Hit the Road

hit the road

The open highway beckons, so top off the tank, jump in the truck, crank the tunes, and let the cows do the driving. Wait a minute…COWS?

We read Sakes Alive! A Cattle Drive, written by Karma Wilson, and illustrated by Karla Firehammer (Little, Brown, 2005). When two inquisitive cows lift the truck keys from Farmer’s pocket, they quickly learn (as does the rest of the town) that cows can’t drive. But they can inspire a bit of a parade!

We crafted a pull string truck and put two toilet paper tube cows in the front seat. Then the story time kids drove across scenic New Jersey, complete with billboards, pit stops, and of course…tolls.

You’ll need:

  • 1 small tissue box
  • 1 pickup truck template printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 4 circles of black construction paper (approximately 2.5″ in diameter)
  • A piece of string (approximately 24″ long)
  • 1 mini craft stick
  • 3 toilet paper tubes
  • 1 rectangle of poster board (approximately 4.5″ x 5″)
  • 1 open highway (more on this below!)
  • Hot glue

finished pickup truckThe truck for this project is a duplicate from our “Ultimate Road Trip” post (you’ll find the  instructions here) with one exception: we added a front seat for our cows to sit in.

cows in front seatTo make the seat, cut a toilet paper tube in half. Fold a rectangle of poster board in two, then hot glue the toilet paper tube “legs” to the bottom of the poster board seat. Secure the completed seat to the inside of your truck with hot glue. Here’s a shot of the front seat from the back of the truck:

front seat of truckThe cows are simply toilet paper tubes, wrapped in white construction paper, with construction paper ears and hair tufts. Decorate with markers. We used eye stickers, but you can draw the eyes on with markers too.

cows driversOnce the truck and cows are done, it’s time to hit the road! We crafted a New Jersey road adventure, which we will share below. A simplified version of this could be print outs of buildings, billboards, and road signs. Or heck, just draw some directional arrows on Post It notes! Our journey begins at the “Welcome to New Jersey” sign…

welcome to nj See that cute little gas station in the background? Here’s a close up of it. Katie crafted the nozzles out of mesh tubing and kiddie scissors. The pointy end of the scissors are shoved into a bit of PVC pipe.

gas station You might also want to stop at Shake Shack for a little treat. These were cotton ball shakes in little sample cups served with a snippet of paper straw. The stand was run by a volunteer older kid.

shake shackRound the corner, more billboards…

billboardsAnd one more turn takes you to Katie’s amazingly crafted EZ Pass toll booth!

ez passThen it’s just a quick jump onto the NJ Turnpike to begin the loop anew!

nj turnpikeBut keep an eye on your speedometer, because there was a cop on the premises to catch cows over the speed limit! This was another older kid volunteer. We had a police hat ready, some ready-to-fill speeding tickets, and a siren sound effect on my phone.

copThis kid played his part to the hilt, and his speeding tickets were hilarious! There was one speeding ticket for $9,000. And some double tickets. I must admit, I gave out a couple tickets too.

speeding ticketsBy the way…Katie you still owe me $1000 for your story time speeding ticket. Just sayin’.

Pancake Power

pancake power

We’re serving up fast flapjacks in this fun duel-player racing game! But who will take home the golden syrup pitcher trophy? Check out our high-action video at the end of the post!

We read Hey, Pancakes! written by Tamson Weston, and illustrated by Stephen Gammell (Harcourt, 2003). Mom and Dad are sleeping in, so the kids (and the dog) head to the kitchen to cook up some amazing, sticky, super yummy pancakes! Yes, it’s a mess, but a little maple syrup never hurt anyone!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large tissue box
  • 1 corrugated cardboard rectangle
  • 4 small paper plates
  • 3 paper cups
  • 2 jumbo craft sticks (ours were 8″ long)
  • Tin foil
  • 1 knives and forks template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 2 corrugated cardboard circles
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

To make your pancake game table, hot glue a large tissue box to the bottom of a corrugated cardboard rectangle (we used a 10″ x 14″ cake pad).

pancake tableSet the tabletop with 2 small paper plates, 2 paper cups cut down to 2.25″, and the knifes and forks from the template. Optional: adding cotton ball “liquids” inside the cups, paper napkins, and decorating everything with construction paper, color masking tape and patterned tape.

top of pancake tableWe recommend NOT attaching anything directly to the tabletop. Later, when you’re playing your race game, it’s much funnier when things go flying off the table!

To make your pancake skillets, hot glue jumbo craft sticks to the backs 2 small paper plates, then cover everything with tin foil. The pancakes are 5″ diameter corrugated cardboard circles. Definitely use cardboard. Poster board and construction paper pancakes don’t fly through the air – they just flutter disappointingly. Add a self-adhesive foam foam pat of butter if you so desire:

pancake skillet Finally, the golden syrup pitcher trophy! This is a paper cup. We added a gold mirror board handle and spout as well. And a gold embossed foil seal for extra bling.

golden syrup pitcher trophyTo play the race game, set the table, then have the two players sit some distance on opposite ends. On “Go!” both players must attempt to toss their pancakes to the plates. Keep tossing until a pancake lands on a plate. First one to the plate wins the trophy!


Many thanks to Franny Zawadzki, our new office jill-of-all-trades, for shooting the video. We are delighted to have your talents at Cotsen, including your previously untapped sports announcer skills!

Be YOU!

be youIt doesn’t matter if you are yellow, red, green, this, that, rather, or neither. Just be YOU!

We read Neither by Airlie Anderson (Little, Brown, 2018). Neither the green bunny bird doesn’t fit into the tidy world of blue “This” bunnies or yellow “That” birds. Not rabbity or birdy enough, Neither is asked to leave. After a long flight, Neither lands in The Land of All, where creatures of all kinds live and play happily together.  In The Land of All, everyone is welcome. And yeah, this book totally ROCKS!

We were sooooo excited to have author and illustrator Airlie Anderson visit our library for a fabulous story time. There’s an interview with her after the project part of the post. And after that? We’ll be giving away 3 signed copies of Neither to lucky blog readers!

You’ll need:

  • Poster board
  • Elastic string
  • Costume decorating supplies (more on this below!)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We kept the construction of this project simple – ears and wings – so kids could dedicate all of their time to decorating. While you can easily make wings out of poster board, we decided to test out the “Colorations Decorate Your Own Wings” from Discount School Supply (set of 12 is $20). The wing span is 22.5″ wide. Here’s a poster board version so you can get an idea of the shape:

neither butterfly wings templateYou can also see how the wings are rigged with loops of elastic cord, so the kids can just slide them on like a backpack. If butterfly wings are not your cup of tea, you can easily turn the butterfly wing shape into bird wings like so…

neither bird wings template

The ears were a simple poster board head band with whatever ears you would like. As you will soon seen, bunny and kitty ears were very popular, though we did have a couple unicorns. We also has tails the kids could tuck into the back of their pants, or attach round their waist with elastic cord.

When your wings, ears, and tails are selected, decorate! We offered metallic , sparkle stems, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, construction paper, self-adhesive foam shapes, crepe paper streamers, iridescent ribbon, color masking tapee, and the Bling Bin! Airlie also walked around, Sharpie in hand, to customize wings and headbands:

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I caught up with the amazing Airlie Anderson after story time, and asked her a few questions…

airlie andersonPlease tell us a little about yourself!

Hi everyone! I’m Airlie, named after my grandma whose parents were Scottish. I was born and raised in California, and now live just outside of Princeton, New Jersey. I love it here! Except when it’s humid.

I was that little kid who was always drawing, and just never stopped. One of my favorite things to do is to sit in a busy café and draw in my sketchbook. My studio is in a sort of hallway in our house, so I can work while our 2 year old son naps.

How did the concept for Neither first occur to you?

I had a dream about an animal that had a mix of characteristics, and in the dream I thought, “This should be a book, and it will be called Neither.” At the time, I was teaching art to a class of middle school students, and they were just so inspiring. That dream was definitely influenced by them!

When it came to designing the main character of Neither, there were so many animal combinations to choose from! How did you finally arrive at the bird bunny?

In my Neither Dream, the character was mostly cat and butterfly, and it was a grey color. But when I experimented with sketches of that character, it looked too precious, so cute. I wanted it to look slightly more awkward, with clear qualities of two different easily recognizable animals. So bunny bird it was! Also I felt that I could make the bunnies blue for some reason, and the birds could be yellow of course. Then Neither would be boldly green. It felt just right.

The colors in this book are gorgeous! What medium did you use to create it?

Oh, thank you! I used gouache, a super saturated an opaque watercolor. It reproduces nicely, doesn’t it? I like to sketch on regular ol’ printer paper and then use a light box to trace each drawing, with paint, onto watercolor paper. Then I put lots of layers of gouache on. Green is a tricky color to reproduce, though, especially Neither’s bright lime green coat. So the excellent people at my publisher suggested an extra ink in the printing process that would make that beautiful shade of green. I was thrilled by this news, and it turned out just delightfully.

What sort of feedback have you received about this story?

Oh, I have received the most wonderful messages about Neither, from people of many different ages and backgrounds. I recently received an email from a fifty-five year old gentleman who works in an LGBTQ community center in Florida, who said the book made him cry happy tears. I hear from parents of children who don’t feel they fit in, and they tell me how Neither is their favorite bedtime book. These messages mean the world to me — the thought of people sharing this story and having a lovely experience because of it is wonderful.

I heard a rumor that Neither is going to be made into a musical! Is this true???

Yes, oh my gosh!!! What a dream come true! Lifeline Theater in Chicago is producing Neither as a musical, to premier in the spring of 2020. Coincidentally/magically, the person writing the stage version has recently moved from Chicago to Princeton and works with mutual friends — so we get to share ideas over coffee!

What are you working on now?

I have two picture book sketches with my agent right now, one about the Easter Bunny and one about sea creatures. I’m also working on a graphic novel, which is a total passion project and has been shouting at me for years to be written. I’m finally listening!


And now it’s time for a FABULOUS book giveaway! We have 3 autographed copies of Neither (Little, Brown, 2017) to share! Just e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name, and the initials of someone you think is unlike any other. We’ll put all the entires in a hat and draw 3 winners at random on Tuesday, July 2nd. Good luck!