Gotta love a book about chocolate! Cas Lester is here today to talk about...

      Chocolate – the international language of friendship!
      My latest book is called ‘DO YOU SPEAK CHOCOLATE?’ You’d be forgiven for asking: ‘What does it even mean?’ and ‘Who gives a book a bizarre title like that?’ Well, I did! And I’ll tell you why . . .
      The story is about a friendship between two Year 7 girls, one of whom is a Syrian refugee, who are determined to become friends even though they don't speak the same language. It’s about diversity and inclusion and about celebrating our similarities rather than our differences.
      So what’s that go to do with chocolate? I hear you ask. Well . . . chocolate is the international language of friendship. Seriously, it is.
      Think about it. How do you make friends with someone if you can’t even talk to each other? In the book, when British schoolgirl Jaz realizes Nadima doesn’t speak English, or French or German so she can’t even talk to her at all . . . she rootles around in her school bag, offers Nadima some chocolate and asks: ‘Do you speak chocolate?’ It’s the start of a wonderful friendship.
     Interestingly, the two girls then start to communicate via texts using emojis. I heard a linguist argue that emojis might be considered to be an important international language. And indeed it might be. But I reckon chocolate could well be the international language of friendship!
      The book was inspired by a true story about a friendship between two real girls who were determined to become friends even though they didn't speak each other’s language. They featured in a BBC children’s documentary I was cutting down into clips to use in classrooms. Their friendship started with a smile - not a chunk of chocolate. I do a lot of school visits and often ask children what they might use to break down any language barrier to start a friendship. And I love their answers: a game of football, a packet of crisps, offering to share music on their phones, sharing their packed lunch . . . I still reckon chocolate would do it for me!
      But then I’m a bit of a chocoholic, especially when I’m working. I keep a (not very) secret stash of it in my office. I think it would be fair to say that the story was inspired by chocolate, and the writing of it was powered by chocolate.
      Before I started writing children’s books I worked for CBBC drama making shows like ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’, and putting books on screen e.g. in ‘Jackanory’ and ‘Jackanory Junior’. Then CBBC moved to Manchester and, since I had four children happily settled in Oxfordshire, sadly CBBC and I parted company. Cut to seven years later and I now have nine books in print. I write the NIXIE THE BAD, BAD FAIRY books - about a mischievous, tomboy fairy who’s better at DIY than she is at magic. (She keeps her wand in one of her boots and a spanner in the other.) My first series of books featured HARVEY DREW AND THE BIN MEN FROM OUTER SPACE - comedy sci-fi about space trash.
      DO YOU SPEAK CHOCOLATE? is my latest book. I’m absolutely thrilled that it has been translated into five languages including French, German and Dutch.
     The Dutch publishers sent me some chocolates personalised with the book cover. Clearly, the Dutch really do speak chocolate!
DO YOU SPEAK CHOCOLATE? is published by Piccadilly Press and has been nominated for the Redbridge Book Award and selected for the Summer Reading Challenge 2018.

The Making of a Library

I live and breathe books, as do the programs I am involved in at both Hollins University and the University of Glasgow. We've been working towards the idea of creating an on-site library at Hollins during our summer MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating and Certificate in Children's Book Illustration programs. I also talked to my supervisor at Glasgow about creating an on-site children's book library in the School of Education. In both cases, there are nearby libraries. However, both are a bit of a hike and mostly uphill (the one at Glasgow is especially so). The main libraries are just physically removed enough that students don't use them the way they could (me included).
     It's not laziness, it's a matter of immediacy. There's nothing like wanting to refer to a book and having it right there, or to be able to sit and just browse through titles with no goal in mind. This can be especially helpful for budding educators and creators who don't have a solid mental data-base of what books are actually out there. Being able to easily browse can give them a working knowledge of available books to share with young readers and students, or to inform their practice.
     Add to all that, when I served on the Book Bug Selection Committee for the Scottish Book Trust, I ended up with an enormous box full of books that I didn't need to keep. So, I had books to share, with no place in particular to share them!
     As it turns out, I wasn't the only one with the idea of an onsite library.
     Lecturer Jennifer Farrar had also been investigating the possibility for all the reasons I mention above. While in a staff meeting, a discussion came up about a wonky little room in the building that wasn't being used, and did anybody have any ideas. Jennifer jumped on it and lo' a library was born! Of course, I wanted to help!
     Jennifer got the college to spruce up the room with new flooring, chairs and bookshelves. We coordinated a day for her to pick me up along with my box of books, and she added books donated from local libraries and other sources. It was a great chance for us to talk and get to know each other better. Best of all, we were able to create a library - in a day!
     The space used to be a coffee room. It's oddly shaped with a wall of windows and a great view.
Jen had bins made, similar to the ones that hold books at the public children's library on the George IV bridge.
We unpacked box after box.
And had fun doing it! (Here's Jen - victorious!)
     And BOOM! Insta-library!
     We created a magical space and one that I know is going to get used like crazy. If you ever need to find me on campus - guess where I'll be!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Dragon Painting

     From card to coloring page... Artists come in all shapes and sizes, including dragons!
CLICK HERE for more coloring pages.
If you use my coloring pages often, please...

Just love this one image? Consider a one-time donation...

CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week.

     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."
     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.

More cards!

Well, I suppose I'm addicted to making these things now. Although, I've run out of paper and need to get more. I made a HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY card for Jane Yolen.
We had a playdate last week when her daughter Heidi (and boyfriend Dennis) came in town. SO lovely to finally meet Heidi in person!! And Jane returns this week to stay with us this time as she has a gig at the Edinburgh Book Festival. LOTS more on that soon!
     Meanwhile, a dear friend is having a baby...SO!

Fringe Fun #2

Stan and I had an errand to run on the other side of town recently, so we tied in some Fringe wanderings along the way. The building where my graduation ceremony took place (and where my classmates put my head on a stick so that I could be there, as I was teaching in the states at the time), has an enormous open piazza in front of it that has been consumed by Fringe.
It had this awesome little gin bar (with a tree fort) in the middle of it.
Funny decorations are everywhere, like these foam flowers.
Sometimes all they use is colored lights - to great effect. The BBC tent is in front of the George Heriot's School (Hogwarts).
Pop-up theatres pop-up everywhere, and they are so colorful and fun! Here's Stan at one.
And here's another.
Some of our faves were back, like this tent bar that reminds us of our honeymoon in Africa.
Of course, the crowning glory of Fringe is the enormous, inflated, upside-down cow theatre - the symbol of one of the biggest hosts for Fringe, Underbelly.
More soon!

Fringe Fun #1

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is underway here in Edinburgh. It's one heck of a Welcome Home! I'm busy catching up with friends who I haven't seen all summer, and some who are in town for just a bit. I was thrilled to be able to catch up with fellow MFA classmates Boris and Nadee at the portrait gallery. She was in town for holiday for a few days.
And I got to hang out with Marta from Madrid before she heads back home from her semester abroad at Glasgow Uni. We ate at Wagamama for lunch and saw #Excalibow, which was hilarious and awesome. What a talented group of performers!
When we left the theatre, the sun wasn't out for us, but neither were the crowds. So we had a great time handing out in one of the Fringe hidey-holes.
Fringe is such that you see the oddest most random things as you walk around. For instance this knight in shining armour, talking to somebody who I think might have been famous considering the crowd that flocked to him. Sorry I only got a photo of his back, whoever he was!
I regularly pass Kuboki performers. Today, several WWI soldiers with a stretcher passed me on a sidewalk. And some outfits are just weird and may have no reason at all for being so. Gotta love Fringe!

Friday Links List - 10 August 2018

From Good Gear (via colleague Julie Mcadam): A handmade Bookshelf Blanket (quilt) - Awesome!

From YouTube: 12 Genius Hacks for Colored Pencils - GREAT TIPS!

From The Picture Book Den: Are you famous?

From The Good News Network: Answering Trivia Questions With This App Can Pay Off Other People's Student Loans

Also from The Good News Network: Why the World Needs More Square Pegs in Round Holes - Differently-Abled People, Too

From Atlas Obscura (via PW): The Crack Squad of Librarians Who Track Down Half-Forgotten Books

From Brightly: 10 Bingeable Series That Middle Grade Readers Love

From 100 Scope Notes: The Top 10 Most Unusual Bookmarks on Etsy

From The Guardian: Drawn to success: how to bring out your inner artist

Book Birthday! I'm thrilled to share Amalia Hoffman's new DREIDEL DAY, winner of the PJ Library Author Incentive Award for Jewish Children Books and selected as a PJ Library Book which means that it will be distributed widely to families in the US & abroad. CONGRATULATIONS, Amalia!


I have a treat for you today, dear readers! Longtime friend, Hollins colleague, children's book author, illustrator, and professor, Dennis Nolan recently celebrated the opening of a gallery show, Keepers of the Flame, that took him ten years to pull together. The show traces the lineage of some of our greatest illustrators back to some of our greatest painters, and it has a fabulous book that goes along with it. Truly, this is an accomplishment of a lifetime and a treasure to the public good. Read on!

e: What was your inspiration behind the show, Keepers of the Flame?
As a dual major in Art History and Painting, and having dual careers as a professional educator and practicing artist, I have long held an interest in the training of an artist and the passing on of traditional methods of drawing and painting. I first became interested in the heritage of "Western" painting when my first drawing teacher stood me in front of two paintings, a Gerome and a Bouguereau, and told me that his teacher traced his lineage back to both of them. Fifty years later that moment led to an investigation of the student/teacher lineage revealed in the show.

Bouguereau, A Thanks Offering, 1867

e: Did it really take you ten years to pull everything together?
Ten years ago I gave a talk at the Norman Rockwell Museum tracing Rockwell's lineage back through his teachers and his teachers teachers. The curator, Stephanie Plunkett heard the talk and commented that it would make a nice show. For the next couple of years we discussed the idea until we finally decided to make a list and search for artists and paintings we needed to see if there was enough for a show. There was, so we moved forward, starting the formal process five years ago. It finally all came together, loans, and catalogue, about two months before the show opened.

Rockwell, Saying Grace, 1951

e: I’m especially interested in the transition between narrative art and modern art that you discuss in the book. It sounded like you were in school on a formative side of that argument. So many people think of modern art as the continuation of the masters’ tradition. However, I have long argued that modern art is the tangent, as most art was indeed narrative (and commissioned - what would be called ‘for commercial purposes’ today). What do you think?
The European/American tradition of narrative picture making that the show focuses on was a constant from the first flowering with Giotto, and persisted throughout the centuries, including the paintings of the Golden Age of Illustration in America and continues today in the hands of narrative artists producing work for books, magazines, animated films and games, and paintings in a wide variety of genres. All artists are driven by a desire to produce art and most hope to sell that art to a client or collector. Why a particular piece of artwork was commissioned, what the subject matter is, and what purpose the art was used for has little to do with the principles guiding the production of a painting. The narrative artists in the European/American tradition used illusionistic devices and accurate drawing based on observable phenomenon to create worlds seen through the window of the picture plane.

Bronzino, Holy Family, 1528

e: Where do you think the schism between the words art and illustration lies, and do you see them reaching any sort of compromise?
Artists who embraced the tenets of modern art movements moved away from subject and narrative-driven pictures, guided by different concerns and philosophies, forging a decidedly different path away from the traditional mainstream of art. Narrative art making flourished in the hands of the Golden Age Illustrators in America. Illustration is a market, a client, a venue for the narrative artist. Narrative artists have always worked for clients, fulfilling their needs and wishes, whether commissioned directly or purchased after the act of creation. Clearly read and universally understood stories in picture form require training, practice, and expertise in the creation of illusions.

Lippi, The Virgin Adoring the Child, 1459*

e: After living in this topic for so long, what were your biggest takeaways/lessons learned?
Narrative picture making is as old as the earliest examples of art in existence. For thirty five thousand years the desire to make a visible record of the world we live in has driven artists to formulate devices that aid in the creation of an illusion of the three dimensional world. Stories are just as old, probably older, and are the glue that holds humanity together. Picture stories transcend the limits and barriers of written and spoken language, a communication that needs no translation. The last century and a half of American Illustration follows solidly in that path, using the same principles that were rediscovered in Florence during the birth of the Italian Renaissance. The keepers of the flame continued to pass on the rich heritage of centuries of accumulated knowledge through historic upheaval resulting in story pictures for church, state, private collectors and commerce.

e: Finally, where can people see the show, for how long, and if they should miss it, where can they learn more online?
The show is on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge Massachusetts through October 28, 2018. You can check out the NRM website and order a catalogue online.

e: Congratulations Dennis on such a tremendous achievement and thank-you for sharing it with us!!

*A Fra Filippo Lippi from 1459, 500 years before the Norman Rockwell painting of Saying Grace from 1951, both showing devotional subjects painted with illusionistic devices to tell their stories clearly. In the 500 year span, other examples in the lineage include the Bronzino, the Delaroche, and the Bouguereau. The Lippi, Bronzino, and Delaroche paintings were originally commissioned as altarpieces to be reinstalled in a church, the Bouguereau for a private collector, and the Rockwell for the cover of a magazine. All are now hanging in museums, no longer serving their initial function. All display a common language of drawing and painting and all tell us a good deal of the human experience without the need for verbal explanation.


Sourcebooks and Little Pickle Press just alerted me to this wonderful news... my award-winning novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET is now available in CHINESE!!! It's published by Zhejiang Publishing House of Literature and Art, and WOW - I LOVE the cover!!!!! Chinese-speaking friends, can you tell me what it all says? Please ask your local book-seller to order it for you, or you can also buy it on Amazon (click the image below):

Coloring Page Tuesday - Chill Out Crocodile

     From card to coloring page... It's August and there's still time to squeeze in some serious chill-out time!
CLICK HERE for more coloring pages.
If you use my coloring pages often, please...

Just love this one image? Consider a one-time donation...

CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week.

     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."
     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.

Hollins Portfolio Reviews and a Wrap-up

We squeeze one last event into our very tight summer at Hollins. Every year we invite an Art Director from a top publishing house to come down and do Portfolio Reviews for our finishing students. This year we invited Nicole de las Heras of Random House. She gave a talk on Thursday morning, in which she featured Ruth Sanderson's Horse Diaries. (Nicole was Ruth's Art Director on these books.)
She also did a 'first look' slideshow for our newer students. Ten anonymous illustrations were shown and she gave astute and valuable feedback about them. Afterwards, she did portfolio reviews for about ten of our students. I sit in and take detailed notes so that our students don't have to try to pay attention and take notes. Yes, we could record these. But I learn so much by sitting in. I sometimes gain objective insights and ideas on how we might help our students. Because over a semester, we can get so familiar with our students' works, an outsider's objectivity can help us too. But mostly, I hear the art director confirm and validate what we've been teaching our students, which is awesome!
     While we're doing reviews, others are packing up the computers, books, and classrooms, putting everything away until next year. Folks hit the road, scattering to all corners of the nation (and globe in some cases). It's always such a bittersweet time.
     Hollins really is a bubble of wonderfulness each summer. Nowhere else can people gather with others who speak the same language of children's books so immersively. Where you say some obscure name of a creator, book, or character and everyone nods, because they know what you are referring to. But primarily, it's a gathering of supportive friends who share similar passions.
     I stay in my wee flat in Barbee, where I can close the door for privacy, or open it to have insta-friends—gorgeous, inspiring, supportive friends who I value so much. It makes me want to stay. And yet, I can't, because it doesn't stay. This environment only happens for six weeks each summer and it is magic.
     Candice Ransom talked about it on her blog, "Joyful Writing Places," as did Claudia Mills in "Can the Joy of Time Away from Home Inspire Joy upon Returning?" I suggest you read them both.
     As for me - I look forward to next summer, when I visit that bubble of joy once again!

Hollins Graduation!

We had four students attain their Certificates in Children's Book Illustration this summer. Here I am with Fatima, Deanne, Rebecca, and Caitlin. I've had all of them in my Picture Book Design class, so I was so proud!
Our certificates are handed painted by illustration faculty. This year, that was me. (The artwork is by our own Ashley Wolff.) I also did this year's commencement address. I made people cry, which is the highest compliment when doing one of those!
We had the reception on the second floor in the Visual Arts Building (a.k.a. 'The VAC'). Each of our graduates had their own panel to display their work. For instance, here is Deanne's.
And a close up of two of her pieces, one which won 2nd prize in this year's Francelia Butler Art Show.
And here was Rebecca's panel.
Caitlin was joined by her son Connor for this photo op in front of her work.
Family and friends drive in to help students celebrate, and to see all the work people have created. The Art Show went on and on.

Two of our graduates will go on to pursue their MFAs. But as I say, you must remember to jump the bar before you move it forward! And they did! It was a good night for all.