Bananas Faster

bananas fasterThis banana’s going mobile, thanks to its CD wheels and rubber band engine! And why did we rig this fruit to roll? Four words: fusion, bananas, trolls, and technology. This feat of engineering was was constructed at To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8!

We read The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery written by P.G. Bell, and illustrated by Matt Sharack (Feiwel and Friends, 2018). When strange noises wake Suzy Smith, she discovers an enormous, unusual-looking train in her kitchen. Suzy quickly (and voluntarily) gets caught in a fast-paced adventure in The Union of Impossible Places, a collection of unusual and fantastical worlds that can be traversed by the Impossible Postal Express train. Unfortunately, Suzy’s first package delivery goes horribly wrong when the package speaks, begging not to be delivered. This doesn’t make the package’s recipient, a powerful sorceress named Lady Crepuscula, very happy. Soon more then a few people are chasing Suzy and her friends as the true nature of the package, and what it means for future of the Impossible Places, is revealed.

In the book, the steam train is built, and primarily staffed by, trolls. And “troll technology” is the awesomely hodge podge way trolls build things. The train is also fueled by fusion bananas, which crackle with blue electricity and are a mite explosive (they also, incidentally, turn your hair blonde). We wanted the kids to experience of troll technology while also putting a banana in motion!

You’ll need:

This project was inspired by a banana car designed by YouTuber GrandadIsAnOldMan. However, we modified ours to fit the materials we had on hand. Begin by hot gluing 2 mini craft sticks across 2 jumbo craft sticks like so:

banana car step 1Next, cut a toilet paper tube in half, then hot glue it on top of the mini craft sticks:

banana car step 2This creates your “banana saddle,” which keeps the bottom of your banana from interfering with the rubber band motor. Here’s a side view of the finished saddle:

banana car saddleTo create the rubber band motor, tightly wrap a brass fastener around the center of a 5.75″ piece of bamboo skewer. You want to prongs to be nice and tight, but make sure there’s still a little room under the head of the brass fastener for the rubber band.

banana car brass fastenerCut a drinking straw into 3 pieces (two 1.5″ pieces, and one 3.75″ piece). Thread the 2 smaller pieces on either side of the bamboo skewer with the brass fastener. Then thread the larger straw piece onto the other bamboo skewer. Hot glue the straws directly to the jumbo craft sticks, then loop a rubber band onto the center of the longer straw. The underside of your car should now look like this:

banana car step 3Later, you will wrap the rubber band around the head of the brass fastener, then wind the wheel and the axle to tighten the rubber band and prime the banana car’s “motor”:

banana car step 4The car’s wheels are surplus CDs we obtained via donation from various University departments. We pushed a foam bead through the holes of each CDs, then hot glued them for extra security. Slide the wheels onto the ends of the bamboo skewers, then hot glue another foam bead to the outside of each wheel.

finished banana carThe car is ready to go…all you need is a banana! We actually went with FAKE bananas for this project (Amazon: 6 cost $11). Firstly, fake bananas don’t ripen inconveniently. Secondly, fake bananas are lighter, which meant that the cars would roll a little further.

And roll that banana car did! Wind the rubber band up and let it go…


We also tested this car with a real banana, which was much heavier. As predicted, the car didn’t roll as far. But you might be able to remedy that with a thicker rubber band. Or visit the original source of the project on YouTube: GrandadIsAnOldMan for some helpful hints. And hey! It’s engineering! Trial and error are part of the fun!


Many thanks to Princeton University’s Rockefeller College and Office of the Registrar for recycling their surplus CDs for this project! 

A Moving Map

a moving mapA shifting map full of flying horses, hungry demons, mystical landscapes, and the New Jersey turnpike? This could only be a project for To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for ages 6-8!

We read The Serpent’s Secret: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond by Sayantani Dasgupta, with illustrations by Vivienne To (Scholastic, 2018). Kiranmala is a regular girl, living in New Jersey with her loving, if not slightly eccentric, parents. For example, they insist that every Halloween (which also happens to be her birthday), she dress as an Indian princess, complete with bangles, necklaces, and a silk sari. In fact, they insist she is a REAL Indian princess. Oh, and they also want her to sleep with the curtains open during a full moon, and dig a snake moat around the house.

Everything changes the day Kiran turns 12. Her parents disappear, a rakkhosh demon demolishes her house, and 2 princes on flying horses (one armed with a sword, the other with sarcasm) inform her that she is, indeed, a princess from another dimension. Now Kiran must rescue her parents, save her friends, and discover who she really is in the process.

In the book, Kiran and her “friend” Prince Neel (it’s complicated) use a moving map to locate Kiran’s parents. As the name suggests, the land masses in Kiran’s dimension don’t stay in one place, they shift – requiring a map that can shift as well. Hmmmm…a continuously shifting landscape? Sounds like a job for myriorama cards!

myriorama cards for the serpents secret combo 1Myriorama cards, which debuted in 19th century Europe, are these cool little decks of cards with matching skies and horizon lines (I review of a modern deck of myriorama cards in this post). No matter what order you put the cards in, they always sync to create a continuous landscape or story. See how I flipped the above cards around a little to make a new map below?

myriorama cards for the serpents secret combo 2You’ll need:

  • 1 pack of 3″ x 5″ blank white index cards
  • Pen and markers/color pencils

It’s easiest to use 3″ x 5″ blank index cards. On the first card, use a pen to mark where you want your horizon and land lines to go. Next, mark the other cards in the deck, making sure they all match. Now draw a landscape or scene on each card, always matching the horizon and land lines.

moving map stepsFor our story time activity, I gave each kid a colorful envelope bedecked with a silver embossed foil seal (a subtle nod to a moon maiden in the book). Inside the envelope were 6 finished myriorama cards to get the kids started (including characters and scenes from the book, of course!). The cards were black and white so the kids could color them in. There were 3 blank cards in the envelope, as well as a stack of more blank cards, so they could let their imaginations run free.

Also in the envelope? Some large gemstones – another nod to the book. One story time kid got the Serpent’s Secret reference right away. He grabbed a blank myriorama card and quickly sketched a moving map, then gazed through the Python Jewel to decipher it! #superproudliteracyeducator

moving map and the python jewel If you’d like the myriorama cards I drew, you’ll find the black and white template here, and the color template here. However! I will say the cards are not perfect. The horizon and land lines matched up when I drew them, but somehow between scanning them, setting them, and turning them into a pdf they don’t quite match up on the final templates. Did the kids care? They did not.

Also! I’m not a trained artist…even though I have to say, I liked how my rakkosh turned out.

Rangers at the Ready

rangers at the ready

Bust out your compass and conjure up some snaplights! The Blue Ranger Patrol is prepared for all eventualities…including the supernatural ones. Those handsome Squirrel badges and neckerchiefs were earned at To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for 6-8 year-olds.

We read Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August (Roaring Brook Press, 2018). After moving from place to place, Arlo Finch, his big sister Jaycee, and their mom have landed in Pine Mountain, Colorado. Pine Mountain is remote, the cabin is creepy, and Arlo’s Uncle Wade is even creepier. Also, something is wrong with the surrounding woods, beginning with the ghost dog that prowls the property. Arlo joins the Rangers, which is not unlike Boy/Girl Scouts until you factor in the seemingly supernatural abilities of his fellow patrol members. As time passes, Arlo and his friends learn not only the secrets of the Long Woods – they also learn its many dangers.

Arlo and his fellow Rangers have some memorable camp outs, so we decided to replicate that by setting up a tent (which you might recognize from this story time) in our gallery…

patrol in tentAfter “night fell” (i.e. I turned off all the overhead lights), individual campers journeyed to our gallery tree for a survival quiz. I queried them about 3 scenarios involving creatures from the book. You definitely have to read the books to know the answers (which are in bold below):

1) You’re camping with your patrol and see some dancing lights in the woods. Do you: a) Follow them; b) Take a photo; c) Tell your patrol leader you see something unusual?

2) A nightmare had just emerged from the woods in front of you! Do you: a) Run – they aren’t very fast; b) Throw salt at it; c) Conjure a snaplight.

3) A hag is chasing you through the Long Woods! Do you: a) Throw salt at her; b) Climb a tree; c) Throw Faerie beetles at her.

After correctly answering the quiz, campers were asked to demonstrate a “snaplight,” which is a short-lasting light Rangers can produce by snapping their fingers in the Long Woods. In our case, the snaplights were glow sticks, which do produce a very satisfying snap! before beginning to glow.

snaplightThe final activity was making a water compass using a sewing needle, a button magnet, and a bowl of water. I demonstrated how to do it, and then gave each kid a little kit to try at home (here are the instructions if you’re interested).

demo of water compassIn the book, Rangers earn patches for each level of accomplishment, and Squirrel is the first level. So, after completing the creature quiz, snaplight trial, and learning about compasses, campers were awarded a blue neckerchief (purchased for $2 each in the t-shirt decorating section of Michaels Craft store) and a a Squirrel patch (you can print your own set here):

squirrel patchArlo Finch in the Valley of Fire was massively popular with the kids in our program – it’s scary, suspenseful, and also very funny. I was delighted to learn that the sequel, Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon will be released February 2019. YES!