Flight of the Dragon

flight of the dragonThis colorful dragon marionette twists, turns, dives, and flies with you! It was a project at To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8.

We read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2009). Minli lives in a poor village overshadowed by Fruitless Mountain. When she impulsively spends her money on a goldfish, her outraged mother demands that she release the fish into the river. Minli obeys, but is shocked when the fish speaks to her of Never-Ending Mountain, where the Old Man of the Moon can answer any question Minli asks – including how she can improve her family’s fortunes. This sends Minli on an epic quest to reach Never-Ending Mountain. Along the way, she is joined by a flightless dragon, who wants to ask the Old Man of the Moon how he can fly again. The two travelers encounter many obstacles, but eventually reach the top of Never-Ending Mountain, where Minli must choose between her own wish, and the wish of her faithful dragon friend.

Minli, of course, makes the right choice and the dragon flies again. We had some HUGE dragon fans at the program, so I thought it would be fantastic for them to make their own dragons to fly.

finished flying dragonYou’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4″ x 4″ x 4″ – a small tissue box works)
  • 1 large box (mine was 4.5″ X 4.5” x 6” – a large tissue box works)
  • A box cutter
  • 2 pieces of elastic beading cord or string (mine were 22″ long)
  • 2 small craft sticks (mine were 3″ long)
  • Construction paper
  • A small rectangle of poster board (approximately 1.25″ x 2.75″)
  • 1 flying dragon template, printed on four, 8.5″ x 11″ pieces of white card stock
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • Scissors, tape, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating

The important thing about marionettes is making sure that the strings stay securely attached! This marionette has two strings – one for each box. Begin by knotting each piece of elastic beading cord (or string) around a craft stick. Since elastic beading cord knots tend to come undone, it helps to wrap the knots with masking tape.

Use a box cutter to cut small slits in the tops of each box, then thread the free end of the cord through the slit. My boxes had lids, so here’s a shot of the open lids with the craft stick anchors in place. If you’re using tissue boxes, simply flip the tissue boxes over so the holes are facing downwards.

marionette stringsConnect the two boxes together with a 1.25″ x 2.75″ rectangle of poster board that is tabbed at both ends (my tabs were approximately 0.75″ each). Tape the connector’s tabs to each box.

poster board connectorNext, wrap the boxes with construction paper (we went with layered strips of construction paper, cut to resemble dragon scales). Cut and color the dragon pieces from the template and attach them to the boxes. If you don’t have time to color in all the template pieces, here is a full color version. We added some craft tie spines and curls along the top of the dragon as well!

You’ll notice that there are two tail pieces on the template. Match them up, staple them together, tab along the dotted lines, and then tape the tabs to the back of the large box.

taped dragon tailWhen your dragon is finished, tie the elastic cords to a wooden dowel (and secure the knots with tape if needed). Your dragon is ready to fly!

finished flying dragon

Spring Chicken

spring chickenNo spring chicken? We got your spring chicken! The drinking straw “sticks” on this little bird puppet allow it to flap its wings and soar across the big blue sky! I designed the project for a weekend story time event for 50 kids. It needed to be inexpensive, appealing to ages 2 – 6, constructed without white glue or hot glue, and easy to put together with minimal adult assistance. For the full effect of the bird’s flight, check out the video clip at the end of the post!

You’ll need:

First, cut the bird’s body and wings from the template and color them with markers. Tape a jumbo craft stick to the back of the bird’s body (an 8″ craft stick work best). Make sure to leave approximately 1.5″ of space above the craft stick. Later, you’ll need that space to attach the bird’s wing.

bird on craft stick  with typeYou could also wait until the end of the project to tape the craft stick in place, but I found that the early placement of the stick helped kids attach their wings in the right place (i.e. close to the top of the bird’s body instead of the middle).

Next, fold each wing downwards along the dotted line, then attach the wings to the body with long pieces of tape. It’s important that the entire fold of the wing is covered with tape. I used orange masking tape to demonstrate this in the image below, but I used clear tape on the actual project.

taped wingNow stick an additional piece of tape over the bird’s back and wings like a “tape saddle.” Again, I used orange masking tape to demonstrate it below…

tape saddleUse tape to add feathers to the head, tops of the wings, and tail. Finally, tape the short end of a flexible straw to the underside of each wing, close to the wingtips (if the straws are too close to the body, the wings won’t flap properly). Use scissors to trim the ends of the straws so they don’t extend past the wings.

taped drinking straw with typeTo operate your bird, hold the craft stick in one hand, then gather the two drinking straws in your other hand. Holding the straws straight behind the bird, use them to flap the wings of the bird up and down!

Since my audience was primarily preschoolers, I read Birds, written by Kevin Henkes and illustrated by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow Books, 2009). It’s a lovely book with simple text and plenty of opportunities for audience participation (such as naming the colors of birds, naming the types of birds, and yelling “Surprise!” on one of my favorite pages). The illustrations are colorful, pretty, and, in some places, extremely imaginative and delightful.

Pas de Deux

pas de deuxTwirl and whirl with this beautiful ballerina marionette! Not so into pink tutus? No problem. We also have a pirouetting prince!

two dance togetherWe read Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and the Prince, written by Grace Maccarone, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Feiwel & Friends, 2011). Miss Lina’s ballerinas are delighted to learn that a boy will be joining their ballet class. A boy! Each girl imagines that she will be the one to dance a pas de deux with him at the end-of-year show. But the boy arrives and he’s not having it. With a leap and a bounce, he’s out the classroom door and dashing towards the zoo with the girls in pursuit. It becomes abundantly clear that the boy can dance, but not quite the way anyone expected. Eventually, the dancers learn to work together and all ten of them (Christina, Edwina, Sabrina, Justina, Katrina, Bettina, Marina, Regina, Nina and Tony Farina) perform brilliantly together at the end-of-year-show.

We’ll mainly use the ballerina for the instructional images below, but I’ll jump in every once in a while with something “prince specific.” And just in case you’re wondering, we did have some boys who choose to make pink ballerinas, and some girls who decided to make princes!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large rectangular box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9”) a large tissue box works too
  • A box cutter
  • 2 small craft sticks (mine were 2.5″ long)
  • 2 pieces of curling ribbon (approximately 36″ each)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • Pink construction paper (or blue for the prince)
  • 1 small square box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4”) a small tissue box works too
  • Brown, yellow, red, or black construction paper for hair
  • 2 white poster board rectangles for arms (approximately 1.75″ x 7.5″)
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • Construction paper for ballet shoes (pink for ballerina, black for prince)
  • 2 white poster board rectangles for legs (approximately 1.5″ x 11.5″)
  • Plastic cellophane lace (pink for ballerina, blue for prince) Tissue paper works too!
  • A small gold or silver embossed foil seal (optional)
  • An 8.5″ piece of PVC pipe
  • 1/2 of a pipe cleaner
  • Scissors, tape, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, you’ll need to attach the string to your puppet. These puppets are going to do some bouncing and twirling, so I made sure to really anchor the string inside the box. To make the anchor, knot one end of a 36″ piece of curling ribbon around a small craft stick. Then reinforce the knot with masking tape.

anchor stickThen use a box cutter to cut a small slit on each side of the large box (aim for the the top, middle part of the box).

slit on boxUse scissors (or the craft stick) to enlarge the slits a little. From inside the box, push the curling ribbon outwards through the slit. Pull the ribbon until the anchor is flush against the inside of the box. Now thread the ribbon through the slit on the other side. But this time, you’ll start outside the box and push the ribbon in. Knot the unattached end of the ribbon around a small craft stick and reinforce the knot with tape. You now have a loop of curling ribbon that is anchored inside the box by two reinforced craft sticks.

finished stringNow for the ballerina’s leotard (and the prince’s jacket). For the ballerina, wrap a piece of  pink construction paper around the large box and tape it in the back. If you’d like, you can cut a little scoop in the top of the pink paper to create a neckline.

leotardFor the prince’s jacket, wrap a blue piece of construction paper around the box and tape it in the front. If you’d like, fold the tops back to form the “lapels” of the prince’s jacket. If you have extra construction paper hanging down the back of the box, consider cutting them into a jaunty pair of coat tails!

coatThe head is next! Fringe a piece of construction paper (we offered brown, yellow, black, and red) and hot glue (or tape) it around the top of a small square box. If you’d like to make a ballerina ponytail, gather the fringes together towards the back of the head

ponytail step 1Staple the fringes together, trim off any excess, then cover the staples with a masking tape “barrette.”

more ponytail stepsDraw a face on the front of the box (and ears on the sides) and attach the head to the body with hot glue.

faceNow for the arms. Round the rectangles of poster board at both ends. If you’d like, you can use scissors to shape a little thumb as well.

arm stepsFor the prince’s arms, wrap most of the arm with blue plastic cellophane lace (or blue construction paper) to create jacket sleeves, and then hot glue (or tape) to the box.

prince armFor the ballerina, simply hot glue (or tape) the unadorned arms to the sides of the box. Curl or fold them into whatever position you like.

To make the legs, wrap 2 toilet paper tubes with construction paper (pink for ballerina, black for prince). These will become your puppet’s dancing shoes. If you’re making a ballerina, draw some toe shoe ribbon on the white poster board legs strips (I started drawing mine about 0.5″ from the bottom of the strip).

lacingHot glue (or staple, or tape) the poster board legs to the inside of the toilet paper tubes. I had about 9″ of poster board leg extending above the top of the tube shoe.

finished legIf you’re making a prince, skip the ribbon and hot glue (or staple, or tape) the poster board legs to the inside of the tubes.

To attach your dancer’s legs, tab the top of the poster board strip and hot glue to them bottom of the box. You can see my leg placement in the image below (you can see the ballerina’s ponytail at the very bottom of the image). Make sure that one leg is attached at an angle. This is the leg that raise and lower later on a puppet string.

legs on boxNow for some finishing touches! If you’re making a ballerina, wrap and tape a long piece of pink cellophane lace around the bottom of the box to make a tutu (I had a spare roll of it left over from this princess dress program). My piece of cellophane lace was approximately 8″ x 39.5″. You can also make a tutu with tissue paper. We tested a 20″ x 26″ piece of tissue paper. We folded it in half (until it was 10″ high) and then wrapped it around the box. It looked great!

Stick a small foil seal to the front of the ballerina’s leotard for decoration (or decorate the leotard with markers). For the prince, use colored masking tape to make a belt around the jacket, and stick a small foil seal on the front as a belt buckle. If you have any extra blue cellophane lace (or even a Kleenex), make an ascot!

finished puppetsI have to share this fantastic prince puppet. This is a “Captain America dancer.” Love the shield, but I especially love the buttons down the front of the jacket! Why didn’t I think of buttons? They look awesome!

captain princeTo attach the puppet to its stick, hold the curling ribbon loop up to the bottom of a piece of PVC pipe and secure it with masking tape.

If you’d like your puppet to raise and lower a leg, follow these steps. First, twist 1/2 of a pipe cleaner into a loop, then knot a 36″ piece of curling ribbon onto it. Slide the pipe cleaner loop onto the PVC stick and tape the unattached end of the ribbon to the heel of your dancer’s shoe. Remember to attach the ribbon on the angled leg! When you’re ready to operate your puppet, slide the loop off the stick and move the leg up and down.

finished ballerinaAt the end of story time, I played some music from the Nutcracker, and kids danced a pas de deux with their puppets. There was plenty of creative and enthusiastic twirling, whirling,  and leaping going on, lemme tell you!

dancing