Friday, July 24, 2015

5 Things I Love About Cotsen Children's Library

Last Monday, on our way home from visiting family in upstate New York, my husband and I stopped in Princeton, New Jersey and took Little Miss Muffet to the Cotsen Children's Library at Princeton University. Cotsen is a division of the university library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, and is home to a rare books collection, as well as the Bookscape reading space for families. We spent a little while exploring Bookscape and later, reading some of the online and print materials provided by Cotsen. Here are five things I loved about the experience. 

  1. The bonsai tree.  The most appealing part of Bookscape is the two-story bonsai tree which kids can crawl inside to snuggle and read a story. The inside walls of the tree have been engraved with the names of various animals from children's literature, including Tom Sawyer, Eloise, the cast of the Winnie the Pooh series, Frog and Toad, and more. Big comfy pillows make the space inviting, and surely if Miss Muffet hadn't been wound up from not napping the day before, we would have sat down to have a story. As it was, though, she mostly wanted to climb the stairs to the second floor of the tree and look out the window, which was also a lot of fun.
  2. Puppets. There is also a child-sized puppet theater in Bookscape, which is well-stocked with Folkmanis puppets in wonderful condition. Since this is not a public library per se, it seems that the puppets are not abused in the way puppets were always abused by the patrons at my last library. Miss Muffet enjoyed the bear puppet, which her daddy used to growl at her, and the alligator puppet, with which I snapped at her nose and nibbled her chin. (We also chanted Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree.) For kids who are verbal enough to tell their own stories, this section of Bookscape will be even more fun.
  3. Programming space. Though we did not attend a program, we could see the tables and Narnia-esque supply closet in the space where programs are held. This area is bright and welcoming, and there is a well-stocked bookshelf nearby with all kinds of favorite picture books lined up along its rows. Knowing the kinds of programs that are offered, it seems like the ideal space, and I definitely think the program performers are very lucky! (Even Miss Muffet liked the furniture. She kept saying, "Chair! Chair!")
  4. Outreach blog. Visiting Cotsen in person renewed my interest in its outreach blog, Pop Goes the Page, which is written by Education & Outreach Coordinator Dana Sheridan. The blog focuses on activities related to children's books, and often provides instructions for replicating the activity at home or in a classroom. We have yet to try any of the projects, but I have my eye on these fairy houses and this Cheshire cat grin for homeschool projects in a few years!
  5. 350 for 50. We took a copy of each handout that was available in the gallery when we visited, including the summer 2015 edition of Picture Book Press, which happened to be the issue featuring the winners of the annual 350 for 50 contest. The contest challenges kids ages 9 to 14 to write a 350-word story using a specific sentence. Not only is this a great idea, but the winning stories are amazing, especially knowing the ages of the authors.

If you are ever passing through Princeton, definitely plan a visit to the Cotsen Children's Library. Directions and hours are available on the library's website. There are some rules (also listed on the hours page) - no playgroups, no food, no photography, etc. - so make sure you are aware of those before you go, but otherwise, this is the perfect place to let your little guys stretch their legs during a long car trip, or if you're local, to visit regularly for snuggles and stories.

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