The End

the endSpoiler-heavy free write anyone? All you need are old photos, pen, paper, and a moment to ponder how to tell a story – by only writing its ending! This exercise premiered at Cotsen Critix, our literary society for kids ages 9-12.

At the program, we scattered a bunch of old newspaper and magazine photos on the tables (thanks library recycling program!) and instructed the kids to select an image, Then, they wrote the final paragraph of a story, with the selected image serving as the very last scene.

I also ask them to think about a few things before they got started: Who are your characters? What happened in the story? What’s the resolution of the story? How can you conclude the story without summarizing it? How does everything come down to this image?

It was a challenging prompt, but check out some of these seriously cool endings…


whale photo

Kate and Tristan turned around when they heard the huge SPLASH! Winston dove out of the water, splashing happily. Kate smiled “He looks happy here.” Tristan nodded and called out to Winston.

“Goodbye Winston! We’ll miss you!”

Winston dove down and disappeared into a patch of soft sea foam, creating another splash. Katie turned to Tristan “Well, he’s finally safe from Envetson and his henchmen now, all thanks to us.”

 


man and elephant photo

As I turned, Hannibal tooted as if to say I’ve been with you these last 50 years. I’ve been with you when you were at death’s door. I’m not going anywhere. “I’m going to miss you old friend.” I choked out. The great beast threw this head back and trumpeted so loudly, so deafeningly, I almost thought he was laughing. He then lifted me up on his back. I laughed. “Well then, one last ride.”

 


panda bear photoThe very last thing I could remember seeing was… a panda eating bamboo. And then my eyes refused to cooperate any longer. Blackness. I can only remember the crunch and the green. That’s it. Memories are weird like that, you can always remember the most bizarre parts. Even with my eyes closed, I can taste the dew on the nearby grass. I still feel the presence of a fluffy being right beside me, chomping away. Crackle. Snap. That’s all…

 

 


Images used in this post 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

Creativity, Cleverness, and Considerable Artistry

save the cake bright owl books kane press

From Save the Cake! Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

Learning to read can be painstaking. Memorize the letters, string them together, recall the sounds, then run everything together until it makes sense. Early reader books are essential for this learning, but they can also seem a bit babyish with their simple stories and illustrations. At least, that’s what my son expressed to me as he struggled to read. And I had to agree with him.

Then I discovered Molly Coxe.

Molly has produced a terrific set of “Step Into Reading” books with Random House (Big Egg, Cat Trap and Hot Dog, are a few titles). But the series that really puts a smile on my face – and makes my creative mind go whoosh! – are with Bright Owl Books and Kane Press. With titles like Rat Attack, Blues for Unicorn, Go Home Goat, and Save the Cake, Molly presents clever, engaging stories with developed characters and perfect timing. Equally magnificent are her illustrations, which are needle felt characters photographed on live sets. Outdoor sets, to boot! With real snow, dirt, flowers, and water! Your eyes feast on the page, drinking up the colors, textures, and balance.

blues for unicorn bright owl books kane press

From Blues for Unicorn, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

With her thoughtful stories and exquisite images, Molly’s books are the perfect building block towards growing a happy, appreciative and competent young reader.


Please tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up in Georgia during a simpler time. Lots of free, unsupervised hours on my hands, lots of trees to climb, streams to explore, simple materials to make things out of, post WW2, parents who were not intrusive or worried, said “Have fun! See you at dinner!”

How did you first start writing early reader books?

I was teaching preschool in New York City, after a year and a half in art school, following college. I loved making up simple impromptu stories for four year olds. They loved writing (dictating) simple, impromptu stories. (Shout out to Vivien Gussin Paley, who has written extensively on the magic of this storytelling process in a classroom.) When I worked on my first early readers, I had two kids in the demographic, a built in, very honest, test audience. That helped. Also, my brain thinks well in short sentences.

rat attack bright owl books kane press

From Rat Attack, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

Early readers are obviously limited in their length and complexity. What’s your philosophy when creating your stories?

Try to tell a fresh, surprising story with very few words. Easy words! Let the images do a lot of the work. Funny is good.

princess pig interior bright owl books kane press

From Princess Pig, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

You illustrate your books, as well as sculpt needle felt characters. Is the creative process the same? Or does it feel very different?

Yes, the media are different but the goal is the same: tell a story in words and pictures. Both are great fun. Some stories, like the Beginner Book for Random House, seem to call for a flat, graphic approach. At the moment, I’m enjoying building three dimensional worlds, like scenes from miniature epics.

go home goat bright owl books kane press

From Go Home, Goat, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

What comes first, the story, or your photographic illustrations?

Depends. With early readers, the words come first. I have to make sure I can tell a lively story before I spend the time with illustrations. For my current picture book project, which has more text, the idea began with a rustic, antique dollhouse kitchen that my mom found in a rural village in France. What could happen there, I wondered? Whose kitchen is it? Your imagination, and your heart, take over.

work in progress courtesy of molly coxe

A work in progress, courtesy of Molly Coxe

Please tell us a little about your needle felt creations!

This is a process of discovery, beginning with a wire armature. It’s very exciting! As you apply wool to the armature, the character (always an animal, in my case) starts to speak to you, and you follow your intuition until he/she has a personality and starts to come alive. I know: that sounds weird, but it’s true. The character then influences the story, which is already at least partly written. You realize this character might do things differently. You aren’t totally in charge any more.

princess pig bright owl books kane press

From Princess Pig, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

Describe the process of building a scene and photographing it.

So much fun. Imagine being a seven year old outside in the woods with a pile of sticks, leaves, rocks, dirt. It’s just like that, but with a wider range of materials, and slightly more sophisticated tools. (Only slightly: I restrict myself to low tech solutions that I can pull off alone, for many reasons. One is that it’s hard for me to stay in a flow when I am interacting with others.) Photography is all about light–once you have a decent composition, and the characters are expressing the action and the emotion. Mostly this means getting up very early, and being very patient, hanging out in a pond with minnows nibbling your legs until the morning sun comes over the hill and just kisses the characters and the foliage, and the mule shack in a way that creates magic.

molly coxe works outdoors

Molly Coxe at work, courtesy of the artist

What’s the strangest, or most difficult thing you’ve worked with when composing a scene?

A blizzard at 6,000 feet, working on Cubs in a Tub. You have about ten minutes before your fingers freeze solid, and you can’t operate the camera any more, your characters hat gets swept off a cliff by a gust of frigid wind (I climbed down and got it, by the way. Very unwise, but exhilarating). When you are trying to create dramatic images, real life drama helps. You have to snag the moment, not worry about every little thing being “perfect”.

cubs in a tub bright owl books kane press

From Cubs in a Tub, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

How did you create the rain effects in Wet Hen? Those images are amazing, and in some cases, characters are floating on water!

A hose propped up on ladders. That was such a good time. Midsummer. Hot! But you had to get the image in the first couple of trys. Otherwise, the characters were too soaked, had to dry out for rest of day, try again next, when the light was nice again. The floating scenes were very dicey. Lots of fishing line holding things up from above. I asked my daughter, with whom I have a fair degree of mind meld, to help create the giant wave with a paddle, while I took the photo. We got it on first try.

wet hen water photos bright owl books kane press

From Wet Hen, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

I absolutely love the Story Starters at the end of each book. Do you, or the publisher, come up with the prompts?

I come up with them, with the help of wonderful editors. Great editors make all of the text so much better. Shout out to my editors!!!

wet hen story starter bright owl books kane press

From Wet Hen, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018


Molly also does creative work with kids, and was kind enough to send me one of her fabulous “Make-A-Mouse” kits. It arrived in an adorable stitched burlap bag and included all the materials to make 2 sock mice (and did you notice the little socks came with pre-stitched felt ears?). Not pictured below was the polyester fill stuffing. Molly thought of everything!

make a mouse kit courtesy of molly coxeI won’t be able to match Molly’ magnificent sets, but I was inspired to snap a photo of my two completed mice at a local farmers market:

molly coxe's finished mouse kitMany thanks to the folks at Sprouts, who were kind enough to let me photograph their wares. And check out Isabel the farm truck. Doesn’t she look like a piece of one of Molly’s sets? I’m half-expecting a needle felt pig to appear in the driver’s seat and give a wave!

isabel the sprouts farm truck


Many thanks to Molly for the kit, and for just being so darn awesome. Both as a caring writer and an artist to look up to. May your days be full of inspiration and perfect lighting!

greedy beetle bright owl books kane press

From Greedy Beetle, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019


All images used with permission of Bright Owl Books, Kane Press, and Molly Coxe.

Once Upon a LEGO

once upon a legoIt started with an excited text from Katie: “Check out this LEGO set!” The accompanying image made my heart go pitter pat. LEGO has created a fairy tale pop-up book. I think it took oh…maybe 15 seconds for me to order one for blog testing? The set was Katie’s discovery, so she gets to do the honors. Take it away, Katie!


The brilliant folks at LEGO have done it again. They created an honest-to-goodness pop-up book out of LEGO bricks!

Before I go any further, I will fully admit that I was quite skeptical when I saw the “Once Upon a Brick” Pop-Up Book from LEGO’s Ideas line set in my son’s new 2019 LEGO catalogue. It claimed it was the “First pop-up book in LEGO history” and features two fairy tale stories: Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk. Awesome, but would it work?

lego once upon a brick boxThe set retails between $50-$70. There are 859 pieces in the box and the suggested age range is 12+. The instruction manual is a novel in its own right, weighing in at a hefty 162 pages. I loved that at the start of the instruction manual, LEGO introduced the fan designers who came up with the original idea for the pop-up book, as well as the LEGO designers who helped bring the book to LEGO life.

lego once upon a brick fan designersLEGO also provided the history of pop-up books, which date back to the 13th century, and briefly discussed the two fairy tales that are a part of the set. Along with words of encouragement to “Create your own fairy tale!” and “Build your own story…,” the instructions to build your LEGO set starts.

There are six bags of LEGOs to build the pop-up book. I found the instruction manual was straight-forward and easy to follow. There were only a few times when the instruction images were a bit tricky and forced me to slow down to pay close attention to the details. There are also lots of little pieces, especially when building Jack and the Beanstalk, so have your nimble fingers ready to attach small LEGOs to each other.

see katie build legoThe instructions have you build the Little Red Riding Hood cottage first. As I attached the pieces inside the book covers, I wasn’t sure the cottage would properly fold down and create the pop-up book illusion. But it really works!

little red riding hood lego set


After carefully removing the cottage from the book, I built the Jack and the Beanstalk tiny town and the beanstalk itself (complete with the giant’s castle at the top!). The town is adorable, surrounded by puffy white clouds, and the beanstalk grows when you open up the book. You read that right: the beanstalk grows as you open up the book.

jack and the beanstalk lego set


The attention to detail with this LEGO set is remarkable. You get the feeling that you are handling a real book when you have it in your hands, and the ease of how the pieces pop-up when you open the covers is stunning.

once upon a brick lego bookMy *only* complaint – and perhaps it is merely a humble suggestion – is that the little windmill blades in the Jack and the Beanstalk tiny town should have been a different color. They sort of blend into the white clouds surrounding them.

windmill suggestionIt took me about three hours to put the LEGO set together. I do agree with the suggested age range of 12+. The complexity of the set would be tough for younger kids to complete on their own, but they could probably build it with assistance from an adult.

My rating for the newest book in the Cotsen Children’s Library special collection: 5 out of 5 stars!