350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017I am delighted to announce the 2019 winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! Young writers were challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The delicate smell defied description.” Winners from each of our 3 age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore. Congratulations to this year’s talented writers!

By Chloe Wang, age 10

the special gift_illustration by aliisa lee“Lin! Dinner!” Mama said this in English, the new language that I needed to learn. Mama wasn’t going to say anything in Chinese anytime soon. I sighed. I was dreaming of home. My home is in Xi’an, where I had friends and family close by, not 7,287 miles away. In Xi’an, I had friends. I was smart. But now, everything is different. We are in America. A strange country, far away from Xi’an.

“Coming,” I told my mom. I said this in English, too, or else Mama would have scolded me that I had to learn my new language. This was because of the grade I got in English class in my last report card. I had done well in the other subjects, especially art. Mama says that I have a special talent. Baba says that art would follow me everywhere, no matter where we are. I closed the atlas that I had been studying, rolling new words over my tongue like rolling ocean waves at the beach.

I clomped down the stairs and into the kitchen. It is a big kitchen. Mama says we should be grateful. She says now we have more space. But there is also more space for loneliness. I sat down at the table with Mama. Baba wasn’t home yet. Mama placed a steaming plate of baozi in front of me. The delicate smell defied description. It reminded me of home.

After dinner, I was studying the atlas again. Baba knocked on my door.
“Come in,” I told him. I winced, because I had forgot to say this in English. But Baba didn’t scold me. Instead, he placed an old, red, wooden box on my bed. I recognized the box immediately. It was the box that belonged to my great grandma.
“This is for you.” Baba told me. I stared at the box.
“Go on, open it.” Mama urged. She just come into the room. I opened it. Inside was a delicate bamboo paintbrush.
“Mama and I thought it was the right time,” Then he paused. “To give it to our young artist.”

By Mirella Ionescu, age 12

perhaps illustration by aliisa lee

Sandra was alone. She wasn’t alone in the sense that there was nobody near her. This kind of alone was being a grain of salt within a vast sea of sugar. Nobody could tell there was a unique piece in humanity’s puzzle.

What made Sandra so different was that she just knew what would happen. But people wouldn’t believe her when she predicted the future, and so the Shrouded Beings took over Earth.

It was that kind of quiet, gradual invasion that would go unnoticed until it was too late. They came. Nobody realized because the Beings would hide themselves until they attacked (hence the name “Shrouded”). Soon, most people got enslaved and it seemed too late to get the planet back.

There was one remaining place in the world the Beings hadn’t reached, however. Sandra lived there, with other unenslaved humans, and she was desperate to make the Beings surrender. Everyone said it was risky, but Sandra was determined.

She decided to find their weak spot. Everybody had one, or some terrible, debilitating memory. For Sandra, it was the memory of her sister, Annabeth, sucked into blackness when the Shrouded army attacked…

At night, she snuck outside, clutching a flashlight. Leaves rustled beneath her feet. A Being was listening. All of a sudden, Sandra felt a jolt all through her body… Did a thunderbolt strike her? No… she was inside a Shrouded being! Surrounded by darkness, she noticed something.

She was nearing the part where the heart was, the heart that everyone said was bottomless, monstrous, straight-out cruel. But these rumors were wrong, judging by the scent it gave. The delicate smell defied description. It was… a familiar smell, that of Annabeth’s skin and hair!

Annabeth was trapped inside the Being’s heart. But Sandra could ignite the heart and de-cruelify it, making it release the humans it had absorbed. She could save Annabeth with the flashlight in her hands.


Sandra saw the girl, hair as radiant as the sun, her leafy-green eyes, and knew who it was.
“Annabeth…,” there was hope in her voice. “Is that you?”

By John Teti, age 14

jane illustration by aliisa leeJane could hardly believe it. She was on her way to Washington! She was so excited that she could hardly think straight. No one had been allowed in or out of the capital since the start of the war, save for a few exceptions. Last year, some people from Jane’s 10th grade class had written letters to the president’s office, asking for solutions to the problems the country was facing. Most of them had asked questions or shared demands, but Jane had just written a few ideas that she had. No one really expected a response, the president hardly gave any information to anyone, but Jane was surprised to find a green envelope in her mailbox a week later.

As Jane sat quietly on the train, she took the note out of her bookbag and read it over again, even though she had probably read it a thousand times.

April 6, 2090

Jane Gonzalez,

We believe your ideas may play a large part in resolving our conflict with the Federation of Canada. On the 18th of April at 18:00, a military officer will meet you at the Washington Central Train Station. Please be punctual. Your parents may not accompany you. This is all the information we can give you at this time.

The Offices of the President of the Mexican-American Alliance

The envelope had also included some legal documents allowing Jane to enter Washington, which she stored with the letter in her bag. Jane glanced at her watch. 16:05.

After a long train ride, Jane stepped out onto the platform of the empty train station and was surprised at what she smelled. The delicate smell defied description. The air was so clean. In the cities where Jane had lived, everywhere she went she had been accompanied by a strong, dirty stench. But the air in the train station was heavenly, Jane had to take a moment to take it in. When she had gathered her bearings, Jane picked up her suitcase, and marched inside, not knowing at all what was to come.

Illustrations by Aliisa Lee

Children’s Book Festival

princeton children's book festival 2018 poster by angela dominguez

Presented by the Princeton Public Library with sponsorship by jaZams. Poster art by Angela Dominguez

Friends! Romans! Tri-State Countrymen! Travel henceforth to Princeton this weekend for the Princeton Public Library‘s legendary Children’s Book Festival! Every year, scores of talented authors and illustrators gather under the library’s big white tents in Hinds Plaza, meeting fans and signing books.

My personal highlights over the past 12 years of the book festival…receiving writing advice from Rebecca Stead, seeing my buddy Galen Longstreth sharing her adorable book, Yes, Let’s, and having a breakfast chat with Pseudonymous Bosch before the event. My library was there in 2010 as well, doing a “Books Done Wrong” activity!

The public library always invites terrific authors and illustrators. Here’s the 2018 line-up if you’d like to see it. But if we may be so bold as to make a few blog connections to this year’s festival attendees?

Tracey Baptiste: The author of The Jumbies now has a sequel out called, Rise of the Jumbies. I interviewed Tracey in 2016. Her books are suspenseful, spooky, and straight up awesome.

Margery Cuyler: Margery’s Skeleton for Dinner is totally hilarious, and we hope we did her book justice with our dancing, glowing skeleton marionette project.

them bones

Ame Dyckman: Ame has had three featured projects on our blog! A robot marionette for Boy + Bot, a bouncing baby wolf for Wolfie the Bunny, and a raucous tea party game for Tea Party Rules. She’s inspired so many projects…probably because her books are so fun and amazing.

Steve Light: Master wielder of all things fountain pen, Steve caught our eye with Zephyr Takes Flight, and we just HAD to do a steampunk airship project. We had to!

one amazing airship

Zachariah OHora: Zachariah’s distinctive illustrative style has graced blog twice in books, once for Wolfie the Bunny and again for The Teacher’s Pet. We’re dying to do a project for The NOT So Quiet Library.

Lauren Magaziner: Lauren’s book, Pilfer Academy, was a featured book at To Be Continued in 2016. Our book-related activities involved lots of sneaking around, stealing things, and a green crepe paper streamer laser maze. Oh yeah.


Wendy Mass: I interviewed Wendy in 2009 and WOW has she been busy, including being on the New York Times Bestseller list for The Candymakers! She recently released Bob, a book she co-wrote with Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead.

Christopher Silas Neal: Christopher’s gorgeous, minimalistic, vibrant illustrations in Over and Under the Snow inspired a winter hibernation snow-scape project that was a huge hit at story time.

winter is coming

Anica Mrose Rissi: I just posted a hamster-rific blog project for her book, The Teacher’s Pet, along with an author interview. So now you have to go to the festival meet Nica and see all her other fantastic books!

Sean Rubin: I did a blog feature on Sean’s debut graphic novel Bolivar in 2017. Bolivar is an astounding work of art and really must been seen in person. Now’s your chance!

bolivar 6_artwork by sean rubin

Daniel Salmieri: Daniel has written and illustrated many books, but we loved his work on Meet The Dullards, and fashioned our boring-not-boring blog project on his playful artistry.

Liz Garton Scanlon: Liz’s book In the Canyon is full of playful, vivid rhymes. We tried to capture some of the wonder she evokes with our own enormous cardboard canyon.

hiking the canyon

Rebecca Stead: How often do you get to meet a Newbery winner? I interviewed Rebecca about When You Reach Me in 2011 and she has continued to write amazing, thoughtful, and deeply meaningful books.

David Ezra Stein: ‘Ol Mama Squirrel? Best. Book. Ever. I couldn’t stop laughing when I read it aloud during story time! And weirdly, the squirrel tree puppet project went viral in China. Wow.

puppet in action

Audrey Vernick: Buffaloes and drum sets. Need I say more? OK, how about winning a giant pet whale? Audrey’s hilarious books such as Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums and I Won a What? inspire us.

Rowboat Watkins: We made cake hats with attitudes for Rowboat’s fantastic Rude Cakes. But much to our delight, he popped up unexpectedly in this post about Books of Wonder in NYC.

headgear with attitude problems

The Children’s Book Festival is Saturday, September 22m from 11am to 4pm in Hinds Plaza of the Princeton Public Library, rain or shine. Books are available for purchase at the event through jaZams, our incredible, local, independent, family-owed toy store. We hope to see you there!

Pop Turns Five (and Ian Says Goodbye)

pop turns 5It’s August! It’s Pop‘s fifth birthday! That’s right…5 years and 422 posts strong we be. Five years is also how long Ian has worked at our library, but ladies and gentleman, it is a bittersweet announcement I’m making today.

Ian, our Curatorial Assistant, is moving on.

But being Ian, he is moving along in the most awesome, stylin’ way possible. He completed his library degree at Rutgers AND is a newly minted Fulbright Student (he was also awarded a scholarship to Rare Books school in London this summer!). In short, Ian is shining, and we are so very proud of him.

So today’s post is a retrospective of all the things we convinced this intellectual powerhouse to do for the blog. But if you’re just here to see him smash birthday cupcake in my face, skip to the bottom of the post.

ian walks the dogWe first met Ian in this 2013 post. Usually, it only takes a couple weeks for me to ask people to start doing ridiculous things for me (like walk box dogs on invisible leashes). Ian made it 4 months. But once the flood gates opened…


Ian tests printable tattoos

spreading the loveIan strews hearts

groverIan jams on pan pipes

penguin 1Ian is photobombed by a penguin

ians-cameoIan encounters the paparazzi

pudding taste testIan taste tests Harry Potter pudding

i heart robotAnd the grand finale…Ian gets shoved in a robot costume with low visibility and questionable foot gear. For the 5th birthday post/ Ian retrospective, we thought it appropriate to ask him 5 questions:

Where are you off to, Ian?

I’m off to Baku, Azerbaijan. For the other geography nerds out there: Azerbaijan is a small country on the eastern side of the Caucasus between Iran and Russia, and Baku is the country’s bustling capital on the west bank of the Caspian Sea.

Why Azerbaijan?

I chose to pursue my Fulbright in Azerbaijan because I am fascinated by the complexities of the region. Azerbaijan is a land of mixing and clashing cultures, a border land of influences and diversity since antiquity, positioned at a crossroads of migration, colonization, and cultural exchange. I wanted to be in a modern city, but one with an ancient and medieval past. I wanted to be some place less familiar and rewardingly challenging.

What will you miss about our library?

It has been a true privilege and a joy to work with the rare books and other materials here at Cotsen. Every day is filled with new discoveries, new learning, color, art, and mystery. I forget sometimes how lucky I am to get to experience what “old books” can show us and how the chance to do what I do for a living is rare indeed. I’m not sure I’ll ever work in an “office” this fun again. And I will miss my colleagues at Cotsen most of all because one will always miss their friends when they move away.

What was your favorite thing you did for Pop Goes the Page?

Definitely the time I got crammed into a robot costume. Not only did I get to dance the robot dressed as a robot, I was also really happy to be part of a story time activity featuring a really sweet book. The kids liked it too, I got a lot of hugs that day!

Who is cooler, Dr. Dana or Katie?

Dang, honestly I think they’re both nerds! Good thing for them that at the library, nerds are cool!

A birthday is nothing without sugared toppings, so I grabbed a couple cupcakes for Ian’s final blog photo shoot. Except that meant there were extra cupcakes sitting around. To be smashed into my face. Before final consumption.

cupcake smash montage

Ian, we are really going to miss you. Best of luck in your world travels, academic pursuits, hopes, and dreams! Waves of love and joy from us, your friends, to you – Ian the Indomitable.