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!

Most Uncommon

most uncommon

Coins, buttons, and yo-yos? There IS a connection between these three things. Granted, it’s a very uncommon connection…

We read The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence, written by Jennifer Bell, and illustrated by Karl James Mountford (Crown Books, 2017). When Ivy and Seb Sparrow’s grandmother breaks her wrist, it sets off a very unexpected chain of discoveries. The siblings quickly learn that a subterranean world exists underneath their feet. It teems with common objects that do uncommon things (flying vacuum cleaners, healing buttons, lemon squeezers the shed light, for example). Ivy and Seb also learn that they are part of a family with a dark, secret past…a past that is coming back to haunt them and threaten the lives of all the citizens of Lundinor.

This book was perfect for To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-9. Time was tight towards the end of the book and our summer break, so I devised these quick activities for the hands-on portion of the program.

In the book, Ivy comes to possess a coin – a slightly bent one-pence piece made of silver that warms in her hand. The coin is very significant, as are other objects in the story. Happily, I had a large bag of old coins that were donated to the library by my lovely neighbor, Leonore. I spread them out on tables, and kids got to examine them and take home a pile for their personal collections. As you can see, they were VERY intent on this task!

kids examine coinsNext came a mysterious package tied with an old brass button (buttons have healing powers in Lundinor):

mysterious wrapped packageInside the package was a yo-yo. That’s right. A yo-yo.

In Lundinor, yo-yos are uncommon. Meaning, they are weapons that create whirlwinds to fend off murderous selkies and giant grim-wolves. I loved this concept and wanted to share it with the kids. But I didn’t want it to be just ANY yo-yo. So I bought Duncan “Lime Light” yo-yos that change color as you spin them!

duncan limelight yo yoI bought these directly from Duncan’s website for $5 a pop. And because it’s currently Duncan’s 90th anniversary (wow!) they were 15% off and free shipping. The kids loved them, of course!

yo yo lights

A Moving Map

a moving mapA shifting map full of flying horses, hungry demons, mystical landscapes, and the New Jersey turnpike? This could only be a project for To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for ages 6-8!

We read The Serpent’s Secret: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond by Sayantani Dasgupta, with illustrations by Vivienne To (Scholastic, 2018). Kiranmala is a regular girl, living in New Jersey with her loving, if not slightly eccentric, parents. For example, they insist that every Halloween (which also happens to be her birthday), she dress as an Indian princess, complete with bangles, necklaces, and a silk sari. In fact, they insist she is a REAL Indian princess. Oh, and they also want her to sleep with the curtains open during a full moon, and dig a snake moat around the house.

Everything changes the day Kiran turns 12. Her parents disappear, a rakkhosh demon demolishes her house, and 2 princes on flying horses (one armed with a sword, the other with sarcasm) inform her that she is, indeed, a princess from another dimension. Now Kiran must rescue her parents, save her friends, and discover who she really is in the process.

In the book, Kiran and her “friend” Prince Neel (it’s complicated) use a moving map to locate Kiran’s parents. As the name suggests, the land masses in Kiran’s dimension don’t stay in one place, they shift – requiring a map that can shift as well. Hmmmm…a continuously shifting landscape? Sounds like a job for myriorama cards!

myriorama cards for the serpents secret combo 1Myriorama cards, which debuted in 19th century Europe, are these cool little decks of cards with matching skies and horizon lines (I review of a modern deck of myriorama cards in this post). No matter what order you put the cards in, they always sync to create a continuous landscape or story. See how I flipped the above cards around a little to make a new map below?

myriorama cards for the serpents secret combo 2You’ll need:

  • 1 pack of 3″ x 5″ blank white index cards
  • Pen and markers/color pencils

It’s easiest to use 3″ x 5″ blank index cards. On the first card, use a pen to mark where you want your horizon and land lines to go. Next, mark the other cards in the deck, making sure they all match. Now draw a landscape or scene on each card, always matching the horizon and land lines.

moving map stepsFor our story time activity, I gave each kid a colorful envelope bedecked with a silver embossed foil seal (a subtle nod to a moon maiden in the book). Inside the envelope were 6 finished myriorama cards to get the kids started (including characters and scenes from the book, of course!). The cards were black and white so the kids could color them in. There were 3 blank cards in the envelope, as well as a stack of more blank cards, so they could let their imaginations run free.

Also in the envelope? Some large gemstones – another nod to the book. One story time kid got the Serpent’s Secret reference right away. He grabbed a blank myriorama card and quickly sketched a moving map, then gazed through the Python Jewel to decipher it! #superproudliteracyeducator

moving map and the python jewel If you’d like the myriorama cards I drew, you’ll find the black and white template here, and the color template here. However! I will say the cards are not perfect. The horizon and land lines matched up when I drew them, but somehow between scanning them, setting them, and turning them into a pdf they don’t quite match up on the final templates. Did the kids care? They did not.

Also! I’m not a trained artist…even though I have to say, I liked how my rakkosh turned out.