Magic Magnetic Castle

magic magentic castle

Use your magic wand to reveal the secrets of this enchanted castle – raise the drawbridge, hoist the flag, open windows, discover buried treasure, and more! All it takes is a magnet and a few well-placed paper clips!

We read I Wished for a Unicorn, written by Robert Heidbreder, and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Kids Can Press, 2000). A little girl wishes for a unicorn, and wow… one appears! Granted, it looks and acts suspiciously like her pet dog, but that doesn’t stop the two from having amazing adventures in a magic woods and enchanted castle.

You’ll need:

  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (we used a 10″ diameter cake circle)
  • 1 small box (ours was 4″ x 4″ x 4″ – a small tissue box works too)
  • 2 paper towel tubes
  • 2 paper cone water cups
  • Construction paper
  • 1 magnet castle template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 brass fastener
  • 1 pair of unused, intact chopsticks
  • 1 button magnet
  • 6-7 small paper clips
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hole punch
  • Hot glue

magnet castle finished

As far as construction, this castle is very basic. We used a 4″ x 4″ x 4″ craft box with the lid cut off, and hot glued it to a corrugated cardboard base. Add 2 shortened paper towel tube towers, 2 cone drinking cup roofs, and some (optional) green tissue paper shrubs . The drawbridge is a hinged piece of cardboard (we used the scrap from our box lid). The moat is construction paper. Wrap the castle with construction paper if you like, then decorate with metallic markers and perhaps a jewel or two. You’re done!

Infusing your castle with magical powers is also easy, thanks to this “magic wand.” It’s a pair of intact chopsticks decorated with markers or patterned tape. Hot glue a button magnet to the wider end:

castle magnet wandNext, tape paperclips to various castle elements. Here’s what we did, using our castle template. The drawbridge lowers to reveal a wizard:

magnet drawbridgeThe moat rises to reveal a water dragon:

magnet water dragonThe castle towers each have a window that hinges upward to reveal something inside. Below you see a cat…the other window has a friendly flower in a pot:

magnet castle tower windowAbove the drawbridge, you can also raise a flag! Use a hole punch to create a hole in the pole of the template flag, and in the wall of the castle. Thread a brass tack through the holes, tape a paperclip to the back of the flag, and fly it high!

magnet castle flagAround the back of the castle is an (optional) fountain. We wrapped a packing tape core with tin foil, then taped a 3″ x 6.5″ rectangle of blue cellophane inside. Use a paper clip and the wand to make the fountain water rise!

magnet castle fountainIn the garden next to the fountain was a buried treasure trap door:

magnet buried treaure And on the other side of the fountain is an apple tree with flying bird. We tethered the bird to the tree with clear elastic beading cord, but any string will do:

magnet bird flying over treeAt this point, you might be wondering…where is the UNICORN? The book is all about an adventure with a unicorn! Well fear not. We scored these awesome unicorn Valentines by Peaceable Kingdom (a set of 28 cards cost $13-15). Each card comes with a little rainbow charm:

unicorn valentines by peaceable kingdomWhen kids were finished with their castles, DR. MAGICAL PURPLE UNICORN bestowed cards and rainbow charms!

dr dana is a magical unicornAnd yes, that unicorn onesie does feel just as comfortable as it looks.

Delicious Dim Sum

delicious dim sumHungry? We invite you to peruse the contents of this adorable dim sum cart. In addition to being stocked with deliciously delectable dishes, the cart is a bilingual matching game with an additional story time social twist!

dim sum cartWe read Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001). Follow a family as they sample the many little dishes served at a dim sum restaurant. Pork buns, fried shrimp, egg tarts…the carts have something for everyone! The book concludes with an excellent essay about dim sum – it’s history, traditions, and social aspects. Fantastic book!

You’ll need:

First, the cart! Use a box cutter to create a square in one of the short sides of a  box (leave the other short side intact). Next, cut hinged rectangular flaps in the long sides of the box. Fold the flaps down to create the lower “shelf” of the cart. Secure the flaps in place with tape or hot glue.

dim sum cart box cutAdd a wheel assembly to the bottom of the box (you’ll find instructions and alternative wheel suggestions here). Use leftover box cardboard to make a cart handle. We also added gold mirror board and patterned tape to make the cart extra fancy.

dim sum cartTime for the food! Color and cut the dim sum dishes from the template, then glue them on top of construction paper (or patterned paper) circles. Thanks to Lin’s awesome illustrations on the front and end papers of the book, the dishes are labeled with their English and Chinese names.

top of dim sum cartWould you also like to serve tea? The tea cups are leftover bits of card stock circled into miniature cylinders. To make the teapot, circle and tape the rectangular part of the template to create the teapot’s body. Then add a handle, spout, and bead knob on top! The circular part of the template becomes the teapot’s hinged lid:

paper teapot

The book mentions that an open teapot means you are requesting a fresh pot – something we really wanted to replicate for this project. When the carts were finished, it was time for the matching game. Each cart came with a menu (the template is here):

dim sum menu

To play the game, kids rolled the carts up to their customers. The customers would point to a menu item, and the kids had to locate it on their carts! Oh, and we also included a cute place setting for your customers (template here).

dim sum restaurant tableThe book mentions how social dim sum dining is, so we made a couple tables (i.e. brown poster board circles) and asked the story time grown ups to sit around them. Kids traveled to ALL the tables, playing the matching game with everyone’s grown up! If you decided to add this social aspect to your story time, just make sure the kids write their names on the backs of each of their dishes so they can be returned to the proper cart.

dim sum restaurantThe final touch on this awesome project? Our colleague, Dr. Minjie Chen, stopped by to write the kids’ names on their menus in Chinese characters. The absolutely loved it. Thanks Minjie!

minjie at story time

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!