Butterfly kite

What: A butterfly kite we made at a multicultural craft stall at a WA Day fair. Unlike the paper origami butterfly in my last post, this flies very well. It’s also constructed in much more detail.

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The first step. Colouring in the butterfly, choosing from a Very Large Pile of textas on the table. You can see the thread bobbin here.

How: ToBeHonest, we didn’t do very much of the making of these. Somebody put in a LOT of effort behind the scenes to make sure dozens of children could swamp the stall at any one time and end up with a working item. We coloured in the butterfly, they stuck on the blue tail and away we went. Here’s some more detail of the construction.

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The finished kite seen from reverse.

It appears to be normal photocopy paper (80gsm weight), they’ve probably photocopied three or four of the butterflies a page. On the back they’ve strengthened the butterfly with a line of tape across the wings and one of those paper-covered wire twist-tie things glued down the spine. Then someone has attached a bobbin of thread to the spine very carefully. That’s what we were handed to colour in. When it was done to Kid 6’s satisfaction (Kid 4 not being willing to try and get near the tent with that many kids elbowing each other), they taped on the tail. As best I can tell, the tail is light plastic – heavier than a shopping bag but not much heavier – that’s been cut into streamers by someone with a lot of patience (or maybe put through a shredder?) and then four or five of those streamers have been stuck together somehow. They had a little bit of double sided tape on them so that all the stall person needed to do was remove the protective paper and push it on and there you go, instant tail.

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Two Kid 6s running through the fair with their finished butterfly kites. Taller people get more height on the kites more easily. 

They did fly quite well. The stallholder demonstrated and had it flying steadily quite easily. The Kid 6s I observed needed a little more practice – familiarity with kites would help I think! But they do flutter satisfactorily too. We had some issues with the bobbins of thread – nothing unexpected, just easy to lose sight of or to accidentally tangle around the kite (which being light paper is relatively fragile and able to be cut by thread that’s given a good yank). But they worked reasonably well too.

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Review: The Unbreakable Code

The Unbreakable Code, written by Sara Hoagland Hunter and illustrated by Julia Miner.

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About:In World War II, the Americans needed a code that couldn’t be broken by the Japanese – and they recruited a group of Navaho to develop one. This book tells the story of the Navajo code talkers, put together out of interviews with many of the surviving code talkers, and framed in fiction as a grandfather telling his grandson not to be afraid to move to a new home. It’s an important part of American and WWII history, a discussion of how codes, languages and alphabets intertwine, and a clear portrait of what advantages cultural differences can bring to a multicultural society. It also tells clearly and effectively of the sadnesses of war, the punishments applied to Native Americans who tried to hold onto their culture and some of the barriers they faced to acceptance. The reading level is quite high and the themes quite strong, so I’d put this book at at age level of say 5-10 years old, despite it being a picture book with stunning illustrations.

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“The code had to be simple and fast. We would have only one chance to send each message. After that, the Japanese would be tracing our location to bomb us or trying to record the code.”

Good things:

  • Positive indigenous contribution to society
  • Central characters are Native American
  • War descriptions effective but without undue emphasis on the terrible
  • Places the code talkers in cultural and historical context
  • Talks about language and codes and how the code was developed
  • Promotes the use and value of indigenous language
  • Includes the basic code used by the code talkers
  • Beautiful oil painting illustrations

Review – Alfie’s Big Wish

Alfie’s Big Wish, by David Hardy

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About: This is a sweet little kids’ tale, about loneliness and finding a friend, set within the context of nomadic Aboriginal culture. David Hardy is Aboriginal, and also Disney-animation-trained, so the illustrations have that 2D cartoon cuteness and impishness to them that really works. At first I had misgivings about Disneyfying Aboriginal folk, but then I figured Disney does that to everyone so I’d probably rather have the representation than the lack of it. And it’s grown on me.

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“Why is there no one the same size as me?” My own Kid 4 and 5 say this a lot.

Good things:

  • Lead is POC, Aboriginal, traditional culture
  • Emotionally expressive illustrations
  • Australian landscape and colours
  • Rhyming text, limited number of words on a page for early readers.
  • Author/illustrator is Aboriginal

Gods’ eyes

What: The “gods’ eyes” that were a Big Craft Thing to make when I was a kid.

How: Kid 3 and Kid 5 went out into the garden with instructions to find two sticks, reasonably straight, “about yay long”. I had to assist them a little with assessing whether a given stick was strong enough or too thin or thick – understanding the relationship between “width” (diameter) and area of cross-section is a long way off – but they could do length fine. I got out my box of miscellaneous wool and let the kids choose an initial colour. We crossed the sticks, I tied on the first end of the wool and showed them how you go around a stick, then on to the next and around that, and keep going. When you get to the end of a piece of wool, pick a new colour and tie a new length on.

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Kid 5’s piece, decorated to be “a compass”, with mine and Kid 3’s in the background. Hanging was just a matter of wrapping a string around the same way.

You’ll find better instructions than mine online. What’s more important for you to know is that this was *hard* for the kids. Kid 5 is spatially-challenged anyway, all directions are identical, subjective and meaningless, and Kid 3 is a fiddle-fingers who can’t *stop* turning things around in their fingers. Even though the steps of a Gods’ Eye are simple, they rely on you doing them the same way consistently over and over again. So I spent a lot of time droning the rhythm at the kids – over, around, over again, across to the next – and helping them remember which way they were going so they didn’t unwind their hard-won earlier work or just do the same two spokes over and over again, or switch from looping over to looping under, and so on. Holding the wool at the correct tension was also tricky – it’s a skill you expect a kid to maybe begin to learn at this age, but my two hadn’t learnt it yet. The idea that you had to keep making sure the wool was tight enough and not hanging floppy every time you looped it was a bit tricky. But, they got there in the end. Kid 5 did quite a credible effort. Kid 3 did sufficiently well for them to be proud of their work, and enjoyed it enough that nine months later (as a kid 4) when they had to take something they’d made to school for class “news”, they remembered the Gods Eyes and asked to make a new one to take along. And that effort was distinctly better and easier.

Extras: On the face of it, this activity is just about manual dexterity, manipulating sticks and wool in space, the textures of wool and wood, feeling and holding the tensions steady – getting a feel (literally!) for textiles. It’s the sort of thing you do before you go onto knitting because it’s so much bigger in scale than little needles. A related activity would be back-and-forth weaving on simple looms.

Where this activity jumps into the extras though is in cultural awareness and in religion. Gods eyes were a big thing in the 80s. When Kid 4 asked to make one for school I went looking them up to see if there was another name for them, because as a non-Christian family in a very multicultural school I didn’t want to have to defend Christianity in a discussion about religious materials. Then I realised that their actual name was Ojo de Dios, they weren’t originally Christian, and that the 80s had blithely appropriated a really interesting cultural artefact for the sake of something “pretty” (how unusual /sarcasm/). At any rate, I attempted to teach Kid 4 the Spanish name and that they came from Mexico for the “news bulletin”. So depending on the age of your kids, going at some level into the cultural history of these is quite interesting.

From a pagan and religion POV, I quite like them. They are similar to Buddhist prayer flags or prayer wheels – physical prayers activated by movement. There are some conceptual similarities to the little icons of saints that people used to carry or have on their mantelpiece (and many still do). Making them is a lot like walking the medieval labyrinths, those pilgrimage substitutes, with the same kind of meditative repetition. As a mindfulness activity it’s quite fun too. I will bring these back into my pagan teaching at some point, when we discuss focus objects and how people use objects (and their making) to focus magic or prayer, and also as part of the ideas of sacred landscape and conscious journeying. They’ll also no doubt be a good example of the “cultural trappings” of magic, because the colours had such important meanings in a long-ago-far-away culture but now we might assign quite different meanings and have access to a different range of colours so the “meaning” or “intent” is not a universal constant.

Mosaics on sticks

What: quick kids craft activity sticking tiny tiles on pre-cut shapes with good wood glue.

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Star by Kid 4 (who dislikes things with people in them), person by Kid 6 (who always likes things with people in them).

How: This was a short craft activity we did at the local arts centre’s stall at the local council’s Harmony Day multicultural fair, led by one of their mosaic teachers. The shapes-on-sticks were basically craft popsticks sourced from craft supplies somewhere. The glue is a good-quality wood glue, repoured into kids’ glue bottles for the use of tiny hands. The tiny tiles come just like that, no cutting or sharp edges required, and they’re a good size for a kids’ project like this. She said, however, that there’s only one place in this city you can buy them (and if you’ve ever shopped for replacement or specialist tiles for something, it’s the store you will have heard of). So some careful sourcing of materials for this activity is required. The kids took about five to seven minutes to make their item, it took ten minutes of my carefully holding them flat inside little ziplock bags while we walked around the fair for the glue to be mostly set, and a few hours to be fully dry.

Extras: Doing this with paper squares on paper (as in my previous post), colouring squares on graph paper to create a picture, tiling Smarties or lollies on biscuits or cookie dough – any other mosaic-related activity really. Because this was for Harmony Day, the stall at the fair had a poster wall with big pictures of cool mosaics from lots of countries (and time periods) around the world, and the mosaic teacher took the kids around to the posters and they talked a bit about the mosaics and guessed / chatted about which countries they came from. So that cultural and historical context and looking at different styles is a possibility too.

Review: Noodle Magic

written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So

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Noodle Magic. Written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So.

About: A cute little tale about finding the magic within, told in the style of a Chinese folk tale. Plus, noodles! That made it an instant hit with my kids. The author spent 16 years living, working and studying in Asia, the illustrator is Hong Kong-born and British Empire raised. This book goes nicely in my collection of books about makers.

Good things:

  • Non-Eurocentric / Western-centric setting and characters
  • Little girl finding her own ability to do incredible things
  • A maker story
  • Author and illustrator both having a genuine connection to the culture they’re depicting
  • Sense of community in the illustrations
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The next morning, Mei and her friends played and jumped with strands of white, wheaty dough. “If only I had your gift,” Mei sighed. “I think you just might,” said Grandpa. But Mei knew that no one could spin magic like Grandpa Tu!

Book review: Four Feet, Two Sandals

About: This book is set in a refugee camp. It’s about the friendship between two girls brought together by a pair of sandals. It’s also a very human vignette into life in the camp. The artwork doesn’t stint on either colour or the sense of heat and dryness and dust, and I love it.

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Four Feet, Two Sandals, written by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka

Good things:

  • Two girls as lead characters, and it’s delicately shown that they have both had to shoulder some part of the family leadership in the course of their escape to the camp.
  • The lead characters are Islamic, POC and refugees.
  • The story is, at its heart, about sharing and giving even when you have almost nothing of your own.
  • The lead characters have to develop empathy for each other.
  • Humanises and makes real both refugees and life in the camps.
  • Grief is acknowledged, though given that it’s a children’s book it’s not lingered upon.
  • Good artwork.
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“As-salaam alaykum”, Lina greeted her. The girl only stared.

Year of the Snake

What: A red and gold snake wall decoration for the Chinese New Year.

About: This is something I did with Kid 3 and Kid 1 back in the Year of the Snake. We were making a point of noticing seasons, seasonal festivals and changes throughout the year in that age bracket, partly because we’d moved to a new state and new climate, and also because that’s part of my basic grounding in druid practice.

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Year of the Snake wall decoration made with plastic plates, marker and alphabet stickers.

How: I got a pack of red plastic disposable plates from the supermarket and we each decorated a few plates, then I put them on the wall under the supervision of Kid 3. I wanted something gold for decorating and couldn’t find any gold markers or stickers except for one pack of alphabet stickers. Between that and the black marker we managed a few random decorativenesses, with no particular structure other than sticking to the traditional colours. I cut a couple of the plates to make the extra shapes. Kid 3 did this with some enjoyment, Kid 1 with a minimal engagement before wandering away to their own devices.

Year of the Monkey

What: A picture of a monkey, using gold doilies as a belly / focus and adding in other features.

About: Each year I’ve tried to do an art or craft activity related to the Lunar New Year festival. We live in an area that has a high population of non-Caucasians, and many of our local businesses either take holidays or hold special events for the New Year. The activities are intended to be a chance for us to talk about stuff as much as anything, setting up the beginnings of cross-cultural understandings. This year, the beginning of Year of the Monkey, happened to fall in the middle of our worst heatwave for the season. So instead of my planned very messy fireworks paintings (which I may still do next week), we went to the air-conditioned local library and did work with textas and glue and other safe-in-public materials.

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Our three monkeys. L-R: Kid 4, who attempted to mimic my discussion of monkey face shape and who worked out that you could colour in the spaces in the doily; Kid 6, who tends to work from stereotype/rule as much as possible but did venture out a little to play with the idea of fur and fringes; and my monkey, which was mostly me keeping my hands busy while we talked.

How: We found a book with pictures of monkeys in it in the kids’ non-fiction section – involving discussion of how the books are grouped by category so first we have to find all the animal books, then we look at each of those books to find one with monkeys in it. Kid 6 is the one who really needs to practice categorisation, but this time they got the idea much faster than Kid 4 (who hasn’t tried to find interesting books on those shelves before). Then we looked at all the pictures of monkeys. We glued the doilies down – I’d had them in my craft materials drawer after seeing them in my local supermarket one day – and the kids drew whatever extra bits around the belly they felt like. As we worked, I referred back to some of the monkey pictures and we talked about what the monkey faces actually looked like, how drawing zig-zag lines instead of straight lines made it look more like fur, whether or not monkeys had tails. Whatever kind of came up in discussion – the point is to talk as much as anything. We also talked about the festive colours of Chinese New Year, the dragon art project Kid 6 had done in school that day, where and what Chinatown is, when Kid 6 can wear a Chinese dress – again, whatever came up out of their random thinking.

Extras: I’m thinking I might follow this up at some point with either a drawing exercise where we only use zig-zag lines, or with another trip to the library to pick a different animal to look up and work out how to draw. Both of those aspects seemed potentially interesting/useful. The other obvious follow-on is to try using a doily as a stencil, colour through the holes and then lift it to see the pattern.