Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A New New Year's Resolution

Goals, resolutions, dreams…call them what you will. To me they’re almost all the same. If I set out to do something, I know with great certainty that I will accomplish it. I’ve learned that not everyone feels the same way. Goals are sometimes completely unattainable, resolutions can be broken, and dreams, for some, remain just that. That being said, I know I haven’t been the best at coming up with an idea every day during 2011 to complete my #2011ZagsIdea resolution. I tried really hard, though! Most importantly, I learned a lot along the way. More about that here.

I’m excited to announce my New Year’s resolution…#2012ZagsIdeas. Kidding.

This year, I’ve decided to more formally cultivate my puppet passion. I’m planning to take lessons, attend building workshops, see more performances, and even develop and perform my own piece. It’s a much more flexible resolution with room for interpretation. I have no idea what it will look like four, eight, or 12 months from now.

Stay tuned for the adventure…I’ll be posting about my experiences here!

Monday, December 19, 2011


The new year is fast approaching, and I can’t say I’m upset about that. 2011 was pretty insane, and I wish for more balance in the coming year. As I reflect on the past few months and think about what I’d like to change personally and professionally in 2012, the first thing that comes to mind is #2011ZagsIdeas. This is, perhaps, the craziest and most obnoxious New Year’s resolution I’ve taken on thus far. I thought that by tweeting a new idea each day, I’d be somehow be achieving a poor man’s copyright and that I’d be able to refer to them from time to time.

Awesome wall hanging via

I actually wasn't so smart about saving my tweets on Twitter. It's hard to go back and find all of them. There are definitely search engines out there that will save hashtags for you, but I was so not Twitter savvy in January 2011. If I had to do it again, I would probably post on the blog and tag them with 2011ZagsIdeas. It'd be much easier to refer to! Here's an article from Mashable about Twitter hashtags that I should have read before.

How it worked…
Inspiration is truly everywhere. Though I got a little lazy on the tweeting towards the end, each day I thought of something new through conversations with others and close observations of the world around me. #2011ZagsIdeas inspired new curriculum that I implemented into my classroom, projects that challenged me and expanded my camera and editing knowledge, and work to be completed in the future. Even the blog revamp is rooting in this year of developing inspiration. A few successfully completed Zags Ideas included:
Myrtle Video
Tree stop motion
Turn Pearl into app and get kids’ illustrations
Holiday card
Big Top Fitness screenings

Perhaps the most successful was a music box stop-motion film I made last spring. Inspired by a tinker toy, I took over 50 still images of the music box and pieced them together in iMovie. I then recorded the music box’s song in GarageBand. The film caught peoples’ eyes and inspired different members of the Tufts community to reach out to me with new ideas about using stop motion. This was a MASSIVE learning experience.

These ideas have even inspired my 2012 resolution. I'm excited to share it with you and get started. Stay tuned for that post tomorrow!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Tree Craft

Inspired by a holiday window in a Tribeca kids' boutique, I decided to make a Christmas craft with my cousin Abby using a foam base and some holiday bows.

As I was gathering the materials for the craft, I thought it might be cool to experiment with stop-motion again. This time, I had Abby manning the camera. I pinned each bow onto the foam base, and Abby took the pictures. This kid has got a smart eye! She directed much of the movement, choosing which bows were placed where and deciding to have the tree turn in the middle of the film. We had so much fun reviewing the photos together. She seemed to really enjoy watching me edit in iMovie and made the final music selection, a clip from Sufjan Steven's "Put the Lights on the Tree."

We had a lot of sunlight and overhead light to support the photographs, but they have such an awkward color. I'm so eager to get a new camera and can't help but love the Canon D7. Maybe one day!

The craft was easy to make using two straight pins on each bow. Abby experimented with sticking the bows onto the foam using their sticky backs, but they didn't seem to hold well around the shape. This craft is easy and fun, and a great way to recycle holiday bows, but definitely necessitates some adult supervision.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Craftsman Farms

At the encouragement of a family friend, I spent last Saturday volunteering at an historic site near my home. It was Family Day at The Stickley Museum at Crafstman Farms, and I thought I’d be facilitating kid crafts and handing out hot chocolate. I had no idea I would discover a treasure settled in the woods off of a local highway. The farm and its main house were developed/built by Gus Stickley in approximately 1907. Stickley was at the forefront of the arts and crafts movement. He built furniture, published a magazine, taught others, and encouraged a simpler, more handmade life. Basically, he was Martha Stewart. The house is jam-packed with original furniture pieces and tons of family stories.

In addition to taking a fantastic home tour, I helped with the kid and family games. We had ring tosses, sack races, and tin can stilts. You might think these games are old fashioned (which they are), but the kids LOVED them. The event was co-sponsored by PBS Kids’ Club, and the Berenstain Bears were present to celebrate. I was amazed at how excited kids, both very young and into their pre-teens, were to meet the duo. Those bears have managed to stick around for a long time!

Craftsman Farms is my new go-to spot to share with visiting friends. Check it out, and try to get a tour with Laura…she’s the best!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Live Colorfully

It's not often that children's media takes cues from fashion, but there's one fashion campaign that I found completely inspiring this year: Kate Spade's Year of Color. Each month, the company debuted a different color with a full line of bags, clothing, and accessories designed around it.

In addition to a fully developed fashion line, they issued an original art print and short film inspired by the color. More than any other current company, I see Kate Spade making an effort to incorporate the arts into their work. Their commissioned originals introduced me to new illustrators, graphic designers, and film makers.

Each month Kate Spade inspired me to "Live Colorfully." This is a lesson I hope to infuse into my creative work for young people. If I had a classroom, I could see myself building a curriculum around the phrase and having it up on a wall as a reminder.

This is a lesson easier said than done. Being original and colorful means taking risks, making sacrifices, and believing in yourself day in and day out. I think I learned all those things this year.

Thanks, Kate Spade!

all photos and videos via Kate Spade New York

Sunday, December 11, 2011

WiCM Holiday Party

My months back in New York have been a whirlwind, and I can't believe it's already December! Last week, I celebrated the holidays with some of my favorite people in the city, Women in Children's Media. This is the premiere organization for children's media professionals in New York. They sponsor pretty spectacular events throughout the year, and definitely know how to host a party. In addition to the silly putty and snacks, they had an awesome raffle of goodies. I was able to reconnect with a lot of great people and meet some new friends.

One of the fantastic new people I met is Miss Ashley Albert, a New York-based voice over artist who heads up the popular group for kids, The Jimmies. I am a big fan of her jewelry company Survival of the Hippest. Last night she was sporting a Twitter handle nameplate necklace. I can't wait to order mine! Though a #2011ZagsIdeas necklace is tempting, I'm most excited to sport @ChrissyZags.

There are so many exciting events and developments that WiCM will be rolling out in the new year. Stay tuned to their website and Twitter feed, and become a member if you're so inclined!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Love, Cassie & Chrissy

I've been so excited to share Cassie and my holiday card this year. It's a tradition I started up in Boston, and she insisted we do it again this year.

I debated it. I don't know how I feel about being that girl that sends out Christmas cards with her puppet. When making the decision, I thought about one of my heroes, Jim Henson. He would totally send out a card with puppets on it, and, actually, he did! The Henson Company posted this fantastic blog about some of these cards and holiday party invites. A Jim Henson holiday party? Now that's my kind of bash!

Happy holidays!

Cassie and Chrissy

Sunday, December 4, 2011

See you at: Voice 4 Vision Festival

The Voice 4 Vision festival kicks off this week! I'll be there this weekend to support Spica Wobbe's production "I Laid An Egg."

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Zagarino Holiday Tradition

In the Zagarino house, Halloween and Christmas are tied together. Halloween night means sitting down and writing your Christmas list so that it can be put in the pumpkin. See, at our home, the pumpkin sprouts wings once the lists are in and flies to the North Pole.

It was only in college that I found out this tradition was unique to our family, a story that my father created because my sister and I feared what would happen to our beloved pumpkin following Halloween. The thought of putting it in the trash was far too painful.

Since gift lists are in the process of being written in normal homes right now, and since I'll be sharing a children's media lover's wish list tomorrow on the blog, I thought I'd post the story written in poem form, which I gave to my Dad for Christmas two years ago.

What Happens to Your Pumpkin on Halloween Night?

What happens to your pumpkin on Halloween night?
His seeds have been gutted and his face a great fright.

He musters up wings and flies away
With hopes that Santa will collect him on his sleigh.

Your pumpkin cannot be empty like your candy bowl,
Otherwise on Christmas you’ll just end up with coal.

Each child of the house must write their own list
So Santa and his elves will get the gist.

Place the list in the pumpkin for safe keeping.
He will fly away fast, while you are sleeping.

To the North Pole overnight delivered it will be,
So Christmas morning you’ll find presents underneath your tree.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Lamest Muppet Review Ever Written or How I Started Crushing on Scooter

I debated writing a review of the new Muppet movie. Why? Because everyone else did, though I didn’t read a single one. I wanted to see the movie fresh and was nervous to read anything by an “I love the Muppets so much, and this movie sucked” individual. You know who you are.

A friend’s response to a Facebook post stating disdain for the movie was spot on: “You don’t like the movie? Then you must not like smiling.” Seriously two hours of glorious, uninhibited, childlike joy. Thank you, Jason Segel!

I’ll sum up my response to the film in three points:
1. Mickey Rooney made a cameo. SOLD.
2. Is it just me, or did Scooter get hot? Sacrificing his Google job and TED talk to stage manage his friends’ variety show…and he’s managed to use an iPad with Muppet hands.
3. Man or Muppet? An age old question set to an unforgettable melody. I’m singing it now.

via Muppet Wiki

The criticism:
1. Why isn’t Disney selling ‘80s Robot yet? It’s on my Christmas list! I beg you, Disney, please buy the rights to this brilliant piece of technology from Radio Shack. You will not regret it.
2. Muppet feet freak me out. I think the only Muppets allowed to show their feet for that long are animated Muppet Babies.

So there you have it. Also…keeping my eyes out for Scooter’s awesome Member’s Only jacket. Get on that, American Apparel.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, Charlie Brown!

It's Thanksgiving Eve, which in my group of friends means gathering around with a few adult beverages and sharing stories about what's happened since we last saw each other. This New Jersey tradition inspired a sketch for my comedy writing class at ImprovBoston last year that I'd like to share in the spirit of the season...

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, Charlie Brown!
By Christina Zagarino

SETTING: A bar on the night before Thanksgiving

Charlie Brown is sitting by himself at the bar.

One more round!

Wow…rough night, Charlie Brown?

Another Thanksgiving Eve, and I’m all alone.

Where’s the dog?

Dead, Lucy! He’s been dead for ten years. You’ve always known how to cheer me up.

(handing him a beer)
Well this one’s on me! I still accept cash tips, though.

Swell. Just swell.

(Linus enters)

Hi, Charlie Brown!

(angrily) Hello.

Turkey genocide gotcha down?

What have you got to smile about? Didn’t you see my sister kissing that trash heap back there?

(a blonde girl and guy with scraggly hair turn to reveal Sally and Pig Pen making out. A spray of fog squirts out from under Pig Pen symbolizing his odor cloud)

Sally and Pig Pen? Nah, I’m happy for them. The poor guy, I’m glad he’s found love!

Does this mean you have found true love as well, Linus? True love as true as the love I share with my talented little gravy train?

(A very adult Shroeder begins playing a baby piano on a side of the bar)

(screaming and blowing kisses)
That’s right, baby! I’m talking about YOU!

Oh, brother.

It just so happens, dear sister and sad friend, that I have found true love! Marcie is officially a free agent!

(laughing uncontrollably)


Peppermint Patty enters the bar furious

You! Homewrecker!

See ya! (Linus runs off)

Keep running! (Peppermint Patty sits down at the bar in place of Linus)

What can I get ya?

A stiff one.

Really?! (laughs uncontrollably) Okay. (Lucy goes to make Peppermint Patty’s drink)

How ya doin’, Chuck?

Not so good.

I know how you feel. My lady’s run off with a hetero! I’m devastated, distraught. I just want punch something.

Charlie Brown moves over a seat at the bar.

Not you, Chuck.

I’ve heard that before. I gotta pee. I’ll be back.

Lucy returns with Peppermint Patty’s drink

Wow, in all my years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so down.

(sarcastically) Ever? Really?

Yeah! The poor guy! We have to do something to cheer him up.

I’ve got it! (Lucy stands up on the bar) Hey, everyone! My friend Charlie Brown has Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the holidays are really bringing him down. I think I know just the thing to make him feel better. Bring it in!

The group forms a huddle and begins whispering. They all run out of the bar.

Charlie Brown returns to an empty bar. For a few moments he just stands there looking around.

Leave it to me to fall asleep at the urinal and wake up after last call.

Charlie Brown sits down and begins to finish his beer. As he drinks, his friends quietly tiptoe around him hanging a banner and bringing in awkwardly large cornecopias filled with leaves and fruit. Shroeder places an awkwardly small and sad tree on top of his baby piano. Linus rolls in an extra large pumpkin. Charlie Brown is oblivious to all the action.

(in a loud whisper)
1, 2, 3

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, Charlie Brown!

(nearly seizing at the surprise and shock) Holy shit!

You don’t like it?

I mean, I like it…I’m just…chest pain…

We love you, Charlie Brown! (hands him a beer) This one’s on the house, for real.

To the true meaning of Thanksgiving Eve: beer and friends! (Charlie Brown raises a glass)

(raising their glasses) To beer and friends!

Shroeder begins to play his piano. People begin dancing. A puff of fog comes off of Pig Pen as he moves to dance. Charlie Brown and Lucy toast each other and drink


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Blogger Blitz @ City Winery

Have you checked out my friend Tara's blog? She's a constant crafter and thinker of pretty things. A few weeks ago she sent me the details for Blogger Blitz in the city. I had a great time meeting so many fantastic lady bloggers in the New York area, and got some great tips on how to spiff up iGeneration.

Read all about the great night and the talented ladies who attended here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

If you give a kid a scooter...

You might have heard about the protests happening in downtown New York. Some people are afraid of civil disobedience, and they should be. Just a few blocks north of Occupy Wall Street, a gang of middle to upper class children zip through the streets and take no prisoners.

I thought Razor scooters had gone to the wayside with Saved by the Bell: the New Class, but a new generation has reclaimed the movement in a big way. TriBeCa padestrians: BEWARE.

Scooters are the new thing. Despite my worry for safety each evening on my way home from work, I can't say I'm not impressed. We judge this generation for being lazy and overweight, and yet here's something active that they love and can be done in an urban environment. It promotes balance, focus and safety.

When we talk about investing in the future, perhaps scooters and the necessary safety equipment are some items we should consider. If you give a kid a scooter...it just might change the world.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Muppets Take Fashion

November is Muppet Month this year, I'm convinced. Thanks to the brilliant mind of Jason Segal, the emotional support of the Henson Company, and the financial support of Disney, we get our Muppets back. The best part of Disney's ownership? The merch! In addition to the Green Album, the Muppet Movie soundtrack, and the new Walter plush, the Muppets are getting serious attention in the fashion world.

This craze seemed to kick off at Fashion's Night Out, where Opening Ceremony hosted a Muppet carnival gaming booth and sold pricey Muppet Oxford shirts.

I was so excited to see my favorite swine gracing the pages of InStyle's November issue sporting couture creations by some of the fashion industry's finest.

I'm currently in the process of hunting down these new OPI Muppet-inspired nail polish colors. Rainbow Connection, you will be mine!

via alllaquedup

Lastly, I just learned about Miss Piggy for MAC. I thought it was pretty smart of them to develop three pieces to create the perfect Miss Piggy eyes. I wish MAC had used better branding for the products. I think they'd be much more likely to sell.

via Makeup and Beauty Blog

Let's not forget the Threadless tee and the Mighty Fine contest winners!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How do you get juice in a juice box?

My former students continue to be points of inspiration for me and my work. Kids are naturally brilliant and imaginative individuals. The teachers at the Massachusetts school I worked at let the students drive the curriculum, allowing for the work done in the classroom to be both meaningful and playful.

While on a visit to see my former colleagues, both big and small, I came across a recent research study conducted by the Kindergarten. They wanted to know how juice got into juice boxes.

Together with their teachers, they developed a list of questions that they had about this miracle of culinary science and brainstormed group hypothesis. Individually, the students drew and dictated a hypothesis for a 4-step process of how the juice got in the boxes.

Together, during choice time,they played with colored water and empty juice boxes trying to physically figure out how to get the juice in. They created their own juice boxes at the art table. Finally, they watched this great video clip together.

The teachers told me they plan to visit a factory so the children can see the creation of packaged food products first-hand.

5% concentrate. 95% awesome.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Myrtle the Turtle

Over the summer, I was obsessed with sea turtles. My inner child screamed for a chance to realize her marine biology dreams, so I took her on a trip to the New England Aquarium. Inspired by Myrtle, their aged sea turtle, I began telling stories to my students about an old sea turtle who spoke to children to try to escape aquarium life. They ate it up, and Myrtle became a regular part of our day.

I began to think that Myrtle had something special. I started dreaming up a mini web series about the character and even had my good friend Richie Rosencrans LINK create some turtle music.I edited it together with some video footage of my aquarium trip, and created a trailer To get you excited and get me motivated.

Please click through to check out the piece on Vimeo.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Puppet Palooza at The New Victory Theater

To the world of theater for young audiences, The New Victory Theater Gala is second only to the Tony awards. I missed the event twice while living in Massachusetts, and I was so excited to return this year to honor the work of Cheryl Henson, arts advocate, puppeteer, and president of the Jim Henson Foundation. Cheryl has helped shepherd countless puppet projects to international audiences, and has supported many projects at The New Victory. I first met her in a puppetry Family Workshop at the New Vic several years ago. Of course I was working with my favorite puppeteer, Spica Wobbe, but who was I to share puppets with the daughter and grandchildren of Jim (freakin’)Henson?! Cheryl was kind and encouraging throughout the workshop, and it was clear then, as it was on the night of the gala, how important the artform is to her.

The evening was hosted by John Tartaglia and included performances from Arias With a Twist, directed by Basil Twist, War Horse, The Little Prince at The New Victory Theater, IBEX Puppetry, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph & Lolly, and Marty Robinson & Telly. The show opened with a procession of music and masks/puppets by Ralph Lee. Ralph is well-known for his giant puppeteers made most famous in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. He also happens to have been my masks and puppetry instructor while studying at NYU. When Bill Irwin, who was honored last year, introduced Big Bird, I nearly fell to the floor. How much better could it get? It was an unforgettable night.

I was able to take a sneak peek at the dinner setup downstairs. Oobie eyes on the wineglasses?! Brilliant! Check more pictures out here.

The evening ended with all the performers sharing a bow on stage. Out of the corner of my eye I caught Heather Henson, who performed in the gala, marveling at Joey, the horse from War Horse. You could tell she was examining his construction, his movement. Perhaps that simple look of joy and awe in the eyes of an artist was the best part of the night. I’ve seen that same look in the eyes of children watching live and televised puppet performances. To me, that’s what art is all about.

Photograph from The New Victory Theater Facebook page

Friday, October 28, 2011

Money Makes the World Go 'Round

Have you heard? Financial literacy is all the rage. Rumor has it they're building baby banks in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Okay, you caught me. Rumor doesn't have it. Financial literacy is the new star of children's media, though. There are currently three projects, to my knowledge, that are trying to teach kids the value of the dollar, as little as it may be. It's the greatest thing since the invention of the piggy bank!

The three projects are:
Cha-Ching- a series recently launched by Cartoon Network Asia, with some brain power from Dr. Alice Wilder

Secret Millionaires Club- a new animated series for The Hub starring everybody's favorite rich dude, Warren Buffet

For Me, for You, for Later, a partnership between Sesame Streeet and PNC- a new partnership between this well-known series and the bank (where you can open an "S" is for Savings account) promoting savings for and by kids, part of PNC Bank's Grow Up Great initiative

Which program do you think will be the most....profitable?

Monday, October 10, 2011

iRead: My Place

Did you ever draw floor plans or maps as a kid? I loved making my home and neighborhood feel like a place where adventures could happen! My friends and I would use our maps to find pretend treasure or to create neighborhood walks. The book My Place, by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins, shares the stories of twenty-one kids over a span of 200 years. Each story shares information about the child, her family, and the neighborhood they live in as well as a map of the neighborhood. (SPOILER ALERT!) By about the third page, you realize each story takes place in the same home and each map is a variation of the neighborhood, tracking the changes from decade to decade.

The story, published in 1988, represents Australian history. My Place is a picture book but filled with a lot of text and information. I think children over 7 would enjoy reading this alone, but I could see myself reading it to kids as young as 4. I learned about it from a recent Kidscreen article. The book was turned into an Australian television program last year; each episode sharing a different child’s story, a different moment in time. They’ve renewed the show for another season, and I'm so curious to see it. You can read more about it here.

Though this is an Australian story, I think there’s something we can all relate to. Regardless of the kind of home we live in, everyone’s neighborhood has seen change and development over the past 200 years. Wouldn’t it be interesting to track the changes and the history of your own home and neighborhood?

I would have loved to use this in my Kindergarten classroom. I would have introduced the story to my students, probably reading it over a course of two days. As a class, we could create a history of our school and school neighborhood. Maybe we'd bring in the school director or parents who attended the school to interview and help us create our map and story. At home, each family could create their own map and brief history to be shared somewhere in the classroom.

My Place is out of print, but I highly recommend you purchasing a used copy here! Do you think this show would succeed in the US?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Week At Circus Camp

With all the excitement around getting ready for my new job, I forgot to share how amazing my week at AYCO (the American Youth Circus Organization conference) was. Aside from some nasty heat rash, Sarasota treated me right. I met such wonderful educators who are truly dedicated to sharing circus arts with young people. I can't even begin to explain how talented these kids are!

One of the highlights of my trip was meeting Craig from bandofjugglers.com. He's opening up a new circus studio in New Jersey with a group of wonderful people. Circus Place opens this month, and I think they're going to do some fantastic work there, particularly using circus arts as a tool for working with children with special needs. What I love most about their work is that they live my favorite ethos: art that's created for children should be created for ALL children despite varying levels of "ability."

Enjoy this video full of pictures and videos from the week!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Amazing Artist Annie

How lucky am I to be working with some amazingly talented people? My desk neighbor, Miss Annie Sklaver, is a Brooklyn-based visual artist. Annie learned how to cut paper in preschool and hasn't turned back since! Her beautiful work, often 3-dimensional, is brought to life with a scissor and colored or patterned paper, and she specializes in illustrations and custom portraits. I'm particularly partial to the circus pieces.

Right now, Annie is working on writing and illustrating a book for children. I think her work is so well-suited to children’s literature and could bring a story to life in a very new, interesting way! I can’t wait to see what she comes up with and hope that we can all get a sneak peek here. I'm holding out for a pop-up book!

Her work is currently featured at Brooklyn Collective, which Joe and I checked out on Friday. We left with three of Annie’s note cards and tons of inspiration.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Spectacular Steamtown and Astounding Amtrak

I have come to appreciate trains as part of my life. Joe’s love of Amtrak , inspired us to pack up the car and head out to Steamtown for the day, where the Amtrak 40th Anniversary Exhibit Train was on display.

The train is touring the United States and sharing the history of Amtrak. Each decade of the company is represented in its own passenger or baggage car. They’re filled with uniforms, timelines, dining sets, and videos.

I was most excited to learn about Amtrak’s programs for young people. Not only did I pick up this nifty conductor’s hat, I also got a kid’s train conductor handbook published by the company. It seems like Amtrak is really trying to reach out to families with young children. In addition to these cute perks, they’re offering free tickets to kids under 12 in honor of the 40th anniversary.

After doing a bit more research, I learned that Amtrak has an online destination just for kids called The Amtrak Kids Depot where they can play transportation-related games and print train coloring pages.

I can think of few things more exciting to a child than boarding, riding, and walking on a long-distance train. Using Amtrak’s resources, a child’s trip on a train could be planned out and feel like a true adventure!

All aboard!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

American Girl Debuts New African American Doll

I know way more than I need to about colonial American textiles, furniture, undergarments, food, and livestock. Why? Felicity. She will always remain my favorite birthday gift! I immersed myself in historical dramatic play with my Felicity doll and was the richest 8 year old in the Bronx until my next AG purchase was made. Felicity taught me to save my money for things I wanted; a lesson I’ve carried with me through adolescence and into adulthood. She still has a special place in my home.

I’m excited to announce that the company, now owned by Mattel, has recently launched a brand new doll! Cecile Rey is an African American girl from the 1850’s. You can learn more about her on the AG website here. I was very disappointed with the Huffington Post headline, “American Girl Moves Past Slavery, Introduces New African-American Doll,” however. It’s true, until Cecile’s launch, Addy Walker remained the sole African American historical doll available.

I remember when Addy was introduced. My best friend gushed. She couldn’t wait! The Civil War was her favorite period in American history. She and I consumed the books and learned much more about slavery and the war than was being taught in our third grade classrooms. Addy taught me about the atrocities of slavery. I love the character and doll for that reason. She was real to me and far more interesting than Samantha’s “poor little rich girl” routine.

As we celebrate Cecile, I think it important to acknowledge Addy and Pleasant Company for their efforts in educating young girls across America about the controversial nature of and personal stories from the Civil War. I hope Addy continues to be a mainstay doll and book series.

Welcome, Cecile! I'm excited to learn more about your story and your time period.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Changes at Chorion

If you work in children's media, you know Chorion. Unfortunately, Chorion is in a lot of trouble. Below are the Cliffs Notes so you're up to speed and in the know!

The Backstory
Chorion is a UK-based media company that owns many well-known properties including Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit, The Mr. Men, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Olivia, and The Octonauts. In 2006, the company was purchased by 3i but has continued to carry a debt of approximately $113 million.

What Happened
On August 25th, it was announced that Chorion’s chairman Lord Waheed Alli and deputy chairman William Astor resigned from the company. As soon as this news hit, I started to scheme ways to buy Paddington Bear. If I considered this, you know executives were making phone calls! Kidscreen posted a great article that you can access here.

What It Means
The properties will be sold. More about that here. Some of Chorion's properties are on television and doing well. Olivia is featured on Nickelodeon while The Octonauts is successfully airing internationally. It seems like some big names are putting their hats in the ring, which could mean a whole new slew of series, books, and merchandise.

Stay tuned and stay informed! Share your updates here...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Love Lands

I've recently been reading Kidscreen.com more frequently. I find that it expands upon some of the information shared on Cynopsis! Kids and has a more international perspective. I was so excited when I found this article. Holy Sir Topham Hatt!

Drayton Manor is a theme park in England that recently opened a dedicated Thomas and Friends section. Thomas Land! Need I repeat that? Thomas LAND! The website promises "12 wonderful themed rides, a spectacular indoor play area and a shop filled with fantastic Thomas & Friends merchandise." SCORE!

My visit would be part of a fantasy trip to other lands across Europe. From England, I would travel over to Sweden to tour Astrid Lindgren's World. This is a children's literature fan's dream! The park includes Lindgren's home and theme areas of all of the writer's characters including Pippi Longstocking! From Sweden to Finland to visit Moomin World. The Moomins are the creation of illustrator and writer Tove Jansson. Though not very popular in America, the Moomins are sweet, well-loved characters throughout Europe and Asia.

Are there lands that I'm missing? I'm wondering if smaller theme parks focusing on popular characters or authors could survive in the States. What do you think?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Branch Innovation

While teaching in Massachusetts, I constantly had to remind my students that we needed to play non-violent games. This often included asking them to put down sticks or baseball bats that were guns or lightsabers. Scary fighting. Gone are the days of pirate fights and play-acting Peter Pan.

A friend recently introduced me to the thoughtful design of Naama Agassi. Agassi's website displays the work in beautiful fashion. My favorite product design is the branch holder. GENIUS!

Though pricey, this beautiful piece of plastic slips right onto a branch taking your outside games up a notch (or ten). Why stop at branches? A dowel would work too and might be a really great prop for your high school or community theater Shakespeare performances.

Had my students thought of such a clever addition to their props, I might have different ideas about redirecting their play. Maybe not. They would have definitely gotten major respect, though!

Sword fight, anyone?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

After posting a link to my experiment with stop-motion animation, I received an email from Ethan Danahy at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts University. He encouraged me to try out the center's SAM Animation It seemed really interesting, and I wanted a chance to learn more about the center before officially leaving Tufts.

I had the pleasure of meeting Danahy this July. He took me on a full tour and shared information about the center's work with me. I kept thinking, "Why am I just finding this place now?" I would have loved the opportunity to work with them throughout my graduate studies. They are truly amazing!

Turns out, I did work with CEEO. They run a LEGO program called STOMP, which introduces engineering and robotics concepts to school-aged children (schools, home schools, and camps) using LEGOS. STOMP engineers visited my Kindergarten class in 2010. They loved working with the engineers and really adopted the process of designing, building, and testing their work. This program seems to be the center's most popular. The center has partnered with LEGO to develop engineering education programs.

Now onto SAM. SAM is a program that assists in stop-motion animation. It was developed at the center and used primarily to teach science and engineering concepts. It seems like the perfect STEM tool. I'm excited to experiment with it myself, just for fun. There is a version available online for free! You can read more about SAM, watch some videos, and get the program here.

Danahy gave me a tip about doing stop-motion in the future: the quality isn't necessarily your software, but your camera and your lighting. He recommended using a webcam and attaching it to a stand that the center helped design. Teachers can purchase classroom kits that allow stop-motion animation work to be part of the learning day. I think the program would be particularly interesting for New York City teachers who use the Moving Image Arts Blueprint.

CEEO's products are "research informed and classroom tested." Definitely check out the center and experiment with SAM. Feel free to post links to your SAM experiments here!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Small Gift, Big Smile

I’ve got a package to send to my sister in California. Every time we see our favorite Sanrio characters, Little Twin Stars, on something cute, we snatch it up and send it to one another. I love Sanrio. As a child, I loved the cute designs, delicate details, and opague plastic wrapping on their small products. My parents liked the price point. Now, I appreciate and respect the brand for its longevity and continued success!

None of Sanrio’s characters have ever had a successful television show in the States, yet they are internationally recognized and loved. There’s no Hello Kitty Land (to my knowledge, though it would be awesome), and Sanrio sticks close to its original mission to create character-centric products for kids. Theoretically, the first Sanrio fans could be in their 60s right now! It seems as if the only other character who comes close to Hello Kitty’s popularity and recognition is a mouse.

What Sanrio does best, though, is develop partnerships. For this year alone, their 50th anniversary, the brand partnered with Doctor Martens, Vans, Target, Jelly Belly, Pullip, and Momiji.

Most recently, they’ve created a corporate partnership with Yogurtland. This promotion includes Sanrio yogurt cups, character plush, a tee shirt, key chains, and spoons. The spoons are my favorite! Lucky for me, the only Yogurtland on the east coast is in my parents’ obscure New Jersey town. How cute does my dad look with a Sanrio yogurt cup?

Thanks to my parents' taste for adventure and frozen yogurt, we've collected all four spoons! What a super cute promotion! I think we could all take a lesson from Hello Kitty and Sanrio.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Craft: Fireflies

This summer, I learned an awesome, new craft from one of the other teachers. We were studying fireflies, so decided to help the students create their own fireflies out of recycled water bottles. I decided to try this out at home with my cousins.

1. Tape the very bottom of your water bottle with painter's tape or masking tape.

2. Paint the water bottle with acrylic paint, any way you'd like.

3. Once the paint has dried, create wings for your firefly. You may want to use construction paper, pipe cleaners, beads, etc. Elmer's glue should be able to hold your wings on, or an adult can help with hot glue.

4. You can use googly eyes or draw a face on your bottle cap.

5. Peal off your tape, and drop in a glow stick!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Guest Blogger: Xavier Raphael Vanegas

It has been a fascinating journey as I have been developing a children’s television show called
Fink Forest Friends, which received the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship. It seems many cable networks aren’t interested though in accolades, but two things: a fully developed show and ancillary possibilities - merchandise, video games, toys, and digital products. The brand started through its potential in the ancillary side with an eco-friendly plush toy line, now featured in a few boutiques around Los Angeles.

Now comes the bigger challenge - developing the show. Not just so that it stands out from the rest of programming on television, but how will it fare against the best kids' shows? Our show has to fit in a space between classics like Winnie the Pooh and hit shows like The Wonder Pets. My collaborator, Cathleen Cimino, and I love Josh Selig’s work at Little Airplane, which has been a huge inspiration for the development process.

Such work represents the kind of finesse and attention to storytelling we want for our program. At the same time we realize that the process cannot be rushed as we seek to uphold the integrity and original vision of the Fink world and its characters. Look at Pixar, they spend up to 8 years developing their brands for a film release. They’re the best studio brand right now and I think it has to do with development - allowing oneself to travel down one possible story path for a few weeks then say, "You know what, that isn’t working." So instead of forcing the charge forward, you can back pedal to a place where the infinite possibilities for the show are reset and the brand richly developed.

We are closer to developing our vision of the show. What started years ago as absurdist anti-plot mini comics where everything in the Fink Forest was just simple and cheery all of the time, has now evolved into developed characters and plots that follow 4 friends - Skunk, Lily the Red Panda, Moose and Bird as they learn lessons through their adventures and mishaps growing up in the forest.

Photo: Original Bird and Moose comic with simple, no plot or story line

The initial simple, plot-less concept for the Fink Forest Friends was a sort of backlash against Joseph Campbell from my days at the Film Studies program at Columbia University. However, in molding the substance of the show and making it more accessible to an audience, we’ve been conscious of keeping the original quirkiness intact. Now the characters are in the process of transformation from simple 2D drawing concepts to 3D models toward a new hybrid style of animation. There’s a long way to go, but it’s been an exciting process and we are hoping to release our first animation piece soon.

Part of developing the series involves having a clear consciousness of the world and the brand beyond the show itself, with cross-platform considerations like social networks and new learning-technologies and devices. It opens up an exciting realm of possibility because even the most inane detail in the story world can then lend itself for exploration in greater depth. I’ve seen this as an opportunity to make the world as rich as possible so as to encourage fans and participants to look deeper into it.

Photo: Developing the world of the Fink Forest

If I were to give one piece of advice to someone pursuing their own idea or show, I would probably say the most important part is the world building. Take time to bring depth to the characters and be open to creative dynamism brought on by writers and other collaborators. “Fink Forest Friends” continues to be enriched by this process, all towards the end of the final pitching of the show. We’ve been lucky to be able to work with incredibly talented writers who have taken the original Fink characters and breathed new life into them and shaped them into robust multi-dimensional beings.

The Fink Forest Friends are more complex and rich than ever before. I can’t wait to share the characters with the world. They are starting to become like actual people as to the level of depth woven into them. Now, I can anticipate how a given character will react in a given situation and as the plots unfold we learn more about each character, their habits, traits, fears, hopes, and desires. With great characters we’ll be able to deliver incredible stories. It’s been a pleasure working with our creative team and I think I have in turn become a better artist and storyteller in the process.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

King Bidgood's Bathtub Lesson

Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my students and Massachusetts friends. I'm glad to be home, but I think I miss my students most. I enjoyed working at the school and learning from the children. I absolutely learned something new from them every day!

Our summer preschool group did a pretty great project that I wanted to share. Have you heard of King Bidgood's in the Bathtub? It's the story of a king who is in his fancy bathtub and just won't get out. He eats, plays, and meets in the tub. Our group loved this story!

After we read the story, we decided to use clay to create a giant bathtub. The children then created items from the story to put in the tub. Once the clay was fired, painted, and fired, we recreated the story and put the items into the tub until it was filled. The children were also able to take their clay creations home with them at the end of the week.

Clay is an amazing medium for children to work with. This year I saw preschoolers work with clay for over 30 minutes just created and destroying different shapes. It takes a great deal of focus and energy and can be a lot of fun. Try it out!

If I were to do this again, I might use a sensory table as the bathtub. The clay bathtub takes some time to create and a lot of space in the kiln to fire.

You can get your copy of the book here!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Our Craft List

My cousins are visiting today, and we're working on an exciting craft project that we'll be sharing in a few days. Until then, my cousin Abby and I are brainstorming a list of crafts that we'd like to work on.
-Paper mache planets, creating the solar system
-A paper mache helmet
-Paint butterflies with acrylic paint
-Make fish out of water bottles
-Use brown paper to make white-tailed deer

We'll let you know what we work on and how it comes out!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Means Pearl

Family summer vacations remind me of Pearl. Pearl is the mermaid that my sister and I would spend our time with at the Jersey shore each summer. If we were lucky, we would meet her at Jones Beach for New York adventures, too! All of this happened in our mother’s Pearl stories that she would tell us throughout the summer when we were bored, tired, sad, or cranky. The stories were magical and soothing!

Last year I wanted to see if they still worked, so I tried them out on my Kindergarten students each day during lunch. They were entranced! The stories inspired a massive unit that included the students writing their own Pearl stories, creating underwater art, and a mermaid kingdom dramatic play. At the end of the year, I created a video version of the first story for the children to take home with them over the summer. I’ve run into several of my former students this summer, and they always bring up our adventures with Pearl and how much they enjoy watching the video. You can catch it here. I shared it on the blog last year. Below is a picture of our Pearl Underwater Kingdom dramatic play room including our wall of sea creatures and Mrs. Octavia Calamari's cave.

Why did my sister and I love mermaids so much? I was on Etsy a few months ago searching “mermaids,” a regular activity, and a glass, Avon mermaid popped up on the screen. This reminded me of my grandmother’s years as an Avon lady. It also reminded me that there was another kind of mermaid that Avon sold. She was blonde with a blue tail, and they sold bubble bath that I could still smell if I closed my eyes. With that, I searched Avon mermaid, and there she was. After continued Etsy, Google, and eBay searching, I learned that there was a long line of products with this mermaid on it. Her name was Sweet Sea. TOMY licensed the character and created products with Avon as well as toys sold in mainstream toy stores. I also learned that there was a television movie made. A new goal of mine is to purchase the VHS and create a digital version for myself.

While we’re on the subject of mermaids, I recently discovered an Australian tween series about girls who magically acquire tails. I was able to watch a few episodes thanks to the power of Netflix. The series is called H2O: Just Add Water and seems to be inspired by both Splash and its younger sister, Aquamarine. Nonetheless, it is adorable. If I was 11, that would be MY show!

Off to the shore for more mermaid inspiration. See you next week!

Friday, July 29, 2011

FableVision Summer Open House

Do you know about FableVision? You should! Their home page states, "FableVision is a company dedicated to helping all learners discover their true potential." They live up to that mission. In addition to FableVision, which produces mobile applications, web sites, software, and books (among other things), FableVision Learning provides resources that help teach 21st century kids. The company also owns an idependent bookstore in Dedham, MA.

The company hosts seasonal open houses in the Boston studio, right above the Children's Museum. These are fantastic opportunities to meet the people behind the magic. Whether you're interested in having a book signed by Peter Reynolds, trying out their Animation-ish software, or networking, the event is always lively and fun.

This week Dan and Jackie from my program joined me. It reminded me how much I'll miss my graduate school experience, especially now that we have really started to form our own media lab structure at Tufts! I know those two are going to do amazing things next year, and I'm excited to see who joins them!

Perhaps my favorite part of the studio is the center of the office, what seems to be an animation/illustration pit. Pit in a good way! How awesome it must be to be surrounded by so much creative energy each day! If I ever open that beautiful studio in Red Hook, BK, I will definitely have a "pit" of my own.

The parting gifts? Old-fashioned treasures that teachers would hand out to students: temporary tattoos, compasses, stickers, etc. The perfect end to a perfect evening!

Many thanks, FableVision!