These Butterflies Can Book

these butterflies can bookRecently, while in Brooklyn, I wandered into a little toy store called Matt & Juliette. There, I discovered some neat-o wind-up butterflies by Seedling. The clerk at the toy store explained that some people like to put the butterflies inside birthday cards. When the recipient opens the card, the butterfly flutters out. If it works for cards, I thought, it’ll totally work for books! I immediately purchased a pair to test out. They retail for $3 each and come in 4 different colors and styles.

magic butterflies by seedlingAs you can see, the toy is pretty simple. You hold one half and twist the other half. This motion winds the 2 rubber bands, which ultimately propel the toy skyward.

butterfly toyThe directions warned that winding the rubber bands too tightly could cause them to snap. This is true. Over the course of 20 test flights, we broke 2 rubber bands. But there are two spare rubber bands in each package, so no problem! Alas, one of the plastic hooks on the smaller butterfly snapped within 5 minutes, rendering the toy useless, but the other one held out just fine. Ready to see a butterfly in action?


There’s no denying it. It’s fun to have a butterfly sail out of a book. But the toy is erratic. Sometimes it flutters around the table, sometimes it dives to the floor, and sometimes it tears out of the book and zooms away like a bird.


There is absolutely no way to predict, or manipulate, the butterfly’s path out of book. Especially when it decides it wants to attack you.


The erratic flying made me wonder if this toy would freak out kids. So I tested it out on my unsuspecting children (ages 5 and 7). They loved it! There was no flinching or shrieks of alarm when a butterfly suddenly flew out of the book. In fact, they took turns winding it up and releasing it from their hands. This made me realize that the toy is a simple machine, and might work at a STEM program too.

In short, for $3, this is an inexpensive piece of magic for your next story time or program. Just make sure to buy extra butterflies in case the plastic breaks. Happy flying!

If You Build It…

house 3 glass roomThis winter, we had a couple of intense snow storms. Whenever it snows, my program attendance drops dramatically. And yet, there are always a couple of hard core patrons who don their snow pants and brave the drifts to come to story time. This causes a bit of a conundrum. You see, some of my projects involve quite a bit of prep work (a-hem! I’m looking at you candy factory and you haunted house). So the program is prepped and ready for over 20 kids. If I do it with just 3 kids, that’s a lot of prep work going by the wayside…so…

A few years ago, I decided that if fewer than 5 kids came to a snowy story time, the previously-prepped project would be bumped to the following week, and I would offer an unplanned, off-the-cuff creative project instead.

The project I’d like to share today is inspired by the fantastic If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen (Dial Books, 2012). The story is about Jack, a boy with big ideas for building his dream house. There’s a robotic machine that whips up meals, a bedroom at the top of a 200 foot tower, a anti-gravity room, a race track room, an aquarium room…the sky is the limit!

First, the kids and I made “blueprints.” I replicated the look with blue construction paper and silver metallic markers.

blueprintAs the kids drew their houses, I rummaged through the office for boxes, tubes, cardboard, items left over from other projects, and interesting odds and ends (including, of course, the Bling Bin). Then, out came the tape, glue, scissors, markers, and hot glue and off went the little architects, putting together 3D models of their blueprints.

house 1This house’s base is a box with a clear lid (leftover from this light box project). The architect turned it into a subterranean pond with fish! Perhaps this is our next Frank Lloyd Wright?

house 1 pond floorThe next architect went for wide and stacked, with multiple boxes for multiple rooms. I like the ladder to the second floor!

house 2She also forayed into interior design. That polka-dot couch is made out of patterned paper, pink and yellow cottons balls, and an Altoid tin!

house 2 interiorThe final house’s blueprint appeared to have a tree, a squiggle of water, and antenna. I was curious to see how the model would develop, and I was not disappointed.

house 3LOVE the fountain! And I’m not sure if you noticed that the “glass” room at the top has multi-color portholes made out of tape rolls with cellophane panes?

house 3 glass roomIf you don’t have an art cabinet to quickly rummage through, or you want to do this with a large group of kids, you could always go with Option #2. Collect a bunch of recyclables and stick them on a table. Then ask the kids to draw their blueprints from the items they see on the table (just make sure you have multiples of each item for each kid to use).

Or, you could do Option #3. Give each kid the same basic “set” of object (ex: a cake pad for a base, a tissue box, a paper towel tube, a cone water cup, and 3 squares of poster board) to build the basic structure, then have other art supplies handy to fancy it up. I promise, the results will be unique!

Shadow Stories

shadow storiesMake a shadow puppet bird, then fly through a story as your narrative appears on the big screen!

We read Shadows, written by April Pulley Sayre, and illustrated by Harvey Stevenson (Henry Holt, 2002). This beautifully illustrated non-fiction rhyming book examines the various shadows two children find at places like the beach, tall grass, a baseball game, and a creek. The rhymes are lovely and lyrical. One of my favorites is “Dragonfly shadows zip and pop / Running horse shadows never stop.” Lovely!

You’ll need:

shadow puppet bird

The construction of the bird is very simple (in fact, if you want to make a smaller version, check out this post). Trace and cut the bird and bird wing templates onto white poster board. Use a hole punch to create an eye for the bird.

Next, decorate your bird (we busted out the Bling Bin and markers for this purpose). To create textures around the edges of the puppet, we also offered craft ties, small feathers, fabric flowers, and paper tissue squares. Twist two pipe cleaners into bird feet, and tape them to the back of the bird’s body.

Tab and hot glue the wing to the bird’s body, then tape the short end of a bendy straw to the underside of the wing. The straw is the “stick” that will allow you to flap the bird’s wing up and down.

shadow puppet bird wingUse packing tape to attach a 12″ piece of PVC pipe to the back of the bird (regular tape isn’t quite strong enough). We wrapped our PVC pipes with colored masking tape, but that’s definitely optional. Your bird is done!

shadow puppeteerAll we need now is a shadow puppet show set! We made our set on an old overhead projector. Oh how do I love thee overhead projector? Let me count the ways

overhead projector setTo build the set, Marissa cut a tree, a nest, a lake, and a birdhouse out of black poster board. Making the sun was a little more challenging – our initial attempts looked like a giant spider or a vicious super nova. Marissa solved the problem by hot gluing sun rays to a piece of archival mylar (clear cellophane works too). She also used a scrap of mylar to make a sprinkling of birdseed on the ground.

shadow setDuring the shadow puppet story, a storm rolls in, so Marissa also made a cloud, mylar rain, and a thunderbolt.

shadow raincloudShe mounted all the moving set pieces on bits of balloon stick (pencils work too).

shadow puppet set piecesAt story time, we lowered the shades, turned out the lights, and fired up the projector! One by one, kids stepped up to the screen. Then, as I narrated, they flew their birds through the story! Hmmm…we might have made that birdhouse a little too tall…

puppeteer in actionHere’s our lovely puppeteer in action! Ready for a show?