Don’t Rock the Boat

don't rock the boatIt’s a delicate balance when NINE animals decide to pile into ONE little boat! This cute Noah’s Ark set doubles as a balancing game, complete with a paper plate game spinner.

animal game spinnerBut the best part about this story time? The author herself came to read! Check out our interview with Laura Sassi at the end of this post.

laura sassi readsWe read Goodnight Ark, written by Laura Sassi, and illustrated by Jane Chapman (Zonderkidz, 2014). It’s bedtime on Noah’s ark, and the animals are settling down for the night. Except for the boars. An incoming storm make them head to Noah’s bed for a little comfort. As the storm grows, the number of animals in Noah’s bed increases until the bed finally breaks with a big, splintering crash. Unfortunately, the noise startles the skunks, who react as only skunks can. Finally, by singing a lullaby, Noah gets everyone to sleep (and don’t miss the world’s most adorable sleeping tigers on the last page).

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6″ – a small tissue box works too).
  • 2 large rectangles of brown poster board (mine were 5″ x 16″)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • 6 toilet paper tubes
  • 1 small box for the elephant (I used a 2” x 3” x 3” box)
  • 1 small box for the turtle (I recycled 1″ x 2.5″ x 2.5″ tape roll box)
  • 1 circle of green poster board (mine was about 3.5″ in diameter)
  • 1 oval of green poster board (mine was 2.5″ x 3″)
  • A selection of eye stickers (optional)
  • A selection of dot stickers (optional)
  • Orange, white, and black pieces of self-adhesive foam (optional)
  • 1 animal game spinner, printed on a 8.5″ x 11″ piece of white card stock
  • 1 small paper plate (mine was 7″ in diameter)
  • A box cutter
  • A small piece of red poster board for game spinner (mine was 0.75″ x 2″)
  • 1 brass tack
  • Stapler, scissors, tape, and hole punch for construction
  • Markers for decorating

First, the boat! Cut the tabs and lid off your box (or, if you’re using a small tissue box, cut the entire top off). Set the box aside for a moment. Use a marker to draw horizontal lines on 2 rectangles of brown poster board (these are the “boards” of your boat). For a nice pop of color, put a strip of colored masking tape at the top of each rectangle. If you don’t have colored masking tape handy, use a strip of construction paper or markers.

boat step 1Place both rectangles on top of one another, staple the short ends together, and slide them over the box. Tape the rectangles to the sides of the box like so:

boat step 2Finish by adding some portholes to your boat! We used 1.25″ color coding labels from Avery (first seen in this bottle airplane post), but you can draw the portholes on with marker if you’d prefer.

finished boatNext up, the animals! To add texture and variety, we used eye stickers, dot stickers, self-adhesive foam, and a piece pipe cleaner. But you could also keep it simple and draw these features on with markers.

Also, since this was a stacking game, we didn’t add too many details. While I was dying to put cute little construction paper ears on everyone, they would have interfered with the stacking. Likewise with tails.

There’s quite a bit of tube wrapping in this project, and there are quite a few tubes! Since tube wrapping usually takes kids the longest, you might want to do all or part of the basic tube wrapping in advance (ex: wrap all the tiger tubes with orange paper).


Wrap a paper towel tube with yellow construction paper. To make the head, fold a 2″ x 6.5″ piece of yellow construction paper in half, and use scissors to round the folded end a bit. Add eyes, nostrils, and mouth before attaching it to the tube with tape. Tape a fringed, 1.5″ x 11″ piece of brown construction paper on the tube. Add spots with markers!


Wrap a toilet paper tube with orange paper. Add eyes, a nose, a mouth, and two ears. Add stripes. We used self-adhesive foam strips, but you can use construction paper or markers.


Cut the turtle’s body shape from green construction paper. Draw a pair of eyes on the head. Glue the body to a small box. Draw a shell design on an oval of green poster board and glue on top of the body.


Wrap a toilet paper tube with construction paper (we couldn’t resist using this patterned feather paper in the art supply cabinet). Add eyes and a beak made of self-adhesive foam (or construction paper).


Wrap a toilet paper tube with red construction paper. Then, wrap a smaller piece of black paper around the top. Add eyes, a nose, a mouth. Finish by drawing spots!


Wrap a toilet paper tube with brown paper. Add eyes. We used a large yellow dot sticker to make a mouth, and then overlapped a smaller dot sticker on top of it as a nose. Draw a curly tail on the back with a marker if you’d like!


Cut a circle of green poster board into a spiral, then use markers to add stripes and eyes.

polar bearPOLAR BEAR

Wrap a toilet paper tube with white construction paper, then add eyes, nose, ears and mouth.


Wrap a toilet paper tube with black paper. Add eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Stick a white oval of self-adhesive foam on the front as a tummy, and two strips on the back of the tube as skunk stripes (or just use construction paper).


We pre-cut 3 pieces for the elephant – 2 squares of gray construction paper to cover the  front and back of the box and 1 nose. The square that covers the front of the box is slightly modified to include two ears. Add eyes, mouth, details inside the ears, and lines on the nose. Glue (or tape) the nose to the box. Draw a tail on the back with markers.

OK! You have your boat and your animals. All you need now is the game spinner! Cut an animal game spinner from the template, and glue it to the underside of a paper plate (i.e. the part of the plate that is normally resting on the table). Use a box cutter to cut a slit in the center of the circle, making sure to cut all the way through the plate.

Make a spinner arrow out of poster board, and punch a hole in the non-pointy end. Thread a brass tack through the hole in the arrow, then push the tack through the slit in the spinner and the plate. Open the prongs of the tack, making sure to leave them just a little loose so the arrow will spin freely.

animal game spinnerTo play the game, empty out the boat. Then spin the arrow. Whatever animal the arrow points to gets placed in the boat. Keep spinning until all the animals are stacked in the boat (if you land on an animal that is already in the boat, just keep spinning). If you get all the animals stacked in the boat, you win! But if any of animals fall down while you’re stacking them, you have to start the game all over again.

I know that technically, there should be 2 of each animal on the ark. Since that would have resulted in some serious tube wrapping, we decided that the animals on the spinner would serve as the matches for their tube counterparts.

We had a fabulous time, and Laura was a truly charming reader. She also brought a basket of skunks with her. Yes, a basket of skunks! Read on for more details!

laura sassiPlease tell us a little about yourself!

I am former teacher who is now lucky enough to be able to spend my days writing and being mom to our two kids. When my kids were little, I wrote while they napped. Those stories, crafts, and poems can now be found in various children’s publications including Highlights for Children, Spider, Ladybug, and Clubhouse Jr.

Over the years, I discovered that I had a special passion for rhyme and telling humorous stories in rhyme, so when my kids started school, I started to add rhyming picture books to my daily writing schedule. Goodnight, Ark, published by Zonderkidz and beautifully illustrated by Jane Chapman, is the first official fruit of all those years of writing and honing my craft.  I am also thrilled to share that my second picture book, Goodnight, Manger, also illustrated by Jane Chapman, made its debut today!

What inspired the writing of Goodnight, Ark?

Personal experience. We’ve had some ferocious storms in recent years and when my kids were little, they and the dog all wanted to climb into our bed. Getting them back to their own beds in the midst of howling winds and pounding rain, however, was challenging. With that as my spark, but thinking that ordinary kids and pets in an ordinary bed, might be kind of boring, I kept switching up the setting until it hit me: Noah’s ark!

During your read-aloud to the kids, you mentioned that sometimes, illustrators like to put surprises in the pictures for readers. This leads to a hilarious aside about underwear on a clothes line. Did you have much input on the illustrations for the book? The illustrations are gorgeous by the way…

I was thrilled when I learned that Jane Chapman was going to illustrate Goodnight, Ark. I was familiar with Jane’s work from Karma Wilson’s Bear Snores On series and knew she would do a fantastic job.  But, believe it nor not, the first glimpse I had of Jane’s work for Goodnight, Ark was when I got an advanced peek at the cover.  A few months later I received the folded galleys and saw for the first time Jane’s wonderful lantern-lit depictions of tigers and sheep, boars and quail all scurrying up to Noah’s bed.

Even though no direct input from me was involved, Jane’s illustrations demonstrate that a lot of thought went into transforming my words into pictures and extending the story with little bits of added humor throughout.  I’ll never forget my daughter giggling the first time we read through the folded galley and she noticed polka-dotted boxers hanging to dry on a clothesline and a toothbrush in a cup on the sill.

Was it difficult choosing which animals would be featured in the story?

It was not difficult at all.  I knew I wanted my story to rhyme, and so once I had my setting, it was actually fun to brainstorm which animals might pile in and what might happen when they overloaded poor Noah’s bed. I decided to choose animals that were a bit unusual such as wild boar and quail.  I also chose animals that made great sounds – like squawks and grunts.

You were great with the kids…and you brought skunk puppets! Tell us about the skunk puppets!

Since a pair of the little stinkers play an important role in the story’s resolution, and figuring that some of my very youngest readers might not be familiar with the species, I thought having a pair of skunk puppets would be a fun way to introduce the story. Jane Chapman has very expertly  incorporated two skunks onto (almost) every page of Goodnight, Ark and as soon as my skunky companions challenge the kids to see if they can find the skunks on every page, everyone is ready to have a rollicking good time reading.

Afterwards, and I should have anticipated this, littlest ones invariably want to pet the skunks.  And as they do,  I ask kids what their favorite animals were in the story or answer any questions they, or their parents might have. Indeed, the skunks have been such a great hit, that I’ve decided to incorporate a puppet- this time a very loud rooster – into the readings for my next book as well.

What do you enjoy most about reading to children?

I love the way kids, and small children especially, are so able to totally engage with the story. They rock when the ark rocks and tip when the ark tips. I love hearing their thoughts and answers as we sometimes pause to look into the story more deeply. As a former teacher, I sometimes miss this engaged, curious interaction, so I have been thoroughly enjoying this stage of post-publication where I get to read with kids.  I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always loved interacting with kids and now I’m getting to do both. I am a happy camper!

Your latest book, Goodnight, Manger, was released today. What are you working on next?

I have several more picture book projects in progress and I always have a few poems percolating. If your readers are interested in finding out the latest, they can check out my blog.  I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo of Laura Sassi used with her permission. Thanks for coming to our library Laura!


Tin Foil Regatta

tin foil regattaHoist the sail and glide down a tin foil waterway! You can race another boat, or simply bob along at your own pace. This project was designed for a story time at my community pool. The project had to be simple, creative, and appeal to a wide age range. Since there were 50 kids at the program, the project also needed to be inexpensive and easy to assemble, with minimal adult assistance.

We also needed a super fun book. And I knew just the one to read!

We enjoyed The Old Pirate of Central Park by Robert Priest (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). In an apartment in New York City, an old retired pirate builds a model of his former ship. Excited, he take the ship to the Central Park Sailboat Pond. The Laughing Dog sails the waves beautifully, and the Pirate is delighted. But then a retired Queen arrives with her ship, the S.S. Uppity Duchess. The Queen’s ship races around the pond, being rude and swamping other boats. When the Pirate tries to put a stop to the rampage, the Queen’s ship opens fire! The Laughing Dog fires back and the “infamous battle of Central Park” begins (very funny, you must read it). Finally, in need of a nap, the Queen declares an end to the battle and proposes a truce. The Queen and the Pirate shake hands and peace returns to the pond. Now the Queen and the Pirate are friends, they enjoy the sailboat pond together – the two “Old Retirates” of Central Park.

You’ll need:

Begin by hot gluing 4 corks together. Then, hot glue 4 craft sticks on top of the corks. Finish by hot gluing a wooden bead to the center of the craft stick deck. Your boat’s base should now look like this:

boat bodyWe prepped 50 of these boat bases in advance of the program. We also prepped the sails by punching holes in the top and bottom of a triangle of white construction paper.

holes punched in sailI made a dozen extra sails in case some ripped, got dunked the water, got lost in the fray, or someone made a coloring mistake and wanted to start again (and all four things happened at the program, multiple times!).

Insert a wooden coffee stirrer into the hole of the wooden bead. If necessary, stabilize the coffee stirrer with hot glue or colored masking tape. Make sure to have extra stirrers on hand, in case the first one you grab doesn’t fit into the bead’s hole.

sailboat mastDecorate the sail with markers, then slide it onto the coffee stirrer

sail on mastTo make the sailboat’s flag, wrap a section of colored masking tape around the top of the coffee stirrer. You can leave your flag square, or trim the sides with scissors to make it triangular.

flag stepsYour boat is finished! I managed to snap a few photos of boats at the program. Look how much personality they have!

We also had this fantastic non-boat creation…a pair of fish made out of tin foil and colored masking tape. Awesome.

fishNow for the waterway! The waterway idea is from FamilyFun magazine (they called it “The Tinnissippi River.” How cute is that?). Basically, you use a whole lot of tin foil to make a long, high-sided tray (I recommend doubling up the tin foil to make it extra strong). Then you fill the tray with water. Our waterway was 10-12 feet long. I didn’t get a good photo of the waterway during the program, so I recreated a shorter version of it for this post:

full tin foil sheetAlas, our waterway sprung a leak during the pool program. But quick-thinking Katie filled up several dish tubs with water. The kids were just as happy to float their boats in the tubs, so if you don’t want go the tin foil route, just grab a couple dish tubs and set sail. Or haul that old baby pool out of the garage and fill it up!

tub alternativeIf you want to turn this activity into a riveting regatta, give the kids drinking straws and instruct them to use the straws to blow their boats down the waterway. First one to the end wins!

You’ve Got Mail

you've got mailWaiting for that special letter from a special pal? Wait no more! We made hats and mailbags, and then headed to the post office to collect and deliver. When the job was finished, there was a lovely letter (and Seuss stamps) at the counter, just for you!

letter and stampsWe read A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion Books, 2014). Leo the mailman (or technically speaking, the mailanimal) is always busy delivering boxes, letters and packages to the friendly citizens of his town. Sadly, however, Leo has never received a letter himself! One day, he rescues a lost baby bird named Cheep. As time passes, the two friends become a little family. But when spring arrives, Cheep needs to rejoin to his flock. They bid each other a tearful farewell, and Cheep flies away. Leo returns to his regular rounds, but life doesn’t feel the same anymore. Then, one day, Leo receives a letter from…guess who? A little birdie with a big heart! This is a warm and beautiful book, and, if you really want to choke up, check out the final illustration!

You’ll need:

  • 1 strip of blue poster board (approximately 3.25″ x 22″)
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board for hat brim (approximately 4.5″ x 7″)
  • 1 hat brim template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board (approximately 7″ x 9″ )
  • 1 strip of red poster board (approximately 1″ x 22″)
  • 1 manila folder
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • Hole punch
  • 1 piece of ribbon (approximately 41″)
  • 1 small envelope (mine was 4.75″ x 6.5″)
  • 1 letter template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white printer paper
  • 1 strip of stickers to use as “stamps” (optional)
  • 1 post office and post office game (more on that later!)
  • Pencil, scissors, stapler, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

finished mail hatBegin with the hat! Circle a 3″ x 22″ strip of blue poster board around your head, and staple it closed. Print and cut the hat brim template, then trace the template onto a square of blue poster board. You’ll notice that there are three dotted lines on the template. Keeping the template on top of the poster board, cut along the dotted lines. You now have 4 tabs in the hat brim like so:

hat brim step 1Set the hat circle on top of the brim. The edge of the hat circle should just cover the bottom of the hat brim tabs. Soft-fold fold the tabs upwards, creating a soft crease on each tab.

hat brim step 2Remove the brim from the hat circle, and hard-fold the tabs along the creases.

hat brim step 3Return the brim to the underside of the hat circle, and fold and tape the tabs inside the hat.This will bend the hat circle into more of an oval, but that’s totally OK! I found that it was easier to tape the brim with the hat flipped upside down like this:

hat brim step 4Now place the top of the hat circle on a rectangle of blue poster board. Use a pencil to trace its perimeter onto the poster board.

top of hatCut out the oval, and tape it to the top of the hat. Finish by taping a red poster board strip around the hat as a hat band!

finished mail hatTo make the mailbag, cut a manila folder until it is approximately 8.5″ x 10.5″ Staple the sides together (but not the top of course) and used colored masking tape to cover the staples. Decorate with markers if desired. Punch a set of holes at the top, and knot a ribbon through each hole to create the strap. You’re ready for your rounds!

mailbagWe had a huge cardboard box just begging to be made into a post office. Katie took the lead on this one and I must say, she totally surpassed herself. Look at that sturdy counter! The fancy tiled roof! The red border!

post officeWe also made 5 mailboxes with 5 matching letters or packages. Mainly, we used wrapping paper tubes, oatmeal containers, craft boxes, patterned paper, construction paper, and some items from the Bling Bin.

green mailboxyellow mailboxorange mailboxred mailboxblue mailboxThen we whipped up some mail route cards. Each card was labeled “Deliver” or “Collect”  and color-coded to a particular mailbox and piece of mail. The game began with a Deliver card. A kid came to the post office, picked up a Deliver card, and put the 5 pieces of mail in his/her mailbag. Then, following the color-coding on the card, he/she delivered the mail to the correct mailboxes.

delivery card and mailboxWhen the job was done, he/she returned to the post office to find that a letter had arrived for him/her, as well as a set of “stamps” (i.e. spare stickers I had in the art cabinet)! The letter replicates the sweet message Cheep wrote to Leo (such a wonderful book). Ten bonus points if you noticed that I put the letters in purple envelopes, completing the rainbow created by the 5 mailboxes. Heh heh.

letter and stampsAnd thus, the mail was delivered. Next, another kid came to the post office and received a Collect card. He/She had to travel to all the boxes, collect the mail in his/her bag, and return it to the post office. Then the whole process started again with another kid and a Deliver card.

Color matching? Logic? Sequential thinking? It sounds awesome doesn’t it?

Well, I’ve promised to report the good, the bad, and the ugly on this blog, and therefore I must report that we had a complete activity fail. There were 2 dozen kids at story time that day. They loved the activity, but it…took…way…too…long. In the beginning, blazing with optimism, I positioned the 5 mailboxes around the gallery so kids could walk to them.

trip to red mailboxWell, walking took some time. So did figuring out the color coding. So did opening the little mailbox doors and adding or removing the mail. So did stuffing the mail in the mailbag. So did removing the mail from the mailbag.

As the clock ticked waaaay past the end of story time, I had to make some on-the-fly adjustments. I squished all the mailboxes together. I asked the kids to leave their mail bags at the post office and carry the mail in their hands. I opened the doors of the mailboxes to allow for quicker stuffing and removal. It still took ages.

lined up boxesIf I was to do this over again, I would still have 5 mailboxes and 5 matching pieces of mail. But I would have each kid deliver or collect just 1 piece of matching mail, not all 5. That way, you could have 5 kids out on route at a time, which would move things right along. Ah well. The good news is that everyone (finally) got a turn, everyone got some stamps, and everyone received a lovely letter.

cute mail bagBy the way, you don’t have to make a fancy post office or mailboxes to play the mail game. A tabletop will do just as nicely as a post office. A couple of shoe boxes wrapped in colored paper make great mailboxes. You can even skip the mail boxes and deliver the mail directly to your favorite stuffed animal friends!