The Princess Who Saved Herself
by Pak, Coulton, Miyazawa, Kholline, Bowland.
About: Jonathon Coulton wrote a song called The Princess Who Saved Herself, and made it freely available online for people to use to mix, fanvid, play with, rework. My kids loved the Youtube vids. One of the results was this book, somewhere on the dividing line between picture book and graphic novel. The text is a blend of the song lyrics and new words that connect the story into a more solid unit. The Princess – a pan-ethnic everygirl – is powerful in and of herself, saves herself and others too, and makes a few mistakes along the way but rebounds with resilience, learns and makes things better after.
Strong independent girl protagonist
Conflict resolution strategies
Acknowledging the consequences of your mistakes and trying to fix them
What: a watermelon-flavoured cake with mint leaves and berries, jelly on top, no chocolate, no icing, and no cake. Kid 5 can get a bit specific about their requests some times.
Take one watermelon, cut a cake-sized cylinder from the middle, cut the peel away from the outside. In hindsight, it’d have been easier to eat if we left the peel on.
Make a couple of pizza-trays of strawberry and raspberry jelly, using berry juice instead of hot water. Completely fail to prepare the trays for easy jelly removal, causing the jelly to come out in vague chunks. For bonus points, attempt to warm the tray in the oven while cooking pizza so that the top of the jelly melts and the bottom remains completely stuck.
Tip the jelly onto the cake. Try to land it on the top of the cake rather than half-on and half-off, because it *will* slide under its own mass and watermelon has no grip on the jelly.
Cover the cake with spearmint leaf lollies (still available in dollar and home brands if you look for them) and berry lollies, then put cake in the fridge to ensure the jelly doesn’t melt while decorating.
Come back to the cake the next morning and redo all the lollies seeing as they will have slid off the jelly overnight and soaked in watermelon juice, rendering them surprisingly inedible.
Attempt to stick a candle into the jelly in a way that will let it stay upright, while not causing the jelly to slip off.
Go into the party room and start everyone singing Happy Birthday.
Pay attention when your spouse is calling from the other room “I can’t get it to light!!!”
Get everyone singing again.
Leave spouse attempting to cut pieces of cake and put them on party plates without losing any of the lollies on top or accidentally flicking jelly across the room as he tips the slices.
Go get the tray of plain watermelon slices you prepared earlier from the rest of the watermelon, and put it out for the kids to devour.
Put watermelon cake back in the fridge after the party. Wait until it has been completely forgotten by Birthday Child, and add to compost.
(Honestly, this could have been done really well and been excellent, and in fact many bits of it were excellent. It just didn’t happen that way *this* time.)
What: Suncatchers to stick on a window – one of the activity stations at our make-lots-of-art birthday party.
How: I took overhead transparencies (remember those?) and cut them in half. I also cut out two rectangles of cardboard to use as templates. The kids drew around their rectangle in black permanent marker. Then they took any of the ruler shapes (a standard math set) and drew lines and shapes across their rectangle. Then they coloured in the result with coloured permanent markers.
More detail: I saw this on the internet, done with printable overhead transparencies and highlighters. The instructions were specific about using printable transparencies, because the print-side coating would allow the highlighter ink to stick. Problem is, who the heck uses transparencies any more? I finally tracked down one pack – one lone pack – in the whole of our big-box office supplies store, and they weren’t cheap but I bought them so I could use them for other craft projects in the future as well. I figured they’re not likely to become *more* available. However, when I tried this activity the night before, transparency manufacture has moved on and the “special coating” on these ones wouldn’t take the highlighter ink. Luckily I got a big pack of coloured permanent markers for Christmas, so I quickly removed those from all the art stations I’d already set up (they were for writing names etc) and put them on the suncatcher table. They gave much more vivid colours than highlighters, which I think was a plus. In future I’d just use those plastic sheets that go in files, because you can get a pack of 20 of them for under $3. Or anything else clear plastic!
Party setup: It happened that we had a white-topped desk sitting in the patio outside, waiting for Kid 5 and I to fix it up so it can be his desk. A white surface does make things easier. I made one suncatcher and taped it to the middle of the desk so the kids had an example right in front of them of what those permanent markers were meant to be used for. I explained the activity to the first couple of kid 5s who came over, and they shared the instructions on (with occasional parent help). We easily had six kids or more working on this at a time, and being very cooperative about sharing the markers (it helped that there were about 16). This was the longest of the activities, the kids were quite focused about it, so each kid spent quite a bit of time at the desk. It helped that this was close to the balloon painting which kids could do a little bit of and come back to as suited, so that waiting wasn’t an issue for anyone. The other great thing about this was no paint, so no drying time, the kids could put them in their party bags as soon as they’d finished.
What: Resist paintings done with sticky tape, made by several Kid 5s at one of the activity stations in our make-lots-of art birthday party.
How: I had a pile of those little canvas-covered boards that sell for about $2.50 each in arts and craft stores, about the size of an envelope. I got the kids to put a few pieces of sticky tape on their board (after writing their name in marker on the back!). Then they had free rein to paint anything they liked over the whole board, they had to cover the whole thing with colour. Once it’s dry, pull off the sticky tape and see what you’ve got!
Party setup: I had acrylic poster paint in five colours, each in plastic party cups with a paintbrush in. These kid 5s are all familiar from school with the drill that if the cup has a brush in it, that brush stays with that cup only. I’d also taped newspaper to the whole dining table surface to make the workspace. There was room for about four or five kids to work at once, and we just kind of funnelled kids through (or they funnelled themselves through, it was a bit hard to tell). The first child to seat themself at the table and say “I want to do THIS!” had a parent with them, who I promptly delegated to be a general supervisor of that activity station and help make sure each kid who turned up knew what to do. It turned out the little boards had plastic wrap on them, which was too well sealed for little fingers to pry open (why can’t that happen with snack foods!), so another spare adult got delegated to unwrapping them all. We left the boards on the table to dry. Turned out they didn’t quite dry by the time the party was over – they could have, if paint had been used a little more sparingly and not in large globs! But you get what you get. Plus some kids did their paintings much later than others. So the kids took them home with instructions to wait until they were fully dry and then take the sticky tape off. I have no idea how they all went after that.
Extras: This idea came from something Kid 3 did at daycare. They made little Christmas tree pictures, by sticking on tree shapes that had been cut out of contact and then painting over that and removing it. I considered doing contact shapes, or spot stickers that could be peeled, but decided the manipulativeness and simplicity of tearing and sticking pieces of sticky tape was going to run a lot more smoothly in the party context.
What: Some of the activities we did at Kid 5’s make-lots-of-art birthday party – painting balloons, making paint, decorating party bags.
1. Painted balloons. My husband battled the breezes to attach as many white balloons to the punching bag as he could using string and tape. I saw this done at a community fair where they’d attached dozens together close and tight to a rope to make a dragon shape for painting. After our efforts, I have no idea how they got the balloons attached but I applaud their skill. Then, paint. I put some acrylic poster paint in plastic party cups, put a paintbrush in each cup, and put the cups on a milk crate (which has slots about the right size to hold these cups upright). Up to five kids at a time were clustered around this activity, painting on the balloons. Several of the balloons were later taken home by kids, on request. Except for the one where the kid asked, and his mother made frantic waving motions of “No wet paint in my car!!!” behind him so I had to say no, we wanted to keep them to remember the party by.
2. Making paint. The kids got to make a little bag of paint and take it home with them. I set up a bag of flour, a bag of salt and a jug or water, each with a metric tablespoon in them. The kids had to take one spoonful of each and put it in their little ziplock bag. I added food colouring of their choice – about a lidful – then they sealed the bag and mixed. In theory the proportions should be 1:1:1 of flour:salt:water, but in practice most kids needed two tablespoons of water because Kid 5s don’t know to level off their tablespoon of flour (or even that there’s enough of a difference to matter in how much is in a level spoonful vs a heaped spoonful), and there was enough of a crowd around the table that I wasn’t able to tell or help most of them with that. I kept my hands on the food colouring and insisted that only an adult add that. Which meant we didn’t have anyone accidentally tipping the entire bottle into their bag until the very last child, so that was good. Once the paint is mixed, you can keep it in the sealed bag and run your fingers over it to “draw” pictures mess-free. My original plan was to tape the bags of paint to a glass door so that they could do the finger-drawing there, but with all the chaos going on most of the kids were happy to just put the bag of paint in their party bag and move on to the next activity.
3. Party bags. I’m not keen on loot bags at parties, but the kids were going to need some way of taking their art home with them. So the very first activity we had set up before doing the main party stations was this one. A pile of coloured paper bags from the local craft store, and lots of coloured dot stickers of various sizes. The kids had to write their name on the bag first, then make themselves a picture on their bag using only sticky dots. We had a wide variety of results! Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the final products. It was good to have the sticker sheets cut into strips, because each of the Kid 5s tended to take a strip and then put all the stickers on it onto their bag somewhere before making the next decision. They’re not visualising what they want to make and then choosing the bits that will make it, at least, not to the degree that they can put a sticker sheet back down without using ALL the stickers. This worked well as an icebreaker, as kids who didn’t know very many others got something to do without feeling lonely, and it got everyone busy and thinking about making art. It could also be relatively unsupervised, unlike the main station activities.
About: A slow, very peaceful story that poetically describes the slow change from end of day to beginning of night, sometimes with words and sometimes just with pictures. The illustrations are magical, with house, forest, stream, ocean and sky blending and shifting. This was often one of our bedtime books, beloved by Kids 2-5. It’s got a few flaws in the science, but if you consider it poetry and metaphor you’re fine.
Describes the change from day to night
Metaphor for the settling and going to sleep process
Peaceful and poetic
Encourages stillness, listening, looking, just being present.
What: A picture “coloured in” with glue and collected grass seeds.
How: First, I and Kid 3 went out into the garden and collected seeds. We found different kinds of grass – there are several kinds of tussock and weed grasses in our overgrown back yard – and collected handfuls of seeds from each in different bowls. TBH, I did a lot of the prompting and collecting here, including sneaking back out and getting more of the kind that were most different, though Kid 3 thought they did it all. All with lots of conversation about the colour and size and differences. Then we went inside with our loot.
Inside, the bowls gathered dust sitting on the table for a day or two while Kid 3 “played” with them (i.e. talked about them to anyone who came near). Then I drew a picture on a piece of cardboard with big black marker (Kid 3 requested “a house”), and one section at a time we applied glue, then tipped seeds of a particular kind into the segment and spread them around with a popstick. I say “we” because glue and tippy things with a Kid 3 generally involves some “assistance” to make sure results match intentions (both yours and theirs). It took a couple of hours to fully dry, even though it was poked regularly to check.
Extras: You could do this with spices, or left over garden seeds from different kinds of plants – grass seeds have some commonalities, but seeds from the daisy/lettuce family or from the salvias or poppies or brassicas or umbrella herbs (parsley, celery, dill etc) can all be quite different in shape and kind while being similar within the family. You could draw patterns or shapes instead of a picture. And if picking the seeds together just doesn’t work out, taking a mixed bowl you’ve prepared beforehand and sorting or sieving them into different kinds might be fun too (depending on seed type).
What: A miniature garden in a small space, at kid height, planted in cinderblocks.
How: The cinderblocks are stacked carefully against an existing small wall by our front door, where it’s easy for kids to remember to water them and also where school water bottles get tipped out daily. I made sure block holes were lined up so there’s a good 30cm of depth (the key depth for success), and filled them with good quality potting mix. Each time we plant I usually have to top up the soil a little as well, as it settles and drains out over time.
We’ve planted them with various seedlings over the seasons – beans that climbed up strings, a spider plant that came home from daycare, herbs that became snail food. It doesn’t matter – they’re in a very easy to see place so that they can be managed and interacted with regularly. Our current incarnation is Kid 6’s adored polkadot plant, with leaves in spots of several kinds of pink and white.
It’s wise to pick plants that don’t mind a bit of dryness, because the cinderblocks pull water out of the potting mix so the soil can get quite dry over time (re-wet it thoroughly every planting and dig the water in). Also make sure it’s plants that are good in pots, as the holes in the blocks are not wide. I tend to avoid plants that attract bees because ours is right by the front door, but your mileage may vary.
Extras: This makes a space where you can do all those lovely garden-interaction things regularly – talking about flowers, scents, colours; looking at bugs and snails; watching something grow; measuring it as it grows; whatever it is you want to do. In theory you can grow your own after-school snacks, which takes a bit of planning, discussion and responsibility, but I found that in small spaces like this the results aren’t that reliable, garden beds are better for that sort of thing. It’s not impossible though. Another option is mint leaves to pick and stick in water bottles on your way out the door.
Written by Sally Morgan and Blaze Kwaymullina, illustrated by Sally Morgan.
About: A simple little child’s tale with a little bit of silly to it. It’s not an Aboriginal fable or Dreamtime myth, or a morality tale of any type, just a story with animals and stars and the Moon in it. There’s not too much text on any one page, or at all, just enough to lay out the story in support of Morgan’s glorious-as-always illustrations. And what text there is is simple enough that a beginner reader can attempt to make their way through it with some help.
An Aboriginal take on the typical genre of animal and nature characters
Authors and illustrator are both Aboriginal
It’s not a traditional myth or legend or tale (I fully support the idea that Indigenous people are more than just what they were at the point of colonisation and that they don’t need to stay in that box).
Text is suitable for an early reader with assistance.
What: Making a cave with a large box and spare LED light strings.
How: I had two Kid 6s come visit me, and I got them to help me make this. I found a string of Christmas lights that weren’t in use – really, any string of LED lights will do but I know many people have Christmas ones around. (The LED bit is important because it’s very low heat, so you don’t have to worry about fire risk when the lights get left on and forgotten.) We cut one end off the box to make an entry way (the end was coming off anyway after enthusiastic use earlier in the week, see previous post). I flipped it over and used scissors to make holes in the base at about the right distance apart to match the Christmas lights. With a little bit of preparation, the Kid 6s probably could have done this, or at least marked the spots for me to make the holes if I didn’t trust them to stab boxes with scissors. However, they arrived as I was beginning, so… they got the job of pushing the lights into the holes. It worked best if I made slightly keyhole-shaped holes, so that the lights would push through but not fall in once through. I did have to specify that they needed to take the next light in the string and not just any light. Once all the lights were in, we plugged it in and switched it on. Instant cool cave! Popular with all the Kid 6s, Kid 4 and the cats.
Extras: Planning the placement of lights for patterns or colours or designs, letting the (older) kids take more of a lead on it and do more of the work. I’d actually like to make a large pegboard-type thing that you could wind a string of lights around to make a picture and then put it up on a big wall, but that’s a ways off coming into existence. My dream house has stuff like this in some of the ceilings. Maybe when the kids are teenagers I can convince them that installing Gyprock sheets is an important life skill.