You’ve Got Mail

you've got mailWaiting for that special letter from a special pal? Wait no more! We made hats and mailbags, and then headed to the post office to collect and deliver. When the job was finished, there was a lovely letter (and Seuss stamps) at the counter, just for you!

letter and stampsWe read A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion Books, 2014). Leo the mailman (or technically speaking, the mailanimal) is always busy delivering boxes, letters and packages to the friendly citizens of his town. Sadly, however, Leo has never received a letter himself! One day, he rescues a lost baby bird named Cheep. As time passes, the two friends become a little family. But when spring arrives, Cheep needs to rejoin to his flock. They bid each other a tearful farewell, and Cheep flies away. Leo returns to his regular rounds, but life doesn’t feel the same anymore. Then, one day, Leo receives a letter from…guess who? A little birdie with a big heart! This is a warm and beautiful book, and, if you really want to choke up, check out the final illustration!

You’ll need:

  • 1 strip of blue poster board (approximately 3.25″ x 22″)
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board for hat brim (approximately 4.5″ x 7″)
  • 1 hat brim template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board (approximately 7″ x 9″ )
  • 1 strip of red poster board (approximately 1″ x 22″)
  • 1 manila folder
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • Hole punch
  • 1 piece of ribbon (approximately 41″)
  • 1 small envelope (mine was 4.75″ x 6.5″)
  • 1 letter template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white printer paper
  • 1 strip of stickers to use as “stamps” (optional)
  • 1 post office and post office game (more on that later!)
  • Pencil, scissors, stapler, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

finished mail hatBegin with the hat! Circle a 3″ x 22″ strip of blue poster board around your head, and staple it closed. Print and cut the hat brim template, then trace the template onto a square of blue poster board. You’ll notice that there are three dotted lines on the template. Keeping the template on top of the poster board, cut along the dotted lines. You now have 4 tabs in the hat brim like so:

hat brim step 1Set the hat circle on top of the brim. The edge of the hat circle should just cover the bottom of the hat brim tabs. Soft-fold fold the tabs upwards, creating a soft crease on each tab.

hat brim step 2Remove the brim from the hat circle, and hard-fold the tabs along the creases.

hat brim step 3Return the brim to the underside of the hat circle, and fold and tape the tabs inside the hat.This will bend the hat circle into more of an oval, but that’s totally OK! I found that it was easier to tape the brim with the hat flipped upside down like this:

hat brim step 4Now place the top of the hat circle on a rectangle of blue poster board. Use a pencil to trace its perimeter onto the poster board.

top of hatCut out the oval, and tape it to the top of the hat. Finish by taping a red poster board strip around the hat as a hat band!

finished mail hatTo make the mailbag, cut a manila folder until it is approximately 8.5″ x 10.5″ Staple the sides together (but not the top of course) and used colored masking tape to cover the staples. Decorate with markers if desired. Punch a set of holes at the top, and knot a ribbon through each hole to create the strap. You’re ready for your rounds!

mailbagWe had a huge cardboard box just begging to be made into a post office. Katie took the lead on this one and I must say, she totally surpassed herself. Look at that sturdy counter! The fancy tiled roof! The red border!

post officeWe also made 5 mailboxes with 5 matching letters or packages. Mainly, we used wrapping paper tubes, oatmeal containers, craft boxes, patterned paper, construction paper, and some items from the Bling Bin.

green mailboxyellow mailboxorange mailboxred mailboxblue mailboxThen we whipped up some mail route cards. Each card was labeled “Deliver” or “Collect”  and color-coded to a particular mailbox and piece of mail. The game began with a Deliver card. A kid came to the post office, picked up a Deliver card, and put the 5 pieces of mail in his/her mailbag. Then, following the color-coding on the card, he/she delivered the mail to the correct mailboxes.

delivery card and mailboxWhen the job was done, he/she returned to the post office to find that a letter had arrived for him/her, as well as a set of “stamps” (i.e. spare stickers I had in the art cabinet)! The letter replicates the sweet message Cheep wrote to Leo (such a wonderful book). Ten bonus points if you noticed that I put the letters in purple envelopes, completing the rainbow created by the 5 mailboxes. Heh heh.

letter and stampsAnd thus, the mail was delivered. Next, another kid came to the post office and received a Collect card. He/She had to travel to all the boxes, collect the mail in his/her bag, and return it to the post office. Then the whole process started again with another kid and a Deliver card.

Color matching? Logic? Sequential thinking? It sounds awesome doesn’t it?

Well, I’ve promised to report the good, the bad, and the ugly on this blog, and therefore I must report that we had a complete activity fail. There were 2 dozen kids at story time that day. They loved the activity, but it…took…way…too…long. In the beginning, blazing with optimism, I positioned the 5 mailboxes around the gallery so kids could walk to them.

trip to red mailboxWell, walking took some time. So did figuring out the color coding. So did opening the little mailbox doors and adding or removing the mail. So did stuffing the mail in the mailbag. So did removing the mail from the mailbag.

As the clock ticked waaaay past the end of story time, I had to make some on-the-fly adjustments. I squished all the mailboxes together. I asked the kids to leave their mail bags at the post office and carry the mail in their hands. I opened the doors of the mailboxes to allow for quicker stuffing and removal. It still took ages.

lined up boxesIf I was to do this over again, I would still have 5 mailboxes and 5 matching pieces of mail. But I would have each kid deliver or collect just 1 piece of matching mail, not all 5. That way, you could have 5 kids out on route at a time, which would move things right along. Ah well. The good news is that everyone (finally) got a turn, everyone got some stamps, and everyone received a lovely letter.

cute mail bagBy the way, you don’t have to make a fancy post office or mailboxes to play the mail game. A tabletop will do just as nicely as a post office. A couple of shoe boxes wrapped in colored paper make great mailboxes. You can even skip the mail boxes and deliver the mail directly to your favorite stuffed animal friends!

Hit the Beach

sandcastleThe end of the summer might be in sight, but there’s still time to hit the beach! We made sand castles and then played a shell grabbing game on the “beach.” Just be prepared…some of those waves can get a little big!

shell game 2

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 6″)
  • A box cutter
  • Yellow construction paper
  • 2 paper towel tubes
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (I used a 12″ cake circle)
  • 4 baking cups
  • Sandcastle decorating supplies (more on these later!)
  • 2 bedsheets (1 brown, 1 blue)
  • An assortment of seashells
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Hot glue

We all build the same basic sandcastle, and then the kids customized them with art supplies! To begin, cut the top/lid off of a box (cut the tabs too, if there are any). Then, use a box cutter to cut a drawbridge out of the front of the box. A square door is easier to cut than a curved door:

drawbridgeWrap the sides of the box with yellow construction paper. Hot glue the wrapped box to the center of your corrugated cardboard base. Next, cut 2 paper towel tubes into four, 5.25″ tall towers. Wrap the tubes in yellow construction paper, and hot glue them to the sides of the box (not to the corrugated cardboard base – they’ll just pop off). For the perfect finish, hot glue a baking cup on the top of each tower.

finished basic castleNow it’s time to decorate! We scattered art supplies all over the gallery floor, announced that the tide was out, and had the kids “beach comb” for castle decoration materials.

Supplies included (and these were all some variation of yellow or gold): paper crinkle, self-adhesive foam shapes, mesh tubing, sparkle stems, pipe cleaners, dot stickers, embossed foil paper, patterned paper, cotton balls, mylar, foam beads, craft ties, pieces of bubble tea straw, large plastic buttons, tulle, fabric squares, star stickers, fish stickers, embossed foil seals.

When the castles were finished, we went back to the “beach” to play a shell grabbing game. First, we laid a brown bed sheet on the floor as “sand.” We placed a number of enticing seashells on it. Then, Katie and I grabbed either end of a blue bed sheet and moved it back and forth over the sand to create “waves.” We had a CD of ocean wave sounds playing too.

One by one, the kids came forward and tried to grab two shells before the waves covered them. Some kids took their time walking up and down the beach, scouting the perfect shell before they made a move. Others just dove right in and grabbed as fast as they could. We adjusted the waves to the timidity of the kids of course. And best of all, no one left with sand in their shoes!

shell game 1shell game 2shell game 3

Happy Birthday Harry!

happy birthday harryIt’s July 31st and we’re celebrating with some delicious pumpkin pasties! I can tell you, they were perfect. Flaky, buttery, with just the right amount of filling and spice. The recipe is at the end of the post, but you might be interested in the story behind them!

The chef’s name is Melody Edwards. At the time she created these stupendous goodies, Melody was a senior at Princeton University. Her final semester, she was enrolled in a “Literature, Food, and the American Racial Diet” course. The goal of the course was to explore – through novels and cinema – how food and taste informs race, nationhood, gender, family, and class.

One assignment was to bring to class “1. A dish based on a “literary” recipe. This can be a recipe found in or mentioned by a novel or by a literary figure or belonging to a particular historical period; Or, 2. A dish from your childhood.”

At least that’s how the assignment started. Over the course of the semester it morphed into a full-on cook-off that allowed student chefs to interpret the course “historically, archivally, contemporarily, globally, and more.” There’s an interesting article about it here.

Team Wingardium Leviosa (which consisted of Melody, Samantha Essig and Daniel Ling) decided to make pumpkin pasties. You’ll find their awesome academic analysis of the pasties here.

Melody graduated from Princeton last May and is headed to the The Institute of Culinary Education (a.k.a. ICE) in NYC. It’s no surprise. Her pumpkin pasties, which she adapted from several recipes, were AMAZING. Especially when you consider that she was working in a very hot, very small, dorm kitchen. Let’s take one more look at them.

pumpkin pastiesMmmmmm…nom nom nom. Here’s the recipe! I’ll leave you with a sweet quote from Melody about her connection to the Harry Potter series:

Perhaps I was an anomaly of the Harry Potter Generation, but when I was first reading the books, I did not look forward to the confrontations with Voldemort. I did not drag my parents to the bookstore before the sun was up for the dark, action-filled scenes that always came at the end of Rowling’s books. Rather, I relished the most mundane passages. Nothing brought me more joy than learning how wizards celebrated the holidays or reading intricate descriptions of breakfast in the Great Hall. While this reveals that I’ve been obsessed with food for my whole life, it also speaks to Rowling’s gift for creating a fully fleshed-out world for our delectation.

Happy Birthday Harry!