350 for 50

350 for 50 typewriter popWe are delighted to announce the winners of this year’s 350 for 50 contest! An author from three age categories was challenged to write a 350-word story that included the sentence, “There was a rattling noise.” Enjoy!


Sleepless, the Squirrel
By Samantha Gunton, age 10

Sleepless the Squirrel_artwork by Aliisa Lee My eyelids open. I look out the window to see what’s making the noise; three kids in a snowball fight. I get out of bed and put on my slippers. Groggily, I walk down the hallway and out my front door.

“Hey! You’re trespassing!”

The kids don’t even glance my way. I watch as a boy with bad aim throws a snowball at MY tree, which doubles as my house. Grr – how am I going to get rid of them? You know, I wouldn’t have to deal with this if it weren’t for my real estate agent, Larry…

“It’s a great deal!” Larry had exclaimed, “No human beings will bother you!” Regretfully, I had believed him.  Now, I was awake during hibernation. I needed to visit Professor LeNut, the genius, to see whether he could help. I hopped to Professor LeNut’s house and knocked on his bedroom door.

“Hello? You awake?”
There was a rattling noise. What was that?

“Ughh…is it spring yet?” the professor moaned.

“You’re awake! Good. I need your help.” Professor LeNut finished putting his retainer back in its case (that was the rattling sound) and turned to me. “You see those humans out there? I can’t get them to leave.  I need to hibernate.”

“First of all, WHY IN THE NAME OF WALNUTS DID YOU WAKE ME UP?!! Second, just pretend you have rabies. And lastly, how were you able to wake me?? It’s physically impossible to be awoken during hibernation. So either this is a dream or -”

Cutting him off, I said “Thanks!” and ran out. Once outside, I squeaked my way to the smallest kid and started foaming at the mouth.

The little humans got it, shouting, “Rabid squirrel!” They dashed away. I ran like my tail was on fire back to my tree house bedroom. I collapsed on the bed, closed my eyes and thought, “When I wake up, it better be Spring. If not…Larry, you’re going to get it!”


The Last Cabin_artwork by Aliisa LeeThe Last Cabin
By Hugo Kim, age 11

There was a rattling noise. The sound appeared to come from the front door, thought the last man on earth. Two months earlier, the man came to this remote cabin up state to shut the world out and finish his first novel. The cabin didn’t have an address for mail, TV, telephone, or any connection to the civilized world. Disconnected to civilization, he busily typed away on his manual typewriter. He was almost done. Tomorrow, he planned to drive forty miles the nearest post office to drop off his manuscript to a publisher.

What this man didn’t know was that a terrible epidemic had swept around the world. Somehow, a virulent strain of avian flu had combined with a lethal swine flu, mutating into a deadly pandemic. Scientists who discovered this flu called it N8H9 and it was spread through tiny droplets when people coughed.  The incubation period lasted a week. N8H9 was highly contagious and completely resistant to all types of antivirals. In just forty-three days, the entire world’s population had ceased to exist.

He heard the sound again. This time, he could hear someone turning the doorknob. The man got up and walked to his front door. No one knew about this place, so how could he have a visitor? He unlocked the door and opened it. Standing outside was a beautiful woman. She looked very pale and tired. The man asked if he could help the woman. She came closer as if to say something very important. The man leaned close to her face to hear what the last woman on earth had to say. He felt it was going to be something very, very important. That’s when the woman coughed.


The Dragon Princess
By Angelina Han, age 14

The Dragon Princess_artwork by Aliisa LeeThere was a rattling noise beginning somewhere deep inside the dragon’s chest, softening into a delighted clicking sounds and a low purr as the girl tickled the soft skin underneath his chin. The dragon rolled onto his back, spraying green fire from his nostrils for the girl’s amusement. The girl clapped and chortled, running around on her short legs. “Dragon!” The girl babbled, laughing. “Good dragon!” Her tightly curled hair bobbed in tandem with her small white dress. The dragon tilted his head to the side, pondering the strange little creature. He’d never seen anything like this before, and what were those noises she was making? It didn’t matter. He liked her already, and with a swoop of his great golden wings, he picked her up. She squealed with happiness as she flew for the first time, oblivious to the shouts below and the crown that had fallen off of her head into the dewy grass. The dragon carried her to his nest, and she stayed there with him.

Fourteen summers had tumbled by with laughing footsteps and constellation-filled nights when the girl and the dragon returned again to the spot where they had first met so long ago, though neither knew it. The girl had grown into lovely young lady with golden ringlets looping down her back, and she had all but forgotten her brief time with the humans. The dragon was her father now, and they communicated in sounds that dragons used. As they walked silently through the field still hung with morning dew, the girl tripped over an object that lay half sunken and long forgotten in the mud. She picked it up curiously, and it glinted in the rising sun like the dragon’s scales. A silver crown, bent and tarnished with moss crawling over it in spongy strands. A memory came to port on the foggy sea of her consciousness, and the girl slowly lifted the crown to her head.

“Dragon,” she whispered, her lips struggling to form the once-familiar words. She smiled at the dragon, who looked at her with large iridescent eyes. “Good dragon.”


Artwork by Aliisa Lee

Get It Together

get it togetherYou are gazing at the most recent addition to my crafting toolbox. Plastic envelopes! Or, to get technical, poly string envelopes from OfficeMax (the ones pictured above are the “check” size at 5.5″ x 10″). A pack of 5 costs $10.

I love these things. Why?

Our projects often involve little bits and pieces we prep in advance. During story time, as we progress through the project, we have to continually pause to hand out the little pieces. This can take precious time away from crafting (especially when you have large crowds to navigate through). So I started putting all the little pieces together in envelopes and handing an envelope to each kid at the start of the project. Here’s an envelope in action a taxi cab story time:

taxi envelopeI’ve used the envelope system on a number of projects (this mouse clock, this beekeeping set, this bottle airplane, this paint set, this bed tray, and this wooly mammoth, for example). Since the envelopes are plastic, it’s very easy to wipe off stray marker and/or glue. If you don’t have paper or plastic envelopes handy, you can always drop the small pieces into cheap plastic cups (like I did at this candy factory story time).

And while we’re on the topic of organization, I definitely recommend art caddies for keeping your tabletop supplies in check! I bought mine from Discount School Supply. A set of 4 colors cost $25. They are “classroom grade” and practically indestructible.

art caddyHowever, when it came time to put together a home art studio for my kids, I went with a cheaper $4 version from Michals craft store. The plastic is thinner and the carrying handle isn’t quite as comfortable, but all in all, they’ve held up pretty well!

As you can probably guess, I like to be organized. Way organized. In fact, I’ve turned organization into a super power. The way I see it, I don’t want to spend time hunting for my scissors. I want to spend as much time as possible being creative. If I know exactly where my scissors are, I don’t have to give it another thought. Apply this principal on a larger scale and you get my library’s art supply cabinet:

art cabinetHere, supplies are sorted into plastic bins, dish tubs, copy paper boxes, salvaged paper trays…you name it! For oddly sized or bulky objects (like pom-poms), I use plain old plastic storage bags with zipper closures. I also have a neat-o scissor rack I wrote about in this post.

You would think I would be tidy while crafting, but no. During the process of creating a project or piece of art, I make a total mess. I spread out everywhere, tossing things right and left, gently shedding curls of paper and sticking bits of tape to my pants. Just look at the crafting carnage that was generated during the building of this haunted house.

tremendous messBut when the job is done, everything goes back in its proper place. I cannot leave my office a mess at the end of the day. And I can’t start a project with a messy office either. It’s weird, but somehow I make this organization/creation contradiction work for me.

One final tip! Since I don’t have any counters or spare table space in my program area, I work off an old book truck. All the supplies are prepped and ready to go, and I just roll it right into the workshop area during the program. It also doubles as a portable hot glue station.

book truckSometimes, however, even this humble book truck has its moments of glory…

horse and riders

Top Secret Fooj

foojA recent re-reading of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang inspired today’s post! This highly entertaining and action-packed book was written in 1964 by Ian Fleming. Yes, THE Ian Fleming. Who knew the book would lead us on a mission of the chocolate variety?

Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang follows the adventures of the Pott family and their fabulously magical car, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. At one point in the story, some gangsters force the Pott twins, Jeremy and Jemima, to assistant in the robbery of Le Bon-Bon, the world’s most famous chocolate shop. The clever children manage to save the day, and, as a reward, the shopkeepers reveal the secret recipe for their famous fudge (which they pronounce “fooj”). The recipe is included at the end of the book (click the image to enlarge it).

recipe in book

From Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Random House, 1964.

So…what does the famous fudge taste like? Does the recipe hold up after 51 years? Katie decided to test drive it in her kitchen. Take it away Katie!


With my trusty sous-chef son by my side, we gathered and set out all of the ingredients for the “fooj.” There were only a handful of items needed to make the fudge and most we had on-hand in our pantry. We did have to purchase corn “sirup” (we went with the clear corn syrup, not dark) and a bar of unsweetened chocolate (from Ghirardelli, yum!). We also had to figure out a few measurements, like how many ounces are in a tablespoon (the answer is 0.5 ounces).

We took a wild guess at how much evaporated milk to use because the recipe called for one small can, so we used a 5 ounce can rather than the 12 ounce. Trusting our guts and confirming measurements courtesy of Google, we set forth to make our own batch of fudge.

adding milkWe followed the recipe exactly as it was written. It took some time to slowly melt all of the ingredients together, but this step probably would have been faster if we hadn’t used frozen butter. It didn’t take long for the mixture to start boiling, and we were careful to not let the chocolate burn on the sides of the pot. Incredibly, the fudge did form into little balls when dropped into a glass of cold water! I was skeptical of this description listed in the recipe, but was amazed when we watched it happen.

water testWe even beat the boiling hot fudge mixture with a wooden spoon instead of the silicone mixing spoon we had been using earlier.

wooden spoon Once we decided it had been appropriately beaten, we poured the concoction into a greased pan to cool. I used a toothpick to draw lines and mark the fudge into small squares. This is when I had my first inkling that something was not quite right. The marks immediately disappeared. I figured the fudge just needed to harden and then I could redraw the square lines.

scored fudgeHowever, the fudge never hardened. It remained a gloopy, runny mess. I put the fudge into the freezer to see if that would help the hardening process. Freezing it worked great, but then the fudge was rock solid and nearly impossible to cut. Once it cooled, it was back to its original state.

Cue sad music. Fudge failure.

However, the fudge didn’t completely go to waste. We asked a number of kids to try the fudge to let us know what they thought of it. Here’s what they said:

Boy, age almost 9: I think it looks like fudge. It tastes good, really good! Can I have more?

Girl, age 10: I think the fudge kind of looks like brownie batter. Mmm, it’s good!

Boy, age 8: The fudge does not look like fudge. It’s not square. It’s flat and round, like a pancake. It tastes sweet, but it doesn’t really taste like fudge. It tastes like a Hershey chocolate bar.

Girl, age 9: It tastes like chocolate. I can’t tell if it’s milk chocolate, but I like that it is creamy. It doesn’t look like normal fudge, but I like it!

Monsieur Bon-Bon’s Top Secret “Fooj” recipe remains a secret because somewhere between the written page to my kitchen, the recipe got lost in translation. In an effort to discover what I may have done wrong, I again consulted Google and learned from experienced bakers that making fudge can be quite a difficult task. It has to be boiled to a certain temperature after slowly melting the ingredients together, and it has to be beaten for an exact amount of time before pouring it into a pan. Apparently I failed at one or both of these steps.

Perhaps the fudge needed to be shaken, not stirred.