350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017Ladies and gentlemen, it 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 taste was strange, but not unexpected.” Winners from each of our 3 age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore. Congratulations to this year’s authors!


A BOWL FULL OF WORDS
By Maia Ionescu, age 9

a bowl full of words artwork by aliisa lee

Penelope always bought lunch at school. She was unhappy about it and wished that her mom made food for her instead. Sometimes she saw that kids who brought lunch from home had a sandwich or a piece of cucumber cut into heart shapes, and then she felt jealous. Her parents were always too much in a hurry to make lunch for her. So Penelope would always go to the cafeteria with a sad face.

But on the last day of school, things changed. At lunchtime, instead of the usual white trays, everyone got a silver bowl. From inside each bowl came a faint noise as if a lot of people were whispering at the same time. Penelope peeked inside her bowl and saw a small heap of words. They were: probably, splendid, licorice, freckles, memory, pharaoh, brave, loneliness, merry-go-round, and admiration. They all came in different sizes and colors. Loneliness was small and grey, brave – big and vermillion, and merry-go-round – multicolored. The words smelled good too, especially licorice and admiration.

Penelope saw that other kids had already started eating, so she picked a word from the top of the pile – memory. She paused to look and listen. There was a faraway voice repeating the word memory. The first m was vivid teal, and rest of the letters were getting lighter and paler so that the y was soft blue and almost invisible. She took a bite. The taste was strange, but not unexpected. Just like its colors, lively at first, memory burst into a strong flavor (it tasted like the strawberry shortcake that her mom made one weekend), and then it started to fade until Penelope could hardly taste anything. It felt like chewing a Juicy Fruit or forgetting a memory from a long time ago. The word probably tasted uncertain, and Penelope almost choked on pharaoh (she missed that word in the Spelling Bee). After finishing up the words, there was an announcement that a new cook, the famous Lexi Plume, had been hired. Penelope couldn’t wait to find out what she would eat for lunch in fifth grade!


the legend of sir raleigh artwork by aliisa lee

THE LEGEND OF SIR RALEIGH
By Kevin Feinstein, age 11

He heard a vulture screech and watched the leaves as they blew through the forest all around him. Raleigh Christopher pulled his rapier from his sheath, eyes trained on the opponent standing before him. They circled each other. He cried out and the duel commenced. The vulture screeched again but not as loudly as the blades clashing. They fought viciously but eventually one man fell. The fallen man weakly raised his head and watched Raleigh vanish.

The man Raleigh had beaten was the “Right Hand Man” of Lord Clarke who Raleigh had sought for months. Three nights earlier he had spotted the villain at a tavern on the way to Gedwell Castle. After a long hike through green meadows and damp swamps, Raleigh finally arrived outside Gedwell. A trumpeter accompanied him to set the dramatic tone.

“Cue the dramatic music, George II!” Raleigh commanded his trumpeter.  Raleigh jumped upon his horse, and George II onto his donkey. Approaching the gates of the castle, a guard shouted “HALT!” with a haughty sense of authority.

“I am Sir Raleigh Christopher the Eighty Fifth!” announced Raleigh, proud of his heritage. The guard sneered, but was about to regret it, THUMP!! Raleigh charged, kicking down the door and dispatched the guard with his sword! Suddenly he spied Lord Clarke.

“IT IS I! RALEIGH CHRISTOPHER!”

“Hey! I’m not the sword type, how about we settle this with a classic ruse – the poisoned drink!?”

“Alright! I brought my own.” announced Raleigh, producing his own bottle.

“But who shall drink first?”

“We shall play tic-tac-toe to decide!” Raleigh cried! Clarke was very bad at tic-tac-toe, not knowing the rules. Raleigh won but his chivalrous nature compelled him to let Clarke pick first. Clarke agonized and finally chose. Raleigh picked up his glass and they drank.

“The taste was strange, but not unexpected!” blurted Clarke, “I have won!” Raleigh laughed. “Whats so funny?” he asked.

“This is just normal water!” Raleigh laughed. Clarke looked confused. “I poisoned your drink three nights ago!” said Raleigh.

“That’s why it…” Clarke thumped onto the ground.

Raleigh left, his mission over.


the kite flyers artwork by aliisa lee

THE KITE FLYERS
By Annie Wei, age 14

Miraculously, my cardboard and tinfoil kite had stayed in the air longer than Binh’s, whose kite was quite a work of art, strung with silk ribbons. It looked gorgeous on the wooden display table in front of our school, but out of place, sitting with the background of our shabby middle school.  It had all the wonderful shades of greens and blues, and shone so brightly when the sun lit on it. Mine resembled a flying shoe.

But of course, everything about Binh’s family was out of place in our rural neighborhood, for they were the only Vietnamese family for miles around.
When I walked up to him after the competition, he was sitting on the battered up tire swing hanging in front of the school. I was holding the sorry looking kite I had fashioned, its tinfoil wings flapping in the slight breeze.

“Your kite is amazing.” I stood in front of him while he stared at his shoes. “It stayed in the air for such a long time.”“

Binh looked up at me, his dark eyes wide and questioning.

“Sorry?” His accent distorted the word, and I realized he didn’t understand me.

I raised my kite above my head, and waited until a sudden gust of wind swept it from my hands. As it rose, I smiled at him and said, “Your kite,” gesturing at his which was laying on the ground. Binh stood there for a brief moment, hesitating, watching my kite flutter like a butterfly, then threw his up in a woosh of blue and green.

I laughed as his kite did a couple somersaults as it was released in the air; then it seemed to dance, curving and floating gracefully. The sight was so strange. A cardboard and tinfoil kite flying next to a blue-green silk one.  Binh laughed too, and when the kites came down, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small neatly wrapped package.

“Banh Gio,” he said, offering it to me. “Eat.”  I unwrapped it. The taste was strange but not unexpected.


Artwork by Aliisa Lee

Wand Works

wizard with wandOf everything in the Harry Potter universe, I must admit I find the wands most fascinating. Not just because they play an integral part of spell casting – they also reflect the unique personalities of their owners. Additionally, shouting in Latin is so much more exciting when waving a wand. We tried to capture a little of that magic at Wand Works, our Harry Potter event.

gray magic woodworking wand displayOriginally, the event was just going to be about wands, wand making, and wand testing. But then I started thinking about the other ways students prepare for Hogwarts. So we brought book bags, text books, and owls into the mix. And, while I’ve recreated an assortment of Hogwarts classes over the years (check out this boggart from Defense Against the Dark Arts), I’ve never managed to do Muggle Studies. We had to do something on Muggle Studies!

Here’s how our event worked. As kids entered the library, they were greeted by a table full of these awesome book bags:

accio books logo by Polly CarlsonThat beautiful Accio Books logo was designed by Polly Carlson. You can find it here, on her truly clever blog Pieces by Polly. She was kind enough to give us permission to use it for the event. Also at the table were a slew of Crayola metallic markers for bag customization:

book bag decoratingThose are 13.5″ x 14.5″ polypropylene totes from 4Imprint. Specifically, it’s the “Value Polypropylene Tote (item #103873). We tested a couple of polypropylene bags for this project, and 4Imprint’s held the Crayola metallic markers ink beautifully (it smeared on the others). Also, 4Imprint had the best prices and customer service, flat out.

Tucked inside each and every event bag was a color ticket, which lead the lucky witch or wizard to my favorite fictitious bookstore of all time:

flourish and blotts ticketsHere’s our Flourish & Blotts, staffed by Princeton junior Gabrielle Chen (she’s also the artist behind that fantastic sign)!

flourish and blottsBehind Gabrielle was a shelf stocked with copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch Through the AgesHogwarts: A Cinematic Yearbook, and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay (alas, we missed the release of the text book version of Fantastic Beasts by mere weeks). There were also real quill pens with powdered ink packets, and some adorable Harry Potter Magical Creatures coloring kits.

stocked bookshelfThe tickets were color-coded with items on the shelves. Hand in your ticket, and receive the matching item! Just in case you’re wondering, we did sort and distribute the event bags by estimated age of the child. This was to insure that a 4 year-old received a Harry Potter coloring kit, not a copy of Fantastic Beasts.

Did you notice the little cauldron with the brooms sticking out of it in the above photo? Since we couldn’t buy books, quills, and coloring kits for everyone, the little brooms were the prize most frequently received by kids of all ages. But they are way cool because they are actually customized broom pens!

broom pensThese are “Personalized Witch’s Broom Pens” from Oriental Trading Company ($12 a dozen). For no extra fee, you can customize them with 1 line of text up to 16 characters in length. We went with “Nimbus 2000.” Everyone LOVED them! In fact, the whole table was a lot of fun. It was terrific to see kids, holding books (or quills, or coloring kits, or broom pens) with big grins on their faces.

fantastic beasts funElsewhere on the event floor was real-life wandmaker Lane O’Neil from Gray Magic Woodworking. You previously met Lane in this post. In person, his wands are even more beautiful, fantastic, and magical. His table was so swarmed. I couldn’t even get near it for the first hour of the event!

wands on display, gray magic woodworkingLane also displayed his lathe, tools, different types of wood, and wands in different stages of completion. He did demonstrations, showed slides, and answered questions throughout the entire event.

lane o'neil gray magic woodworkingNot far from Lane was our Muggle Artifact exhibit, curated by Princeton University sophomore Téa Wimer. The exhibit consisted of 45 Muggle objects complete with informative exhibit labels. Below, two attendees ponder a Cookie Slicer (which, amazingly, looks just like an old school photo enlarger).

muggle cookie slicerAnd here, two scholars consider a World Checker. Nearby is a rather puzzling object on a pedestal. Kids could write guesses as to what the Muggles use the object for. The full exhibit, as well as an interview with Curator Téa Wimer, is now online!

muggle world checkerOwls are another must for Hogwarts students, so we had a table where kids could make these awesome and super simple wrist owls.

wrist owl examplesAnd now we come to the main event – THE WANDS. After much searching and testing, we settled on wands made from cooking chopsticks, hot glue, and paint. They are, in fact, very much like the wands our kid tester made for her DIY Harry Potter party.

But there were problems. While these types of wands are wonderful in small batches, we needed hundreds. The event was recommended for kids ages 5-11. Would someone poke their eye out? Hot glue is used to create the texture of the wand. Would someone burn their fingers? The wands require paint. Would they dry sufficiently? And – how messy was this all going to get?

Turns out, we solved all these problems, and everything went beautifully.

First, we bought 2 kinds of cooking chopsticks on Amazon. 13″ pointy ones (4 pairs cost $7.40) and 10.5″ blunt ones (10 pairs cost $11). If you’d like to know the exact brands we used, e-mail me for the links.

wand chopsticksFor the event, we made trays out of box lids, separating the wands into blunt and pointy sections. This was primarily for the benefit of parents and caretakers. The pointy chopsticks were definitely the most popular, but we also had many adults who were very grateful for the blunt wands. There was even some quietly-switch-from-pointy-to-blunt-while-the-kid-is-distracted going on.

tray of wandsNext came the hot glue. While we would have loved for kids to make their own hot glue designs at the event, we knew that just wasn’t possible on a large scale. So we hot glued all the wands in advance. It took us a couple months of chipping away here and there, but in the end we had hundreds of wands, and no two were alike.

hot glued wandsNext, the paint! After testing a number of different paints, we settled on Michaels Craft’s in-store brand, CraftSmart. We used their satin acrylic paint because it was water-based, non-toxic, fast-drying, and there were lots of different shades of brown. The regular acrylic paint was too dull, but the satin left a really nice finish on the wand.

finished wands, both kindsAt the event, kids selected the wand they liked from the tray, and then picked the paint color they wanted. To make the color selection easier, we made several paint choice panels out of cake pads and jumbo craft sticks. The numbers below the paint samples corresponded to the name of the colors (which were written on the back of the panel for the table staff).

wand paint panel From left to right, the CraftSmart satin acrylic paint colors are khaki, golden brown, brown, burnt orange, and espresso. Burnt orange and espresso were definitely the most popular. But all the colors looked fantastic.

You need very little paint per wand. To keep the mess down and conserve paint, we gave each kid a 1.25oz plastic cup with a little bit of paint inside it, a paint brush, and a paper plate to work on. When the kid finished, his/her paint cup and brush could be used with another kid.

the painting of the wandsThis paint was extremely fast drying on the wood, even with multiple coats. The hot glue, however, was another story. In order to dry the wands faster, we put together a wand-drying chamber out of a piece of cardboard, jumbo binder clips held down with packing tape, and 2 box fans running on low.

wand drying chamberBelow you can see the wand drying chamber in action, with the wands inserted in the clips. At the event, kids wrote their names on little bits of paper, which were clipped with the corresponding wands. Depending on how many coats of paint were on the wand, it typically took 5 – 10 minutes for a wand to dry in the chamber (15 if there was a LOT of paint).

wands drying in chamberTo be clear – the wand drying chamber was tucked behind the event tables, away from the crowds. Only event staff had access to it for obvious reasons. However, if I was to do this event again, I would definitely add a designated “Wand Pick-Up Area” to make things run even more smoothly.

FINALLY, we had an activity that I only dared dream of, but Princeton University junior José M Rico made a reality. A virtual, interactive, wand-testing classroom. It was AMAZING.  here’s a photo of Katie casting one mean Bombarda spell.

katie and bombardaAll the details of the game, as well as video and a free download, can be found here!

I’d like to thank everyone who made this event possible. Thank you Polly Carlson for graciously letting us use your Accio Wand design, student artist Gabrielle Chen for painting the awesome Flourish & Blotts sign, and Lane O’Neil for bringing his talent and wands to the event. A hearty round of applause to our incredibly creative Muggle Artifacts Curator Téa Wimer. Further applause to our wildly talented game designer Jose Rico, as well as artist Jeremy Gonclaves, who allowed us to his 3D game background.

A big shout out to our extensive team of wand hot gluers, Andrea Immel for swooping in to help at our owl table, and all the Princeton University students who volunteered their time to help at the event. Many, many thanks!

Happy Birthday Mr. Carroll

Today is the 185th birthday of Lewis Carroll, and we decided to celebrate with Katie’s Top 10 Alice in Wonderland cakes. And, if you need some party favors, we’ve listed a couple of our Alice-themed craft projects and activities at the end of the post!


Alice in Wonderland inspires all sorts of creativity, and I’ve definitely had a lot of fun coming up with Alice-themed projects over the years. In fact, in 2009 I coordinated a large-scale Alice event that included a giant chess set, Earl Grey chocolate gelato, a Snark Hunt, performances of Jabberwocky, flamingo croquet, Victorian history activities, giant mushroom bowling, horse-drawn carriage rides around campus, and more!

horse-drawn carriage nassau hallIf you’d like to see the event map, here it ’tis. The front of the map lists all the activities. The back features book quotes or informational blurbs tying the activities back to the books, Lewis Carroll, or Victorian England. Like all of our programs, the event was open to the public and free of charge.

On the blog, you can check out this playful, but incredibly easy-to-make Cheshire Cat grin.

cheshire cat grinOr this really cool Victorian visual toy called a thaumatrope. At the very bottom of the thaumatrope post, you can also see Marissa and I channeling our inner 80s – and I don’t mean 1880s folks.

thaumatrope demoAnd what about tea? 2016 was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and we put together an elaborate Victorian tea program, complete with big hats, mini scones, and a generous serving of history.

tea instructionThe Library of Congress went all out for the 150th anniversary as well. In this post, you can see some of their activities, lecturers, and Miss Joani in a replica of Alice’s iconic dress.

caucus race at the LoC photo by shawn miller 2016However, the award for the most whimsical Alice connection goes to the Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books (which I blogged about here). In their children’s loft, you can follow the White Rabbit down the hole…

rabbit-hole

And return to the main gallery via twisty slide!

mazza-gallery-slideDang. I want a twisty slide in my place of employment.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. CARROLL!