Category Archives: Children’s Book Critique Group Blog

A NEW CHAPTER

For the past 37 years, my husband John left our house every Monday through Friday and headed south to Boeing for his job in public relations. I worked at home.

It was a good fit for both of us. I like lots of quiet time to write and draw and follow my thoughts. He likes the interaction of communication around issues like airplane production and financing and the intricacies of the Export-Import bank.

But now John has retired. We took a celebratory hiking trip to Lake O’Hara, British Columbia, but beginning today we will both be at home.

photo

Hiking near Opabin Lake above Lake O’Hara.

Luckily, Julie Larios’ husband Fernando retired a few years ago. He offered John a surefire strategy for sharing space with a wife who gets lost in her creative ether: wear a cowbell. That way, he explained, your creative cohabitant hears you coming and does not jump out of her skin when you clear your throat and she is suddenly aware of your presence.

Perhaps some of our BATT blog readers have more suggestions for John and me as we begin this new chapter? I am all ears.

Maybe that’s the problem. Ironically, as I write this, I am distracted by the radio playing in the kitchen. Argh! To calm down, I remind myself it is John I have to thank for the idea of this blog — and for cleaning up the kitchen…

P.S. If you are in the Seattle area – a wonderful event takes place this Sunday noon to 4 at Dunn Gardens: Mallets in Wonderland, http://dunngardens.org/upcoming-events.  John and I are running the White Rabbit’s Zucchini Racetrack. The gardens are transformed into a magical Alice’s Wonderland with croquet courts, beer & brats lunch, lots of children’s events and sunshine. All for a good cause: the preservation of this historic Olmsted-designed estate.

 

 

 

 

Bugs Abound

The world is thrumming with insect life. In the summer I feel more aware of all the bugs around us.Paschkis Summer Birds p6When I illustrated Summer Birds by Margarita Engle I got to spend some time with insects. When I began the book I knew it would be fun to illustrate imaginary creatures and misconceptions about metamorphosis, but it turned out to be equally entertaining to draw real insects.Paschkis Summer Birds p30-31

In a field of one square mile you will find as many insects as there are people on the entire planet. The Smithsonian Institute estimates that there are 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects on earth. That means there are 200 million insects for each human being.

Raul Dufy 1911

Raul Dufy 1911

There are roughly 900,000 different kinds of living species of insects, fascinating in their particulars. Check out the website What’s That Bug to see some of them.

Here is an unscientific selection of some bugs that have buzzed through children’s books, in chronological order.

In 1807 John Harris came out with the Butterfly’s Ball. It was one of the first books made to delight children as opposed to improve or edify them.butterfly ball

The success of that book spawned The Butterfly’s Birthday in 1809, illustrated by William Mulready.Mulready Butterfly

Palmer Cox (who created the Brownies) painted this is 1890. .queerie queers 1890

Kafka published Metamorphosis in 1915. In 1927 you could have tea with Fly Ratter Tatter, illustrated by Vladimir Konashevich.fly ratter tatter

Some bugs are easier to love in art than in life. This lone cockroach and the swarming mosquitos below are from Alyonushka’s Tales, illustrated by Yuri Vasnetsov in 1935:
vasnetsov kitchenvasnetsov bear mosquitos

John Langstaff wrote Frog Went A-Courtin in 1955 and Feodor Rojankovsky won a Caldecott for the illustrations. The book teems with bugs in minor and major roles.
Rojankovsky frogRojankovsky flyRojankovsky fly pie593Rojankovsky snakeNext to come in was a little chick,Rojankovsky chick591

Wm. Steig’s Presumptuous Insect is not from a children’s book but it begged to be included.steig insect

Doug Florian is a modern master of the insect. Check out his books Insectlopedia from 2002 and Unbeelievables from 2012.drones

…I’ve got to fly now.
Don’t bug out!
Bee well!

Margaret Chodos-Irvine illustration for Buzz by Janet Wong 2000

Margaret Chodos-Irvine’s illustration for Buzz by Janet Wong, 2000

Update: Joellyn Rock sent a link to this video that she made called Pollinatrix the Pollinator. Buzz over and check it out!

 

Chiaroscuro

UA-Spring- L llustration-1928

Recently, I was looking through a French magazine from 1928 – L’Illustration – and came across a series of images of the seasons. The artist is not credited, unfortunately, but the work is a lovely example of the chiaroscuro printmaking approach.

Highlight and shadow. Clear and obscure. Chiaroscuro has always been one of my favorite terms and techniques in art. In printmaking specifically, chiaroscuro refers to the use of high contrast tones, usually in a monochromatic field, to indicate volume. The technique goes back to the early 1500s, and began as a method of mimicking in print the look of chiaroscuro drawings.

These artists created so with such a limited tonal palette. So simple, yet so complex.

Ludolf Businck-Moses with the Tablets of the Law

Since early books were typeset and printed by hand on presses, woodcuts were the best method of illustration. They could be inked and printed repeatedly using the same methods used for printing the type. As long as books were printed on letterpresses, chiaroscuro woodcuts continued to be used.

Bartolomeo Coriolano-Battle of the Giants

Bartolomeo Coriolano- Sleeping Cupid-mid-17th century

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes-c 1523-27

Each tone required a separate block to be cut. Here are three plates by Christoffel Jegher from The History of Wood Engraving that deconstruct a two-block chiaroscuro woodcut.

Chiaroscuro demo 1

Chiaroscuro demo 3

Chiaroscuro demo 2

Though now largely forgotten as a technique, chiaroscuro was common in illustrations through the early part of the last century, until offset and color lithography printing technology became more common. Woodcuts & Wood Engravings: How I Make Them, by Hans Alexander Mueller (1939), illustrates beautifully how to make complex images from only two layers of color.

H A Mueller

It is amazing to see how two flat images can create so much depth when combined.

H A Mueller 2

These two illustrations, from Designs For You – To Trace or Copy by F. J. Garner (1950), also use only two tones to indicate volume and pattern with concise efficiency.

F J Garner-bottle design

F J Garner- gay tie designs

“Bright Water,” by Elton Bennett, is a serigraph print from the later half of the last century. He used only two screens, with some color variation in the ink application of the lighter color, to create this print of water flowing through boulders.

Elton Bennett-Bright Water-1950s

I was inspired to try this chiaroscuro technique in lino-cut for an illustration I did for Unix Magazine many years ago (note the floppy disk).

M Chodos-Irvine-Unix Mag

I think you can still see the influence of chiaroscuro woodcuts in this relief print of mine “Minotaurus” from 2010.

Margaret Chodos-Irvine-Minotaurus

I’m not sure how chiaroscuro could be applied in illustration for children’s books. It seems too monochromatic for today’s day-glo, technically enhanced, 3-D world, but maybe it will be something worth exploring one day as a calmer alternative.

H A Mueller-Ex Libris

 

Black and White and Red All Over

The color red has its literary roots. It’s blood and drama and passion. Red is the first color that Jonas sees in Lois Lowry’s “The Giver.” It’s no accident that Little Red Riding Hood wears scarlet or that Robbie Burns’s love is “like a red, red rose.”

Red shows up in literature in another funny way. I collect electronic images of books in art. Copies of illustrations, paintings and prints that feature books in some way. (Like the images that Julie L. shared last week) And I began to notice a lot of red books in art. Not just as a random spot of color, but as a color that makes a statement, suggests a story:

escape from the everyday…

Agata Raczynska

Agata Raczynska

into an imagined passion

Jonathan Burton

Jonathan Burton

Or maybe it’s a real world passion

Jennifer Dionisio

Jennifer Dionisio

Or  forbidden fruit

Jean F. Martin

Jean F. Martin

Alessandro Gottardo

Alessandro Gottardo

Or perhaps red, is after all,  just a mystery

Jennifer Dionisio

Jennifer Dionisio

My favorite literary use of red is the William Carlos William poem, The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

So much depends on the red book, so much is suggested that is dark and forbidden, hinting at hidden depths beneath the most sedate appearances.

Nakamura Daizaburo

Nakamura Daizaburo

And isn’t that what reading is all about–that gateway into other selves. In this case, our red selves. Our read selves.

Reading Aloud

mother readingJPG

Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve my mom reading aloud to me and to my older brother and sister, John and Mary. At first, it was nursery rhymes and the poems of Eugene Field and Robert Louis Stevenson. Later came  Little Golden Books illustrated by Garth Williams. Once I hit elementary school, the “chapter books” (the phrase still thrills me) started: All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor turned me into a New-York-ophile for life.  Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater made me realize adults could be foolish dreamers, too; Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink helped me weather the world as a tomboy; Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis taught me how big – and small – the world was, Rifles for Watie  by Harold Keith – oh, Rifles for Watie! Mom cried, I cried, everybody cried.

Jesse Wilcox Smith

Jesse Wilcox Smith

Bedtime – time to read the next chapter! And when the chapter was finished, it was “Sleep tight,” and then the light were turned off. I fell asleep dreaming I was a soldier spy, I was a girl dancing at a hoedown, I was riding in a Chinese junk on a yellow river half-way around the world.

sant_fairy_tale

James Sant – “The Fairy Tale”

Bob Bloyd, my 6th-grade teacher at Booksin Elementary School in San Jose, California, also read aloud to the class each day – usually right before we got dismissed. He sent us home with the stories of Mark Twain, Jack London and Rudyard Kipling echoing around in our heads.  Since then I’ve always kept a short list of “People Who Can Read Me to Sleep” – usually well-known people whose voices appeal to me: James Earl Jones, of course; Jeremy Irons, who made the list after I listened to him read “Lolita”; Paul Auster, whose voice is smooth as butter; Seamus Heaney, with his Irish lilt; and (my personal favorite) Shelby Foote – I could listen to his soft voice forever (when you have time, take in this series of interviews of Foote talking about his childhood, especially what he says about his teachers in Video #3.)

The sound of a voice that transports you to other worlds….that’s what I wanted to give my children, and – I admit – I did it just as much for myself as for them, because I loved the way time slowed down at bedtime – there was nothing more enjoyable. And now my daughter is reading aloud each night to my grandson. He started early with books.

Jackson Reading Books

Now, seven years later and headed for second grade, he’s moved from picture books over to middle grade fiction.  Some of the bedtime stories his mom is reading to him  are old-fashioned  – Half-Magic by Edward Eager, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. These older books beg to be read aloud, since quick explanations (about words and word usage) help grease the gears and keep things running smoothly. My grandson enjoyed those two books as much as he enjoyed Harry Potter, and I ‘m positive that the pleasure came from the stories being shared with his mom.  I know that when I read Alice in Wonderland to my kids, we enjoyed it most because we were laughing together when the wordplay got silliest. Laughter shared with a child is so delicious.

Now the New York Times reports that the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that parents read aloud with their children. It’s sad to think that hasn’t been done before – what were they waiting for? But I’m not going to get crabby.  I’m just going to say “Hooray! “

716px-Cassatt_Mary_Nurse_Reading_to_a_Little_Girl_1895

Mary Cassatt

For a look at the read-aloud moment with a slightly different twist, follow this link to Cody Walker’s wonderful post at The Kenyon Review, in which he talks about reading The Science Times aloud to his 7-month-old daughter.

Mother Reading to Children

James Shannon

 

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Maplewood Elementary Fourth Grade Writing Club

In April, I wrote here about my plans to lead a writing club for fourth graders at Maplewood Elementary in Edmonds. For a month, 16 or so kids gave up their Monday and Tuesday lunch recesses to participate.

The results were impressive. I was astounded at what these kids could create in a half hour session. I loved their open willingness to dive in and write.

One of the exercises we tried was sent by Terry Pierce, UCLA-ext. writing teacher: author Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry Jam Workshop. We turned it into a three-parter. I will use the work of Maplewood student Damaris I. — with her permission and her parents’ permission — to illustrate our experience.

We began by painting to music. My friend, pianist Julan Chu, suggested Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Perfect! Mussorgsky wrote this composition in 1874, after viewing the retrospective art show of a deceased friend. It offers yet another layer of cross-arts jam.

We set up all my paint palettes and laid out brushes on the library tables. The kids listened carefully to the music and responded with paintings.

DI.painting

Damaris’ painting, created to Mussorgsky’s music.

At our next meeting, we spread out the paintings and the kids walked around the tables, post-its in hand. They gave each other words suggested by the paintings.

DI.words

Damaris was given these words: splatter (to which she rhymed matter), colorful, explosion, mixed, whispy, wocky, very green, grassy, wonderland, big and new, magic, magic spell, wet, mystical, mystery, misty, green mist

The third part was to turn those words into a poem or prose piece of writing.

DI.poem

Damaris wrote: “A green mist rose from a magic spell. The land would be mixed the forest could tell. Then a explosion arose, and everything was misty. The sky turned gray, and the trees became whispy. Everything was a mystery, with tons of spatter, and nothing knew what could be the matter. When the mist cleared, the woods were wet. Everything changed, a whole new set. The forest was grassy, mystical too, a great wonderland, big and new.

The writing was amazing, as you can see: pieces of writing that began as a painting exhibition that inspired Mussorgsky’s music that inspired our student paintings that inspired words, then poems. Round and round the arts we go.

Next time I feel like there is not enough time to sit down and dig into writing, I will think back to those lunch recess meetings of the Maplewood Fourth Grade Writing club and get started.

I want to add a shout out to Mr. B., aka librarian Paul Borchert, who also gave up his lunch recesses and helped in every way to make our writing club so wonderful. More thanks to Terry and Jill and Julan and Damaris — and to Betsy Britton and Grabrielle Catton who carried on for Paul and me the day we were both unable to teach.

Here’s a link to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXy50exHjes&feature=kp

And here are the writing exercise instructions:

Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry-Jam Workshop:
Suggested grades: 2 – 5
Time required: 1 hour
Supplies needed: Boom box with selected music, 11” x 17” white paper, crayons, pencils, Post-it notes, scotch tape
1. Briefly discuss the power of art, music and poetry to evoke emotion.
2. Pass out 11” x 17” piece of white paper and crayons to each student.
3. Have students listen to music for several minutes and then draw whatever the music makes them feel. (I play about 4-5 minutes of music)
4. Pass out a pad of Post-it notes and a pencil to each student and have them form a line to walk around the room and look at each picture.
5. At each picture, the students write the first word that comes to their minds on the sticky paper. They leave that word with the picture. Instruct the students not to write words like “cool” or “fun,” but to write nouns, verbs or strong adjectives.
6. The students then return to their pictures to find 20+ words written by their fellow students.
7. With their words and pictures in front of them, and the music playing once again, students create a poem from the words they have been given. (Once their poems are finished, have each student tape their Post-it-notes poem to the back of their picture. Otherwise the notes tend fall off.)
8. Ask the students to read their poems aloud. At the end of the hour, each student has created a poem that reflects the music they encountered, the art this music evoked from them and the words their art evoked in others.

Pencils, Pens and Brushes

Recently a friend suggested that I consider working on some of my illustrations in photoshop for the ease of trying out different solutions to a problem. I saw her point, but I prefer the point of a pencil, or the flow of a pen.

paschkis inko

When I am illustrating or painting I start with an idea in my head. But once I start working on it other things kick in – my hand and the materials with which I am working. A line drawn with a pencil is different than line drawn with a brush. A line drawn with my hand is different than a line drawn in my head. Although a computer can recreate the looks of various media, I want the physical experience of interacting with real materials. I want to eat paper and drink ink.

Ink leads to scratches and blots, like this gongozzler by Ben Shahn.

ben shahn ounce dice trice

Ink leads to elegant script and crosshatching as in this drawing by Saul Steinberg.

steinberg nose

…or to elegant script and scratchy lines as in this Pennsylvania Fraktur for a Sam Book (psalm book) from 1809.

fraktur

Ink is tempting, as in this drawing by John Coates.

John coates

A pencil will take you to an entirely different place.

Paschkis Point

Saul Steinberg‘s pencil still life feels intimate, yet airy.

steinberg still life

Garth Williams illustration has warmth, weight and softness.

garthwilliams

James Edward Deeds ( 1908 – 1987) was an inmate of State Hospital #3 in Nevada, Missouri. He was also known as the Electric Pencil. He left behind an amazing trove of subtle and haunting pencil drawings.

edwarddeeds2

edwarddeeds Don’t miss the upper left corner of Rebel Girl…edward deeds rebel girl

I want to make art, but I don’t want to be the total master of the material. I want to see where the brush or pen or pencil will take me.

Paschkis brush

Paschkis word bird

P.S. Here is a pencil poem by Todd Boss which I first saw on Julie Larios’s blog, the Drift Record.

todd boss poem

Days o’ The Week

Days o the week pattern

Routines don’t seem to be part of my genetic coding. My brain must be lacking the necessary programing that makes repetition easy and comfortable. I can do it, but it doesn’t come naturally.

Unlike my husband, who gets up in the morning and proceeds with his usual, ordered, getting-ready-for-work tasks, I get up, and invariably think, What now? Should I take a shower first, or go get some breakfast? Or maybe I could read a bit more in that book I started last night before I get up… There are so many possibilities.

Maybe being self-employed and able to set my own schedule is responsible for this deficiency, or maybe my inability to naturally settle into a routine is why I’m self-employed.

It’s different when I am working on a book contract or illustration job (when I know exactly what I need to do each day – work till the project is done), but right now I don’t have any deadlines pending, so when I get to my workspace, I often can’t decide what to do first. I should probably work on that story idea I’ve been playing with, but working on that print I started last week is so much more fun than writing, but I also want to decorate this box I have with cuttings from old cookie tins… Sometimes I feel like I flit around my studio like a butterfly in a rose garden.

This is not something I am proud of, or even particularly happy about. I envy people who don’t have to think so hard about how to proceed with their day.

For example, consider the early American settlers (well, the women anyway) who followed the prescribed adage that divided their existence into seven tasks, one for each day of the week:

 

Monday = Wash

Tuesday = Iron

Wednesday = Sew

Thursday = Market

Friday = Clean

Saturday = Bake

Sunday = Rest

 

Iowa State historical society

Granted, that was a time when doing the wash took from dawn till dusk, and this arduously tedious life was probably not terribly fun, but can you imagine having only seven things to worry about accomplishing each week? No emails to answer, no dance lessons or soccer practice to take your kids to, no meetings to prepare for and attend. And a whole day set aside just to relax, without your needing to feel guilty that you aren’t being more productive.

I’ve been thinking about this idea – having one chore for each day of the week – but instead of household duties, I wonder if I could organize it to be a more work-related guideline for someone like me, who has a lot of creative things I want to do, and even more that I should be doing, but who has difficulty making decisions and getting into a regular routine.

So, how about a week that looks like this?

 

Monday = Write

Tuesday = Draw

Wednesday = Design

Thursday = Make

Friday = Sell

Saturday = Read

Sunday = Rest

 

Only one task per day, like a pioneer woman who has to sweat away at drafting her designs before sunset. I will still have to figure out how to still get all my emails answered and errands run and meetings attended, plus the other twenty-three items on my to-do list – not to mention housework! – but maybe I’ll try this new schedule out, at least during my usual working hours.

Simplify. Concentrate. Limitations can be useful. Narrow walls make it easier to focus straight ahead.

Is this idea even possible in our modern, hectic world? Am I crazy to attempt such a strict regimen considering the lack of imposed structure I am used to?

We’ll see. I’m not going to start embroidering it on any tea towels quite yet…

Sunday dishtowel detail

My Mostly Companion

 

Henry was old for a dog. Nearly 18. He was blind, deaf, arthritic and had grown painfully thin. About a month ago he stopped the small frisking about he did when I brought him in from the outside. And I had told myself it would be time to put him to sleep when he stopped doing that—the last sign of any real joy I saw from him.

But still I hesitated. After all, there was life in him. He liked to eat. He enjoyed standing by the open front door and sniffing the wind. He could still get around—although mostly it had turned into wandering around in an anxious, aimless way.

It was time, really. Not necessarily past time. Henry might have lived along in this fashion for an uncertain number of months. But any “good” days were gone. So it became a matter of when I was ready. Not him.

Today was the day I was ready. My daughters and I took him to the vet and at about 10:30 this morning, he was put to sleep. It was a peaceful death. The room was set up with a cozy blanket. Soft music played. After explaining how things would go, the vet gave Henry a tranquilizing shot.

Henry continued with his anxious wandering for about five more minutes, then at my urging came to the blanket and sunk into a quiet state. Henry was never easy to pet. He was a shiba inu and like many shiba inus he was aloof. He didn’t particularly like being petted. Usually if you approached him you could sense him tolerating your touch until he could move away and shake it off. It wasn’t really until he was around ten that Henry would actively seek out affection. And then, never from strangers.

Shiba inus are beautiful dogs. Most people compare them to foxes with their sharp ears and noses and coats of lush red fur. And they are closer to their wild nature than most dogs. Something in them remains independent and fierce. Henry would duck away if a stranger tried to pet him. That lush fur always just out of reach.

But this morning, Henry fell into his tranquilized sleep and we could pet him to our heart’s content. We cried, laughed and remembered. Then the vet returned and gave Henry his final shot. It worked quickly. In less than a minute, Henry took several sharp breaths. Something about the deep breaths made his mouth turn up and I realized how long it had been since I’d seen Henry smile. It made me feel more certain that I was doing the right thing. Then the vet announced that Henry’s heart had stopped. And we said our last goodbyes.

Now the house feels empty. Eighteen years is a long time. As a writer, home alone much of my day, you were my mostly companion, Henry. The rhythm of our days changed over the years from the days of three and four walks as you were bursting with young energy to the recent days of long, long naps. But they were days we shared.

I always knew you were in the house—barking at the crows who dared to use our roof, joyfully greeting the workmen you seemed to have a natural affinity for, nosing about for some goody in the kitchen, snapping at some fly, officiously investigating odd sounds, paroling the back yard, graciously allowing yourself to be petted, sleeping in my office as I wrote…

You were a good dog, Henry. You were an especially good Henry. And I’ll miss you.

Generosity

I suppose it is well known that our children’s book community is generous. But last week topped it all.

This story begins April Fool’s Day, 1992, on my first trip to meet the editors in New York. I had an appointment with Lucia Monfried, editor of Dutton Children’s books. She met me at the elevator, holding the dummy I’d mailed to her for What Shall I Dream?

wsidcover785

“We’d love to publish your text,” she said.

A generous offer, for sure, but I’d hoped she’d be interested in my illustrations as well. We walked to her office and she leafed through my portfolio. She stopped at a piece for a board book idea. She liked that, too, and eventually bought two board books and the aforementioned text. What a day.

prbcover788

But like Julie P. wrote in last week’s BATT post, many hands go into making the cookies. I should back up here to note the generosity that got me to that editor’s desk: primarily the generosity of Keith Baker, Seattle author and illustrator, who taught a most wonderful class in Children’s Book Illustration at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. That’s where I learned to make dummy books and put together a portfolio.

whosthebeastcover787

I wouldn’t have been ready for New York without the unending encouragement and discernment of our critique group, as well. I had met Julie Paschkis and Margaret Chodos-Irvine in Keith’s class. In those first years I attended all the SCBWI presentations I could find — and the generosity of the authors and illustrators who offered ideas and shared their skills also played a role.

Editor Monfried selected illustrator Judith Byron Schachner of Swarthmore, PA for What Shall I Dream?  This was before Judy made her big hit with the hilarious Skippy Jon Jones picture book series.

What Shall I Dream? came out in 1996. The illustrations were beautiful and full of humor and wonder.

wsidcover.795

Fast forward to present times. Judy Schachner and I are facebook friends. Lately she has been posting images from her many books. One day that included art from What Shall I Dream?  I commented how much I loved it.

This week a fat yellow envelope arrived, full of original art from What Shall I Dream?  Way more than I could have dreamed. How amazing to see in person the heart and thought and skill that went into these vivid watercolors.

jbsoriginal3.791 kvasnosky 2

jbsoriginal1.789 jbsoriginal2.790   kvasnosky 1jbsoriginal5.793

I love the pencil sketch on tissue paper that she sent along, too, of the cover in its planning stages.

jbsoriginal4.792

Mostly I am struck by her wonderful generosity. Thank you, Judy. I will treasure this gift.