Random Happenings of Happiness

I had a huge crowd for story-time again today - I'm sad it was my last one for now. Since so many of the kids were in school during my first story-times, today I skipped a theme and just read some of my favorites. Once again, DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS by Mo Willems was the biggest hit. At the end we sang the Bumble Bee song - by the second verse an older gentleman in the back was singing along the loudest. Gotta love it.

My book signing yesterday at the Mountain Scholar Bookstore was a complete success! If only they all went so well. I had a carpet full of kids to read THE PRINCE'S DIARY to. They loved looking for the mice I hid throughout the book. We sold scaads of books and I signed, signed, signed. What a great day.

I bought a new drawing pad too (small enough to draw while watching TV). Had to draw a flying pig don't ya know. Gotta draw flying pigs.

Illustration Friday, Theme: Envy

Wow, Friday snuck by me this week. I did this illustration quite a while ago for a story I wrote . . . which will probably never see the light of day: "Penny's Pink Opinion." This illustration has worked hard for me though. This is the piece that got me the "Featured Artist" gig several months back on the SCBWI website.

Star Wars Episode III

     Just got back from seeing "Revenge of the Sith." Parts of the movie were very, VERY good. It was incredibly complex. Foreshadowing was done very well. There was no black and white - lots of grey, lots of mistakes made by "people" on all sides. The case for Anakin turning to the dark side WAS made - his confusion was palpable.His visions twisted tragically. The scene where he is so horribly disfigured is disturbing - truly - but is also wonderfully done.
     However, parts of the movie didn't work. Unfortunately, some of those parts were key to the believability of the story. The scene where Anakin finally does go to the dark side was woefully underdone and unbelievable. The absolute, complete, and sudden change is too radical. He doesn't evolve into it, he is suddenly there. I didn't buy it. The time they should have spent making that scene more believable was wasted in a way too long battle scene between Obi-Wan and Anakin. Yes, that was pivitol too, but not nearly as important.
     Then there were the little bugs, like Padmé giving birth to full grown babies (I'm talking, long out of the womb sized babies), when she is hardly five or six months pregnant.
     The thing I found most amusing were the obvious references to the Bush administration: "If you are not with me, you are my enemy"; "So this is how liberty dies. With applause." Supposedly George Lucas wrote the lines long before he'd ever heard of George Bush. It's downright disturbing how well they fit as political satire.
     So, overall, I'm torn. I thought this one was MUCH better than I & II, and it prepared wonderfully for the original, or number IV, which of course I'm dying to go back and watch. Did it really first come out in 1977? Gese, I'm getting old. It did not wow my socks off, which I was hoping it would do.
     See it. Do see it. But don't set your expectations too high.

Storytime - Dragons, Dinosaurs, and Monsters

Wow. So I had 30 kids and 17 adults show up for story-time yesterday. What a crowd! Can't tell that school is out - ha. My "theme" was Dragons, Dinosaurs, and Monsters. I read several poems from THE DRAGONS ARE SINGING TONIGHT by Jack Prelutsky and Peter Sis, RAISING DRAGONS by Jerdine Nolen and Elise Primavera (had to reduce down some of the text in a few areas on that one - but what a great story), BUS-A-SAURUS BOP by Diane Z. Shore and David Clark was a HUGE hit, THE LAST BASSELOPE by Berkeley Breathed (again, I had to reduce down the text), OT: MRS. BIDDLEBOX by Linda Smith and Marla Frazee, and HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOOD NIGHT & HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. I also handed out coloring pages of a dragon I'd drawn (which you can download for coloring by clicking on the image above). It went very well, and the kids had a blast. Since I'm now getting a slightly older crowd from school being out, I may forego a theme next week and just read some favorites. It will be my last story-time for now. :-(

Illustration Friday, Theme: Aquatic

I'm not sure I'm going to have time to take this all the way, so I'm posting it at this stage. I've wanted to draw Sea Monkeys for a while actually, so here's a great excuse. If I am able to render it fully, I'll post as it progresses.

Update: Okay, I was able to render it, so here is the final result.
I drew the sketch with pencil, scanned it in, laid in flat color in Photoshop, and rendered it in Painter. I then pulled it back into Photoshop for adjustments. I'm really trying to experiment with adding pattern and texture and downloaded a whole bunch of new brushes for Photoshop. I have to say, I'm not real excited about my options. Anyone know of a resource for brushes that make good (large) patterns?

Later: it occurred to me that I need to look into the "pattern nozzle" - I think that's what it's called. That might be what I need. Hm.

Storytime Yesterday

     Yesterday's theme was "Animals" - leaning towards the more exotic. I read GIRAFFES CAN'T DANCE by Giles Andreae, MRS. CHICKEN AND THE HUNGRY CROCODILE by Won-Ldy Paye, I, CROCODILE by Fred Marcelllino, CAT YOU BETTER COME HOME by Garrison Keillor, and here was the big surprise - SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner. All of the books received smiles and intense interest, although I didn't get as much out loud laughter. The fun thing is, the kids are starting to know me and trust me. They've usually been several feet away, scattered on the carpet. Yesterday, they were all bunched up together at my feet. That was very cool.
     But, for the big surprise. I had the library order in SKIPPYJON JONES because it looked interesting. Well the book is HILARIOUS! I read it several times out loud just to myself because it had me laughing so hard. I was worried it wouldn't make sense to the kids, it jumps around a bit, and the alliteration is to die for. Truly I'm not sure they did follow it, but the text is so fun (not easy) to read, and the rhythm SO great (and of course, you have to use a spanish accent) - it ended up being their favortie book that day.
     Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese Cat who thinks he is a Chihuahua. He ends up in a spanish speaking world where he must save a whole bunch of other chihuahua's from a giant bumlebee who has eaten all their beans. Everything rhymes with "ito." Here is an example:
     "¡Ay, caramba! Who goes there?" asked Skippyjon Jones.
     "We go by the name of Los Chimichangos," growled Don Diego, the biggest of the small ones. "Who are you?"
     "I am El Skippito, the great sword fighter," said Skippyjon Jones.
     Then the smallest of the small ones spoke up.
     "Why the maskito, dude?" asked Poquito Tito.
     "I go incognito," said Skippito . . . etc.
     I'm telling you, it's difficult to read out loud, but if you can nail it, it is hilarious!!

Illustration Friday, Theme: Nourishment

This is an illustration from GLITTER GIRL AND THE CRAZY CHEESE written by Frank Hollon. It will be released by MacAdam/Cage Publishers this Fall. It's one child's challenge to find "nourishment" when the cheese on her sandwich gets up and starts walking around! It's a cute story. :)

Dreams of Space

      This is a very cool site my hubbie found: DREAMS OF SPACE.
       The site talks about the post WWII era when all eyes were on space travel. A flurry of literature for children was inspired by the possibilities of space travel and moon colonization. This website links to illustrations and book covers on the subject. It's interesting from several viewpoints. The art itself is often created using color plates with a very limited palette. The palette itself is interesting, lots of oranges, aquas, and blacks. And of course the subject matter which is sometimes somewhat comical. If you have some time to kill, have fun looking through everything.
      My favorite, though, is the quote by my hero Carl Sagan: "The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps."
      I hear ya Carl!

The Jack Tales

      I came across a book in my collection recently: THE JACK TALES, Folk Tales From The Southern Appalachians Collected And Retold By Richard Chase.
      First some background: I live in the Southern Appalachians. One of the draws to this area was the incredible culture that developed, uninfluenced, in these mountains due to its incredible isolation. There is a strong Celtic/English influence here which shows up in many places. For instance, instead of Y'all, people here say Yu'uns. People play dulcimers and blue grass, and they tell the Jack Tales.
      I did my exit show in Graphic Design on the National Storytelling Convention in Jonesborough, TN. There, Ray Hicks, declared a national treasure by President Reagan, told the Jack Tales. (Another good article on Ray Hicks is HERE.) His accent was so thick and his verbiage so ancient, he was hard to understand. But he was a joy to watch as he sat in his overalls, rolling cigarettes, cracking himself up. Unfortunately we lost Mr. Hicks several years ago, but there is an irony here. Most of the Jack Tales collected by Mr. Chase were gathered in Boone, NC, home to Ray Hicks.
      Imagine my surprise when I came across THE JACK TALES in my collection, signed by my grandparents, "With love to Elizabeth, Christmas 1975, from Gameo & Pop Pop." My Grandparents have both long since left this world.
      It would seem there were some powerful forces putting me on this path of storyteller, long before I actually stepped into the journey. It's a bizarre foreshadowing.

      Okay, so all that covered, why do I mention this? This past Tuesday, I read EPOSSUMONDAS by Coleen Salley to the kids during Storytime at my local library. I immediately recognized the structure of one of the Jack Tales, "Jack and the King's Girl." I think it's wonderfully appropriate that an obviously southern story should have roots in Appalachian lore, and I never would have recognized the influence if it hadn't been for Jack weaving in and out of my life for so many years. In honor, I have named the protagonist in my latest project "Jack."
      By the way, I've noticed that THE JACK TALES was reprinted in 2003 by Houghton Mifflin. I highly recommend it.

Hobbit Hall!

I will be at Hobbit Hall in historic Roswell, GA this Saturday at 10:00 am, signing copies of THE PRINCE'S DIARY written by Renee Ting (illustrated by Yours Truly) for Shen's Books. I'm so excited. Hobbit Hall is a fantastic children's bookstore. For more information, call: 770-587-0907.

Storytime at my Library

I am fill in storyteller for the month of May at my local library. What a great thing. School's not out yet, so I have lots of young ones, average ages are 2 - 6. Last week the theme was "Acting Out." That went over Great. I read a poem from Peter Sis' THE DRAGONS ARE SINGING TONIGHT (beautiful book if you haven't seen it), EXCUSE ME! by Lisa Kopelke, NO, DAVID! by David Shannon, THE MONSTER WHO ATE MY PEAS by Danny Schnitzlein (one of my favorites to read to kids), KNUFFLE BUNNY and DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS by Mo Willems (the man is a genius), WHEN SOPHIE GETS REALLY REALLY ANGRY by Molly Bang, and OLIVIA by Ian Falconer. What a great theme. I actually could have read a dozen more.

Tomorrow, my theme will be Farm Life (and creatures therein and abouts). Again, I've got quite the stack of books: Some funny songs from TAKE ME OUT OF THE BATHTUB AND OTHER SILLY DILLY SONGS by Alan Katz, MUNCHA, MUNCHA, MUNCHA by Candace Fleming, THE STORY OF FROG BELLY RAT BONE by Timothy Basil Ering (this would maybe fit with "Urban Living" too), MISS SPIDER'S TEA PARTY by David Kirk, CLICK, CLACK, MOO, COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin (that's a given, isn't it?), TINKA by Rainy Dohaney, PIGSTY by Mark Teague, EPOSSUMONDAS by Coleen Salley, and Maybe JOSEPHA by Jim McGugan, and THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka.

I also have two coloring pages to hand out, a cow and a pig. I hope the kids have fun, I know I will!

Observations on Children's Writing and Illustrating

I’ve been busy creating some new pieces for my portfolio pages, and preparing for Story-time at my local library. I will be the stand in for the month of May. All of this has me doing quite a bit of research. I read almost every picture book I own, a considerable amount, to select ones that read well to a young group. I pulled out my Picture-Book 2004, and went through it with a fine toothed comb to come up with ideas for coloring pages - and I’m learning some new things.

From my reading, I’m learning there are some noticeable themes in children’s books. Yes, we all know about fairies and good-night books, but I’ve been surprised to find some not so obvious themes: Acting Out, Dinosaurs, Dragons, Farm Life (usually from the animals’ point of view), Urban life, Dogs and Cats, Wild Animals, Holidays, Bed time, Bath time, and Dreams. I’m also realizing there are holes in some of these categories. For instance, there aren’t enough books about aliens or pirates. I try to fill in with songs and poems, even storytelling, for my Story-time program. But I really have to stretch to keep on theme in some areas.

Before I talk about my art research let me mention, I do feel like I’ve gone through a growth period recently with my art. It always seems to work like that . . . you cruise along with your skills on a flat plain for several months or even years, when suddenly *zwooop* - up you go to a new plain of skills. The neat thing to me is, suddenly, I feel like I’m looking at art through new eyes. I’m noticing things I didn’t notice even 6 months ago.

So I was searching for ideas, to draw new coloring pages for the kids, by devouring my Picture-Book 2004. What jumped out at me here though, was something I didn’t expect: nuances in illustration skills. Sometimes, an artist can really draw, but doesn’t handle their medium well. Or the detail level is wonderful, but without contrast, creating no depth. Sometimes they can’t draw at all, but they are wonderful designers and have amazing creative ideas. And sometimes an artist will draw wonderfully in black and white, but lose it when they get to color. I concluded there are talents underlying the umbrella talent of illustrator - some are: drawing ability, color understanding, medium proficiency, saturation, proportion, and design comprehension. The ones I really love are the illustrators who excel in all of these areas.

Saturation, or lack of saturation, especially, was perhaps my biggest surprise. Many styles and mediums, by their nature, allow lots of paper show through - watercolor and colored pencils for example. This can work, but sometimes it doesn’t. I think a wash of color before rendering can help in so many areas. A tiny example: the light allowed to show in the foreground of a piece, cannot be the same light allowed to show in the background of a piece. Otherwise there is no delineation between the two - no depth.

This has been such a valuable exercise, I think I’ll try to do this every 6 months or so, as it seems I still have new lessons to learn even when I look at things I’ve already seen. Training the eye to really see, isn’t that what being an illustrator is all about?