I'm a Pearson Award Finalist!

I am honored to share that I am a a finalist for the Pearson Excellence in Higher Education Awards: Outstanding Teaching Through the Pandemic! This is the kind note from the Committee. Wow!
"You have demonstrated remarkable skill in your approaches to teaching and student support in the face of the pandemic. You were able to adapt exceptionally well to the multiple modalities of remote learning while also supporting students through an emotionally turbulent time to still have the best learning experience possible. Out of a robust pool of over 200 talented nominees, your remarkable commitment as an educator is evident! We have included a digital badge to recognize you and say thank you for your dedication to higher education!

Winners will be announced January 16th, 2023. If chosen as the category winner, we plan to highlight your success on our network. Finalists also receive $2,000 to attend their conference of choice, plaque to commemorate the award, and optional inclusion in a blog or webinar to share your story!

Congratulations again on your advancement to the final stages! On behalf of learners everywhere, we appreciate your commitment to student success."
So nice! I'll let you know how it turns out, but for now, I'm simply honored to be a finalist!

Rock Hill Symphony - Holiday Concert

My friend Elisa Koehler conducted the Rock Hill Symphony Holiday Concert on December 17th.
This was my first social engagement by myself, but one I wouldn't miss. Elisa is an incredibly dynamic conductor who brings energy and stories to her concerts. She oversaw the solos, including trumpeters (which had to have been hard since she is, herself, a trumpeter).
Of course, being the holiday symphony, there were lots of children in the audience. They loved when The Grinch showed up half way through!
I actually ended up sitting near his wife. She said he loves to play the role - indeed, he really got into it. Elisa and The Grinch were stars!
The musicians were wonderful, and Elisa received a well-earned standing ovation and flowers.

Winthrop U Winter Graduation 2022

I am way behind on blog posts (for obvious reasons), but want to make sure to record some of the joys that life has continued to offer. (And I think I can set this to go live on the date it actually happened - HA!) For instance, graduation!
     I never miss graduation ceremonies - I call them "Joy Soup." The students and their families are so happy and so proud. And while shouting and whistling may be discouraged at some universities, it's so fun to hear a family burst into cheers. Oftentimes they are celebrating a child who is the first college graduate in their family. So, they aren't just cheering for themselves, they are cheering for all their family members, alive and passed, who helped enable opportunities for the students. It's a humbling and awe inspiring event to be a part of.
     This was our new President's first graduation ceremony and he obviously enjoyed it.
It was also our Dean Karen Oremus' opportunity to show off her awesome robes. She looked great!
I also enjoy putting on my robes. I've slowly been making them mine. Next step, add pockets!
     Here I am with Elisa Koehler (dear friend and Music Chair).

     And with Stephanie Sutton (video/performance art) and Mark Hamilton (photography/Fine Arts Chair).
I didn't have any students graduating this winter, but it didn't stop me from going. I always walk out of graduations with a smile on my face!

Stan's Celebration of Life

"To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world." - Brandi Snyder

      I can't believe it's already been a week since Stan's Celebration of Life. While I'd rather not have needed to have it at all, the turn-out was heart-warming.
     Many people were there in person, some driving from far away and getting hotel rooms; while dozens attended online from as far away as Scotland and Taiwan. We have friends all over the world and it was truly a global event. I'm sorry I didn't get a screen shot from Zoom (if anyone did, please let me know!), but lots of people left wonderful comments in the chat. Zoom is such a strange way to host a final good-bye, but the silver lining is being able to include friends from afar, and now I have an actual recording of the event. I've been slowly going back through the photos, the tributes, the comments, and putting together a compilation video for friends who missed it (link below), and for myself of course. It's not been an easy thing to do. Everyone has been so generous with their love, and I miss Stan so much - it's hard to see your computer screen when your eyes are filled with tears.
     But a few wonderful photos were taken that I want to share... Here I am with some of my students, Kaelen, Maggie, and Sarah...

with Tina Hanlon and students and friends in the background...

Winthrop Professors and Chairs Elisa, Eva, and Jason...

flowers from the Black family...

me with my parents Bob and Betsy...

more flowers from my Hollins family...

and my favorite, me with so many of my wonderful students (I'm a very lucky teacher indeed).
     I asked several guests to share some thoughts and they contributed moving words in tribute. Stan's oldest friend Professor Emeritus Charlotte Headrick knew Stan when he was a student at Young Harris College. Stuart Brown worked for and with Stan at Deloitte and Touche during his early adulthood - they had a lot of fun together. Johnny Martin was Stan's bestie at the end - even though they ended up on different continents, they kept in close touch. Connie Bailey was our dear friend and center of our hub in Edinburgh. And Jane Yolen wrote a precious poem for Stan that I included on his tribute page (link below). Indeed, I was so pleased by all the poetry people envoked for Stan. Charlotte shared a quote from Romeo and Juliette and Johnny recited a poem from Robert "Rabbie" Burns. I wasn't planning on saying anything myself, but Ellen Kushner asked me to share some stories. I'd had practice recounting them to Stan when he was in the hospital, so I was able to share them with everyone. It helped put context to many of the photos in Stan's slideshow. We had so many good stories, so many adventures. I may start sharing them here, on my blog, as part of my healing. We'll see.
     I want to thank those who helped pull this event together and see me through this rough time. Professor Elisa Koehler graciously offered her home to host the event, and it was simply perfect. We had food and drinks in the dining room, screens sharing a slideshow of Stan in several locations, the main Zoom location on the big television on her bookshelves, and a firepit on the back patio to relax by afterwards. Vicky Alvear Shecter has been with me through the roughest parts. She was at the hospital with me in the final days, notified everyone who needed to know as I stayed by Stan's bedside, and drove up once again to help hold me up at the Celebration. I am so lucky to have Vicky in my life - a truer friend could never be found. Professor Jason Tselentis, Chair of Design, arrived early to help with the tech and run Zoom during the Celebration. Everyone should be as fortunate to have such a generous colleague. My students Kaelen, Ethan, and James were my liaisons at the university and arrived early to help with tech, food, and photos throughout. (Truly, all my students have been amazing.) Flipside Catering made a stressful time less so and did a beautiful job. So many friends donated to Stan's GoFundMe, it covered final medical expenses, the expenses for the Celebration, and the expense of having Stan's ashes turned into Parting Stones. (I'll share more on that when they arrive.) Being spared a financial hit on top of losing Stan has been a balm. Colleagues and friends have sent so many cards, flowers, and gifts, I've kept them all and treasure them. Everyone's kindness and ongoing support has meant the world to me.

     I'm not sure how to navigate this next part of my life. There's no way around grief, only through it. But as I said at Stan's Celebration, he'd want me to continue to Live Out Loud just as we did when he was well. So, I look forward to blossoming back into the world and having more adventures... eventually. For now, I sit with my memories and I'm grateful I am not alone. I am surrounded by love.

Stan's Tribute
Stan's Celebration of Life

Yap Ye Iswa Swamp Festival

Since moving to South Carolina, I've been working with members of the Catawba Nation to try to set up workshops to help the Catawba share their myths and stories in picture book manuscripts appropriate for publication through new imprints like Heartdrum at HarperCollins - specializing in books featuring First Nations people and communities. Several fellow faculty have joined me on this endeavor and after many meetings (and Covid), we're getting closer to making this a reality. Because the Catawba people have lots of stories to tell and very few have been shared in books. In the meantime, I didn't want to miss the Yap Ye Iswa Swamp Festival at the Catawba Nation on a recent, gorgeous fall day.
I met up with Casey Cothran (former English Chair at Winthrop University), Casey's friend and New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis, and Laura Gardner (Professor Emeritus of Book Making). Here they are with a totem pole featuring local Yehasuri - mysterious creatures of the forest.
We ate fry bread, bought jewelry and books, and ate roasted corn. But the main reason for attending was to watch the dances. Alongside the resonating sound of drumming and singing, the women did a Bird Dance.
A man did a Warrior Dance.
But my fave was the Ribbon Dancers (?). Their job was to flatten the grass to create a good performance area. Their costumes rippled with their stomping.
We had a marvelous time.
And I made a new friend.
I'm trying not to say 'no' to much right now. I don't know what life will look like going forward without Stan, but I know I have more adventures ahead, partly to honor all the fun he and I had together.

Visiting Jane in Massachusetts

This is my first post since sharing the news about losing my sweet husband. I was reluctant to let that post sink from the top listing, but life must go on and I have to get back into the rapid river of it all...
      I was already slated to visit Jane Yolen, author of over 400 books, in Hartfield, Massachusetts via a funded research grant for a project she and I are working on. (I illustrated three of her picture books.) The tickets were purchased, and the trip was arranged before my life went pear-shaped. Jane and Heidi Stemple (Jane's daughter, manager, and author of over 40 books) encouraged me to come anyway, despite the rawness of my emotional state. Jane lost her husband (and Heidi's father) 20 years ago. "We know grief." I thought the change of scenery, and the hugs, might do me good - so I went. It was the right thing to do.
      That said, the initial plan was to just go hang out and attend a book signing on Saturday. And then Jane's schedule did what it does... it grew, until it was positively jam-packed! Jane is a hard woman to keep up with. At 83, she has more energy than most people half her age, and she is in demand!
     Friday night, she hosted an illustrators’ critique group at her house - Phoenix Farm - mostly led by my dear friend Ruth Sanderson. It was fun to look at people’s work and make some new friends.
Saturday, we drove towards Boston for the book signing at The Silver Unicorn, that was packed with kids, parents, and budding children's book creators.
I even signed a few books!
The manager, Casey Robinson is the author of the new Iver & Ellsworth, that made me cry, so I had to buy it (it's about loss and healing). She's also Heidi’s writing mate, and she was so nice - I loved her immediately.
We all went to lunch afterwards at a cute little restaurant, Not Your Average Joe's, that was very good. The first thing the waitress asked is “are there any food allergies I need to be aware of?” OMG! NOBODY in the south does that! Otherwise, Peter Tacy, Jane's new/old-ish beau, cooked for us every night - and he’s a very good cook - a lot like Stan - steak, chicken, lamb with veggies and potatoes - yum. They make a good pair.
I walked on the dike that runs along the Connecticut River Sunday morning. It was drizzly and grey and suited my mood - lovely. Although, I did get stared down by a cow.
Jane and I finally had our sit down to talk about our project after that. We came up with some good, workable ideas that I'll be implementing. (Can't really share right now - top secret!)
      Sunday late afternoon was the annual children’s book show opening (first time since Covid) at the R. Michelson Gallery. It was jam-packed with Caldecott winners and authors. I was thrilled to be able to pose with the published attendees.
No wonder they all want to live up there! It's a creative triangle formed by The Eric Carle Museum, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Dr. Seuss Museum! The concentration (and support) of talent in Massachusetts is truly impressive - like nowhere else. For instance, here is my dear friend Lauren Mills with some of her gorgeous work. (She recently lost her husband too, illustrator and professor Dennis Nolan. I taught alongside both of them at Hollins University.)
I was rather glad we were all wearing masks as noone could tell I was gaping like a goldfish!
Monday, Lin Oliver (author and founder of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) flew from Los Angeles to film/interview Jane for six hours for a new Legacy series they are creating - interviews with some of the greats in children's literature. (Jane was also a founding member of SCBWI.)
      While they were filming during the day, Ruth took me on a tour of her studio, which I'd somehow never visited before. Here she is with some work from her newest book, A Storm of Horses.
Here's her scratchboard set-up.
Truly, the amount of museum-quality work in Ruth's home is overwhelming. This is just a small portion of her work in storage.
After visiting her home, Ruth and I went to downtown North Hampton. It's an adorable town with five colleges within a short distance, so it is thriving. We went to the gorgeous Forbes Library to scout a space where she’ll have an upcoming exhibit, and visited the sprawling and welcoming children's floor. We also had lunch at a little hippie cafe, Haymarket Cafe, that was fun. We had a lovely time.
     When we got back to Jane’s they were just wrapping up the interview. Lin gave me a big hug and asked all about how I was doing and what I was up to. She is such a love. When you talk to her, it's like the sun has turned to face you directly.
     Here are Heidi, Me, Ruth, Lin, and Jane.
And one of my faves of me and Jane.

     Tuesday morning, Heidi and I went for a lovely, COLD, walk around Hartfield.
I showered, packed, and Jane and Peter drove me to the airport. The trip was a whirlwind, but I was sorry to leave. Throughout it all, I took a lot of naps, but I kept waking up at 3:30am. Heidi called it “The Goddess Hour” - I like that.
     Stan wasn't planning to be with me on this trip anyhow, so the pangs hit when I wanted to call him and tell him about everything going on... and, of course, when I returned home - with a cold. It's not been easy, but I'm lucky to have so many good friends in my life to help see me through this tough time. Especially my friends in Massachusetts.

Stan Dulemba (February 25, 1961 - November 2, 2022)

Deep breath... it's time to share... Wednesday, I lost my husband of 21 years, Stan Dulemba. I am heartbroken. It's such a strange time of grief and joy as friends from all over the world have rushed to my side to offer love and support. Everyone loved Stan and repeatedly call him "A Lovely Man." He was, he was. I am in the process of creating a memorial page on my website at https://dulemba.com/Stan and information about his upcoming Celebration of Life on December 10th can be found at https://fb.me/e/2ZL9Sd2Oy. Please keep us both in your hearts.
Dear friend and author Jane Yolen wrote a poem in tribute...
There Was Stan
A lovely man, we all said,
but Elizabeth knew best:
the once lively mind,
the rider in the wind,
the cook and bed warmer,
the hand to hold,
that wonderful laugh,
the constant love.

Lovely yes.
But so much more.


Publishers Weekly: “Covid, Inclusivity, and Mindfulness: Three Years of Picture Book Trends”

My article, “Covid, Inclusivity, and Mindfulness: Three Years of Picture Book Trends,” was the lead story in Publisher's Weekly yesterday - woohoo!!! A LOT of hard work went into writing this and Publishers Weekly is the top news source for the publishing industry. I'm SO proud!1!

Logan Kline's FINDING FIRE

I was blown away when Candlewick sent me a copy of Logan Kline's FINDING FIRE. It's a mostly wordless and gorgeously-illustrated account of something we take for granted today - easy access to fire for heat and cooking when we need it. Logan stopped by to tell me more about this very special picture book about reslience and friendship with some wonderful insights about how picture books work. Read on!

e: How do you approach your craft, and how might your thoughts or this book help readers do things or think about things differently?
When it comes to making a picture book I want to say something that may not sound right but I think that it is true; words and art do not need each other. There are many great books out there that do not need illustrations. There are many great works of visual art that would not be enhanced if we wrote a few choice words on them. That said, we obviously enjoy putting words and images together… we do it all the time… for lots of different reasons. The paradox of picture books is that you are trying to create a situation where two things that do not need each other, find themselves in a desperate need of one another. All for the sake of a task that can range from poignantly simple to gobsmackingly complicated… I’m talking about telling a story to small children. A demographic that is notoriously fickle and impatient (tough words, yes… but you know it’s true). The real challenge to the craftsmanship of the artist and writer is creating a situation that does not feel forced. For me, this comes as the result of a great deal of revision.

e: What was your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
Typically it starts with a graphite drawing, made up of mostly light outlines and strategically placed cross hatching. This drawing is then scanned at the highest resolution I can manage. After that, there are several digital techniques that are completed almost exclusively in Adobe Photoshop. The amount of layers I utilize is fairly extreme. My art director at Candlewick found my Photoshop files unusable (a fact that I devilishly take delight in). The detail you see above is from a file that is 11.68 gigabytes… for some unhealthy reason I take pride in that.

The traditional components of page 35 are scanned and digitally combined.

e: What was your path to publication?
Finding Fire started with a sketch of a Prehistoric child, a little boy. He had a lot of charm and charisma right off the bat (that is not always the case with the characters that I design). It only took a few attempts to get him ‘right’. He was a fusion of my two sons; my eldest's wild hair and my youngest’s wiry frame. In the beginning, this was accidental but I embraced it once I started rendering him in the way that he would appear in a finished illustration. After that, the basic story almost wrote itself…it just tumbled out of me in one quick session. It was rather organic and it blended a lot of my interests into one compact story. It was not long until I had a rough version sketched out in the form of a storyboard. Once it seemed to be working as a story, I let my agent know that I might have a picture book concept ready to go. I pitched her the idea, we reviewed the rough sketches and she agreed that I had something worth pursuing. It was two and a half years before we had a dummy book that was truly ready to submit to publishers. That may seem like a long time but keep in mind I was a full time teacher and I had two young sons that I was raising with my wife. And candidly, my agent (Ronnie) and I were keenly aware of the competitive market for picture books. If we received a rejection, it was not going to be because we were careless or made poor decisions about pacing or page turn. Oddly enough I worked really hard on the written aspect. Ronnie was always pushing me to reduce the word count, to boil the writing down to the most essential words. If only we knew at that time what was in store for the words of Finding Fire.

The first treatment of “the boy” and “the creature”. Taken from their first appearance in my sketchbook more than 5 years ago.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of FINDING FIRE?
Yes, originally Finding Fire had words (throughout the entire book). Here’s an example of pages 34 & 35. The first version is from the dummy book that I submitted to Candlewick Press. You can clearly see that it had text. The second version is the spread as it appears in the finished book… wordless.

Originally Finding Fire was presented to publishers with words. The dummy book had 140 words used sparingly but throughout the entire book. The final published version has 30 words, all on the third page of the book.

      My editor, Kaylan, started asking about the possibility of going “nearly wordless” shortly after we submitted the dummy book. I love wordless books so it’s rather amusing to me that I was so resistant to the idea. I take pride in my effort to explore all options when working out an illustration project. Yet after several requests I had to admit…I had not really explored the possibility of a wordless version of the book. What if that was the better version? So, I reworked the dummy book, removed all text (except the opening line) and showed the new nearly wordless version to my wife (who was in truth my first editor and art director). I still remember those first moments as she thumbed through the book “I hate to say it hun…it’s better without the words”. I took a deep breath and never looked back. Kaylan was right…the images told the story better.

e: Love it! 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?
I think my whole life has been an attempt to figure this out and after 45 years of making art, I can say with the utmost certainty; I have no idea whatsoever. Now don’t get me wrong, I have some strong instincts in regards to this endeavor but it is far from a science. I do know that everything I make, absolutely everything, is an attempt to produce what I think you are referring to as “heart art”. I’m really hoping my work connects with a variety of people and is cherished by them. I do not like the idea that someone would walk by my work and not pick it up. I work really hard to make artwork that is sincere and accessible.

The very first illustration I created for my picture book, Finding Fire.

e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you)?
With a lot of discomfort and awkwardness. This may be my least favorite part of being an illustrator and now author/illustrator. Don’t get me wrong, I have a website and an agent… I’m on Instagram… I manage okay. But advertising myself… yuck. Instead, It’s better for me to focus on promoting my work. In turn, this becomes much easier if I think of promotion as a means towards connecting kids with books.

e: What is your favorite part of being a creator?
Until recently it was a toss up between a few aspects. One…I’m never bored, never. I don’t even know what that feels like. In fact, give me hours of unscheduled time, empty sheets of paper, with nothing to do and I will fill every minute of that day and be ready to repeat for the rest of the month. No TV, no internet, nothing and I’m still good. Two, problem solving…especially with picture books. You always have too much to say and not enough space to say it in. It’s like a puzzle and the box is missing the cover. What a satisfying moment to have when you finally figure it out. I will often emerge from my studio yelling, “I love being an illustrator!” Three, is just the sheer delight of seeing something that was only in my head…suddenly materialize in the form of an illustration. Have you ever tried to tell someone about an amazing dream that you had, only to watch their eyes glaze over as you describe it? As an artist, you can show other people your dreams and not bore them. They may even pay you real money to show them more of your dreams. That said, each of these has been overshadowed considerably in my mind. The photos below show my new favorite part of being an illustrator; sharing my book directly with children.
I’ve participated in three signings with Finding Fire and two were at events where no one knew me and they had certainly never heard of Finding Fire. Watching children connect with my characters from across a lawn or at a busy fair is incredibly rewarding. And on top of that, to see them become immersed in a story that I worked on for so long...I don’t have the words for how grateful I am for that. Win, lose or draw…shame on me if I ever forget how lucky I was to see this happen right in front of me.

e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I’m fascinated by the lives that people had long before we were recording our history. I think about the millions and millions of stories that will never be known, of people who survived through their own ingenuity and resourcefulness. How keenly knowledgeable they needed to be of a very real, raw, dangerous and tactile world around them. I think about how important it must have been to pass on knowledge and information. I think about how their definitions of parent and educator were probably indistinguishable. These notions are not critical to the story of Finding Fire, but they did motivate me as I worked on it.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I have four stories that I’m mulling over. One is about a Neanderthal girl who just might change the world, the other is a modern day Sasquatch child who does not follow the rules, the third is about a monarch butterfly whose white wings are not the only unusual thing about it, and the fourth is a secret…(my editor doesn’t even know about this one).

e: I can't wait to see more of your fabulous stories!