20 August 2017

VIDEO: Grace Lin

Grace Lin was recently on PBS where she talked about What to do when you realize classic books from your childhood are racist. It's worth your time. Click on the image to watch at PBS.org.

19 August 2017

Jane Yolen at the Edinburgh International Book Festival!

Our guest room has been renamed. It is now "Jane's Room"! She was our very first guest here in Edinburgh, and we were thrilled to host her once more when she came in town for speaking engagements at the 2017 Edinburgh International Book Festival. Jane had two engagements to read her poems from a magazine and an anthology, both hosted by Claire Askew and Russell Jones and Edinburgh, City of Poetry.
     The first event was for the magazine Shoreline of Infinity in the Spiegeltent.
My friend from Uni, Sara Julia Campbell illustrated the recent cover of Shoreline of Infinity. She was part of the evening's entertainment, drawing in the corner. I joined her while Jane did her reading onstage.
The show opened with a wild musical act followed by Jane and several others reading their pieces from the magazine. It was a packed house!
The next day, we had brunch with local poet, Marjorie Gill, then went to their next engagement to read poems from the anthology, Umbrellas of Edinburgh.
This one was held in the Bosco Theatre on George Street. Jane read alongside Marjorie, Finola Scott, and Harry Giles. Their styles were all so incredibly different, it was lovely to listen.
They all headed to the signing tent afterwards, which was also jam-packed with folks wanting signatures - including a teacher from Richmond, Virginia! What a small world.
But best of all, I got to spend time with Jane. I showed her my drawings and experimental paintings (so far) for our picture book, Crow Not Crow. What a delight to see her reaction in person - she loves them! I'll have to give you another sneak peek soon. We went to the University of Edinburgh MA Illustration Show, where she generously mentored my fellow classmates. (They loved having her there!) And we talked and talked about the biz (we know all the same people) and stories and life. I'm very lucky to have Jane in my life and to call her my friend.

17 August 2017

Susan Gates' on Writing School Readers

DANGEROUS TRAINERS (and other school readers)
by Susan Gates

      In 1996 I wrote a little story called “Dangerous Trainers”. The story was written for an educational publisher and was part of a graded reading scheme for primary school children. During 35 years as a writer I’ve written many such school readers. What I didn’t expect is how those little school books endure. They’re all still in print. They’re still selling! They’ve lasted longer than most other children’s books I’ve written, even the ones that won prizes.
      I have various copies of “Dangerous Trainers” on my desk now. Over the years it’s been published in US by Dingles and Co as “Dangerous Sneakers”, translated into Afrikaans as “Gevaarlike Tekkies” and, only recently, published in China for children learning English. All the teacher’s notes are in Chinese.
      And it’s not the only one of these school readers to go global. Recently, out of the blue, I was sent 30 letters from children in “Funful English Primary School” Kowloon. Freeman Chiang tells me how much he likes another of my books, “Danny’s Secret Fox” and has drawn me a lovely picture of a fox to prove it.
      So how did I get into educational books? Years ago I was teaching 16 year olds, who’d left school illiterate, to read. There was no money for books (and back then, no appropriate material, simple stories were all far too childish for my streetwise pupils) so I wrote my own stories for them. Thinking nothing would come of it, I sent them to an educational publisher. Amazingly, they ended up being published. On the strength of those early books, I made a career. I’ve written young adult novels, funny books for 9 to 12 years old, picture books for tinies. But educational publishing was my foot in the door. It’s something I’m still doing now. So if you aspire to write for children, don’t forget the educational route. It seems to be a growing market right now!

There are downsides though, which writers may, or may not, find bothersome. Publishing educational books is team work. Most writers will go through the editing process, but educational books are subject to scrutiny by literacy advisers, Pedagogues (yes, they’re really called that!), panels of teachers, educational experts etc etc. Sometimes it seems as though everybody and his dog is fiddling with your text! And school readers in particular must obey the pedagogy of whatever reading scheme is in vogue at the time. Also, if the series is international, cultural differences must be taken into account. So there will be a list, often a long one, of topics that are taboo. It’s not easy to write within these constraints. Sometimes you feel as if your story is being stripped of any literary merit. That its joyfulness and humour, the rhythms and pace of its prose, your carefully chosen vocabulary are always sacrificed to the pedagogy. The danger is that school readers end up boringly bland, squeezed dry of the very things that inspire children to read at all.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And often it isn’t. In my experience, team work can produce great little books. But you need the right ingredients. You need editors who will negotiate changes and not just slash text willy-nilly. Luckily (mostly!) I’ve had brilliant editors, passionate about maintaining that tricky balance between a good story and the rigorous demands of a school reader. You also need writers who’ll be flexible and not too precious about their text. Language is so rich and varied, there are always other ways of saying things. If you don’t like the changes suggested, stay calm (difficult when you feel protective of your story!) find solutions, offer alternatives. I’ve found that seldom fails to work.
      The other ingredient for success is good illustrations. There are some fabulous children’s illustrators around! I was lucky enough to have Martin Remphry illustrate “Dangerous Trainers”. His illustrations are so full of energy, humour and brilliant detail. They can’t fail to excite children. And here’s one of Laura Sua’s vibrant, lively and colourful illustrations for my latest international school reader, “The Pumpkin Monster”.

      So writers, if you get the chance to write educational books, don’t be daunted. The convoluted process may make you tear your hair. It certainly has me! I swear I will never do it again. But the thing that keeps me returning is that often, and seemingly impossibly, things at last come together and great little books emerge.
      My favourite of all the school readers I’ve written? It’s “The Terrible Power of House Rabbit”, illustrated by the wonderful Martin Remphry and published in UK and US. It is still going strong? I haven’t checked but I wouldn’t be surprised. I bet there’s life in that old rabbit yet!

16 August 2017

The Key Themes of Advertising

I was looking through my MFA notes recently. It's surprising how often I do that, actually. They have become valuable tools to me. I was looking for something else, but came across some notes from when an Art Representative, Nicki Field from Jelly London came to talk to us at the Uni. She quickly ran down the main themes most advertising falls into, as if it was no big thing and so obvious. My jaw hit the floor. Did everybody in the room realize what she had just provided? It was a list of what your portfolio should have in it if you want to pursue advertising illustration. I asked her to repeat it, and I'm sharing it here both for you, and so that I can find this more easily when I refer to it again (which I've already done many times when talking to other illustrators). They are:
Hair & Beauty
That's it! If you're a student, wondering what to include in your portfolio in the hopes of getting work or a job, here it is!

15 August 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Mice Artists

     One of my students at Hollins (Rebecca) was just nuts for anything mouse or squirrel or rabbit. So, this coloring page is based on the card I made for her - wee, fuzzy artists! CLICK HERE for more patriotic-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please 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.

14 August 2017

Edinburgh International Book Festival!

My favorite part of Fringe is now in full gear - the Edinburgh International Book Festival (@edbookfest)! Charlotte Square turns into the main hub of activity, but this year, it's expanding down George Street as well, which everybody loves! Performance halls like the "Moulin Rouge" pop-up everywhere.
It's lasts from August 12th through the 28th and all the big names come in from all over the world for it. It's always crowded - especially the ice-cream tent.
This year, a friend turned me on to the fact, that as a blogger, I could get a press pass - which I did!
That said, I have to admit it doesn't look like my pass will get me in to see much. Oh well. It's always fun to wear a laniard at festivals. :)
     In the mean time, other wonderfulness has come to pass... Award-winning author Vivian French invited me to join her onstage to do the same thing we did down at the Borders Festival to celebrate her newest book.
It was published by Barrington Stoke (they specialize in books for dyslexic readers - groovy!), so the head of PR, Kirstin Lamb hosted us. She and I had met before at various literary events around town, and even in Bologna, Italy at the Book Fair! (The world of children's books is always a delightfully small one.) Here we are, Viv, Me and Kirstin in the "authors' yurt" before the gig.
We were escorted to the Baille Gifford tent, where we had a lovely crowd of about 50-60 kids and adults that had some good friends in the mix too! (Hi Derek, Jean, and Catherine!)
And we were off!
Vivian was an actress before she became an author, so she is wonderful on stage. She talked about how funny English words are and about talking and writing stories, and then she got prompts from the audience - which I drew! (Pardon my back being to the audience, but this is how this works - Viv talks, I draw like crazy!) Per the audience prompts, this was the hockey-playing, rainbow-loving unicorn piece.
This was the dog, pig, hamster and snake reading - in the rain.
And this was the fairy and porcupine in space image (with the unicorn on a rainbow ring).
Yeah, it was pretty nuts! Somehow, I kept up with all the fun ideas. And happily, I brought my pastels this time, so I was able to add color to the images. We gave them out to audience participants at the end.
     I just LOVE doing that with Vivian. We bounce off of each other so well and had an absolute blast!
     There's more Book Festival fun coming soon - so check back!

13 August 2017

MA Show!

Friday was the opening of the MA Show - hosted by the wonderful gang of students I was lucky enough to work alongside over two (of their three) semesters. The show was held in a new (to us) venue in the College of Art. And it was a hit!
Even the Lord Mayor of Edinburgh was there! (Here he is with Pilar, who's artwork made the banner for the entire show!)
The space let everybody be truly creative with their spaces - like Yifei's.
Harriet (from New Orleans) created an entire room scene, in which she created everything from the wallpaper, to the ceramics, to the artwork. In her world, arthropods are pets.
Ruth displayed the book that inspired her illustrations.
Katie shared a picture book that she spent all summer illustrating, and her author was proudly by her side.
The book was adorable and gave me absolute happy chill bumps!
It took ages to sift through the crowd to simply glimpse at everybody's work - I'll have to go back for a closer, longer look this week. Meanwhile, Hannah blew us all away with her cut paper skills.
Seriously - this is all cut/sculpted paper.
Yixiao showed her love of cats.
I think this was Sophie's work...
Truly, the show was amazing - CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL! It was such a popular show, it got very hot up there, which turned us towards open windows with this view.
That would be the Castle Mound with the seating for the Royal Tattoo. Not bad. Not bad at all!

VIDEOS: New York Times Illustrator Videos

The New York Times has been creating Illustrator Interviews conducted while the illustrator creates for the camera. Click the image to watch on their FB page.

12 August 2017

Welcome Back with Whisky!

It took 1.5 weeks to get over my jet-lag and general exhaustion after two years of intense MFA followed by six more intense weeks of teaching, but I'm feeling mostly back-to-normal finally. To celebrate, Stan, me and some friends booked a whisky tasting event at Jeremiah's Taproom. It was only £10, so we thought, 'What the hey!' and got four tickets, knowing we could find friends to join us. Indeed...
This is Jeremiah's (their photo) right on Elm Row. Absolutely charming. The room in the back is for events like this one, so that's where we headed.
Turns out this was a true tasting and learning experience. This was the spread.
We were given grains to smell, a color wheel to examine the difference range of flavors,
And walked through the distillation process.
It was actually quite informative, and it was interesting how our tastes varied. Stan loves the ones that smelled like stinky socks in the middle. (Blythe hated that one.) This one was my fave - nice and smoooooth.
What we weren't counting on was that Nigel (our fair leader) then brought in three various cocktails to demonstrate how these extremely fine whiskys worked in mixed drinks (to reach a younger audience). OMG.
     Snacks came with all of this too (yes, still included in that £10), but they arrived a little too late. The damage had been done. Here's Blythe and Elena.
Amandine and Stan.
And a selfie with Elena and Amandine, and a very toasty me in the middle.
Oh - we had fun! And sang down the sidewalk on the way home. (One nice thing about being in a pedestrian city is no cars are involved.) But oh, was I hurting the next day! Jeremiah's does a tequila tasting next time. Um. We may pass on that. :) Even so, it was a great welcome back to Scotland with friends!


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