Griffins are the GREATEST

A baby griffin needs lots of care, attention…and hamburgers! Luckily, our story time kids were more than up to the task. This cuddly companion was part of To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8.

Is that tufted tail making your heart melt? Details at the end of the post for how to win a baby griffin of your very own!

We read The Menagerie, written by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (HarperCollins, 2013). When Logan and his broken-hearted father move to a remote town in Wyoming, Logan’s life gets considerably duller. Or does it? He soon discovers that the town is hiding a secret Menagerie filled with dragons, unicorns, and other mystical creatures. The Menagerie also has a BIG problem, as six griffin cubs have escaped, and need to be located and returned before the Menagerie itself is discovered. Logan and his new-found friends Zoe and Blue race against time, uncovering more then a few secrets along the way.

In the book, Logan and his friends track the baby griffins by spotting feathers they are molting. I hid these fantastic gold-tipped duck quill feathers around our gallery for the kids to find. Each kid needed to find at least two feathers.

Once all the feathers were located, the kids were awarded with stuffed baby griffins (purchased on Amazon)! Hoo boy, the kids were surprised and WAY excited! The loving attachment began immediately, and one little boy sent me multiple photos of his griffin Scorp, who, like another griffin in the book, had a serious hamburger addiction. Scorp also flew with him to Florida!

Would you like to receive a brand new baby griffin of your own? Simply e-mail danas@princeton.edu with the name you would pick for your griffin. We’ll put all the entries in a hat and draw a winner at random on Tuesday, June 16. Good luck!


As a precautionary measure, Princeton University closed the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!

350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017We are very excited to present the winners of our annual 350 for 50 contest! This year, young writers were challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The sky opened, briefly.” Winners from our four age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree on Amazon. Congratulations to all!

Illustrations by Aliisa Lee


A Dragon’s Lesson
by Claire Xu, age 10

Inferno, a dragon with ruby-red scales, was a soldier in King Crimson’s army. She followed the same orders as everyone else : Work together, fight together, stay together. One day, when she was flying to the palace, something fell out of the sky, hitting her. Ouch, she thought. What could that be? Another thing fell out of the sky, but this time, Inferno caught it in her talons. It was a sapphire. Jewels falling out of the sky? That couldn’t be normal. She flew toward the palace.

“Your Majesty!Inferno flew into the palace, knocking aside several guards. “Jewels are falling from the sky!The king flared his wings.

“Are you crazy? Jewels don’t fall from the sky!” Inferno pointed out the window. The sky opened, briefly. A shower of diamonds fell out. The king went as white as a sheet. “Look at where they fell out,” he croaked. Inferno looked. She saw a flame with a star in the middle.

“Our ancestors,” she breathed. For some reason, their ancestors were doing this. Inferno and half of the army flew toward where the jewels had fallen. Several dragons were fighting over the diamonds.

“Quit that!”

“I had those first!”

“MINE!”

The general sighed and barked, “Stop!” Everyone froze. On the way back to the palace, they separated twelve more fights. In the throne room, Inferno thought about the jewels. As she thought about it, her mind drifted to the memory of how she joined the army. She had decided to go to the mountains, but she had encountered a thunderstorm. She had flown on, but at last, she fell toward the ground. The army saw her and worked together to take her to the palace and…Wait. That was it!

A month later, Inferno was explaining to some little dragonets about the jewels and how she had found out that the jewels were a test. “Our ancestors were seeing how well we could work together,” Inferno concluded. “All of you have to work together. It’s no good to fight over something for yourself. You have to learn to help others.”


The Tree and the Stars
By Aria Thorpe-Metz, age 11

Thwack, thwack. I woke up to the sound of axes. I opened my eyes and saw that the humans were back in the forest. They came every once in a while, cut down my brethren and left. They are convinced that they are the smartest creatures. I remember when I was just a sapling, I always marveled at humans. They are so changing they do not stay still for a moment and they are always trying to improve. I was impressed. Now I am old and I see that they do not notice things as they should. They just go about destroying everything in their wake. I have many times wondered why they do not notice these things. Maybe their ability to move around replaced their listening and noticing. Maybe they simply do not care. I know nothing in nature can stop them from getting what they want.

Sometimes I like to remember when I was a very young tree. I used to wish I was tall so I could look up at the stars at night. Now I’m tall and the humans have ruined everything. I will never be able to see the stars like I could then. The humans with all their skyscrapers and bright lights have stolen even that. The more lights they use the more stars disappear.  Sometimes even the moon seems dull.

When the sky was still full of stars, they would talk to me at night. They would tell me about the times when there was nothing on the earth but water. Until one day something changed. The sky opened, briefly. And in that moment all the life that is now on earth poured out of the stars. All the animals, all the trees and the flowers and the plants and all the humans. They all poured out of the stars in that moment. This is what the stars would tell me about before they started disappearing.  Now they don’t talk much. They just twinkle until they don’t anymore. This is what I was thinking about when I heard the final thwack.


They Always Come Back
by Carmen Bonner, age 13

The sky opened, briefly. Briefly, but literally. The clear, blue sky suddenly had a hole. And then, my best friend fell out of the hole. Barely a second later, the hole closed. I watched my friend plummet to the earth, then I shrugged and decided that I should probably see how she is. Because these things happen where I live. People disappear, but they always come back. In a way that no one suspects.

It started about three years ago. I was ten, in fifth grade. The first person to go was my teacher’s son, Andrew. Mrs. Fernsby came to school late one day, distraught and frightened. She told us that while she was asleep, she heard screaming. She rushed into Andrew’s room, and saw him on the ceiling. She joined in his screaming as she frantically tried to pull him down. And then poor little Andrew, who was three, floated across the ceiling and out the window. Mrs. Fernsby tried to grab him on the way out, but everyone knows she’s not the most graceful person. She missed, and Andrew drifted up into the night sky. Three months later, she came home to find him stranded and afraid on her roof.

And that was just the beginning. My elderly neighbor was swallowed by his petunias, and was spat out of the dirt three months later. My mom’s coworker’s car drove her into a river. Three months later it zoomed out of the woods. My cousin was carried away by an elephant, and brought back by a giraffe. Hundreds of disappearances in our city. But we’ve gotten used to it. Classmates are at school one day, and gone the next. No one cares. They’ll be back. There’s nothing we can do.

Three months ago, my best friend Jen was carried away by a rainbow. Today, she fell out of the sky.

“Jen? You okay?” I asked. She lay sprawled across the ground, unconscious. I was going to check for broken bones when she sat straight up and gasped.

“I know how to stop it!” she exclaimed.

“Stop what?”

“The disappearances!”


The Stars and Me
by William Cheng, age 15

The stale light seeped into my eyes as I stared at the metal ceiling. The mattress squeaked as I stood onto the cold floor. Unlike planets, there was no sunshine to wake up to every morning and, even if light reached us, there were no windows. That meant no chance of getting sucked into space. My cracked reflection stared back at me as I brushed my teeth. It may have been described as cutting-edge when I got the job, but this asteroid mining station was now in the process of dilapidation, bombarded by fragments of the very thing we were here to harvest.

I dropped into my chair, an action I instantly regretted. Bored, I clicked a couple screens — everything as usual. That’s what my job was, to sit in a hard chair and monitor things I barely understood. It was the only job I could get and I needed money. As children, we dreamed about the new frontier and adventures. I was naïve to believe living out here would be an escape. It was actually torture — alone, in a metal box, left to die. Sure, the miners lived here, too, but they spent their time out there. They might as well be ghosts.

I spun myself in the rusty chair when, suddenly, a blaring alarm bounced off the metal walls. Blinking windows appeared on the screen, foretelling an imminent collision. There was no time to close the bulkheads individually, so I closed them remotely and strapped into my life-saving chair. The pelting sounds grew louder. I looked towards the source as I heard one last loud hit: a rock piercing the hull.

The sky opened, briefly. For a moment, I saw the stars twinkling in the pitch-black darkness — as if to say hello. As the ship sealed itself, I sighed in relief. While my body recovered, the image of the stars lingered in my mind. If such beauty could exist in this void, in this death trap, then maybe my life wasn’t so bad. I would not forget what I saw. Just the stars and me.


As a precautionary measure, Princeton University closed the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!

Doing Flips

We’ve all been getting quite a bit of screen time lately, but what about if we take it waaaaay back to the early days of screens and animation? Turns out, it can be pretty fascinating. Especially if you have the flipbookit, a DIY hand-cranked miniature movie machine. Katie took the kit for a test drive with some pretty amazing results…take it away, Katie!


The flipbookit retails for around $35 and comes with everything you need to build your own flipbook animation of the historic “Horse in Motion.” The kit contents include instructions, a box to house the animation, pre-printed cards, and plastic pieces to create the spindle and flipping mechanism. There’s no suggested age range printed on this particular kit, but I would say it’s great for kids 8+ to build on their own. Younger children would need parental assistance.

The instructions, which are clear and easy to follow, have you start by building the cardboard box that becomes the “movie projector” (I loved the attention to detail with the snap rivets, which provide a fun industrial vibe).

I had two major issues with the box: the first was making sure the snap rivets were tight and secure. The second problem was when I was trying to insert the spindle, the opposite bushing (the part that holds the spindle in the middle of the box) kept falling out. It felt like I needed a third hand in order to secure the moving parts of pieces, but after a few unsuccessful attempts, I was able to build the spindle and attach the crank pulley.

The flip-cards are a thicker die-cut plastic, which offers the perfect rigidity to spin and create the “moving picture” effect when you turn the spindle. As you remove the flip-cards from the full sheets, you must be careful to not bend the sprockets (the small tabs on the straight side of the card).

The sprockets insert into holes on the spindle discs and if one is bent or torn, the “moving picture” effect might be lost. There are 24 individual flip-cards to insert into the spindle. Start with number (1) and work your way through all of them.

This can be a tedious task, especially when you get to the final cards and there’s not much room to squeeze them into place. Once they are all attached, put the flipbookit on a table and turn the hand crank. Voila! You can watch “Horse in Motion” over and over and over again!


The company also offers a blank DIY card kit, giving you the opportunity to create your own animation. It retails for around $14 and provides 24 blank flip-cards and five sheets of blank white label paper for you to either draw or print your own animation.

On their website, flipbookit also has a free Maker Tool where you can upload a video or a series of photographs. The online Maker Tool will then transform it into an animation and allow you to preview, make changes and finally, it will create a .pdf for you to print onto the blank label paper.

It wasn’t hard to convince my son to help me create a short video for the flipbookit. We tried out several different scenarios and finally decided to have him kick a soccer ball down a hallway in our house. He went back and forth, doing various tricks and movements, which gave me plenty of choices for the animation.

I was amazed at how easy it was to put everything together. Our original video was almost two minutes and the final version that became our “Soccer in Hallway” movie is just 2.6 seconds long. You will need a printer, preferably color, to print the .pdf of your final animation. It took nearly 30 minutes to affix the printed labels onto the blank flip-cards, and then insert them into the projector box.

The time was well spent because the final product is fantastic! My son has officially claimed the flipbookit  and I regularly hear the projector spinning in his room, undoubtably playing “Soccer in Hallway,” while he should be working on his online schoolwork.


My rankings:

KIT: 4.5 out of 5
I loved the simplicity of the cardboard projector. However, it doesn’t assemble in minutes as stated on the front of the box and there are a few parts to the construction that are challenging.

INSTRUCTIONS: 5 out of 5
The creators did a fine job making the instructions concise and well written. The images were perfect to help better explain the written tasks. Plus, they have the instructions available on their website to reprint if your original copy gets misplaced (as I learned from personal experience!).

BLANK DIY CARD KIT: 4 out of 5
As awesome as it is to create your own animation, it’s rather expensive for just one kit. The cost would start to add up if you had several artistic children who all wanted to create their own animations.

ONLINE MAKER TOOL: 5 out of 5
This was, by far, the coolest feature of the entire flipbookit. I was able to test and create several animations before settling on our final movie.

OVERALL: 4 out of 5
flipbookit  is very cool. It is a brilliant way to introduce children to an early form of animation and moving pictures. However, the cost to purchase the kit and DIY cards can be prohibitive for some people. I can also see it losing its appeal when one grows tired of watching a “Horse in Motion.”


As a precautionary measure, Princeton University closed the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!