Cotsen Ghosties

book cover 3Last Halloween season we took a stroll through our special collections pumpkin patch. Today, we’re looking for ghosts! And we found them in this amazing optical illusion book titled Spectropia; or, Surprising Spectral Illusions. Showing ghosts everywhere, and of any color. Published by J.H. Brown in London in 1864, the book teaches the concept of “the persistency of impressions, and the production of complementary colours on, the retina.”

The illusion is very simple. In the image above, stare at the small black dot by the ghost’s neck for 20-30 seconds. Then look away at a white wall or ceiling. Her ghostly image will appear in your vision, except in different colors (in this case green wreath, blue ghost)!

Scientifically speaking, this is called an afterimage. The color receptors in your eyes work in pairs (red/green, blue/yellow, etc.). When you stare at the drawing and one color fatigues your receptors, the other receptor will step in and dominate for a bit.

The book has a very lengthy description of this concept, as well as viewing instructions that include having the “gaslight turned low.”

Spectropia also has a disclaimer at the beginning: “As an apology for the apparent disregard of taste and fine art in the plates, such figures are selected as best serve the purpose for which they are intended.”

I wish they might have reprinted the disclaimer before THIS image, which honestly is going to haunt me clear through December:

The book concludes with a grand finale image that is not a ghost, but a rainbow! Definitely try this one, because it is so cool to see the colors flip in the afterimage!

Looking more more optical spooky fun? Try making our tabletop Pepper’s Ghost illusion!


Images from Spectropia; or, Surprising Spectral Illusions. Showing ghosts everywhere, and of any color. J.H. Brown, London. Griffith and Farran.1864. Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour

It may be midnight, but there’s always time to explore this awesome little 2D library, and possibly discover a hidden letter or two!

We recommend reading The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara (Roaring Book Press, 2014, read here by the Ingleside Public Library). Welcome to a very special library: it’s only open from midnight to dawn! The little librarian, along with her three assistant owls, work together in the dark and help the forest animals find a place to play music, read the perfect story time book, and even sign up for a library card!

You’ll need:

  • 1 midnight library template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • 1 clear piece of 8.5″ x 11″ plastic (more on this below!)
  • Sharpie permanent marker
  • 1 piece of black construction paper
  • One flashlight template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • Scissors for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Optional: fine tip dry erase marker

Begin by printing the midnight library template. Then, place a piece of plastic on top of the template and trace it using a Sharpie permanent marker. We used archival mylar, but you can also use the clear cellophane rolls you find in the gift basket section of your local craft store!

Replace the paper library template with a piece of black construction paper. Tape the corners of the black construction paper to a tabletop, then tape the corners of the plastic to the tabletop as well. Really to explore the library? Slide the flashlight’s light beam between the construction paper and plastic to “illuminate” the scene!

Want to take the project up a notch? Use a fine tip dry erase marker on the plastic to “hide” letters in the library, and ask your young readers to locate them. Once all the letters have been discovered, you can erase them and start anew! You can make the letters random, or ask kids to string together various words and/or messages. For example, I’ve hidden the word “hello” on this shelf…can you find it?

The Tiny Library Challenge, Round II

Readers might recall the miniature library kit that almost drove Katie to the edge of sanity in 2021. It took 12 months, 46 hours and countless grey hairs, but Katie finally completed it! Fast forward to 2022, and the discovery of the Mind-Find Bookstore kit by Rolife Hands Craft. How can we resist, right? This bookstore has a BEAR in it!  So we decided to test the kit…except…now it’s MY turn to feel the agony and ecstacy of miniature building.

The Rolife kit is nicely packaged, and retails for around $20 on Amazon and Target. It is intended for ages 14 and up. That age range is absolutely correct. You need a steady hand and lots of patience to build it. I slowly unpackaged everything, wondering what I had gotten myself into. In the background, Katie chuckled evily.

One thing I liked about the kit was that you could lay the pieces on the paper templates, matching up the numbers with the instructions. This allowed me to have everything in one place, without having to stop and hunt for pieces during the process. Fair warning: the print on the instructions is miniscule, and there’s a bunch of tiny little paper signs to cut out too. I used regular-sized scissors and fumbled through, but smaller craft scissors would have produced cleaner cuts for sure.

One thing I did NOT like about the kit was the glue. The nozzle was always gushing, which endangered the fragile pieces. I finally resorted to using a paperclip to brush the glue on all the teeny weeny surfaces.

The kit also comes with a pair of plastic tweezers. I definitely had to use them! Not just for construction, but also setting up the interior of the shop. It was quite the adventure, folding the little bags, gluing the little handles on, and then navigating each of them on to the little slippery pegs!

There were a couple different types of books to construct as well. Some were just paper covers glued to foam pieces. Others were books you could actually open and turn the pages. Nice!

The advertised completion time for the kit is 3.5 hours. Well, it took me 5 hours and lots of complaining, squinting, moaning, and muttering quiet curses. At one point, I sent Katie a photo of my messy progress and bemoaned how crazy the kit was making me. She simply sent back this:

Like the kit Katie assembled, this little bookstore can be wired for lights. Buuuuuut I couldn’t figure out the “heat tube” part of the instructions, annnnnnd the little lightbox broke during construction. So I had to jerry-rig the bulb to the battery like some sort of miniature MacGyver. But in the end, there was LIGHT!

I would say the Mind-Find Bookstore kit by Rolife Hands Craft is mid-range in difficulty. If you are working on this with a kid, plan for lots of extra time and patience as most of the pieces are from scratch, the paper signs are small, and the instructions are a little vague. Ultimately, the results were cute, and this cheerful little bookstore will brighten any room or shelf!