Friday, November 28, 2014

Author-illustrator Lizi Boyd

Author-illustrator Lizi Boyd dropped by to chat with me about Flashlight, Matteo, her illustrations, nature, and wordless books. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Lizi! 

The book trailer for Flashlight was made by Matteo of Black Lead Pencil. It was his translation. Matteo asked me to paint sets so he could build the trailer in layers. The music was composed by Eric Wright (listen to his album, Fretless). Eric received the trailer from Matteo and we spoke briefly about tempo and momentum. Matteo and Eric both brought their interpretations of the book to create the trailer.

Illustration credit: Lizi Boyd

Did you know Luna moths only live for ten days?  When I met the one in the book he was holding onto the bark of a tree flapping his wings. He had just hatched. The Luna moth’s disguise is that they appear as just an enormous leaf. The minute I met the Luna moth I knew he’d be part of the book.

Illustration credit: Lizi Boyd
I created Flashlight’s illustrations at our summerhouse on Lake Sunapee, NH. One side of the house looks out over the lake, the other three sides are in the woods. It‘s a quiet, minimal place to work. I’d collect plants from the forest floor and put them alongside my drawing table. Many of the details just appeared; the Luna moth, the little white spiders that crawled into the paint dish one night, the tiny white moths batting away at the drawing lights.
Illustration credit: Lizi Boyd
Nature is the magic and wonder that we are all a part of. It is our second skin.

When I was in elementary school I began to read and started to draw sometimes to distraction.

Wordless pictures books ask their readers to ‘listen’ to what they see, that in itself is a storytelling skill. A wordless picture book becomes the interpretation and story of its reader.

Mr. Schu you should have asked me if I’d ever  played flashlight tag? And I did in the same woods that are in the book. It is so fun to hid in the dark behind trees. Did you play flashlight tag?

Borrow Flashlight from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm Thankful for Anderson's Bookshop

I'm thankful I live two miles from Anderson's Bookshop, the best independent bookshop in America. I drop by Anderson's multiple times per week to browse, chat with booksellers, check out creative displays, buy books for my school library, and see what is on the new and notable shelf. Becky Anderson, one of the co-owners, always recommends the best books. She is making our holiday shopping easier by sharing 4 must-buy books for children. Press play! 

Books Mentioned in the Video 

1. The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak 

2. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

3. El Deafo by Cece Bell 

4. 365 Days of Wonder by R.J. Palacio 

I hope you have a spectacular Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Author-illustrator Barbara McClintock

I was a Fraggle Rock fanatic as a child. I watched the television program. I played with the action figures. I spent countless hours reading and carrying around Marooned in Fraggle Rock, What's a Fraggle?, and Waggeby of Fraggle Rock. I'm sure my parents hid the books because they were so tired of me talking about them. I couldn't spend enough time with Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, and Boober. 

Scroll your eyes back up for a moment. Do you see the name listed after pictures by? Yes, that is the same Barbara McClintock who illustrated Our Abe LincolnTwelve Kinds of Ice, Leave Your Sleep, and Where's Mommy? I had no idea that she was involved with the Fraggle Rock series. My jaw may have dropped when I discovered it on her website last night. 
I am honored Barbara agreed to finish my sentences. We chatted about her latest picture book, her studio, school libraries, and reading. I wrote the words in brown, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Barbara, and congratulations on Where's Mommy? being named a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2014

Where’s Mommy? tells the story of a secret friendship between a girl and a mouse, and a shared mystery. Both Maria and Mouse Mouse's mothers disappear at bedtime; girl and mouse hunt high and low, all throughout the human house upstairs and the mouse house downstairs. There's a big surprise at the end - and I'm not giving it away! You have to read the book! 

It could also be a eco-furniture story. The mouse house is furnished with cool stuff from the recycling bin - plastic berry container tables, iPods with earbud speakers for a living room sound system, clothespin beds, stairs made from a discarded slinky. It's a contemporary spin on 'The Borrowers'. 

Illustration Credit: Barbara McClintock

I created the illustrations for Where’s Mommy? with great joy and enthusiasm. And as a way of explaining that the lost small things from my purse and the backs of our kitchen drawers have gone to furnish the homes, towns, and cities of all the many mice who live in our 200 year old house.

I think you actually want to know my process and what medium I used…

As I initially read the printed out manuscript, I saw images of the characters moving and talking and sitting on half-squeezed toothpaste tube couches.  I made small doodles in the margins and in the white spaces between paragraphs as I read. This must be a hold-over from when I was in school and filled up all the empty spaces on test papers and homework assignments with little drawings, much to the exasperation of some of my teachers. 

Those tiny doodles lead to slightly larger doodle-sketches that I broke down into a 2" x 3"  32 page dummy book. 

I scanned and sent that little dummy to my editor and art directors Anne Schwartz, Lee Wade and Rachael Cole at Schwartz & Wade. 

Anne, Lee, Rachael and I worked as a team to tweak the drawn ideas in my dummy to become more visually energetic and contemporary. I channeled the inner early childhood cartoonist in me by simplifying some page images, and employing word balloons. 
The teeny tiny sketches were blown up to 10" x 11" layouts, with the text incorporated into the layouts. 

I taped all the printed layouts onto my studio wall. One by one, I took each layout off the wall and used tracing paper and pencil on a lightbox to refine each sketch. I scanned the finished sketches and sent them to Anne and Lee. 

Once I had a green light from Anne and Lee, I proceeded to ink the sketches on Arches 90 lb cold press watercolor paper with Higgins waterproof black ink and a Hunt 100 flexible steel nib pen point. 

When the ink drawings were done, I taped them to masonite boards and did a clear water wash over the paper to stretch the paper on each board. The clear wash also mitigated whatever sizing or grease might have been on the paper as preparation for watercoloring.

I used Windsor & Newton tube watercolors and sable brushes to color over the black and white inked drawings. I  wanted a warm, evening light golden-glow throughout the book, which I achieved by using multiple layers of warm ocher watercolor washes. 
I used gouache at the end of my coloring process for things like creating highlights, patterns on rugs, and to correct mistakes in my drawing.

I'm a luddite - I don't use digital methods in my work, other than scanning work to send to my publishers. 

Illustration credit: Barbara McClintock 

Beverly Donofrio and I both love mice in theory, maybe not so much in practice. 

If you visited my studio you'd call a hazmat squad! Paper, inks, watercolors, pencils, crumpled sketches, little sticky note pad papers full of doodles, drawings and paintings in process taped to the wall, books piled up on tables and the floor, paper cut-outs I make of the characters from my books and Steiff toy animals everywhere. And two cats, either on my drawing board or in front of the studio fireplace, toasting away. 

My studio window looks out over my paramour David Johnson's rose garden. He's designed the garden so that I have a lovely view of the riot of roses blooming all summer long. 

Reading is as important as food & water & sleep. Reading feeds imagination. 

School libraries... can't say enough good things about them! Standard school curriculum gives children a basic education, but free access to a library allows them to find themselves. And librarians are heroes standing on the shore holding beacons of light, acting as guides and mentors. 

Picture books are more fun than a litter of kittens. Or puppies. Maybe a litter of kittens AND puppies! And they're just as warm and enticing to curl up with. And picture books don't shed, and are hypoallergenic ( for the most part ). 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how important humor is in picture book illustration. Like, WAY important! I think getting someone to laugh, or at least find something funny in a visual image gets a connection going between the reader and the artwork/text. The idea that mice would walk off with discarded stuff, and see it as beautiful, or use it for something so totally different than what it was made for is surprising. And that incongruity is also funny and charming. I hoped that by perpetuating the joke of a mouse world full of cast-off things, the reader would slow down and take time to explore the pictures. And that would let the art and the story seep in and stay, forever changing the way thrown-away stuff is thought of. I'm not getting preachy about recycling here, but I think humor helps drop walls of resistance and gets us thinking about things in a way that could lead to bigger, more socially conscious acts. Or not. Just having fun is enough!  

I am giving away a copy of Where's Mommy? 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 11/26 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/28. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Borrow Where's Mommy? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Link of the Week: ALSC's New Graphic Novels Reading Lists

The Association for Library Service to Children updated the Graphic Novels Reading List. It is a wonderful resource that highlights the best graphic novels for grades K through 8.  I hope you will share it with your colleagues and students. Maybe you'll even mention it on your library or classroom website. I shared the lists with parents during parent-teacher conferences. 

It is broken down into grade levels: 

K - 2nd grade - Color
K - 2nd grade - Black and White
3rd - 5th grade - Black and White
6th - 8th grade - Color
6th - 8th grade - Black and White

Monday, November 24, 2014

Last Week Told Through Vines


I donated a copy of Leroy Ninker Saddles Up to Donna Kouri's Little Free Library. 



What did second graders check out? 

I read The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet while waiting for my dermatologist.  



Jacqueline Woodson won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. 

My students celebrated Picture Book Month with Mr. Sammons' students.

I am pretty sure this was the first time I visited an airport bookshop at 5:15 a.m. 

The Nerdy Book Club session at NCTE was a ton of fun. 

I'm so excited to read these three middle-grade novels. Hooray for 2015 books! 


I attended a dinner that honored Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm, Rob Buyea, Laurel Snyder, Wendelin Van Draanen, and Liesl Shurtliff. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The December Sharp-Schu Book Club Meeting

Please join Mr. Colby Sharp and me on December 17, 2014. We are discussing two top-notch books. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Author-illustrator Patrick McDonnell.

Happy Friday, friends! As you know, every Friday an author or an illustrator drops by to finish my sentences. Caldecott Honor illustrator Patrick McDonnell is this week's special guest. Hooray! We chatted about Louie, Amelie, school libraries, and picture books. I wrote the words in red, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Patrick! 

Here are three things you should know about Little Louie...
  • In an early version, he was a rabbit.
  • He has a sister named Little Louise
  • My middle name is Luigi.
Illustration Credit: Patrick McDonnell 

The idea for A Perfectly Messed-Up Story came from my sketchbook.  I’ve always been fascinated by the way drawing can be so ‘alive’ on the page, for example Ernest Shepard’s Winnie the Pooh art.  When I started on A Perfectly Messed Up Story, I was playing with the idea of a character who had self-awareness about being in a book.  In my sketches, he complained about my messy ink smears.  When I drew Louie complaining about a blob of jelly, I knew I had a book.

If you visited my studio my dog Amelie would insist that you play ball with her.

When the 2012 Caldecott Committee called it was very early in the morning and it just so happened that I was in the hospital (for a minor procedure) and a nurse was taking my blood pressure.  True story.

School libraries were a favorite place for me when I was a kid.  I always looked forward to library day.  I recall reading a series of biographies of famous people.  New inspiration every week.   

Picture books are comforting portals to other worlds and to our inner selves.

Reading is essential.

Click here to download the guide. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about Louie’s journey.  I intended for A Perfectly Messed-Up Story to be a funny, interactive book.  But underneath the fun there is a message of “loving what is.”  That life is what you think and make of it and we should embrace it, jelly stains and all.  

I am giving away 5 (yes, 5) copies of A Perfectly Messed-Up Story

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 11/21 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/24. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Borrow A Perfectly Messed-Up Story from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.