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!

Olfactory Sorcery

dragons bloodEnter the realm of mystery, magic, spells, sorcery, and…smoked paprika. That’s right. Never underestimate the POWER of roast chicory! First, we made herbal amulets. Then we votes with our noses. The burning question? Which spice smells most like dragon’s blood? There was some serious sniffing going on at To Be Continued, our weekly story time for 6-8 year-olds.

We read Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow Books, 1977). When Cat Chant and his older sister Gwendolen become orphans, Cat is quite happy to settle down quietly in their village. But Gwendolen is set on ruling the world, and writes a mysterious letter to a powerful enchanter named Chrestomanci. To Cat’s surprise (and Gwendolen’s glee), Chrestomanci agrees to adopt the children and raise them in his magnificent castle. However, when Chrestomanci and his constituents fail to fawn over the spoiled Gwendolen, she launches a vengeful campaign to create magical mayhem. Things get even more complicated when Gwendolen departs to a parallel world, dragging her double (a girl named Janet), into Cat’s world. It’s up to Cat and Janet to set right all the problems Gwendolen’s created. But in the process, they uncover Gwendolen’s worst plot yet – one that puts Cat in grave danger.

For the hands-on portion of our program, we made these nifty herbal amulets. You can find instructions for that project here.

amuletBut there was an additional olfactory activity! In Charmed Life (and, in fact, all the books in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series) dragon’s blood is one of the most powerful and dangerous substances in the known worlds. It’s described as having a powerful, distinct, and horrible odor, even when it’s dried into a powder.

So while purchasing the herbs for the amulets, I also bought several strong smelling, reddish-brown spices (it was an interesting shopping day, let me tell you). In the end, I decided on chipotle, roast chicory, smoked paprika, hot cayenne, and sumac. I put each spice in a plastic glass with a label. During the program, the kids sniffed the glasses and voted on which one they thought smelled like dragon’s blood.

There was quite a lot of yelling, laughing, and carrying-on, but in the end, we had our winner…sumac!

dragons blood votingIf you haven’t read Charmed Life, or anyone of the other books in the Chronicles of Chrestomani series, I can’t recommend them enough. I love how Diana Wynne Jones writes her characters and create her magic. I love her sense of humor and her amazing descriptions. The Pinhoe Egg is a book I re-read annually, because it’s like visiting family. Conrad’s Fate comes in a close second. It’s a bit like Downton Abbey…with magic!

Let it Go

let it go 1Does your Snow Queen need some silvery magic? Try these super simple, super inexpensive, but super fun metallic dance streamers! We took them out on our gallery floor to see how they’d go over. Three little girls immediately asked for a set. I’ll admit, I played with them too. It’s impossible not to twirl them and feel just a little bit magical.

You’ll need:

  • 2 wooden dowels
  • 1 silver metallic tablecloth
  • Scissors
  • Silver tape

The best tablecloth to use is a super-shiny crinkly one (I bought mine at Oriental Trading Company for $3.25). Spread out the tablecloth and cut 8 ribbons from it. Here are my ribbon measurements (you can adjust yours according to the height of your child):

  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 41″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 49″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 60″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 66″

Bunch 4 ribbons (one of each size) together, twist tightly, and tape securely to one end of a wooden dowel. Continue wrapping the tape downward and around the dowel until it’s covered. I used silver prismatic tape from Party City (a roll costs $4.99).

prismatic tapeThe Party City tape is the same width as duct tape, which can be awkward to wrap around a thin dowel. So I cut the original tape pieces in half, creating narrower strips (since the tape has peel-off backing, cutting long strips in half is easy). Repeat the above steps with the remaining 4 ribbons and wooden dowel, and you’re done!

metallic dance streamersCue the music and…LET IT GO!

let it go 2If you’re a fan of Hans Christian Andersen’s original Snow Queen, you might want to check out this fabulous adaptation by the Princeton Youth Ballet!