Ode to the Toad

Last week, we delved into the fascinating world of alchemy at the current , “Through the Glass Darkly: Alchemy and the Ripley Scrolls 1400-1700” exhibit. In our journeys, however, we did notice one thing. Both in history and alchemy, toads get no love.

In alchemy, the toad represents the “prime matter” an alchemist would use at the start of an experiment. Prime matter was the humble, plain, basic, ugly stuff that would eventually transform into greatness. Unfortunately, the toad was chosen to represent this undesirability. As expressed in this natural history book from 1809:

A Natural History of British Quadrupeds, Foreign Quadrupeds, British Birds, Water Birds, Foreign Birds, Fishes, Reptiles, Serpents, & Insects. Alnwick, England. W. Davison. 1809.

Well, this makes us sad. Toads are great! So the Cotsen team dug into the special collections vaults to find some awesome, jolly, and sweet historical representations of toads to share with you today…

Goldsmith’s History of Fishes, Reptiles and Insects & c. Thos. Tegg & Son. ; London. ; Smith, Elder, & Co. 1838.

Sad garden toad : and other stories / by Marion Bullard. New York : E. P. Dutton & Co., c1924.

Toad / by Carol Cunningham. [Mill Valley, Calif.] : Sunflower Press, 1983.

Die Honriche : ein Märchen / von Christian Bärmann. München : Hugo Schmidt, c1923.

Bronze toad coin. Place: Luceria, Apulia, Italy. Earliest date: -300. Latest date: -280


Special thanks to Cotsen intern, Aubrey Roberts, for researching this post :)

C is for Cotsen

C is for Canoe 4

From African A.B.C. by Norah Senior. Pan-African Books. ; West African Publishing Co., 1959. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library.

It’s time for the annual #ColorOurCollections, hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine! Each year libraries, archives, and cultural institutions around the world share free coloring sheets based on their collections. You might recall the Coloring Feathers post we did in 2021…but this year, we went alphabetical with “C is for Cotsen,” celebrating some of the cool alphabet books we have in our special collections vaults!

Our coloring pages consist of seven images spanning 1805-1959, including this hilarious one from 1840, “C is for Collision.” It was so completely random for an alphabet book, Katie and I had a good laugh over it

C is for Collision 2

R. Cruikshank’s Comic Alphabet by Robert Cruikshank. Darton and Clark (Holborn Hill), c1840. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library.

You can see our complete coloring pages here. In addition to the coloring activity, we thought it would be fun to revisit some of our fun alphabet posts. Here there are, in no particular order, starting with some tabletop topiary letters:

so very verdant

A story time where we rounded up some letters on the ranch!

hey uA popular DIY keychain project we designed for a community event table:

red letter day Our review of some awesome spelling straws:

sip n spellWe discover the cutest alphabet tactile toys, ever:

alphabet playtime

A gorgeous letter art activity for teens and tweens:

We test out some amazing vanishing paper for some free floating fun:

laserjet-testAnnnnnnd there was that time we filled our library with 130 giant inflatable alphabet letters:

balloons in entry 3

Marissa Creates

My admiration for Marissa the Dyslexic Librarian is endless. Also apparently endless? Her creative energy! Recently, I learned that while finishing library school AND working full time, she crafted a children’s literary exhibit just for, you know, fun!

Intrigued, I grabbed my camera and headed to The Gallery at Chapin School, a private elementary and middle school in Princeton. The school regularly welcomes community artists to exhibit and teach students about their artwork. In her exhibit statement, Marissa’s described her inspirations for the exhibit, beginning with brainstorming and crafting story time projects at our library:

Part of my job at the Cotsen Children’s Library was to help develop story time projects. Once I started thinking about art and books in 3 dimensional ways, I couldn’t stop. I progressed from construction paper and card stock to eventually cardboard and paint as my projects became increasingly larger. I began to think about how I could turn the world into cardboard. I think there is something so charming and captivating about normal everyday objects being turned into art using unexpected materials.

Animal Talk: Mexican Folk Art Animal Sounds in English and Spanish, by Cynthia Weill, featuring wood scupltures from Oaxaca by Rubí Fuentes and Efraín Broa (Cinco Puntos Press, 2017).

These beautiful stick puppets are just toilet paper tubes, dowels, construction paper, and pen. Look at the lips on the cow!

This is the one piece in the show that was not directly related to a book. However, I am officially awarding it the “Golden X-Acto” award for the incredible detail work around the legs.

Miffy Dances by Dick Bruna (Big Tent Entertainment, 2010).

You might not be able to tell, but behind Miffy is a rack of cardboard clothes. The clothes and the figurine have little velcro dots so you can change her outfits and hats!

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything, written by Elsie Broach, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum Books, 2007).

I will use this dinosaur sculpture technique for a story time project. It will be so.

Gerald and Piggy, as seen on their 10th Anniversary poster, from the Mo Willems series (Hyperion Books).

The photo doesn’t quite capture it, but this adorable portrait is almost 6 feet tall!

Goldfish Ghost, written by Lemony Snicket, and illustrated by Lisa Brown (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).

This is my favorite piece in the show. I want to hug the upside-down ghost fish.

Characters from the Hilda series by Luke Pearson (Flying Eye Books, 2015).

Again, the scale! That’s a bench at the bottom of the photo. Marissa went big with these beloved characters.

At first glance, these might look like simple framed illustrations. But they are actually shadow story panels Marissa created for a story time. While the book was being read, she would shine a light through the various scenes.

Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett, and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer + Bray, 2012).

Above you can see the details of one of the shadow story panels.

Niños Mask, by Jeanette Winter (Dial, 2003).

Right. Now it’s GAME ON for all those summer reading bulletin board displays!


Melissa Warren’s work was exhibited at The Gallery at Chapin School Princeton. Many thanks to the school for allowing us to visit and photograph!