I believe we are at a tipping point in America. We can move forward with equal justice, equal pay, equal care, and equal respect, or we can fall back into the mire of racism and prejudice.
I am not a lawyer or a politician. I am an artist. I have tried to use my art to make this world a better place. Now I want to do more if I can. So I will be selling original artwork from children’s books that I have illustrated to raise money for the Black Lives Matter movement. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to organizations that support social justice and equity.
I will post the images with prices and information on Instagram (@margaretci) and Facebook. If you are interested, please follow me there.
Additional news: Books Around The Table will be publishing new posts every other week, rather than every week as we have been doing. I am stepping back from children’s books for a while to work on other projects, but I will continue to post occasionally as a “guest” blogger on this site.
Thank you for your continued support of our work here at Books Around The Table!
Today I want to share imagery by one of my favorite artist/illustrators, Kadir Nelson. You probably know this artist’s work already. He won a much-deserved Caldecott as well as a Coretta Scott King award this year for his book The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander. Kadir’s work also embellishes a number of USPS stamps, and album covers, and movie posters, and many (of my favorite) New Yorker Magazine covers. And his paintings hang in a lot of prestigious places, including the U.S. House of Representatives.
This book illustrates Shange’s poem about growing up in the midst of African American leaders like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois.
I peruse Kadir’s books whenever I want a lesson in composition, or dramatic perspective, or skillful use of a restrained color palette, or emotion as told through gesture and expression. Or if I just want to look at beautiful paintings.
I think what I like most about Kadir’s painting style is the evidence of the drawing behind it. Kadir’s linework seems to flow from his fingers freely and without error. He makes it look so easy.
I met Kadir again a few years later at an NCTE convention in Nashville where I sat in on a presentation he gave. He spoke with humble confidence. He said he uses photography as reference. But his work extends far beyond realism. He enhances the expressiveness of anything he draws, even if that thing is an inanimate object.
Even his skies tell stories.
I have shown examples here from the few books by Kadir that I own, but if you want to see more of his outstanding work, you can purchase his books online, or find them at your local libraries (when they open up again). His work highlights stories of courage, perseverance and strength; stories that we all benefit from reading.
Last month I posted my video read-along of Where Lily Isn’t, in which I suggested viewers could send pictures of their own beloved pets.
My friend and fellow author/illustrator Wendy Wahman sent me a drawing of her poodle LaRoo, also known as Nanny Paws, who inspired a book by that name.
Wendy was the only one who sent me any pictures. Ah well.
I was hoping to get more responses so I could share them with you in this post. Instead, I am posting my own.
Where Lily Isn’t is dedicated to: Stanley, Boo, Stinker, Freya, Bluey, Ajax, and Lily. Those are the names of pets that Julie and I have loved, and lost (mine are in boldface).
Stanley was an English bulldog my family got when I was six. I wanted to name him Trixie, but my brother thought Stanley, after comedian Stanley Myron Handelman, was more appropriate. I guess my parents agreed. He was a loving, slobbery, snaggle-toothed goof who terrified my friends when they came over and he charged at them to say hello. Cartoons like Spike gave bulldogs a bad name. I’ve never met an English bulldog that didn’t want to just snuffle you up and down and drool all over you. He was my constant playmate until I hit puberty, when there was a bit of a Puff-The-Magic-Dragon situation. I still feel guilty about that. Stanley died when I was about fourteen.
This is me with Stinker, my Half Moon Conure. I bought him from a bird farm with $30 my grandfather sent me for my birthday when I was a tween. I was not his first human. He already knew how to croak “don’t bite!” (maybe that and his given name should have clued me in on why he was so affordable for a parrot) and I taught him to squawk “hello.” He also picked up yelling my name from hearing my mother. I loved him dearly. He died when I was in high school.
Bluey was a blue parakeet I got in Kyoto when I was living there with my parents when I was nine. I was lonely without other English-speaking kids my age to play with, so my parents took me to a pet shop on the top of a department store that had parakeet chicks for sale. He became so tame he would nap on my chest. I brought him back to California in a mouse cage in my carry-on bag (maybe smuggled is a better word). He inspired my dad to build an aviary and we raised parakeets for many years. Bluey flew out of my hands when I was carrying him back inside from a visit to the other birds in the aviary. Stanley had jumped up to see what I was carrying and it startled both me and Bluey. I never saw Bluey again. I cried for weeks.
And Ajax. Ajax was the Best Cat Ever. He showed up as a kitten when we were working on remodeling our first house in Seattle. We had been thinking of adopting a cat, and my friend Gabrielle who we’d hired to help us (and who is an expert on cats IMHO) said “this is the cat you want.” We figured out that he lived a couple of houses down from us, so I gathered him up, along with my courage, and went to ask if we could adopt him. I knocked on the door. When they answered I asked, “is this your cat?” and the guy said “yeah, you want him?” Ajax was the kind of cat who loved people, would come when you called him, and liked to sleep as close to your face as he could get. He lived a good long life. We said goodbye when he was nineteen.
Which brings me to Nik. Nik is our current animal companion. He is a Rat Terrier. We’ve had him since 2013. We are his third family. He is coming up on sixteen. He is deaf now, and going blind, but he still loves his walks, his meals, and his naps. He has many quirks, and that is what we love about him.
Like many terriers, he likes to burrow, and while our youngest daughter was still home, he would sleep under the blankets by her feet every night. I am preparing myself for when he’s gone, but who knows? Terriers are tough. I hope he makes it with us at least until the COVID-19 era is over so Clare can see him again.
The importance of animal companions during these days of home confinement can’t be underestimated. Nik gets us out of the house on a regular basis. Petting him helps me feel less anxious. He is a good listener, even though he’s deaf. Pets have no clue what’s going on in the world, thank goodness.
Here is a little drawing I did of Nik. I think it highlights his best features.
If anyone wants to send me pictures of their pets, they are still welcome to! You can send them to: email@example.com, and I will post them below.
So, what have I been doing with all my free time while sheltering-in-place? Sewing masks. Doing puzzles. Reading endless emails about COVID-19…
And, I made a video! With so many kids staying home all day with their families, it seems like the least I can do to help out.
I have to admit, I’m new, and not entirely comfortable with, recording myself. My video is not perfect, as I am not perfect, but it will do. I hope.
After the reading, I encourage kids (adults too, if you are inclined) to send a drawing of a beloved pet. I will post them on this blog. If you know of any children who might enjoy listening and participating, please pass it on!
Where Lily Isn’t is here! And we are having a party!
If you live in Seattle, Julie Paschkis and I invite you to come celebrate with us on Thursday, March 12, at 6:30pm at Secret Garden Bookstore. Please bring a picture or anecdote to share about your pet, past or present.
It was two and a half years ago that I had tittery jitters about starting work on the images, and now the book is finally out in the world. Of all the books I have done, this is one of the ones I am most pleased with. It deals with the difficult subject of loss, but really it is a book about the indelible mark love makes on our hearts.
A while ago I wrote about a book a friend showed me from her childhood.
This post is about a book that another friend showed me from her childhood, but this book brought back flashes of memory as soon as I saw it. It was a book from my childhood as well, long forgotten.
ANT and BEE: An Alphabetical Story for Tiny Tots (Book I) by Angela Banner, illustrated by Bryan Ward, first published in the U.K. in 1950.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of recognition that happens when you come upon a book that you haven’t seen in maybe, fifty years. It is like the way a certain scent will suddenly take you back to a long-ago visited place; little bells tinkling in the back of my brain announcing the arrival of an old friend.
The book is small – roughly 3 ½ x 4 inches – which suits it’s subject matter and adds to its charm. It is straightforward yet silly. Realistic yet completely implausible. But it is not cute. It maintains a dignity in spite of its diminutive size and subject. Maybe it’s the hats…
The opening endpaper states:
Ant and Bee is a progressive ABC written as a story with simple words, some of which are printed in red and some in black. The words in red are to be called out by the child when it has learned to spell them out and to pronounce them. A grown-up then completes the sentences by reading the words in black as soon as the words in red have been called out by the child. Encouraged by the grown-up, the child will soon learn the words which it must read before the story can progress. In this way, the child will feel an interest in helping to tell the story and will, at the same time, gain confidence in reading and building up a small vocabulary.
That’s a lot of instructions for such a small book. Apparently Banner wrote the book as a way to help her son learn to read. This probably helped sell the book in the ‘50s, but it seems a bit bossy for today’s grown-up readers.
Here is ANT.
And here is BEE.
They live in a CUP.
And so on. Here are more images that I particularly like.
I loved finding this book again. But do I love this book now because I liked it when I was young? Is it charming only because of nostalgia? And I wonder what I often wonder when I read a book published before 1980: Would it be published now?
A corral is an enclosure to capture, confine, defend or protect.
Something “to bring a group of people together and keep them in one place, especially in order to control them” (Cambridge English Dictionary).
I work as an illustrator. I create art. I like to make clothing. And I like to take and twist garment making (sometimes literally) into something unexpected. I feel it is the ideal medium for me to explore human relationships: how we present ourselves; how we connect; how we exclude.
I think of this piece as an idea illustrated in sewn, 3-D form. It is a continuation of the work I have written about here and here.
For Corral, I constructed thirteen white, button-down, men’s shirts from over 20 yards of Oxford cloth. Twelve are conjoined in a circle via their sleeves. The thirteenth is separate, with its sleeves joined behind its back in one piece from armscye to armscye.
Why did I sew thirteen shirts that no one can wear?
Here is my artist statement from the show:
Clothing is our human-made exoskeleton. Beyond functioning as a protective layer, it stands for how we see ourselves, and how we choose to be seen by others. Within each of our cultures we grow up learning the language of apparel. I enjoy using that language to reflect our own stories back to us.
We are accustomed to wearing clothes. It is natural for us to transfer our psyches into items of apparel and mentally “try them on.” By using familiar clothing forms as structures on which viewers may hang their interpretations, my work provides an opportunity to explore – visually, psychologically, spatially – how we interconnect and how we relate to others.
At first glance, you see the familiar: A bunch of shirts, like hanging on a shop rack or a laundry line.
Then you see that there is something more involved going on.
You begin to think about the possible meanings and the emotional content.
In order to make this piece, I researched the unique construction techniques traditional in menswear. I wanted the shirts to look as “store-bought” as possible. People are surprised that I could reproduce garments like this, but I think we forget that all our clothes are made by humans. Clothing factories have industrial sewing machines and specially designed equipment for specific tasks, but they are still made by human beings. Robotics have been slow to replace humans in garment production.
But sewing thirteen of the same thing tested my patience with repetition. When I imagine what working in a sweatshop would be like – making the same thing day after day, under pressure from the boss – I’m sure I wouldn’t last very long.
One of the interesting things about art is how differently it can be interpreted by different people.
Some people told me they saw this peace as playful, as though the shirts are dancing together.
Others said they thought it expressed community in unison.
Yet others see the shirts as representing white male dominance, with the lone thirteenth shirt being the “odd man out.”
Last weekend, I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the Mazza Museum Fall conference at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio.
The Mazza Museum collection is the largest collection of picture book art in the world, with a holding of more than 14,000 pieces of original picture book art – and counting!
The Mazza Fall conference is a yearly event to promote literacy through picture books. It is primarily attended by teachers, librarians, and students – a pleasant audience for us picture book folk.
The event was organized by Benjamin Sapp, the Mazza Museum director. He also arranges a group tour of picture book artists’ studios in some part of the country every few years. He brought a group to our neck of the woods in July of 2017 which Laura Kvasnosky wrote about here.
During the entire weekend Ben was the epitome of gracious calm. If he felt the strain of hosting six artists and 275 attendees and overseeing troupes of volunteers (known as Mazza Enthusiasts) he didn’t show it.
I find public speaking to be like a roller coaster ride. I fret for weeks as I prepare. I worry about what might go wrong (I have my own personal repertoire of performance-anxiety dreams). I get a kaleidoscope of butterflies in my stomach as the moment gets closer. Then I give the talk and I think … That wasn’t so bad. It was actually kind of fun. I might do that again …
But all that aside, I enjoy these sorts of events because of the people I get to meet and the other artists whose talks I get to listen to.
Melissa Sweet is like a soft-spoken firecracker. I admire her and the care and discipline she puts into her process. There is so much love in her work for her subjects. I purchased a copy of the book she wrote and illustrated about E.B. White – Some Writer!. It is a beautiful and informative read.
Lori Nichols talked about her personal and professional growth rings and how her book characters Maple and Willow came to be. I felt at one point as if we were sitting in her yard with her under her beloved trees. Her talk was so engaging I (almost) forgot that my talk was up next.
Nina Laden (my fellow Pacific Northwesterner at the event) wove her talk through with personal tales of trial and perseverance, as well as envious shots of her Island studio.
Peter Catalanotto talked about how as a boy, he struggled with writing until a wise teacher told him to try starting his story with drawing pictures instead. Lead with your strengths. His story ideas often start with him asking himself “What if…”
Stephen Savage discussed the importance of composition (what he calls hierarchy) in imagery, especially in books with no written story as many of his are. Vertical lines on a horizontal plane are static. Diagonal lines and curves imply movement. The simplest of images can say a great deal.
In my 45 minutes, I talked about how Where Lily Isn’t came to be, from my early work through my time in London and my wordless letters with Julie Paschkis. Where I started, what I left behind, what I’ve brought with me. That sort of thing.
Although each of us had very different styles of presenting, there were some commonalities: We all mentioned events in our youth that formed our future selves as artists. We all spoke of our challenges and failures as well as our successes. We all talked about the importance of play in our work. And I believe we all showed pictures of our dogs at some point.
Other treats for me included:
Meeting and sitting at the dinner table with this year’s Dickman librarian of the year, Christina Dorr. I love librarians.
Seeing Kathy East again, the head of the 2004 Caldecott committee. It was she who called me to tell me Ella Sarah Gets Dressed was receiving an honor award. She will always have a special place in my heart.
Getting my hand cast in resin by Daniel Chudzinski for the Mazza archives. A new and slightly macabre experience.
Finding an open spot to sign the signing wall at the museum – my mark is now there with so many artists whom I admire. Intimidating yet exciting!
My one regret is that I did not have a chance to tour the Mazza Museum itself. My appointed tour time was forgone due to bad traffic coming from the airport in Detroit and the rest of the time I was booked (no pun intended) tightly. However, I did manage a couple of photos on the fly.
Thanks to Ben and all the Mazza folks for including me in their pantheon of picture book artists. It was a roller coaster ride I am glad I participated in.
Following the trend set by Julie Larios and Bonny Becker in their preceding posts on this blog, here is a favorite poem of mine from my younger years, by Ogden Nash. I even posted a copy of it on the wall of my dorm room (I have long had a thing for dinosaurs) along with my collection of dinosaur memorabilia, my freshman year at college. Keep in mind that this poem predates the Night At The Museum movies by several decades.
I thought that I would like to see
The early world that used to be,
That mastodonic mausoleum,
the Natural History Museum.
On iron seat in marble bower,
I slumbered through the closing hour.
At midnight in the vasty hall
The fossils gathered for a ball.
High above notices and bulletins
Loomed up the Mesozoic skeletons.
Aroused by who knows what elixirs,
They ground along like concrete mixers.
They bowed and scraped in reptile pleasure,
And then began to tread the measure.
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling, carefree circus
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.
Pterodactyls and brontosauruses
Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.
Amid the megalosauric wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil.
Cheer up, old man, he said, and winked —
It’s kind of fun to be extinct.
I still enjoy the work of Ogden Nash – his wonderful play with words. However, in rereading this poem now, it does take on a more ominous meaning than it used to!
Books Around The Table is the blog of Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Laura Kvasnosky, Julie Larios, Julie Paschkis and Bonny Becker. We are a critique group of children's book authors and illustrators who have been meeting monthly since 1994 to talk about books we are working on, books we have read, our art and our lives. We invite you to sit down with us around the table and join the conversation.