Say Freeze!

say freezeWhat happens when you give a bunch of penguins a camera? In order to find out, we made oatmeal container penguins and armed them with tea tin cameras. The results? Here’s one image…scroll to the bottom of the post to see the rest!

penguin with witherspoonWe read Penguins by Liz Pichon (Orchard Books, 2008). It’s a regular day at the zoo…until a little girl accidentally drops her camera into the penguin habitat. Curious, the penguins gather round. It doesn’t take them long to figure out how the camera works, and pretty soon everyone is having a good time taking pictures! When the camera stops working, the penguins quickly put it back where they found it. The next day, the zookeeper finds the camera and returns it to the little girl. After the pictures are developed, she’s surprised to find photos of monkeys, lions, tigers, elephants, and lots and lots and lots of penguins (don’t miss the adorable fold out photos at the end of the book)!

Both parts of this project are very simple to make. Parents, caregivers, and kids were especially tickled by the tea tin cameras with a clicking shutter button.

camera frontYou’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • 2 rectangles of orange poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 3.25″)
  • 1 circle of black construction paper (approximately 5.25″ in diameter)
  • 1 rectangle of white construction paper (approximately 5.75″ x 9″)
  • Black construction paper
  • 1 triangle of yellow self-adhesive foam (approximately 1.5″ tall)
  • 2 black dot stickers for eyes (optional)
  • 1 Twinings brand tea tin
  • 1 strip of construction paper, any color (approximately 2.75″ x 12″)
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A 17″ piece of ribbon, any color
  • 1 scotch tape core (approximately 1.5″ in diameter)
  • 1 small circle of mirror board or tin foil (approximately 1″ in diameter)
  • 1
  • 1 small rhinestone
  • 1 penguin viewfinder template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 bug clicker (more on this below)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

finished penguinPenguin first, then camera! First, tape (or hot glue) a black construction paper circle to the top of a large oatmeal container. Then, cut 2 rectangles of orange poster board into penguin feet. Hot glue them to the bottom of the container.

penguin feetWrap a rectangle of white construction paper around the front of the oatmeal container (right above the feet) and secure with tape. Next, wrap a piece of black construction paper around the back of the oatmeal container and secure it with tape (or hot glue). The black construction paper will overlap the white construction paper, creating your penguin’s white tummy and black “jacket.”penguin tummy and jacketCut a pair of rounded penguin flippers out of black construction paper, then tape (or hot glue) them to the sides of the container. Add a self-adhesive foam triangle beak and two dot sticker eyes (or skip the stickers and draw the eyes with markers). Use markers to add a pair of eyebrows and you’re done!

Now for the camera! Wrap a tea tin with construction paper (I went with classic black). Add strips of patterned tape to the top and bottom.

camera steps 1 and 2To make a camera strap, take the lid off the tea tin and tape the ends of a ribbon inside it. Close the lid, and your strap is extra secure!

interior of tinNow for the camera’s focusing ring, lens, flash, shutter button, and viewfinder:

camera front labeledTo make the “focusing ring,” wrap the outside of a tape core with construction paper. Since I used cardboard tape cores, I colored the outside rim with a black marker. Here’s a before and after shot:

wrapped tape coreHot glue the core to the middle of the tin, then hot glue a small circle of mirror board inside the core. The mirror board is your camera’s “lens.” You could also use tin foil. To make your camera’s “flash,” hot glue a clear plastic rhinestone to the top of a large plastic button, then hot glue the button to the upper right corner of the tin.

flashThe “shutter button” of this camera is actually a bug clicker. Have you seen these things?

bug clickerWhen you press the little plastic tab on the back of the device, it makes a crisp clicking sound. I bought my clickers on Amazon, but I’ve also seen them in party supply stores and the dog training section of pet stores. At our story time, we covered the outside and sides of the clicker with black masking tape, then hot glued it to the lid of the tea tin. But you can skip the tape and glue them straight to the tea tin if you’d like!

clicker placementYou’ll notice the clicker is mounted off-center on the lid, and the clicker’s tab is close to the edge of the lid. That’s important! You want those little fingers to be able to reach up and click the shutter button.

Because most kids are used to digital cameras with viewfinders, I added a viewfinder to the back of the tea tin (with an image of a penguin, of course!). Print and cut a penguin from the template, and then use masking (or patterned) tape to attach it to the back of the camera.

camera back Project in hand, kids scattered to different parts of the gallery to pose their penguins and take “pictures” with their cameras.

penguin in galleryThere may have been a penguin photobomb or two…

penguin photobombThe fun continued at home! Look at this lovely photo shoot:

penguin posesMysteriously, my camera went missing for a few hours that day. Imagine my surprise when the following shots were e-mailed to me…

penguin 0penguin 1penguin 2penguin 3penguin 4penguin 5penguin 6penguin 7penguin 8penguin 10penguin 11penguin 9penguin 12


Charles Willson Peale, George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, 1783–84. Oil on canvas. Princeton University, commissioned by the Trustees. Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Podcasts! Podcasts! Podcasts!

bibliofiles artwork by aliisa leeI’m delighted to announce that the BiblioFiles, our illuminating interviews with children’s book authors, are now available as podcasts! Download interviews with Phillip Pullman, Sharon Creech, Candace Fleming, Atinuke, Rebecca Stead, Gary Schmidt, Trenton Lee Stewart, M.T. Anderson, and more!

To visit the main site (which includes webcasts and interview transcripts), click here.
To visit podcast central, click here.

Interestingly enough, it was Lloyd Alexander who inspired this program.

Back in 2003, when I was still in graduate school, I decided to start reading children’s literature to counter all the academic reading I was tackling. Seeking some of my old favorites, I discovered that, happily, some authors had kept writing while I was detoured by college, working life, and graduate school. While reacquainting myself with Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain (“A Fflam thrives on danger!”), I found his 2003 book, The Gawgon and the Boy.

It’s a wonderful story about a boy named David who, after recovering from a life-threatening illness, is tutored by his Aunt Annie (a tough individual he secretly names “The Gawgon,” after the mythological monster, the Gorgon). However, as they spend more time together, the boy realizes what a true treasure the Gawgon is. I found the book to be lively, unique, and utterly heartwarming (later, I learned that it was also semiautobiographical, which makes it even more wondrous). So, at the tender age of 28, I wrote my first letter to an author, sharing how much I had loved reading his book.

And Mr. Alexander wrote back!

So I wrote him back!

And he wrote me back!

I wrote my last letter to him in 2006. I described how I had just moved to New Jersey, having accepted a job at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University. I told him my greatest hope was to design creative literacy programs for children that would be worthy of the Gawgon. In the back of my mind, I had already decided that I once I got my legs under me, I would invite Mr. Alexander to the library for a visit.

Unfortunately, it was not to be; he passed away in 2007. I was incredibly saddened by the news. While I had already shared, through my letters, how much I loved his books, I would never get to truly voice my gratitude to him. I would never get to ask him questions about his writing and hear his responses. The conversation I wanted to have with him  about his characters, his inspirations, and his experiences was no longer possible. I decided that I needed to find a way to record and preserve conversations with the creators of brilliant, creative, beautiful, funny, and thoughtful children’s books.

Thus, the BiblioFiles. It took some time to get the program up and running, but in 2009, I aired my first interview with the enormously talented Kenneth Oppel. It was recorded in a tiny room at WPRB, a local radio station. Shortly after that, we moved to the University’s new Broadcast Center. Originally, the interviews were aired during the All-Ages Show, a children’s radio program. Then the interviews became webcasts, and our online archive was launched. Now, the interviews are downloadable as podcasts!

It’s my sincerest wish that you find inspiration in these interviews. Perhaps you’ll gain some good advice about writing, hear a character’s voice come to life, discover an interesting behind-the-scenes story, or simply learn what your favorite author’s laugh sounds like! I hope that the conversations evoke deeper connections to the books you love, and introduce you to new books you have yet to discover. Listen, laugh, ponder, discover, but most of all, enjoy.


BiblioFiles artwork by the super talented Aliisa Lee. 

Deepest heartfelt thanks to Dan Kearns, the Princeton University Broadcast Center’s sound engineer extraordinaire.

An additional shout out to Lance Harrington, the Broadcast Center’s resident wizard, for his endless patience and assistance in launching the podcast site!

Read to Me

read to meGather round for a soothing bedtime story, but don’t be surprised if a Snatchabook decides to join you! This sweet little creature attaches to your shoulder with an elastic cord, and is eager to listen to a book you’ve written.

We read The Snatchabook, written by Helen Docherty and illustrated by Thomas Docherty (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013). In cozy Burrow Down, animals are tucking in with their favorite bedtime stories. But what’s this? In the blink of an eye, the books are vanishing! Rabbit Eliza Brown decides to get to the bottom of the mystery. Using a stack of books as bait, Eliza lures the thief into her house and…it turns out that he is a tiny, furry, sweet-faced, long-tailed, winged creature called a Snatchabook. Crying, the Snatchabook confesses that he’s been stealing books because he has no mom or dad to read to him. Big-hearted Eliza comes up with a solution. First, the Snatchabook must return all the stolen books (and he does so, very neatly). Then Eliza introduces him to all her friends, who in turn invite the Snatchabook to join them for bedtime stories anytime he wants.

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4″ x 4″ x 4″)
  • A box cutter
  • A 14″ piece of elastic beading cord
  • tagboard (or brown poster board) for the ears, nose, arms, legs, and tail
  • 1 mini  (mine was 0.5″)
  • A rectangle of brown felt (mine was 4″ x 5″)
  • 1 Snatchabook wings template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 2 oval of white construction paper for eyes (approximately 1.75″ tall)
  • Black dot stickers for eyes (optional)
  • 1 piece of 9″ x 12″ construction paper, any color
  • 2 pieces of 8.5″ x 11″ white printer paper
  • Hole punch
  • A 31″ piece of ribbon
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

snatchabookFor our story time project, we made a Snatchabook that attaches to your shoulder with a bit of elastic cord, and a bedtime story book (written and illustrated by you of course!). We’ll begin with the Snatchabook. Use a box cutter to cut a 0.5″ slit in the bottom of a small box. Thread a piece of elastic beading cord through the slit. If your box has a locking bottom like the one below, definitely close the bottom, but make sure both ends of the elastic are still sticking out.

elastic on boxYou might be tempted to tie the ends of the cord into a knot, but don’t do that just yet! Wait until you attach all the body parts and the wings. That way, you’ll have a better gauge of how heavy the Snatchabook is, and how tight your elastic loop needs to be.

Next, cut the ears, nose, arms, legs, and tail out of tagboard (or brown poster board). The size of these items will vary according to your box, but here’s the general look of my Snatchabook parts. You can color the parts with markers if you like.

snatchabook partsYou’ll notice that the tail is very long! Because the tail needs to curl around the back of your neck and over your shoulder, it needs to be looong. The tail you see in the above image is 16″ from end to tip, not counting that big curve. Tab the ears, nose, arms, and legs and attach them to the box with hot glue (or tape). Hot glue a mini pom-pom on the end of the nose.

Hot glue the tail to the bottom of the box, then reinforce the connection with tape. Since the tail will go around the back of your neck, it needs to stick out from the side of the box (as opposed to the back of box). Here’s an image of the tail placement, as seen from the underside of the box:

tailTo make the eyes, stick 2 black dot sticker “pupils” inside 2 ovals of white construction paper (or simply draw the pupils on with markers). Attach the eyes to the box with hot glue (or tape). Use scissors to cut 6 “furry stripes” from brown felt, as well as a tassel for the tail. Hot glue the felt stripes to the sides of the box, and the felt tassel to the end of the tail.

stripes and tasselFinally, cut the wings from the template. Fold each side upwards along the dotted lines, then attach the wings to the back of the box with hot glue (or tape). I had some old archival mylar floating around (ah, the perks of working in a special collections library), so I traced the card stock template onto the mylar to make transparent wings. You could also use iridescent cello.

wingsSit the finished Snatchabook comfortably on your shoulder and knot the elastic cord under your arm tightly. Curl the tail around the back of your neck and over your shoulder. Done!

elastic on arm

Set your new friend aside for the moment – it’s time to make the book! Place 2 pieces of white printer paper in the center of a sheet of construction paper. Fold the paper in half to make a book.

book step 1You can simply staple the book’s spine together, or you can go with a slightly more artistic version. If you’re going artsy, close the book and punch 6 holes in its spine.

book step 2Decorate the cover of your book, then and write and illustrate a story inside it. When that’s finished, thread a piece of ribbon in and out of the spine holes:

book step 3Then tie the ends of the ribbon together in a bow. You’re done!

book step 4Slide your Snatchabook back on your shoulder, find a cozy spot to sit, and read a book to your new friend!