Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Tale of Two Foxes

My fox sisters celebrated a new edition in May and it seems like a good time to tell their story.

The first, eponymous, Zelda and Ivy book was published by Candlewick Press in 1998: three short stories about two fox sisters in one picture book format. Both the text and illustrations seemed to drop into my lap: gifts. But with further thought, I realized this material had been trying to become a book for a long time.

We all experience moments when life is larger than usual, moments full of emotion and humor that we recognize as the stuff of story. I gathered a critical mass of such times from childhood home movies and conversations with my sibs. I wanted to make a picture book that carried our growing-up experience: our neighborhood parades, and fairy dust and, maybe most importantly, our relationships. I am the middle of five children. I know what it is to be a bossy, imaginative big sister and an adoring, gullible little sister. I was pretty sure sibling rivalry could fuel the drama.


I first worked with this material in a project called Summer Shorts. Here’s the dummy.


It included four short stories about a family with five human children. It made the rounds at publishers and was roundly rejected. Years passed while I sold other projects and got started in the picture book world.

Meanwhile, Pierr Morgan, a NW illustrator, showed me this cool medium called gouache resist (directions: I liked how the reds popped. Why not revisit that sibling rivalry material – only with fox characters? I simplified, reducing the cast to two.


From their debut at critique group, these characters seemed to have the juice. When Zelda and Ivy was published,  it received lots of starred reviews and SCBWI’s Golden Kite honors in illustration and text.


I was invited to do a sequel. Then a third.


When the fourth book, Zelda and Ivy The Runaways, came out in 2007, it had a leaner look. Candlewick’s marketing department had advised these stories belong in the early reader canon – thus we downsized to the standard 6 x 9-inch ledger size. That year ALA chose it for the Geisel Award. It was the same year my friend Kirby Larson won the Newbery for Hattie Big Sky. We were both in the ballroom in downtown Seattle when our awards were announced. Pretty exciting.


Two more Zelda and Ivy titles have followed, and the earlier ones were reformatted from picture book to ledger.


By the time I got to the sixth book, I knew Zelda and Ivy’s world as well as my own.


As of May, all titles six are officially part of Candlewick’s Sparks series for early readers; each published as a slim paperback that fits easily into the backpack of a young reader.


Wandering Goats

Goat border from the Poppyseed Cakes, by Maud and Miska Petersham

Goat border from the Poppyseed Cakes, by Maud and Miska Petersham

Last weekend I went on a road trip with my husband. I thought we would see friends, birds and beautiful landscapes. We did, but we also saw goats.

The word for goat in Spanish is cabra, which may or may not be related to the word capricious.

Maurice Sendak: Zlateh the Goat

Maurice Sendak: Zlateh the Goat

We visited friends with goats, and were reminded of the origin of the word goatee.

Maud and Miska Petersham: Andrewshek and the White Goat

Maud and Miska Petersham: Andrewshek and the White Goat

We saw goats and kids playing in fields.

Arthur Rackham Goats

Arthur Rackham Goats

We came across this photo in a book at El Nido, a sweet hotel in Tieton, WA.

Goats climbing a tree in Morocco

Goats climbing a tree in Morocco

It was capricious the way that goats entered our trip and my mind.

De Tre Bukke Bruse, Norske Folkeeventyr 1840's

De Tre Bukke Bruse, Norske Folkeeventyr 1840’s

I like leaving town and leaving my routines. While I may be looking for something in particular I often find something completely different, such as an inspiring goat.

Nanny Goat by Yevgeny Rachov

Nanny Goat by Yevgeny Rachov

Here is a poem by Eve Merriam, lightly related to goats and wandering. I welcome your comments and rhymes about goats, goatees, meandering or caprice.

Catch a Little Rhyme

Once upon a time
I caught a little rhyme

I set it on the floor
but it ran right out the door

I chased it on my bicycle
but it melted to an icicle

I scooped it up in my hat
but it turned into a cat

I caught it by the tail
but it stretched into a whale

I followed it in a boat
but it changed into a goat

When I fed it tin and paper
it became a tall skyscraper

Then it grew into a kite
and flew far out of sight…

Arthur Rackham


ADDENDUM (May 26):

Here are some late breaking goats:

Goat collage by Deborah Mersky

Goat collage by Deborah Mersky

Dancing Goat by James and Jonathan, 1956

Dancing Goat by James and Jonathan, 1956

Enjoy some Mama Lil’s peppers while watching this video of Bridget and Baylee eating lunch. They are the goats that inspired this post, owned by friends Kerry and David in eastern Washington.


Having More Fun

Merry Widow Merry Widow Persistent Faces - William Steig

Merry Widow
Persistent Faces – William Steig

I enjoyed posting some of my favorite fun picture book illustrations so much last month that I am revisiting the topic this week, only this time, I am pulling some well-loved images from sources outside of children’s books – more artists whose work conveys humor and playfulness.

william steig_putty

Persistent Faces – William Steig

Many of these images have a doodle-like quality. The topic of doodling deserves an entire post of its own, which maybe I will write someday, but I think doodling has a universal appeal because of its apparent fearless exploration of goofiness.

Sphinx - Saul Steinberg

Sphinx – Saul Steinberg

Saul Steinberg’s work has a sardonic wit.

March-April - Saul Steinberg

March-April – Saul Steinberg

Ben Shahn’s images laugh a little more quietly,

alastair reid Ben Shahn-Both Ways

Words That Read Both Ways
Ounce Dice Trice – Alastair Reid, illustrated by Ben Shahn

but still express a wise sense of humor.

alastair reid Ben Shahn-Bug Words

Bug Words
Ounce Dice Trice – Alastair Reid, illustrated by Ben Shahn

John Rombola I imagine sharing a cigarette with John Waters for some reason.

 Rombola by Rombola - John Rombola

Rombola by Rombola – John Rombola

 Rombola by Rombola - John Rombola

Rombola by Rombola – John Rombola

The circus also inspired Alexander Calder. The Seattle Art Museum had a Calder exhibit a few years ago. I don’t think a museum exhibit before or since has ever put me in such a happy mood.

Circus Lion - Alexander Calder

Circus Lion – Alexander Calder

Josephine Baker. Ooh la la and hallelujah.

Josephine Baker wire sculpture - Alexander Calder

Josephine Baker
wire sculpture – Alexander Calder

Even his large mobile sculptures evoke playfulness.

Yellow Whale  sculpture in wire and metal- Alexander Calder

Yellow Whale
Wire sculpture – Alexander Calder

Inuit art also seems to contain a lot of humor. What is it about all that ice and snow? The long summer days? The long winter nights?

The Enchanted Owl-Kenojuak

The Enchanted Owl – Kenojuak

Judas Ullulaq "Transformation"

Inuit sculpture – Judas Ullulaq

And here is a contemporary Japanese printmaker continuing the 17th – 19th century tradition of Okubi-e (bust portraits of Kabuki actors).

tsuruya kokei_bando tamasaburo

Bando Tamasaburo V as Ochika in “Ikite iru Koheiji”- Tsuruya Kokei

When I was in Japan as a teenager I saw Tamasaburo perform. He is actually quite slender and graceful. I don’t know if Tsuruya Kokei intended parody or was just tweaking composition and form, but it’s makes Tamasaburo look like a high comedienne.

Below is a photo of a Panamanian mola that I bought a number of years ago. It is a modern take on a traditional art form. Usually the motifs include bird and animal forms. This is the only one I’ve seen about a hairstyle.

Mola - artist unknown

Mola – artist unknown

And in response to Julie Paschkis’s last Beastly post on this blog, here are a couple of my favorite prints by Jose Guadalupe Posada. Scary funny.

Sol en Escorpion - Jose Posada

Sol en Escorpion – Jose Posada

I think I spied one of these bicyclists the last time I was in Brooklyn.

Calaveras de Ciclistas - Jose Posada

Calaveras de Ciclistas – Jose Posada

And speaking of Julie Paschkis, here is a drawing she made on a piece of paper from my notebook while we were at an SCBWI talk many years ago. She is the Queen of doodlers and her work also makes me smile. I kept the drawing (it was my paper after all…) and it hangs in my studio to remind me to let loose and have more fun when I am working (and not get my neck all twisted around like that).

doodle in pen and ink - Julie Paschkis

doodle in pen and ink – Julie Paschkis

Maps: Textiles, Textures, Texts


“Lost Boat” – Leah Evans

I love the Smithsonian. Visiting it several years ago was one of the highlights of my traveling life, and I am feeling the pull of it again. I subscribe to the Institute’s magazine, I get their newsletter emailed to me, and I am swooning this week (I have prolonged swoons) about this exhibit of the work of Leah Evans.

Imagine: Quilt maps! Abstract charts of of soil surveys, lost boats, cranberry farms, satellite photos. All made out of fabric. How do artists do it, keep finding their voices in the most unexpected places?

I admit to loving maps. No matter what material they are made of – from parchment (think Magellan, think terra incognita, think Here be dragons) to satellites in space  (think Google Earth) to textiles (think Leah Evans) to wood (think State Park and “You are here”) to the voice on the GPS device (“In 200 yards turn right on Northeast 75th St.” – if you don’t follow directions think  “Recalibrating….recalibrating…”) maps give us a sense of where we stand – at times literally, at other times metaphorically –  in the world.

I once gave a lecture at the Vermont College of Fine Arts about maps in books (it was really about the importance of setting, but I focused on those wonderful maps on the endpapers) and then I followed the lecture up with a special workshop where we made maps of our works-in-progress. You can read a tidied up version of it in the May 2010 issue of The Horn Book. In the workshop (for writers, not quilters) students studying in the Writing for Children program made maps of their works-in-progress, down to the smallest details possible (“Draw a house plan of the house in your book. How far away is the parents’ bedroom from your protagonist’s bedroom? Through which window does the morning sun come in? Where would the protagonist stand to watch a sunset? How does he or she get to school – what neighborhood places are passed each day? What color is the house at the corner?”)  I’m a great believer in developing setting as a character in a book, asking what the setting wants or demands or begs for from the human characters. Just think of the writers for whom setting was essential: Eudora Welty, Robert Frost, John Steinbeck – it’s impossible to imagine them without Mississippi, New England, the fields and flophouses of the Monterey Peninsula.  Beverly Cleary’s Ramona – how could she live any other place than Klickitat Street? How could Octavian Nothing be anywhere but Boston during the Revolutionary War?


Here is  a stanza from Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map.” (You can read the whole poem here):

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

No matter what the medium- yard-goods or words – and no matter what the peculiar genius of the artist/writer, maps bring our focus squarely in on the sixth sense: that of our own bodies in physical space. I think interesting art art is made by people who explore that physicality.

I would love to go see the Leah Evans exhibit at the Smithsonian. As abstract as her quilts seem to be, they converge with maps we are familiar with – we can almost see the satellite photo that the quilt below is based on – is it Manhattan? Is it Cuba?We can puzzle it out, or we can go with just an impression. Art provides a wide berth. When we look at both photos, we “take the water between thumb and finger/ like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.”

————————————————————————————————–[P.S. If you’re interested in that Elizabeth Bishop poem or poetry in general, you can head over to Anastasia Suen’s blog, Booktalking, to see what people are posting for the weekly round-up on Poetry Friday.]


“Green Satellite” by Leah Evans


Satellite Photo of the Caribbean



Baby hummingbirds just before they fledged from their nest outside my friend Samara Louton’s Seattle kitchen window.

A couple of months ago our bookclub decided that we’d each memorize a poem. I chose Pied Beauty by Gerald Manley Hopkins. I taped it to the bathroom mirror so I can work on a line or two as I brush my teeth, (while standing on one foot, I might add: trying to improve balance and memory along with good dental care).

 Pied Beauty
 Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

                                  – by Gerald Manley Hopkins

 This splendid poem is called to mind everywhere I look this spring: in the dotted pink petal-fall on the patio around the cherry tree, the checkered frittilarias nodding in woodland shade, striped tulips, and notched and patterned butterfly wings. And, not least of all, in the sweet spots on our springer spaniel.


Never miss an opportunity to include a photo of Izabella.

Once you start looking for it, you catch the quirky rhythms of pattern everywhere: yesterday in the decorations on Margaret Chodos-Irvine’s front door, today in the tiny deep blue pearls that circle the centers of the anemones we are arranging as we figure out table decorations for my daughter’s wedding.


I love the images that this poem puts so succinctly before me. And the awareness of dappled-ness that it awakens. As I come to own each line, patting it into my memory to the buzz of the toothbrush, I have come to appreciate the texture of the words and the pattern of the lines. It is, in itself, a lovely pied creation.


More patterns, along the driveway at the Captain Whidbey Inn.