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!

Purrfect Pet

purrfect palRecently, it occurred to me that we’ve done story time projects with dogs, monkeys, chicks, ponies, mice, hamsters, butterflies, birds, crocodiles, bugs, rabbits, and chickens in hot air balloons…but no CATS! To correct this egregious oversight, I present you with the purrfect cat story time.

We read Hookwinked by Arthur Howard (Harcourt, 2001). Mitzi (who is a witch) adores creepy things. So when it’s time to find a pet, she heads to the creepiest store in town. She selects a toad. But all the toad wants to do is eat bugs. She returns the toad and gets a pair of bats. But all the bats want to do is hang out with each other. She returns the bats and leaves the store, completely discouraged. The next day, however, there’s a scratch at her door. It’s an adorable little kitten. Naturally, Mitzi is disgusted by the kitten’s cuteness, but she agrees to let it stay one night because it’s raining outside. That night, the kitten stays by Mitzi’s side as she hunts ghosts, purrs on Mitzi’s lap during a scary movie, and licks Mitzi’s chin when she reveals her deepest fears. Mitzi’s heart is won, and she realizes that looks aren’t everything!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small oatmeal container
  • Construction paper
  • A rectangle of tagboard (approximately 4.25″ x 6″)
  • 3 pieces of twistez wire (or very thin card stock strips) approximately 4.5″ each
  • A small rectangle of self-adhesive foam (approximately 1.25 ” x 1.5″)
  • 2 wiggle eyes
  • A 16″-18″ piece of ribbon
  • A small circle of card stock (approximately 1.5″ in diameter)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hole punch
  • Hot glue

First, wrap your oatmeal container in construction paper (we offered black, white, orange, and gray). Cut the hind feet out of a tagboard rectangle, then glue the tagboard to your choice of colored construction paper. Trim the construction paper to fit the tagboard feet. Your tag board hind feet are now covered with construction paper on one side.

back feet stepsSet the feet aside for a moment, and cut a tail out of your choice of colored construction paper. Our tails were 2.25″ x 12″ rectangles and they looked great. Round one end of the rectangle, then wrap the tail around a marker to give it an awesome curl.

Hot glue the hind feet to the bottom of the oatmeal container, then hot glue to tail on top of the feet. To keep the tail anchored and less likely to tear off, I suggest hot gluing at least 3″ of it to the feet.

glued feet and tailTo create your cat’s front feet, cut two, 1.5″ x 4.5″ rectangles of construction paper, round one end of each rectangle, and then fold the rounded ends up to create paws. Hot glue (or tape) the legs to the front of the oatmeal container.

front legs attachedTo make the cat’s furry bib, cut a 4″ x 4.25″ rectangle of construction paper into an upside-down bell shape, then cut little ripples on the edges to create “fur.”

bibHot glue (or tape) the bib to the front of the cat. Make sure the bib covers the tops of the front legs, but also leaves room for your cat’s face.

bib attachedUse a marker to draw a smile on your cat and little “toe lines” on it’s feet (metallic Sharpie markers work great on black construction paper). Next, bunch together 3 pieces of twistez wire (or 3 very thin card stock strips) and tape them over the mouth like so:

whiskersCut a piece of self-adhesive foam into a cat nose and stick it over the whisker tape. Hot glue a pair of wiggle eyes above the nose, and hot glue (or tape) a pair of construction paper ears next to the eyes.

nose, eyes, and ears The final touch is your cat’s name tag. Punch a hole in a circle of white card stock, then decorate the circle with your cat’s name. Thread a piece of ribbon through the hole and tie the ribbon around your cat’s neck. Invite a few friends over for a grand night out.

purrfect gang

And there you have it…a splendid cat story time! I wonder what animal’s next? We’ve already covered flamingossquirrelslong-haired rainbow yaks

Here Be Burgers

say cheeseYes, those are two very excited chefs sitting atop two very large cheeseburgers. After crafting some neat-o chef hats and aprons, we held our library’s first “build-a-giant-burger” relay race!

We read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ronald Barrett (Atheneum Books, 1978). A pancake mishap in the kitchen leads Grandpa to tell the story of a town called Chewandswallow, where meals fall from the sky. It rains juice, snows mashed potatoes, and drizzles soda pop. Life is quite peaceful…until the weather takes a turn for the worse. Unpredictable combinations of food, grown to monstrous proportions, begin to plague the town. Giant pancakes, pepper winds, tomato tornadoes, and humongous donuts threaten the very lives of Chewandswallow’s citizens. In the end, they evacuate the town, setting off in peanut butter bread boats to find a new land. A tall tale to be sure. But wouldn’t it be amazing if it were true?

You’ll need:

  • 1 strip of white poster board (approximately 4.5″ x 22″)
  • 1 piece of white tissue paper (approximately 24″ x 35.5″)
  • 1 rectangle of white plastic table cloth (approximately 16″ x 40″)
  • A selection of self-adhesive foam shapes
  • A pair of giant cheeseburgers (more on this later!)
  • Scissors and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating

finished hatBegin with the hat! Use markers to decorate a strip of white poster board. Then circle it around your head and staple it together. To make the poofy top, spread a piece of white tissue paper on a table:

hat step 2Gather the upper left and lower right corners together at the top

hat step 3Then gather the upper right and lower left corners together. You now have a hat poof.

hat step 4Pull your poof through the top of your hat brim like so:

hat step 5Once the bottom of the poof is well inside the hat band, open it up and push the tissue paper against the interior perimeter of the band. Staple the tissue to the hat band. Done!

hat step 6To make an apron, spread a rectangle of white plastic table cloth on a table.

plastic rectangle

Leaving 1-2″ inches of plastic at the top of the rectangle, cut two, 7.75″ wide pieces out of both sides. Your apron now has “strings.”

apron step 1Use self-adhesive foam shapes to decorate your apron.

apron step 2Put on your hat, tie your apron, and get ready…it’s time to race with giant cheeseburgers!

So, where exactly did I get the cheeseburgers? Funny story. Katie and I were setting up for this event when a mini truck stopped by our table. The driver had a question for the event coordinator. I looked up, and saw them.

burgers on truck“Are those giant CHEESEBURGERS?” I asked, quite excited.

As it turns out, the University’s Department of Athletics has a sponsorship from Cheeburger Cheeburger. During home halftime shows, they run relay races with the burgers. When not in use, the cheeseburgers are stored in a stadium supply closet.

“Can my library BORROW them?” I asked, getting even more excited. They said yes and about a week later, we fetched the burgers.

In the event that you don’t have a University athletics department with giant cheeseburgers, you can make some out of large pieces of felt. An even cheaper option is to use construction paper to make some slightly-larger-than-normal cheeseburgers.

And now…the relay race!

Our race consisted of 2 teams with 6 players per team. Each player had to locate a different piece of the burger in the library, race it back to the “burger building area,” and add it to the top of the burger. When the burger was complete, the race was over.

Knowing that things could get a little crazy, I designed some game cards to keep the race organized and (somewhat) calm.

Each of our cheeseburgers divided into 6 different pieces (bottom bun, cheese, burger, tomato, lettuce, and top bun). So we made 6 cards that showed an image of each burger piece (along with the word for the piece – because it’s never too early for picture / word association!). There were 2 sets of color-coded game cards. One for the Red Team, and one for the Blue Team.

game cards front

The backs of each card were numbered so each player knew when his/her turn was coming up. Only 2 kids (one from each team) raced at a time. Number 1 went first, found his/her piece, dragged it back to the burger-building area, and added it to the burger. Then Number 2 departed for his/her piece. This continued until the cheeseburger was finished.

game cards back

As I explained the game, I stressed that Red Team and Blue Team weren’t competing against one another. We were all having fun together, challenging ourselves to build giant cheeseburgers. Then Katie and I scattered the burger pieces around the library, lined up our teams, and shouted “Go!”

Alas, we didn’t get a chance to snap photos of the races. But let me assure you, there was lots of screaming, cheering, and laughter as our little chefs built giant cheeseburgers. And then pounced on them. Because who can resist pouncing on a big soft burger?

burger flipStill hankering for burgers? Check out this awesome story time burger stand, complete with milkshake faucet, fry basket, and grill!


Many thanks to Yariv Amir in Princeton University’s Department of Athletics for the cheeseburger opportunity. You are awesome.