Ronald Kidd's NIGHT ON FIRE - Guest Post

Night on Fire
by Ronald Kidd

      It started with a bucket of water, a stack of Dixie cups, and the girl who carried them.
      Her name is Janie Forsyth, and she appeared in Stanley Nelson’s magnificent documentary, Freedom Riders. Her family owned a neighborhood market on the outskirts of Anniston, Alabama. On Mother’s Day 1961, a group of African American and white students calling themselves Freedom Riders came to Anniston on a trip through the South to challenge segregation practices. As Janie looked on, a mob forced the bus off the road right in front of the market. They set the bus on fire, and when the riders came stumbling out, the mob beat them. A crowd watched. No one did anything to help the riders.
      Except Janie.
      She got a bucket, filled it with water, took some Dixie cups, and went among the riders, offering them water and comfort. Someone filmed the scene, and I saw it fifty years later in Nelson’s documentary. I was so moved by Janie’s courage that I decided then and there to write a book about it. At first I thought I might tell Janie’s story. Then I decided to create a fictional character who knew Janie and lived in her neighborhood. That character is thirteen-year-old Billie Sims, who, along with her family and best friend, Grant McCall, lives up the hill and is at the market on that terrible day.
      That night, Billie asks herself some tough questions: How could people do such a thing? How could others stand by and watch? How could I stand by and watch?
      To answer the questions, Billie goes on a bus ride of her own with Jarmaine Jones, a new friend who is the daughter of her family’s maid, Lavender. Jarmaine and Billie decide together that there are two kinds of people in the world: watchers and riders. They want to be riders.
      The bus takes them to Montgomery, where the Freedom Riders had been attacked and a rally to support them would be held at First Baptist Church. Attending the rally are Civil Rights leaders Ralph Abernathy, James Farmer, Diane Nash, Martin Luther King Jr. The church filled, a mob surrounded it, and the night burst into flame.
      Billie and Jarmaine are there. They see what fear can do and how freedom could overcome it.
      “I thought freedom was just a word, but it’s not,” says Billie. “My friend Jarmaine taught me that. Freedom is hands and feet, bodies and faces, wounds and scars. It’s a bell, and I rang it. It’s a bus, and I climbed on.”
      Billie’s journey was my journey too. My family is from the South, and, like all Americans, we have been infected by racism. As Lavender Jones says, prejudice is a disease. You catch it from your parents and friends. The question isn’t whether you have it, but whether you’ll pass it on.
      I don’t want to pass it on, and neither does Billie. I am grateful to her, as I am grateful to all my characters for allowing me to walk alongside them.
      It’s why I write. In my reading, I search for a time and place where important things were bubbling up and about to burst, then I imagine what it would have been like to be there. I’m in Anniston with the Freedom Riders. I’m in Dayton, Tennessee, to witness the Scopes Monkey Trial. I’m in Memphis when Elvis Presley cuts his first record. I’m in Sierra Madre, California, to watch the filming of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’m in Bristol, Tennessee, to meet the Carter Family and see the birth of country music.
      My characters grow from the soil of these places, and important things are bubbling up in them as well, things that spill over into my world and the world of my readers. Racism in Anniston. Doubt in Dayton. Identity in Memphis. Paranoia in Sierra Madre. Faith in Bristol.
      I sit in a chair in Nashville, Tennessee, and I travel across America, dipping down when something grabs my attention. It’s a big, rough, troubled, beautiful country, and I am eager to explore it.
Ronald's fave writing spot:
     Learn more about Ronald at

I have a GUITAR!!!!

Here is my Christmas present!!! (Photo taken in Grassmarket, outside Red Dog Music, where we bought my guitar.)
     Before we moved to Edinburgh, Stan promised to get me a guitar for Christmas and he came through!
     Just as storytelling has returned to my life here in Edinburgh, so has music. It used to be a big part of my life... I sang in chorus through school, even nailed some solos. (Although I always seemed to come down with a bad cold when it came time to actually perform.) I took piano lessons for ten years as a kid, so I can (could) read music and all that. And although I loved playing, I wasn't a natural talent. When I went off to college, I took a guitar with me. But that was pre-internet and I never had formal lessons. I taught myself a bit by ear and enjoyed it, but I didn't know how to take it further. Not really. I had a wall piano for a while in Chattanooga. And I played guitar when we lived in the mountains. I would join in during 'Pickin' in the Park' - a massive weekly jamming session by the river. There, I collected some great folk-song lyrics, because I ended up singing more than playing. But for some reason, when we moved to Atlanta, music faded from my life.
     Fast forward to today, and music has returned! My new friend is a Gretsch "Jim Dandy" Flat Top Parlour Guitar.

     It's 3/4th the size of a standard acoustic - a nice size for me. And it has a great, bluesy twang to it. I was originally looking at a standard acoustic, which had a deep, traditional sound, but out the corner of my eye, I saw one of the music store employees walk by with the Gretsch. I said, "WHAT is THAT!?" and pursued him. He was showing it off to a fellow employee, and it sounded so great! I have been on a blues kick since arriving in Edinburgh and the twang of this little guitar was so unique, it spoke to me - truly!
     I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have this little guy in my life! I spent all evening taking online tutorials (god bless the internet!) and learned some great new guitar riffs. AND, I finally remembered a sweet little song I wrote in college, which I'd been trying to recall for months!
     It will take a while to build up some decent calluses, but I'll do it. Because I have a date one year from now... Several friends (who are also trying to learn instruments - one, an accordion, and the other, the trumpet) and I have agreed to go busking. (If that's a new word to you, it means playing on the street for money.) We have to be good enough by then to actually make money instead of having tomatoes thrown at us. I have no idea what songs will sound good between an accordion, a trumpet, and a guitar, but we'll figure it out. The goal is to earn £20 - enough to go grab a round of celebratory drinks. I can't wait!
     Of course, first, I have to get my guitar back from Stan.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Happy 2016!!!

     I wish you a new year filled with your definition of success and happiness, but mostly good health, good living and peace. Cheers!
     CLICK HERE for more 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 six literary awards. 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.

Holiday Friends!

The holidays here in Edinburgh have meant getting together with friends - how nice! To kick it all off, fellow MFA student and my good friend Catherine - we had our own private 'fall apart' party at the semester's end over wine and mussels!
Some friends came from out of town - Jen, Adam and their sweet daughter Josie who moved from Atlanta to London about six months before we headed to Edinburgh.
They came north to explore our fair city for a long weekend. We went to dinner at L'escargot Bleu - fabulous! And to "The Scotch Whiskey Experience," which, I must say, you have not truly experienced until your friend adds a little water to her whisky (as you should) from a sippy cup!
Then there were the parties! Fellow MFA student Chiho invited some of us over for a Japanese feast. And what a great mix of people it ended up being, with Uni students from all over campus, some former roommates, and some travelers from around the globe.
(Click an image to see it larger in a new window.)

Going around the table from the front, that's Catherine, Daniel, Hiro, Maja, Nico, Sylvia, Chiho, Boris, Justin and Graham.
The apartment has been home to students for many years, so musical instruments are scattered around in various stages of disrepair. Some of the guys, Daniel, Hiro, Nico, and Chiho tried to tune a broken guitar to no avail.
Graham from California made beautiful music for us on his kevlar (?) violin. Here he is playing Bach. What a treat!
And last night, we attended a party at Rosie and Dick's (didn't get any photos there, but had a blast). And today, we'll catch up with some friends traveling from the states. What a nice way to say HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

How to do Yoda-Speak


Illustrator Sydney Smith

I was so captivated by Sydney Smith's unique style, I had to try it. Its so fun making stencils and spattering paint. Maybe you should try it too? Watch: How Illustrator Sydney Smith uses his own stencils to paint beautiful kids' books:

Illustration Challenge #29

Change up your tools. This is your week to try something new - pastel, paints, crayons, charcoal - it doesn't matter. Be sure to get some nice big paper so that you go big with the new feel. It doesn't matter if you're terrible. It will be a new thing - what would you expect, to master it in the first try? The point is to allow yourself to have fun and mess up!

Merry Christmas from Scotland!

I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday and new year filled with good things.
As a special gift, have a listen to Ellen Kushner's WGBH radio show Sound and Spirit: the episode on Carols for Dancing - what a lovely Christmas treat!


For this, my Christmas Eve post, I have a lovely gift for you, dear readers...
     Here at the University of Edinburgh College of Art, I have the distinct pleasure of being mentored by Vivian French. Vivian is the award-winning author of over 270 children’s book titles including her latest picture book, THE MOST WONDERFUL THING IN THE WORLD, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Candlewick Press). Here’s the blurb:
Once upon a time, a king and a queen promise to marry their daughter to the young man who can show them the most wonderful thing in the world. Suitors arrive at the palace, one after the other, with elaborate gifts of jewels, inventions, and even mythical beasts, but nothing feels quite right to the overwhelmed majesties. It is only when a shy young man, who isn’t a suitor at all, steps forward that the king and queen finally understand what the most wonderful thing in the world actually is. Vivian French’s touching fairy tale is made all the more enchanting by the many subtle surprises included in Angela Barrett’s exquisite illustrations.
     Since I have such lovely access to Vivian, I wanted to ask her some questions to share with all of you…

Vivian, how did the idea for THE MOST WONDERFUL THING IN THE WORLD come to you?
The story of TMWT is based on a traditional story that Angela Barrett loved as a child. She brought it into Walker Books and we had a look at it together - and I thought I could develop it, and have fun with it. In the original the King and queen are besieged by suitors, but there's not much mention of what they bring; Angela thought this would give her a lot of scope for inventive illustration, and I loved the idea of changing the story so that it had a new life. There's a lot about gardens in the original; I preferred the idea of Lucia and Salvatore exploring the city together, and gradually falling in love without knowing too much about each other.
Was it a story that came easily, or did you have to noodle with it a good deal?
It was much too long to begin with. I had to do a good deal of slicing and cutting, especially once Angela's amazing pictures starting arriving. I had to change the text to fit; she often drew something entirely different from the gifts that I'd described. Also the design required the text to be shaped on certain pages so it didn't argue with the curves of the illustration; I spent a lot of time counting letters and spaces!

In our workshop, you talk about coming up with a beginning and an ending first, before coming up with the middle of a story. Can you talk about that a little?
I like to have a clear idea in my head about where the story is going to go ... rather like knowing which country you're going to end up in when you travel. (Even though you don't know the exact location.) I also think it's important to know what emotions are going to be called upon - both in the characters, and in the reader.
Do stories come to you or do you seek them out?
I'm not sure what this question means. Stories unravel in my head ... I'm never aware of chasing them down.

What was your writing journey like when you were starting out? How did you sell your first book?
A friend who was a published children's author told me to try and write ... I'd been a story teller and an actor (children's theatre) for a long time. She sent my first attempts to her publisher and they said no, but Walker Books were in the same building, and they said yes. Something of a surprise, as I'd never really considered writing children's books. I'd written plays, though.

You’ve been working with me on creating “Heart Illustrations.” Can you explain what that means?
I think I was trying to explain the need to touch in to deep emotions. The characters in a story have to speak to the heart of the reader, to connect, to make them feel something they didn't feel when they looked at the first page - and the emotions have to feel true and not contrived or forced. A book is a journey that the characters and the reader take together. Some books, of course, are little more than a visual joke (and very funny they are too! I wouldn't be without them) but I'm talking about the books that children look at/read over and over again because there's an essential truth within them.
Can you share a bit about Picture Hooks and how it came to be? (It’s one of the reasons I chose to come to the University of Edinburgh!)
Lucy Juckes and I felt there was an uncomfortable void between leaving art college and going out into the world; we wanted to help prepare emerging talent so they could feel confident of their work, their portfolio, and know something about what was on offer. We arrange for five illustrators (not necessarily straight out of college; some have been around a little longer, but for various reasons need support and a refresh) to be mentored for a year by five professional illustrators with substantial experience. We're very careful how we put the mentor/mentee together; it has to be a mutually comfortable fit. And, at the end of the year, there's an exhibition in the National Gallery of Scotland - lucky us! Last time we had over 90,000 visitors. We're hoping to do even better this time ... the exhibition is on until the end of February.
      There's lots more information on We're incredibly fortunate to have the support of the illustration department at ECA, and the National Gallery of Scotland. And, of course, Creative Scotland.

What are you working on now?
A short novel for junior readers, a couple of early readers, a non-fiction story or two ... and there's a play that is REALLY late on delivery dates!

I asked Vivian to share a photo of her fave writing spot and she said...
It's the train. Any train. Or a long haul flight ...
Learn more about Vivian at her website:

Collograph printing at ECA

I told you about this label project I assigned myself. I needed three labels, one for my Almanac (a.k.a. Diary), for which I used linocut on the rubber carving substrate (which I hated). I'm not sure I showed it to you finished, so here it is.
I also needed a label for my Tricksters book and the box they went into. I wanted to create all the labels using various methods of printing. I showed you the box label, created using wood-block letters. And above is the linocut label for the Almanac. For my hand-made Tricksters book, I decided to try collograph.
      You've probably done collograph before... In kindergarten, you may have glued macaroni to a piece of cardboard, lacquered it, then put paint all over it, and done a relief print with paper. It's a fun thing to do. But this method is a little more, *ahem*, grown up.
     First I created my plate using Evo board. I cut out the word "Tricksters" (the name of my 'big' project). I traced it onto the board and cut off the top layer of paper. Then I took the cut out paper version and glued it above. Then I lacquered the front and back to seal it up. Sounds complicated, but it will make sense in a second...
     While I was lacquering my board, a hair fell onto it. I decided I loved the line it created and painted it in permanently! (Gotta love happy accidents!) Then I inked it up, trying to match that caramel paper I've been using. It looked like this. (Now you can see those cut out letters.) My plate was gorgeous, but very subtle. We weren't sure it was going to work.
     I put paper over it and used the very high-tech method of rubbing a wooden spoon over the back. The first one actually turned out beautifully. So did the second and third. I was thrilled!

     I promised I'd share the end results and here they are... the box, the Almanac, and the Trickster book - all with their handmade labels: wood block letter press, linocut, and collograph. LOVE it!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Christmas Tree Dude

      I was feeling pure silly drawing this one. I hope you enjoy him!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state. Click the cover to learn more.
     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.

Wood block letterpress at ECA

I told you about learning letterpress the other day - well, that was the metal letters. We also learned how to use the wood block letters, which are like working with marvelous antiques. Truly, many of them are hundreds of years old. Printing them reveals wood grains, nicks and scratches. They are organic and beautiful! They're also a little easier than the metal letters. Steve quickly put together some wooden letters directly onto the Eagle press.
The plate was metal, so he used magnets to hold the letters in place.
      Just like in the relief printing I did for my linocut project, we inked the blocks, placed paper on top, pulled the arm of the ancient press, and came up with this.
     But how could I apply this to my work?
     One of the projects I assigned myself was to create handmade labels for all my almanac books and boxes, using a different method for every one. So, the next day, I went back down to the print lab and created the label for my Almanac box.
      First I selected the gorgeous wood block letters (there were no lower case e's), then placed them on the press the way Steve had. Aren't they gorgeous?
I inked the letters, put paper on top, pulled the printer arm and...
     Then I did it again onto my caramel paper, which has become a color theme for these books. The paper was thicker, so I had to use a piece of felt to increase the tension. It turned out great.
     I can't show you all the labels yet, because there was one more I had to do... next is collograph!

John Dowland

I've been listening to a lot of baroque lute and classical music lately because I've found it blocks out the sound of conversations around me at school, and I can actually still concentrate with it playing. It also happens to have a lovely Christmas sound. Want to hear more? Click here!

Illustration Challenge #28

Christmas is just around the corner. Draw a tree and decorate it with all the things that mean the most to you!!!

Weird Christmas things...

Edinburgh is GORGEOUS for Christmas! But every now and then I see things that make me wonder... Like this lit up cow, sitting above a restaurant on Prince's Street. (Okay, okay, so I think it's a steak place.)
And especially this one. This is the entrance to the car lot on Castle Terrace. What says Christmas more than the hanging head of Santa, in front of the ancient castle where they probably did actually hang heads during the Medieval times? Hmmmm.
Downtown, I came across several of these...stunted palm trees? I'm not sure what they are exactly. But this one had a lovely arm sticking out in front - sort of like a Christmas trebuchet.
At any rate, however you decorate this holiday season - I hope you have a great one!

Friday Linky List - 18 December 2015

At Meet Father Frost and his Fairy Goddaughter Snow Maiden: Magical Characters of Winter from Russia - Postcard of Ded Moroz by Matorin Nikolay Vasilyevich from 1917. (Public Domain)

From The New York Times: Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.

At Food52 - Cookies of the World!!! SO GREAT!

At Milk & Bookies - Author Champion: Rana DiOrio (my publisher at Little Pickle Press - she talks about LPP books including A BIRD ON WATER STREET)

From GREAT!storybook: Top 20 Children's Book Agents 2015, based on sales

From PW (via SCBWI Belgium): Children's Publishing in China: Highlights from the First GKC China Deep Dive

In my search for Heart Illustrations, I love this post at Picture Book Builders: Marianne Dubuc's THE LION AND THE BIRD

At Bookshelf: Is there still any point collecting books? with a lovely quote by Howard Jacobson

Daniel Kirk's - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas - Guest Post

On Creating 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Daniel Kirk

      It must have been twenty years ago that I first came up with the notion of a woodsman-Santa, wearing plaid coat and a cap with earflaps. I did an oil on canvas painting of him, standing with a camping lantern on a dark, snowy night, and made it into the holiday card that I used to send to friends and family. One of my editors, Howard Reeves, suggested that I should write a story about my character. Over the decades I’ve tried a couple of times to tell the story of this Santa, but I never came up with the perfect idea.
      Just a few years ago I was discussing possible Christmas book projects with that same editor, Howard Reeves, and it was suggested that I might take one of the perennial favorites, like “Twelve Days of Christmas” or “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and create my own version. Now I must have at least a dozen versions of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” on my own bookshelves, and I went to the library to find all of them that I could. I must have checked out another twenty before I felt like I knew what I was up against! I didn’t see any point in illustrating a classic like this unless I could bring something new to it.
      My favorite version happens to be the one Anita Lobel illustrated in 1984, featuring Brooklyn as the backdrop to the familiar tale. Gyo Fujukowa’s version is also quite lovely and stylized, as is Leonard Weisgard’s classic. I’d have to say that I tend to like the versions that add something new or different to the old poem. If something is worth doing, I believe it’s important to put your own stamp on it! It seems to me that it’s an illustrator’s job to make text come alive in a distinctive, individual way.
      I’ve been writing and illustrating children’s books a long time, and my most popular books have been a series of five stories called “Library Mouse”. I wondered whether I could make the narrator of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” a papa mouse, instead of a man. I thought this might give the story a new perspective and allow me to expand the Library Mouse world to include more characters. My editor informed me that if I had to make a few minor text changes it would be okay, so I did. And then I had to find a way to tell the story, visually, from a mouse point of view.
      I also wondered if it might be time to share my view of a woodsman-Santa. So far nobody has complained about my version not being “true” to the original, and I am glad for that. Though recently at a bookstore reading a little boy came up to me afterwards and asked why Santa’s nose was a red ball, just like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Kids are very observant!
      I’ve experimented with a lot of different media over the years. I began my children’s book career making oil paintings on canvas, then went to gouache, pastel, colored pencil, collage and many other things! My last five or six books have begun with pen and ink drawings, which I scan into my computer and add color and textures in Photoshop. It’s fun for me as an illustrator to try new techniques. As they say, if you always hit the target, you’re standing too close, and I like to challenge myself if I can.
      I have a painting studio in the barn/garage out at the end of our property. But these days I find that it’s nice to set up the computer in the dining room in the house and work there, where the natural light is plentiful, and I am always close to the kitchen. I work better if I always have snacks on hand! And as we enter this holiday season, I am tempted to bake some Christmas cookies to nibble on while working on my next book project.
     Learn more about Daniel at
Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore and illustrated by Daniel Kirk, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers (£10.99) CLICK HERE to purchase the book directly from Abrams.

Quote of the Week

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." - Edgar Degas

Christmas in Edinburgh!

It gets dark pretty early in Scotland - it's pitch black by 4:00pm. To counter that, Edinburgh lights the town back up for Christmas! There are TWO Christmas villages within walking distance from our flat. The first one hosts a double decker carousel.
An ice skating rink...

which circles around a pop-up pub where they serve mulled wine and hot toddies.
I walk through this festive event every day as it's right at the top of our hill on the way to school. Talk about some Christmas spirit!
      The other Christmas village is down on Princes Street. Stan and I visited that one during the daytime. It also has an ice-skating rink and tons of stands where you can buy gifties of all kinds... or more mulled wine.
There's also a very grown-up carousel there, where you can buy (you guessed it) mulled wine, grab a pony and watch the world go by. Stan LOVES Christmas here!
I dropped by the Princes Street Christmas Village with a friend later when it was dark. It lights up like the... Sun? Who needs it when we have THIS!?