La Cucaracha

cockroach pizza boxDon’t panic! Those are FAKE cockroaches winding their way through a pizza box maze. The roaches crawl beautifully, thanks to a hidden magnet wand positioned underneath the box. This project is from To Be Continued, our story time for 6 to 8 year-olds. It was a big hit!

We read Measle and the Wrathmonk by Ian Ogilvy (Harper Collins, 2004). Young Measle Stubbs lives in a grim house on an abandoned street. His legal guardian, Basil Tramplebone, is a very strange man. He always wears black. His skin is ghostly pale. And oddly, whenever Basil goes outside, a raincloud follows him. But up in the attic of Basil’s horrible house is the world’s most amazing train set, and Measle desperately wants to play with it. He throws together a wild plan to get into the attic – and gets caught. While Measle certainly expects Basil to be angry, he doesn’t expect Basil to shrink him down to a half an inch and put him in the train set! Measle soon discovers he’s not the only victim trapped on the set. Can Measle and his gang put together a plan to defeat Basil?

I won’t give away too much, but there are some terrific giant cockroach chase scenes on the train table. For the project, I toyed with the idea of making a miniature train set obstacle course inside a box top. But then opted for something simpler and quicker to construct – a drinking straw maze. Building off a marble maze project I spotted on Pinterest (you can see it pinned to my board here), I decided to replace the marble with a magnetic plastic cockroach.

plastic cockroachYou’ll need:

  • 1 pizza box
  • 1 plastic roach (I purchased mine on Amazon – a set of 12 was $4.58)
  • 2 button magnets
  • 1 wine cork
  • Drinking straws
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

To make your magnet “wand,” hot glue a button magnet to the top of a wine cork, then hot glue a second button magnet to the bottom of the plastic cockroach.

cockroach magnet corkAfter some trial and error, we determined that using 2 different sized button magnets (0.5″ and 0.75″) worked best for our roaches and pizza boxes.

Slice Between, a local pizza shop, gave us a deal on 2 dozen pizza boxes (a copy paper box lid would work too, but I thought pizza boxes would be a better match for the creepy cockroaches). During the story time workshop kids cut, arranged, and taped drinking straws into maze configurations. Some kids expanded the maze to both sides of the box!

double box topTo navigate your cockroach through the maze, place the cockroach on top of the box. Hold your cork magnet wand against the underside of the box, directly underneath the cockroach. The two magnets will connect through the cardboard and you can mosey your cockroach through the maze!

Two hints for this project:

  1. When attaching the straws to the box, keep the tape as flat as possible. Bumps or raised bunches of tape might hinder your roach’s movement through the maze.
  2. When guiding your roach through the maze, move the cork wand slowly. If you go too fast, the magnets tend to break their connection.

I had markers handy in case anyone wanted to decorate their boxes (or make “Start” and “Finish” lines for their mazes), but some kids used the markers to create some fan art. Here’s Basil, his stinky Wrathmonk breath, and an indication of what happens to him later in the book:

wrathmonk fan art 1And here’s yet another portrait of Basil, with a little hint about his ultimate fate:

wrathmonk fan art 2Measle and the Wrathmonk (and its sequels) are fantastic. They’re fun, scary, creative, and even though Wrathmonks are horribly evil, they’re terribly funny too. Ian Ogilvy was a well-known English actor before he became a children’s author, and it shows in his talent for dialogue, pace and characterizations. Measle and the Wrathmonk is delightful to read aloud and had the kids hooked right from the beginning. Honestly, you could hear a pin drop when I was reading certain sections of the story!

When Chicken Pox Totally Rox

pox totally roxNo one likes to get sick…unless you have our special strain of story time chicken pox! These pox are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. But, just in case you’re still feeling under the weather, we have a cozy bed tray and get well card for you!

bed trayWe read Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox, written by Erin Dealey, and illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama (Antheneum Books, 2002). Poor Goldie. She’s absolutely covered in chicken pox, and her little brother has decided to be a total pest while she convalesces. He demands to connect her dots with crayons, whines that she’s eating all the ice cream, and teases her relentlessly about her “polka-dots.” Finally, Mother steps in to break things up. But justice has already been served. There’s a new case of chicken pox in the house, and guess who has it?

You’ll need:

  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (I used a 9.5″ x 13.5″ cake pad)
  • 1 small paper plate (mine was 7″ in diameter)
  • 1 paper bowl
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 paper napkin
  • 1 plastic spoon
  • 2 rectangles of yellow tissue paper (approximately 5″ x 6.25″ each)
  • 6 pieces of white yarn (approximately 5″ each)
  • 4 tiny squares of orange craft foam (approximately 0.5″)
  • A rectangle of tagboard (approximately 4.25″ x 4.5″)
  • A small square of yellow self-adhesive foam (approximately 1.25″)
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • 1 flower template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 green drinking straw
  • 2 small rectangles of stiffened felt (approximately 1.25″ x 1.75″)
  • A piece of string (approximately 4″ long)
  • A small rectangle pf white card stock for tea bag label (approximately 1″ x 2.5″)
  • 1 paper cup
  • 1 small strip of white poster board for teacup handle (approximately 0.75″ x 4″)
  • 1 blue cotton ball (or a small piece of blue tissue paper)
  • A large piece of white card stock, folded like a greeting card (approximately 5″ x 7.5″)
  • 1 sheet of red dot stickers for the “Everyone Has Chicken Pox” game
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

labeled bed trayThe bed tray has many pieces, but the assembly is a snap! The only thing we prepped in advance was the tea bag. Otherwise, the kids put together all the the pieces themselves. Begin by decorating the borders of the corrugated cardboard base, plate, and bowl.

step 1 tray plate bowlTo make “soup,” gently crumble two yellow tissue paper rectangles and place them in the bowl. Add 6 white yarn “noodles” and 4 orange craft foam squares of “chicken” (or “tofu”).

chicken soupPut your soup bowl on top of the plate, and tuck a napkin and plastic spoon next to it. To make buttered toast, cut a rectangle of tagboard (or brown poster board) into a toast shape, then use a brown marker to color the border of the toast. Add a pat of self-adhesive foam butter (or simply draw the butter on with a yellow marker).

buttered toastTo make a flower vase, wrap a toilet paper tube with patterned paper (or use white paper you’ve decorated with markers). Next, color and cut the flower from the template. Note: the flower on the template is double-sided. As you see in the image below, you cut both flowers out as one piece, making sure to cut up to the edges of the dotted line:

cut flower templateTape a green drinking straw to the bottom half of the flower…

taped flowerThen fold the template along the dotted line, bringing the top half of the flower down to match the bottom half. Secure with tape, and stick the flower in the vase!

Time for tea! We’ll begin with the tea bag. First, hot glue a 4″ piece of string to a square of stiffened felt. Hot glue a second square of felt on top of the first. To make the “label” for your tea bag, fold a small rectangle of card stock in half, then hot glue the free end of the string to the bottom half of the card stock. Fold the card stock over the string, and hot glue in place. Decorate the tea label with markers!

tea bagTo make a teacup, cut a paper cup down until it is about 1″ tall. Decorate the rim with colored masking tape and/or patterned tape. Tab the ends of a small strip of white poster board to create the handle, then attach the handle to the inside and bottom of the cup with tape (or hot glue). Drop a blue cotton ball (or a crumpled piece of blue tissue paper) into the cup, then set the tea bag inside.

finished teacupFinally, use markers to draw a get well card on white card stock. When the card is done, assemble the items on your tray. Some kids wanted me to hot glue everything to their trays, others wanted most of their items loose. You’ll definitely want to hot glue the flower vase to the tray. Otherwise, the top-heavy flower will keep tipping the vase over.

Ready to get sick? Setting our bed trays aside, we gathered in the story time area to play the “Everyone Has Chicken Pox” game. Basically, every child was given a half a sheet of  Avery red dot stickers (meaning each kids received 12 dot stickers total):

chicken pox stickersWhen I said “Go!” the kids had to run around, sticking a “pox” on different people in the room (including adults!). When everyone was good and sick, we returned to our bed trays to get “better.”

Top Secret Fooj

foojA recent re-reading of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang inspired today’s post! This highly entertaining and action-packed book was written in 1964 by Ian Fleming. Yes, THE Ian Fleming. Who knew the book would lead us on a mission of the chocolate variety?

Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang follows the adventures of the Pott family and their fabulously magical car, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. At one point in the story, some gangsters force the Pott twins, Jeremy and Jemima, to assistant in the robbery of Le Bon-Bon, the world’s most famous chocolate shop. The clever children manage to save the day, and, as a reward, the shopkeepers reveal the secret recipe for their famous fudge (which they pronounce “fooj”). The recipe is included at the end of the book (click the image to enlarge it).

recipe in book

From Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Random House, 1964.

So…what does the famous fudge taste like? Does the recipe hold up after 51 years? Katie decided to test drive it in her kitchen. Take it away Katie!


With my trusty sous-chef son by my side, we gathered and set out all of the ingredients for the “fooj.” There were only a handful of items needed to make the fudge and most we had on-hand in our pantry. We did have to purchase corn “sirup” (we went with the clear corn syrup, not dark) and a bar of unsweetened chocolate (from Ghirardelli, yum!). We also had to figure out a few measurements, like how many ounces are in a tablespoon (the answer is 0.5 ounces).

We took a wild guess at how much evaporated milk to use because the recipe called for one small can, so we used a 5 ounce can rather than the 12 ounce. Trusting our guts and confirming measurements courtesy of Google, we set forth to make our own batch of fudge.

adding milkWe followed the recipe exactly as it was written. It took some time to slowly melt all of the ingredients together, but this step probably would have been faster if we hadn’t used frozen butter. It didn’t take long for the mixture to start boiling, and we were careful to not let the chocolate burn on the sides of the pot. Incredibly, the fudge did form into little balls when dropped into a glass of cold water! I was skeptical of this description listed in the recipe, but was amazed when we watched it happen.

water testWe even beat the boiling hot fudge mixture with a wooden spoon instead of the silicone mixing spoon we had been using earlier.

wooden spoon Once we decided it had been appropriately beaten, we poured the concoction into a greased pan to cool. I used a toothpick to draw lines and mark the fudge into small squares. This is when I had my first inkling that something was not quite right. The marks immediately disappeared. I figured the fudge just needed to harden and then I could redraw the square lines.

scored fudgeHowever, the fudge never hardened. It remained a gloopy, runny mess. I put the fudge into the freezer to see if that would help the hardening process. Freezing it worked great, but then the fudge was rock solid and nearly impossible to cut. Once it cooled, it was back to its original state.

Cue sad music. Fudge failure.

However, the fudge didn’t completely go to waste. We asked a number of kids to try the fudge to let us know what they thought of it. Here’s what they said:

Boy, age almost 9: I think it looks like fudge. It tastes good, really good! Can I have more?

Girl, age 10: I think the fudge kind of looks like brownie batter. Mmm, it’s good!

Boy, age 8: The fudge does not look like fudge. It’s not square. It’s flat and round, like a pancake. It tastes sweet, but it doesn’t really taste like fudge. It tastes like a Hershey chocolate bar.

Girl, age 9: It tastes like chocolate. I can’t tell if it’s milk chocolate, but I like that it is creamy. It doesn’t look like normal fudge, but I like it!

Monsieur Bon-Bon’s Top Secret “Fooj” recipe remains a secret because somewhere between the written page to my kitchen, the recipe got lost in translation. In an effort to discover what I may have done wrong, I again consulted Google and learned from experienced bakers that making fudge can be quite a difficult task. It has to be boiled to a certain temperature after slowly melting the ingredients together, and it has to be beaten for an exact amount of time before pouring it into a pan. Apparently I failed at one or both of these steps.

Perhaps the fudge needed to be shaken, not stirred.