Friday, May 31, 2013

PPBF: Unspoken, A Story from the Underground Railroad

Today's pick

Unspoken, A Story from the Underground Railroad
Written and Illustrated
by Henry Cole

Scholastic, 2012, Historical Fiction, ages 6-9, wordless

Civil War, slavery, history, decision-making

Opening: The story begins with the main character watching Confederate soldiers riding past her farm.

This wordless picture book is based on events in Henry Cole's family history. When a runaway slave hides on the family farm on his way north, a little girl must decide between right and wrong, compassion and duty.

Courtesy Henry Cole

What I Love:
Being wordless gives it a secretive air. Being rendered in pencil evokes not only a historical tone, but a pensive mood appropriate for the moral struggle it portrays. The fascinating back matter explains more about the Cole family history, setting, and the impetus for the books creation. Unspoken is a beautiful book which begs discussion of important subjects: human rights, loyalty vs virtue, moral decision-making.

Visit Loudoun County, VA
1. Visit a civil war or underground railroad historic sites. Don't forget to discuss.
2. Sharpen your non-verbal skills. Tell a story in pantomime or play some charades.
3. Revisit your own family history by rummaging through old photos and telling family stories and legends.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for May 31, 2013 from Susanna Leonard Hill.

A more detailed synopsis for last week's pick: Tallulah's Tutu will be posted here tomorrow, but linked from this post. Thanks.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Illustrator Michelle Henninger

Courtesy Michelle Henninger
Today's spotlight falls on Illustrator Michelle Henninger. Her ubiquitous drawings of children pepper the internet. You've probably seen her art in the SCBWI Bulletin or on Watercolor Wednesdays. Now you can purchase her first published book, The First Easter (Candy Cane Press, Feb 2013).

Her airy ink and watercolor characters are perfect for today's picture books. Her whimsy is well-suited to the chapter book market too. Don't miss the captivating DVD covers she created for a local school, found on her latest blog post.

Michelle's story is an inspiring one. Thanks to Wendy Martin for this in depth interview.

Best wishes, Michelle! We can't wait to see where you're headed.
The First Easter,
by Jill Roman Lord
and Michelle Henninger, 

All artwork copyright Michelle Henninger

Friday, May 24, 2013

PPBF: Tallulah's Tutu

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Tallulah's Tutu,
by Marilyn Singer and Alexandra Boiger

Tallulah's Tutu
Written by Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Clarion, 2011, Fiction, ages 4-8, Reading level 2.9

Ballet, Dance, Lessons, Perseverance

"Tallulah just knew she could be a great ballerina -- if only she had a tutu."

Tallulah may have talent, but what she does not have is a tutu. She begins ballet lessons with one goal in mind. Along the way Tallulah inspires, delights, and sometimes exasperates those around her.

What I Love:
While I have never been partial to ballet or pink, I fell in love with Alexandra Boiger's illustrations the moment I saw them. She enhances the story with dynamic illustrations and diverse page design. Be sure to check out the clever endpapers as well.
Marilyn Singer takes the story beyond the expected stopping point, creating a "button" ending. Her portrayal of Tallulah has surprising depth. It's no wonder this book has spawned four sequels in just two years.

1.  Make a tutu pop-up card courtesy Simply Modern Mom or a ballerina paper chain from the Crafty Crow.
2.  Create a no-sew tutu for your own ballerina from Simply Real Moms. (This one is red like the roses in June.)
3.  There's nothing like experiencing ballet in person. Check with local dance companies and performing arts centers. These are often more kid-friendly and less expensive. Plus you may have a better chance to speak with the dancers afterward. Call in advance.
4.  Get moving. Books with a dance theme are an instant invitation to add exercise to your day. Play Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite or Billy the Kid by Aaron Copland and create your own dance steps.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for May 24, 2013.
Special thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill.

If you love Marilyn Singer and LeUyen Pham, visit A Stick Is an Excellent Thing.
You'll find an additional interview with the author at Kirkus.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Marker Sketching

I've been having such a good time experimenting with my Prismacolor cool grey markers. Here are a few of the more successful sketches. I can't wait to take these on the road for some life drawing exercises.
What do you do to change up your routine?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Surrounded by Books

"A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them."
-Horace Mann
Artwork by Carl Larsson

Friday, May 17, 2013

PPBF: This Little Baby

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

This Little Baby, by Tony Bradman and Jenny Williams

This Little Baby
Written by Tony Bradman
Illustrated by Jenny Williams
Originally published by G. P. Putnam as a Weekly Reader Book, 1990, Fiction, ages 2-6

babies, childhood experiences, routine, comfort

"This little baby loves the morning,
this little baby waves bye-bye,
this little baby's getting dressed now,
this little baby . . .starts to cry." (The baby spills his milk.)

A simple rhyming text about the events in a toddler's day.

What I Love:
This book may seem simplistic and ordinary at first glance. Perhaps that is so, because this book is about the everyday of a child's world. I love this book because it was one our son asked for repeatedly. He identified with the little rituals of the day: eating in the high chair, getting dressed, bathtime, bedtime. He adored the hundreds of details from his own experience: pictures of foods he ate, toys he played with. The illustrator included recurring characters as well, in the cat and the stuffed penguin. This may not be the most amazing book in my collection, but it was one of the most indispensable. It was bookish "comfort food."

Note: This book features a dad who changes diapers, grocery shops, and cooks while Mom goes to work!

Interior art by Jenny Williams, 1990
1. This book lends itself to activity. Imitate the baby games which are illustrated, but not mentioned: peek-a-boo, patty-cake, this little piggy, kitchen band, etc. One could also spend time naming all the utensils or toys. The illustrations of food could be sampled or used as a list for I Spy.
2. This book highlights the activities of the toddler's day. Have your child list the activities of other family members: What is sister doing at school? What is Mommy doing at work? What does a policeman do all day?
3. Use old magazines to create a collage similar to the illustrations. Draw or paste a picture of an activity in the center, and glue related items all around.
4. Older siblings can look at their own baby pictures, listing the things they do differently now that they are bigger.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for May 17, 2013 at Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Picture Book From Start to Finish

This post ties up a lot of threads I've been weaving here lately.
For everyone working through the Unofficial PBDummy Challenge, you may be struggling with the process. Perhaps you've fallen behind or, like me, are ready to abandon your project and start anew. Illustrator Adam Rex explains his method from manuscript to finished product for the book Chu's Day, by Neil Gaiman.
You'll find the entire interview at the Muddy Colors blog, which you may remember from last week's post about overcoming creative block.
After the positive response to Friday's perfect picture book, Chloe and the Lion, it seemed the natural choice to further explore Adam's creative mind.

My favorite thing about Chloe is the layout. Obviously Mac and Adam are not afraid to stretch the boundaries. They break through the fourth wall, they experiment with media as a story element, they poke fun at storytelling itself. The bit I found most inspiring was the design of the art on the page.
double page spread from Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex
This spread is a great example of not playing by the rules. The left-hand page is broken up into four panels, while the right is one big scene. This motif is used throughout the book. Notice the picture in the bottom left. The text explains Chloe has just gotten dizzy on the carousel. Adam allows Chloe to wobble right out of her frame. Along with text placement, this is effective design. It's using the book as a whole to tell the story, not just the expression captured on the character's face.

Below is a sketch and its corresponding finished art from Chu's Day.

You can see his early dummy was more for design and placement than for draftsmanship of the final image.

All artwork courtesy Adam Rex.

I hope this has been a help to you whether you are creating your own books or simply admiring the work of others.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Children's Book Week 2013

It's here. (And I'm a day late!)
This year's poster by Brian Selznick

Celebrate literacy and the world of reading. Children's Book Week is an initiative to instill a love of reading into future generations. Take some time this week to read with a child. Patronize your community children's library. Attend a local event. Buy Indie whenever possible. Then let us know how you celebrate. We'd love to hear from you.

Check out the activities across the country at the CBW website. You can learn to draw a dragon or download Grace Lin's free bookmark. The Book Week winners will be announced by tomorrow . . .
There's so much in store.

Courtesy Grace Lin

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Kei Acedera for Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!
Tibetan mother and child courtesy Kei Acedera
In honor of mothers everywhere, I thought I'd combine  my well-wishes for moms with Saturday's Fresh Talent artist.
Kei Acedera of Imaginism Studios is not a new talent, but is probably largely unknown because her work often takes place behind-the-scenes.
She is a character designer and illustrator living in Toronto. Her work is whimsical and charming. Other than her obvious skill with characterization, I admire Kei's color palette choices.
You can find a lengthy interview on the Character Design blog.

She has also illustrated Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, available from HarperCollins.

Friday, May 10, 2013

PPBF: Chloe and the Lion

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Chloe and the Lion, by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex
Chloe and the Lion
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Disney - Hyperion, 2012, Fiction, ages 4-8

Humor, Cooperation, Problem solving, Imagination, Book Creation

"This is me, Mac.
I'm the author of this book.
This is my friend Adam.
He's the illustrator of this book.
And this is Chloe.
She's the main character of this book."

Words fail me. This hilarious confection needs to be experienced.
Let's say it's a story-within-a-story. Chloe meets danger in the forest while Mac and Adam try to get the book written (and illustrated).

What I Love:
I had to find out for myself what all the fuss was about concerning this book.  I'm only sorry it took me so long.  I laughed out loud in the library - oops!
I love the page layouts, the unique placement of text and images, the creative use of media, and the sheer bizarre genius that understands what kids love.
Kids (both boys and girls, but especially mischievous boys) will love the wacky, unexpected, irreverent turns of events.  Kids love being smarter than the grown-ups in the story.  They love being able to see a solution even though the adult characters do not.

1. Adam Rex's clay characters are an obvious inspiration for creating people, animals, or whole dioramas in clay. If you are adventurous, here is a "by students, for students" link about claymation.
2. For younger children, try a simple paper lion from, a yarn-wrapped lion from, or a lion made by tracing your child's hands.
3. Make and share lion cupcakes using Cracker Jacks popcorn.
4. This book is the perfect springboard for a discussion about how picture books are made. Definitely use this story to encourage kids to write and illustrate their own versions of stories they know, inserting unexpected twists or changing the endings. ReadWriteThink has a thorough book planning resource for teachers.
5. Make Chloe and the Lion come to life in a neighborhood or school production. Spoiler Alert! (The redrawn parts of the story are tricky, but can be accomplished with costuming. Kids may have an even more creative solution.)

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for May 10, 2013 at Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Greg Manchess on Procrastination

Spectrum cover by Greg Manchess
Illustrator Gregory Manchess is one of the top talents in his field.  He also spends time teaching workshops and online.  I stumbled upon some of Greg's tips for overcoming creative blocks at the cooperative blog, Muddy Colors, to which he contributes.
I love the dramatic lighting
 in this winery piece by illustrator Greg Manchess.

He suggests block is caused by three things:
Perfection. Procrastination. Paralysis.

"I used to start a piece needing it to be the best thing ever: perfection. It had to solve every problem of my portfolio development, it had to stimulate, it had to thrill. . . It was too much to accomplish. So, I hesitated: procrastination. The more I hesitated, the bigger the problem became, until it was so great I couldn’t start since it would surely fail on any level: paralysis. Idea abandoned.
It was simply fear."

Check out his 7 tips to fighting inactivity.

Among them, don't be afraid of being an imposter.  Battle throught the fear until you reach a discovery. Hearing Greg Manchess say he gets scared about projects was quite a jolt. Also, Failure leads to success. Expect to fail a few times so your work can evolve into something better.
Then begin. It's okay if you don't quite have it figured out yet. Nothing gets solved or accomplished if nothing is begun.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Your Book is Waiting

"Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier."
- Kathleen Norris

bookplate by Aliki
courtesy My Home Library

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Illustrator Elina Ellis

Illustration for No Name Cupcakes by Elina Ellis
Meet Elina Ellis, a Ukrainian illustrator living in the UK. Elina's illustrations cover a variety of styles, but I thought the art, color, and design of this postcard in particular too lovely to exclude from my blog.

 She has designed greeting cards, commissions, and has just finished a gigantic assignment of Biblical proportions for Lion Hudson. Congrats, Elina!

Courtesy Elina Ellis
Courtesy Elina Ellis