Worth the Splurge: Plastic Wheels

plastic wheels by kelvin educationalYou’ve seen them in various projects that roll, toddle, and race. For anything ambulant, we highly recommend these fantastic plastic wheels, sold by Kelvin Educational. This post also includes instructions on how to make an official Pop Goes the Page wheel assembly for all your vehicular needs!

We discovered the 1-3/8″ diameter wheels while designing an event for Richard Scarry’s classic book, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. The event was my son’s idea. He was 6 at the time, and told me the library needed to do “a program about crazy cars you can make.” Crazy cars we DID make, with some science thrown in to boot (details here).

cars and trucks montageTo make a wheel assembly, tape two, 4″ plastic straws to the bottom of a box. Then thread two, 6″ wooden rod “axles” through the straws. We used BBQ skewers cut down to the proper size with pruning shears (and don’t forget to cut off the pointy end of the skewer!). Here’s what a finished wheel assembly looks like:

axles and wheelsThe wheels can be purchased from Kelvin Educational. Black wheels are product #990168 ($10 for 100); and color wheels are #990169 ($11 for 100). Warning! Sometimes, the wheels slide off the ends of the skewers. To remedy that, we hot glue foam beads to the outsides of the wheels. But Kelvin Education DOES sell the same wheels, same price, with “end caps.” So we recommend going with those (black #990170; color #990171).

In terms of sturdiness and versatility, these wheels are definitely worth the splurge! Here are some story time projects we’ve created with them…


pigs on paradePig parade floats (marching band optional)


skunk on the street 3Hitting the streets with your pet skunk


red-wagon cropped

A super sweet tissue box red wagon


go with the floeAn ice floe for a geographically challenged polar bear and penguin family


monster-bike croppedA bicycle for a well-meaning monster


bon-appetit

A crêpe cart with all the trimmings, including a menu that allows you to order en français!


If these plastic wheels won’t work for you, alternatives include wooden wheels (a regularly stocked item at Michael’s Craft store), wooden spools, sized-down toilet paper or paper towel rolls attached to the bottom of the box, or poster board/card stock wheels glued to the sides of the box (like this awesome car, or this charming train).

Ham(ster) it Up!

ham it upSchool is in session, and it appears your teacher has a new pet…that could potentially eat him. Wouldn’t you rather have a sweet little hamster? We were delighted to have author Anica Mrose Rissi visit our story time to read her book, The Teacher’s Pet. There’s an interview with Nica at the end of today’s post, AND! We’re giving away 6 signed copies of the book to YOU, our blog readers!

We read The Teacher’s Pet, written by Anica Mrose Rissi, and illustrated by Zachariah OHora (Disney Hyperion, 2017). Everyone is excited when the class tadpoles hatch. Mr. Stricter, the teacher, allows the class one tadpole to keep as a pet. Except “Bruno” isn’t a tadpole. He’s a hippo who proceeds to grow at an alarming rate and run amok. Bruno eats schools supplies, breaks desks, and snores during silent reading. But Mr. Stricter won’t hear a word against his beloved pet. Until Bruno swallows him whole. The clever class rescues Mr. Stricter, but Bruno needs to retire to a place with more room. Perhaps Mr. Stricter would like a hamster?

We made hamster cages, complete with a jumbo pom-pom hamster. Thanks to the wonder of magnets, your hamster can scurry around the cage, motor up ramps, and ring a little bell!

finished hamster cage

You’ll need:

  • 1 aluminum food container with plastic lid (more on this below)
  • Poster board
  • Yellow crepe paper streamer
  • Construction paper
  • 1 wine cork
  • 2 button magnets
  • 2 wiggle eyes
  • 1 jumbo pom-pom
  • 1 bell
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The key to this project is the container you use for the hamster’s cage. We found 10.5″ x 12.5″ aluminum food containers with plastic lids at our local dollar store that totally did the trick. Definitely opt for a larger container so you have room to attach the cage elements. Also, make sure the bottom of the aluminum container is somewhat smooth. Some are heavily ribbed, which makes it hard to keep the hamster/magnet connection going. The cage elements are simple:

hamster cage elementsWe made a water bottle out of a roll of construction paper and a snippet of drinking straw. The ramps and the little hamster house are poster board. The sawdust shavings are crumpled pieces of yellow crepe paper streamers (the clear winner out of testing a bunch of different types of paper). The food bowl is a tape core wrapped with patterned tape. And the bell is hanging from a little piece of curling ribbon.

The hamster is a jumbo pom-pom with wiggle eyes, construction paper ears, and a little self-adhesive foam nose (even though construction paper works for the nose too). Hot glue button magnets to the back of the pom-pom and one end of a wine cork and you have your hamster magnet wand, ready to go!

hamster magnet wandWe also found some alphabet letter stickers in the art cabinet. So we encouraged kids to spell their hamster’s name on the clear plastic lid of the aluminum container. Our hamster was named Twinkles, but there was also a Sparky, Bob, Ricky, and…I can’t quite pronounce this one…

hamster name To operate your hamster, place the cork wand behind the cage, connect it with the magnet glued to the pom-pom hamster, then drag the wand to lead the hamster through all of his/her activities!


The Teacher’s Pet is fantastic and fun, and the fun multiplied exponentially when the Anica Mrose Rissi arrived to read it to us herself (whilst also sporting an awesome Mr. Stricter sweater).  Many readers know Anica from her charming Anna, Banana series, but she recently released her first YA novel, Always Forever Maybe.

anica mrose rissi at the cotsen children's libraryPlease tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up on an island off the coast of Maine, where I read a lot of books and loved a lot of pets. After college, I moved to New York City, where I worked as a book editor for more than thirteen years. Now I tell and collect stories, make up songs on my violin, and take long walks with my dog, Arugula, here in Princeton, where I’ve lived for the past three years.

Besides my picture books, chapter books, young adult novels, and essays, I also write lyrics for (and play fiddle in!) the electro-country band Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves. Princeton-area friends can see us play at two free, family-friendly shows this fall: We’ll be part of the Unruly Sounds Festival at Hinds Plaza on September 29, and we’ll be playing a record release show at Princeton Public Library on November 10, to celebrate our new album, The Best of Your Lies.

Thanks for coming to our library! What do you enjoy most about reading to kids?

Thanks for having me! Talking with kids about writing and reading is one of my favorite parts of being an author. I’m lucky to do a lot of school visits, at which the kids always ask fun and interesting questions. The best thing about reading stories to kids and talking with them about my creative process is that young kids are all creators too. I don’t know a single child who isn’t also an artist or storyteller (or both!), so the conversation is really one amongst peers. I can inspire and encourage them, but they inspire me with their creativity and imaginations too.

You’re best known for your Anna, Banana series, but The Teacher’s Pet was your first picture book. What inspired it?

The Teacher’s Pet is the story of a teacher who is so enamored of the new class pet, he can’t see all the trouble it’s causing. I wrote it because I wanted to play with the pun suggested by the title and tell a story about a teacher whose obvious favorite is an actual pet. And I was drawn to the challenge of writing it as a picture book—a medium with so much room for humor, yet space for so few words.

As for character inspiration…Mr. Stricter is perhaps the most autobiographical character I’ve written. I am not an elementary-school teacher, and I’ve never (yet) been swallowed whole (or sneezed back out!) by a creature like Bruno, but I am wildly in love with my own adorable but not always entirely well-behaved pet (the aforementioned pup, Arugula).

A fun fact about picture-book creation: Picture book authors and illustrators almost always work separately, and even though I wrote this book, I didn’t know that Bruno, the class pet, would turn out to be a [species redacted] until I saw the first round of Zachariah OHora’s hilarious artwork. When the early sketches for the story arrived in my inbox, I laughed with surprise. I never would have guessed that a tadpole would grow into a [!!!!!]. (Though I knew, of course, that Bruno would not be a regular frog.) It’s so much fun to write a story like this and get to see the extra layers—and humor—that the visual story created by the illustrator adds to the text.

This summer, you released your first YA book, Always Forever Maybe. I know you’re continuing the Anna, Banana series, releasing another picture book, and working on another YA novel. Sometimes, do you feel like you’re writing on different planets?

I feel lucky to get to write many kinds of stories for different audiences, and my brain likes to keep busy. I’m happiest when I’m working on several projects at once (though it’s best when each project is in a different stage of creation—I can’t, for example, write two first drafts simultaneously). But no, they don’t feel like different planets to me. Each story has a way it wants to be told, and when I’m writing a draft, I’m focused on figuring out the best way to tell it. That process feels both similar from book to book and wildly different. But I’m exploring similar themes across categories, genres, and age levels—almost everything I write, from picture books for kids to essays for adults, touches on ideas about friendship, animals, and love.

Describe writing in 6 words.

Fun terrible surprising exciting wonderful drudgery :)


If you’d like to meet Anica, she’s going to be at the Princeton Public Library’s Children’s Book Festival this Saturday, September 22nd from 11am to 4pm. Go say hi!

We also have 6 copies of The Teacher’s Pet to give away, signed by Anica AND the illustrator, Zachariah OHora (who will be at the book festival too)! Just e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name, and the name of your favorite pet growing up. We’ll put all the names in a hat and draw 6 winners at random on Tuesday, September 25th. Good luck!

Rockin’ Rhino

rockin-rhinoWant a pet rhino? Of course you do! But pet ownership is a tremendous responsibility. Get prepared with a customized accessory bag that contains a water dish, rhino snacks, and a cozy fleece blanket.

We read Rita’s Rhino by Tony Ross (Andersen Press, 2014). Rita wants a pet, but her mom insists on something small. Like a flea. Or a tadpole. Unimpressed, Rita heads to the zoo and invites a rhinoceros home. She’s thrilled, but there are some problems. Like coaxing the rhino into the elevator, cramming him into her family’s small apartment, paying for heaps of specialized rhino food, and dealing with the enormous piles of poop that must be hidden in the park every day. Rita’s rhino is a good sport about his new, cramped life. Until he’s mistaken for a bouncy castle during a visit to Rita’s school. That does it. The rhino heads back to the zoo. But Rita and the rhino miss each other. So they agree to meet up, every summer, for a little beach vacation.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box (mine was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • Light blue poster board
  • A rhino body template, printed on 11 x 17 paper
  • White poster board
  • 1 small rectangle of tagboard or poster board (approximately 1.75″ x 3″)
  • 1 piece of yarn (approximately 29″ in length)
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • 1 paper bag
  • A rectangle of felt or fleece (approximately 11 x 15.5″)
  • 1 paper cup
  • A rectangle of blue cellophane (approximately 4″ x 5″)
  • 1 small drawstring bag (or a small paper bag)
  • A bit of paper crinkle
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The rhino basically is a pull string toy, and we wanted it to glide effortlessly across the floor on its leash. So we attached wheels to the bottom of our boxes. We used the same plastic wheels assemblies from this crêpe cart project (and if you’re interested in purchasing the wheels, you’ll find info in this post). Tape shortened drinking straws to the bottom of the box, thread some bamboo skewer axles through the straws, then stick the plastic wheels on the ends of the skewers.

rhino-wheelsYou can also use cardboard wheels or skip the wheels entirely and simply slide the box across the floor. Now for the rest of the rhino! Fold a large, 7.5″ x 28″ piece of light blue poster board in half. Cut the rhino body from the template, then place the nose of the rhino template against the fold in the poster board. Cut the template out of the poster board, leaving the nose fold intact.

rhino-body-step-1Cut a rhino horn out of white poster board and hot glue it inside the fold. Hot glue 1″ of the entire front of the fold together as well. This gives your rhino the appropriate muzzle shape. Tape or glue the rhino body to the box, making sure the leave about 1″ of space between the rhino body and the bottom of the box.

rhino-body-step-2Cut a piece of light blue poster board to fit the back section of the box. Round the top of it and tape or hot glue it to the box. This is your rhino’s rump. Again, leave about 1″ of space between the rhino body and the bottom of the box. And don’t forget to add a tail!

rhino-body-step-3

Attach a pair of ears, a pair of wiggle eyes, and 4 legs. Our legs were 2″ x 3.5″. We bent them slightly so they wouldn’t drag on the ground or rub against the wheels. Use markers to add nostrils, a smile, and toenails. Decorate two strips of white poster board (ours were 1″ x 6″) and attach to either side of the neck to create a collar.

rhino-body-step-5

Did you notice the red yarn leash in the above photo? To make a leash, cut notches in a 1.75″ x 3″ piece of tagboard or poster board, then knot a 29″ piece of yarn around it.

rhino-pull-string-knotAttach the leash assembly to the front of the box (under the rhino’s the “chin”). Keep the assembly towards the bottom of the box. If it’s up too high, your rhino will keep tipping over.

rhino-body-step-4That’s it for the rhino, now for your accessories! Our paper accessory bags held a water dish, a bag of African grass, and a fleece blanket (we offered a choice of pink, blue, or purple).

rhino-care-kitThe water dish was a shortened paper cup  with blue cellophane taped to it. In the book, Rita’s rhino eats African grass, so we hot glued labels to the front of a small drawstring bag (left over from this Viking event). The kids colored in the labels and stuffed the bags with a green paper crinkle.

african-grass

You’ll notice the paper bag and the water dish have the rhino’s name emblazoned on them. You can write directly on the paper bag, but we used address labels for the water dish. I loved this part of the project. The names were so creative! A few of my favorites? Bluebell, Giga, Bubba, Trix, Tany, Twinkle, and Baki. You gotta love Twinkle the rhino.