Be YOU!

be youIt doesn’t matter if you are yellow, red, green, this, that, rather, or neither. Just be YOU!

We read Neither by Airlie Anderson (Little, Brown, 2018). Neither the green bunny bird doesn’t fit into the tidy world of blue “This” bunnies or yellow “That” birds. Not rabbity or birdy enough, Neither is asked to leave. After a long flight, Neither lands in The Land of All, where creatures of all kinds live and play happily together.  In The Land of All, everyone is welcome. And yeah, this book totally ROCKS!

We were sooooo excited to have author and illustrator Airlie Anderson visit our library for a fabulous story time. There’s an interview with her after the project part of the post. And after that? We’ll be giving away 3 signed copies of Neither to lucky blog readers!

You’ll need:

  • Poster board
  • Elastic string
  • Costume decorating supplies (more on this below!)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We kept the construction of this project simple – ears and wings – so kids could dedicate all of their time to decorating. While you can easily make wings out of poster board, we decided to test out the “Colorations Decorate Your Own Wings” from Discount School Supply (set of 12 is $20). The wing span is 22.5″ wide. Here’s a poster board version so you can get an idea of the shape:

neither butterfly wings templateYou can also see how the wings are rigged with loops of elastic cord, so the kids can just slide them on like a backpack. If butterfly wings are not your cup of tea, you can easily turn the butterfly wing shape into bird wings like so…

neither bird wings template

The ears were a simple poster board head band with whatever ears you would like. As you will soon seen, bunny and kitty ears were very popular, though we did have a couple unicorns. We also has tails the kids could tuck into the back of their pants, or attach round their waist with elastic cord.

When your wings, ears, and tails are selected, decorate! We offered metallic , sparkle stems, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, construction paper, self-adhesive foam shapes, crepe paper streamers, iridescent ribbon, color masking tapee, and the Bling Bin! Airlie also walked around, Sharpie in hand, to customize wings and headbands:

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I caught up with the amazing Airlie Anderson after story time, and asked her a few questions…

airlie andersonPlease tell us a little about yourself!

Hi everyone! I’m Airlie, named after my grandma whose parents were Scottish. I was born and raised in California, and now live just outside of Princeton, New Jersey. I love it here! Except when it’s humid.

I was that little kid who was always drawing, and just never stopped. One of my favorite things to do is to sit in a busy café and draw in my sketchbook. My studio is in a sort of hallway in our house, so I can work while our 2 year old son naps.

How did the concept for Neither first occur to you?

I had a dream about an animal that had a mix of characteristics, and in the dream I thought, “This should be a book, and it will be called Neither.” At the time, I was teaching art to a class of middle school students, and they were just so inspiring. That dream was definitely influenced by them!

When it came to designing the main character of Neither, there were so many animal combinations to choose from! How did you finally arrive at the bird bunny?

In my Neither Dream, the character was mostly cat and butterfly, and it was a grey color. But when I experimented with sketches of that character, it looked too precious, so cute. I wanted it to look slightly more awkward, with clear qualities of two different easily recognizable animals. So bunny bird it was! Also I felt that I could make the bunnies blue for some reason, and the birds could be yellow of course. Then Neither would be boldly green. It felt just right.

The colors in this book are gorgeous! What medium did you use to create it?

Oh, thank you! I used gouache, a super saturated an opaque watercolor. It reproduces nicely, doesn’t it? I like to sketch on regular ol’ printer paper and then use a light box to trace each drawing, with paint, onto watercolor paper. Then I put lots of layers of gouache on. Green is a tricky color to reproduce, though, especially Neither’s bright lime green coat. So the excellent people at my publisher suggested an extra ink in the printing process that would make that beautiful shade of green. I was thrilled by this news, and it turned out just delightfully.

What sort of feedback have you received about this story?

Oh, I have received the most wonderful messages about Neither, from people of many different ages and backgrounds. I recently received an email from a fifty-five year old gentleman who works in an LGBTQ community center in Florida, who said the book made him cry happy tears. I hear from parents of children who don’t feel they fit in, and they tell me how Neither is their favorite bedtime book. These messages mean the world to me — the thought of people sharing this story and having a lovely experience because of it is wonderful.

I heard a rumor that Neither is going to be made into a musical! Is this true???

Yes, oh my gosh!!! What a dream come true! Lifeline Theater in Chicago is producing Neither as a musical, to premier in the spring of 2020. Coincidentally/magically, the person writing the stage version has recently moved from Chicago to Princeton and works with mutual friends — so we get to share ideas over coffee!

What are you working on now?

I have two picture book sketches with my agent right now, one about the Easter Bunny and one about sea creatures. I’m also working on a graphic novel, which is a total passion project and has been shouting at me for years to be written. I’m finally listening!


And now it’s time for a FABULOUS book giveaway! We have 3 autographed copies of Neither (Little, Brown, 2017) to share! Just e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name, and the initials of someone you think is unlike any other. We’ll put all the entires in a hat and draw 3 winners at random on Tuesday, July 2nd. Good luck!

The BiblioFiles Presents: Tony DiTerlizzi

Tony DiTerlizzi - Photo credit "Jim Gipe photo / Pivot Media"Just posted! A webcast and podcast with multiple award winning, and New York Times bestselling, author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi.

For 20 years, DiTerlizzi has infused the children’s book world with his brilliant imagination, endless creativity, and considerable artistic talent. His first series, The Spiderwick Chronicles (created in collaboration with Holly Black), details the adventures of the three Grace children and their discoveries on the other-worldly estate inherited from their relative, Arthur Spiderwick. Their much-loved adventures resulted in a spin-off series, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, several companion books, and a feature film.

DiTerlizzi’s second series, the Wondla trilogy, is an epic science fiction fantasy. It centers around human girl Eva Nine as she emerges into a world distantly removed from planet Earth – a world on the brink of an alien civil war and global reawakening. The books are illuminated with DiTerlizzi’ s gorgeous illustrations of air ships, alien species, battle scenes, and beautiful moments. It’s simply amazing.

In addition to his chapter books, DiTerlizzi has produced a number of picture books, including The Spider and the Fly, which won a Caldecott honor in 2003, The Story of Diva and Flea with Mo Willems, and The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, with Lucasfilm. In 2018, the Norman Rockwell Museum hosted a 20 year retrospective on DiTerlizzi’s work titled “Never Abandon Imagination.” He has been featured in Time magazine, USA Today, and a guest on CNN, PBS, NPR, BBC, and The Today Show.

Follow this link to the BiblioFiles interview


Tony DiTerlizzi photo by Jim Gipe Photo / Pivot Media

Creativity, Cleverness, and Considerable Artistry

save the cake bright owl books kane press

From Save the Cake! Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

Learning to read can be painstaking. Memorize the letters, string them together, recall the sounds, then run everything together until it makes sense. Early reader books are essential for this learning, but they can also seem a bit babyish with their simple stories and illustrations. At least, that’s what my son expressed to me as he struggled to read. And I had to agree with him.

Then I discovered Molly Coxe.

Molly has produced a terrific set of “Step Into Reading” books with Random House (Big Egg, Cat Trap and Hot Dog, are a few titles). But the series that really puts a smile on my face – and makes my creative mind go whoosh! – are with Bright Owl Books and Kane Press. With titles like Rat Attack, Blues for Unicorn, Go Home Goat, and Save the Cake, Molly presents clever, engaging stories with developed characters and perfect timing. Equally magnificent are her illustrations, which are needle felt characters photographed on live sets. Outdoor sets, to boot! With real snow, dirt, flowers, and water! Your eyes feast on the page, drinking up the colors, textures, and balance.

blues for unicorn bright owl books kane press

From Blues for Unicorn, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

With her thoughtful stories and exquisite images, Molly’s books are the perfect building block towards growing a happy, appreciative and competent young reader.


Please tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up in Georgia during a simpler time. Lots of free, unsupervised hours on my hands, lots of trees to climb, streams to explore, simple materials to make things out of, post WW2, parents who were not intrusive or worried, said “Have fun! See you at dinner!”

How did you first start writing early reader books?

I was teaching preschool in New York City, after a year and a half in art school, following college. I loved making up simple impromptu stories for four year olds. They loved writing (dictating) simple, impromptu stories. (Shout out to Vivien Gussin Paley, who has written extensively on the magic of this storytelling process in a classroom.) When I worked on my first early readers, I had two kids in the demographic, a built in, very honest, test audience. That helped. Also, my brain thinks well in short sentences.

rat attack bright owl books kane press

From Rat Attack, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

Early readers are obviously limited in their length and complexity. What’s your philosophy when creating your stories?

Try to tell a fresh, surprising story with very few words. Easy words! Let the images do a lot of the work. Funny is good.

princess pig interior bright owl books kane press

From Princess Pig, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

You illustrate your books, as well as sculpt needle felt characters. Is the creative process the same? Or does it feel very different?

Yes, the media are different but the goal is the same: tell a story in words and pictures. Both are great fun. Some stories, like the Beginner Book for Random House, seem to call for a flat, graphic approach. At the moment, I’m enjoying building three dimensional worlds, like scenes from miniature epics.

go home goat bright owl books kane press

From Go Home, Goat, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

What comes first, the story, or your photographic illustrations?

Depends. With early readers, the words come first. I have to make sure I can tell a lively story before I spend the time with illustrations. For my current picture book project, which has more text, the idea began with a rustic, antique dollhouse kitchen that my mom found in a rural village in France. What could happen there, I wondered? Whose kitchen is it? Your imagination, and your heart, take over.

work in progress courtesy of molly coxe

A work in progress, courtesy of Molly Coxe

Please tell us a little about your needle felt creations!

This is a process of discovery, beginning with a wire armature. It’s very exciting! As you apply wool to the armature, the character (always an animal, in my case) starts to speak to you, and you follow your intuition until he/she has a personality and starts to come alive. I know: that sounds weird, but it’s true. The character then influences the story, which is already at least partly written. You realize this character might do things differently. You aren’t totally in charge any more.

princess pig bright owl books kane press

From Princess Pig, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

Describe the process of building a scene and photographing it.

So much fun. Imagine being a seven year old outside in the woods with a pile of sticks, leaves, rocks, dirt. It’s just like that, but with a wider range of materials, and slightly more sophisticated tools. (Only slightly: I restrict myself to low tech solutions that I can pull off alone, for many reasons. One is that it’s hard for me to stay in a flow when I am interacting with others.) Photography is all about light–once you have a decent composition, and the characters are expressing the action and the emotion. Mostly this means getting up very early, and being very patient, hanging out in a pond with minnows nibbling your legs until the morning sun comes over the hill and just kisses the characters and the foliage, and the mule shack in a way that creates magic.

molly coxe works outdoors

Molly Coxe at work, courtesy of the artist

What’s the strangest, or most difficult thing you’ve worked with when composing a scene?

A blizzard at 6,000 feet, working on Cubs in a Tub. You have about ten minutes before your fingers freeze solid, and you can’t operate the camera any more, your characters hat gets swept off a cliff by a gust of frigid wind (I climbed down and got it, by the way. Very unwise, but exhilarating). When you are trying to create dramatic images, real life drama helps. You have to snag the moment, not worry about every little thing being “perfect”.

cubs in a tub bright owl books kane press

From Cubs in a Tub, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

How did you create the rain effects in Wet Hen? Those images are amazing, and in some cases, characters are floating on water!

A hose propped up on ladders. That was such a good time. Midsummer. Hot! But you had to get the image in the first couple of trys. Otherwise, the characters were too soaked, had to dry out for rest of day, try again next, when the light was nice again. The floating scenes were very dicey. Lots of fishing line holding things up from above. I asked my daughter, with whom I have a fair degree of mind meld, to help create the giant wave with a paddle, while I took the photo. We got it on first try.

wet hen water photos bright owl books kane press

From Wet Hen, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

I absolutely love the Story Starters at the end of each book. Do you, or the publisher, come up with the prompts?

I come up with them, with the help of wonderful editors. Great editors make all of the text so much better. Shout out to my editors!!!

wet hen story starter bright owl books kane press

From Wet Hen, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018


Molly also does creative work with kids, and was kind enough to send me one of her fabulous “Make-A-Mouse” kits. It arrived in an adorable stitched burlap bag and included all the materials to make 2 sock mice (and did you notice the little socks came with pre-stitched felt ears?). Not pictured below was the polyester fill stuffing. Molly thought of everything!

make a mouse kit courtesy of molly coxeI won’t be able to match Molly’ magnificent sets, but I was inspired to snap a photo of my two completed mice at a local farmers market:

molly coxe's finished mouse kitMany thanks to the folks at Sprouts, who were kind enough to let me photograph their wares. And check out Isabel the farm truck. Doesn’t she look like a piece of one of Molly’s sets? I’m half-expecting a needle felt pig to appear in the driver’s seat and give a wave!

isabel the sprouts farm truck


Many thanks to Molly for the kit, and for just being so darn awesome. Both as a caring writer and an artist to look up to. May your days be full of inspiration and perfect lighting!

greedy beetle bright owl books kane press

From Greedy Beetle, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019


All images used with permission of Bright Owl Books, Kane Press, and Molly Coxe.