Category: DIY

DIY Board Book Magnets

People talk about board books like they’re indestructible, but my girls have taken down quite a few sturdy, “toddler-proof” books in the their day. They’ve torn covers from books and peeled images from cardboard; they’ve digested chunks of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (ironic, I know). More than a few of the fallen have been favorites of theirs (and ours), and their faithful service inspired me to look for ways to honor any surviving pages. Thus, our battered collection of DIY board book magnets was born!

DIY Board Book Magnets | Little Book, Big Story

This project is so simple that it doesn’t need a tutorial, really. The abridged version goes like this: slap something magnetic on the back of your book’s pages. Stick them on the fridge. The end.

But I like things laid out in lists, so for those of you who, like me, enjoy a good step-by-step tutorial, here it is:

Materials

DIY Board Book Magnets | Little Book, Big Story

Instructions

Clean up pages as best you can.

If your pages have any ragged edges or if it will just make you feel better about life in general, wrap pages tightly in packing tape. You can skip this step (I did for the batch photographed and they’ve withstood two out of three daughters so far), but it does make a nice drool-barrier if you’re willing to spend an extra minute or so on it.

Trim magnetic sheets to desired size and adhere them to the back of the pages.

DIY Board Book Magnets | Little Book, Big Story

That’s it! The final step is purely optional, but we’ll be doing it this year: tuck a few into your toddler’s Christmas stocking and enjoy a few quiet moments while they put them on the fridge and take them off again and put them on again and take them off—again.


And guess what? This girl—the one whose rough handling of her beloved Kittens book inspired this post—turns two this weekend!

Little Book, Big Story

I can’t believe it either.

How to Play Librarian

Last week, while sifting through the photos stored on my laptop, I found this:

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

That’s Lydia. The one that turns seven next week. I went through the usual shock and aww that accompanies a discovery like that, from “Really? She was ever that small?” to “Oh, the cheeks!”, and as I moved from one photo to the next it occurred to me that you might be interested in these photos, not because they cause you to meditate on the rapid passage of time (though they may affect you that way if you’ve seen Lydia lately), but because they are from the day we built ourselves a library and named Lydia head librarian.

little-book-big-story-cardboard-library (7)

I suppose this is a picture of one way that we have made books a part of the daily fabric of our family life: we play with them as well as read them, and share them with each other in inventive, quirky ways.

We had received a library kit as a gift not long before those photos were taken. It came with Ex Libris tags, a date stamp, and a small notebook, and for the longest time, I wasn’t sure what to do with it—we had more books than Ex Libris tags, and I have no desire to loan books out with due dates—but then we received a box of old books from a friend and those books, that kit, and a big box left over from a move combined to make a trifecta of creative play. We made library cards for the family, tucked tags in the front of each book, and Lydia’s shift began.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

How to Play Librarian, or "A DIY Cardboard Library for the Ages" | Little Book, Big Story

So, how do you play librarian? It has less to do with the way you build a cardboard desk and more to do with how you view books. We have always kept our books within our children’s reach, and while that costs us some book covers when we have a toddler in the house, that price is worth the sense of ownership our girls feel when they browse the bookshelves of our home. They learn to respect books, yes, but better yet, they learn to value them for what they contain—not just for how they look on the shelves.

I grew up with that sense of ownership: my dad gave us free access to his books (and I mean free: when given the opportunity to choose my own subject for a book report, I once went my dad’s bookshelves and selected Bimbos of the Death Sun. It’s a pity I can’t remember how my teacher graded that paper) and so I always knew where to go when I needed something new to read—and who to ask if I needed help finding it.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

We want our kids to be comfortable with our family’s books and so we carefully curate a library that we can share with them. We want them to feel free to read and touch and explore and play with the books we collectively own, and I have visions of watching them, nearly grown, browse the shelves, looking for something good to read. I will probably hover conspicuously in the background and ask (the way I do to my husband whenever he glances toward a bookshelf), “Can I help you find something?”

That is how I play librarian.

But better still, I have visions of watching my daughters pass books to each other, asking, “Have you read this one yet? You’ll love it.” And that is why I gave our daughters a box of old books to stamp and share at whim.

How to Play Librarian, or "A DIY Cardboard Library for the Ages" | Little Book, Big Story

Librarian turned out to be an enduring game and it’s one that Lydia asks to play every so often, in part because we keep those old books with the library kit (it’s still around, on a shelf in their bedroom) and I know she’d like to read them again, and in part because she just loves playing Librarian.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

Gunner covers Lydia’s lunch shift

On Writing Stories for Your Children

This post is my 100th post on Little Book, Big Story!  Finding books to share with you is just my cup of tea, and I can’t tell you how it warms my heart to hear that some of these books have found their way onto your own bookshelves. Thank you all for reading this blog! I love hearing from you and look forward to finding another hundred books to share with you.

To celebrate hitting the hundredth post, I dug up one of my favorite posts from the last two years, fixed it up and added a little something extra at the end. (One thing I didn’t change but could have: I still write on the couch. Somehow, writing at a desk never took.)


For the first time in years, I have a writing desk. It is little and white and looks like a dresser when closed, but once opened, that desk is a tiny work space in a house full of daughters and cats and wing back chairs and one very patient husband. That tiny space is mine and I don’t have to share.

Until now, I’ve written at the dining room table, on the couch, or in the aforementioned wing back chairs. When I can, I write in coffee shops or at my favorite bar. But now, I have a desk. It is glorious.

Writing Stories for Your Children (It's Easier Than You Think) | Little Book, Big Story

In all of those places, I’ve written for you: stories about other stories that we have grown to love. But I’ve also written for my family, and that’s what I really want to tell you about today. You see, it suddenly dawned on me that those two realms might intersect. Here’s how:

You must enjoy reading to your children or you wouldn’t be here. But have you ever considered writing for them? Not “writing for children” in a sense that implies ambition, rejection, publication and book tours, but writing stories for your own children, the way Tolkien did when he wrote Roverandom and A.A. Milne did when he wrote Winnie-the-Pooh. Have you ever thought about doing that?

Writing Stories for Your Children | Little Book, Big Story

Here’s what I mean: when I discovered that Lydia enjoyed chapter books but struggled to find one suited for both her reading level and her age level, I wrote one for her. It’s cute and probably not that great by grown up standards, but what child doesn’t love recognizing herself (and her baby sister) in the pages of a story? She was thrilled to identify with the main character, even though I changed her name. I borrowed graphics from The Graphics Fairy, used Blurb to bind the book and ordered a paperback copy for around $15. Now The Oldest Crow lives on our shelves like a “real” book.

The Oldest Crow | Little Book, Big Story

Other books followed. There’s a collection of poems about our family in the style of A Child’s Calendar, and a picture book, illustrated with photos of girls acting out “Little Red Riding Hood” (for fun, I included that whole story in the slider below).

When Lydia’s favorite doll went missing for a few days, she and I collaborated on a story about what Maggie did while she was away and called it The Story of Maggie (and Blankie). There’s the classic “So Long, Binkie!”: A Story About Sarah, written in Sharpie and bound with Elmer’s glue and washi tape (you can read an abridged version of that one, too, at the bottom of this post).

Writing Stories for Your Children | Little Book, Big Story

The newest story, A Tale of 3 Sisters, tells the story of Phoebe’s addition to our family (you can read the whole story here).

All of these books have won a place in our girls’ hearts, despite being mostly first draft efforts that would not pass muster at a writing group, much less win the hearts of a wider audience. But my audience is small—just two—and they have a soft spot for the characters.

Writing Stories for Your Children | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps having my own desk has gone to my head, you protest. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time on Pinterest and am taking the meaning of DIY to an unwholesome level. Perhaps.

But don’t tell me that you can’t write or draw, because you know who doesn’t care? Your kids. They’ll be thrilled to have a story written just for them, even if you do pinch the plot of a classic fairy tale or pepper the whole thing with stick figures.

You might not think it’s much but they’ll be delighted, I promise, especially if you’re able to include them in the process somehow. Writing stories for our children has merit, for us and for them, and so I thought I’d throw the idea out there this week as a review of The Book Yet Unwritten. You will write it, won’t you?

Read Little Red Riding Lu

You probably know this, but just in case it’s not immediately obvious, you can use the dots below the sliders to navigate from page to page.

Read So Long, Binkie!

So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg So Long, Binkie!, by Thea Rosenburg

An Origami Advent Calendar

Years ago, I went on an origami binge. I think the flu may have been partly responsible for the stretch of time that I spent on the couch, watching Arrested Development and folding boxes, but I can’t be sure. What I do know is that for years afterward, a good portion of our closet storage was dedicated to what boxes were left over after I used at least two dozen of them to package the chocolate truffles that were that year’s Christmas gifts.

Did you catch that? I had tons of boxes left over after I used about two dozen of them to package Christmas gifts. And that only accounts for the boxes: there were origami ornaments, too, stars and cubes and some awkward cranes, plus paper quilts made from folded squares. I am not one for moderation when it comes to meditative folded-paper arts, apparently.

So there the boxes were, tumbling out of corners of our closet when we tried to find dress shoes and fallen scarves, tucked away with remnants of other, past binges: the jewelry binge. The hand-illustrated card binge. (The great knitting binge of 2008-2012 was still on the horizon, as was the present day watercolor-painting binge.) I began to despair of ever finding uses for all of those boxes, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away—they were too lovely.

But then, inspiration struck rather forcefully one morning in late November, about six years ago. Mitch found me digging through the closet at 5 am, pulling out not only the boxes, but also the library-style date stamp (left over from making our wedding album), scraps of origami paper, plain white labels, and the backing for a picture frame that had long since lost its glass. He grumbled something and went back to sleep; I took myself off to the living room where I worked until he and Lydia woke up. I tackled the project again during every spare moment until the evening of the next day, when I had this to show for my hard work:

Our origami Advent calendar has been with us for almost seven years now and has aged with surprising grace, though it is looking well-loved (sorry, DEC 24!). It seems that every year, someone asks about it—how I made it, how others might make one, too—and because of that, I once posted a tutorial on my old blog, Two Blue Buttons. But that blog is now retired and that post went with it into retirement. And so, because some of you have also asked about our calendar, and because I am enjoying branching out this Advent from book reviews into some Advent-themed DIY projects, I decided to write about our calendar for you, too.

I realize that the odds are against you having all the same miscellaneous stuff in your closet that I did, so rather than give you a full tutorial here, I’ll give you some simple guidelines for making a similar calendar, with some helpful links below in the “Resources” section.

DIY Origami Advent Calendar | Little Book, Big Story

The most important pieces, obviously, are the boxes. Once you’ve folded twenty-five of them (as mentioned, I find that episodes of Arrested Development pair nicely with this sort of project), all you really need to do is label them and then glue them to a base of your choice, be it painted board, a canvas, some sort of fabric-wrapped thing—I painted a large piece of drawing paper and wrapped it around the remnants of the picture frame.

Finally, fill them with stuff. In the past, we’ve done scraps of paper with service ideas or small squares of chocolate, but then I hit on the idea of filling the boxes with the ornaments for our Jesse tree, which felt delightfully like solving two problems with the same answer.

If you decide to make one of your own, I would love to see pictures!

REsources

Origami instruction sheets can be terrifying, but there is a lovely tutorial (with photos) for folding origami boxes on Creativebug. (The paper I used wasn’t as big as theirs—mine measured something like 6×6″.)

You can find some of my favorite origami paper on Amazon. (As you can see, I used quite a few different kinds for my boxes, but this link is for the stuff with the pretty gold details.)

Those library stamps aren’t hard to come by either.

A Quick Guide to Jesse Tree Ornaments

It’s two weeks from now, and you’ve dropped by to borrow an egg. From the front door, where you stand chatting with me about the weather (weirdly clear, and the grass is crunchy with frost), you can see our kitchen table and on it, a jar full of gathered branches. If you squint, you can see a few small ornaments hanging from the very tips of the branches—our daughter’s preferred spot to hang them being as close to the end of the branch as possible, so that looking at the fragile globes suspended over our Formica-topped table gives you a sense of nervousness that you can’t immediately place.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps you think, That’s an odd centerpiece, as you pocket the egg and walk home.

But if you came back two weeks after that, with a plate of homemade Christmas cookies for us (you are the kindest and most sharing neighbor), you’d find those branches covered in ornaments—twenty-five of them, more or less evenly distributed over the branches. And you would sit at the table with us and drink tea (because we’re nice neighbors, too), and as we talked, you’d notice that each of those ornaments has a picture on it: a sheaf of wheat, an ark, a scribble meant to be a snake. You would put down your tea and look at them closely. You’d finally ask, “What is this?”

And I would say, “Oh! That’s our Jesse tree.”

To Make Or Buy? A Guide to Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

But now, let’s say that you want to make a Jesse tree of your own. How would you go about it? Assembling the tree itself is pretty straightforward—we use the process as an excuse to lightly prune the lilac beside our porch—but collecting the Jesse tree ornaments is a bit more challenging. You need twenty-five different ornaments, after all, each of them printed with a specific image. Would you purchase the ornaments pre-made? Could you make them yourself? (Would you even want to?)

Here are your answers, in short: yes, yes, and possibly, I suppose, but that depends on what sort of person you are, whether you’d rather spend time or money on this project, and if the thought of making twenty-five of anything makes the back of your neck feel unpleasantly ticklish.

So. Let’s explore your options, shall we?

To Make

I now have two separate sets of Jesse tree ornaments (one to accompany The Advent Jesse Tree, the other to accompany a different book that didn’t work out for us), and I made each set for under $10 and in what amounts to roughly one hour, spread out over the course of a few days. (There were small children involved, after all.)

DIY Jesse Tree ornaments (with instructions!) | Little Book, Big Story

For the set on top, I used air-dry clay and Sharpie markers. The process is quick and meditative: shape the clay into 25 balls, smoosh them into discs, and use a bamboo skewer to make the holes. After the clay has dried thoroughly (and not a moment before! I learned that lesson the hard way), draw the symbols recommended in your book on the front of the disc; number the back (you’ll thank yourself later). Run twine, string, or ornament hooks through the holes and voila! The season is officially begun!

DIY Jesse Tree ornaments, made with air-dry clay and Sharpie markers (post includes instructions) | Little Book, Big Story

For the set on the bottom, my original set, the process is even easier. I bought a package of those tiny ornaments at a craft store for under $5 and decorated them with a gold paint pen. (Note: you can find my tutorial for that origami Advent calendar here.)

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

And now you know how you’ll be spending your weekend.

To Buy

But for those of you who would rather not spend your weekend drawing tiny pictures on round bulbs, there are other options. These ones will cost you more in money than time, but they’re beautiful and they will probably last longer than my ornaments will. The one thing you have to watch out for, though, is that some sets are designed to go with a certain book. Make sure you double check the symbols before purchasing.

For a customizable option, take a peek at these beauties from the Etsy shop Jesse Tree Treasures. You can customize your order by choosing from 60 possible images for your ornaments. That way, you can ensure that your set matches whichever book your family follows (for the record: I love this idea):

Jesse Tree ornaments from Jesse Tree Treasures | Little Book, Big Story

And then there is the gourmet, deluxe, extra-fancy set from the Etsy shop Baby Whatnots. This listing includes a full set of handmade ornaments, as well as a copy of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (we weren’t, for the record, crazy about that book) and all the goods you could want to make your very own Jesse Tree (except branches—you’re on your own for those):

Jesse Tree Ornaments from Baby Whatnots | Little Book, Big Story


And now that your research is done, you can start thinking about those cookies. (We like chocolate, if that helps. And sprinkles.)

Welcome, Phoebe Mae!

Well, it’s been nearly a week since she arrived, but Phoebe’s here! Last Friday, December 13, Phoebe Mae joined our family, and we couldn’t be more pleased.

Since then, she’s been thoroughly adored by her big sisters and her parents, and we’ve been hibernating in that new baby sort of way (in fact, I’m writing this while snuggling with Phoebe in bed; it’s noon, and we’re both in pajamas), enjoying these days that do, in fact, pass by so quickly. (People told me that when we had our first baby, but I didn’t believe them. I believe them now.)

Many people have asked about her name, so I’ll tell you: Phoebe is mentioned at the end of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (one of our favorite books of the Bible), so like Lydia and Sarah, it’s a Biblical name. It also means “bright and shining,” which somehow seems to suit her—but maybe that’s because she’s wearing star-patterned PJs today. Mae was my grandmother’s middle name.

But let’s keep things literary: do you remember my post about writing for our kids? To celebrate this momentous event in the life of the Rosenburg family, I thought I’d share with you the celebratory book that I wrote for our daughters (you can read the whole thing, by using the dots below the photo to navigate):

A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg A Tale of Three Sisters, by Thea Rosenburg

Writing Stories for Your Children

This post has been updated and relocated! You can read the new and improved post, “Writing Stories for Your Children (It’s Easier Than You Think!), here.

Writing Stories for Your Children (It's Easier Than You Think) | Little Book, Big Story

For the first time in years, I have a writing desk. It is little and white and looks like a dresser when closed, but once opened, that desk is a tiny work space in a house full of daughters and cats and wing back chairs and one very patient husband. That tiny space is mine and I don’t have to share.

Until now, I’ve written at the dining room table, on the couch, or in the aforementioned wing back chairs. When I can, I write in coffee shops or at my favorite bar. But now, I have a desk. It is glorious. . . .

Read on.