Phantastical Phoenix

fantastical phoenixThe legendary bird of fire, wisdom, and regeneration is once again transformed…into an awesome box puppet with moveable head!

We read The Girl Who Drew a Phoenix by Demi (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008). Feng Huang finds a phoenix feather and captivated by the phoenix’s power. She decides to use her artistic abilities to create the perfect phoenix drawing, and capture some of the power of the phoenix. But her drawings are clumsy, and her friends laugh at her. The Queen Phoenix, seeing Feng Huang in need, flies to earth and allows Feng Huang to practice drawing her. But the drawings still don’t look right. The Queen then sends Feng Huang on a mission to learn from the phoenixes of Wisdom, Clear Sight, Equality, Generosity, and Right Judgement. When her journey is complete, Feng Huang is able to draw a phoenix so amazing, it soars into the sky, carrying the artist and her friends on its back.

You’ll need:

  • 2 rectangles of red felt (approximately 4.75″ x 11″)
  • 1 phoenix eye template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A small square of yellow or gold metallic poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 2.75″)
  • 3 red and/or gold sparkle stems
  • Red masking tape
  • 1 small feather in red
  • 1 triangle of red felt (approximately 2.25″ tall)
  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6”)
  • Red construction paper
  • Phoenix decorating supplies (we used red construction paper, sparkle stems, red pipe cleaners, cellophane, large gold embossed foil seals, small red feathers, red & gold embossed foil paper, gold wrapping paper, textured gold paper strips, and gold & red curling ribbon)
  • A large rectangle of red cellophane (approximately 9.5″ x 20″)
  • 2 pieces of red crepe paper streamer (approximately 18″)
  • 2 strips of yellow poster board for legs (approximately, 1.5″ x 9″)
  • Scissors, tape, stapler, and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The phoenix puppet consists of 2 parts: 1) A sock puppet head; and 2) A box body that conceals the puppeteer’s arm. We’ll start with the head. Stack 2 rectangles of felt on top of one another and round one end of the stack. The rounded end will eventually be your phoenix’s head.

phoenix fabricAfter some debate about sewing vs. hot glue, we decided to sew the 2 felt pieces together. Lacking a sewing machine, we hand stitched, using double thread. Katie used a running stitch, I went with a classic whip stitch. It took a looooong time (like, 6 hours!). But in the end, when you turned the sewn heads right-side out, they looked great and held up to quite a bit of pummeling. However, if I was to do this project again, I would purchase pairs of red socks instead.

sewn phoenix headTo make your phoenix’s crest, bunch the bottoms of 3 sparkle stems together. Wrap red masking tape around the bunch, then use the barrel of a marker to give the free ends of the sparkle stems a little curl. Cut a pair of eyes from the template, and a beak from the yellow (or gold metallic) poster board. Then hot glue the crest, eyes, and beak to the top of the head.

head step 1Hot glue a red feather onto the masking tape to cover it, then hot glue a small triangle of felt over the bottom of the feather to complete the look.

crest coverage Set the head aside for a moment – it’s time for the body! Cut square openings in the ends of a box. Make sure to keep these openings fairly wide. If they are too narrow, they’ll rub against your arm while you’re manipulating your puppet.

holes in boxUse red construction paper to cover 2 sides of the box – the top of the box, and the side that faces outwards (i.e. towards your “audience”).

paper on boxNext, cut a tail and a wing out of construction paper. You only need one wing (which will eventually go on the side that faces your “audience”).  I cut my wing from 5.75″ x 10.5″ rectangle of red construction paper, and gave it a pointy shape.

wingThe tail was cut from a 3.65″ x 13″ rectangle of construction paper. Like the wing, I gave it a slightly pointy look.

tailI recommend decorating the wing and tail before you attach them to the box (because it’s much easier for kids to decorate an object that’s flat on the table). For decorating the wing, tail, and front & back of the box, we offered red construction paper, red and gold sparkle stems, red pipe cleaners, cellophane, small red feathers, red and gold embossed foil paper, gold wrapping paper, textured gold paper strips, and gold and red curling ribbon, and large gold embossed foil seals. In addition to these items, each tail had a big piece of red cellophane and 2 red crepe paper streamers.

To simulate feathers on the phoenix’s chest, I used this crazy fluffy yarn from Michael’s Craft store. I gave each kid a 3 foot piece and told them to wind it around and around the neck opening of their boxes (and secure it with glue or tape). It looked great!

fluffy yarnWhen you’re done decorating, attach the wing and tail to the body with hot glue. The tail needs to attach above the rear end opening! That way, the tail will hide your arm when it’s inside the puppet.

tail attachmentThe final step – phoenix legs! Cut toe shapes out of the bottom of 2 yellow poster board strips. Tab the bottom of each strip to create a foot, then tab the other end of the strip and hot glue it the bottom of the box. Done!

To operate your puppet, slide your arm through the openings in the box. The slide the phoenix head onto your hand. Tuck the end of the head into the box. The head doesn’t attach to the body (so later, if you want to discard the body and simply use the head like a sock puppet, you can). Wrap your free arm around the bottom of the box so it looks like you’re cradling your phoenix in your arms. Or, you can just carry your phoenix around like this adorable little guy did!

phoenix friend

Messing With Monet

messing with monetAh, Monet. The play of light, of shadow, a moment of time captured, suspended, like a ripe fruit for the viewer to feast upon. What must it be like to create such artwork? Well, now you can find out!

master kitzThis is a snazzy little art kit by a company called Master Kitz. Using the provided materials (templates, paint, roller brushes, stencils, pastels, etc.) kids can recreate works by Van Gogh, Klimt, Hokusai, Matisse, and others. When I spotted their “Water Lilies by Claude Monet” kit discounted on Amazon for less than $20, I couldn’t resist. Now all I needed was a kid to test the kit.

kid testerEnter Hope, Pop Goes the Page’s official kid-tester! Last year, Hope was a member of Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group. She’s a smart and savvy writer with a great sense of humor. In other words, the perfect person to test a product and write about it. So, what did Hope think of this kit? Below is her complete report!


This kit had really cool packaging! The kit includes includes soft pastels (blue, green, violet, light blue, white, pink, red, yellow, and aqua), two pieces of artist’s paper, stencils (a green lily pad stencil and a yellow flower stencil), two “shadow makers” (i.e. plastic yellow lily pads), instructions (the instructions were two sided and were a beautiful fold out poster that included valuable information about Monet), and a “shammy”(i.e. a piece of cloth). The stencils and paper were rolled up inside the box, so they were understandably bent. However, all of the other materials were in great condition.

suppliesThe directions recommend taping a piece of newspaper to the table you are working on and doing the project over the newspaper. LISTEN TO THE DIRECTIONS!!! This project is incredibly messy, and you should wear an artists’ smock or an old t-shirt to protect your clothes! To get started on the project, you tape a piece of the provided artists’ paper on the table (masking tape works best because it won’t rip the paper as easily as regular scotch tape, but you should test it on an inconspicuous place first). However, doing this leaves the places the tape covered uncolored, so at the end of the project, you should smudge the pastels to cover the blank spots.

cornerIt’s not made clear in the directions, but to follow “artsy etiquette,” make sure you have the rough side of the paper facing down (it doesn’t make a significant amount of difference whether or not you use the rough side or the smooth side of the paper, but it’s proper to use the smooth side).

After taking these preliminary cautionary steps, it’s time to begin your masterpiece! First you slide the lily pad stencil underneath the paper. Taking a colored pastel (blue, violet, or light blue works best, because you’re coloring the water) out of the box, rub the pastel all over the paper until an impression of the lily pads is visible. You can use several colors (same pastel(s) as above) to give your art a truly “Monet” effect. Using the “shammy,” gently rub over the whole paper, blending the pastels (this step justifies how messy the kit is! POOF! Dust everywhere!).

water stepRemoving the lily pads out from underneath your “canvas,” tape it on top of the paper so it lines up with the outlines you just made. Use green, yellow, white – or anything you like to shade in the shapes. To make the job go faster, use your finger to blend the pastels (by this point my fingers were all brownish). But be careful! When I was testing this kit, the sharp parts of the stencils pricked me! OUCH!

almost doneWhen you are finished making the lily pads, you carefully (SLOWLY!) take the stencil off the paper. Be sure not to jerk! If you do, the pastel dust will spray EVERYWHERE!

Time to take out the flower stencil! Using the same method of shading in, choose a few places to put flowers. You can be creative with this step, but it’s not necessary to do at all. Now it’s time to draw some reeds! Just draw a few green wisps in the desired section. I found that drawing the reeds in the darkest area of the water made the reeds show up the best.

Shadow making time! The “shadow makers” are the two plastic lily pad shapes I mentioned. Theoretically, you place them over the identical lily pad on your sheet, and trace around the front part, then smudge it down for a shadow effect. However, since there are only two shadow makers, it’s pointless to give shadows to two lily pads. I used the two shadow makers provided, but then I improvised, carefully traced around the lily pads (without a shadow maker) and smudged the pastel down to create a shadow.

shadingThe step above is technically the last step, but I recommend this additional step (which is not mentioned in the instructions). To seal in the prodigious amount of dust caused by the project (remember, it’s not cool when dust is flying everywhere! Especially colored dust!), Dr. Dana rushed out to CVS to buy some cheap hairspray as sealant. The hairspray (Aqua Net, to be exact) was “unscented” but was still really smelly! We attempted to use it outside, but due to some wind we used the library’s restroom. The effort was successful, and the pastels stayed on!

The box of this kit recommends itself for “Ages 4-104,” but I strongly disagree. This project is better suited for ages 9-104! Although, for you 104 year-olds out there: this project may take a toll on your back!

finishedI found this kit easy to use, quick to complete (30 minutes), and fun to do! It was SUPER messy, and sometimes the instructions were unclear, but all in all, I’d rate this project 4 out of 5 stars.


Claude Monet, Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, 1899. Oil on canvas. From the Collection of William Church Osborn, Class of 1883, trustee of Princeton University (1914-1951), president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1941-1947); given by his family. Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Ice Ice Fishy

gone (ice) fishingToday, we’re heading to the frozen lakes of Minnesota! Climb into your cozy ice shack with your fishing pole and tackle box stocked with delicious snacks. Who knows? Maybe you’ll catch a northern pike, a walleye, or a pumpkinseed!

tackle boxWe read One Frozen Lake, written by Deborah Jo Larson, and illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012). A boy and his grandfather head to a frozen lake to do some ice fishing. The fish aren’t biting, but the duo’s patience is finally rewarded. The boy catches a fish…but ultimately decides to throw it back! This clever little counting book introduces all sorts of fishing terminology – line, jig sticks, lures, tackle, sinkers, spoons, spins, rigs, jig sticks, test line – and the fantastic illustrations help place everything in context.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6”)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 poster board strip for tackle box handle (mine was 1.75″ x 12.5″)
  • A 6″ piece of pipe cleaner for tackle box hook
  • 1 snack template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A rectangle of white construction paper (approximately 5.5″ x 7″)
  • 1 plastic sandwich bag
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 1 rectangle of tagboard (approximately 2.5″ x 4.25″)
  • A 15″ piece of PVC pipe
  • A 35″ piece of string
  • 4 jumbo paper clips (mine were 1.75″ long)
  • 1 wine cork
  • 1 button magnet
  • A 4″ piece of pipe cleaner for fishing lure
  • 2 mini wiggle eyes
  • 1 fish template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Scissors, tape, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue
  • 1 ice shack (more on this later!)

We’ll begin with the tackle box! Use colored masking tape and/or patterned tape to decorate the outside of a box (if you don’t have tape handy, plain old markers work too). I wrapped a few pieces of masking tape around the poster board strip too. Tab the ends of the poster board strip and staple them under the lid of the box (if your box doesn’t have a lid, just attach the handle to the sides of the box with staples or hot glue).

stapled handleBend a 6″ piece of pipe cleaner into a “V” and twist both sections of the V together tightly. Curl the bottom into a hook, and tape it to the side of the tackle box. Later, you’ll use this hook to hold the fish you catch.

tackle box hookThe tackle box is done, now for the snacks! To make buttered popcorn, use a yellow marker to scribble on both sides of a rectangle of white construction paper. Cut the paper into small squares, then crumble the squares and drop them into the plastic sandwich bag.

snacks To make a can of juice, color and cut the juice label from the snack template. Then wrap it around a toilet paper tube. To make a chocolate bar, color and cut the chocolate bar label from the template. Wrap it around the rectangle of tagboard (or brown poster board).

Finally, your fishing pole! Tie a jumbo paper clip to a piece string, then lower the paper clip through the hole at the top of a piece of PVC pipe. Keep lowering the string until the paper clip hangs well beyond the bottom of the pole and there’s just a few inches of string sticking out of the top. Next, turn your pole so it looks like this:

polePush the unattached end of the string against the pole, and cover it with colored masking tape. Continue wrapping the pole until you’ve created a 3″ handle.

wrapped handleTo make a fishing lure, bend a 4″ piece of pipe cleaner into a “U” shape. Use colored masking tape and/or patterned tape to attach the pipe cleaner to a wine cork, then continue wrapping until the entire cork is covered with tape. Hot glue a pair of mini wiggle eyes on the sides of the cork, and a button magnet on the bottom.

lureCut each fish out of the template and slide a jumbo paper clip over its mouth. Make sure, however, to extend the paperclip a little past the fish’s mouth (so it can hang on the tackle box hook later). Secure the paper clip to the fish with tape.

fish paperclipReady to fish? Hook the fishing pole’s paperclip through the pipe cleaner on your lure. Slowly lower the lure toward the fish’s mouth. The paperclip on the fish will attach to the magnet on the lure…and you’ve caught yourself a fish!

lure and fishFeel free to fish on a tabletop, out of a big bucket, off a blue towel “lake” on the floor…but if you’d like an ice shack like ours, read on!

ice shack 1 sidePeople at work know to get in touch with me before they recycle a big box (read more about that program here). I greedily drag these boxes into my lair for future story time use. I must admit, however, that my current stash was threatening to outgrow my storage space. So we had a big box blowout and made two ice shacks. We used 2 big boxes, 2 oversize box lids, and 2 old archive boxes.

Speaking of oversize box lids, you can see the bottom halves of the boxes in action at this retail-licious story time. For past projects that have utilized old archive boxes, check out this haunted house, this miraculous mechanism, and this fast food stand.

But back to the ice shack. An oversize box lid is the key since it transforms into the “ice” the shack rests upon.

ice shack ice shownMy box lid was 5.5″ deep x 24″ wide x 42″ long. Since multitudes of kids were going to be sitting on it, we reinforced the underside with sliced up archive boxes. We hot glued everything together, then reinforced the connections between the boxes with packing tape. Here’s a photo of the underside of the lid, all glued and taped. You can also see the round “hole” we cut in the ice for future fishing.

reinforced bottom of box lidWhen the underside was finished, Katie covered the top of the lid with light blue poster board “ice.” She attached the poster board with hot glue, then reinforced the edges with packing tape. Meanwhile, I cut a doorway and a window in the sides of a big box (my largest box was 22″ x 27″ x 32.” The second box was 22″ x 26″ x 26″). I made a shingled tagboard roof, added a paper towel tube chimney, and hot glued a cardboard sign on the front.

Katie used packing tape – lots of it – to secure the ice shack to the box lid “ice.” IMPORTANT! When positioning your shack on the ice, make sure the hole is located towards the rear of the shack. Otherwise, kids run the risk of tripping on the hole as they enter the shack.

ice shack 1 frontAs a finishing touch, Katie lined the doorways and windows of both shacks with colored masking tape. She used very special colors – purple & black for the Minnesota Vikings, and green & gold for the Green Bay Packers.

Finally, Katie made fish identification charts and attached them to to the sides of the shacks. We found some excellent wildlife illustrations on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ website, and they were kind enough to let us reproduce them for story time and the blog template. The kids loved matching their fish up to the charts.

using the fish chartI’ll leave you with one final image. Katie hails from the Midwest. When she was a kid, she actually went ice fishing with her grandparents in Spring Grove, Minnesota! She’s also been ice fishing in Colorado. While prepping this story time project, she expertly fielded my questions about ice fishing, ice shacks, bait, driving trucks on ice, operating ice augers, and the expression “derhey.” She brought her cold weather gear to story time too. Just look at this dedication to authenticity folks!

katie in her gear


Fish illustrations used with permission of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.