Natty Nessie Neckwear

nessie-neckgearNever has a Loch Ness Monster sighting had so much style! Customize a super-long Nessie scarf, then circle the scarf on the floor to create a tossing game that involves…believe it or not…a bowl of oatmeal!

We read The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster: A Tale of Picky Eating, written by A.W. Flaherty, and illustrated by Scott Magoon (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Little Katerina-Elizabeth is going to visit her grandmother in Scotland, and it’s her very first time traveling alone on a big ocean liner. Her parents, planning ahead, select what they believe to be the absolute best breakfast food for their little girl. Oatmeal. Katerina-Elizabeth loathes oatmeal and promptly tosses it out a porthole. The oatmeal is discovered by a tiny sea worm who eagerly eats it and grows twice its size. The sea worm follows the ship across the ocean, gobbling the oatmeal as fast as Katerina-Elizabeth can toss it overboard. They form a friendship that lasts all the way to Loch Ness where the boat disembarks. There, the sea worm discovers that Scottish children also hate oatmeal. It circles Loch Ness, grazing on oatmeal and growing to monstrous proportions. To keep the tourists intrigued and the oatmeal coming, the Loch Ness Monster allows itself to be seen on rare occasions. But the most famous sighting is when the sea worm rises out of the water to give Katerina-Elizabeth a friendly smooch as she sails home. I won’t give away the very end of the story, but rest assured it had all the parents at story time cracking up!

You’ll need:

We wanted the kids to have really long scarves for this project, but we didn’t want them tripping over their new neckwear! Ultimately, we went with 5″ x 56″ scarves that we shaped into round heads, tapered bodies, and dragon-like tails. We also hot glued green felt fins towards the front end of the scarves (about 13″ down from the top of the head). We prepped the scarves in advance. Here’s a shot of an undecorated scarf so you can see the shape:

nessie-scarf-shapeAt story time, we gave kids a whole pile of self-adhesive foam to cut and apply to their scarves (just make sure you test how well the adhesive sticks to your felt – ours stuck surprisingly well). Hot glue wiggle eyes and a pair of 12″ curling ribbon whiskers on the head, and you’re done!

nessie-faceKids got really creative with their Loch Ness Monsters. Here’s just a few I managed to snap. This one’s got a pretty fantastic pair of lips:

nessie-1And this one’s sporting an impressive set of teeth…

nessie-2There were flowers…

nessie-3And manicures!

nessie-4But here’s my favorite. This little girl spent a long time making a color gradient down her Loch Ness Monster’s back. She did this all by herself!

nessie-5To make the oatmeal bowl for the toss game, decorate a paper bowl with patterned tape and self-adhesive foam. Fill the bowl with a handful of polyester fill. Don’t glue or tape the oatmeal in the bowl. It’s funnier when it flies out during the toss game!

bowl-of-oatmealMake as many bowls of oatmeal as you like. Then circle the scarf on the floor, step back, and try to toss the bowls into the circle.

nessie-ring-tossIf the circle toss is a little too challenging, stretch the scarf straight and toss the oatmeal over it like a finish line!

nessie-line-tossWhen you’re done with the toss game, drape your Nessie around your shoulders for the ultimate look in Loch Ness apparel.

nessie-scarf

Speaking of mysterious creature sightings, did you know that Bigfoot has been spotted twice on this blog? You can catch a glimpse here and here!

Bookscape

ian walks the dogQ: In the background of your story time photos, I always see amazing stuff like a cross section of a house, a big wall of book, and a giant tree??? What is that? Can you give us a tour?

Sure! That fantastical landscape you’re seeing behind Ian and his box dog is Bookscape, the Cotsen Children’s Library’s public gallery. You might be surprised to learn that while Cotsen is technically a library, the “library” part of it contains our rare books and special collections. We don’t, for example, have circulating copies of books like public libraries. We do, however, have reading copies of books available in the Bookscape gallery. And like our programming, Bookscape is open to the public and free of charge. Ready for a tour?

bookscape-entrywayThe Cotsen Library opened its doors in 1997. Back then, its public gallery looked a little different. But in 2002, architect James Bradberry, artist Judson Beaumont, and Cotsen staff collaborated to create the now-iconic Bookscape.You enter Bookscape through a topiary garden. In the below image, you can see that garden from another angle. The giant glass wall of books you see rising in the background is a 3-story rare books vault. And that’s only about 1/5 of our collection!

topirary-gardenI love the inlay on the floor of the garden. Not only is it beautiful, it also made a great fire pit for a camping story time (you can just see it underneath all the construction paper fire and cotton ball marshmallows).

roasting marshmallowsPast the garden, you find yourself in a little house. Stretched across one side of the house is a fireplace.

fireplaceSee the black railing on the top of the house? That marks the perimeter of a little hidden room. You climb the bookshelf stairs on the left and unlock a trap door to gain access to the room. We currently use it for office storage. But sometimes, I climb up there to launch UFO or two.


Above the house’s fireplace is a clock. A closer look reveals that it tells Princeton, Cinderella,13 Clock, and Connecticut Yankee time.

mantle-clockThe bookshelves that flank the fireplace are stocked with wooden books. Many of them have tongue-in-cheek titles, courtesy of the Cotsen staff.

wooden-booksHere are just a few titles:

The Feline in the Fedora
Fly Through Your O.W.L.S by H. Granger
Just So-So Stories
Step-Mommy Dearest
Dare to Be Different by U. Duckling
Richard’s Scariest Word Book Ever
From the Mixed Up Files of Enron
Ramona Quimby, Age Eighty
Effective Communication by Amelia Bedelia
Goldilocks: My Story
Never-Never Land on Pennies a Day
Strega No-No
The Very Hungry Multinational Conglomerate

To the left of the fireplace is a cozy study booth. Often, this is where I’ll find Princeton University students reading, writing, and working on their laptops.

wooden-boothOpposite the fireplace is the “study.” Here you’ll find bookshelves and big, squashy leather coaches. This is also the chapter book section of the gallery.

living-roomOver the years, I’ve used the bookshelves for hiding things during scavenger hunts, or for holding items like this orange mailbox during a mailman story time.

orange mailbox

Not too far from the house is our wooden puppet theater. I can’t tell you how much use this gets! The theater has a puppet storage bin built into the back (I buy animal and insect puppets from Folkmanis), and an extra-deep stage so puppeteers can comfortably rest their elbows during performances. The velvet curtains slide back and forth on a rod. Best of all, our puppets are multilingual! I’ve heard performances in English, French, German, Japanese, Hebrew, Italian…

puppet-theaterOutside the house, in the back of the gallery, is our bridge, wishing well, and bonsai tree.

bookscape-tourThe bridge is prime toddler territory. They love to test out their walking skills on its gentle slope.

gallery-bridgeBut the bridge also comes in handy when you need a train tunnel during story time!

tunnel-stop-croppedThe wishing well is next to the bridge…

wishing-wellThere’s an entrance to the well on the right – it’s shaped like a jagged crack. Look closely in the above photo and you’ll see the water “escaping” from the right side of well and flowing under the bridge. It ends in this cute little koi pond.

koi-pondWe’ve certainly done a lot of fishing and splashing in the pond at story time. It’s also a popular location for Vikings and Pirates to search for coins!

coin claimIn the back right-hand corner of the gallery is our giant bonsai tree.

bookscape-treeThe tree has two floors. The ground floor can comfortably fit a family or a group of kids. There are 3 alcoves for picture book storage, and big puffy floor pillows.

ground-floor-of-treeWhen our To Be Continued chapter book program is in session, I bring out even more floor pillows and we spread out!

to be continued in cotsenCurling along the back of the tree is a staircase that leads to a small upstairs room and another pair of comfortable pillows.

second-floor-of-treeBoth tree rooms have graffiti carved into the walls by literary characters. Here’s my favorite:

tree-graffitiThe back left-hand corner of Bookscape isn’t the most glamorous area of our gallery, but it’s certainly the place closet to my heart. It’s our program area.

program-areaThis is where the magic and the mess happens.

tiger talesThere are lots of other little touches and surprises in our gallery, but I won’t reveal them all. You’ve got to come and discover them for yourself! Ten years ago, when I was interviewing for my job at Cotsen, I walked into the gallery and was overwhelmed with emotion. Yes, I had seen pictures of Bookscape online, but they didn’t prepare me for what it felt like to be fully immersed in the gallery. I silently swore that if I got the job, I would do my best to create programs that would match the love, care, and consideration that went into designing this amazing space for kids.

gardenIf you’d like to see a little video the University made about our space, and meet some of the students who work here, you’ll find it here!

Bon Appétit!

bon-appetitMake delicious crêpes to order with this fantastic crêpe cart! Pour the fabric batter onto the griddle, add a number of felt toppings, sprinkle on a bit of sucre from your counter top shaker, then use your spatula to fold the crêpe at just the right time. The cart’s signs are printed in both English and French (with helpful pronunciation guides), so your customers can order like Parisian pros! C’est Magnifique!

We read Crêpes by Suzette by Monica Wellington (Dutton, 2004). Suzette sells crêpes from her street cart in Paris, concocting delicious treats with her batter, griddle, and spatula. The postman orders his crêpes with fresh raspberries, a child loves chocolate and banana, a dancer orders zesty lemon. Mmmm! In addition to telling a sweet story, the book is illustrated with photos of Paris. The hand drawings that overlay the photos include nods to van Gogh, Picasso, Cassatt, Matisse, and Degas. In the back of the book is a crêpe recipe, a glossary, and notes on the French artists depicted in the illustrations.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box (mine was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 4 plastic, wooden, or cardboard wheels
  • 2 bamboo skewers
  • 2 drinking straws
  • 1 corrugated cardboard rectangle for your cart’s counter top
  • 1 strip of poster board for cart’s handle (approximately 1.5″ x 10.75″)
  • 1 8oz paper cup
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 4 small plastic cups (I used 1.25oz Solo cups)
  • 1 small paper plate (mine was 9.75″ in diameter)
  • Tin foil
  • 1 crepe cart template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • 1 umbrella template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 2 foam beads
  • 1 balloon stick
  • 1 jumbo craft stick (mine was 8″ long)
  • 3 circles of white cloth (mine were 6″ in diameter)
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 3 circles of silver poster board or mirror board
  • Pieces of brown, red, pink, yellow, and purple felt
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Our cart had plastic wheels (you’ve seen in this pull-along animal, this pig parade float, and this race car post). But you can also use wooden on cardboard wheels. If you don’t want your cart to roll, simply hot glue the wheels to the sides. But if you want a rolling cart, our wheel assembly is as follows…tape drinking straws to the bottom of the box, thread wooden bamboo skewers through the straws, and stick wheels on the ends of the skewers.

crepe-cart-step-1We slid foam beads on the ends of the axles to keep the wheels from popping off, but tape works too! Next, decorate the box, the corrugated cardboard counter top, the white poster board cart handle, and a paper cup with patterned tape. Attach these items to the cart like so:

crepe-cart-step-2Two important things about the cart’s counter top! 1) Make sure it’s wide enough to fit your small paper plate (our counter tops were 7.5″ x 9.75″); 2) It’s a little hard to tell in the above photo, but make sure the paper cup end of the counter top is flush against the side of the box. Otherwise, your umbrella won’t attach correctly. And speaking of paper cups, notice how ours is taped towards the back of the cart? That’s so you won’t keep bumping into the umbrella while reaching for your crêpe supplies.

Next, tape 4 small plastic cups to the back of the cart (these will hold your crêpe fillings later). Cover a small paper plate with tin foil, then hot glue it to the side of the counter top closest to the cart’s handle. Here’s a bird’s eye view:

birds-eye-view-crepe-cartThe umbrella comes next! Cut the umbrella octagon from the template (we printed ours on yellow card stock). Decorate it with markers, then use scissors to cut a slit from one of the points of the octagon to its center.

umbrella-step-1Carefully mountain fold the octagon along its remaining points.

umbrella-step-2Cut a small slice in the top (this is where your umbrella pole will poke through). Next, slide one of the octagon’s triangle folds under another, then tape the octagon closed.

umbrella-step-3This results in a seven-sided umbrella canopy with a hole in the top.

umbrella-step-4Now stick a foam bead on the end of a balloon stick.

umbrella-step-5Slide the umbrella canopy up the stick to meet the foam bead.

umbrella-step-6Slide a second foam bead up the stick to secure the umbrella’s canopy in place. In the below photo, you can see the umbrella canopy wedged between a red bead and an orange bead.

umbrella-step-7Tape the umbrella to the stand. If the balloon stick extends past the bottom of the cart, use scissors to clip off the excess.

umbrella-step-8Now it’s time to stock your cart! Cut and decorate the signs from the crêpe cart template, and glue (or tape) them to the front of the cart. The crêpe batter and spatula go into the paper cup. Our “batter” was an old fabric tablecloth (thank you recycling program!). Each batter circle was 6″ in diameter, and there were 3 circles per cart. The spatula was an 8″ craft stick wrapped in tin foil with a colored tape handle.

crepe-and-spatulaSitting on top of the cart are your sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate canisters. Each canister was 1/2 of a toilet paper tube with a template label affixed to it. The sugar and cinnamon had little circles of silver mirror board hot glued to the tops (we used Sharpie to draw little holes in the tops too). The chocolate canister’s circle is hot glued to the bottom of the tube. Then it gets stuffed with bits of brown felt.

crepe-cart-canistersThe little plastic cups on the back of the cart are also filled with bits of felt. Pink for strawberry, red for raspberry, yellow for banana, and purple for plum.

filled-crepe-cart-containersVoilà! Your cart is finished! So, how exactly do you make a crêpe? You put the circle of batter on the griddle, add some felt ingredients, fold the crêpe in half with the spatula, fold the crêpe in half again, then serve it to your customer.

crepe-chefOr maybe it would just be easier to show you…in French no less!


This project did require some research. It just so happens that Princeton has a fantastic, independently-owned, fresh-local-ingredient-loving crêpe haven called Jammin’ Crêpes. Marissa and I dragged ourselves there to make sure our crêpe cart was 100% accurate (we, um, drag ourselves there just about every week too).

jammin-crepes-1Here’s a griddle at work. You can just see the special spatula on the white cutting board…

jammin-crepes-2The crepe arrives at your table in a beautiful, warm wedge of deliciousness. I’m trying to work my way through the restaurant’s generous menu of sweet and savory crêpes, but I keep getting stalled on their hammin’ cheese melty with seasonal pickles and mustard aioli. Mmmmmm…

jammin-crepes-3Jammin’ Crêpes LOVED the little crêpe cart! It received their official stamp of approval.

jammin-crepes-4Did I – heh heh – mention Jammin’ Crêpes makes their own nutella spread with hazelnuts, almonds, and chocolate? I think…I need to do some more crêpe research. Right. NOW.

(Sound of chair being pushed back and feet tearing out of office)