Category Archives: Children’s Book Critique Group Blog

Sixty-Six Years of the Best

For the last sixty-six years, the New York Times Book Review editors have been announcing their choice of the 10 Best Illustrated Books of the year. I encourage you to follow this link to the 2018 list:

If you love picture books, if you share the ones you love with your friends and colleagues, and if you are a student of the history of illustration, then the NYTimes’ Best Illustrated lists 1952-2018 include almost all your favorite illustrators – just look at some of the many:


Maurice Sendak, Alice and Martin Provensen, Marie Hall Ets, Ludwig Bemelmans, Roger Duvoisin, Walter Lorraine, H.A. Rey, Laurent de Brunhoff, Leo Lionni, Edward Sorel, Bruno Munari, Ed Emberley, Edward Ardizzone, Ben Shahn, Tomi Ungerer, Arnold and Anita, Lobel, Edward Gorey, Brian Wildsmith, Alexander Calder, Jacob Lawrence, Remy Charlip, Mitsumasa Anno, Edward Koren, James Marshall, John Burningham, Rosemary Wells, Petra Mathers, Lane Smith, Peter Sis, Leo and Diane Dillon, William Joyce, Maira Kalman, David Shannon, Jerry Pinkney, David Wisniewski, Ted Lewin, Chris Raschka, David Diaz, Richard Eglieski, Gennady Spirin, Douglas Florian, Kevin Henkes, Kadir Nelson, Jon Klassen, Susan Marie Swanson, Ian Falconer…AND (sound of trumpets please) our own Julie Paschkis!!

image

Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams (written by Janet Wong, illustrated by Julie Paschkis) named to the NY Times/NY Public Library Best Illustrated  Books in 2000. 

In the comments area below, I hope you’ll share your reactions to this year’s list (as well as to individual books on it, and/or books you think should have been named to it.)

You can see a more complete list here [this link has been corrected from a previously incorrect link] of  books named to the Best list between 1952 to 2016: https://www.librarything.com/bookaward/New+York+Times+Best+Illustrated+Children%27s+Book

For the 2016 list, go to https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/books/review/best-illustrated-books-of-2016.html

For the 2017 list, follow this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/books/review/best-illustrated-childrens-2017.html

And don’t miss the wonderful look at the 2018 illustrators’ studios, processes, and thoughts about their books here: https://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2018/11/02/books/childrens-illustrators-studios.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

Advertisements

Runaway Reading

The first box arrived Thursday. Inside were seven picture books. I’ve been told to expect about 175 more before the January 15 deadline, from which my fellow judges and I will select the 2019 winners of the Margaret Wise Brown Prize, and an honor award.

books

I’ve never judged a picture book contest before, but by virtue of having won the Margaret Wise Brown honor this year with Little Wolf’s First Howling, I was asked to help choose next year’s winners.

MWBcert

My fellow judges are Elaine Magliaro, who authored this year’s prize winner, Things to Do, and E.B. Lewis, a five-time Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator of 70-plus books for children. Over the next months we will read and note our responses to the submitted books and figure out how to work with each other as we wend our way to a decision.

Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 7.10.04 PM

The 2018 Margaret Wise Brown Prize winner by fellow judge, Elaine Magliaro

 

lewis2

lewis1

Books illustrated by fellow judge, E. B. Lewis

Presented annually by Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, the Margaret Wise Brown Prize recognizes the author of the best text for a picture book published during the previous year. The award is a tribute to one of Hollins’ best-known alumnae and one of America’s most beloved children’s authors. Winners are given a $1,000 cash prize, which comes from an endowed fund created by James Rockefeller, Brown’s fiancé at the time of her death. It makes sense that the award is for text, since Margaret herself was the author of all those wonderful classics, not the illustrator.

This focus on text contrasts with the ALA’s Caldecott which is “awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.” (from ALA site, emphasis mine)

I will have as hard a time considering text without illustrations as I would considering illustrations without text. I think these two ways of telling must work together to serve the story in a picture book. It will be interesting to see how my thinking about this progresses. In fact, I am eager for the education this experience will offer.

I look forward to reading the 2018 crop of picture books — and to sharing my favorites with friends and family.

 

Which Witch?

 

It’s election time! Here is a slate of witches, hags, crones and harridans. Please pick which witch is your favorite she-devil. Of course there are 13 in the coven. Please place your vote in the comment section between October 26-31.

NOTE: VOTING IS CLOSED! SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM TO SEE THE WINNER OF THE WITCHY ELECTION.

Witch by Vladimir Lebedev

Witch and Xantippe by John Harris

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

The Ghost Oiwa by Hokusai

La Bruja by A. Dempster

Witch with Demons by Vladimir Lebedev

The Witch of Hissing Hill by Janet McCaffery

Baba Yaga Lubok

Baba Yaga by Nicolai Demetryevsky

Mother Shipton- English Soothsayer

Okiku the Well Ghost by Hokusai

Witch on the mountain by Arthur Rackham

Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola

Vote Wisely and Vote Now! The victorious witch will be announced here on Halloween.

AND THE WINNING WITCHES WERE:
Baba Yaga by Nicolai Demetryevsky (9 votes) and the Witch of Hissing Hill by Janet McCaffery (9 votes). Close behind them were Strega Nona, Arthur Rackham’s witch and and Okiku the Well Ghost by Hokusai. Almost every witch got at least one vote.

Thank you all for casting your ballots and casting your spells.

As a bonus, here are two more images by the top vote getters. 

The Witch of Hissing Hill by Janet McCaffery

Nikita Kozhemyaka by Dmitryevsky

Duvoisin II

Last month I warned I might revisit Roger Duvoisin’s work in picture books. So, here are two more of his books from my shelves: Donkey-donkey (1940) and Petunia (1950).

img_20181019_152723.jpg

img_20181019_153052

Unlike A Child’s Garden of Verses, these two books are authored by Duvoisin as well. His writing style matches his illustrations – light and delightful.

The themes are similar – animals wanting to better themselves somehow and making themselves and others suffer for it. Silly animals.

Using animals to upstage human folly is common in literature. Duvoisin’s squiggly images help us laugh at the situations such foolish creatures get themselves into.

img_20181019_152708

Donkey-donkey is a happy donkey until he starts comparing himself to Pat, the horse.

img_20181019_152736

He becomes dissatisfied with his big donkey ears and gets advice from everyone else at the farm on what to do about it.

img_20181019_170241img_20181019_170300img_20181019_170323img_20181019_152922img_20181019_152855

As we expect, he comes around to accepting his ears and going back to his happy donkey life.

img_20181019_153115

Petunia is literally a silly goose. She finds a book and has heard that ‘He who owns Books and loves them is wise,’ so she picks up the book and carries it around with her, feeling very wise indeed.

img_20181019_153134img_20181019_153340

Petunia’s pride in her new-found wisdom leads her to mis-advise all the other animals at the farm.

img_20181019_153219img_20181019_153231

This causes misery and mayhem.

She is too busy being wise to notice until the situation becomes explosive.

img_20181019_172551

At this point she notices the book has something in it, namely pages, with words on them that she cannot read. Now she understands, ‘It was not enough to carry wisdom under my wing, I must put it in my mind an in my heart. and to do that I must learn to read.”

img_20181019_153320

Be true to yourself.

Wisdom only comes from books if you use them correctly.

If a goose can learn to read, so can you.

Good lessons at any age.

 

 

Autumn Leaves and Kitchen Sinks

image

Well, it’s definitely autumn now, a season when you can turn a corner and have your breath taken away by the color of a bush. I had to stop the car the other day, out on Hannegan Road between Lynden and Bellingham in Whatcom County, Washington, because a maple tree I saw left me stunned. Every single color of fall was represented: green, yellow, gold, orange, red, hints of purple, all those colors set against a blue sky, with sunshine streaming through the bright leaves. I had to pull off the road and get out of the car, I wanted to take a…oh, no, no…no camera?

But I brought a few leaves home and set them in a small vase on the sill above my kitchen sink. Our window faces west, towards the setting sun and a view across town, out to Bellingham Bay and Lummi Island. Here’s what the sky looked like a little later that evening:
image

I didn’t get a photo of the maple tree, but I did get a photo of those leaves above the kitchen sink, as you can see at the opening of this post.

As I washed the dishes that day, I thought about leaves, about the way light comes through them. Can you see how the pattern of the screen behind the window shows through? I thought about that kind of illumination and transparency.  Thinking about things like that, especially as I scrub out pots and pans, is part of my process as a poet.

Here’s my advice to writers reading my post today: put some autumn leaves on your kitchen window sill. Ignore the diswasher and wash your dishes by hand. I bet after a few plates and bowls, a handful of silverware and a kettle or two, you’ll be thinking about wind, light, color, transparency, and (look at that – the dishes are done !) you’ll be in a writerly mood.

WEAVING A BLOGPOST

spider3In our garden, we’ll remember this as the Year of the Spider. The golden slant of autumn light has come — and with it a bumper crop of spider webs.

spider4

The spiders are easy to spot, hanging head downward on their vertical webs that serve as both home and hunting ground. Just what kind of spiders are they? I searched the Other Web and found this handy identification chart on iwastesomuchtime.com.

smash it

Reference.com had better information. I learned that the classification of spiders begins with their webs. Much as children’s writers work in genres – board books, picture books, middle grade and YA — spiders spin out one of four different kinds of webs: orb, sheet, funnel and tangle.

spider2

By the shape of their art in our garden, I identified these weavers: orb spiders of the family Araneidae.

Yes, that’s the same spider family as Charlotte’s in EB White’s beloved Charlotte’s Web.

spider13

It seems fitting that they are spinning webs outside my windows while I spin a blogpost within.

spider1

Ah, that I could be so productive. Orb spiders build new webs just about every evening, after consuming the old web. Revision and more revision. Only the females weave webs. The males spend their time searching for mates. To create silk, an orb female squirts liquid out of the spinneret glands in her abdomen. It stays liquid until it hits the air, much as ideas solidify as they become words. She makes sticky silk for the circular strands, to catch insect prey, and non-sticky radials to run along: threads of dialogue and narrative; exposition and introspection.

She weaves a web from her own substance: story woven from the deepest self.

spider6

Orb spiders do not see well, despite the fact that they have eight eyes. An orb female is alerted to an insect on her web by its vibration. She runs along the radials to subdue it with a bite, sometimes wrapping it in silk for later consumption.

A writer might move blindly into a story, as well, feeling her way for the vibrations that raise the little hairs on the back of her neck, the visceral reaction that telegraphs yes, here’s a juicy story part, an idea to bite into, a just-right word to wrap in silk for future use.

spider14

My three-year old grandson took a good look at the orb spiders at his house, too. He counted five webs in the tree next to their stairs. But he doesn’t call them Araneus or even spiders. He calls them “Booby Voobek,” in the insect language that Carson Ellis invented for her brilliant book, Iz Du Tak. And there, where language and spiders collide, seems a good place to end this woven tale.

“Rup furt,” Ellis writes. Rup furt, indeed.

 

 

Lobstervations

In August I visited the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine. 

Hanging in a hallway were many delightful paintings of lobster. They were painted by children.

The children had clearly thought (and been well taught) about the parts of a lobster, the colors of a lobster, the symmetry of a lobster.

These paintings made me think about the relationship between observation and creativity. 

Even though everyone was painting the same subject, each painting was unique. 

The artist was visible as well as the subject. 

Some lobsters were tidy.

And some were intense.

Each one had some especially pleasing detail such as these antennae that look like a beaded necklace.

Or this one with the varied legs, the rainbow shoulder, the fringe on the tail fins.

It is hard to draw something real. It takes looking with your eyes, and sometimes overriding what you think you know. Even though I draw constantly, drawing from life is always challenging.

It can take several tries.

Even the most careful drawing of the actual world is an act of creation as well as depiction.

And every act of imagination also benefits from close observation of the real world.

These lobster paintings are as strange and beautiful as lobsters themselves. And each painting is as individual and extraordinary as the child who painted it.

Here is an excerpt from The Lobster- Poem by Howard Nemerov.

To read, or to hear, the whole wonderful and haunting poem, please click here.

To find out more about the arts education at the Farnsworth Museum, please click here.

To experience the beauty and strangeness of the world, try drawing something you think you know.

 

 

 

 

A Child’s Garden of Images by Roger Duvoisin

Well, while I am waiting for production to continue on Where Lily Isn’t (the designer at the publishing house just left, so the search is on for a replacement, *sigh*…) I will entertain both you and myself by looking through the books in my kid lit collection.

Today I pulled out a book that was a gift from a friend – A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin (The Heritage Press: 1944). Lucky for me she had two in her collection.

I have a few books illustrated by Duvoisin (you may know his work from his 1950 book Petunia). His drawings are joyful and loose, sometimes on the edge of silly. His illustrations are from the era when colored images were prepared for printing by separating them manually into multiple plates (as would be done in traditional printmaking). The plates were then printed in individual ink tones, usually including a yellow, a red, a blue or green, and black. The results create an appealingly limited palette of graphic shapes and patterns. I am a fan!

Below from ‘Foreign Lands’:

I love how the girl’s feet exit the top of the image in ‘The Swing’, although the flattened perspective makes me worry a bit for her safety on the way down:

‘The Cow’: Perhaps a precursor to Petunia?

‘Travel’:

‘My Ship And I’:

The illustrations for the book aren’t all in color. There are many lovely black and white images, such as this for ‘The Little Land’:

and this for ‘My Shadow”:

Also for ‘Little Land’:R Duvoisin-Childs Garden of Verses-The Little Land 2

‘Autumn Fires’: Do we not feel the loss of summer looming?

‘To Minnie’: That is some rug!

For all you picture book folk – ‘Picture Books In Winter’:R Duvoisin-Childs Garden of Verses-Picture Books In Winter

And finally, a peek under the jacket cover:

Perhaps for my next post I will show more of Duvoisin’s work. It is worth exploring further.

When the Work Becomes a Slog

 

Do you know the feeling? The dread of sitting down at the computer or going to the drawing board? Bored of your own story? It’s pulling teeth! It’s torture! Creating is hell!

I’ve felt it, especially with my most recent work, a middle-grade novel that I’ve been struggling with for a number of years. So I was intrigued by Eliza Wheeler’s talk at the SCBWI Annual Summer Conference this August. Wheeler is an author-illustrator of Miss Maple’s Seeds which debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. She’s illustrated many other picture books, was a Sendak Fellowship Recipient in 2017 and won the SCBWI National Grand Prize Award for best portfolio in 2011.

Somewhere in there Eliza realized she wasn’t always enjoying her work and she eventually figured out what to do about it.  Lisa outlined a 7 1/2 step process for keeping herself inspired and energized. It makes sense to me. (I like the 1/2 step best of all.)

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. Dorothy Parker

1. First you dig. Go to that well that we pull ideas and inspiration from. Childhood passions, current interests, life experiences. Explore that inner landscape to feel what you connect with on a deep level and let that be the source of your next project.

2. Inspire yourself. Gather similar works. Study the masters of what you want to do. And create a bulletin board of inspiration and interests. When research starts to feel like a slog move on.

3. Collage. Wheeler is a big believer in hands-on inspiration. She creates literal collages of bits of inspiration, sketches and ideas shuffling things about to see what might connect. This is the stage to feel safe to openly fail. To not be afraid of laying out what turns out to be a false start or an idea that goes no where. There is no editor at this point. Just lay it out. Turn off the analyzing brain, instead give yourself free reign. You’re playing. Don’t judge, don’t think and, most importantly, don’t skip this phase thinking you need to get to the actual work.

Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur

4. Simmer. Now step back. Take a break, put down your work and let your subconscious take over. This is the stage where I often take a walk, run errands, dither around on social media. The thing is you’ve fed your mind the fuel it needs—ideas, models, research—now let the subconscious do its thing.

5. Ignite. Be ready for those flashes of inspiration, be ready to capture a few moments or a few hours of inspired work.

Create with the heart; build with the mind. Criss Jami

6. Refine. Finally, it’s time to bring out the analytical mind, to organize, hone and edit. Wheeler biggest caution here: don’t refine too soon. Don’t shortchange the process where the fire and fun comes from.

7. Assess what you’ve done. You have a “finished” product, so step back and take a clear look at it. Be objective. Get feedback. Now it’s time for your critique groups and your internal editor to join in. We all know it’s going to take many drafts to finally get there.

1/2. What’s the half step? It’s a step you take at every stage of the process. Ask yourself how are you feeling? If the process is feeling sloggy, if you feel you’re pushing to do the work, you are trying to refine too soon. Are you bored? Then you’re judging too soon.

Wheeler say to take time every day to ask yourself what’s your level of enjoyment and inspiration. If it’s low, if boredom and dread are slipping in, then slow down. Let things simmer more, do more writing, do more sketching, mull, muse. Go back to the well.

The truth is on most days we’re probably doing versions of all these steps–maybe some research, trolling the web for an image that sparks something, jotting down an idea, writing something, letting things simmer. But even so, it’s easy to cut short the musing, stewing, noodling, “I’m just wasting time!” phase all throughout the process.

So it seems like a good idea to ask yourself often how inspired you are; how much fun you’re having? Sure, not every day is great, but if the project has become a slog, maybe it’s time to recognize that, slow down, go back to the well and remind yourself why you care.

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before. Neil Gaiman

 

 

 

 

 

The All-American County Fair

Charlottes Web 7

We went to the Northwest Washington Fair a couple of weeks ago, and no – I did not ride on the Ring of Fire.

Instead, I went straight to see the piglets in the big petting barn next to the Swine Barn. How can it be, I wondered as I turned in my ticket and walked through the gate, that some wonderful sow is ready to give us a new set of piglets just in time for the fair each year? Thank you, sows of Northwest Washington!

Charlottes Web 11

We took along my sister-in-law and niece who were visiting from their home in Hermosillo, Mexico, and we planned their visit specifically so we could show them the quintessential American event: the county fair. Though some people prefer state fairs, I like mine a bit smaller, more regional, like this:

Charlottes Web 9

Oh, my gosh, that’s Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, isn’t it?

Charlottes Web 1

I like looking for names I recognize on the quilts or the flower & canned goods (especially peaches and pickles) displays.

Charlottes Web 16

charlottes web 22

charlottes web 21

charlottes web 29

I love to see how inventive kids are when they make their “vegetable critters.”

charlottes web 20

Each year I vote for my favorite display of kids’ collections (legos galore, model horses, matchbox cars, dolls, beer bottle caps) and I vote for the local grange displays. This year we saw a corn stalk that measured 14-feet tall. Bravo! Corn is very big on my list of Why the World is Wonderful. The countryside of Whatcom County, Washington, where I live, is covered with corn fields (that is, where it’s not covered with raspberry fields. And blueberry fields…) A drive out into the country to find a corn stand can be pretty breathtaking.

Rural Beauty

We live in real county-fair territory….

I sometimes agree but often disagree with the judges about which item was awarded Best of Show (Big Purple Ribbons, Big Red-White-and-Blue Ribbons!) in just about every category under the sun. And I’m always touched by how eager and devoted the 4-H kids seem to be to their animals and their chores.

This year we paid special attention to the horses, since my niece has three of her own and is learning to jump with them. We saw barrel racing, saw the judged 4-H horse jumping, and were struck dumb by the size of the Clydesdales when you’re standing right next to them.

charlottes web 8.png

charlottes web 23

I like staying as long as humanly possible, but at least from midday until the sun goes down and the carny rides light up and the food begins to smell divine. We eat without any attention to what’s healthy for the long term, and without any regard to “a balanced meal.” To follow the Charlotte’s Web thread, we pig out on….

Charlottes Web 6

Kettlecorn…

charlottes web 26

…and curly fries…

Charlottes web 13

…and corn-on-the-cob…

charlottes web 27

…and hot dogs…

charlottes Web 17

Anything with whipped cream and berries gets our attention, but….

charlottes web 12

…”Chocolate-Covered Bacon”? Maybe too much, even for us….

Garth Williams knew exactly how a person (or a pig…or a rat) feels after a day at the fair:

Charlottes Web 2

When the fair begins….

Charlottes Web 10

…and when it’s time to go home!

I’m not a true flag-waving patriot most of the time. Maybe I’m an ACLU and League-of-Women-Voters-style patriot. My neighbor, a sweet guy, flies an American flag most of the year, while I fly a Bellingham flag with symbols on it which stand for for two Native American tribes, one saltwater bay, a waterfall, and four towns which eventually became the town we live in. So the red-white-and-blue is not quite as appealing to me as the green-white-and-blue. But when it comes to showing my family from Mexico around, giving them an experience I consider truly American, the county fair is the way I wave a flag. You might call me a county-fair patriot.

Now that our guests have gone, I’ve got some quiet time, and I’m looking for a good book to read. I think I’ll get out my old and battered copy of Charlotte’s Web.  If “Write what you know”  is good advice for writers, I’m sure E.B. White knew a few fairs, as did Garth Williams – they had county fairs (and the people who head for the Swine Barn first) all figured out.

Charlottes Web 15

‘All morning, people wandered past Wilbur’s pen. Dozens and dozens of strangers stopped to stare at him and to admire his silky white coat, his curly tail, his kind and radiant expression.” (Charlotte’s Web)