350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I announce the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! Each writer was challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The taste was strange, but not unexpected.” Winners from each of our 3 age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore. Congratulations to this year’s authors!


A BOWL FULL OF WORDS
By Maia Ionescu, age 9

a bowl full of words artwork by aliisa lee

Penelope always bought lunch at school. She was unhappy about it and wished that her mom made food for her instead. Sometimes she saw that kids who brought lunch from home had a sandwich or a piece of cucumber cut into heart shapes, and then she felt jealous. Her parents were always too much in a hurry to make lunch for her. So Penelope would always go to the cafeteria with a sad face.

But on the last day of school, things changed. At lunchtime, instead of the usual white trays, everyone got a silver bowl. From inside each bowl came a faint noise as if a lot of people were whispering at the same time. Penelope peeked inside her bowl and saw a small heap of words. They were: probably, splendid, licorice, freckles, memory, pharaoh, brave, loneliness, merry-go-round, and admiration. They all came in different sizes and colors. Loneliness was small and grey, brave – big and vermillion, and merry-go-round – multicolored. The words smelled good too, especially licorice and admiration.

Penelope saw that other kids had already started eating, so she picked a word from the top of the pile – memory. She paused to look and listen. There was a faraway voice repeating the word memory. The first m was vivid teal, and rest of the letters were getting lighter and paler so that the y was soft blue and almost invisible. She took a bite. The taste was strange, but not unexpected. Just like its colors, lively at first, memory burst into a strong flavor (it tasted like the strawberry shortcake that her mom made one weekend), and then it started to fade until Penelope could hardly taste anything. It felt like chewing a Juicy Fruit or forgetting a memory from a long time ago. The word probably tasted uncertain, and Penelope almost choked on pharaoh (she missed that word in the Spelling Bee). After finishing up the words, there was an announcement that a new cook, the famous Lexi Plume, had been hired. Penelope couldn’t wait to find out what she would eat for lunch in fifth grade!


the legend of sir raleigh artwork by aliisa lee

THE LEGEND OF SIR RALEIGH
By Kevin Feinstein, age 11

He heard a vulture screech and watched the leaves as they blew through the forest all around him. Raleigh Christopher pulled his rapier from his sheath, eyes trained on the opponent standing before him. They circled each other. He cried out and the duel commenced. The vulture screeched again but not as loudly as the blades clashing. They fought viciously but eventually one man fell. The fallen man weakly raised his head and watched Raleigh vanish.

The man Raleigh had beaten was the “Right Hand Man” of Lord Clarke who Raleigh had sought for months. Three nights earlier he had spotted the villain at a tavern on the way to Gedwell Castle. After a long hike through green meadows and damp swamps, Raleigh finally arrived outside Gedwell. A trumpeter accompanied him to set the dramatic tone.

“Cue the dramatic music, George II!” Raleigh commanded his trumpeter.  Raleigh jumped upon his horse, and George II onto his donkey. Approaching the gates of the castle, a guard shouted “HALT!” with a haughty sense of authority.

“I am Sir Raleigh Christopher the Eighty Fifth!” announced Raleigh, proud of his heritage. The guard sneered, but was about to regret it, THUMP!! Raleigh charged, kicking down the door and dispatched the guard with his sword! Suddenly he spied Lord Clarke.

“IT IS I! RALEIGH CHRISTOPHER!”

“Hey! I’m not the sword type, how about we settle this with a classic ruse – the poisoned drink!?”

“Alright! I brought my own.” announced Raleigh, producing his own bottle.

“But who shall drink first?”

“We shall play tic-tac-toe to decide!” Raleigh cried! Clarke was very bad at tic-tac-toe, not knowing the rules. Raleigh won but his chivalrous nature compelled him to let Clarke pick first. Clarke agonized and finally chose. Raleigh picked up his glass and they drank.

“The taste was strange, but not unexpected!” blurted Clarke, “I have won!” Raleigh laughed. “Whats so funny?” he asked.

“This is just normal water!” Raleigh laughed. Clarke looked confused. “I poisoned your drink three nights ago!” said Raleigh.

“That’s why it…” Clarke thumped onto the ground.

Raleigh left, his mission over.


the kite flyers artwork by aliisa lee

THE KITE FLYERS
By Annie Wei, age 14

Miraculously, my cardboard and tinfoil kite had stayed in the air longer than Binh’s, whose kite was quite a work of art, strung with silk ribbons. It looked gorgeous on the wooden display table in front of our school, but out of place, sitting with the background of our shabby middle school.  It had all the wonderful shades of greens and blues, and shone so brightly when the sun lit on it. Mine resembled a flying shoe.

But of course, everything about Binh’s family was out of place in our rural neighborhood, for they were the only Vietnamese family for miles around.
When I walked up to him after the competition, he was sitting on the battered up tire swing hanging in front of the school. I was holding the sorry looking kite I had fashioned, its tinfoil wings flapping in the slight breeze.

“Your kite is amazing.” I stood in front of him while he stared at his shoes. “It stayed in the air for such a long time.”“

Binh looked up at me, his dark eyes wide and questioning.

“Sorry?” His accent distorted the word, and I realized he didn’t understand me.

I raised my kite above my head, and waited until a sudden gust of wind swept it from my hands. As it rose, I smiled at him and said, “Your kite,” gesturing at his which was laying on the ground. Binh stood there for a brief moment, hesitating, watching my kite flutter like a butterfly, then threw his up in a woosh of blue and green.

I laughed as his kite did a couple somersaults as it was released in the air; then it seemed to dance, curving and floating gracefully. The sight was so strange. A cardboard and tinfoil kite flying next to a blue-green silk one.  Binh laughed too, and when the kites came down, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small neatly wrapped package.

“Banh Gio,” he said, offering it to me. “Eat.”  I unwrapped it. The taste was strange but not unexpected.


Artwork by Aliisa Lee

A Good Knight’s Kiss

a good knight's kiss

Helmets! Shields! Dragons! And…kiss-catching nets? That’s right! The royal kiss has gone amiss, and these natty young knights must find it, posthaste!

We read The Kiss That Missed by David Melling (Barron’s Educational Series, 2002). When a busy King hurriedly blows a good night kiss to his son, the royal kiss misses its mark and flies out the window. A great hullabaloo is raised, and the King orders his Knight to find the errant kiss. Unfortunately, the kiss appears to have strayed into the wild wood, which is dark, smelly, and chock full of horrible creatures. Things are looking bad for the Knight when the kiss bounces past, causing all the horrible creatures to settle down to sleep. Except for a dragon, who hoists the Knight and his horse into the sky. Things are looking bad – again – when the royal kiss streaks right up the dragon’s nose. Ah! The dragon decides he doesn’t want to eat the Knight. He wants to kiss him goodnight, instead. They head back to the castle where the kiss is restored to the Prince, and everyone settles down for a good (and much deserved) night’s sleep.

You’ll need:

  • A piece corrugated cardboard for the shield
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • A box cutter
  • 2 brass fasteners
  • 2 strips of heavy-duty poster board
  • Hole punch
  • 1 jumbo popcorn bucket
  • Silver poster board or mirror board
  • A snippet of a toilet paper tube (approximately 1″ tall)
  • A bit of tin foil
  • 1 full sheet of tissue paper (ours was 19.5″ x 29.5″)
  • 1 butterfly net
  • 1 royal kiss (more on that later!)
  • Scissors, stapler for construction
  • Hot glue

The project consisted of a shield, helmet, and a kiss-catching net. Look, I beg of you, at this adorable knight:

adorable knightYou will find the instructions for the shield in this post. For this particular story time, we used a 12″ cake circle)s, color masking tape, and metallic and glitter markers. And here’s the template for 6 large emblems for the fronts of the shields.

round shieldNext came the helmets! Gentle lords and ladies, I found the most amazing DIY knight helmet at the blog Meaningful Mama. Jodi Durr, genius crafter, made one out of a jumbo popcorn bucket!

knight helmetThe instructions for Jodi’s helmet are here. We did, however, make some modifications. We used gray primer paint instead of metallic spray paint. We used silver mirror board for the visor. Jodi has 8 slits on her visor template, we only have 6. Also, instead of using brass tacks to make the visor move up and down, we held it in place with glue dots.

Finally, instead of a feather plume, we folded, then fringed, a 19.5″ x 29.5″ sheet of tissue paper. Then we rolled it up and hot glued it inside a tin foil-covered bit of toilet paper tube. Then we hot glued the plume to the top of the helmet.

paper plumeOur jumbo popcorn buckets were 8.5″ tall and the mouths were 7.5″ in diameter. Even so,  many didn’t slide easily over the kids’ heads. No problem! To make more room, cut a strip out of the back of the bucket until it fits. Here, for example what the back of my helmet looked like:

back of bucket helmetI’d like to send a big shout out to the Princeton Garden Theater for donating 25 jumbo popcorn buckets to our knightly cause! Last year, we collaborated on a How To Train Your Dragon event (check it out here!) and I do believe we’re going to have some more movie fun in the not-too-distant future.

Your last piece of knightly equipment is a kiss-catching net. I used butterfly nets I found in the $1 section of Target (you might recall seeing them in this post). I’ve also seen them at the Dollar Store. A little color masking tape around the handle helped me coordinate the net with my shield.

kiss catching netAll you need now are some kisses to catch! Given visor visibility and catching abilities, we wanted ours to be fairly large and substantial. We stuck gold embossed foil seals on the lids of 2″ favor tins, and dropped 6-8 flat glass marbles inside. Then we pinched four, 1.5″ x 7.5″ strips of gold mylar table cloth under the lid. Behold! A royal kiss, ready to be caught!

royal kissNow for the best part. Marissa is the proud owner of not one, but two dinosaur onesies. Ever since she sported one at this story time photo shoot, I’ve been looking for a reason to suit up. Dressed as “dragons,” Marissa and I lead the kids outside and had them form two lines. When we said “Go!” a kid from each line would chase me or Marissa.

knight gives chase to dragon danaWhen they caught us, we tossed a kiss in their net!

knight catches kiss from dragon marissa

Important! Keep the chase as orderly as possible. The last thing you need are 20 excited 3-5 year-olds with reduced vision running in a herd with with long sticks. As I mentioned, we had the kids form 2 lines. But we also had a parent volunteer stand at the front of the line to insure the kids wouldn’t all take off at once. Some kids elected to run without helmets (or shields), which was perfectly fine.

the kiss is caughtIt allowed me to see those beautiful smiles when the kiss was caught!

Bestseller

bestseller

The objective? To arrange the books so that the top shelf is perfectly level. But you can only use certain books, in certain orientations, with a minimum of 2 books touching the top shelf at any time. Oh, and leave some room for a little black cat!

Today, I’m reviewing By The Book, a stacking puzzle for ages 8+ (Brainwright, $18). The game consists of 40 challenge cards, 12 wooden books, 2 wooden shelves, 1 plastic cat, and 1 balance level made to look like an adorable red flower pot.

by the book gameTo play, select a challenge card (which are graded as beginner, intermediate, advanced, or expert). The face of the card tells you which books you can use, if they need to be placed horizontally or vertically, or if they can’t touch at all. Sometimes, the card will require the cat to be included on the shelf as well. The back side of the card has the solution. Here are a couple examples of card faces and solutions:

challenge cardsOnce you’ve gathered all the relevant pieces, lay the bottom shelf on a level surface, then try configuring the books to the card’s specifications. Put the top shelf in place when you think you’re done, then place the balance level on top to see if your solution measures up. And remember – a minimum of 2 books much be touching the top shelf at any time.

If your solution passes the level test, flip the card over to see if matches the official solution (and the rules do mention there may be other ways to solve the challenge). Some of the solutions, however, are not what you expect! Look at this creative configuration!

stacked solution

When playing this game, it’s important to work on a level surface. If your work table is tilted, you’ll never reach a solution. So use the level to make doubly sure you’re nice and even before you start playing.

So, what did our kid testers (ages 6, 8, and 10) think of By The Book? They loved it! The game requires analysis, trial & error, testing, and re-testing, but it’s very calm, non-competitive, and you can take as long as you like to reach the solution. By The Book is labeled as a 1 player game, but our kid testers found ways to collaborate. The cat adds a nice touch, and the kid tester found it very satisfying to put the level on the top shelf to see if their clever arranging worked!

testing a solution

By The Book is the best (a “bestseller,” if you will). It’s fun, intelligent, works with a large age range of kids, and the pieces are really nice quality. This would be a terrific classroom chill-out activity, the perfect addition to library game nights, or an awesome gift from that super cool librarian aunt or uncle. Plus, it comes with a CAT! Five out of five stars.