It’s Elementary

elementaryCalling all consulting detectives…grab your sparkle stem magnifying glass and examine this most intriguing collection of 18th and 19th century puzzle cards. And, while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, the answers to these cards are at the end of the post (and you can print a set of your own)!

You’ll need:

Cut a drinking straw down to 3″. Gently fold a sparkle stem in half (soft fold, not hard) and thread the ends into the straw. Round the sparkle stem loop sticking out of the top of the straw. Done!

sparkle stem magnifying glassAnd what of those curious cards? They are reproductions of 18th and 19th century rebus puzzle cards in our library’s special collections. A rebus (also called a hieroglyphic) puzzle is created using pictures in place of syllables or entire words. Sometimes, the placement of an object is important to the puzzle as well.

Here are 6 cards from our vaults, all hailing from England. The top three cards are from Feronica’s Hieroglyphical Riddles (publisher unknown, circa 1840). Across the bottom row, from left to right, are cards from Peter Ponder’s First Pack of Puzzle Cards (J. Aldis, 1808), Wallis’s New Pack of Puzzles for 1798 (John Wallis and Champante & Whitrow, 1798), and An Entire Pack of New Puzzle Cards (W. and T. Darton, circa 1805).

Want to try these puzzle cards on a few young detectives? You’ll find a printable set here!

rebus cards, from the collections of the cotsen children's library, princeton university


The solutions, moving top row to bottom row, left to right:

Handsome is that handsome does
Better a little fish than empty dish
Awl is well that ends well
Two implements of an excellent sport: bat and ball (for Cricket, of course!)
What most people are fond of: toasted muffin
Troublesome insects: ant, caterpillar, snail, earwig, and ladybird

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!

Most Influential

Bunny Salad courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsQ: What books inspired you to do the creative things you do today?

A lot of children’s books have influenced me as a reader, writer, educator, and artist. Some of my childhood favorites have even shown up on the blog (here and here!) But if you’re specifically asking about creativity, there IS one book that towers above all others like a yellow-and-white striped Everest. It’s not a picture book. It’s not a chapter book. It’s not even a fiction book. It’s a cookbook. Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook to be exact (Golden Press, 1965).

Betty Crocker's New Books and Girls Cookbook image courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsI would look at this book for hours. I would slowly flip the pages, eagerly anticipating the arrival of my favorite section. Can you guess which one it was? Yup. “Cookies, Cakes, and Other Desserts.” Here is the cake of my childhood dreams:

Enchanted Castle Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsOh where do I start? I was wholly enthusiastic about cake (and those pink pillow mints – wow, do they even make those anymore?). But even more, I loved that someone had taken food and sculpted it into something imaginative and fantastical. Then fearlessly added non-edible items (such as the toothpick drawbridge chains) to complete the picture. Also, they didn’t just photograph the cake on a table. They set the scene with grass, a shiny moat, and a blue sky with cotton ball clouds. And how about this beautiful creation…

Ice Cream Flower Pot courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsIt’s an “Ice Cream Flower Pot.” A waxed paper cup, ice cream and crushed cookie “dirt,” candy leaves, and a frigging lollipop flower! You can put lollipops and ice cream together and make it look like a flower pot? My mind was officially blown.

Also earth-shattering was the realization that you could use food to make images of, say, animals parading around a “Circus Cake” (did you notice the little cashew feet and red licorice knot tail on the pig?).

Circus Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsThose wild and crazy Betty Crocker bakers even used holiday-specific candy…on cakes that were totally unrelated to that particular holiday! Like candy canes on a 4th of July “Drum Cake”:

Drum Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsThis taught me that you could look at an object, even a familiar one like a candy cane, and see it used for a different purpose or in a different context. That, my friends, is a pretty abstract lesson to be learned from a cake. I still want to eat those cherries too.

While I did spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over the cookbook’s dessert sections, there was one recipe that caught my eye in the “Salads and Vegetables” section:

Bunny Salad courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsOf all the time I spent looking at this book, I only made one recipe from it. One! It was “Bunny Salad.” I begged my mom for the ingredients and proudly assembled this spectacular dish. It was awesome. I had created! I also learned that, alas, I didn’t like cottage cheese very much.

Interestingly, I’m not the only person who was affected by this cookbook in childhood. Cece Bell mentioned it in an interview with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blogger Jules Danielson. She specifically cites the “Enchanted Castle Cake” of my dreams, too! If I ever hang out with her, I’m baking one and bringing it with me (pssst! if you’d like to see our story time project for Cece’s book, Itty Bitty, go here).

One final Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook connection for you. The cookbook features illustrations as well as photographs. I was obsessed with this one in particular:

Red Devil Sundae Topping courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsWhen it came time to dress my toddler for Halloween 2009, what costume did I choose?

Halloween devilCoincidence? I don’t think so.


Book images courtesy of Betty Crocker and General Mills. Many thanks for allowing me to use the images, and for being such an inspiration.