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 at our story time for 6-8 year-olds. Then we votes with our noses. The burning question? Which spice smells most like dragon’s blood?

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!

Your Fairy Godmother

fairy godmotherYour fairy godmother has arrived! Yes, this fairy godmother grants wishes. But be careful. You’ll get what you ask for, but it might not be exactly what you expect! Meet Sylvia Jacobson. She’s a sophomore at Princeton University, an Environmental Engineering major, and a creative contributor to Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group for ages 9-12. And this year, she was the group’s official fairy godmother.

At the beginning of the Cotsen Critix programming year, Sylvia asked each group member to make 3 wishes. She selected 1 of the 3 wishes for each kid and, over the course of the program, she would start each session by granting a wish.

Sylvia adapted the fairy godmother activity from a “Wish Night” she used to run at a sleep-away camp (a shout out to Habonim Dror Camp Moshava!). Sylvia and her fellow counselors would ask the kids to write down their wishes without telling them why. Then, on the appointed night, the wishes would be granted to the campers, which meant over 100 wishes total in one night!

The Cotsen Critix were warned that Sylvia was a literal fairy godmother. Not only did she get quite specific in granting wishes, she also invoked wordplay to achieve some truly hilarious results. Here are a couple examples of Sylvia’s handiwork:


Wish: “A pair of UGGs”

pear of uggs


Wish: “Infinity money”

infinity money


Wish: “A pig stuffed animal”

In case it’s not clear in the photo, that’s an elephant stuffed with pigs.

pig stuffed animal


Wish: “I wish we can have a peaceful world”

One peas-full world, coming up!

peas on earth


Wish: “To travel in outer space without any equipment or trouble”

The kid was instructed to travel around outside the area marked “space” without carrying any of the equipment or touching the board game Trouble.

travel around space without trouble


Wish: “To have a 100 dollars”

Rip a 100 dollar “bill” in half and yes! You halve a 100 dollars.

to halve a hundred


Wish: “5 more wishes”

Ah, the classic I’m-trying-to-break-the-system-wish. I’ll admit, this was mine. The fairy godmother, however, was ready for me. She handed me a piece of paper and asked me to write down 5 more wishes. Then, she took the paper from me…and immediately handed it back. Voila! Sylvia had officially given me 5 more wishes.

five more wishesAnd now all the world can see that I don’t know how to spell the word “Play-doh.”

Doh!

The fairy godmother was a huge hit. Almost all of the kids mentioned this activity was one of their favorites this year. Sylvia’s favorite part? “The Critix’s surprised reactions. It was fun to give everyone what they asked for but not what they expected. Also, I loved the arguments each week as the Critix tried to convince me that I couldn’t be a real fairy. I’m still not convinced.”

While Sylvia typically made her visits sporting fabric wings and carrying a homemade wand, on the last day of the program we surprised the kids by having her appear in a full-on, puffy, fluffy, sparkly and splendid fairy godmother costume.

fairy godmother full costumeThe dress was actually an old wedding dress I found in a local thrift/consignment shop called Nearly New. The owners were delighted by the project and gave me a wonderful deal on it. We added some pieces of rainbow tulle to match the wings, and borrowed a tiara and necklace from the University’s Lewis Center costume shop. The results were fabulous.

Make a wish!


Special thanks to the Lewis Center for the Arts’ costume shop and the Nearly New Shop for making our fairy godmother extra magical.