Category Archives: Children’s Book Critique Group Blog

EEK!

EEK! It’s a book.

A few years ago Julie Larios brought a new manuscript to our critique group. It was an alphabet book where each letter was a sound instead of a word. HUZZAH! I loved the idea and asked Julie if I could illustrate it. We both found the idea of random sounds delightful. I imagined an animal to go with each sound. 

My agent at the time felt that the book needed a story. UH-OH.

Julie L. and I decided that I would create a story through the art. So I invented a story with animals to go with and around the sounds. Because I came up with the story we are both credited as authors.

I kept the Mouse I had painted for ACHOO and sent him on a journey. The plot unfolds through the art and the sounds punctuate the story.

The story begins with Mouse picking a flower which he carries through the book. Each page introduces a new character (or characters).  A bird and the bee are the first characters to be introduced and they are on every spread until the flower at last is delivered to the mouse’s love: a Lion. All of the animals (except Lion) are hinted at before they appear and after they leave. The art is a kind of scroll.

If I couldn’t make a sequence work I went to Julie Larios and we reworked either the sound or the action. We changed many of the sounds through the whole alphabet, but always kept the idea of using sounds instead of words.

We sent the book out and it was accepted for publication by Peachtree. The wonderful editor Vicky Holifield guided the book through the next step of its journey. Every sound,  color  and image was considered carefully and discussed with many words. HMMMM. 
For example the sound for p began as PSST, became 
PHEW and ended up as PLOP. My magenta P was turned into a powder pink P.

We struggled at times to get the right words and imagery.

Sometime during the process I realized that my fantasy story was quite autobiographical. Raccoon had a bicycle accident – which I had had in 2016.

A big tree fell – just as a tree fell on my studio in 2019.

 A random marching band came by – which happened when I was visiting Golden Gate Park.

Julie and I hope that children and other readers invent their own narratives to go with the sounds. We want you to head off on your own imaginative journeys. ZWWOOP – Play with language and revel in sounds!

You can get EEK! at Secret Garden Books in Seattle , at Alibris , at Amazon or at your favorite local store. Thank you.

Books that stand the test of time, when time no longer has meaning

A guest post today from my daughter, who is using children’s books to help her through the parenting challenges of COVID:

We’ve heard how the COVID pandemic has brought particular challenges for working parents of small children. Time no longer feels the same, and yet somehow parenting duties have become incessant. As our friend Heidi says, the week only has 3 days now: Today, Tomorrow, and Yesterday. Possum parenting – where the parent plays dead on the couch while the children run feral – can only get you so far; more entertainment is needed. Which children’s books are helping beleaguered parents?

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Old Favorites. Both for parents and kids alike, we all need a little extra comfort and gentleness. The familiar refrains of beloved favorites are like the grandparent’s hug we all crave right now: tender, well-worn, and perhaps a little musty. Stories with a repetitive framework, like King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, by Don and Audrey Wood, are especially appealing. Will the king ever get out of the tub? Even though we all know what’s going to happen next – after the knight checks on him, after the queen checks on him – we all can’t wait to see how it unfolds. At the same time, it allows Mom to live vicariously through the ultimate dream of a daylong bathtub (even if it is interrupted periodically for matters of great import).

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Shiny and New-to-you. Never underestimate the power of novelty to buy yourself a few moments of sibling harmony. With the library closed, and our bookshelf on constant rotation, adding a new book to our collection has outsized value. We’ve especially appreciated books that take us on new adventures, since we ourselves are staying close to home. One recent new addition for us was Marc Martin’s A River, whose languid rhythm and dreamy pictures lead us on an imaginary journey from a city through the Amazon to the sea and back.

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Another favorite is Marianne Dubuc’s Up the Mountain Path, where we follow along with an intrepid kitty named Lucy and her mentor Mrs. Badger on a mountain hike to a great view, but with an ultimate destination of true friendship.

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Silly Stories Kids Love that Won’t Drive Parents Bonkers. In the “before times,” you could read your kid their favorite story 10 times over from a place of grounded patience and understanding. When you’re starting from a base of sleep deprivation and overwhelm, set yourself up for success with stories that will make you and your kids laugh. Eat Pete, by Michael Rex, is a particular favorite of my three year-old and his beloved granddad. A monster appears at Pete’s window, and Pete invites him to play, but all he wants to do is eat Pete! The monster puts off the inevitable as long as possible, enjoying playing pirates and blocks instead of indulging in a boy-sized snack, and (spoiler alert) he finally gives in and eats Pete. But as we’ve found out during quarantine with chest freezers full of popsicles and no one to share them with, a full belly is no substitute for a playmate. A big burp later, and the Monster’s redemption is complete: a tiger can change his stripes. Enjoy reading this to a soundtrack of your kiddo’s delighted giggles as the monster navigates his impulses, learns about social expectations, and indulges in a hearty belch and even heartier hug.

Here’s hoping these books and ideas can bring parents a few moments of wonder, delight or calm as you keep on keeping on. As I remind myself every time I think “I can’t do this,” remember you ARE doing this!

p.s. from LMK – Thank you, dear daughter, for writing this post and for hanging in there with the little guys through “the germ season,” as the kids call it. With all you have on your plate, you created a blogpost, too! Incredible.

Dear readers: Please add titles that stand the test of time with your little ones, be they old favorites, shiny new or silly.

Three Little Nudges

If you’ve been feeling uncharacteristically un-creative, you’re not alone. This pandemic has got a lot of us stymied creatively, and understandably so.  But isn’t it true that all we need sometimes are little nudges to get us going again?

So I’ll keep things brief today and just send three nudges your direction.

#1. Best nudge for me lately: WindowSwap – a website that shares photos of views from people’s windows all around the world. Some of the views are simple and domestic, others are sweeping. For example, the view from Lina’s window in Aeschiried, Switzerland…D5088323-D691-4A9F-A83D-C41BEB0AB0F3

…and from Rexina’s window in Bangalore, India…

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…from Simone’s window in Villongo, Italy….

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…and from Ula’s window in Doha, Qatar…

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This WindowSwap nudge is meant to lift your spirits in general, but it can also get your imaginations going.  Just think: Who are Lina, Rexina, Ula, and Simone? Who would you be if one of those views were yours?  What would someone imagine about you if you submitted a photo of the view out a window in your house? When you see the phrase “We’re all in this together,” it’s this kind of sharing that forms connections between people and cultures in times of crisis. We have more in common than some people think.

 

Will you consider your own window view in a new way if you take a photo of it and submit it online for people around the world to see? Here’s the view I might submit, taken from the upstairs bedroom of our house during the neighborhood Sidewalk Chalk Festival.

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#2.  Get inspired tomorrow (Saturday the 18th – 7:30-9:00 EST) when there will be free streaming access to a dance performance in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur. It will feature dance companies from India and Sri Lanka – the setting in the Sackler Wing of the Met, and the heady colors of the outfits worn by the dancers, should get your heart racing and your creative juices flowing.

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The New York Times said “The only proper response to dancers this amazing is worship.” If the phrase “down in the doldrums” has been echoing around in your head since March, this performance should chase it off. And if you miss it tomorrow, I think the Met is making it available soon on YouTube.

#3. Last nudge – this one will make you giddy. Or dizzy. Or both. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is providing 3-D looks at objects in their collection online via a company called Sketchfab. You can turn the on-screen object around 360 degrees, look at it from underneath and from above, you can zoom in….you can practically feel it,  as if you in the museum viewing it, or even better, as if were holding it in your hand. Be sure to go to full-screen mode to get a really close up look. Try the tiny netsuke of a shoki (a vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings) capturing an oni (an ogre.) This photo of it is not 3-D, but you’ll find one at the link.

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I’m a great believer in the power of one sense to heighten another. Music, sculpture, dance, good food  – all can inspire us to be better writers.  If we hit bad writing snags, we can venture outside the world of writing to unsnag ourselves. We can look out a window in Barcelona or Singapore. We can hold a netsuke in our virtual hands. We can watch as East Indian dancers move to the music of a bamboo flute. .

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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 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?

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