350 for 50

350 for 50 typewriter popWe are delighted to announce the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! This year, we challenged young writers from 3 different age categories to pen a 350-word story that included the sentence “It unfurled slowly, then settled.” The prize? Publication, of course, and a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth Books, Princeton’s local bookstore! Warmest congratulations to this year’s winners.


Creepy Night_artwork by Aliisa LeeCreepy Night

Rachel Glantzberg, age 9

The old man peered at his clock. It read 11:54 PM. The wind howled through a small crack in the window. He saw a swarm of bats glide across the bright full moon. A loud groan escaped his mouth. Oh the pain he had! His back was badly injured after the horrible fall he took yesterday in the garden.

This old man had such extensive pain, he pushed himself up with his thin, aching bones while reaching for his cane to take an extra dose of medicine. Finally out of bed, he waddled to the living room.

Suddenly, he heard a strange noise. No, it wasn’t the wind. It was, it was… he didn’t exactly know what it was. With mysterious thoughts in his mind, the man continued on his journey to take an extra pill. As he reached for the window pane to gain some desperately needed balance, he caught sight of his newly planted rose bush.

What only 24 hours ago was a lifeless, dormant collection of clenched buds appeared to be awakening. Or was it? Suddenly from the middle of the bush a single red rose began to rise. One inch. Two inches. Then three and four. Before long it was a full foot above the rest. Then it just stopped. It unfurled slowly, then settled.

The old man was so astounded he forgot all about his aches and pains. He dropped his cane as he scurried back to his bedroom. Quickly shutting the door behind him he jumped back into his bed. He didn’t sleep a wink that night. He just laid there counting the minutes ‘til daylight.


Word_artwork by Aliisa LeeWord
By Grant Weingaertner, age 11

“Stop playing video games. You’re going to go blind!” shouts Mom. “Do something productive. You have to enter the Picture Book Press 350 for 50 contest this year. It has to include the sentence, ‘it unfurled slowly, then settled’.”

“NOOOOOOO!” I shout.How am I supposed to think of something for that sentence and make it interesting? After a week I haven’t thought of anything. Maybe Mom forgot about it. Now it is spring break and I’m playing Pokémon on my 3DS.

“You can’t spend your spring break playing video games. Your thumbs will fall off.”
I pace around worried that I can’t think of anything. But being the forgetful person that I am, I start to play Pokémon again. I catch a Shuckle, a Noibat, a Skrelp, and a Metagross.

“You have to practice your piano and then write your story.”

This is horrid! Now, not only do I have to write but also I have to practice piano. I sulk to the piano and flail around on the keyboard.

Mom shouts, “Now write.”

Slinking over to the desk, I flop on the chair and lay down my head. Suddenly, an idea hits me. Why haven’t thought of this before? I smile and type furiously. My story is about me trying to figure out what to write about. I’m typing so fast, my laptop might burst into flame.

Soon, I am bored.

I wander off and pace around for a while, and then I am drawn to my 3DS like a moth to a flame. I crushed the Elite Four with my Xerneas. I am declared the league champion. This is psychedelic!

Oops, Mom is walking past. I’m supposed to be writing. I hurry back to my laptop.
I finally reach the present in my story and I have run out of material. Maybe I should check the rules. It says that “Stories must be no longer than 350 words.” Man! 350 words! That’s a lot for me. How many words do I have left? I check the word count.

I have 351! Guess I have to delete a…


Corrupted_artword by Aliisa LeeCORRUPTED
By Rennie DiLorenzo, age 13

Space. In the old days, everyone thought that there were lots of galaxies, full of wonder and hope. But being the patrol in the small quadrant of Aster-Delta 6, I found that looking at a galaxy for hours on end really doesn’t fill you with excitement. Or anything close to that. Instead, you begin to question your existence and the existence of others.

On my small, four-roomed ship (plus cockpit) called “Determination,” the most fun activity was releasing the air lock. Or playing Merio – a virtual-reality game. But seriously, after awhile, beating Browser again and again gets boring quickly. This is a lonely job.

One day, in the middle of one of my “questioning life and existence” sessions, my monitor
showed me that there was an incoming ship. The ship was small and Class 5, which was good because only Class 3 and up were allowed to dock here. My ship is a class 5.5c. I messaged him and said “What is your business in this zone?” The response I got sent chills down my spine: “CORRUPTED.”

This never happens. This would take an insane amount of damage/hacking to get this message typed. To put this in perspective, you would need a whole country of hackers on that ship to create half of the letter “c.” This message had only been managed once by a crew of 2 trillion and a space ship made from three small planets. The craft I was looking at couldn’t fit two people.

I stumbled and slapped myself to see if this was some cruel nightmare. It was not. I
messaged again: “WHAT?!” The response came from the snake like blaster hose at the top of the ship. It unfurled slowly then settled. Another message: “ CORRUPTED.”

I started shaking. I tried to contact Aster-6 headquarters. The message I got back terrified me to the bone: “CORRUPTED.” For the first time, I was truly alone. The blaster on the ship was charging up.

There was a blinding light and then sudden and utter darkness.


Artwork by Aliisa Lee

The BiblioFiles Presents: Norton Juster

Norton Juster photo courtesy of Random House

Author photo courtesy of Random House

Just posted! It’s our first BiblioFiles webcast in front of a live audience, and our guest is Norton Juster, author of the legendary book, The Phantom Tollbooth.

Milo is a boy who doesn’t know what to do with himself, isn’t interested in much, and doesn’t see the point in anything. But when a mysterious package containing a toy tollbooth arrives in his room, everything changes.

Past the tollbooth are the Lands Beyond, which house places like Dictionopolis, the Valley of Sound, the Doldrums, Digitopolis, and the Mountains of Ignorance. Milo is soon joined by a pair of unusual travel companions, Tock and Humbug, as he attempts to bring Princesses Rhyme and Reason back to settle the warring kingdoms of Words and Numbers.

First published in 1961, The Phantom Tollbooth is wacky, smart, odd, fun, strange, and completely captivating. It is often compared to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in terms of its intelligence, word play, and impact on children’s literature. Now, in over 50 years of publication, The Phantom Tollbooth, with its iconic illustrations by Jules Feiffer, has been analyzed in scholarly papers, quoted in dissertations, included in graduate classes, documented on film, read aloud in elementary school classrooms, passed along through generations of families, and newly discovered by young readers. It is, and will always be, a seminal book in the history of children’s literature.

In addition to The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster has written The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, Alberic The Wise and Other Journeys, As: A Surfeit of Similies, The Hello, Goodbye Window, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, The Odious Ogre, and Neville. In 2011, The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth, with introduction and notes by scholar Leonard Marcus, was released.

Follow this link to the BiblioFiles interview

A Day in Digitopolis, Part I

day in digitopolis part 1We’ve all wanted to jump into books. Who doesn’t, for example, want to go to Diagon Alley and hit the shops? Join Hazel for stories in the Honeycomb? Explore Babilonium with Candy Quackenbush? Or sail the skies with Matt Cruise on the Aurora? Part of my job at the Cotsen Children’s Library is to bring these places to life for kids, and this month, we headed to The Lands Beyond to visit Digitopolis, the mathematical kingdom in The Phantom Tollbooth.

The math event was intended for children ages 4-10, and my goal was to make it full of exploration, demonstrations, games, challenges, and unexpected connections. And by the four million eight hundred and twenty-seven thousand six hundred fifty-nine hairs on my head, I think we did it!

A Day in Digitopolis took place in the atrium of Princeton University’s Frick Chemistry Laboratory, a soaring, three-story structure of glass and metalwork. Here’s our welcome desk with two student volunteers and Pi balloons.

digitopolis welcome deskBut before I get started on all the details, I’d like to introduce our event collaborator, Bedtime Math. Founded by Laura Overdeck, Bedtime Math is a NJ-based nonprofit organization that provides playful, zany math problems for parents to do with their kids everyday. In addition to sharing their content through their books, e-mail, and free app, they created Crazy 8s, an after-school math club that has been launched in over 6,000 locations nationwide. These guys know, and love, math.

bedtime math booksBedtime Math brought 3 fantastic activities to the event: Spy Training, Beach Ball Party, and Glow-in-the-Dark Geometry. Here’s Spy Training, which was all about codes and ciphers…

spy trainingAnd here’s Beach Ball Party, which involved counting, stacking, and chasing beach balls determined to make a break for it.

beach ball partyIt also involved Ellen Williams (who you last spotted being pelted with marshmallows in this post) inflating dozens and dozens of beach balls for kids at the event. That’s her in the lower right corner of the photo, hard at work. Very impressive lungs has our Ellen (did I mention she sings in multiple choirs?).

But the total show stopper was Bedtime Math’s Glow-in-the-Dark Geometry. This took place in a darkened classroom off the main event floor. Here, kids could build illuminated structures with glow stick bracelets and styrofoam balls. The results were totally amazing.

glowing geometrySome kids decided to use the original plastic connectors that came with the bracelets to make unique geometric creations. Here’s one of my favorites. A series of loops that, when spun, becomes a sphere!

 

Bedtime Math was recently invited to the White House to take part in an early STEM learning summit. Seriously. When it comes to amazing math connections for kids, Bedtime Math has it down!

Moving to a different section of the event floor, we find the fabled number mines of Digitopolis. In the book, Milo, Tock, and the Humbug learn that numbers are, in fact, excavated out of the earth, much like jewels and precious stones. The talented Maria Evans from the Arts Council of Princeton built a 6′ tabletop mine out of cardboard boxes, papier-mâché, Valspar faux stone spray paint, and a couple of giant plastic gemstones I found in our art cabinet. YES!

number mines 1The mines were stocked with an assortment of wooden numbers. I used 4″ numbers I found online at Woodcrafter. If you’d like a cheaper option, I recommend printing paper numbers on card stock.

At the event table, kids reached into the mine, extracted a number, and then decorated it with a combination of metallic markers and glitter markers. We also had plastic gems and glue on hand for some additional bling.

number mines 4number mines 5

number mines 2The mines were staffed by high school volunteers from the Arts Council, who were suitably decked out in miner helmets.

number mines 3Elsewhere in Digitopolis was the “Fibonacci Forest,” hosted by the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. This table focused on math in nature. Specifically, symmetry, shapes (like spheres, hexagons, spirals), fractals, and Fibonacci numbers. The Watershed brought a ton of items for kids to touch, connect with, and explore (including my personal favorite, this nautilus shell).

nature math 1nature math 2The Watershed also did a cool fractal tree project. It involved a half-sheet of green paper, brown markers, and rulers (here are the instructions if you’d like to see them).

nature math 3We decorated the finished fractal trees with bird and leaf stamps, but you can also just use markers or color pencils.

nature math 4And speaking of wildlife, how about some zebra math? We were delighted to be joined by Princeton University Professor Dan Rubenstein from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Among other things, Dan does field work with African zebras.

zebra math 1Some researchers believe that zebra stripes exist to confuse predators. So Dan and his constituents developed “Dazzle Confusion,” an iPad game in which kids “become the lion” and tried to tap black, white, or striped moving targets to determine which one is most difficult to hit.

zebra math 2At the end of the game, the program tabulated the kids’ results and displayed them on a large screen. As the event progressed, the results continued to accrue. This lead to conversations about data collection, measurement, central tendencies, and averages.

zebra math 3It’s worth noting that although there was much variation on kids’ “strikes” on the targets, there was a strong trend (p < .08) showing that the striped targets were hardest to hit! How’s that for some real world math?

Continuing with the technology theme, the Princeton Women in Computer Science designed an original math game for kids using Scratch, a visual programming language developed by MIT.

scratchHere’s a screen shot of the game, which was created by sophmore Lucy Lin. If you’d like to test drive the game yourself, here’s the link.

scratch screen shotThe game was cool, but even cooler was the fact that there was another laptop running tandem to the gaming laptops that showed all the algorithms behind the Scratch program. And volunteers were on hand to answer any and all questions about computing. They also had a couple of encryption puzzles for kids to crack.

Meanwhile, the Princeton Chemistry Outreach Program (we’ve exploded things with these guys before) was busy making awesome math / science connections with kids. Dr. Wagner and her students ran hands-on experiments with parts per million, vitamin c clocks, and timed invisible ink.

chemistry outreach 1chemistry outreach 2chemistry outreach 3For those who prefer their math undiluted, the Princeton University Mathematics Club came out en force to host a “Playful Problems” table. Here, kids found a plethora of logic puzzles, word problems, visual puzzles, calculator tricks, the works!

math club 1math club 2There were 12 different activities for children ages 4-10. The activities ranged from easy to moderately difficult. Here’s an example of our simplest puzzle, which was created by Casandra Monroe (whom you first met here). Here’s the template if you’d like it.

milo number grid puzzleBelow is a list of what we offered at the event table (if you’d like more details on any of them, just e-mail me!). In addition to using Google to find some of these puzzles, Math Wizardry for Kids (Barron’s, 1995) and How to be a Math Genius (DK Children, 2012) were terrific resources.

  • Suduko
  • Lattice multiplication
  • Logic grid puzzle
  • Matchstick puzzles (we used Q-tips instead of matchsticks)
  • Milo number grid maze (see above)
  • 24 Game
  • Multiplying by 9 finger trick
  • Make a paper star with only 1 cut
  • Superimposed shapes puzzle
  • Visual sequencing puzzle
  • Word problems
  • Birthday calculator trick

Important! If you put together your own Playful Problems table, make sure you provide an answer sheet for each problem. That way, parents and kids can check their answers or get a little hint. Also important! No matter how easy the puzzle, provide an answer sheet (you don’t want younger kids to think that their puzzle was too “easy” for a solution sheet).

For those wanting a bit a exercise with their mathematics, we had a giant 16′ x 16′ floor maze (building instruction for it are in this post). Kids had to get from start to finish in the maze – without making a single right-hand turn. If you got stuck, the solution was posted on some glass doors opposite the entry to the maze.

no right turn maze at eventBy the way, did you notice the cute play cart parked in the upper right corner of the above image? That’s one of our “Trio of Treats.”

trio of treatsI always try to include something for the littlest patrons, so I bought 3 adorable food carts and stocked them with math play sets. The food carts are by KidKraft (Sweet & Sunny Lemonade Stand) and the play sets are by Learning Resources. We used  Piece-A-Pizza Fractions, Number Pops, and Count ‘Em Up Popcorn.

And, because little kids love to take things in and out of containers, I bought a fabric basket for the pizza cart, a plastic box with a hinged lid for the ice pop cart, and a clear container for the popcorn cart. After the event, we donated the carts and math sets to a local non-profit preschool.

trio of treats customerOne of the most popular event tables, however, was “Visit the 4th Dimension.” It was hosted by scienceSeeds (whom you first met here, and then again here).

scienceseeds 1At the event table, kids learned about the different dimensions (1st is a line, 2nd is a square, 3rd is a cube, 4th is a tesseract). ScienceSeeds brought their 3D printers to the event and made models. You can see a tesseract in progress below. Awesome.

scienceseeds 2Kids could also make 3D models of their own using drinking straws and plastic connectors. You can buy the plastic connectors online (from Strawbees). However, scienceSeeds has a die cut machine and was able to purchase the die cuts (from Accucut) and make their own connectors from plastic sheets (from Grafix).

scienceseeds 4Like I said, their table was hopping – they estimate they went through at least 3,500 straws!

scienceseeds 3The thing I liked most about the project is that there was no limit to the shape, size, or intended use of the 3D models.

3D model 13D model 23D model 53D model 33D model 4

If plastic connectors are not in your budget, I’ve seen similar activities that used straws and pipe cleaner pieces (like this one), or sculptures that that involved cutting and sliding the ends of bendy straws into one another (like this one). I’ve also seen toothpick and marshmallow, (or toothpick and gum drop) geometric structures. But I tend to avoid those because of food allergies.

Whew! Believe it or not, I’m only halfway through all the event activities! You can check out Part II here…prepare to meet Digitopolis’ famous celebrities, get a bit of hands-on history, listen to some musical fractions, and view some truly stunning representations of infinity…