Don’t Get Caught

dont-get-caughtNavigate your way through a laser maze, steal a bear from a snoring sleeper, and snag some hidden diamonds. Stealthiness, sneakiness, and silence are strongly encouraged at To Be Continued, our story time for 6-8 year-olds!

We read Pilfer Academy by Lauren Magaziner (Dial Books, 2016). George isn’t a bad kid, but he just can’t seem to keep his hands off his siblings’ stuff. His older brothers’ stereo, for example. Those comic books he’s not supposed to touch. The $10 on the night table. His sister’s private diary. When George is once again caught red-handed, he bolts out of the house…and is kidnapped by a pair of inept ice-cream truck drivers. As it turns out, the truck is a fake, and the drivers are faculty at Pilfer Academy, an elite school for master thievery. George soon finds himself taking classes like Stealth 101, Practical Applications of Breaking and Entering, and Intro to Gadgetry. But when it comes time to steal for his midterm exam, George discover that he feels horrible about it. Now George and his talented friend Tabitha must find a way to escape Pilfer Academy. Would I be giving too much away if I tell you the escape involves guard chickens, a pit of spaghetti, a deadly laser room, and a runaway mansion?

Story Time Task #1: In the book, George and Tabitha navigate a laser obstacle course, something I’ve been dying to create ever since I spotted this fantastic piece of fun. To create the course, we zig-zagged green crepe paper streamers on our gallery bridge. The streamers were attached with masking tape.

laser-obstacle-courseStarting at the bottom of the bridge, kids had to squeeze, crawl, and slide through the course without touching a single “laser beam.” I stood nearby, making “Zzzzzt!” laser noises at key moments.

navigating-the-lasersStory Time Task #2: George’s midterm exam involves stealing a teddy bear from a sleeping toddler. I grabbed a bear puppet, flopped on some pillows, closed my eyes, and started snoring wildly.

dr-dana-snoresOne by one, the kids had to sneak up and grab the bear without me noticing them (and they were quite astonishingly good at this). To increase the challenge, sometimes I would randomly thrash around in my sleep, throw the bear around, or grab it tightly to my chest.

stealing-the-bearStory Time Task #3: The diamond hunt. Pilfer Academy is a massive Gothic mansion with arches, spires, and stained-glass windows. I thought it would be fantastic to immerse kids in a similar environment, so we headed over to one of my favorite places, the Chancellor Green Rotunda.

chancellor-green-rotundaThis beautiful room was once the original library for Princeton University. Now it’s a study space for the Andlinger Humanities Center. Here’s a shot of its elegant stained-glass dome.

rotunda-skylightOn this particular afternoon, however, the room was full of hidden diamonds!

bag-of-diamondsI found these acrylic diamonds in the wedding section of Michaels Craft store. A $5 pack contained over 75 diamonds of assorted sizes (from 0.75″ to 1″). I hid the larger diamonds in various locations in the room.

diamond-in-windowSometimes I got a little sneaky. Can you spot the diamond in the wood paneling below?

diamond-in-wooden-panelOne by one, kids went searching for diamonds in the room. Once you found two diamonds, it was another person’s turn to search. And you had to be completely silent while searching!

search-for-diamondsAt the end of the program, each kid got to take home a little drawstring bag with some diamonds in it. Score!

This book was a terrific read-aloud, and we had a total blast with the activities – but it gets even better. Last weekend, the Princeton Public Library held their annual Children’s Book Festival, and guess who I got to meet?

lauren-magazinerThat’s right! Lauren Magaziner herself! Totally rocking a bandit mask, I must say. Thanks for the fantastic book Lauren. We absolutely loved it.

p.s. – Total props for using the word “collywobbles” in your book. The kids didn’t believe it was an actual word. We looked it up in the dictionary!

Natty Nessie Neckwear

nessie-neckgearNever has a Loch Ness Monster sighting had so much style! Customize a super-long Nessie scarf, then circle the scarf on the floor to create a tossing game that involves…believe it or not…a bowl of oatmeal!

We read The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster: A Tale of Picky Eating, written by A.W. Flaherty, and illustrated by Scott Magoon (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Little Katerina-Elizabeth is going to visit her grandmother in Scotland, and it’s her very first time traveling alone on a big ocean liner. Her parents, planning ahead, select what they believe to be the absolute best breakfast food for their little girl. Oatmeal. Katerina-Elizabeth loathes oatmeal and promptly tosses it out a porthole. The oatmeal is discovered by a tiny sea worm who eagerly eats it and grows twice its size. The sea worm follows the ship across the ocean, gobbling the oatmeal as fast as Katerina-Elizabeth can toss it overboard. They form a friendship that lasts all the way to Loch Ness where the boat disembarks. There, the sea worm discovers that Scottish children also hate oatmeal. It circles Loch Ness, grazing on oatmeal and growing to monstrous proportions. To keep the tourists intrigued and the oatmeal coming, the Loch Ness Monster allows itself to be seen on rare occasions. But the most famous sighting is when the sea worm rises out of the water to give Katerina-Elizabeth a friendly smooch as she sails home. I won’t give away the very end of the story, but rest assured it had all the parents at story time cracking up!

You’ll need:

We wanted the kids to have really long scarves for this project, but we didn’t want them tripping over their new neckwear! Ultimately, we went with 5″ x 56″ scarves that we shaped into round heads, tapered bodies, and dragon-like tails. We also hot glued green felt fins towards the front end of the scarves (about 13″ down from the top of the head). We prepped the scarves in advance. Here’s a shot of an undecorated scarf so you can see the shape:

nessie-scarf-shapeAt story time, we gave kids a whole pile of self-adhesive foam to cut and apply to their scarves (just make sure you test how well the adhesive sticks to your felt – ours stuck surprisingly well). Hot glue wiggle eyes and a pair of 12″ curling ribbon whiskers on the head, and you’re done!

nessie-faceKids got really creative with their Loch Ness Monsters. Here’s just a few I managed to snap. This one’s got a pretty fantastic pair of lips:

nessie-1And this one’s sporting an impressive set of teeth…

nessie-2There were flowers…

nessie-3And manicures!

nessie-4But here’s my favorite. This little girl spent a long time making a color gradient down her Loch Ness Monster’s back. She did this all by herself!

nessie-5To make the oatmeal bowl for the toss game, decorate a paper bowl with patterned tape and self-adhesive foam. Fill the bowl with a handful of polyester fill. Don’t glue or tape the oatmeal in the bowl. It’s funnier when it flies out during the toss game!

bowl-of-oatmealMake as many bowls of oatmeal as you like. Then circle the scarf on the floor, step back, and try to toss the bowls into the circle.

nessie-ring-tossIf the circle toss is a little too challenging, stretch the scarf straight and toss the oatmeal over it like a finish line!

nessie-line-tossWhen you’re done with the toss game, drape your Nessie around your shoulders for the ultimate look in Loch Ness apparel.


Speaking of mysterious creature sightings, did you know that Bigfoot has been spotted twice on this blog? You can catch a glimpse here and here!

Bon Appétit!

bon-appetitMake delicious crêpes to order with this fantastic crêpe cart! Pour the fabric batter onto the griddle, add a number of felt toppings, sprinkle on a bit of sucre from your counter top shaker, then use your spatula to fold the crêpe at just the right time. The cart’s signs are printed in both English and French (with helpful pronunciation guides), so your customers can order like Parisian pros! C’est Magnifique!

We read Crêpes by Suzette by Monica Wellington (Dutton, 2004). Suzette sells crêpes from her street cart in Paris, concocting delicious treats with her batter, griddle, and spatula. The postman orders his crêpes with fresh raspberries, a child loves chocolate and banana, a dancer orders zesty lemon. Mmmm! In addition to telling a sweet story, the book is illustrated with photos of Paris. The hand drawings that overlay the photos include nods to van Gogh, Picasso, Cassatt, Matisse, and Degas. In the back of the book is a crêpe recipe, a glossary, and notes on the French artists depicted in the illustrations.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box (mine was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 4 plastic, wooden, or cardboard wheels
  • 2 bamboo skewers
  • 2 drinking straws
  • 1 corrugated cardboard rectangle for your cart’s counter top
  • 1 strip of poster board for cart’s handle (approximately 1.5″ x 10.75″)
  • 1 8oz paper cup
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 4 small plastic cups (I used 1.25oz Solo cups)
  • 1 small paper plate (mine was 9.75″ in diameter)
  • Tin foil
  • 1 crepe cart template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • 1 umbrella template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 2 foam beads
  • 1 balloon stick
  • 1 jumbo craft stick (mine was 8″ long)
  • 3 circles of white cloth (mine were 6″ in diameter)
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 3 circles of silver poster board or mirror board
  • Pieces of brown, red, pink, yellow, and purple felt
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Our cart had plastic wheels (you’ve seen in this pull-along animal, this pig parade float, and this race car post). But you can also use wooden on cardboard wheels. If you don’t want your cart to roll, simply hot glue the wheels to the sides. But if you want a rolling cart, our wheel assembly is as follows…tape drinking straws to the bottom of the box, thread wooden bamboo skewers through the straws, and stick wheels on the ends of the skewers.

crepe-cart-step-1We slid foam beads on the ends of the axles to keep the wheels from popping off, but tape works too! Next, decorate the box, the corrugated cardboard counter top, the white poster board cart handle, and a paper cup with patterned tape. Attach these items to the cart like so:

crepe-cart-step-2Two important things about the cart’s counter top! 1) Make sure it’s wide enough to fit your small paper plate (our counter tops were 7.5″ x 9.75″); 2) It’s a little hard to tell in the above photo, but make sure the paper cup end of the counter top is flush against the side of the box. Otherwise, your umbrella won’t attach correctly. And speaking of paper cups, notice how ours is taped towards the back of the cart? That’s so you won’t keep bumping into the umbrella while reaching for your crêpe supplies.

Next, tape 4 small plastic cups to the back of the cart (these will hold your crêpe fillings later). Cover a small paper plate with tin foil, then hot glue it to the side of the counter top closest to the cart’s handle. Here’s a bird’s eye view:

birds-eye-view-crepe-cartThe umbrella comes next! Cut the umbrella octagon from the template (we printed ours on yellow card stock). Decorate it with markers, then use scissors to cut a slit from one of the points of the octagon to its center.

umbrella-step-1Carefully mountain fold the octagon along its remaining points.

umbrella-step-2Cut a small slice in the top (this is where your umbrella pole will poke through). Next, slide one of the octagon’s triangle folds under another, then tape the octagon closed.

umbrella-step-3This results in a seven-sided umbrella canopy with a hole in the top.

umbrella-step-4Now stick a foam bead on the end of a balloon stick.

umbrella-step-5Slide the umbrella canopy up the stick to meet the foam bead.

umbrella-step-6Slide a second foam bead up the stick to secure the umbrella’s canopy in place. In the below photo, you can see the umbrella canopy wedged between a red bead and an orange bead.

umbrella-step-7Tape the umbrella to the stand. If the balloon stick extends past the bottom of the cart, use scissors to clip off the excess.

umbrella-step-8Now it’s time to stock your cart! Cut and decorate the signs from the crêpe cart template, and glue (or tape) them to the front of the cart. The crêpe batter and spatula go into the paper cup. Our “batter” was an old fabric tablecloth (thank you recycling program!). Each batter circle was 6″ in diameter, and there were 3 circles per cart. The spatula was an 8″ craft stick wrapped in tin foil with a colored tape handle.

crepe-and-spatulaSitting on top of the cart are your sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate canisters. Each canister was 1/2 of a toilet paper tube with a template label affixed to it. The sugar and cinnamon had little circles of silver mirror board hot glued to the tops (we used Sharpie to draw little holes in the tops too). The chocolate canister’s circle is hot glued to the bottom of the tube. Then it gets stuffed with bits of brown felt.

crepe-cart-canistersThe little plastic cups on the back of the cart are also filled with bits of felt. Pink for strawberry, red for raspberry, yellow for banana, and purple for plum.

filled-crepe-cart-containersVoilà! Your cart is finished! So, how exactly do you make a crêpe? You put the circle of batter on the griddle, add some felt ingredients, fold the crêpe in half with the spatula, fold the crêpe in half again, then serve it to your customer.

crepe-chefOr maybe it would just be easier to show you…in French no less!

This project did require some research. It just so happens that Princeton has a fantastic, independently-owned, fresh-local-ingredient-loving crêpe haven called Jammin’ Crêpes. Marissa and I dragged ourselves there to make sure our crêpe cart was 100% accurate (we, um, drag ourselves there just about every week too).

jammin-crepes-1Here’s a griddle at work. You can just see the special spatula on the white cutting board…

jammin-crepes-2The crepe arrives at your table in a beautiful, warm wedge of deliciousness. I’m trying to work my way through the restaurant’s generous menu of sweet and savory crêpes, but I keep getting stalled on their hammin’ cheese melty with seasonal pickles and mustard aioli. Mmmmmm…

jammin-crepes-3Jammin’ Crêpes LOVED the little crêpe cart! It received their official stamp of approval.

jammin-crepes-4Did I – heh heh – mention Jammin’ Crêpes makes their own nutella spread with hazelnuts, almonds, and chocolate? I think…I need to do some more crêpe research. Right. NOW.

(Sound of chair being pushed back and feet tearing out of office)