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This article was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Banquet of Children’s Books

If you have always thought that a bonsai tree was very,

very small, it may be that your point of view was just way too big.

At the newly designed Cotsen Children’s Library, inside Firestone

Library on the campus of Princeton University, the giant overarching

Ginko bonsai tree towering over the space may make you feel as tiny

as an ant.

Cotsen Library is inviting everyone to take a look at its new decor

with a grand, day-long re-opening celebration on Saturday, October

19, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Storytellers Susan Danoff, Julie Pasqual,

Jim Rohe, and Helen Wise will entertain young listeners with stories

under the giant miniature Ginko at 11 a.m., 12:30, 2, and 3:30 p.m.

The library, which first opened its doors in 1997, was the gift of

Lloyd E. Cotsen, Princeton alumnus (Class of 1950), famed collector,

and former CEO of Neutrogena Inc. As one of the great repositories

of historical children’s literature, it comprises all books written

and published to be read by — or read to — children.

The Cotsen is also the first library designed to appeal to a dual

audience of children and researchers. The impetus for this came from

Cotsen himself who wanted his donation of a scholarly showcase to

be paired with a creative children’s space. The original 1997 Cotsen

was full of ingenious interactive exhibits. Unlike the old reliable

picture book, many of the exhibits suffered from technological unreliability.

The new face of the Cotsen is decidedly low-tech with no moving parts.

The 22-foot-high glass "Wall of Books" — the Cotsen research

collection — sets the tone of the library’s new "Bookscape."

Two cozy couches flank a Gothic window that looks out onto the glass

cases packed with old and rare European books. Down on the third shelf,

in a bright red leather binding, you can spot the spine of a 1697

edition of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales — one of the few copies

left in existence — and the original source of such beloved tales

as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and her wicked stepsisters.

James Bradberry is architect and designer of the Cotsen "Bookscape,"

which was fabricated by Straight Line Designs of Vancouver. Visitors

enter through an iron archway into a topiary garden. Although the

green gathering of topiary cat, rabbit, kangaroo, and duck look a

lot like bushes, they are bound to remind readers of some of their

favorite storybook characters.

Other innovative nooks and crannies, where children can settle down

to enjoy stories in old-fashioned "real" time, include an

upholstered wishing well and a tree house at the top of the bonsai.

A fireplace and mantelpiece hold clocks for all kinds of fantastical

time zones, flanked by marvelous paper umbrella sconce lights held

aloft by carved elephant heads. Nearby is a giant tabletop radio that

looks as if it dates from the era of FDR’s "Fireside Chats."

Children can press any one of four radio buttons to listen to a recorded

story created by members of Storytelling Arts, a Princeton non-profit

service organization.

The rear of the gallery now opens up into a large room to accommodate

school groups and teacher workshops as well as performances by the

Cotsen Players. Fall programs include a preschool story time led by

Princeton students on Mondays at 3 p.m., and a story and art project

for children ages 5 to 7 on Sunday, November 3, at 2 p.m. On Sunday,

November 10, Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Allen Say gives

a reading at 2 p.m. Register at 609-258-2697. Information is also

at www.princeton.edu/~cotsen.

Under the Bonsai Tree, Cotsen Children’s Library,

Firestone Library, Princeton University, 609-258-1148. Re-opening

celebration. Storytelling at 11 a.m., 12:30, 2, and 3:30 p.m. Free.

Saturday, October 19, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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