Whale Tale

whale tale

Join a big blue whale on an ocean of adventures, and don’t forget to stop by your adorable lighthouse island to play in some waves, chill on the beach, and collect shells!

We read Beachy and Me by Bob Staake ( Random House, 2016). Pixie Picklespeare is the only child living on a very tiny lighthouse island. She is BORED. But after rescuing a beached blue whale, the new friends spend a whole summer playing games, riding waves, and exploring the ocean. But when Beachy the whale hears the call of migration, Pixie is alone and bored AGAIN. But what’s that she hears? Her whale friend, coming back to visit, just like he promised.

You’ll need:

  • 1 corrugated cardboard base
  • 1 small box
  • 1 small oatmeal container
  • 1 plastic cocktail cup
  • 1 wine cork
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The lighthouse island is basically a small oatmeal container and small box, hot glued to the top of a corrugated cardboard base. The light is a plastic cocktail cup flipped upside down and placed on top of the oatmeal container (we left it unattached so the construction paper light bulb taped inside can rotate).

front of lighhouseOur “ocean” consists of a curved, light blue crepe paper streamer and a fringe of dark blue construction paper waves. We had mini shells handy for the beach, but you can use images of shells, or just have the kids draw the shells on the beach with markers.

lighthouse beachWe also decided to cut the backs out of the box and the oatmeal container to create a dollhouse. Use a circle of white card stock to create the second floor of the lighthouse, then decorate the walls and floors with paper. Need furniture and some framed artwork? You’ll find templates and instructions in this post.

You can see our cork person creation in the photo as well:

back of lighthouseWhen the lighthouse islands were done, we announced that a whale had been spotted in the library’s main lobby. This was a red wagon with a whale facades taped to both sides. Kids took turns getting rides and smiling at local whale watchers!

whale rides

So Happy Together

so happy together

What could be cuter then a mama and baby bunny? A cozy log house with a fold-out flower garden, of course! And did we mention the house has a “working” LED votive fireplace? Such. Cuteness.

log homeThis project was designed for a story time with author Amanda Rowe, who visited our library, fuzzy bunny ears at the ready. Scroll to the end of the post for an interview with Amanda, as well as a fabulous book giveaway!

amanda rowe with bunny ear crowdWe read If There Never Was a You, written by Amanda Rowe, and illustrated by Olga Skomorokhova (Familius, 2019). A mother bunny lovingly asks what she would do without baby bunny in her life. This book is adorable, heartfelt, and beautifully illustrated. The perfect bedtime snuggle book, hands down!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9”, a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 strip of poster board (ours was 1.75″ x 8.5″)
  • 1 bunny house frames template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 2 small boxes
  • 1 wooden spool
  • 1 LED votive
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 4 mini pom-poms
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We used a 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” brown craft box for our project, but you can also modify a large tissue box. Just cut the top of the tissue box on a hinge, like so:

tissue log home alternativeUse a box cutter to add a window and door to the ends of the box, then tape (or hot glue) a poster board handle to the top. Then decorate the interior and exterior of the log house! You can just use construction paper and markers to decorate. Or, dig around the supply closet for items with interesting textures.

log home interior Our flower garden was a bit of outdoor carpet (reused from our Seuss mini golf event). We added fabric flowers, cardboard mosaic square stepping stones, and a blue embossed foil paper pond. For the interior, we offered both construction and patterned paper (and don’t forget to add some farmed art work from the template!). Here are the furnishings:

log home furnitureThe armchair is a modified tape roll box, and the table is a circle of poster board with a wooden spool base. The fireplace is also a tape roll box. The “fire” is an an LED votive with poster board sticks attached to the front. Cut a toilet paper tube in half to create your 2 bunnies, then add ears and pom-pom tails and noses. Light the fire, get your bunnies cozy, and revel in the cuteness!

bunnies by the fireplaceBest of all, everything tucks inside the log box for easy transportation!

log home exteriorAfter the project was finished, out came fuzzy bunny ears for kids to wear home, and we also gave away 3 signed copies of Amanda’s book! Here’s a lucky (and clearly very excited) winner!

book winner with amanda roweIf There Never Was a You is Amanda’s first book! After story time, I caught up with her to chat about her process…


Tell us a little about yourself!

I’ve always been a creative person. When I was a child, I used to spend hours dressing my dolls with matching accessories and coordinating tiny ensembles. I made cards to give to people for birthdays and holidays, and I even learned calligraphy to make them look special! As a young adult, I made wedding and baby shower favors, and decorative wreaths. I scrapbooked and painted all sorts of wall decor for my children’s rooms when they were little. Creating is something I’ve always done, and writing is one of my favorite avenues of expression for my creativity. But I can’t draw, so I’m very thankful for gifted illustrators like Olga!

This is your very first book, tell us your inspiration for it!

My children are the inspiration for everything good that I’ve done, including this book. A few years ago, I was divorced, with only fifty percent custody, and my kids were approaching teenagerhood, so even when they were with me, they were often busy with friends or sports practices, and I missed them. As a mother, especially a working one, it is unusual to have free time, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. But I wanted to channel that time and emotion into something positive, and I started thinking about how much I enjoy spending time with my kids, and all of the wonderful experiences I would have missed out on if they had not been born. I wrote it down, and that became If There Never Was a You.

What was the process to publication like?

It was a long road that led me here. I first began trying to get published when my children were little. I was a stay at home mother at the time, and I cherished my time with my kids, but I needed an intellectual outlet. So, at night, after they were asleep, I would go to our home office and write. I wrote everything and submitted most of it – personal essays, greeting cards, slogans, poems, non-fiction articles and eventually novels.

I sold a few poems, a greeting card and a slogan, and lots of non-fiction articles. But my novels were terrible, and my essays did not get picked up. I think that there are a lot of different types of writing, and not every writer is good at all of them. So, in the beginning, you try many different things to see what fits.

I took a break from writing when I got divorced because I returned to work full-time and I needed to focus on creating stability and a new normal for my kids. When I resumed writing a few years later, I tried my hand at children’s books, and this one got picked up almost immediately. I kept writing personal essays, too, because I enjoy reading them, and those eventually became my blog posts. So, it is an interesting situation I find myself in now, writing for children and adults at the same time. But it works. I read the book to the kids, and I point their parents to the blog. Hopefully, I have something of value to offer to both groups.

The illustrations by Olga Skomorokhova are gorgeous. At your story time, you asked the kids what their favorite illustration was…what’s yours?

That’s a hard question – it’s like trying to pick my favorite child! There is so much I like about all of them. I love the bunnies playing soccer because my son is a soccer player so that page is a nod to him (and it’s adorable – bunnies playing soccer!). I also really like the picture of the mom serving carrot cake to the child, because my daughter and I like to bake together and carrot cake is a favorite treat in our house. But I’m also a big fan of the carrot rocket ship (so creative!), and that page has one of my favorite lines, “Who would do your greatest things, and who would dream your dreams?” I like the idea that each child makes a unique contribution to the world, and if they had never been born, we would be missing something important.

if there never was a you illustrated by olgaskomorokhova

If There Never Was a You illustration by Olga Skomorokhova, used with permission of Familius, 2019

What’s the most unexpected thing about holding your first book in your hands?

The places and the life that this book has led me to. I imagined an author’s life as being a solitary existence, and it is anything but. It is true that I do most of the writing alone in my home office. But even at home, I’m not alone anymore – I’m interacting with people all over the world thanks to social media. There is so much networking and promotion involved when a book is published.

I’ve been everywhere lately – schools, libraries, bookstores – and I’m meeting so many people of various ages, from different walks of life, and it’s fascinating. I’ve been humbled and surprised by the warmth and the kindness of the people that I’ve met, and I’m so appreciative of all of the support that I’ve received from libraries, schools, bookstores, and parents.

And the kids are the best! They’re so sweet, curious, and openhearted. I’ve gotten some fantastic cards, pictures, and letters from kids that are so beautiful they made me cry. It’s a privilege, writing for and visiting with children, and they’ve inspired me to write more children’s books, so I have an excuse to hang out with them again!


Would you like to win a copy of the book? We have 3 copies of If There Never Was a You (Familius, 2019) to give away, signed by Amanda! Just send a mental hug to someone who means a lot to you, then e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name. We’ll randomly draw 3 winners on Tuesday,  April 9th. Good luck!

Hit the Beach

sandcastleThe end of the summer might be in sight, but there’s still time to hit the beach! We made sand castles and then played a shell grabbing game on the “beach.” Just be prepared…some of those waves can get a little big!

shell game 2

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 6″)
  • A box cutter
  • Yellow construction paper
  • 2 paper towel tubes
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (I used a 12″ cake circle)
  • 4 baking cups
  • Sandcastle decorating supplies (more on these later!)
  • 2 bedsheets (1 brown, 1 blue)
  • An assortment of seashells
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Hot glue

We all build the same basic sandcastle, and then the kids customized them with art supplies! To begin, cut the top/lid off of a box (cut the tabs too, if there are any). Then, use a box cutter to cut a drawbridge out of the front of the box. A square door is easier to cut than a curved door:

drawbridgeWrap the sides of the box with yellow construction paper. Hot glue the wrapped box to the center of your corrugated cardboard base. Next, cut 2 paper towel tubes into four, 5.25″ tall towers. Wrap the tubes in yellow construction paper, and hot glue them to the sides of the box (not to the corrugated cardboard base – they’ll just pop off). For the perfect finish, hot glue a baking cup on the top of each tower.

finished basic castleNow it’s time to decorate! We scattered art supplies all over the gallery floor, announced that the tide was out, and had the kids “beach comb” for castle decoration materials.

Supplies included (and these were all some variation of yellow or gold): paper crinkle, self-adhesive foam shapes, mesh tubing, sparkle stems, pipe cleaners, dot stickers, embossed foil paper, patterned paper, cotton balls, mylar, foam beads, craft ties, pieces of bubble tea straw, large plastic buttons, tulle, fabric squares, star stickers, fish stickers, embossed foil seals.

When the castles were finished, we went back to the “beach” to play a shell grabbing game. First, we laid a brown bed sheet on the floor as “sand.” We placed a number of enticing seashells on it. Then, Katie and I grabbed either end of a blue bed sheet and moved it back and forth over the sand to create “waves.” We had a CD of ocean wave sounds playing too.

One by one, the kids came forward and tried to grab two shells before the waves covered them. Some kids took their time walking up and down the beach, scouting the perfect shell before they made a move. Others just dove right in and grabbed as fast as they could. We adjusted the waves to the timidity of the kids of course. And best of all, no one left with sand in their shoes!

shell game 1shell game 2shell game 3