350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017We are incredibly pleased to announce the four winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! Young writers were challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “Every movement was in slow motion.” Winners from our four age categories each enjoyed a $50 shopping spree on Amazon. Congratulations to this year’s winners!

Illustrations by Aliisa Lee


OUT IN THE DARK
by Stella Zeng, age 10

“Are you ready?” the scientist asked, pressing a few red buttons on the machine, “Three, two, one, GO!” A blue chair spun around twice, and then she was gone.

“W-where am I? I thought I was supposed to be at my house, not hanging on a branch in some random place two hundred feet above the ground!” She cried for help, and tried to get down from the tree, “Help, help! I’m stuck!” She cried, but her words just drained away into the silence of the night. She was lost, in a gigantic, thick, forest, hanging off a massive rainforest tree. She started to make her way down, but it was taking forever. Every movement was in slow motion.

For a brief moment she looked down to the bottom of the tree and saw a glimpse of her skin. It was brown and furry! Oh no she thought. “I-I’m a sloth. Oh how the heck am I supposed to get back?” She said aloud, “I’m 22 and already getting lost in a bunch of trees in the middle of nowhere. I wish I could have a normal life sometimes.” Around her was filled with wet leaves and light brown tree trunks. She was definitely a sloth. “Wait, how will I get back to the science lab?” She wondered, afraid, “A giant teleporter and shape shifter isn’t going to appear out of nowhere ri… AHHH”

A giant, flying object came soaring through the sky. It looked familiar, like the one she had sat in to teleport here in the first place. It had the same blue chair, red buttons, and it had the same shape. She wondered, is this my way back home? With no hesitation she slowly made her way to the familiar machine, one claw at a time. She was right, it was her way back home.

Slowly, while making her way to the seat, she wondered whether this machine would work or not. Then, with a push of a few red buttons, the blue chair spun around twice and the sloth who was on the chair was gone.


THE HEIST
By Zachary Wen, age 11

Penelope was about to complete her legendary heist of the famed Zephyr Diamond, and her eyes widened at the dazzling diamond. Geometrical-shaped light glinted off the Alice Blue walls. Penelope’s hand trembled. Carefully, she placed her gloved hands on it, and quickly stuffed it in her bag. But something strange happened the second she did. Every movement was in slow motion.

What…? Penelope thought and turned around to see if anyone was behind her. No one. The sensation was unreal. Her skin tingled, her muscles stiffened. She could feel her heart pumping.

I need to get out of here! Her mind yelled. She started to run toward the exit with all her might but had barely moved from her original position.

And that’s when the alarm sounded. It deafened her, and the guards moved in, guns blazing. It was like a scene from The Matrix. Penelope weaved and dodged the bullets, and she felt a drop of sweat start to venture down her neck. The stakes were nothing like she’d ever experienced.

She disarmed the first guard and elbowed him in the face. Slowly falling like an injured bird, his body gave a jerk when he hit the floor and bounced up an inch. Ok, maybe you don’t have to do that for every guard, she chided herself: she was running out of precious time.
The door out was only a couple of meters away, but it felt like kilometers. She ran with all her strength, but still moved slow as a slug. Adrenaline was the only thing fueling her now, and her legs were close to giving out. She turned around to see the guards catching up and willed herself to run even faster. Her muscles burned and her bones ached.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, she made it through the archway, and looked back, to find, to her terror, a silver bullet zooming right toward her. Suddenly she realized it was the magic of the diamond. Now she had a choice: drop the diamond and live, or hold on to it and take what was coming.


MIRRORED FEARS
By Sofia Lachmann, age 13

“Five minutes to curtain!”

Our director’s voice sounded distant compared to the ringing in my ears and the lines I had practiced for weeks spiraling in my head. Every movement was in slow motion. The people around me, putting finishing touches on their costumes. The whispers of everyone backstage, reciting lines. My thoughts seemed to be the only thing in the room that was running a mile a minute. How could they be so calm, knowing they were about to go out on stage in front of hundreds of people, knowing they could ruin the night with one wrong word?

A tug on my dress brought me back from my maze of a mind. I turned to the young girl, who like me, was wearing the blue and white dress that hinted at our role in Alice in Wonderland. With her blond ringlets and round eyes that were filled with worry, I was transported to the memory of when I had worn that dress, feeling the same anxiety.

“I’m scared,” the girl whispered. “I don’t think I can do this.”

I could see the fear radiating off of her, her fingers fidgeting with the hem of her skirt and her downcast eyes. It was impossible not to see myself in her, when I was about to go on stage for my first ever performance all those years ago. I softened, smiling as I pulled her in for a tight embrace. Her small arms hugging my waist, I told her the same words I had been told.

“It’s normal to be afraid. The only thing you can do is remind yourself that your fear does not control you. As we go on stage, just remember that being brave is being able to continue, even with your fear.”

As I encouraged her, I felt the words calm my own fears, settling my mind. I smiled again at the little girl, taking her hand as our act began. Together, we took a deep breath as the curtain rose, walking hand in hand onto the stage.

Fearless, even with all eyes on us.


IF THAT MOCKINGBIRD WON’T SING
By Claire Tang, age 16

In Kansas, the land-locked heart of America, fathers like to sing a song about mockingbirds: If that mockingbird won’t sing, Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring. It’s a song about replacing good things lost with new and better things, a litany of warranties.

On my eleventh birthday, my Papa gifts me a birdcage painted poppy-pink. Inside is a mockingbird with eyes like night pinned to glass. Papa tells me how he caught it with his two hands, how he climbed a mulberry tree and lay so still on one of the branches the bird mistook him for the sky. He had inched toward it quietly. Every movement was in slow motion. When the avian neared enough, he hugged it with a cold fist. It flailed against his palms with erratic simplicity.

I hang the birdcage up in my room, next to the window that the night fills with stars. The mockingbird doesn’t sing a note for weeks, and I joke with Papa that he owes me a diamond ring.

During the last dregs of summer, Papa tells me about the high-position job he received at a startup company in Singapore. He’ll be leaving Kansas indefinitely; his flight is on Monday.

“How could you leave?” My futile protests catch on tear-salted syllables. “Don’t you owe anything to the people who love you?”

But Papa doesn’t breathe a note. He just walks outside, his arms tight to his sides like folded wings. From my window, I can see him breathing in hard, beating pulses of air, like the flapping of wings. He’s crying. Every now and then, he raises his head to look at the trees or clouds or airplanes. At one point I think of dragging him inside, but it seems too rude. So I only wait, a small thing watching.

Night falls like a soundless film of gasoline, the sun bursting into a million flames of gold, leaving behind a diamond-studded horizon. Papa’s shadow grows longer and longer. I call for him to come home, but he doesn’t respond. Just slants his head back, a creature considering the sky.

See SPOT Play

See SPOT walk, see SPOT climb, see SPOT dance! This spring, we had the opportunity to host a very unusual guest at story time!

Meet SPOT, a four-legged robot created by Boston Dynamics. He lives on Princeton University campus and is part of a course titled “Robots in Human Ecology: A Hands-on Course for Anthropologists, Engineers, and Policymakers.” SPOT arrived with an amazing team of undergraduate handlers, plus plenty of plush toys to share.

Vivian Chen, Marisa Hirschfield, Aaron Serianni, Vasumathi Venkat, Zoe Rhodes

We started the program reading Boy + Bot, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf Books, 2012). The story is about the playful interactions between a boy and a robot, which fit perfectly with SPOT’s dynamic nature. After the book concluded, we had a short, 10 minute design activity in which young future engineers drew their own personal robots, and earned a paw print approval sticker from Team SPOT:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then it was time for the big show as SPOT entered the gallery!


The students did a fantastic job putting together a demo, answering endless questions from the audience, and just being enthusiastic about sharing what they study. One of my favorite parts was when they demonstrated how SPOT can be programmed to read and follow fiducials, which are basically QR codes representing numbers. SPOT scans the code, finds the number, and then completes a pre-programmed action associated with the number (like moving forward, turning, or extending his arm).

I asked Zoe Rhodes (seen above) what was the best lesson she learned from SPOT this semester. She replied:

“I would say the best lesson I learned from working with SPOT is the importance of making mistakes. We love it when things work out but most of the time we’re dealing with mistakes. But as I’ve worked with SPOT I’ve realized that these mistakes teach us so much more about ourselves and our capabilities than when things go correctly. It sounds a little cliche to say we learn from our mistakes but that’s really what robotics (and most things in life) are about. SPOT may fall down but we pick him right up and try again. In my opinion this makes the end product so much more fulfilling and exciting.”

I posed the same question to Vivian Chen, who added:

“The best lesson I learned from working with SPOT is patience goes a long way when working with robots and new technology!”

It was a truly magical story time, THANK YOU so much to the students and to professors Alexander Glaser and Ryo Morimoto for putting together such a tremendous program!

Happy International Children’s Book Day!

Portrait of Hans Christian Andersen, taken by Thora Hallager (1869). Wikimedia Commons

April 2 is not only Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday (happy 219th birthday, Hans!), it’s also International Children’s Book Day! Started in 1967 by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), International Children’s Book Day is dedicated to children’s books and is committed to inspire a love of reading in children around the globe. Schools and libraries are encouraged to host parties or story times, read picture and chapter books, have kids pen their own tales or poems, and overall celebrate a worldwide appreciation of children’s books.

Every year, a National Section of IBBY is nominated to be the sponsor of International Children’s Book Day. The sponsor decides upon a theme, invites a prominent author to write a message, and an illustrator is asked to design an announcement poster. The 2024 international sponsor is Japan!

Courtesy of IBBY Japan #ICBD24

Japan’s 2024 theme is “Cross the Seas on the Wing of your Imagination.” Author and recipient of the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award Eiko Kadono composed a gorgeous letter encouraging children to listen to stories that travel everywhere. Artist Nana Furiya designed the official poster, which whimsically repeats the theme in several different languages under a tall tree filled with book characters.

As Katie was composing this post, she got to thinking…what are our Princeton University Library colleagues’ favorite children’s books? Katie asked them that very question and also asked them to explain why in just one sentence.The book could be a recent read, a beloved title from the past, or a favorite as of today.

The response was tremendous! Our colleagues shared books we remembered reading as a child, titles we had never heard of before, stories we have poured over multiple times, and others we are eager to pick up and read. Here are the favorites, listed in alphabetical order by last name:

“Aside from being beautifully illustrated by Gary White Deer, it’s based on a true story, largely forgotten by most of the world, that unites the disparate parts of my ethnic heritage (which aren’t actually that disparate in the end).”

April Armstrong – Library Collections Specialist V, Mudd Manuscript Library


“I remember reading the Redwall books every chance I could get while on family vacation in Maine circa 1994. Just a totally immersive, absorbing experience.”

Kathleen Brennan – Records Manager


“Not only has it been a joy to read it with both of my kids, but it’s a surprisingly thoughtful little story about childhood anxieties and misunderstandings.”

Tom Bruno – Assistant Director, Content Access


“The art is gorgeous, the book is inclusive, and it’s a great introduction to graphic novels. Plus, the tea dragons are adorable.”

Halle Burns – Research Data Management Specialist


“’Favorite’ does not seem an apt word for describing a story that made a fourth-grade me sob uncontrollably as if in bereavement, but I would not trade the experience of reading “Little Mermaid” for that of reading ten happy-ending stories combined. (HCA’s “Little Mermaid” in Chinese translation by Ye Junjian, not in its Disneyfied version)

Minjie Chen – Metadata Librarian for the Cotsen Children’s Library


“I still quote this book: ‘You get what you get and you don’t get upset.’”

Carolyn Cole – Senior Library Software Engineer


“It illustrates the process of self-discovery.”

Alicia Cozine – Senior Library IT Operations Engineer


“It is a story about not caring what others think or conforming to the role society has written for you. With hard work, persistence and creativity, you can make anything happen – like surrounding yourself with nature, even in the middle of the city.”

Jessica Hoppe Dağcı – Coordinator, Marquand Library Operations and Special Collections


“Her house is upside-down! She’s essentially the neighborhood witch, and I love how all the kids’ commonplace problems manifest in reality.”

Dominique Dixon – Associate Librarian


“Adventures of a worker bee who likes to eat pollen, make sweets, and organize her honey pots.”

Mireille Djenno – Global Special Collections Librarian


“It opens up a good discussion about where our food comes from.”

Ameet Doshi – Head, Stokes Library


Darlene Dreyer – Assistant to the Associate University Librarian


“I read it as an adult and was very moved by it. The description of the family and beautiful young friendship, and the more than devastating ending.”

Rebecca Friedman – Assistant Librarian, Marquand Library


“I love the details in illustrations, and as a young parent I could totally understand Petson’s life with a naughty kitten. I read it in Russian countless times, and it was translated to many languages (English title: Pancakes for Findus).”

Maria Gorbunova – Rare Books Cataloging Librarian


“Besides beings a nice story for children who love animals, I appreciate that it was an early exposure to thinking about ethics in scientific research. It also provided considerate thoughts about the nature of prejudice and touched on environmentalism, so not merely the endearing tale of a motherly mouse seeking to save her sick child from the spring plow, but that was also a lovely aspect of the story.”

Hannah Hadley – Manager, Open Publishing and Repository Services, Library-Data, Research and Teaching Services


Berta Harvey – Library Collections Specialist V, Lewis Science Library


“My children found it so engaging when they were toddlers. It has very expressive pictures and it’s fun to read.”

Anna Headley – Senior Library Software Engineer


“A book of stories and poems, mostly whimsical, always thoughtful, and sometimes melancholical.”

Regine Heberlein – Library IT Data Analyst


“ALL of Freeman’s picture books are beautiful!”

Flora Kim – Metadata Operations Specialist


“It was the first time I’d seen my own love for books and fantasy stories reflected back in a book.”

Morgan Kirkpatrick – Special Collections Project Cataloging Specialist II


“This is a wonderful story about how love and care impact the ways living beings interact with the world – all wrapped up in an adorable story about a family trying to adopt fearsome watchdogs only for each dog to become more of a marshmallow than the last.”

Brittany Norwood – Policy and International Affairs Librarian


“The illustrations are rich; my son and I see something new each time we read it. It’s also a wonderful story about how even the most contentious relationships can be healed!”

Stephanie Oster – Publicity Manager, Library Communications


“My favorite story to read to my kids when they were young.”

Anu Vedantham – Assistant University Librarian for Research, Teaching, and Social Sciences


“Timeless triumph of peace and gentleness over stupidity and aggression. And the cork trees!”

Eric White – Scheide Librarian and Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections



“The book builds self-esteem and kids learn how quiet is a superpower.”

Emily Wild – Chemistry, Geosciences and Environmental Studies Librarian


And how about Katie and Dr. Dana’s books? Since someone already mentioned her favorite picture book (“…but not Ferdinand”), Katie picked Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White “because it’s a beautiful story of unexpected friendship, growth, family, and life’s hardest lesson: learning to let go.”

Katie also reminded me of how she visited Andersen’s home country during her awesome travels in Europe! You can read more about her adventures in this post!

As for me, I picked this Jan Brett classic from my childhood because “I was horse-obsessed.” I spent countless hours reading, studying, and drawing elaborate tributes to this picture book (you can see a delightful story time project we did for it here):

I wanted a horse so so so soooo very bad growing up. Wished for it, dreamed of it, waited for it. It took a couple decades, but my horse FINALLY arrived! My heart runneth over…

Three cheers for International Children’s Book Day everyone! And may all your stories have happy endings!