Four Stories of LEGO

Leave it to LEGO to do something so charming and enchanting! While researching items to include in Cotsen’s latest exhibition, “Once Upon New Times: Reimagining Children’s Classics,” Katie came across four incredible miniature fairy tale LEGO sets we had never seen before. After some super sleuthing, she not only tracked a full set down, she uncovered their very interesting origin story, which she’s sharing today. Take it away, Katie!

In 2009, LEGO started collaborating with Toys R Us and kicked off a month-long promotion called Bricktober. Every week during the month of October, customers who purchased a LEGO set valued at a certain dollar amount would earn a free Bricktober collectible. The sets changed yearly and ranged from one-of-a-kind LEGO minifigures to little cityscapes to DUPLO bricks with unique images on them which, if you collected all four, would create a special Halloween picture. Following the 2018 bankruptcy and eventual closure of most Toys R Us storefronts, the availability of the Bricktober LEGO sets became very scarce. The promotion continued, but only in the Asia-Pacific region where Toys R Us was still in operation.

In 2021, the LEGO Bricktober sets were a collection of four different fairy tales: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Little Red Riding Hood.

Not only is each LEGO design mounted on a book, they each have moving pieces incorporated into the depiction of the fairy tale. The sets also included fold-out story books that tell the fairy tale using charming illustrations of LEGO minifigures.

eBay proved to be the best source for these elusive LEGOs. We purchased our complete collection from a seller located in Malaysia, and waited (im)patiently for the box to arrive. Once they were delivered, it didn’t take long for two of our colleagues to volunteer to help us build the adorable sets (no one wants to grow up, we are all Toys R Us and LEGOs kids!). And these adorable LEGO books did not disappoint! Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland features a rotating tea table loaded with sweets:

Little Red Riding Hood is a cottage that spins around to reveal an interior with a disguised wolf:

Hansel and Gretel is Dr. Dana’s favorite, and the roof opens to reveal a little witch and oven in the interior:

And the Jack and the Beanstalk is simply epic. A rotating mini farm scene, cloud mounted on a clear brick, gold-embellished castle, and twisty beanstalk:

The 2023 Bricktober sets are a Mini Hobby Series, highlighting bowling, music, car racing, camping, baking and gaming (and we’re eagerly awaiting the announcement of the 2024 sets!). For our Asia-Pacific blog readers who are lucky enough to get their hands on these rare LEGOs, we’d love to see pictures of your builds!

Many thanks to Princeton University Library staff Minjie Chen and Charles Doran for their expert LEGO building skills!

Gingerbread Architecture

Recently, we coordinated a very special program celebrating the opening of our new exhibit,  “Once Upon New Times: Reimagining Children’s Classics.” The exhibit brings fresh takes to old tales in Cotsen’s special collections, and we decided to bring the story of Hansel and Gretel to life with “Gingerbread Architecture,” a creative construction extravaganza!

At community family events, we try to offer activities for all ages, so for the youngest set we had a gingerbread neighborhood (the cardboard houses are from Target, you can find them in the art section this holiday season):

All four houses included plenty of markers for decorating, a task many artists took very seriously, spending at least an hour concentrating mightily…

Inside the houses were cute paper gingerbread plates and cups (set of 24 pieces for $15 on Amazon), as well as a couple plastic cookie sets (65 piece set $15 on Amazon):

Elsewhere in the gallery was a mini exhibit on “Gingerbread Geography.” We pinpointed different locations on a world map that highlighted the origin of various ingredients, some fun facts (example: Shakespeare mentioned gingerbread in Love’s Labour’s Lost!), and a take-home copy of Mary Ball Washington’s 1784 recipe – yes, the President’s mom was a gingerbread enthusiast!

Nearby the map was a “Meet the Spices!” station where kids could see actual ginger root, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon sticks.

Our final display was a gallery of various gingerbread kits – from DUPLO to paper punch outs. The goal was to inspire the builders with different variations of houses.

Finally…the main event! Decorating! Out of respect to visitors with food allergies (and future dental bills) our houses were made exclusively with art supplies. We purchased several varieties of gingerbread houses for different age ranges. Here are the more sophisticated templates, which we acquired from Amazon (32 houses for $95 on Amazon. which came to about $3 a house) :

Since the sets arrived with a tiny photo label and no instructions, we built one of each to display. Kids picked the one they wanted, and we handed them the set to build from scratch! For those who wanted a more basic build, we offered three options, also purchased from Amazon (left house was 15 for $12; middle house was 50 for $12; right house was 50 for $25):

Once the house was assembled, families headed to our craft section to load up on decorations! We offered white self-adhesive foam sheets, tons of candy stickers, mini pom-poms, cotton balls in various colors, heart erasers, sparkle stems, striped straws, plastic peppermints, ric rac ribbon, foam beads, and mini plastic candy canes.

The workshop area was stocked with scissors, markers, tape, and glue, but we also had a hot glue station running for trickier pieces. The results were full of variety and creativity, as you can see from the gallery below!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As always, Katie and I wore something to identify us as staff on the event floor. This time, it was these awesome “Gingerbread Running Team: You Can’t Catch Me” t-shirts.

team gingerbread 3 What’s really cool is that the shirts are a literary nod to “The Gingerbread Man,” which was originally printed as “The Gin-Ger-Bread Boy” in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1875. And yes, we did have a copy in our special collections, so here’s the original printing!

St. Nicholas : an illustrated magazine for young folks. Conducted by Mary Mapes Dodge. Volume II Nov 1874-Nov 1875 (New York : Scribner & Co.). Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

This was a big event so we’d like to extend our extreme gratitude to Princeton University students Anna, Cathleen and Shruti for volunteering their time for the build! Thank you!

Once Upon New Times

Come see tales transformed at “Once Upon New Times: Reimagining Children’s Classics,” currently on display at the Cotsen Children’s Library! Curated as a companion to the larger exhibit in the Milberg Gallery of Firestone Library, each item offers a different perspective on a cherished classic. From highly imaginative physical transformations to diverse adaptations, we hope you enjoy these selections from the Cotsen collections, curated by Andrea Immel, Dana Sheridan, and Katie Zondlo. We have a few items to share below…

Katie and I were especially delighted that LEGO’s “Once Upon a Brick” Pop-Up Book made it in the exhibit! Originally posted on the blog here, this set not only renders “Jack and the Beanstalk” in 3D, the pop-up mechanism delights visitors both young and young-at-heart.

LEGO. Once Upon A Brick: Pop-Up Books. Ideas No. 21315 (The LEGO Group, 2018). Jason Allemann and Grant Davis (LEGO Ideas member submitters), Wesley Talbott and Crystal Marie Fontan (LEGO designers/graphics).

Visitors can also take a look at a kamishibai version of Alice in Wonderland, which includes a red-dressed Alice and a white rabbit in snappy pinstriped trousers. Those unfamiliar with the Japanese performance art of kamishibai can learn more here.

Takahashi Gozan, adaptor. Fushigi no kuni no Arisu-chan. Illustrated by Seiichi Yuno. (Tokyo: Nihon Kamishibai Gento Kabushiki Kaisha, Shōwa 27, 1952). Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Also featured is the gorgeous book The Singing Bones by multiple award winning, and New York Times bestselling, author, illustrator, artist, and filmmaker, Shaun Tan. Masterfully rendered, the book distills classic fairy tales down to a single page (or sometimes a paragraph!) and represents it with a powerfully elemental sculpture. You can hear Tan discuss it, as well as his other books, here.

Shaun Tan, reteller/illustrator. The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales. (New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016). Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

I’ll also share this humorous 1939 pamphlet from General Electric Company titled “Mrs. Cinderella.” Here the story of Cinderella is retold using General Electric products (while also thwarting goblins messing with getting dinner prepared for her happily ever after). You can read more about this particular item in Andrea Immel’s excellent post on Cotsen’s Curatorial blog.

Mrs. Cinderella. Illustrated by Corydon Bell. (New York: General Electric Co., 1939). Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

“Once Upon New Times: Reimagining Children’s Classics” runs through March 2024. If you’re in the area, please come and visit! You will find directions and hours to Cotsen Children’s Library here, and we have some fun community programs and events coming up in connection with the exhibit (hint: think gingerbread architecture)!