Christmas Villages are OPEN!

Nobody does the holidays like Edinburgh, I have to admit. The entire city turns into twinkle lights, music, ice-skating rinks, and joy! (And tourists - for good reason.) The Christmas villages officially opened on Sunday, although a few folks got to try out the skating rink early.
Once again, the ice-rink was built around the sculpture in the center of St Andrews Square. The pop-up bar serves hot chocolate, mulled wine and spiced cider.
Down on Princes Street, the ferris wheel is up, along with other rides like the chair drop - all alongside the Scott Monument. Pop-up bars are everywhere, bagpipes, and squeals of laughter. It's impossible to be in a mood when walking down Princes Street during the holiday season. It turns a simple trip to the pharmacy into a joyful occassion!
This year, I hope to go up on the ferris wheel - more soon!

BOOK READING: Turkey Trouble

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US! After several years of going all out for our UK friends in the Edinburgh Salon the last few years, we'll be keeping the holiday rather calm this year. (Stan is tired!) We may only have a roast chicken - shocker! That said, a turkey must be involved somehow, and what better way than to watch Marc Maron reading TURKEY TROUBLE for Storyline Online? Click the image below to have a gander. Get it? Gander? Bwahahaha! . . . sigh

Edinburgh Sunrise

Sometimes the sky outside our flat does the most amazing things. I made a point of not touching these photos up at all. Stunning, eh?

From Scholastic: Monster Academy

Check out this awesome video of Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple talking about their newest picture book, Monster Academy coming out soon from Scholastic.
And while you're there, check out all of the videos promoting Scholastic's upcoming books for the season!

Connie's Birthday at The Dome

Our Good friend Connie B. recently celebrated a big birthday. As is her tradition, we met up at the cocktail lounge in The Dome on George Street to help her celebrate. George Street is one of the main avenues to enjoy twinkle lights in Edinburgh. Down at the west end you can just see the Virgin light castle - along with all the decorations along the street. Happy!
Connie's birthday ritual is a wonderful tradition as it has become the kick-off event for the holiday season, the first of the holiday parties. And The Dome is the most festive place to celebrate because they decorate like nowhere else. Sometimes they even blow snow!

Not only is Connie's birthday a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with our friends from the Edinburgh Salon (which Connie used to host around town), we all get dressed up, wearing our sparklies for the season. Connie, the birthday girl, is the second from the left.
People line up outside to have a peek inside the Dome at the fabulous decorations. But we actually have a seat and order fancy drinks to cheer in another good year for Connie. (The Dome makes the best cocktails!)
Because truly, you can't help but feel festive and ready for the holiday season after clinking to Connie's birthday and lots of good cheer at The Dome! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CONNIE!

Friday Links List - 16 November 2018

From Vicky Who Reads: The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens

From Open Culture: Growing Up Surrounded by Books Has a Lasting Postive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Scientific Study

From The Mixed-Up Files: Beyond Shel Silverstein: Silly Poetry for Kids

From The Scottish Book Trust: Dolly Parton's Imagination Library: Inspiring a love of reading in children who are looked-after and adopted

From SLJ's Fuse #8: #readblack: What Would You Include If Someone Asked for a Quick List of Recent Titles Starring Black Kids?

From Pentagram: Scholastic: Environmental graphics for the corporate headquarters of the world's largest publisher of children's books reimagine iconic characters in a series of artworks and installations - GROOVY!

From The Federation of Children's Book Groups: On Being a Non-Fiction Illustrator

From The Atlantic: an oldie but goodie: Chick Lit Remixed: The Simple Brilliance of Gender-Flipping

From The Bookseller: CLPE opens crowdfunded literacy library

From Barnes & Noble: Gorgeous, Definitive, Essential: Ursula K. Le Guin's The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition (illustrated by Charles Vess!)

From Foreward: Children's Books That Tackle Anti-Semitism and Difference

From The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books: For holidays, birthdays, and all your other gift-giving occasions...

From Lunch Quest: A friend of ours is on a tour of some of the world's best restaurants. His review of Attica (the 20th best retaurant in the world) is worth a read.

From Muddy Colors: On a lighter note - art cartoons

From PW: The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 2018 (questions about sexual harrassment and gender pay inequality included)

Luisa Uribe's THE VAST WONDER OF THE WORLD

I stopped in my tracks when I saw the gorgeous artwork on this wonderful biography of a scientific hero, Biologist Ernest Everett Just. Happily, Millbrook Press was able to connect me with Luisa Uribe, the illustrator, who visits today to discuss her new book...
e: Hi Luisa! I think this book is gorgeous! What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
Luisa:
I usually start by reading and rereading the text; I tend to work through potential images in my mind a lot, so I like to think on it first for a bit before I start sketching.I also start doing research on the subjects in the book and anything else that might be useful. For this book I had some recommendations from Mélina so I read E.E. Just’s biography and some of the history and context of events in the book. I also looked for historic photos and all the references I could find for specific people, ecosystems, places/buildings, etc.
After that I work through whatever ideas I have by sketching them and then making thumbnails when I feel like something could work. This is the messiest part, as I’m not worrying about drawing well but more focusing on what the picture should show.
When I have a better idea of each spread I start working on the computer, drawing first a simple and fast sketch to figure out the final composition and then a cleaner and more detailed one. After everything is approved and with a color palette in mind I start blocking out shapes and defining each element, and then add lines on top and finally some texture. I try to keep a file where I put every spread in thumbnail size in order so I can see how the whole book is working out in terms of composition and rhythm, and if the color is consistent with the narrative. After that comes small adjustments and that’s about it!
  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?
Luisa:
For me, what makes me love an image is, on one hand, the use of color; some artists use color in a way that connects directly to your emotional core and that is amazing to me. On the other hand, a masterful composition will keep you in the frame and lead you through the story, and that makes me want to read/look at it over and over. I think this might not be the same for everybody, specially if you have visual literacy, as it gets more specific as you learn and absorb new images, and also with time and the evolution of taste.  
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Luisa:
Mélina’s text is deep and has a lot history behind it, so it’s probably the hardest I’ve worked at researching before starting to draw, and while drawing as well. It was a first to have so many images and stories in my head, to have this complete of a picture in my mind as I worked on this book.



  e: How do you advertise yourself?
  Luisa:
Not that well, actually! I have a website (luisaruibe.com), and I post occasionally on Instagram and Twitter (@lupencita) but I’m trying to improve and share a bit more.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Luisa:
The most challenging part is the voice in my head saying “You’re not good enough”, “this is not working”, “it’s not nearly as good as -insert great illustrator here-“, It’s paralyzing at times and stops me from letting loose and producing more art, but at the same time it’s what keeps me improving because I’m never completely satisfied with my output. I don’t think there’s going to be a time when I look at something I made and say “Yep, did it, this is great” but I can keep working towards being a better artist every day.
  e: I can relate! Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
 Luisa:
Something I like about this story (among many things!) is that E.E. Just kept working in spite of injustice, and managed to find likeminded people who were his allies. I’d say, find your people, they’ll help you grow.
e: Good advice! What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Luisa:
I’ve been working on my own books for a bit. I’m still learning to approach this from the author’s side, not just as an illustrator so it’s been slow progress, but hopefully I’ll get there in the end.
e: I have faith in you and can't wait to see your next project!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Alien TV

     I created something completely silly for you this week - an alien watching television!
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     I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! For instance...
my latest picture book, Crow Not Crow - written by New York Times Best-selling author Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple.
     Kirkus calls it "a solid choice for introducing the hobby [birdwatching] to younger readers."
      Also, A Bird on Water Street is now available in Chinese!
      
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Book Reviews: Girl in a Cage, The Witches Feast, The Mouse and His Child, and The Stone Book

As part of my PhD research, I do a lot of reading these days! Not all of it is academic (although a good portion of it is). I am constantly looking for stories that reflect my topic. I'm also busily trying to catch up on the UK canon of classics, as they are constantly referred to in my classes. I thought I'd share a few of my recent reads with you. The full reviews are on Goodreads.

Girl in a Cage (Stuart Quartet, #2)Girl in a Cage by Jane Yolen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Girl in a Cage is an exceptionally well-done peek into life in the 1100s and a good history lesson of Robert the Bruce's reign in Scotland, that was hard-won and cost him and his family dearly. The book is historical fiction, so some liberties are assumed with the known history. That said, the story is based on reasonable conclusions. Marjorie, Robert's daughter and only heir, is captured and kept on display in a town as a prize of war. She is regularly visited by King Longshanks (so nicknamed because of his extreme height). Longshanks is dying and his decline is reflected in 'Jo's' decline in the cage. Even so, as his temperament collapses, hers is fortified. Each small kindness she marks as victories towards her own eventual success. For instance, a girl who brings her a comb is named her 'Lady Enid'. When her brothers bring her food, she knights them and names them her army. The monk who brings her food and shows her kindness becomes her clergy. Truly, her determination, hope and positivity is worth the story alone. The story brings history to life and would be an excellent companion to Scottish history studies, although it is an excellent read for its own sake.

Tom & Tallulah and the Witches' FeastTom & Tallulah and the Witches' Feast by Marta Kissi (illustrator) Vivian French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vivian French makes writing stories look easy. This is a simple tale, perfectly told and perfect for the early mid-grade or chapter book reader. The witches in this story are assumed to be good, which is a lovely opposite to the approach of most books involving witches. "I thought all witches were good," Tom said, "just like Grandmother." (p94) Indeed, the evil witch is the outlier. The story reads a bit like the witches coven from Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books (beginning with The Wee Free Men) and would make a wonderful companion or precursor to those books. It has a sense of community, family, initiation for Tallulah, while sharing a love of family and cooperation to achieve the necessary goals - in this case, the creation of a witch's feast within a week's time, which would seem an easy enough task. However, Tallulah must figure out the favorite dish of each witch in the coven, and prepare them, even though she can't cook. Part mystery, part adventure, part cookbook, this is a delightful read.

The Mouse and His ChildThe Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my new favorite book of all time. It reads as an adventure story - a wind-up toy (a father and son mouse) are purchased from a toy store, and journey through families and Christmases, until they are finally old and broken and end up in a dump where an enterprising but evil rat rebuilds wind-up toys as his personal army of laborers. The son longs for home, for a mother, for a sense of belonging somewhere (his 'territory') and that is his primary directive throughout the story - to achieve that. The father, on the other hand, is cynical and loses hope again and again. It is the son's optimism that keeps them going. As a unit, they represent the dual motivations in any one human being. The nature of their being - being wind-up toys reliant on others to wind them up to make them go, is an obvious allegory to mankind's reliance on fate, economies, war, etc to make any progress in life. It is a statement to our vulnerabilities, or utter helplessness and lack of any real control of our lives. Indeed, each bit of their journey is instigated by an outside force rather than by their own doing. It is only their hope that keeps them alive as they wait for the next thing to occur. This book came into my life at an interesting time - in the midst of Trump and Brexit - when I think most of us feel like wind-up toys, victims to forces greater than ourselves and out of our control. The story does end on a high note, the son's hope is rewarded, friends are reunited and a home/territory is indeed established. As such, the story leaves one with a sense of positive hope alongside an intense awareness of our own fragility.

The Stone BookThe Stone Book by Alan Garner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*spoilers* I think it may be important to read the entire quartet to get the full impact of these stories. As a stand-alone, The Stone Book is a bit odd. The language is a strong unidentifiable dialect perhaps during the 1800s. The race of the characters is unclear, although the girl's desire for a book or to learn how to read might suggest they are recently freed slaves, or poor settlers in a small, but growing town. The father is a stone mason and in response to his daughter's request (she wants a prayer book in which to press flowers as the other girls, who also cannot read, do), he takes her into an old mine. He tells her to follow the malachite, and other types of rock. She knows these after a lifetime of observing her father's love of rocks. In the mine, she finds old cave paintings from long-lost civilizations. The rite of passage (her father saw them too when he was her age - stonemasons in their family only go once to see them) connects her to the earth and to things greater than herself. She leaves the mine a changed person. Still, her father gives her a prayer book, one carved from stone that contains all of the stories in the world. As an aside, her uncle lives in the home with the family. He is a deaf weaver, obviously symbolic of time and the history of mankind. The Stone Book is a very short read, but one that will stick with you for a long time.

Thanks to a CROW NOT CROW model

Yesterday, Stan and I met our good friends Boris and Vicky for lunch - partly to catch up and partly so that I could give Boris a copy of Crow Not Crow.
Why? Because, Boris was the model for the father in the book, as you can see here! Groovy, eh?
I have two more copies to give out - to the boy who posed as the child (who I later changed to a girl) and to Antti, who was the original father and whose body is still in the book (with Boris' head). Make sense? :)

Friday Links List - 9 November 2018

From War on the Rocks: From The Trenches to Mordor and Back: World War I and British Fantasy Literature (very interesting read!)

From The Mixed-up Files: Celebrating Little Free Libraries and Their Founder

From SCBWI Michigan: The Mitten: Fast-Track Your Writing Production with Meditation by Heather Smith Meloche

From Muddy Colors: 10 Errors to Avoid When Composing Thumbnails - REALLY GOOD ARTICLE!!!!

From The Art Room Plant: Sushi art by Takayo Kiuyoya - cool!

The 2018 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Books

The 2018 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Books Winners at Work

From Publishers Weekly: Sourcebooks Offers Rapid Replenishment Program to Indies

From the Picture Book Den: Looking into the eyes of picture book characters (Dots, circles - how do illustrators draw eyes?)

From The Guardian: Jeff Kinney: 'Let children read anything; I'll never say no to a book'

From Tor.com: Moral Kombat: How Narnia and Harry Potter Wrestle with Death and Rewrite Christianity

From BuzzFeed: 14 Illustrations That'll Make All Book Lovers Laugh

From Nieman Lab: How to successfully pitch The New York Times (or, well, anyone else)

From WriterUnboxed: The Case for Pseudonyms

From The Mixed-up Files: Not to make you feel inadequate, but... "Can Preschoolers Write Bestselling Books?" Apparently they can, and apparently they have!

Il Sung Na's THE DREAMER

I am a fan of Il Sung Na's work and had him visit to celebrate his book THE OPPOSITE ZOO. Well, I'm thrilled to have him back to visit with his newest book, the lovely THE DREAMER. Read on!
e: Il Sung, what is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
Il Sung:
My work process is not different from others. Once I have an idea that I am excited about, take it into further development. Write a short synopsis or make a few sentences that tell a story. Sometimes writing and drawing comes together, sometimes it comes separately. Writing and thumbnail sketching involve many revisions. Sometimes I have an “AHA” moment that I solve all problems I have in writing and sketching. It takes a long time to get that moment though. The coloring is the part that I enjoy most. I don’t have to worry about composition, layout, pacing anymore! Just enjoy and let colors work out themselves. These days, I have been trying to come out of my comfort zone and away from my typical materials. That’s why I used different materials on my three recent picture books.

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?
Il Sung:
I don’t have a brilliant answer for this but I think Illustration is magical because it triggers our imagination and leads us to the other side of the world. Illustrators build their own imaginary worlds and invite readers.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Il Sung:
It’s not a funny story but my first dummy for this book was an alphabet book format. At the time I wanted to create an alphabet book, not just simple ones, but have a story to tell with words in alphabetical order. I thought it was a brilliant idea because I did not see many alphabet books have stories and I came up with ‘Pig can fly’ story. It was a real challenge to list down all possible words in order and make a story. It was like solving a puzzle.
      I am so happy how the final book turns out. But maybe I will try another alphabet storybook format again in the future.

Early idea sketches with words, figuring out a story.

Early thumbnail sketches as an alphabet book format.
e: How do you advertise yourself?
Il Sung:
I am not very good at advertising myself. I use Instagram occasionally. After I work with an Agency, I don’t advertise or promote my works quite often. But I still show drawings, illustrations and work progress on my Instagram.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Il Sung Na:
The most favorite part of the process is color. This is the stage that I explore all colors and enjoy it.
      Writing a story and thumbnail sketch is equally challenging for me. If I have to choose one, the writing part is the most difficult stage and often I struggle a lot.

e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Il Sung:

There is a reason behind why the story begins and ends with the same text, ‘Once there was a pig who admired birds’. Some people think our pig achieved his dream in the end. Some people get confused or don’t understand the ending. Some might think if he was in his daydreaming.
      There are two possible endings. Our pig had his dream, tried hard, achieved his dream and even inspired other animals. You need to try and have the courage to keep going, then you will get what you want eventually. People who made a success often come back to the first place where they started. This is the first reason to have the beginning and ending scene is happening in the same place.
      The second possible ending is not positive. Our pig was there and dreaming about flying. But he was only dreaming. So nothing quite happened. He was in his daydream. If you have a dream, then got to do something. Not just dreaming. This is another reason that the beginning and ending scene is the same but with a different time frame of the day.
      I gave this book to my neighbor for her grandson. She got back to me a couple of days after and saying that her grandson loves it, and he said to his dad ‘So this is a circle book’. I did not catch it immediately but soon I understood what he meant. Because the beginning and ending have the same text, the story circulates. I think he got the point of the story.
      Hopefully, people will also notice the different shape of trees on the beginning and the ending pages. Trees are more abstract shapes on the first spread and it means he is in his imaginary world. They became natural shapes on the last spread which means he’s back to his real world.
      Still, it will give a room to the readers to think if his dreams come true or if he is still dreaming. I will leave it to the reader to figure it out.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Il Sung:
I am working on a story about two rabbits who love carrots and they are expert at growing them. But something strange is going on in their garden. One day, they discover something in their garden and the story actually begin from that point. It has been a while that I developed this story and revised many times with my editor over a year. But the good thing is that finally I have got approved all sketches. So only the color part left. Let’s fun begins.
Sketches & color




I have moved to a new home recently and set up my studio space. It’s still very white but I am planning to add more colors soon. I like my dog sleeps when I am working. It makes me sleepy a bit though.
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts on this book! I am so happy to make this book because it represents my journey as well.

e: Can't wait to see what you create next and have you back on, Il Sung!