Unicorns, Mermaids, and Other Magical Creatures

Ages 3-5

Why I Created This Kit:

  Curator Betsy B.

Curator Betsy B.

This kit includes book and app recommendations along with background information, suggested family experiences, and additional resources. The curator, Betsy, writes, “For some kids reality, often in the form of transportation or dinosaurs, is the best thing in the world. But for others, fantasy take an early hold. Whether it’s ghosts or mermaids, bigfoot or fairies, dragons or imaginary friends, fantastical creatures will never lose their lure. I was giving my two-year-old daughter a bath one day when out of nowhere she declared that she was going to start “swimming like a mermaid”. Please understand that until this point she’d never read a book about a mermaid or seen one on TV. Somehow, though, she’d managed to pull this creature out of the ether and make it the subject of her play. Working as a children’s librarian, I’d also see kids run up to the reference desk asking for any number of magical, wonderful, strange creatures. “Where are your Sasquatch books?” “Do you have anything on dragons?” For the kids unafraid to let their imaginations soar, here are some books, apps, and ideas. What’s your favorite out-of-this-world creature?

Books for Discussing This Theme

The Mermaid and the Shoe.jpg

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

The ultimate buddy book. Goat’s pretty jealous of that fancy pants Unicorn that moved to town. What he doesn’t know is that Unicorn is pretty envious of Goat as well. Can the two become friends?

The Mermaid and the Shoe by KG Campbell

The best mermaid picture book you’ll ever read. Minnow, the youngest daughter of King Neptune, worries that she’s not as good as her 49 older sisters. But when she makes the discovery of a mysterious red shoe, her adventurous nature leads her to a magnificent discovery.

Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, ill. Brigitte Barrager

Many little girls wish they had a unicorn of their own. Well, Uni the unicorn has it the other way around. She wishes she had a little girl of HER own. Will she get her ultimate wish?

Larf by Ashley Spires

Larf’s just your typical Sasquatch, convinced that he’s the only one of his kind in the world. When he discovers that another Sasquatch is scheduled to appear in a nearby city, he sets out to find himself a friend.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

What happens to an imaginary friend who can’t find his human companion? He sets out on a quest, of course! A touching story about making friends, even when you’re scared to try.

The Best Pet of All by David LaRochelle

When a boy’s mother informs him that he can’t have a dog as a pet, he employs a dragon to show her how easy a canine would be in comparison. 

East Dragon, West Dragon by Robin Eversole, ill. Scott Campbell

Two dragons with seemingly little in common are brought together when the West Dragon’s knights make the mistake of attacking the East Dragon.

The Dollhouse Fairy by Jane Ray

A stray fairy finds a little girl’s dollhouse is the perfect place to set up shop (much to the kid’s delight).

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara

Pesky ghosts causing you trouble? Follow this witch’s advice and turn those interlopers into curtains, table linens, and bedding. 

The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot by Scott Magoon

And you thought crying wolf was bad? Watch what happens when one boy fakes his Sasquatch sightings in this hilarious new story.

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, ill. LeUyen Pham

A guide for the aspiring ballerina (particularly if she likes being up at night and avoiding any and all garlic products).

Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

Lexy loves dancing more than anything in the world, but her crippling stage fright means she can never perform. But when she hits on the solution to become a dance teacher she never expects her first students to be quite so big . . and furry . . . and blue!

Apps for Exploring This Theme

Dragon Brush

Publisher: Small Planet Digital

Description: The story of a magical dragon brush that can bring painted objects to life casts its own spell. Bing-Wen, a slender rabbit from a poor family, loves to paint. His luck turns when he helps an old woman with an overturned cart and is awarded a paintbrush made from the whiskers of a dragon. Bing-Wen finds that everything he paints comes to life, even if the transformations don't always turn out the way he plans. When he tries to help his village by painting sources of food, the emperor is not pleased and arrests the boy. What follows is a clever reversal, in which Bing-Wen gives the emperor what he wants but in a way that saves Bing-Wen and his village.

Danny the Dragon Meets Jimmy

Publisher: Zuuka Inc (iStorytime)

Description: Danny the Dragon Meets Jimmy is an electronic book that is designed with deaf children in mind. The book has the standard "read to me" and "read it myself" options, but deaf children can have the booked signed to them via an interpreter, a first for ebooks. This promotes reading skills for deaf children and gives hearing kids a chance to observe, if not learn, American Sign Language. The story is a tale about a delightful, polite and lovable dragon named Danny, and his sidekick Skipper. In a most unusual way, they stumble upon the home of a boy named Jimmy. Danny’s mode of transportation - he shrinks and travels in a green sea shell! Reading the story, children are also transported - from our fast-paced multimedia world to a simpler place and time.(CommonSenseMedia/iTunes)

Monster Morning

Publisher: Purple Ely

Description: The morning rituals of little school-bound monsters are examined in friendly detail in an app structured like a family scrapbook. Peter and Peril, monster siblings with very different personalities, get up at dawn to start their day, then eat breakfast, get cleaned up, pack their things in backpacks and board a rocket ship. Each step is shown on a page with touch options to help them along (getting Peril dressed, for instance, or feeding Peter his bug-laden breakfast). The pages are lined with bright borders within which readers will find movable doo-dads like buttons, birds, and the mom and dad monsters. [Kirkus Reviews]

Endless Alphabet

Publisher: Originator, Inc.

Description: Set the stage for reading success with this delightfully interactive educational app. Kids will have a blast learning their ABC's and building vocabulary with the adorable monsters in Endless Alphabet. Each word features an interactive puzzle game with talking letters and a short animation illustrating the definition. Before you know it, your child will be using words like gargantuan and cooperate! (Originator, Inc.)

Did You Know?

Did you know that in the early 20th century two girls convinced adults everywhere they they were able to photograph real fairies? Even the author of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was fooled.  Take a look at their photos here.  Would you have believed that these were real?

Unicorns are renowned for their magical horns. In the olden days, people used to find long horns and attribute them to unicorns.  But what animal actually left the horns?  Narwhales, of course!  Learn more about these "unicorns of the sea" here


Long ago humans would run across the bones of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures and thing they were ancient mythical creatures.  If you saw this skull what would you think it belonged to? Long ago, humans thought this was the skull of the one-eyed giant The Cyclops.  Turns out, it's actually the skull of a dwarf elephant.  Woolly mammoth skulls also led to a lot of confusion.

Suggested Media Resources


Dragons Love Tacos

You know what dragons love? Tacos. They just can’t get enough of them. But watch out for the spicy salsa, because if even a little gets in a dragon’s mouth there’s bound to be trouble.

Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (Magical Tales)

Genies, ogres, beasts, and witches are just some of the creatures you’ll find in this classic series of adapted fairy tales featuring a plethora of movie stars. 

Counting Crocodiles and Monster Math

Numbers and fierce creatures make for the perfect combination. In Counting Crocodiles a monkey needs to use her ability to count to get to the banana tree guarded by hungry crocs. In Monster Math a birthday party gets a bit raucous.



Peter Paul & Mommy Too (Eddystone Light & Puff the Magic Dragon)

Got a hankering for mermaids? Then check out the fabulous “Eddystone Light”. Dragons more your thing? Indulge in “Puff”, the classic song that deserves to be handed to the next generation. Additional Note: Consider pairing “Puff” with the picture book of the same name, written by Peter Yarrow, illustrated by Eric Puybaret. 

Sea Music: A Gathering of Sea Songs by Dan Zanes (Mermaids)

The king of children’s music sings shanties galore, as well as a tune or two about everyone’s favorite flippered folks.

Go Bananas by The Wiggles (The Unicorn)

The horned magical equine makes an appearance on this CD by the beloved Australian children’s group.

Kinesthetic Activities

Make Your Own Monster Dance Party Feet! 

(From the Cotsen Children’s Library blog Pop Goes the Page)

You’ll need:

  • 2 large tissue boxes
  • 6 rectangles of tagboard
  • 6 pieces of self-adhesive foam
  • Strips of colored construction paper 
  • A selection of colored tissue paper squares 
  • 2 white paper lunch bags
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • Bubble wrap or sheets of tissue paper to stuff in the monster feet
  • Markers for decorating
  • White glue, scissors for construction
  • Hot glue


  1. To create the feet, cut an opening in the lids of both boxes. Make sure the back of your heel touches the back of the box. 
  2. To create the toes, cut the short edge of each tagboard rectangle into a rounded shape. Then, turn the self-adhesive foam into toenails and stick them on each toe. Feel free to use markers to draw some hair on the toes as well. With a parent present, hot glue the toes to the underside of the box.
  3. Next, decorate the feet. You can use fringed construction paper with tape and tissue paper squares with glue. Consider taking the tissue paper, crumbling it up, dabbing some glue on, and then pressing the crumble onto the glue.
  4. Finally, create some monster “socks”. Cut the bottoms off the two white paper lunch bags and then decorate the bags with markers. 
  5. To wear the feet (when dry) place your shoe through the paper bag “sock” and push that sock up your calf. Slide the shoe into the giant foot and stuff bubble wrap (or sheets of tissue paper) around the shoe to make the giant foot more snug. Tuck the sock into the giant foot and wrap some colored masking tape around the sock to secure it. 

Make Tissue Box Dragons

(From the Cotsen Children’s Library blog Pop Goes the Page)

You’ll need:

  • 1 large tissue box 
  • 1 dragon head template
  • 1 wings template
  • White poster board pieces for tail and legs
  • A selection of eye stickers
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • Pipe cleaners
  • A selection of construction paper
  • Gold heavy weight paper for wings (optional)
  • Markers for decoration
  • Scissors and scotch tape for construction

When working with the youngest children, considering prepping the head, wings, legs, and tails in advance.


  1. Using either heavy card stock or poster board, trace the head, legs, wings and tails. After cutting the dragon’s head from the template, fold it along the dotted line to create the nose. Fold the thicker dotted lines at the base of the neck outwards. This creates the tabs that allow you to tape the dragon’s head to its body. Put on the sticker eyes as well.
  2. Cut the tail and legs from poster board. A good average tail is about 3.5″ x 14.5″ and the legs are 1.5″ x 5″.
  3. Decorate the box first, then decorate the head, tail, and legs before you tape them on the box. After all of those items are attached, add pipe cleaner “horns,” construction paper spines, wings, and any extra touches you’d like to add.

Make Fairy Houses

(From Inhabitat)

You’ll need:

  • Sketch pad or blank paper
  • Pencil
  • A base structure (empty plastic drink bottles, aluminum cans, etc.)
  • Cutting implements (scissors for plastic, metal shears for cans)
  • Natural materials (pebbles, bark, twigs, leaves, pine cones, acorns, etc.)
  • Adhesive (hot glue, double-sided tape, crazy glue, epoxy resin, and such)
  • Grout, if desired (can be regular grouting or a plaster like hydrocal or plaster of 
  • paris)
  • Paint, glitter, and accoutrements as desired


  1. Make Some Sketches: Draw a guideline to work from. Take the general shape of the base structure you have and determine how you’re going to decorate it. Give kids a couple of different materials to work with, and let those determine their designs.
  2. Prepare the Structure: If your little house is going to have a door, you’ll probably want to cut one. An empty plastic bottle (or yogurt container, or what-have-you) can easily be cut with a pair of scissors, but if you’re using an aluminum can as your base, you’ll need metal cutting shears. Don’t hurt yourself: cut metal edges can be quite sharp, so you might want to cover the edges in masking tape. This is the point at which you’ll add in any windows or bits that jut out. You can make a simple chimney with an old plastic film case or empty pill container—just glue it to the top of your can/bottle. 
  3. Start Attaching Stuff: Start attaching things to it in order to bring your little house to life. The adhesive that you use will be determined by what it is you’re sticking on the structure: heavier items such as pebbles tend to stick best with hot glue or epoxy resin, but if little hands are sticking them down, you can also use a super-strong double-sided tape, such as the type used to lay carpets. Once the pebbles are in place, you’ll mix together a bit of grout/plaster, and once it’s the consistency of either thick whipping cream or thin mashed potato, you’ll slather it all over the surface with your fingers, making sure it’s mashed well into the little holes around the stones. You’ll then use a damp cloth or paper towel to wipe away the excess so that most of the stones are somewhat visible, with the grout forming a mortar in between them. This will have to cure for about 24 hours to get really solid.
    • Note: If you’re using actual mortar/grout, you can add dry pigment powder to it in order to change its colour, while plaster or hydrocal can be tinted with a wash of watered-down acrylic paint after setting completely. Or, you could just leave the natural hues alone—it’s your call. It’s also usually a good idea to seal the piece with something like acrylic gloss gel medium to keep rain from attacking it.
    • If you’re decorating your little house with bark or pine cone scales, you can use either carpet tape or glue, and if you’re using twigs, aim for epoxy resin. The long drippy threads left by hot glue can actually add a special shimmer to your piece, so feel free to leave them on.
  4. Add Details: This is where you get to be creative with all kinds of fussy accoutrements. Will you be setting up your faerie house somewhere outside? You could prep the site by putting down moss and pressing in some shale stepping-stones leading up to it, and even plant some miniature flowers around it. Will you tuck it into the hollow of a tree? You could take some time to help it merge into its surroundings by adding similar materials to those you used to build it in and around the location. If you’ve created a low cottage, you could lash some twigs together to create a simple fence around it, or if it’s a tower, put a flag on top to flip around in the wind.


Suggested Family Experiences

The Unicorn of The Cloisters:In New York? Stop by The Cloisters to see the original Unicorn Tapestries. The hunt for the rare and beautiful unicorn is told in tapestries of woven wool and silk with silver and gilded threads.


The Little Mermaid Statue:A fan of Hans Christian Andersen’s original story? Then you may be aware that in his native Copenhagen the Little Mermaid Statue is a major tourist destination. You don’t need to travel overseas to see a mermaid, though. Several mermaids exist in the States, replicas of the original. Kimballton, Iowa sports a little Little Mermaid of their own in Mermaid Park. Meanwhile in Solvang, CA another Little Mermaid statue exists in the downtown area. Not near Iowa or California? Then check out this listing of mermaid statues around The United States. You’re bound to locate the one nearest you.

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Fairy House Tours:There are few things as charming as tours of teeny tiny houses, fit for the fairies. You can take a self-guided tour in Portsmouth, NH as well as in Rochester, NY, or Grafton, VT.

About Betsy

Betsy Bird is currently New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, reviewed for Kirkus and The New York Times and has also written the picture book Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman.  In 2014, Candlewick will publish Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature which she co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta.  You can follow Betsy on Twitter @FuseEight or at her blog A Fuse #8 Production hosted by School Library Journal.