22 March 2018

Andrea De Santis' SPACE KIDS

Space isn't what it was when I was a kid. Not only is Pluto no longer a planet, there's all this space junk up there now. So, our kids need new books to learn about it! Enter Andrea De Santis' all the way from Italy. He stopped by to talk about this entertaining and educational book from Little Gestalten Press.

e: What is your creative process/medium for SPACE KIDS, can you walk us through it?
Andrea :
It was a very special experience, even though I have worked for years in the toys sector and been publishing on many magazines, this is my first children's book entirely illustrated by myself. It was not an easy task to make my illustration purely conceptual and readable even for children, and the merit goes to the Editorial Manager Angela Francis of Gestalten who directed me helped me to make the right choices.
      Gestalten wanted me to maintain the same poetic approach that I usually use in my illustrations, and I hope I succeeded in this. Undoubtedly it was very helpful the theme treated "space" that has a good dose of poetry within it.
My first step, perhaps the most important, was trying to think about a context, the characters and to make this book fun and rich of elements. What's better than a group of aspiring little astronauts who page after page fantasize on their space travel chasing nebulous stars and planets?
      Each scene has been designed to create a connection between earth and space, for example in the reflections of a river or in a glimpsed sunset over the hills we can see constellations nebulas and planets with which our little heroes interact, each kids in the story is passionate about different scientific aspects related to space. At the end of their long day of discovery they meet in their little house on the tree / spaceship to tell everyone about their adventure and their dreams.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Andrea :
I think that what makes an illustration magical is also connected to the state of mind of who creates it, what it wants to transmit through it, putting something personal as much as possible. When I work I do not limit myself to interpret the message linked to the article or to a story, but I want also to look even minimally to think and identify myself with the character that lives in my illustrations. When everything works, people immediately perceive all messages and the sensations I want to communicate, the most sensitive people are those who immediately catch all this.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of SPACE KIDS?
Andrea :
There is a curiosity that is hidden in the pages of Space Kids that perhaps the fans of illustrated books will notice. I wanted to dedicate to the great illustrator and author Miroslav Sasek (1916-1980) and pages 18 and 19 are inspired by his book for children "This is the way to the moon“. There are many references to his representations of the Cape Canaveral space museum with its typical palm trees among the exposed rockets.
e: How do you advertise yourself?
Andrea :
Mainly on several socials like Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Behance, and by the fantastic agency in Frankfurt the Kombinatrottweiss Illustration which represents me.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Andrea :
There are many challenging parts to deal with, such as to invent something new and try to convey a clear and immediate message. There are also many aspects of my job that I love, including seeing my work appreciated and knowing that there are people who follow me constantly.
e: Is there something in particular about SPACE KIDS you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Andrea :
A small detail, perhaps not very obvious, is a small rocket-shaped tree house in the upper right corner of the cover, that refers to the last double page where the children meet inside their headquarters. The need to insert it on the cover comes from the lack of a table eliminated during the design in which we could see the tree house from the outside with a child who jumps with the pulley, helmet and missile on the back, simulating a space trip. There are several references to the 80s and the memories of those good old days and I wanted to represent some of them including the tree house.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Andrea :
Mostly I do illustrations for an adult audience, so after this little break in the world of children, I have started again to collaborate assiduously for several major magazines. I can say that I feel very satisfied, but I'd like to publish an illustrated book with the works that more represents me and what I did in the last 5 years.
Illustrations by Andrea De Santis from Space Kids, Copyright Little Gestalten 2018”
“Artwork by Andrea De Santis from Space Kids, Copyright Little Gestalten 2018”

21 March 2018

Stirling Castle - inside!

I told you how COLD it was at Stirling Castle with Mikki - which is truly unusual for Edinburgh. It's typically quite temperate here. At any rate, we were very happy when our guide finally led us inside the castle!
When you see a castle in Scotland, you really should do a guided tour. These people are extremely knowledgeable and extremely entertaining. 'Frank' told us great stories such as this one... the door he's standing next to is the very same one Sir Rod Stewart went through to film his Christmas special. :) And we were in the very room where J.K. Rowling held a fund-raiser party. This was in the Great Hall, which had a ceiling like an inverted boat. Apparently, the King loved his ships and it made him happy to look up and feel like he was in one. It supposedly took 134 trees to create this.
He did something similar in the chapel.

What a humble guy. Truly, the throne rooms are never quite as grand as one might expect.
Happily, our visit coincided with a display of gorgeous tapestries. You might recognize this one (and yes, they all had unicorns!)

Just off the throne room was the bedroom. I could handle this.
The ceiling in another bedroom was covered with medallions, lions and unicorns.
Here was the fireplace. Noticing a trend?
Of course, we all rushed to the fireplace in the hopes to get warm, but it was just lights meant to look like a fire. Dangit! I would have complained, but this guy was standing right there and was rather intimidating.
Another ceiling had more medallions, all hand-carved. There was a map to tell you who was who (all allies of the King).
If the King needed a midnight snack, this was where he went.
Afterwards, Mikki and I went to a pub downtown for some fish and chips. It was a crazy day, but it was an awesome day! I hope I can go back when it's warm sometime, as I'd like to wander around the grounds more... and that fabulous graveyard! You know there are stories there!

20 March 2018

Coloring Page Tuesday - Suffragettes

     In honor of Women's History Month, I give you women who helped shape our history - Suffragettes. CLICK HERE for more coloring pages, and if they add joy and value to your life, please...
Become a Patron!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Also, check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

19 March 2018

Stirling Castle!

Sunday was a play day for me and Mikki. So, we went to Stirling!
Although, our adventure was almost undone by the 'Baby Beast from the East'. I awoke to SNOW... AGAIN! This is not normal for Edinburgh! I was worried we'd be snowed in again and that Mikki would miss her chance to see another castle. Happily, there was just enough snow to be really pretty, but not too disruptive.
That said, it was still colder than a... (insert expletive).
Even the graveyard loomed in a foreboding way.
We questioned our sanity several times, but went inside anyhow.
Then we saw the view.
Well, no. Not this one. We were still thinking we were crazy when we took this shot. But it cleared up, and Oh My! Click this image to watch a short video on Youtube:
The views from the castle were truly stunning.

As we walked up to the castle it was hard to miss the main building as it was a very different color from the others. Turns out it was on purpose. The color is called "King's Gold" and from the harbor, with the sun on it, that's exactly what it looks like - quite impressive.
Otherwise, it was a grand structure. We felt like we were in a movie.

A very cold movie!
So, although it was stunningly beautiful (the pictures don't begin to do it justice), we were so grateful to go inside... See more on Wednesday!

18 March 2018

#KidLitWomen - Week 3

#KidLitWomen is going STRONG! Have you been reading? I'm sharing this Sunday so that you can have time to read over the weekend.
We're celebrating Women's History Month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ literature community. Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter #kidlitwomen.
MARCH 11th
Emma Walton Hamilton: Where the Women Are
Edith Campbell: Black Girl Economics in Young Adult Fiction
Jane Kurtz: A Woman Walked Into a Picture Book...
Emma Dryden: Determining Our Own Value...
Jane Kelley: Write the Change You Want to See in the World

MARCH 12th
Sarah Lamstein: In Defense of Aging
Grace Lin: When Certain Writers Ought Put Down Their Pens
A Discussion: What Would You Do?
Anne Nesbet: Cleaning Our Own Mirrors
Shoshana Flax: Just Put the Book Out There
Edith Campbell: Black Girl Economics, Part 2

MARCH 13th
Ellen Wittlinger: Questioning the Lens Through Which We See
Cheryl Blackford: Harmful Stereotypes in Traditional Fairy Tales
Amitha Knight: How To Be Invisible
Gwenda Bond: Living in a Fantasy World
Chris Tebbetts: …Lessons Learned on Another Front

MARCH 14th
Megan Frazer Blakemore: Banishing Boy Books and Girl Books from the Library Lexicon
Elissa Brent Weissman: Let’s Hear It For School Librarians…
Lori Steel: …The Sidelined Role of School Librarians
Kitty Flynn: Five questions for Winifred Conkling

MARCH 15th
Michelle Cusolito and Jeanette Bradley: How Much Should I Charge for School Visits?
Ann Clare LeZotte: …Deaf & Disabled Representation in Kidlit
Susan Van Metre: Rewriting the Stories That Shape Us
Rosalind Malin: Pink
Chris Barton: How To Diversity Your Kidlit-Related Lists

MARCH 16th
Don Tate: Honoring the Super Women who Run the Brown Bookshelf
Dana Walrath: Eliminating Bias
Chris Tebbetts: Male Allies: What We Can Do

MARCH 17th
Elizabeth Dulemba: Rewriting the Cultural Narrative
Michelle Edwards: My Mother Wants To Meet You
Jacqueline Davies: The Shaming of Desire
Erin Dionne: Women: What We're Up Against

In addition to Joyce Wan (3/3) and Traci Bold (3/6), a number of people are sharing daily or regular posts about women illustrators and books by women with the #kidlitwomen hashtag. Here are some of them:
Debbi Michiko Florence on Facebook
Kieren Dutcher on Facebook
Donalyn Miller on Facebook
Katherine Roy on Twitter, @KRoyStudio
Josh Funk on Twitter, @joshfunkbooks
Eve Aldridge on Facebook

You can also access the full list as it progresses at Mishka Yeager's Website.
MY post went live on March 17th! Rewriting the Cultural Narrative
Did the #kidlitwomen Caldecott Gender Gap article get you down? Try some uplift! Follow @citymousedc and @AlisonLMorris for a post a day about books illustrated by women! Post your own faves, too (don't forget WOC!) with #kidlitwomen and #womeninillustration

17 March 2018

#KidLitWomen - Rewriting the Cultural Narrative

Starting March 1st, we’re celebrating Women’s History month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ industry. Join in the conversation here or on Twitter at #kidlitwomen. Access all the #KidlitWomen posts this month on our KidLitWomen FaceBook page at https://www.facebook.com/kidlitwomen.

Artwork from my picture book, Lula's Brew (Dulemba, 2012).

Rewriting the Cultural Narrative
by Elizabeth Dulemba

The #MeToo movement has brought the need for gender-based social reform to the forefront yet again. (Which wave of feminism are we up to now?) It’s a trend that has only just begun to take hold in children's literature as statistics clarify a pattern of underrepresentation and subjugation of females in the first books children read. It's a pattern that is not only damaging but dangerous to modern society, because, as Marina Warner said in Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale, “…what we discover in books or other media when we are young imprints us—stories communicate values, like myths, and shape our understanding of the world” (Warner, 2016, p172).

A recent promotional video by the creators of Rebel Girls revealed a disturbing lack of representation of females and female agency in children’s books, and it shook up the children’s lit world when it went live. Surely, it wasn’t this bad?
After all, as a result of previous waves of feminism, authors such as Jane Yolen, Angela Carter, Tamora Pierce, Karen Cushman, etc. have been rewriting the patriarchal narratives of fairytales and folktales for decades. "Subversion became the battle cry: the tales were to be turned inside out and upside down" (Warner, 2016, p133). Surges of new children’s book authors continue to do the same.

However, as we write forward, we should examine how we rewrite these narratives. In empowering female protagonists, writers sometimes portray females still solidly stuck within the boundaries of a hegemonic value scale. Popular stories like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, and Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy reverse the patriarchal narrative by featuring females as assassins—a habitually male archetype. (Note: I need to clarify that I am a fan of these books and think they may be a natural first step towards rewriting the patriarchy.) Female readers have embraced these portrayals as disruptive and validating (me included). Yet, we also need to acknowledge that this trope implies that for females to have agency, their roles must swing to a violent extreme. These female warriors send the message that their physical ability to overpower adversaries is a valid measure of their worth in what remains a male-dominated world.

Movies do it too. In Pixar’s Brave, she outperforms the men in a competition where she is offered as the prize. In the newest Snow White, not only does she not marry the prince, she dons full armor to defend her kingdom. In the latest Wonder Woman, she is strong because of her ability to outperform men in war.
I'm not saying we shouldn't write these roles, only that we should be aware of what we're writing. It takes more than switching the gender of a typically male archetype or story trope to make a story feminist. To truly unweave our deeply embedded societal and cultural narratives, we need to dig deeper. We need to define new ways of empowering our female protagonists. In Don’t Bet on the Prince, Jack Zipes suggests we consider how “stories might be rearranged or reutilised to counter the destructive tendencies of male-dominant values” (Zipes, 1987, p4).

To do this, we need to examine stereotypes that are so deeply embedded in our culture, we have lost sight of them. For instance, we need to beware archetypes for which characteristics in a male are considered good, yet in a female are considered exceptional or bad.

It’s the point of my Ph.D. study, “Tricksters, Witches, and Folk Tales: Rewriting the Patriarchal Narrative in Children’s Literature.” Tricksters are characters, such as Loki and Hermes in mythology, or Anansi, Coyote, and Jack in folklore. They are clever, crafty, witty manipulators—some even switch gender to create life—and they are mostly male. There are very few female tricksters. Instead, these same traits are negatively represented in the roles of witches, old crones, and evil queens. It is pervasive. In Sandra Billington's The Concept of the Goddess, Catharina Raudvere is quoted as saying, “the connection between women, sexuality and witchcraft appears to be a globally observed pattern” (Billington, 1999, p47, p52).

Strong women are demonized in a cultural narrative that suggests men prefer obedient, silent princesses, such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty (victims of nonconsensual sexual advances). Warner stated that "the deep malice of the witches and evil stepmothers, the unrelieved spite of some sisters, and the murderous jealousy between mothers and daughters were left to stand, unchallenged. These portraits of female evil supported male interests, too. The tales were not merely symptoms but also instruments of a strategy: divide women against one another the better to lord it over them" (Warner, 2016, p133). As writers, are we feeding into this hegemony?

As the story makers, the creators of scripts that will shape and influence new generations, we should ask ourselves, 'What do strong, female characters look like on a feminist value scale'? As we craft our stories, let us consider the world in which our characters reside. Are we still making our women struggle in a patriarchal environment, thereby reinforcing that hegemonic system? Remember, “Who tells the story, who recasts the characters and changes the tone becomes very important: no story is ever the same as its source or model, the chemistry of narrator and audience changes it” (Warner, 1995, p418). We are the front line of embedded societal symbolism. Perhaps it's time we rewrite our cultural narrative.

Billington, S., 1999. The concept of the Goddess. Routledge, London.
Dulemba, E., 2012. Lula’s Brew. Xist Publishing, Irvine, Calif.
Warner, M., 2016. Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale, Reprint edition. ed. OUP Oxford, Oxford.
Warner, M., 1995. From The Beast To The Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, New Ed edition.
     ed. Vintage, London.
Zipes, J. (Ed.), 1986. Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America
     and England, 1 edition. ed. Routledge, New York London.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Remember I have lots of St Patrick's Day-themed coloring pages for you to enjoy. CLICK HERE or the image to go see!
And remember this Irish blessing:
May the Irish hills caress you. May her lakes and rivers bless you. May the luck of the Irish enfold you. May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.

15 March 2018

David Litchfield's WHEN PAUL MET ARTIE

I am thrilled to have David Litchfield on today to talk about his booming career and his newest book, When Paul Met Artie.
e: David, you surged onto the picture book scene with The Bear and the Piano (published by Frances Lincoln, 2016), but you’ve been illustrating for years. What happened!? How did you shake up your career?
I have always been drawing since I was very little and I used to make my older brother and sisters comics (which they used to fake a mild interest in and then promptly throw them away). After art school I did a few illustration commissions here and there but it wasn't until I started teaching art and design full time that I realised that being an illustrator was something that I really wanted to pursue.
      So, I quit my sensible, full time teaching job to become and took the leap of faith into being a freelance illustrator. This was just after we had our first son and we were saving for our first house so the timing was not great and it was a super scary thing to do. But luckily I got signed up by my agent at Bright a few months after. Bright arranged my first ever meeting with a publishing company and thats where I first pitched the idea for 'The Bear & The Piano' and it all went pretty bonkers from there really.
e: What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
I make lots of watercolour washes and make a mess with acrylic paints. I also take lots of photographs of interesting textures such as tree bark, concrete, that kind of thing. These then get scanned into my computer and I experiment with overlaying them and combining them until I find something that looks really nice and interesting. These experiments will usually be used as a background, or a sky or a just a nice starting point for the pages artwork.
All the characters and scenery will usually be sketched out on paper and I will also scan these in too. I then combine all of these with the textured background and apply a bit of digital Photoshop wizardry to finish off.
Its great fun, I try and combine the feel and messiness of the practical way of making art with newer digital techniques. I have always enjoyed using watercolours and acrylic paint but once I started experimenting with Photoshop etc a few years ago it opened up this whole new realm of art making possibilities.
e: How do you advertise yourself?
Right now I have a fantastic agent who is so good at spreading the word about what I do. But before I was signed up to Bright I found that social media was probably my favourite way of advertising myself. When I realised that illustration was what I really wanted to do I challenged myself to draw a picture a day for a year. Each day I put the drawings up on Facebook and Twitter and the project really took off and built up a great following of people wanting to see the new drawing each day. By the end of that year I had learnt so much and developed new techniques and lots of great stuff came from it. But it also was a great way of spreading the word about my illustrations. (Heres a link to the 365 drawings if you fancied a look: http://davidsdrawingaday.tumblr.com/)

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again? I’m looking for your definition of “Heart Art.”
I LOVE the term 'Heart Art'. Thats awesome.
      When I was young it was very easy to get fully immersed in illustration. Marice Sendaks's 'Where The Wild Things Are' is probably my earliest memory of this happening. Those amazing full page spreads just completely pull you in to that world. The expressions and design of those characters, the colours, the textures, the detail and emotion that is in each of those spreads was- and still is- very profound.
      Later on, the Asterix books gave me similar sensations. They are comedy books but theres something very emotive about them. They felt like friends to me and carrying an Asterix book around with me at school gave me a weird confidence. Again the exquisite artwork made it very easy for me to escape to this different time and place and spend time in ancient Gaul. Growing up in a small town in Bedfordshire, England, there was something magical about reading books that were written and drawn in a different country that at the time seemed so far away. This was in the late 80s and way before the internet, but in a funny way reading Asterix made me feel more connected to the world.
      Anyway, when I create art I always have these feelings in my mind. These books and their illustrations meant so much to me when I was a child and getting lost in the strange worlds they presented was just one of the greatest joys to have. The hope that my art will do the same and inspire children today is what makes me do what I do.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of When Paul Met Artie?
I didn't actually believe my agent when she told me about the project. It's actually a real dream project for me having loved Simon and Garfunkel's music for the majority of my life. In my primary school we sang songs from the same music book over and over again in our music lesson and one of those songs was 'Mr's Robinson'. So that was probably my earliest introduction to their music. Paul Simon then became known in our house as Princess Leia's husband, and in fact I first thought Paul Simon was Chevy Chase because of the fantastic video for 'Call Me Al'.
      But it was also a dream project because I got to visually play in the 1950s and 1960s, two of the most defining eras in terms of music and fashion. Also drawing other musical icons such as Bob Dylan and Jonny Cash for the book was just brilliant. I really did have so much fun making this book.
      I have never actually met the author G Neri in real life. We communicated a lot through email and he would send me tons of visual references regarding Simon & Garfunkel, the locations and the time period. He seems to be one of those people who is like a living, breathing encyclopedia when it comes to these subjects. I think his passion for music and history really comes through very strongly in this book.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
My favourite part is just doing it. I am never happier than when I am creating art in my studio. The fact that this is now my job is still pretty unbelievable to me. I try and never take it for granted and always try and appreciate that I am doing what I love.
      That's not to say that being an illustrator does not have its challenges. Working to deadlines is almost the antithesis of being an artist in a way. I always feel that my art is never finished and can always be improved upon, but I have to get it done or else the book can't be published. Juggling projects, keeping accounts, being sensible with money are all tough things to get my head around, but the fact that I am drawing every day and making a living from it outweighs all the negative stuff.

e: Is there something in particular about When Paul Met Artie you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Today I think a lot of people see success as a very straight, uncomplicated line. You learn to sing, you make a record it gets into the iTunes charts and your a success. Or you go on X Factor or American Idol or become a You Tube sensation, or whatever.
      Paul and Art worked tirelessly every day from a very young age, perfecting their craft, making huge mistakes, falling out, moving away, coming back, learning about the industry and about life. Their story is an incredibly complex tapestry that goes back and fourth until it all comes together and falls in to place at the right moment. But they worked for it, oh my did they work for it. Hopefully kids- and adults- reading the book will take inspiration from that. Failure does not mean the end, its just another part of the tapestry.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Last year was really bonkers and busy. I drew 5 books, most of which will be coming out in 2018. They are all really exciting and I can't wait to hear what people think of them. The sequel to 'The Bear & The Piano' will be out in the autumn which I'm hugely excited about. The bear starts a jazz band with a number of other musically gifted animals. Its lots of fun.
      I'm working on a few books this year too, which I don't think I'm allowed to talk about yet, but Its really nice as they are all so different. One is a fairly traditional and whacky picture book, another is a really surreal and dreamlike story, the other is an educational book and another is going to be a science fiction picture book. Its all incredibly exciting.
      To be honest, 'When Paul Met Artie' is very much my dream project. But I would love to do more illustrated books about real life people. One thing myself and a friend have been talking about recently is making a book about Buster Keaton. That would be such a fun book to illustrate. Who knows what the future holds though.

e: Thank you, David! I look forward to seeing more!


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