Lipogram Fortunes

lipogram fortuneNo one can predict what wisdom a fortune cookie will reveal. Except in this case. We can say with absolute, 100% certainty that this fortune will not contain the letter O. Because hidden inside this cookie is a carefully crafted lipogram fortune.

The lipogram fortune cookie activity is always a crowd-pleaser at Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group for ages 9-12. First, we introduce the lipogram – a type of writing in which the author leaves out a letter (or letters) when crafting a sentence, paragraph, or story. Then we write fortune cookie fortunes that cannot include the letter O. Here are a few pearls of wisdom, future predictions, and unusual directives, all with nary an O in sight!


Making beds creates happy parents everywhere.

Beauty is great, but brains are better.

Never give up.

Rain will fall where it never falls.

Life is filled with crazy bananas!

Washed feet are always appreciated.

Beware the lizards. They bite.

Quick! Buy all the chunky peanut butter in Alabama!

Surprise hug the dude sitting nearest the exit.

There will be an alien kidnapping.

Marble will crack and the universe will be put in small terms…beep…beep…beep…shwee, shew, whee!

The future that lies ahead isn’t paved yet.

Saturday night is finally live.

Rip up this paper immediately.

Read this!

Be clear and direct – a Giant Space Laser can be disabled with the right steps.

Buy bad cheese.

Ye with withstand danger.

Child, eat the asparagus in the plate because it is amazing!

Never try being smart in class.

Leave this Chinese restaurant.

Be safe in life, but carefulness is an inadequate skill.

Have a nice day.

Beware jumping chipmunks.

Falling is a bad idea.

The difference between happiness and sadness is this: the happy man has a warm puppy.


We do the lipogram activity early in the program. Later, it makes a triumphant comeback during our QUEST, which occurs at the very end of the program. The QUEST is super elaborate cross-campus race that involves teams solving riddles, encountering student actors, following maps, and unearthing clues. One such clue is hidden inside a bunch of lipogram fortune cookies.

You may already be aware that you can order fortune cookies with special messages. They say things like “It’s a Boy!” or “Will you marry me?” or “Happy Anniversary!” But you can order custom messages too.

We ordered cookies with 4 custom messages. Each message was missing a particular letter (or two). In the QUEST box, next to the 4 cookies, was a letter wheel and a golf pencil (here’s the letter wheel template if you’re interested).

letter wheelFirst, the QUEST kids had to recall the lipogram activity. Then, they had to figure out that the missing letters spelled out a QUEST clue (the letter wheel and the golf pencil helped them keep track). Here’s a solved wheel, pointing the kids to their next destination:

letter wheel solutionI buy my cookies online from Fortune Cookie Planet. They are peanut free, tree-nut free, vegan, and preservative free. 50 cookies with 4 custom messages costs $20 (plus shipping). Another option is to obtain fortune cookies locally, use tweezers to pull out the fortunes, and carefully inset your own message inside. Just make sure you have a few extra cookies on hand. Sometimes they crack apart during the fortune-swapping process!


Illustration of fortune cookie used on letter wheel template is by Coffee Addict on wikiHow.

Fairyland Real Estate

fairyland real estateAre your winged friends on the market for a cottage to call their own? Look no further than this literal fixer-upper. It may start as a plain brown box, but it quickly blossoms into a dream home! We offered two choices – a Wintertime Fairy House or a Summertime Fairy House. Scroll to the bottom of the post to check out the latest real estate listings!

We read The Dolls’ House Fairy by Jane Ray (Candlewick Press, 2009). Rosy and her Dad have a cozy Saturday morning ritual. First, they have hot chocolate and French toast for breakfast. Then, they play with a dollhouse they’ve built together. But one Saturday, Rosy awakens to find that Dad is in the hospital. Sad and worried, she decides to comfort herself by playing with the dollhouse. She’s surprised to discover a real fairy has moved in! Thistle has hurt her wing, and decides Rosy’s dollhouse is the ideal place to recuperate. Thistle isn’t perfect. In fact, she’s very messy, full of mischief, and scatters fairy dust everywhere. But the two girls become terrific friends. When Dad returns home, Thistle takes off before he can be introduced. But Rosy will always remember her house fairy friend.

You’ll need:

Extra supplies for the Wintertime Fairy House include:

Extra supplies for the Summertime Fairy House include:

First, the fairy! Decide whether you’ll be making a Wintertime Fairy or a Summertime Fairy (or go crazy and mix the seasons!). Use multicultural construction paper, patterned paper, embossed foil paper, and construction paper to decorate the a toilet paper tube. We also threw in some craft ties for belts, collars, and bracelets.

fairiesTo make the wings, pinch a tall rectangle of iridescent cello into a bow tie shape, and secure it in the center with tape. Attach the wings to the back of your fairy with tape.

fairy wingsSet the fairy aside, it’s time for your house! It’s best to use a box with an attached lid, so you can open and close the front of your house. I used a craft box, but you can also use a large tissue box. Simply cut the bottom of the tissue box to form a lid, like so:

tissue box house optionNow use a box cutter to cut a door and window into the lid. I went with a double shuttered window, since it looks really cute when you decorate it later on.

fairy house step 1Next, tape a rectangle of tagboard inside the box to create a second floor. Since our boxes were just 9″ tall, the second floor was considered to be a small “sleeping loft.”

fairy house step 2Fold a large rectangle of tagboard to create a roof, then tape (or hot glue) it to the top of the box. Finish by hot gluing the house to a corrugated cardboard base (you can cover the base with paper first if you like).

fairy house step 3Now to decorate! Kids could do whatever they liked, but my Wintertime House had rows of mirror board icicles, a silver embossed foil seal over the front door, cotton ball snow, and silver dot sticker stepping stones. So I made sure each architect received the same supplies (but they were welcome to use them however they liked of course).

wintertime houseLikewise, my Summertime House had fabric flowers, leaves, flower stickers in the yard, green paper crinkle, and a gold embossed foil seal.

summertime houseFor both houses, I made sure there was plenty of construction paper, patterned paper, and embossed foil paper handy to decorate the interiors and exteriors. One quick decorating tip! Whilst landscaping your house’s yard, make sure you don’t tape items (such as fabric flowers or cotton balls) in places that will impede the swinging motion of the front of your house. The final touch was a solid wood dining table, created by hot gluing a wood round to the top of a wooden spool.

spool tableLet’s take a look at some of those Fairyland real estate listings! Katie and I definitely had some fun with these…

house 1Hard-to-find classic cottage located in the heart of the Summer Fairy Kingdom. Unique black squiggle doorknob and hearty garden sure to please. Tranquil and traditional, don’t miss the chance to live here!

house 2Magic abounds! Walk through a firework front door into your flawless new flat. Newly renovated autumn leaf roof makes this one not just for summer fun!

house 3Ice and snow don’t stand a chance against this relaxing retreat! Self-cleaning roof and unique icicle fringing make this house a stand out!

house 4Situated on the highest hill in Winter Fairy Kingdom, this arctic abode offers astounding views as far as the eye can see! Giant window on western wall ensures a light-filled living space.

house 5Fairy palace paradise! Every detail, from the leafy roof to the flower front door, was carefully selected and finely crafted. Don’t miss the vintage polka-dot shutters!

house 6Modest, but magnificent. Generous lawn and green roof make this perfect for anyone wanting to enjoy summer in Fairyland.

house 8A meticulously designed jewel waits for the perfect fairy to move in! Side-mounted solar panel provides all the energy required for your cozy abode.

house 7Austere with black, white, and silver highlights, the clean lines of this house are perfect for the the modern fairy. A stunning silver suite awaits!

house 9The grassy frame and striped roof draw the eyes to this exceptional estate. Perfect for the artistic fairy, with plenty of potential for more rainbow colors.

house 10A classic chilly chalet! Prepare to “ooo” and “aahh” at the panoramic mountain views from your enormous second floor picture window!

house 11Nature lovers will feel right at home in this lushly landscaped lodge, complete with mature plants and gorgeous flowers galore!

Hands-On History

Monticello 28feb2013 JLooney-0250

© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, photo by Jack Looney.

For me, literacy education encompasses both fiction and non-fiction subjects. I’ve already chronicled some of my adventures in science (check out these posts on chemistry and Rube Goldberg engineering, these projects on butterflies, buoyancy, and creative construction, and this science kit review by our kid tester). Today, however, I want to focus on history and relate a fantastic hands-on experience that inspired me over 14 years ago.

In 2001, I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, happily enrolled in a “Museums and Education” class taught by Professor John Bunch. Part of the class was lecture-based, but another part class involved field trips to various museums and historic sites to get a tour and learn more about their educational programs. Once such field trip was to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in the beautiful mountains surrounding Charlottesville, Virginia.

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© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

Monticello has a very active roster of programs for adults and children alike, but I want to share one ingenious activity my class was invited to experience during our tour. The activity is intended for elementary school group visitors to Monticello.

The activity begins with the students sitting in groups at tables. Each table is given a recreated “historic pocket” (it could be a leather wallet, a burlap bag, an embroidered linen pouch, a basket, etc.). Inside each pocket are various objects representing items that the pocket’s owner would have used in his or her daily life at Monticello. Students are invited to examine the objects (touching is not just permitted, it’s encouraged!). Then they engage in a discussion with a Monticello staff member to determine: 1) What the objects are; 2) How they were used; and 3) What the objects tell about the person who owned them.

Here’s an image of Jefferson’s recreated historic pocket:

TJ.Pocket

© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

Pocket contents include:

Brass sealing stamp
Money (both paper and coin)
Ivory Notecards
Folding spectacles
Map of land holdings
Traveling quill set

From examining these objects, the students learn that Jefferson was literate, wealthy, and the owner of the plantation. They’ve learned it by touching and exploring the objects – holding a quill pen, looking at a map, jingling replica coins in their hands.

Even better, the educators at Monticello don’t just offer one pocket. They have several! In addition to Thomas Jefferson’s pocket, students explore recreated pockets representing members of Thomas Jefferson’s family, including his children and grandchildren, and members of the enslaved plantation community, such as Edith Fossett and her husband, Joseph Fossett.  By exploring a variety of pockets, students can compare and contrast the lives of different individuals, and the various roles they played at Monticello.

Here, for example, is the Fossett Family pocket, which represents Edith Fossett, Joseph Fossett, and their children:

FossettFamilyPocket

© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

Pocket contents include:

Clay marbles
Metal s-hooks
Steel striker (use with flint)
Jaw harp
Coin money pieces
Spoon
Nails
Beans
Cowry Shells

Students learn that Edith and Joseph Fossett were slaves at Monticello – Edith was chief cook, trained in French cookery at the President’s House in Washington D.C., and Joseph was foreman of the blacksmith shop. Being slaves, they were not paid for their work. So why are there some small coin pieces in the pocket?

Interestingly, Joseph Fossett received a small portion of the blacksmith shop’s profits, and sometimes took paid work on the side.  Joseph Fossett was one of only five slaves freed in Thomas Jefferson’s will and started a business in Charlottesville.  Using money he earned, he was eventually able to buy his wife and some of their eight children out of slavery and move with them to the free state of Ohio.

ACPS.GirlsInClassroom

Students examine objects in the Grandchildren’s basket, including a family letter, sewing sampler, slate, and ball and cup toy. © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

The pocket activity is only the beginning of the students’ experience at Monticello.  Next, they proceed to the house and grounds, often hearing the names of the people whose pockets they explored. The activity is very flexible and portable. Staff have taken it off site to schools and teacher training sessions.

Depending on class size and time constraints, classes will rotate to different spaces within the Education Center, exploring a different pocket—and new individual—in every room. Currently, the educational staff are taking the pocket idea and experimenting with applying its hands-on, minds-on concept to entire rooms of their Education Center and Griffin Discovery Room.

It would be interesting to apply the pocket activity to literary figures. What would Jane Austin carry in her pocket? Charles Dickens? J.K. Rowling? Why not apply this concept to the sciences? What would Einstein have in his pocket? Marie Curie?

I did, in fact, do a modified version of the pocket activity when I designed this Character Book activity at my library. Not a wallet, and not replicas of historical objects, but the concept is still there! People often ask where I get my ideas (see FAQ). This one derives directly from the pocket activity.

milo

Character Book for Milo, The Phantom Tollbooth

I love everything about the pocket activity. Intriguing students with a bit of mystery, handling and exploring objects, allowing time for the students to postulate the answers for themselves, comparing objects across individuals, and using the objects to launch an educational dialogue about the people, places, and experiences at Monticello. It’s a powerful lesson in history, right in your hands.

This post has made me realize that I’m long overdue in writing about the other ways in which I incorporate history into my literacy programs. While I have a series of 6 classroom programs that feature my library’s special collections (you can read more about that here), I’ve also found ways to bring history to life at some of our special events (including a sign that almost stole the show, this little Medieval herbal bag, and does a 1963 recipe test for fudge count as history?).

I shall get to work on more history posts, posthaste!


Many thanks to Jacqueline Langholtz, Manager of School & Group Programs at Monticello for chatting with me about this amazing program.

All images used with permission of Monticello.