Metamorphical Magic

meta magicFeed the caterpillar some leaves, place it in a chrysalis, and watch it dramatically emerge as a colorful butterfly! Thanks to the hidden elastic cord, the butterfly appears to soar on it’s very own! It’s a super simple story time project that combines science, art, and magic all in one.

We read Arabella Miller’s Tiny Caterpillar by Clare Jarrett (Candlewick, 2008). While climbing trees, Arabella Miller discovers a tiny caterpillar. She makes him a shoe box home, feeds him cabbage and parsley, observes him shedding his skin, and finally watches him spin a chrysalis. When he emerges weeks later, Arabella Miller discovers that he is something quite new! As he flies into the sky, she calls out an enthusiastic good-bye to her special butterfly.

You’ll need:

Begin with the butterfly! Wrap a toilet paper tube with brown construction paper. Attach sticker eyes (or draw them on with markers) and a smiley mouth (I used a piece of self-adhesive foam, but you can use markers too). Curl an 8″ piece of twistez wire (or pipe cleaner) and tape on the inside of the tube for antennae.

butterfly front Turn the body around, and punch a hole in the back, near the top of the head.

butterfly backCut the butterfly wings from the template (we used manilla card stock, and it looked great). Hot glue your butterfly’s body to the wings – just make sure the wings don’t cover the hole you punched in the back.

wings from backNow decorate both sides of the wings! I offered glue sticks, cellophane, embossed foil paper, tissue circles, dot stickers, and markers.

When the wings are finished, thread a 27″ piece of elastic beading cord through the hole. Knot the ends together, and wrap the knot with a piece of colored masking tape. The taped knot is an important part of the magic trick, so make sure you don’t skip this step! Your finished butterfly is now dangling on an elastic cord loop, secured with a taped knot.

butterfly on cordWe set our butterflies aside so the glue could dry. Just look at these little beauties (Katie shot this with the panorama function on her phone)…

butterflies Next is the caterpillar! Wrap a toilet paper tube with green construction paper, add some stripes with colored masking tape, and attach eye stickers (or draw some eyes on with markers). Use a 4″ piece of twistez wire (or pipe cleaner) to make antennae. Attach the antennae with tape.

caterpillarFinally, we distributed construction paper leaves (which we prepped in advance) and brown paper bags. All that’s left is the magic trick! To work some metamorphical magic, load your butterfly in the bag. Keep the taped knot near the front of the bag where you can easily see it.

taped knotNow “feed” your caterpillar some leaves (the kids LOVED this part).

feeding the caterpillarWhen it’s “full,” place the caterpillar inside the bag (a.k.a. the “chrysalis”). Keeping your hand inside the bag, locate the taped knot. Put the looped cord around your wrist.

the loop Bring your hand outside the bag and grab the top. The cord should still be looped around your wrist.

grabbing the bagSay something like “Behold the magic of nature!” Pull your hand away from the top of the bag. The cord around your wrist will pull the butterfly from the chrysalis as if by magic!

the big reveal

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

The Eager Entomologist

the eager entomologistPolish up your binoculars! Today, we’re discovering a new species of bug…and rumor has it a local news crew is in the area, ready to chat with you about your latest contribution to science!

news crewWe read Big Bug Surprise by Julia Gran (Scholastic Press, 2007). Prunella is excited about bugs, excited to tell people about bugs, and excited to bring a special bug to show-and-tell at her school. But her enthusiasm for spouting bug facts is meet by a repeated “Not now, Prunella!” from her parents, bus driver, and teacher. However, when a swarm of bees invades the classroom, Prunella saves the day with her quick thinking and vast knowledge of insect behavior.  

For this project, we made binoculars, designed bugs, and created a habitat for said bug. Later, we hid the bugs outside the library for kids to “discover.” Then our camera crew interviewed the budding entomologists about their new find.

You’ll need:

First, the binoculars. Wrap 2 toilet paper tubes with black construction paper. Then tape the top and bottom of the tubes together.

binnoculars step 1Punch a hole in the top of each tube and knot a ribbon through each hole to create a strap. Finish by wrapping the top and bottom of the tubes with colored masked tape. Done!

binnoculars step 2Now for the bugs! We made a few inspirational bug models in advance…

bugsBug-building was very simple. First, we offered kids a choice of bug body (a toilet paper tube or an orange juice container cap). Then we turned everyone loose on the art supplies. I had a hot glue gun ready to attach wiggle eyes (and whatever else was needed).

It’s difficult to see in this picture, but I had a lot of success layer iridescent cello over white construction paper to create sparkly bug wings. Quite a few kids replicated this.

wingsWhen the bugs were finished, we handed out the boxes and got to work on habitats.

bug boxes openIn addition to fabric leaves and flowers, we prepped a few “leaves” and “sticks” using brown and green construction paper.

leaves and sticksWhen the habitats were finished, we collected the bugs and headed outside to the library plaza. While the kids waited with me, Katie placed the bugs in various locations. Then the search was on!

bug huntDiscovered bugs were gleefully discovered and tucked carefully into their habitats by eager young entomologists.

caughtI switched into my coat and “news” hat and assembled the camera crew. Mic in hand, I asked questions like “What is your bug’s name?” “What does your bug like to eat?” “Can you tell me a little more about its habitat?” “What sound does your bug make?”

news crew 2You’ll find instructions for making this lovely handheld microphone, camera, and boom microphone set here (snazzy “News” fedora not included).