story, science, technology and creativity

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What’s your lighthouse? “Get creative in your classroom” competition

Fremantle Press are running a cool competition, and this is the sort of brilliant activity that might win it. I totally love this amazing creative writing, design and technology activity, inspired by To The Lighthouse.

The children designed and built their own lighthouses, then wrote a story about the history of their lighthouse: who built it and when, wany notable events in its history, and what’s happening with it now. AMAZING!!! I LOVE IT SO MUCH!

Check out the chequered history of this haunted lighthouse…

The Duncraig Saviour, by Tracey

This supernatural lighthouse is built in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.It is called the Duncraig Saviour because it is found by Duncraig citizens. It is surrounded by vicious sharks and loads more dangerous things.

The Duncraig Saviour was thoughtfully built in 1310 and was successfully built by  William Shakespeare when he was only 22 and loads of people helped him.

Unfortunately, when the building was nearly done, the top part fell down and lots of men and women died. Also when the balcony fell of, there was great trouble.

The Duncraig Saviour is not in use any more. It is haunted because it has been left for a long time and that it has slid into the ocean. The little fence fell of. Now loads of people are trying to find The Duncraig Saviour and fix it but now so far, there is no success.

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Takeshita Demons fan art: nukekubi nightmares!

How’s your 2015 shaping up? Invented anything crazy yet?

I’m writing a manuscript with my five-year-old, which is quite an entertaining process. He has some off-the-wall ideas, which is just what I need for this book!

If you’re feeling creative, why not give yourself ten minutes to play on paper. Maybe try drawing something crazy-fun, like these awesome yokai artworks.

Thanks to Takeshita Demons fans for sharing their fab work! I love it! Spooky stuff!!

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Make your own monster: in Japanese and English

Creating monsters with Japanese students at the Hyogo Centre

Me causing chaos at the Hyogo Centre…the students are inventing some awesome monsters!

I’m just back from a terrific conference with the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators. It was great!!

I am all inspired and fired up to start work on ideas for a Takeshita Demons book 5 (and I think book 4 is nearly ready to start writing!)

Monster self-introductions

If you’re looking for inspiration for your own writing, or you want a fun activity for teaching Japanese language or creative writing, check out the new Monster Self Introductions activity on my website.

We gave it a try with some Year 9s at the Hyogo Prefectural Government Cultural Centre last week and they came up with some super scary (sometimes hilarious) monsters. Well done guys!!!

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A monster activity for celebrating International Childrens Book Day

Remember: tailor the spookiness of your creatures to suit. This drawing of a bunyip is scarier than anything I ever imagined!

Celebrating international childrens books

Looking for ways to celebrate International Childrens Book Day (April 2, the birthday of Hans Christian Anderson)?

Want to entertain a bunch of kids for a couple of hours?

Like to imagine weird and wonderful creatures?

Give this activity a shot: Remember…the creatures you talk about can be as scary (or not) as you choose.

For example, you might skip zombies in favour of fairies, or talk about unicorns instead of the Loch Ness Monster.

Audience: Children of any age (thought I recommend you tailor the scariness of the stories you choose to suit)

You will need:

– Sheets of paper

– Pens and pencils for drawing

– Any books that feature curious and fabulous monsters from around the world. For example:

A labelled drawing of the Japanese tanuki, thanks to the Shigaraki Tourist Assocation. What type of monster would you draw?

BUNYIPS DON’T by Sally Odgers features Australian bunyips;

TALES OF THE TOKOLOSHE by Pieter Scholtz features the African tokoloshe;

THE TANIWHA OF WELLINGTON HARBOUR by Moira Wairama features the Maori taniwha.

What to do:

– Read books about some of the weird and wonderful monsters that exist in mythology from around the world.
– Talk about some of the monsters that exist in Western/European mythology (for example, vampires, werewolves, etc)
– Ask the kids to grab their pens and paper and dream up their own monster. Encourage them to create a monster that is specific to them. Draw the monster and label its attributes. Does it have strong legs for jumping mountains? Does it carry a cake for feeding its friends? Does it wear sunglasses to protect its eyes from the snow?

Happy International Childrens Book Day!

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What colour were yōkai demons? Download colouring-in sheets

The Takeshita Demons books feature Japanese monsters and demons, called yōkai (or youkai).

Many yōkai were first drawn by Toriyama Sekien, a Japanese artist who lived in the 1700s. These colouring-in sheets feature his original drawings.

Head to the resources section of my website to download PDFs for these activities.

A kappa is a water-loving creature who keeps a bowl of water on his head. He loves to eat cucumbers, but he also drinks blood, so be careful!

A hannya is a demon who has been driven insane by jealousy and rage. Her face is marked with all the anger of other people’s souls.

Now you know a bit about them, it’s up to you to decide what colour they are!

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Hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons and practise your Japanese

Want a fun way to practise your hiragana? Try this spooky hiragana wordsearch!

If you’re studying Japanese, then you alredy know that the Japanese language is written using three different alphabets: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Words can also be written in romaji, using the English alphabet.

This word search uses hiragana and features demons from spooky adventure story Takeshita Demons.

Can you find the yokai demons before they find Miku?

Head to the resources section of my website and you can download a PDF of the activity and its answer sheet.

Takeshita Demons hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons


ようかい                    溶解                Yōkai (demon)

ゆうれい                    幽霊                Yuurei (ghost)

みく                            未来                Miku (our hero!)

かず                           和                    Kazu (Miku’s brother)

たけした                    竹下                Takeshita (Miku’s family name)

かわにし                   川西                Kawanishi (where Miku lived in Japan)

ぬけくび                  抜け首            Nukekubi (cut-throat demon)

ぬれおんな              濡女                Nure-onna (woman of the wet)

さかばしら                逆柱                 Sakabashira (inverted pillar)

ざしきわらし             座敷童             Zashiki-warashi (house ghost)

ゆきおんな               雪女                Yuki-onna (snow woman)

おに                           鬼                    Oni (ogre)


Could Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak really make someone invisible?

I’ve been thinking lots of good science thoughts this week because I’m dreaming up a new and exciting project.

Science is pretty cool, and science for kids is even cooler. Many of you know I used to perform kids science shows as part of the Shell Questacon Science Circus and for Science on the Move. I’m also a past editor of Australia’s Scientriffic magazine, now Double Helix.

(If you want awesome science activities and news delivered to your inbox every week for free, subscribe to the FREE Science by Email…it’s brilliant).

But, back to the title of this post:

Could Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak really make someone invisible?

And the answer is…


If your eyes are open and the lights are on, you can see most things. Objects are visible because they reflect or bend the light that hits them.  If you can see something, it’s because light is bouncing from that something into your eyes.  Some things — like air or water or glass — are transparent or translucent, so instead of reflecting all the light that hits them, some of that light can shine right through them. Transparent things are harder to spot, but there is one giveaway: light usually bends as it shines through an object.

The speed of light in a particular material is constant.  However, when light moves between two different materials, it usually changes speed.  This change in speed causes the light to bend, and our eyes can detect the change in its direction.

For example, when light moves from the air into a raindrop and back out again, the light changes speed, which causes the light to bend.  Our eyes can see this bend in the light, which is why we can see raindrops falling in the sky.

Each material bends light by a particular amount.  We call this amount the refractive index of that material.  If the refractive index of rain was exactly the same as the refractive index of air, light wouldn’t bend as it went through a raindrop falling in the sky.  And if the light didn’t bend, our eyes couldn’t see the raindrops falling at all – they would be invisible!


If the refractive index of Harry’s cloak was exactly the same as the refractive index of the air in a room, the cloak would be invisible in that room.


Even if Harry’s cloak was invisible, we would still be able to see Harry underneath it!  Harry’s body would have a different refractive index to the air, and to his cloak, which means he would still be visible behind his cloak in the same way that you are still visible behind a glass window.  For the cloak to make Harry invisible, it would need to change the refractive index of Harry’s body to exactly match the refractive index of the air.

Impossible? Yes. But only in a world without magic 😉

Question to think about: Would Harry’s cloak still be invisible if you looked at it underwater?

And of course, an activity to try at home!

Matching refractive indices

This experiment demonstrates that if light passes through two media with equal refractive indices it will not bend nor reflect at the boundary.

  1. Put a small Pyrex bowl inside a larger Pyrex bowl.
  2. Pour Baby Oil into the small bowl till the oil overflows into the large bowl. The refractive index of Baby Oil is nearly equal to the refractive index of Pyrex glass. The small bowl should become practically invisible.
  3. If you have a glass eyedropper try putting it into the oil.  It will be easy to see because of the difference between the refractive indices of air and glass.
  4. Try sucking up the oil into the eyedropper.  The eyedropper should become almost invisible because the refractive index of the glass is nearly the same as that of the oil.  When light passes between the oil and the glass it is only bent a little, and the dropper appears invisible.

Note: If you don’t want to waste the baby oil, use the glass to pour it back into the bottle. Make sure you do this over the bowl so it doesn’t get everywhere.

This post is a revised version of my original article, first printed in The Helix magaazine.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Enma Daio, Datsue-ba, and one great reason to die with your clothes on

How to keep your New Year Resolution: Papier mache daruma dolls

Takeshita Demons: help us choose the cover art

8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

Hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons and practise your Japanese