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!

Super Sushi

super sushiToday, we’re going to Japan! This adorable sushi bar serves up a number of felt delicacies. The menu includes a pronunciation guide, so you can brush up on your Japanese while dining on maguro (mah-goo-roh) and satsuma imo (sat-soo-mah e-moh). This set was one of our most popular projects yet, with parents reporting that their children continued playing with it weeks after story time had adjourned.

We read The Way We Do It In Japan, written by Geneva Cobb Iijima, and illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye (Albert Whitman & Company, 2002). Gregory’s mom is from Kansas, and his Dad is from Japan. They live in America, but when Dad’s company transfers him to Japan, Gregory quickly learns that the two countries are very different! In Japan, they use chopsticks, pay for things with yen, drive on the other side of the road, sit on zabuton, and sleep on futons. Gregory is very worried about how he will fit in at his new school. But happily, he learns that friendship isn’t culture-dependent. Words and phrases from the Japanese language are woven into this story, with helpful pronunciation guides at the bottom of each page to aid the read-aloud experience.

You’ll need:

  • A strip of white poster board (approximately 2″ x 22″)
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (I used a 9.75″ x 13.75″ cake pad)
  • 4 small plastic cups (mine were 3oz)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • White construction paper
  • A large rectangle of clear plastic (more on this below!)
  • A piece of light green crepe paper streamer (mine was 13″)
  • 3 paper cups
  • 1 small box (mine was 2″ x 3″ x 3″)
  • 2 rectangles of white poster board (approximately 4″ x 5.25″)
  • 2 pairs of chopsticks
  • 5 white cotton balls
  • Scraps of felt (I used yellow, orange, red, maroon, light pink, and dark pink)
  • 4 strips of green felt (approximately 1.25″ x 8.25″ each)
  • 1 sushi menu template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white paper
  • Scissors, stapler, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, your headband! Decorate a strip of white poster board, circle it around your head, and staple it. Done.

headbandNow for the sushi bar! The bar has two sides: the side in which the chef prepares the food, and the side in which the customer enjoys it. Here’s what a completed sushi bar looks like:

sushi setBegin by hot gluing 4 plastic cups to the underside of the sushi bar. I glued the mouths of the cups to the underside of the base. This created a slightly tapered look to the sushi bar’s legs.

base legsFlip the base over and use colored masking tape to decorate the top of the bar (or just use markers). Wrap 2 toilet paper tubes with white construction paper, then decorate them with colored masking tape (or marker). Hot glue the tubes to the top of the base.

It’s a little hard to see in the photo below, but the tubes are glued slightly towards the back of the base (as opposed to directly in the center). This is because you want a little more room on the “dining” side of your sushi bar.

tube postsTape a piece of clear plastic to the tube posts, creating a “window” your diners look through, watching their delicious sushi being prepared.The window should face the dining side of the base.

attached windowI used a 4″ x 14.5″ piece of archival mylar (leftover from a rare books project) for my window. You can also use transparency film from an overhead projector (OfficeMax sells it), or a piece of plastic from recycled retail packaging. Another option? Tape clear cellophane or plastic wrap inside a poster board frame.

The window shouldn’t rise too far past the top of your tube post…the tape needs to extend from the top of the window down into the tube.

taped windowAfter the window is attached, slide a piece of light green crepe paper streamer along its bottom.

finished windowAt this point, I added 2 construction paper circles to the tops of the tube posts to make them look tidy, but one little boy left his tubes open and created these awesome chopstick holders. Genius!

chopsticks optionNext, cut 3 paper cups until they stand approximately 1.75″ tall. Do the same with a small box (if you don’t have a small box handy, use an additional paper cup). Hot glue the box and cups on the “preparation area” side of the base. Hot glue 2 white poster board rectangular “platters” onto the dining side.

sushi set upDrop the 6 balls of “rice” (i.e. cotton balls) into the box. Place 4 strips of “nori” (i.e. strips of green felt) in the cup next to the rice box. The 2 oval-shaped pieces of felt “sushi meat” and 4 square felt pieces of “hosomaki filling” go in the remaining 2 cups.

preparation sideFinally, color and cut the sushi menu template, and tape it to the front of your window. Your sushi bar is officially open! To make hosomaki for your diners, wrap a piece of green felt around a cotton ball, then add a square of hosomaki filling to the top. To make sushi, slightly elongate a cotton ball, and put a piece of sushi meat on top.

hosomaki and sushiInteresting aside: the green felt we used for this story time project was recycled from the Rare Books and Special Collections Department at the University. In its previous life, it was used to cover a desk owned by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. How do I recycle thee? Let me count the ways…

But back to sushi! Place the finished sushi onto the customer’s platter, and hand them a pair of chopsticks! Our project allowed kids to make 4 hosomaki and 2 pieces of sushi, but feel free to add more.

sushi setIn the process of putting this story time together, I ran across two additional books about Japan. Both are super-excellent and…non-fiction!

Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch (Lee & Low Books, 2007)
A picture book biography of Hiromi Suzuki, a woman who became one of the first female sushi chefs in New York. The story begins with Hiromi’s parents, their journey to New York, the opening of her father’s sushi restaurant, Hiromi’s growing interest in his work, and his ultimate encouragement for her to become a chef. It’s really interesting!

My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe (Kane Miller, 2009)
An absolutely adorable picture book about seven year-old Yumi and her little brother Takeshi. Through detailed drawings and Yumi’s cheerful conversational tone, we learn about her life – her house in the suburbs of Tokyo, what her family prepares in the kitchen, what her bathroom looks like, and what a school day is like. You also learn about holidays, Japanese writing, and more!