Across the Puddle

woo hooPrepare to embark on an epic journey through a variety of obstacles. Weave in and out of topsy-turvey turtles, dodge two plump pigs, avoid the chomping alligator, and face off with a vacuum cleaner elephant. It’s the world’s biggest puddle…can your little boat make it?

We read The Puddle by David McPhail (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998). One rainy day, a little boy decides to sail his toy boat. He finds a truly enormous puddle, but unfortunately, a frog hijacks his boat. The boy can’t chase after the frog – he’s promised his mother he’ll stay out of puddles. The frog crashes the boat into a turtle just as an alligator shows up and offers assistance. The alligator retrieves the boat, but it’s a wee bit crushed. In the meantime, a pig arrives for a swim and is being quite messy about it when an elephant appears and drinks the entire puddle. This prompts all the animals to yell at her to put the water back. So she does. Quite forcefully. By this time, the sun comes out, the puddle dries up, and the boy heads home for a hot bath. What a day!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (I used a 4” x 4” x 4” box – a small tissue box works too)
  • 2 rectangles of (mine were 3″ x 12″)
  • A section of colored masking tape
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • A selection of construction paper
  • A selection of multicultural construction paper
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • 3 foam beads
  • 1 sails template, printed on white 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • Hole punch
  • 1 piece of string or yarn (approximately 27″)
  • 1 puddle obstacle course (more on this later!)
  • Scissors, tape, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

boat with passengersWe’ll begin with the boat! The first steps are exactly the same as this Noah’s Ark balancing game. Cut the lid and tabs off your box (if you are using a tissue box, cut the entire top off). Your box should now be about 3″ tall. Set it aside for a moment. Next, use a marker to draw horizontal lines on 2 rectangles of tag board. This creates the “boards” of your ship. For a bit of color, run a piece of colored masking along the top of each rectangle (or just use markers).

sailboat step 1Place both rectangles on top of one another, staple the short ends together, and slide them over the box. Secure them in place with tape or hot glue. This step is really important! If the sides of the boat aren’t attached to the box, the sides will pop off when you yank the boat’s pull string later.

sides of boatNext, wrap a 4″ piece of colored masking tape around the top of a wooden dowel, then snip the tape with scissors to create a triangular flag.

sailboat flag stepsPush 3 foam beads on the opposite end of the dowel, then hot glue the foam beads to the bottom of the boat. This is your ship’s mast.

hot glued mastColor and cut the sails from the template, then tape them to the front and back of the mast (we made the sails short so they wouldn’t pull the dowel over, feel free to discard the template and make your own sails if you like). Finally, punch a hole in the front of the boat and knot a piece string through it. Here’s the finished boat with the flag, the sails, and the pull string in place:

finished boatWe made 2 crew members (a person and a frog) using multicultural, construction, and patterned paper. Here’s Marissa’s self portrait, with a froggie friend:

marissa and frogNow for the obstacle course! We snagged 2 huge pieces of cardboard from the recycle bin, and painted them light blue. Interestingly, the paint warped the edges of the cardboard upward, creating “waves.” While the paint was drying, we crafted some animal obstacles. The turtles are tissue paper boxes with green poster board shells, arms, legs, tails and heads.

turtlesThe pigs are large oatmeal containers wrapped with pink construction paper.

pigsThe alligator is the lid of a copy paper box covered in green poster board, with paper cup eyes and poster board teeth.

alligatorThe elephant’s face and nose was constructed out of light blue poster board, and a vacuum hose was inserted in the trunk.

vacuum elephantAfter placing all the obstacles on the cardboard, I used blue masking tape to make directional arrows. I decided not to glue any of the obstacles down (I’d rather have kids send them flying than trip over them).

directional arrowsTo run the course, kids had to navigate their boat through the turtles, ride over some waves, and avoid the pigs (which were rolling all over the place as kids walked on the warped cardboard). Next came chomping alligator (which consisted of Marissa moving the box lid up and down and saying “Chomp! Chomp!” – we’re super high tech here.) Here’s a boat on course:

on courseRight before the finish line, the boats had to pass by the vacuum elephant. That was my job. I would make the elephant suck a toilet paper tube character right out of the boat, and then the kids had to pull it off the end of the vacuum nozzle! Fun!

captured personIMPORTANT! Some kids are afraid of vacuums. I asked vacuum-averse kids to turn their name tag stickers upside down. That was my signal to turn off the vacuum while they completed the obstacle course. It worked great!

Royal Pie

royal pieThe challenge…to make a pizza that will please Her Royal Highness. The prize? To be proclaimed the finest pizza maker in the land and be adorned with a gold pizza making medal!

We read The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch (Holiday House, 2002). Princess Paulina’s father has decided to give up his crown and open a wood-carving shop. Paulina does her best to adjust to her new life, but she misses things like princess-waving from carriages and walking peacocks. But Paulina perks up when Queen Zelda of Blom announces that her son, Prince Drupert, is to marry. Paulina arrives at the palace (along with a crowd of other hopeful suitors) and passes a number of princess tasks (sleeping on a pea, fitting into glass slippers, writing an essay about the virtues of the odious Queen Zelda). The final task is to prepare a royal feast, but Paulina only has flour, yeast, water, tomatoes, a chunk of cheese, a bit of garlic, and some herbs. So she invents…pizza. Paulina’s pizza wins the contest, but she no longer wants to marry the prince.  Instead, she opens “Princess Paulina’s Pizza Palace.” And guess who her most loyal royal customers are?

You’ll need:

  • A large circle of brown wrapping paper (mine was 22″ in diameter)
  • An oval of red construction paper (mine was 12″ x 13″)
  • An oval of yellow construction paper (mine was 11.5″ x 12.5″)
  • Extra red, green, yellow, and brown construction paper for pizza toppings
  • A strip of yellow poster board for crown (approximately 4.25″ x 22″)
  • A selection of large gemstones (optional)
  • Stapler, scissors and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating

crownWe started off by making beautiful bejeweled crowns. Cut crown points out of the top of a strip of yellow poster board. Then decorate the crown with markers. I used Crayola glitter markers. They were awesome.

glitter markersOnce you’ve decorated the crown, circle it around your head and staple it closed. Use hot glue to add some jewels if you like. You are now fully prepared to make a royal pizza…

pizzaLay a 22″ circle of brown wrapping paper on a tabletop. Slowly roll the edges of the paper inward, rotating the circle as you go. This creates your pizza “crust.”

pizza crust stepsGlue a red construction paper oval to the crust. This is your “sauce.” Glue a yellow construction paper oval (i.e. “cheese”) on top of the sauce. Finally, cut a variety of construction paper toppings and glue them to your pizza. We offered pepperoni, green pepper slices, brown mushrooms, and little scraps of extra cheese. We also offered black olives, which started as reinforcement labels:

reinforecement labelsReinforcement labels are used patch up torn holes in pieces of paper. But when you color them with a black Sharpie marker, they make an awesome set of pizza olives!

pizzaTo make the pizza-making portion of the program extra fun, we placed the toppings in different areas of our gallery. Then we drew a map of “The Magnificent Kingdom of Pizza.” Kids journeyed to the “Mushroom Cave,” the “Well of Endless Cheese,” “Pepperoni Pond,” “Green Pepper Fields,” and the “Black Olive Forest” to collect their toppings. Then they  glued them to their pizzas.

While the kids were traveling around the gallery, Katie and I suited up in our Medieval garb. I was the queen, and Katie was the herald. Placing a hefty leather chair in the gallery, Katie proclaimed it to be the throne. Then she announced that when the queen arrived, all kids would present their pizzas to Her Royal Highness. If she approved, they would be declared Royal Pizza Makers. I emerged from a side door, sauntered over to my throne, and was seated.

One by one, the kids were announced (loudly) by Katie. Each kid walked up and presented me with his/her pizza. I examined the pizza and then decreed (equally loudly) “This pizza doth please me very much. I hearby appoint you Royal Pizza Maker of the Realm!” I put a pizza medal around their necks, and used a plastic sword to tap their shoulders and head.

royal pizza makerThe pizza medals were similar to the medals from this snail race. Attach a large gold embossed foil seal to a circle of poster board, and hot glue a ribbon between the seal and the poster board. The only change we made was to glue a picture of a pizza on top of the poster board circle.

medalMany thanks to the costume shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for loaning us the splendid costumes! Katie looked especially impressive.

katie with pizzaAnd speaking of Katie, you might have noticed some mysterious photos appearing on our Instagram with the hashtag #whereiskatie. Well folks, Katie is in Europe. For a year. A YEAR! Her husband went on sabbatical, and the family decided to go with him. So Katie’s going to keep sending shots of splendid places, and I’ll keep popping them into Instragram while growling softly with envy.

steen castleBut now I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to Marissa, who will be my assistant while Katie is away! Marissa has rolled her sleeves up and jumped right in – crafting pigs in majorette uniforms, mixing batches of fake blood, researching math activities, and dressing up as the White Rabbit. Here is the official “passing of the crown” ceremony we had at Katie’s cupcake sendoff!

crowning marissaWelcome aboard Marissa! Katie, send me some chocolate already! Geez!

Postscript: I am happy to report that Katie DID sent me a big box of European chocolate the week after this post went live. I dutifully shared some, and then scarfed the remainder.

Don’t Rock the Boat

don't rock the boatIt’s a delicate balance when NINE animals decide to pile into ONE little boat! This cute Noah’s Ark set doubles as a balancing game, complete with a paper plate game spinner.

animal game spinnerBut the best part about this story time? The author herself came to read! Check out our interview with Laura Sassi at the end of this post.

laura sassi readsWe read Goodnight Ark, written by Laura Sassi, and illustrated by Jane Chapman (Zonderkidz, 2014). It’s bedtime on Noah’s ark, and the animals are settling down for the night. Except for the boars. An incoming storm make them head to Noah’s bed for a little comfort. As the storm grows, the number of animals in Noah’s bed increases until the bed finally breaks with a big, splintering crash. Unfortunately, the noise startles the skunks, who react as only skunks can. Finally, by singing a lullaby, Noah gets everyone to sleep (and don’t miss the world’s most adorable sleeping tigers on the last page).

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6″ – a small tissue box works too).
  • 2 large rectangles of brown poster board (mine were 5″ x 16″)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • 6 toilet paper tubes
  • 1 small box for the elephant (I used a 2” x 3” x 3” box)
  • 1 small box for the turtle (I recycled 1″ x 2.5″ x 2.5″ tape roll box)
  • 1 circle of green poster board (mine was about 3.5″ in diameter)
  • 1 oval of green poster board (mine was 2.5″ x 3″)
  • A selection of eye stickers (optional)
  • A selection of dot stickers (optional)
  • Orange, white, and black pieces of self-adhesive foam (optional)
  • 1 animal game spinner, printed on a 8.5″ x 11″ piece of white card stock
  • 1 small paper plate (mine was 7″ in diameter)
  • A box cutter
  • A small piece of red poster board for game spinner (mine was 0.75″ x 2″)
  • 1 brass tack
  • Stapler, scissors, tape, and hole punch for construction
  • Markers for decorating

First, the boat! Cut the tabs and lid off your box (or, if you’re using a small tissue box, cut the entire top off). Set the box aside for a moment. Use a marker to draw horizontal lines on 2 rectangles of brown poster board (these are the “boards” of your boat). For a nice pop of color, put a strip of colored masking tape at the top of each rectangle. If you don’t have colored masking tape handy, use a strip of construction paper or markers.

boat step 1Place both rectangles on top of one another, staple the short ends together, and slide them over the box. Tape the rectangles to the sides of the box like so:

boat step 2Finish by adding some portholes to your boat! We used 1.25″ color coding labels from Avery (first seen in this bottle airplane post), but you can draw the portholes on with marker if you’d prefer.

finished boatNext up, the animals! To add texture and variety, we used eye stickers, dot stickers, self-adhesive foam, and a piece pipe cleaner. But you could also keep it simple and draw these features on with markers.

Also, since this was a stacking game, we didn’t add too many details. While I was dying to put cute little construction paper ears on everyone, they would have interfered with the stacking. Likewise with tails.

There’s quite a bit of tube wrapping in this project, and there are quite a few tubes! Since tube wrapping usually takes kids the longest, you might want to do all or part of the basic tube wrapping in advance (ex: wrap all the tiger tubes with orange paper).


Wrap a paper towel tube with yellow construction paper. To make the head, fold a 2″ x 6.5″ piece of yellow construction paper in half, and use scissors to round the folded end a bit. Add eyes, nostrils, and mouth before attaching it to the tube with tape. Tape a fringed, 1.5″ x 11″ piece of brown construction paper on the tube. Add spots with markers!


Wrap a toilet paper tube with orange paper. Add eyes, a nose, a mouth, and two ears. Add stripes. We used self-adhesive foam strips, but you can use construction paper or markers.


Cut the turtle’s body shape from green construction paper. Draw a pair of eyes on the head. Glue the body to a small box. Draw a shell design on an oval of green poster board and glue on top of the body.


Wrap a toilet paper tube with construction paper (we couldn’t resist using this patterned feather paper in the art supply cabinet). Add eyes and a beak made of self-adhesive foam (or construction paper).


Wrap a toilet paper tube with red construction paper. Then, wrap a smaller piece of black paper around the top. Add eyes, a nose, a mouth. Finish by drawing spots!


Wrap a toilet paper tube with brown paper. Add eyes. We used a large yellow dot sticker to make a mouth, and then overlapped a smaller dot sticker on top of it as a nose. Draw a curly tail on the back with a marker if you’d like!


Cut a circle of green poster board into a spiral, then use markers to add stripes and eyes.

polar bearPOLAR BEAR

Wrap a toilet paper tube with white construction paper, then add eyes, nose, ears and mouth.


Wrap a toilet paper tube with black paper. Add eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Stick a white oval of self-adhesive foam on the front as a tummy, and two strips on the back of the tube as skunk stripes (or just use construction paper).


We pre-cut 3 pieces for the elephant – 2 squares of gray construction paper to cover the  front and back of the box and 1 nose. The square that covers the front of the box is slightly modified to include two ears. Add eyes, mouth, details inside the ears, and lines on the nose. Glue (or tape) the nose to the box. Draw a tail on the back with markers.

OK! You have your boat and your animals. All you need now is the game spinner! Cut an animal game spinner from the template, and glue it to the underside of a paper plate (i.e. the part of the plate that is normally resting on the table). Use a box cutter to cut a slit in the center of the circle, making sure to cut all the way through the plate.

Make a spinner arrow out of poster board, and punch a hole in the non-pointy end. Thread a brass tack through the hole in the arrow, then push the tack through the slit in the spinner and the plate. Open the prongs of the tack, making sure to leave them just a little loose so the arrow will spin freely.

animal game spinnerTo play the game, empty out the boat. Then spin the arrow. Whatever animal the arrow points to gets placed in the boat. Keep spinning until all the animals are stacked in the boat (if you land on an animal that is already in the boat, just keep spinning). If you get all the animals stacked in the boat, you win! But if any of animals fall down while you’re stacking them, you have to start the game all over again.

I know that technically, there should be 2 of each animal on the ark. Since that would have resulted in some serious tube wrapping, we decided that the animals on the spinner would serve as the matches for their tube counterparts.

We had a fabulous time, and Laura was a truly charming reader. She also brought a basket of skunks with her. Yes, a basket of skunks! Read on for more details!

laura sassiPlease tell us a little about yourself!

I am former teacher who is now lucky enough to be able to spend my days writing and being mom to our two kids. When my kids were little, I wrote while they napped. Those stories, crafts, and poems can now be found in various children’s publications including Highlights for Children, Spider, Ladybug, and Clubhouse Jr.

Over the years, I discovered that I had a special passion for rhyme and telling humorous stories in rhyme, so when my kids started school, I started to add rhyming picture books to my daily writing schedule. Goodnight, Ark, published by Zonderkidz and beautifully illustrated by Jane Chapman, is the first official fruit of all those years of writing and honing my craft.  I am also thrilled to share that my second picture book, Goodnight, Manger, also illustrated by Jane Chapman, made its debut today!

What inspired the writing of Goodnight, Ark?

Personal experience. We’ve had some ferocious storms in recent years and when my kids were little, they and the dog all wanted to climb into our bed. Getting them back to their own beds in the midst of howling winds and pounding rain, however, was challenging. With that as my spark, but thinking that ordinary kids and pets in an ordinary bed, might be kind of boring, I kept switching up the setting until it hit me: Noah’s ark!

During your read-aloud to the kids, you mentioned that sometimes, illustrators like to put surprises in the pictures for readers. This leads to a hilarious aside about underwear on a clothes line. Did you have much input on the illustrations for the book? The illustrations are gorgeous by the way…

I was thrilled when I learned that Jane Chapman was going to illustrate Goodnight, Ark. I was familiar with Jane’s work from Karma Wilson’s Bear Snores On series and knew she would do a fantastic job.  But, believe it nor not, the first glimpse I had of Jane’s work for Goodnight, Ark was when I got an advanced peek at the cover.  A few months later I received the folded galleys and saw for the first time Jane’s wonderful lantern-lit depictions of tigers and sheep, boars and quail all scurrying up to Noah’s bed.

Even though no direct input from me was involved, Jane’s illustrations demonstrate that a lot of thought went into transforming my words into pictures and extending the story with little bits of added humor throughout.  I’ll never forget my daughter giggling the first time we read through the folded galley and she noticed polka-dotted boxers hanging to dry on a clothesline and a toothbrush in a cup on the sill.

Was it difficult choosing which animals would be featured in the story?

It was not difficult at all.  I knew I wanted my story to rhyme, and so once I had my setting, it was actually fun to brainstorm which animals might pile in and what might happen when they overloaded poor Noah’s bed. I decided to choose animals that were a bit unusual such as wild boar and quail.  I also chose animals that made great sounds – like squawks and grunts.

You were great with the kids…and you brought skunk puppets! Tell us about the skunk puppets!

Since a pair of the little stinkers play an important role in the story’s resolution, and figuring that some of my very youngest readers might not be familiar with the species, I thought having a pair of skunk puppets would be a fun way to introduce the story. Jane Chapman has very expertly  incorporated two skunks onto (almost) every page of Goodnight, Ark and as soon as my skunky companions challenge the kids to see if they can find the skunks on every page, everyone is ready to have a rollicking good time reading.

Afterwards, and I should have anticipated this, littlest ones invariably want to pet the skunks.  And as they do,  I ask kids what their favorite animals were in the story or answer any questions they, or their parents might have. Indeed, the skunks have been such a great hit, that I’ve decided to incorporate a puppet- this time a very loud rooster – into the readings for my next book as well.

What do you enjoy most about reading to children?

I love the way kids, and small children especially, are so able to totally engage with the story. They rock when the ark rocks and tip when the ark tips. I love hearing their thoughts and answers as we sometimes pause to look into the story more deeply. As a former teacher, I sometimes miss this engaged, curious interaction, so I have been thoroughly enjoying this stage of post-publication where I get to read with kids.  I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always loved interacting with kids and now I’m getting to do both. I am a happy camper!

Your latest book, Goodnight, Manger, was released today. What are you working on next?

I have several more picture book projects in progress and I always have a few poems percolating. If your readers are interested in finding out the latest, they can check out my blog.  I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo of Laura Sassi used with her permission. Thanks for coming to our library Laura!