Calendar Link

Hi All –

I just posted about Crocodiles, Crockodockles and Calendars and forgot to include a link.

Please CLICK HERE for a link to this year’s calendar. Thank you all for your vigilance in finding the missing link!

Julie Paschkis

Crocodockle

For the past six years I’ve made a calendar which I sell to raise money for the ACLU.

This year’s image includes a crocodockle snapping at the American Eagle.

I have never seen a crocodile in real life, but they populate my imagination.

On the Go , collage, J. Paschkis

I call mine crocodockles because they are inaccurate representations of the noble lizard Crocodylus.

Crocodockles can be scary

Illustration from Artist’s Book ALPHABABBLE by J.Paschkis, bound by Claudia Cohen, Two Ponds Press

but they like to go to parties.

Collage, J. Paschkis

They can help point the way

Ms. Weathervane, ink and gouache, J. Paschkis

or lie below the surface unhelpfully.

Voyage, Ink and Gouache, J. Paschkis

Some crocodockles like eating chickens

and some crocodockles prefer the taste of words.

Illustration from ZigZag, by J. Paschkis coming soon from Enchanted Lion Book

If you would like to order a crocodilian calendar please click here. They cost $15 each: all $15 goes to the ACLU.

Hurry before they are all snapped up!

Aurinko by J.Paschkis, ink and gouache

Thank you.

Julie Paschkis

p.s. I am not the only crocodile enthusiast. Here is a link to a wonderful blog post by Andrea Immel about crocodiles in children’s books.

What Crocodiles Eat for Dinner Besides Clocks, Pirate Captains, and Elephants’ Children

GOOD USE OF EXISTING MATERIAL

In our family we give extra points for Good Use of Existing Materials. Mostly this is simplified MacGyvering, done on the fly, like substituting a paper towel when the coffee filters run out, or opening a wine bottle with a screw and a hammer when you can’t find the corkscrew.

MacGyver was a television series about an undercover government agent who preferred to fight crime with ingenious feats of engineering rather than lethal force.

Pajama bottoms that double as capris, an old sweater sleeve reborn as a winter hat, certainly duct tape and bungie cords put to inventive use: all qualify for GUOEM points.

This post itself should earn me some points. It’s a topic I first explored ten years ago on the now-defunct blog of the Vermont College Children’s Writing MFA program faculty. So meta.

My beloved Aunt Norma belongs in the Good Use of Existing Material Hall of Fame. She was a recycler before recycling was a thing; a model of economy and ingenuity. Consider her reuse of milk cartons, for instance. Like many, she used empty milk cartons as containers to freeze soup. But she also cut them lengthwise to hold chicken breasts which she defrosted on the floor in the front of the refrigerator to take advantage of the warm fan there. On her kitchen counter, flattened milk cartons found new life as cutting boards. In her storeroom, she organized stuff into more milk cartons.

Even her Fourth of July party featured old milk cartons. It included a Milk Carton Regatta, motored and non-motored classes, racing across her swimming pool. No milk carton went to waste at Aunt Norma’s.

In my experience, Good Use of Existing Material applies to making picture books, too. The six Zelda and Ivy books are rooted in my childhood as the middle child of five – sibling rivalry is my God-given existing material. More recently, Ocean Lullaby grew from a beach singalong with a grandson on my lap, when I looked out and wondered how the sea-animal families settle down at night. Even on vacation, existing material is waiting to be shaped into stories.

Your own particular existing material is your take on it all – what grabs your attention, what makes you laugh and shiver and cry. The task is to identify the materials we have to work with – including the metaphors, the details and even the individual words – and then to use them ingeniously, with the snick of a key in the lock, to create the story.

Kinda like Macgyver.

– LMK

Country Fairs

Country Fair Screen+Shot+2021-02-23+at+3.25.59+PM

Caldecott Honor recipient Elisha Cooper’s first book, Country Fair.

This last Wednesday my husband and I went to the Northwest Washington Fair. It’s not the fancy State Fair, but to my mind it’s the perfect size. It’s small enough to see everything without getting worn out, but big enough to have all the magic ingredients: amusement rides, 4-H kids and their animals (horses, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits), vintage cars on display, hand-sewn quilts, knitted mittens and hats, art work, instructional displays about bee hives, perfectly canned peaches and string beans, flowers and berries from local gardens, kids’s Lego collections, kettlecorn, BBQ everything, cotton candy, gyros, corn on the cob. The Whatcom County Dairy Women sell ice cream. At various small stages there are local clog dancers and magicians and musicians. In the grandstand area, rodeo events. Perfection.

I took some photos and will share them below. Five are of kids’ displays – from vegetable “critters,” to instructions about how to play marbles. And two are of the quilts my husband and I voted for to win the “Viewers’ Choice” ribbon.

During the pandemic, the Fair was cancelled. This is the first time the gates have been open since the summer of 2019, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It’s one of the highlights of my year (and I’ve written about it before here at BATT.) I feel like the county fair is my local Italian piazza or Mexican market – full of life, full of tastes, textures, smells, sounds, and sights that anchor me to a certain world. In this case it’s not a distant, exotic world but a sweet, familiar one.

If you’re a children’s writer or illustrator and you’re reading this post, consider going to you local country fair to see what kids are passionate about. You’ll find that they’re interested in everything under the sun. And if you’re interested in one of those things, too (soap, honey, Ferris Wheels, Hot Wheels, photographs of dog snouts, the hidden talents and/or fears of chickens) – well, there you go: you’ll have come up with your next book

I sent this photo to my brother, who was school Marble King when we were young. And kids still love marbles! Hooray!
I did not know this! Chickens recognize faces. You learn something every day.
Who can resist an orange octopus?
The traditional quilt we voted for…
…and the wildly modern quilt.

Hope the rest of your summer brings many delights!

Julie Larios

Heat Wave

Seattle is in the thick of a heat wave. Here are some images to make things even warmer.

Sun by Brian Wildsmith

Brian Wildsmith’s sun is powerful, yet benevolent.

Antonio Frasconi made a Book of Many Suns in 1955. Here are nine Frasconi woodcuts of suns. Each small sun has a large personality.

Enough sun you say? There is always more sun.

More, More, More by Julie Paschkis 2018

Here are some images that are not specifically of suns but are hot with color and imagery.

Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire show the making of the world in their book of Norse Gods and Giants. A volcano erupts. Hot.

Joohee Yoon shows the beginning of the world in her illustration of Walt Whitman’s Hummingbird from the book Beastly Verse. With a controlled palate the world is erupting with heat and light.

There is more volcanic heat on Wm Steig’s Rotten Island. Steig was a master of beastliness including beastly heat

…and beastly beasts.

Is the heat making you feel beastly? Maybe you feel like this She Goat or Bear, from a late 19th centurty Russian Lubok.

Cool off with an early morning bike ride! Here’s a jaunty cyclist illustrated by Mariana Malhão in the book Uma Rosa Na Tromba de um Elefante by António José Forte.

A jump in the water is another good option. Orlando the Marmalade Cat, by Kathleen Hale shows how. The gentle drawing and the lithographic process make the water soft and inviting.

Whatever you do – keep cool!

A rose for Mary Poppins: thorns and All

Back in the day, growing up, devouring books and dreaming of writing one of my own someday, authors didn’t do school visits or post on social media. Certainly none lived next door to me. How could they be anything as mundane as a “neighbor”? As far as I knew, all authors were either A) dead or B) living amazing lives in a mysterious somewhere else. They certainly weren’t living in Wenatchee, Washington. No, they were wiser, funnier, more interesting and just all around more wonderful than other humans.

A couple months ago I went to California for my 50th college reunion and was reminded of the first time I met a real live author. Not only an author, but one of the more exalted among them for me–namely PL Travers,  author of the Mary Poppins books I’d loved as a child. I was so excited to learn that she would be visiting my dorm and having dinner with the students. Scripps was small, only about 400 students, and each dorm had sit-down dinners in small dining halls. I’m not sure how it came about but of the seven students at the table, I was seated right next to Ms. Travers. 

I couldn’t believe my luck and the second I sat down I turned to her and began to gush about how much I loved her books. I had a million questions that I was sure Travers would be eager to discuss with me. Sadly, she was not eager at all. In fact, she could barely muster a response. She was clearly not interested in discussing anything with any of the young women seated at the table. She ate beside us in rather forbidding silence and left as soon as she finished her meal.

I was crushed and rapidly revising my idea of how wonderful authors were. My one small consolation from that evening? As I finished my dinner, much more subdued than when I’d started it, I began to help the student server with clearing the table. And that’s when I realized that the heavy glass salt and pepper shakers was missing. No one could find them.

Had Ms. Travers taken it? Was it a magical sign of some sort, like the tokens the Banks children would discover after every Mary Poppins adventure, even as Poppins would deny they’d had any such escapade? Or (perhaps even more exciting to my then 21-year-old imagination) was the famous PL Travers a secret klepto? 

The vanished salt shaker somehow redeemed the evening for me. But it wasn’t until years later that it occurred to me to do a little research on Ms. Travers.

Born Helen Lyndon Goff in Australia, she changed her name Pamela Lyndon Travers later in life. Travers was her father’s first name and for some reason her friends called her Pamela. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times she used initials in her pen name because “so often very sentimental books are written by women, supposedly for children, and I didn’t want to be lumped together with those.”

Her frosty behavior to me was totally in keeping with her character (and, of course, the character of Mary Poppins). But it was substantially less child-friendly in real life. Never married, Travers was involved in various relationships including a liaison at 25 with a 57-year-old Irish playwright and various other affairs with both men and women. On her own at age 40 she decided to adopt a child and was offered twin baby boys, but she couldn’t decide between them. The children’s grandfather suggested that she take both: “They are only small.” But Travers took just one; never told the boy that he was adopted or had a twin brother. At 17, her son discovered the truth and according to various accounts Travers’ lie put an intense strain on their relationship. Both boys ended up alcoholics, as was Travers’ father—a failed banker (unlike the responsible, successful banker, Mr.Banks in the Poppins books.)

She had a mystical streak, studying Zen Buddhism, mythology and fairy tales. According to an article by Joseph Hone, the older brother of the boy Travers adopted and who later got to know Travers, “after she adopted Camillus, she occupied herself with her increasingly difficult ‘son’ while looking for answers to both their problems by immersing herself in arcane philosophies, fairytales, myths, legends, dodgy health cures and Jungian panaceas. She was encouraged by an assortment of usually charlatan gurus and sages, most notably the caviar-guzzling, Armagnac-tippling Russian mystic Gurdjieff, whom she consulted in his exotic Paris flat. He told her that she should have a daily enema and charged for the advice.”

Her last book, “What the Bee Knows” is a collection of essays included her reflections on astrology, crop circles, reincarnation and journalists who ask “stupid” questions. She might have added students and aspiring authors to that list.

These days Scripps is making more of the brief time Travers was there in 1970. After I told the Scripps librarian about my meeting with Travers, she shared the letter Travers wrote to the college president after her visit. I have to say she sounded a lot more pleasant than she was in real life (you can see how cantankerous she could be in this New York Times article).

I thought you’d enjoy seeing her letter, small typos and all. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Maybe it has to do with shared thorniness, but I also learned that Travers adored roses and one of her great wishes was to have a rose named after herself or Mary Poppins.

She asked only that her rose be “pink, fragrant, healthy, vigorous, enthusiastic, happy, pleasant, easy to live with, adaptable, always in bloom, readily and willingly cut for the home, long lasting in the vase, prolific, long seasoned, bright, cheerful, and if possible, gentle, wise, and completely honest.”

A California rose breeder, Dr. Dennison Morey, granted her wish.  And the three rose breeds that resulted, are planted in the Scripps rose garden. However, so much time has passed since they were planted, the college is still trying to identify which ones they are.

If you’d be interested in learning more about PL Travers herself and how these roses came about check out these posts by Lina Slavova (clearly a huge Mary Poppin fan) from the Mary Poppins Effect blog: here and here.

The Teacher Appears When the Student is Ready

I expect Marie Kondo would not approve, but on a high shelf in my studio I am saving an old booklet: Poems for a Favorite Friend. It’s a collection of pieces that I wrote during my eighth-grade year and then presented as a gift to my beloved seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Woodford.

Mrs. Woodford saved my gift for forty years. It was returned to me after her death. It touches my heart that she kept it so long, but maybe I am making too much of it. This was in the pre-Kondo era and teachers are known to be notorious packrats. Plus, on close inspection, it seems the construction paper cover was never creased open as one might do to read the contents.

But in any case, the collection offers a look into my early writing self. Like my poem SNOWFLAKES, which includes these haunting lines:

             People murdering, kids a’flirtering

           And snowflakes still fall.

Were I Mrs. Woodford, I would have laughed out loud. Such heavy subject matter for a kid — plus she was death on what she called “desperation rhyme,” a term she may have coined with me in mind. But what I knew from her was nothing but respect.

Which I could have returned unreservedly except for her habit of tucking her Kleenex into her bra.

Mrs. Woodford created that necessary safety zone where writing – no matter how ridiculous – flourished. But she didn’t stop there. She loved to travel and her enthusiasm spilled over as we studied ancient civilizations. We chalked huge murals of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We memorized short pieces of poetry, which we recited together after the Pledge of Allegiance and a patriotic song every morning.

We learned poems by heart that have nourished me ever since. To this day I cannot walk into the woods without intoning: This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks bearded with moss and in garments green stand like druids of eld, (from Longfellow’s Evangeline); or, in times of indecision, I find myself whispering these words from Hamlet: This above all to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

I was sitting in Mrs. Woodford’s class, watching the even loops of her handwriting slant their way across the blackboard, when we found out President Kennedy had been shot. The news came over the loudspeaker from the principal’s office. We looked to Mrs. Woodford for how to respond, how to make sense of this event. I remember that tears filled her eyes (which would undoubtedly lead her to reach into her bra for a Kleenex). She asked us to observe a minute of silence in face of this enormous tragedy. Then we sang God Bless America. The comfort of the right music at the right time. She taught us that, too.

I suppose it should be noted that Mrs. Woodford was not perfect. She overlooked it when John Klaverweiden sprayed air freshener to disperse the cooties every time Susan Edwards walked past his desk. She shamed Eddie Filiberti into crying in front of the class when she felt he was too braggy about a good grade.

But maybe that’s partly why I remember her with affection. She was a living, breathing, fallible human being, and for some reason, I knew she was on my side. She believed in me in a way that helped me believe in myself and, as it turned out, most importantly, my writing.

Research suggests that it only takes one encouraging teacher to make a writer. So I am wondering: what writing teacher made a difference for you?

The Music of It

Dawn Morehead 1 the_mad_tea_party_by_dmorehead_de8fssh-fullview

[Works of art throughout this post – altered books and dioramas – are by Dawn Morehead] This one is called The Mad Tea Party.

You can find more here. 

———————————– 

I’m often stopped in my tracks by a bit of overheard conversation in English – something ordinary, something that has a specific way of being spoken aloud. “You’ve gotta be kidding.” We all know just how that sentence sounds, right?

“Go on!”

“I’ll never forget it.”

“He ought to be ashamed.”

“What are you gonna do?”

All the above are turns of phrase that native English speakers probably hear in their heads (reading them right now, for example) exactly as they are said aloud.  Robert Frost called this “sentence sound” (link below) – and he described it as what you hear when someone across a field is talking to you and you can’t really catch the sense of it, but you can hear the music of it. Accusatory, inquisitive, sorrowful – sentences have a sound. How a sentence sounds – a good tool for writers.  

dmorehead cabinets_of_curiosity_by_dmorehead_defgp53-fullview

[Cabinets of Curiosity by Dawn Morehead. See more here.]

My interest in the music of a language was sparked again recently by four things. First, I’ve been hearing (unfortunately) a lot of Ukrainian lately – a language I don’t know one word of. It’s being translated by reporters and/or their assistants on the scene of Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.  I can hear the music of it, at least the music of the sorrow or the anger affecting the way it’s said. Without understanding it, I understand it tonally.

Second, the documentary made about Michael Peterson’s trial for murder (The Staircase) shows a test jury listening to the expert testimony of Henry Lee, a forensic scientist well-known for his familiarity with blood evidence. His arguments about Peterson’s innocence were solid and convincing, or so the defense team thought, but the test jurists said they simply couldn’t understand him, “not a word he said.” These were Southerners, perhaps not from towns of tremendous cultural diversity, maybe not used to hearing many people whose first language was not English. It’s true that sometimes your ability to be understood in a learned language depends on your command of its sound qualities – the flow of it, and the emphasis on certain syllables, for example. Knowing the vocabulary of a language is one thing, knowing its music is another. I found Henry Lee easy to understand; but the test jury heard gibberish. To be fair, people who from the United Kingdom might not understand the way it’s spoken in the Deep South.  I’m including a link below to Eudora Welty reading her own short story, “Why I Live at the P.O.” Talk about musical English! But I’m sure some people who have learned “proper” English as a second language would not understand her, “not a single word.” 

Third, I’ve been listening to birds while I’m out in the garden. They have a musical language I don’t understand…but I have fun trying to guess. I’m confident most of the crows are scolding me.  

dmorehead field_guide_to_birds__folded_book__by_dmorehead_deevyyh-fullview

[A Field Guide to Birds / Dawn Morehead]

Fourth, in terms of not being able to make sense of what you’re hearing, I watched a damaged library copy of a movie I’ve seen before, A Month in the Country, inspired by the novel of the same name by J. L. Carr.  The sound on the library DVD was garbled to the point of unintelligibility; I should have given up and taken it back to the library. But I found it fascinating to hear whole scenes in English – lines and lines of dialogue – where all I could make out, other than an occasional word, was the basic cadence, the rising and falling of it, the music of it.  Like those test jurists I mentioned, or like Frost listening to his neighbor across a field, I wasn’t understanding anything, I couldn’t really make out the sense of it. As adults, we don’t get to experience that very often in our own native tongue. Maybe I’m easily thrilled, since I found it thrilling. And I love nonsense in general. “This is what English sounds like to someone who doesn’t speak it,” I thought as I watched the movie.

In the links this time around, I’m including one site where a singer is pretending to sing in English. You feel as if, with more careful attention, you might be on the edge of understanding it. But you can’t, because the singer is re-creating just the music of how English sounds, not the vocabulary. The vocabulary is gibberish.  

Links today: 

  1. Robert Frost on “the sound of sense” and “sentence sounds,” from a letter he wrote to John Bartlett in 1913.  Sometimes I imagine Robert Frost reciting a slightly crusty version of Jabberwocky.
  2. Here’s an interesting article about how Russia has dealt with the Ukrainian language
  3. In 1970, Adriano Celentano released a song that was 99% gibberish, in which he tried to approximate the sound of English. Here it is. Charlie Chaplin does a fair job of going the opposite direction, singing a song in nonsense French-Italian. 
  4. Writers who can create a voice that sounds authentically like spoken English – all the cadences, the tonal qualities, the flow, plus all the sense of it, are few and far between.  Hemingway gets cited. His sentences are short, clean, and clear. But my favorite is Eudora Welty. You do have to attune your ear to the way she speaks it, with her soft Mississippi drawl, the same way you do with the English in Downton Abbey.  For a real challenge, try the English spoken in Danny Boyles’s film, Trainspotting! Here is Welty reading her wonderful short story, “Why I Live at the P.O.” 
  5. Here’s how teaching herself to write in a new language changed Jhumpa Lahiri’s voice.
  6. A great collection of children’s book illustrators form the latest exhibit (“Generations”) at the R. Michelson Gallery. 
  7. And speaking of children’s books, here is the 2022 list of award winners from Bank Street School of Education. Congratulations to them. Lots of poetry books included, hurrah!
  8. Throughout this post, I’ve included the photos of the work of Dawn Morehead – she does amazing things with altered books. You can find more here. 
  9. One last treat in terms of turning the music of our language (book pages) into beautiful objects. Here are three samples, and here’s the link
Tea cup by Cecilia levy
Shoes by Cecilia Levy
Boots by Cecilia Levy

Last minute addition: Don’t want you to miss this interesting article from The Smithsonian about ways in which bird song resembles human speech. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/do-birds-have-language-180979629/

—Julie Larios

Hands

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Italy and France with a group of friends. This poster by Scorpion Dagger for the Musee de Cluny sums up the experience.

In some museums or churches I became overwhelmed with all of the images. I decided to focus on hands. Here are some of those hands.

Solange Pessoa, at the Venice Biennale

A feast!

REVISING A SODDEN STORY

Last March we returned from a week’s vacation to find our dishwasher had been leaking while we were gone. The adjacent kitchen floor was buckled, but the worst damage was in the basement below, in our storage room. Boxes of books were ruined. And worst of all, the drip had completely soaked through an apple box labeled “LUNY CLUB ARCHIVES.”

The Luny Club is a 16-year old chapter book project based on my dad’s childhood gang. As I spread out the pages to dry on our patio, my interest was reignited by photos of the original gang in their fort, 1934 calendars, print-outs from microfiche of old Oakland Tribunes, notes from interviews with the two living (since deceased) Luny Club members, print-outs of versions of the manuscript, notes from generous and careful critiquers, sketches from Marcia Paschkis of playclothes of the era, multiple lists and charts that track episodes and scenes and emotions and characters through the plot — in short, hundreds of soaking wet pages.

As I restacked the dried-out index cards and crinkly pages, I felt again the spell that this project had cast all those years ago. Could I try to shape it again? Luckily, among the pages were notes about how to write a novel. The ideas on the page titled LYNN RAE PERKINS spoke to me, so I will recount them here. Lynn is the Newbery award-winning author of Criss Cross as well as author/illustrator of many picture and chapter books. I am not sure where or when I heard her lecture, but thanks to Lynn for these ideas.

  1. Tell in one sentence what the story is about.
  2. Tell in five sentences what the story is about.
  3. Find the parts you know work and put them next to each other.
  4. See the sparks.
  5. Make a list of episodes – what will happen and when.
  6. Consider each episode as it relates to the premise and the concept.
  7. Be aware of possibilities for humor – comedic timing.
  8. The first draft is like arranging furniture or blocking a play.

After waiting all those years in the basement, I think this material is ready for reimagining. With Lynn’s ideas to guide me, I am trying synthesize my Luny Club archives into a (new) first draft. On days when rain keeps me out of the garden, I work with the text: locating episodes that I think work and putting them side by side, looking for the sparks; trying out new sequences and arrangements. It is an enormous puzzle. On sunny days outside, as I weed, mulch and plant my way into Spring, I mull the story through.

Like the garden, I hope it will thrive after a good watering.

If you have tried-and true-strategies for revision, I would love to hear them.