Dragons & Catapults

dragons and catapultsEnter the realm of mythical beasts, sieige engines, and truly stunning Medieval headdresses…it’s time for more kid-tested product reviews! Today, Hope is taking on the Aquarellum Junior paint kit by SentoSphere (ages 7+, retails for approximately $20) and the Tabletop Catapult kit by Sterling Innovation (ages 8+, retails for approximately $25). Have at thee Hope!


Hi everyone! I’m back… and this time, with a Medieval twist! First, I’m going to review the Aquarellum kit.

aquarelleum kitOpening the box, I found four pieces of light, thin, cardboardy canvas, referred to in the instructions as “Aquarellum Board.” The face of each board had a rendering of a dragon outlined faintly on the surface. One of them looked like a Chinese dragon, and the other three were a jumble of Viking and Medieval. There was also a plastic paint palette, six watercolor paints in bottles, a paintbrush, a plastic eyedropper, and a set of instructions. Dr. Dana thought the instructions were beautiful, and their bright colors captured my attention too.

french instructionsThe instructions were a 3 page, double-sided foldout. I started reading them hoping to glean a bit of information on using the product. But the instructions were written completely in French! Scouring them, I finally found a miniscule paragraph written in English. Sadly, it offered me only a vague idea of the procedures of the project. It described the board and how to paint on it, how to mix and dilute your paints, gave a few application tips for the paints, and then… nothing. But I got the “picture” (hahaha). However, I was sad that I couldn’t read the rest of the lovely illustrated instructions. Ah well. C’est la vie!

Basically, each Aquarellum “canvas” had a picture of a dragon outlined in wax. Since the paint was water-based, any messups would be deflected by the wax. What an epically cool concept! It was almost impossible to mess up!  Choosing one of the canvases, I assembled the extra materials recommended for the project.  And I quote…

  • a blank sheet to test mixed colors on
  • absorbent paper
  • A glass of water in which to rinse your brush, dilute inks, and clean the dropper used to dose the inks
  • Direct light (sunlight or a desk lamp), allowing you to clearly see the designs, since the varnish is very pale.

Setting up the materials, I readied the brush and paints.

prepping the paintI used the plastic dropper to place the paint in the cavities of the palette, tested the mixed colors on a piece of paper, and washed the dropper and the brush off in a cup of water.

paint testsThen I started to paint. Oh! What fun!!! The colors were vibrant, the paint easy to use, and it was nearly impossible to mess up!

wax outlines I finished one dragon, and moved onto the next. I found that the paint dried super quick, which made it easy to layer more colors onto the canvas, creating new shades. It was awesome! The only downside was that the paint dried so quickly, it sometimes dried on the wax, creating smudges. Here’s a finished canvas:

finished red dragonOverall, I really enjoyed this project! It was super fun, and my results turned out beautifully, even though I am not an expert at painting. The only downsides of the product were that if you went outside the main outline of the dragon, the smudges dried so fast that they could permanently mar your art.

Also, the bulk of the instructions were in French! This was especially frustrating because the French instructions were beautifully illustrated and clearly had more detail than the paragraph written in English. Also, Dr. Dana and I could not figure out the correct way to pronounce the product name! Aquarellum? What a tongue twister!

And the Scores Are In!

AQUARELLUM

PROS: Fun to use, vibrant colors, easy, entertaining, beautiful results.
CONS: Directions mostly in French, smudges dried too quickly.

SCORE: 5 OUT OF 5!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Setting aside the dragons, I turned to the weaponry….BEHOLD!  A catapult!

catapult kitOpening the box, I found a book titled The Art of the Catapult, wood pieces, wooden pegs, directions, a chunk of brown clay in a plastic baggie, metal washers, white twine, a wire, and some glue. Unfolding the directions, I discovered that they were mostly illustrated. While I liked that they were so precisely illustrated, the text directions were vague, which confused me. The directions also called for a “Healthy Snack,” which was funny, because we only had marshmallows handy (more on those later)!

I used the inventory sheet on the first page to make sure I wasn’t missing any pieces, and started building the catapult. It was pretty straightforward. Use the wooden pegs to connect the wood pieces together to construct the base of the catapult.

base of catapultHowever, some of the pegs were loose. I used some glue, which (thankfully) seemed to help. Other pegs were too tight and had to be hammered in with a piece of stone that Dr. Dana had in her office!?! It was ludicrous, but equally hilarious, to see me pounding pegs into the wood with a huge chunk of stone. Rock dust flew everywhere, and the noise… let’s just say it was painful.

hammer timeAfter I had finished building the base and support structure, I had to construct the torsion string. When I saw the word torsion I thought, “WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!” (Torsion means “to be twisted” or “the act of being twisted”).

In a nutshell, to make the torsion string, I had to coil the string several times and use a wire to thread it through two washers and two holes in the catapult base. Then I wound the ends of the string loops around two pegs (called the “tensioners”). The catapult’s swing arm was inserted in the center of the torsion string and I used the tensioners to tighten it. Dr.Dana assisted, using her knightly muscle.

torsion stringThe directions for this part definitely could’ve used more clarification. The picture/word combination was just too weak for the complexity of the task. I couldn’t figure it out, so I called in Dr. Dana, who also had to carefully inspect the directions and fiddle with the catapult. But figure it out we did!

finished catapultWe made a ball out of the clay…but there was another problem. The wooden peg on the “trigger” was too weak to hold the catapult arm back – the peg just kept popping out. So Dr. Dana reinforced it somewhat with masking tape.

taped trigger pegBut there was another problem. Now the entire trigger would flop over, releasing the catapult arm. It just wasn’t strong enough to hold the arm down. So we ignored the trigger and used our fingers to hold down catapult arm while we loaded it.

But it was fun to use! It was just so utterly entertaining to watch stuff fly through the air! First, we launched the clay ball. Later, we launched a marshmallow and a ping pong ball. The clay ball had the lowest altitude when launched, the marshmallow went the farthest distance, and the ping pong ball went the highest.

Then we decided (of course) to try to launch a marshmallow into curatorial staffer Ellen’s mouth. First, we made sure she was wearing proper head and eye gear:

ellen's awsome headgearEllen sat in a chair approximately 65” away from the catapult. We tried again and again, moving the chair all over, but missed every time! Finally, Ellen took matters into her own hands:

Needless to say, we had fun!

The kit also came with a book called The Art of the Catapult, by William Gurstelle (Sterling Innovation, 2004). The book was broken up into nine chapters. Each chapter contained at least one or two additional catapult-like projects you could build. However, they were far more complex and difficult than the catapult that came with the kit.

The rest of the book was information about the evolution and variation of catapults around the world. To me… well, some of it was cool. Alexander the Great, Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart. But the rest of the projects and history of the catapult…. frankly, it felt like too much dry detail.

In addition, the writing style seemed to change throughout the book. Sometimes it felt like an adventure novel, sometimes a history textbook, and other times, translations of ancient writings, like the Torah, Bible, or Koran. It was odd, because the book was by one author. But maybe the author’s interests were also varied, and his writing simply reflected that. It just didn’t flow very well.

The catapult kit was kind of fun, but overall it was more confusing than excellent. The directions were annoying with their briefly captioned illustrations. The project was recommended for ages 8+. Yet I had to use a rock to hammer pegs into the catapult. To me, it suggests that something is wrong. And so…

The Scores Are In!

TABLETOP CATAPULT

PROS: Fun to use (because of laugh factor. It was so fun to launch marshmallows at Ellen), good excuse to eat marshmallows, sturdy materials, came with a book (yay!), built a catapult!

CONS: Confusing directions with not enough written description, aiming was hard, trigger not effective, clay projectile a bit disappointing, book was a little dry.

SCORE: 3 OUT OF 5!


Postscript: Dr. Dana here! Last night, I took the catapult home to my 2 children (ages 4 and 6). For 3 straight hours, they launched ping pong balls around the house. The little catapult held up beautifully, even though the trigger never worked. We ended up removing the trigger and just using our fingers. For extra fun, use a Sharpie to draw silly faces on the ping pong balls.

Show Jumping!

show jumpingSaddle up! Today, we’re jumping stick horses over fences at the ultimate story time horse show! When a slew of horse show ribbons were donated to my library, I knew exactly what we had to do. Design a 6-fence course and jump our little hearts out. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see this pair on course, completing a clear round!

We read Scamper and the Horse Show, written by Jessie Haas and illustrated by Margot Apple (Greenwillow Books, 2004). Sisters Anna and Molly are excited about tomorrow’s horse show. But Scamper the pony isn’t too thrilled about being caught and bathed. He arrives at the show with a few brown and green stains, but there’s no time to worry about that – the classes are starting! Unfortunately, during Costume Class, a sudden rainstorm soaks the show grounds. Scamper’s costume (an American flag) leaks all over his grey coat. He’s now a multi-colored mess. But when the judge arrives, she sees a handsome rainbow pony displaying all the colors of horse show ribbons – purple, green, pink, white, yellow, red, and…finally…a blue ribbon for first place!

We made stick horses, affixed good luck charms to our “riding helmets,” and then jumped a course. Waiting at the finish line was a real horse show ribbon to take home!

blue ribbonYou’ll need:

  • A 10″ x 22″ piece of poster board for horse head (we offered brown, white, or black)
  • 1 horse head template, printed on 11″ x 17″ paper
  • A 9″ x 12″ piece of construction paper for mane (we offered brown, white, or black)
  • 2 long strips of poster board (approximately 0.5″ x 6.75″)
  • 2 short strips of poster board (approximately 0.5″ x 4″)
  • A 32.5″ length of PVC pipe
  • Packing tape
  • 2 large wiggle eyes
  • Hole punch
  • A 29.5″ piece of ribbon
  • 1 baseball cap
  • 1 good luck token template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 horse show ribbon
  • 1 set of stadium jumps (more on these later!)
  • Scissors, stapler, glue, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

horse headWe’ll start with your steed! Fold a large, 10″ x 22″ piece of poster board in half. Next, print and cut the horse head template. Lay the template on top of the folded poster board – the horse’s nose should be flush against the fold in the poster board. Cut the head along the template.

horse head step 1Does this horse head looks familiar to you? That’s because it’s very similar to the stick ponies from this post. These horse heads are smaller (and the sticks shorter) because I wanted to avoid trip hazards while kids were jumping fences. The construction, however, is exactly the same. So I’m going to reuse the instructional photos from the past post here.

Use scrap pieces from the folded poster board to cut a pair of ears. Color the insides with marker, then staple them at the bottom.

earsStaple or hot glue the ears on each side of the horse’s head (you can attach them to the outside of the head, as seen below, or the inside the head):

forelock 1To create the mane, cut a 9″ X 12″ piece of construction paper in half lengthwise, and fringe the 2 pieces. Cut two, 3″ pieces of fringe off the ends and set those aside (you’ll use them for the horse’s forelock later). Now use hot glue, glue, or tape to secure 1 mane piece to the right side of the horse’s head. Repeat this same step on the left side.

maneTo create a forelock, make a 1.5″ cut down the fold of the head, directly between the ears.

forelock 2Slide a 3″ piece of fridge into the cut and secure it to the interior of the horse’s head with hot glue, glue, or tape. Repeat the same step on the other side. Trim (or curl) the forelock and mane if needed.

forelock 3Punch a hole on each side of the horse’s mouth. This is where the reins will thread through later.

reinsTime to decorate! Hot glue 2 wiggle eyes to the head and draw the nostrils and mouth with markers. To make a bridle, decorate 4 poster board strips with markers. The longest strips go down the sides of the horse’s head. The short strips fold across the horse’s forehead and nose. You can attach them with tape or hot glue. Here’s what a finished head looks like:

bridle detailsNext, unfold the head. Lay a piece of PVC pipe on one side of the head, making sure that the end of the pipe is approximately 1.5″ away from the fold. Use packing tape (not regular tape) to attach the pipe to the neck. Use at least 4 pieces of packing tape to make it really secure.

attaching stickRefold the head and put a few staples into the base of the head, around the pipe.

close up of stick staplesThread a piece of ribbon through the punched holes, and tie it behind the horse’s head! You’re done!

horse headWe needed to keep the kids busy while we set up the show jumping course, so we handed out black baseball cap “riding helmets” (which I purchased from Oriental Trading Company) and good luck token templates to color. To attach the token, simply fold it along the dotted line, slide it through the back strap of the cap, and staple both sides together.

token on hatGood luck tokens securely attached. Hard hats on tightly, horses and riders gathered outside the library, where their show jumping course awaited!

stadium jumpsKatie and I constructed these out of various boxes, wrapping paper tubes, tissue paper, poster board, and colored masking tape. I’ll admit, we went a little crazy. Yup, this one definitely ranks up there with the haunted dollhouse in terms of effort and mess. But just look at that topiary water jump folks! Beautiful! At the end of the program, we had a drawing and 6 lucky kids got to take home a jump.

A few practical matters. We kept the height of the jumps very low. The tallest jump (the brick wall) was only 10″ high. The jumps were made out of light material so they would fall over easily if hit (and not stub any toes). Happily, we had no falls and everyone (even the most timid 3-year-old) made it over the jumps with no problem. I had grand plans for an intricate jumping course. But in the end, good sense (i.e. Katie) prevailed and I set the jumps up in an easy-to-follow horseshoe.

On the show grounds, the riders lined up in single file at the starting cones. At the sound of a bell, each rider took a turn jumping the course. When he/she passed the finish cones, he/she got to choose a ribbon. The kids were THRILLED.

horse show ribbons While there were plenty of ribbons to chose from, we made sure to hold one super fancy ribbon back for the last kid riding the course. And now, how about seeing a rider in action?

The black jacket the little girl is wearing is a ring-bearer’s tux. Katie’s son wore it when he was 4 and a half. The lacy stock tie is from a “Colonial Gentleman” costume I wore for a history program. Who knew these items would later become the perfect riding ensemble?

Fairyland Real Estate

fairyland real estateAre your winged friends on the market for a cottage to call their own? Look no further than this literal fixer-upper. It may start as a plain brown box, but it quickly blossoms into a dream home! We offered two choices – a Wintertime Fairy House or a Summertime Fairy House. Scroll to the bottom of the post to check out the latest real estate listings!

We read The Dolls’ House Fairy by Jane Ray (Candlewick Press, 2009). Rosy and her Dad have a cozy Saturday morning ritual. First, they have hot chocolate and French toast for breakfast. Then, they play with a dollhouse they’ve built together. But one Saturday, Rosy awakens to find that Dad is in the hospital. Sad and worried, she decides to comfort herself by playing with the dollhouse. She’s surprised to discover a real fairy has moved in! Thistle has hurt her wing, and decides Rosy’s dollhouse is the ideal place to recuperate. Thistle isn’t perfect. In fact, she’s very messy, full of mischief, and scatters fairy dust everywhere. But the two girls become terrific friends. When Dad returns home, Thistle takes off before he can be introduced. But Rosy will always remember her house fairy friend.

You’ll need:

Extra supplies for the Wintertime Fairy House include:

Extra supplies for the Summertime Fairy House include:

First, the fairy! Decide whether you’ll be making a Wintertime Fairy or a Summertime Fairy (or go crazy and mix the seasons!). Use multicultural construction paper, patterned paper, embossed foil paper, and construction paper to decorate the a toilet paper tube. We also threw in some craft ties for belts, collars, and bracelets.

fairiesTo make the wings, pinch a tall rectangle of iridescent cello into a bow tie shape, and secure it in the center with tape. Attach the wings to the back of your fairy with tape.

fairy wingsSet the fairy aside, it’s time for your house! It’s best to use a box with an attached lid, so you can open and close the front of your house. I used a craft box, but you can also use a large tissue box. Simply cut the bottom of the tissue box to form a lid, like so:

tissue box house optionNow use a box cutter to cut a door and window into the lid. I went with a double shuttered window, since it looks really cute when you decorate it later on.

fairy house step 1Next, tape a rectangle of tagboard inside the box to create a second floor. Since our boxes were just 9″ tall, the second floor was considered to be a small “sleeping loft.”

fairy house step 2Fold a large rectangle of tagboard to create a roof, then tape (or hot glue) it to the top of the box. Finish by hot gluing the house to a corrugated cardboard base (you can cover the base with paper first if you like).

fairy house step 3Now to decorate! Kids could do whatever they liked, but my Wintertime House had rows of mirror board icicles, a silver embossed foil seal over the front door, cotton ball snow, and silver dot sticker stepping stones. So I made sure each architect received the same supplies (but they were welcome to use them however they liked of course).

wintertime houseLikewise, my Summertime House had fabric flowers, leaves, flower stickers in the yard, green paper crinkle, and a gold embossed foil seal.

summertime houseFor both houses, I made sure there was plenty of construction paper, patterned paper, and embossed foil paper handy to decorate the interiors and exteriors. One quick decorating tip! Whilst landscaping your house’s yard, make sure you don’t tape items (such as fabric flowers or cotton balls) in places that will impede the swinging motion of the front of your house. The final touch was a solid wood dining table, created by hot gluing a wood round to the top of a wooden spool.

spool tableLet’s take a look at some of those Fairyland real estate listings! Katie and I definitely had some fun with these…

house 1Hard-to-find classic cottage located in the heart of the Summer Fairy Kingdom. Unique black squiggle doorknob and hearty garden sure to please. Tranquil and traditional, don’t miss the chance to live here!

house 2Magic abounds! Walk through a firework front door into your flawless new flat. Newly renovated autumn leaf roof makes this one not just for summer fun!

house 3Ice and snow don’t stand a chance against this relaxing retreat! Self-cleaning roof and unique icicle fringing make this house a stand out!

house 4Situated on the highest hill in Winter Fairy Kingdom, this arctic abode offers astounding views as far as the eye can see! Giant window on western wall ensures a light-filled living space.

house 5Fairy palace paradise! Every detail, from the leafy roof to the flower front door, was carefully selected and finely crafted. Don’t miss the vintage polka-dot shutters!

house 6Modest, but magnificent. Generous lawn and green roof make this perfect for anyone wanting to enjoy summer in Fairyland.

house 8A meticulously designed jewel waits for the perfect fairy to move in! Side-mounted solar panel provides all the energy required for your cozy abode.

house 7Austere with black, white, and silver highlights, the clean lines of this house are perfect for the the modern fairy. A stunning silver suite awaits!

house 9The grassy frame and striped roof draw the eyes to this exceptional estate. Perfect for the artistic fairy, with plenty of potential for more rainbow colors.

house 10A classic chilly chalet! Prepare to “ooo” and “aahh” at the panoramic mountain views from your enormous second floor picture window!

house 11Nature lovers will feel right at home in this lushly landscaped lodge, complete with mature plants and gorgeous flowers galore!