishes” and should be kept away from “carpet, clothing, and other porous surfaces.”

The Creatibles D.I.Y. Eraser Kit is easy to use, a snap to bake, the erasers work, and the sky is the limit as far as creativity. I made 9 erasers for the testing, and there was clay left for at least 2 more! So it would make a great group or party activity too. The kit does require a bit of vigilance with clay residue on your hands and work surfaces, but other than that, it’s fun. I highly recommend it!