Little Free Library

little free libraryIt might look an elvish cottage, but this structure houses a mighty amount of knowledge! May I introduce you to the Little Free Library in Princeton’s Marquand Park?

In case you aren’t familiar with Little Free Library, it’s a non-profit initiative that functions as a free book exchange. Register your site, build (or purchase) a box to house the books, load it up, and off you go! Community members can borrow and donate books to their heart’s content. Given that there are over 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries around the globe, there’s a good chance you can find one near you (check out their searchable world map).

There are, however, a couple of things that make Marquand Park’s Little Free Library unique. For starters, it’s integrated into the giant stump of a magnolia tree!

front of tree libraryRobert Wells, founder and steward of the Marquand Park library, first spotted a Little Free Library while visiting the Outer Banks. Returning to Princeton, he realized that the park’s hollow stump, with its interesting curves, would be a perfect library location. He commissioned cabinet maker Gui Nelesson of Lost inStudio to build it, and a new Little Free Library was born! Here’s a shot of the back:

back of tree libraryThe size of this library is also unusual. Most Little Free Libraries are smaller than a copy paper box, and mounted on a post. The Marquand library can hold 300 books! It’s dedicated to children’s books, and even includes a interior bench for little readers to get comfortable.

interior shelvesIn case you’re wondering, you enter and exit the library through the window. The shutter gently swings shut to keep the books dry and protected. Not far away is a big sand play area, a playground, swings, picnic benches, walking paths, and lots of big open spaces to run around. And trees! Gorgeous trees!

fall treeMarquand Park is located on Lovers Lane in Princeton, New Jersey. Please come by for a visit – and perhaps you’d consider exchanging one of your gently used children’s book at a very special Little Free Library?

little reader

Can You Dig It?

can you dig itWhile archaeology can’t always be fedoras, bullwhips, and jaunty theme music, it is a fascinating field of study. Plus, you get to dig really, really big holes! In 2013, my library had a large-scale Journey to the Centre of the Earth event, and archeology seemed just the thing to include. But we needed to be realistic about what we could do. I mean, we couldn’t set up a dig site on the event floor…or could we?

Today, I’m going to share how Katie and I built a portable archeological dig site. It has it all – grids, brushes, artifacts, scientific sketches, field notes, and a clipboard activity that got kids thinking about how all the artifacts were connected. The dig was hosted by the Historical Society of Princeton, who put their own fantastic twist on things (I’ll share what that is at the end of the post!).

Katie and I created the dig in the pre-blog days, so you’ll have to excuse me if there aren’t as many detailed process photos!

Our dig consisted of 4 different “sites.” Each site was a group of 6 corrugated cardboard boxes and a clipboard. I ordered the boxes from Uline (model S-16746). They are 15″ x 15″ x 3″. Originally, the boxes had attached lids, but we cut those off. We connected the boxes with tons of hot glue, then ran brown packing tape around the outside as well.

site boxesArcheologists use string to divide their sites into grids. We replicated this by hot gluing yarn along the tops of the boxes. We color-coordinated the sites as well. Site 4, for example, had yellow yarn, yellow stripes on the markers, and a yellow cover sheet on the clipboard. The other site colors were green, orange and red.

Since the artifacts would later be matched to a site map, we hot glued wooden craft sticks markers around the grid as well. Here’s how each site was marked:

The next step was to find artifacts to put in the boxes. We had a lot of fun with this! Among other things, we used old metal jewelry, non-plastic beads, and owl pellet bones. We used air dry clay to make cups, plates, bowls, and spoons (a couple of which we intentionally shattered and used as shards). A library contractor donated some small deer antlers, and I snagged a “stone knife” from a broken piece of paving tile.

not quite a stone knifeEach of the 4 sites had its own theme: 1) Fire Pit; 2) Pantry; 3) Treasury; and 4) Armory. We sorted the artifacts under the different themes, and then arranged them in the appropriate boxes. Because we needed the artifacts to match the site map, we hot glued them inside the boxes. And we really, really hot glued them. We even had an emergency hot glue gun at the event in case an over-eager archeologist yanked an artifact out of the box.

Next came the dirt! Except, for sanitation reasons, we used playground sand purchased from Lowe’s. Specifically, we mixed white and yellow playground sand together to give it more texture.

original image source nassau literary review

Original image source, the Nassau Literary Review

To keep the mess at a minimum, we added 1″ of sand to the boxes. It was just enough to cover most of the objects, but still left a few sticking out in a tantalizing way. Each individual box got 4 cups of sand, which meant each site used 24 cups of sand. In the end, we used 50lbs of sand for the whole dig site. For obvious reasons, we transported the prepped boxes to the event and THEN filled them with sand.

At the event, young archeologists used paintbrushes to uncover the artifacts. They were natural bristle brushes with wooden handles in assorted sizes (the widest being 2″). There were at least 4 brushes per site so multiple kids could work at once.

multiple archeologistsRemember the clip boards by each site? The clipboards contained a site map of where all the objects were buried. But before kids looked at the map, we asked them to think about what they had just uncovered. So the cover sheets for the clipboards looked like this:

clipboard cover sheet

Kids would talk about what the artifacts looked like (“That looks like a spoon!”), how some artifacts were located close together (“I saw a plate and a spoon together…”), and then make guesses as to what dwelling the artifacts were used for (“I think someone was eating here. A kitchen maybe?”).

Flip up the cover sheet, and there was the site map with the artifacts. If kids hadn’t found an artifact, they could use the grid markers to locate it. The map also had the title of the site, so kids could confirm their hunches as to how the artifacts were connected. If they excavated all the sites, they would also see how those were related (the Pantry was located next to the Fire Pit, the Armory was located next to the Treasury).

clipboard site mapBordering each site map were cool “field sketches” identifying some of the objects on the site. These were drawn by the awesome Aliisa Lee.

earring artifactAliisa even added cool little notes to some of the sketches…

clay artifactYou might have noticed that we didn’t label everything on the site map. That was intentional. Many of the objects were obvious (beads, spoons, a bracelet), but we left a few mysteries to show that, sometimes, you don’t get all the answers right away. It might take a little more research and consultation with your colleagues.

I mentioned that the Historical Society of Princeton added their own special twist to the archeology activity. YES! They displayed, and in some cases let kids handle, a multitude of artifacts that had been discovered and excavated from actual dig sites in Princeton! Some of the artifacts included broken dishware, glass piece, the base of a flowerpot, arrowheads, and a stone ax.

historical society of princetonThe two Princeton excavation sites were the Houdibras Tavern and the Updike Farmstead (where the Historical Society now houses its headquarters). They had this fantastic photo on display too. Kids at the Houdibras Tavern dig in 1969. It was the PERFECT archeology and history connection. So cool.

Hudibras Dig Historical Society of Princeton

Photographer Warren E. Kruse of the Trenton Times, from the Collection of the Historical Society of Princeton

And there you have it! An archeological dig site to spark the imaginations of budding young archeologists (with their dedicated research assistants offering a boost when needed).

young archeologist

Illustrated, Dedicated

pinkerton-tileEven though winter is almost here, I’d like harken back to the golden days of July and share a trip I made to Findlay, Ohio this summer. The purpose? To teach two creative workshops at The Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books’ summer conference.

The Mazza has an astounding collection of original picture book art. It also has mission to educate, endorse, and share the joy of art and the picture book with everyone. In addition to two annual conferences, they host a number of programs, workshops, and initiatives for adults and children alike. During a break between my workshops, I dashed over to the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion to check out the galleries.

mazza-gallery-1The main gallery is absolutely packed, almost from floor to ceiling, with children’s book illustrations.

mazza-gallery-2Notice the little black binders near the floor? That’s information about the different authors on display, along with reading copies of the book. Such a terrific idea.

mazza-gallery-3My favorite display, however, was a small side gallery containing displays of pop-up books.

pop-up-displayLike the main gallery, there were plenty of reading copies on hand. Here’s the Young Naturalists Pop-Up Handbook of Butterflies by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda (Hyperion, 2001). I also spotted some of Reinhart’s original My Little Pony sketches.

butterfly-pop-upBack in the main gallery, there are some terrific whimsical touches. Like this Mother Goose flying from the ceiling:

mother-goose-in-galleryAnd an Owl and the Pussycat sailboat docked on the gallery floor!

mazza-gallery-4Did you notice the natural light filtering down in the above image? The central gallery has a large skylight that is partially blocked by an extensive loft area. Inside that light-filled loft is the MOST AWESOME PLACE EVER…a children’s space!

puzzle-chairsHere, you’ll find plenty of comfy, kid-sized seating and a number of hands-on activities.

dragon-tableThere’s a building table, a wall of gears, word games, drawing activities, some felt boards…and do you recognize this iconic library with the lions?

library-lionsTo exit the loft, you could take the stairs back down. Or, you could nip into the rabbit hole…

rabbit-hole

And ride down the twisty slide!

mazza-gallery-slideElsewhere in the building is an art studio for kids, a teacher resource center, multiple display of children’s artwork, and a gift shop with a big central area that encourages extensive browsing.

mazza-gift-shopIn the gift shop, I found a book so ingenious, I swear we have to do this for the Cotsen Children’s Library. It’s a custom picture book called Mazza from A to Z by Jenny Hanf (University of Findlay, 2016).

mazza-from-a-to-z-coverA class of adorable animals visit the museum and makes their way through the ABCs of visiting. Guess what the letter S is?

mazza-from-a-to-z-interiorBut the very best Mazza treasure I saved for last. Deep within the staff offices is a conference room filled with original illustrations, sketches, and notes from children’s book authors and illustrators.

mazza-conference-roomEvery inch of the wall is covered. It’s amazing to think of the talent that has stood in this very room, Sharpie in hand, sketching on the wall.

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The love, admiration, and dedication to picture books, illustrations, and education is clearly evident at the Mazza. Their conferences are intimate and well-thought out, with a wonderful array of talent. The Fall 2016 conference, for example, featured Tony Abbott, Brian Biggs, Nikki McClure, Sergio Ruzzier, Dan Santat, and David Wiesner. Simply splendid.


Many thanks to the Mazza for inviting me to teach at their summer conference, and for graciously allowing me to photograph their galleries and offices.