The Bear Went Over the (Book) Mountain

bear book mountainThis intrepid bear marionette marches over all obstacles in our library landscape… searching for new friends and a cozy place to call home!

We read Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson (Disney Hyperion, 2011). Otto the Bear is a character in a book. He possesses the delightful ability to come to life and rove outside his book. Otto explores the house, reads, and journals on the family typewriter. When his book is tragically overlooked when the family moves away, Otto decides to strike out on his own. But it’s a big world for a tiny bear, and he soon grows downhearted. But what’s this? A building full of light, hope, and characters like him? Now, Otto lives in the library with tons of new friends and readers. He is a very happy bear!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (ours was 4″ x 4″ x 4″ – a small tissue box works too)
  • String
  • Brown construction paper
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • 2 large plastic buttons
  • 3 toilet paper tubes
  • Red felt (optional)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Hole punch
  • Hot glue

bear mariontteThis marionette is designed with simplicity in mind! First, cut the bottom off a small box.Then cut the box down to about 2.25″ tall. Punch two holes in the top of the box, and thread a 29″ piece of string up and out of both holes like so:

bear marionette stringTie the free ends of the string to a wooden dowel rod. If the top of your box has a lid like ours did, make sure to tape it down tightly.

Next up, the bear’s face! The snout is half a toilet paper tube with a circle of brown construction paper covering one end. Hot glue the snout in place, then add a plastic button nose, a pair of wiggle eyes, and ears. We made the ears (and the bear’s tail) out of the extra cardboard we cut from the box earlier.

bear marionette faceTo make the bear’s legs, cut 2 toilet paper tubes in half. Punch 2 holes in the top of a half, then thread a 10″ piece of string through the holes like this:

bear marionette legRepeat the above steps with the remaining three legs, then tape all 4 legs to the inside “ceiling” of the box. Here’s a shot of the underside of the box with the leg strings taped in place.

underside of bear marionetteDid you notice the black button in the image above? We hot glued that to the inside rear of the bear to counterbalance the button on the bear’s snout. It helps keep the marionette from leaning forward too much.

In the book, Otto wears a handsome red messenger bag. We crafted our bags out of red felt, using hot glue to seal the sides. A little piece of black masking tape held the bag closed.

bear marionette bag When the bear marionettes were finished, we encouraged kids to pull books off the shelves and use them to create mountains, walls, ramps, bridges, and paths for their bears to travel across. A few kids also made cozy little places for the bear to nap. Awwwww!

hibernating bear

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.

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.

navigating-the-lasers

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!