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.

Pickin’ Peas, Or, A Problem with Rabbits

pickin peasIt’s garden season and the peas are plumb and ripe for pickin’. Unfortunately, Mr. Rabbit is on a mission to score a succulant snack! We made bunnies, baskets, and pea plants and then headed to our story time garden to catch that naughty nibbler in the act!

rabbit basket pea plantWe read Pickin’ Peas, a classic Southern folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald, and illustrated by Pat Cummings (HarperCollins, 1998). A little girl plants and carefully tends a pea garden. When the peas are nice and plumb she starts to pick them, singing as she goes (“Pickin’ peas. Put ’em in my pail.”). Mr. Rabbit, hiding in the row behind her, starts to eat the peas, singing as well (“Pickin’ peas. Land on my knees!”). Eventually, the little girl catches on to rabbit’s tricks and nabs him. But with some quick thinking, a song, and a dance, the rabbit manages to escape for further culinary daring-dos.

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4”) – a small tissue box works too!
  • 1 strip of tagboard for the basket handle (mine was 2″ x 14.5″)
  • Brown masking tape
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • Brown construction paper
  • 2 eye stickers
  • 1 pink dot sticker
  • 1 small white pom-pom (mine was 0.75″)
  • 1 green pipe cleaner
  • 1 rectangle of green construction paper (approximately 3″ x 3.5″)
  • 3-4 mini pom-poms (mine were 0.25″)
  • 1 small plastic cup (mine was 3oz.)
  • 1 pea garden game (more on that later!)
  • Stapler, scissors, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

There are three parts to this project: the basket, the rabbit, and the pea plant. We’ll start with the basket! Cut the tabs and lid off the top of a small box. If you’re using a tissue box, simply cut the top off. Attach a tagboard (or poster board) handle. Use brown masking tape and/or patterned tape to decorate the basket (or, just use markers!).

basket stepsNext is the rabbit! Wrap a toilet paper tube with brown construction paper, then add eye stickers and a dot sticker for the nose (or just use markers to create eyes and a nose). Tape a pair of brown construction paper ears to the inside of the tube. Hot glue on a white pom-pom tail, And don’t forget to draw a smile! The final step: write your name on the back of your rabbit so you can identify it later, during the garden game.

rabbitLastly, the pea plant. First, cut a pea pod and a leaf from a 3″ x 3.5″ rectangle of green construction paper. Here’s what mine look like:

pea pod and leafUse markers to draw some veins on the leaf. Write your name on the back of the leaf as well (so you identify it later, during the garden game).

Cut a pipe cleaner in half. Bunch the two halves together and tape the bottoms together tightly with masking tape (I used green tape, but any color will do). Curve the right pipe cleaner downward and tape the pea pod to it. Corkscrew the left pipe cleaner and tape a leaf to it. Finish by hot gluing 3-4 mini pom-poms to the pea pod (I used green pom-poms for my plant, but during story time, we let kids choose any colors they liked).

pea plant stepsYour pea plant also gets a “pot.” This is a 3oz plastic cup. I had some old office labels in the art supply cabinet, so I made “Peas” labels for the kids to color in. You can tape your pea plant inside the pot like this:

potted pea plantOr…you can wait, leave the pea plant detached from the pot, and play our garden game!

Our garden started as a low, flat box. We added 4 shrubs, tall grass, rocks, daisies, a smattering of flower stickers, pipe cleaner pea vines, a tagboard picket fence, and 3 oatmeal container rabbit holes. Here’s an image of the garden from the front:

garden from frontAnd here’s a birds-eye view so you can see how the shrubs are staggered and where the 3 rabbit holes are located:

garden from topWe knew the shrubs and rocks were going to get bumped pretty hard, so Katie attached them to jumbo craft sticks and slid them into slits she cut in the box.

shrub on sticksYou’ll notice that the shrubs have little pockets on them. This is so you can slide your pea plant into the pocket, and lo! It is now “growing” in the garden.

pea pocketTo play the game, we had every kid “plant” their pea plant in a pocket. Next, I collected all the rabbits. One by one, I hid a rabbit somewhere in the garden – in holes, behind rocks, in the tall grass, etc. – then I called out the name written on the back of the rabbit. The rabbit’s owner jumped up, ran over to the garden, and tried to find the rabbit before it “ate” any peas!

garden gameAfter everyone had caught their rabbit, the kids returned to the garden to “pick” their pea plants and tape them inside their pots. Since the kids’ names were written on the backs of the pea plant leaves, every plant was returned to its rightful owner.

Rabbits ruled this story time, but what happens when vegetables strike back? Click here to find out!

All Hail the Cab

taxiNeed to catch a cab in NYC? No problem! We made some pull string taxi cabs and picked up some passengers in a noisy – and most definitely doggy – traffic jam!

We read The Adventures of Taxi Dog, written by Debra and Sal Barracca, and illustrated by Mark Buehner (Dial Books, 1990). A stray dog’s life is changed forever the day Jim the taxi driver adopts him. Instead of being alone and hungry, Maxi now proudly wears a red bandana and helps Jim with his fares. From Sadie the Broadway singer to a young couple expecting a new baby (any minute!), Maxi loves his new life in New York City!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 2 plastic cups (mine were Walmart brand 5 oz clear plastic)
  • A 30″ piece of string or yarn
  • Yellow construction paper
  • 1 taxi parts template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 4 black poster board circles (mine were 2.75″ in diameter)
  • 4 orange dot stickers
  • 1 taxi cab roof template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ yellow card stock
  • 2 small strips of silver metallic poster board (approximately 1″ x 4.75″)
  • 1 rectangle of silver metallic poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 3.75″)
  • 4 silver metallic dot stickers
  • 4 red dot stickers
  • 1 large gemstone
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 1 taxi driver and dog template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white paper
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, cut a rectangle out of the box’s lid (if you’re using a tissue box, flip it over and cut the rectangle out of the bottom of the box). It might be a little difficult to see in the image below, but my rectangle is cut slightly off center. There is approximately 3″ of space above the cut, and 3.5″ of space below the cut. The shorter, 3″ space will be the taxi’s “backseat,” and the longer, 3.5″ space is the taxi’s “hood.”

taxi box cutMy cut created a 2.5″ x 5″ rectangle, but your cut will vary according to the size of the plastic cups you’re using. You want the cups to rest snugly in the box. Later, these cups will become your taxi riders’ “seats.”

cup placement But DON’T tape the cups to the box just yet! Set the cups aside for a moment and cut the roof from the template. Tape the roof to the box like so:

roof attachmentYou’ll notice that the front legs of the roof get taped to the “dashboard” of the taxi, and the back legs of the roof get taped to the very back of the taxi box. Next, knot a 30″ piece of string on one end, and tape the knot to the top of the taxi’s hood.

pull string on taxiNow cover the hood, front, back and the sides of the taxi with yellow paper. Tape (or hot glue) the long and short checker strips from the template to the sides and roof of your taxi. Tape (or hot glue) the black poster board circles to the sides of the box for wheels, and add some orange dot sticker hubcaps. Now put the plastic cups back into the taxi, and secure them to the box with tape.

completed side of taxiOn to the front of the taxi! We used 4 metallic dot stickers to make double headlights, a strip of silver metallic poster board for a bumper, and a rectangle of a silver metallic poster board for the grill (I rounded the top of my grill and used marker to add grill lines). A large gemstone hot glued to the top of the grill adds a nice pop of color. The “On Duty” sign from the taxi parts template gets folded along its dotted line, then taped to the roof. Finally, I found some old white office file stickers in the art cabinet, which we turned into license plates (or you can use scraps of paper, and tape or glue them to the bumper).

front of taxiTo the back of the taxi we added: 4 red dot sticker tail lights, a silver metallic poster board bumper, a license plate, and a fabulous “I ♥ NY” bumper sticker (also created out of old office file stickers).

back of taxiThe final step is to color your driver and dog template pieces, and wrap each of them around a toilet paper tube. Drop them into the plastic cup seats.

dog and driverWhen the taxis were finished, it was time for our “traffic jam” activity! First, I collected all the dogs and lined them up on a windowsill. When I shouted “GO!” the kids pulled their taxis over to the windowsill, found their dogs, popped them into their taxis, and zoomed away. It sounds simple, but we had a lot of kids at story time that day, resulting in a stupendous traffic jam.

As you can see, the fastest taxi arrived at the dogs first…

taxi pickup 1It was quickly followed by another taxi…

taxi pickup 2More taxis started to arrive…

taxi pickup 3And more…

taxi pickup 4Pretty soon we had a full-on crazy NYC traffic jam!

taxi pickup finalI made a sound file that combined honking horns and barking dogs, looped it for 4 minutes, and burned it to CD. I played the CD during the activity, adding to the chaos and fun!