What Would Betsy Ross Do?

This post is drafted from a letter that I recently sent out to artists that I know. Although many of our readers are from outside the United States, I hope that it will still be something in which everyone can find commonality and perhaps participate.

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We are living in interesting times.

November 9, 2016, was a difficult day for me. It felt like the world as I knew it, or thought I did, had upended itself. I went through something similar in London with the Brexit vote, but this goes deeper, and feels more ominous.

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As I usually do in times of confusion and pain, I turned to making things. Textiles have been my favored medium of late, so I started making a version of what I was feeling out of fabric. After I got started, I realized I was designing my concept of a new flag for this country. It is a work in progress. It gives me some catharsis.

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But now I want more. I want to see what other people imagine a new, more accurate flag for this country might look like. Flags are symbolic representations of nations. The Stars and Stripes represent unity and balance. Are we still that nation?

So I am asking, regardless of how you voted, What do you envision? Show us.

You may use any medium: fabric, paper, paint, metal, printmaking, wood, computer graphics, collage, mixed media … whatever you are comfortable with.

You can find the specifications of the U.S. flag (as well as it’s history) here, but you are not limited to this format. The size limit is 6’ X 10’.

If  enough new flags are created, I will find a way to publicize and exhibit them, perhaps producing a catalogue.

The deadline to begin is Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017. The final deadline will be March 15, 2017. My goal is to have everything completed for a show by Flag Day, June 14th, 2017.

If you post on social media, please tag me, (Margaret Chodos-Irvine on FB, @margaretci on Instagram) and include this hashtag: #newusflag

You may also include the following hashtags if you like: #newflagsforinterestingtimes #whatwouldbetsyrossdo #whatwouldbetsyrossthink

Yours in creative solidarity,

Margaret Chodos-Irvine

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Noise to Avoid

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With the recent re-issue of my book “The Christmas Crocodile,” I’ve been doing a few readings and suddenly I’m having to deal again with a big scream that happens in the middle of the book.

I remembered a little essay I wrote at the time, which I submitted to the SCBWI national newsletter. It didn’t get accepted, but I thought it would be fun to put here:

As writers, we spend so much time figuring out how to get published, it’s easy to forget that someday you may actually have a book. You may actually have to read it to others, not once, not twice but potentially hundreds of times.

Having put a loud scream into my picture book The Christmas Crocodile, illustrated by David Small, I learned a few things the hard way. Here’s my handy-dandy list of what not to put in your story if you want to ensure read-aloud ease:

– Do not put in weird sounds you really don’t want to make in front of 100 people such as loud, drawn out screams. (see above.)

– Do not put in alliterative names that are used each time you mention that character.  Rodney the Rickety Rabbit gets real tiresome about the twentieth time you have to say it in full.

– A corollary is to avoid overly elaborate, difficult to pronounce character names. Oonaqaurklypomadorio is going to be a source of regret.

– Do not put in word choices that are tongue twisters.  Beware. These are not always obvious.  One line in The Christmas Crocodile reads:  “He waved his tail farewell.” “Tail farewell” does not trip off the tongue and one quickly wishes they’d written “waved goodbye.”

– Avoid big long sentences with numerous dependent clauses, descriptive phrases, qualifiers and just plain meanderings that looked so good on paper and made you feel literary, but make your eyes bulge and have you gasping for breath when read out loud.

– Be sparing with repetition. Repetition is the spice of children’s books and sometimes you just have to write some variant of the “House that Jack Built.” But you will find yourself beginning to sound like a radio ad disclaimer as you try to speed read through the ever-growing, ever more tedious list. “’This is the mouse that swallowed the house that ate the pig that sat on the rat…’ Oh, hell, boys and girls, you know the rest!”

– If you’re picking a selection to read from a novel, try for at least one readable scene/section that does not require a longer explanation than the reading itself.

– Be sparing with foreign phrases you actually don’t know how to pronounce or dialog requiring accents you can’t do—unless, of course, you want to sound like Pepe LePue.

– Beware of jokes, unless you are an expert in comic timing. Sometimes the audience doesn’t laugh. Sometimes there is dead silence. Sometimes you start to really sweat.

And that’s when you wish you’d written a nice little bedtime book, instead of this one about who can fart the loudest.

P.S. The way I solved the big, long, loud scream I didn’t really want to do was to realize (brilliantly, if belatedly) that I could prompt the kids to do it. They love it, especially within the hushed halls of schools and libraries.

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The Idea of “Surprise”

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What just happened????

Sometimes life surprises us, right? Unexpected things happen – both good and bad. We win a raffle. We get a call in the night – someone we love is sick, and the world goes upside down.  We hear from an old friend we thought we had lost.  We read a headline that doesn’t seem to make sense, not according to the way we believe the world works.

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We assume one thing, another thing happens. My sister and I have talked a lot about the idea of an “assumptive world,” and about how wrong we can sometimes be, how surprised we are (and, oddly, continue to be) when illogical things happen. Of course, it would make sense to adjust our assumptions. Why don’t we? Maybe the question is, can we? What sets our assumptions in cement from a very early age?

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I don’t believe it.

Here’s a definition: “The assumptive world is an organized schema reflecting all that a person assumes to be true about the world and the self on the basis of previous experiences; it refers to the assumptions, or beliefs, that ground, secure, and orient people, that give a sense of reality, meaning, or purpose to life.”

As writers we might consider how important it is for us to understand the assumptive world of our characters. What are their guiding beliefs about the way the world works? What beliefs “ground, secure and orient” them? Of course, not all their beliefs will be rosy – even writing for children, we might create characters who believe that life is basically unfair and chaotic. They might believe that people are intrinsically selfish.  They might believe that the world works not the way it should  – rewarding hard work and dispensing privileges accordingly – but in a way that always leaves them personally disenfranchised and broken.  Or they might believe, as Anne Frank wrote, that people are fundamentally good and decent.  I usually believe people try their hardest to be good. Sometimes they get exhausted and do crazy things.

If we can determine the overriding belief system of our characters (and our fellow citizens, actually) then we can more gracefully and successfully describe and understand how they respond to events that unfold. Which hopefully adds a degree of truth to our writing.

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trump-supporters-winSurprise can come at us pleasantly or unpleasantly. Michael Moore, in a recent opinion piece said that liberals would be surprised by the most recent election results because they “live in a bubble.” That bubble might be as simple as an economically privileged state which narrows a person’s experiences. But it could also be a bubble of assumptions about how people in different circumstances will behave in general. How do we sometimes read the world so incorrectly? I was ashamed to be wrong about how the election would turn out. It felt like I lacked the imagination to understand a huge number of Americans. Could I have been one of the clueless characters in Saturday Night Live’s skit about election night? Yes, I could have.

If someone were writing a story about me, he or she would need to know that I assume the world is a logical place. I usually look for logic, plain and simple, which means I spend a lot of time confused, because life is not plain and simple and mathematical, and I usually find the world’s lack of logic and its inscrutability staring right back at me. “Why does this happen?” and “How does this happen?” are questions that come up a lot in my life, about all kinds of things.

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Even the apple seems logical.

I’m comforted by scientific explanations  (“This tree was hit by lightning because of the following facts about lightning”) but made uneasy by luck (“The poor guy standing under the tree was hit by lightning  because the gods felt brutal and playful.”)

Yes, I’m drawn to the illogical, but that’s because I just don’t understand it. Faced with mysteries – whether beautiful or brutal or both – I ask a lot of questions, annoy some people, and write many poems.

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Nature’s beauty – how does an image of light and shadow evoke “home”?

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Nature’s brutality – Hurricane Katrina

I long to understand how people and nature behave, and I’m curious about my own failure to figure it all out. Why do I even have or want an “organized schema” of how the world works if there is nothing organized or schematic about it? Maybe, if an author created me, I would be a difficult character in a book – constantly befuddled. Befuddlement – yes, that’s what I’ve been feeling since Tuesday. That’s where my assumptions left me. I’m either tremendously wrong about logic being in charge of the universe or I’m stubborn – I don’t want to admit that luck or playful gods have anything to do with making Life’s rules. I want two plus two to equal four, for heaven’s sake. But I hear a little voice in my head whispering, “Surprise!”

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Imagery and the Election

THE NIGHT before the Big Election we slept at Inverness, a beach enclave north of San Francisco that is right smack on the major San Andreas faultline.

(Gotta love the hint and nudge of the objective correlative: earthquake possibilities and the election side by side.)

Election day bloomed sunny. News sources predicted that the earliest time Hillary Clinton would be declared winner was 5:30 PST, so we walked out across the dunes to Kehoe Beach to watch the sunset.

I noted details that might tell the day’s story: the miles-long empty beach, washed clean, as for the fresh start of the first woman president; the moon slashed by a jet trail, like a giant ballot mark, a celebratory green flash as the sun sunk into the Pacific.

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When, in the wee hours of the morning, Donald Trump was declared the next president of the United States, I realized I had made a big mistake in choosing metaphors. I should have noted, instead, our long slog through mud and sand, the putrid corn chip smell along the marshland trail, the huge breakers five and six layers deep that pummeled the shore. And the signs along the beach: “Riptide Warning” and “Beware of Sneaker Waves.”

WE FLIPPED on the TV Wednesday and heard our president Barrack Obama remind us again how we are One America. He said Donald Trump had spoken to him of the same intent: for America to be whole again. Obama used the analogy of the presidency as a relay race, stressing the importance of the handoff of one administration to the next.

It has been hard to sleep. Each time the heater switches on, it sounds like a distant siren. A simile of danger. But, as Obama told us, life goes on. The sun comes up each morning.

THURSDAY we hiked on Point Reyes North Beach, the outermost western edge of continental America. The horizon was lost in thick fog. A young couple walked near the breakers. He had a baby on his back. She led a dog on a leash. They held hands. I need this hopeful image in the face of the unknown.

On the radio, political experts talk about how this election pitted those who want change at any cost against those who want the status quo. They say the election reveals a deep division in America.

Children’s books can play a role in addressing this gap. As children’s books become more diverse and better represent the vast variety of human experience, young readers will come to understand our great commonality as well as our differences. Understanding leads to empathy.

When we drive from Inverness back to San Francisco over the Golden Gate bridge we pass through a tunnel on each side. One tunnel is named for World War II General Douglas MacArthur, the other for comedian Robin Williams. That’s a pretty big divide, right?

Yes, it’s a bridge we’ll be needing. A Golden Gate. Maybe children’s books will help build it.

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Vote Now!

Is worry about the upcoming election making you feel like this?

1825 British illustration

1825 British illustration

Well, stop worrying and vote now. Vote here! Today at Books Around the Table I am presenting you with an election.  There are two slates of candidates: Cats versus Mice. Each slate has 7 candidates (aka illustrations), picked because I like them. In the comments please vote for either the CATS or the MICE. You can explain your vote if you would like, or not. No photo ID is required.

Drum roll please: Here are the CATS:

Kazan the Cat: Russian Lubok 1700s

Kazan the Cat: Russian Lubok 1700s

Japanese woodblock, 1850's

Japanese woodblock, 1850’s

Orlando the Marmalade Cat by Katherine Hale

Orlando the Marmalade Cat by Katherine Hale

Paschkis Acrobaticats

Paschkis Acrobaticats

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

Tiger by Morris Hirshfield

Tiger by Morris Hirshfield

Kotofei Ivanovich by Tatiana Mavrina

Kotofei Ivanovich by Tatiana Mavrina

Piccolo please, here are THE MICE:

Rudolf Mates

Rudolf Mates, A Forest Story

Paschkis Mouse

Paschkis, Mouse in Love

Maisy by Lucy Cousins

Lucy Cousins, Maisy

Lizbeth Zwerger

Lizbeth Zwerger, Alice in Wonderland

Arthur Rackham Rodents

Arthur Rackham Rodents

You know who

You know who

Ignatz

Ignatz

Thank you for voting. On Tuesday I will tally up the answers and declare a winner. The wait will finally be over.

Tuesday night results: Thank you for voting. It was a squeaker but the mice won the Books Around the Table election – 15 to 14. As I write this my heart is heavy from the results of the real election. It isn’t over, but it is dire. I am stunned. Where do we go from here?  What do we do now?

Who Was Randolph Caldecott, And Why Do We Have An Award Named After Him? (and a bit more from the V & A Study Rooms)

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Most American illustrators know about the American Library Association’s Caldecott Award, but how many know anything about Randolph Caldecott? I received a Caldecott Honor in 2004, but I knew very little about him myself. My only reference was from Maurice Sendak’s essay in Caldecott & Co. which I read many years ago. There, he writes:

“Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out – but the picture says it. Pictures are left out – but the words says it. In short, it is the invention of the picture book.”

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I took these words to heart when I first read them. I realized that my favorite children’s book illustrators (of which Sendak is one) do just that – they augment the story rather than just retell it visually. I aspire to do the same. I thank both Sendak and Caldecott for that guidance.

Sendak goes on to state:

“Caldecott is an illustrator, he is a songwriter, he is a choreographer, he is a stage manager, he is a decorator, he is a theater person; he’s superb, simply. He can take four lines of verse that have very little meaning in themselves and stretch them into a book that has tremendous meaning – not overloaded, no sentimentality anywhere.”

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While I was in England I intended to write a post about Randolph Caldecott, but somehow never managed it. People in England are much more familiar with Caldecott’s work than most of us in the U.S. It’s not uncommon to see copies of books illustrated by Caldecott in used bookstores there. On my first visit to Foster’s Bookshop, I found a book illustrated by Caldecott on the sale table. I didn’t buy it, but I snapped a few photos, of course.

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Caldecott was born in Chester, England in 1846. He started working in a bank at the age of fifteen, studying art on the side. In 1872, he moved to London to pursue an art career full time. Five years later, he began his well-known work in children’s picture books.

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His work was also published in novels, travel books, and various periodical publications, and he was commissioned to design the British Afghan war medal.

He had suffered from poor health since childhood, and died in 1886 while visiting the U.S. with his wife. He is buried in St. Augustine, Florida. There is a memorial for him in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. He was only forty years old.

The image below is a sadly prophetic self portrait from The Babes in the Wood (1879).

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Frederic G. Melcher established the Caldecott Medal for the “most distinguished picture book for children” in 1938, fifty-two years after his death. The medal features a relief of this image from The Diverting History of John Gilpin, an animated tale told in 253 lines of verse by William Cowper (1731–1800). It was printed by Edmund Evans in 1878 (the same engraver who worked with Walter Crane).

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Havoc. Falling babes. The women in Caldecott’s illustrations always look so calm and imperturbable. He isn’t usually so flattering of the men.

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When I went to the V & A drawing and print study rooms I requested to see a sketchbook of Caldecott’s from the mid-1870s.

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I also saw a box of loose drawings and paintings from their collection.

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His drawings of faces and hands are wonderfully expressive. His line and brushwork are both fluid and accurate. He excels at rampant gestures.

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He accomplished much in his forty years. It is easy to see how his work influenced Beatrix Potter and other illustrators as well as Sendak. I recommend The Randolph Caldecott Society UK and the Randolph Caldecott Society of America if you want to learn more about his life and art.

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A long, winding book road

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It began as a ditty in my head over 25 years ago:

There once was a Christmas crocodile

A crocka-a-crocka-a-crocodile

Who said with a wicked and cunning smile

“I shall eat the Christmas tree

unless, you see,

I get exactly what I want.”

Seven years later it had morphed into a prose story about a crocodile who eats up Christmas and begins: The Christmas Crocodile didn’t mean to be bad, not really. Alice Jayne found him on Christmas Eve under the tree. He wore a red bow around his neck. It was lovely. Except he ate it.

A few years later Simon & Schuster bought it. Caldecott-winning artist David Small miraculously agreed to illustrate it and in the fall of 1998 it was published. It got a big glowing review by Judith Viorst in the New York Times; it was read on NPR by Daniel Pinkwater and on the QVC t.v. shopping channel; and it sold out that Christmas season.

Unfortunately, it was also orphaned. My editor, Stephanie Lurie, left Simon & Schuster. And without an in-house champion, The Christmas Crocodile was out of print by 2004.

And that seemed to be that.

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But I kept hearing from people how much they loved the book. That it was a Christmas favorite, a Christmas tradition at their house. I just knew it was a good book. It was illustrated by David Small, for heaven’s sake. It shouldn’t have died so soon.

So I tried numerous times over the years to get a publisher interested in a re-issue, but it’s an almost impossible goal. Publishers generally don’t like to re-issue some other publisher’s book. If that publisher couldn’t make a go of it, how could they? is the reasoning. For a while, Simon & Schuster even considered reissuing it themselves.

But it seemed like good old Croc was doomed to out-of-print status until I happened to be chatting with Nancy Pearl at an event[i] and she mentioned that she had a new line of “rediscovered” books coming out.

Nancy is probably the best-known librarian in the world. She regularly comments on books on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. She has written a number of best-selling books, including Book Lust and Book Crush, recommending books she loves. Perhaps her most fun claim to fame is as the model for the Shushing Librarian action figure.

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She also finds out-of-print books for Amazon that she thinks deserve to be re-issued. A few years ago she set her sights on out-of-print kids books. You can imagine how eager I was to tell her about The Christmas Crocodile. Nancy asked to see a copy; she loved it and it went from there.

So my crocodile lives again re-printed by Two Lions Press, a division of Amazon. The team there, headed by editor Marilyn Brigham, did a beautiful job of it. With David Small’s approval, they developed a new cover for it, and it features a couple pages of introduction by Nancy. But otherwise it’s exactly like the original.

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It just came out this September and here’s hoping the book finds a second life!

By the way, if you have an out-of-print kid’s book and don’t have a chance of running into Nancy Pearl anytime soon, there is one press that specializes in re-issues of out-of-print kids books, Purple House Press.

Also, if you buy the book and would like a signed book plate, just let me know who you’d like me to sign it to and where to send it. You can contact me by leaving a comment here or by messaging me on Facebook.

[i] So this is a pitch for seemingly thankless tasks. Nancy and I were volunteer judges for the University of Washington Bookstore’s annual bookmark contest where kids design a bookmark. We judges pick the winners out of many hundreds of entries and these are printed up by the bookstore to hand out over the year. It’s fun, but one of those things that you don’t expect to further your career.

Unbelievable! Believable!

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So, it’s Wednesday night, I’m in Massachusetts visiting friends, and I go to sleep wondering who might be named this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Maybe the perennial front runner, Haruki Murakami. Maybe the playwright, Tom Stoppard – wouldn’t that be wonderful? Maybe a poet…Paul Muldoon? Maybe (and most likely) someone I’ve never heard of, barely translated into English yet. And then we’ll all have to wait while American publishers scramble to get the work translated. This is what I fall asleep thinking about.

When I go out sleepy-headed in the morning to tell my friends good morning, one of them tells me that Bob Dylan has been named the Nobel Prize winner, and I smile because I think that is a sweet and silly little joke, and she says, “No, really, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize.”

This is so far off the grid of possibilities I think I might be dreaming. Or maybe it’s a Let’s-Pull-Julie’s-Leg kind of moment.

I laugh again. “No, really” I hear her say again. I laugh again. But it begins to register. This is real. This is a fact. Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Now…I have always and forever loved Bob Dylan. My whole senior year of high school I listened to his records late at night in my bedroom when I was supposed to be asleep. I loved everything he wrote. But my first reaction to my friend’s news was, “But he’s a songwriter.”

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A fine songwriter, a wonderful songwriter, working old traditions into new ones, singing to us as Americans about who we used to be, who we are, what we face, and providing us with lyrical reminders of those things. But…BUT…the Nobel Prize? I thought about Seamus Heaney, Alice Munro, J. M. Coetzee, V.S. Naipaul.

Then a friend read me the beginning of David Remnick’s celebratory essay in the New Yorker:

God is a colossol joker, isn’t She? 

We went to bed last night having learned that the Man Who Will Not Go Away was, according to the Times, no mere purveyor of “locker-room talk”; no, he has been, in fact, true to his own boasts, a man of vile action. The Times report was the latest detail, the latest brushstroke, in the ever-darkening portrait of an American grotesque.

Then came the news, early this morning, that Bob Dylan, one of the best among us, a glory of the country and of the language, had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ring them bells! What an astonishing and unambiguously wonderful thing! There are novelists who still should win (yes, Mr. Roth, that list begins with you), and there are many others who should have won (Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Nabokov, Auden, Levi, Achebe, Borges, Baldwin . . . where to stop?), but, for all the foibles of the prize and its selection committee, can we just bask for a little while in this one? The wheel turns and sometimes it stops right on the nose.

Okay, I thought. Permission simply to “bask.” And I’ve been doing just that. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Unbelievable!  Read Remnick’s essay (link here) and think of the reasons why Dylan won. You can believe it’s believable, and you can bask.

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Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem. Head over there to see what people are sharing.

And to read an exuberant celebration of Dylan’s prize, take a look at Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup. 

 

 

What makes a good children’s book?

I dropped by Julie Paschkis’ the other day while I was searching for a topic for this blogpost. Her friend Marjorie was sitting at the kitchen table.

“Write about your favorite book as a child,” Marjorie suggested and began to tell us about her favorite, Little Bobo and His Blue Jacket. Marjorie had searched and searched for a copy in her adult years and luckily a friend found it. Marjorie keeps the book in a vault, but she had photos on her phone, which she delightedly showed us, spread by spread.

The story follows Little Bobo, a child elephant. He takes his blue jacket to a monkey for laundering. The monkey mishears and thinks Bobo wants the jacket shrunk. When the jacket no longer fits, Bobo goes from animal to animal hoping to find someone who will fit it. Many try with no success. Then the hippo wiggles into the shrunken jacket. Although it is too small for the hippo, trying it on stretches the jacket and lo and behold Bobo can fit it again!

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We agreed that, compared to today’s picture books, the text is wordy – maybe twice as long as is currently typical. The artwork is cute, as you can see: cartoony and sweet at the same time. The story seems unremarkable.

But something about that book resonated with that little girl at that moment in time. The child Marjorie and the Little Bobo book made a connection that has lasted a lifetime.  By the measure of belovedness ­­– the Marjorie Meter, I think we should call it – Little Bobo is a good children’s book.

• • • • •

Fellow children’s author Adam Gadwitz writes about what makes a good children’s book in the October 3 issue New Yorker magazine. He suggests several measures by which to judge, beginning with the financial measure, noting the Goosebumps series has sold over 350 million copies. He suggests others might rate a book for its social consciousness, on how “instructive or nutritive, often morally so” that it might be. And he brings up Bruno Bettelheim’s idea that a good children’s book helps the child reader find meaning in life.

Does a good children’s book have to work for adults as well? Gadwitz lets C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia published in the 1950s, answer: “… a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.”

Gadwitz, who writes middle grade novels, has found two guides to his own writing. One is content-oriented: “I aspire to write books that are so exciting that my readers will want to devour every page, and are rich and thoughtful enough that every page will be worth devouring.”

The other, results-oriented: “If a child opens a book, reads every page, closes it, clutches it to his chest and says, ‘I love this book,’ then it is a good book.”

It’s good to be aware of these scales on which to measure a good children’s book:  financial success, social relevance, significance to a child’s understanding of life, accessibility to adults and kids, longevity, content and results.

But in the end I have to agree with Gadwitz. It’s content and results that matter.

Content – My favorite picture books are favorites for many different reasons. I love some of them because they have a wonderful voice, (like Harry and Lulu by Arthur Yorinks and illustrator Martin Matje, 1999);

some for the dance of text and art, (Emeline at the Circus by Marjory Priceman, 1999);

some for the expressive illustrations and shining story, (All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrator Marla Frazee, 2009);

some for a resonant theme, (Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and illustrator Patrick Benson, 1992);

and some for the characters, (Ben Clanton’s brand new Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea, 2016).

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All these content aspects of picture books are vital to the species. Every book has its own mix of these ingredients, stirred in in service to the story.

Results – In the end, Little Bobo and His Blue Jacket shines by measures of results as well as longevity. I would be so happy if, like Little Bobo, one of my books mattered to a reader across a lifetime.

Julie P mentioned Margery Clark’s The Poppy Seed Cakes. For me, it would be Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear. 

SO WHAT ABOUT YOU? Is there a book from your childhood that is still beloved by you? As people suggest them, I will add covers of other books that scored high on the Marjorie Meter.

From “hangtown”:

From Cathey Ballou Mealey:

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Childhood favorites of Deirdre O’Sullivan:

Favorites of Wendy Wahman:

First Light, First Life

Hot off the presses- here is First Light,First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story, written by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by me, and published by Henry Holt.
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Paul wove together creation stories from 24 different countries. My job was to connect these stories visually. I did that with form and with color.
The book/ the world begins in darkness.
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The story moves from land to land (and sea) as the world begins and becomes populated with people and animals. On each page I looked for the visual connections between the cultures. The paintings become lighter as the book progresses, and there are also gradations of light within each painting.
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This book took a lot of research. Every page took me down a different path, and every page was worthy of a lifetime of study. These are not merely stories from different cultures: they are often sacred stories. I treated them with care, and I hope I did not blunder.
first-light-14-15 I drew on the folk art of the various cultures – including textiles, sculpture and painting. I tried to be as true and respectful to each culture as possible, while interpreting that inspiration and making the pictures my own.
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For every page I gathered books; they piled up in my studio. I visited museums when it was possible. I also collected images from the internet  and compiled several pages of images for each painting. For example, this is one of the pages of reference for Peru.
peru research
I read about Peru and it seemed that Paul was referring to Inti, the sun god, along with Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo.  Reading Greek myths, I realized that Paul was referring to Prometheus and Epimetheus, and I looked at Greek vases to figure out the style.
first-light-22-23 greek vase

There are parts of the creation story that are joyful as life unfolds, and there are parts that are scary. The devastation reaches across cultures and takes many forms.
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The style of the page from Mozambique is based on batiks and on Shetani carvings found there. The spider refers to the myth of Mulungu climbing to the moon on a spider web to escape the rampaging humans.The idea of faces in the lightning bolts was from a mask from the Kwele people of Gabon. The faces in the bolts are Kwele and Fang masks.

Here Coxcoxtli and Xochiquetzal are being warned by Titlacahuan (Tlaloc), and on the other side is Noah’s ark. The flood pours from one culture to another.
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Redemption and rebirth also take many forms. Here is the aftermath of the flood in California and in Iraq.
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I couldn’t tell if Condor was a person or a condor (bird) in the myth, so I contacted the Wiyot tribe and they told me that both ideas are true: Condor was a man but also a bird. So I drew Condor and his sister/wife with bird heads, but sitting like people. I referred to traditional Wiyot basket patterns and echoed them in the water. While researching Condor I also learned of the true and terrible massacre of many members of the Wiyot tribe in 1860.
wiyot
Here are some images from Iraq.
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As I delved into the research I was amazed by the richness in the stories, and the peculiarity of the details. I was impressed by Paul’s ability to create one unified tale out of so many sources, and by the way he compressed the myths without flattening them. I hope I was able to honor his text and the myriad stories within it. Just like the creation myths, life contains light and dark. This book celebrates the way those strands are woven together, within and between various cultures. I hope that when you look at this book you will be inspired to look further into all of the myths, stories and history that are included. I hope that we have planted some seeds.
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…the back cover sums it up.
first-light-cover-back

You can buy First Light, First Life at your local bookstore, or click here to order it from BooksInc., or here to order it from Amazon.