The Neverending Story

mystery mansion the neverending storyA mysterious phone call, a revealed trapdoor, a suspicious red envelope, a missing portrait. This is the world of “The Mystery Mansion,” a storytelling card game by Magical Myrioramas ($20).

Also known as “endless landscapes,” myriorama cards were popular toys in Europe in the 19th century. No matter what order you put the cards in, they always line up to create a continuous landscape. You can arrange the cards for visual fun, or you can arrange the cards to tell a story. The Mystery Mansion set has 20 cards, which means there are 2,432,902,008,176,640,000 possible combinations. That’s a lot of mysteries to uncover!

mystery mansion box and cardsThe set comes in a neat-o box that opens like a book, with the cards and 2 sets of instructions nestled inside. One set of instructions give short, enticing descriptions of the cards. Example: “He should be a loyal member of the household, but his face belies a bitter grudge…” The second set of instructions repeats the same card descriptions from the first set (which is rather redundant), but it also gives suggestions for various game play.

The cards are beautifully illustrated by Lucille Clerc, in a style that reminds me of Edward Gorey. They are printed on heavy card stock, so they’re very sturdy. Here’s my favorite. A bookshelf, of course.

mystery mansion single card There is no suggested age range listed for this product, but my 7 and 9 year-olds played with it quite happily. The dominant color is light pink, but that didn’t seem to bother my son one bit. The theme IS murder, so it might not be an appropriate topic for all kids. But in my opinion, the imagery isn’t too terribly disturbing. Here, in fact, are the 3 most intense cards.

mystery mansion three most intense cardsMagical Miroramas also has “The Hollow Woods,” which is very Brothers Grimm and graphically speaking, lot more sinister. They are also releasing “The Shadow World” this August, and that looks very cool – all sci-fi and steampunk!

This is a really beautiful and interesting set – beautifully illustrated, carefully thought out, nicely printed, and well packaged. It’s highly portable, and who can argue with the potential for endless narratives and stories of your own making? This would make a terrific and unusual gift for a reader or writer. Recommended!

The Shadow Shows

the shadow showsTeachers, parents, and librarians, lend me your ears! Today, I present Shadow Puppets Theater by Creativity for Kids, the one stop shop for hours of imaginative narration and story building. Get thee hence and acquire one!

shadow puppets theater by creativity for kidsThe kit retails for around $20, and is intended for ages “6 to 96.” It contains a theater, a detachable chalkboard marquee, 1 piece of yellow chalk, stickers, rhinestones, 10 felt animal puppets, 2 felt people puppets with accessories, 15 metal brads for the jointed puppets, 12 puppet holders, 8 puppet sticks, and 2 LED lights (batteries included!).

shadow puppet theater kit contentsOne of the frustrating things about toy puppet theaters is how flimsy the stage is, and how the slightest nudge will send it tumbling. Not this one! It’s made out of very sturdy cardboard. A few basic folds, and the stage is ready to go, anchored in place with some very helpful velcro fasteners.

back of shadow puppet theaterThere’s also a detachable chalkboard marquee for the top, which is super cute. Also, unlike some of the cheaper cardboard chalkboards, the chalk wipes off cleanly and easily with a dry paper towel.

shadow puppet theater marqueeAlso included are some terrific stickers and clear rhinestones (yes!) to decorate the front of the theater. They are easily removable, so you can change your theater’s look. The stage’s screen is thick, high quality, and securely mounted (because there’s nothing sadder then your screen buckling, tearing or falling off during a performance).

But best of all is the lighting. The sturdy LED lights have flexible necks and are attached to clips. So you can attach them to the top of the theater OR…and I really, really, loved this. They can balance on their clips and act as footlights. Genius.

Their illumination power is fantastic. No matter what configuration we put the lights in, we got great shadows and and a well-lit screen.

illuminated shadow puppet theater screenThe puppets? They totally rock. Look at them! The mouse! The owl! The happy pig!

animal shadow puppets

The kit comes with foam blocks that self-adhere to the back of each puppet. Simply stick the block to the back of the puppet, inset the puppet stick in the pre-drilled hole, and you’re ready to go!

shadow mouse puppet

There were also 2 jointed puppets, which consisted of a main body piece and some interesting accessories to attach (hair, hats, skirts, pants, etc.). Note to grown-ups: the metal brads used to hinge the puppets joints are tiny. Younger kids are definitely going to need help with them.

jointed shadow puppetsI only have one quibble with this puppet theater kit. There are 12 puppets in the kit, but only 8 sticks! The instructions say to swap out the sticks during the show, but that somewhat breaks the flow. I made a couple extra out of a balloon stick. But this is the only problem I have with the awesome puppet kit.

How did our kid testers (ages 6 and 9) like the theater? They LOVED it! They loved how the screen lit up, all the different choices of puppets, and how they could move the lighting around for different effects. The stage stood up to an HOUR LONG continuous narrative with no breaks. Yes, that was 60 minutes of total concentration that only stopped because it was time to leave the office.

For $20, the Creativity for Kids Shadow Puppets Theater is a fabulous gift, activity, or program resource that will be throughly enjoyed. It’s packed with fun things, the puppets are great, it’s definitely tough enough to be use by scores of enthusiastic amatuer puppeteers. Bonus! The LED lights also work as clip-on mini lamps for late night reading. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Five out of five stars!

Is There a Ducktor in the House?

duckter in the house

Rev up this fantastic ambulance stocked with medical equipment…your patients need you, stat! This project is entirely Katie’s brainchild, including the BEST craft stethoscope and syringe the world has ever seen. Ever.

We read Dr. Duck, written by H.M. Ehrlich, and illustrated by Laura Rader (Orchard Books, 2000). Dr. Duck is a very busy doctor indeed, visiting various patients in his big red van. There are weasels with sneezles, hoarse cows, and a moose whose antlers are loose. At the end of the day, however, it’s Dr. Duck who catches a bug and crawls into bed, feeling horrible. His panicking patients rush to his bedside with advise and TLC. Soon, Dr. Duck is back on his feet again, thankful that he has friends who care so much about him.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 ambulance template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • Red, black, and white construction paper
  • 1 small piece of bubble tea straw (ours was 2.75″)
  • 1 small rectangle of red cellophane (ours was 3.5″ x 5″)
  • 1 piece of yarn (ours was 40″ long)
  • 1 doctor kit template, printed on 8.5″ x11″ card stock
  • Doctor’s kit contents (more on this later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

finished ambulanceWe’ll start with the ambulance! It’s basically a box on a pull string…but look at Katie’s awesome light on the roof! That’s a rectangle of cellophane wrapped around a snippet of red bubble tea straw. Wrap a piece of masking tape or white construction paper around the middle, and hot glue it to the roof. Add a construction paper windshield, wheels, and red crosses for the sides (or draw them on with markers).

The hood of the vehicle is exactly the same as this pickup truck project, so I’ll repeat the steps here. Cut the front of the truck from the template. There are 5 folds you’ll need to make on the template. Each fold is marked with a dotted line. First, fold the 2 tabs on either side of the hood.

truck template fold 1 Next, fold the 2 panels on either side of the truck’s headlights.

truck template fold 2Finally, fold the hood down to meet the side panels, and secure it with tape.

truck template fold 3Tape it to the front of the box (use markers to color it before you fold it, or after). Finish the ambulance by attaching a yarn pull string to the front. Up next is all your medical equipment, which gets conveniently stored in your ambulance box.

doctors kitMost of the items in the kit are quick to assemble. The ice pack is polyester fill in a sandwich bag with a template label. The pill bottle is a plastic film canister with mini pom-pom pills and a template label. The bandage roll is cut is from a white tablecloth someone donated, and the thermometer is on the template. A craft stick tongue depressor, a couple real Band-Aids, and you’re set!

Now for the most amazing craft stethoscope of the century. It’s easier to explain it if I label the stethoscope parts with their actual names (I had to look these up – you learn something new every day!).

stethoscope partsThe stethoscope is basically constructed out of of two, 15″ pieces of black mesh tubing. To make the binaural, insert a black pipe cleaner into the center of a piece of mesh tubing, then bend it upwards into a U shape. You can just see the pipe cleaner in the image below.

stethoscope pipe cleaner placementHot glue 2 foam beads to the end of the mesh tubing to create your ear tips. What’s cool is that these actually fit in your ears and stay there, making your stethoscope look all the more fabulous. The dangling tubing part of the stethoscope is the second piece of mesh tubing. The mesh tubing is folded around the binaural, and secured with a piece of masking tape. The diaphragm is a piece of mirror board, and the bell is a foam bead.

syringe stepsTo make the syringe, you’re going to need a 2.75″ piece of bubble tea straw, a 4.25″ piece of balloon stick, a mini pom-pom and 3 foam beads. You’ll need a square foam bead, a round one, and a little itty bitty one (or another round one). Here are the steps:

A. Hot glue the round foam bead to the bottom of the bubble tea straw. Cut a 0.5″ piece off the balloon stick, and hot glue it to the foam bead. Use a Sharpie to add lines to the syringe if you wish.

B. Hot glue an itty bitty (or round) foam bead to one end of the remaining section of the balloon stick. Then slide a square bead up the stick. Make sure the foam bead slides easily up and down the stick. Hot glue a mini pom-pom to the bottom of the stick.

C. Slide the pom-pom into the syringe, then hot glue the square bead to the bubble tea straw. The pom-pom acts as a cushion as you push the plunger up and down in the syringe. It feels legit!

After that, it was time to treat some patients! I must say, I got quite a few treatments that day. Some pom-pom pills…

getting medsLots of bandaging…

getting bandagedAnd LOTS of shots…

getting a shotAt one point, six kids were crowding around me, administering shots. I was a very, very, healthy person by the end of story time.