Category Archives: Children’s Book Critique Group Blog

Flag and Country

Usually on the 4th of July I think first of fireworks and then of hotdogs.

This year is different. It is impossible to heedlessly celebrate because of the virus.

And the weeks leading up to July 4th have been filled with protests that lay bare the injustices of America today and throughout history.

Faith Ringgold Flag “Die Nigger” 1969

Faith Ringgold: This Flag is Bleeding 1997

Both the virus and the protests make me think about our responsibility towards each other.

Julie Paschkis 2020

How do we celebrate our country? What truths do we hold to be self-evident? What does it mean to be an American? 

Florine Stettheimer 1939

Bang Bang by Kerry James Marshall 1994

The social fabric is shredded and frayed right now, but that is an opportunity. The torn fabric can be sewn back differently. That would be worth celebrating.

Arcola Pettway

Support Social Justice – Buy Some Art!

Dear Friends,

These are unusual and important times.

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.

To start, I have chosen some of my favorite images from BOOM BOOM, by Sarvinder Naberhaus, published in 2014 by Beach Lane Books.

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!

Margaret

 

The STAY Inside Story

For 22 years, the Inside Story has chugged along, staging twice-yearly gatherings at libraries and bookstores to celebrate new books created by Seattle-area children’s authors and illustrators. The goal is to give each book creator two minutes to share something unique and insightful about their book’s creation; to share the story behind the story with the larger children’s book community of teachers, librarians, booksellers and children’s book aficionados. 

But this spring, as you well know, quarantine circumstances prohibited gatherings. Organizer Dana Sullivan was not deterred. He stamped “STAY” across the top of the Inside Story logo and thus the “STAY Inside Story” was born.

 Dana and Michele Bacon are the current caretakers of this Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event. In previous outings, their tasks included sending out the call to local SCBWI members, setting up venues, coordinating with a bookstore to sell participants’ books, creating programs, and emcee-ing the show.  

The new virtual format demanded an expanded skill set. To his customary roles of illustrator, designer, and web-content creator, Dana added participant coach, rehearsal director, and technology troubleshooter. His sense of humor leavened the challenges, including navigating Zoom webinar technology, with the help of Michele and SCBWI co-chair Julie Artz.

Co-chair of the STAY Inside Story, Dana Sullivan, emceed the event with humor and panache.

You can see the program of presenters and their books here: http://www.danajsullivan.com/inside-story-may-2020.html

It’s an entertaining lineup, including BATT’s own Julie Paschkis and Margaret Chodos-Irvine who showcased their lovely new picture book, Where Lily Isn’t, and Vikram Madan, whose spiel about his poetry collection, A Hatful of Dragons: And more than 13.8 billion other funny poems, included a magic trick.

Suzanne Selfors, new proprietor of Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, coordinated book sales through a special section on her website, working with presenting authors and illustrators to provide signed books to purchasers. https://www.libertybaybooks.com/event/scbwis-inside-story

Afterwards, Dana created a YouTube video of the event, which you can see if you click on this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHpaKmWh-Y0

George Shannon and I, who created the Inside Story in 1998 and ran it for the first five years, had cameo roles in the opening scene. We both tip our virtual hats to Dana and his team for this successful first-ever STAY Inside Story. It was so heartening to see our children’s book community rally despite being unable to gather. In fact, attendance topped 100 viewers, a record!

For the inside story about the Inside Story, check out my blogpost from 2013. https://booksaroundthetable.wordpress.com/?s=Inside+Story

Kadir Nelson

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.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kadir Nelson in Orlando at the 2004 ALA convention. He won his first Coretta Scott King award that year for Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange.

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.

Read a book. Turn on a light.

Recently, I went searching for new images to add to my collection of images of books featured in art. A funny theme began to emerge with the images I was finding.

It was books as light—books as sources of illumination–an obvious metaphor, but funny to see so many of them popping up in what was a pretty short, random search.

There are books to come home to…

Illustration by Mariusz Stawarski

There are books to light the way

Illustration by Davide Bonazzi

And books that light the way to dimensions far from home

Illustration by Karolis Strautniekas

Of course, it’s not so much about books, but illumination in whatever form it comes to us.

Illustration by Matt Murphyred

Some knowledge can be dangerous–radioactively so.

Illustration by Karolis Strautniekas

It can even lead you astray. Although I’m not sure if the artist is commenting on the content or the form here.

Illustration by Brian Fitzgerald

Sometimes books are all sweetness and light…

Illustration by Takashi Tsushima

Sometimes they are their own source of darkness and confusion.

Illustration by Franco Matticchio

Whatever they are, books beckon…

Illustration by Quint Buchholz

especially in times like these.

 

 

Disjointed

 

Harvey keitel 2

A scene from Wayne Wang’s Smoke. Have you been looking at old photos, too?

 

Have you been doing lots of things you haven’t felt like doing before?  I have. Apparently a lot of people are baking bread, and I’m trying to work up the courage to make some New York rye. Baking is not my thing, but I found a recipe for making rye bread with pickle juice – that sounds irresistable.

I’ve also been listening to audiobooks, not because I prefer them but because the library in closed during this pandemic and only ebooks and downloadable audiobooks books are available.

On Mother’s Day, I did a lot of looking at old photos. My bet is a lot of people did the same.

Life since the end of February has been a bit disjointed, with old patterns flying out the window and new patterns flying in, then the new ones sneaking out, replaced by others sneaking in, then those new ones sneaking out and…well, you get my drift. Are you feeling like the “pattern” during our Stay Home, Stay Safe pandemic seems to be no pattern at all? Is that a good thing or bad thing? Who knows? (she says, shrugging her shoulders….)

My thoughts are a little scattered, possibly becauset the boundaries of my world are now more restricted. There are lots of new rules. But how can a day be simultaneously “More of the same” and “Everything’s different”? I’m confused. What’s new? (she says, shrugging her shoulders….)

As writers we’re used to being at home when we work. But we’re not used to the whole neighborhood, town, county, state, country staying home. It’s more than eerie – it’s serious business. True, change presents opportunities as long as we’re healthy. There’s space for innovation,  creativity, new choices. There is also space for insomnia because we feel a sea change coming, and we know the pandemic is no metaphor, it’s real, it’s out there.

Like I said, life’s been disjointed – could be a chance for change, could be a mess, most likely both.  Whatever is coming, the present passes a bit more slowly in ways I can’t quite figure out. Same for you? Despite the slow pace, does your day end without you being able to figure out what you did all day – how did you get from morning to night? In some ways, does life seem to be in slow-motion? Or even no-motion?

Of course, slowing down has always been something I’ve recommended to my creative writing students. Good writing – especially poetry, as far as I’m concerned – requires it.  “You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down, my friend” – that’s a line from Wayne Wang’s fascinating movie, Smoke, which I also recommended to my students. It’s based on a book by Paul Auster, who also wrote the screenplay. Auggie, played by Harvey Keitel, has scrapbooks full of snapshots of his smoke shop in Brooklyn, and when he shares the scrapbooks with a friend (see the photo above)  the friend points out that all the photos look the same. But Auggie disagrees. On the surface, yes, the photos seem identical. But his smoke shop, his “little spot” in the world, is different every day, if you know how to look carefully. Different people pass by, or the same people pass by but they look different from the day before. The air each day is different, the light is different, the weather and the seasons are different, colors, noises, conversations, the details are different.

Harvey Keitel

So I’m living in my little corner of a Smoke world right now. The same each day but different. Forget-me-nots blooming, carrots coming up in the raised bed, chickadees building a nest in a wooden birdhouse. The white lilac has come into its glory and is about to go out of it, as it does each year.

My grandson turned thirteen yesterday. I love him to the moon and back, and I can’t imagine being thirteen, even though I once was. When I go for my walk later today, I’ll try to remember what being thirteen was like. And when I go to bed, I’ll still be trying, because I like to get the details right. I remember slowly.  I might fall asleep thinking about that, or I might be thinking about taking weekly photos of my little yellow house because it’s the same but different every day. Or I might fall asleep thinking about the word “disjointed.” It’s a word that makes you believe your skeleton could be rearranged so your knee bones switch places with your wrists. Or the knuckles of your thumbs get attached to your ankles. “Dis-jointed.” I’m sure there’s a poem in that somewhere.

 

 

There’s No Place Like…

Since March 12, we have had a chance to decide if Dorothy is right, if there truly is no place like home. Our enforced staycation has given us all lots of time to think about what ‘home’ means.

It’s a common theme of literature: the hero’s journey takes him out and away only to return home, changed, to a hot supper.

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 8.52.57 AM

Home. Such a perfect word. The sigh of the initial ‘h,’ the round ‘o,’ the ‘m,’ which can be drawn out ‘mmmmm.’

In the early 2000’s I spoke at a joint Oregon and Washington library gathering. Organizers asked participants to respond to the question: “What is ‘home’ to you?” I remember Lois Lowry said home was her mother singing in the kitchen. And Jacqueline Woodson, who had a new baby, said home was the curve of her daughter’s neck, that little nuzzling place.

Their answers engage the senses – the sound of singing, the touch of a warm baby – because home is a place we know with our senses. The smell of oak duff takes me to my childhood home in the Sierra foothills, as does any starry, starry night.

But no matter where your physical house is, it’s the people there that make it a home. Anyone who has experienced homesickness knows the truth of the old axiom “Home is where the Heart is.” No matter how good a vacation is, it’s always comforting to come home to your own bed.

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 8.53.59 AM

Have you ever taken a walk through your neighborhood at dusk, when neighbors have their lights on but before they have shut the curtains? In every picture window there’s a vignette of home being experienced: kids playing, a family eating dinner, a mother rocking a baby. Lots of stories going on.

These days we get glimpses into peoples’ homes because of the necessary reworking of live TV shows. For instance, if you watch American Idol, the contestants are broadcasting from their homes. You get to know them a little better: the freeway is off in the distance from one guy’s porch, another has a couch full of kids watching.

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 9.03.30 AMYou can’t help but imagine their lives as revealed by their homes. It’s an interesting insight, especially for we nosy writer-types.

I’ve become fond of Jimmy Fallon’s home edition, videoed by his wife on an iPhone. He is so charming with his two little girls on his lap, reading the evening’s jokes – and what an interesting house!

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 9.04.45 AM

 John and I realize we are lucky. We have each other – that’s what home is for us – and a roof over our heads and access to just about anything we need – and two little grandboys who are on their way over here right now. Maybe they will build a fort of sofa cushions and blankets. A home in a home.

My heart goes out to those whose housing is uncertain and healthcare and food sources iffy.  The inequalities in our land-of-plenty are laid bare by this crisis. As we recover from the corona virus’ impact, I hope we will take the opportunity to reset our communities, and services, and country with compassion and inclusion. Here’s a chance to do things better, to take better care of each other, to offer everyone the welcome of home.

Wishing you all the best during our “safe at home” days — and wondering; When you click your sparkly red heels, what is ‘home’ to you?

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 8.56.58 AM

Head, Body Legs

Head, Body, Legs is a drawing game. You can play it with as few as two people or with a whole roomful. You can even play it through the mail – preserving social distance while making playful connections.

by Julie Paschkis and Zoe Paschkis

How does it work?
Fold a piece of paper into thirds.
Draw a head of any kind – human, animal or other – in the top “head” section of the paper.

Draw two tiny lines that extend from the bottom of your drawing into the middle “body” section of the paper. Fold the paper so that the head is hidden.

Pass (or mail) the paper to the person next to you,. They will see only the little lines and not your drawing.

The next person draws a body of any kind in the middle section, adding tiny lines that extend into the bottom “Legs” section of the paper.

They fold and pass (or mail) the drawing to the next person so that only the little lines are visible, not the head or the body.


The next person draws the legs.

Unfold the paper to reveal the creature that you have co-created.

In a group everyone draws at the same time and then passes in the same direction.  You work on the head of one drawing, the body of the next and the legs of a third. The process sounds complicated but it is actually simple: Fold, Draw, Pass, Repeat.

Here are some Head, Body Legs that were drawn at a table. All the generations of my family often play this game.

by Julie Paschkis, Joe Max Emminger and Amy Kaye

By Julie Paschkis, Benji Kaye and Eric Kaye

by Benji Kaye, Julie Paschkis and Joe Max Emminger

by Lucia Santos, Julie Paschkis and Jennifer Kennard

The drawings themselves can be as simple or complicated as you like. The finished pieces look more coherent if all of the participants use the same media – pencil, ink, markers or paint.

Here are some recent HBL passed through the mail instead of around a table.
I started these at home and then sent them to Margaret Chodos-Irvine, who sent them to Deborah Mersky.

by Deborah Mersky, Margaret Chodos-Irvine and Julie Paschkis

My niece Zoe and I did these three piece drawings  through the mail:

by Zoe Paschkis and Julie Paschkis

Then we realized it made more sense as a two person collaboration to create two part drawings. Head Bo/Dy Legs.

I drew these:

And mailed them like this:

Zoe finished them:

 

Exquisite Corpse is another name for Head, Body, Legs.

Whatever you call it, I hope you will give it a try.

Joe Max Emminger, Julie Paschkis and Daisy Emminger

P.S. I am continuing to post free, printable coloring pages on line every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please click HERE for a link to those pages.
Here are some pages that people have colored in.

Benji Kaye

Mary Ann Landmesser

Eric Kaye

After you have spent some time playing Head, Body Legs, or coloring in the printed pages, perhaps you will be inspired to keep drawing, or to invent your own games.

Benji Kaye

Pet Love

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: margaret@chodos-irvine.com, and I will post them below.

Update: Here are a few loves from friends!

Laura Kvasnosky’s dear Izzi
Julie Paschkis’s dear Freya.

It Takes Two: How to kickstart your story-making brain

You can’t make a story out of a single thing. A “one” thing. A lone thing. Story comes from that lone thing in relationship to something, anything else. That’s where it all begins.

If you’re starting to think of the story of Dot, it’s because your brain has already added a second element. The dot is trying to escape the square? The dot is lonely? Your brain is already adding something else for Dot to be in relationship with.

I discussed this idea little in my last post—how the human brain seems hardwired to find connections between things.  And out of that instinct comes story.

I love this idea that all it takes is two images to prompt story. Using this kind of prompt could be a fun activity for yourself or for any of your at-home kids who can “never think of anything to write about.”

Of course, you can come up a story with just one image.

A lot of writers start with just that–character. But look what happens to your story-making brain if you add just one other element.

Is this Bulldog’s dream self, a goal, an unlikely friend, his mortal foe?

Just about any pairing can suggest a story, but I’m always looking for contrast, contradiction and the unlikely:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Putting two things in relationship almost inherently suggests goals or dreams or conflict… plot:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You could put almost any of the images on this page together and start to get story ideas.

 

 

 


Of course, the more unlikely the juxtaposition, the harder it can be to create a logical story. But, especially with picture books, it’s exactly the unlikely, the unexpected that can make your book jump off the shelves

So it’s great to play with all kinds of juxtapositions. Watch what happens to your story-telling brain as you run through the possibilities:

There’s this adorable kid. And then this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this:

 

And, of course, our very unlikely crocodile.

 

 

 

 

 

Every one of these stories would be very different. So which do you tell? For me, it comes down to a gut feeling about where my heart and energy want to go.

If you find yourself stuck for story and would like to get out of your own head for awhile, pull some images from the Internet or from magazines or even your own photo albums and put them together. There’s a story in there!

If any of these prompt a story in your household, I’d love to hear about it or to have you share images you might have found that sparked story for you.

Be well!