Death in Chilean Picture Books

Valentine's Day was a work day for me at the University of Glasgow. I had a meeting with my supervisors (it went great!), had to help teach Critical Enquiries with Dr Evelyn Arizpe, and attended an unusual presentation for the day - a lecture on "Where do we go when we die? The representation of death in Chilean picture books" by visiting scholar Maili Ow González from the Universidad de Chile.
Most of our Children's Lit students were in attendence - they made a good showing for this interesting topic. (I'm the only one with grey hair - photo by Dr Maureen Farrell.)
The most popular and important book on death in Latin America, according to the students from the region and Maili, is Es Asi - the pink book.
One of the points that truly fascinated me was the breakdown of children's abilities to understand death at various ages. It made me wonder how that would affect a creators decision on how to present death in picture books.
I had to include this photo of Maili giving her lecture to show the marriage of cultures and languages talks like this encourage. Not only did we have about ten different countries represented - it all happened in Scotland, where the sugary drink IRN BRU is king (that's an IRN BRU sitting on the table there). I won't say who was drinking it, although I will say it wasn't mine. The stuff tastes like rocket fuel to me - HA!
At any rate - it's a real treat to have scholars from around the world talk at the University of Glasgow and this was an especially good one.

The Scottish Coastline

One of the treats of traveling to Jane Yolen's Wayside in St Andrews is the train ride along the coast of Eastern Scotland, over the Firth of Forth and along the North Sea towards Dundee. The light was beautiful that day. Enjoy!

Angie Smibert's BONE'S GIFT

Story behind the Story: Ghosts of Ordinary Objects Series
by Angie Smibert

     Intro –
     Though we’ve never met, E and I share a circuitous Hollins University connection. Bear with me. In the summer, E. often teaches classes at Hollins Children’s Lit MFA program. A Hollins alumna (different program) myself, I actually live in Roanoke, Virginia. And I often teach at the Hollinsummer creative writing camp for teens. Last summer, a mutual friend recommended BONE'S GIFT to E. That friend, Tina Hanlon, teaches Appalachian Lit at nearby Ferrum College—and she did a great lesson plan for the Appalachian folktales I use in the series. (Tina also curates, a great resource for regional folktales and literature that I used in researching BONE'S GIFT.) Plus, ironically, we met when I was speaking to the Hollins Children’s Lit MFA program several years ago—where I mentioned I was working on this book.
     The GHOSTS OF ORDINARY OBJECTS series is a bit hard to categorize. Reviewers have called it a mystical mystery, a mix of realism and magic, part fantasy, part mystery, part history, and a historical, paranormal mystery set in southern Appalachia during WWII. In the series, 12-year-old Bone Phillips is coming to grips with her Gift of being able to see the stories—or ghosts—inside ordinary objects—while solving certain mysteries amidst the change and turmoil of the war. In BONE'S GIFT, she’s trying to figure out what really happened to her mother. In the second book, LINGERING ECHOES, she’s solving the mystery of this jelly jar that seems to have a Gift of its own. LINGERING ECHOES comes out March 12, 2019!
The Story behind the Story
     “Bone Phillips floated in the cool, muddy waters of the New River up to her eyeballs.”
      Both the book and the story behind it start with a girl floating in the water. The first scene came to me when I was living near the beach in Cape Canaveral, Florida. One day, I was swimming in the ocean—actually more like lazily floating on my back, watching the surfers and cruise ships go by—and I had this flashback, a sense memory, really. I remembered swimming and floating in the New River as a kid. (I grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia, a little college town in Southwest Virginia.) We used to go to this spot down below the falls to picnic and swim. I could remember floating in the cool, muddy brown water under a blue sky, while trains rattled along either side of the river. My best friend used to come with us until she decided the river was too brown and our games were too silly. She’d outgrown it (and me) and wanted to wear dresses and talk about boys. I was a stubborn tomboy, though—and still am. Many years later, floating in the ocean, I remembered that feeling of not wanting summer to end, not wanting to grow up, yet not wanting others to leave me behind. Bone was born out of that feeling!
      And the setting of the story grew out of my newfound fascination with this old place. My mother and her family—for generations before her—grew up along the New River in McCoy. It’s a teensy little village, now nothing more than a post office and many, many houses, about 15-20 miles from Blacksburg. Before she died in 1989, my mother had started doing research into family history and genealogy. A decade or two later, I got bit by the history bug as I was doing research for this book.
      Named for one of our ancestors, McCoy was first settled in the 1790s by Scots-Irish and German immigrants. From roughly 1900 to the late 1950s, McCoy and the surrounding areas had one major industry: coal. Coal had always been there, tucked away in the mountains, but mining didn’t begin in earnest until the railroads connected the New River Valley to the cities and ports. By the 1930s and 40s, the mines were at peak production. During World War II, the war effort needed more and more coal—of which there’s a finite amount. So by the late 1950s, the mines were being closed down and filled in. Today, you wouldn’t even know there’d ever been mining there—except for the occasional chunks of coal along the road.
      So I set Bone’s Gift and the rest of the trilogy in McCoy—which I renamed Big Vein after one of the mines—in 1942. At that time, coal mining was in its hay day, but the year brought great changes, both there and everywhere. The US was well into World War II. Rationing had begun. Young men were leaving the community to go off to war. Some had already died. And women were going to work in war factories. A perfect time (and place) for a 12-year-old girl—just coming into a strange Gift--who doesn’t want things to change, right?
      Though I loosely adapted the real place for the series, I didn’t base any of the characters on real people—with one exception: the store owner, Mr. Scott.

Customers (and my grandfather) sitting on the porch of the Scott’s store in the 1940s.
He’s a minor character, but he’s my grandfather—whom I never met. A little family backstory. My grandfather and his brothers worked in Big Vein (and probably some of the other mines) for a while. My great-grandfather’s store was next to the tipple. That’s the big structure that loads the coal onto the trains. When my grandfather got hurt in the mines, he worked in his father’s store and eventually took it over. My grandparents lived in the rooms above the store—and my mother was even born there!

A typical coal tipple of the time period. The machines in the structure sort the coal into different sizes and then drops into the train cars below.

Miners in their bank clothes standing in front of the Big Vein tipple. My great-uncle Junior is the one in the middle.

Children's Books are BIG BUSINESS!

For those who don't take children's books seriously - children's books are BIG BUSINESS! In December, The Observer ran an article that stated "Children's books have had a record-breaking few years. The sector was worth £381.9m in 2017, according to Nielsen BookScan, and 2018 may well top that. One in every three physical books sold is now a children's book."

Credit: The Observer, 16 December 2018, Fiona Noble

Coloring Page Tuesday - Heart Garden

     A garden of love for Valentines Day!
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     Kirkus calls it "a solid choice for introducing the hobby [birdwatching] to younger readers."
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Happy Birthday Jane!

Today is Jane Yolen's 80th birthday! I sent her a hand-made card to mark the occasion:
And since Jane is at her US home now, a bunch of her Scottish writer friends gathered at her Scottish home in Wayside to throw a party in her honor. We gathered a feast of course, and Gill made a Clementine cake!
Here are Joan Lennon, Gill Arbuthnott, and Elizabeth Kerner talking about Jane (were your ears itching, Jane?).
And Mark Smith and Bob Harris.
Of course I missed a photo of me and Debby (she's always behind a camera), but I did get one of 'the Elizabeths' - Jane has an unusually large amount of Elizabeths in her life.
And of course, we talked about books. BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS!!!! As is our wont. But mostly, we celebrated Jane and what a gift her 80 years have been to all of US. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JANE!!!

Creative Language Practices

I wanted to tell you a bit more about the Translanguaging Team I mentioned in my last email. This is a grant project that I am a part of called CREATIVE LANGUAGE PRACTICES: EXPLORING TRANSLANGUAGING IN PEDAGOGICAL CONTEXTS AND BEYOND. Several artists were brought on board for the project (including me) to come up with creative activities to help promote translanguaging support in classrooms.
     So, what is translanguaging exactly?
     Well, lots of classrooms will teach one or two languages - think of Spanish being taught in an English-speaking classroom. However, classrooms (in the UK especially) are becoming more diverse and you can often end up with a room-full of students whose first language isn't English, and perhaps even a myriad of languages in one room. They end up speaking in a mix of English, their native tongue, and a few words here and there from a variety of different languages. Studies have shown, this mix of languages is more common than becoming individually fluent and sticking with one language or another.
     Our project creates games that encourage the use and acceptance of the variety of languages in a classroom. And if a teacher isn't proficient in a certain language, the student whose native tongue it is, gets to become the expert and guide their classmates - this gives them agency and expertise, helping to include them in the group rather than exclude them as different or defficient. Good idea, right?
     Indeed, I'm so proud to be a part of this project. Click on the image to visit our website and learn more!

The Mitchell Library Teacher Resources

Last week I met up with my Translanguaging Team to check out the resources available to teachers at the famed Glasgow Mitchell Library.

Photo © Wikipedia Commons
We're putting together kits that will join the Mitchell collection for teachers to use, so we wanted to see what sorts of things are already available. I have to admit, I was blown away!
This is a behind-the-scenes function of the library. They keep an enormous storage room where they gather resources via themes. For instance, these are 'topic boxes' on ecology, the environment, politics, etc.
They also have activities built around particular books. I was thrilled to see my friend Vivian French's book used in a packet about vegetables.
They also had kits in bags - here's The Hungry Caterpillar with the book, a stuffie or puppet, and some games to go with it. You can see there are a ton of these.
They even had a collection of oversized books - how fun!
Our group was fascinated and we asked lots of questions.
The kit we were most interested in was similar to what we hope to do - it was a WWII activity kit in a cute little suitcase with letters and activities. It even had a gas mask in it. That one is apparently checked out a lot.
To the left of the suitcase is the order form for teachers. They make requests at the beginning of each term and hold onto the kits for three months. Some of the popular kits have several available, while others are singular kits on a first-come-first-serve basis.
     What impressed me the most was that this resource exists at all - what a fabulous use of public funds and what an amazing resource for teachers! I never heard of anything like this existing in the US - does anyone know? If not, it was a fantastic idea and one that I hope gains more support and is implemented more often!


Laurie Wallmark, author of GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE has a new book out. (I interviewed Laurie HERE.) I love her female-empowering non-fiction biographies, so am happy to have Katy Wu, the illustrator of HEDY LAMAR'S DOUBLE LIFE here today to talk to us about this newest book!
e: What was your creative process/medium for HEDY LAMARR'S DOUBLE LIFE, can you walk us through it?
First I'll do some research and reading on whatever/whoever the book is about. This usually includes reading some Wikipedia articles, doing some google image searches, and reading/looking at whatever notes and reference the author has gathered themselves. Next, I sketch out rough thumbnails of each page and its layout in a sketchbook. Once the thumbnails are approved, I begin sketching them out loosely at the size I intend to paint them in on the computer in Adobe Photoshop on my Cintiq. After that, I start blocking in the colors and large shapes before adding details and lighting on top.

e: What was your path to publication?
I started receiving emails/inquiries from publishers and agents after I left my job at Google as a doodler. My last Doodle (illustrated Google logo) was an animated music video about Nellie Bly, one of the first investigative reporters in the Victorian Era and that had caught the attention of publishers. I received my first offer to illustrate a children's book from Simon & Schuster called "Dumpling Dreams".
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?
For me it's an illustration that has good "flow". That's an image with a composition that guides the eye to look at several points of interest in a certain order - first the focal point, and then a secondary detail and a third detail(s). The image itself is also pleasing to look at as a whole and invites the viewer to slow down and take a closer look.
e: How do you advertise yourself?
I have a Tumblr blog, but I don't update it enough. I'm not very good at advertising myself! My agent Jennifer Mattson is good at reminding me to put together promotion materials for publishers though.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
It's fun and challenging for me to come up with something visually fresh and unique for each project. I don't like working in one style for too long, so I have to find and create new "rules" for myself to make creating the art fun.
e: Is there something in particular about HEDY LAMARR'S DOUBLE LIFE you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I hope readers learn that it can be fun to be creative in an unconventional way, I often find myself stumbling on the most interesting ideas when I try a different process/way to get there. Like Hedy, who isn't a trained scientist, sometimes having a different perspective or way of thinking and doing things is a strength.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I'm not really sure what I'm working on next, I generally like projects that promote diversity. I also hope to work on a fantasy children's book story someday!

e: Groovy! Check out Katy's work spaces...