Bananas Faster

bananas fasterThis banana’s going mobile, thanks to its CD wheels and rubber band engine! And why did we rig this fruit to roll? Four words: fusion, bananas, trolls, and technology. This feat of engineering was was constructed at To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8!

We read The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery written by P.G. Bell, and illustrated by Matt Sharack (Feiwel and Friends, 2018). When strange noises wake Suzy Smith, she discovers an enormous, unusual-looking train in her kitchen. Suzy quickly (and voluntarily) gets caught in a fast-paced adventure in The Union of Impossible Places, a collection of unusual and fantastical worlds that can be traversed by the Impossible Postal Express train. Unfortunately, Suzy’s first package delivery goes horribly wrong when the package speaks, begging not to be delivered. This doesn’t make the package’s recipient, a powerful sorceress named Lady Crepuscula, very happy. Soon more then a few people are chasing Suzy and her friends as the true nature of the package, and what it means for future of the Impossible Places, is revealed.

In the book, the steam train is built, and primarily staffed by, trolls. And “troll technology” is the awesomely hodge podge way trolls build things. The train is also fueled by fusion bananas, which crackle with blue electricity and are a mite explosive (they also, incidentally, turn your hair blonde). We wanted the kids to experience of troll technology while also putting a banana in motion!

You’ll need:

This project was inspired by a banana car designed by YouTuber GrandadIsAnOldMan. However, we modified ours to fit the materials we had on hand. Begin by hot gluing 2 mini craft sticks across 2 jumbo craft sticks like so:

banana car step 1Next, cut a toilet paper tube in half, then hot glue it on top of the mini craft sticks:

banana car step 2This creates your “banana saddle,” which keeps the bottom of your banana from interfering with the rubber band motor. Here’s a side view of the finished saddle:

banana car saddleTo create the rubber band motor, tightly wrap a brass fastener around the center of a 5.75″ piece of bamboo skewer. You want to prongs to be nice and tight, but make sure there’s still a little room under the head of the brass fastener for the rubber band.

banana car brass fastenerCut a drinking straw into 3 pieces (two 1.5″ pieces, and one 3.75″ piece). Thread the 2 smaller pieces on either side of the bamboo skewer with the brass fastener. Then thread the larger straw piece onto the other bamboo skewer. Hot glue the straws directly to the jumbo craft sticks, then loop a rubber band onto the center of the longer straw. The underside of your car should now look like this:

banana car step 3Later, you will wrap the rubber band around the head of the brass fastener, then wind the wheel and the axle to tighten the rubber band and prime the banana car’s “motor”:

banana car step 4The car’s wheels are surplus CDs we obtained via donation from various University departments. We pushed a foam bead through the holes of each CDs, then hot glued them for extra security. Slide the wheels onto the ends of the bamboo skewers, then hot glue another foam bead to the outside of each wheel.

finished banana carThe car is ready to go…all you need is a banana! We actually went with FAKE bananas for this project (Amazon: 6 cost $11). Firstly, fake bananas don’t ripen inconveniently. Secondly, fake bananas are lighter, which meant that the cars would roll a little further.

And roll that banana car did! Wind the rubber band up and let it go…


We also tested this car with a real banana, which was much heavier. As predicted, the car didn’t roll as far. But you might be able to remedy that with a thicker rubber band. Or visit the original source of the project on YouTube: GrandadIsAnOldMan for some helpful hints. And hey! It’s engineering! Trial and error are part of the fun!


Many thanks to Princeton University’s Rockefeller College and Office of the Registrar for recycling their surplus CDs for this project! 

Goodnight Moon

goodnight moonLearn about the phases of the moon (and track them yourself!) using this awesome, 3D, double-sided, lunar calendar! Katie and I dubbed this “the story time project of the year.” Because STEAM power!

We read A Kite for Moon, written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and illustrated by Matt Phelan (Zonderkidz, 2019). A little boy on the beach spots the lonely, daytime moon and sends her a message on his kite. He promises to visit her someday. Years go by, and the little boy grows into a man who studies numbers, astronomy, and piloting. Eventually, he takes a rocket ship to space, where the moon has been watching and waiting for that promised visit.

You’ll need:

We’ll start with the front of the calendar. Use dark blue construction paper to create a sky on your corrugated cardboard backdrop. Glue or tape an 3.25″ x 3.75″ rectangular pocket to the right-hand side of the sky. Later, this will become your “moon stick pocket.”

moon stick pocketNext, use black construction paper, a toilet paper tube, and a small box to create mountains, a tree, and a house (we recommend adding a little yellow window to the house as well). The hot glue the tree and the house to the backdrop. Important! In order to get the calendar to stand up, the house needs to be attached in the center of the backdrop:

house attached to backdropTo the right of the house is a small lunar phase calendar. Tape or hot glue a binder clip to the backdrop, then clip the calendar in place. I custom designed our calendar for June-December 2019, but seeing as time inexorably marches on, you can find a current calendar with a Google search. Add some white card stock stars to the sky, and you’re done with this side.

back of lunar calendarAbove is the other side of the calendar. First, use construction paper or poster board to create a pocket (our pocket was 4.75″ x 12″ silver poster board), then tape or glue the phases of the moon chart template on top.

Finally, the phases of the moon sticks. Cut eight, 1.5″ x 4.5″ strips of dark blue construction paper (or, better yet, poster board), then glue or tape each phases of the moon stick image and a phases of the moon stick label to each strip like so:

finished full moon stick This was a great part of the story time project. Watching the kids methodically checking and matching the labels, to the chart, to the sticks was really sweet. And very science!

checking the lunar chartTo use your new lunar calendar, match the date on the calendar to the appropriate phase of the moon. Identify the correct moon stick, then slide it into your night sky pocket. Keep checking the calendar to track the moon’s phases. Oh, and we also used glow-in-the-dark paint to fill in our stars and moon sticks. So this calendar glows at night!

Potter After Hours

potter after hours at the franklin instituteKatie is once again off on wild adventures. Remember that time she spent a year in Europe? Or how about when she dropped by Antiques Roadshow? This time, Katie journeyed to the Franklin Institute for a veeeeeery special Harry Potter event. Take it away, Katie!


It’s universally understood the Harry Potter series has captured the hearts of children, but adults are just as passionate about Harry and his adventures at Hogwarts. I count myself as one of those adults who is a Harry Potter fanatic, so naturally I leapt at the opportunity to attend Wizard School, an after-hours adult only program held at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

katie at the franklin insitute science after hoursThe Franklin Institute is one of the oldest museums in the United States dedicated to science education and research, and it is absolutely one of my favorite places to take my son when we have a free day. Named after Benjamin Franklin, the Franklin Institute has four floors of amazing science exhibitions, a planetarium, IMAX theatre, and even a telescope observatory on the roof.

Science After Hours is a series of events the Franklin Institute holds for adults 21+ and is designed around a specific theme, like Wizard School, with demonstrations, live speakers, music and dancing, activities, a chance to explore the entire museum at night, and…a cash bar.

As soon as I arrived, I snagged a cup of Butter Beer and started wandering through the museum to various activity tables. Wizard’s Chess anyone?

wizarding chess at the franklin instituteIn the Giant Heart exhibit, I tested to see if I was a pure blood by pouring a glass of clear liquid into a second glass of clear liquid. If the mixture turned red, you were a pure blood. If it didn’t, you were a Muggle. The magic is a pH indicator, phenolphthalein, being mixed with water and reacting to sodium carbonate, which is present in the second glass. The sodium carbonate and phenolphthalein react and turn the liquid red. If one glass didn’t have the chemical, the liquid remained clear. My glass turned red – I’m a pure blood witch!

pure blood testing at the franklin instituteI made my way past a very long line of people waiting to make a magical amulet so I could watch part of the Raptores Maximus show. Mike Dupuy, a local falconer and educator, introduced several of his birds of prey. Including Mr. Big Owl, a Eurasian owl who had the most stunning orange eyes.

mike dupuy with mr. big owl franklin instituteNext, I journeyed on to Pepper Hall, where I was greeted by 2 very long lines: 1) Make your own wand; and 2) Visit the Slimy Serpent, Critter, and Creature Magic Supply Shoppe. The Supply Shoppe was a tremendous display of potions ingredients and various critters you may discover as a student at Hogwarts, including snakes, spiders, frogs and even a jar of leeches. But I opted for wand making because I was curious to see how the Franklin Institute would handle a wand craft for well over a thousand people after our experience with our much smaller Wand Works event.

The wand craft was impressively simple, but quite impactful. As you approached the front of the line, you selected a colored light bulb with wire legs (identical to the bulbs we tested in the Circuit Clay kit). You moved forward and were given a small button cell battery and a paper straw that had been cut on one end to provide a slit for the battery to rest. Volunteers demonstrated how to slide the two legs of the bulb onto each side of the battery, illuminating the bulb, and then gave you two pieces of tape to secure the bulb onto the battery and secure the battery into the slit at the top of your straw.

The final step was a wood clothespin, which is where you insert the paper straw. The clothespin is wrapped with more tape to keep the straw from falling out and becomes the handle of the wand. After the wand is complete, there were tables with markers, star stickers and tiny jewels to bedazzle your wand. No two wands were alike!

wand making at the franklin instituteI tried to attend a presentation called The Absolutely True Fake Story of the Philosopher’s Stone. I should have used an Apparition spell to get me to the theater faster because the seats were full by the time I arrived. Not deterred, I walked through Platform 3.14 to see the Hogwarts Express (cleverly disguised as a Baldwin 60000 locomotive engine, which is on permanent display in the Train Factory exhibit).

platform 3.14 at franklin instituteMany of the demonstration tables had student volunteers from nearby colleges, including Drexel University, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The students were enthusiastically full of scientific information – such as the possibility of real-life invisibility cloaks (i.e. lasers and thermal imaging cameras). They were ready to be peppered with questions from everyone. Including Voldemort.

voldemort at the franklin instituteThe OwlCapella group from Temple University was serenading those in the ticketing atrium who had paused to rest their feet or have a snack, and I got a good laugh when I noticed Harry Potter conducting, unbeknownst to the choir. Total Potterbomb.

owlcappella at franklin instituteThe grand finale was held in the Franklin Memorial Hall, in front of a giant statue of Benjamin Franklin. Everyone was asked to raise their newly made wands and chant the Incendio spell. The result was a mighty green fireball explosion, courtesy of about a dozen large balloons filled with hydrogen. Very cool.


And just in case you’re wondering, Dr. Dana has ignited giant fireballs in the name of wizardry as well. You’ll find that here.

Wizard School was so popular, the Franklin Institute added a second date at the end of November! Dr. Dana and I are eagerly awaiting the Science After Hours schedule for 2019 with hopes there will be another literary related evening for us to enjoy. Stay tuned!