Shadow Play

shadow playWe made these fantastic shadow puppets as part of To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8. We had just finished reading The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West (Dial, 2010).

Olive Dunwoody and her parents have just moved into an old house. And the house doesn’t like it. The house’s previous owner, Mrs. McMartin, was involved in witchcraft, and not very nice witchcraft at that. The house wants Mrs. McMartin, and the rest of her dark family, back. Olive soon discovers that she can enter the house’s enchanted paintings. She also discovers a trio of talking cats (who totally rock), a be-spelled boy named Morton, and the nefarious plans of Aldous McMartin, the evil patriarch of the ancient McMartin family. Can Olive and her friends fight off the shadows? This book is spooky, exciting, funny, and kept the kids in the group on the edges of their seats (or pillows, rather).

You’ll need:

I made two example puppets – a cat (because the cats are such fantastic characters in the book), and a ghost. But the kids could make anything they wanted. We had cats, ghosts, dragons, zombies, and some sort of monster with a detachable brain. Oh yeah.

The kids started by using markers to sketch their puppets on a sheet of tagboard. They cut the entire figure out first, and then made specific cuts on the portions they wanted to manipulate later (such as cutting the tail off and reattaching it with a brass tack).

cat with brass tacksWe used the hole punch to make eyes (you can use scissors to cut eyes and mouth holes too). I had some tissue paper, twistez wire, pipe cleaners, and cellophane handy to add some texture to the shadows as well.

cat with whiskersWhen it came time to put the sticks on the puppets, we used a wooden dowel as the central stick and a lighter bamboo skewer for the moveable part. We attached the sticks with tape.

One hint about the stick placement. It’s best to attach the stick that manipulates a part of the puppet (like an arm or tail) at a slight angle. This will give it a better range of motion.

cat with sticksHere’s my ghost puppet. I made one arm moveable, cut out the eyes and the mouth with scissors, and added tissue paper drapery.

ghost puppetFor the grand show, I lowered all the shades, turned off the lights, and fired up the overhead projector (you can read more about the joys of overhead projectors here). I pointed the projector at wall and…magic!

finished puppetsNeedless to say, we had a total blast playing with our shadow puppets. The program ran for less than an hour, but it would have been interesting to keep it going for a few more – experimenting with different types of puppets, textures, and launching into spontaneous narratives. There are some interesting multicultural angles to shadow puppetry as well. Hmmm…maybe a more extensive weekend workshop is in order?

more shadows

Tick Tock Squeak

the clockThis friendly grandfather clock houses a squeaky surprise. A sweet little sock mouse that curls up inside with a pillow, blanket, and piece of cheese!

We read The Clock, written by Constantine Georgiou, and illustrated by Bermard Lipscomb (Harvey House, Inc., 1967). Inside a farmhouse, a clock ticks. Throughout the day and night, the clock stands in the hall and tells time. A little mouse lives and sleeps inside the clock. One night, however, the clock stops and it’s up to the mouse and the clock to get things fixed before the family wakes up!

You’ll need:

  • 1 rectangular box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 square box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4” – a small tissue box works too)
  • Brown construction paper or paint (if needed, to cover boxes)
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • An 8.5″ x 11″ piece of tagboard (or brown poster board)
  • 1 clock door and face template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ manilla (or white) card stock
  • 2 brass tacks
  • 1 large button
  • 10-12 gold s (optional)
  • 1 white baby sock (I used Target brand low-cut socks for 6-12 months)
  • A small ball of polyester fill
  • A 6″ piece of white yarn for mouse’s neck
  • 1 rectangle of white stiffened felt (approximately 1.75″ x 3.5″) for feet & ears
  • A 3″ piece of white yarn for tail
  • 1 mini pom-pom (mine was 0.5″) for nose
  • Black permanent markers (I used Sharpie fine tip, and ultra-fine tip markers) for eyes & whiskers
  • 1 white cotton ball
  • A rectangle of fleece cloth (mine was 3.5″ x 5″)
  • A small triangle of orange or yellow kitchen sponge (mine was 1.5″)
  • Scissors, tape, white glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • A box cutter
  • Hole punch
  • Hot glue

clockThe clock is first! The boxes I used for this project were brown. But if you’re using non-brown boxes, you’ll need to cover them with brown construction paper (or paint) first.

My rectangular box had a lid that I used to create the clock’s door. If yours doesn’t have a lid, you’ll need to use a box cutter to cut one in the side of the box. Once the door has been cut, open your clock and glue (or tape) a piece of patterned paper to the back wall. This is your mouse’s wallpaper.

wallpaperFor the exterior of the clock, we wanted lots of texture. So we pre-cut 14 tagboard clock pieces, as well as the card stock clock face and the “glass door” from the template. We put each set of clock objects in an envelope (along with 2 brass tacks).

During story time, each kid was given an envelope and we went step-by-step, announcing the item they needed to find in the envelope and where/how to attach it to the boxes. Here are all the pieces laid out (everything can be attached with white glue, hot glue, or tape):

clock piecesYou certainly don’t have to get this elaborate. In fact, you can skip the tagboard flourishes and just put on a clock face, the clock hands, the glass door, and the pendulum and be done. Here’s how we did those particular steps.

First, cut the door and the face from the template. Use markers to draw a friendly face on your clock. Then use a box cutter to make a small slit in the clock face and the glass door like so:

door and face step 1Take your pendulum piece (a tagboard strip with a hole punched in one end) and your clock hands (2 small tagboard arrows with holes punched through the blunt ends) and thread a brass tack through them. Push the brass tack through the slits like this:

door and face step 2Glue, tape, or hot glue the glass door and the face to your clock boxes. Then hot glue the two clock boxes together. Hot glue a plastic button on the bottom of the pendulum…

buttonAnd add some gold foil star stickers to the outside of the clock. Or, skip the star stickers and decorate the clock with markers. You’re done with your clock, now for the mouse!

finished mouseStuff a white baby sock with some polyester fill. Don’t over stuff the sock. You definitely want to leave a little room at the bottom, where the sock opens. Gently roll the opening of the sock upwards and inwards (in other words, roll it into the sock). The rolled up part is now the base of your mouse.

sock steps

Stand the sock up on its base and gently knot a 6″ piece of yarn around the top to create a “neck.” You don’t need to knot it super tight – just enough to suggest a neck. Trim the extra yarn off.

neck knotPut the sock aside for a moment, and cut the mouse’s feet out of a rectangle of white stiffened felt (use the leftover felt to make 2 little ears). Hot glue the tail to the mouse’s feet. The tail is a 3″ piece of white yarn, knotted on the unglued end so it wouldn’t unravel later.

feet and tailHot glue your mouse body to the feet. Then hot glue a mini pom-pom nose and 2 stiffened felt ears to the head. Use a fine point Sharpie marker to draw eyes, and an ultra fine Sharpie to draw whiskers. Done!

The mouse in the book sleeps in the clock with a pillow, blanket, and piece of cheese. We used a white cotton ball, a piece of blue fleece, and a triangle of orange kitchen sponge for the cheese. Sweet dreams little mousie!

sleeping mouse

Train Time

train timeAll aboard! This splendid stream engine pulls a passenger coach on masking tape tracks, making a number of stops to take on coal, water, and passengers before heading through a mountain tunnel!

train stuffWe read Chugga Chugga Choo Choo, written by Kevin Lewis, and illustrated by Daniel Kirk (Hyperion, 1999). A toy engine chugs through his day in the playroom, collecting freight, going through mountains, over bridges, across rivers, and finally relaxing in the roundhouse. Cleverly, the landscape is entirely made of toys (I especially like the bridge over the fish tank). It’s a sweet, simple story that was oft-requested in our household.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • Construction paper, any color
  • Construction paper, black
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A box cutter
  • 2 small craft sticks (mine were 3″ long)
  • A 36″ piece of curling ribbon
  • 1 small box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4” – a small tissue box works too)
  • name tag stickers with gold borders (optional)
  • engine wheels template printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 4 toilet paper tubes
  • 1 drink lid
  • 1 small l (optional)
  • A selection of foil star stickers (optional)
  • 1 tissue (i.e. Kleenex)
  • 1 large box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” but a large tissue box works too)
  • 2 passenger car templates, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ pieces of white card stock
  • Train track & stops (more on that later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Start with the engine! Wrap a 9″ x 11″ piece of construction paper (any color) around half of the oatmeal container. It won’t reach all the way around the container but that’s good. You want the uncovered section of the container to slide smoothly over the floor.

engine step 1Use colored masking tape to make three lines on the construction paper. Again, it’s best if they don’t go all the way around the container.

engine step 2 Cut a 4.5″ diameter circle out of black construction paper and use tape loops to attach it to the bottom of the container. Important! The bottom of the container is NOT the end with the lid. It is the plain cardboard end.

We’ll pause in exterior engine building for a moment to construct your train’s pull string. Hot glue two small craft sticks together in a cross. This creates the anchor for your pull string. Knot one end of curling ribbon around the anchor.

anchor steps 1 and 2Next, use a box cutter to cut a small slit in the bottom of the oatmeal container, about 1.5″ from the top edge. This is where your pull string will come out.

slitUse scissors to enlarge the slit. Then take the lid off the oatmeal container, reach inside, and poke the free end of the curling ribbon through the slit. Keep pulling the ribbon through until the anchor is snug up against the bottom of the container. Replace the lid and tape it closed.

anchor insideNow for the engine’s tender! Cut a small box down to 3″ high. Hot glue it to the lid of the oatmeal container and reinforce the connection with tape. Since this box is what keeps the oatmeal container from rolling around, make sure part of the box comes in contact with the floor, and that it’s really attached well.

attached tenderThe engine’s cab is next. Fold the edges of a 3″ x 9″ piece of construction paper inwards to create two, 0.25″ folds:

cab foldsCurve the folds under and hot glue (or tape) them to the back of the engine (i.e. the end with the tender). Gently pinch the curvy top of the cab to make two more folds, giving the cab a flat roof.

cab stepsHot glue (or tape) a 3.25″ x 3.25″ square of black construction paper to the roof of the cab. I also added some file label sticker windows. You can do this, or draw the windows on with markers. You can see the finished cab in the image below.

For your engine’s chimney (or “stack” as they sometimes call it) wrap a toilet paper tube with black construction paper and hot glue it to the top of the engine. Cut a second toilet paper tube down to 2″ and wrap it with black construction paper. This is your engine’s “dome”. Hot glue it behind the chimney. Tape a piece of tissue inside the chimney for smoke. cab dome chimneyColor and cut out the engine wheels template. Hot glue (or tape) them to the sides of the engine. Crumble up some pieces of black construction paper to make “coal” for your tender. I added some gold-bordered name tag stickers to the sides of the tender, along with some gold foil stars.

finished engine

Finally, hot glue a drink lid to the front of the train for a light (we stuck a gold foil seal inside it for some extra shine).  We added some gold foil stars to the front of the engine as well (whoops, I didn’t put the chimney on exactly straight did I?).

front of trainFor the passenger car, simple color and cut the passenger car templates and hot glue (or tape) them to the sides of a large box. Some kids cut the lid off their boxes, and some left the lid intact. Totally up to you! Just don’t let the wheels of the train car extend past the bottom of the box, or it won’t slide on the floor!

passenger carTo couple your passenger car to your engine, cut two, 15″ pieces of masking tape (I used black masking tape, but any color will do). Lay one piece on top of the other, with the sticky sides facing each other. Hot glue this masking tape “strip” to the bottom of the train. Make sure to leave a 1.5″ gap between the tender and the passenger car.

couplingYour train is done! You can stop there, or you can go a step further like we did and make a track and “stops” for the train. If you’re up for that, read on…

For the tracks, use masking tape to make the two rails. Then connect the rails with more masking tape “ties.” It’s simple to do, but it takes time. Especially because we laid a whole lotta track all over the gallery (just look at the tape blob that resulted from clean up)! Here’s Katie, who is, quite literally, “working on the railroad.”

katie workingNext, Katie made a couple different elements for the railroad: a station (a copy paper box lid with a box station and some accoutrements); a water tower (a small oatmeal container, a small box, some construction paper, and a pipe cleaner); a big container of extra coal (little crumbled up pieces of black construction paper); a couple of toilet paper tube passengers (I’ve named them George and Martha); and a crossing gate (white cardboard wrapped with red masking tape hot glued to a box).

train stuffThe morning of story time, I made the tunnel. It was 2 huge pieces of cardboard taped to the railings of our gallery bridge. Once they were secured, I covered them with a brown sheet.

tunnelReady to see the whole route in action? At the starting line, Katie shoveled extra coal into each engine’s tender. Then the trains were off, chuffing down the track!

engineer sets off The first stop was the water tower, where kids pushed two blue cotton balls into the train’s dome to feed the boiler.

water tower stopNext the train encountered a crossing gate. I was operating this particular mechanism (I do a very convincing “ding ding ding ding”).

crossing gate stopAfter that, the trains headed around a long bend to the station, where kids loaded 2 toilet paper tube “passengers” into their passenger car (we had a bin sitting nearby with extra tubes for them to take home and color in later).

station stopThen it was off to the mountain tunnel. I made sure that the train route would lead kids uphill in the tunnel (because it’s hard for kids to navigate, stare at a train, and duck into a tunnel without also having to balance downhill).

tunnel stopAfter the tunnel, it was a quick trip to the finish line. All the while, the little engineers were being serenaded by my Rare Books colleagues AnnaLee and Kelly, who performed a most excellent rendition of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” THANKS LADIES!

annalee and kelly