Cotsen Pumpkin Patch

Denslow’s ABC Book. Denslow, W. W. New York : G.W. Dillingham Co., 1903. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Halloween is just around the corner, which means it’s time to head to the pumpkin patch for your favorite festive gourd! Katie and I thought it would be fun to venture into the Cotsen Children’s Library’s special collections vaults and pull a few pumpkin treasures. Enjoy some historic pumpkins from 1900-1990!

Halloween ABC, poems by Eve Merriam ; illustrations by Lane Smith. New York : Macmillan, c1987. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

See My Lovely Poison Ivy : and Other Verses About Witches, Ghosts, and Things. By Lilian Moore, pictures by Diane Dawson.New York : Atheneum, c1975. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

The Sun-Bonnet Babies. by Bertha L. Corbett. Minneapolis, Minnesota (no publisher given). c1900. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Halloween. Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner. New York : Atheneum, c1993. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library. Photograph by Sylvia Plachy.

One quick note about the pumpkin patch photographed above. It’s from a book titled Halloween (Atheneum, 1993). Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner, it features amazing photographers like Sylvia Plachy, William Wegman, Sally Mann, and Phyllis Galembo. All the royalties and profits were donated to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. There is a touching introduction to the work of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation by Francesca DeLaurentis, age 10. The book is an incredible collaboration on so many levels.

Halloween. Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner. New York : Atheneum, c1993. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library. Photograph by William Wegman.

Halloween. Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner. New York : Atheneum, c1993. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library. Photograph by Sally Mann.

Halloween. Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner. New York : Atheneum, c1993. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library. Photograph by Phyllis Galembo.

The Best of the West

Recently, I was delighted to connect with writer and musician, Mifflin Lowe. His latest children’s book, The True West (Bushel & Peck, 2020), is a journey to the American West and focuses on the individuals often left out of the popular narratives. Here we meet African American, Latino, Asian, and American Indian soldiers, inventors, workers, pioneers, cowboys…AND cowgirls! Filled with historic photos, amazing facts, helpful definitions, and illustrations by Wiliam Luong, it’s a fantastic, fascinating, and dynamic resource. I lassoed Mifflin for a few questions about his work…

How did this project come to be?

I wrote a picture book and an animated film called The Awesome, Amazing, Occasionally Incredible Adventures of Cowboy Howie, about a mixed race boy from New York City who dreamed of being a cowboy. In his imagination the city’s canyons turned into the Grand Canyon, dogs became wolves, pigeons became eagles etc.

What was the research like for the book? Did you, for example, get a hankering to visit some Western locations? Saddle up Old Paint?

Research was fascinating. I did it mostly online and I learned a ton about the people and the life in the West. The people were all tough and I mean that in the best possible way — the were incredibly resilient from Calamity Jane to Stagecoach Mary Fields to Fox Hastings to Bass Reeves.

Mary Fields

Who was your favorite person to research?

Well maybe Annie Oakley – she was under 5 foot tall and could shoot a dime thrown in the air at 20 paces, and shoot while standing on the back of a galloping horse. Also, Bass Reeves who was a Black lawman who arrested over 3,000 criminals — more than Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp put together. Bass is supposedly the person the Lone Ranger was based on. Bass always left silver dollar at the scene of a crime he’d solved — like the Lone Ranger did with his silver bullets. Also, Jackson Sundown, the Native American rodeo rider who was probably the best ever and Mamie Hafely who used to jump off a five story tower on the back of her horse into a pool of water

Jackson Sundown

What’s one thing that surprised you when working on this book?

How strong, determined and hard working all these people were. They never gave up and never gave in.

Chinese Railroad Workers

In the Calamity Jane chapter, you mention the “flat-out cool’ nicknames from the Wild West. What would your nickname be?

Mr. Smartypants, maybe? Naw, I don’t know… maybe Muffin… like Mifflin…people sometimes make the mistake.

Muffin Lowe


Images courtesy of Mifflin Lowe and Bushel & Peck Books. Illustrations by Wiliwam Luong.

Hot Off The (Historical) Press!

hot off the historical pressRecently, the Department of Special Collections at Princeton University Library hosted an amazing exhibit, “Gutenberg & After: Europe’s First Printers 1450-1470,” and our library hosted a special event that featured a children’s tour and hands-on activities. If you’ve ever wanted to do something related to printing and the history of the book, read on!

The Gutenberg exhibit featured early European books that were printed on the first moveable type printing presses, including the world’s first dictionary, medical texts, law books, and the big granddaddy of ALL rare books, the Gutenberg Bible. That’s me in the above photo, leading the tour.

During my talk, I discussed hand-written books before print, how the early printing press worked, and how the growing availability of printed books evolved us into a culture of reading and writing. I had quill pens, actual 15th-century illuminated manuscript pages (thanks to this program!), vellum, and pieces of moveable type for kids to handle.

Meanwhile, in our children’s gallery, we had three hands-on activities: 1) Calligraphy; 2) A typewriter petting zoo; and 3) A pasta machine printing press.

calligraphy set upFor the calligraphy activity, we purchased both traditional feather quill pens and metal nib quill pens on Amazon, along with bottles of ink. Katie printed different examples of calligraphy so kids could replicate some letters. We also had calligraphy pens and brush pens in rainbow colors. Everyone loved trying the pens, and the calligraphy wasn’t just limited to the English language…

arabic calligraphyWe also had a massively popular typewriter petting zoo. There were 5 typewriters in all, 2 working, 2 non-working, and 1 toy for the really little kids. Kids could touch, explore, and clatter away on them! Katie and I were a wee bit worried about how loud the zoo would be, but quickly learned that the sound of multiple typewriters is actually incredibly soothing (at least to us!).

typewriter montageThe final activity was something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I spotted in on the Eric Carle Museum‘s blog (see this post for my tour of their awesome art studio). Namely, A PASTA MACHINE PRINTING PRESS! It was fantastic.

You can find detailed instructions here on the Carle’s studio blog. But basically, you’ll need foam trays, a carving tool, paint, rollers, paper, and a pasta machine. We purchased the cheapest one we could find on Amazon. It was $28. Just make sure the one you buy clamps to the table

pasta machine The steps for the activity are as follows: Firs, use a tool to carve a design into a foam sheet. The tool can be a pen, pencil, or wooden scratch art styluses. The foam sheets are the same material that meat is packaged on. We bought thinner versions on Amazon (Presto foam printing plates, a 100 pack of 6″ x 4″ sheets is $15).

foam sheetsNext, roll paint over your engraved foam sheet. We used trays to reduce the mess. They were definitely helpful!

foam traysFinally, place a piece of paper on top of your painted engraving and run it through the pasta machine printing press. Peel the foam sheet and the paper apart, and you have a beautiful custom print!

pasta printing press resultsImportant! Make sure the pasta machine is set to a wider setting. As you can see in the photo below, if the machine setting is too narrow, the paint will just squish into the lines of your engraving. The wider setting allows to white lines of your design to appear.

pasta machine settingsAlso, make sure kids know that if they want to print words, they have to carve them backwards as the printing process reverses the carved image. And you might want paper plates handy so kids can transport their still-damp prints home.

What’s really cool is that some kids started experimenting with printing in multiple colors.  Including THIS gorgeously vibrant one. LOVE!

rainbow print


Many thanks to Eric White, Curator of Rare Books, for his enthusiasm, expertise, and assistance in designing the children’s tour. And to AnnaLee Pauls, for generously loaning her beloved and amazing typewriters to our petting zoo!