Hauntingly Delicious

hauntingly deliciousIt’s a scrumptious birthday cake, but be warned…this cake is haunted. Pull the flame on the candle and out pops a ghost!

We read The Bake Shop Ghost, written by Jacqueline Ogburn and illustrated by Marjorie A. Priceman (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). Miss Cora Lee Merriweather’s cakes and pies might be sweet, but her personality is downright dour. After she dies, she haunts her bake shop, chasing off potential successors one by one. But she finally meets her match when Annie Washington moves in. Annie’s determined to not be scared by loud noises, poltergeist activity, or ghostly heads rising up through her baking table. She confronts Cora Lee and they make a wager. If Annie can make a cake that brings tears to Cora Lee’s eye, a cake “like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me,” Cora Lee will stop haunting the bake shop.

Annie tries everything. Moon cake, white cake, tiramisu, fruit cake, cheesecake, carrot cake. Nothing works. Finally, after some research at the local library, Annie makes a… birthday cake. The ghost is so touched that Annie remembered her birthday, she sheds a tear and loses the wager. But Annie, knowing a world-class baker when she sees one, invites the ghost to become her business partner. The two bakers make fabulous baked goods together. And every year, they make birthday cakes for one another.

You’ll need:

  • 2 small boxes (mine were 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 6″ and 4″ x 4″ x 4″)
  • Construction paper (we offered pink, brown, white, and yellow)
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (or paper plate)
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • A square of white poster board (approximately 2″ x 2″)
  • A box cutter
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • Cake decorating supplies (more on this below!)
  • 3 squares of a white plastic garbage bag (approximately 13″ x 13″)
  • 1 piece of white pipe cleaner (approximately 5″ long)
  • A black permanent marker
  • Scraps of colored mirror board for candle flames (or use construction paper)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Hot glue

You can use 1 box and create a single layer cake, or you can use 2 boxes and go for a double layer cake. I used white craft boxes, but tissue boxes work too. You might, however, want to cover the tissue boxes with white, brown, or yellow, construction paper before you begin.

Cover the tops of the boxes with construction paper “icing.” Cut bumps into a strip of construction paper, and wrap the strip around the box to create a scallop of icing along the cake’s edge.

cake step 1Next, use a toilet paper tube to trace a circle onto a square of white poster board. Cut the circle from the poster board and use a box cutter to cut a small slit in the circle’s center:

ghost circleSet the circle aside for a moment. Wrap the toilet paper tube with patterned paper and hot glue it to the top of the small box. Then hot glue the small box on top of the large box. Finally, hot glue the large box to a corrugated cardboard base. If your box is small enough, you can use a paper plate for the base. If your cake is too big, try flipping the paper plate upside down to gain a tad more room. For our bases, we used 10″ cake circles:

cake step 2It’s time to decorate! We used construction paper, patterned tape, tissue paper squares, craft ties, self-adhesive foam shapes, dot stickers, and rickrack ribbon. I take no credit for the masterpiece you see below. This is the work of Miriam Jankiewicz, a rare books staffer who was helping me out that day. I love the tissue flowers with the delicate little craft tie curls!

decorated cakeThe cake is complete, now for the ghost! Place 2 squares of white plastic trash bag flat on top of one another. Crumble a third square and place it in the center of the flat squares.

ghost flame step 1Bunch the flat squares around the crumble and twist to create the ghost’s head and neck. Wrap one end of a short pipe cleaner around the ghost’s neck and twist tightly. Bend the rest of the pipe cleaner straight up. The twist and the straight part of the pipe cleaner should both be located behind your ghost’s head.

ghost flame step 2Thread the free end of the pipe cleaner through the slit in the poster board circle. The circle will rest on top of your ghost’s head like a hat.

ghost flame step 3Use a permanent black marker to draw eyes and a mouth on your ghost. Tape scraps of red and orange mirror board (or construction paper) to the front of the pipe cleaner. These are the flames of your candle. The front of your ghost should now look like this:

finished ghost flameThe final step is to tape the back of the ghost’s head to the pipe cleaner. This will keep it nice and steady when you yank it from the cake.

ghost flame step 4To operate your ghost cake, stuff the ghost into the toilet paper tube candle. Wedge the poster board circle into the top of the tube (you might have to trim it a little to get it just right). Present your cake to an unsuspecting individual, then grab the candle flame and pull the ghost out. Shouting “Boo!” is optional, but entirely appropriate.

cake ghostLooking for a few more spooky ideas? Take a look at our haunted dollhouse, glowing skeleton marionette, creepy carrots, shadow puppets, bat mini-exhibit, mummy in a pyramid, and Spooky Old Tree. And don’t miss this plump and perfectly simple toilet paper jack-o’-lantern!

Pirate vs. Viking

pirate vs vikingCan’t we all just get along? Apparently not if you’re a pirate or a viking. We gave kids the choice of being a pirate or a viking, and then played cooperative games to show that yes, even pirates and vikings can learn to work together! I love this photo. I asked the kids to “make a mean face” and they still managed to look completely adorable.

We read Pirate, Viking & Scientist by Jared Chapman (Little, Brown, 2014).
Pirate and Viking are friends with young Scientist…but NOT one another. Things come to a head at Scientist’s birthday party. Instead of doing the right thing and getting along, Pirate and Viking erupt in a nasty, full-out, cake-throwing brawl. Putting the scientific method to work, Scientist tries to systematically solve the problem. After a few failed attempts, he finally hits on the solution – that Pirate and Viking both love boats, swords, pillaging, and plundering. Success! With these common bonds between them, the party is saved, and Pirate and Viking are now the best of friends.

For a pirate hat, you’ll need:

  • 1 pirate hat template, printed on 11″ x 17″ paper
  • 1 rectangle of black poster board (approximately 9″ x 17″)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 1 pirate hat emblem template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 large gemstone (optional)
  • 1 piece of construction paper for your “feather” (approximately 4″ x 12″)
  • 1 piece of construction paper for your “beard” (approximately 8.25″ x 12″)
  • 2 rubber bands
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors, glue, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating

For a viking hat: you’ll need:

  • 1 viking hat template, printed on 11″ x 17″ paper
  • A piece of brown poster board (approximately 9″ x 22″)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 1 viking hat emblem template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 large gemstone (optional)
  • 2 rectangles of white poster board (approximately 4.25″ x 7.5″)
  • 6 strips of construction paper for your “braids” (approximately .75″ x 18″)
  • 1 piece of construction paper for your “beard”
  • 2 rubber bands
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors, glue, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

To make a pirate hat, begin by tracing the hat template on a piece of black poster board. Next, make a 12″ slit close to the bottom of the hat (this is where your head will go through later). Set the hat aside for a moment.

pirate hat cutCut a 4″ x 12″ piece of construction paper (any color) into a feather shape and fringe the ends to give it some texture.

pirate hat featherUse colored masking tape to add a hatband to the hat, and markers to color a pirate hat emblem. Hot glue (or tape or staple) the feather to the hat. Cover the bottom of the feather with the emblem, and hot glue (or tape or staple) it in place. If you’d like, attach a large gemstone with hot glue.

finished pirate hatTo make a beard, cut a shallow scoop in the top of a 8.25″ x 12″ piece construction paper. Then fringe it.

beard steps 1 and 2Punch holes at either end, and thread a rubber band through each hole.

finished beardYou can leave the beard straight, or curl it around a pencil or marker to give it some body. When you’re satisfied with the way it looks, press the beard to your chin and loop the rubber bands over your ears. Done!

To make a viking hat, trace the hat template onto a 9″ x 22″ piece of brown poster board. Your template will be shorter than the piece of poster board. No worries! I had to fit the template onto an 11″ x 17″ piece of paper, and couldn’t include the last couple inches of the hat band. Just keep cutting past the template until you reach the ends of the poster board. Here’s an image of the template resting on top of a hat. You can see a couple inches of brown hat band sticking out:

template with extra edgesFold the top of the hat downwards over the hat band, and hot glue it in place (you can also staple it in place, but might want to cover the staples with tape so they don’t scratch anyone’s forehead).

viking hat fold downUse colored (or regular) masking tape to add some details to the hat, then shape a pair of horns out of white poster board and attach with hot glue (or tape). Color a viking hat emblem from the template, then hot glue (or tape) in place. Add a large gemstone if you’d like. Finally, circle the hat band around your head and staple it closed.

finished viking hatWant braids? Staple the top of 3 long strips of paper together. I found that looser braids hung better (tighter braids tended to kink and bunch up). When you get to the bottom of the braided strips, staple them together. Cover the staple with a construction paper “thong” if you’d like. Repeat the above steps to make a second braid, then staple both braids to your helmet, close to your ears. Check these braids out!

viking braidsIf you’d like to make a viking beard, follow the exact same steps for the pirate beard.

You’re suited up, now it’s time for the cooperative games! We separated the kids into two groups: Pirates and Vikings. For each game, we paired a pirate and a viking together, and ran the game until all the teams had a turn.


beach ball blissTeam members had to carry a ball across the room together, then deposit it into a bin. If they dropped it (or one of them grabbed it and ran with it), they had to start over again.


coin claimTeams had to carry a bucket across the room together, “dive” into a pond, and claim 2 treasure coins – all while still sharing the bucket handle. Then, still sharing the bucket, the team walked back to the finish line. We have a “koi pond” in our gallery, but a blue sheet on the floor works too!

The coins were interesting-looking pieces of foreign currency we requested through our recyclable program. But you could use regular old quarters, plastic coins, or shiny circles of paper and achieve the same effect. We made sure both coins in the pond matched, and refreshed the stock as each new team approached. Otherwise, there might have been a brawl over the “prettier” or “shinier” coin.


friendship tattoosPirates and vikings sat down in matching chairs, scanned a list of 4 tattoos (see above), and decided which one they wanted. But they also had to decide where they were going to get the tattoos, and the tattoo locations had to match! Eventually, the team members would come to a consensus and we drew the tattoos straight onto their skin with washable markers.

At our story time, most of the kids don’t know each other. We didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, so we kept the cooperative games low-contact and simple. But if you did this in a classroom where the kids know each other fairly well, you could up the challenge level. One example would be to play Beach Ball Bliss, but have the kids squash the ball between their bellies and, using no hands, walk the ball to the goal without dropping it!

Postscript: The author, Jared Chapman, sent this to me! It’s an image from Little, Brown’s annual Halloween party. Two staffers from the School & Library team dressed up as Pirate and Viking using the costumes from this post! Don’t they look amazing? Thanks for the photo Jared!


Royal Pie

royal pieThe challenge…to make a pizza that will please Her Royal Highness. The prize? To be proclaimed the finest pizza maker in the land and be adorned with a gold pizza making medal!

We read The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch (Holiday House, 2002). Princess Paulina’s father has decided to give up his crown and open a wood-carving shop. Paulina does her best to adjust to her new life, but she misses things like princess-waving from carriages and walking peacocks. But Paulina perks up when Queen Zelda of Blom announces that her son, Prince Drupert, is to marry. Paulina arrives at the palace (along with a crowd of other hopeful suitors) and passes a number of princess tasks (sleeping on a pea, fitting into glass slippers, writing an essay about the virtues of the odious Queen Zelda). The final task is to prepare a royal feast, but Paulina only has flour, yeast, water, tomatoes, a chunk of cheese, a bit of garlic, and some herbs. So she invents…pizza. Paulina’s pizza wins the contest, but she no longer wants to marry the prince.  Instead, she opens “Princess Paulina’s Pizza Palace.” And guess who her most loyal royal customers are?

You’ll need:

  • A large circle of brown wrapping paper (mine was 22″ in diameter)
  • An oval of red construction paper (mine was 12″ x 13″)
  • An oval of yellow construction paper (mine was 11.5″ x 12.5″)
  • Extra red, green, yellow, and brown construction paper for pizza toppings
  • A strip of yellow poster board for crown (approximately 4.25″ x 22″)
  • A selection of large gemstones (optional)
  • Stapler, scissors and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating

crownWe started off by making beautiful bejeweled crowns. Cut crown points out of the top of a strip of yellow poster board. Then decorate the crown with markers. I used Crayola glitter markers. They were awesome.

glitter markersOnce you’ve decorated the crown, circle it around your head and staple it closed. Use hot glue to add some jewels if you like. You are now fully prepared to make a royal pizza…

pizzaLay a 22″ circle of brown wrapping paper on a tabletop. Slowly roll the edges of the paper inward, rotating the circle as you go. This creates your pizza “crust.”

pizza crust stepsGlue a red construction paper oval to the crust. This is your “sauce.” Glue a yellow construction paper oval (i.e. “cheese”) on top of the sauce. Finally, cut a variety of construction paper toppings and glue them to your pizza. We offered pepperoni, green pepper slices, brown mushrooms, and little scraps of extra cheese. We also offered black olives, which started as reinforcement labels:

reinforecement labelsReinforcement labels are used patch up torn holes in pieces of paper. But when you color them with a black Sharpie marker, they make an awesome set of pizza olives!

pizzaTo make the pizza-making portion of the program extra fun, we placed the toppings in different areas of our gallery. Then we drew a map of “The Magnificent Kingdom of Pizza.” Kids journeyed to the “Mushroom Cave,” the “Well of Endless Cheese,” “Pepperoni Pond,” “Green Pepper Fields,” and the “Black Olive Forest” to collect their toppings. Then they  glued them to their pizzas.

While the kids were traveling around the gallery, Katie and I suited up in our Medieval garb. I was the queen, and Katie was the herald. Placing a hefty leather chair in the gallery, Katie proclaimed it to be the throne. Then she announced that when the queen arrived, all kids would present their pizzas to Her Royal Highness. If she approved, they would be declared Royal Pizza Makers. I emerged from a side door, sauntered over to my throne, and was seated.

One by one, the kids were announced (loudly) by Katie. Each kid walked up and presented me with his/her pizza. I examined the pizza and then decreed (equally loudly) “This pizza doth please me very much. I hearby appoint you Royal Pizza Maker of the Realm!” I put a pizza medal around their necks, and used a plastic sword to tap their shoulders and head.

royal pizza makerThe pizza medals were similar to the medals from this snail race. Attach a large gold embossed foil seal to a circle of poster board, and hot glue a ribbon between the seal and the poster board. The only change we made was to glue a picture of a pizza on top of the poster board circle.

medalMany thanks to the costume shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for loaning us the splendid costumes! Katie looked especially impressive.

katie with pizzaAnd speaking of Katie, you might have noticed some mysterious photos appearing on our Instagram with the hashtag #whereiskatie. Well folks, Katie is in Europe. For a year. A YEAR! Her husband went on sabbatical, and the family decided to go with him. So Katie’s going to keep sending shots of splendid places, and I’ll keep popping them into Instragram while growling softly with envy.

steen castleBut now I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to Marissa, who will be my assistant while Katie is away! Marissa has rolled her sleeves up and jumped right in – crafting pigs in majorette uniforms, mixing batches of fake blood, researching math activities, and dressing up as the White Rabbit. Here is the official “passing of the crown” ceremony we had at Katie’s cupcake sendoff!

crowning marissaWelcome aboard Marissa! Katie, send me some chocolate already! Geez!

Postscript: I am happy to report that Katie DID sent me a big box of European chocolate the week after this post went live. I dutifully shared some, and then scarfed the remainder.