Ninjas Needed

Gather, all you ninjas in training, for the ultimate obstacle course. Challenge your balance, hiding, and throwing skills to earn a noble blade of aluminum foil!

We read Ninja Camp, written by Sue Fliess, and illustrated by Jen Taylor (Hachette Books, 2019). A team of young ninjas gather at Ninja Camp to train and defend the Shadow Blade from a rival camp. A total story time win…this fun rhyming book packs plenty of action and adventure!

You’ll need:

  • 1 black t-shirt
  • 4 paper towel tubes
  • 1 piece of ribbon (ours was 13″ long)
  • Aluminum foil
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • A ninja obstacle course (more on this below!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction

Our story time project consisted of a ninja jacket, nunchucks, throwing star, and a sword. To make the jacket, cut a slit up the front of a black t-shirt (we used a kid’s size L). Then, cut a 2.5″ strip off the bottom of the shirt to create a belt. We offered metallic markers to add some designs to the jacket as well.

ninja jacketOur nunchucks are surplus foam book spine protectors recycled from Princeton University’s Department of Special Collections! But you can also use paper towel tubes. Connect the tubes with a 13″ piece of ribbon secured with color masking tape.

nunchucksThe throwing stars are of the classic origami variety (instructions here). The sword is 2 paper towel tubes connected with masking tape, then covered with tin foil. The hilt is masking tape as well. But the REAL stroke of genius? We added a tassel to the sword hilt, compliments of the Office of Student Affairs at Princeton University. Our tassels were surplussed from commencement, but you can also purchase them rather inexpensively on Amazon.

ninja swordOnce our ninja kids were ready, we gathered at the start of the obstacle course. First, ninjas walked the red masking tape tightrope to build balance skills:

obstacle course 1Next, they entered the forest to demonstrate their hiding abilities. Can you spot the ninja in this photo?

obstacle course 2Then the ninja stealthily moved along a dark corridor and crawled through a tunnel…

obstacle course 3Finally emerging at our throwing star range, where they took aim at targets:

obstacle course 4When the obstacle course was complete, the ninja headed over to the Shadow Blade stone, where they drew their swords under the proud eye of Sensei Katie!

sensei katieFun fact: Katie has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Note to self: Don’t mess with Katie.

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!¬†

The Adventures of Tintin

the adventures of tintin

The blue sweater. The white dog. The hair swoosh. This could only be Tintin, one of the most iconic European comic book characters of the 20th century. We celebrated his globe-trotting adventures with the Princeton Garden Theatre, our local non-profit movie house extraordinaire. In 2016, we collaborated with the Garden on another book-to-film event, How to Train Your Dragon. It was so much fun, we decided to head back for another round!

princeton garden theaterFamilies entering the theater were greeted by a table covered with postcards (I found a pack of 92 vintage postcards at the thrift store for for $4 woot!) and a big world map.

postcard table and mapKids were invited to select a postcard and write their name and address on it. Then, they put the postcard in the red mailbox for a chance to win a stuffed animal of Snowy, Tintin’s faithful canine companion. Katie modeled the mailbox after the ones she saw in Brussels (birthplace of Tintin!). Isn’t it awesome? It has pom-pom feet!

brussels mailbox

The stuffed Snowy drawing happened at the event. But after the event, those same postcards were mailed to the kids with a special message from Tintin (and a paw stamp from Snowy).

postcard from tintinNext to the postcard table was a big map (50″ x 32″) mounted on foam board:

tintin location mapKatie selected some cool Tintin location images from the various volumes and attached them to the map. A line and a flag showed the actual location on the map.

tintin in peruDuring the event, kids were invited to add pushpin flags on locations they had traveled to. As it turns out, our crowd was pretty well traveled! Iceland, Australia, India, Thailand, Costa Rica, China, Hawaii, South Korea, Europe…

pushpin locations Around the corner from the postcard and map table were 2 additional activities: A Tintin head band with the iconic hair flip, and a pull-along box Snowy. The box Snowy was a 2″ x 4″ x 4″ craft box with a Snowy template taped to both sides. Add a clear elastic beading cord pull string and the Snowy followed you around the theater!

The headband was very simple…orange paper with a pre-cut hair flip to added to the front. Here’s an excited trio with the heads bands and a Snowy!

trio at eventNotice the little Captain Haddock key chains they’re holding up? Those were part of a trivia contest we were running. Our Tintin expert had a couple key chains on hand to give to kids who correctly guessed Snowy’s original name in the comics (which were first published in French).

tintin triviaIn honor of Snowy, we also had a very, very special performance. A live dog show provided by William Berloni Theatrical Animals, an amazing organization that trains rescue animals for movies, television, and theater!

bill and bowdieBill Berloni is a Tony-Award winner with decades of experience training animals. In fact, he trained the very first Sandy for the original production of Annie. He and his apprentice, Andy, brought 3 dogs – Marti, who plays Sandy in Annie (and this was the Sandy from the 2014 movie!), Nessa, who plays Toto in The Wizard of Oz, and Bowdie, who plays Winn-Dixie in Because of Winn-Dixie. Above is Bowdie. Below is Marti, waiting with Andy to go on stage:

marti and andyAnd here’s Nessa, the cutest, most enthusiastic Toto ever, racing down the aisle:

bill and nessaBill shared a little of his history, his training techniques, and the rescue stories of each of the dogs. There were plenty of demonstrations too, both on and off the leash. The thing that shone through the most however? How happy the dogs are, how much they love working with Bill, and what a tremendous advocate he is for rescue animals. He’s truly amazing. He’s also an author! After the event, he gave me a copy of his heart-warming book, Broadway Tails: Heartfelt Stories of Rescue Dogs Who Became Showbiz Superstars (Lyons Press, 2008), which has a foreword by Bernadette Peters.

Once the dog show ended, we rolled Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film The Adventures of Tintin, which he did in collaboration with Peter Jackson’s production company. Lots of thrills, chases, and fantastic loading dock crane battle. Yes!

adventures_of_tintin_the_secret_of_the_unicorn_ver5

Original poster image source: Imp Awards

As I was cleaning up after the event, I found a Tintin box a young fan had fashioned from 2 of our craft projects. The likeness is amazing…and it’s so cute…why didn’t I think of that?!?

tintin box

Original image source: Tintin Wiki


Many thanks to the Princeton Garden Theatre for being such awesome hosts, and to William Berloni Theatrical Animals for sharing your amazing canine actors with us!