O Frabjous Day

go ask aliceThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, and we decided to honor the occasion at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day! Our event table was stocked with some super, yet simple-to-assemble, thaumatropes. There was also some breakdancing. Well, sort of. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see our mashup of Alice and the 1980s.

A thaumatrope is a Victorian optical toy. It consists of two images printed on opposite sides of a paper disc or card. When you twirl the thaumatrope, its two pictures appear to blend into one. Most thaumatropes are twirled using string. We decided to mount ours on pencils.

thaumatrope demoYou’ll need:

  • 1 Alice thaumatope template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 pencil (I ordered terrific ones from Oriental Trading Company)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Colored pencils (or crayons) for decorating

We offered 4 Alice-themed templates, drawn by our amazing student artist, Aliisa Lee.

thaumatropesFirst, select a template, and use colored pencils or crayons to color it. Then, fold the template in half (along its faint grey line).

folded thaumatropeFlip the thaumatrope over, and tape a pencil to the back of one of the panels like so:

thaumatrope step 2Fold the thaumatrope closed, then secure the panels together with a piece of tape. You’ll also want to tape both sides of the thaumatrope to the pencil, to make it extra sturdy.

thaumatrope step 3Hold the pencil between your palms and roll it briskly back and forth. Your thaumatrope will turn, and the two images will appear as one!

twirlingHere’s what our craft table looked like (and, if you’d like to explain a bit of the science behind how the device works, here’s a pdf of our thaumatrope table sign):

thaumatrope work tableWe also had some pens and blank thaumatrope cards on hand, just in case kids wanted to try their hands at making one from scratch.

blank thaumatropeOn the other side of our event tent, we loaded a table with optical illusions cards, tops, Photicular bookmarks, flip books, replicas of vintage thaumatropes, kaleidoscopes, and mini chess boards.

optical illusion tableWhile color print-outs of optical illusions work just fine, I highly recommend this pack of Usborne optical illusion cards. There are 50 illusions in the pack. They’re colorful, sturdy, and the science behind the illusions is explained on the back of the cards. The deck retails for $10.

optical illusion cardsNo event is complete without a little costuming, and Marissa and I raided both our closets and the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for our garb. This was completely unintentional when we snapped the shot, but…don’t Marissa and I look like we’re going to bust out some 80s breakdancing moves?

break danceMaybe it’s the shoes? The jaunty pose? Hmmmm. What if we adjust the backdrop a little…

welcome to the 80sOh yeah. I dare you to pin it.

Many thanks to the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for the costume loans, and to Aliisa Lee for triggering some totally radical 80s flashbacks.

Flowers for Friends

flowers from marissaMake three cheerful flower pots, then share one with a friend! Not only was this a fun creative activity, it was a lovely lesson on the joy of giving and receiving. Not into flowers? No problem. We also offered a strawberry plant and a cactus!

We read Lola Plants a Garden, written by Anna McQuinn, and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Charlesbridge, 2014). Lola loves garden poems, especially Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. So Lola and her Mommy read books about gardens, buy seeds, and plant them. Even though it’s a bit of a wait for the first green shoots to appear, the flowers eventually grow and bloom in the warm sun. Lola invites her friends over to enjoy her garden and try some crunchy peas and plump strawberries Mommy grew. For Lola, one of the best things about growing a garden is sharing it with others.

You’ll need:

  • 3 paper cups (plastic works too – we offered both!)
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 garden template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Green pipe cleaners & sparkle stems
  • Green craft ties
  • Green construction paper
  • Green masking tape
  • A selection of crepe paper streamers
  • A selection of tissue paper
  • 1 toilet paper tube (if you’re making a cactus)
  • 1 gift label template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 wooden coffee stirrer
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (approximately 4.5″ x 14″)
  • 1 plastic lizard (optional)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Here’s what a finished project looks like: 3 flower pots (one of which was given to you by someone else), 2 butterflies, and 1 plastic lizard, all hot glued to a corrugated cardboard base.

finished potsBefore you start the project, it’s important to remind the kids that one of their flower pots will be given away as a gift. For some kids, it’s not easy to give away something they just made! But with plenty of warning, they can get used to the idea while they are working on the project. That said, I made the gift-giving portion of the program completely optional (and one kid did decide to keep all three of her pots).

On to the project! We offered a selection of paper or plastic cups as “flower pots” (this is a great time to dig around in the cabinets of ye olde staff lounge). Select 3 cups and decorate them with patterned tape (and/or markers). Color and cut the desired flora from the garden template, attach them to pipe cleaners (and/or sparkle stems), and tape the stems inside the cup.

purple flowersTo make a sunflower, use a large (18oz) plastic cup. They’re about 5″ tall – anything shorter is going to tip over. Roll a 4.5″ x 9″ piece of green construction paper into a tube. This is your sunflower’s “stalk.” Tape the stalk to the back of the sunflower head, then hot glue the stalk inside the cup. Tuck some green tissue paper around the stalk and tape some big green leaves to it.

sunflowerAnd speaking of leaves, we prepped a variety of leaves, shoots, and vines for kids to use, as well as green pipe cleaner, sparkle stem, and craft tie pieces.

leaves and stemsWe also provided crepe paper streamers and tissue paper for artists who wanted to craft flowers from scratch:

tissue flowersTo make the lovely blue flowers in the photo below, pinch one end of a 40″ – 42″ crepe paper streamer together, then wrap the “pinch point” repeatedly with the rest of the streamer. When you’re done, secure the pinch point with green masking tape, and attach it to a green pipe cleaner. I take no credit for this flower pot – it’s all Marissa and her mad crepe paper skills!

blue flowersTo make a strawberry plant, start with a slightly wider paper cup (the one below is actually a hot soup container). Loosely ball some green tissue paper and push it into the cup. Tape the strawberries (from the garden template) to pipe cleaner pieces, then tape the pipe cleaners into the cup. Glue a spread of green leaves to the top of the tissue ball, and add white blooms on top.

strawberry plantMoving along to an entirely different climate, Marissa came up with this awesome cactus. It’s a toilet paper tube covered in green tissue paper and dropped into a cup (depending on the height of your cup, you might need to bolster the cactus up a bit with more tissue paper). Use little dabs of glue to attach yellow tissue scrap “spines” to the cactus.

cactusYou’ll notice that many of the above flower pots have butterflies on them. The butterflies are on the garden template. Color them in, fold the wings up gently alongside the body, and hot glue them to the pots (or directly onto the flowers).

When all the flower pots were finished, I handed each kid a gift tag. The tags were colored, signed, attached to a wooden coffee stirrer, and tucked into the gift pots. Then the gift pots were gathered on a table. One by one, I called the kids forward and gave them a pot (make sure you have one extra pot in the pile so the last kid in line gets a choice). I got one too! Check out my beautiful gift from Gabrielle!

gift flowersWhen the gift-giving concluded, we hot glued the 3 pots to a corrugated cardboard base. I hot glued a little plastic lizard on there as well.

finished potsAnd there you have it. A little creativity and sharing on display!

Hauntingly Delicious

hauntingly deliciousIt’s a scrumptious birthday cake, but be warned…this cake is haunted. Pull the flame on the candle and out pops a ghost!

We read The Bake Shop Ghost, written by Jacqueline Ogburn and illustrated by Marjorie A. Priceman (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). Miss Cora Lee Merriweather’s cakes and pies might be sweet, but her personality is downright dour. After she dies, she haunts her bake shop, chasing off potential successors one by one. But she finally meets her match when Annie Washington moves in. Annie’s determined to not be scared by loud noises, poltergeist activity, or ghostly heads rising up through her baking table. She confronts Cora Lee and they make a wager. If Annie can make a cake that brings tears to Cora Lee’s eye, a cake “like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me,” Cora Lee will stop haunting the bake shop.

Annie tries everything. Moon cake, white cake, tiramisu, fruit cake, cheesecake, carrot cake. Nothing works. Finally, after some research at the local library, Annie makes a… birthday cake. The ghost is so touched that Annie remembered her birthday, she sheds a tear and loses the wager. But Annie, knowing a world-class baker when she sees one, invites the ghost to become her business partner. The two bakers make fabulous baked goods together. And every year, they make birthday cakes for one another.

You’ll need:

  • 2 small boxes (mine were 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 6″ and 4″ x 4″ x 4″)
  • Construction paper (we offered pink, brown, white, and yellow)
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (or paper plate)
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • A square of white poster board (approximately 2″ x 2″)
  • A box cutter
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • Cake decorating supplies (more on this below!)
  • 3 squares of a white plastic garbage bag (approximately 13″ x 13″)
  • 1 piece of white pipe cleaner (approximately 5″ long)
  • A black permanent marker
  • Scraps of colored mirror board for candle flames (or use construction paper)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Hot glue

You can use 1 box and create a single layer cake, or you can use 2 boxes and go for a double layer cake. I used white craft boxes, but tissue boxes work too. You might, however, want to cover the tissue boxes with white, brown, or yellow, construction paper before you begin.

Cover the tops of the boxes with construction paper “icing.” Cut bumps into a strip of construction paper, and wrap the strip around the box to create a scallop of icing along the cake’s edge.

cake step 1Next, use a toilet paper tube to trace a circle onto a square of white poster board. Cut the circle from the poster board and use a box cutter to cut a small slit in the circle’s center:

ghost circleSet the circle aside for a moment. Wrap the toilet paper tube with patterned paper and hot glue it to the top of the small box. Then hot glue the small box on top of the large box. Finally, hot glue the large box to a corrugated cardboard base. If your box is small enough, you can use a paper plate for the base. If your cake is too big, try flipping the paper plate upside down to gain a tad more room. For our bases, we used 10″ cake circles:

cake step 2It’s time to decorate! We used construction paper, patterned tape, tissue paper squares, craft ties, self-adhesive foam shapes, dot stickers, and rickrack ribbon. I take no credit for the masterpiece you see below. This is the work of Miriam Jankiewicz, a rare books staffer who was helping me out that day. I love the tissue flowers with the delicate little craft tie curls!

decorated cakeThe cake is complete, now for the ghost! Place 2 squares of white plastic trash bag flat on top of one another. Crumble a third square and place it in the center of the flat squares.

ghost flame step 1Bunch the flat squares around the crumble and twist to create the ghost’s head and neck. Wrap one end of a short pipe cleaner around the ghost’s neck and twist tightly. Bend the rest of the pipe cleaner straight up. The twist and the straight part of the pipe cleaner should both be located behind your ghost’s head.

ghost flame step 2Thread the free end of the pipe cleaner through the slit in the poster board circle. The circle will rest on top of your ghost’s head like a hat.

ghost flame step 3Use a permanent black marker to draw eyes and a mouth on your ghost. Tape scraps of red and orange mirror board (or construction paper) to the front of the pipe cleaner. These are the flames of your candle. The front of your ghost should now look like this:

finished ghost flameThe final step is to tape the back of the ghost’s head to the pipe cleaner. This will keep it nice and steady when you yank it from the cake.

ghost flame step 4To operate your ghost cake, stuff the ghost into the toilet paper tube candle. Wedge the poster board circle into the top of the tube (you might have to trim it a little to get it just right). Present your cake to an unsuspecting individual, then grab the candle flame and pull the ghost out. Shouting “Boo!” is optional, but entirely appropriate.

cake ghostLooking for a few more spooky ideas? Take a look at our haunted dollhouse, glowing skeleton marionette, creepy carrots, shadow puppets, bat mini-exhibit, mummy in a pyramid, and Spooky Old Tree. And don’t miss this plump and perfectly simple toilet paper jack-o’-lantern!