Camping? Nom Nom Nom

camping nom nom nom

Pack your tents and hit the great outdoors with your friends Monster and Mouse. But keep an eye on Monster…he tends to eat the equipment!

We read Monster and Mouse Go Camping, written by Deborah Underwood, and illustrated by Jared Chapman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). Mouse is very excited to camp, but Monster is reluctant…camping seems a little scary. However, with the promise of food, Monster is happy to try. Except that he eats the lantern, sleeping bags, and tent. Another problem? Mouse forgets to pack the ACTUAL food. Now the two friends are quite cold and hungry. Then they spot another campsite. Polite inquiries are made…only to get a unexpected reaction that makes this one of the FUNNIEST read-alouds, ever. Highly recommended!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large tissue box
  • 1 box cutter
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 1 manila file folder
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 1 monster camping equipment template on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

front of camping monster

First, the monster! Use a box cutter to create a mouth in a large tissue box. Then decorate the box with construction paper (we also offered large eye stickers). While you are decorating, make sure to leave the tissue box hole hole open in the back. This will allow you to retrieve your camping food later.

back of camping monster

As you can see in the above photo, our monster is also sporting a backpack. Ours was fashioned from an old manila file folder using this template. Curl the wings of the template around the circle, then secure everything in place with tape to create a “cup” backpack (we used color masking tape to decorate the backpacks too).

Attach the cup to an extra strip of manila paper, then tape or glue it to your monster box. Add a toilet paper tube mouse if you’d like:

side view of monster backpack

Now for the equipment! Color and cut the items from the template, then feed each item into the monster’s mouth. Retrieve the items using the hole in the back of your monster box. And yes, we did make sure to include all the fixings for s’mores in the set:

monster edible camping equipment

One things I love about the simple and open-ended decoration projects is the styles and color combinations kids come up with. Here are just a few from story time!

Brand Names

brand namesIt’s grilling season, but we couldn’t JUST serve up a steak. We had to make it personal.

Today, we’re testing a “BBQ Branding Iron” which purports to “Add a name or message to your steak!” It’s offered by multiple Amazon sellers each using different descriptive names, but every listing appears to sell the exact same product. Prices range from $11.65 to $39.99, but we paid in the lower range and ordered from a seller who offered Prime shipping.

bbq branding iron boxThe box includes a handle with a letter block, individual letters, blanks to insert between the letters, a small wrench, and 2 metal loops to prevent the letters from sliding out of the block.

bbq branding iron box contentsOur office grill champion took on the task of testing the bbq brander. Take it away Katie!


First, I hand-washed the metal letters, letter track and two loop locks before playing around with funny messages to brand. “YES” was an easy choice, as was “DO NOT TOUCH” and “THIS IS MINE.” I finally settled on “GET IN MY BELLY.” When arranging the letters, you have to remember to put them into the letter track backwards. It’s easy to forget, particularly with some letters that aren’t identifiable already backwards. The kit also includes blank metal spaces to separate the words in your message. You attach the two loop locks on either side of the letter track to keep everything in place as you are using the iron.

putting together the lettersOnce I felt confident I had everything backwards and spelled correctly, I headed out to start cooking. Beef steak was first.

ready to grillAs my grill was heating up, I put the branding iron inside and made sure to leave the wood handle sticking out. I grilled one side of my steak, flipped it over, and tried the iron. Despite having left the wood handle outside of the grill, it was still hot. VERY hot. Not wanting to continue burning the palm of my hand, I dropped the branding iron and scurried to my kitchen to get an oven mitt.

The second attempt was a success. After 10 seconds of leaving the hot branding iron on the sizzling meat, the message “GET IN MY BELLY” appeared on the steak. Nice!

grilled steakThe next food test was for our vegetarian and vegan friends: TOFU! (Side note: I am not a tofu connoisseur and had no idea it comes in different sizes and varying consistencies. Who knew? I do now!). I went extra firm, to get as close to the consistency of steak as I could.

extra firm tofuIn order to change the letters, I ran the branding iron under cold water and simply slid the used letters out of the track. Not feeling terribly creative, I changed the message to read “NOT MEAT.”

Perhaps my inexperience grilling tofu didn’t help with the branding, but it was an epic fail. I tried multiple times to make the “NOT MEAT” brand dark enough on the tofu. Not once did it work. I tried leaving the brand on the grill for more time, putting the iron on the tofu longer, and it just didn’t take. I also thoroughly destroyed the tofu as I was flipping it over (and over).

tofu failMy thoughts on the BBQ Branding Iron? Steaks – beef, pork, lamb – and certainly chicken breast are the choice meat to use in order to get the message sufficiently branded. I suspect that hamburger might also work, but since I didn’t test the iron on a burger, I’m not sure. Tofu is definitely a no-go.

There were some reviewers who felt there weren’t enough letters included in the package, and that the letter track was too small and should be wider for longer messages. I can fully appreciate and understand their concerns.

I believe the BBQ Branding Iron would provide a clever personal touch for a reception or party where steaks are on the menu. It also would be a great gift for someone who loves to grill. Personally, I can’t imagine myself using it on a regular basis.

Recommended for grill masters, meat lovers, and party planners!

Delicious Dim Sum

delicious dim sumHungry? We invite you to peruse the contents of this adorable dim sum cart. In addition to being stocked with deliciously delectable dishes, the cart is a bilingual matching game with an additional story time social twist!

dim sum cartWe read Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001). Follow a family as they sample the many little dishes served at a dim sum restaurant. Pork buns, fried shrimp, egg tarts…the carts have something for everyone! The book concludes with an excellent essay about dim sum – it’s history, traditions, and social aspects. Fantastic book!

You’ll need:

First, the cart! Use a box cutter to create a square in one of the short sides of a  box (leave the other short side intact). Next, cut hinged rectangular flaps in the long sides of the box. Fold the flaps down to create the lower “shelf” of the cart. Secure the flaps in place with tape or hot glue.

dim sum cart box cutAdd a wheel assembly to the bottom of the box (you’ll find instructions and alternative wheel suggestions here). Use leftover box cardboard to make a cart handle. We also added gold mirror board and patterned tape to make the cart extra fancy.

dim sum cartTime for the food! Color and cut the dim sum dishes from the template, then glue them on top of construction paper (or patterned paper) circles. Thanks to Lin’s awesome illustrations on the front and end papers of the book, the dishes are labeled with their English and Chinese names.

top of dim sum cartWould you also like to serve tea? The tea cups are leftover bits of card stock circled into miniature cylinders. To make the teapot, circle and tape the rectangular part of the template to create the teapot’s body. Then add a handle, spout, and bead knob on top! The circular part of the template becomes the teapot’s hinged lid:

paper teapot

The book mentions that an open teapot means you are requesting a fresh pot – something we really wanted to replicate for this project. When the carts were finished, it was time for the matching game. Each cart came with a menu (the template is here):

dim sum menu

To play the game, kids rolled the carts up to their customers. The customers would point to a menu item, and the kids had to locate it on their carts! Oh, and we also included a cute place setting for your customers (template here).

dim sum restaurant tableThe book mentions how social dim sum dining is, so we made a couple tables (i.e. brown poster board circles) and asked the story time grown ups to sit around them. Kids traveled to ALL the tables, playing the matching game with everyone’s grown up! If you decided to add this social aspect to your story time, just make sure the kids write their names on the backs of each of their dishes so they can be returned to the proper cart.

dim sum restaurantThe final touch on this awesome project? Our colleague, Dr. Minjie Chen, stopped by to write the kids’ names on their menus in Chinese characters. The absolutely loved it. Thanks Minjie!

minjie at story time