This Is My Story

this-is-my-storyYou love books. You think it’s a clever idea. You’ve picked it up while shopping and mused over it a dozen time. But each time you put it back, thinking…do those make your own book mail-in kits really deliver the goods? Well, ponder no more! Today, we’re reviewing the IlluStory Make Your Own Book kit by Lulu Jr.

illustory-kitThe kit retails for around $20 – $30. It includes 10 washable markers, 20 blank book pages, 2 blank cover pages, a mailing envelope, and detailed instructions. It also has multiple prompt sheets to get young writers going (including – and I really liked this – nonfiction stories and biographies). The kit price includes the production of your book and shipping costs from, and back to, your house (USA only). The final product is a 7.25″ x 9.25″ hardcover book with an illustrated story that is a maximum of 18 pages long.

illustory-kit-contentsGetting started, you have two creation options with this kit: 1) Draw the book by hand; or 2) Design it online using templates, backgrounds, and digital stickers (you can also upload drawings and photos). We went as low tech as possible and chose to create the book by hand. The 8.5″ x 11″ story pages have a big box for illustrations, and 5 lines for text. Since your story can’t be over 18 pages, there are a couple of extra pages, just in case you mess up.

Marissa bravely agreed to write and illustrate a story she titled Arnold’s Birthday Party. She reports that the markers were “awesome.” IlluStory recommends using dark pencil or pen. Marissa used ballpoint pen for her illustrations and text, which worked just fine.

page-of-storyWhen the book was finished, we turned to the order form. Here, we were presented with two options: 1) Produce the book using your handwritten text; or 2) Have the company convert your handwritten words to type (but there is a 20 word per page limit, and they don’t correct spelling or edit). We went with hand lettering.

Make sure you read the kit instructions and the order form carefully! Because otherwise you might miss that you need to number the pages, in pencil, on the back of each page (otherwise, they’ll just print them in the order received). You need to write “Cover” on the back of your cover page. And you definitely don’t was to miss the free options to add a dedication page, or author photo and bio on the back of the book!

Ready to send it off? You have two options: 1) Send it via snail mail in the prepaid envelope; or 2) Upload scans of your cover and story pages to the IlluStory website. We stayed low-tech and went with snail mail.

illustory-mailing-setIlluStory say the books are printed less than 2 weeks from the date received, and ship 3-5 days after printing. They were right on the money. In just under 3 weeks, Marissa’s book was back. It looked fantastic.

2-page-spread-of-storyI was worried that the binding might look cheap. Nope. This is a real, honest-to-goodness book. Glossy white cover, crisp printing, text well clear of the binding margins. The author photo we sent was reproduced nicely. They even put the title and author’s name down the book’s spine! There’s a title page too. It looks really cute:

title-page-of-bookYou also have the option to purchase additional copies and send them to your adoring fans (copies of our book, for example are $14.99). You can order multiple copies in advance, or use the info printed on the back of the book to order copies later.

Beware, however. The production on this kit is quite literal. If you did what I did, and fill out the dedication and author bio in ALL CAPS on the order form, the production team will put those in ALL CAPS IN YOUR BOOK. Also, remember to write the title on the cover of your book. They don’t do that for you. Marissa’s book cover is missing a title, but it sort of adds to the mystery of the big package, doesn’t it? What’s in that big package anyway?*

cover-of-bookIn summary, the IlluStory Make Your Own Book kit is terrific! It’s easy to put together with really nice, professional-looking results. Make sure to read all the instructions and fine print and remember – what you send is exactly what is printed. If you know an aspiring author or illustrator, or are looking to create something special for someone, this kit is a sure bet.


*Spoiler alert. Inside the present is a colossal spider – a gift from an eccentric aunt. The spider runs rampant through the town, swatting helicopters, before Arnold shuts it down with bug spray.

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!

Warning: This Post is Gross

special effects make-up kitToday, it’s cuts, burns, nosebleeds, and more! Our intrepid kid tester reviewed the Disgusting Special Effects Make-up Kit by Science Explorer (ages 8+, retails for $15-$25). Warning…some of the images really are quite gross. If you don’t feel like scrolling through the post, I’ll cut to the chase. The kit received 3.5 out of 5 stars. The pros were: fun, lots, of activities, fascinating in a gross way. The cons were: messy, some of the activities didn’t work too well, time consuming, and skin remained dyed for a few days. And now, I’ll turn things over to Hope…


Hello, folks! I’m back again, and this time with a revolting twist! As the name suggests, this kit was DISGUSTING!!! I mean like ugh, blech, *gag*, barf, disgusting. Gross. Repul- okay, I don’t want to discourage you from buying this kit and using it, because it was pretty fun. But I’m sure you got the message. This kit was not for the weak stomached.

The kit came with petroleum jelly, corn syrup, corn starch, gelatin, food coloring (red and green), 5 water based markers (red, blue, green, black, yellow), Elmer’s brand white glue, 3 plastic cups, 2 “stir sticks”, and a measuring scoop. It also came with a little instructions booklet.

In addition to what came with the kit, you’ll need:

Cocoa powder
Vegetable oil
Toilet paper
Crayon
Paper the same color as your skin
Black thread
Clear tape
White construction paper
Plastic wrap
Tweezers
Scissors
Paper towels

Dr. Dana’s fabulous new assistant Marissa had already assembled these additional supplies, so I opened up the instructions and got to work.

ACTIVITY 1: “A Bloody Mess”

Yes, the first activity was called “A Bloody Mess.” (Sorry, British friends). It called for corn syrup, a cup, red food coloring, a stir stick, cornstarch, a measuring scoop, green food coloring, cocoa powder, water, and paper towels. The instructions in the booklet were straightforward: mix corn syrup and red food coloring. Observe. Add some green food coloring to make the “blood” darker, add cornstarch to make the blood thicker, add some cocoa to both darken and thicken the mixture. The result? Fake, delicious smelling blood.

bloodWait, you might be thinking. Did she really just say it smelled delicious!??! What is this insanity!?!?!?!?!?!

Well, it smelled delicious because of the cocoa powder and corn syrup. Chocolate and sugar. YUM. But I’ll admit, it was really weird to like the smell of thick, goopy red stuff that was supposed to be blood. Ah. Goopy. AND sticky. The blood was SUPER sticky as a result of the corn syrup.

Even though the directions had me add all that stuff to thicken and darken the blood, it was still pretty pink. So I went out on a limb, adding more green food coloring, more red food coloring, and more cocoa. It turned out pretty dark, but definitely more realistic than before. The Weasley Brothers and their nosebleed nougats would be proud.

ACTIVITY 2: “All Dried Up”

This activity called for white glue, a plastic cup, red food coloring, green food coloring, and a stir stick. Additionally, it called for paper towels, cocoa powder, and plastic wrap.

The directions said, “Pour ¼ cup glue into the cup.” However, as there was no way to measure exactly 1/4 cup (a measuring device for that amount was neither provided nor mentioned) this was rather inconvenient. Then the directions called for “10 to 15 drops of red food coloring and one drop of green food coloring.” Then, following the directions, I mixed the food coloring with the glue. The result looked more like washable paint than blood.

blood needs workI made an executive decision, and added some of the experimental blood from the previous activity to the mix. After I had stirred it up a bit, it looked dark enough to pass as real blood. I used one of the stir sticks to put a stripe of the blood onto a paper towel. While Marissa and I waited for it to dry, we started Activity 3.

ACTIVITY 3: “Pop Goes the Blister”

Blech! I mean, honestly! Naming an activity for children “Pop Goes the Blister?” That’s just absurd! (and kind of a bad joke, considering the name of this blog). It kind of turned me off to the activity in general and made me want to gag. But Marissa and I pressed on, collecting the supplies needed for the activity and assembling them on the table in front of us.

The supplies provided by the kit were a stir stick, petroleum jelly, and red food coloring (or the red marker). Marissa and I had to collect paper towels and scissors. Toilet paper was also on the list, but I just grabbed a tissue instead.

The directions asked you to “Form the petroleum jelly into the shape of a bubble.” So I pulled out the jar of petroleum jelly, grabbed one of the handy stir sticks, and got to work putting a ‘bubble’ of petroleum jelly on Marissa’s arm.

As I was doing this, I noticed a strange smell. The petroleum jelly smelled like… Home Depot. (If any of you folks have ever been to a Home Depot, it has an extremely distinct smell. In fact, when Marissa and I had Dr. Dana take a look at our handiwork, she too commented that the petroleum jelly smelled like Home Depot. What’s up with that?)

smelly jellyAnyhow, even though I tried to avoid physical contact with the petroleum jelly, I ended up having to shape it by hand. It was greasy. I’m talking worse than pepperoni pizza greasy. Blech. Definitely not on my Top Ten Things I Want On My Hands List.

The next step of the directions asked me to “Cut or tear a piece of toilet paper into the same shape and size as the glob of petroleum jelly.” Well, as my hands were greasy, I tried to just rip a piece of tissue (remember, we were using that instead of toilet paper), into a small piece, but it was nearly impossible. Marissa ended up cutting a small piece for me. I placed the little piece of tissue on top of the petroleum jelly to let it soak up the grease.

Then I applied more petroleum jelly on top of the tissue. By the time we were finished, Marissa had a nasty large white bump on her arm. Marissa then tried two blisters on me, one with toilet paper, and one with tissue. The one with toilet paper looks slightly less pathetic. When we showed it to Ian, the Curatorial Assistant at Cotsen, he said, “Looks like you were reaching for the best doughnut and got frosting on your arm.” Sad, but completely accurate.

toilet paper vs tissueBefore we started on Activity 4, we checked back on our dried blood. It was dry, crusty, and dark. Perfect! I applied a bunch of blood to Marissa’s arm. We were ready for the next activity.

ACTIVITY 4: “Cut It Out!”

marissa with an owieActivity 4 required red food coloring, a stir stick, petroleum jelly, and fake and dried blood from previous activities. We also needed water, white paper towels, scissors, cocoa powder, white construction paper, clear tape, thick black thread, and paper towels.

The first step was to smear red food coloring on the area where the cut was to be made. I smeared some food coloring on Marissa’s forearm, directly above the dried blood. After applying some petroleum jelly to the red area, Marissa and I cut two pieces of toilet paper the same size and shape as the petroleum jelly glop.

Marissa used the arm that wasn’t covered in goop to arrange the toilet paper in just such a way that it looked like (gross alert) freshly torn skin. Then I smudged and sprinkled cocoa around the cut for a dirt bespeckled touch. After I had dripped some blood in the “cut,” it looked positively repulsive (and eerily realistic)!

cutThere was a little section beneath this activity that had directions for a cut with stitches showing the bone. The directions were almost exactly the same, with two exceptions: at the beginning, after you smudged the red food coloring on your skin, you soaked a white piece of paper in a cocoa powder- water paste, and added it atop the red as the ‘”bone.” And, at the very end, you added little pieces of black thread, representing stitches. Blegh. Cutting the thread was definitely a two person job. I cut the threads, and Marissa placed them across her gaping “wound.”

stitched cutBlood, blisters, cuts, and stitches done. Now it was time for Dr. Dana to be “wounded.” What could be more ironic for an artist to be impaled with a crayon and a pencil?

ACTIVITY 5: “Take a Stab at It”

dr. dana with an owieIn this activity, you impale yourself with a crayon/golf pencil. The supplies needed were red food coloring (or red marker), a stir stick, petroleum jelly, and dried blood (previously made). Marissa had to assemble, a crayon, a golf pencil, a small piece of paper the same color as your skin, scissors, white toilet paper, cocoa powder, clear tape, and paper towels. Step one had us, once again, smearing red food coloring onto the site of the future “injury.”

impaled step 1Then we had to, once again, apply petroleum jelly to the area (sarcastic “Hooray!’”). After that, we had to lay a golf pencil on the red area and slather it with petroleum jelly.

Next, we had to lay a piece of construction paper about the same color as Dr.Dana’s skin across the middle of the pencil (we used multicultural construction paper), making it appear as though it had been jammed through her skin. Then we had to smear petroleum jelly over the piece of skin colored paper, and put toilet paper over everything.

Drizzling blood came next, my real favorite part However, because the piece of paper wasn’t exactly the same color of Dr.Dana’s skin, and because the paper wouldn’t lay quite right, it did not look at all like she’d been impaled. Not even a little bit. It looked like something you would see in kindergarten or preschool, where she had been playing with art supplies and then stuck them to her arm with glue.

We decided to attempt the impaled crayon next. This was much easier. I broke a crayon in half, and, using the half that didn’t have a point, taped it to Dr. Dana’s arm. Then Marissa and I smeared petroleum jelly onto the tape, so it lost its shine. Finally, we added toilet paper on top of the petroleum jelly, and dripped blood onto it. A despicable masterpiece.

impaledACTIVITY 6: “Black & Blue”

Activity 6, bruises, was by far the simplest. All we needed were the markers included in the kit. Marissa used the red marker first, attempting to smudge it around with her finger. However, the ink dried too fast, so it really looked like I had wiggly chicken pox. Pulling out the black and blue markers, Marissa dotted the middle of the bruise, adding to the poxy effect. Finally, she added some green and yellow to the edges. It looked an infected monkey bite at first. But after I got home and it became smudged with water, it looked so much like a real bruise that my parents asked me how I had gotten it!

bruiseThe real con about this activity was that the markers took a day or two to come off completely, so putting it somewhere like the face could be problematic.

ACTIVITY 7: “Sizzling Skin”

This activity wins the WORST award. To make burned skin, we had to put some glue on my arm and wait for it to dry. And wait. And wait. And wait and wait and wait and- well, you get the idea. It took more than 30 minutes for some glue the size of a quarter to dry. Then, Marissa had to peel it off of my arm with tweezers, which hurt terribly, because it pulled my arm hair. (Not Marissa’s fault!!) Glue + Arm hair = PAIN!!!!!!!! It’s like oil and water. They just don’t mix.

tweezersThis little circle of glue was supposed to be fake skin (which would’ve been pretty cool if it hadn’t involved both tedium and pain). Next, we mixed gelatin and warm water together to get an amber, clumpy mess.

gelatinMarissa tweezered out the smallest possible piece and put it on my arm, covering it with the fake skin we made .Then, as the directions suggested, she added some blood to nastify it.

burnIt looked nasty all right, but it didn’t look at all like a burn. It looked like an infected hive or inflamed…something.

FINAL ACTIVITY: The Bloody Nose

hope with an owieAt the end of the testing, Dr. Dana wanted a bloody good photo of me (sorry again Brits!). I had brought along an old Princeton shirt that we decided to splatter with blood in front of the Cotsen Library.

I didn’t want to stain my underclothes, jeans, or shoes, so Dr. Dana found me a plastic garbage bag. A cut here… a cut there…VOILA! Plastic bag dress. I slipped it on, threw the old shirt over it, and headed outside to be splattered.

Marissa applied liberal amounts of blood to the shirt as innocent passersby gawked at our shenanigans. When Marissa was finished, we snapped a picture. Then Dr. Dana had to cut the shirt off my back so that the blood didn’t splatter onto my other clothes or the floor.

plastic dressOverall, this kit was fairly fun, but I definitely had some issues with it.

First of all – the recommended age. This product is advised for ages 8+. That would be all well and fine, except that the kit is extremely hands-on, and with all the setup, applications and dripping stuff you definitely need someone else to help you. Additionally, some of the things were pretty gory (the cut, the stitched up cut), and might not be suited for an 8 year old. And of course, the tedium and pain of the burnt skin activity made me want to scream, and I’m thirteen.

Secondly, the whole mess factor was overwhelming. My hands were sticky and dyed red from the blood, greasy from the petroleum jelly, and cakey-dry from cocoa. The testing table was littered with paper towels, and a low pressure system of blood blobs and cocoa powder had moved through the area, leaving so much cleanup that the president of FEMA would’ve resigned. The red dye on my fingers didn’t come off for several days.

stained fingerAnd lastly, in my opinion, the directions had a tone directed to an audience of four year-olds, not second graders. For example, in the directions it says, “Real blood is red. What makes fake blood red? Food coloring! Add 3-4 drops of red food coloring to the corn syrup and use your stir stick to mix until completely combined. Is this starting to look like blood?”

In my opinion, it sounds slightly condescending, in the way adults talk to toddlers. I would’ve worded it more like… “Real blood is red. So when we make fake blood, we use food coloring. Go ahead and add 3-4 drops of the red food coloring to the corn syrup, mix, and observe how it changes.” I know that this sounds similar to the original phrasing, but I also think that wording it this way sounds more scientific and less condescending.

As for the science, that’s great, as they’re trying to enhance the educational value of the kit. There were little boxes sprinkled throughout the directions that had little science tidbits in them.

science stuffThat was pretty cool, and added a unique edge to the kit. In my opinion, most kids are more eager to do the actual activities, and aren’t as focused on the science. They’re all for looking like a zombie.


 

RATING: 3.5 STARS

PROS: pretty fun, lots of activities (7!), gross-out factor (the cuts that we did)! The gross-out was kind of a disgusted fascination, like when kids hold a tarantula at the zoo.

CONS: messy (testing table), some of it lame (blisters = doughnut frosting!), time consuming (3-4 hours!), dye stained my skin for a couple of days.


I think that kids ages 8-14 would like this product because of both the fun and fascination factors. I liked the blood brewing and the cut making, but the blisters didn’t look realistic and were just plain gross. I would recommend it to those who enjoy makeup, disgusting stuff, and laugh out loud fun. Marissa and I had a GREAT time testing this project, with much laughing, giggling, chuckling, guffawing, and grossing out.

Marissa seemed to have the most fun while we tried to apply the blisters, and during the cut making. My parents thought that the bruise on my arm was real, but they didn’t seem shocked by my red-dyed fingers (probably because I mess with food coloring all the time). In addition, this is not the type of kit that I would have bought for myself. I’m not exactly your Walking Dead or Twilight enthusiast. I’m also not a fan of gaping wounds or stitches.

Finally, I definitely DO NOT (!!!!!) recommend the kit for those with weak stomachs or fears of gore. Because there is a lot of blood. And gore. And stomach-wrenching.

So I hope that you guys enjoyed the review- SHRIEK! There’s a vampire coming my way, and it’s wearing a shirt that says I HEART CHOCOLATE… Uh oh. I’m covered in cocoa blood!! Got to RUUUUUUUUUNNNN!!!!!