Abracadabra

abracadabra

Hat, wand, and rabbit ready? Then…it’s showtime! Prepare yourself for a magical extravaganza extraordinaire with a top hat packed with mind-boggling magic tricks!

We read Life is Magic by Meg McLaren (Clarion Books, 2016). Not every rabbit is the right fit for a magic show assistant. But Houdini the rabbit? He’s a natural! However, when a stage trick turns the magician into a rabbit himself, it’s up to Houdini to keep the show running until he can figure a way to get his human back!

You’ll need:

  • 1 plastic top hat
  • 1 strip of white poster board (approximately 2″ x 28″)
  • Black poster board
  • 1 square of plastic tablecloth (approximately 6.5″ x 6.5″)
  • 1 magic rabbits template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 piece of string (approximately 27″)
  • 1 snippet of plastic straw (approximately 1.75″)
  • 1 piece of PVC pipe (approximately 10.5″)
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

magic top hat exterior

First, use markers to decorate a 2″ x 28″ strip of white poster board (we offered foil star stickers as well!). Wrap the hatband around the outside of a plastic top hat. We bought our hats from Oriental Trading Company (item #70/1284) for $8 a dozen. INSIDE the hat is where the magic happens…

magic top hat interiorAs you can see, the interior of the hat has two hidden pockets. These are made from 2 rectangles of black poster board taped inside the hat. After some testing, we learned that the pockets need to be fairly large (4.25″ x 9.5″) in order for the tricks to works successfully.

First, stuff a 6.5″ x 6.5″ piece of plastic tablecloth inside the right pocket of the hat.This is your magical “handkerchief.” Meanwhile, on the left side of the hat, notice the little 1.75″ snippet of plastic drinking straw? That’s the beginning of the pull string for a long line of magic rabbits…

magic hat rabbits pull stringWe gave the kids white rabbits to color, but if you want to print them in rainbow, you’ll find that template here. Knot a piece of string around the drinking straw snippet, then tape the rabbits to the dangling string. Bunch the rabbits up and slip them into the left pocket of the hat. However, leave the drinking straw snippet dangling outside the pocket so your fingers can find it later when you’re performing your trick.

Ready for the magic? Trick #1: First, show your audience that the inside of the hat is “empty.” Then, sneeze into your hat dramatically. While you are sneezing, pull the plastic handkerchief from the hidden pocket and say “Ta da!” Trick #2: Again, show the inside of your hat is empty. Then find the dangling drinking straw snippet with your fingers. Shout “Abracadabra!” and yank the line of rabbits out of your hat!

We also made classic wands by wrapping a 10.5″ piece of PVC pipe with color masking tape. And who can resist a poster board bow tie that attaches to your collar with a small paperclip?

magic wand and bowtieIf you’d like a add a third trick to your magic show, we highly recommend the “sticky wand” trick. You’ll find it, and other awesome tricks, in this “Incredible Illusions” post, but I’ve modified the instructions slightly below.

First, run your hand around the rim of your hat, announcing that it is giving you “magic magnetic powers.” Next, hold the wand in your “magnified” hand. Say “Observe my stupendous magnetic powers!” Extend your arm across your body and out to your side, still grasping the wand. Wrap your free hand around the wrist of your wand hand. Slowly and dramatically, lift each finger from the wand until you no longer appear to be holding it.

wand trick 2

But you are holding it of course. Because when you grab your wrist, you sneak a finger behind your wand hand and hold the wand like this:

wand trick 3 Tell the audience they have magic abilities too. On the count of three, have them audience clap once to “demagnetize” the wand. When you hear the clap, lift your finger to release the wand, and let it fall dramatically to the floor. Then take a big bow!

So Happy Together

so happy together

What could be cuter then a mama and baby bunny? A cozy log house with a fold-out flower garden, of course! And did we mention the house has a “working” LED votive fireplace? Such. Cuteness.

log homeThis project was designed for a story time with author Amanda Rowe, who visited our library, fuzzy bunny ears at the ready. Scroll to the end of the post for an interview with Amanda, as well as a fabulous book giveaway!

amanda rowe with bunny ear crowdWe read If There Never Was a You, written by Amanda Rowe, and illustrated by Olga Skomorokhova (Familius, 2019). A mother bunny lovingly asks what she would do without baby bunny in her life. This book is adorable, heartfelt, and beautifully illustrated. The perfect bedtime snuggle book, hands down!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9”, a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 strip of poster board (ours was 1.75″ x 8.5″)
  • 1 bunny house frames template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 2 small boxes
  • 1 wooden spool
  • 1 LED votive
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 4 mini pom-poms
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We used a 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” brown craft box for our project, but you can also modify a large tissue box. Just cut the top of the tissue box on a hinge, like so:

tissue log home alternativeUse a box cutter to add a window and door to the ends of the box, then tape (or hot glue) a poster board handle to the top. Then decorate the interior and exterior of the log house! You can just use construction paper and markers to decorate. Or, dig around the supply closet for items with interesting textures.

log home interior Our flower garden was a bit of outdoor carpet (reused from our Seuss mini golf event). We added fabric flowers, cardboard mosaic square stepping stones, and a blue embossed foil paper pond. For the interior, we offered both construction and patterned paper (and don’t forget to add some farmed art work from the template!). Here are the furnishings:

log home furnitureThe armchair is a modified tape roll box, and the table is a circle of poster board with a wooden spool base. The fireplace is also a tape roll box. The “fire” is an an LED votive with poster board sticks attached to the front. Cut a toilet paper tube in half to create your 2 bunnies, then add ears and pom-pom tails and noses. Light the fire, get your bunnies cozy, and revel in the cuteness!

bunnies by the fireplaceBest of all, everything tucks inside the log box for easy transportation!

log home exteriorAfter the project was finished, out came fuzzy bunny ears for kids to wear home, and we also gave away 3 signed copies of Amanda’s book! Here’s a lucky (and clearly very excited) winner!

book winner with amanda roweIf There Never Was a You is Amanda’s first book! After story time, I caught up with her to chat about her process…


Tell us a little about yourself!

I’ve always been a creative person. When I was a child, I used to spend hours dressing my dolls with matching accessories and coordinating tiny ensembles. I made cards to give to people for birthdays and holidays, and I even learned calligraphy to make them look special! As a young adult, I made wedding and baby shower favors, and decorative wreaths. I scrapbooked and painted all sorts of wall decor for my children’s rooms when they were little. Creating is something I’ve always done, and writing is one of my favorite avenues of expression for my creativity. But I can’t draw, so I’m very thankful for gifted illustrators like Olga!

This is your very first book, tell us your inspiration for it!

My children are the inspiration for everything good that I’ve done, including this book. A few years ago, I was divorced, with only fifty percent custody, and my kids were approaching teenagerhood, so even when they were with me, they were often busy with friends or sports practices, and I missed them. As a mother, especially a working one, it is unusual to have free time, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. But I wanted to channel that time and emotion into something positive, and I started thinking about how much I enjoy spending time with my kids, and all of the wonderful experiences I would have missed out on if they had not been born. I wrote it down, and that became If There Never Was a You.

What was the process to publication like?

It was a long road that led me here. I first began trying to get published when my children were little. I was a stay at home mother at the time, and I cherished my time with my kids, but I needed an intellectual outlet. So, at night, after they were asleep, I would go to our home office and write. I wrote everything and submitted most of it – personal essays, greeting cards, slogans, poems, non-fiction articles and eventually novels.

I sold a few poems, a greeting card and a slogan, and lots of non-fiction articles. But my novels were terrible, and my essays did not get picked up. I think that there are a lot of different types of writing, and not every writer is good at all of them. So, in the beginning, you try many different things to see what fits.

I took a break from writing when I got divorced because I returned to work full-time and I needed to focus on creating stability and a new normal for my kids. When I resumed writing a few years later, I tried my hand at children’s books, and this one got picked up almost immediately. I kept writing personal essays, too, because I enjoy reading them, and those eventually became my blog posts. So, it is an interesting situation I find myself in now, writing for children and adults at the same time. But it works. I read the book to the kids, and I point their parents to the blog. Hopefully, I have something of value to offer to both groups.

The illustrations by Olga Skomorokhova are gorgeous. At your story time, you asked the kids what their favorite illustration was…what’s yours?

That’s a hard question – it’s like trying to pick my favorite child! There is so much I like about all of them. I love the bunnies playing soccer because my son is a soccer player so that page is a nod to him (and it’s adorable – bunnies playing soccer!). I also really like the picture of the mom serving carrot cake to the child, because my daughter and I like to bake together and carrot cake is a favorite treat in our house. But I’m also a big fan of the carrot rocket ship (so creative!), and that page has one of my favorite lines, “Who would do your greatest things, and who would dream your dreams?” I like the idea that each child makes a unique contribution to the world, and if they had never been born, we would be missing something important.

if there never was a you illustrated by olgaskomorokhova

If There Never Was a You illustration by Olga Skomorokhova, used with permission of Familius, 2019

What’s the most unexpected thing about holding your first book in your hands?

The places and the life that this book has led me to. I imagined an author’s life as being a solitary existence, and it is anything but. It is true that I do most of the writing alone in my home office. But even at home, I’m not alone anymore – I’m interacting with people all over the world thanks to social media. There is so much networking and promotion involved when a book is published.

I’ve been everywhere lately – schools, libraries, bookstores – and I’m meeting so many people of various ages, from different walks of life, and it’s fascinating. I’ve been humbled and surprised by the warmth and the kindness of the people that I’ve met, and I’m so appreciative of all of the support that I’ve received from libraries, schools, bookstores, and parents.

And the kids are the best! They’re so sweet, curious, and openhearted. I’ve gotten some fantastic cards, pictures, and letters from kids that are so beautiful they made me cry. It’s a privilege, writing for and visiting with children, and they’ve inspired me to write more children’s books, so I have an excuse to hang out with them again!


Would you like to win a copy of the book? We have 3 copies of If There Never Was a You (Familius, 2019) to give away, signed by Amanda! Just send a mental hug to someone who means a lot to you, then e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name. We’ll randomly draw 3 winners on Tuesday,  April 9th. Good luck!

Pickin’ Peas, Or, A Problem with Rabbits

pickin peasIt’s garden season and the peas are plumb and ripe for pickin’. Unfortunately, Mr. Rabbit is on a mission to score a succulant snack! We made bunnies, baskets, and pea plants and then headed to our story time garden to catch that naughty nibbler in the act!

rabbit basket pea plantWe read Pickin’ Peas, a classic Southern folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald, and illustrated by Pat Cummings (HarperCollins, 1998). A little girl plants and carefully tends a pea garden. When the peas are nice and plumb she starts to pick them, singing as she goes (“Pickin’ peas. Put ’em in my pail.”). Mr. Rabbit, hiding in the row behind her, starts to eat the peas, singing as well (“Pickin’ peas. Land on my knees!”). Eventually, the little girl catches on to rabbit’s tricks and nabs him. But with some quick thinking, a song, and a dance, the rabbit manages to escape for further culinary daring-dos.

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4”) – a small tissue box works too!
  • 1 strip of tagboard for the basket handle (mine was 2″ x 14.5″)
  • Brown masking tape
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • Brown construction paper
  • 2 eye stickers
  • 1 pink dot sticker
  • 1 small white pom-pom (mine was 0.75″)
  • 1 green pipe cleaner
  • 1 rectangle of green construction paper (approximately 3″ x 3.5″)
  • 3-4 mini pom-poms (mine were 0.25″)
  • 1 small plastic cup (mine was 3oz.)
  • 1 pea garden game (more on that later!)
  • Stapler, scissors, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

There are three parts to this project: the basket, the rabbit, and the pea plant. We’ll start with the basket! Cut the tabs and lid off the top of a small box. If you’re using a tissue box, simply cut the top off. Attach a tagboard (or poster board) handle. Use brown masking tape and/or patterned tape to decorate the basket (or, just use markers!).

basket stepsNext is the rabbit! Wrap a toilet paper tube with brown construction paper, then add eye stickers and a dot sticker for the nose (or just use markers to create eyes and a nose). Tape a pair of brown construction paper ears to the inside of the tube. Hot glue on a white pom-pom tail, And don’t forget to draw a smile! The final step: write your name on the back of your rabbit so you can identify it later, during the garden game.

rabbitLastly, the pea plant. First, cut a pea pod and a leaf from a 3″ x 3.5″ rectangle of green construction paper. Here’s what mine look like:

pea pod and leafUse markers to draw some veins on the leaf. Write your name on the back of the leaf as well (so you identify it later, during the garden game).

Cut a pipe cleaner in half. Bunch the two halves together and tape the bottoms together tightly with masking tape (I used green tape, but any color will do). Curve the right pipe cleaner downward and tape the pea pod to it. Corkscrew the left pipe cleaner and tape a leaf to it. Finish by hot gluing 3-4 mini pom-poms to the pea pod (I used green pom-poms for my plant, but during story time, we let kids choose any colors they liked).

pea plant stepsYour pea plant also gets a “pot.” This is a 3oz plastic cup. I had some old office labels in the art supply cabinet, so I made “Peas” labels for the kids to color in. You can tape your pea plant inside the pot like this:

potted pea plantOr…you can wait, leave the pea plant detached from the pot, and play our garden game!

Our garden started as a low, flat box. We added 4 shrubs, tall grass, rocks, daisies, a smattering of flower stickers, pipe cleaner pea vines, a tagboard picket fence, and 3 oatmeal container rabbit holes. Here’s an image of the garden from the front:

garden from frontAnd here’s a birds-eye view so you can see how the shrubs are staggered and where the 3 rabbit holes are located:

garden from topWe knew the shrubs and rocks were going to get bumped pretty hard, so Katie attached them to jumbo craft sticks and slid them into slits she cut in the box.

shrub on sticksYou’ll notice that the shrubs have little pockets on them. This is so you can slide your pea plant into the pocket, and lo! It is now “growing” in the garden.

pea pocketTo play the game, we had every kid “plant” their pea plant in a pocket. Next, I collected all the rabbits. One by one, I hid a rabbit somewhere in the garden – in holes, behind rocks, in the tall grass, etc. – then I called out the name written on the back of the rabbit. The rabbit’s owner jumped up, ran over to the garden, and tried to find the rabbit before it “ate” any peas!

garden gameAfter everyone had caught their rabbit, the kids returned to the garden to “pick” their pea plants and tape them inside their pots. Since the kids’ names were written on the backs of the pea plant leaves, every plant was returned to its rightful owner.

Rabbits ruled this story time, but what happens when vegetables strike back? Click here to find out!