Be YOU!

be youIt doesn’t matter if you are yellow, red, green, this, that, rather, or neither. Just be YOU!

We read Neither by Airlie Anderson (Little, Brown, 2018). Neither the green bunny bird doesn’t fit into the tidy world of blue “This” bunnies or yellow “That” birds. Not rabbity or birdy enough, Neither is asked to leave. After a long flight, Neither lands in The Land of All, where creatures of all kinds live and play happily together.  In The Land of All, everyone is welcome. And yeah, this book totally ROCKS!

We were sooooo excited to have author and illustrator Airlie Anderson visit our library for a fabulous story time. There’s an interview with her after the project part of the post. And after that? We’ll be giving away 3 signed copies of Neither to lucky blog readers!

You’ll need:

  • Poster board
  • Elastic string
  • Costume decorating supplies (more on this below!)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We kept the construction of this project simple – ears and wings – so kids could dedicate all of their time to decorating. While you can easily make wings out of poster board, we decided to test out the “Colorations Decorate Your Own Wings” from Discount School Supply (set of 12 is $20). The wing span is 22.5″ wide. Here’s a poster board version so you can get an idea of the shape:

neither butterfly wings templateYou can also see how the wings are rigged with loops of elastic cord, so the kids can just slide them on like a backpack. If butterfly wings are not your cup of tea, you can easily turn the butterfly wing shape into bird wings like so…

neither bird wings template

The ears were a simple poster board head band with whatever ears you would like. As you will soon seen, bunny and kitty ears were very popular, though we did have a couple unicorns. We also has tails the kids could tuck into the back of their pants, or attach round their waist with elastic cord.

When your wings, ears, and tails are selected, decorate! We offered metallic , sparkle stems, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, construction paper, self-adhesive foam shapes, crepe paper streamers, iridescent ribbon, color masking tapee, and the Bling Bin! Airlie also walked around, Sharpie in hand, to customize wings and headbands:

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I caught up with the amazing Airlie Anderson after story time, and asked her a few questions…

airlie andersonPlease tell us a little about yourself!

Hi everyone! I’m Airlie, named after my grandma whose parents were Scottish. I was born and raised in California, and now live just outside of Princeton, New Jersey. I love it here! Except when it’s humid.

I was that little kid who was always drawing, and just never stopped. One of my favorite things to do is to sit in a busy café and draw in my sketchbook. My studio is in a sort of hallway in our house, so I can work while our 2 year old son naps.

How did the concept for Neither first occur to you?

I had a dream about an animal that had a mix of characteristics, and in the dream I thought, “This should be a book, and it will be called Neither.” At the time, I was teaching art to a class of middle school students, and they were just so inspiring. That dream was definitely influenced by them!

When it came to designing the main character of Neither, there were so many animal combinations to choose from! How did you finally arrive at the bird bunny?

In my Neither Dream, the character was mostly cat and butterfly, and it was a grey color. But when I experimented with sketches of that character, it looked too precious, so cute. I wanted it to look slightly more awkward, with clear qualities of two different easily recognizable animals. So bunny bird it was! Also I felt that I could make the bunnies blue for some reason, and the birds could be yellow of course. Then Neither would be boldly green. It felt just right.

The colors in this book are gorgeous! What medium did you use to create it?

Oh, thank you! I used gouache, a super saturated an opaque watercolor. It reproduces nicely, doesn’t it? I like to sketch on regular ol’ printer paper and then use a light box to trace each drawing, with paint, onto watercolor paper. Then I put lots of layers of gouache on. Green is a tricky color to reproduce, though, especially Neither’s bright lime green coat. So the excellent people at my publisher suggested an extra ink in the printing process that would make that beautiful shade of green. I was thrilled by this news, and it turned out just delightfully.

What sort of feedback have you received about this story?

Oh, I have received the most wonderful messages about Neither, from people of many different ages and backgrounds. I recently received an email from a fifty-five year old gentleman who works in an LGBTQ community center in Florida, who said the book made him cry happy tears. I hear from parents of children who don’t feel they fit in, and they tell me how Neither is their favorite bedtime book. These messages mean the world to me — the thought of people sharing this story and having a lovely experience because of it is wonderful.

I heard a rumor that Neither is going to be made into a musical! Is this true???

Yes, oh my gosh!!! What a dream come true! Lifeline Theater in Chicago is producing Neither as a musical, to premier in the spring of 2020. Coincidentally/magically, the person writing the stage version has recently moved from Chicago to Princeton and works with mutual friends — so we get to share ideas over coffee!

What are you working on now?

I have two picture book sketches with my agent right now, one about the Easter Bunny and one about sea creatures. I’m also working on a graphic novel, which is a total passion project and has been shouting at me for years to be written. I’m finally listening!


And now it’s time for a FABULOUS book giveaway! We have 3 autographed copies of Neither (Little, Brown, 2017) to share! Just e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name, and the initials of someone you think is unlike any other. We’ll put all the entires in a hat and draw 3 winners at random on Tuesday, July 2nd. Good luck!

Monster Class

monster class photo

Even monsters need to learn their ABCs! These easy monster mask / hat combination costumes made it easy for terrifying young scholars to brainstorm ideas for their very own spooky alphabet books.

We read My Creature Teacher, written by Laura Leuck, and illustrated by Scott Nash (South China Printing Company, 2004). It’s your typical day at school…monster school that is! Hang up your spider sack, raise your paw in class, spell spooky words, and take the fire-breathing class pet out for a little fresh air. Teachers, no matter where they are, or how big their fangs are, all deserve our respect and gratitude.

You’ll need:

  • 1 plastic hat
  • Poster board
  • Mask decorating supplies (more on this below)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

The thing I like best about these masks is that they’re attached to a hat. This makes it easier to avoid the dreaded “mask sag.”  And let’s face it, hats are awesome, especially on werewolves!

werewolf maskWe offered 3 different types of hats, all purchased from Oriental Trading Company:

  1. Top hat ($7 a dozen, item #13743494)
  2. Fedora ($10 a dozen, item #31/243)
  3. Derby ($7.50 a dozen, item #25/562)

Cut a mask from poster board, then curl it a little and tape it to the inside front of a plastic hat. In the below image, you can see where we attached the Creature from the Black Lagoon mask to the plastic fedora:

creature from the black lagoon maskHowever! It’s best to decorate the mask before you attach it to the hat. Just make sure you leave some empty space at the top of the mask so it rests flat on the inside of the hat.

For decorating supplies, we offered curling ribbon, paper crinkle, crepe paper streamers, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, sparkle stems, craft ties, mesh tubing, iridescent cello, patterned paper, foam beads, pom-poms, dot stickers, goose quills, cone water cups, fabric flowers, and self-adhesive foam. And the Bling Bin of course.

The crepe paper streamers were INCREDIBLY popular for making braids down the sides of the masks. The more streamers, the thicker the braids. We secured the braid to the hat with tape, but we secured the bottom with staples.

skeleton maskOnce the transformation to monster students was complete, we gathered in the “classroom” to learn the monster alphabet. Basically, I created a template with space for illustrations (see mine below). I had the class recited the monster alphabet with me (even though it was hard not to giggle).

monster alphabetWe also printed and stapled together a set of alphabet letters for kids to take home a illustrate themselves. And yes, Z is for ZOMBIE!

z is for zombie

Ewer Unique Essence

ewer unique essenceIt’s a mysterious bottle filled with a unique, glowing essence. What could the essence be? Happiness? Triumph? Panache? The Thrill of Your First Ride on the Back of an Arachnimammoth? This radiant project was part of To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for 6-8 year-olds.

We read The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston (Razorbill, 2013). Elliot von Doppler is thrilled when his uncle Archie invites him to his workplace for a tour. Uncle Archie works in the top secret Research and Development Department at DENKi-3000, a company known for its amazing inventions. Elliot and his new friend Leslie soon learn that Uncle Archie’s secret department is staffed by creatures – bog nymphs, fairy-bats, knucklecrumplers, and bombastadons (to name a few). But DENKi-3000 is also in trouble. If the Creature Department doesn’t come up with a ground-breaking new invention in a few days, the company will be taken over by the relentless Quazicom Corporation. But, like DENKi-3000, Quazicom isn’t quite what it seems…

In my favorite part of the book, Elliot and Leslie visit “The Abstractory,” an enormous library/pantry that houses millions of bottles. Inside each bottle are different creature essences – namely, the special feelings, thoughts, and emotions that power creature inventions. Some essences are simple, like “Justice.” Others are more complicated, like “The Overwhelming Suspicion Something Big and Hungry is Hiding Under Your Bed.” Depending on their contents, the bottles glow, vibrate, flash, shimmer, and rattle. We wanted to capture a little of that fun with this project. Hence, a glow-in-the-dark bottle that contains an essence of your own making, complete with label.

finished bottleBut, because DENKi-3000’s research and development department is shrouded in secret, the entire project came as a take-home kit with strict instructions to NOT open the box until you get home.

DENKi-3000 boxYou’ll need:

  • 1 small glass bottle with lid
  • 1 rectangle of white card stock (ours was 2.25″ x 2.75″)
  • Glow-in-the-dark pigment or paint (more on this later)
  • 1 paintbrush
  • 1 square of glitter tulle (ours was 3.5″ x 3.5″)
  • 1 small bottle label with string
  • 1 wooden stirrer (we used a 4.5″ craft stick)
  • Scissors and white glue for construction
  • Pen

Below you can see the contents of the kit. There’s a glass bottle, a container of white glue, a plastic bag of glow-in-the-dark pigment, a wooden stirrer, a paintbrush, a rectangle of white card stock, a square of glitter tulle, and a small label with an elastic string. We gave the kids 1 extra piece of card stock and 1 extra piece of glitter tulle, just in case they messed up. Not pictured in the photo – a set of kit instructions.

creature bottle kit First, the bottle! We used 2.25″ screw-top jars scored from the wedding section of Michaels craft store. 20 jars cost $21, but we had a 40% off coupon. Woot! To make it look less like a spice jar, we hot glued a clear flat glass marble on top of the lid.

empty creature bottle

Use the paintbrush to paint the inside of the bottle with glow-in-the-dark glue or paint. We used non-toxic glow-in-the-dark pigment (read about it here) mixed with white glue. Why? We wanted the kids to feel like little alchemists – pouring the pigment into the glue, stirring it with a wooden stick, and watching it transform into glowing goo.

mixing glow glueThe glow glue goes on opaque, but as you can see below, it dries semi-transparent. Glow-in-the-dark paint (which we found in the t-shirt decorating section of Michaels) also dries transparent:

treated bottlesThe glow glue, however, glows much stronger. Perhaps because you can control the ratio of pigment to glue? But the paint is glowing. And it requires a lot less measuring and mixing. So you can’t go wrong with either choice.

treated bottles in the darkIt’s time to create your creature essence! This is basically a card stock shape wrapped in tulle. Since we wanted the bottles to also look pretty in daylight, we went with glitter tulle, which you can find in the ribbon section of Michaels.

Cut the card stock into your desired shape (we went with a spiral). Make sure the shape fits in the bottle! Then, paint both sides of the shape and the tulle with glow-in-the-dark glue or paint (we recommend doing this on top of wax paper or parchment paper). It might seem like the glue or paint isn’t sticking to the tulle, but we assure you, it is! Here’s the finished painted tulle and card stock spiral:

treated tulle and card stock Once the bottle, the shape, and the tulle are dry, gently wrap the tulle around the shape and tuck it into the bottle. Screw the lid on, write the name of your essence on a label, and attach the label to the bottle. We used 1.25″ price tags with elastic strings, found it the beading section at Michaels. We found the plastic baggies for the pigment there too. Both of these things cost just a few bucks.

You’re done! Charge up the bottle, take it to a dark room (or hold it next to a black light) and watch your creature essence illuminate! I love how the tulle makes the card stock shape look like it’s suspended in fog.

ewer unique essenceThere was another reason I was so keen to do a glow-in-the-dark project for The Creature Department. The book’s cover GLOWS IN THE DARK!

creature department book coverEvery story time, without fail, the kids would ask to see the cover glow. No matter how many times we looked, they never lost their enthusiasm for it. In the video below, you can’t  see the book, but you can definitely hear the kids reacting to its cover!