Herbal Magic

amuletHave issues with goblins? Need a peaceful night’s sleep? Are you seeking wisdom and courage? This herbal amulet is just what you need! We made these amulets at a Robin Hood/ medieval history event, but they would also work splendidly at a Harry Potter program.

You’ll need:

  • A 3.5″ mini organza drawstring bag (I bought mine at Oriental Trading Company)
  • 1 tissue (I used the smaller, 8″ x 8″ square kind)
  • herbal amulet list template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • A 30″ piece of ribbon or string
  • A selection of dried herbs (more on this below!)

After doing a little research on medieval herbal lore, we created a list of herbs and their purported properties. I purchased the herbs in bulk, which is much cheaper than buying them in individual bottles.

scrollAt the event, kids checked off which herbs they wanted in their amulets. Then a student volunteer helped the kids put dried herbs on squares of tissue. A little herb goes a looooong way, so just a sprinkle is needed – especially if kids select multiple herbs. Here’s about how much you want in your amulet in total:

tissue and herbsNext, bunch the tissue around the herbs and slide the bundle into a mini organza drawstring bag. Roll up the herbal list and slide it in the bag too. Tighten the drawstring and tie a 30″ piece of ribbon or string around the top of the bag. Hang the amulet around your neck.

finished amuletThat’s it! You’re now ready to repel bad spirits, fight curses, attract money, and scare away thieves! At the very least, you will smell quite, quite interesting.


Many thanks to the Savory Spice Shop in Princeton for donating the dried lavender in the photo! Mmmm…lavender…

Robots at the Ready

robots at the readyA robot backpack? Yes indeed! Now you and your robot pal can embark on a series of terrific adventures. But the best thing about this story time? The author, Jared Aldwin Crooks, came to read the book to us! In addition to penning a children’s book, Jared studied astrophysics, has worked at NASA, and is currently obtaining Masters degrees in International Policy and Mechanical/ Aerospace Engineering here at Princeton University. There’s a short interview with him at the end of this post!

jared aldwin crooks We read The Several Strange Adventures of Max and Ding, written by Jared Aldwin Crooks and illustrated by Scott T. Baldwin (Crooks with Books, 2014). Maximilian Finch (Max for short) lives in a sleepy town where not much happens. During school breaks his classmates go to all sorts of exciting places, but not Max. But one Sunday, Max builds a robot named Ding. That week, Max and Ding hit the road – riding paper planes through jungles, climbing mountains, visiting the circus, digging to Atlantis, fishing for treasure, building a bridge to the moon, and discovering new planets. Thanks to his pal Ding, Max now has plenty to talk about!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box for robot body (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6” – a small tissue box works too)
  • 1 smaller box for robot head (mine was 2.5″ x 3.25″ x 4″)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 small craft stick
  • 2 strips of white poster board for backpack straps (approximately 1″ x 28″)
  • A 20″ piece of mesh tubing (string, ribbon, or yarn works too)
  • 2 rectangles of poster board for arms (approximately 1.5″ x 5.75″)
  • 2 rectangles of poster board for legs (approximately 1.5″ x 11″)
  • Robot decorating materials (we used metallic duct tape, prism tape, tin foil, beverage lids, washed Altoids tins, twistez wire, sparkle stems, paper cups (in silver and gold), small plastic cups, embossed foil seals, craft ties, dot stickers, rectangular stickers, foil star stickers, colored masking tape, balloon stick cups, grey construction paper, embossed foil paper, and mylar).
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

To make a robot backpack, cut four, 1.5″ slits in a box. Then, use a small craft stick to enlarge the slits a little (this will make it easier to slide the backpack straps through the slits later).

backpack box slitsSlide the white poster board straps through the slits like so:

backpack strapsNow, holding the box firmly to your back, curl the straps over your shoulders, adjust them, and staple them. Put pieces of masking tape over the staples (thus avoiding staple scratches or clothing snags). Later, when your robot is finished, you’ll want to tie a piece of mesh tubing (or string, ribbon, or yarn) around both straps to keep them from sliding off your shoulders.

strap stepsWhen the backpack straps are finished, you’ll need to hot glue the head, arms, and legs on your robot’s body. You can do that now, or wait until you’ve decorated your robot a little. I offered OCuSoft lid scrub boxes as an option for the robot’s head. As you can see, when covered with tin foil, they look like fantastic smiling robot faces!

ocusoft box headAnother great recyclable discovery? balloon stick cups make great robot antennae holders. I definitely use balloon sticks for projects (see here, here, and here) but I don’t use the cups as much. But a doubled-up sparkle stem fit perfectly in the narrow end of the cup.

robot antennaeFor decorating, we offered metallic duct tape, prism tape, tin foil, beverage lids, washed Altoids tins, twistez wire, sparkle stems, mesh tubing, paper cups (in silver and gold), small plastic cups, embossed foil seals, craft ties, dot stickers, rectangular stickers, foil star stickers, colored masking tape, balloon stick cups, grey construction paper, embossed foil paper, and mylar.

Here’s Jared, his robot, and our program area after our creative little endeavor concluded!

jared and robotHi Jared! Tell us a little about yourself!
Hey there! My name is Jared Aldwin Crooks. I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas before coming to Princeton to get my undergraduate degree in Astrophysics and my Masters degrees in International Policy and Mechanical/ Aerospace Engineering. I have always loved creating things, whether it is some kind of contraption, food, or just writing down all of the things that are in my head. My creative partner, Scott T. Baldwin, and I are always working on a new project or book!

My passion is making the world around me a better place and I believe this can be done through little improvements over time (kaizen). My wife and I started NouriBar, a social venture that makes all-natural fruit and nut bars and for every bar purchased we work with the local communities to feed a child in need a hot meal in school. I also love doing radio and voice work. During my time at NASA, I was one of the narrators for the ScienceCasts! I love to cook and watch great films (Kurosawa, Bergman, Hitchcock).

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
I was constantly reading as a kid. One of my all-time favorite books growing up was a picture book called Corduroy. The artwork seemed to jump out at you on each page and I loved the storyline! Other books that I really loved include any and all of the books from The Little Golden Books series, the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper, and the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Why did you decide to write this book?
This book is loosely based on the daydreams that I had growing up. I had always wanted to share the things that had captured my imagination growing up; the stars, building things, wildlife, robotics etc. I also wanted write something to inspire kids to dream big and especially wanted to make sure that young kids of color could see another kid building and imagining things that are not typically represented in stories that are accessible to them. I linked up with my wonderful creative partner, Scott T. Baldwin right at the beginning and he shared the same vision that I had and he illustrated each page to show exactly what we had dreamed; so this is how the book came about!

What was an unexpected difficulty in writing this book?
One surprising difficulty I experienced while writing this book was trying to fit all of Max and Ding’s activities into 7 days! They have so many places to choose from and travel!

If Ding the robot appeared right now, where would you go?
Ding and I would most definitely travel to Cape Town, South Africa and have a swimming contest with a few great white sharks before hopping over to New Zealand and going to all of the Lord of the Rings filming locations!


Many thanks to Jared Aldwin Crooks for sharing his book and being our special guest!

So Doggone Cute

itty bitty homeDo not adjust your monitor. The cuteness you are seeing is correct. That is an itty bitty dog proudly standing in front of his bone house in a field of daisies. Inside the house – an itty bitty sofa, rug, wall art, table, lamp, and book too!

We read Itty Bitty by Cece Bell (Candlewick Press, 2009). Itty Bitty is a very very tiny dog. One day, while on a stroll, he discovers an enormous bone. Soon Itty Bitty has hollowed out the bone (and added windows and a door to boot). But the bone is so big and empty, it just doesn’t feel right. So Itty Bitty goes SHOPPING! In the “Teeny-Weeny Department Store” he selects a table, rug, sofa, lamp, and book (don’t miss the hilarious selection of book titles on the teeny-weeny shelves). Once everything is arranged inside the bone, there’s no denying it. Itty Bitty has found his very own, perfectly cozy, incredibly pleasing, brand new…home.

For our story time activity, we made bone houses with carrying handles. But we also created some magic bucks and went a-shoppin’ for furnishings at a series of kid-sized retail stores!

retail shopsYou’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 bone template, printed on 8.5″ x 14″ paper
  • 1 large rectangle of white poster board for bone (mine was 6″ x 12.5″)
  • 1 strip of white poster board for handle (mine was 1.5″ x 15″)
  • 1 house template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • wooden spool (approximately 1″ tall)
  • 1 paper baking cup
  • 1 plastic sample cup
  • 2 wooden beads
  • 1 small box (mine was 2” x 3” x 3”)
  • 1 piece of construction paper, any color (mine was approximately 3″ x 4″)
  • 2 small pieces of kitchen sponge
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • 1 magic bucks template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white standard paper
  • 1 set of retail stores (more on that later!)
  • Scissors, tape, stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Before we embark on the project, a quick word about the bone template. Believe it or not, we tested 6 bone prototypes before Katie finally struck on a model that worked. You’ll notice that, on one side of the template, the bone bulges outwards and the bottom of the bulge is flat. This allows the bone to be flush with the bottom of the box. So bulgy flat part = bottom of the bone.

boneOn to the house! Use a box cutter to create a doorway in the front of the box, and a small window on each side.

house window and door cutsTab the ends of a strip of white poster board, and staple the tabs to the underside of the box lid (if your box doesn’t have a lid, attach the ends of the strip to the sides of the box). Your box house now has a carrying handle.

Using the template, trace and cut a white poster board bone. Lay the bone on top of the box (and make sure to line the bulgy flat part flush with the bottom of the box). But – before you hot glue the bone to the box, use scissors to cut a little door in the poster board, directly above your box’s doorway. Then hot glue the bone to the box.

door stepsThe final touch to the exterior is the shuttered windows (you’ll find them on the house template). I had the kids color and tape them on either side of the front door.

On to the furniture! We prepped most of the furniture and accessories in advance, and then “sold” it in our teeny-weeny retail shops. I’ll provide instructions for how to make the furniture and accessories first, and then describe the order in which they were sold in our shops.

To make a lamp table, hot glue a paper baking cup “table skirt” on top of a plastic sample cup. The “lamp” consists of 2 wooden beads hot glued together (I used unpainted beads so the kids could decorate them later with markers). The little book (which is a teeny-weeny copy of Itty Bitty of course) is on the house template. Cut it out, add a few blank pages, and staple everything together. Here’s what a finished table, lamp, and book look like:

finished lamp tableTo make a couch, cut a small box down until it resembles a straight-backed couch with armrests:

couch stepsFold a small piece of construction paper, then glue (or tape) it inside the couch. Add 2 comfy sponge cushions.

finished couchThere are also 4 wall art frames on the house template – they can be colored in and attached with tape (or glue). The final item on the template? An itty bitty dog! That gets colored as well, and hot glued to the front of a wooden spool.

wooden spoolNow it’s time to SHOP! The shops can be as simple as tabletop stores set up in different areas of your classroom or program area. I just happened to have 3 extra large boxtops on hand (which I salvaged from the recycling pile). So we used them to make store fronts.

Basically, we cut a flap in the box and folded it down to create a counter. We reinforced the ends of the counter with tissue boxes, and then decorated the outside with colored masking tape, poster board, and dot stickers.

storefront constructionThe last step is making some money! I handed each kid 3 undecorated “magic bucks” from the template and told them to decorate the bucks. When everyone was finished coloring, they grabbed their houses (the carrying handles made them perfect shopping baskets) and hit the stores. At “Little Lamps” with Mr. Ian, a magic buck earned the shopper a lamp and a book.

shopper at little lampsAt “Fine Furniture” with Dr. Dana, a magic buck went pretty far – you got a couch frame, a piece of construction paper for upholstery, 2 sponge pillows, and a lamp table.

shopper at fine furnitureAt “Rah! Rah! Rah! Rugs!” with Miss Joani, a magic buck earned the holder one “rug” (i.e. a piece of patterned paper) and wall art frames.

shopper at rah rah rah rugs When story time was over, we had a drawing for patrons who were interested in taking the story fronts home for more playtime (and there were plenty of takers!). With the shopping completed, kids took their purchases back to the program area to do some intense interior decorating. I had to snap a photo of this little house. Look at that fancy Itty Bitty!

fantastic house exteriorShe added a bed and a bookshelf to her house too!

fantastic houseMuch later that day, I spotted an Itty Bitty house proudly being walked down the street by a father and daughter. It’s always fantastic to see the projects out and about after story time.

I also received this e-mail from a mom:

Thank you very much for the program yesterday! My kids have been playing with Itty Bitty and his house non-stop since yesterday. He’s gone on a car trip, a boat trip (in a river and across an ocean), and he slept beside my son’s bed.

This e-mail brought a HUGE smile to my face. I’m still smiling actually.


From ITTY BITTY. Copyright © 2009 by Cece Bell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.