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!

Manage That Mane

manage that maneIs your mane getting a little wild and unruly? It might be time to tame those locks with a firm hand and LOTS of hair bows!

We read Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex Smith (Scholastic Press, 2015). Little Red is going to be eaten by a lion. At least that’s what the lion THINKS is going to happen! But Little Red has other ideas and this sassy and resourceful girl gives him quite a schooling. A delightful play on Little Red Riding Hood, this book was a super fun read-aloud…especially the last page!

In the book, the lion gets an amazing, but ultimately unwanted, makeover. It’s hilarious and we wanted to capture that in our story time project. So we designed an oatmeal container lion with a fabulous mane for cutting and styling!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • Brown, yellow, and white construction paper
  • A circle of corrugated cardboard
  • 1 mane styling template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

lion a little smallerThe lion is an oatmeal container decorated with construction paper and (optional) wiggle eyes. The original instructions can be found in our Lion-Hearted Hero post. However! You’ll need to do one significant modification to the lion’s face…a cardboard circle foundation to hold all those mane extensions:

lion comparisonGlue a circle of yellow construction paper to a 7.5″ diameter corrugated cardboard circle (we used a cake circle). Attach the brown mane circle, and add the lion’s eyes, ears, nose, and muzzle. Next, tape a bunch of yellow and brown construction paper fringes to the back of the cardboard circle. Finish by hot gluing the entire thing to the oatmeal container body. We recommend reinforcing that connection with tape as well.

Color and cut the hair bows, comb, and blow dryer from the template, then stand your lion in front of a mirror and start cutting and styling! We also offered paper clip barrettes and extra mane fringes to take home for future haircuts.

mane styling set

Home Aquarium

home aquarium

Need an aquarium in your home? How about we just make the whole HOUSE the aquarium? Turn the tab at the top of this house to twirl ocean creatures past your window. Video, of course, at the end of the post!

We read Faucet Fish, written by Fay Robinson, and illustrated by Wayne Anderson (Dutton Children’s Books, 2005). Elizabeth adores fish, and spends quite a lot of time at the local aquarium. Alas, she only owns a guppy, and her parents aren’t keen on getting any more fish. But one day, a trout drops out of the faucet! The faucet fish keep coming, getting larger and larger until a baby beluga emerges in the tub. Only one thing left to do…turn the entire house into an aquarium!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small tissue box
  • A box cutter
  • A square of blue cellophane
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 1 brass fastener
  • 1 snippet of poster board
  • 1 plastic cup
  • 1 strip of white card stock
  • Scissors, tape, and hole punch for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The box for this project definitely requires a lid! We used a 4.5” X 4.5” x 6” craft box, but a small tissue box works as well (just flip the tissue box upside down). Use a box cutter to create a small slit in the center of the box’s “roof.” Next, cut a window in the box. Use leftover cardboard scraps to craft window panes, and tape blue cellophane over it.

window of aquarium houseNow decorate the outside of your house! We offered construction paper, color masking tape, and patterned tape, but you can also just use markers. One thing to note…the roof is just a triangle of paper attached to the front of the box. It doesn’t extend backwards over the top of the box.

home aquariumNext, decorate a strip of white card stock with ocean creatures. Make sure to measure the strip carefully…it needs to wrap fully around your plastic cup and not extend past the top or bottom. Our strip was 4″ tall x 11″ wide. And can I say what a fine job Katie did with her ocean creatures? Just look at that happy jellyfish!

strip of ocean crittersThe final piece of the project is the spinning cylinder. This is a plastic cup attached to the roof of the house with a brass fastener. Two tabs extend from the top of the box, allowing you to easily turn the mechanism:

plastic cup attached to houseOur tabs were created with a 0.75″ x 3″ snippet of poster board. Punch a hole in the center, then thread a brass fastener through the hole. Push the ends of the fastener through small slits cut in the top of the box and the bottom of a plastic cup. Unfold the fastener’s prongs inside the cup.

You really want the connection to be strong, so we recommend hot gluing AND taping the head of the brass fastener on the snippet. Hot glue a small square of cardboard over the prongs inside the cup as well:

reinforced cup connectionFinally, wrap your strip of ocean critters around the cup. As you can see in the above photo, the cup is tapered, so the strip won’t wrap around it in a perfect circle. No problem! So long as the strip is secured tightly to one point of the cup (we suggest the strip’s seam) it will work. Here’s a shot of the finished mechanism, which is then tucked inside the house. Secure the lid down with tape.

finished aqarium cylindarReady to see this little contraption in action? The colors were a little muted in the video, so I removed the blue cellophane from the window to showcase the ocean critters more clearly. Swim my little friends, swim!