Train Time

train timeAll aboard! This splendid stream engine pulls a passenger coach on masking tape tracks, making a number of stops to take on coal, water, and passengers before heading through a mountain tunnel!

train stuffWe read Chugga Chugga Choo Choo, written by Kevin Lewis, and illustrated by Daniel Kirk (Hyperion, 1999). A toy engine chugs through his day in the playroom, collecting freight, going through mountains, over bridges, across rivers, and finally relaxing in the roundhouse. Cleverly, the landscape is entirely made of toys (I especially like the bridge over the fish tank). It’s a sweet, simple story that was oft-requested in our household.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • Construction paper, any color
  • Construction paper, black
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • A box cutter
  • 2 small craft sticks (mine were 3″ long)
  • A 36″ piece of curling ribbon
  • 1 small box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4” – a small tissue box works too)
  • name tag stickers with gold borders (optional)
  • engine wheels template printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 4 toilet paper tubes
  • 1 drink lid
  • 1 small l (optional)
  • A selection of foil star stickers (optional)
  • 1 tissue (i.e. Kleenex)
  • 1 large box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” but a large tissue box works too)
  • 2 passenger car templates, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ pieces of white card stock
  • Train track & stops (more on that later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Start with the engine! Wrap a 9″ x 11″ piece of construction paper (any color) around half of the oatmeal container. It won’t reach all the way around the container but that’s good. You want the uncovered section of the container to slide smoothly over the floor.

engine step 1Use color masking tape to make three lines on the construction paper. Again, it’s best if they don’t go all the way around the container.

engine step 2 Cut a 4.5″ diameter circle out of black construction paper and use tape loops to attach it to the bottom of the container. Important! The bottom of the container is NOT the end with the lid. It is the plain cardboard end.

We’ll pause in exterior engine building for a moment to construct your train’s pull string. Hot glue two small craft sticks together in a cross. This creates the anchor for your pull string. Knot one end of curling ribbon around the anchor.

anchor steps 1 and 2Next, use a box cutter to cut a small slit in the bottom of the oatmeal container, about 1.5″ from the top edge. This is where your pull string will come out.

slitUse scissors to enlarge the slit. Then take the lid off the oatmeal container, reach inside, and poke the free end of the curling ribbon through the slit. Keep pulling the ribbon through until the anchor is snug up against the bottom of the container. Replace the lid and tape it closed.

anchor insideNow for the engine’s tender! Cut a small box down to 3″ high. Hot glue it to the lid of the oatmeal container and reinforce the connection with tape. Since this box is what keeps the oatmeal container from rolling around, make sure part of the box comes in contact with the floor, and that it’s really attached well.

attached tenderThe engine’s cab is next. Fold the edges of a 3″ x 9″ piece of construction paper inwards to create two, 0.25″ folds:

cab foldsCurve the folds under and hot glue (or tape) them to the back of the engine (i.e. the end with the tender). Gently pinch the curvy top of the cab to make two more folds, giving the cab a flat roof.

cab stepsHot glue (or tape) a 3.25″ x 3.25″ square of black construction paper to the roof of the cab. I also added some file label sticker windows. You can do this, or draw the windows on with markers. You can see the finished cab in the image below.

For your engine’s chimney (or “stack” as they sometimes call it) wrap a toilet paper tube with black construction paper and hot glue it to the top of the engine. Cut a second toilet paper tube down to 2″ and wrap it with black construction paper. This is your engine’s “dome”. Hot glue it behind the chimney. Tape a piece of tissue inside the chimney for smoke. cab dome chimneyColor and cut out the engine wheels template. Hot glue (or tape) them to the sides of the engine. Crumble up some pieces of black construction paper to make “coal” for your tender. I added some gold-bordered name tag stickers to the sides of the tender, along with some gold foil stars.

finished engine

Finally, hot glue a drink lid to the front of the train for a light (we stuck a gold foil seal inside it for some extra shine).  We added some gold foil stars to the front of the engine as well (whoops, I didn’t put the chimney on exactly straight did I?).

front of trainFor the passenger car, simple color and cut the passenger car templates and hot glue (or tape) them to the sides of a large box. Some kids cut the lid off their boxes, and some left the lid intact. Totally up to you! Just don’t let the wheels of the train car extend past the bottom of the box, or it won’t slide on the floor!

passenger carTo couple your passenger car to your engine, cut two, 15″ pieces of masking tape (I used black masking tape, but any color will do). Lay one piece on top of the other, with the sticky sides facing each other. Hot glue this masking tape “strip” to the bottom of the train. Make sure to leave a 1.5″ gap between the tender and the passenger car.

couplingYour train is done! You can stop there, or you can go a step further like we did and make a track and “stops” for the train. If you’re up for that, read on…

For the tracks, use masking tape to make the two rails. Then connect the rails with more masking tape “ties.” It’s simple to do, but it takes time. Especially because we laid a whole lotta track all over the gallery (just look at the tape blob that resulted from clean up)! Here’s Katie, who is, quite literally, “working on the railroad.”

katie workingNext, Katie made a couple different elements for the railroad: a station (a copy paper box lid with a box station and some accoutrements); a water tower (a small oatmeal container, a small box, some construction paper, and a pipe cleaner); a big container of extra coal (little crumbled up pieces of black construction paper); a couple of toilet paper tube passengers (I’ve named them George and Martha); and a crossing gate (white cardboard wrapped with red masking tape hot glued to a box).

train stuffThe morning of story time, I made the tunnel. It was 2 huge pieces of cardboard taped to the railings of our gallery bridge. Once they were secured, I covered them with a brown sheet.

tunnelReady to see the whole route in action? At the starting line, Katie shoveled extra coal into each engine’s tender. Then the trains were off, chuffing down the track!

engineer sets off The first stop was the water tower, where kids pushed two blue cotton balls into the train’s dome to feed the boiler.

water tower stopNext the train encountered a crossing gate. I was operating this particular mechanism (I do a very convincing “ding ding ding ding”).

crossing gate stopAfter that, the trains headed around a long bend to the station, where kids loaded 2 toilet paper tube “passengers” into their passenger car (we had a bin sitting nearby with extra tubes for them to take home and color in later).

station stopThen it was off to the mountain tunnel. I made sure that the train route would lead kids uphill in the tunnel (because it’s hard for kids to navigate, stare at a train, and duck into a tunnel without also having to balance downhill).

tunnel stopAfter the tunnel, it was a quick trip to the finish line. All the while, the little engineers were being serenaded by my Rare Books colleagues AnnaLee and Kelly, who performed a most excellent rendition of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” THANKS LADIES!

annalee and kelly

Totally Egg-Citing

humptyWhy is this egg wearing a climbing harness and birthday hat? Read on for answers!

We read Humpty Dumpty by Daniel Kirk (Scholastic, 2001). Humpty Dumpty, tired of hiding indoors, begs to go to shy Prince Moe’s royal birthday parade. When the crowds get too thick for Humpty Dumpty to see past, he climbs higher and higher and…falls. Right on the royal carriage. Luckily, the puzzle-crazy prince manages to put the broken egg back together again, and they become the best of friends.

You’ll need:

  • 1 oatmeal container
  • White construction paper
  • 1 pair of wiggle eyes
  • Pom-pom for nose
  • A selection of patterned paper (or construction paper)
  • 4 white poster board strips for the arms and legs
  • 2 poster board strips for the egg’s climbing harness
  • 3 jumbo paper clips
  • 3 pipe cleaners
  • 1 super long piece of twine
  • Hot glue
  • Markers for decorating
  • Tape, staples, and hole punch for construction
  • 1 climbing wall (more on this later!)
  • Birthday eraser prizes (optional)

Start with the egg! Wrap an oatmeal container in white construction paper, then wrap an additional piece of patterned paper / construction paper around the bottom to create the egg’s pants. Hot glue the wiggle eyes and pom-pom nose. Draw the mouth with markers.

The birthday party hat is a patterned piece of paper curled into a cone and taped. You can tape a fringed paper tassel to the top if you so desire. Cut the hat to the right size, and then tape to the top of the egg’s head.

To make the harness, wrap one strip of construction paper around the egg’s waist like a belt. Staple. The next strip goes in between the legs like so:

plain harnessNow punch three holes in the harness (right, left, and back).

harness holesSlide the egg into the harness and set aside. Using markers, decorate the arms and legs. Feel free to use scissors to shape the egg’s hands and feet. Keeping the egg in the harness, attach the arms and legs with hot glue.

Now for the climbing wall (drum roll please)…

egg climbing wallTA DA! That’s my student assistant Iara belaying Mr. Dumpty on the wall.

We made the wall out of a large flattened box that was secured to an overhead metal bar with twine. You could also create the wall on a stairwell, ladder, tall box, tree…

The rock “holds” on the wall are crumpled pieces of brown paper. The “bushes” are crumpled pieces of green tissue paper. The “snow” is bunches of polyester stuffing. All of these items were hot glued to the wall before we hung it.

With the egg and the wall finished, all you need is the “climbing rig.” Wrap the ends of 3 pipe cleaners around 3 jumbo paper clips. Now bunch the 3 pipe cleaners together at the top and twist. Knot the super long piece of twine around the twisted pipe cleaner top. It should look like this:

harnessThen slide each paper clip through a hole in the harness (it’s easier to show this step without the egg in the harness).

harness attachedThen we threw the free end of the twine “rope” over the metal bar and dropped it down so kids could grab it and raise and lower their eggs (actually, we had 2 ropes on the wall, since we had 24 kids at story time and wanted to shorten the waiting time).

Ready to climb! Clip the pipe cleaner “rig” to the egg’s harness, and then have the kids pull the rope to make Humpty Dumpty climb the wall! In keeping with the spirit of the book, we created a game in which the birthday hat clad egg climbed to the top of the wall, “touched” a gold star, and dropped back down safely to receive a birthday cake prize (little cake erasers from Target).

cakesPostscript: Originally, this project was created for the book Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again by Dave Horowitz (Puffin, reprint edition 2011). In the story, Humpty Dumpty is an avid rock climber who falls and loses his confidence. He descends into a terrible depression (complete with moping around in his underwear). He revives when he learns that only he can save one of the King’s horses from a dangerous ledge, and ultimately saves the day!

We had prepped the whole project when I discovered that (the day before we were set to go) the book had gone missing! I frantically checked THREE bookstores and none of them had a copy. So I substituted Humpty Dumpty by Daniel Kirk. Mostly, it involved switching an alpine climbing hat for a birthday hat, and awarding a birthday cake prize instead of a gold star sticker prize.

However, if you’re interested in taking the project in this direction, here is an image of the hat. It’s a simple origami hat fold with a fringed construction paper tassel and marker decorations.

alpine hatYodel-lay-he-hoo!