A Very Important Post

If you mention the name “Margaret Wise Brown”, most people’s minds instantly go to Goodnight Moon, The Important Book, or The Runaway Bunny, and childhood memories of reading her books come flooding back. She wrote over a hundred books, but her unique life was unbeknownst to many. Until now. The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, written by Mac Barnett, with beautiful illustrations by Sarah Jacoby, shares the story the infamous author that few really know.

We were generously given copies of The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown from Harper Collins to read and review, and we thank Sarah Jacoby for taking the time to share some thoughts with us!

Here’s our interview with illustrator Sarah Jacoby…

Can you give us an inside scoop on the illustrations that we wouldn’t learn from looking and reading the book? 

I actually have an entire blog devoted to the research behind the images. Check it out! (https://veryimportantmargaret.tumblr.com)

Here are some secret easter eggs:

Did you see the bunnies in the modern times library? One of them is supposed to be a little Mac and one of them is supposed to be a little me. (See photo of little Mac and art from the book).

There is also a scene with a horse and a flower cart. That is a real horse that I saw when I was visiting the Hollins University Archives. I had fun imagining Margaret riding her.  I learned from her yearbook that she was in the riding club. (See photo of horse and photo of Margaret in the riding club and art from the book)

You’ll notice that there is a flower pattern running through the book. If you look closely you’ll see it withering over time. 

Also! If you look closely you’ll notice that all of the historical-time images of Margaret doing things have a slight border. That’s to indicate that these images are contained by something-like the book the modern librarian bunny is reading. Everything else is full bleed (fills up the whole page). 

Is that enough secrets for now? There are more.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Oh boy, many many many books have stuck with me. Many. Let’s see if I had to choose one (from many!) I might choose 

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. She’s someone that I look at a lot (perhaps that’s obvious?) for her incredible art, but also for her imaginative storytelling. I recall reading the book when I was small and being awestruck by the character if Miss Rumphius-especially when she traveled to distant lands. As an adult I love the type of role model Barbara Cooney supplied there.  

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

I have many of one item: half drunk mugs of coffee. Perhaps that’s gross. Here’s what happens: I make a nice hot cup of pour over coffee in the morning. It takes me like, ten minutes. It’s a waste of time, I know, but I love it. It’s my little ritual as start to warm up and paint. I then take a couple sips and enjoy that hot mug of coffee as I begin painting. I then get distracted by painting and my coffee gets cold. Eventually I’ll put it in the fridge with the dream of making iced coffee in the afternoon. But I usually don’t get around to it. So yes, I have at least three in my fridge right now. What does this say about me? I am passionate and loyal to my activities at hand, but I am also highly distractible.  

Thank you Sarah for taking the time and answering our inside scoop question. We enjoyed learning more about the book and its process.

This Has Our Heart

Today, January 31st we celebrate National Inspire Your Heart with Art Day. Penguin Publishing has kindly given us a copy of My Heart to use to inspire our young children to celebrate how special our hearts can be. If you haven’t read this gorgeous and heartfelt book you need to immediately read it! Corina Luyken has a true talent for creating the reader with an experience as you move through the pages of her book.

My Heart tells readers that it is ok to feel different things, to be closed to ideas and people and open your heart when you are able and ready.

After reading and discussing the book with 5th graders I had them each help decorate our clear “open” heart. Each student came up with whatever was in their hearts at that moment and decorated a small square that would be placed on our group heart.

My “open” heart. I was able to cut out the center of a heart using chart paper and then laminated it!

Students were so excited to show off how they represented what was in their hearts. Some very literal “I have lemon squares on my mind” to a student drawing an abstract design and described it as a beautiful ocean scene.

Hard at work using sharpies since we used clear contact paper

Once we finished our squares we put them on the heart and taped the heart to the window. The students felt proud to see their work displayed, and how it came out so well together. We all left with our hearts full.

Admiring our heart
The finished product

Q & Ray Creators: Author/Illustrator Interview

Have you gotten a chance to check out Q & Ray? It is a wonderful beginning reader, graphic novel series written and illustrated by husband and wife team, Stephen and Trisha Shaskan. So far there are three Q and Ray series. Q and Ray Case #1 The Missing Mola Lisa, Case #2 Metorite or Meteor-Wrong? and Case #3 Foul Play At Elm Tree Park. They are written in graphic novel style in which friends Q and Ray end up using their observational skills to solve a mystery. These are great books for students who enjoy reading mysteries and can be used by teachers to help teach the mystery elements. Using a creative spin, Trisha has based the storylines off of real facts from art, science and history. This latest book, gives facts at the end about The All American Girls Professional Baseball League, while the other books talk about art, the Mona Lisa and meteors. They are filled with knowledge, humor, fun expressions (Leaping Limburger), friendship and mystery! Be sure to check them out!

Trisha and Stephen stopped by the blog to answer 3 questions about the series and three questions about them!

Three Questions about Q & Ray series

Stephen

Trisha

We love how curious and willing to learn Q and Ray are, where did the inspiration come from for creating these 2 characters?

After we both graduated college, Stephen and I met while working at an elementary school. For the first time, I was an educational assistant in a second-grade classroom, but also taught storytelling and creative writing after school for kindergarten through fifth-grade students. I found creative ways to engage students through stories, songs, humor, and imagination. Like our characters Q and Ray, the students were curious, eager, and able to learn. I have kept that teaching experience in my heart and I channel it, often subconsciously, while writing books. I am also a very curious person. Each of the Q & Ray graphic novels has a theme I wanted to learn about and one I know kids might be curious about—for example magic, Leonardo da Vinci, how meteors become meteorites, or the AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.) The characters names Q & Ray are a riff on Q & A, questions and answers, which is at the heart of a mystery. As far as mysteries go, I was heavily influenced by Sherlock Holmes while writing this series. I am a huge fan. As my sister Nicole Speed says, Holmes’ mysteries are “a brain massage.”

It is not uncommon for writers and illustrators to never meet, as a husband and wife team, how does the process for creating this book work?

All the books that we work on together are ideas that we have worked on together from the start.

Both of us read each other’s work and critique all of it—and help each other. For example, you’ll find phrases I contributed in Stephen’s picture books and the phrases Stephen contributed in my picture books. But the big difference in our books that we’ve created together is that we’re both involved in the whole process from the beginning brainstorm, to outlining the plot, to critiquing. But when it’s time to write, I go off on my own. And when it’s time to illustrate, Stephen works individually as well. We don’t interfere with each other during that part, which is fun because we usually surprise each other.

Which Q and Ray have been your favorite to work on and why? (We know it’s like picking a favorite kid 🙂 )

The first Q & RAY was so great to work on because it was my first time ever creating a fully colored finished 48 page graphic novel. I grew up reading comics and dabbled in creating them in my late twenties. When I was finished with the first book it felt like a huge accomplishment. As the series progressed, I continued to learn about creating graphic novels and really trying to push the form more.

For me, Q & RAY #3: Foul Play at Elm Tree Park was my favorite to write because I had learned enough about the graphic novel format to utilize it more fully. Plus: Doris Sams and the AAPGBL (All-American Pro Girls Baseball League) make appearances, which is so important to me. When I was a young athlete, I was often the only girl or one of a few girls surrounded by boys on the field, rink, or court. I didn’t know women once had a pro baseball league. I would’ve loved to have known that. Now I get to share that information with young people everywhere who also often don’t know about it.

Three Questions about You…

If you weren’t writing books for children, what would you be and why?

For twelve years, I was a preschool teacher. If I wasn’t creating books, I would probably be involved in early childhood education in some way as well as creating art. I’m always creating art. Even when I’m working on children’s books, I make time to do different art projects on the side: I’ve done political posters, made magic wands, installed a submarine room in our basement, and always have some little thing I’d like to try or something I find in an old sketch book that sparks some creativity.

I have worked in education and the roles I loved doing most would lead me to being a reading specialist, media specialist, or teaching ELL (English Language Learners).

What is one book you’ve read that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

There are so many, this is a difficult question for an author/illustrator. Our bookshelves are lined with books that have stuck with me. I think Harold and the Purple Crayon is a great example of a book that has stuck with me. It’s so well crafted, simple, and elegant. It’s a book that works as a reader and as a read aloud.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame captures the heart of my childhood: friendship and the river. I grew up in a Mississippi River valley town, Winona, MN, like Ratty who lives on The River that grips “things with a gurgle.” The River flows through the story and connects Mole and Ratty as does nature and its cycles. Grahame’s springtime has “birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting—everything happy, and progressive, and occupied.”  Grahame’s lyrical language sings on every page. But the heart of this story is the friendship of the shy Mole and good-natured Ratty, the impetuous Mr. Toad, and worldly Badger who doesn’t like society. Despite their differences and shortcomings, the characters are wonderful friends to each other. No matter what happens in the Wild Wood or world beyond they help each other get out of trials and tribulations. In friendship, there is hope and refuge like the sparkle of sunlight reflected on the ripple of a wave.

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?  

Two bottles of cat medicine for our 19-year-old cat Eartha, who is my studio buddy and always so helpful.

A bottle of kombucha, which is for a house guest. I love welcoming friends and family into our home, so I always have something special in the fridge for an upcoming visitor.

Thank you so much Stephen and Trisha for stopping by our blog. We loved meeting both of you this past summer at NerdCamp and look forward to seeing you again in July!

Here are links to their websites if you’d like to learn more about them and their work:

Stephen : Stephen’s Website 

Trisha: Trisha’s website

Spotlight On: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

If you’ve never heard of or interacted with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, you need to immediately! We met her a few years back at Nerdcamp Michigan, when she had just come out with her debut picture book, Where Are My Books?   

During our chat we asked her if she’d Skype with our students in the coming year and she was thrilled to do so. Boy, are we glad we asked her. Our students had the best time “meeting” her. She had boundless energy and was also able to do a demonstration of how she created her found object art. During the Skype she turned a crumbled up piece of paper into a beautiful ballerina wearing a tutu.  One of the questions I asked her toward the end of our session was “what advice would you give to these students?” Her answer was incredible and the message she spoke about is still mentioned to this day, over two years later! She told my kids she had wished she knew earlier, that you don’t always need to be perfect the first time! Here’s a tweet a student sent her following the Skype session:

Besides being a wonderful person, I want to talk about her illustrations. We were so excited to read her new solo book Sam and Eva that came out a few weeks ago. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, but the book itself has many important themes. If you have not read this book, it’s a great one to add to #classroombookaday to discuss friendship, flexible thinking, or how art can tell many stories!

We are so happy she continues to come out with new books so often. Whether she is doing both writing and drawing or just illustrating, you will love her work! Debbie was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her. Enjoy!

3 questions about the book

What can fans of your work expect from Sam and Eva?

A fun creative clash between two young artists, inspired by cartoon wars that a friend and I had back in our university days. Sam is drawing when Eva arrives, wanting to collaborate. The creative clash that ensues when their drawings start to come to life is fun and chaotic…but then both children realize things are getting out of hand and decide to work together. Sam & Eva is about art, creative collaboration and friendship.

What does your workplace look like?

As you can tell, I do not have one of those spacious, sunlit artist studios that overlooks a verdant meadow blooming with wildflowers. My office is in the basement, and I have covered up the windows with colourful scarves because (1) I never look out the windows anyway when I’m working, and (2) one window “looks out” under our deck and the other is blocked by bushes.

My husband Jeff and I call my office my “cave.” And I do so love my Office Cave.

What was your process for writing and illustrating Sam and Eva?  Was it the same as when you created Where Are My Books?

For Sam and Eva, I came up with a picture book dummy (a rough mock-up of the picture book) ahead of time and sent that to my editor, Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster Children’s. He accepted it the next morning! I had to put off working on Sam & Eva for a while since I was working on other book projects first, so I had to reread it several times when it WAS time to work on the book to remind myself of the story.

Then I worked on the text with Justin, improving the story flow, page turns and language. Although I started working on character sketches earlier, I didn’t start working on the layout sketches for the interior spreads until the text was finalized. During the art phase, I worked mainly with my art director at Simon & Schuster, Laurent Linn. Laurent helped me figure out how to improve the visual aspect. I’ve worked with Justin and Laurent on my other picture books with S&S, and I learn so much from them with each project!

In contrast, Where Are My Books? took a lot longer to finalize the story and art. The main reason? It was my first solo picture book! I felt like such a newbie and had so many questions. Hm…in many ways, I still feel like a newbie and do keep asking a lot of questions! I figure that’s a good thing, however — it means that I’m still learning.

3 questions about you

If you weren’t an illustrator/author, what would you want to be and why?

A songwriter/musician. I’ve always loved making music with other people, and have written and co-written songs for my music group as a fun hobby, plus have done a few session musician gigs. A couple of the songs I wrote made it to national radio! In a parallel universe, I think I’d try to make a living writing music and playing music. It’s a whole other type of creative collaboration.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. It’s the first book that made me aware of how voice can enhance my reading experience.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Ha! Fun question. Hm, let me think. Ok, how about this: some radish tops, leaves attached. Most people discard this part of the radish but I like saving them for potential found object art. Also: some shrivelled up basil leaves – I had been planning to use them for found object art but, um….forgot!

Thank you Debbie for chatting with us!

To learn more about Debbie please visit her website. Or follow her on Instragram and Twitter.

Kim Bogren Owen – Book Reviews

Orchids

What immediately struck us about Orchids is the beautiful, clear, crisp picture on the cover. We love how the entire book is dedicated to this one gorgeous flower. We see this book being a great resource for us as an introduction to the beautiful flower or if one of our kids wants to learn more in-depth information about orchids. The book is filled with wonderful facts about orchids, which are accompanied by bright photographs that support the text. What we appreciated about the book is that it can be read and enjoyed by the smallest reader who wants to learn about shapes, colors and sizes. Kim does an amazing job of making connections for the reader from text to self and to the world. From the very first page she describes how orchids come in all shapes and sizes, just like people, and goes on to make a connection to orchids being symmetrical, just like our faces! She weaves interesting facts into the connections that children make to things they eat too. For example, how the vanilla orchid is pollinated by people and used in some of the most delicious foods we eat (oatmeal, cookies and ice cream). It is also wonderful for an older reader, possibly a budding botanist, with text that is also more complex and shows different ways an orchid affects our lives. At the end of the book, Kim gives suggestions to extend learning, the ideas are geared more toward younger readers, involving different multi-sensory activities, but can be adapted for all ages. Orchids can be a wonderful book to start a conversation about flowers, nature, pollination, vocabulary, and the life cycle, or it can be a great reference to use to explore more about these flowers which make so many people happy! We only hope she has more of these beautiful nonfiction books in the works; we think this would make a wonderful series!

 

Art Part – A Child’s Introduction to Elements of Art

Kim mixes art concepts and vocabulary with work of art by children. Art Part – A Child’s Introduction to Elements of Art is a useful guide for a young artist to learn that creating art can take on many shapes and forms. We like the wide range of art concept words ranging from concrete ideas to more abstract. After each page she provides a blank page for the reader to practice these concepts. We know sometimes it is hard to write in a book (even if it’s allowed), so when purchasing the book Kim allows you access to practice pages so you don’t have to write in the book or if you are working with more than one reader, you have multiple pages so there is no arguing (we love how she thought of that). We can see this book helping parents show their kids more ways to create art, but we also see it being useful in an art classroom. At the end of the book Kim writes ten ideas to further explore art and all the concepts learned in the book; a helpful guide for artists. As teachers and parents we would love to add an idea. The page where Kim discusses texture we would ask our children to go on a texture scavenger hunt and find the types of textures she describes: prickly, smooth, hard and soft and then glue in the artifacts they found so there is a tactile element to the texture page, similar to the touch-and-feel board books our babies love.

Kim also runs wordsreflected.com  a blog that gives parents and educators ideas on how to promote language and literacy with young children.  You can connect with Kim on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Also, if you’d like to purchase either of these books. Please click this link.