So Happy Together

so happy together

What could be cuter then a mama and baby bunny? A cozy log house with a fold-out flower garden, of course! And did we mention the house has a “working” LED votive fireplace? Such. Cuteness.

log homeThis project was designed for a story time with author Amanda Rowe, who visited our library, fuzzy bunny ears at the ready. Scroll to the end of the post for an interview with Amanda, as well as a fabulous book giveaway!

amanda rowe with bunny ear crowdWe read If There Never Was a You, written by Amanda Rowe, and illustrated by Olga Skomorokhova (Familius, 2019). A mother bunny lovingly asks what she would do without baby bunny in her life. This book is adorable, heartfelt, and beautifully illustrated. The perfect bedtime snuggle book, hands down!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9”, a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 strip of poster board (ours was 1.75″ x 8.5″)
  • 1 bunny house frames template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 2 small boxes
  • 1 wooden spool
  • 1 LED votive
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 4 mini pom-poms
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We used a 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” brown craft box for our project, but you can also modify a large tissue box. Just cut the top of the tissue box on a hinge, like so:

tissue log home alternativeUse a box cutter to add a window and door to the ends of the box, then tape (or hot glue) a poster board handle to the top. Then decorate the interior and exterior of the log house! You can just use construction paper and markers to decorate. Or, dig around the supply closet for items with interesting textures.

log home interior Our flower garden was a bit of outdoor carpet (reused from our Seuss mini golf event). We added fabric flowers, cardboard mosaic square stepping stones, and a blue embossed foil paper pond. For the interior, we offered both construction and patterned paper (and don’t forget to add some farmed art work from the template!). Here are the furnishings:

log home furnitureThe armchair is a modified tape roll box, and the table is a circle of poster board with a wooden spool base. The fireplace is also a tape roll box. The “fire” is an an LED votive with poster board sticks attached to the front. Cut a toilet paper tube in half to create your 2 bunnies, then add ears and pom-pom tails and noses. Light the fire, get your bunnies cozy, and revel in the cuteness!

bunnies by the fireplaceBest of all, everything tucks inside the log box for easy transportation!

log home exteriorAfter the project was finished, out came fuzzy bunny ears for kids to wear home, and we also gave away 3 signed copies of Amanda’s book! Here’s a lucky (and clearly very excited) winner!

book winner with amanda roweIf There Never Was a You is Amanda’s first book! After story time, I caught up with her to chat about her process…


Tell us a little about yourself!

I’ve always been a creative person. When I was a child, I used to spend hours dressing my dolls with matching accessories and coordinating tiny ensembles. I made cards to give to people for birthdays and holidays, and I even learned calligraphy to make them look special! As a young adult, I made wedding and baby shower favors, and decorative wreaths. I scrapbooked and painted all sorts of wall decor for my children’s rooms when they were little. Creating is something I’ve always done, and writing is one of my favorite avenues of expression for my creativity. But I can’t draw, so I’m very thankful for gifted illustrators like Olga!

This is your very first book, tell us your inspiration for it!

My children are the inspiration for everything good that I’ve done, including this book. A few years ago, I was divorced, with only fifty percent custody, and my kids were approaching teenagerhood, so even when they were with me, they were often busy with friends or sports practices, and I missed them. As a mother, especially a working one, it is unusual to have free time, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. But I wanted to channel that time and emotion into something positive, and I started thinking about how much I enjoy spending time with my kids, and all of the wonderful experiences I would have missed out on if they had not been born. I wrote it down, and that became If There Never Was a You.

What was the process to publication like?

It was a long road that led me here. I first began trying to get published when my children were little. I was a stay at home mother at the time, and I cherished my time with my kids, but I needed an intellectual outlet. So, at night, after they were asleep, I would go to our home office and write. I wrote everything and submitted most of it – personal essays, greeting cards, slogans, poems, non-fiction articles and eventually novels.

I sold a few poems, a greeting card and a slogan, and lots of non-fiction articles. But my novels were terrible, and my essays did not get picked up. I think that there are a lot of different types of writing, and not every writer is good at all of them. So, in the beginning, you try many different things to see what fits.

I took a break from writing when I got divorced because I returned to work full-time and I needed to focus on creating stability and a new normal for my kids. When I resumed writing a few years later, I tried my hand at children’s books, and this one got picked up almost immediately. I kept writing personal essays, too, because I enjoy reading them, and those eventually became my blog posts. So, it is an interesting situation I find myself in now, writing for children and adults at the same time. But it works. I read the book to the kids, and I point their parents to the blog. Hopefully, I have something of value to offer to both groups.

The illustrations by Olga Skomorokhova are gorgeous. At your story time, you asked the kids what their favorite illustration was…what’s yours?

That’s a hard question – it’s like trying to pick my favorite child! There is so much I like about all of them. I love the bunnies playing soccer because my son is a soccer player so that page is a nod to him (and it’s adorable – bunnies playing soccer!). I also really like the picture of the mom serving carrot cake to the child, because my daughter and I like to bake together and carrot cake is a favorite treat in our house. But I’m also a big fan of the carrot rocket ship (so creative!), and that page has one of my favorite lines, “Who would do your greatest things, and who would dream your dreams?” I like the idea that each child makes a unique contribution to the world, and if they had never been born, we would be missing something important.

if there never was a you illustrated by olgaskomorokhova

If There Never Was a You illustration by Olga Skomorokhova, used with permission of Familius, 2019

What’s the most unexpected thing about holding your first book in your hands?

The places and the life that this book has led me to. I imagined an author’s life as being a solitary existence, and it is anything but. It is true that I do most of the writing alone in my home office. But even at home, I’m not alone anymore – I’m interacting with people all over the world thanks to social media. There is so much networking and promotion involved when a book is published.

I’ve been everywhere lately – schools, libraries, bookstores – and I’m meeting so many people of various ages, from different walks of life, and it’s fascinating. I’ve been humbled and surprised by the warmth and the kindness of the people that I’ve met, and I’m so appreciative of all of the support that I’ve received from libraries, schools, bookstores, and parents.

And the kids are the best! They’re so sweet, curious, and openhearted. I’ve gotten some fantastic cards, pictures, and letters from kids that are so beautiful they made me cry. It’s a privilege, writing for and visiting with children, and they’ve inspired me to write more children’s books, so I have an excuse to hang out with them again!


Would you like to win a copy of the book? We have 3 copies of If There Never Was a You (Familius, 2019) to give away, signed by Amanda! Just send a mental hug to someone who means a lot to you, then e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name. We’ll randomly draw 3 winners on Tuesday,  April 9th. Good luck!

Princeton Writes

From left to right: Princeton Writes Director John Wereen, Carla Zimowsk, Dana Sheridan, Dianne Spatafore, and Melissa Moss

Every year, for the past three years, Princeton University’s Princeton Writes program has sponsored a staff writing contest. Well, guys, uh…this year I won the contest! So please forgive a bit of horn tooting. I put blood, sweat, and more then a few tears into my entry, and I’m a proud essay mom.

The Princeton Writes program focuses on non-academic writing and clearness of communication. They offer classes, tutorials, writing retreats, and an annual essay contest in collaboration with the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Humanities Council. This year’s contest topic was to “describe an encounter or relationship that has given you a new perspective.” The results were truly moving.

All of us gathered at a reception earlier this month, and I was invited to read my essay out loud. Which was terrifying.

But the whole gang showed up to get me through. Full disclosure: they served wine and mini cannoli at the reception.

The links to the essays are below. We also recorded us reading them in a studio (very cool!). So if you scroll to the bottom of each page, you’ll find a sound file as well. If you’d like to read more about the authors, please see this article by Adrianne Daponte.

Princeton Writes Prize:

Dana Sheridan – She Still Hasn’t Told Me Her Name

Honorable Mentions:

Melissa B. Moss – Two Autumns
Dianne D. Spatafore – Untitled
Carla M. Zimowsk – Arkadas

I often feel like I’m writing in a void. Therefore, it’s incredibly encouraging and validating when someone likes and honors your work. I’d like to sincerely thank – from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my typing fingers – the Princeton Writes program for allowing writers a chance to channel and share their thoughts. Thank you so much.


Photos by David Kelly Crow

350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017It is with great pleasure that I announce the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! Each writer was challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The surface began to move.” Winners from each of our 3 age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore. Congratulations to this year’s talented authors!


IMPACT
By James Bertrand, age 10

Impact artwork by Aliisa LeeI checked the clock. 11:59. One more minute until I turned eleven. Beep. I sat up, bumping my head on the concrete wall above me. Groaning, I gingerly touched my forehead with my hand. Ouch, I thought. Dragging myself out of my bed, I thumped through the hallway and down the stairs. I didn’t think about the fact it was the middle of the night. I just crept through the ghostly rooms, silent. That silence was broken by an eerie creak when I stepped on a broken floorboard.

The pure blankness of everything was pretty creepy. I could see dust particles float and twirl in the slightly chilly air. I peered at the living room table. Then the surface began to move, pieces sliding and grinding away from each other. Then I remembered. Today was the meteor shower, right on my birthday. Traversing through the hall I found my presents. I was really tempted to open them right then and there, but I didn’t.

I stepped into the kitchen to find my phone lying on the counter, buzzing. I walked over to the island and I turned it on. I had tons of texts from my friends about my birthday and the comets. Then my phone beeped again. It was happening now! Climbing out the front door, I wondered how amazing this would actually be. As my feet touched down on the wet, soft grass, I heard sirens. Nothing unusual, I thought.

People were screaming and crying, sirens were blaring and my heartbeat sounded so loud, I thought people in China could hear it. I didn’t understand what everyone was so scared about until I glanced at the sky. Sure enough, there were meteors. A large white rock was hurtling across the sky, growing larger each second as it got closer to the ground. I didn’t have time to think when someone yelled “Brace for impact!” I dropped to the pavement and curled into a tight ball as bright light and the smell of smoke enveloped me.


Taken Literally artwork by Aliisa LeeTAKEN LITERALLY
By Jieruei Chang, age 12

Don’t fly into a rage, my father always said. I never knew he
meant it literally, until now. This is the story he told me.
One day, my father tripped over a rock.
“THAT ROCK!” He yelled, kicking it over and over.
At that instant, there was a blinding flash of light. The surface
began to move. He was lifted off the ground by an invisible pair
of wings, flew through the air and landed headfirst on a
deserted island.
“That rock,” he muttered.
As he brushed himself off, he noticed a sign that said,
“Welcome to Arage, where what you say is reality.”
As he looked around, a pack of hikers flew through the air and
landed in quick succession on top of him, still arguing when
they found themselves in a much hotter climate.
“How do we get out of here?”
“The only way is to swim.”
“Yeah, right,” another hiker responded with a sarcastic tone.
“As easy as falling off a log.”
The hiker fell off a log that had somehow appeared.
“Ow!” he said. “How’d it get here? I think I have a concussion now.”
“Quit that! There’s an elephant in the room! We have to get off
of this place called Arage!”
All of a sudden, they were in a room. An elephant appeared,
smashing through the door and waving its trunk in the air.
At that moment my father understood. “Whatever we say
actually happens.”
“So that means…”
“When the cat’s away the mice will play.”
Playful mice appeared. The elephant’s eyes nervously swept
side to side for a few moments before it crashed out the door,
making another hole in the process.
“Now that’s proof. I think I know what to do. We’re all in the
same boat on this, right?”
A boat appeared and they all were thrown onto it. “Well, let’s get out of here!”
And so they rowed through the night (and a knight for good measure) back to shore.
So hold your temper, or you really might fly into Arage – but at
least now you know what to do.


I CAN’T CONCENTRATE
By Abigail Reytblat, age 14

I Can't Concentrate artwork by Aliisa Lee“The surface began to move,” she says, and then stops reading.
“What?” she asks.
She’s annoyed. I can tell because of the way her eyebrow twitches, for just a moment, before she speaks.
“Nothing. I just coughed.”
She looks at me, for one, two, three moments, and then raises the textbook to her eyes again. “ The surface-”
“But,” I interrupt, “That sentence seems very cliche. I mean, it’s not descriptive at all. It’s redundant, actually. It’s already told us before what happens during an earthquake.”
She glares at me. She knows this game. It’s a dance I play, one that she hates. “Tam, it’s a history textbook. About an earthquake from 1906. No one cares if it’s well-written. All you have to do is read it.”
“I care. I think many other people would care about it more, too, if it was well-written.”
“Tam!”
I grin. She touches her glasses, compulsively, pushing them farther up on the bridge of her nose, so that for a moment her eyes are covered. “Fine. Do you want to read?”
“No, no. No, you keep on going. I’ll be quiet, I promise.”
“No, you won’t”
“No, I won’t be.”
“Tammie, this project is due tomorrow.”
I’m just saying that, perhaps, the author should have chosen her words more carefully.”
“No. Focus.”
“Focusing, Samantha, focusing.”
There is silence as she flips the pages, trying to find the right one. “The San Andreas Fault- what? ”
“Hmm? Nothing, nothing. Nothing at all.”
She starts the sentence over again “The San Andreas-” and now she’s the one who laughs. “Is it going to be like this all day?”
“Yup, pretty much. We should take a break.”
Her mattress creaks as she rises. “I’ll be back. Just getting some water. You want to come?”
“No,” I say, watching her. “No, I think I’ll stay here.”
In a moment, the sound of her footsteps have faded from the hall. I pick up the fallen textbook, running my hand over the tattered book jacket absentmindedly, before opening it- “The surface began to move.”
I’ve finished reading by the time she returns.


Artwork by Aliisa Lee