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!

The Four Little Pigs

the four little pigsLet’s see. There’s a pig in a house of straw, a pig in a house of sticks, a pig in a house of bricks, and a pig on a sailboat. Wait…what?!? A fourth little pig? On a sailboat?

We read Ziggy Piggy and the Three Little Pigs by Frank Asch (Kids Cab Press, 1998). Once there were four little pigs. Ted, Fred, Ned, and Ziggy. Carefree Ziggy invites his brothers to the beach for a swim, but finds them madly fortifying their houses of straw, sticks, and brick. The Big Bad Wolf is in town, and Ted, Fred, and Ned don’t have time to play. So Ziggy goes to the beach by himself. The Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs and chases Ted, Fred, and Ned to the beach, where they pile onto Ziggy’s raft. But when the Wolf attempts to blow the raft to bits, Ziggy hoists the sail and the four brothers sail away to safety.

We made oatmeal container pigs, and then went searching for sailboat ride tickets in houses of straw, sticks, and brick. You had just a few seconds to find your ticket before the Big Bad Wolf appeared. Story time finished with a ride on a perfectly pig-sized sailboat!

You’ll need:

  • 1 oatmeal container
  • Pink construction paper
  • White construction paper
  • A square of white poster board (approximately 6″ x 6″)
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • 1 pink jumbo pom-pom
  • 2 small circles of self-adhesive foam
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

For the game, you’ll need:

little pig

To make a pig, wrap an oatmeal container with pink construction paper. The pig’s “shirt” is a 5″ x 18″ piece of construction paper decorated with markers. Cut a pair of “sneakers” out of poster board, decorate them with marker, then hot glue the sneakers to bottom of the oatmeal container. Use extra pink paper to make ears and arms. We offered a selection of patterned tape to liven things up, but you can also just stick with markers.

To make the face, hot glue the wiggle eyes to the oatmeal container (or draw eyes with markers). Hot glue a pink jumbo pom-pom on for the nose, and use 2 self-adhesive foam circles for nostrils. In the above photo, however, you’ll notice the pig has a pink cotton ball nose. So why do I suggest a jumbo pom-pom? THIS is why…

uh oh noseAs time passes, the cotton ball sloooowly unfurls, leaving your pig with a droopy nose. Definitely use a pom-pom.

And now for the game, which requires a set of 3 houses, a Big Bad Wolf, and sailboat. Marissa and I snagged three big boxes from the recycle bin, charged up our hot glue guns, and started building. In addition to the decor in the front, there is a small door cut into the back of each box. This is so later, during the game, I could sneak the sailboat ride tickets into the houses undetected.

house of strawhouse of stickshouse of bricksI drew a Big Bad Wolf on a piece of poster board, and taped him to a piece of PVC pipe. I tried to make him look not too scary. Not sure if I succeeded.

wolfFinally, the sailboat. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Seriously. A shoe box pulled on a string will work great. I just happen to have this awesome sailboat my Dad made for me.

sailboatOriginally, it was used at a Treasure Island event. One of the student groups at the event (Students United for a Responsible Global Environment, to be precise) wanted to demonstrate wind power. So I asked my Dad (hi Dad!) if he could build a sailboat that would roll down a table, propelled by a fan. It worked great!

sailboat at treasure islandOn windy days, we bring the sailboat out of the attic and take it outside. In a brisk breeze, you really have to run to keep up with it!

chasing the shipBut back to pigs. Here’s how we played the Ziggy Piggy game. I lined up the three houses and asked the kids to sit down in front of them. Then one kid covered his/her eyes while I hid a sailboat ride ticket inside one of the houses. When I shouted “Go!” and the kid had 10 seconds to find the ticket before the Big Bad Wolf rose from behind the houses. Sometimes I had to slow the count, but in the end, everyone won.

ticket and the wolfMarissa and I then ushered the kids and their pigs out to the library’s main lobby, where we sat in two groups. Marissa was “Dock 1.” This is where all the pigs gathered. Some distance away, I was “Dock 2,” where all the kids gathered. Between the two docks was the sailboat, rigged up on a loooong string. One by one, Marissa would call out a kid’s name and place his/her pig on the sailboat. The kid would come and stand next to me. Once I confirmed that their pig had a ticket, I would reel in the string, causing the sailboat to whizz over to the kid!

sailing pigWhen story time was over, we drew names to see who was going to take the 3 houses home. The winners are the little girls posing at the start of this post. They were super thrilled!

A School of Sharing

school of sharingJoin this beautiful school of fish with their bright, sparkling scales! These easy-to-make fish were created with poster board and construction paper. Then we grabbed a set of sparkling rainbow scales and had a glittery share-fest. That’s right! You could only stick your scales on other peoples’ fish!

We read The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (North-South Books, 1992). With his sparkling silver scales, Rainbow Fish is the most beautiful fish in the ocean. He’s also the most stuck up, making it clear that he’s too beautiful to accept invitations to play. When a little fish dares to ask for a silver scale, Rainbow Fish rudely tells him to go away. That does it. The other fish decide to ignore the snobby Rainbow Fish. With no audience to admire him, Rainbow Fish grows lonely. Seeking the council of the wise octopus, she advises him to give his shining scales away to the other fish. Only then will he discover what happiness is. So Rainbow Fish gives away his silver scales, and as he sees them glittering and flashing around him on the other fish, he realizes that he finally feels at home among his new friends.

You’ll need:

  • Poster board
  • A piece of self-adhesive foam (mine was a 1.75″ x 3″ oval )
  • 2 wiggle eyes
  • Hole punch
  • Construction paper
  • Small bits of cellophane
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • Rainbow scales (more on this below!)
  • Scissors, glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

Cut a fish shape from poster boar (we offered a choice of dark blue, purple, and light blue poster board). Because we wanted to leave plenty of room for decoration, our fish was extra-large (16″ from nose to end of tail). Here’s the outline:

fish shape

If you’d like a fish that fits on an 11″ x 17″ piece of paper, here’s the large fish template. Need something smaller? This small fish template fits on an 8.5″ x 11″ pieces of paper. I recommend cutting the fish shapes out in advance of story time. Another thing to cut in advance? Construction paper scales. We offered strips of purple, yellow, dark blue, and pink.

fish scalesTo create puffy lips for your fish, start with an oval of self-adhesive craft foam.

fish lips step1

Peel and stick it over the fish’s mouth.

fish lips step 2

Finally, use scissors to cut a smiley face in the foam.

fish lips step 3

Glue (or hot glue) a wiggle eye on both sides of the fish, and punch a hole in the top fin.

hole punch and fish eye

Decorate both sides of your fish with the construction paper scales and pieces of cellophane to add some shimmer (we offered blue and iridescent cello to add some shimmer). Just make sure you don’t cover the hole you punched in the top fin! Use markers to add some designs if you’d like. The final step is to loop a pipe cleaner through the hole so you can carry your fish easily.

completed fishNow for the sharing game…and…duh duh DUH…an EPIC STORY TIME CRAFTING FAIL!

rainbow scalesLook at these beautiful glittering scales! I found some sheets of self-adhesive hologram paper at Party City. Marissa painstakingly cut and peeled zillions of scales, and stuck each set on mylar. We tested peeling the scales off the mylar to make sure kids could do it quickly and easily.

It worked! Great. No problem.

To play the sharing game, we first gave kids a silver scale to start their fish off. Then we gave them a set of 4 scales (as seen above). The kids mingled around the gallery, sticking scales from their set onto other kids’ fish, making sure to share each color with a new person. At the same time, kids were accepting scales from other kids (the only rule was that you couldn’t accept a repeat color). Marissa, Joani and I circulated with extra sets of scales, to make sure no fish were going to be left out.

At least, that’s how we planned it.

Somehow, overnight, the hologram paper cooked onto the mylar. They were now impossible to peel off. Look at the scales again. Do you see how wrinkled the red one is at the top? That’s from me scrabbling at it with my fingernails, going “Nooo! No! NOOOO!”

rainbow scale failNo scale stickers meant no sharing game. Refusing to admit defeat, I sent Marissa and Joani over to quickly cut the strips of scales into individual scales. To buy them some cutting time, I whipped a roll of hologram smiley face stickers out of the cabinet.

smiley stickersI asked the kids to line up and, one at a time, tell me something nice that they had done for someone recently. Their good deed earned their fish a smiley face sticker AND a trip to see Marissa and Joani to get a set of scales hot glued onto their fish. Sure, it wasn’t the sharing game, but you still got a sparkly fish in the end.

one fishIf I was to do this again, I would definitely do the original sharing game. But I would use metallic dot stickers cut in half to replicate fish scales.

dot sticker fish scalesBecause I’ve learned my lesson. Peel the stickers off the original paper they come on. Don’t stick them on anything except the final product. Oooooooh yes.Interested in some other sharing and cooperative story times? Try this flower pot exchange, or these awesome viking vs. pirate cooperative games.