O Frabjous Day

go ask aliceThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, and we decided to honor the occasion at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day! Our event table was stocked with some super, yet simple-to-assemble, thaumatropes. There was also some breakdancing. Well, sort of. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see our mashup of Alice and the 1980s.

A thaumatrope is a Victorian optical toy. It consists of two images printed on opposite sides of a paper disc or card. When you twirl the thaumatrope, its two pictures appear to blend into one. Most thaumatropes are twirled using string. We decided to mount ours on pencils.

thaumatrope demoYou’ll need:

  • 1 Alice thaumatrope template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 pencil (I ordered terrific ones from Oriental Trading Company)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Colored pencils (or crayons) for decorating

We offered 4 Alice-themed templates, drawn by our amazing student artist, Aliisa Lee.

thaumatropesFirst, select a template, and use colored pencils or crayons to color it. Then, fold the template in half (along its faint grey line).

folded thaumatropeFlip the thaumatrope over, and tape a pencil to the back of one of the panels like so:

thaumatrope step 2Fold the thaumatrope closed, then secure the panels together with a piece of tape. You’ll also want to tape both sides of the thaumatrope to the pencil, to make it extra sturdy.

thaumatrope step 3Hold the pencil between your palms and roll it briskly back and forth. Your thaumatrope will turn, and the two images will appear as one!

twirlingHere’s what our craft table looked like (and, if you’d like to explain a bit of the science behind how the device works, here’s a pdf of our thaumatrope table sign):

thaumatrope work tableWe also had some pens and blank thaumatrope cards on hand, just in case kids wanted to try their hands at making one from scratch.

blank thaumatropeOn the other side of our event tent, we loaded a table with optical illusions cards, tops, Photicular bookmarks, flip books, replicas of vintage thaumatropes, kaleidoscopes, and mini chess boards.

optical illusion tableWhile color print-outs of optical illusions work just fine, I highly recommend this pack of Usborne optical illusion cards. There are 50 illusions in the pack. They’re colorful, sturdy, and the science behind the illusions is explained on the back of the cards. The deck retails for $10.

optical illusion cardsNo event is complete without a little costuming, and Marissa and I raided both our closets and the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for our garb. This was completely unintentional when we snapped the shot, but…don’t Marissa and I look like we’re going to bust out some 80s breakdancing moves?

break danceMaybe it’s the shoes? The jaunty pose? Hmmmm. What if we adjust the backdrop a little…

welcome to the 80sOh yeah. I dare you to pin it.


Many thanks to the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for the costume loans, and to Aliisa Lee for triggering some totally radical 80s flashbacks.

Cheshire Cat Grin

cheshire cat grinSomething to smile about! I designed this Cheshire Cat project for an Alice in Wonderland program. It’s quick, easy, and the results are frabjous!

You’ll need:

First, select a grin from the template and use markers to color it. Glue (or tape, or hot glue) the smile to a jumbo craft stick. Make sure to leave about 1″ of space at the top of the stick for your whiskers and nose.

grin step 1Pinch the centers of the twisteez wires together, then secure them to the stick with masking tape. If you can’t find twisteez wires, use very thin strips of card stock for whiskers. I wouldn’t recommend using pipe cleaners. The ends can get rather sharp when you cut them, and that’s not good for a project that is held close to the eyes.

grin step 2Shape a square of self-adhesive foam into a cat nose, then peel and stick on top of the masking tape. You can also use regular foam and adhere the nose with hot glue.

grin step 3Trim and curl the whiskers (or leave them straight), and you’re done!

grin step 4Hold the project to your face to become a cat with a grin, or hold it away from you to demonstrate a grin without a cat!