Love That Lute

rock outStrum a merry tune! This box lute was designed for a Robin Hood event. It needed to be quick to assemble, made from super cheap materials, and it had to be sturdy enough to handle even the most energetic Medieval power ballad!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” but a large tissue box works too)
  • Stencils (optional)
  • 10 craft sticks (mine were 4.5″ long)
  • 3-4 rubber bands
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • Hole punch
  • 2 pipe cleaners
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

The first step of the project is optional – use a stencil to decorate the front, back, and sides of your box. I found this brass stencil in the stamp and card making aisle at Michaels craft store. It was $4.99 (I used a 20% off coupon on it too).

brass stencilI used an ultra fine tip Sharpie on different areas of the stencil to create the look you see below. But you could also use markers and simply freehand your box’s decor!

stencilsNext, slide 3-4 rubber bands lengthwise over the box. I used different gauge rubber bands so, when plucked, they would each produce a different sound (Office Max sizes 33, 19, and 18 to be precise).

rubber bandsTo make your lute’s “frets,” stack 5 craft sticks on top of one another, then secure them together with tape. I used masking tape to give the lute a pop of color, but scotch tape works too! Try to stick the tape close to the ends of the sticks, where it won’t interfere with the rubber bands. Repeat the above steps with the second set of craft sticks. We prepped the frets in advance, to speed along the construction process at the event.

stacked and taped sticks Slide the frets under the rubber bands. Give the rubber bands a few experimental plucks!

fretsSet the box aside for a moment, and use scissors to cut a paper towel tube down to 8″. Punch four holes in the bottom of the tube like so:

punched holesThen thread two pipe cleaners through the holes.

threaded pipe cleanersNow place the threaded tube on top of the box. Bend and tape the pipe cleaners firmly to the top of the box…

taped neckThen curl the ends of the pipe cleaners upwards!

curled

You might be wondering why I didn’t use hot glue to attach the bottom of the tube to the box. The reason is this: the Robin Hood event was 5 hours long and drew big crowds (over 3,000 people). When events get that long and large, I find non-heated adhesives for projects (like the glue dots used on this pom-pom cannon). So, pipe cleaners and tape it was!

You can leave the top of the tube undecorated (which somewhat replicates the actual neck of a lute and it’s angled-back pegbox). Or, you can curl the ends of 2 pipe cleaners and tape them to the top of the tube for some extra flourish.

finished lute

Say Freeze!

say freezeWhat happens when you give a bunch of penguins a camera? In order to find out, we made oatmeal container penguins and armed them with tea tin cameras. The results? Here’s one image…scroll to the bottom of the post to see the rest!

penguin with witherspoonWe read Penguins by Liz Pichon (Orchard Books, 2008). It’s a regular day at the zoo…until a little girl accidentally drops her camera into the penguin habitat. Curious, the penguins gather round. It doesn’t take them long to figure out how the camera works, and pretty soon everyone is having a good time taking pictures! When the camera stops working, the penguins quickly put it back where they found it. The next day, the zookeeper finds the camera and returns it to the little girl. After the pictures are developed, she’s surprised to find photos of monkeys, lions, tigers, elephants, and lots and lots and lots of penguins (don’t miss the adorable fold out photos at the end of the book)!

Both parts of this project are very simple to make. Parents, caregivers, and kids were especially tickled by the tea tin cameras with a clicking shutter button.

camera frontYou’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • 2 rectangles of orange poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 3.25″)
  • 1 circle of black construction paper (approximately 5.25″ in diameter)
  • 1 rectangle of white construction paper (approximately 5.75″ x 9″)
  • Black construction paper
  • 1 triangle of yellow self-adhesive foam (approximately 1.5″ tall)
  • 2 black dot stickers for eyes (optional)
  • 1 Twinings brand tea tin
  • 1 strip of construction paper, any color (approximately 2.75″ x 12″)
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A 17″ piece of ribbon, any color
  • 1 scotch tape core (approximately 1.5″ in diameter)
  • 1 small circle of mirror board or tin foil (approximately 1″ in diameter)
  • 1
  • 1 small rhinestone
  • 1 penguin viewfinder template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 bug clicker (more on this below)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

finished penguinPenguin first, then camera! First, tape (or hot glue) a black construction paper circle to the top of a large oatmeal container. Then, cut 2 rectangles of orange poster board into penguin feet. Hot glue them to the bottom of the container.

penguin feetWrap a rectangle of white construction paper around the front of the oatmeal container (right above the feet) and secure with tape. Next, wrap a piece of black construction paper around the back of the oatmeal container and secure it with tape (or hot glue). The black construction paper will overlap the white construction paper, creating your penguin’s white tummy and black “jacket.”penguin tummy and jacketCut a pair of rounded penguin flippers out of black construction paper, then tape (or hot glue) them to the sides of the container. Add a self-adhesive foam triangle beak and two dot sticker eyes (or skip the stickers and draw the eyes with markers). Use markers to add a pair of eyebrows and you’re done!

Now for the camera! Wrap a tea tin with construction paper (I went with classic black). Add strips of patterned tape to the top and bottom.

camera steps 1 and 2To make a camera strap, take the lid off the tea tin and tape the ends of a ribbon inside it. Close the lid, and your strap is extra secure!

interior of tinNow for the camera’s focusing ring, lens, flash, shutter button, and viewfinder:

camera front labeledTo make the “focusing ring,” wrap the outside of a tape core with construction paper. Since I used cardboard tape cores, I colored the outside rim with a black marker. Here’s a before and after shot:

wrapped tape coreHot glue the core to the middle of the tin, then hot glue a small circle of mirror board inside the core. The mirror board is your camera’s “lens.” You could also use tin foil. To make your camera’s “flash,” hot glue a clear plastic rhinestone to the top of a large plastic button, then hot glue the button to the upper right corner of the tin.

flashThe “shutter button” of this camera is actually a bug clicker. Have you seen these things?

bug clickerWhen you press the little plastic tab on the back of the device, it makes a crisp clicking sound. I bought my clickers on Amazon, but I’ve also seen them in party supply stores and the dog training section of pet stores. At our story time, we covered the outside and sides of the clicker with black masking tape, then hot glued it to the lid of the tea tin. But you can skip the tape and glue them straight to the tea tin if you’d like!

clicker placementYou’ll notice the clicker is mounted off-center on the lid, and the clicker’s tab is close to the edge of the lid. That’s important! You want those little fingers to be able to reach up and click the shutter button.

Because most kids are used to digital cameras with viewfinders, I added a viewfinder to the back of the tea tin (with an image of a penguin, of course!). Print and cut a penguin from the template, and then use masking (or patterned) tape to attach it to the back of the camera.

camera back Project in hand, kids scattered to different parts of the gallery to pose their penguins and take “pictures” with their cameras.

penguin in galleryThere may have been a penguin photobomb or two…

penguin photobombThe fun continued at home! Look at this lovely photo shoot:

penguin posesMysteriously, my camera went missing for a few hours that day. Imagine my surprise when the following shots were e-mailed to me…

penguin 0penguin 1penguin 2penguin 3penguin 4penguin 5penguin 6penguin 7penguin 8penguin 10penguin 11penguin 9penguin 12


Charles Willson Peale, George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, 1783–84. Oil on canvas. Princeton University, commissioned by the Trustees. Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Podcasts! Podcasts! Podcasts!

bibliofiles artwork by aliisa leeI’m delighted to announce that the BiblioFiles, our illuminating interviews with children’s book authors, are now available as podcasts! Download interviews with Phillip Pullman, Sharon Creech, Candace Fleming, Atinuke, Rebecca Stead, Gary Schmidt, Trenton Lee Stewart, M.T. Anderson, and more!

To visit the main site (which includes webcasts and interview transcripts), click here.
To visit podcast central, click here.

Interestingly enough, it was Lloyd Alexander who inspired this program.

Back in 2003, when I was still in graduate school, I decided to start reading children’s literature to counter all the academic reading I was tackling. Seeking some of my old favorites, I discovered that, happily, some authors had kept writing while I was detoured by college, working life, and graduate school. While reacquainting myself with Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain (“A Fflam thrives on danger!”), I found his 2003 book, The Gawgon and the Boy.

It’s a wonderful story about a boy named David who, after recovering from a life-threatening illness, is tutored by his Aunt Annie (a tough individual he secretly names “The Gawgon,” after the mythological monster, the Gorgon). However, as they spend more time together, the boy realizes what a true treasure the Gawgon is. I found the book to be lively, unique, and utterly heartwarming (later, I learned that it was also semiautobiographical, which makes it even more wondrous). So, at the tender age of 28, I wrote my first letter to an author, sharing how much I had loved reading his book.

And Mr. Alexander wrote back!

So I wrote him back!

And he wrote me back!

I wrote my last letter to him in 2006. I described how I had just moved to New Jersey, having accepted a job at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University. I told him my greatest hope was to design creative literacy programs for children that would be worthy of the Gawgon. In the back of my mind, I had already decided that I once I got my legs under me, I would invite Mr. Alexander to the library for a visit.

Unfortunately, it was not to be; he passed away in 2007. I was incredibly saddened by the news. While I had already shared, through my letters, how much I loved his books, I would never get to truly voice my gratitude to him. I would never get to ask him questions about his writing and hear his responses. The conversation I wanted to have with him  about his characters, his inspirations, and his experiences was no longer possible. I decided that I needed to find a way to record and preserve conversations with the creators of brilliant, creative, beautiful, funny, and thoughtful children’s books.

Thus, the BiblioFiles. It took some time to get the program up and running, but in 2009, I aired my first interview with the enormously talented Kenneth Oppel. It was recorded in a tiny room at WPRB, a local radio station. Shortly after that, we moved to the University’s new Broadcast Center. Originally, the interviews were aired during the All-Ages Show, a children’s radio program. Then the interviews became webcasts, and our online archive was launched. Now, the interviews are downloadable as podcasts!

It’s my sincerest wish that you find inspiration in these interviews. Perhaps you’ll gain some good advice about writing, hear a character’s voice come to life, discover an interesting behind-the-scenes story, or simply learn what your favorite author’s laugh sounds like! I hope that the conversations evoke deeper connections to the books you love, and introduce you to new books you have yet to discover. Listen, laugh, ponder, discover, but most of all, enjoy.


BiblioFiles artwork by the super talented Aliisa Lee. 

Deepest heartfelt thanks to Dan Kearns, the Princeton University Broadcast Center’s sound engineer extraordinaire.

An additional shout out to Lance Harrington, the Broadcast Center’s resident wizard, for his endless patience and assistance in launching the podcast site!