She Does Her Own Stunts

matilda T2 IMG_5678 edit 02 diptic_cropped 1

Once upon a quarantine, a father of two decided to haul a plastic ride-on car into the house. The plan was to stick in the shower for a fun and highly distracting “car wash.” But it turned into an epic odyssey of film, photography, set design, costuming, and procuring inflatable orca whales.

matilda Never Ending Story DIPTIC copy_cropped 1Alex Zane and his 5 year-old daughter Matilda have quite a following on Instagram, posing for kiddie parodies of classic movie scenes. Beginning with Teen Wolf, the pair have explored all genres of film. Oh, and there’s a giant stuffed fox who does cameos as well! I caught up with Alex to ask him about this amazing creative collaboration…

matilda love actually 01 xx 3576 DIPTIC www_cropped 1Do you have a background in art and film?

Aside from loving movies forever I have no background in art or film. This project has made me realize how much I missed being creative. I had rarely taken a photograph before all of this (my wife could attest to this).

Generally speaking, how long does it take to create a shot?

The actual clicking of the camera is all of fifteen seconds – we are working with a five year-old so we only have a few seconds before she loses interest in everything and is ripping the wig off. The lead up can take some time though – since I don’t know how to take a photo Andrew [a friend who is a professional photographer] walks me through everything with diagrams and test shots.

We also have to pick the scene we are going to do and make sure it’s nothing to complex that a brand new photographer and toddler can handle – finally we figure out if we can “kidify” the scene – the Reservoir Dogs with Mr. Potato or the Barbie doll leg in The Graduate were major eureka moments. We spend probably way too much time on this trying to match everything up – my forearm is still burning from holding the stuffed fox up trying to line him up just right with Keanu. I remember thinking, “It’s amazing this is my life.”

Photo Jan 03, 8 53 12 PM_cropped 1How have your skills changed over the course of your work?

I understand the importance of lighting! And that you can get a kid to wear any kind of wig if the prize is big enough.

I’ll wager that many of these films haven’t been viewed by your daughter quite yet! Do you explain the scenes to her? Just show her a screen shot? Simply ask her to pose? 

She always sees a screen shot. She always asks questions centered around “why do they look that way.” I sometimes forget what I tell her but it’s a G-rated summary of any PG-13 and above movie. One time she was showing a cousin some of the photos and I heard her say “That’s about a wizard who took his mouth away …” I had to look over to realize she was telling them about The Matrix. I can’t stress enough that she thinks Silence of the Lambs is about a man who accidentally dropped a quarter down a well…

Since you started this venture, what are the TOP THREE weirdest props you’ve purchased?

I wonder if the FBI has flagged my Amazon account. No, a lot of the props have come from local online yard sales. I will also post on community thread asking for items – a neighbor gave us an old karate outfit we used for Karate Kid. I once posted on an online town group asking for a kid size straight jacket and Hannibal Lecter mask and got immediate responses from people who had the items. I love my town. To answer the question: fur coat (The Royal Tenenbaums) inflatable orca (Free Willy) and plastic gizmo (Gremlins).

Do you ever show up in a photo as well? To cut to the chase…is that YOU in the inflatable T-Rex costume in the Jurassic Park parody? Please say yes. 

In the beginning I did – before we started kiddifying the scenes. I’m in the original Good Will Hunting photo. There have been a few failed recreations – I played James Cann in Misery with Matilda mimicking smashing my ankles. No, I have no memory how I described that scene to her. It’s not me in that T-Rex costume! It’s Sam Neil.

Do you have a favorite photo, and why?

They are all like my children…forget that Reservoir Dogs. It’s the most fun to take some unsettling scene and completely deflate it will silly kid toys and props. Also that background crowd in Forrest Gump is a gallery of iconic toys – Poppy mixed with Boo from Monsters Inc. That cast totally justifies the multiple copy right infringement lawsuits it will likely cause.

What movie is still proving to be elusive to your creative vision?

The Ghost pottery scene flipped out with some play doh. It’s my white whale.

Does the stuffed fox co-starring in many of the images have a name and a story of his/her own?

You know he is a fox! His name is Blue Ears White Dora. I don’t know where that name came from. He was a gift from a brother in law. I remember watching him lug that thing up our front steps and immediately cursing him. It was massive and I knew it would never be played with. For months it took up 1/2 of whatever room he was…he sat neglected but we started slipping him into photos and we realized how talented he was. Now he’s like my third child.

Is there anything Matilda would like to add to this interview?

How much are they paying us for this interview?


Images courtesy of Alex Zane

Bringing Literature to Life

By day, Bryton Taylor is a social media coordinator in Australia. But outside the office, she is a veritable genius of literary-themed recipes, parties, and crafts! She began blogging about her amazing creative work in 2008, and now readers can browse her extensive range of original recipes and party how-tos, including Harry Potter, The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Rabbit! Katie caught up with Bryt to chat about her adventures in bringing books to life…


Your website, In Literature, began when you shared the recipe and story about your second effort at making the Mad Hatter’s Unbirthday Cake. What changes did you make after the first attempt didn’t go so well? And was your Easter party a success despite the first cake sliding off its plate?

I used a doll cake pan for better structure when I attempted the Unbirthday Cake for the second time. And I’m happy to say the party was a success! The Mad Tea Party decorations made up for the fact that the cake had a few issues. Paper lanterns were strung up above the table, where a toy mouse popped out of a teapot. Large bowls were transformed into oversized teacups which doubled as Easter baskets. Caterpillar shoes stuck out of the vines, where ‘This Way’, ‘Down’, and ‘That Way’ signs set the tone for fantastical madness! It was a great day in the end.

Delightful unbirthday cakes

Do you have a favorite genre of book when you are creating recipes or putting together a themed party?

I find I cover a variety of fiction genres – children’s, classics, young adult, fantasy, mystery. But my favourite books to cover tend to ones that we grew up with. It’s through these stories that we share nostalgic memories, triggering feelings of happiness. Creating recipes and parties around these books will hopefully give others a space to replay their memories, and possibly even make new memories.

Alice in Wonderland tea party

For parents or grandparents, it can be a way of extending the experience of reading with their kids, of creating new shared memories. Recreating Marilla’s raspberry cordial from Anne of Green Gables, Turkish Delight from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, even the tomato sandwich from Harriet the Spy, is a trip down memory lane.

Winnie the Pooh honey cakes

Break down your thought process when you are putting together a unique recipe from a fantasy or dystopian book, such as Elvish lembas bread from The Lord of the Rings or the Snookers and Snookers Birthday Cake from Dr. Seuss. How much research is involved when you are creating your recipes?

It’s so much fun taking an imaginary food description and bringing it to life. When I first started blogging, I gave my imagination free rein to visualize what the food might look like, how it would be presented, and so forth. I had a fabulous time conjuring up Wonka’s Marshmallow Pillow and Three-Course Dinner Gum!

Harry Potter jelly slugs!

Although creativity plays a key role, authenticity is equally important. I depend on research to develop a recipe that is as ‘real’ as possible for a food scene that we all share, particularly where personal memories are attached.

Above all else, I’m a literary food history detective. I look into what literary researchers have uncovered about the author’s inspiration and search within their descriptions for clues about the details. Old cookbooks are scoured along with food trends from either the author’s timeline or from where they drew inspiration. Once I have gathered all the pieces, I then add the essential magic ingredient – a dash of creativity to bring it to life.

What was your most challenging recipe to make or hardest craft to create?

The “Drink Me” potion from Alice in Wonderland was a challenge. The description goes, “it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast.” My first attempt was a total flop. I discovered that capturing and combining hot roast turkey and hot buttered toast is not an easy feat! It’s still on my to-do list of remakes. I’m continually working through my list of challenging recipes. For example, I’m still on the hunt for the elusive recipe for pickled limes from Little Women.

Alice in Wonderland “Drink Me” potion

What are your most popular posts?

Harry Potter continues to be a favourite, as I’ve created a number of recipes over the years. My copycat recipe for pumpkin juice through to a simple bottle of liquid luck helps people as they start planning their parties. And there are many classics: Ratty’s picnic from Wind in the Willows, Paddington’s marmalade, through to my interpretation of pop cakes from The Magic Faraway Tree.

Wind in the Willows picnic

Where in the world has been your favorite literary location to visit? And where are you hoping to go once travel restrictions are lifted?

I loved visiting Sleepy Hollow, New York in October 2019 along with exploring Kipling’s Vermont and hope to revisit once our world has found some sense of normal again. The east coast of the United States is just brimming with literary locations!

Treasure Island dinner party

How many titles do you currently have in your book collection?

It would take too long to count the number in my collection, but I can definitely say that I will always feel it’s not enough.

Peter Rabbit coat

Can you share any details about a project you are currently working on?

After over a decade of blogging, I’m actually spending this year revisiting and rewriting old posts. However, I’ve got my eye on more Roald Dahl. I still have more rooms to explore in Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Willy Wonka chocolate bar. Yesssssss!

I have to ask…what Hogwarts House did the Sorting Hat place you in?

I’m proudly a Hufflepuff. I’m happy to say those Hufflepuff interests, of nature, animals and Herbology, also make me well suited to live a life in Hobbiton.

Hobbiton seed trays


Images courtesy of Bryton Taylor

Bookshelf Treasure Hunt

Have bookshelf, will adventure! Even the smallest shelf can be used to create clues leading to a final treasure. Best of all, this journey can be adjusted to any age level, requires no special materials, and is very budget friendly!

Before we proceed, it’s important to make the distinction between a bookshelf scavenger hunt and a bookshelf treasure hunt. A scavenger hunt involves finding a specific list of items on the shelves (ex: “A blue book” or “A book with a person’s name in the title”). A treasure hunt begins with an initial clue, which leads to more clues that proceed in sequential order to a final prize. That’s what we’ll be focusing on today. A treasure hunt.

treasure hint 2

The biggest bookshelves are in our living room, so I set my treasure hunt there. This 9 clue hunt was designed for my 9 year old daughter. In addition to books, I used objects on the shelves. You can also do this activity with a smaller shelf, books laid out on a table, span it across multiple shelves in the house, or hide individual books around the entire house. It’s very flexible! The only materials I used were paper, scissors, and tape. I typed my clues, but you can hand write them as well.

I hid Clue #1 under my daughter’s lunch plate. When she lifted it to clear her place, she immediately spotted a mysterious folded note with question marks. It read: Ready for a treasure hunt? Head to the living room bookshelves. The unicorn will start you on your way…

She immediately knew what the clue was referencing. I love collecting original art from thrift stores, so here’s the unicorn from the clue. Lifting the painting, Clue #2 was revealed, cut in the shape of a unicorn speech bubble.

It read: “My friend the dragon has been captured! Can you free him? Oh, and you’ll need to bring some chewing gum, ribbons, and lollipops for the tigers, lion, and crocodiles!” This is reference to My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Inside that book, may daughter found Clue #3: TIME WILL TELL. This lead her to our shelf clock with a message sneakily taped to its back:

The clue read: Would you want a little brother like this? Hint: He’s NOT sweet like his name! This lead to one of her favorite books, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. Inside was Clue #4: Third red book from the left. By the way, you might like this series! A bit of maneuvering and counting led to The Anybodies by N.E. Bode. Also, Clue #5, which was a foray into Mom’s non-fiction section: No one knows his name, but everyone sees his art

My daughter recognized the reference, and located Banksy: You Are An Acceptable Level Of Threat And If You Were Not You Would Know About It by CarpetBombingCulture. Inside, Clue #6 read: 1 shelf over 2 shelves up. Find a KINGDOM. The search resulted in The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle plus Clue #7: Upwards! A…B…and behind C!

So, my daughter reports that Clue #7 was definitely the most difficult one. I had to drop one hint (“It says ABC”). But it was awesome to see her start working out that the clue referred to the large letters of three book titles on the upper shelf: Abarat by Clive Barker; Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle; and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (who I interview here!).

Clever girl figured it out, and was awarded with Clue #8, which read: The most secret place on the bookshelf. Hint: A mouse resides in it! Seconds later, she was opening a fake-bookcase-secret-liquor-cabinet. It’s one of my favorite yard sale finds, ever.

Inside was tiny heart card that contained Clue #9: What’s new in your room? There, my daughter found two new books illuminated by her nightstand lamp: When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed; and The Misadventures oft the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy.

This treasure hunt was fun, and very easy to put together. A couple of hints:

  • I started with books my daughter was already familiar with to get things rolling, then introduced new books I hope she’ll browse later.
  • I put the clues in the same place in every book, so she would know where to look each time. If you want to extend the time of your hunt, place the clues on random pages.
  • With the exception of the clock clue, I kept everything at eye level. You especially want to do this with younger kids. You don’t want them climbing, searching, and reaching all at the same time. They might topple over in their excitement.
  • For older kids, consider including additional codes and ciphers to translate the clues (mirror writing is a great option, and I love the pigpen cipher from this MYSTERY CLOSET post).
  • The treasure doesn’t have to be budget busting. It can be a pack of new pens, books checked out from your local library, a bit of extra dessert, or a message that simply says “Well done!”
  • Once your child completes the bookshelf treasure hunt, invite them to design one for YOU. My daughter currently has one in the works!

By the way, I hid something in this post for you as well…did you notice there was ONE photo that had nothing to do with the original treasure hunt or the clues? If you guessed the second photo, you are correct! In it, you’ll see my old, beat-up globe resting on a book recommendation for your young readers. The Last Treasure by Janet S. Anderson. It’s a fantastic story about a kid who gets involved in a treasure hunt that stretches far into his family tree, an expansive estate, and a very tricky set of clues (some rather dangerous!). What he discovers is historical, amazing, and touching.

Other treasure-hunting books residing on my home shelves over the years include: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn by John Bellairs; The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (interview here); Who Stole the Wizard of Oz by Avi; Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes (project here); Jeremy Fink and The Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass (interview here); Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans (project here, interview here); and Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (interview here).

And while most readers would technically classify this book as a scavenger hunt, I would be remiss not to mention Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein!