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

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!