This school year Ashley has been participating in a program at Princeton University called Cotsen Critix. No, she is not taking Ivy League classes at the tender age of 10-11. Instead she has been participating in a free literary club at Cotsen's Children Library (located inside Firestone Library). The leader, Dr. Dana, is so sneaky that Ashley didn't even realize she was in a writing class even though they had to hand in three writing assignments over the year and each session focused on a different genre of literature. In order to be chosen to be in this group they had to write a critique of a book. Ashley was one of 12 selected. Coincidentally, so was one of our neighbors.
Their final assignment was to write a criticism of Cotsen Critix. Each week they had a different activity. The following is her words mixed with some explanations for those of us too old to participate.
"I loved Cotsen Critix. I thought it was a lot of fun and I wish I could do it next year."
Each session they did something unique, but always focused on books, learning or exploring. In the first session they talked about things they would want to do. Each week was a new adventure. This is what Ashley's group did, but next year's group could be completely different. The group is open to 8-14 year olds through an application process.
One week they turned their names into music through a piece of paper with cut outs for each letter, similar to a gramophone. Who knew words could be turned into music?
A real treat for the group was the week they were allowed in the secret room at the top of the tower in Firestone Library. It is a very dusty room and only available with special permission."I loved the tour to the tower of the library. It was really cool how we got to see something that we wouldn’t normally see of the library. The only part I did not enjoy about the tower was that the windows were too high and I couldn’t see out them."
The group had to read the classic "My Side of the Mountain" and talk about it one week. I was surprised Ashley did not like it since it really seemed like her speed. As part of the discussion our friend, and naturalist, Pam Newitt spoke to them about survival skills. "I didn’t really like the book “My Side of the Mountain,” but I did like that session. It was really fun because we learned how to make rope and what we would bring to the wilderness."
The week they learned Chinese calligraphy was a hit, though. "I really liked the Chinese calligraphy. I have always wanted to write in Chinese, and even though mine wasn’t very good, it was still fun."
She missed a week due to the Columbus Half Marathon. In the end, I am surprised she did not miss more weeks. The class met every other Friday afternoon from 4-5:30. It always seemed to be the week that *something* else was happening -- such as opening night for "Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe" or a half day at school. We did take her out early twice because of the show at SVP. Most Fridays we did take out afterwards from Tiger Noodle. A few weeks (such as opening night) Don joined us in Princeton and we ate at Tiger Noodle -- a real treat. "I was really disappointed that I missed the acting session, but I was in a play and was pretty much the main part. It sounded like a lot of fun, though."
They learned a "foreign language" one week. "Elvish 101 was so awesome. My friend (Julia) is a 'Lord of the Rings' fan, and she had just been telling me about Elvish a few days earlier. I was so thrilled to get to learn it."
After seeing how hard it was to teach Ryan, the assistant, how to make a peanut butter sandwich, they were assigned the task of teaching Dr. Dana something. They were given 3 minutes each. There were other guidelines, such as Dr. Dana already knows how to brush her teeth. Ashley taught her the importance of not sticking your fingers in a socket. "Teach Dr. Dana was really fun, too. I thought it was a good idea because she had been teaching us so much, and then we got to teach her something."
One week they had a guest speaker -- a professional writer named Phil Porter. His day job is as a Technical Writer, but his weekend gig is as a stand-up comedian. By chance, I hung out that week in the library and eavesdropped on the conversation. "I liked the stand-up comedian and technical writer. I didn’t know that they write their own jokes beforehand. I thought they just made them up on the spot."Afterwards Ashley said she could relate to the question about how funny is it to keep saying the same joke over and over again. She said there were lines in "Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe" that were very funny the first few times, and by the end of the run she was smiling through it, but not able to laugh as much.
They learned about "Hansel and Gretel" in a different way -- through opera. "The opera was also fun, even though I can’t sing. But I liked it because I didn’t have to do any singing, so it was just acting for me."
The best week for her was the scavenger hunt / quest. Well, at least she loved it until she stubbed her toe and thought she broke it. Funny, that didn't make the review. They spent their time running all over Princeton University (with an adult) looking for clues. "I really, really liked the quest. It was so much fun. I liked how each person was given something, and then they had to solve one of the clues. I also thought the sword fight was really fun."
For me, I loved that Dr. Dana challenged them to write. In addition to the original critique, they had to write a piece of non-fiction, an historical fiction story, another critique, and anything they wanted (she submitted her George the Cockatiel story). A few days after submitting the story they were given positive feedback with a suggestion or two for improvement. In the end they will receive a copy of everyone's work, and a few pictures of them having fun together.
The picture on top was from the scavenger hunt. Since I don't know the other children, I chose this one since it only shows the backs of heads. Photography is not allowed inside Cotsen Library.
Ashley won the Hermoine Granger award for doing research. She won this for conducting "first person" research for her historical fiction story -- she interviewed Lewis and Clark during dinner at the Cock and Bull.