Say it with Chocolate

hello 1We’ve reviewed a lot of interesting word products on this blog (see this calligraphy kit, these spelling straws, these clay words, this bbq brander, this DIY neon letter kit, and this vanishing paper!). But today’s blog post has to be the sweetest test yet. Because Katie and her crew tested a chocolate pen. That’s right. A CHOCOLATE PEN. Take it away, Katie!

Candy Craft’s Chocolate Pen retails for around $30 and the suggested age range is 6+, though the instructions specifically say adult supervision and participation is required. I fully support this recommendation and want to add a personal observation. Children ages 10 and under will definitely need adult assistance, whereas kids 10+ should be able to do most on their own with one exception (more on this later).

The Chocolate Pen kit has everything you need to “draw & mold colorful chocolately treats.” There is ½ pounds of confectionary candy in different color pouches (white, red, blue and brown); four clamps; pen tips and caps; three mold trays; five gift bags and twist ties; and the chocolate pen itself (two AA batteries are not included). If you want to write out a word or make your own drawing, you will need to have sheets of either wax or parchment paper handy.

A quick note for those who have food allergies: the confectionery candy contains milk and soy. Please consult the nutrition facts for the full list of ingredients.

After thoroughly washing and drying the various pieces of the pen tip and the treat mold trays, I got to work putting the chocolate pen together. There are a lot of steps to follow, but the instructions describing how to prepare the confectionary candy pouches were clear and well written with informative drawings. However, the instructions did not prepare me for the frustration of attaching the candy pouch to the pen tip.

It took every ounce of my finger/hand strength to properly secure the clamp around the pen tip, which I had inserted into the open melted candy pouch. You have to leave at least 1/8” of excess pouch extending beyond the clamp for a good seal, which makes sense. It would be a disaster to have confectionery candy squirting out of the pouch and into the interior of the chocolate pen. But boy oh boy, it was a real challenge to close the clamp. It was messy, it was aggravating, and it cast serious doubt in my mind about the ability of any child being able to do it on their own (as I alluded to earlier). 

Once I was able to finally lock the clamp, I continued following the preparation instructions until I was ready to start drawing with the chocolate pen. I carefully wrote “Hello” and “Yum” in cursive on a piece of parchment paper. While it was relatively easy to write with the pen, I discovered that candy would continue to ooze out of the pen tip well after I had stopped pushing down the power button. Needless to say, I was left with a big blob of excess candy at the end of my word.

I called upon my son to lend his writing hand and give the pen a try. He wrote “Hola” and had the same problem with excess candy continue to push out of the pen tip after releasing the button. We carefully transported our words and placed them into the freezer to harden. After impatiently waiting the recommended five minutes, we took a bite of our chocolate words. The results were deliciously fantastic! The candy is quite sweet and tasty!

Next up was trying the mold trays. The mold shapes presented an unexpected challenge, due largely in part to the pen continuing to discharge candy after you stop pushing the power button. I found I had varying levels of success. I managed to create two- or three-color candies using the larger molds, but the smaller molds were very difficult. Even just pushing the power button for just 5-10 seconds caused extra candy to fill the molds too full or didn’t allow for a second color to be added. Under important information on the instructions, there is a statement that reads “results will vary from product images depending on age and skill level.” After testing this product, particularly the mold trays, I completely agree with that statement.

The Chocolate Pen is fantastic in concept, but I feel it falls very short of my excited expectations. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed eating my chocolate creations, but the frustration of trying to figure out the perfect amount of time to use the pen without the inevitable stream of extra candy made the process less than fun. The smaller mold shapes are hard to use, and sometimes the finished product didn’t easily pop out of the mold tray, as was the case for the little white music note!

Final ranking: 2 out of 5 stars

It appears the manufacturer made a significant update to this product sometime in 2020 and now offers an automatic load feature on the pen. The chocolate candy is warmed in a separate tray and you simply dip the pen into the color chocolate you want to use, load it and start creating. I’m glad they listened to their customers and made this much needed improvement. However, I’m quite curious there was any change to prevent the extra candy ooze when the pen is in use.

In accordance with State and Princeton University measures to contain the spread of coronavirus, the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library is closed until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!

Creating Words (Literally)!

Mix, pour, and paint…constructing words has never been so hands-on! Today, Katie and her intrepid assistant are test driving the “Perfect Craft” Alphabet Craft Kit by Skullduggery. Intended for children ages 8 and up, this kit allows you to make three-dimensional letters from scratch. Did our letter kit make the grade? Take it away, Katie!

The winner of several awards from Creative Child Magazine, this kit retails on for around $20. It contains 2 two bags of casting mixture, 1 silicone letter mold, 6 small containers of paint, 1 paintbrush, 1 paint sponge, and 1 square of sandpaper. The suggested age range for the kit is 8+, but I feel younger children should definitely have adult assistance, especially when pouring the casting material into the mold. Children who are 10 and older can work on this craft kit on their own.

The instructions tell you to pour ½ cup of water into one of the bags of casting material and mix it together with your hands until it is a “melted ice cream” consistency. The original cast color is white, but you can give it color if you add paint to the mixture. My son and I decided to try and color our casting material orange, so we dropped in some red and yellow paint. Sadly, it did not come out as strong orange as we had hoped.

We debated what word we should create, and finally decided to spell out “Princeton.” However, we soon discovered a problem – there are TWO letter N’s in Princeton! We were going to be one letter short! Happily, we realized we could spell “Cotsen” with the letters we had already poured, and we could spell “Tiger” if we added the letter G. We still had extra casting mixture, so we also poured the letters A, K and Z, which are my son’s and my initials.

One entire bag of casting mixture allowed us to make 13 letters, but be careful! The instructions suggest you fill the letter mold about ¾ full. However, due to the fast pour of the mixture, we sometimes overfilled. As you can see, the final letters E and Z were quite thick!

We waited an hour for the cast to harden and then peeled the letters from the silicone mold. The letters had some crumbly edges that were easily sanded down using the provided sandpaper, but otherwise the letters looked fantastic.

We let the letters to dry overnight before we painted them. The hefty red paintbrush pictured on the front of the box? NOT the one that is included in the packaging! Ours was much much smaller!

The tiny brush really doesn’t provide adequate paint coverage, so I decided to try the kit’s paint sponge and multiple coats. In the photo below, you can see how I used the paint sponge and double coat on the C and S, the paintbrush and double coat for the T and E, and the paintbrush and one coat with the O and N. You can definitely see the color difference between the various methods.

As a final touch, I added a light coat of sparkle paint on all of the letters. Oddly, the sparkle paint removed some of the purple paint from the letter C, but not from any other paint color!

Perfect Craft’s Alphabet Craft Kit is ideal to keep children busy for a couple of hours. Creating and painting the letters was quite entertaining, and clean up was a snap. Once the letters are created, however, there’s not much more to do with the letters. I suppose you can use the letters to practice spelling different words? Or use them for a game of Boggle? Another thought I had would be to mount them onto a wood sign to hang on a child’s bedroom door, or create a family announcement board. Also, once you’re out of the casting mix, you are DONE! So think carefully about what you want to spell!

Final ranking: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Doing Flips

We’ve all been getting quite a bit of screen time lately, but what about if we take it waaaaay back to the early days of screens and animation? Turns out, it can be pretty fascinating. Especially if you have the flipbookit, a DIY hand-cranked miniature movie machine. Katie took the kit for a test drive with some pretty amazing results…take it away, Katie!

The flipbookit retails for around $35 and comes with everything you need to build your own flipbook animation of the historic “Horse in Motion.” The kit contents include instructions, a box to house the animation, pre-printed cards, and plastic pieces to create the spindle and flipping mechanism. There’s no suggested age range printed on this particular kit, but I would say it’s great for kids 8+ to build on their own. Younger children would need parental assistance.

The instructions, which are clear and easy to follow, have you start by building the cardboard box that becomes the “movie projector” (I loved the attention to detail with the snap rivets, which provide a fun industrial vibe).

I had two major issues with the box: the first was making sure the snap rivets were tight and secure. The second problem was when I was trying to insert the spindle, the opposite bushing (the part that holds the spindle in the middle of the box) kept falling out. It felt like I needed a third hand in order to secure the moving parts of pieces, but after a few unsuccessful attempts, I was able to build the spindle and attach the crank pulley.

The flip-cards are a thicker die-cut plastic, which offers the perfect rigidity to spin and create the “moving picture” effect when you turn the spindle. As you remove the flip-cards from the full sheets, you must be careful to not bend the sprockets (the small tabs on the straight side of the card).

The sprockets insert into holes on the spindle discs and if one is bent or torn, the “moving picture” effect might be lost. There are 24 individual flip-cards to insert into the spindle. Start with number (1) and work your way through all of them.

This can be a tedious task, especially when you get to the final cards and there’s not much room to squeeze them into place. Once they are all attached, put the flipbookit on a table and turn the hand crank. Voila! You can watch “Horse in Motion” over and over and over again!

The company also offers a blank DIY card kit, giving you the opportunity to create your own animation. It retails for around $14 and provides 24 blank flip-cards and five sheets of blank white label paper for you to either draw or print your own animation.

On their website, flipbookit also has a free Maker Tool where you can upload a video or a series of photographs. The online Maker Tool will then transform it into an animation and allow you to preview, make changes and finally, it will create a .pdf for you to print onto the blank label paper.

It wasn’t hard to convince my son to help me create a short video for the flipbookit. We tried out several different scenarios and finally decided to have him kick a soccer ball down a hallway in our house. He went back and forth, doing various tricks and movements, which gave me plenty of choices for the animation.

I was amazed at how easy it was to put everything together. Our original video was almost two minutes and the final version that became our “Soccer in Hallway” movie is just 2.6 seconds long. You will need a printer, preferably color, to print the .pdf of your final animation. It took nearly 30 minutes to affix the printed labels onto the blank flip-cards, and then insert them into the projector box.

The time was well spent because the final product is fantastic! My son has officially claimed the flipbookit  and I regularly hear the projector spinning in his room, undoubtably playing “Soccer in Hallway,” while he should be working on his online schoolwork.

My rankings:

KIT: 4.5 out of 5
I loved the simplicity of the cardboard projector. However, it doesn’t assemble in minutes as stated on the front of the box and there are a few parts to the construction that are challenging.

INSTRUCTIONS: 5 out of 5
The creators did a fine job making the instructions concise and well written. The images were perfect to help better explain the written tasks. Plus, they have the instructions available on their website to reprint if your original copy gets misplaced (as I learned from personal experience!).

BLANK DIY CARD KIT: 4 out of 5
As awesome as it is to create your own animation, it’s rather expensive for just one kit. The cost would start to add up if you had several artistic children who all wanted to create their own animations.

This was, by far, the coolest feature of the entire flipbookit. I was able to test and create several animations before settling on our final movie.

OVERALL: 4 out of 5
flipbookit  is very cool. It is a brilliant way to introduce children to an early form of animation and moving pictures. However, the cost to purchase the kit and DIY cards can be prohibitive for some people. I can also see it losing its appeal when one grows tired of watching a “Horse in Motion.”