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!

Books Done Wrong

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The life of a book is fraught with danger. Readers dribble food, bend pages, and spill beverages. Bugs nibble, sun burns, mildew blooms, and dogs gnaw. As a result, there are some pretty gross books out there. But “gross” works for kids, so I decided to combine grossness and literacy with a little investigative fun.

In 2010, I designed a “Books Done Wrong” table at the Princeton Public Library’s Children’s Book Festival. I displayed damaged books (labeled “Exhibit A, B, C” and so forth) on a table along with some large magnifying glasses. Nearby was a police lineup that matched the damage on the books to the perpetrators (I drew a police lineup backdrop and stood little cardboard versions of the perps in front of it).

Alas, these were the pre-blog days, so the above photo is the only one I have of the event table (like the fedora?). But I did ask our student artist, Aliisa Lee, to create a line up of repeat offenders. Meet Pen Marks, Sunshine, Water Damage, Silverfish, Food Spills, Mildew, and Chomping Dog.

lineup of book baddiesAt the event, kids examined the books and guessed who damaged what book. If they identified the perpetrators correctly, they were awarded a small plastic magnifying glass. I bought mine from Educational Innovations. Cheaper (but lower quality) magnifying glasses can be found at Oriental Trading Company.

So that was my little event table.

Leave it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to take it to the next level.

For starters, did you know The Met has multiple libraries? One of them, the Nolen Library in the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education is open to museum visitors and researchers of Art History. Even better, the Nolen Library has a children’s section, complete with storytimes!

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Courtesy of the Nolen Library. Photograph by Filip Wolak.

Even the littlest museum patrons can browse relevant picture books and computer programs. And just look at these amazingly stylish computer stools!

computer stationsLast year, when The Met launched MetKids (their digital feature for tweens), the Nolen Library and book conservation staff from the Thomas J. Watson Library put together a beautiful demonstration of the intersection between books, science, art, and conservation. Here’s the team (from left to right): Yukari Hayashida, Leah High, Jenny Davis, Dana Hart, Naomi Niles, and Chelsea DeGlopper.

met teamThe exhibit was spread over two large tables. At the first table you could find things like damaged books, sample of paper, and posters of pests.

damaged bookbook posterpapersdamaged pagesHere’s my personal favorite – a microscope that shows a buggy book muncher up close.

bug microscopenibbled bookbug on screenHere’s a book catalog the conservators water-damaged on purpose for the event. So if you’re thinking of doing a similar table, and can’t find damaged books in your personal collection, feel free to customize one that would otherwise end up in the recycle bin!

water damageAt the second exhibit table, there was information on how to fix books, including the various materials conservators use.

presentationI really loved this – a laptop showing before and after shots of fixed books:

before and afterDuring the event, conservators gave a presentation, encouraged kids to touch and explore, and fielded all sorts of questions.

table crowdThe library also hosted a bookplate-making activity in a side room. On display were some of their fascinating historic bookplates (the real ones – not reproductions!).

historic bookplatesNearby were plenty of art materials to make your own bookplate. Fantastic!

bookplate suppliesbookplateIf you haven’t been to The Met, by all means go. After my family and I left the MetKids event, we explored the rest of the museum. We were not prepared for how astounding, amazing, gigantic, and beautiful it was. I always wondered why Claudia wanted to run away to The Met and how the siblings managed to stay hidden (I speak, of course, of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). But now I understand. I understand!

Many thanks to Leah High at the Nolen Library, and the conservators from the Thomas J. Watson Library, for letting me come and photograph their fantastic, and incredibly educational, event table. Thank you!


Children’s Book Festival photograph courtesy of the Princeton Public Library.

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