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

The Not-So-Secret Garden

the not so secret garden

You had a sneak peek here…today we’ll be sharing the sunshine-filled details of our Secret Garden event, which took place on the gorgeous grounds of Morven Museum & Garden!

Morven Museum & Garden is a historical landmark located in Princeton, New Jersey. It is the former Governor’s Mansion and, for more than 250 years, has been the home of five New Jersey governors and Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Morven’s house, outbuildings, grounds, and new Stockton Education Center are absolutely beautiful. So when they offered their gardens for a collaboration, we jumped at the chance.

Redbud-and-Tulip-poplar-(rt)-Morven_photo by Richard Speedy

Image courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden. Photo by Richard Speedy

Katie and I have been wanting to do a Secret Garden event for ages, and we especially wanted to focus on the novel’s themes of discovery, exploration, playfulness, and interaction with the the natural world. And Morven’s gardens are so beautiful…

exploring the gardenIn the Secret Garden, the 3 children build a private world within their walled garden, and we wanted to replicate that feeling. We found these terrific 39.5″ x 39.5″ x 43.5″ canvas play tents on Amazon (a bit pricey at $65 a pop, but they will be used for other events, so win!):

play tentsThe tents were a HUGE hit, and were in constant use all day long. They were light enough for kids to move around, so there were a number of interesting configurations throughout the day (my favorite being a long tent tunnel). Not far from the tents were wood slice stepping stones, which Princeton University’s Grounds & Maintenance was kind enough to donate…

stepping slicesWe pulled aside 2 of the larger wood slices to make tic tac toe boards. Use a permanent marker or paint to draw the board, and 2 different color rocks for the pieces.

wood slice tic tac toeIn addition to tic tac toe, we had a natural wood ring toss for the younger kids, and this cool Finnish game called Mölkky for older kids…

molkkyYou will find a full description of Mölkky here. But basically, it’s a game that involves some semi-skilled tossing and a little basic math. It’s super chill, super fun, and perfect for families. It also won Green Toy of the Year Award in 2015! A set costs $50 on Amazon, but again, we now have it for future events.

Meanwhile, on the slate patio near Morven’s garden fountain, there was natural paint brush painting:

natural paintbrushesThe brushes are 10″ sticks (thanks again Princeton Grounds & Maintenance!) with various flowers and foliage attached to the ends with rubber bands. Kids dipped the brushes into bowls of water and experimented with the different patterns the brushes created on the slate patio.

If you do this activity at your event, however, have big buckets of water handy, not just bowls. We quickly learned that kids like to carry and move the bowls with them, which inevitably tip over. I had to do a lot of monitoring and refiling to keep the project going.

We also had a very, very popular bubble wand station! We bought three, 15 piece bubble sets with giant wands on Amazon for $8. Plus two, 64oz bottles of solution for $9. We should have bought more solution folks, because we ran out halfway through the event! We recommend one 64oz bottle of solution per hour, minimum.

floating bubble We ran 5 hands-on craft tables at the event as well: nature print bookmarks, paperclip robins, bean mosaics, racing caterpillars, and butterfly feeders.


1: NATURE PRINT PAPER

Nature print paper (sometimes also called sun print paper) is a staple of science classes everywhere. We bought our 5″ x 7″ sheets on Amazon (a pack of 40 sheets cost $11), but to stretch the budget, we cut each sheet into 1.5″ x 7″ strips that would later serve as  bookmarks. All you need are some garden clippings, tubs of water, and paper plates for carrying your creation while it fully dries. Helming the table was Hope, our teen tester, who also volunteers at Morven!

hope and the nature print tableThis photo was taken right before the event officially started. Hope was pretty much mobbed the rest of the day. TOTAL TROOPER.


2: PAPERCLIP ROBINS

paperclip robbinsA robin plays an integral part of introducing Mary to the secret garden, so we borrowed this craft from Family Fun magazine. All you need are a pair of paperclips, heavy weight paper, scissors, tape, and a hole punch. Voilà! Personal robin!


3: BEAN MOSAICS

For a longer, more focused event project, we offered bean mosaics similar to the one pictured above. We provided kids with 3″x3″ squares of poster board. Baby wipes are a good idea for cleaning up hands and work areas, and paper plates are also good for carrying around your creation as it’s drying.


4: RACING CATERPILLARS

 

Honestly, you have to see these things in action to really appreciate them. A bit of folding, a drinking straw, and this little caterpillar really races! We had 2 table top race tracks at the event, and the competition was fierce (but there was plenty of laughter too). If you’d like some folding instructions to display on your event tabletop, you’ll find those here.

caterpillar races


5: BUTTERFLY FEEDERS

champagne-glass-butterfly-feeder_croppedThis project was previously featured in a sneak peek post (which you will find here). But there’s an extra special event connection…Morven’s Head Horticulturist, Louise Senior, was tagging butterflies that day!

butterfly tanksLouise brought out a trio of tanks and monarchs in their various forms to lecture about life cycles and butterfly science. Then she tagged and released monarchs to the skies!

monarch caterpillarpupaehatched butterflies


AND FINALLY…

We did have ONE MORE event activity that day. In the book, Mary unearths the garden key that was buried by a grieving Archibald Craven. In the spirit of her life-changing discovery, we designed a key hunt. We hot glued 6 vintage keys to craft sticks and staked them throughout the garden grounds.

hidden keyEach key was assigned a rainbow color so kids would know when they found all 6. Once they reported their success at key hunt HQ, they were rewarded with a vintage mini key of their choice (and yes, we are STILL reusing those mini keys we bought bulk for this Sherlock Holmes escape room!). We had string handy, in case kids wanted to wear their keys home as necklaces.

The hidden key activity was not only related to the book, it was a great way to simple get out and explore the gardens, high and low, near and far…

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It was a glorious day, and we would like to sincerely thank Morven Museum & Gardens for opening their home to us. Their staff and volunteers were absolutely wonderful. A very special thanks to Curator of Education and Public Programs, Debra Lampert-Rudman, for being so enthusiastic, accommodating, and full of joy.