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 :)

The BiblioFiles Presents: Christine Day

Just posted! An interview with Christine Day, author of middle grade novels I Can Make this Promise, and her most recent release, The Sea in Winter. She was also a featured writer for Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted series, specifically writing about Maria Tallchief, America’s first prima ballerina and citizen of the Osage Nation.

In I Can Make this Promise, we meet twelve year-old Edie, whose creative project with two friends leads to the discovery of a box in the attic of her house. Inside the box are photographs, postcards, a notebook, and letters that make her realize that her family has been hiding something major from her. The more she investigates, the more she learns about her mother’s past, and the complicated history of her family tree. I Can Make This Promise was listed as a best book of the year by NPR, and was a Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book, as well as an American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor Book.

The Sea in Winter is a story about Maise, who is devastated after she injures herself in ballet class. Ballet is her life, and she grapples with not only the pain of her injury, but the loss of the joy dancing brings her, as well as her connection to her friends. When Maise’s family takes a road trip, she finds herself confronting what her identity, both ballet and beyond, really means to her.

Day’s work has many layers. One layer is the story of her main characters as they struggle and overcome difficult and emotional experiences. Another layer is how these characters connect to their families for support and guidance. Yet another layer is how her characters connect to their identities as Native people. Day blends these layers together flawlessly and compassionately, allowing the reader to deeply engage and empathize. There are difficult truths in these books, but in Day’s talented hands, the reader gets through them, and, like the characters, emerges in a better, stronger place.

In addition to her novels, Day has contributed her work to two collections, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, and Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America.

Follow this link to the BiblioFiles interview


Image courtesy of Christine Day

Good Day, Sunshine Bread

Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven? And thanks to a truly adorable book and recipe, you can also get a little sunshine front and center! Let’s head to Katie’s test kitchen for a look!


It was a snowy day, when the New Jersey skies were dark and gray, that I rediscovered the book Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven (Dutton Children’s Books, 2001 – read here by Camp WildWoodz). In the story, the animals of the town have experienced a long hard winter. They are all ready for the seasons to change and for the sun to return. The local baker decides to mix together her own sunshine from the cozy comfort of her bakery. The end result is delicious hot sun bread, which she shares to the delight of the town and their joy awakens the sun from its winter sleep.

I was surprised that my copy of Sun Bread did not have the recipe, which apparently was not included in later printings of the book. After a quick online search, I was able to find the recipe, along with a few personal minor adaptations and suggestions, in a blog post written by Lisa at Story of a Kitchen.

Bread is relatively easy to make. It just takes time, strong hands and a little patience to allow the yeast to work its magic. I had all of the ingredients in my pantry, so I got to work. I followed the instructions exactly as written by mixing everything together and kneading the dough, adding additional flour along the way.

After letting the dough rest and rise for an hour, I deflated and kneaded the larger ball of dough for a second time. I cut the dough ball in half and started creating my sun face. I decided to make the corona of my sun into simple little swirls.

I left the doughy sun to rise for another hour and then slid it into the oven to bake. I checked the bread after 10 minutes and I’m glad I did because it was already a nice golden brown and perfectly cooked through.

It didn’t take long for my teenager to descend upon the kitchen and ask to try a slice of sun bread. It was absolutely delicious! We tried it plain, with butter, and with a variety of different jams. It didn’t matter what we used as a spread, it was wholesomely good. I wish I could tell you how sun bread tastes the next day, but it didn’t last that long. My family snacked on it throughout the day, and we finished the small amount that was left that evening as garlic bread with our spaghetti dinner.

The sun bread recipe is ideal for parents to make with their children. It’s a super simple recipe to follow, you can be creative designing the sun face and corona, and the end result is scrumptious. And let’s be honest… any day is a good day to brighten your spirits with fresh sun bread!