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
  • Masking tape
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • Hole punch
  • 4 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 masking tape. 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.

stacked and taped sticks Slide the frets under the rubber bands.

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!

curledFinally, curl the ends of 2 additional pipe cleaners and tape them to the top of the tube. These are the “tuning pegs” of your lute.

finished luteLooking for some more Medieval times? Try this herbal amulet, or this fabulous sword and shield! If a small castle is what you require, find one here!

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.

Heartfelt

Cozy-Classics-Emma-largeThe first paragraph of Jane Austen’s Emma contains 40 words. Imagine narrowing it down to 12. Not challenging enough? Try narrowing the entire book down to 12 words.
Twin brothers Jack and Holman Wang not only stepped up to this challenge, they also proceeded to condense other classic works such as Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, and War and Peace. 

Each 12-word board book is illustrated with truly astounding needle felt models, which are beautifully posed and photographed. The books are enchanting, delightful, and obviously labors of love.

Cozy-Classics-Emma-LadyWelcome, dear readers, to Cozy Classics (published by Simply Read Books).

Intended for children age 0+, the books use child-friendly and child-familiar words to introduce works of classic literature.  Accompanied by illustrations that reflect the context and mood of the original works, these books are the perfect first step towards the larger realm of literature.

Cozy-Classics-Oliver-Twist-MeetCozy-Classics-War-and-Peace-DanceCozy-Classics-Pride-and-Prejudice-FriendsThe creators of Cozy Classics are well-matched to their task. Jack has a Master’s in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. Holman, an artist and former middle school teacher, holds a Bachelor’s in education and a Master’s in architectural history. Jack and Holman have D.A.D. degrees, as well (i.e., they’re both fathers)!

How did this collaborative adventure start?

Jack: I was the one who came up with the idea of abridging classics for babies. When I shared the idea, Holman loved it. At the time, we both had a child under two, so board books were definitely on our minds. The only question was how we were going to illustrate our books. We wanted to do something original that would jibe with the classics. Holman’s sister-in-law does some needle felting, and that gave him the idea. So we each contributed something important to the concept, and that’s how Cozy Classics got started.

baby readsWhat is needle felting, and where did you learn it?

Holman: Needle felting is basically sculpting with wool. You stab loose wool repeatedly with a barbed needle, which entangles the fibres and makes the wool firm enough to hold shape. We taught ourselves how to needle felt for the purpose of these books. My very first figure, Ishmael, wound up in Moby Dick, but our technique has gotten a lot better since. For example, Ishmael didn’t have eyebrows or thumbs. He also had no armature (wire inside), which all our figures now have. This makes posing and re-posing them a lot easier.

How long does it take to craft and photograph a single illustration?

Holman: That’s hard to say. It takes 20-30 hours to complete a single figure. If a scene requires a studio set, it might take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to build. Lighting and photography generally takes three to five hours. If a scene requires an outdoor location shoot, it can again take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the weather and the travel involved. But the short answer is, a long time!

fake forestWhat books did you decide to do and why?

Jack: So far, there are nine Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, War and Peace, Les Misérables, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, Emma, Huckleberry Finn, and Tom Sawyer. We have to think practically—it’s harder, for example, to do a book with a lot of characters—and we do think about gender balance, but mostly we just pick books that we care about and that we think other people care about, too.

Cozy-Classics-Les-Miserables-SadYour Cozy Classics board books consist of 12 words and 12 illustrations. How difficult is it to take a classic book that’s hundreds of pages long and boil it down to 12 simple words?

Jack: It can be challenging, that’s for sure. Some people think it’s just a matter of picking the twelve most memorable scenes, but twelve famous scenes and twelve random words won’t necessarily tell a story. So we start by choosing words that we think will give the best sense of the main storyline. Our motto is “no subplots.” And it’s not just twelve words but, as you say, twelve simple words, which means your dictionary isn’t very big to begin with. Sometimes words repeat from book to book because novels often share crucial elements. We’ve noticed there’s a lot of dancing, running, and helping in novels!

Cozy-Classics-Moby-Dick-Find2Which story was the most difficult to adapt?

Jack: Probably Emma. You would think it’d be a tome like Moby Dick or War and Peace, but both those novels have a simple narrative arc when you boil them down. But Emma has subplots that are fairly indispensable to the story.

Some people might be surprised to learn that – at least for your Cozy Classics book series – there are no computer graphics used on the photos. Tell us a little bit about the perils of setting up the perfect shot.

Holman: You’re right. Our attitude, at least for Cozy Classics, is that computer generated images would be “cheating”. So when you see sky in a shot, it’s natural sky. If you see a forest, it’s a real forest. Shots with stars were created by back lighting card stock with holes punched in it. Trying to do everything in camera definitely creates perils. The main peril of location shooting is wind. We’ve had figures and sets blow away on us. For studio shots, the main peril is fire. In one scene, Tom Sawyer had to hold a candle, but I let it burn too long and burned his thumb off. We’ve just finished Great Expectations, and, naturally, we had to set Ms. Havisham on fire. The trick was to do it in a way that didn’t destroy her completely (and luckily we didn’t), but she’s definitely worse for wear!

les mis shootI’m particularly interested in the cover image of Huckleberry Finn and Jim on the raft! Was that actually floating in water with you madly snapping shots?

Cozy-Classics-Huckleberry-Finn-largeHolman: Absolutely. I borrowed a pair of fishing hip waders from a friend and ventured into a local slough. I tied the figures onto the raft securely with wire ahead of time so they wouldn’t fall into the water. But the big hazard was the whole raft floating away on me. So I would gently push the raft in motion, madly snap shots, and then grab the raft before it went too far ashore. Also, the whole time I was just one slip away from plunging my camera in the muddy water and destroying it.

huck finn shoot 2Your Star Wars Epic Yarns series (published by Chronicle Books) will be released this April. Amazing! Tell us how this project came to be!

Jack: Holman and I were in Italy in 2013, where our artwork was on display in the Illustrators Exhibition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. We struck up a conversation with a rep at Chronicle Books, who was kind enough to take some of our books back with him to San Francisco to show the head of their children’s division. When Chronicle asked us what other ideas we had for abridging classics, Star Wars was our first answer. Chronicle loved it.

StarWarsJedi_COV_1G.inddHolman: Of course, doing Stars Wars means licensing with LucasFilm/Disney. LucasFilm is very discerning when it comes to licensing Star Wars books, so we were thrilled when they came on board.

SW-Epic-Yarns_A-New-Hope_5_Rascal-©-TM-Lucasfilm-Ltd.-640x640What are you up to next?

Holman: More Cozy Classics, like Great Expectations, are coming soon, but we have other big ideas in the works, too. Unfortunately, we can’t disclose them now, but we hope that you’ll be hearing a lot from us in the future!

Cozy-Classics-Great-Expectations-Jack-and-Holman-Wang


Images used with permission of Jack and Holman Wang. All Star Wars images © LucasFilm Ltd. Star Wars is a TM of LucasFilm Ltd.

Cozy Classics’ Moby Dick was also featured on our curatorial blog. Click here to see it!