Flight of the Dragon

flight of the dragonThis colorful dragon marionette twists, turns, dives, and flies with you! It was a project at To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8.

We read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2009). Minli lives in a poor village overshadowed by Fruitless Mountain. When she impulsively spends her money on a goldfish, her outraged mother demands that she release the fish into the river. Minli obeys, but is shocked when the fish speaks to her of Never-Ending Mountain, where the Old Man of the Moon can answer any question Minli asks – including how she can improve her family’s fortunes. This sends Minli on an epic quest to reach Never-Ending Mountain. Along the way, she is joined by a flightless dragon, who wants to ask the Old Man of the Moon how he can fly again. The two travelers encounter many obstacles, but eventually reach the top of Never-Ending Mountain, where Minli must choose between her own wish, and the wish of her faithful dragon friend.

Minli, of course, makes the right choice and the dragon flies again. We had some HUGE dragon fans at the program, so I thought it would be fantastic for them to make their own dragons to fly.

finished flying dragonYou’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4″ x 4″ x 4″ – a small tissue box works)
  • 1 large box (mine was 4.5″ X 4.5” x 6” – a large tissue box works)
  • A box cutter
  • 2 pieces of elastic beading cord or string (mine were 22″ long)
  • 2 small craft sticks (mine were 3″ long)
  • Construction paper
  • A small rectangle of poster board (approximately 1.25″ x 2.75″)
  • 1 flying dragon template, printed on four, 8.5″ x 11″ pieces of white card stock
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • Scissors, tape, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating

The important thing about marionettes is making sure that the strings stay securely attached! This marionette has two strings – one for each box. Begin by knotting each piece of elastic beading cord (or string) around a craft stick. Since elastic beading cord knots tend to come undone, it helps to wrap the knots with masking tape.

Use a box cutter to cut small slits in the tops of each box, then thread the free end of the cord through the slit. My boxes had lids, so here’s a shot of the open lids with the craft stick anchors in place. If you’re using tissue boxes, simply flip the tissue boxes over so the holes are facing downwards.

marionette stringsConnect the two boxes together with a 1.25″ x 2.75″ rectangle of poster board that is tabbed at both ends (my tabs were approximately 0.75″ each). Tape the connector’s tabs to each box.

poster board connectorNext, wrap the boxes with construction paper (we went with layered strips of construction paper, cut to resemble dragon scales). Cut and color the dragon pieces from the template and attach them to the boxes. If you don’t have time to color in all the template pieces, here is a full color version. We added some craft tie spines and curls along the top of the dragon as well!

You’ll notice that there are two tail pieces on the template. Match them up, staple them together, tab along the dotted lines, and then tape the tabs to the back of the large box.

taped dragon tailWhen your dragon is finished, tie the elastic cords to a wooden dowel (and secure the knots with tape if needed). Your dragon is ready to fly!

finished flying dragon

This Castle’s a Keeper

illuminated castle tissue boxOn the market for some truly radiant real estate? Perhaps this elegant castle votive will do! This simple, but way cool project was part of To Be Continued, our story time for kids ages 6-8.

We read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (Puffin, 2015). Castle Hangnail isn’t the most ideal evil castle. For starters, it’s situated on grassy hills peppered with flowers (as opposed to, say, a wind-blasted cliff or a lonely moor). But an ever bigger issue is that currently, it doesn’t have a resident Evil Master or Mistress. Soon, it will be magically decommissioned and shut down for good. Desperate, the castle’s faithful minions send out a final round of invitations. They get just one response. A 12 year-old Wicked Witch named Eudaimonia. Or at least the girl says her name is Eudaimonia. In reality, her name is Molly, and she is a maybe-not-so-wicked witch who has told some whopper lies to her parents in order to fill the castle’s vacancy. Molly quickly falls in love with Hangnail Castle and the minions. In fact, everything appears to be working out beautifully – until the real Eudaimonia shows up. Will Molly and her friends be able to win Castle Hangnail back from the Evil Sorceress?

A shadow spell plays an important role in the book, so I wanted to do a project that involved castles, light, and shadow. Also, we had only 20 minutes at the program to complete the project, so I needed something simple. This castle votive project fit the bill perfectly!

illuminated castleYou’ll need:

  • 2 castle template pages (more on this below), printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • An x-acto knife
  • A small box with a window in the lid – the top of a small tissue box works great!
  • 1 large square of tin foil (mine was 12″ x12″)
  • 2 castle borders template pages, printed on 8.5″ x 14″ paper
  • Scissors and glue for construction
  • Metallic markers (optional)
  • 1 LED votive
  • Hot glue

Usually, I draw the project templates myself. But while researching the project, Marissa discovered this beautiful little castle votive by artist Lova Blåvarg. Lova’s castle is in color, but we thought it looked more Gothic when we printed it in black and white. The template and instructions for making Lova’s castle can be found here.

castle template finished

Castle by Lova Blåvarg for Sweet Paul magazine

The most time consuming part of the project is cutting all the little castle windows out with an x-acto knife. Marissa, the champion of all things x-acto, printed, cut, and hot glued 16 castles in preparation for the program. That’s 64 castle panels and 640 tiny little windows! Daaaaang.

You could make the castle, drop in the LED votive, and stop there. But I wanted to add a base to give the project a little more heft. I used these window boxes from Discount School Supply. The boxes are nice and sturdy, but a set of 12 costs $17, which can get pricey.

window boxA cheaper option is to use the top of a small tissue box. Cut approximately 2.5″ off the bottom of the box. If you don’t like the pattern, cover it with your choice of construction paper. Remove any plastic from around the mouth of the box, and your base is ready to go!

cut tissue boxLine the inside of the box with a square of tin foil (if you’re using a tissue box, you’ll need to secure the tin foil in place with tape and peel it back from the mouth of the box).

foil inside boxNext, print the castle borders template and select your favorites. Glue the borders to the sides of the box, Then hot glue the castle to the top of the box. Done! Here’s the finished window box version:

finished castle window boxAnd here’s the finished tissue box version:

finished castle tissue boxWe offered the kids metallic markers for additional decorating, but this step is totally optional. Finally, drop an LED votive into the box and bask in the glow! Here’s the illuminated window box version:

illuminated castle window boxAnd here’s the tissue box version! The halo of light coming out of the bottom is rather cool, don’t you think? In fact, I believe I like the tissue box version better than the more expensive window box version.

illuminated castle tissue boxAnd speaking of glowing, when we did the project for the program, I darkened the gallery, turned out the lights, and had the kids create by “candlelight.” The effect was very cozy actually. Ah, home sweet castle!

working on castle

Gold Fever

gold fever

It sparkles and shimmers. Could it be gold? Well, you might strike gold and get rich…or you might be fooled by some glittery pyrite! We made some awesome geology connections at To Be Continued, our story time for 6-8 year-olds, including rocks that sing!

We read Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach (Henry Holt, 2011). Brothers Simon, Henry, and Jack have moved from Chicago to Superstition, Arizona. The sleepy little town is shadowed by the looming and unforgiving Superstition Mountain, which has a history that none of the adults seem to want to share. The boys have been forbidden to go into the mountains, but when Josie the cat runs away, they follow her and soon uncover a mystery that involves three human skulls, a lost gold mine, and the strange, seemingly supernatural, power of the mountain. Can the boys and their friend Delilah survive Superstition?

In addition to a secret gold mine (which is totally awesome), Missing on Superstition Mountain has quite a bit about rocks, landscapes, and geology. When we finished the book, I thought it would be cool to do some rock-based activities. And Princeton University have some fantastic resources when it comes to geology.

department of geosciencesFirst, we took a walk across campus to Guyot Hall, home of the Department of Geosciences. Their central office space is lined with display cases full of rocks, gems, fossils, and minerals.

case 1The kids oohed and aahed over some of the precious stones…

case 2But were equally impressed by the gigantic mineral specimens!

case 3We visited a Allosaurus skeleton and a T. Rex skull on our way out of the building. Yes!

dinosaur skeletonBack at the library, I had samples of pyrite for the kids to look at (courtesy of Laurel Goodell, manager of the undergraduate labs in geosciences). Pyrite is called “Fool’s Gold” because of its sparkly gold appearance, but it’s actually a mineral.

pyriteThe kids couldn’t take home the big samples of pyrite, but I did find some smaller pieces on Amazon. I bought three, 0.2 ounce boxes of pyrite nuggets for $5.79 a box. They arrived powdered with black grit, so be prepared to do some major rinsing, and maybe a little scrubbing, before you given them to kids. But as you can see below, they cleaned up nicely and there were some pretty good sized pieces in there.

pyrite nuggetsThe kids took their stash home in a cotton drawstring bag (left over from this event). I also tucked a little information sheet inside the bag too (here’s the template if you’re interested). But I saved the best geology connection for last. Did you know that some rocks can produce musical notes?

lithophoneThis is a lithophone. It’s a xylophone with tone bars that are made out of stone (as opposed to wood or metal). When you strike the stones with a mallet, they produce a musical tone. But not all rocks sing! It takes a lot of trial and error, as well as a lot of chipping and grinding to make rock tone bars. The stones you see above are limestone, sandstone, and granite.

The lithophone was made by Tom Kaufman, owner of Tinkertunes Music Studio in Michigan. I commissioned him to build it for a Journey to the Centre of the Earth event in 2013. After the event, the lithophone went to its new home in the geosciences lab.

Ready for a little rock concert?


If you think that’s cool, you should check out Tom’s lithophone fence. It plays “Row Row Row Your Boat” as you run around it with a mallet! The fence was installed at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan for ArtPrize, an annual art contest.


Many thanks to Laurel Goodell and the Department of Geosciences for the pyrite and lithophone loan!