Just Thinking...

Just Thinking will be a new post for me to share random thoughts, inspirational quotes, good news and ideas. For instance...

I was thrilled to see two friends celebrating book sales in this week's PW Children's Bookshelf! Congratulations to Rebekah Lowell and Shelli R. Johannes!

Congratulations to my office mates from the University of Glasgow, who are all starting to get their PhDs too!

I love this quote by Henry David Thoreau: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

What if sports no longer taught the binaries of winners and losers? Us vs. Them?

Howard McWilliam's D IS FOR DROOL

Before my summer hiatus, I had one more interview to share, which got a little delayed. So, without further adieu, Howard McWilliam stopped by to talk about the latest book in the adorable "My Monster" series from Flashlight Press, D is for Drool!

  
e: What was your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
Howard:
One of my favourite parts of working on a new book is creating the thumbnail storyboard, hashing out the rhythm and page layout of the story, roughly positioning the blocks of text and scribbling in the main characters and action. This is the stage that’s full of exciting possibilities, and also reveals the meatiest problems to work through. I work entirely on an iPad Pro these days, using the software Procreate. With some customised paper textures and brushes, this has all the functionality I need — from this initial storyboard, through detailed pencil sketches, colour roughs and on to finished paintings.

e: What was your path to publication?
Howard:
I took a rather unconventional route into illustration. Although drawing and painting continuously for as long as I can remember, I began my career (after an English degree) as a financial journalist in London. The editor of Taxation magazine, just over from my desk at Pensions World, was struggling for a picture idea for his cover one week. He’d heard about my artistic background from my editor and wondered if I might try something out for him. He liked it, so it was the first of many more. Before long the editors of other magazines in the building were coming to me when they too were struggling for ideas, and I began building a freelance illustration career on the side. One of my magazine illustrations, for an article on what was then called “sustainable and responsible investment”, was a monster standing on a chair, terrified of a mouse with a placard.
I put this onto the portfolio website childrensillustrators.com, and was delighted when it led the editor of Flashlight Press to contact me asking if I wanted to illustrate a book about monsters under the bed. It was my first picture book, and was successful enough to spawn several sequels, including the latest — “D is for Drool”. It also brought me into the world of children’s publishing, and led to work from the likes of Scholastic, Bloomsbury and Penguin RandomHouse.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Howard:
Not necessarily a unique story, but occasionally I can get so absorbed in experimenting and creating monsters that it takes my editor, Shari, to point out that I’ve drawn a configuration of shapes that perhaps resemble body parts we don’t want to depict or could otherwise be considered somewhat obscene!

e: LOL! 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?
Howard:
Perhaps the most important part for me is imbuing every character with a sense of personality and agency, giving them the right expression for each moment and making them seem “real”. With my usual style, that involves giving them a sculptural solidity, and to this end mood and lighting are also significant. I create quite a three dimensional environment, filled with real objects — details of which I hope children will enjoy looking at (otherwise it was a waste of time!). In the I Need My Monster books, the monsters themselves often provide their own lighting, and their colours lend a glow to the room. This was one way to give some variety when the story is often set in an unchanging location — Ethan’s room and bedside. But I think this sense of a colour glow may also give the characters a deeper appeal.
e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you)?
Howard:
I advertise in Workbook, the printed illustration catalog for art directors that comes out twice a year. Aside from that, my only publicity is my website and my instagram page (@howardmcwilliam), where I post my finished pieces as well as time lapse videos of their creation.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Howard:
I particularly enjoy the constraints of the job: having to convey a message or story within a limited layout, be that around the headlines and design of a magazine cover, or alongside the words of a children’s story. Deciding on the key moments to show (before, during or after the described action?), arranging it around the text and making everything flow naturally from left to right. For me, limitations — including deadlines! — are a crucial part of creativity. It’s hard to be so prolific if left with blank paper, no brief and limitless time.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Howard:
It may seem counter-intuitive that monsters could help you fall asleep, but they really can! It was fun creating monsters to personify “Yawn” or “Exhausted”, and I hope children may start to feel a little sleepier as they near the end of the book.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Howard:
I’ve just finished illustrating a children’s book by the retired U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven. It’s a children’s adaptation of his #1 NY Times bestseller Make Your Bed: Little Things that can Change Your Life… And Maybe the World — and features a Navy Seal (that is, the animal!) called Skipper. My dream project would be to illustrate a story I’ve written myself one day.

e: Best of luck to you - I look forward to seeing your future works!

Susan Eaddy's SIR DRAKE THE BRAVE

Susan Eaddy joins us today to discuss creative thinking and her new picture book, SIR DRAKE THE BRAVE, written by Joy Jordan-Lake for Morehouse Publishing.
The circle began as it often does, with my Mom. She had a kind of reverence for two types of people. One was a medical doctor, the other was a creative, especially artists and writers. My brother took the doctor path, art was a no brainer for me. Mom was always slightly envious of those who had a creative talent and she blew on that spark in me to fan it into an unextinguishable flame. Books were important and plentiful in our household and I was encouraged to use any talent I had, to spread joy. Both of my parents worked at unfulfilling jobs and I felt that following my passion for art was fulfilling a vicarious need for them too..
My childhood memories are still strong. So writing and illustrating children’s books has been the perfect outlet for my default mentality of a 10 year old.

It wasn’t hard to put myself into Drake’s shoes as he battled bullies, and nighttime anxieties. The author, Joy Jordan-Lake has a keen sense of social justice and wanted to have a limb different protagonist without mentioning his handicap in the text. Drake is a regular kid who has the same worries that other kids do. I spent a delightful morning with her inspiration, Kenbe, who refuses to be hindered by his prosthetic leg. He whirled around me for hours while showing off his considerable biking, basketball and skateboarding skills.
The problem solving needed to translate all of my sketches and research into clay is part of the creative process I enjoy the most. How will I create Drake so his prosthetic is not what defines him? How do I to show his worry and connection with his Mom? This is where I get to tie in my love of research with my love of getting my hands dirty. My love of drawing, of coloring, the tactile sculpting, photography, photoshop…clay does it all for me. Like Bartholomew Cubbins I get to wear as many hats as I can balance on my head.
And finally, the last part of the creative process… sharing it all with kids. School visits are like performance art! My talks always vary depending on the audience, the questions, the reactions and interactions. Often I do a clay craft together with the kids. And the circle carries on… with the hope that my joy and inspiration will spark inspiration for some fellow creatives in the under 12 set.
      Watch the trailer for Sir Drake on Youtube:


Michael G. Long's THREE LINES IN A CIRCLE

Here today is Michael G. Long, the author of the new picture book THREE LINES IN A CIRCLE (illustrated by Carlos Vélez for Flyaway Books.
     The practice of creative thinking invites us to pause in our everyday lives so that we can look deeply into the life that enfolds us.
      When we look deeply, we can see the hummingbird stabbing at the cardinal flower, the bumblebee buzzing the white phlox, or the cat chasing after the vole.
Creative thinking also asks us to use the rest of our senses in the same way -- to smell and touch and listen and taste with the purpose of experiencing life as fully as we can.
      This gets us to the fundamental question that fuels creative thinking -- “What is?”
      Deep sensing is the pathway to deep understanding -- of knowing life and love and suffering and death in detail -- and deep understanding is the root of the human ability to construct new thoughts. It allows us to identify new connections and to connect the previously unconnected. It grants us the opportunity to pinpoint new dissonances and to create friction where we need it.
      Deep understanding also encourages us to ask, “What can be?” Connecting and tearing asunder, we can see the strengths and weaknesses, the advantages and disadvantages, of our life together, and with this vital information, we can then imagine new possibilities.
     For me, creative thinking at its best is a moral practice with peace as its goal. Not a shallow peace. Not just the absence of unnecessary conflict. But a peace marked by justice and equality.
      The Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh -- who has written so much on these topics -- reminds us that the practice of deep understanding is essential to a peaceful life. It gives is the tools we need to empathize, to extend compassion, and thereby to build a peaceful life together.
      That’s what Three Lines in a Circle is all about. It’s an invitation to sense the peace symbol, to understand it, to empathize with it, and to share it with others in a way that creates a more peaceful life together.
      If we do that together, we will see that peace is not just a goal. It’s a way of thinking -- and living -- creatively.

Mary Jane Begin's PING MEETS PANG

I love this book about diversity and acceptance told through the viewpoints of a Giant Panda and a Red Panda by Mary Jane Begin. She stopped by to talk about Thinking Creativity:


FOCUS
By Mary Jane Begin

      I’ve always been an ambitious human, with goals, agendas and missions to accomplish. I could wall paper an elementary school with the lists I’ve made, crossed out one by one, and redrawn on a fresh sheet of paper. But nothing has pushed my lens into sharper focus than the pandemic. In every way, my reason for making, teaching and being my best human self, have become crystalline. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of alone time in the past year and a half, or maybe it’s because the world seems precarious, uncertain and a bit fuzzy. Whatever the reason, it’s time not to waste time, with ideas, people and projects that I don’t deeply care about. I want what I make to matter, both to me and to the world.

My latest book was accomplished in break neck speed (for me), a mere 7 months! I had the pandemic to thank, as I had so few interruptions, and the state of the world to thank for its theme of otherness, as I’ve watched people polarize and condemn one another for their differences. In this confluence, a story was born. My book, Ping Meets Pang is about two pandas- one a giant panda and the other a red panda- unable to see each other’s panda-ness. The story was inspired both by a trip to one of China’s panda sanctuaries, and by witnessing our incredible human ability to see differences in others instead of celebrating what we have in common. My hope is to open the smallest of eyes, and encourage them to see with a fresh lens and to focus on what binds us together, instead of what pulls us apart. I choose to celebrate my new found spectacles, rose colored and rainbow tinted, not alone in my house but out in the world as the sun starts to peek from behind the clouds of a darker year.


Coloring Page Tuesday - Flying Fish

     In my new theme of "Creative Thinking," I'm kicking off my coloring page offerings with a fish who has done exactly that!
CLICK HERE for more coloring pages.
     Remember, I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! For instance, my board book Merbaby's Lullaby!
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     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.

Dear Highlights: What Adults Can Learn from 75 Years of Letters and Conversations with Kids

From Editor in Chief, Christine French Cully, on her new book:
Why/What/How does this book help readers do things or think about things differently?
This book offers a rare, honest look at childhood through the eyes of kids themselves. We adults often think we remember childhood clearly. But, for most of us, our memories are spotty or blurred. Sometimes we can be a little dismissive of kids’ everyday concerns. After all, because we have hindsight, we know that most of the time things work out fine. We don’t always see that these “problems” loom large in the child’s mind.

We also tend to think of childhood as idyllic or carefree. But childhood is a time of heavy lifting for kids! They are developing character, discovering their strengths, finding belonging, and building self-esteem. Even the best-intentioned adults sometimes make assumptions about how kids are managing the ups and downs of children. Encouraging them to share their thoughts and leaning in to listen is a no-fail way to learn something we can do to serve kids better.
We hope this book will elevate kids’ voices and remind grown-ups that the small act of listening can make a big difference in kids’ lives. We hope that this book will spark a movement based on this simple but powerful truth.

The letters we receive span the spectrum of childhood concerns, and, perhaps surprisingly, they have changed very little over the decades. Although the world has changed greatly, the way kids grow and develop have changed little. For the most part, kids write to us about the same fundamental issues as previous generations. Most of their letters deal with situations at school, at home, and with friends. Some of their letters touch on more serious problems, often adult problems kids can’t solve but must deal with. Reading these letters, you can’t help but admire children’s courage in reaching out. Hearing them talk about their hopes and dreams, worries and fears, makes it impossible to underestimate their interest in understanding the world around them and finding their place in it.
We estimate that kids have sent us more than 2 million pieces of correspondence over our 75-year history. Our long-held tradition is to write back to every child. They write to us as if we are a dear, trusted friend. We reply in kind, considering it an honor and a privilege.
And here’s what we’ve come to see as the most important takeaway: In every letter about almost every subject, there are implicit, overarching questions embedded within: Do you care? Am I loved? Hardwired for connection, kids crave more meaningful moments when the grownups they love are fully present. Kids reach out to be heard—and to be told that they are not alone. And that they are, indeed, loved.

Our mission at Highlights is to help kids become their best selves: curious, creative, caring, and confident. We believe that the most powerful motivator for kids are loving, stable human relationships, which begin and are sustained when we encourage kids to share--and when we listen to everything they want to say.

Book Feature Changes

     I've been interviewing authors and illustrators here at Dulemba.com about their process for about ten years. Over that time, the questions streamlined to get the most effective and helpful answers out of my guests. I now have a vast resource of these interviews, which you can access via the sidebar to this blog, by clicking my Blog Book Tour tag to see them in order, or by going to this site, where I have been busy collating the links (not done yet!): Interviews.
     It's been a good run; but now I'm interested in something slightly different... With my new exploration in mind, I want to know creators' thoughts on Creative Thinking – how they approach it in their life and craft, and how they see it affecting society and the world. So now, I'm asking, “What/how/why did you do things differently in this work/career/life?” “Why/What/How might your thoughts or this book help readers do things or think about things differently?” I’ll be asking creators for about 250 to 500 words on the topic. They can get as light or as into it as they like. I'll still ask for studio photos and images of creative work, of course (we always want to see that!); but this is definitely a new direction.
     Do my questions sound somewhat vague? Well, that's on purpose! Part of the answer is up to the interpretation of the question by the individual creator. I feel like we've all been doing some deep dive thinking during the pandemic, and I want a peek into what has been on people's minds. Yes, it's been a hard and scary time, but we also learned some really important lessons, and I want to know what those are for people, especially creative people. We have good things to take forward from all this, I'm just certain of it!
     So, stick around, I've got several features lined up in no particular order or time frame. Although, I do hope to have a newsletter out in September. Let's see where this takes us!

Thoughts on the Future


     Summer is quickly coming to an end, as is this sudden hiatus I took from blogging. I have to admit, once I completed the PhD, I somewhat melted. My education took up such a large chunk of my time for six years, to suddenly have that window available again has left me floundering a bit. How do I fill the time? What are my priorities? How do I want to position myself going forward?
     Of course, with the pandemic, I think we're all asking these big questions, reevaluating our lives, how we want to live them and what/who we want to keep in them. The pandemic showed us what really matters to us and I hope we don't lose that—it's been a time of extreme reflection, examination, and transformation. In fact, I gave the keynote talk at Hollins University this summer semester on "Transformations." It was well received and I'd love to share it with your group too. (Email me if you're interested.)
     What I've concluded from all this reflection/examining is that I am going to change things going forward. I still love children's books, that won't change; but I'll be adding a new focus to my endeavors: "Creative Thinking." Too often, I see the "A" left out of "STEAM," which, I think does real harm to our society that so desperately needs creative thinkers to improve our world. If we are to make new plans for a world that better serves the lives of all people, we need visionaries, people who think outside the lines, or who can envision those plans for others. Ironically, it's the tagline I've been using for some time now already: "Living life outside the lines."
     But it's not just about living outside the lines, it's also about thinking, creating, teaching, fill-in-the-blank, etc... outside the lines. I'm giving myself a year to see how this will manifest in my life, how it will change what I create, and what I will share with you, dear readers. So, keep an eye on this space as I experiment and introduce new ideas to help us keep the good lessons we've learned from this difficult time and carry them forward, transforming ourselves and our world into a reality we all can look forward to enjoying. Join me!

New Mask Designs

It's looking like we'll be wearing masks as we head back to school this fall. I've updated my designs and made a few new ones if you'd like to order a few to keep you and those around you safe:
Striped Mask

Smiley Face Masks
Which now comes in several colors:
Teal    Brown
Black
Let's Talk
A Cute Pug
My Lion
and Mouseworks
I just ordered a few myself because I know I'll be masking up this fall!