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 :)

Saddle Up and Read

caitlin gooch saddle up and readIn the beautiful fields of North Carolina, you will find some very well-read horses.

They are part of Saddle Up and Read, a non-profit organization founded by Caitlin Gooch. In 2017, Caitlin noticed the low literacy rates in North Carolina and how they disproportionately affected children of color. Concerned, she reached out to her local library and proposed an incentive. If kids checked out 3 or more books, they could spend a day at her father’s horse farm and share a book with an equine friend!

The response, of course, was unbridled enthusiasm. Caitlin’s idea bloomed into a full-scale operation that has earned national recognition as a program of excellence, both on the farm and in the community. Recently, I caught up with Caitlin to learn more about her amazing organization.


Can you take up through a typical day on your farm?

A day on the farm is never the same. My husband and I have four daughters so I plan things around what we can do. Typically I get myself and my children ready for the day. Once that is squared away, I’m either running errands like checking the mail, going to the bank, checking my emails or picking up books. At the farm I am not solely responsible for cleaning out stalls but I will if I need to. I wash water buckets, pick up trash, and check the water troughs in the pastures. Next, I spend time grooming my horses. Sometimes in their stall or out in the round pen. If I am expecting kids to visit, I lay out everything we need. Books, activities, tack and horse treats.

What came first, your connection to books? Or to horses?

Oh! This is a great question. Based on my memory alone (without asking my mom lol) I believe it was my connection to books. I was an early reader. Reading books was something I could do independently. Unlike with horses, kids have to be supervised. We have always had horses but I don’t really remember how often I was at the farm as a kid. I know when I was 6 years old I asked my dad if I could move my bed into the horse stall.


.What are the names of your horses and ponies?

I have 6 horses and 1 miniature horse. Their names are Barbee, Ardent, Ruth, Khaya, BLM Rare Doc Leo, Rainbow and my mini’s name is Man Man. My childhood horse, GOAT just passed away last year. I miss her so much. She was a huge part of Saddle Up and Read.

Tell us a little bit about the readers who come to your programs!

The sweetest and funniest kids you could ever meet! Most of the readers are of elementary age. More so 3rd to 5th grade. They love to lend a helping hand around the farm. As long as horses are involved, they are for it. We have a very diverse crowd of readers. Majority of the readers are Black and Hispanic, need encouragement to read or practice reading, or they love to read. The programs are open to all children but we do emphasize on children of color because statistically they have lower reading scores.

You are building a library of books featuring Black equestrians. What are your current favorites?

Yes I am! I started collecting these books around the same time I started Saddle Up and Read. Two of my favorites are Let Er’ Buck! George Fletcher the Peoples Champion and Black Cowboy Wild Horses. From my collection I have created a coloring book series called Color & Learn. The first volume is out now. It is titled Black Equestrian Coloring Book Volume 1: The Trail Blazers. It is available on my website and Amazon.

Can you tell us about one of your favorite moments in this program, big or small?

Wow, I have so many. I wish I had a running list of all the people to thank for supporting Saddle Up and Read. Not just the celebrities like Oprah, LeVar Burton and Soledad O’Brien, but everyone who has taken the time to show love. The power of social media has helped us get a truck, a horse trailer, over 2,000 books, and so many donations.

Picking a favorite moment is hard but I’ll say at the end of any event we have, there is always one child who doesn’t want to leave. Sometimes they are crying, “No, I want to stay here.” It makes me both happy and sad. Happy because it means they are having a great time. But sad because I wish they could stay as long as they need to LOL.


All images courtesy of Caitlin Gooch, Saddle Up and Read. And if you want to see some serious adorableness, check out their Instagram!

Pop’s Top 10: Our Favorite Posts of 2021

12 month 46 hour library 4Wow wowzers wowie WOW are we looking forward to turning the page to 2022! But before we put a lid on 2021, we thought we would revisit some of our favorite posts! Here they are, in no particular order, our Top 10 posts of 2021!


#1 TOTALLY RANDOM

Never in a million years did I think a recycled pasta box would go viral, but this was one of our most popular projects! It’s a simple writing prompt machine, inspired by an arcade claw machine from summer vacations past.


#2 LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND NOBLE

Medieval Vogue front 1

Katie and I had a good time revisiting this fashion-parody-but-it’s-actually-historically-factual magazine. Medieval Vogue was part of a massive 2012 Robin Hood event. You can read more about the event fun here.


#3 DESTINATION: SLEEPY HOLLOW

It’s not everyday you get to check a box on the life list! Visiting Sleepy Hollow, NY has been something I’ve always dreamed of….and our 2021 trip will always be something to remember.


#4 BRINGING LITERATURE TO LIFE

Katie was delighted to interview Australian blogger Bryton Taylor, whose amazing literary parties and original recipes give us much inspiration!


#5 LITERARY AMUSEMENT PARK RIDES

moby dick ride_2

A Top 10 list in a Top 10 list? We couldn’t resist including this one because it was pure joy to research.


#6 FLOWERS FOR FERDINAND

In addition to featuring one of Katie’s favorite picture books, this post was full of hope, spring, and a fantastic wildflower identification app!


#7 FROM FOLKLORE TO FANTASY

Co-hosted with Vineet Chander from Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life, Hindu Life Program, this live Zoom webinar with talented authors Sanyantani DasGupta and Roshani Chokshi was just magical. And the Q&A with the kids was epic! You can find the entire event here.


#8 SPLASHY SPELLING

This one made the list because it was almost a huge fail and it turned my hand pink. Yes, PINK! Though I ultimately managed to produce a cute bath time spelling craft, my digits were blush for days!


#9 PUPPY POST

more puppy post 1Of course we’re going to include the post that introduced Finley, the newest addition to Katie’s family! Look at him, rocking that doggie delivery mailbox! Awwwww!


#10 THE 12 MONTH, 46 HOUR LIBRARY

12 month 46 hour library 4 Otherwise known as the craft kit that almost took Katie down. It might have taken a year, but now we have an adorable physical representation of Katie’s persistence and perseverance (and just look at that cute library ladder)!

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! HERE’S TO 2022!