Books in the Wild

Stan and I recently visited my picture book buddy Ashley Belote and her husband up in lovely Davidson, North Carolina for lunch on the banks of Lake Norman on a beautiful fall day. Afterwards, we headed to Main Street Books, of course. After browsing for a while, Ashley and I were happy to see that her new picturebook, FRANKENSLIME, was proudly displayed face out.
Only to realize moments later, that my board book, MERBABY'S LULLABY (written by Jane Yolen) was also face out, just a few feet away!
What a fun discovery that was!

Shepard Fairey in Rock Hill

You probably know Shepard Fairey from the Obama HOPE poster. It turns out, he has a Rock Hill connection. So, before the pandemic, he was supposed to come to town to paint a mural downtown, and maybe even stop by Winthrop to see the "Get Out the Vote" mural my students painted two years ago. Then the pandemic hit, and all the plans went to scrap... for a while.
     This past weekend, Shepard came back. The city threw a private party at the newly renovated Mercantile building and several faculty and students from Winthrop were invited to attend. Original pieces were on display (and for sale for a hefty sum). Here are my dear friends Paula and Myles drooling over the artwork.
The party was a bit of a who's who in the Rock Hill art scene, so it was exciting to be included. It also felt like a rebirth of the arts social scene that's been asleep almost since I moved here as a result of the pandemic.
I had so much fun doing my butterfly thing, running around meeting people, and talking with friends. I met several local muralists who have been creating wonderful artwork in Charlotte and Rock Hill: Osiris Rain, Darion Fleming, Frankie Zombie, and a few others doing fantastic work on the Mural Mile in Rock Hill. And since my students were there, I was intent to make sure they met the man. Here are Erin, James, and Adam (all Illustration Majors) with Shepard himself.
     Adam is also a brave soul. He asked Shepard if he needed any help on the mural. Without missing a beat, Shepard said, "Sure, show up about noon tomorrow!" So, that's what they did!
     I dropped by to take pictures. Here are Griffin (Fine Arts Major), James, and Adam getting directions on what to do.
Shepard kept an eye on them for a short bit, and was obviously happy with what he saw.
Soon after, he was down there with them.
He wasn't just giving them busy work - he had them cutting and painting, the real deal. What an incredible experience. I sat and watched for the longest time. There was a crowd there doing the same thing - it was quite entertaining to watch! It was such a beautiful day and I was just silly happy that my students were getting to experience this. Before I left, I heard Shepard tell them he was ordering them all pizza for lunch. Cool!
     It was also fascinating to watch how Shepard works. The design was printed out onto large sheets of paper that his crew used as a template for spray paint. Moving scaffolding got them from the top of the building to the bottom.
I was surprised by the method as it wasn't all that different from what I came up with for our "Get Out the Vote" mural. Although, I was told that different muralists do different things, such as projecting an image, or even free-handing it.
     This mural was a massive undertaking, but the templates made sense with all the bold shapes. After watching the students work on the hair for a while, I understood why they were so willing to have people help - that was the hard part! I'm pretty sure my students went back the next day, as there was no way they finished that day. Here's the mural so far.
I'll get a picture when it's done and share that too.
     Overall, what an amazing treat this was to see and be a part of.


I'm thrilled to have my friend, Eugene Yelchin, here today to talk about his latest book, THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE. It's the story of his childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia, and it is a unique and moving history - I didn't want it to end! So, without further ado, here's Eugene...

     Let’s talk about naked mole rats.
     A colony of hairless creatures, nearly blind, loosely wrapped in semi-transparent skin. No holidays, no weekends, and no rewards for their endless labor in the gloom of the subterranean tunnels. Try to argue against such oppressive condition, and you’re as good as dead. The enormous queen, the naked mole rats’ ruler, is keeping her vigilant eye on you. But what is there to argue about? If you are a naked mole rat, the dull and dreary life is all you know.
     And yet, in every generation, one naked mole rat comes along who does not accept what it was born into. Somehow, inexplicably, the fellow is curious: is there another life beyond this colony, life free of terror, free of mindless labor, subterranean darkness, near blindness?
     The curious mole rat is so unlike the rest of its colony that even the punishing queen looks the other way. To admit the presence of someone so different from her serfs is to admit that her colony is not perfect. Thus, left alone, shunned by its compatriots, storing fat for the arduous journey ahead, the mole rat is planning its escape. And so one fine day, its head pops out of the hole, blinks into the unbearable light, sniffs the air, and when the cost is clear, the courageous fellow flees to freedom.
     But why is that mole rat so different from the others? The scientists will provide you with learned explanations, but I have my own silly theory. I suspect that the fugitive mole rat is an artist. It is curious as an artist. It is imaginative. Its point of view is unique. It is driven by creative passions. Its only responsibility, as the Russian American author Vladimir Nabokov would say, is to be irresponsible.
     Like it or not, this is a way of an artist, but also that of an immigrant. I happened to be both. I am an artist and a refugee from the former Soviet Union. As a result, the naked mole rats were on my mind as I was puzzling out my recent memoir, The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain published by the Candlewick Press.
Writing this book was far from easy. To begin with, it is different from any other book that I have written up to now. It is not a work of fiction, for example. Names, characters, events, and incidents described on its pages are not the products of my imagination, not by a long shot. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is certainly not coincidental. I relied on my memory, lengthy conversations with my brother, and the family lore. The question that I have attempted to answer was this: how and why I had been able to shift from the obedient mole rat to a risk-taking, passionate, and, ultimately, irresponsible artist.
Irresponsible, because the truth of it is, I wrote this book for myself. It is highly personal, embarrassingly so. Its chapters are filled with questions. Why was I different from my peers? What made me curious? Where did my imagination come from? How did I become an artist? And most importantly, were my imagination, curiosity, and passion for art the reasons that helped me to escape my own colony, the former USSR?
Eugene's studio is below - click to see it larger in a new window.
Whether I have succeeded or failed is not for me to decide. I hope the readers will like it in part because the book turned out to be funny. But more than anything I wish to smuggle my memoir to the naked mole rats’ colony. I wish the mole rats could read it. I drew so many pictures for this book, they could easily follow the story. What will they think? Go on with their dreadful chores as before? Or rebel against the oppressive queen? Naturally, I hope for the latter.

Rebecca Gugger and Simon Röthlisberger's THE MOUNTAIN

Today, I'm pleased to have Rebecca Gugger and Simon Röthlisberger stop by to talk about Creative Thinking and their new picture book for NorthSouth, THE MOUNTAIN. While a fun read with luscious imagery, it also imparts an important message for our time. Welcome both!

Rebecca and Simon: We are interested in questions about life, everyday questions, but often with a deeper meaning. Views on life, on living together, the behavior of us humans among ourselves. In our own life and work, such questions play an important role. For us, it is important to deal with philosophical topics without claiming to be able to answer them completely. We are more interested in raising additional questions, in rethinking our own opinions and behaviors. How can such topics be treated playfully, with lightness and humor? In the adult world, we are often interested in clearly defining, narrowing down and trying to explain things. Often we are stuck in our patterns of viewing and thinking. In these we have been trained over the years. Children look at the world with different eyes. Curious, fresh, unfamiliar...Our story should bring up and inspire new perspectives. Without wanting to lecture, the picture book The Mountain takes up one of the fundamental themes of positive coexistence, with a pinch of humor.

The Mountain explores the themes of tolerance and openness to other opinions. The mountain as a three-dimensional form becomes a pictorial metaphor and illustrates, visually simplified, how a topic (belief, view) can be viewed from different sides. Depending on where I am standing, on which side and at what height, the mountain looks physically different. My environment, in which I stay or live, has different characteristics on my side than the opposite side. These different views are all "correct" from their respective point of view. When you look at the big picture, however, they are put into new light.

The book is intended to encourage people to leave their own, sometimes narrow, point of view and to try to put themselves in the positions of others. Allowing this change of perspective also helps to rethink one's own convictions. To meet the other with openness and tolerance and to let different opinions stand is an elementary part of the story. Because, outside of one's own world, there are many other facets.

In relation to the mountain, all the different views add up to the whole. The questions—where does the mountain begin and what must a mountain have so that it is what it is—are presented in the book in an understandable and humorous way. This consists of many parts, and all are needed to make up the mountain. To look at one thing (in this case, the mountain) from a distance can help us understand others better and to reduce our own prejudices. The realization that—in addition to my own way of thinking, which has its right to exist and is just as important as others’—there are also other opinions, people, points of view, promotes a benevolent attitude towards the new and different. This also means that my opinion becomes relative in relation to the whole but not negated. Rather, the overview makes one aware of its tremendous diversity.

Rebecca Gugger and Simon Röthlisberger were both born in Switzerland and live together in Thun, close to the forests, the mountains, and the fresh air.

Rebecca is a freelance illustrator and graphic artist, studied at the HKB (Bern University of the Arts), and likes to have her head in the clouds. Simon is a trained graphic artist, is currently working as an art director, and likes sailing.


Born With Creative Bones
by Gary Golio with illustrations by James Ransome

      When I was a kid in the 1950s, there were lots of people telling you what to do. That's the way it was then - culture was pretty conformist, and you were expected to follow the party line in how you dressed, thought, and spoke (see: Joe McCarthy). Well, that never sat right with me, and I was often in the principal's office as a young boy, getting yelled at by neighbors for climbing their shed roofs, or being put down by teachers for always doing things the wrong way. Because it really seemed there was always a "right way"--the expected, normal way of doing things--and when trying something new or unusual, I often heard, "That's not how it's done!" or "Nobody's done it like that before - you think you know better?" or "Why do you think you're so special?" These folks were upset that I wasn't doing what I was told, and therefore wasn't correct in my approach to living. My willful creativity, in other words, was threatening to the status quo. Unfortunately for those people--and perhaps for me, given the trouble that ensued--I only became more resistant to following directions and advice as a result of their criticism, which was often very personal. But that's how it is in life at times - either you succumb to GroupThink, or you end up striking out on a solitary, personal path, especially if you've got creative bones. And I was born with creative bones.
So when I dropped out of a prestigious college (where I was studying classical Greek in hopes of becoming an archaeologist) and ended up at a radical new arts school (in the Visual Arts department), people were not surprised. My parents--to their credit--were fine with my being an artist, perhaps because my father was a gifted amateur artist and completely self-taught. Both my parents, in fact, had dropped out of high school after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (my father entered the Navy for 6 years, and my mother a war factory), and they ended up with tough, low-paying jobs after the war. But they never saddled me with expectations about prestigious career choices, and asked only that I do good, honest work in my life. And this was very freeing, because I had nothing hard or weighty to live up to. I also did a lot of physical work as a young man, which taught me about how a great many people earn their bread in this world, and how work is valued depending on who does it and how society views it.
Since that time, I've worked as a high-tension electrician, a museum exhibitions-installer, a landscape painter, a clinical social worker and addictions therapist, an arts teacher, and most recently, a children's book author. Yet in many ways, all this work is the same, because it reflects who I am and what I believe in. And while some folks still get upset when I do something different or unusual (editor: "You can't do a book for kids on Jimi Hendrix - that's just not right!"), I've found a rhythm to my life and work. And Life is a lot about personal rhythm--knowing when to listen to that still small voice inside--and finding a balance of work-career-family that's satisfying. As a result, I try to keep a very open mind about creative choices, to allow space for intuition and unexpected ideas, and to keep pushing on the boundaries--however subtly--in my search for what's fresh and exciting.
"Ransome's illustrations convey character, mood and setting to great effect, matching the spare, effective text with energy and vibrancy that tempt readers to seek out Rollins' sound. This meditation on music, art, and integrity offers inspiration and food for thought."
Kirkus, *starred review*

"Based on a true story, this charming picture book captures and shares the spirit and rhythm of Sonny's playing. The free verse text makes nice use of figurative language...and Ransome's gorgeous representational art, richly created with watercolor and collage, expands the story beautifully ."
Booklist, *starred review*

"The creators' deliberate lines and detailed visuals sing like music themselves as they pay homage to an artist who finds a way to ring out loud and clear."
Publishers Weekly, *starred review*

Video: "Hear Me"

I LOVE this ad from Blue Shield of California, "Hear Me" - beautifully filmed, beautifully said, and featured at Communication Arts. It speaks to me on a personal level as well. As a woman of a certain age, with certain issues, I have reached the end of medical knowledge on so many fronts. It's amazing how little is known about female physiology, and how few options there are for women when things go awry. We are not simply men with boobs and tubes. Hear us!