Fly the Friendly Skies

When my son was younger wooooo did we read a lot of transportation and construction books. To this day, I still excitedly point out backhoe loaders, simply by reflex. I think we wore out not one but THREE copies of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, and my son was the inspiring mind behind this event. Today’s post is also my son’s invention…a simple zip line tram car!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large tissue box
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • String or yarn
  • 2 chairs (plus books to weight them down)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Construction paper, markers for decorating
  • Hole punch

First, the tram car! Flip a large tissue box upside down, and decorate the side with construction paper and markers. Cut a paper towel tube down to 7.5″ then attach firmly to the roof of the tram car (I used hot glue AND tape).

Next, turn the box on it’s side and punch a hole in the back. Knot a 15-24″ string through the hole. This is the string that your kid will use to pull the tram car up and down the zip line. Otherwise, it’s going to be YOU doing it. Probably the very moment you are trying to get lunch on the table while answering work texts during a Zoom meeting while also searching for your daughter’s lost LEGO figurine.

Next comes the zip line! I used kite string, but we tested yarn and it works as well. We  rigged our zip line on stairs, but a tree in the yard or a tall chair & shorter chair works too. Two very important things: WEIGH BOTH CHAIRS DOWN WITH BOOKS. There will be quite a bit of kid traffic on and around the zip line. Weighing both chairs reduces the chance of nudging or tipping.

Next very important thing: if you are doing this on a stair case, SET BOTH CHAIRS BACK FROM THE STAIRS. Especially if you have two or more kids. You don’t want anyone falling down, or tripping up, the stairs. Below is the minimum I would set the chair from the top of stairs. More so for younger kids and.or multiple kids.

Once the chairs are set up and weighted down, thread the zip line string through the paper towel tube on your tram car, then tie the string to the backs of both chairs. Make sure there is plenty of tension in the string so your tram car really zips!


One more helpful hint…if you need to “park” your tram car for a moment, simply tuck the pull string into one of the books weighing down the chair, as demonstrated in the photo below:

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! 

Night Rider

night rider

Navigate the nocturnal highways with this fantastic vehicular nightlight, complete with convenient carrying handle!

We recommend Night Light by Nicholas Blechman (Orchard Books, 2013). A charming blend of numbers, vehicles, and a guessing game, the book flips between night and day. The solid black pages only reveal the dotted lights of a vehicle, along with a textual clue (ex: “5 lights, cleaning day and night?”). Following each night page is a day page in which the identity of the vehicle is revealed. Fantastically fun.

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box with a lid (we used a tea box)
  • Construction paper
  • A box cutter
  • White printer paper, tracing paper, wax paper, or parchment paper
  • 1 submersible LED light (or glow stick)
  • Scissors, tape and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

First, use construction paper to turn a small box into your favorite vehicle. Marissa did a twine carrying handle on her awesome VW van, but you can also make a handle out of construction paper or a pipe cleaner. Next, use a box cutter to create a pair of headlights at one end of the box. Inside the box, tape a piece of white printer paper, tracing paper, wax paper, or parchment paper over the headlight holes. This gives the headlights a nice diffuse glow.

led headlights We used a submersible LED to light Marissa’s van. You can find them in the floral section of Michaels craft store – 9 cost $21, but I always use a 40% off coupon.

led in vehicle boxIf the LEDs are too pricey, a glow stick will do the trick. Drop the illumination of your choice in the vehicle box, close the lid, and you’re done. Vroom vroom vroom!