This Is My Story

this-is-my-storyYou love books. You think it’s a clever idea. You’ve picked it up while shopping and mused over it a dozen time. But each time you put it back, thinking…do those make your own book mail-in kits really deliver the goods? Well, ponder no more! Today, we’re reviewing the IlluStory Make Your Own Book kit by Lulu Jr.

illustory-kitThe kit retails for around $20 – $30. It includes 10 washable markers, 20 blank book pages, 2 blank cover pages, a mailing envelope, and detailed instructions. It also has multiple prompt sheets to get young writers going (including – and I really liked this – nonfiction stories and biographies). The kit price includes the production of your book and shipping costs from, and back to, your house (USA only). The final product is a 7.25″ x 9.25″ hardcover book with an illustrated story that is a maximum of 18 pages long.

illustory-kit-contentsGetting started, you have two creation options with this kit: 1) Draw the book by hand; or 2) Design it online using templates, backgrounds, and digital stickers (you can also upload drawings and photos). We went as low tech as possible and chose to create the book by hand. The 8.5″ x 11″ story pages have a big box for illustrations, and 5 lines for text. Since your story can’t be over 18 pages, there are a couple of extra pages, just in case you mess up.

Marissa bravely agreed to write and illustrate a story she titled Arnold’s Birthday Party. She reports that the markers were “awesome.” IlluStory recommends using dark pencil or pen. Marissa used ballpoint pen for her illustrations and text, which worked just fine.

page-of-storyWhen the book was finished, we turned to the order form. Here, we were presented with two options: 1) Produce the book using your handwritten text; or 2) Have the company convert your handwritten words to type (but there is a 20 word per page limit, and they don’t correct spelling or edit). We went with hand lettering.

Make sure you read the kit instructions and the order form carefully! Because otherwise you might miss that you need to number the pages, in pencil, on the back of each page (otherwise, they’ll just print them in the order received). You need to write “Cover” on the back of your cover page. And you definitely don’t was to miss the free options to add a dedication page, or author photo and bio on the back of the book!

Ready to send it off? You have two options: 1) Send it via snail mail in the prepaid envelope; or 2) Upload scans of your cover and story pages to the IlluStory website. We stayed low-tech and went with snail mail.

illustory-mailing-setIlluStory say the books are printed less than 2 weeks from the date received, and ship 3-5 days after printing. They were right on the money. In just under 3 weeks, Marissa’s book was back. It looked fantastic.

2-page-spread-of-storyI was worried that the binding might look cheap. Nope. This is a real, honest-to-goodness book. Glossy white cover, crisp printing, text well clear of the binding margins. The author photo we sent was reproduced nicely. They even put the title and author’s name down the book’s spine! There’s a title page too. It looks really cute:

title-page-of-bookYou also have the option to purchase additional copies and send them to your adoring fans (copies of our book, for example are $14.99). You can order multiple copies in advance, or use the info printed on the back of the book to order copies later.

Beware, however. The production on this kit is quite literal. If you did what I did, and fill out the dedication and author bio in ALL CAPS on the order form, the production team will put those in ALL CAPS IN YOUR BOOK. Also, remember to write the title on the cover of your book. They don’t do that for you. Marissa’s book cover is missing a title, but it sort of adds to the mystery of the big package, doesn’t it? What’s in that big package anyway?*

cover-of-bookIn summary, the IlluStory Make Your Own Book kit is terrific! It’s easy to put together with really nice, professional-looking results. Make sure to read all the instructions and fine print and remember – what you send is exactly what is printed. If you know an aspiring author or illustrator, or are looking to create something special for someone, this kit is a sure bet.


*Spoiler alert. Inside the present is a colossal spider – a gift from an eccentric aunt. The spider runs rampant through the town, swatting helicopters, before Arnold shuts it down with bug spray.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

hello-darknessAfraid of the dark? Nah! With this fantastic, illuminating friend, you can discover how much fun the dark really is! And if you’re still not convinced, join us for a glowing balloon bounce bonanza!

We read Orion and The Dark by Emma Yarlett (Templar Books, 2015). Orion is scared of everything, but he’s especially scared of the dark. Imagine his surprise when one night, the dark comes alive and drop right into his room! It turns out the Dark is actually a fun and playful friend. Together, they explore Orion’s house and town and he learns that the things he was afraid of…aren’t that scary. They’re actually kind of cool! In the grand finale, Orion and the Dark endeavor to conquer Orion’s final fear – outer space. Far from scary, outer space is simply magical. The friends return to Orion’s house just as dawn breaks. The Dark must go, but he promises to never be far away. In fact, he’ll be back every night for a visit!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • Some tagboard or strong cardboard
  • Blue construction paper
  • A selection of foil star stickers
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • A small piece of white pipe cleaner
  • Glow-in-the-dark paint or glue
  • 1 paintbrush
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Hot glue

project-viewed-in-light

Begin by wrapping a large oatmeal container and 2 toilet paper tubes with blue construction paper. Set them aside for a moment. Cut a pair of oval feet (our were approximately 2.25″ x 3.75″), then cover the tops of the ovals with blue construction paper. Hot glue the feet to the bottoms of the toilet paper tube legs, toggle the legs a bit to get the balance just right, then hot glue them to the bottom of the oatmeal container.

Finish by adding a circle of blue construction paper to the top of the oatmeal container, construction paper arms on the sides, and foil star stickers everywhere.

Now to add the glow! We had a bottle of this non-toxic glow pigment in the cabinet, so we went with glow glue. I’m sure you’d also get great results with glow-in-the-dark paint as well (it’s sold at Michael’s Craft Store for $3 – $5 a bottle). We covered our work tables with paper, gave each kid a little cup of glue and a paintbrush, and let them create a night sky on their projects.

painting-the-projectThe neat thing about the glow glue is that it dried semi-clear, so there’s a bit of a dramatic reveal when it illuminates:

project-viewed-in-light-and-darkNotice how the eyes and mouth of the project are glowing too? Those are glow-in-the-dark wiggle eyes (available through Oriental Trading Company – a pack of 100 is $3) and a snippet of white pipe cleaner painted with glow glue. We were dubious at first, but the glue stuck to the pipe cleaner very nicely and dried quickly. It also stuck to Katie’s hands, giving her awesome alien fingers.

glow-fingersWhile the kids’ projects were drying on the tables, we decided to capture the spirit of the book by having lots of fun in the dark. We blew up a bunch of LED balloons (which you first encountered in this post), turned out the lights, blasted some Enya, and had a big, glowing balloon bounce party.

glow-balloon-partyWe also had a little black light closet set up, so kids could get a preview of what their creations would look like later than night.

inside-glow-room

one-glow-designtwo-glow-designSome of the balloon revelers ended up in the black light closet too. Because why not?

balloon-in-black-light-room

Rockin’ Rhino

rockin-rhinoWant a pet rhino? Of course you do! But pet ownership is a tremendous responsibility. Get prepared with a customized accessory bag that contains a water dish, rhino snacks, and a cozy fleece blanket.

We read Rita’s Rhino by Tony Ross (Andersen Press, 2014). Rita wants a pet, but her mom insists on something small. Like a flea. Or a tadpole. Unimpressed, Rita heads to the zoo and invites a rhinoceros home. She’s thrilled, but there are some problems. Like coaxing the rhino into the elevator, cramming him into her family’s small apartment, paying for heaps of specialized rhino food, and dealing with the enormous piles of poop that must be hidden in the park every day. Rita’s rhino is a good sport about his new, cramped life. Until he’s mistaken for a bouncy castle during a visit to Rita’s school. That does it. The rhino heads back to the zoo. But Rita and the rhino miss each other. So they agree to meet up, every summer, for a little beach vacation.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box (mine was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • Light blue poster board
  • A rhino body template, printed on 11 x 17 paper
  • White poster board
  • 1 small rectangle of tagboard or poster board (approximately 1.75″ x 3″)
  • 1 piece of yarn (approximately 29″ in length)
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • 1 paper bag
  • A rectangle of felt or fleece (approximately 11 x 15.5″)
  • 1 paper cup
  • A rectangle of blue cellophane (approximately 4″ x 5″)
  • 1 small drawstring bag (or a small paper bag)
  • A bit of paper crinkle
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The rhino basically is a pull string toy, and we wanted it to glide effortlessly across the floor on its leash. So we attached wheels to the bottom of our boxes. We used the same plastic wheels assemblies from this crêpe cart project (and if you’re interested in purchasing the wheels, you’ll find info in this post). Tape shortened drinking straws to the bottom of the box, thread some bamboo skewer axles through the straws, then stick the plastic wheels on the ends of the skewers.

rhino-wheelsYou can also use cardboard wheels or skip the wheels entirely and simply slide the box across the floor. Now for the rest of the rhino! Fold a large, 7.5″ x 28″ piece of light blue poster board in half. Cut the rhino body from the template, then place the nose of the rhino template against the fold in the poster board. Cut the template out of the poster board, leaving the nose fold intact.

rhino-body-step-1Cut a rhino horn out of white poster board and hot glue it inside the fold. Hot glue 1″ of the entire front of the fold together as well. This gives your rhino the appropriate muzzle shape. Tape or glue the rhino body to the box, making sure the leave about 1″ of space between the rhino body and the bottom of the box.

rhino-body-step-2Cut a piece of light blue poster board to fit the back section of the box. Round the top of it and tape or hot glue it to the box. This is your rhino’s rump. Again, leave about 1″ of space between the rhino body and the bottom of the box. And don’t forget to add a tail!

rhino-body-step-3

Attach a pair of ears, a pair of wiggle eyes, and 4 legs. Our legs were 2″ x 3.5″. We bent them slightly so they wouldn’t drag on the ground or rub against the wheels. Use markers to add nostrils, a smile, and toenails. Decorate two strips of white poster board (ours were 1″ x 6″) and attach to either side of the neck to create a collar.

rhino-body-step-5

Did you notice the red yarn leash in the above photo? To make a leash, cut notches in a 1.75″ x 3″ piece of tagboard or poster board, then knot a 29″ piece of yarn around it.

rhino-pull-string-knotAttach the leash assembly to the front of the box (under the rhino’s the “chin”). Keep the assembly towards the bottom of the box. If it’s up too high, your rhino will keep tipping over.

rhino-body-step-4That’s it for the rhino, now for your accessories! Our paper accessory bags held a water dish, a bag of African grass, and a fleece blanket (we offered a choice of pink, blue, or purple).

rhino-care-kitThe water dish was a shortened paper cup  with blue cellophane taped to it. In the book, Rita’s rhino eats African grass, so we hot glued labels to the front of a small drawstring bag (left over from this Viking event). The kids colored in the labels and stuffed the bags with a green paper crinkle.

african-grass

You’ll notice the paper bag and the water dish have the rhino’s name emblazoned on them. You can write directly on the paper bag, but we used address labels for the water dish. I loved this part of the project. The names were so creative! A few of my favorites? Bluebell, Giga, Bubba, Trix, Tany, Twinkle, and Baki. You gotta love Twinkle the rhino.