Mission: Hugs for All

hugs for allIt’s a big world out there. A world with lots of things in it. And those things need HUGS. The question is…are you up to the task? Are you a Hug Machine?

We recommend Hug Machine by Scott Campbell (Atheneum, 2014). Prepare yourself world. The Hug Machine (a little boy in a striped shirt and red rain boots) is on a mission to cheer people up, calm people down, and make things right. Tree? Hug! Park bench? Hug! Crying baby? Hug! Even a spiky porcupine gets a special padded hug. It’s impossible to read this book without smiling. Highly recommended!

Today’s simple project was designed by Jennifer Hyde, an ingenious teacher in Logan, Utah. Jennifer’s “Paper Hug” was featured in Family Fun magazine many years ago. I modified it only slightly for today’s post.

You’ll need:

  • Poster board
  • Scissors
  • Markers

Trace your left and right hands at each end of a 5.5″ x 27″ strip of poster board. Keep the hands connected as you cut them out of the poster board.The result is a long “hug.” Decorate the hug with markers (or use color masking tape like we did).

poster board hugOK, you’re ready to start hugging – and by hugging we mean go forth and find things to wrap your poster board hug around! You can just use the paper hug, or get right in there and use your arms too. Always dedicated to seeing a project through, Katie and I hit the streets on a rainy afternoon to share the love with Princeton.

Hugging John Witherspoon, Founding Father and past President of Princeton University…

witherspoon statue hug

The classic tree hug. It was a little damp, but who cares?

tree hugA mailbox clearly in need of a hug.

mailbox hugHugging a roaster and barista pal at our awesome local coffee shop, Small World.

small world coffee hugA hug for House of Cupcakes, who sell me donuts and cupcakes. Like, everyday.

house of cupcakes hugHugging a rainbow narwhal at JaZams, our stupendous local toy store.

jazams hugNo park bench escapes me…

bench hugNor jungle-like foliage…

leaf hug

A super-sweet hug from the folks at the Bent Spoon, best bakery in the world.

bent spoon hugAn attempted hug of one of Princeton’s famous black squirrels…yeah, no go.

attempted squirrel hugFinally, a hug from a random person who totally rocked the love. Awwwww!

random person hug


Sending hugs to those experiencing devastation and loss in Florida following Hurricane Michael. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Children’s Book Festival

princeton children's book festival 2018 poster by angela dominguez

Presented by the Princeton Public Library with sponsorship by jaZams. Poster art by Angela Dominguez

Friends! Romans! Tri-State Countrymen! Travel henceforth to Princeton this weekend for the Princeton Public Library‘s legendary Children’s Book Festival! Every year, scores of talented authors and illustrators gather under the library’s big white tents in Hinds Plaza, meeting fans and signing books.

My personal highlights over the past 12 years of the book festival…receiving writing advice from Rebecca Stead, seeing my buddy Galen Longstreth sharing her adorable book, Yes, Let’s, and having a breakfast chat with Pseudonymous Bosch before the event. My library was there in 2010 as well, doing a “Books Done Wrong” activity!

The public library always invites terrific authors and illustrators. Here’s the 2018 line-up if you’d like to see it. But if we may be so bold as to make a few blog connections to this year’s festival attendees?


Tracey Baptiste: The author of The Jumbies now has a sequel out called, Rise of the Jumbies. I interviewed Tracey in 2016. Her books are suspenseful, spooky, and straight up awesome.

Margery Cuyler: Margery’s Skeleton for Dinner is totally hilarious, and we hope we did her book justice with our dancing, glowing skeleton marionette project.

them bones

Ame Dyckman: Ame has had three featured projects on our blog! A robot marionette for Boy + Bot, a bouncing baby wolf for Wolfie the Bunny, and a raucous tea party game for Tea Party Rules. She’s inspired so many projects…probably because her books are so fun and amazing.

Steve Light: Master wielder of all things fountain pen, Steve caught our eye with Zephyr Takes Flight, and we just HAD to do a steampunk airship project. We had to!

one amazing airship

Zachariah OHora: Zachariah’s distinctive illustrative style has graced blog twice in books, once for Wolfie the Bunny and again for The Teacher’s Pet. We’re dying to do a project for The NOT So Quiet Library.

Lauren Magaziner: Lauren’s book, Pilfer Academy, was a featured book at To Be Continued in 2016. Our book-related activities involved lots of sneaking around, stealing things, and a green crepe paper streamer laser maze. Oh yeah.

navigating-the-lasers

Wendy Mass: I interviewed Wendy in 2009 and WOW has she been busy, including being on the New York Times Bestseller list for The Candymakers! She recently released Bob, a book she co-wrote with Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead.

Christopher Silas Neal: Christopher’s gorgeous, minimalistic, vibrant illustrations in Over and Under the Snow inspired a winter hibernation snow-scape project that was a huge hit at story time.

winter is coming

Anica Mrose Rissi: I just posted a hamster-rific blog project for her book, The Teacher’s Pet, along with an author interview. So now you have to go to the festival meet Nica and see all her other fantastic books!

Sean Rubin: I did a blog feature on Sean’s debut graphic novel Bolivar in 2017. Bolivar is an astounding work of art and really must been seen in person. Now’s your chance!

bolivar 6_artwork by sean rubin

Daniel Salmieri: Daniel has written and illustrated many books, but we loved his work on Meet The Dullards, and fashioned our boring-not-boring blog project on his playful artistry.

Liz Garton Scanlon: Liz’s book In the Canyon is full of playful, vivid rhymes. We tried to capture some of the wonder she evokes with our own enormous cardboard canyon.

hiking the canyon

Rebecca Stead: How often do you get to meet a Newbery winner? I interviewed Rebecca about When You Reach Me in 2011 and she has continued to write amazing, thoughtful, and deeply meaningful books.

David Ezra Stein: ‘Ol Mama Squirrel? Best. Book. Ever. I couldn’t stop laughing when I read it aloud during story time! And weirdly, the squirrel tree puppet project went viral in China. Wow.

puppet in action

Audrey Vernick: Buffaloes and drum sets. Need I say more? OK, how about winning a giant pet whale? Audrey’s hilarious books such as Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums and I Won a What? inspire us.

Rowboat Watkins: We made cake hats with attitudes for Rowboat’s fantastic Rude Cakes. But much to our delight, he popped up unexpectedly in this post about Books of Wonder in NYC.

headgear with attitude problems


The Children’s Book Festival is Saturday, September 22m from 11am to 4pm in Hinds Plaza of the Princeton Public Library, rain or shine. Books are available for purchase at the event through jaZams, our incredible, local, independent, family-owed toy store. We hope to see you there!

A Day in Digitopolis, Part II

Radiance by Matt ElsonWho knew infinity could be so beautiful? I’ve returned with Part II of the Digitopolis event post (Part I can be found here) and thought I would start it off with one of the stars of the show! The above image was taken inside an Infinity Box, one of multiple creations by Los Angeles-based artist, Matt Elson. Matt’s boxes have been exhibited at colleges, science centers, festivals, and museums. He generously loaned us two (titled Radiance, and You & Me Together) for our math event.

You and Me Together by Matt ElsonThe boxes are designed to be infinite, interactive environments that play with your perception and inspire inquisitiveness and wonder. They were in constant use during the event, and there were lots of shrieks of amazement, enthusiastic explosions of “Cool!” and long, drawn out utterances of “Woooooow…”

infinity marissaDigitopolis was not without its celebrities, including the King of Numbers himself. I speak, of course, of the Mathamagician.

mathamagiciansThat’s real-life mathamagician Brent Ferguson on the right, grinning away under the pointy hat covered with equations. He’s math faculty at the Lawrenceville School, and in 2013, he was awarded the National Museum of Mathamatics’ Rosenthal Prize for innovation in math teaching. On the left is Dr. Dan Fishman, a high school math teacher, who, like Brent, has unbridled enthusiasm for all things math.

Together, Brent and Dan staffed the “Ask the Mathamagician” table. Kids could walk up and ask them any question they could possibly think of involving math. We had prompt cards on the table to get things started:

Why do you like math?
What’s an irrational number?
What’s the biggest number there is?
Why is math important?
Why does a negative times a negative equal a positive?
Is zero a number?
What’s a perfect number?
What’s that crazy math thing with the exclamation point?
What’s an imaginary number?
Know any good math jokes?
What’s your favorite equation?

Brent and Dan brought a whole bunch of math toys and puzzles with them. It was an irresistible treasure trove of numerical goodies.

mathamagician 2Also at the Mathamagican’s table were three Digitopolis “tourism” posters for families to take home (the posters were inspired by this fantastic NASA concept). The first two posters are by Princeton University senior, Aliisa Lee. The third poster is by freshman Demi Zhang.

city poster by aliisa leemines poster by aliisa leeevent poster by demi zhangA quick word about the Mathamagician’s costume. The robes and hat were made by freshman James Jared, who ingeniously modified this Jedi robe. Then Casandra used silver and gold metallic fabric markers to draw real, honest-to-goodness math equations on them. We snapped a couple shots so you can get the full effect!

robes 2robes 1The Mathamagician wasn’t the only celebrity in Digitopolis that day. Does this gentleman look familiar to you?

albert einsteinYup, it’s Albert Einstein. Or rather, professional reenactor Bill Agress playing Albert Einstein. Mr. Einstein circulated the event floor, chatted with kids, answered questions about his life and work, tried an activity or two, and posed for pictures. And yes – he wasn’t wearing any socks.

In addition to being one of world’s most famous theoretical physicists (and no slouch at mathematics either), did you know that Einstein was a resident of Princeton? He emigrated here in 1933 to join the faculty of at the newly-created Institute for Advanced Study.

The Historical Society of Princeton put together a terrific mini-exhibit on Einstein in Princeton (my favorite is that photo of him wearing the fuzzy slippers). Families were invited to take home a map of notable Einstein haunts around town as well.

historical societyThey also whipped up an Einstein quiz for kids to try (the answers, by the way are B, A, B, C, B, C). The prize was a cool little puzzle. I found some terrific ones at Oriental Trading Company (the ones below are from the “Mind Teaser Game Assortment”).

maze prizesElsewhere in Digitopolis, another math wizard was hard at work. This is Emile Oshima, a junior at Princeton and master of the Japanese abacus. Next to him is senior Rei Mastsuura.

abacus races 1In addition to having Emile and Rei teaching kids how to use an abacus, Emile raced kids (and parents!) armed with electronic calculators to see who could reach the product of 3 x 3 multiplication problems faster. Emile always won. He was lightning fast!

abacus races 2Meanwhile, at another event table, another calculator was keeping kids busy. But this calculator was rather…odd.

crazy calculator 1The “Crazy Calculator” was designed by the Princeton Society of Women Engineers using 2 Makey Makey sets. Have you seen Makey Makey? It’s pretty awesome. Each set consists of wired alligator clips, a small central board, and computer software.

Attach the alligator clip to anything that conducts electricity, and you can do all sorts of crazy things. Turn bananas into a keyboard, or use Play-doe like a video game controller. The Women Engineers used all sorts of things to build their calculator – tin foil, wet sponges, water, metal objects, shaving cream, flowers, even high fives!

crazy calculator 2Interspersed with the other event tables were five “Pop Up History” activities that tied together math and history. These tables were designed to be simple, stand-alone, and un-staffed.

global counting 1At “Global Counting,” kids could see diverse numerical systems on a big display board (the book Go Figure: A Totally Cool Book About Numbers (DK, 2005) was very helpful in this regard). Then, kids copied their favorite number system on a 3.5″ x 17″ strip of paper, and used yarn to turn it into a little scroll.

global counting 2At another table were Möbius strips, a must-have for any hands-on math event. Discovered in 1858 by German mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius, the strip demonstrates how a piece of paper can have only one side! All it takes is a 2.5″ x 28″ piece of poster board, tape, and some instructions.

mobius stripsAnother hands-on math must-have? Tangram puzzles. Originating in China, tangram puzzles were first introduced to Europe in the 19th century. There are plenty of inexpensive tabletop tangrams out there, but we decided to splurge on some giant foam floor size versions (thinner ones purchased from SimplyFun, chunkier ones from Fat Brain Toys). Later, these were donated to a local non-profit family shelter.

tangram puzzlesThe fourth Pop Up History table was called “Tally Hides.” Some American Indian tribes kept track of important things by making tally marks on animal hides and tree bark. Definitely a cool way to count!

tally hides 1Before the event, we cut 9″ x 12″ pieces of brown paper into the shape of a hide. During the event, kids wrinkled the paper, flattened it out, and used markers to draw the wildlife they’ve seen around their homes and town. Then, they estimated how many times they’d seen each critter, and made a tally mark next to it. The project is originally from The Secret Life of Math (Williamson Books, 2005).

tally hides 2The final history table was called “Tile Tessellations.” Decorating surfaces with tiles spans many cultures, and many centuries. But did you know that the geometry in Early Islamic art was so intricate, it was unrivaled for over 500 years?

tiles 1Kids put their tiling and tessellating skills to work by gluing 3/4″ paper tiles to a 6″ x 6″ square of tagboard. This project was really bright and beautiful.

tiles 2That’s it for history – how about some games? JaZams, our local family-owned toy store hosted a event area called “The Game is Afoot.” JaZams chose 8 math games for various age ranges, and set each of them up on a series of tables. Kids could drop by to play the waaaaay popular Rubik’s Race…

game is afoot 1Or entire families could take a break and play Number Ninjas.

game is afoot 2Heck, maybe you could even beat Einstein at Qbitz! After the event, the games were donated to a local non-profit family shelter.

games is afoot 3For the musically adventurous, there was “Musical Fractions,” an activity composed by senior Matt Smith and freshman Demi Zhang. Kids used percussion instruments (assorted floor drums, wood blocks, maracas, a wooden fish, claves, and sand blocks) to learn how to play, and recognize, wholes, halves, quarters, and eighths. They also learned about musical structure and patterns.

musical fractionsEach instructional session ranged between 10 to 15 minutes. I wasn’t able to catch an entire one, but I did manage to grab a few seconds of this one. Just listen to those fractions!


I have one last thing to share with you. Team Digitopolis in their awesome event t-shirts.

front of shirtsAt big events like this, my staff and I wear costumes so that people can find us quickly in the crowds (helloooo Victorian Steampunk spelunker). For Digitopolis, however, I decided to go with t-shirts, and asked student artist Aliisa Lee to design them. Here’s a closer look at her beautiful cityscape!

digitopolis by aliisa leeOn the backs were our favorite numbers. Let’s hear it for 9, 2, and 11! Woot woot!

back of shirtsI’d like to send a million, trillion, zillion, googolplex thanks to everyone who made this event possible, and who generously gave their time to make math fun, approachable, unusual and fun. An extra shout out to the Princeton University students, and the student athletes who volunteered so energetically and enthusiastically! Thank you so much, everyone!