Weird Books

weird books I’m over on Cotsen’s curatorial blog today, sharing a collections education program we did with 9-12 year-olds. The program was titled “Weird Books,” and our goal was to show kids the unusual formats books can take (including this miniature book housed in a walnut shell). Intrigued?

Click here to go to the post!

Can’t get enough special collections stuff? You might be interested in this post on a pricey little doodle, this post in which I get to pet Charles Dickens’ writing desk, this post on what appears to be an ancient code (but is not), and this post about the very first Jemima Puddleduck stuffed toy.

These Butterflies Can Book

these butterflies can bookRecently, while in Brooklyn, I wandered into a little toy store called Matt & Juliette. There, I discovered some neat-o wind-up butterflies by Seedling. The clerk at the toy store explained that some people like to put the butterflies inside birthday cards. When the recipient opens the card, the butterfly flutters out. If it works for cards, I thought, it’ll totally work for books! I immediately purchased a pair to test out. They retail for $3 each and come in 4 different colors and styles.

magic butterflies by seedlingAs you can see, the toy is pretty simple. You hold one half and twist the other half. This motion winds the 2 rubber bands, which ultimately propel the toy skyward.

butterfly toyThe directions warned that winding the rubber bands too tightly could cause them to snap. This is true. Over the course of 20 test flights, we broke 2 rubber bands. But there are two spare rubber bands in each package, so no problem! Alas, one of the plastic hooks on the smaller butterfly snapped within 5 minutes, rendering the toy useless, but the other one held out just fine. Ready to see a butterfly in action?


There’s no denying it. It’s fun to have a butterfly sail out of a book. But the toy is erratic. Sometimes it flutters around the table, sometimes it dives to the floor, and sometimes it tears out of the book and zooms away like a bird.


There is absolutely no way to predict, or manipulate, the butterfly’s path out of book. Especially when it decides it wants to attack you.


The erratic flying made me wonder if this toy would freak out kids. So I tested it out on my unsuspecting children (ages 5 and 7). They loved it! There was no flinching or shrieks of alarm when a butterfly suddenly flew out of the book. In fact, they took turns winding it up and releasing it from their hands. This made me realize that the toy is a simple machine, and might work at a STEM program too.

In short, for $3, this is an inexpensive piece of magic for your next story time or program. Just make sure to buy extra butterflies in case the plastic breaks. Happy flying!

Books Done Wrong

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The life of a book is fraught with danger. Readers dribble food, bend pages, and spill beverages. Bugs nibble, sun burns, mildew blooms, and dogs gnaw. As a result, there are some pretty gross books out there. But “gross” works for kids, so I decided to combine grossness and literacy with a little investigative fun.

In 2010, I designed a “Books Done Wrong” table at the Princeton Public Library’s Children’s Book Festival. I displayed damaged books (labeled “Exhibit A, B, C” and so forth) on a table along with some large magnifying glasses. Nearby was a police lineup that matched the damage on the books to the perpetrators (I drew a police lineup backdrop and stood little cardboard versions of the perps in front of it).

Alas, these were the pre-blog days, so the above photo is the only one I have of the event table (like the fedora?). But I did ask our student artist, Aliisa Lee, to create a line up of repeat offenders. Meet Pen Marks, Sunshine, Water Damage, Silverfish, Food Spills, Mildew, and Chomping Dog.

lineup of book baddiesAt the event, kids examined the books and guessed who damaged what book. If they identified the perpetrators correctly, they were awarded a small plastic magnifying glass. I bought mine from Educational Innovations. Cheaper (but lower quality) magnifying glasses can be found at Oriental Trading Company.

So that was my little event table.

Leave it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to take it to the next level.

For starters, did you know The Met has multiple libraries? One of them, the Nolen Library in the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education is open to museum visitors and researchers of Art History. Even better, the Nolen Library has a children’s section, complete with storytimes!

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Courtesy of the Nolen Library. Photograph by Filip Wolak.

Even the littlest museum patrons can browse relevant picture books and computer programs. And just look at these amazingly stylish computer stools!

computer stationsLast year, when The Met launched MetKids (their digital feature for tweens), the Nolen Library and book conservation staff from the Thomas J. Watson Library put together a beautiful demonstration of the intersection between books, science, art, and conservation. Here’s the team (from left to right): Yukari Hayashida, Leah High, Jenny Davis, Dana Hart, Naomi Niles, and Chelsea DeGlopper.

met teamThe exhibit was spread over two large tables. At the first table you could find things like damaged books, sample of paper, and posters of pests.

damaged bookbook posterpapersdamaged pagesHere’s my personal favorite – a microscope that shows a buggy book muncher up close.

bug microscopenibbled bookbug on screenHere’s a book catalog the conservators water-damaged on purpose for the event. So if you’re thinking of doing a similar table, and can’t find damaged books in your personal collection, feel free to customize one that would otherwise end up in the recycle bin!

water damageAt the second exhibit table, there was information on how to fix books, including the various materials conservators use.

presentationI really loved this – a laptop showing before and after shots of fixed books:

before and afterDuring the event, conservators gave a presentation, encouraged kids to touch and explore, and fielded all sorts of questions.

table crowdThe library also hosted a bookplate-making activity in a side room. On display were some of their fascinating historic bookplates (the real ones – not reproductions!).

historic bookplatesNearby were plenty of art materials to make your own bookplate. Fantastic!

bookplate suppliesbookplateIf you haven’t been to The Met, by all means go. After my family and I left the MetKids event, we explored the rest of the museum. We were not prepared for how astounding, amazing, gigantic, and beautiful it was. I always wondered why Claudia wanted to run away to The Met and how the siblings managed to stay hidden (I speak, of course, of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). But now I understand. I understand!

Many thanks to Leah High at the Nolen Library, and the conservators from the Thomas J. Watson Library, for letting me come and photograph their fantastic, and incredibly educational, event table. Thank you!


Children’s Book Festival photograph courtesy of the Princeton Public Library.