Four Stories of LEGO

Leave it to LEGO to do something so charming and enchanting! While researching items to include in Cotsen’s latest exhibition, “Once Upon New Times: Reimagining Children’s Classics,” Katie came across four incredible miniature fairy tale LEGO sets we had never seen before. After some super sleuthing, she not only tracked a full set down, she uncovered their very interesting origin story, which she’s sharing today. Take it away, Katie!

In 2009, LEGO started collaborating with Toys R Us and kicked off a month-long promotion called Bricktober. Every week during the month of October, customers who purchased a LEGO set valued at a certain dollar amount would earn a free Bricktober collectible. The sets changed yearly and ranged from one-of-a-kind LEGO minifigures to little cityscapes to DUPLO bricks with unique images on them which, if you collected all four, would create a special Halloween picture. Following the 2018 bankruptcy and eventual closure of most Toys R Us storefronts, the availability of the Bricktober LEGO sets became very scarce. The promotion continued, but only in the Asia-Pacific region where Toys R Us was still in operation.

In 2021, the LEGO Bricktober sets were a collection of four different fairy tales: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Little Red Riding Hood.

Not only is each LEGO design mounted on a book, they each have moving pieces incorporated into the depiction of the fairy tale. The sets also included fold-out story books that tell the fairy tale using charming illustrations of LEGO minifigures.

eBay proved to be the best source for these elusive LEGOs. We purchased our complete collection from a seller located in Malaysia, and waited (im)patiently for the box to arrive. Once they were delivered, it didn’t take long for two of our colleagues to volunteer to help us build the adorable sets (no one wants to grow up, we are all Toys R Us and LEGOs kids!). And these adorable LEGO books did not disappoint! Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland features a rotating tea table loaded with sweets:

Little Red Riding Hood is a cottage that spins around to reveal an interior with a disguised wolf:

Hansel and Gretel is Dr. Dana’s favorite, and the roof opens to reveal a little witch and oven in the interior:

And the Jack and the Beanstalk is simply epic. A rotating mini farm scene, cloud mounted on a clear brick, gold-embellished castle, and twisty beanstalk:

The 2023 Bricktober sets are a Mini Hobby Series, highlighting bowling, music, car racing, camping, baking and gaming (and we’re eagerly awaiting the announcement of the 2024 sets!). For our Asia-Pacific blog readers who are lucky enough to get their hands on these rare LEGOs, we’d love to see pictures of your builds!

Many thanks to Princeton University Library staff Minjie Chen and Charles Doran for their expert LEGO building skills!

Once Upon New Times

Come see tales transformed at “Once Upon New Times: Reimagining Children’s Classics,” currently on display at the Cotsen Children’s Library! Curated as a companion to the larger exhibit in the Milberg Gallery of Firestone Library, each item offers a different perspective on a cherished classic. From highly imaginative physical transformations to diverse adaptations, we hope you enjoy these selections from the Cotsen collections, curated by Andrea Immel, Dana Sheridan, and Katie Zondlo. We have a few items to share below…

Katie and I were especially delighted that LEGO’s “Once Upon a Brick” Pop-Up Book made it in the exhibit! Originally posted on the blog here, this set not only renders “Jack and the Beanstalk” in 3D, the pop-up mechanism delights visitors both young and young-at-heart.

LEGO. Once Upon A Brick: Pop-Up Books. Ideas No. 21315 (The LEGO Group, 2018). Jason Allemann and Grant Davis (LEGO Ideas member submitters), Wesley Talbott and Crystal Marie Fontan (LEGO designers/graphics).

Visitors can also take a look at a kamishibai version of Alice in Wonderland, which includes a red-dressed Alice and a white rabbit in snappy pinstriped trousers. Those unfamiliar with the Japanese performance art of kamishibai can learn more here.

Takahashi Gozan, adaptor. Fushigi no kuni no Arisu-chan. Illustrated by Seiichi Yuno. (Tokyo: Nihon Kamishibai Gento Kabushiki Kaisha, Shōwa 27, 1952). Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Also featured is the gorgeous book The Singing Bones by multiple award winning, and New York Times bestselling, author, illustrator, artist, and filmmaker, Shaun Tan. Masterfully rendered, the book distills classic fairy tales down to a single page (or sometimes a paragraph!) and represents it with a powerfully elemental sculpture. You can hear Tan discuss it, as well as his other books, here.

Shaun Tan, reteller/illustrator. The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales. (New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016). Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

I’ll also share this humorous 1939 pamphlet from General Electric Company titled “Mrs. Cinderella.” Here the story of Cinderella is retold using General Electric products (while also thwarting goblins messing with getting dinner prepared for her happily ever after). You can read more about this particular item in Andrea Immel’s excellent post on Cotsen’s Curatorial blog.

Mrs. Cinderella. Illustrated by Corydon Bell. (New York: General Electric Co., 1939). Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

“Once Upon New Times: Reimagining Children’s Classics” runs through March 2024. If you’re in the area, please come and visit! You will find directions and hours to Cotsen Children’s Library here, and we have some fun community programs and events coming up in connection with the exhibit (hint: think gingerbread architecture)!

Once Upon a LEGO

once upon a legoIt started with an excited text from Katie: “Check out this LEGO set!” The accompanying image made my heart go pitter pat. LEGO has created a fairy tale pop-up book. I think it took oh…maybe 15 seconds for me to order one for blog testing? The set was Katie’s discovery, so she gets to do the honors. Take it away, Katie!

The brilliant folks at LEGO have done it again. They created an honest-to-goodness pop-up book out of LEGO bricks!

Before I go any further, I will fully admit that I was quite skeptical when I saw the “Once Upon a Brick” Pop-Up Book from LEGO’s Ideas line set in my son’s new 2019 LEGO catalogue. It claimed it was the “First pop-up book in LEGO history” and features two fairy tale stories: Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk. Awesome, but would it work?

lego once upon a brick boxThe set retails between $50-$70. There are 859 pieces in the box and the suggested age range is 12+. The instruction manual is a novel in its own right, weighing in at a hefty 162 pages. I loved that at the start of the instruction manual, LEGO introduced the fan designers who came up with the original idea for the pop-up book, as well as the LEGO designers who helped bring the book to LEGO life.

lego once upon a brick fan designersLEGO also provided the history of pop-up books, which date back to the 13th century, and briefly discussed the two fairy tales that are a part of the set. Along with words of encouragement to “Create your own fairy tale!” and “Build your own story…,” the instructions to build your LEGO set starts.

There are six bags of LEGOs to build the pop-up book. I found the instruction manual was straight-forward and easy to follow. There were only a few times when the instruction images were a bit tricky and forced me to slow down to pay close attention to the details. There are also lots of little pieces, especially when building Jack and the Beanstalk, so have your nimble fingers ready to attach small LEGOs to each other.

see katie build legoThe instructions have you build the Little Red Riding Hood cottage first. As I attached the pieces inside the book covers, I wasn’t sure the cottage would properly fold down and create the pop-up book illusion. But it really works!

little red riding hood lego set

After carefully removing the cottage from the book, I built the Jack and the Beanstalk tiny town and the beanstalk itself (complete with the giant’s castle at the top!). The town is adorable, surrounded by puffy white clouds, and the beanstalk grows when you open up the book. You read that right: the beanstalk grows as you open up the book.

jack and the beanstalk lego set

The attention to detail with this LEGO set is remarkable. You get the feeling that you are handling a real book when you have it in your hands, and the ease of how the pieces pop-up when you open the covers is stunning.

once upon a brick lego bookMy *only* complaint – and perhaps it is merely a humble suggestion – is that the little windmill blades in the Jack and the Beanstalk tiny town should have been a different color. They sort of blend into the white clouds surrounding them.

windmill suggestionIt took me about three hours to put the LEGO set together. I do agree with the suggested age range of 12+. The complexity of the set would be tough for younger kids to complete on their own, but they could probably build it with assistance from an adult.

My rating for the newest book in the Cotsen Children’s Library special collection: 5 out of 5 stars!