Don’t Get Caught

dont-get-caughtNavigate your way through a laser maze, steal a bear from a snoring sleeper, and snag some hidden diamonds. Stealthiness, sneakiness, and silence are strongly encouraged at To Be Continued, our story time for 6-8 year-olds!

We read Pilfer Academy by Lauren Magaziner (Dial Books, 2016). George isn’t a bad kid, but he just can’t seem to keep his hands off his siblings’ stuff. His older brothers’ stereo, for example. Those comic books he’s not supposed to touch. The $10 on the night table. His sister’s private diary. When George is once again caught red-handed, he bolts out of the house…and is kidnapped by a pair of inept ice-cream truck drivers. As it turns out, the truck is a fake, and the drivers are faculty at Pilfer Academy, an elite school for master thievery. George soon finds himself taking classes like Stealth 101, Practical Applications of Breaking and Entering, and Intro to Gadgetry. But when it comes time to steal for his midterm exam, George discover that he feels horrible about it. Now George and his talented friend Tabitha must find a way to escape Pilfer Academy. Would I be giving too much away if I tell you the escape involves guard chickens, a pit of spaghetti, a deadly laser room, and a runaway mansion?

Story Time Task #1: In the book, George and Tabitha navigate a laser obstacle course, something I’ve been dying to create ever since I spotted this fantastic piece of fun. To create the course, we zig-zagged green crepe paper streamers on our gallery bridge. The streamers were attached with masking tape.

laser-obstacle-courseStarting at the bottom of the bridge, kids had to squeeze, crawl, and slide through the course without touching a single “laser beam.” I stood nearby, making “Zzzzzt!” laser noises at key moments.

navigating-the-lasersStory Time Task #2: George’s midterm exam involves stealing a teddy bear from a sleeping toddler. I grabbed a bear puppet, flopped on some pillows, closed my eyes, and started snoring wildly.

dr-dana-snoresOne by one, the kids had to sneak up and grab the bear without me noticing them (and they were quite astonishingly good at this). To increase the challenge, sometimes I would randomly thrash around in my sleep, throw the bear around, or grab it tightly to my chest.

stealing-the-bearStory Time Task #3: The diamond hunt. Pilfer Academy is a massive Gothic mansion with arches, spires, and stained-glass windows. I thought it would be fantastic to immerse kids in a similar environment, so we headed over to one of my favorite places, the Chancellor Green Rotunda.

chancellor-green-rotundaThis beautiful room was once the original library for Princeton University. Now it’s a study space for the Andlinger Humanities Center. Here’s a shot of its elegant stained-glass dome.

rotunda-skylightOn this particular afternoon, however, the room was full of hidden diamonds!

bag-of-diamondsI found these acrylic diamonds in the wedding section of Michaels Craft store. A $5 pack contained over 75 diamonds of assorted sizes (from 0.75″ to 1″). I hid the larger diamonds in various locations in the room.

diamond-in-windowSometimes I got a little sneaky. Can you spot the diamond in the wood paneling below?

diamond-in-wooden-panelOne by one, kids went searching for diamonds in the room. Once you found two diamonds, it was another person’s turn to search. And you had to be completely silent while searching!

search-for-diamondsAt the end of the program, each kid got to take home a little drawstring bag with some diamonds in it. Score!

This book was a terrific read-aloud, and we had a total blast with the activities – but it gets even better. Last weekend, the Princeton Public Library held their annual Children’s Book Festival, and guess who I got to meet?

lauren-magazinerThat’s right! Lauren Magaziner herself! Totally rocking a bandit mask, I must say. Thanks for the fantastic book Lauren. We absolutely loved it.

p.s. – Total props for using the word “collywobbles” in your book. The kids didn’t believe it was an actual word. We looked it up in the dictionary!

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