Test Your Mettle

test your mettleOne of our regulars called this her “most favorite project, ever.” It’s amazingly simple to do, yet has fantastically beautiful results. Best of all, if you use the right markers, your metallic marvel of a dragon will illuminate under a black light! Get ready to test your metal at To Be Continued, our reading program for 6-8 year-olds.

glowing dragonWe read Lily Quench and the Dragon of Ashby, written by Natalie Jane Prior, and illustrated by Janine Dawson (Puffin Books, 1999). The town of Ashby Water used to be peacefully ruled by a King and Queen. But then the Black Count invaded, usurped the throne, tore up the botanical gardens, and built a grommet factory. Now the town is filthy, the river is polluted, and the people are suffering. To make matters worse, a dragon has landed on the grommet factory, and doesn’t appear to be leaving. Captain Zouche and Miss Moldavia (the baddies in charge), demand that young Lily Quench (a dragon slayer only by inheritance), defeat the dragon. But rather than slaying the dragon, Lily befriends it. With the help of Queen Dragon, Lily learns that there just might be a chance to defeat the Black Count, find a lost Prince, and rescue Ashby Water from ruin.

In the book, Queen Dragon explains to Lily that dragons eat metal, not people. In fact, gold is like rich chocolate to a dragon (mmmmm, gold chocolate). I wanted something dragon, metallic, and fiery for the To Be Continued kids to try. This project totally fit the bill!

You’ll need:

  • 1 dragon image, printed on white card stock
  • A piece of tagboard or cardboard
  • Tin foil
  • Tape
  • Sharpie permanent markers in assorted colors
  • Hot glue

Begin by printing a dragon image on card stock (I found my image as a free download here). Use tape to attach the image to a matching piece of tagboard or cardboard. This step really is important! You want a nice firm base for your image, since you’re going to be pressing down on it quite a bit.

This project looks best with lots of different crevices to color, so we made a few extra on the original image. Below, for example, you can see that we drew spines along the tail. Those weren’t on the original image.

metal dragon step 1Next, outline the image with hot glue. The more outlines you make, the better the final drawing will look.

metal dragon step 2Once the hot glue is dry, cover the drawing with tin foil. Secure the tin foil to the back of drawing with tape – not hot glue! The hot glue will create unwanted ridges later. Below you can see exactly what we presented to the kids – a mysterious sheet of metal for them to explore with their fingers.

metal dragon step 3Use your fingertips to gently, but firmly, press down on the tin foil. As you press, the hot glue ridges will pop out, revealing a raised outline of the the image underneath!

metal dragon step 4Here’s another shot that shows the ridges a little better…

metal dragon step 4 closerSome kids liked the idea of the image revealing itself from a “blank slate,” but other kids liked having an image to guide them. So have a few copies of the original image on your work tables, just in case.

Next, use Sharpie permanent markers to color the drawing (alas, non-permanent markers smear on the tin foil). Try not to press too hard, or your tin foil will rip. If it does rip, you can always put a fresh layer of tin foil over the drawing and start again.

finished dragon 2I was excited to learn that certain packs of neon color Sharpies fluoresce under black light (you’ll know because it says so right on the package). Awesome! I totally wish I had used them when we made this dancing black light skeleton! The kids were already delighted to see their metal dragons taking shape, but the glowing highlights – just made it.

finished glowing dragonThe final step is optional. I punched a hole in the top of each project and looped a ribbon through it so kids could hang their metallic creations up at home.

City of Light

city of lightThe minute I picked up Dusk by Uri Shulevitz, I knew we had to create a city full of color and light at our story time. It’s a simple project with truly magical results.

We read Dusk by Uri Shulevitz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013). A boy, his grandfather, and their dog go for a wintertime walk. As the sky fades to dusk, the lights in the city go on one by one. People stroll and shop, and windows glow in a city that is light as day. This book is set during the holiday season, and includes Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa imagery (without mentioning any of them outright). The gorgeous illustrations and lyrical text pull you right into the story. I wanted to capture that beauty and ambiance in our story time project.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box with a clear lid
  • A piece of tagboard or brown poster board (big enough to cover the box’s lid)
  • A box cutter
  • A selection of cellophane
  • A selection of tissue paper
  • Glow sticks
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

Admittedly, this project can get pricey. Especially the glow sticks (more on those later). It also requires a box with a clear lid or window. I bought my boxes online from Nashville Wraps (they’re “clear lid display boxes” that measure 2″ x 8.75″ x 11.25″). They cost $32.50 for 20, and that doesn’t include the cost of shipping. But just look at the nice, big, clear lid on that box!

box with clear lidIf you’re looking for a cheaper option, you might consider a sheet cake or pie box at your local supermarket or bakery. So long as the box has a window on one side, you’re good.

On to the project! Use scissors to cut a city skyline out of tagboard or brown poster board (we tried black paper, but brown turned out to be a much mellower color). Use a box cutter to add windows, shutters, doors, and doorways. We added a couple of elongated rectangles and triangles as well.

cut cityUse markers to decorate the exterior of your city (Crayola metallic markers look especially fantastic). Tape pieces of cellophane and/or tissue paper behind some (or all) of the windows and doors. If you’d like, use dark brown paper to add silhouettes in the windows and doorways.

finished cityAnd now, we come to the priciest part of this project. Glow sticks. Our 11.25″ boxes illuminated best with six, 4″ sticks inside them. I bought my sticks at Party City (a pack of 25 costs $10). So I spent $40 on glow sticks. Dang. Daaaang. You could definitely make do with fewer sticks and a smaller box to reduce the cost.

By the way, not all glow sticks colors have the same intensity. White, for example, is very weak (and actually light purple, not white). Yellow is strong, orange and red are somewhat in the medium range. For our project, we used yellow, red, orange, and white.

Activate your glow sticks, arrange them in your box, and secure them in place with tape.

light table 2Put the lid back on the box, and use pieces of tissue paper, cellophane, and tape to create “dusk” on the box lid. When you’re done with the sky, tape the city onto the box lid. Below, you can see my finished box with its dusk-filled sky:

finished city boxAnd here’s what it looked like in a darkened room!

finished glowing cityFor the “dusk designing” portion of the program, I turned most of the gallery lights off. There was a big gasp as kids discovered that they had their own personal light tables to work on.

light table 1Eagerly, kids experimented with different cellophane and tissue arrangements, developing the perfect little dusk. I set up a small table in a closet so they could see the full effect of their illuminated cities when they were finished. Just look at these gorgeous glowing cities!

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Later, when the glow sticks have faded, you can remove the box lid and place your city on a bright windowsill. Instant suncatcher!

Firefly Lantern

lightning bug lanternsTwinkle twinkle little bug! Light up the night with these glowing firefly bug lanterns. Or at the very least, discover a new way to use those leftover plastic Easter eggs! For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for the answer to our first Instagram post mystery…the time has come.

We read The Little Squeegy Bug, written by Bill Martin Jr., Michael Sampson, and illustrated by Patrick Corrigan (Winslow Press, 2001). Once there was a little squeegee bug who admired the power and strength of Buzzer the Bumblebee. Hoping to gain his own wings and stinger, the little bug embarks on a quest. His travels lead him to the door of Hauncy the Spider, who weaves a pair of silver wings for him, but refuses the scary stinger. Instead, the wise Spider plucks the brightest star from the sky and hangs it on the squeegee bug’s tail to shine like a beacon for everyone. A firefly is born!

finished lanternsYou’ll need:

  • 1 clear plastic favor box (more on this below!)
  • A box cutter
  • 2 craft ties
  • A selection of metallic dot stickers
  • A selection of foil star stickers
  • 1 balloon stick or wooden dowel
  • 2 sparkle stems (optional)
  • 1 star template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 2 squares of mirror board or poster board (approximately 5.25″ x 5.25″)
  • 1 plastic egg
  • A thumbtack, large screw, and screwdriver for making holes in the egg
  • A 4.75″ piece of twisteez wire
  • 3 pieces pipe cleaner (each approximately 6″ in length)
  • A rectangle of silver wrapping paper (approximately 2.25″ x 2.5″)
  • A selection of eye stickers (optional)
  • A permanent black marker
  • 1 LED votive
  • Scissors and tape for construction

Lantern first, then firefly! The clear plastic box is the most important part of this project. I bought 4″ x 4″ x 4.5″ clear party favor boxes with gold cardboard bases from Nashville Wraps (a dozen cost about $10). I’ve seen similar boxes on Amazon (24 boxes for $15.00 plus $8.50 shipping) and quick check at Oriental Trading Company revealed 24 large clear favor boxes (4″ x 4″ x 4″) for $7.99. The ones from Oriental Trading Company don’t come with a base, which means you’ll have to rig one out of cardboard or poster board.

My boxes came with bases, and I actually used them as the “lid” for the firefly lantern. In the below image, you can see the regular box on the right, and the box with the modified base “lid” on the left.

box and box with lidTo make the lid, remove the base from the box, flip it over, and use a box cutter make two small slits. If you don’t have a box with a base, cut one out of cardboard or poster board, then add the slits.

lid with slitsSlide the ends of a 6″ piece of craft tie upwards through the slits, then twist together them together form a “lantern ring.”

lantern ringTape the clear plastic lid of your lantern closed, then tape the lantern lid on top. Make sure both lids are taped tightly and securely. Don’t, however, tape the bottom of the box closed. You’ll need to be able to add and remove your firefly from the lantern later.

box with lidNext, we decorated each box with metallic dot stickers, foil star stickers, and a 20″ piece of wired metallic star garland (in silver or gold).

decorated boxAttach a craft tie to the lantern ring, then wrap the other end around a balloon stick (or wooden dowel). You can secure the craft tie to the stick with tape, but we decided to wrap sparkle stems around either side of the craft tie. Because it never hurts to have some extra bling, amiright?

lantern attached to balloon stickFinally, cut and trace the stars from the template onto mirror board (or poster board), and tape the stars back-to-back on the craft tie. You could also skip the mirror board and poster board and simply use markers to decorate the stars on the template.

finished lanternSet the lantern aside, it’s time for the firefly! I did not come up with the idea for this amazing little bug. Katie spotted it on Pinterest. I immediately pinned it with a oh-so-solemn vow to make it someday. Here it it, slightly modified from the original.

lightning bugBefore we begin, a quick word about the plastic eggs. Test the LED in them first! We discovered that, with our particular set of eggs, the green ones looked best (yellow was way too light, blue was way too dark). Once you have your egg, drill 8 holes into it – 2 holes in the top of the egg for the antennae, and 6 holes on the underside for legs.

holes in eggsThe original instructions said to make the holes with a thumbtack. But we found that it was really difficult to slide pipe cleaners through thumbtack holes. So we used thumbtacks to make the initial holes, and then enlarged them using a big screw and a screwdriver.

the turn of the screwI also tried using a nail. Totally didn’t work. Use a big screw and a screwdriver. And prep all the eggs in advance of course. Once the holes are made, open the egg and thread a 4.75″ piece of Twisteez wire through the antennae holes. Curl the ends. Next, thread three, 6″ pieces of pipe cleaner through the leg holes. Curl the ends into little feet.

antennae and legsCut wings out of silver paper (we used silver holographic wrapping paper from Party City) and tape them to the top of the egg. IMPORTANT! Attach the wings below where your egg opens and closes. Otherwise, they’ll just get in the way when you are opening and closing the egg to access the LED votive.

wingsUse a black permanant marker to add eyes and a smile (or use dot stickers for the eyes like we did).

bug smileFinally, insert a LED votive into the egg (remember, the “flame” should be pointing at the bug’s rear end). Admittedly, LED votives can get a little pricey if you’re buying for a classroom or story time crowd. Sometimes you can snag them cheap  from discount retailers like Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx. More often, I use 40% off coupons from Michaels Craft store.

Your firefly is illuminated. Grab your lantern, open the bottom of the box, and gently place the firefly inside. Close the box and you’re good to go! I closed all the shades in the gallery and turned off the overhead lights. We went on a lantern walk around the gallery and then settled down to admire our lanterns. For a few minutes at our wild and crazy story time was calm, hushed and very, very peaceful. Ahhhhh…

glowing lanternsIf you don’t like the concept of fireflies trapped in lanterns, just do the firefly project as a standalone. It makes for a friendly, fantastic, and flickering friend!

beautiful bugsMore bug projects you say? This post is one of my all time favorites. And who can resist these sweet little honey bees?