The Theoretical Llama

the theoretical llamaTheoretically speaking, what WOULD happen if a llama created a black hole with his overzealous cake consumption? Would the world survive?

We read Llama Destroys the World, written by Jonathan Stutzman, and illustrated by Heather Fox (Henry Holt and Company, 2019). On Monday, Llama stuffs himself on cake, setting up a chain reaction that creates a black hole (cake consumption > dancing pants don’t fit > pants rip > cosmic vibration > black hole). And hilariously, Llama does destroy the world. However! Everything comes out the other side of the black hole totally fine! The world is restored…and then Llama sees PIE…

This book. THIS BOOK! So funny, so unexpected. It absolutely had everyone in stitches and it was a joyous read aloud. From the illustrations of the pop-eyed llama, to his exclamations of “I am Llama!” this book is a classic.

You’ll need:

  • Small box
  • 6 toilet paper tubes
  • Brown and white construction paper
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

So, here is our llama project, decked out in awesome groovy polka-dot dance pants!

llama from sideFirst, wrap 4 toilet paper tubes with constructions paper…2 with brown paper fringes, 2 with plain white. Next, cut the bottom off a small box (like a square tissue box). Then set the box on top of the legs (we hot glued the legs in place, too). The rest of the box gets decorated with brown construction paper fringes and white construction paper “pants.”

And don’t forget to decorate those pants with markers!

The llama’s neck and head are toilet paper tubes. As you can see in the below photo, we hot glued a 2.25″ snippet of toilet paper tube onto a full-sized toilet paper tube that was notched at the top. We added a small circle of cardboard to finish off the muzzle, and wrapped it with a bit of brown construction paper.

llama head and neckNow wrap the neck with brown construction paper fringes, pinch the bottom of the neck, and slide it into the front of the box (if you’re using a tissue box, you’ll need to cut a slit in the box). Use spare cardboard to make llama ears and a tail, add some eyes, and you’re done!

finished llama head and neckWe decided to take the project one step further by introducing a black hole activity (and yup, crafting a black hole was a first in my long history of story times!). First, we had kids make pies and cakes using a paper cup, tin foil, and a paper baking cup.

pie and cakeThe pie tin is the top of the paper cup (i.e. the open mouth part of the cup) wrapped in tin foil. The pie is the bottom of a paper baking cup.

The cake is the bottom of the same paper cup with the fluted sides of the paper baking cup taped to it. Cotton ball whipped cream and a mini pom-pom cherry optional!

Once kids made a pie and cake, they proceeded to the “black hole” to play a little comparison game. The black hole was a vinyl kiddie pool ring we draped with black sheets and illuminated with green glow sticks.

black hole gameI sat inside, and kids had to enter the black hole, look at the 2 cakes and 2 pies “floating” inside it, and select the one they had created!

Take the Cake

take the cakeA trio of birds has invaded your kitchen, intent on repeatedly interrupting your bonding with a baked good. Can you get the birds out of the kitchen and still take the cake?

We read Marigold Bakes a Cake by Mike Malbrough (Philomel Books, 2017). On Monday, Marigold the cat ALWAYS bakes. With no distractions, Marigold measures and mixes the ingredients just so. Everything is going well…until birds start unexpectedly visiting his kitchen. This drives uber-organized Marigold more and more crazy until he finally loses it in a total feline frenzy. Can the birds and Marigold reach a cake-appreciating middle ground? Hilariously, as it turns out, they cannot.

This project was designed for a little girl who has been coming to Tiger Tales for 3 years! Marigold Bakes a Cake was the (totally awesome) book she selected for her final visit with us. Diana, this one’s for you!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small tissue box
  • 1 small paper plate
  • 1 paper cup
  • 3 toilet paper tubes
  • Construction paper
  • 1 cardboard box kitchen (more on this later!)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, the cake! This was a small tissue box decorated with construction paper and marker. We also added pom-poms, fabric flowers, and ribbons for more texture. The cake stand is a small paper plate flipped over, and hot glued to a similarly flipped paper cup. We used patterned tape to decorate the cake stand, but markers work great too!

cake on standTo make the birds, wrap 3 toilet paper tubes with construction paper and add paper wings. Optional: self-adhesive foam beaks, eye stickers, and feather crests. Or, just use markers to add features to your birds.

cake birds Once you have your cake, cake stand, and birds, it’s time to play the kitchen game! Katie and I used a bunch of recycled boxes to build a kitchen with a fridge, counter, sink, range, and oven.

front of kitchenCut into the back of the set were little trap doors. The trap doors (and the hole in the sink) allowed me to sneak the toilet paper tube birds into the kitchen.

back of kitchen Ready to play the kitchen game? First, kids handed me their birds and placed their cakes on the counter. Then, they took 10 steps back to the starting line. I would hide 1 bird in the kitchen and shout “The bird’s in the freezer!” The kid would race forward, find the bird, and run back to the starting line. We repeated this, using different kitchen locations, until all 3 birds were captured. The prize was their cake!

grab the birdsIf you don’t have time to construct a kitchen, simply tape images of kitchen elements onto boxes. Then drop the birds into the boxes for the kids to locate.

Most Influential

Bunny Salad courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsQ: What books inspired you to do the creative things you do today?

A lot of children’s books have influenced me as a reader, writer, educator, and artist. Some of my childhood favorites have even shown up on the blog (here and here!) But if you’re specifically asking about creativity, there IS one book that towers above all others like a yellow-and-white striped Everest. It’s not a picture book. It’s not a chapter book. It’s not even a fiction book. It’s a cookbook. Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook to be exact (Golden Press, 1965).

Betty Crocker's New Books and Girls Cookbook image courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsI would look at this book for hours. I would slowly flip the pages, eagerly anticipating the arrival of my favorite section. Can you guess which one it was? Yup. “Cookies, Cakes, and Other Desserts.” Here is the cake of my childhood dreams:

Enchanted Castle Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsOh where do I start? I was wholly enthusiastic about cake (and those pink pillow mints – wow, do they even make those anymore?). But even more, I loved that someone had taken food and sculpted it into something imaginative and fantastical. Then fearlessly added non-edible items (such as the toothpick drawbridge chains) to complete the picture. Also, they didn’t just photograph the cake on a table. They set the scene with grass, a shiny moat, and a blue sky with cotton ball clouds. And how about this beautiful creation…

Ice Cream Flower Pot courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsIt’s an “Ice Cream Flower Pot.” A waxed paper cup, ice cream and crushed cookie “dirt,” candy leaves, and a frigging lollipop flower! You can put lollipops and ice cream together and make it look like a flower pot? My mind was officially blown.

Also earth-shattering was the realization that you could use food to make images of, say, animals parading around a “Circus Cake” (did you notice the little cashew feet and red licorice knot tail on the pig?).

Circus Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsThose wild and crazy Betty Crocker bakers even used holiday-specific candy…on cakes that were totally unrelated to that particular holiday! Like candy canes on a 4th of July “Drum Cake”:

Drum Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsThis taught me that you could look at an object, even a familiar one like a candy cane, and see it used for a different purpose or in a different context. That, my friends, is a pretty abstract lesson to be learned from a cake. I still want to eat those cherries too.

While I did spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over the cookbook’s dessert sections, there was one recipe that caught my eye in the “Salads and Vegetables” section:

Bunny Salad courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsOf all the time I spent looking at this book, I only made one recipe from it. One! It was “Bunny Salad.” I begged my mom for the ingredients and proudly assembled this spectacular dish. It was awesome. I had created! I also learned that, alas, I didn’t like cottage cheese very much.

Interestingly, I’m not the only person who was affected by this cookbook in childhood. Cece Bell mentioned it in an interview with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blogger Jules Danielson. She specifically cites the “Enchanted Castle Cake” of my dreams, too! If I ever hang out with her, I’m baking one and bringing it with me (pssst! if you’d like to see our story time project for Cece’s book, Itty Bitty, go here).

One final Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook connection for you. The cookbook features illustrations as well as photographs. I was obsessed with this one in particular:

Red Devil Sundae Topping courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsWhen it came time to dress my firstborn for Halloween 2009, what costume did I choose?

Halloween devilCoincidence? I don’t think so.


Book images courtesy of Betty Crocker and General Mills. Many thanks for allowing me to use the images, and for being such an inspiration.