Archive for the ‘illustrating children’s books’ Category

Generosity

Monday, May 19th, 2014

I suppose it is well known that our children’s book community is generous. But last week topped it all.

This story begins April Fool’s Day, 1992, on my first trip to meet the editors in New York. I had an appointment with Lucia Monfried, editor of Dutton Children’s books. She met me at the elevator, holding the dummy I’d mailed to her for What Shall I Dream?

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“We’d love to publish your text,” she said.

A generous offer, for sure, but I’d hoped she’d be interested in my illustrations as well. We walked to her office and she leafed through my portfolio. She stopped at a piece for a board book idea. She liked that, too, and eventually bought two board books and the aforementioned text. What a day.

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But like Julie P. wrote in last week’s BATT post, many hands go into making the cookies. I should back up here to note the generosity that got me to that editor’s desk: primarily the generosity of Keith Baker, Seattle author and illustrator, who taught a most wonderful class in Children’s Book Illustration at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. That’s where I learned to make dummy books and put together a portfolio.

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I wouldn’t have been ready for New York without the unending encouragement and discernment of our critique group, as well. I had met Julie Paschkis and Margaret Chodos-Irvine in Keith’s class. In those first years I attended all the SCBWI presentations I could find — and the generosity of the authors and illustrators who offered ideas and shared their skills also played a role.

Editor Monfried selected illustrator Judith Byron Schachner of Swarthmore, PA for What Shall I Dream?  This was before Judy made her big hit with the hilarious Skippy Jon Jones picture book series.

What Shall I Dream? came out in 1996. The illustrations were beautiful and full of humor and wonder.

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Fast forward to present times. Judy Schachner and I are facebook friends. Lately she has been posting images from her many books. One day that included art from What Shall I Dream?  I commented how much I loved it.

This week a fat yellow envelope arrived, full of original art from What Shall I Dream?  Way more than I could have dreamed. How amazing to see in person the heart and thought and skill that went into these vivid watercolors.

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I love the pencil sketch on tissue paper that she sent along, too, of the cover in its planning stages.

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Mostly I am struck by her wonderful generosity. Thank you, Judy. I will treasure this gift.

Magic Formula: How to Create a Picture Book

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

(from BooksAroundTheTable, our crit group blog)

This time up, I considered writing an advice column about what to do when you’re waiting for an editor’s response. But then I decided it’s more interesting to look at the work itself: making books. Over my next few blogposts, I plan to lay out a process for creating a picture book, using examples from my published and as-yet unpublished work.

PART ONE: CHARACTER.

Good stories need intriguing characters, characters that sparkle with their very own inward and outward expressions of self: looks, mannerisms, substance, personality quirks and out-of-balanced-ness.

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Rough sketches for Frank of “Frank and Izzy Set Sail,” exploring gesture.

My characters are usually an amalgam of people I know, their traits exaggerated and edited for maximum dramatic impact. I am especially interested in duos, for the interaction and conflict possibilities. Also, I think it’s easier to draw animals than people.

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Thumbnail sketch of Frank and Izzy.

So, Dear Reader, if you want to play along, start by drawing a favorite animal. You can anthropomorphize a little or a lot. Look through family movies and photos for lively gestures and expressions and try to transfer what you see to your animal. Notice how other illustrators do this. (Paul Schmid, Arnold Lobel, James Marshall to name a few.) Hilary Knight’s Eloiseillustrations are great inspiration for childsize action gestures. Another strategy is to google photos of famous duos, (i.e. Lucy and Ethel, George and Gracie Burns, Sonny and Cher…), and try to capture their interaction in your characters.

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Rough sketches for future characters based on Ethel and Lucy.

I like to do these sketches on tracing paper. It’s easy to erase and rework. Once I have several pages, I hang them on the wall to consider. I think about proportions. Heads to bodies to legs and arms. Do this and pretty soon you’ll have a rough, generalized look for your characters.

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Rough sketches of Zelda and Ivy, finding proportions.

It’s impossible to draw pages of the same characters without starting to sense story bubbling up. Sometimes these ideas come out of “mistakes” in the drawing. For example, maybe the line you’ve drawn for a smile gives the character a devious look. Go with it. Think about what that character is up to. Your mind will start spinning story.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Pay attention. Note overheard conversations that sound like your characters. Keep track of situations that provoke an emotional response in your own life, the funny, scary, sad, annoying, angering stuff. Write down anything that seems made for these little characters you are brewing.

My next turn to blog here will be Feb. 7. Using these preliminary drawings and notes, we’ll move toward constructing the story.

Begin Again

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

I am in a stuck place lately. The bottom of the well. Fortunately, there is lots of stuff down here with me. Perhaps I can fashion a rope and pull myself out. How to begin?

Images from the idea file.

 

I sift through clippings saved over the years and feel around for the stories that I saw in them.

I look at the photo of my family that I keep above my computer. Any more stories there?

I think about the letterforms: ABC. The tall strokes, the curves. Letterforms are reason enough to write. Kind of amazing how a whole language emerges from just 26 letters.

I think about words, too. Do any of you make lists of words? Like these reduplicates: Abracadabra, Artsy fartsy, Aye aye, Beep beep, Beriberi, Bingle bangle, Blah blah, Bon bon ,Boo hoo, Bye bye, Can can, Chitchat (chitter-chatter), Chop chop, Clickety clack, Dilly dally, Ding dong, Dum dum, Doo doo, Fiddle faddle , Flim flam, Flip flop, etc. I know they belong in a story. Maybe an ABC book?

Outside, night has come and a storm gathers. The wind whips pine branches against the house. My little dog curls beside me. Stories are stirring. It’s cozy here in the well.

A Tale of Two Foxes

Friday, May 31st, 2013

My fox sisters celebrated a new edition in May and it seems like a good time to tell their story.

The first, eponymous, Zelda and Ivy book was published by Candlewick Press in 1998: three short stories about two fox sisters in one picture book format. Both the text and illustrations seemed to drop into my lap: gifts. But with further thought, I realized this material had been trying to become a book for a long time.

We all experience moments when life is larger than usual, moments full of emotion and humor that we recognize as the stuff of story. I gathered a critical mass of such times from childhood home movies and conversations with my sibs. I wanted to make a picture book that carried our growing-up experience: our neighborhood parades, and fairy dust and, maybe most importantly, our relationships. I am the middle of five children. I know what it is to be a bossy, imaginative big sister and an adoring, gullible little sister. I was pretty sure sibling rivalry could fuel the drama.

I first worked with this material in a project called Summer Shorts. Here’s the dummy.

It included four short stories about a family with five human children. It made the rounds at publishers and was roundly rejected. Years passed while I sold other projects and got started in the picture book world.

Meanwhile, Pierr Morgan, a NW illustrator, showed me this cool medium called gouache resist (directions: http://www.lmkbooks.com/fun/gouache.php). I liked how the reds popped. Why not revisit that sibling rivalry material – only with fox characters? I simplified, reducing the cast to two.

From their debut at critique group, these characters seemed to have the juice. When Zelda and Ivy was published, it received lots of starred reviews and SCBWI’s Golden Kite honors in illustration and text.

I was invited to do a sequel. Then a third.

When the fourth book, Zelda and Ivy The Runaways, came out in 2007, it had a leaner look. Candlewick’s marketing department had advised these stories belong in the early reader canon – thus we downsized to the standard 6 x 9-inch ledger size. That year ALA chose it for the Geisel Award. It was the same year my friend Kirby Larson won the Newbery for Hattie Big Sky. We were both in the ballroom in downtown Seattle when our awards were announced. Pretty exciting.

Two more Zelda and Ivy titles have followed, and the earlier ones were reformatted from picture book to ledger.

By the time I got to the sixth book, I knew Zelda and Ivy’s world as well as my own.

As of May, all six titles are officially part of Candlewick’s Sparks series for early readers; each published as a slim paperback that fits easily into the backpack of a young reader.


The Private Lives of Books

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Originally posted June 22, 2012, on our critique group blog, BooksAroundtheTable, at WordPress.com.

You rarely know what becomes of your book once it goes to live on other people’s shelves. Sure, you hope it is treasured, read and re-read. But mostly books don’t write home after they leave.

Luckily, every now and then I hear about one of my books’ lives out there in the world. Like this story.

A young mother who has three kids under the age of 7 told me how they played Zelda and Ivy and the Boy Next Door. I assumed the oldest, Betsy, would have played the bossy older sister Zelda. But Betsy was magnanimous and let her younger brother, David, 5, play Zelda. She assigned the youngest, Gus, 3, the role of the owl who is featured only in illustrations (see above).

The kids set up their sleeping bags and acted out the third chapter, “Camping Out,” in which Zelda sings Ivy to sleep while watching for shooting stars. Their mother fed them the lines, which they repeated, adding actions. David belted out The Ants Go Marching One by One and Take Me Out to the Ballgame, but was less sure of The Star Spangled Banner.

I like to imagine them in their living room: David/Zelda and Betsy/Ivy tucked in their sleeping bags, Gus the owl perched on the top of the sofa; kids and mom engaged. My book having a great life.

The 1,000 Beginnings Project

Thursday, April 5th, 2012
(Originally posted on the faculty blog, Vermont College of Fine Arts, MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults,
 http://writeatyourownrisk.posterous.com/)

 

I spent four days in Mount Vernon, WA, last week, speaking to students at a Young Authors Conference; three talks a day, a hundred second- through sixth-graders plus their adult group leaders per talk. This allowed me to gather almost one thousand tiny writing samples, one thousand opening sentences of personal narratives.

I was curious to discover what this collection of stickyback strips might say about these writers and their lives. After much shuffling, the majority seemed to fall into the following groups: family stories, 133, (includes moving, 14, and new siblings, 15); pet stories, 97; weather, 89; vacation stories, 76, (15 mention Disneyland and four begin, “Are we there yet?”); sports stories, 65, (includes 11 about swimming); friends stories, 64, (18 about new friends); injury stories, 55; action/adventure/scary stories, 53; stories seemingly related to stories I told in my presentation, 33, (yes, I love how sticky stories are); country life stories, (hiking, fishing, riding horses and three-wheeled vehicles), 16; Young Authors event stories, 11; birthdays, 4.

Before we brainstormed, I talked about how we connect to our readers through the emotion of a story. I encouraged kids to write about a memory that held strong emotion and they responded with an emotional rainbow: sad stories about lost or dying pets, or, saddest of all, a dad in jail; the thrill of a trip to Disneyland, making a new friend, getting a new sibling, sailing down a ski slope.

There were openers that tugged at my heart, like: “One summer day, my dad left for Afghanistan because he was in the Navy.” Or, in a very cramped printing, “The path I’ve gone through is unbearable. But the path only makes me stronger.” I always admire a writer who can put his truth on the page, but I hate that kids have such hard stuff to deal with.

On a lighter note, despite drizzling rain all week, more than 15 percent of these Northwest kids included the sun or a warm day in their opening sentence.

Here are some of my favorites, with attribution when available.

  • It all started with the Batman pajamas.
  • Having bloody noses is not the best way to spend a whole summer.
  • There was a time, there was a time where everything was perfect in my life.
  • “You get the shovel, I have the rake,” said Chuck. “We will meet in the woods.” – Ethan
  • “Molly! Look!” I whipped my head around and saw five dorsal fins poking out of the water.
  • Chris liked birds. He liked robins, ducks, swans and bluejays.
  • It was cold but I still took hold of the K.G.M.I. banner for St. Paddy’s Day. – Maddie
  • Over the gleaming river, it seemed that nothing would ever happen that could be bad.
  • Me and Grandma was sitting still in a boat fishing. – Tessa
  • Rose was lying on the trampoline staring at the blue sky when she heard some giggles. – Lilly
  • The rain pounded down on the backs of the weary travelers.
  • My name is Larry and I am a tornado watcher. – Keaton
  • The happiest day of my life was when I knew about dinosaurs. The first dino I knew about was triceratops.
  • My dad drove up to a house and two people walked out wearing Groucho Marx glasses. I didn’t know they would become my two favorite relatives.
  • “No! I don’t want to take a bath,” I yelled.
  • “What was the last thing you said to Grandma?” asked Mom.
  • “Dad, Dad. No not that. I told you to play a music video, not home videos. You are the most embarrassing dad in the history of embarrassing dads.” – Carsin
  • The bell sounded. Everyone ran. I lined up. I saw the smoke flying off the top of the school.
  • I looked about the room. I hadn’t seen so many boxes since Christmas.
  • “You are going to have a brother,” Da said. “But I want a kitten,” Kyra cried.
  • I cannot believe my hamster teddy – a grey dwarf hamster with a white stripe down his back – died.
  • How can I get out of this cage thought Chewy?
  • I was looking at the thousands of sad-seeming cats at the shelter, when I saw an almost familiar looking, smokey-grey cat. – Gilly
  • Really, only Alexa was going through the Young Authors conference since Juliya had been snoring most of the time. – Alexa

I want to end this post with a shout out to Marie Weltz who has worked on this conference for each of its 20 years. She celebrated her 80th birthday Thursday. Think of all the young writers who have been inspired by her efforts. The conference is sponsored by the NW Educational Service District and Skagit Valley College. The kids come from 40 elementary schools, including public and parochial, private and home schools. Each attended a workshop with an author and a workshop with an illustrator and my presentation. They also had an hour where they met with students from other schools and shared the manuscripts they’d brought along. Though Marie is stepping down this year as head, her legacy will live on.

Meanwhile, when I need an idea for a new beginning, I know where to look.


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