Seeing Spirits

seeing spiritsA quiet forest appears empty. But gaze long enough and…a fox spirit will magically appear before your eyes! No, its not Photoshop or camera trickery. It’s a simple physical stage illusion called Pepper’s Ghost (invented by English scientist John Henry Pepper in 1862). We conjured it at To Be Continued, our chapter book story time program for 6-8 year-olds. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see a video of the illusion in action!

We read Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon, written by John August (Roaring Brook Press, 2019). Summer camp for most kids means bonfires, canoeing, and hiking. But for Arlo Finch and his friends, it means surviving the supernatural forces of the Long Woods. Doppelgangers, menacing strangers, talking foxes, locations both in and out of time, and a mysterious object unearthed after decades in hiding test both Arlo’s courage, and his friends’ loyalty.

In the book, Arlo has a special ability to see the spectral world. And I’ve wanted to make a Pepper’s Ghost project for kids for AGES. Through an afternoon of happy experimenting, I was able to construction this inexpensive and kid-friendly tabletop version.

You’ll need:

  • 2 large tissue boxes
  • A box cutter
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 1 piece of glass or clear polystyrene (more on this below)
  • White card stock
  • Scissors, glue, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

First, cut the lids off the top of a pair of large tissue boxes. Then cut the boxes in such a way as to create an L shape box like so:

ghost box step 1The L shape box is consists of two sections: a “forest section” and a “ghost section.”

ghost box sectionsNext, cut a small square (approximately 1.75″ x 1.75″) in the side of the box that faces the forest section. This is your viewfinder.

ghost box step 2In the book, Arlo gazes through a slipknot, a loop of rope or lacing that allows him to see and travel multidimensionally. In order to replicate that rounded view, we slid a 2.25″ piece of toilet paper tube into the viewfinder as well.

ghost box step 3 Now draw a backdrop for the wall opposite the viewfinder. I had the kids decorate a pre-cut  piece of paper or cardboard, then we glued it to the inside of the box.

ghost box step 4Next, sketch a ghost on a piece of white card stock. Here’s my tribute to Fox, a spirit from the book (and my favorite character):

fox spiritTape the ghost in the ghost section of the Pepper’s Ghost box. Though you will probably need to do a little adjusting on the exact placement, try to arrange the ghost in the center of the section. I found this gave the best results.

ghost box step 5Now for the magic! A Pepper’s Ghost illusion is essentially a reflection. For this model, the reflection is caused by a piece of glass or clear polystyrene set at a 45 degree angle in the junction of the L shaped box.

ghost box step 6During my initial test, I used a piece of glass from a 4″ x 6″ picture frame. However, I was a little uncomfortable giving multiple 6-8 year-old kids pieces of glass to take home. Luckily, I found clear polystyrene sheets on Amazon (a set of ten, 8″ x 10″ sheets cost $15). Polystyrene is plastic, lighter weight, doesn’t shatter, and you can cut it down to size with a box cutter or scissors. Testing revealed that the reflection illusion works just as well with polystyrene as glass. Yay!

The final piece of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion is the lighting. First, cover the area above the view finder with a square of cardboard…

ghost box step 7Then hinge a second square of cardboard over the ghost section. It’s important that this flap open and close. With the flap closed, the ghost will not appear through the viewfinder. But when you lift the flap, the ghost section will illuminate, causing a reflection to appear.

ghost box step 8Ready to see the illusion in action? Close the flap and peer through the viewfinder. Keep gazing through the viewfinder, then lift the flap over the ghost section. Your ghost will magically appear! I also encouraged kids to stick their hands in the forest section and try to grab the ghost. Their fingers passed right through it, of course!


This isn’t the first time the To Be Continued kids have adventured with Arlo Finch and his friends. We read the first book, Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire earlier in the program (you can see the project we did here). The kids voted unanimously to read the sequel. It did not disappoint. The Arlo Finch books are full of action, intrigue, mystery, and humor. I highly recommend them!

Witchy Kitchy

witchy kitchy

From the well-stocked shelves, to the bubbling cauldron, to the secret storage space…this kitchen is ready to concoct some scintillating brews. It also folds down into a snappy little travel case, complete with your shopping list clipped to the outside!

witchy kitchy travel modeWe read One Witch, written by Laura Leuck, and illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Walker & Company, 2003). A witch visits her ten sets of (unusual) friends to gather ingredients for the ultimate brew. She cooks it up, sends out invitations via bat, and a massive party ensues – including a special bowl for you! This is a fantastic counting book, plus a real family favorite. My kids asked me to read this book to them year round!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large tissue box
  • 1 small tissue box
  • Poster board
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 1 wooden coffee stirrer
  • 1 mini cauldron (or paper cup)
  • 1 ingredient bottles template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 2 plastic sample cups
  • 2 snippets of drinking straw
  • 2 buttons
  • 1 small rubber band
  • 1 spooky shopping list template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

We used our standard craft boxes for this project, but I’m also going to show you how to build it with large and small tissue boxes. Here’s a bird’s eye view of the project:

witchy kitchy birds eye viewAs you can see, it’s a box within a box. The left side of the kitchen is the unfolding countertop/secret storage area, the the right side is the fireplace for the cauldron (which we stoked with brown poster board logs and red paper crinkle, but construction paper works too). The front of the fireplace is a V-shaped door that folds down. Use markers to create the stones for your hearth.

If you want to make the project with tissue boxes, the key is to flip the tissue boxes upside down and cut the bottoms into lids. Here’s the large box:

witch kitchy tissue box alt step 1The issue, of course, is you have a big hole in the floor of your kitchen. No problem! Just glue or tape a piece of poster board over the hole (shown here in yellow):

witch kitchy tissue box alt step 2To make the unfolding countertop/secret storage space, flip a small tissue box, cut the bottom to make a hinged lid, cut the box down to the proper height, then attach it inside the large box. Cut the V-shaped hearth door and you’re set!

witch kitchy tissue box alt step 3The shelves along the back of the kitchen are basic poster board pockets. Cut and color the various bottles in your template to stock your kitchen:

witchy kitchy shelvesIn the secret storage are little plastic sample cups for mixing, snippets of drinking straws, plus (optional) ingredient bottles repurposed from old-school film canisters. We filled ours with fabric flowers, foam beads, and green paper crinkle. I also added little cleavers I cut from silver mirror board.

witchy kitchyBut my FAVORITE item in the kitchen is the cauldron. We used plastic mini cauldrons, but you can also fashion a cauldron from a paper cup. To hang the cauldron, cut little notches in the sides of the boxes, then slide a wooden coffee stirrer into the notches.

The outside of the box gets a poster board carrying handle, as well as a shopping list you can either tape or clip to the front:

witchy kitchy travel modeThe box does get a little heavy. In fact, our lid kept popping open. So we added extra support in the form of two buttons, which we hot glued to the lid and body of the large box. Wrap a rubber band around the buttons, and you’re set!

A week after this project, we ran into one of our story time kids. She wants you to know that “THIS IS MY FAVORITE TOY AND I PLAY WITH IT ALL THE TIME I MAKE SOUPS THAT I FEED MY BROTHER!”

Ghostly Guppy

ghostly guppieAfter spotting the fabulous upside down goldfish ghost Marissa designed for her literary exhibit, I vowed I would find a way to replicate it as a story time project. And behold! A floating paper plate goldfish ghost marionette!

We read Goldfish Ghost, written by Lemony Snicket, and illustrated by Lisa Brown (Roaring Brook Press, 2017). Goldfish Ghost, who comes into being floating on top of his fishbowl, floats out the window to seek company. But the world is vast, loud, and bustling. Goldfish Ghost is disheartened to find no company. Until he meets the ghost of the lighthouse keeper. Now the two are the best of friends, settled in quietly together, by the lighthouse light.

You’ll need:

  • 2 paper plates
  • White construction paper
  • String or clear elastic beading cord
  • 1 drinking straw
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Black markers for decorating

goldfish ghost marionetteTo make the marionette, trim the outside perimeters off 2 paper plates. Use marker to draw eyes, a mouth, and scales on the plates.Next, tape a white construction paper tail and fins to the inside of 1 plate.

In the book, Goldfish Ghost floats upside down, so tape a length of string or elastic beading cord to the belly of the fish. Then tape the 2 plates together. Knot the string around a drinking straw, and your fabulous marionette is complete!