Monthly Archives: November 2013

Anthropomorphing

Denslow-Mother Goose-Humpty Dumpty Anthropomorphism is the act of attributing a human form or to a non-human object or being.

I have been trying my hand at anthropomorphizing (it is as hard to type as it is to say) but I have yet to be hired to illustrate a book with non-human characters. So far my books have always portrayed children (with a few semi-sentient toys).

M Chodos-Irvine -Ella Sarah Gets Dressed cat toy

A few years ago I created some sample illustrations for “Zoo Shoes,” a charming story by Amy MacDonald.

M Chodos-Irvine-ZooGiraffeHighHeels

Amy and I pitched the manuscript and the illustrations around for a while but we failed to find a publisher for the project. Still, it was a good exercise for me to play with anthropomorphization (that’s as hard to type as it is to read), and someday, I hope these two lovelies will have a story of their own.

M Chodos-Irvine-Isadora and Martha

Anthropomorphism probably goes back as far as storytelling. It is standard practice in mythology and folk tales – Coyote, Raven, Spider, Mother Nature. It must be innate for humans to project human psyches into everything we perceive. Aesop’s Fables, Mother Goose, Br’er Rabbit -  these tales allow us to critique human foibles without offending anyone specifically. It’s like seeing someone else’s reflection in your mirror,

JJ Granville- Dog Days

which is very useful in storytelling to children.

Dr Seuss-Yertle the Turtle

Perhaps children can see themselves in animal characters more easily than human ones because animals are often small and misunderstood and vulnerable.

Plus animals are cute and kids like cute things (and so do their parents).

The Provensens-The Giant Golden Mother Goose-3 Little Kittens 2

Garth Williams-Bedtime for Francis
Ian Falconer-Olivia

L M Kvasnosky-Zelda and Ivy and the Boy Nextdoor

Another advantage is that animals can be identified by their characteristics without bias or prejudice. An aardvark with self-esteem issues can then help us learn the value of accepting oneself and one’s nose.

Marc Brown-Arthurs Nose

Animals also have no racial identities, so any child looking at a picture book can identify with a little bear,

Sendak-Little Bear

and animals can be foreigners in Human-Land without having to be identified by their nation state. They are clearly from Animal-Land, and that is enough.

Jean de Brunhoff-The Story of Babar

In case you want to take a stab at this approach yourself, the steps to anthropomorphization are simple:

Give upright posture, some cute clothes, a hat.

Paul Schmid-Pearl

Kevin Henkes-Chrysanthemum

R Scarry-Lowly Worm copy

But most importantly, give whatever non-human subject you’ve chosen the facial and emotional expressions of people.

Hardie Gramatky-Little Toot

Pretty much anything can be, and has been, anthropomorphized in picture books.

Laurie Keller-Arnie the Doughnut 2

David Small-Hoovers Bride
Glasses Who needs em-Lane Smith-Viking 1991

Are there disadvantages to using anthropomorphism in picture book illustration? Not that I can think of, except perhaps running the risk of making your characters too cute, or worse, too human.

However, let it be known that there are dangers inherent in anthropomorphism itself. We must not expect everything we portray as human to behave accordingly.

Garth Williams-Push Kitty

Some restraint is wise.

Coming Soon: The Mock Caldecotts

My Current Favorite: LOCOMOTIVE by Brian Floca. Big and beautiful and true! This is a book to spend hours pouring over....

My Current Favorite: LOCOMOTIVE by Brian Floca. This is a book to spend hours pouring over….

As the year draws to a close, Mock Caldecott groups start compiling lists of the books they’ll discuss through early January. It takes time to get copies of the books, read through them, read through them again, compare them to other books being mentioned for the prestigious medal, deliberate, consider.  So November – right now -  is when the real conversations start and the winnowing down to a manageable list begins.

Some of these Mock Caldecott groups involve librarians in districts around the country. Some are formed by groups on websites such as GoodReads. Many teachers discuss and vote for favorites with their students.  Anyone can have a Mock Caldecott discussion – gathering together as part of virtual or real communities with a shared interest in picture books.  Author Leda Schubert tells you how, step-by-step, over at Write at Your Own Risk this week.

The goal of the discussion is usually 1) to guess which book might win or 2) to toot the horn for a chosen – possibly overlooked – favorite. I sat in on a 2013 Mock Caldecott discussion at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and it was definitely an eye-opener. Some books that I thought were not really “distinguished” enough had great champions in the group; some books I loved left other people cold.  A few – just a few – were loved by almost everyone.  For example, we were thrilled by Unspoken by Henry Cole, and voted it our favorite.

Unspoken by Henry Cole, a favorite which went unmentioned by the committee in 2013.

Unspoken by Henry Cole, a favorite which went unmentioned by the committee in 2013.

But Unspoken did not even get an Honor Medal; Creepy Carrots did, which didn’t even make our list. Mock Caldecott winners are often off the mark, because the dynamic of every group of readers can be so different. The eventual winner of the medal that year, This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, was considered “cute” by our group, but not really “distinguished,” which is the criteria the American Library Association says should be used to choose the winner. The real Caldecott committee sometimes tries extra hard to find something both kid-friendly and distinguished – not an easy task. Sometimes they do an excellent job of honoring brilliant illustrations (for which the medal is awarded) without ignoring the need for a story well-told, and the Mock Caldecott groups try to do the same.

I can’t imagine what the pressure must be like if, when the final decision about the medal nears, opinion is divided (though the person who led our discussion at VCFA – Leda Schubert again – had been on the Caldecott committee before and told us it was all quite civilized – no one came to blows.) The book that wins the medal will be elevated to Oprah-level attention immediately, will be sought out by every K-3 teacher in America, not to mention parents and grandparents (and even, sometimes, kids!)  and will most likely never go out of print. The committee members will be hailed as geniuses by some and dismissed as nincompoops by others, all within 24-hours of the announcements.

I thought those of you reading BOOKS AROUND THE TABLE might like some quick links to websites/blogs that report their lists and the results of their discussions (usually just before the January ALA conference when actual winners are announced.) You’ll find links if you scroll down past this collection of cover images for books mentioned again and again in the Mock Caldecott lists. If you have favorites that are getting overlooked, use the Comments field to share the titles with us so we can all check them out!

CALDECOTT FRONTRUNNERS:

Building Our House (written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean)

Building Our House (written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean)

The Mighty Lalouche (written by Michael Olshan, illustrations by Sophie Blackall)

The Mighty Lalouche (written by Michael Olshan, illustrations by Sophie Blackall)

Journey (wordless, illustrated by Aaron Becker)

Journey (wordless, illustrated by Aaron Becker)

Matchbox Diary (written by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline)

Matchbox Diary (written by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline)

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (written and illustrated by Peter Brown)

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (written and illustrated by Peter Brown)

Inside Outside (wordless, illustrated by Lizi Boyd)

Inside Outside (wordless, illustrated by Lizi Boyd)

The Dark (written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen)

The Dark (written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen)

Bluebird (written and illustrated by Bob Staake)

Bluebird (written and illustrated by Bob Staake)

Tortoise and Hare (written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney)

Tortoise and Hare (written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney)

(And don’t forget the book which opens this post – Locomotive by Brian Floca. It’s big and beautiful and non-fiction, which I couldn’t get enough of as a kid.)

There are many other books that make multiple lists – I’ve singled out just ten of those mentioned consistently.  Here are links to several Mock Caldecott lists (not all lists have been finalized…some are just being compiled, some come in seasonal sections – Spring, Summer, Fall….)

1. Fuse #8 Production list (Scroll past the Mock Newbery to reach the Mock Caldecott list. This is compiled by the savvy and influential librarian, Betsy Bird, of the New York City Library.)

2. Watch. Connect. Read. (The author of this blog is a K-5 librarian – I wish we could put someone like him into every elementary school in America.)

3. Read, Write, Reflect. (A fine bunch of books under discussion, and ditto the comment I made above. The leader of this discussion with students is a 5th grade teacher named Katherine Sokolowski.)

4. Allen County Library System list (Indiana librarians – they have a particularly lively discussion and add many books throughout the year.) Click here for their blog site (One Book, Two Books, Old Books, New Books) and then enter “Mock Caldecott 2014″ in the search box.

5. Calling Caldecott (compiled by The Horn Book)

6. Ashland University (Ohio) list, through August.

7. GoodReads.com group (they list “Currently Reading” – about four books discussed at any given time) as well as several past months’ reading suggestions – scroll down at the site to see those.

You’ll find plenty of other interesting discussions going on – just enter “Mock Caldecott 2014″ as your search terms.

You can keep an eye on these through December and early January to see what books get added. And you can collect a stack of your favorites (or even some non-favorites – to keep the discussion lively!) from the library, invite friends over, and talk about which ones you would give the award to. Here is the ALA description of what the winner should be: “The Medal shall be awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the picture book except that the illustrations be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.”

Use that as the guideline for your discussion.

I'd like to thank every committee member who agreed to give the book the Caldecott medal. Nicely done.

I’d like to thank the committee that agreed to give this book the Caldecott medal in 1942.  Nicely done.

THE INSIDE STORY ABOUT THE INSIDE STORY

Early this month, our Seattle-born and bred children’s book salon, The Inside Story, went international. In nine bookstores across the US and Australia, people who love children’s books gathered for their first-ever Inside Story experience, sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, aka the SCBWI.

It was a proud moment for George Shannon and me. We invented the Inside Story in 1998. It was a proud moment for our local SCBWI who nurtured it over the years. Here in Seattle we celebrated our 31st Inside Story that evening, hosted by Mockingbird Books.

Our goal when we started the Inside Story was to create a forum where authors and illustrators could celebrate their new titles with local booksellers, librarians, teachers and other friends of children’s books. The idea was that book creators would share “inside” information that booksellers and librarians could use to recommend titles. Along the way, we hoped to build our children’s book community. That’s what’s happened over the past 16 years. Something like 500 books have been presented in these twice-yearly programs at a rotating venue of area independent bookstores.

Each time, authors and illustrators are each given three minutes to tell the stories behind their new books. For instance, at the recent Inside Story at Mockingbird Books, we heard Port Townsend illustrator Richard Jesse Watson talk about his latest picture book, Psalm 23. He began by telling about his atheist childhood and ended with a discussion of how he chose the models for his characters. It was interesting stuff.

The timed three-minute segments are interspersed with The Great Book Give Away, a game in which audience members win copies of the new books by answering children’s book trivia questions. The program is followed by schmoozing and booksigning and a fabulous spread of food and drink supplied by the host bookstore. It adds up to a delightful evening.

After the first couple of years, George and I asked our Seattle chapter of the SCBWI if they’d like to get involved. Kirby Larson signed on for the SCBWI and our little community event grew and prospered. In the ensuing years, Meg Lippert, Jaime Temairik, Martha Brockenbrough and Deb Lund have headed the Inside Story for our Seattle SCBWI, each bringing her inimitable style and humor as the event matured.

It was interesting to note that two local authors who presented at the first Inside Story in 1998 also presented new picture books this month: Brenda Guiberson told the story behind her latest, The Greatest Dinosaur Ever, and Nina Laden showcased Once Upon a Memory.

Image

Seattle Inside Story, Nov. 2013: Illustrator Dana Sullivan and his new book, Digger and Daisy, and illustrator Jaime Temairik whose new book is How to Negotiate Everything.

When I think back to those first Inside Story events, Ted Rand is always there. He had a new book in every Inside Story salon until his death in 2005. He was the dean of our children’s book scene – and the only person for whom the Inside Story’s three minute presentation limit was ever relaxed.

I also remember an early Inside Story at Chauni Haslet’s All for Kids Books and Music. We wanted to honor George Shannon, so Eastside writer Mary Whittington’s partner Winnie wrote a song we could sing to him. The music and lyrics were distributed and we all sang to the accompaniment of Winnie’s recorder.

The next day George and I got a note from a writer who had just moved to Seattle from New York. She pointed out that the evening felt more like a Girl Scout campfire than a professional gathering. Oh well. Let it be noted that I believe a community bonds when it sings together.

(One of the international Inside Story events this month was at Bank Street Books in New York. I guess they didn’t include a singalong.)

There’s a gang of school librarians who show up for the Seattle area Inside Storys. Chief among them is Lynn Detweiler, who has attended just about every one. She deserves some recognition. Maybe it’s time to write another recorder-accompanied song?

•   •   •   •   •

Lately I am most likely to hear about the publication of new books via a trailer on YouTube that’s friended on Facebook and tweeted on Twitter.  I’m glad that in Seattle we also celebrate these occasions together in person at the Inside Story, as a children’s book community. I love that other cities are going to have this opportunity.

Thanks to everyone who has nurtured the Inside Story along: the SCBWI chairpeople and their committees, the bookstores, the presenters, the audience and the publishers who have sometimes donated champagne (yay, Candlewick). We are all lucky to be part of the Seattle children’s book community.

In a Minor Key

It’s November. The rain has come to Seattle.  I’ve been inside a lot, working on a new book of poems and paintings.crows  Paschkis

While painting I often listen to music,  especially music in a minor key. A sad song can make me quite happy.
Here are some thoughts on illustration in a minor key.

The subject matter in this painting by Bilibin ( a visit to Baba Yaga) fits the somber palette.

ivan_bilibin_vasilisa

And this elegant painting by Arthur Rackham for Grimm is as grim as the story.

rackham grimm

But I remember being scared by all of the illustrations in the book A Holiday for Edith, by Dare Wright, even the ones that were supposed to be happy. The whole book was suffused with melancholy. I think that an artist brings many things to a book and some of them might not be brought there on purpose.HOLIDAY-for-EDITH-and-the-BEARS_large

Divica Landrova’s  illustration for Little Red Riding Hood is in a minor key, even though Redcap has not yet met the wolf.

divica landrova

Compare that to the same subject matter by Watty Piper.

Watty Piper

I always wanted a seat at the table in Barbara Cooney’s Chanticleer, even though the illustration is dark. It feels cosy, like being inside when rain is falling on the roof.

chanticleer

Yuri Vasnetsov’s style and colors are similar here, but the room is lonely and frightening.

vasnetsov dining room

In this illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger, the text says that the feast is merry, but it feels desolate. Maybe the robbers are sad that their iPad fell on the floor.

zwerger robbers

This feast by Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire describes a happy mayhem. It is in a major key.

daulaire valhalla

I will end with my favorite feast of all, by Yuri Vasnetsov. The cockroaches put it firmly in a minor key. This is from the Magpie, shown on this blog before.

magpie

Enjoy the rain and sad songs!

p.s. If you would like to curl up under a quilt, please check out my new blog Mooshka - a Patchwork.

All Hallows

What a strange conglomeration Halloween has become. It’s such a weird mixture of fear, horror, candy, naughtiness, and dress-up.

Though it originated in rituals marking the passing of harvest season into winter, Halloween melded with religious beliefs and became the last chance the dead have to visit the earth, and therefore a day for the living to watch out. But Halloween now has morphed into a day to celebrate one’s alter egos. And eat bucketfuls of candy. Is that not creepy?

Even so, I can’t resist the Halloween spirit. With half a roll of black butcher paper, some colored tissue, a craft knife and lots of tape, I worked fiendishly fast yesterday afternoon to put together some Halloween decor for our front window.

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It seemed to be successful. We went through 200 pieces of candy in an hour-and-a-half. One trick-or-treater told me she liked our window.
I said “thank you, I made it myself.” She replied “you must be very artistic.”
I took that as a compliment.

While most of the ghouls and goblins and superheroes who came to our house last night wore store-bought costumes, I most enjoy the home-made get-ups. The Doctor was here.

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As were this black fairy and killer bunny. The girl made both costumes. I was seriously impressed.

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My neighborhood has some freakishly inspired souls that keep the rest of us on our toes as far as Halloween decorations are concerned. Down the street there is the “Big Scary House” that transforms its front yard into Horrorsville.

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This includes two wooden outbuildings, a smoke machine, lights, numerous gravestones, skulls, bones, an entire hedge covered in fake cobwebs, and about fifteen strategically placed statues of horror figures, some of which turn out to be alive and jump out at you when you walk by. It is terrifying, believe me.

IMG_2776

When my youngest daughter was little she wouldn’t even walk across the street from that house on Halloween. The screams start at around 6:00 and continue steadily till 10:00.

Then there is a friend of mine who lives a few blocks away. She constructs a facade for her front doorway every year. Past years have featured a robot, an enormous spider, a man-eating plant, a demonic clown (that was super scary), and a giant chicken with a missing leg giving out chicken drumstick candies. This year it was a huge rat coming out of a sewer pipe. A black light brings it all to life in a frightful kind of way (note the severed plastic arm in the rat trap coming out of its mouth).

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But if you really want to see who sets the creative bar devilishly high in my neck of the woods, you must visit the Skeleton Theatre – a fifteen minute repeating show that involves animatronics, video footage, professional lighting, and of course, skeletons.

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This guy has been seriously bitten by the creativity bug (or zombie). In his day job, he works as a sound designer and composer for live theater, but after hours, he dreams up shows that star skeletons. This year it is the voyage of the Ulna 13. Here’s a preview if you’re curious.

What is it about the gut-wrenching mixture of too much candy and (almost) dead people? If it wasn’t so much fun it would make you sick. I’m not sure I get it, but I still find it amusing. Especially the chocolate.

Almond Joys and Heath bars aside, what I like best about Halloween is the creativity it brings out on parade. That, and having people brave the urban mythology to take candy from strangers. What other excuse do we have to drop in on our neighbors these days and comment on their decor?