Category Archives: Children’s Book Critique Group Blog

First Graders, Cucumber Sandwiches and Foxes

Last month on a beach in Hawaii, I met a fellow grandma named Susie. She has a granddaughter, Hannah, back in Wisconsin. Turns out Hannah’s class was just then reading my book, Zelda and Ivy The Runaways. What a coincidence! Before the week was out, Hannah’s teacher Jaime Charnholm and I set a date so I could meet the class over the internet, using Google Chat.

(The class is following a Lucy Calkins reading program that uses my book as one of its teaching texts, which are read aloud or as shared reading to model effective reading strategies.)

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Here was my view of Hannah’s first grade classroom at West Middleton Elementary, Verona, Wisconsin, where the kids told me it was cold!

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Using my laptop’s camera, I walked into my studio and showed the kids my computers, monitors and Wacom tablet, and paints and palettes and brushes, shelves of books and the light table, the stack of books that I have authored and/or illustrated, Izzi the dog and her dogbed, and my cozy writing chair.

The students sent charming thank you notes. I love their colorful drawings and creative spelling.

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Who wouldn’t like to be proclaimed “the best ather in the wrld”?  Also, I loved hearing that I inspired Paul to write a book.

The first chapter in Zelda and Ivy the Runaways gets going because Dad is making cucumber sandwiches for lunch (again!). The Fox sisters decide they can’t face it and run away.

Although not many of the kids said they have actually eaten cucumber sandwiches, they were great at drawing them.

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You can see what the kids remember about our connection by taking a look at their thank-you notes. The story I told about my first grade boyfriend, Danny, who is the basis for Eugene in Zelda and Ivy and The Boy Next Door, seemed to strike a chord. As did our dog, Izzi, and my paint palette.

INSIDES*5My Fox sisters are surely thrilled at the many portraits Mrs. Charnholm’s first graders included in their thank you notes.

FOXES5*more portraits —

FOXES*

I feel lucky for all these connections: to have met Susie, which led to meeting the adorable, creative, wonderful kids in Hannah’s class. I answered most of the kids’ questions about the making of Zelda and Ivy, with this exception: How much paper does it take to make your books? Good question! Anyone out there know the average amount of paper it takes to print a picture book?

I smile every time I think of the first graders in West Middleton Elementary. Thank you, each and every one, for your wonderful letters. And thank you, teacher Jaime Charnholm and Hannah’s mom, Nicole, for making the technology work on the Wisconsin end.

I love when technology makes the world as small as the lawn above Napili Beach.

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Paper

Picture books are ideas made of words and art.

They are also objects made of paper, cardboard, glue and ink.

Last week I visited a papermaking workshop in San Agustin Etla. The workshop is in an old building beside a river, in the hills about ten miles from the city of Oaxaca in Mexico.

It is a peaceful and shady place.

The paper is made from cotton pulp. It is mixed with other natural materials such as the fibers from corn husks, bast, mica.

Sometimes it is tinted with cochineal, annatto seeds, indigo or other   natural dyes.

The cotton is soaked and pounded in a machine, forming a pulp.

The pulp is lifted out from the bucket in a wood frame with a screen set into it.

The water drains out leaving the pulp behind.

The paper is released onto a tin sheet, where the moisture is pressed into felt blankets.

The sheets are hung to dry.

When a page is completetly dry it is peeled off of the tin sheets.

The paper is ready. It is waiting for ideas, words and art.

Plates of Flowers and Fruit

I am traveling this week, so I have pre-arranged a post for you. It’s actually a borrowed post from a friend of mine – Jennifer Kennard. Jennifer is an artist, graphic designer, book maker, book lover, book collector, and lovely person. She has a blog called Letterology, from which this post was taken. I chose it because I have been using stencils in my work lately. And it is still Winter and the flowers and fruit make me think of warmer, brighter seasons.

The 19th Century Book Plates of D.M. Dewey

Title page for one of D.M. Dewey’s specimen books. S

Dellon Marcus Dewey (1819-1889) was a bookseller, publisher and art patron in Rochester, NY before he became one of the 19th century’s most enterprising businessmen, printing and selling colorfully stenciled book plates of botanical illustrations “for the practical use of nurserymen, in selling their stock.” He employed teams of immigrant artists and colorists in the mid-1850s to paint and stencil several thousand botanical plates of various ornamentals, trees, shrubs, fruits and vegetables. By 1859, Dewey’s price list contained some 275 different plates. Once completed, the colorful book plates were assembled into handsome octavo catalogs and portfolios customized for the traveling salesmen known as “plant peddlers” of the floral and nursery trade. Dewey was not the first to devise this practice of providing botanical illustrations to sell seeds and plants, but he was the first to expand the process by relying on the time-honored stencil production process which came to be known as “theorem paintings.” Prior to the development of chromolithography, this multi-layered stencil process was the most striking and effective method of producing colored multiples at the time. Although quite rare now, Deweys’ polychromic watercolor artworks can still be found in complete book sets, and continue to be valued for their exquisite beauty. This 1875 plate book of 91 images shown below was sold on eBay a year ago for about $400. S

To produce each stenciled image, artists would use transparent watercolors to build up areas of tone and color. Stems, tendrils and small details such as the small, red paint strokes seen on the peach above, were painted freehand for added effect on many images. The stencils were most likely made of paper, but brass could easily have been used and would have endured much longer. Paint and inks were carefully applied through these stencils using a brush or dauber of sorts—creating vivid color tones and values as layers were added. A similar process to this, called porchoir, was later popularized in Europe in the early 20th century, however that process relied upon a printed “key plate” to which stenciled color was applied. Greater detail of the “theorem” stencil and brush process can be seen in the grape images below. 

Source In the wake of Dewey’s successful enterprise, the nursery trade flourished in Rochester, NY, bringing with it many imitators of botanical plate books. Skilled craftsman and printers soon followed and by 1871, the first chromolithographic company opened in Rochester, which forever changed the landscape of the nursery business in the US.

Small newspaper ad and advertising envelope for D.M. Dewey’s “colored fruit and flower plates.”S

This 1872 D.M. Dewey plate book shown above appears to be stenciled plates. Later editions, such as this handsome edition below were entirely printed with chromolithographed plates. This stenciled book happens to be in reasonably nice shape and still available here for a rather large sum. I just have my eye on that sweet grape arbor below.

By 1881, Dewey’s company offered over 2400 varieties of book plates of plant specimens. In the wake of his successful enterprise, the nursery trade flourished in Rochester, NY, bringing with it many imitators of his botanical plate books. Skilled craftsman and printers soon followed and by 1871, the first chromolithographic company opened in Rochester, which forever changed the landscape of the nursery business in the US. Confident that chromolithography was the solution to “a greater variety and better plates,” Dewey consolidated his nursery supply business with the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company in 1888. One year later he died, “but the demand for plate books did not” according to Tim Hensley of the Urban Homestead, and “no less than a dozen Rochester printing companies would follow in his wake.” Hensley points out that each printer had a style uniquely their own as they each employed their own team of individual artists. Some particularly stood out such as the work of the Stecher Lithographing Company (1887-1936) who went on to produce posters, labels and trade cards for seed companies. The Stecher plates of the Salway peach and Le Conte Pear below from Hensley’s site, Rood Remarks, are so exquisite, I find it difficult to believe they are chromoliths. I’m fairly certain they are a combination of chromo and stencil artwork of the tendrils and leaves. The last image of the Greensboro peach printed by the Vrendenburg & Company of Rochester is most certainly a chromolith plate. They are all mighty fine fruit plates. 

Posted by Jennifer Kennard at 6/03/2014

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This, That and the Other

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Darwin, the Novelist? Read on!

No philosophizing this week, and no organized writing advice, since my writing advice usually turns into something akin to instructions for an origami swan: “Relax. Go to a cafe. Listen. Overhear. Read. Play with your dog. Take a walk. Write.” (Steps 1-8, fold here, fold there, then…it’s a swan!)  It’s like my best advice to parents with their first newborn: “Sleep when the baby sleeps and you’ll be okay.” Streamlined and optimistic.

Writing Advice

So instead of advice, I’m offering up three links to things that have interested me over the last month. They range a bit far and wide, but winter is not a bad season for the farness-and-wideness of things, is it?

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Best Thing I Read This Month: Charles Darwin, Natural Novelist by Adam Gopnik

This New Yorker article, written by one of my favorite essayists, Adam Gopnik, about the literary techniques of Charles Darwin. (if you have trouble with the link, the URL is https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/10/23/rewriting-nature )

Not many people explore how Darwin employed novelistic techniques to overcome resistance to his ideas. “He realized that he had to write a completely new kind of story, in a tone that made it seem arrived at; he had to present dynamite as brick, and build a house, only to explode the old foundations. Long-felt speculation had to be presented as close-watched observation, and a general idea about life had to be presented as a sequence of ideas about dogs.”

The reference to dogs is about Darwin’s opening information about the breeding of dogs, a topic that offered his readers a way to understand the concept of change; he used a scale of time and a subject they could easily understand, as opposed to starting point blank with the idea of evolution over millions of years. Start small, start with something clear and plain, draw people in, then go big and challenge their assumptions. Not a bad plan for a cunning novelist.

Gopnik goes on to say, “Darwin really was one of the great natural English prose stylists. He wasn’t a “poet” in that vaguely humane sense of someone who has a nice way with an image; he was a man who knew how to cast his thesis into a succession of incidents, so that action and argument become one. And, as with all good writing, the traces of a lifetime’s struggles for sense and sanity remain on the page. Reading Darwin as a writer shows us a craftsman of enormous resource and a lot of quiet mischief.”

Best moment in the essay, in my opinion: “Of course, the theory of evolution by natural selection would have been true even if it had been scratched in Morse code on the head of a needle. But it would not then be Darwinism: a “view of life,” in its author’s words, not an ideology. (An ideology has axioms and algorithms; a view of life has approaches and approximations.)”

That’s a classic Gopnik line, the theory of evolution scratched in Morse code on the head of a needle. Gad, I love the way he writes.

End result: I’ve put some Darwin on hold at the library. I’ll read it and see where it takes me. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about the writing of poetry being, at heart, the act of cultivating a nice way with an image. I’m thinking about approximation vs. axiom, and about the writer’s desire for sense and sanity, which makes me proud to be a writer (as long as we’re proud of what we do, we can keep going, right?)

Maybe by heading so many directions, I’m procrastinating. Or maybe I’m following a mysterious set of footprints into the forest, and where I end up will be my next poem or my next book….?

*****

 Best Poem I Read This Month – Tulips by A.E. Stallings

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Tulip Fields in the Skagit Valley of Northwest Washington

While snowed-in by what became lovingly known in the neighborhood as “Snowmageddon,” I read a lot of poetry, but this favorite was an easy pick, because I’m longing for tulips.

Tulips

The tulips make me want to paint,
Something about the way they drop
Their petals on the tabletop
And do not wilt so much as faint,
Something about their burnt-out hearts,
Something about their pallid stems
Wearing decay like diadems,
Parading finishes like starts,
Something about the way they twist
As if to catch the last applause,
And drink the moment through long straws,
And how, tomorrow, they’ll be missed.
The way they’re somehow getting clearer,
The tulips make me want to see
The tulips make the other me
(The backwards one who’s in the mirror,
The one who can’t tell left from right),
Glance now over the wrong shoulder
To watch them get a little older
And give themselves up to the light.
From Olives (Northwestern University Press, 2012).
This poem first appeared in Poetry (June 2009).
*****
Best Source of Inspiration for Poetry This Month – The Smithsonian Magazine
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Who can resist an article about the fur of flying squirrels turning fluorescent pink under ultraviolet lights? Also, information about the vocalization of songbirds. About the art of facial recognition. About space dust on fire. About how “flames have forged our world.”
I’ve written poems about every one of these strange phenomena, all of them inspired by articles in The Smithsonian Magazine, especially articles about science. I’m convinced science is where it’s at for poetry – the imagination engaged not with magical realism but with the marvelous real.
Hope you have some wonderful end-of-winter wanderings. I can feel optimism seeping in. Tulips are coming.

Meanwhile, Back on the Idea Farm

Funny thing, inspiration. Why is it that certain moments catch us up, shimmer, and shout ‘I belong in a story’?

Perhaps we writers are especially attuned to these illuminated bits, but from my unscientific survey of fifth graders at Whittier Elementary in Seattle, it seems most human beings experience times when life expands and reveals some essence to which the only logical response is “that belongs in a story.” Writers are the raccoons who hoard these shiny snippets.

We snap mental photographs that hold story: the guy wearing a baseball hat that has crowfeathers stuck into the mesh like a feathery crown; or our dog’s evening vigil by the gate, her feathers backlit by the sun, as she waits for John’s return. There’s story there.

Other times a story is suggested by a mental auditory clip: The clink of nine pennies dropping into the birthday jar during Sunday morning services at the Little Red Church. The elementary school band tuning up before a rehearsal. A shriek of wind whipping off Puget Sound.

Sometimes I save up overheard pieces of dialogue for inspiration. Like the three little girls playing in the ancient Grove of the Patriarchs on the side of Mount Rainier. “Let’s play castle,” announced one. “I’m blond so I will be the princess.”

Camus said that artists seek to recreate those two or three moments when their souls were first opened. I think that’s just the beginning. We writers constantly collect and recreate moments because they make a good story. We savor vignettes of character, place, dialogue, etc. that help us make sense of the world and ourselves.

Sometimes opening lines seem to drop from the heavens. I save them up. Like: The first time Mama left us she was back the next day.   or  “Darlin’, I wish I could stand between you and the wind.” According to my notes, this is something Eve Bunting’s dad said to her.  or  What’s the worst thing that could happen?

All these glittery bits, some as brief as a single word – ‘snarky,’ ‘hunched,’ ‘snick’ – I gather them in, always attuned for a word that fits into my work-in-progress with a satisfying chink.

Of course names are grist for the storymill, too: Charlie Goodenough, or Stumpy Thompson, Pincherella the crab. Their names deserve stories.

And anecdotes. Like the best friends who glued their hands together with superglue so one couldn’t move away, or the girl who “corrected” her boyfriend’s love letters and sent them back. Both tragic and comedic at the same time. Good stuff.

Of course this is just a beginning of all that inspires. Memories, experiences, research, observations, reading. When I come across an image in a magazine or newspaper that holds a story, I clip it out. Some pictures really are worth a thousand words.

I imagine all these story parts shelved in a high-ceilinged cobwebby hall. Golden light streams in through clerestory windows. Some bits seem to shift on the shelves and suggest themselves for today’s writing. They attract others and start to fit together in a sort of Rubik’s cube. Pieces slide, align, and spark each other.

When I work with material that has that supercharged quality – that “this belongs in a story” quality – I am more likely to fall under the spell of my work, as I hope my reader will be. Those are the best days, right?

Winter Haiku

Here are some winter haiku from Japan, paired with illustrations from around the world.

Ingri & Edgar Parin D’Aulaire

Koson Ohara

Ingri & Edgar Parin D’Aulaire

Alois Garigiet

Carlos Marchiori

Ezra Jack Keats

Antonio Frasconi

Yury Vasnetsov

Most of these haiku came from the website Japan Powered. Please click here to read more Winter Haiku.

A traditional haiku has 17 syllables written in 3 lines (5/7/5) often using images from nature. I hope these poems will inspire you to write a winter haiku of your own. If so, please send it in to the comment section! Or send a haiku that someone else wrote that you like.
Here is my attempt.

Black branches scribble
Crooked words on chalky sky –
Twigs snap the cold spell

And here is a winter haiku I saw on a friend’s tee shirt.

Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don’t make sense
Refrigerator

Library Love: The Final Episode

Last week Seattle hosted the 2019 Midwinter American Library Association Meeting. Thousands and thousands of happy librarians arrived to be impressed by the latest books, info-gadgets, and literary comers.

Seattle loves its librarians. We are home to the company that created the librarian action figure, as well as the librarian it’s based on, Nancy Pearl (hey it’s not a stereotype, it’s Nancy!).

But, what town wouldn’t want to host thousands of happy librarians?

I just finished reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, which I highly recommend. Reading it gave me hope in the form of the endurance of libraries. They persist all over the world. They survive through war, poverty, fire, technological revolutions.

Going to the library with her mother when Orlean was young left a lasting impression on her. Reading her descriptions of those visits reminded me of going to the Hunt Library in Fullerton with my parents when I was little. The Hunt Library left a lasting impression on me. I could still lead you today to the Dr. Seuss shelf in the picture book section (it was always a mess), and the Greek Mythology books.

The Hunt Library was Norton Simon’s gift to the city of Fullerton. It opened in 1962 next to the Hunt Foods Corporation campus where Simon had made the fortune that funded his art collection. The library was designed by William Pereira, the architect known for the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Disneyland Hotel.

Simon exhibited works from his art collection on the Hunt grounds and in the library. I grew up taking it for granted that all libraries had Giacometti sculptures outside and Picasso prints inside (I liked the Giacometti, but I was not impressed by Picasso’s later period works).

In 1964 Simon proposed replacing the library with an art museum, but Fullerton officials turned him down. He went to Pasadena and opened the Norton Simon Museum there instead.

While still on the high of renewed Library Love from reading The Library Book, and believing that libraries will live forever, I learned that The Hunt Library closed its doors in 2013.

What?

Lack of funding. Poor location. Concerns over a growing number of transients.

It is hard to compare my memories of the library with the recent photos.

Last November the library was designated a local historical landmark. It will not be torn down. It may be sold.

Where does a library go when it dies? It becomes a church. Or maybe a homeless shelter. Or a community center. Or an art museum. But it will not be my library ever again.

Dear Hunt Library. You will always be the library closest to my heart, even if you have ceased to exist.

ALA. So many people! So many books!

So, one of the perks of being an author is going to book-related conferences to take in all the books and book people. Probably the largest are the bi-annual American Library Association conferences. In the past decade or so, they’ve averaged 20,000 attendees. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. So many people! So many books! Too many people! Too many books!

This year, fellow blogger Laura Kvasnosky and I, attended the American Library Association conference here in Seattle, Jan. 25-29. We never made it past the “floor.” An exhibition hall of some 300 booths for publishers and library services companies. Somehow these kind of things, from BookExpo to SCBWI conferences, sort of unfold in the same way.

It starts out big and overwhelming.

But usually before you get far, you run into someone you know.

Kirby Larson and Laura Kvasnosky

And then more people that you know.

Kirby Larson, Rebecca Van Slyke, Kevan Atteberry, Laura Kvasnosky

Finally, you move on. The first thing, of course, if you’re recently published is to find your own publisher’s booth and check out your own books.

Sometimes your own latest book doesn’t seem to be getting the love it deserves.

The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael

But they did make these up to hand out to librarians based on one of your prior books.

Placard based on art from “A Library Book for Bear”

It’s not clear if it’s a good thing or bad that the actual book has walked away with someone.

It’s true the publishers give out advanced reading copies (ARCs) hoping to create buzz with librarians, but ARCs are usually clearly displayed and marked. Still someone loves it enough to steal it, so that’s good, right?

Some author friends are signing books.

Martha Brockenbrough signing “Unpresidented”

Some authors have long lines and are apparently starring in something.

Nikki McClure

The longest line you see all day is for a graphic novelist you haven’t heard of. You  begin to feel a little old-school; you begin to wonder vaguely why you aren’t signing books. Fortunately before you go too far down that road, you run into more friends and take a break sharing galleys and ARCs, gossip and woes.

Claire Meeker gesturing on the right, the back of Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Jane Kurtz and Nancy Werlin were in the group earlier.

Everyone crabs a bit about their agents, editors and the industry, because that’s just what you do. And you remember why you love being a published author. Oh, the joy of being able to crab about agents, editors and the industry.

You check out more booths, more books and meet more friends…

SCBWI booth. That’s Wendy Wahman on the front right.

You wish you’d gone to the SCBWI party later that afternoon.

But, you were ready to head home, put up your tired feet and start looking through the ARCs you picked up–the best part of all.

The Art of Naming Things

werners nomenclature of colors

My fellow Books-Around-the-Table blogger Julie Paschkis recommended a book to me yesterday titled Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours – the subtitle is Adapted to Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Anatomy, and the Arts –  published by Smithsonian Books. The press’s website (visit it if you have a minute after reading this post – wonderful!) describes the book, first published in 1814, as “a taxonomic guide to the colors of the natural world that has been cherished by artists and scientists for more than two centuries,” adding that it is “a charming artifact from the golden age of natural history and global exploration.”

Now, it might sound like Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours would be of little use to a poet who writes picture books. For an illustrator, yes, the connection is clearer. But Julie Paschkis recommended it to me because we both love words, and Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours is about words as much as it is about colors.

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Julie Paschkis’s word-filled “Apple-Babble” ( see Julie’s artwork at  https://juliepaprika.com )

Here is a description from the Smithsonian Books website:

In the late eighteenth century, mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner devised a standardized color scheme that allowed him to describe even the subtlest of chromatic differences with consistent terminology. His scheme was then adapted by an Edinburgh flower painter, Patrick Syme, who used the actual minerals described by Werner to create the color charts in the book, enhancing them with examples from flora and fauna.

In the pre-photographic age, almost all visual details had to be captured via the written word, and scientific observers could not afford ambiguity in their descriptions. Werner’s handbook became an invaluable resource for naturalists and anthropologists, including Charles Darwin, who used it to identify colors in nature during his seminal voyage on the HMS Beagle. Werner’s terminology lent both precision and lyricism to Darwin’s pioneering writings, enabling his readers to envision a world they would never see.

“Envisioning a world they would never see” – with that, the connection to poetry takes a small step forward. Both poems and stories work to share specific moments (or narrative arcs) that resonate with but don’t reproduce their readers’ experiences. Imagination is the key, and precision in our descriptions gets the reader there.

nomenclature blue

A sample from the book – Werner named the color, then gave us three categories (animal, vegetable and mineral, where we might find it.

I also keep going back to the press’s description of the book as “a taxonomic guide.” I’ve been interested in taxonomy for a long time – it’s the art of classifying things according to their similarities. Biological taxonomy involves things like domain, kingdom, genus, species, phylum, class, family, and order. It’s hierarchical – that is, it goes from broad to narrow.

Here is a biological taxonomic chart…

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…and here is a botanical taxonomical chart from the father of all taxonomy, Linnaeus, who used Latin to name the plants, a system we still use for precision’s sake in a world of many languages:

linnaeus

A taxonomy of color – which is not hierarchical – would look more circular,  like this:

color taxonomy

If you’ve ever been to a paint store and gathered paint chips, you know what kind of imagination and effort goes into the naming of specific shades!

Just as interesting to me is that word in the title: “nomenclature.” The art of naming things. It has an almost Biblical ring to it, straight out of the Book of Genesis. Werner’s desire to name things is innate to human beings – after all, we can talk very little about things that go unnamed. A child just learning to speak is given nouns – named objects – to play around with. My own kids spent a lot of time with A-Z books and Richard Scarry’s Busy World and Best Word books (is the power of naming things the reason behind a certain inhabitant of the White House claiming he knows “lots of words…the best words”?) More important than giving us power, knowing the names of things allows us to reach that level of “precision and lyricism” that Smithsonian Press believes Werner inspired in Darwin.

So, Reader, I ordered  Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours. The book has two ideas that have everything to do with being a writer:

1) “Taxonomy” – classifying things according to their similarities. That’s what metaphors do, no? Metaphorical thinking helps us understand how one thing resembles another and is involved in our ability to empathize.

2) “Nomenclature” – the precise naming of things because we “can’t afford ambiguity” in our descriptions.

Besides, it’s late January and a book about color will brighten up my day. I can’t wait for it to arrive! Thanks, Julie Paschkis!

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” Sea of Words” by Julie Paschkis

[**As Bonny suggested in the comments below, the perfect companion book for this is Julie Paschkis’s own picture book, VIVID. See pictures from it here. ]

vivid - use

 

In Memory of John Burningham

jb studio shotOne of my favorites picture book makers, John Burningham, died last week in his Hampstead, England, home. He was 82. He leaves his wife, fellow book creator Helen Oxenbury; a family of four children and seven grandchildren, and a legacy of over 60 picture books.

jb&ox scooter

With Helen in earlier days.

Our family met John’s work in pre-bedtime reading sessions when our kids were little. Mr. Gumpy’s Motorcar was an favorite. We still borrow its phrase, “it’s a bit of a squash,” if the car is too full.

When I decided to try my luck in picture books, Burningham’s books became touchstones. There is much to learn from studying the books he published.

gumpy cov

His texts resonate with relatable themes, humor and simplicity. His illustrations, too, are so inviting, often drawn in a scrawl of brown ink that’s brightened by loose watercolor and colored pencil. I particularly love the proportions of his people and his varied points of view. And the animals; especially dogs and rabbits.

Burningham’s first book was published in 1963: Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers. He was well into his career by the time I met him at a Book Expo in Los Angeles in the late 1990s. The occasion was a Candlewick cocktail party where he held court near the bar: a dark haired, dapper guy with a charming British accent. I’d published about six books by then and was thrilled to meet one of my idols. He autographed my conference bag and drew a rabbit on my napkin, which has sadly since hopped away.

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My favorite John Burningham book is Granpa.

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Here are the opening spreads:

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The story continues, through various Granpa/granddaughter activities. The text is inferential, a dialogue that indicates who is speaking by typeface: italic (child) or Roman (Granpa).

As in most friendships, they have a spat.

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Then more shared adventures.

 

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They visit the beach (note the lovely point of view) and go fishing and jump rope. The seasons pass.

The final three spreads:

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Burningham says so much in that little girl’s posture; says so much with the empty chair.

But he does not leave it there. This is a children’s book, after all. So on to page 32 and a promise of the future.

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So it goes. I am a Granma myself now and I love to share John Burningham’s books with our grandchildren. Thanks, John Burningham for your wonderful books. Rest in peace.

jb&ox prize

John Burningham and his wife Helen Oxenbury receiving the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from Book Trust.

jb drawing ox&him