Incredible Illusions

illustrious illusionsBehold the mystery…the wonder…the spectacle…of your very own mini magic show!

magic tricksThis project was the culminating event at To Be Continued, our weekly story time for 6 to 8-year-olds. Every week, we read from a chapter book and celebrate the the end of the entire book with a project and/or activity.

We read Horton’s Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans (the sequel to Horton’s Mechanical Mechanisms (Sterling Children’s Books, 2012)). Young Stuart Horton moves to the town of Beeton and expects to be thoroughly bored. However, he soon discovers that he is part of a magical legacy left by his Great Uncle Tony, who was a stage magician and illusionist. In the first book, Stuart and his friend April solve a series of complicated clues and find Uncle Tony’s secret workshop. In the sequel, the friends again embark on a journey. This time, they’re searching for Great Uncle Tony’s will, which bequeths the contents of his workshop to whoever finds the document first. Clues are hidden in each of his magical stage illusions, but…the magical worlds inside the illusions are real and in some cases, dangerous. And Stuart and April aren’t the only one interested in getting their hands on those tricks.

We definitely needed some incredible illusions to celebrate the conclusion of these awesome books. I designed these individual mini magic shows to be easy enough for 6-year-olds to do, but intriguing enough for 8-year-olds. After consulting a number of children’s magic books, I found Amazing Magic Tricks: Beginner Level by Norm Barnhart (Edge Books, 2008) to be the most useful. The 4 tricks described in this post are from this book.

You’ll need:

  • 1 memory box (more about this below)
  • A 10.5″ piece of PVC pipe (05.” in diameter)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 1 paper cup
  • 1 paper (or fabric) flower
  • 1 empty seed packet (or small envelope simply marked “Magic Seeds”)
  • A 9″ x 12″ piece of felt (I used the glitter variety)
  • hat rabbit carrot template printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 Styrofoam coffee cup
  • A selection of foil star stickers
  • 2 playing cards
  • A 1″ foam paintbrush (or regular paintbrush)
  • Scissors and tape for construction

You’ll need a box with a lid to store your tricks and shield your hands from the audience as you prepare your tricks. A memory box is perfect for this. I purchased mine at Michaels Craft store. I went with black, but they come in all sorts of colors and patterns.

memory boxDecorate the lid of your box however you like (I found some self-adhesive glitter foam stars in the clearance section at the craft store) then slide the lid onto the box like so. This creates a “screen” and a “backstage” area to prep your tricks.

magic boxNext, wrap colored masking tape around the PVC pipe. Your magic wand is ready!

wand

TRICK #1: HIDDEN FLOWER

The most important thing about this trick is making sure the flower is small enough to hide in your fist. I purchased 1.25″ paper flowers for the kids (scored on discount from the scrap booking section of the craft store).

flowerBehind your box’s screen, grab the flower in your fist. Then use the same hand to hold the paper cup with your fingers.

flower trick 1To perform the trick, show the audience that your cup is empty. Then say “Oh no! It’s empty. Well, good thing I have some stupendous magic seeds!” Pick up the empty seed packet and pretend to pour seeds into the cup.

flower trick 2Wave the wand around muttering magical incantations. While the audience is distracted by the wand, open your fingers and drop the flower into the cup. Shout “Ta da!” and show them that a flower has magically appeared!

flower trick 3TRICK #2: FIND THE RABBIT

Print the hat, rabbit, carrot template. Fold and tear the strip in 2 places, like your see below. It’s really important that your TEAR the strip. Don’t cut it with scissors!

rabbit trickTo perform the trick, hold up the 3 image cards and say “You see a hat, a rabbit, and some carrots, but with my amazing magical skills, I will pull the rabbit from under this cloth every time!” Turn your back and have an audience member arrange the 3 image cards on the table and cover them with felt.

rabbit trick 2Reach underneath the felt and feel the edges of the image cards with your fingers.

rabbit trick 3The rabbit will be the only image card with two torn edges. Remove it from under the cloth with a flourish! Repeat with a difference audience member. Astounding!

rabbit trick 4TRICK #3: BALANCING CUP

First, decorate a Styrofoam cup with foil star stickers. Next, cut a playing card in half, lengthwise. Tape one half of the cut playing card to the back of another card. The half of the playing card should “hinge” outward like so

cup trick 1To perform the trick, flatten the hinge to the card and hold it up to your audience, keeping the taped side facing your body. Invite an audience member to come forward and try to balance the Styrofoam cup on top of the card. Then say “You see it is impossible. But I will now use magic to make the impossible, possible!”

While you’re talking, sneak a finger up the card and open the hinge on the back, forming an area for the cup to balance. From the side, it looks like this:

cup trick 2But from the front, it looks like the cup is now balancing on the card!

cup trick 3TRICK #4: MAGIC GLUE

To perform this trick, tell the audience that you have magic glue. Hold up a paintbrush and Invite an audience member to come up and “paint” your hand with the magical glue. For my version of the trick, we used 1″ foam paintbrushes I had left over from another program.

wand trick 1Now hold the wand in your “glued” hand. Say “Observe my stupendous magical glue!” Extend your arm across your body and out to your side, still grasping the wand. Next, wrap your free hand around the wrist of your wand hand. Slowly and dramatically, lift each finger from the wand until you no longer appear to be holding it.

wand trick 2But you are holding it of course. Because when you grasp your wrist, you sneak a finger behind your wand hand and hold the wand like this:

wand trick 3Now have the audience clap once to have the wand “detach” from the magic glue. Carefully lift your finger to release the wand, and let it fall dramatically to the floor. Take a big bow.

The kids absolutely loved this project. I performed the whole show first, and then I deconstructed all the tricks and each kid made his/her own set. If, by the way, you’d like to see the awesome mechanisms we made after reading Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms (the first book in this set), click here.

Our Most Popular Event Sign, Ever

best event sign everNo, it’s not a sign that says “Free Cupcakes.”

Our most popular event sign, the sign that people were lining up to take pictures of, the sign that a middle school teacher took home, the sign that another teacher asked me to send her the copy for, was…wait for it…the “Jobs You Don’t Want” sign at a large-scale Robin Hood event my library hosted in 2012. Yes, the medieval equivalent of Dirty Jobs nearly stole the show.

The sign was displayed at the “Jobs You Don’t Want” table, which was hosted by the Princeton Tour Company. The folks at the Princeton Tour Company are always up for fun ways to connect kids to history, so when I pitched my idea about medieval occupational grossness, they barely flinched.

So, ready to read some truly awful job descriptions? Click here: Jobs You Don’t Want

At the event table, kids could try their hand at another classic medieval job – rat catching. To create the rat catching game, I scoured thrift stores for “garbage.” Among other things, I scored a couple old baskets, a tarnished metal tray, two dirty wooden bucket thingees, an extremely ancient leather slipper, wooden bowls, a metal tankard, a stained bolster, some gourds, and an old horseshoe. I also provided some paper crinkle to accentuate that “trash heap feeling.” Then we placed small plastic rats in various locations in the trash heap.

garbageKids attempted to “catch” a rat by using rat catching cages (i.e. plastic baskets strung on curtain rods). If you successfully lowered the cage over a rat, you got to keep it! You could play multiple times too, and therefore assemble quite a collection.

rat catchingAlso included at this event – professional stage fighters, archery, knights in armor, live period music, medieval fashions, a castle play area, siege engines, alchemy, illuminated letters, forest survival, stained glass, a kid-friendly alehouse, dragons, unicorns, live hawks, venison chili, a tax game (featured here in our sneaky math post), a pair of court jesters, and a food drive to benefit a local food bank. Check out the 2-page event map!

Sneaky Math

cloud diagramWant a side of math with that story time? From simple to semi-sophisticated, here are some ways I’ve worked math into my library programs!

COUNTING SUPPLIES

There are multiple steps in my story time projects, and some of those steps involve selecting certain amounts of art supplies. So we’ll count together. For example, if the kids need 2 pipe cleaners for their project, I’ll hold out a bunch of pipe cleaners and count aloud as each kids selects them, “One…two! Great!”

NUMBERED SUPPLY CONTAINERS

During projects, I’ll often put  a line of supplies on the windowsill, and kids walk down the line and select certain amounts of supplies from each container. I used to use post it notes to mark the number needed on each container…

post it notesBut then I found these little babies!

holder with numberThese are 8″ table card holders. I purchased mine from an online restaurant supply company (The Web Restaurant Store). Don’t they look snazzy?

card holders

DIAGRAMS

Sometimes, I’ll have a project that requires a diagram to demonstrates how much of something is needed. For example, this rainbow cloud project needed to be covered in cotton balls, so I drew a diagram showing how many balls needed to be attached, and how many cotton balls you’d need in total. Numbers, beautiful numbers.

cloud diagramOK! That’s it for the simple stuff. Who’s up for something a little more…elaborate?

In 2012, my library hosted a large-scale Robin Hood event. I knew we just had to do something on taxes. But how were we going to design something that involved taxes, math, Medieval history, but was also simple enough for kids of various ages to grasp quickly?

The answer came from my brilliant event assistant Katie. We would design a tax wheel game based on Hi Ho Cherry-O.  We called it “Your Tax Dollars at Work.”

tax wheelHi Ho Cherry-O is a classic early math game involving counting and numbers. The game is driven by a spinner that dictates whether you add or remove cherries from your basket during game play. But what if the spinner for our version pointed to various Medieval taxes, the game pieces were coins? We could even throw some Robin Hood characters on the wheel. Perfect.

We knew needed to go big and durable at such a large, crowded event. So I ordered a 36″ blank roulette wheel from Spinning Designs Incorporated. The company was very tickled  at how the wheel was going to be used. They gave me a fantastic deal on a wheel that had some very minor surface imperfections (which I honestly could never find).

Then Katie and I researched the different types of taxes from Robin Hood’s day. There were a lot (honestly, who taxes you for churning your butter?). We also had to find a way to gain coins back during the game.

Ultimately, we came up with the following “Lose” and “Gain” categories.

Lose Coin

  • Travel tax
  • Churn your butter tax
  • Bake your bread tax
  • Pay your lord
  • Grind your grain tax
  • Sheriff steals
  • Prince John takes all
  • Land tax

Gain (or at least not lose) Coin

  • Harvest time
  • May Day
  • Good day at market
  • Robin Hood gives you coins

As you can see, there were more ways to lose your money than gain it. We intentionally designed the game that way. There were going to be so many people at the event (3,500 actually) we wanted the game play to average 3 minutes so lots of kids could have multiple turns. If you’re interested, here are the complete game instructions.

group of kidsIn addition to the wheel, there were game boards designed to look like Medieval money bags. You placed 5 coins in your “bag” at the start of the game, then added or removed coins as the wheel dictated. We used metal replicas of Medieval coins. Because we’re nerds like that.

game boardsWhen all your coins were gone, the game was over! As a “consolation” prize, kids got a chocolate foil-wrapped coin. Kids with food allergies or dietary restrictions got to take home one of the metal replica coins.

The “Your Tax Dollars at Work” wheel and game boards were drawn by Kemi Lin, an amazing Princeton University student artist. She did it all. By hand. With packs of Sharpies. After the event, the game was donated to the Somerset County library system. Long may it live!