Olfactory Sorcery

dragons bloodEnter the realm of mystery, magic, spells, sorcery, and…smoked paprika. That’s right. Never underestimate the POWER of roast chicory! First, we made herbal amulets at our story time for 6-8 year-olds. Then we votes with our noses. The burning question? Which spice smells most like dragon’s blood?

We read Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow Books, 1977). When Cat Chant and his older sister Gwendolen become orphans, Cat is quite happy to settle down quietly in their village. But Gwendolen is set on ruling the world, and writes a mysterious letter to a powerful enchanter named Chrestomanci. To Cat’s surprise (and Gwendolen’s glee), Chrestomanci agrees to adopt the children and raise them in his magnificent castle. However, when Chrestomanci and his constituents fail to fawn over the spoiled Gwendolen, she launches a vengeful campaign to create magical mayhem. Things get even more complicated when Gwendolen departs to a parallel world, dragging her double (a girl named Janet), into Cat’s world. It’s up to Cat and Janet to set right all the problems Gwendolen’s created. But in the process, they uncover Gwendolen’s worst plot yet – one that puts Cat in grave danger.

For the hands-on portion of our program, we made these nifty herbal amulets. You can find instructions for that project here.

amuletBut there was an additional olfactory activity! In Charmed Life (and, in fact, all the books in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series) dragon’s blood is one of the most powerful and dangerous substances in the known worlds. It’s described as having a powerful, distinct, and horrible odor, even when it’s dried into a powder.

So while purchasing the herbs for the amulets, I also bought several strong smelling, reddish-brown spices (it was an interesting shopping day, let me tell you). In the end, I decided on chipotle, roast chicory, smoked paprika, hot cayenne, and sumac. I put each spice in a plastic glass with a label. During the program, the kids sniffed the glasses and voted on which one they thought smelled like dragon’s blood.

There was quite a lot of yelling, laughing, and carrying-on, but in the end, we had our winner…sumac!

dragons blood votingIf you haven’t read Charmed Life, or anyone of the other books in the Chronicles of Chrestomani series, I can’t recommend them enough. I love how Diana Wynne Jones writes her characters and create her magic. I love her sense of humor and her amazing descriptions. The Pinhoe Egg is a book I re-read annually, because it’s like visiting family. Conrad’s Fate comes in a close second. It’s a bit like Downton Abbey…with magic!

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

The Four Little Pigs

the four little pigsLet’s see. There’s a pig in a house of straw, a pig in a house of sticks, a pig in a house of bricks, and a pig on a sailboat. Wait…what?!? A fourth little pig? On a sailboat?

We read Ziggy Piggy and the Three Little Pigs by Frank Asch (Kids Cab Press, 1998). Once there were four little pigs. Ted, Fred, Ned, and Ziggy. Carefree Ziggy invites his brothers to the beach for a swim, but finds them madly fortifying their houses of straw, sticks, and brick. The Big Bad Wolf is in town, and Ted, Fred, and Ned don’t have time to play. So Ziggy goes to the beach by himself. The Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs and chases Ted, Fred, and Ned to the beach, where they pile onto Ziggy’s raft. But when the Wolf attempts to blow the raft to bits, Ziggy hoists the sail and the four brothers sail away to safety.

We made oatmeal container pigs, and then went searching for sailboat ride tickets in houses of straw, sticks, and brick. You had just a few seconds to find your ticket before the Big Bad Wolf appeared. Story time finished with a ride on a perfectly pig-sized sailboat!

You’ll need:

  • 1 oatmeal container
  • Pink construction paper
  • White construction paper
  • A square of white poster board (approximately 6″ x 6″)
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • 1 pink jumbo pom-pom
  • 2 small circles of self-adhesive foam
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

For the game, you’ll need:

little pig

To make a pig, wrap an oatmeal container with pink construction paper. The pig’s “shirt” is a 5″ x 18″ piece of construction paper decorated with markers. Cut a pair of “sneakers” out of poster board, decorate them with marker, then hot glue the sneakers to bottom of the oatmeal container. Use extra pink paper to make ears and arms. We offered a selection of patterned tape to liven things up, but you can also just stick with markers.

To make the face, hot glue the wiggle eyes to the oatmeal container (or draw eyes with markers). Hot glue a pink jumbo pom-pom on for the nose, and use 2 self-adhesive foam circles for nostrils. In the above photo, however, you’ll notice the pig has a pink cotton ball nose. So why do I suggest a jumbo pom-pom? THIS is why…

uh oh noseAs time passes, the cotton ball sloooowly unfurls, leaving your pig with a droopy nose. Definitely use a pom-pom.

And now for the game, which requires a set of 3 houses, a Big Bad Wolf, and sailboat. Marissa and I snagged three big boxes from the recycle bin, charged up our hot glue guns, and started building. In addition to the decor in the front, there is a small door cut into the back of each box. This is so later, during the game, I could sneak the sailboat ride tickets into the houses undetected.

house of strawhouse of stickshouse of bricksI drew a Big Bad Wolf on a piece of poster board, and taped him to a piece of PVC pipe. I tried to make him look not too scary. Not sure if I succeeded.

wolfFinally, the sailboat. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Seriously. A shoe box pulled on a string will work great. I just happen to have this awesome sailboat my Dad made for me.

sailboatOriginally, it was used at a Treasure Island event. One of the student groups at the event (Students United for a Responsible Global Environment, to be precise) wanted to demonstrate wind power. So I asked my Dad (hi Dad!) if he could build a sailboat that would roll down a table, propelled by a fan. It worked great!

sailboat at treasure islandOn windy days, we bring the sailboat out of the attic and take it outside. In a brisk breeze, you really have to run to keep up with it!

chasing the shipBut back to pigs. Here’s how we played the Ziggy Piggy game. I lined up the three houses and asked the kids to sit down in front of them. Then one kid covered his/her eyes while I hid a sailboat ride ticket inside one of the houses. When I shouted “Go!” and the kid had 10 seconds to find the ticket before the Big Bad Wolf rose from behind the houses. Sometimes I had to slow the count, but in the end, everyone won.

ticket and the wolfMarissa and I then ushered the kids and their pigs out to the library’s main lobby, where we sat in two groups. Marissa was “Dock 1.” This is where all the pigs gathered. Some distance away, I was “Dock 2,” where all the kids gathered. Between the two docks was the sailboat, rigged up on a loooong string. One by one, Marissa would call out a kid’s name and place his/her pig on the sailboat. The kid would come and stand next to me. Once I confirmed that their pig had a ticket, I would reel in the string, causing the sailboat to whizz over to the kid!

sailing pigWhen story time was over, we drew names to see who was going to take the 3 houses home. The winners are the little girls posing at the start of this post. They were super thrilled!