Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tin Man

If you listen very carefully, you can hear a rusty voice barely whispering, "Oil me!"

Ruben made the hat with one of the parents at his school out of a paper plate, tape and aluminum foil.  He taped the cans and lids to his shirt.  (We have a nice can opener that removes the lids of cans without any sharp edges.)  I love how the big tomato cans fit right over the tops of his cowboy boots.

It is non-stop Wizard of Oz around here!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

One of THOSE Days

"What is the matter, my dear? said Miss Grizzel.  "Is the jelly not to your liking?"

That face just kills me.  Even though I was having "one of those days," a look at this picture lightened my load.  This is from a 1931 edition of The Cuckoo Clock by Mrs. Molesworth, and the brilliant illustration is by C.S. Brock.  It is in Chapter 6, "Rubbed the Wrong Way."

What makes you smile when even the jelly is not to your liking?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Phony Trees

I kept seeing a strange tree as I zipped past in my minivan, but it was hard to get a good look in traffic.

I tried to get a little closer, but it proved difficult.

Do you think it's related to this conifer around the corner?

Or this one without its foliage?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Make Your Own Kid-Sized Clothes Hangers

Here are some free and easy wire hangers that I just made for our dress-up area:

Watch out when you cut.  My wire end went flying!

I am hoping that the electrical tape wrapping will make these more durable and will keep any sharp wire safely inside the cardboard.  It's time for me to teach them to hang up their own capes!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sheet Pans and Oobleck

I use aluminum baking sheets (aka sheet pans) as work surfaces for a lot of our projects.  They keep glue off of the table and keep small parts from rolling away, but above all, they make it easy to move the project aside for a few minutes or hours and then bring it back without a lot of disruption.  I often wish our art area (dining room) had one of these.  I'm pretty sure I'd put warm cookies on mine, too.

You can see the kids using sheet pans for playdough just a few posts ago.  Sometimes I have the kids finger paint directly on the pan instead of on paper, and then just rinse the pan when they're done.

These pans are perfect for oobleck, too.  If you've never tried making oobleck, PLEASE do:  2 parts cornstarch + 1 part water = non-toxic, mind-bending Non-Newtonian fluid.  Fun if you're 2 or 20 or 100.

Plain white oobleck is wonderful, but you can have lots of fun with color mixing, too.  For mesmerizing color, you can't beat adding little flakes of dry watercolor paint, which dissolve slowly, leaving color trails, but adding drops of liquid tempera or food coloring works, too.

Oobleck is a shear thickening non-Newtonian fluid, which basically means that pressure makes it more solid.  If you punch it, it's hard, if you poke it, it's soft.  Squeeze it and it breaks, let go of it and it drips.

Here's an amazing video of oobleck on a vibrating surface.  I can't wait to try that!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jumbo and Peanuts

I am almost embarrassed to admit how many times I've listened to my Jumbo CD.  It has been in my car since it first came out (right around when Julio was born), and in the past year and a half I have listened to it over and over... and over.  This has had an interesting unexpected consequence:  Julio loves it, too.  More than I do.  When we get in the car he starts saying, "Jumbo!"  If I try to play any other music, he starts shouting, "JUMBO! JUMBO! JUMBO!"  Like some magical elixir, Jumbo stops his crying immediately when he hears it.  If he's tired, it puts him right to sleep.  If he's neither tired nor cranky, he starts laughing when he hears the first notes.  You can listen to the title track at the link above to see how hilarious this is.  It is certainly no "Hush, Little Baby."

Jumbo is my brother, Mole's, album, but all sisterly pride aside, this album is excellent.  My brother wrote and sang all of the songs, the music is complex and catchy and beautifully produced, and his lyrics are alternately brilliantly funny and touching.  This is not kids' music, but in our family it's at the top of the charts.

If you want some great music that was actually written for kids, check out "Whoever Shall Have Some Good Peanuts" by Sam Hinton.  My brothers and I literally wore the grooves off of our old vinyl album when we were kids, and you may hear some of its folksy influence in my brother's music.  There are a lot of old traditionals on this album, and although there are many sweet songs, it is not saccharin like so much of today's kiddie music.  There are fights and dreams and drunkards and death and there is plenty of silliness, too.  Hinton was a superb vocalist and a true folk master (he was also a naturalist), and I count him among my personal heroes.

You can listen to the beginnings of some songs from the album:
Barnyard Song
Old Blue
Old Dan Tucker
The Frog Song

My music list is not quite as long as my book list, but there you have it: Jumbo and Peanuts.  What are you listening to at your house?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Some Great Little Books

I've spent a lot of time reading, thinking about and making books for children.  My love and enjoyment of picture books has expanded in the past six years, as I've had the pleasure of field-testing some old and new favorites with my three little book-lovers.  I put a lot of thought into choosing books for this list, with the aim of selecting those that could be enjoyed by boys and girls (and their adults) with a broad range of interests and backgrounds.  Now, go read someone a story!


Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack & Kurt Wiese
Ferdinand by Munro Leaf / Robert Lawson, illus.
The Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel
Blueberries For Sal by Robert McCloskey
Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne / Ernest Shepard, illus.
When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne / Ernest Shepard, illus.
The Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik / Maurice Sendak, illus.
Beatrix Potter books, especially: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, The Tale of Jeremy Fisher, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin
The Complete Adventures of Curious George by Margaret & H.A. Rey
Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever
Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
The Sneeches and Other Tales by Dr. Seuss
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion / Margaret Bloy Graham, illus.

Okay, so those are what I consider to be the CLASSICS.  My taste in kids' books may seem a little old fashioned, but those are all beautifully written and illustrated.  They have a wide appeal, and introduce readers to a great variety of words, ideas and lifestyles.  Here are some more that I am also crazy about:


In the Town All Year 'Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Up, Up, Up! It's Apple-Picking Time by Jody Fickes Shapiro / Kitty Harvill, illus.
Traction Man is Here! by Mini Grey
Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman / Marla Frazee, illus.
Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh
The Day the Babies Crawled Away by Peggy Rathmann
Wild About Books by Judy Sierra / Marc Brown, illus.
Doctor De Soto by William Steig
Shrek! by William Steig
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen / John Schoenherr illus.

What, there are more?!  And...

Hug by Jez Alborough
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang
Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown / Garth Williams, illus.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown / Clement Hurd, illus.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman 
The Everything Book by Denise Fleming
Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming
Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins / Eric Gurney, illus.
Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak
"More, More, More" Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

Some notes on finding more: Many of these authors have more great books out there, especially Steig, Sendak, Taback, Henkes, Rathmann, Potter, Scarry and Seuss.  Look for the originals, as there are many not-so-good derivations of some of these classics, especially of Curious George, Winnie-the-Pooh and Richard Scarry.  
There are lots of places to find these books.  If you can shop at an independent children's bookstore, lucky you!  (There is a great one in LA called Children's Book World.)  I hope you can also find them all for free at your local library.

Detail of illustration by Ernest H. Shepard from Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, 2006 Dutton Children's Books ed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Small Canvas

A great artist can paint a great picture on a small canvas.
                                                                      -Charles Dudley Warner

                                                                                                          Ballpoint on brother, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Playdough Plus

The boys got very enthusiastic when we added some feathers, sticks and beads to our playdough.

This is Argus Panoptes or Argos, according to Diego.  (For those of you who don't happen to live with a 6 year old, Argus is a mythological Greek monster with 100 eyes):

I loved this creature that Ruben was making:

It just kept getting better...

...and better!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

House Bookshelf

Here's a bookshelf that I made a few years ago to house our picture books.  It is made out of 3/4" plywood, and is very sturdy.  One of my favorite features is the sideways shelf on the right, which holds all of our long books that stick out too far if we put them on the other shelves.

I imagined that we would occasionally empty it and use it like a toy house, but that has yet to happen.  It also has a chimney tissue holder that holds a regular square tissue box.  Here's a closer look:

I want to show you some more of my home made projects, and I was having so much fun taking pictures around the house that I left Julio happily entertaining himself at the dining table.  From the other room, I heard him say, "Cow milk.  Want it!"  And then his big brother call out, "I'll get it for you, Julio!"  I got back just in time to see this near-disaster:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Play Kitchen Stove

We had a lot of fun making this play stove today:

A while ago, I salvaged an old burner grate and put it in our play kitchen, but I always wanted to mount it on a board and give it a knob.  Today, I found an old wood scrap and then we got to work!  We used bent nails to hold it in place, and screwed down a piece of an old dowel with a hole drilled in it for the knob.  Ruben got to use the hammer and the hand drill, so he was thrilled.  He used watercolor paints to make red flames, but when he saw me cooking on the blue gas flame of our real stove, he asked me to paint some blue on top of the red.

A play kitchen is a great thing to have in or near your real kitchen.  The kids love to pretend cook when they are not participating in the real cooking.  You don't need much, even just a low counter space or a box, or some floor space and some small real or toy pots, pans, utensils or dishes.  Ours is an old piano bench in the laundry area between our real stove and the back door.  I hung some hooks on the wall over it, and we've accumulated a lot of accessories over the years.  Sometimes I think it would be fun to mount a faucet on the table or wall, or add a cupboard with a door on it.  I still might, but already this area gets so much play just as it is.

Even without doors and knobs, there are all sorts of delicacies prepared here.  Somebody made me some Apple-orange-radish pudding today, and did you notice the blue play dough pancakes going into the "oven" in the top picture?