Let’s Get Small

lets get small

Book lovers dream of that big, beautiful library with the cozy chairs and the rolling ladder. But books can tend to take up quite a bit of space. Today, we have a solution for you! It’s the My Miniature Library kit by Laurence King Publishing, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini (ages 6+, retails for $20). Katie took the miniature kit for a tiny test drive…

my minature library kit by laurence king publishingThe packaging for My Miniature Library is a delightful cardboard box in the shape of a book. When you open the box, you are greeted with a small instruction booklet, 18 sheets of books covers and pages, and a cardboard punch-out bookshelf.

kit contents of my miniature libraryThe 9″ x 12″ box containing the kit (and this is really cool) is also the set of the library. Prop it up on its side, and it becomes your library, complete with chevron hardwood floors, birds in flight wallpaper, and a window framed with fall leaves. When you are done playing with your miniature library, you simply pack everything inside the box, close the lid, and slide the kit on a shelf until next time!

set for my minature libraryThe kit contains the makings for 30 tiny books: 20 pre-written (both fiction and non-fiction), 8 books with title prompts you can author yourself, and 2 completely blank books for whatever topic you desire. Here’s a set of the pre-printed book sheets (which were primarily fairy tales):

ready made book sheets for my miniature libraryAnd here’s a set of the design-your-own sheets:

make your own book sheets for my minature library kitGenerally, the instructions are very clear, concise, and easy to follow. Especially the cardboard bookshelf. The books are where I started to run into some trouble. To create a miniature book, you first cut out the 2 strips that become the book pages, and the cover of the book. Then you carefully accordion-fold the book pages together, and glue them inside the front and back of the book’s cover.

book folds You have to carefully cut the 2 page strips in order to not lose any of the text or images. You also have to cut out the cover. For 30 books, that’s 90 pieces of paper to cut. That’s a lot of cutting.

Also, folding the 2 page strips is a bit tedious. These books are small (1″ x 1.5″), so it takes nimble fingers to make sure the tiny pages are folded just right. The covers have a tiny spines that require more nimble finger work.

It took me around 6.5 minutes to make a book from start to finish. Multiply that by 30 and you are looking at well over 3 hours to make all 30 books. Also, the packaging doesn’t mention needing glue to attach the pages to the cover. That piece of information is buried deep within the instructions.

However, when finished, the library is positively adorable. The stories are cleverly edited, so nothing is lost in the retelling. I love the option for children to write and draw their own books. The quality of printing is top notch, and the book illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini are just incredible. Here’s an illustration from Hansel and Gretel:

hansel and gretel illustration by daniela jaglenka terrazziniAnd here is the finished library, bookshelf and all. We placed my toilet paper tube portrait of Johnathan Swift (who you first met here) in the library so you can get an idea of the size ratio.

finished my miniature libraryHowever, I disagree with the recommended age of 6+. I think children 10+ are better suited for the complicated cutting and folding to put these books together. With an estimated 3 hours to craft all 30 books (and that’s after all the cutting is done), I can imagine many children would give up well before all of the books are finished. Children under 10 might also have trouble writing small enough for the design-your-own books portion of the kit. Still, there’s no denying the awesomeness of your very own library with readable books and gorgeous hardwood floors!

Recommended, with caution. Be prepared with good scissors, strong cutting and folding fingers, a glue stick, and lots and LOTS of patience.

Ham(ster) it Up!

ham it upSchool is in session, and it appears your teacher has a new pet…that could potentially eat him. Wouldn’t you rather have a sweet little hamster? We were delighted to have author Anica Mrose Rissi visit our story time to read her book, The Teacher’s Pet. There’s an interview with Nica at the end of today’s post, AND! We’re giving away 6 signed copies of the book to YOU, our blog readers!

We read The Teacher’s Pet, written by Anica Mrose Rissi, and illustrated by Zachariah OHora (Disney Hyperion, 2017). Everyone is excited when the class tadpoles hatch. Mr. Stricter, the teacher, allows the class one tadpole to keep as a pet. Except “Bruno” isn’t a tadpole. He’s a hippo who proceeds to grow at an alarming rate and run amok. Bruno eats schools supplies, breaks desks, and snores during silent reading. But Mr. Stricter won’t hear a word against his beloved pet. Until Bruno swallows him whole. The clever class rescues Mr. Stricter, but Bruno needs to retire to a place with more room. Perhaps Mr. Stricter would like a hamster?

We made hamster cages, complete with a jumbo pom-pom hamster. Thanks to the wonder of magnets, your hamster can scurry around the cage, motor up ramps, and ring a little bell!

finished hamster cage

You’ll need:

  • 1 aluminum food container with plastic lid (more on this below)
  • Poster board
  • Yellow crepe paper streamer
  • Construction paper
  • 1 wine cork
  • 2 button magnets
  • 2 wiggle eyes
  • 1 jumbo pom-pom
  • 1 bell
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The key to this project is the container you use for the hamster’s cage. We found 10.5″ x 12.5″ aluminum food containers with plastic lids at our local dollar store that totally did the trick. Definitely opt for a larger container so you have room to attach the cage elements. Also, make sure the bottom of the aluminum container is somewhat smooth. Some are heavily ribbed, which makes it hard to keep the hamster/magnet connection going. The cage elements are simple:

hamster cage elementsWe made a water bottle out of a roll of construction paper and a snippet of drinking straw. The ramps and the little hamster house are poster board. The sawdust shavings are crumpled pieces of yellow crepe paper streamers (the clear winner out of testing a bunch of different types of paper). The food bowl is a tape core wrapped with patterned tape. And the bell is hanging from a little piece of curling ribbon.

The hamster is a jumbo pom-pom with wiggle eyes, construction paper ears, and a little self-adhesive foam nose (even though construction paper works for the nose too). Hot glue button magnets to the back of the pom-pom and one end of a wine cork and you have your hamster magnet wand, ready to go!

hamster magnet wandWe also found some alphabet letter stickers in the art cabinet. So we encouraged kids to spell their hamster’s name on the clear plastic lid of the aluminum container. Our hamster was named Twinkles, but there was also a Sparky, Bob, Ricky, and…I can’t quite pronounce this one…

hamster name To operate your hamster, place the cork wand behind the cage, connect it with the magnet glued to the pom-pom hamster, then drag the wand to lead the hamster through all of his/her activities!


The Teacher’s Pet is fantastic and fun, and the fun multiplied exponentially when the Anica Mrose Rissi arrived to read it to us herself (whilst also sporting an awesome Mr. Stricter sweater).  Many readers know Anica from her charming Anna, Banana series, but she recently released her first YA novel, Always Forever Maybe.

anica mrose rissi at the cotsen children's libraryPlease tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up on an island off the coast of Maine, where I read a lot of books and loved a lot of pets. After college, I moved to New York City, where I worked as a book editor for more than thirteen years. Now I tell and collect stories, make up songs on my violin, and take long walks with my dog, Arugula, here in Princeton, where I’ve lived for the past three years.

Besides my picture books, chapter books, young adult novels, and essays, I also write lyrics for (and play fiddle in!) the electro-country band Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves. Princeton-area friends can see us play at two free, family-friendly shows this fall: We’ll be part of the Unruly Sounds Festival at Hinds Plaza on September 29, and we’ll be playing a record release show at Princeton Public Library on November 10, to celebrate our new album, The Best of Your Lies.

Thanks for coming to our library! What do you enjoy most about reading to kids?

Thanks for having me! Talking with kids about writing and reading is one of my favorite parts of being an author. I’m lucky to do a lot of school visits, at which the kids always ask fun and interesting questions. The best thing about reading stories to kids and talking with them about my creative process is that young kids are all creators too. I don’t know a single child who isn’t also an artist or storyteller (or both!), so the conversation is really one amongst peers. I can inspire and encourage them, but they inspire me with their creativity and imaginations too.

You’re best known for your Anna, Banana series, but The Teacher’s Pet was your first picture book. What inspired it?

The Teacher’s Pet is the story of a teacher who is so enamored of the new class pet, he can’t see all the trouble it’s causing. I wrote it because I wanted to play with the pun suggested by the title and tell a story about a teacher whose obvious favorite is an actual pet. And I was drawn to the challenge of writing it as a picture book—a medium with so much room for humor, yet space for so few words.

As for character inspiration…Mr. Stricter is perhaps the most autobiographical character I’ve written. I am not an elementary-school teacher, and I’ve never (yet) been swallowed whole (or sneezed back out!) by a creature like Bruno, but I am wildly in love with my own adorable but not always entirely well-behaved pet (the aforementioned pup, Arugula).

A fun fact about picture-book creation: Picture book authors and illustrators almost always work separately, and even though I wrote this book, I didn’t know that Bruno, the class pet, would turn out to be a [species redacted] until I saw the first round of Zachariah OHora’s hilarious artwork. When the early sketches for the story arrived in my inbox, I laughed with surprise. I never would have guessed that a tadpole would grow into a [!!!!!]. (Though I knew, of course, that Bruno would not be a regular frog.) It’s so much fun to write a story like this and get to see the extra layers—and humor—that the visual story created by the illustrator adds to the text.

This summer, you released your first YA book, Always Forever Maybe. I know you’re continuing the Anna, Banana series, releasing another picture book, and working on another YA novel. Sometimes, do you feel like you’re writing on different planets?

I feel lucky to get to write many kinds of stories for different audiences, and my brain likes to keep busy. I’m happiest when I’m working on several projects at once (though it’s best when each project is in a different stage of creation—I can’t, for example, write two first drafts simultaneously). But no, they don’t feel like different planets to me. Each story has a way it wants to be told, and when I’m writing a draft, I’m focused on figuring out the best way to tell it. That process feels both similar from book to book and wildly different. But I’m exploring similar themes across categories, genres, and age levels—almost everything I write, from picture books for kids to essays for adults, touches on ideas about friendship, animals, and love.

Describe writing in 6 words.

Fun terrible surprising exciting wonderful drudgery :)


If you’d like to meet Anica, she’s going to be at the Princeton Public Library’s Children’s Book Festival this Saturday, September 22nd from 11am to 4pm. Go say hi!

We also have 6 copies of The Teacher’s Pet to give away, signed by Anica AND the illustrator, Zachariah OHora (who will be at the book festival too)! Just e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name, and the name of your favorite pet growing up. We’ll put all the names in a hat and draw 6 winners at random on Tuesday, September 25th. Good luck!

Give My Regards to Broadway

intro 2A few weeks ago, Katie, Marissa, and I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway. Just…soak up the epic-ness of that last sentence. I’d love to share our theater-going experience, but first, I do solemnly swear there will be NO SPOILERS about the content of the play itself.

keep the secrets 3

Katie was the one who started the Broadway ball rolling. In the fall of 2017, she entered and won the ticket purchase lottery. And that is how, eight months later, Marissa, Katie, and I journeyed to Manhattan to witness wizarding wonders. We were really excited.

dana with sign 3Like, really, really, really, REALLY excited.

very excited 3

The performance is split into two parts. Part I runs for 2 hours and 40 minutes, which includes a 20 minute intermission. Part II is 2 hours and 35 minutes with another 20 minute intermission. The way Katie purchased the tickets, we saw both parts on the same day, with a dinner break.

Cursed Child is playing at the Lyric Theater, which underwent a massive, multimillion dollar renovation in order to host the play. The co-designers (Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis) must be huge Harry Potter fans because you can absolutely feel the love, care, and creativity that went into creating a totally immersive experience.

For example, there’s a circular room that’s filled with a huge mural of patronus. Their bodies incorporate BOOK quotes! They are the masterful work of UK artist Peter Strain.

eagle patronus 2

doe patronus 4cat patronus 2otter patronus 2

A little further in the theater is a multi-story staircase. Very elegant.

dress circle 2

But the best part is the ceiling. Look at this…!

ceiling 2

The lowest level was decorated to resemble the Forbidden Forest. The pillars are natural wood that has painted over. So they resemble highly stylized tree trunks.

forbidden forest 2

Take a closer look at the carpet, too. A delicate little custom H emblem for Hogwarts.

carpet 3 Custom gilded wall paper too. I fell in love with the the balcony-level wallpaper…

Even the merchandise areas were stylish. The Lyric has a couple shops, concession stands, even bars for the grown-ups! This is a shelf in one of the candy areas. I love the branch, glass goblet, and books. There were cool old books on display everywhere.

candy 2

Finally, it was time for the show to begin. Here’s the interior of the theater. If you look closely at the stage, you’ll see stacks of old-fashioned suitcases. The first scene takes place on the platform in King’s Cross Station.

full theater 2

I promised no play spoilers, but what I can say is…wow. Wow wow wow wowie-WOW. It was a masterpiece of acting, music, choreography, lighting and stage illusion. Some of the illusions were BIG. And some of the illusions were such simple, beautiful little touches, it brought tears to my eyes. There were inside jokes for book fans, and the return of much-loved characters (even if it was ever-so-briefly). Without giving anything away, I will say that the production crews used every single bit of that theater to tremendous effect.

The end of Part I will simply take your breathe away. Seriously. I didn’t exhale for 3 minutes while things played out. Here’s Katie’s son and niece giving their reactions to the conclusion of Part I.

part 1 reaction 4

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child kept us utterly enthralled for 5 hours and 15 minutes. There were 3 curtains calls to a massive standing ovation. The cast and crew deserve every single bit of that applause and more. They put their whole hearts into what will forever be one of the highlights of my literary life. Bravo.