Message in a Bottle

message in a bottle

Messages of love, thoughtful notes, warm invitations…they’re all heading your way to be captured and stashed in your fishing creel AND your heart!

We read The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, written by Michelle Cuevas, and illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Penguin, 2016). The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles’ job is to spot message bottles and deliver them to their proper recipients. But secretly, he yearns for someone to write a message to him. One day, a bottle arrives with a party invitation, but no name. So the Uncorker asks a number of people if the message belongs to them. Finding no success, he decides to take the bottle to the party and report his failure. However, when he arrives, he finds everyone he talked to earlier, waiting and ready to have a party with him!

You’ll need:

  • 1 tissue box
  • 1 strip of poster board strip for a box handle
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • 1 piece of string
  • 1 wine cork
  • 1 button magnet
  • 1 message bottle template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 3 rectangles of clear plastic (more on this below!)
  • 3 paperclips
  • Scissors, tape, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, your equipment! The fishing creel is a box with a poster board handle stapled to the lid. We decorated ours with color masking tape, but markers work too! The fishing pole is a wooden dowel, and the “hook” is a button magnet hot glued to a wine cork.

bottle catching creel and poleColor and cut the 3 bottles from the template, then tape a little pocket of archival mylar to one side. You can find mylar sheets on Amazon, or you can use clear gift wrapping cellophane. Tape a paper clip to the top of the bottle. Finally, use extra paper from the template to write messages and tuck them into the pockets of the bottles.

message bottle constructionReady to fish? My son and I crafted this awesome row boat we dubbed the “Cape May III.”

the cape may III

At story time, I scattered the kids’ bottles in the “ocean” while they sat in the boat. Then they “fished” off the side, connecting the magnet hook to the paper clipped bottles, which were then hoisted and deposited into the creel!

catching message bottlesThe Uncorker of Ocean Bottles was actually a special request from Lydia, a little girl who was aging out of our Tiger Tales story time program. So Katie and I made a very special bottle message for her, and snuck it in with her other bottles. A little story time magic, straight from the heart :)

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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!

Legendary

books of wonder nyc photo 5

New York City is quite the literary town, but there is one place I hear about repeatedly in my line of work. The famous, fun, and fabulous children’s bookstore, Books of Wonder. On a recent trip to the city, Katie and I stopped by their 18th Street location to bask in the stuff of legend.

Independently owned and operated, Books of Wonder first opened its doors in 1980. Originally slated to sell antiquarian children’s books, the stock soon expanded to encompass new children’s books as well. In 37 years of business, Books of Wonder has moved, expanded multiple times, coordinated events both large and small, launched a publishing division, and become the keepers and champions of Frank Baum’s Oz books. Another interesting fact – Books of Wonder inspired the setting for the children’s bookstore in You’ve Got Mail, right down to being measured, photographed, and rebuilt on the movie’s sound stage.

books of wonder nyc photo 2_1Books of Wonder is PACKED with a huge selection of books. The books are so enticingly displayed, you just want to grab one and read it right away (and plenty of readers were camped out on the floor and in little chairs, doing just that). They have quantities of signed copies too.

books of wonder nyc photo 3Katie left with not one but two signed copies of The Girl Who Drank the Moon (the 2017 Newbery winner). Once I torn myself away from the stacks, I turned my eyes to the quirky and inviting decor.

Layered on endcaps, tables, walls, and bookshelves are posters, original artwork, and characters from illustrated books. It almost feels like you’re inside some sort of awesome pop-up book. Do you recognize the dragon in the image that started this post?

legendary 2Yup! It’s by author and illustrator Steve Light, wielder of the fountain pen extraordinaire (we made these fantastical steampunk airship for his book, Zephyr Takes Flight). The artwork pops up in unusual places too. Curious George swinging from a light fixture…

books of wonder nyc photo 6A street scene on the floor of the gallery:

books of wonder nyc photo 7The back wall of the store is dedicated to Books of Wonder’s extensive antiquarian and rare books section.

books of wonder nyc photo 8Here you can find an amazing array of your favorites. If you’re wondering how much a first edition of Where the Wild Things Are (inscribed, with an original sketch) is going for these days, it’s $22,500.

books of wonder nyc photo 9Not far from the rare books, I was delighted to find a real live author signing books! In fact, I shouted across three shelves of retail space to tell Katie that Rowboat Watkins was in the store. Rowboat is the author and illustrator of Rude Cakes (which I love, and which we story timed here). His newest book is Pete With No Pants. Not only did I get a signed copy of Rude Cakes, Rowboat let me model his awesome headgear.

dr. dana and rowbot watkins, rude cakesMoving towards the front of the store, I soon discovered “Blind Date With A Book.”

books of wonder nyc photo 10Essentially, it’s a book wrapped in brown paper with a suggested age range, genre, and enticing teaser. YES!

books of wonder nyc photo 11I almost bought this one…

books of wonder nyc photo 12One more fantastic detail. At the front of the store are thank you illustrations from visiting artists. It reminded me of the fabulous conference room walls at the Mazza Museum (which you can see at the end of this post).

books of wonder nyc photo 13Here’s my personal favorite:

books of wonder nyc photo 14Katie and I spent a happy hour shopping Books of Wonder before we had to dash to catch our train. My only regret is that I spotted this cool canvas logo bag as I was walking out the door. Too late to go back and snag it, darn it!

books of wonder nyc photo 15But not to worry. I’ll definitely return. In fact, in September a second location will be opening on 217 West 84th Street. If you’re in town, definitely make Books of Wonder a destination. Just be prepared to leave with LOTS of books. This store is bursting with love for children’s books. How can you resist taking some of the love home with you?