350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017Announcing the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest!  This year, young writers were challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “Each box had a story.” Winners from our four age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree on Amazon. Congratulations to all!

Illustrations by Aliisa Lee


THE STORY OF THE BOX
by Melody Yan, age 9, Hong Kong

The lights flickered in the tightly crammed cargo ship. I rocked back and forth, bumping into other boxes. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a box. I won’t bother to tell you anymore. It’ll just raise more and more questions. Anyways, the ship stopped. Then a person came in. He picked up boxes and put them on a cart. We got pushed to a bigger box, and they started putting other boxes inside the big box.

“Hey kid, what’s your story?!” asked the big box I was in.

“Huh?” I asked, confused.

“Each box has a story,” said the big box. “I myself am made from many boxes, although it was quite painful,” he said, thoughtfully. Other boxes around also told their stories.

“Well kid, we’ve told you our stories, tell us yours,” said the big box, which was called Alfredo.

“I…I don’t really have a story,” I stammered.

“What?!” shouted Alfredo. “You think about that! Each box has a story!”

And then somebody opened the box and lifted me and a small box out. I was glad for that. Anyways, the person carried us to a hospital. The guy carrying us walked over to a lady sitting at a desk that read: Receptionist. He said, “Delivery!” The lady smiled and said, “Welcome! This way please!” She led him into a hallway with doors that had signs. He left us in one and after a while somebody came and took us to a room where there were two beds with girls on them. One of the girls said, “Hailey, you don’t have to do this.”

“Sarah, you know I would do anything for you. You’re my BFF,” said Hailey.

“Yeah, but a kidney transplant!” said Sarah.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” comforted Hailey.

A man with a white coat came and said, “You girls have surgery now.” He opened up me and the small box and took out two identical, blue stuffed bunnies. All of a sudden, I knew what Alfredo meant. And I can tell you, everything was worth it for that smile.


TWISTED SCIENCE
by Sofia Lachmann, age 11, California

“G16! This is a G16 emergency!”

“What’s happening?” I yelled over the blaring loudspeaker as I ran. I was new to this company, and I still hadn’t been through all the training yet. What the heck does G16 mean?

“They’re bringing in a specimen that’s dangerous!” a man shouted.

I turned a corner and was left wandering empty halls alone. I wasn’t supposed to be here, but I was thrilled to be breaking the rules.

After a few minutes, I became uneasy. The hallways looked exactly the same: white walls, carpeted floors. There was no way I was going to be able to find my way back. Eventually though, I found a door labeled ‘DO NOT ENTER – RESTRICTED ACCESS ONLY’. I opened the door.

Inside was a balcony looking down to a huge lab. I peered over the ledge and almost fell off. This company wasn’t saving the lives of animals, they were experimenting on them! How could so many nice people be working for something so disgusting?

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when another alarm blasted.

“777, there’s been a breach in the upper lab section. Report any suspects. 777.”

That was me, wasn’t it? I was the breach they were talking about. I heard voices and rushed, heavy footsteps coming and I ducked behind a crate, hoping they hadn’t seen me. 2 people walked passed, and I caught a bit of their conversation.

“…it was so sudden, I’m not sure if I locked the cage properly!”

When I was sure they were gone, I came out from hiding and ran to the stairs that led me to the labs down below.

The first of probably 8 or 9 glass boxes held a tiger with eagle wings. How did this mutant animal exist? Only when I got closer to the glass walls did I notice the labels. Each box had a story. A story about the animal inside. Medicines taken, surgeries performed. Scientists had made this poor creature.

I could feel my blood boiling under my skin, and I did something dangerous and impulsive.

I unlatched the lock.


THE PLAY
by Juha Lee, age 13, New Jersey

For months, Penny had excitedly awaited this day. Now, it was finally here. She stepped out of the car holding her mother’s hand. Walking toward the theater entrance, she giggled gleefully at the sight of the red carpet in the doorway. Penny strutted into the air-conditioned theater, pretending paparazzi and fans were cheering for her.

“Enough!” her mother snapped, dragging her by the elbow to the ticket window.

As her mother stood in line, Penny turned to people-watch. It was her favorite thing to do in public places; it was a fun way to pass time and it was relaxing, in a way. She smiled to herself as she imagined backstories for the strangers who passed by. This was another thing she liked to do in public places.

“Penny!” her mother hissed, gesturing for Penny to follow. “Come on! The play starts in 10 minutes!”

Eyes bright with anticipation, Penny babbled her excitement away as her mother led her down a hallway, around the corner, and into the auditorium. She was still rambling on when they sat down in their seats, asking her mother how she was staying so calm when all this was so exciting: oh, aren’t you excited, I am, this is my first play ever, oh I’m so thrilled.

“Hush now,” Penny’s mother said sternly, frowning at the way Penny was bouncing up and down in her seat. “And quit moving around so much, will you?”

Penny wasn’t the least bit dejected, and continued marveling at the huge, open space of the auditorium. Suddenly, the lights dimmed, and she let out a small squeak of surprise. Her mother shushed her again, but Penny was literally on the edge of her seat now, craning her neck to see the first actress walk onto the stage. As she opened her mouth to speak, Penny fell silent and leaned forward, eager to hear the first line: “Each box had a story.”


MAIDEN, MOTHER, CRONE
by Stuti Desai, age 15, New Jersey

The meadow was empty except for you and your painstakingly gathered boxes: one, from the waters of the Kraken; another, from the camps of the Mahabharata War; and a third, found under Salem. Each box had a story.

You, dress flowing, hands bloodied, legs aching. You were not strong that you could shove galaxies apart to find your boxes, nor were you magic that you could summon history’s darkest secrets with a few words. But you were determined, and that was enough. But you followed the Triple Goddess, and that was enough.

The Kraken box, you charmed your way into. You lied your way onto a ship, stole scuba gear, and lied your way home. You found the box of the disappeared girl, clean washed oak, meant for holding jewelry. Maiden, alone.

The box from the Mahabharata, you won from distraught mothers of sons who did the right thing and mothers of sons who did wrong, all the same in the end. You heard them and held them, and they led you to your box, locked up metal, lest any other get their hands on it. You ran your hands across the mandala and wished them peace. Mother, forgotten.

The Salem book, you fought for. Not that it was difficult. The women were brittle-boned, malnourished. If not fight, what else could women with nothing to lose do? You pried the box from their unrelenting hands. It was fraying, on the verge of broken. Crone, scorned.

You opened two boxes. First, the maiden, so she could be free. Then, the mother, so she could find home.

You hesitated before the crone, before the violence that follows a woman’s life. Should women be entitled to suffer in silence, saved from becoming a spectacle? Without the crone’s story, women would hold all they were inside until their daughters learned to hurt the same way.

Stopping that cycle of hurt was enough for you. In the spirit of the crone, you kneeled and opened the box. What did it matter to you if the world suffered? The crone suffered, and no one had listened.

C is for Cotsen

C is for Canoe 4

From African A.B.C. by Norah Senior. Pan-African Books. ; West African Publishing Co., 1959. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library.

It’s time for the annual #ColorOurCollections, hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine! Each year libraries, archives, and cultural institutions around the world share free coloring sheets based on their collections. You might recall the Coloring Feathers post we did in 2021…but this year, we went alphabetical with “C is for Cotsen,” celebrating some of the cool alphabet books we have in our special collections vaults!

Our coloring pages consist of seven images spanning 1805-1959, including this hilarious one from 1840, “C is for Collision.” It was so completely random for an alphabet book, Katie and I had a good laugh over it

C is for Collision 2

R. Cruikshank’s Comic Alphabet by Robert Cruikshank. Darton and Clark (Holborn Hill), c1840. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library.

You can see our complete coloring pages here. In addition to the coloring activity, we thought it would be fun to revisit some of our fun alphabet posts. Here there are, in no particular order, starting with some tabletop topiary letters:

so very verdant

A story time where we rounded up some letters on the ranch!

hey uA popular DIY keychain project we designed for a community event table:

red letter day Our review of some awesome spelling straws:

sip n spellWe discover the cutest alphabet tactile toys, ever:

alphabet playtime

A gorgeous letter art activity for teens and tweens:

We test out some amazing vanishing paper for some free floating fun:

laserjet-testAnnnnnnd there was that time we filled our library with 130 giant inflatable alphabet letters:

balloons in entry 3

Lifestyles of the Rich & Noble

Don’t be sooooo 12th century. Get with the times whilst also enjoying this complementary copy of Medieval Vogue! Katie designed this gorgeous little mag for a massive Robin Hood shindig my library hosted some years ago. If you’d like to browse Medieval Vogue for the newest trends in poulaines this season, here is part 1 and part 2 *. For more about the event, read on!

Robin Hood was the book du jour for Princyclopedia, an annual large-scale event that involved bringing a book to life from all sorts of angles – history, science, music, art, food, performances, live animals, you name it! Each table had either a demo, a hands-on activity, or something cool to take home. The 2-sided event map showed you all the table activities and also matched relevant book quotes or historical blurbs to them.

Medieval Vogue was a free take-home at the “Lifestyles of the Rich & Noble” table. Here, we were delighted to be joined by Rose Fox and Kim Hanley from Medieval Scenarios and Recreation.They brought TONS of clothes and costumes for kids to look at and try on, and answered questions about fashion from this time period.

At another table, we had a different take on wearables. Namely, the armor of Sir John Williams (right) and friend (left), two knights who professionally joust at Renaissance Fairs! They brought all their gear and expertise and were simply amazing.

We had a TON of other activities as well…the chemistry of alchemy, venison chili, musical performances on period instruments, live hawks, the science of stained glass, actual longbows with a kid-safe shooting range, illuminated art, the math of taxation, a big play space with multiple cardboard castles, the science of stained glass, herbal amulets, siege engines, gargoyle sculpting, nature tracking, professional stage fight demos, forest conservation, two free roving court jesters, and more! And yes…a table on all the Medieval jobs you DON’T want.

Another fantastic component of the event is that it was a food drive. Families were invited to bring can and box goods to the event to benefit the Arm in Arm food pantry (formally the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County). We donated almost 500lbs of food!

I’ll finish today’s post by sharing the literacy-based table the Princeton Public Library hosted. Since literacy was uncommon during the Middle Ages, shops typically featured pictures of their goods and/or services on their signs. So we designed a game! First, we selected a bunch of images of Medieval signs. Then, we asked kids to guess what the signs represented. Rothenburg, Germany has some fantastic signs currently in use (it being an actual historic Medieval town, wow!).

Image source Wikipedia

We also wanted kids to make a personal connection, so Katie and I photographed a few local shops. We photoshopped out any words, then asked kids to guess what the signs represented. They were tickled to recognize signs they saw everyday and make a Medieval literacy connection!


* Images used for Medieval Vogue may be subject to copyright. Please contact danas@princeton.edu if you are the author of one or more of images used here and have objection in such a use.