All in the Golden Afternoon

alice reads at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016

This year marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and no one knows how to throw a party like the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress (and yes, that’s our very own Miss Joani depicting Alice)!

If you haven’t heard of the Young Readers Center, it opened with great fanfare in 2009. Located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, the Center is a series of rooms that house collections, exhibits, program spaces, and comfy places for adults and children to settle in and read. This spring, in conjunction with a number of Alice-related events, the Young Readers Center hosted a story time program that featured performances, activities, and exhibits.

additional exhibits at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016Interestingly, there is a connection between the original Alice manuscript and the Library of Congress. In 1864, Charles Dodgson (better know as Lewis Carroll) presented Alice Liddell, his child friend, with Alice’s Adventures Underground, a fantastical story he wrote and illustrated just for her. Later, the manuscript would be re-worked, illustrated by John Tenniel, and published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

When she was 73 years-old, Alice Liddell (now Alice Hargreaves) decided to sell Alice’s Adventures Underground. The manuscript was originally purchased by an American, Dr. ASW Rosenbach from Philadelphia. Later, Eldridge R. Johnson (also from Philadelphia) would own the book. But after WWII, a consortium of benefactors, led by Luther Evans, the tenth Librarian of Congress, worked together to purchase the manuscript. It was then gifted back to England, in reparation for the terrible toll the war had taken on the country. Evans personally delivered the manuscript to the British government.

In order to put together exhibits for their Alice events, Young Readers Center staff journeyed into the Library of Congress’ vaults. There they found rare editions, pop-up books, foreign language editions, and versions featuring a variety of illustrators. Additionally, the Young Readers Center reached out to the Arlington County Public Library, which brought a huge assortment of teacups, decor, stuffed animals, and dolls.

exhibit at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016After a reading by Joani (who also performed a song from the time period – you can listen to an earlier performance of it here at our Victorian Tea), everyone headed to the corridors for a “Caucus Race.”

caucus race at the LoC photo by shawn miller 2016Many got into the spirit of things by wearing their own costumes!

white rabbit at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016In addition to the Alice story time program, the Young Readers Center partnered with the DC-based nonprofit Everybody Wins! DC. Fifth grade students from the J.O. Wilson Elementary School heard members of the International Lewis Carroll Society read from the book. Then, they chatted about what it means to be a professional hobbyists and book collectors. Each child was presented with a copy of the book to take home too.

fifth grade students and members of the lewis carroll society photo by shawn miller 2016The following day, the Center for the Book presented scholar and historian Leonard Marcus as their “Books and Beyond” speaker. His talk, which was titled “Lewis Carroll in the Mirror of Surrealism,” discussed the famous author and his place in surrealism art.

leonard marus at books and beyond lecture photo by shawn miller 2016Before we leave these adventures in wonderland, a quick word about Joani’s fantastic dress. It was custom-made by Princeton University  junior Julia Peiperl. Julia based her designs on Tenniel’s original illustrations, complete with the petticoats and pantaloons. She also made a smaller version of the dress, which was included in a Young Reader’s Center exhibit. Callooh! Callay!

alice costume by julia peiperl photo by shawn miller 2016


Photos courtesy of the Young Readers Center, Library of Congress. Photography by Shawn Miller.

Cow Wrestling is NOT a Spectator Sport

cow wrestling is not a spectator sportCrank up “Eye of the Tiger” and get PUMPED. Because the wrestling match is ON. Can your oatmeal container cow launch off the ropes and knock over “Big Red,” the biggest, meanest bull in the ring? A golden paper cup trophy awaits the victor!

We read Clancy the Courageous Cow by Lachie Hume (Greenwillow Books, 2006). Clancy is a Belted Galloway who was born without a belt. Because Clancy is different, he is alienated from the herd. Additionally, the Belted Galloways are caught in a vicious cycle with their neighbors, the Herefords. Every year, the Herefords win the big Cow Wrestling Contest, which earns them the right to graze on the richest pastures. This allows the Herefords to stay big and strong, and the Belted Galloways to remain small and weak. But Clancy, with his missing white belt, can sneak over to the Galloways’s field at night. He gets HUGE. He also meets Helga (a Hereford with no white spots). When it’s time for the annual Cow Wrestling Contest, Clancy wins! But as they Belted Galloways chase the Herefords from the field, Clancy and Helga speak up. They say it’s high time that cows put aside their differences and live peacefully together. And they do!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small oatmeal container
  • Brown, white, red, and black construction paper
  • Brown, white, red, and/or black poster board
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • 1 cow wrestling ring (more on that later!)
  • 1 gold paper cup
  • 1 black paper cup
  • 2 strips of gold metallic poster board (approximately 1″ x 4.5″)
  • Scissors, glue and tape for construction
  • Metallic markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, your cow. Use construction paper to wrap and decorate a small oatmeal container. In the book, Clancy and Helga have a baby named Clanga who is brown, white, and black. So that’s what we went for.

black white brown cowSince the cows are going to get pretty beat up in the ring, I recommend using poster board for the horns, arms, and legs. We attached these with hot glue. We also did a self-adhesive foam nose and mouth, and wiggle eyes (but you can just draw these on with markers).

Your cow needs an massive opponent, so, in this corner, we have…Big Red! I made sure to use a large oatmeal container to accentuate the size ratio.

big redBig Red is constructed the exact same way as the smaller cow except that he has a sparkle stem ring through his nose, an ear tag, a mohawk, and tattoos on his arms.

cow tattoosYour cows are finished, now for the wrestling ring! The ring is basically an up-ended table with 8 rubber band ropes. Our table was 4′ x 4′. I strongly recommend using a table with fixed legs. Even a table with locking folding legs might not be able to withstand the pressure of cows being launched repeatedly from rubber bands. Here’s our table, in progress:

cow ringI had some huge 6″ rubber bands that I looped together to make the ropes, but smaller rubber bands will work too (it’ll just take a little more time to put them together). Make sure you have extra rubber bands on hand too, because we had a couple snap during the wrestling frenzy.

Once you have 8 rubber ropes, slip the first 4 ropes over the legs of the table, placing them about 6″ from the bottom of the table. The second layer of ropes should be about 9″ from the table top. To “wrestle,” pull your cow back on the rubber bands, then release it, slingshot style, towards Big Red. Here’s Marissa with the demo:


Did the kids have trouble operating the slingshot? Yes, at first some did (and we gave them the option of just throwing their cows into the ring). But after some practice and a little coaching, they learned fast. There were lots of excellent moves…

The “Classic Charge”

classic charge“No Cow Left Behind”

no cow left behind“More Cowbell Face Crunch”

cowbell crunch

While the kids were wrestling, Marissa set up a trophy decorating area. To make a trophy, cut a black paper cup down to 1.5″. Flip it over, then hot glue a gold paper cup to the top of it. Add a pair of metallic poster board handles with tape or hot glue.

As kids finished in the wrestling ring, they came to the trophy area to celebrate their victories and decorate a trophy. We had metallic markers and plastic gemstones on hand. We also had sticker labels so kids could customize the trophies with their cow’s name.

cow wrestling trophy

Crocodile Smile

crocodile smileHelp your crocodile keep that winning smile with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouth wash, and reward stickers! This project was designed by our own Miss Marissa, who, I’m delighted to report, has had some really, really good news of her own to grin about.

We read Clarabella’s Teeth by An Vrombaut (Clarion, 2003). Ruby the Rabbit, Liam the Leopard, Max the Monkey, and Zoë the Zebra can all brush their teeth quite quickly, but Clarabella the Crocodile, with her extra-wide smile, takes forever. In the course of a day, she misses playtime, lunchtime, AND tumble time. When she’s finally done brushing – doh! – it’s bedtime. Her friends put their heads together and give her a gift. An extra large toothbrush so brushing will be a snap. Now, they can all play together!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • A box cutter
  • Green, red, white, blue, and black construction paper
  • White card stock or poster board
  • 6-8 small pieces of green self-adhesive foam (optional)
  • A strip of tagboard or poster board for a box handle
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 1 foam bead
  • A piece of string or dental floss
  • A jumbo craft stick (mine was 8″ long)
  • 1 white cotton ball
  • 1 small rectangle of stiffened felt
  • A couple reward stickers (optional)
  • Scissors, tape, glue, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

We’ll begin with the crocodile! Use a box cutter to slice 3 sides of a large box. The uncut 4th side of the box is the hinge of your crocodile’s mouth.

cut croc boxCover the box with green construction paper. Cut strips of pointy teeth from white card stock and attach the strips to the upper and lower parts of the mouth. We also added some self-adhesive foam nostrils and reptilian bumps, but you could simply draw these on with markers. Finally, cut a pair of eyes from white card stock, tab the bottoms, and attach them to the top of your alligator’s head with tape or glue. We used black dot stickers for pupils, but you could draw them on with markers too.

finished croc boxNext, open the alligator’s mouth and attach a red construction paper tongue. I recommend gluing or taping the tongue to the upper part of the mouth hinge like so:

croc tongueKids have pretty small hands, so Marissa added a handle to the back of the box to make it easier for them to hang onto the box. The handle was a tagboard strip, tabbed on the ends and hot glued (or taped) to the back of the box.

croc handleYour crocodile is done, now for the dental hygiene accoutrements! To make the mouth wash, wrap a toilet paper tube with construction paper. Tape a circle of construction paper to the top as a lid. Draw a label for the mouthwash, then tape (or glue) it to the tube.

mouth washTo make the toothpaste, wrap a toilet paper tube with white paper and hot glue a circle of white card stock on one end. Hot glue a foam bead in the center of the paper circle. Flatten and staple one end of the tube. Draw a label for the toothpaste, then tape (or glue) it to the tube.

toothpaste tube

To make the toothbrush, pull apart a cotton ball, and hot glue about 1/3 of it to one end of a jumbo craft stick. Flatten the cotton ball a bit, then hot glue a rectangle of stiffened felt on top of the cotton ball. Your floss can be real dental floss or white string.

brush floss stickers

You’ll notice some cool BOOM! and BAM! stickers in the above photo. These are “Superhero Stickers” from Oriental Trading Company (the set also includes ZAP!, WHAM!, SMASH! and ZAPOW!). A roll of 100 costs $2.50.

We decided to use these exclamatory stickers as rewards. After the kids had finished their projects, they carefully brushed, flossed, and rinsed their crocodile’s teeth. Then they brought their crocs to the “dentist.” Very carefully, the dentist checked out the teeth. If they looked good (and they all did), I gave them reward stickers! BAM!