Robots at the Ready

robots at the readyA robot backpack? Yes indeed! Now you and your robot pal can embark on a series of terrific adventures. But the best thing about this story time? The author, Jared Aldwin Crooks, came to read the book to us!

jared aldwin crooksIn addition to penning a children’s book, Jared studied astrophysics, has worked at NASA, and is currently obtaining Masters degrees in International Policy and Mechanical/ Aerospace Engineering here at Princeton University. There’s a short interview with him at the end of this post!We read The Several Strange Adventures of Max and Ding, written by Jared Aldwin Crooks and illustrated by Scott T. Baldwin (Crooks with Books, 2014). Maximilian Finch (Max for short) lives in a sleepy town where not much happens. During school breaks his classmates go to all sorts of exciting places, but not Max. But one Sunday, Max builds a robot named Ding. That week, Max and Ding hit the road – riding paper planes through jungles, climbing mountains, visiting the circus, digging to Atlantis, fishing for treasure, building a bridge to the moon, and discovering new planets. Thanks to his pal Ding, Max now has plenty to talk about!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box for robot body (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6” – a small tissue box works too)
  • 1 smaller box for robot head (mine was 2.5″ x 3.25″ x 4″)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 small craft stick
  • 2 strips of white poster board for backpack straps (approximately 1″ x 28″)
  • A 20″ piece of mesh tubing (string, ribbon, or yarn works too)
  • 2 rectangles of poster board for arms (approximately 1.5″ x 5.75″)
  • 2 rectangles of poster board for legs (approximately 1.5″ x 11″)
  • Robot decorating materials (we used metallic duct tape, prism tape, tin foil, beverage lids, washed Altoids tins, twisteez wire, sparkle stems, paper cups (in silver and gold), small plastic cups, embossed foil seals, craft ties, dot stickers, rectangular stickers, foil star stickers, color masking tape, balloon stick cups, grey construction paper, embossed foil paper, and mylar).
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

To make a robot backpack, cut four, 1.5″ slits in a box. Then, use a small craft stick to enlarge the slits a little (this will make it easier to slide the backpack straps through the slits later).

backpack box slitsSlide the white poster board straps through the slits like so:

backpack strapsNow, holding the box firmly to your back, curl the straps over your shoulders, adjust them, and staple them. Put pieces of masking tape over the staples (thus avoiding staple scratches or clothing snags). Later, when your robot is finished, you’ll want to tie a piece of mesh tubing (or string, ribbon, or yarn) around both straps to keep them from sliding off your shoulders.

strap stepsWhen the backpack straps are finished, you’ll need to hot glue the head, arms, and legs on your robot’s body. You can do that now, or wait until you’ve decorated your robot a little. I offered OCuSoft lid scrub boxes as an option for the robot’s head. As you can see, when covered with tin foil, they look like fantastic smiling robot faces!

ocusoft box headAnother great recyclable discovery? balloon stick cups make great robot antennae holders. I definitely use balloon sticks for projects (see here, here, and here) but I don’t use the cups as much. But a doubled-up sparkle stem fit perfectly in the narrow end of the cup.

robot antennaeFor decorating, we offered metallic duct tape, prism tape, tin foil, beverage lids, washed Altoids tins, twisteez wire, sparkle stems, mesh tubing, paper cups (in silver and gold), small plastic cups, embossed foil seals, craft ties, dot stickers, rectangular stickers, foil star stickers, color masking tape, balloon stick cups, grey construction paper, embossed foil paper, and mylar.

Here’s Jared, his robot, and our program area after our creative little endeavor concluded!

jared and robotHi Jared! Tell us a little about yourself!
Hey there! My name is Jared Aldwin Crooks. I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas before coming to Princeton to get my undergraduate degree in Astrophysics and my Masters degrees in International Policy and Mechanical/ Aerospace Engineering. I have always loved creating things, whether it is some kind of contraption, food, or just writing down all of the things that are in my head. My creative partner, Scott T. Baldwin, and I are always working on a new project or book!

My passion is making the world around me a better place and I believe this can be done through little improvements over time (kaizen). My wife and I started NouriBar, a social venture that makes all-natural fruit and nut bars and for every bar purchased we work with the local communities to feed a child in need a hot meal in school. I also love doing radio and voice work. During my time at NASA, I was one of the narrators for the ScienceCasts! I love to cook and watch great films (Kurosawa, Bergman, Hitchcock).

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
I was constantly reading as a kid. One of my all-time favorite books growing up was a picture book called Corduroy. The artwork seemed to jump out at you on each page and I loved the storyline! Other books that I really loved include any and all of the books from The Little Golden Books series, the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper, and the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Why did you decide to write this book?
This book is loosely based on the daydreams that I had growing up. I had always wanted to share the things that had captured my imagination growing up; the stars, building things, wildlife, robotics etc. I also wanted write something to inspire kids to dream big and especially wanted to make sure that young kids of color could see another kid building and imagining things that are not typically represented in stories that are accessible to them. I linked up with my wonderful creative partner, Scott T. Baldwin right at the beginning and he shared the same vision that I had and he illustrated each page to show exactly what we had dreamed; so this is how the book came about!

What was an unexpected difficulty in writing this book?
One surprising difficulty I experienced while writing this book was trying to fit all of Max and Ding’s activities into 7 days! They have so many places to choose from and travel!

If Ding the robot appeared right now, where would you go?
Ding and I would most definitely travel to Cape Town, South Africa and have a swimming contest with a few great white sharks before hopping over to New Zealand and going to all of the Lord of the Rings filming locations!


Many thanks to Jared Aldwin Crooks for sharing his book and being our special guest!

Getting Campy

inside the tentAre you ready for the great outdoors? Enjoy a day of hiking, roast marshmallows over an open fire, and snooze under the stars in a tent. All you need is a sturdy backpack, a few camping essentials, and a couple of awesome outdoor badges!

let's campWe read When Daddy Took Us Camping by Julie Brillhart (Albert Whitman & Co.,1997). One fine summer day, a Dad and two kids go on a camping trip. They set up their site, go on a hike, dine in the great outdoors, and drift to sleep amid the glow of fireflies. The next morning, still in their pajamas, they hike waaaaaay across the backyard to enjoy a pancake breakfast in the kitchen of their home. A small camping trip no doubt, but still tons of fun!

We made backpacks, loaded them with supplies, and then completed 3 camp activities to earn badges. I used recycled 9.5″ x 14.75″ archive folders to make the backpacks for this project, but you could also use legal-sized manilla folders.

You’ll need:

  • 1 legal-size manilla folder (approximately 8.5″ x 14″)
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • A box cutter
  • 2 poster board strips (approximately 1.5″ x 28″)
  • Hole punch
  • A 23.5″ piece of ribbon
  • 1 large button
  • 1 camping supplies template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 3-4 paper towel tubes
  • Red, yellow, and orange construction paper
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • 1 white cotton ball
  • Optional camping badges (more on these later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

You need a backpack to start everything off, so here we go! First, cut the tab off the folder. 

backpack step 1Next, open the folder and cut a rectangle off the top left side (my rectangle was approximately 8.5″ x 5.75″).

backpack step 2Set the rectangle you just cut out aside (you’ll need it later). Use the box cutter to make 4 horizontal slits on the lower right side of the folder. Each slit should be about 2″ long (sorry, they’re a little hard to see in the photo).

backpack step 3 fixedNow cut a “scoop” out of the right side of the folder,

backpack step 4Close the folder,

backpack step 5And fold the top flap down over the scoop. You can also shorten the flap if you like (I cut about 1.75″ off mine).

backpack step 6The main part of the backpack is done, now for the straps! Run a piece of patterned tape down the middle of each strip of poster board (I used white poster board, but any color will do). To conserve tape, I only decorated the outside of the strips.

strapsOpen the folder and slide the straps through the slits, just as you see in the photo below.

backpack step 7Close the folder. Staple the open side and bottom of the folder closed, then line the sides of your backpack with masking tape. It’s important to use the masking tape to cover the staples on both sides of the backpack (because no one wants a staple scratch!).

Remember the rectangle you set aside earlier? This will now become the back pocket of your backpack. Cut the rectangle down until fits on the back of the backpack (mine was 3″ x 5″). Decorate the edges with a little patterned tape and then hot glue (or tape) it to the backpack.

pocketA few kids elected to tab their backpack’s pocket, making it stick out slightly from the rest of the backpack. This made it easier for some of them to load and unload the pocket. Here’s an example of a tabbed pocket:

another pocket Finish by hot gluing a button to the flap of the backpack. So here’s what the backpack should look like now: stapled, lined with masking tape, attached back pocket, and a button on the flap.

backpack final stepIf you’d like, you can also add a masking tape loop to the underside of the flap to keep it from flying open while you’re hiking. Now for adjusting those straps! Press the backpack against your back. Curl a strap over your shoulder and under your arm. When the strap feels comfortable, staple it and cover both sides of the staple with color masking tape. Repeat with the other strap.

securing strapsLast but not least – the chest strap. The chest strap really helps keep the poster board straps from constantly slipping off. Punch a hole on the outside of the left strap.

punched holeThread a piece of ribbon through the hole…

ribbonThen circle the ribbon around both straps and tie a bow in the front.

chest strapThe backpack is finished, now for the supplies! Color and cut the items from the camping supplies template and load them in your backpack. You’re ready to go!

I explained to the kids that they were going to earn 3 badges: “Hiking,” “Fire Starting,” and “Overnight Camping.” I whipped up the badges using Microsoft Word clip art and Avery sticker templates. I also used markers to add dotted lines around the stickers so the badges would look like they were “sewn” on the backpacks.

badgesThe kids double-checked the supplies in their backpacks, secured their backpacks to their shoulders, and got in line. I donned a floppy hat and old fishing vest (many thanks to Katie’s grandpa) and lead the campers on a hike!

going on hikeWe went outside, circled the library plaza, walked across a grassy area, and rested on some long stone benches. When the hike was finished, I stuck a hiking badge on each backpack.

In the meantime, Katie and Miss Joani (our recently returned student assistant) were back at the library setting up the fire pit. Basically, this was a ring of rocks (made from big pieces of crumpled paper) surrounding paper towel tube “logs.” Initially, we had planned to have kids tape orange, yellow, and red construction paper “flames” around the tubes like this:

fireBut we were running short on time. So the kids simply grabbed handfuls of construction paper flames and tossed them onto the logs, thus “igniting” the fire. Then we speared cotton balls on wooden dowels and “roasted” marshmallows!

roasting marshmallowsI doled out the “Fire Starting” badges and we proceeded…to the tent.

tentKatie’s family does quite a bit of camping, so she brought in one of her tents (complete with authentic campfire odor) for the kids to try. It was a 3-man tent but I we squeezed about 14 kids (and me) in there! We zipped it up and started snoring – thus earning our third, and final, badge for “Overnight Camping.”

The campers then departed, proudly displaying their badges. They got to keep the marshmallow on a stick too. Mmmm. Roasted marshmallows…

little camper