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.

The BiblioFiles Presents: Lissa Evans

lissa evansJust posted! An interview with Lissa Evans, author of Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms and its sequel, Horten’s Incredible Illusions.

Stuart Horten has problems. First, he’s short. Very short. Second, he’s just moved to a new town and is bored. Very bored. Third, the triplet girls who live next door appear to have some sort of journalistic vendetta against him. They’re relentless. But everything changes when Stuart discovers a cache of old coins and a hidden message from his Great-Uncle, Tony. Great-Uncle Tony was a renowned stage magician, illusionist, and creator of fabulous contraptions. He mysteriously disappeared in 1940, leaving behind a secret workshop. If Stuart can follow the clues and solve the puzzles, he’ll find the workshop.

In the sequel, Stuart, accompanied by his friend April, once again finds himself on a mysterious adventure. This time, the clues are embedded in a series of Great-Uncle Tony’s custom-built stage illusions. But the magic is real, and in some cases, dangerous. And Stuart and April aren’t the only ones interested in getting their hands on what Great-Uncle Tony has hidden.

These books are so much fun to read, and to read aloud, to kids. They are creative, humorous, intriguing, and perfectly paced. Stuart and April are wonderful characters who squabble and reconcile so realistically, you feel like you’re joining a pair of old friends. The clever clues, puzzles, and the mysteries they unveil will keep you intrigued until the very end. Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Book Awards.

Follow this link to the BiblioFiles webcast, podcast, and transcript

I had much success reading both books aloud at our story time for 6-8 year-olds. Check out the amazing mechanisms we built for Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms, and the mini magic shows we made for Horten’s Incredible Illusions!

Vroom Vroom, Zoom Zoom

mr. frumble pickle carPickle car anyone? The world of Richard Scarry is full of fantastical vehicles, and at last Saturday’s library event, we invited kids create a wheeled wonder and give it a test drive! For a slideshow gallery of some seriously fun vehicles, scroll to the bottom of the post.

The program was called Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, which is, of course, the title of one of Richard Scarry’s books (Golden Books, 1998). We were joined by our friends at scienceSeeds (who you might remember from this post). They brought all sorts of goodies. Little motors to take apart, homemade remote control cars, programmable LEGO cars, and this snazzy traffic light that demonstrated how simple circuits work. The back of the traffic light was open so kids could see how it was wired.

traffic lightBut scienceSeed’s most popular station by far was a set of 4 wooden ramps for car races. If you don’t have wooden ramps handy, cardboard ramps work too!

racing rampsMy library coordinated the car decoration portion of the program. Here’s how it worked. Kids arrived at the front of the gallery and were given two choices of vehicle. A “dragster” (which was a 7/8″ x 2″ x 8″ jewelry box), or a “truck,” (which was a 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” craft box).

Older kids could skip the box and opt to build a car from scratch using craft sticks and balsa wood. Then, they attempted to get their creation down a race ramp without “cracking” a plastic egg passenger. Here’s an intrepid trio who worked together to design the ultimate vehicle.

engineersOnce kids selected a box, we taped two, 4″ plastic straws to its bottom. Then we threaded two, 6″ wooden rod “axles” through the straws. The wooden rods were BBQ skewers cut down to the proper size with pruning shears (and don’t forget to cut off the pointy end of the skewer!). The final step was to slide 4 plastic wheels on the ends of the wooden rods (later, kids used hot glue or tape on the ends of the rods to keep the wheels from sliding off). Here’s what the completed underside of a truck looked like:

axles and wheelsI purchased the wheels from Kelvin Educational, an online science supply company. They are 1-3/8″ in diameter. The wheels can be a little difficult to locate on the website, so here are the product numbers: black wheels are 990168 (they cost $10 for 100 wheels); colored wheels are 990169 (they cost $11 for 100 wheels).

wheelsAlternatives to the plastic wheels are wooden wheels, wooden spools, round foam beads, or tagboard circles with holes punched in them. Basically, if it rolls and has a hole in the center, you can use it!

Once the boxes were fitted with axles and wheels, kids proceeded to the decorating area. There, they found three, 6′ tables loaded with art supplies. University students from Stella Art Club and the Men’s Soccer team volunteered at both the art tables and the science area. They were amazing!

art materialsI don’t have a full list of all the art supplies we provided, but some that were particularly appreciated were mini pinwheels, animal finger puppets, and metallic springs (all 3 were purchased from Oriental Trading Company). Also popular were sparkle stems, fabric flowers, foam beads, and craft ties. A call for recyclables to University library staff also yielded some interesting one-off items, like decorative buttons, plastic bead necklaces, and little figurines.

We had work tables set up all over the gallery. They were stocked with markers, scissors, colored masking tape, packing tape, and glue sticks. There were 4 staff-operated hot glue stations too. Here’s the central work area in action:

central work area The final touch to the program was Katie’s brainchild…a “Find the Goldbug” game. Katie made, and hid, 5 Goldbugs in the gallery. Each Goldbug had a word written on its base. Kids had to find all the Goldbugs, decipher the “secret sentence” (it was “Everyone wants a pickle car”) and repeat the sentence to me or Katie. The prize? A little checkered racing flag to adorn your vehicle! The flags were “race car flag picks,” ordered from Oriental Trading Company (we made sure to cut the pointy ends off).

hidden goldbugKatie and I wore mechanics coveralls at the event (thanks to the Lewis Center for the Arts’ costume shop!). I managed to carry cough drops, my iPhone, my digital camera, the battery box for my microphone, my office keys, and lip balm in my coveralls. It was like I was wearing the most useful purse in the world. Coveralls are way comfortable too. Katie didn’t want to take hers off. I think I’ll get her a pair next holiday season. With her name stitched on the pocket.

team coverallAnd now, how about some amazing vehicles? Some kids fashioned little trailers for their vehicles. Some added pull strings. You might notice a few cellophane flames left over from this project. Love it!

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Thanks once again to Princeton University’s Men’s Soccer team and Stella Art Club. Your volunteerism, enthusiasm, and creativity was very much appreciated!