Muchly

I love things – especially things next to things.

Shoe lasts at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown Pennsylvania

When you say a word over and over you lose the meaning and hear the sound. The same thing happens visually with these shoe lasts.

In the recent Troika show I put together lots of white poked- paper pieces. (To see more of the show please read Margaret’s post here: Still Life: The Show.)

In a previous show at the barn I had assembled paper dolls.

And before that, bread (at the Davidson Gallery in 2001).

The individual objects might be goofy. Together they have a conversation.

Seattle artist Gregory Blackstock is a master of drawing things next to things. He gives us multitudes of objects without irony.

The repetition creates rhythm and delight.

Please click here for a radio story about Blackstock, a man who was a dishwasher for many years before becoming a renowned artist.

Joelle Jolivet creates oversized picture books full of bold and informative illustrations. Click here for a peak at her studio and printmaking process (in French.)

In their book Crabtree Jon and Tucker Nichols give us objects with a dose of humor. Like Julie Larios a few weeks ago here, Crabtree is wrestling with the problem of what to do with all of his stuff. Here he assembles everything that begins with the letter s.

Even the captions are broken in this collection.

I used objects to tell part of the story in this illustration from the new book Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child by Paul Fleischman.

Humble objects like spoons and bowls and brooms can tell stories.

Brooms at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania

Pablo Neruda had three houses in Chile, all crowded with his collections. In his book Odes to Common Things Neruda wrote about buttons, onions, socks, artichokes, to say nothing of the hat. His ode, word next to word, says it all.

Here is my illustration from Pablo Neruda – Poet of the People by Monica Brown.

I leave you with these cardboard boxes from Crabtree. Where else are you going to put all this stuff?

Still Life: The Show

Last weekend, May 11, was the opening of the Troika Still Life show at the Bitters Co. barn that I wrote about last month. Troika is what Julie Paschkis, Deborah Mersky, and I call our joint collaborative endeavors.

The barn is a beautiful old building near the town of Mt. Vernon in the Skagit Valley of Washington State. The slanted ceiling is high and the beams and rafters are dark, aged wood. The weather for the day was clear and sunny. Light streamed through the windows at both ends of the space. Bitters Co. is owned and run by sisters Katie and Amy Carson, who design beautiful and useful goods made by craftspeople from around the world. 

Here are some photos from the installation:

The hanging of the first of our three fifteen-foot long collaborative stenciled banners:

Julie is looking for the best spot for her larger-than-life paper lady.

She found it!

Here, my daughter Ella is helping fill the pockets in my “Correspondence” piece.

Katie Carson has just helped install the hooks to hold the dowels to hold my “Cream Top” and “Sugar Shirt.”

And here are photos from the day of the opening! (I forgot to take pictures during the event itself, but here are photos of the work before and after attendees were there).

Julie’s paper lady welcomed our guests.Our three “Cloud Banners” graced the center of the gallery space.These are some of Deborah Mersky’s collaged clay prints.

These are two sugar lift prints by Deborah.

Julie installed a wall of cut paper pieces, painted and poked.

Here are two more paintings by Julie.

This is my Entwined I piece, knitted from twine.

This piece is titled Correspondence. It is sewn from cotton batiste fabric, and includes 33 pockets that hold letters and cards that my mother and I wrote to each other over many years.

Below is Loneliness, sewn from denim, but maybe I should have titled it “Solitude.”

And Workmen’s Circle, also sewn from denim. Six pairs of continuous jeans – each right leg becomes the left leg of the pair in front of it. This piece required a lot of planning and engineering on my part. Added plus: it spins in the breeze.

And outside the barn hangs one more banner. Three wheels of Troika. 

The show will be up till May 27. The barn is at 14034 Calhoun Rd. The hours are 11-4 daily. 360-466-3550. The new Bitters Co. shop is in La Conner: 501 1st St. Call first to make sure they’re open if you plan to stop by.

Learning a new language can add magic to your writing

 

Trying to learn a new language in your 60’s is a bit like beating your head against a brick wall—in an entertaining kind of way. It’s hard. Much harder than I imagined. First I had to stop comparing my 60-something brain to my 20-something brain.

In my twenties if I’d studied Spanish for five years, I’d have been fluent. Now, after five years of study I’m hovering in the doorway of intermediate, but not fully in the room. I had to learn early in the process to define progress as simply knowing more this week than I did last week. It had to be as simple as that or I would have been utterly discouraged.

So why do it? Why learn a brand new language?

Really, it was to change myself. To feel that even in my sixties and older I could become new. Instead of looking back and wishing that I could speak a foreign language, I realized that I could become someone who did.

Sometimes it feels like one step forward, two steps back, but then once in awhile I get a reward like a talk with a taxi driver in Oaxaca, Mexico. It was a pretty simplistic conversation, but we easily chatted for 20 minutes and my husband was wonderfully impressed.

I feel less helpless when I travel, even to a non-Spanish speaking country. So many people around the world speak more than one language. It always rather embarrassed me to not be able to do anything but English (and a few phrases from long-ago French classes.)

Most of all, I’ve enjoyed how my own language has become richer by learning a different one. I can see more clearly how English is a combination of Romance languages (tracing back to Latin, of course) and Anglo-Saxon.

Take the Spanish word “dormir” meaning ”to sleep” derived from the Latin “dormire” which goes even further back into a common root language known as Proto-Indo-European which connects a whole range of languages from Hindu to Russian.

From it we get words like dormer, dormitory, dormant.  But I love how our own English verb for the actual activity is “sleep” coming to us by way of Old English by way of Proto-Germanic. It gives English a wonderful facility for humor and irony because we get to play with two-dollar words like mausoleum from Latin mausoleum. And two-bit words like grave from Old English græf. In English, you can be a scurrilous buffoon or an oafish clod.

Although I knew all those English “dormir” words, even the French dormir, it wasn’t until I was studying Spanish that it dawned on me that the sleepy Dormouse in “Alice in Wonderland” wasn’t just as random choice by Lewis Carroll.

He undoubtedly knew that “dormouse” is rooted in “dormir.” But when I first read it, I didn’t consciously make the connection, but I suspect my subconscious did. And this subconscious connection made this sleepy character feel all the more right.

Learning Spanish has reinforced just how powerful it is as a writer to know more than one language or to, at least, seek out the roots of words. If an author gets names and terms right, it can do half the work of creating a world. JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling and George RR Martin are masters at this. Rowling, in particular, really milks the Latin and Anglo-Saxon roots of English which give the Harry Potter books that entertaining mix of the grand and the mundane.

Rowling does this over and over again with her names. Albus Dumbledore, a mix of the Latin albus meaning “white” and the very homey, English-y Dumbledore. Or consider Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (lots of earthy Anglo-Saxon roots here) in contrast to Beauxbatons Academy of Magic (Latin and Greek here.)

It certainly didn’t hurt her as an author that she speaks excellent French. She also studied German and got some exposure to Greek and Latin through majoring in Classic Studies in college.

Tolkien was a scholar of linguistics, especially Germanic languages, and even developed several languages of his own. He, too, played with linguistic contrasts, but more seriously and consistently than Rowling. Bilbo Baggins and Aragorn Elessar, the Shire and Lothlorien, Frodo and Galadriel. Obviously both he and Rowling knew the Latin-rooted mortalis. Mordor and Voldemort don’t both sound ominous just by chance.

I don’t expect studying Spanish will turn me into JK Rowling or Tolkien, but maybe it will help me improve my names. After all Mouse and Bear are about as basic as you can get!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble with Joy

My husband and I recently sold our 2400 sf house (too big for us, too vertical, too modern, too too-too.) And now we’re considering making an offer on a 1000 sf house in an older part of town. People lived small in 1905, the year it was built. If we get it, it will be less than half the size of the house we just sold, and downsizing to that degree would be daunting. I own a lot of stuff and love most of it. I don’t mean big furniture stuff. I mean stuff like this little ruler, stuff some people call clutter:

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Of course, loving rulers can lead to stuff like this, too many rulers, all mine. I’m like a crow collecting things, only now the nest is getting smaller. Three-cornered rulers. Rulers marked in centimeters. School rulers. Big, little, chunky, skinny rulers. Love them.

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The same goes for flashlights:

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Which leads to this:

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A sensible voice in my head chants “Declutter, simplify.” The voice has been amplified recently by helping empty out my late mother’s house. She was 92 and had accumulated a lot of meaningful things, things which Marie Kondo, of Tidying Up with Marie Condo fame, would say, “sparked joy” in her. According to Kondo, if it sparks joy, it’s fair to keep it. Do I have that right?

I watched just two episodes of that show, trying to complete the job at my mom’s house cheerfully as well as prepare for the soon-to-be-job of moving into a smaller house. “Does it spark joy?” I kept asking myself, repeating it like a mantra.

And, of course, almost everything I own sparks joy. If it didn’t spark joy, I wouldn’t own it. I could probably put together one box of items that I’m ready to give away – a wooden spoon or two, some old sneakers, afew tape cassettes (though not all: Perry Como sings Christmas carols, love that.) So there’s not much I’m ready to part with. Not enough to fit all my things into a 1000sf house. “It’s darling,” I said when I went to the Open House, but I’m not sure how darling it will be when I have to get rid of so many items that spark joy. I guess the key to doing it is to determine the degree of joy something sparks…?

Well, on a scale of one to ten, rocks and good fortune-cookie fortunes spark 10 units of joy:

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And on the same scale, old pitchers spark 10:

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Ditto marbles and other round things, like paper globes and glass spheres:

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And what about all my books, and, oh – old cameras! Definitely 10’s on the joy scale.

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Plus photos of perfect strangers, all of whom seem to have interesting stories in their past, especially the one of a woman who resembles Eleanor Roosevelt riding a donkey.

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A few photographs don’t take up much room, do they? But I have several shoe boxes full. Declutter? Wait! Do they spark joy? Every single one of them does. Just look at that farmer, and at those two men in their Depression-era caps (Are they out of work? Can they feed their families? There’s a story there….) and the man by the door of his grocery-store-filling-station, or the young man in the striped jacket sitting on the hood of his car so nonchalantly, the moms and kids playing in the water…..

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What about old binoculars?

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Old ink bottles?

Everything is sparking a 10. So I’m in a bind if we buy that 1000 sf house.

Now the question occurs: How do we get rid of the things we are too fond of? In writing workshops, I often heard students say (and maybe I’ve even said it a few times) “Kill your darlings.” If you’re over-fond of something in your story, if you’re too attached, that might mean something’s wrong, something needs reviewing and revising.  Revision is perhaps the closest writers come to decluttering. Killing your darlings is not bad advice. Now if I could just do it.

But I’m in love with words, objects, images. I collect them. I use them (yes, quite a few are functional!) and quite a few inspire me in my writing. But no excuses – I just love stuff. And I think the writing advice I listened to most was “Follow your eccentricities.” Which I’m doing when I buy flashlights or when I write poetry. It conflicts with “Kill your darlings,” doesn’t it?

My mother collected the programs of every single play she went to, from about 1960 to 2018. She went to a lot of plays each year, and now I’m looking at a big box full of programs. I will probably throw them out or, if possible, offer them to drama departments or theaters. Mom couldn’t toss them, because she loved what they represented. They were a record of her life, and I know some of those plays inspired her, changed her, mystified her, challenged her, made her laugh. She wanted to get the programs out and look at them every once in awhile. She wanted to review her life.

What do we keep, what do we give away? And what do we just toss because we don’t need it and who is going to want it? Ouch, that one hurts.

It’s never about needing the things that spark joy, is it? It’s about beauty and where you find it. But what if too many things in the world around you are beautiful? What do you do then? What if you own too many of them and you’re moving into a 1000sf house? Oi.

If you’ve got an answer for me, if you can tolerate Marie Kondo, if you know how to tidy up, or if you’ve figured out how to kill your darlings, how to own only what you need, how to get rid of what you’re over-fond of, if you’ve learned how to toss stuff out, to avoid excess, let me know – put it in the comments!

META BOOKS

A wonderful side benefit of judging the 2018 Margaret Wise Brown prize has been the opportunity to develop a sense of the state of picture books in 2018, based on the 200+ books that publishers entered.

One group that caught my eye are meta books – those that use the object of a book as part of the story. If you are familiar with Grover’s There’s a Monster at the End of This Book or, more recently, Herve Tullet’s Press Here, you know what I’m talking about.

The 2018 crop that I read had at least four that fit this interactive category. I think the most effective is Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book (Dial). The premise is that a brick wall divides the left and right hand pages.


Text tells us the wall protects the safe left side from the right. On each spread, there is one story on the left: initially about a little knight raising a ladder, and another on the right: a stack of fearsome animals and an ogre.

Then – oh no! – the water rises on the left side.

Luckily the scary ogre reaches over the wall and saves the little knight from drowning. “I’m actually a nice ogre,” he says. “And this side of the book is fantastic.” Meanwhile, on the now ocean-filled left side of the book, bigger fish eat big fish.

The great satisfaction is that expectations are flipped. Things are not as they seemed. And we get to watch the stories on each side of the wall as this change is accomplished. It says so much about walls.

Beware the Monster! by Michael Escoffier, art by Amandine Piu, (annick press), begins with a warning: “This book contains a monster with a great big appetite!”

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The colorful monster proceeds to eat all the apples, then leaves, then trees, then cows.

Next spread: “Yikes. I think he’s spotted you. You’ve got to get away!” (Many of these books use the second person directive to draw in the child reader and escalate the drama. It’s kind of the picture book equivalent of theatre’s breaking the fourth wall.)

Next spread: “Here he comes! Close the book!” (This is a line used in many of these meta books. Of course the readers plunge onward, despite warnings.)

The monster moves in closer and closer as spreads whiz by. Luckily just when he’s about to eat the child reader he burps instead. Everything flies out of his mouth and he decides to take a nap, saying “I’ll take care of you later.”

Also written in second person is Nothing Happens in this Book by Judy Ann Sadler, art by Vigg, (Kids Can Press). This accumulative story is meta in its voice; the little guy on the cover has an ongoing one-sided discussion with the reader about what is going to happen in the book. Eventually he gathers up a bunch of stuff and distributes it to a wild assortment of beings.

As they march away in a fold-out page parade, he exclaims, “Everything happens in this book!” Another nice flip of expectations.

A red grosgrain ribbon bookmark is key to the story in Hungry Bunny by Claudia Reuda, (Chronicle Books). This one gives a nod to Press Here. For instance, it asks the reader to shake the book so some apples will fall off the tree, then blow away the leaves when the apples don’t fall.

The reader helps the bunny use his red “scarf” to climb up and get the apples. Bunny’s ride home in the wagon is helped by various physical movements of the book. Then the reader is asked to give Bunny a push through a die-cut hole so he can return to the burrow where his mom bakes apple pie. Of course the reader is offered a piece.

Makes sense that the dedication acknowledges the participatory nature of this book: “Bunny would like to dedicate this book to you, for all your help with the harvest. Also dedicated to children’s play.”

Every one of these examples uses the object of the book to boost interaction with the story. All of them engage the reader and listener in movement and response. I think it’s an interesting niche in our children’s book world, another tool we could add to our toolbelts.

Have you seen the meta mechanism used to good effect? Please chime in with other titles that use the object of the book to tell stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ephemeral

Last week Margaret wrote about the work she is making for our upcoming Troika show. You can read her post here.
As she explained, our common theme is Still Life. I began my explorations by painting with ink and gouache.

Still Life paintings celebrate ephemeral pleasures – light, flowers, food. Life.
Transience. Time passes.

I had been exploring similar themes in paintings for a show I will be having with Mare Blocker at the Taste Restaurant at the Seattle Art Museum. That show is called Abundance.For the Troika show I began to play with cut paper.

This winter I was making pinprick lanterns – Froebeling. I carried this technique into paintings that are part pinprick and part paint.

I also made many pinpricked freestanding still life objects of various sizes.  The theme is ephemeral, and the medium is ephemeral.Some of my pinprick pieces wandered a bit away from traditional still life imagery.Our Troika logo is three wheels. They represent Margaret, Deborah and me.
Wheels roll! For all three of us the idea of a Still Life transformed as we worked.As an artist, a children’s book illustrator and as a human I try to stay open to new ideas and to let them roll. As the ideas roll by in this fleeting life I try to grab on to some of them.

Please come see the new work at Taste and at the Bitters Co. Barn. Thank you.

Still Life: In Progress

I have been working on pieces for a joint art show with two great friends and artists, Julie Paschkis and Deborah Mersky. The show opens May 11th at the Bitters Co. barn in the Skagit Valley, WA. Julie, Deborah and I have a long history of collaborating on art for items that we have then had produced to sell, but this will be our first art installation together. We call ourselves, TROIKA.

We always start out by setting a theme. Our theme this time is ‘Still Life’. Still Life is defined as “a painting that features an arrangement of inanimate objects as its subject.” We often see comestibles, flowers, glassware, ceramics and textiles and other household items laid out on a surface in a domestic setting.

Still life as a known art form goes back to paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs from the 15th century BCE. The French call it nature morte, which translates, literally, as natural death. There is a connection to memento mori paintings, the purpose of which is to remind us that we too must die. So, not just a bunch of pretty flowers in a vase.

My mother died three years ago. I have a small sugar bowl and creamer set that belonged to her. The set sat in the kitchen cupboard when I was growing up and to my childish imagination they looked like some kind of exotic candy. I don’t remember my mother ever using them. They held a certain mystery to me: Where did they come from? Why did she never use them? Where they from her past life? Her first marriage? I have since asked my father and brother, but no one seems to know (nor care).

I wasn’t sure what medium I wanted to employ for this project, but I thought I wanted to use fabric in some way. I started by testing different approaches with the glass creamer set as subject matter. I imagined I would eventually use them as part of a larger, more varied, traditional still life arrangement. I experimented with many fabric swatches and painting and drawing media.

I never made it past the sugar and creamer set. Those pieces alone became my focus for several months. But nothing I had produced seemed like the right direction to go in. Painting or drawing on fabric didn’t feel right. Only a couple of the swatches – the ones that involved stenciling – intrigued me.

Yet using fabric as a backdrop wasn’t enough. I wanted to make something out of that fabric. Those who know me know I make a lot of my own clothing. I also teach sewing. My maternal grandfather was a tailor and my paternal grandfather was a sample-maker for Hattie Carnegie in New York. Garment-making is a thread that connects me to my heritage (pun intended).

So, what if I created garments for the show? What if the theme for me became Still Life-Size?

That idea excited me.

I envisioned garments that represented how I feel connected to my mother. How I am connected to others. How people connect to each other. Momento Mori in apparel form.

Everything connects in one way or another.

And back to the sugar and creamer set again.

It is all work in progress thus far. Those of you who live in the area can come to the show and see the finished work for yourself. For the rest of you, perhaps I will post again after the show is completed.

In addition to creating our own individual work for the show, Julie, Deborah and I together collaborated on three 45-foot long banners that will hang through the center of the barn (and there is that creamer again). Julie posted on her Mooshka blog about our process in making them if you want to read more. We will be leading a workshop the day after the show. Here is the information if you are interested in attending.

Back from Out-of-Print

 

You never forget your first book sale. Mine was a book published over 20 years ago about the sounds a father and daughter hear on their walk home from school. It combines playing with sounds and a guessing game.

Let’s go the quiet way home.
Not by the dog who growls at the gate…
but the way where the kittens play.

Hush. Can you hear it?
Skittle, scattle, bat-and-claw.

                                                                   Kitten paw.

Let’s go the quiet way home.
Not by the garbage men clanging the cans…
but the way where the lilies stand.

Hush. Can you hear it?
Hummmm, thrummm, dart-and-flee.

                                                                      Honey bee

I’ve always loved reading this book to classes. Hush is a magic word. Somehow just saying it softly can make noisy, rustling kids go quiet and focus. I still read it for school visits, even though it’s long been out-of-print.

That was an early lesson that was pretty dismaying. Sometimes the books we struggle over, then sell to much celebration and hopeful expectations, go out-of-print. And it’s very rare that books come back from the OP grave.

But one day about two years ago, I got an unexpected e-mail from Purple House Press. They wanted to reissue The Quiet Way Home. The press specializes in bringing out-of-print picture books back into print. It was one of those lovely surprises you get along with the harder realities of being a published writer.

In fact, I’ve had the great good luck of now having three of my OP books revived in the last few years. Each book has had a it’s own quirky route back into print. After years of trying to get a more traditional publisher to republish it, The Christmas Crocodile,which was initially published by Simon & Schuster and illustrated by the great David Small, was picked by librarian Nancy Pearl as part of her Book Crush Rediscoveries series with Amazon. Twin Lions (an imprint of Amazon) reissued it two years ago with a lovely foreword by Nancy and a new cover.

Tickly Prickly, a concept book about how things feel to the touch, is being re-issued as a book for sight impaired kids. It’s another case of the publisher contacting me. (Yay!) It’s still in the works. This one won’t make me any money, the market is too small and such tactile books are too expensive to publish, but who cares. I’m excited to see how they bring a verse like:

Have you ever had a ladybug crawl on your finger? Tickly-prickly. Fly away quickly–

to life under a child’s fingertips. When book production gets underway, I’ll share more about it.

For now, The Quiet Way Home is available at https://purplehousepress.com

 

 

What Is It About Maps?

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I love the map you see above, especially its label: “Upside Down World Map.”  As if our standard north-up/south-down maps are right-side-up.? According to whom? If I’m a bird, what perspective do I have? What if I’m walking on the moon? But I suppose standardizing the orientation of maps makes sense. They stabilize us as we spin through space, and as we spin through the spaces of our daily lives.

Many of you know already how much I love maps. I published an essay in the Horn Book about maps in children’s books (“Harbours That Please Me Like Sonnets: On the Pleasure of Literary Maps “) and I led a workshop at Vermont College of Fine Arts about making maps to reflect the location of our stories’ characters.

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s Map of Treasure Island

For the last few days, I’ve been looking at a lot of maps while 1) flying from Seattle to Vancouver to London to Rome and 2) walking around Florence.

On the flight to London, in a brand new Boeing 777,  passengers had available to them state-of-the-art seat-back touch-screens with every imaginable permutation of where the jet was headed as it crossed Canada, Greenland, parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, Scotland and England. Not just the old, tired dotted line showing the progress of the plane. No, there were videos of sunsets and sunrises and Google Earth zoom-ins and zoom-outs, all of it with an inspirational glow, something golden on the edge of every horizon.

Forget the in-flight movies! I was glued to those maps, exploring every angle of this beautiful blue planet as I flew above it.

At Heathrow, maps on a smaller scale: airport maps, terminal and gate maps. Where to enter, where to exit, where to pick up bags, how to get to connecting flights. The omnipresent and omni-useful YOU ARE HERE dots which always save my sanity.

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In Rome, there was a map as my husband and I walked into the Pincio, the park above the Piazza del Popolo, We headed for the old water clock and the view across the city to the dome of the Vatican.

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In Florence (just arrived yesterday) we were given a map of how to get from the train station to the Piazza Santo Spiritu, onto which the windows of our little apartment open. Today, a map to the Mercato Centrale and the bus route up to Fiesole.

If you’re a writer, you probably care about maps. You think about the lay of the land, you think about settings. How do your characters move through the spaces they inhabit? Maybe you’ve made a map of their houses or their rooms? If not, try making one. Try making a map of their route to school or their route home from their local library. Don’t forget to add a compass – with it you’ll know where the sun rises and where it sets – does your hero wake up to sunshine? You’ll think about the flora of a given season – what is flowering in the yard, what is the look out the window at dusk if that window faces west?

Daphne Kalmar, one of my former students (who has become a good friend) once made a map of a story she was writing about three characters: a dragonfly, a fly, and a bee. The map was completely blacked out – it had only the “points of smell” that her characters might map out: honey, flower blossoms, garbage, dung….now that was a memorable map!

All this is by way of telling you to check out a recent article in The Smithsonian (has there ever been an issue of that magazine that didn’t inspire a poem?) about a man who is mapping river basins (among other things) around the world. Read it and be inspired to make a map of your own. Next time you’re at a school, spending time with kids, show them your map and ask them to make maps themselves of someplace familiar, or of a setting for one of their own stories.  They (and you) might be inspired to write more stories about characters spinning through the daily spaces of their lives.

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River Basin Map of Washington (Grasshopper Geography)

First Graders, Cucumber Sandwiches and Foxes

Last month on a beach in Hawaii, I met a fellow grandma named Susie. She has a granddaughter, Hannah, back in Wisconsin. Turns out Hannah’s class was just then reading my book, Zelda and Ivy The Runaways. What a coincidence! Before the week was out, Hannah’s teacher Jaime Charnholm and I set a date so I could meet the class over the internet, using Google Chat.

(The class is following a Lucy Calkins reading program that uses my book as one of its teaching texts, which are read aloud or as shared reading to model effective reading strategies.)

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Here was my view of Hannah’s first grade classroom at West Middleton Elementary, Verona, Wisconsin, where the kids told me it was cold!

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Using my laptop’s camera, I walked into my studio and showed the kids my computers, monitors and Wacom tablet, and paints and palettes and brushes, shelves of books and the light table, the stack of books that I have authored and/or illustrated, Izzi the dog and her dogbed, and my cozy writing chair.

The students sent charming thank you notes. I love their colorful drawings and creative spelling.

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Who wouldn’t like to be proclaimed “the best ather in the wrld”?  Also, I loved hearing that I inspired Paul to write a book.

The first chapter in Zelda and Ivy the Runaways gets going because Dad is making cucumber sandwiches for lunch (again!). The Fox sisters decide they can’t face it and run away.

Although not many of the kids said they have actually eaten cucumber sandwiches, they were great at drawing them.

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You can see what the kids remember about our connection by taking a look at their thank-you notes. The story I told about my first grade boyfriend, Danny, who is the basis for Eugene in Zelda and Ivy and The Boy Next Door, seemed to strike a chord. As did our dog, Izzi, and my paint palette.

INSIDES*5My Fox sisters are surely thrilled at the many portraits Mrs. Charnholm’s first graders included in their thank you notes.

FOXES5*more portraits —

FOXES*

I feel lucky for all these connections: to have met Susie, which led to meeting the adorable, creative, wonderful kids in Hannah’s class. I answered most of the kids’ questions about the making of Zelda and Ivy, with this exception: How much paper does it take to make your books? Good question! Anyone out there know the average amount of paper it takes to print a picture book?

I smile every time I think of the first graders in West Middleton Elementary. Thank you, each and every one, for your wonderful letters. And thank you, teacher Jaime Charnholm and Hannah’s mom, Nicole, for making the technology work on the Wisconsin end.

I love when technology makes the world as small as the lawn above Napili Beach.

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