Don’t Get Caught

dont-get-caughtNavigate your way through a laser maze, steal a bear from a snoring sleeper, and snag some hidden diamonds. Stealthiness, sneakiness, and silence are strongly encouraged at To Be Continued, our story time for 6-8 year-olds!

We read Pilfer Academy by Lauren Magaziner (Dial Books, 2016). George isn’t a bad kid, but he just can’t seem to keep his hands off his siblings’ stuff. His older brothers’ stereo, for example. Those comic books he’s not supposed to touch. The $10 on the night table. His sister’s private diary. When George is once again caught red-handed, he bolts out of the house…and is kidnapped by a pair of inept ice-cream truck drivers. As it turns out, the truck is a fake, and the drivers are faculty at Pilfer Academy, an elite school for master thievery. George soon finds himself taking classes like Stealth 101, Practical Applications of Breaking and Entering, and Intro to Gadgetry. But when it comes time to steal for his midterm exam, George discover that he feels horrible about it. Now George and his talented friend Tabitha must find a way to escape Pilfer Academy. Would I be giving too much away if I tell you the escape involves guard chickens, a pit of spaghetti, a deadly laser room, and a runaway mansion?

Story Time Task #1: In the book, George and Tabitha navigate a laser obstacle course, something I’ve been dying to create ever since I spotted this fantastic piece of fun. To create the course, we zig-zagged green crepe paper streamers on our gallery bridge. The streamers were attached with masking tape.

laser-obstacle-courseStarting at the bottom of the bridge, kids had to squeeze, crawl, and slide through the course without touching a single “laser beam.” I stood nearby, making “Zzzzzt!” laser noises at key moments.

navigating-the-lasersStory Time Task #2: George’s midterm exam involves stealing a teddy bear from a sleeping toddler. I grabbed a bear puppet, flopped on some pillows, closed my eyes, and started snoring wildly.

dr-dana-snoresOne by one, the kids had to sneak up and grab the bear without me noticing them (and they were quite astonishingly good at this). To increase the challenge, sometimes I would randomly thrash around in my sleep, throw the bear around, or grab it tightly to my chest.

stealing-the-bearStory Time Task #3: The diamond hunt. Pilfer Academy is a massive Gothic mansion with arches, spires, and stained-glass windows. I thought it would be fantastic to immerse kids in a similar environment, so we headed over to one of my favorite places, the Chancellor Green Rotunda.

chancellor-green-rotundaThis beautiful room was once the original library for Princeton University. Now it’s a study space for the Andlinger Humanities Center. Here’s a shot of its elegant stained-glass dome.

rotunda-skylightOn this particular afternoon, however, the room was full of hidden diamonds!

bag-of-diamondsI found these acrylic diamonds in the wedding section of Michaels Craft store. A $5 pack contained over 75 diamonds of assorted sizes (from 0.75″ to 1″). I hid the larger diamonds in various locations in the room.

diamond-in-windowSometimes I got a little sneaky. Can you spot the diamond in the wood paneling below?

diamond-in-wooden-panelOne by one, kids went searching for diamonds in the room. Once you found two diamonds, it was another person’s turn to search. And you had to be completely silent while searching!

search-for-diamondsAt the end of the program, each kid got to take home a little drawstring bag with some diamonds in it. Score!

This book was a terrific read-aloud, and we had a total blast with the activities – but it gets even better. Last weekend, the Princeton Public Library held their annual Children’s Book Festival, and guess who I got to meet?

lauren-magazinerThat’s right! Lauren Magaziner herself! Totally rocking a bandit mask, I must say. Thanks for the fantastic book Lauren. We absolutely loved it.

p.s. – Total props for using the word “collywobbles” in your book. The kids didn’t believe it was an actual word. We looked it up in the dictionary!

Now You See It…

now-you-dont This paper disappears in water before your very eyes, leaving the letters floating free. It’s the ultimate aqueous word scramble!

I was very intrigued when I spotted this dissolving paper in Educational Innovations’ online catalog. I’ve certainly seen the floating letter experiments with Skittles and M&Ms, but I’ve never seen anything like this paper! It’s made of sodium carboxyl methyl cellulose, a non-toxic substance that dissolves quickly in hot or cold water. Each sheet is 8.5″ x 11″. You can buy the sheets in packs of 15 for $7.95, packs of 30 for $13.95, or, if you want to vanish a whole novel, you can get 100 sheets for $42.50.

dissolving-paperThe paper is about half the thickness of standard office printer paper, but it went through both of our office printers and the copy machine with no tearing or jamming. Granted, I was just printing 1 sheet at a time. I did try 3 pages in a row on our most trustworthy office printer. Unfortunately, it had trouble grabbing the thin paper and actually missed the final sheet of the print job entirely. I was waaaay too chicken to try multiple sheets in the copy machine.

The product description stated that this paper works with “most laser printers and copiers.” But we took it a step further and also tested an inkjet printer, Sharpie permanent marker, roller ball pen ink, and ballpoint pen ink.

First, the laser jet printer. I filled a dish tub with a couple inches of room temperature water a dropped the paper in. It floated for a just moment, and then started rapidly dissolving. In a few seconds, it was reduced to a thin, almost transparent, paper-shaped film.

The package recommended giving the water a gentle stir, so I poked a drinking straw in the solution. It started breaking up, dissolving further, and yes! The letters started floating! How long do the letters remain on the surface of the water? A long time! I left them in the dish tub overnight, and they were still happily floating the next morning.

laserjet-testSecond test, copy machine. The letters printed considerably lighter on the page (this was a toner thing with our copier, not the paper). But that didn’t impair the letters from floating on the water like little alphabet ducks!

copier-testSo our laser jet printer and the copy machine worked. What didn’t work? Our inkjet printer. First of all, it blotted the paper during printing…

inkjet-blotchAnd when it came to the water test, the letters just disintegrated:

inkjet-testThe same applies for Sharpie permanent marker:

sharpie-testRoller ball ink and ballpoint ink also broke apart. The ballpoint ink shredded immediately (you can just see the sentence “Will ballpoint pen work?” at the bottom of the image below). Roller ball, I am surprised to report, held out a little longer.

roller-and-ballpoint-testIt was sort of cool. The roller ball ink blurred, sunk a little, and then just hung in the water (which is when I snapped this Instagram pic). Eventually, however, the roller ball ink went the way of the ball point, Sharpie, and inkjet. It dissolved into a black smudgy mess.

It’s important to note that for all of these tests, the paper didn’t dissolve entirely. There was a little cloud of solution that started hanging around the bottom of the dish tub. The more paper I dissolved, the cloudier the water become. So if you’re going to do this with a bunch of kids, you will definitely need to change the water every so often.


Being the incredibly mature people that we are, we decided to test the paper in the toilet. It worked. Of course it worked.

toilet-testBut no matter where you’re dissolving this paper – a dish tub or a commode – the letters do float apart very quickly. So leaving a secret message for someone isn’t really going to work (unless they’re standing right next to you and reading quickly). But this would be a fantastic way to introduce the concept of the anagram. Or jump-start a discussion about biodegradable materials. Or, just experience the fun of watching a sentence you’ve written slide apart and swirl across the surface of the water. Magic!

Natty Nessie Neckwear

nessie-neckgearNever has a Loch Ness Monster sighting had so much style! Customize a super-long Nessie scarf, then circle the scarf on the floor to create a tossing game that involves…believe it or not…a bowl of oatmeal!

We read The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster: A Tale of Picky Eating, written by A.W. Flaherty, and illustrated by Scott Magoon (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Little Katerina-Elizabeth is going to visit her grandmother in Scotland, and it’s her very first time traveling alone on a big ocean liner. Her parents, planning ahead, select what they believe to be the absolute best breakfast food for their little girl. Oatmeal. Katerina-Elizabeth loathes oatmeal and promptly tosses it out a porthole. The oatmeal is discovered by a tiny sea worm who eagerly eats it and grows twice its size. The sea worm follows the ship across the ocean, gobbling the oatmeal as fast as Katerina-Elizabeth can toss it overboard. They form a friendship that lasts all the way to Loch Ness where the boat disembarks. There, the sea worm discovers that Scottish children also hate oatmeal. It circles Loch Ness, grazing on oatmeal and growing to monstrous proportions. To keep the tourists intrigued and the oatmeal coming, the Loch Ness Monster allows itself to be seen on rare occasions. But the most famous sighting is when the sea worm rises out of the water to give Katerina-Elizabeth a friendly smooch as she sails home. I won’t give away the very end of the story, but rest assured it had all the parents at story time cracking up!

You’ll need:

We wanted the kids to have really long scarves for this project, but we didn’t want them tripping over their new neckwear! Ultimately, we went with 5″ x 56″ scarves that we shaped into round heads, tapered bodies, and dragon-like tails. We also hot glued green felt fins towards the front end of the scarves (about 13″ down from the top of the head). We prepped the scarves in advance. Here’s a shot of an undecorated scarf so you can see the shape:

nessie-scarf-shapeAt story time, we gave kids a whole pile of self-adhesive foam to cut and apply to their scarves (just make sure you test how well the adhesive sticks to your felt – ours stuck surprisingly well). Hot glue wiggle eyes and a pair of 12″ curling ribbon whiskers on the head, and you’re done!

nessie-faceKids got really creative with their Loch Ness Monsters. Here’s just a few I managed to snap. This one’s got a pretty fantastic pair of lips:

nessie-1And this one’s sporting an impressive set of teeth…

nessie-2There were flowers…

nessie-3And manicures!

nessie-4But here’s my favorite. This little girl spent a long time making a color gradient down her Loch Ness Monster’s back. She did this all by herself!

nessie-5To make the oatmeal bowl for the toss game, decorate a paper bowl with patterned tape and self-adhesive foam. Fill the bowl with a handful of polyester fill. Don’t glue or tape the oatmeal in the bowl. It’s funnier when it flies out during the toss game!

bowl-of-oatmealMake as many bowls of oatmeal as you like. Then circle the scarf on the floor, step back, and try to toss the bowls into the circle.

nessie-ring-tossIf the circle toss is a little too challenging, stretch the scarf straight and toss the oatmeal over it like a finish line!

nessie-line-tossWhen you’re done with the toss game, drape your Nessie around your shoulders for the ultimate look in Loch Ness apparel.


Speaking of mysterious creature sightings, did you know that Bigfoot has been spotted twice on this blog? You can catch a glimpse here and here!