Character Books

fawkesDo red and gold feathers, priceless tears, and a box of matches remind you of anyone? If you guessed Fawkes, the phoenix from Harry Potter, you are correct! We had a blast with this “character book” activity at Cotsen Critix, our literary group for kids ages 9-12.

Basically, each member of the group was given a plain paper mache “book” and asked to fill it with objects and/or drawings that somehow relate to a character in a book. Words and writing were fine too, so long as they didn’t reveal the name of the character or the title of the book. Then, we put all the books on display and tried to guess who the characters were.

I purchased the paper mache books online from Discount School Supply. They call them “Papier-Mache “Secret” Books.” A set of 12 books costs $13.99.

paper mache bookMy favorite part of this project is the creativity and diversity of the books. Even if two kids chose the same character, it’s interesting to see the different elements they decide to include. Some even took on non-fiction “characters!”

ruby redfordRuby Redfort

apolloAncient Greek God Apollo (above photo shows both the cover of the book and the interior)

theresaTeresa Agnes

percy jackson 1Percy Jackson (recognize one of our Mythomagic cards in there?)

matildaMatilda

the wizard of ozThe Wizard of Oz

taylor swiftTaylor Swift (non-fiction biography…nice!)

percy jackson 2Percy Jackson

kate weatherallKate Wetherall (if you want your own red bucket with all the equipment, look here)

miloMilo

sadie kaneSadie Kane

jimmy gownleyJimmy Gownley (as depicted in The Dumbest Idea Ever, his graphic novel and memoir!).

annabethAnnabeth Chase (a Camp Half Blood map is drawn on the back cover of the book!)

Click Clack Awesome

click clack awesomeCows that type? Yes indeed. You can too, using this awesome box typewriter and funny Mad Lib letters!

We read Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, written by Doreen Cronin, and illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Simon & Schuster, 2000). It’s cold in the barn at night, and the cows have had enough. They type a note to Farmer Brown requesting electric blankets. When he doesn’t comply, the cows go on strike. No milk! The hens are cold too and soon it’s no milk, no eggs at the farm. Infuriated, Farmer Brown types a note demanding milk and eggs, reminding the protesting parties that they are, after all, cows and hens. The cows hold a meeting, and a counteroffer is made. The typewriter in exchange for electric blankets. Done! Farmer Brown delivers the blankets, but the typewriter appears to be missing. Until a note arrives from the ducks. They want a diving board.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9”). A large tissue box works great too
  • A box cutter
  • 2 paperclips (mine were 1.75″ long)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 2 jumbo craft sticks (mine were 6″ long)
  • 1 typewriter keyboard template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 paper towel tube, cut down to 8.5″ long
  • 1 piece of construction paper
  • 1 balloon stick, cut down to 10.25″ long (a wooden dowel works too).
  • 2 wooden beads
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • 1 drinking straw
  • 4 pom-poms (mine were 1″ in diameter)
  • 1 typewriter letters template, printed on two, 8.5″ x 11″ sheets of paper
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Optional bell:

  • A small piece of pipe cleaner (approximately 4″ long)
  • 1 jingle bell

The majority of this project will be demonstrated using a white craft box, but I’ll show you how a regular old tissue box (the long, rectangular kind) can be adapted too!

finished typewriter with paper

We’ll start with the craft box. Use scissors to cut the tabs off the box, then cut diagonally down each side like so:

typewriter box step 1Push the tall, right-hand side of the box against the diagonal sides, and secure with tape.

typewriter box step 2Fold the overhanging section over the back of the box, trim down the resulting flap, then tape the flap to the back of box.

folding the boxIf you’re using a tissue box, follow these steps. Flip the tissue box over so the opening for the tissues is resting on top of the table. Then, use a box cutter to cut a hinged top like so:

tissue box step 1Now use scissors to cut diagonally along the sides of the box:

tissue box step 2Follow the exact same steps as the craft box to finish (i.e. fold the overhanging piece over the back of the box, trim it, and secure with tape). Done! Now turn the slanted part of the box towards you, and tape a paper clip to both sides of the box.

paper clip placementThe orientation and placement of the paper clip is important. The end of the paper clip with the double curves needs to be sticking upwards like this.

typewriter paper clip

Later, the upper parts of the paper clips will hold the axle of your typewriter’s “cylinder” (i.e. the round thing that your typewriter paper wraps around).

Decorate the back, sides, and front of the typewriter with colored masking tape (or just use markers). Decorate a jumbo craft stick as well (the stick will eventually become your typewriter’s “space bar”). I used colored masking tape for the space bar you see in the image below, but markers work great too!

space barColor and hot glue (or tape) the typewriter keyboard template to the front of the typewriter (if you don’t like the all white template, here’s one with a black background). Note: the keyboard template doesn’t go all the way to the top of the box. That’s good! You want it to be at least 1″ below the top of the box (otherwise, the keyboard will get covered by the cylinder). Finally, hot glue (or tape) the craft stick space bar to the bottom of the box.

typewriter keyboardOK! Now for the cylinder! Wrap an 8.5″ paper towel tube with construction paper (we used gray paper). Then thread a 10.25″ balloon stick through the first paperclip, the paper towel tube, and the second paper clip.

threading paper clipThe cylinder is now secured on its balloon stick axle, which is in turn held in place by the 2 paper clips.

typewriter balloon stickWe slid 2 wooden bead on the ends of the balloon stick to keep it in place (masking tape or scotch tape on the ends of the sticks works too!).

typewriter wooden beadsYour cylinder now needs a “paper finger,” (i.e. the little mechanism that keeps the paper from flopping over). Believe it or not, it took us FOREVER to figure out how to make this simple and workable with easy-to-use materials. The winners? A drinking straw and a pipe cleaner. I only had clear drinking straws in the art cabinet, so it’s a little hard to see it in the photo below. You’ll definitely need it. The smoothness of the straw allows the paper slide easily!

attached paper fingerThread a pipe cleaner through a drinking straw. Bend the ends of the pipe cleaner inside the cylinder and secure with tape. The paper finger shouldn’t be super tight against the cylinder – leave a little wiggle room for the paper!

attached pipe cleanerAlmost there! Flip your typewriter on its back, and hot glue 4 pom-poms on each corner. Hot glue a jumbo craft stick to the front of the box. This will add some weight to the front of the typewriter, and act as a counterbalance the cylinder.

underside of typewriterYour typewriter is finished!

finished typewriterReady to load some paper? Starting from the back, slide an 5.5″ x 8.5″ piece of paper under the cylinder, then curl and tuck the paper under the paper finger. Tug it upwards a little, and you’re done!

typewriter paperYou can put a blank sheet of paper in your typewriter, or you can use the Mad Libs we created on our typewriter letters template. I recommend the Mad Libs. The kids and their caregivers had quite a bit of fun filling them out! I managed to catch a couple at story time.

letter 1letter 2letter 3letter 4letter 7letter 8letter 5letter 6

letter 9One last thing! You’ll notice that the finished typewriter has a bell. The bell is optional, but I have to say, it was pretty cute. There are a couple ways to attach it.

finished typewriter with bellFirst, thread a jingle bell through a 4″ piece of pipe cleaner, then curl one end of the pipe cleaner to keep the bell from sliding off.

Then you can either:

  1. Tape the uncurled end of the pipe cleaner to the upper right-hand corner of the typewriter before you hot glue the keyboard on.
  2. Peel the upper right-hand corner of the keyboard back, tape the uncurled end of the pipe cleaner to the typewriter, and re-adhere the corner of the keyboard.
  3. Tape the pipe cleaner to the side of the typewriter.

At our story time, we went with option 1, and attached the bell early in the project. For option 1 or 2, just make sure that the keyboard completely covers the uncurled end of the pipe cleaner. Otherwise, the pipe cleaner could snag your typewriter paper (or poke your fingers) as you’re loading it on the cylinder.

Vroom Vroom, Zoom Zoom

mr. frumble pickle carPickle car anyone? The world of Richard Scarry is full of fantastical vehicles, and at last Saturday’s library event, we invited kids create a wheeled wonder and give it a test drive! For a slideshow gallery of some seriously fun vehicles, scroll to the bottom of the post.

The program was called Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, which is, of course, the title of one of Richard Scarry’s books (Golden Books, 1998). We were joined by our friends at scienceSeeds (who you might remember from this post). They brought all sorts of goodies. Little motors to take apart, homemade remote control cars, programmable LEGO cars, and this snazzy traffic light that demonstrated how simple circuits work. The back of the traffic light was open so kids could see how it was wired.

traffic lightBut scienceSeed’s most popular station by far was a set of 4 wooden ramps for car races. If you don’t have wooden ramps handy, cardboard ramps work too!

racing rampsMy library coordinated the car decoration portion of the program. Here’s how it worked. Kids arrived at the front of the gallery and were given two choices of vehicle. A “dragster” (which was a 7/8″ x 2″ x 8″ jewelry box), or a “truck,” (which was a 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” craft box).

Older kids could skip the box and opt to build a car from scratch using craft sticks and balsa wood. Then, they attempted to get their creation down a race ramp without “cracking” a plastic egg passenger. Here’s an intrepid trio who worked together to design the ultimate vehicle.

engineersOnce kids selected a box, we taped two, 4″ plastic straws to its bottom. Then we threaded two, 6″ wooden rod “axles” through the straws. The wooden rods were BBQ skewers cut down to the proper size with pruning shears (and don’t forget to cut off the pointy end of the skewer!). The final step was to slide 4 plastic wheels on the ends of the wooden rods (later, kids used hot glue or tape on the ends of the rods to keep the wheels from sliding off). Here’s what the completed underside of a truck looked like:

axles and wheelsI purchased the wheels from Kelvin Educational, an online science supply company. They are 1-3/8″ in diameter. The wheels can be a little difficult to locate on the website, so here are the product numbers: black wheels are 990168 (they cost $10 for 100 wheels); colored wheels are 990169 (they cost $11 for 100 wheels).

wheelsAlternatives to the plastic wheels are wooden wheels, wooden spools, round foam beads, or tagboard circles with holes punched in them. Basically, if it rolls and has a hole in the center, you can use it!

Once the boxes were fitted with axles and wheels, kids proceeded to the decorating area. There, they found three, 6′ tables loaded with art supplies. University students from Stella Art Club and the Men’s Soccer team volunteered at both the art tables and the science area. They were amazing!

art materialsI don’t have a full list of all the art supplies we provided, but some that were particularly appreciated were mini pinwheels, animal finger puppets, and metallic springs (all 3 were purchased from Oriental Trading Company). Also popular were sparkle stems, fabric flowers, foam beads, and craft ties. A call for recyclables to University library staff also yielded some interesting one-off items, like decorative buttons, plastic bead necklaces, and little figurines.

We had work tables set up all over the gallery. They were stocked with markers, scissors, colored masking tape, packing tape, and glue sticks. There were 4 staff-operated hot glue stations too. Here’s the central work area in action:

central work area The final touch to the program was Katie’s brainchild…a “Find the Goldbug” game. Katie made, and hid, 5 Goldbugs in the gallery. Each Goldbug had a word written on its base. Kids had to find all the Goldbugs, decipher the “secret sentence” (it was “Everyone wants a pickle car”) and repeat the sentence to me or Katie. The prize? A little checkered racing flag to adorn your vehicle! The flags were “race car flag picks,” ordered from Oriental Trading Company (we made sure to cut the pointy ends off).

hidden goldbugKatie and I wore mechanics coveralls at the event (thanks to the Lewis Center for the Arts’ costume shop!). I managed to carry cough drops, my iPhone, my digital camera, the battery box for my microphone, my office keys, and lip balm in my coveralls. It was like I was wearing the most useful purse in the world. Coveralls are way comfortable too. Katie didn’t want to take hers off. I think I’ll get her a pair next holiday season. With her name stitched on the pocket.

team coverallAnd now, how about some amazing vehicles? Some kids fashioned little trailers for their vehicles. Some added pull strings. You might notice a few cellophane flames left over from this project. Love it!

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Thanks once again to Princeton University’s Men’s Soccer team and Stella Art Club. Your volunteerism, enthusiasm, and creativity was very much appreciated!