Kids

Photo by Drew Biondo

Looking for a fun dessert to brighten up your holiday table this weekend? Why not go old school and make this blast from the past bunny cake? We printed this recipe back in 2016 but our readers had so much fun making it we thought we’d bring it back for an encore. Not only is this cake easy to make and delicious, but it is also fun for kids as they can help decorate and bring out their creative side. 

Devil’s Food Bunny Cake

INGREDIENTS:

1 and 3/4 cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 and 1/3 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

3 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted

white frosting (about 4 1/2 cups)

1 bag sweetened coconut flakes

red food coloring

assorted jellybeans

pink gel frosting

DIRECTIONS:

Sift the flour with soda, salt and sugar. Soften the butter. Add flour mixture and 3/4 cup milk to the butter. Mix to dampen flour and then beat for two minutes at medium speed. Add the vanilla, eggs, chocolate and 1/4 cup milk. Beat 1 minute longer. Pour the batter into two 9-inch layer pans, lined on bottoms with paper. Bake at 350 F for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes and then remove and cool on racks. 

Cut one cake into 3 parts, making two ears and a bow tie (see diagram). Assemble the other cake as the head. Frost the entire cake. Line the inside of the ears with pink gel frosting. Tint 1/4 cup coconut with red food coloring to make it pink. 

Sprinkle pink coconut in the centers of the ears and in the mouth area. Sprinkle white coconut over the rest of the cake. Use black jelly beans for the eyes and nose and assorted jelly beans on the tie. As a grand finale, add three whiskers on each side of the mouth with pink gel frosting.

Now who wants some cake?

'Hope and Freckles'
Retired police officer encourages empathy for refugees in powerful first book

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Bill Kiley

Every year, tens of thousands of people from around the world flee their homes. They have any number of motivations, among them political turmoil, threat of violence, discrimination and climate change, to name a few. 

Retired police officer Bill Kiley has deep compassion for asylum seekers of all kinds, and recently felt a strong desire to help them in some way. Kiley, 71, of East Northport, hopes that educating children about the plight of refugees can bring about a more supportive, empathetic culture in the next generation. 

His new book, “Hope and Freckles: Fleeing to a New Forest” tells the story of a white-tailed deer named Hope and her spotted fawn, Freckles, as they attempt to escape the growing number of hunters in their forest and go in search of a place where they will be safe. The sharply written story and whimsical, beautifully-illustrated characters will stir the hearts of children and adults alike.

What was your childhood like? 

I was raised in Brooklyn, lived in Queens after I got married, and came to this area when I started working for the Suffolk County Police Department years ago.

Were you creative from an early age?

I wasn’t creative at all. I’m one of nine children, and we lived in an apartment with one bathroom, so you can imagine what that was like! We played a lot of sports with our friends, and I started working during the summers when I was 11 to help contribute to the family.

What did you end up doing for a career?

After high school, I spent a couple of years working at the FBI as a clerk while I went to college at what is now John Jay College at night. My initial plan was to become an agent. Simultaneously, when I was 17 I joined the Army National Guard. I went away for six months of training right after my 18th birthday, and continued to go for additional training at other points which meant some breaks from school. I ultimately began working for the Suffolk County Police Department in 1972.

You must have met a lot of people from diverse backgrounds, then.

Of course. That was part of my motivation for writing this book. I wanted to shine a light on the struggles of refugees and asylum seekers all over the world. After 30 years in law enforcement and serving as an Army reservist, I recognize that this crisis threatens free democracy if it’s not dealt with. If we don’t step up, then our children and grandchildren will be left to deal with the global implications of people being pushed out of their countries and living in tent cities. Something needs to change.

When did you first start writing? 

In retirement, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of babysitting for my granddaughters. We’re a few blocks away from a local library, and so when the kids were with me we’d sometimes go down to the library and head to the children’s section. I began reading to them, and then as they grew I’d read along with them. At that point I began to see the incredible power that children’s books have on young minds. All the while, I’d been looking for a way to help with the refugee crisis, and I began to think that maybe I could help young children understand what’s happening and have some positive influence on the future. I never had any ambitions to become an author.

How did you learn about publishing and sharpen your writing skills?

I read a lot with my grandkids. But in the spring of 2019, I found out about an annual convention in New York City called Book Expo at the Javits Center. I spent three days there. For me, it was a three-day immersive educational experience. I had the opportunity to meet lots of people from every aspect of the writing and publishing world, including some very generous folks who were authors of children’s books. They spent a lot of time sharing their experiences and advice with me, and then I went home and continued to read and learn as much as I could. 

‘Hope and Freckles’

How did your family react when you told them you wanted to write a book?

Well, my wife, Kathy, and I were in school together since the first grade. We go back that far. And no one in my life has been as supportive of their spouse in life as my wife has been for me. In everything I’ve ever tried, she’s been there, and this was just another one of those things.

My granddaughters have been involved in this project from the get-go. They gave great feedback and I’ve had the chance to share the book with their classmates, too.

Is there a reason why you chose to make the characters animals instead of people?

I thought that since this is such a sensitive subject to explain to children, it would be less upsetting to use animals. The national animal of Honduras is the white-tailed deer, and as many refugees come from that area, I thought it was an appropriate choice.

How did you go about getting published?

I met a number of people from traditional publishing companies, independent publishers and hybrids. One of them was a man who recommended his publisher, Mascot Books in Herndon, Virginia. I submitted my manuscript and was happy to learn that they were going to accept it.

What about the illustrations?

I contacted freelancers all over the world, and Mary Manning’s work is so unique and beautiful. I’m so happy with what she’s done for the book. Once the manuscript was finalized, Mary broke the manuscript into logical scene breaks, then made pencil sketches for me to approve. She took it from there. To see the final copy was like holding my children and grandchildren for the first time. There was a feeling of, “Oh my gosh, we just gave birth to a book!”

This book also includes vocabulary words and questions for discussion. Why did you choose to add those?

As I was researching and reading different children’s books, I found a couple that had some variation of continuing discussion. My hope is that this book isn’t just read by 7 to 10 year olds, but that their families will read along with them and share in the experience and conversations that can happen afterward. A parent or other adult might feel ill-equipped to start a discussion on their own, so I thought having some starter questions might be helpful.

What do you want children to take away from reading this book?

The response from the classes I’ve read to so far has been wonderful. Kids have shared that they never thought about what it would be like to leave your home because of danger; to not have a school to go to or books to read; that they are grateful for what they have. That has been like gold to me. 

It’s easy for people in our country to automatically look at the U.S,-Mexican border as the only place of crisis. But this is a global issue. The U.N. estimates that around 26 million people around the world have had to flee their homes, often to places where they are unwanted. Half of those refugees are children. I hope kids who read this book come to understand that there are people their age that are in that situation, and empathize with the plight of refugees all over the world.

What’s next for you?  

My hope is to do a series of four books, all with these same characters, following their journey as it continues on. I’ll be reading from the book at Barnes and Noble stores around Long Island and New York City in the future. I am also available to speak about the book at schools, religious congregations and events.

Author Bill Kiley visited with his granddaughter Keira and fourth grade students from Mrs. Dennis’ class at St. James Elementary School in the Smithtown Central School District on Feb. 4. Kiley spoke to the students about the writing, editing and illustration processes of producing a book. He then read ‘Hope and Freckles’ to the class followed by a Q&A session.

“Hope and Freckles: Fleeing to a New Forest” is available online at www.mascotbooks.com, www.Amazon.com or www.BN.com. To learn more about Bill Kiley, this book and future projects, visit www.hopeandfreckles.com.

Sarah Strent with her CTeen Female Leader of the Year award. Photo from The Chai Center

Sarah Strent, 17, a senior at Commack High School and a resident of Commack, was recently named CTeen Female Leader of the Year at the CTeen International Shabbaton, an annual event where thousands of Jewish teens gather in New York City. She was chosen by her peers from among 3,000 leaders worldwide.

CTeen, comprised of teens from 37 countries with 625 chapters around the world, is the fastest growing Jewish teen network. Its mission is to inspire and facilitate teens who want to give back to their community and environment, with an emphasis on positive character development. 

Strent is a leader with the West Suffolk Chapter of CTeen, which is based at The Chai Center in Dix Hills. “We are so immensely proud of Sarah,” Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum, Youth Director at The Chai Center said. “Sarah has helped us on a local level create programs like cooking for needy families, packing gifts for children in hospitals and creating a bowl-a-thon for special needs kids and children with cancer. She became a regional leader helping to create programs for over 50 chapters in the New York and New Jersey area. In the last 18 months, Strent was named an international leader serving on the board of CTeen.”

The CTeen Network provides a nurturing environment fusing fun, friendship, humanitarian outreach, mitzvah observance, and engaging Torah study. The CTeen Network believes in the power of youth and transforming the teen years into a time of purpose and self-discovery. The goal is to turn youth into leaders.

Over 300 children and their families shuffled into Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket during the school winter recess, Feb. 20, to enjoy the library’s 8th annual Take Your Child to the Library Day. Visitors enjoyed carnival games, face painting, temporary tattoos, balloon sculpting, crafts and more.  

Photos courtesy of Emma Clark Library

By Heidi Sutton

When the Brothers Grimm published their Children’s and Household Tales in 1812, they probably had no idea that stories such as the cautionary Hansel and Gretel, would have such staying power. While Disney hasn’t gotten its hold on it yet, the folk tale has held its own over the years, most famously through opera (by composer Engelbert Humperdinck), and with recent revivals on the big screen (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the even darker Gretel & Hansel). 

Now Theatre Three takes us back into the forest for a light-hearted and funny original retelling of Hansel and Gretel with a big surprise at the end that’s sure to satisfy every child’s sweet tooth. 

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Douglas Quattrock, with a brand new score by Quattrock, it follows Hansel and Gretel who are living with their father, a woodcutter, and detached stepmother. The family is starving and the stepmother blames the children. She gives her husband an ultimatum: “Either dump them in the forest or dump them in the forest!” The children overhear and gather white rocks to guide them back home. When her plan fails, the stepmother takes the reins and leads them back into the forest. This time Hansel leaves a trail of breadcrumbs (he eats the rocks by mistake) and the children become lost. 

As Gretel goes to find a path home, Hansel is kidnapped by Scrimshaw and Harvis, henchmen working for a child-eating witch who lives in a candy house. The witch promptly gets to work fattening Hansel up with cake, cookies and donuts. When Gretel trys to rescue him, the witch puts her to work cooking and cleaning. When the witch gets too close to the oven, Gretel has a decision to make. Will she push her in or find another way to get out of this mess?

Jeffrey Sanzel directs a brilliant adult cast of six in this delightful retelling of the beloved story. While the story of Hansel and Gretel isn’t all lollipops and gumdrops — after all, there is a wicked witch who preys on children — there are no scary moments in the show and everyone learns a lesson about the importance of family.  Nicole Bianco is perfectly cast in the dual role of stepmother and witch and delivers her lines softly, albeit sarcastically (“These kids are monsters!”), and never raises her voice. Her opening solo, “Stepmother’s Lament,” is hilarious.

Michelle LaBozzetta as Gretel and Eric J. Hughes as Hansel give standout performances. LaBozzetta’s character is strong-willed, confident and brave while Hughes plays a  carefree, clueless and sweet little brother. Their duets, “Stones Along the Way” and “Hansel’s Dinner” are perfectly executed. Steven Uihlein in the unpopular role of the father who goes along with his wife’s plans, does a fine job, as always. His character’s guilt in his solo “Lost” and at the end of the show is palpable. 

Although not part of the original story, Darren Bruce Clayton and Ryan Worrell, in the role of Scrimshaw and Harvis, entertain the audience by incorporating the Charleston, ballet and hip hop in their dance numbers, “Out of Step” and “Harvis and Scrimshaw.” What a treat!

The end result is a charming and imaginative production of Hansel and Gretel that should be added on your family’s to do list. Stay for a meet and greet with the cast in the lobby after the show.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Hansel and Gretel on March 7, 14 and 21 at 11 a.m. and March 15 at 3 p.m. with a sensory-sensitive performance on March 8 at 11 a.m. Children’s Theater continues with The Adventures of Peter Rabbit from April 8 to 25 and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves from May 23 to June 6. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

The Stony Brook University Orchestra

By Melissa Arnold

Long Island’s own Billy Joel was once quoted as saying, “Music is an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by, no matter what culture we’re from.”

The Stony Brook University Orchestra has spent decades working to broaden musical appreciation and exposure not just on campus, but in the community as well. Each year, their Family Orchestra Concert invites people of all ages, including young children, to join them for an hour-long performance full of interesting compositions and audience engagement.

This year’s featured soloist, violinist Sophie Bowden

Dr. Susan Deaver is celebrating her 20th year as the orchestra’s conductor and an artist-in-residence at Stony Brook. With careful planning, Deaver programs each concert around a unique theme. “Brainstorming new themes is certainly a creative process. A particular piece might give me an idea, or some aspect of the music can inspire me,” she explained. 

This year’s theme, titled Orchestral Contrasts, will showcase differences in orchestral sounds and musical styles.”There are so many contrasts in music to explore — tempo, instruments, dynamics, moods, character, even different types of composers,” said Deaver, adding that the audience will get to experience this with the strings, woodwind, brass and percussion sections.

The orchestra is comprised of 79 undergraduates, 1 graduate student, four teaching assistants and four high school students from the University Orchestra’s Young Artist Orchestral Program who were invited to participate for college credit. While the group does contain music majors and minors, most members are pursuing other fields. To accommodate everyone, the members rehearses just one evening a week for three hours. 

“I have students that are studying biomedical engineering, computer science, astronomy, psychology, and many other subjects — the common thread among them is that they all love music and want to continue to be involved in it,” Deaver said.

An annual highlight of the orchestra concert is a performance from a special young guest — the winner of the Young Artist Program’s Concerto Competition. Since 1996, Stony Brook’s Young Artists Program has allowed students in grades 3 through 12 the chance to hone their musical skills and meet other young musicians, all under the guidance of Stony Brook staff. Most students participate on the weekends, while a separate program is available during the summer.

“The concerto competition began years ago as a way of giving our students the opportunity to play with the university,” said Michael Hershkowitz, Stony Brook’s director of concerts and executive director of community programs, including the Young Artists Program.

The concerto winner can be a student of any age and instrument type. Each hopeful soloist performs for a panel of three judges, which includes Deaver and two impartial judges. Past performers have been violinists, cellists, pianists, winds players, and even vocalists.

This year’s winner is 16-year-old violinist Sophie Bowden, a junior at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington. She will perform the first movement of Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 by French Romantic composer Charles-Camille Saint-Saens.

“I like to express myself through my violin, and I like how it puts a smile on the faces of others. I perform a lot at nursing homes, especially during the holidays, where residents aren’t able to go out and see concerts. Bringing live, upbeat music to them does a lot to ease their depression; the vibe changes immediately,” said Bowden, who has played the violin since she was just 4 years old. 

Bowden, who said she is thrilled to have been chosen, admitted the audition process for the concerto competition was nerve-racking.  While she’s had smaller solos in the past, this will be her first time performing as a soloist with an orchestra. 

“Working with the university orchestra has really been a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience. I found that playing this particular concerto with a full orchestra was much more difficult than playing it with a single piano accompanist. The Saint-Saens concerto is a romantic period composition, so it’s less structured and restrained than metered works of the Baroque era,” Bowden explained. “For everyone to stay together, we must listen closely and watch the conductor more than usual. Fortunately for me, the university orchestra has many extremely competent players, and Ms. Deaver has been very supportive.” 

Hershkowitz said that the concert provides a fun and accessible opportunity to learn more about orchestral music and what it’s like to be part of an orchestra.

“There aren’t a lot of concerts out there that are meant for families, and that’s what makes this event so special — it’s not too long, you don’t have to worry about whether or not the kids are going to ‘make it’ through the experience. We don’t concern ourselves with concert etiquette, so it’s OK if a child wants to ask a question, gets up from their seat or makes noise,” he explained. “It’s about giving everyone a chance to have an experience with a full orchestra, to watch a conductor in action, to learn a little about different instruments and to hear the music change.”

The 2020 Family Orchestra Concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3 on the Staller Center’s Main Stage at Stony Brook University, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook. Tickets are $5. To purchase or learn more, call the box office at 631-632-ARTS or visit www.stonybrook.edu/music.

Photos courtesy of Sophie Bowden

The staff at Play Groups School

By Donna Newman

There’s something unique about a preschool that is still serving children on the North Shore of Long Island three quarters of a century after its founding. Through the years, Play Groups School became a family tradition for many in the area, with two or more generations counted among the school’s “graduates.”

On Saturday, Feb. 29, Play Groups School will celebrate 75 years of offering generations of students their first school experience with a Gala at The Old Field Club in Setauket. Invitations were sent to all those for whom contact information was available, including former teachers, former students and their parents. More than 110 people plan to attend.

The Play Groups saga began in 1944 when a group of parents decided to organize a “play group” where their children could learn through play with their peers. According to Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, whose brother was a member of the group in 1949, the children met at a small cottage near the Old Field Club. Perhaps that is why it was called the Old Field Nursery School in the early days. The first teachers were Dora Underwood of Port Jefferson and Joan Cockshutt of Setauket.

Play Groups was formally organized in 1974 when it was awarded an Absolute Charter by the New York State Department of Education and granted not-for-profit status from the IRS via a 501(c)(3) determination letter.

By 1986 the school was moved to its current location on Old Post Road in East Setauket, a building designed specifically for preschoolers. The school earned licensing by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services in 1992, and accreditation by the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) in 1997. 

Play Groups Director Maddy Friedman has been at the helm for the last three decades, during which she has introduced many new ideas and concepts that keep the school continually evolving as times change. Yet, she says. the original focus remains unchanged.

“It has been my honor and privilege to lead Play Groups School these many years,” said Friedman. “While striving to stay abreast of current research and best practices, some things  have remained constant throughout. For young children play is essential for learning. It’s the way to develop creativity, curiosity, problem solving, social and emotional skills – and a lifelong love of learning. Our highly trained staff embrace this philosophy; they are at the core of our longevity and success. Our parents bring their time and talents to the classrooms and to the board.”

Friedman went on to describe one of her favorite innovations – one she feels is an extraordinary addition to the Play Groups program. “Acknowledging young children’s fascination with the natural world, nine years ago we added an  Outdoor Classroom to our facility,” said Friedman. “Through a collaborative effort, we created a space to encourage this relationship and engender a sense of stewardship the children will carry with them throughout their lives.”

Much more than a school, Play Groups is a family. 

Now retired Play Groups Business Manager Kathy Rademacher spent more than 25 years working at the school. She spoke of the deep, long-term relationships formed between Friedman and so many of her students and their families. “Play Groups played such an enormous role in my family’s story,” Rademacher said. “My son attended the preschool for three years, later completed his Eagle Scout project at the school, and worked at the summer camp as a lifeguard and counselor. Now, my son and his beloved – they met in the “Raccoon Room” in 1992 – are making wedding plans!” 

There are many stories of lasting friendships created at Play Groups School and Friedman expressed her pleasure and gratitude about that.

“It has been my personal joy to develop relationships with the children and their families over the years,” said Friedman. “Many staff members (both school and camp) were parents or students here at Play Groups. We so appreciate the trust that families have placed in us.”

School board members Sarah Russell Funt and Heather Snyder Ippolito are creating a walk down Memory Lane for the Gala. Funt is preparing a slideshow of photos taken over the past 75 years. Her husband Jared is a Play Groups alum and all their children have been, are, or will be Play Groups students as well. 

Ippolito is creating a display of memorabilia gathered over the years. A new member of the Play Groups family, she and husband Chris look forward to beginning the tradition for their family.

At the heart of the Play Groups tradition lies a goal common to both parents and staff, said Friedman. “We all share great respect for this magical time in a young child’s life and we work to make these preschool years full of memories to treasure.”

Photos courtesy of Play Groups School

Nicole Bianco and Eric J. Hughes star in the Brothers Grimm fairytale. Photo by Peter Lanscombe/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

‘Hansel and Gretel’

Artwork by Heather Kuhn

Children’s theater continues at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson with “Hansel and Gretel” from Feb. 29 to March 21 with a sensory-sensitive performance on March 8 at 11 a.m. Go into the woods for an outrageous adventure with the world’s most famous brother and sister team. A feeble father, a wicked stepmother and a well-meaning if misguided witch add up to hilarious hijinx. Tickets are $10 per person. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Walt Whitman Birthplace, 246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station presents an afternoon of Irish dancing on March 1 at 1 p.m. Children of all ages will enjoy an interactive performance by the Mulvihill-Lynch Studio dancers who will answer questions and teach some Irish dance steps. Followed by a guided tour of the museum. $9 per child, chaperones free. Visit www.waltwhitman.org or call 631-427-5240.

Photo by Courtney Braun

‘Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents “Shrek The Musical Jr.” through March 1. In a faraway kingdom, Shrek finds his swamp invaded by banished fairy tale misfits, runaways who’ve been cast off by Lord Farquaad, a tiny terror with big ambitions. Farquaad tells Shrek he can get his swamp back if he rescues Princess Fiona from the dragon-guarded tower. But every fairy tale has its unexpected twists and turns! Performances are held on Saturdays and Sundays at various times and Feb. 17 to 21 at 1 p.m. for Presidents Week break. All seats are $18. For further information or to order tickets, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.