Monday, November 26, 2012

Picture Book Magic

I've been participating in Tara Lazar's online challenge PiBoIdMo,  which is an unpronounceable acronym for Picture Book Idea Month. There seems to be a plethora of online writing and illustrating challenges out there this month. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), SkaDaMo (Sketch a day month), Illustration Friday (the weekly on-going grandaddy of them all) and even NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) for those who still can't get enough.
I've been tempted to do many of these, but PiBoIdMo is one I enjoyed last year and am doing again this year. The daily posts by guest authors are inspirational, entertaining and sometimes even rewarding (i.e.goodies). It's amazing what does or doesn't come out of one's own brain on a daily basis. I'll be listening to NPR or someone will email an article to me and there it is. Either it becomes a children's version of the topic or it will send me off on a tangent. Guess there's something good to be said about having attention deficit.
Then there are days where I sit at the dining room table in the a.m. and think what can I do with this broken, headless tiny mermaid that my kids left here? There has to be a story in this. Or maybe the lack of a story is a story in and of itself.

After a while I notice themes or (ruts, lol) that I get into. Why do I mostly focus on one character with a problem? Are all stories basically the same? How can Mo Willems write a whole book about a pigeon driving a bus or Jon Klassen a bear missing a hat and have it turn out amazing? Where is the magic book powder that we can use to sprinkle on our creations? Answer: Of course there's no powder you (picture book) dummy.  It's a process, not a product. Something no one wants to hear: put in the hours people! Eventually something comes out of it. You may have to wade through 50 pages of gunk before a little gem pokes through.

But all in all, it's worth it. The online cameraderie is what it's all about.  A little reminder that, no you're not the only one who thinks up whacky ideas and hopes to entertain children and/or make a living. And maybe some little picture book magic develops!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Over and Over

I just read an online article in the Horn Book which was very moving. It's a tribute of sorts to Charlotte Zolotow, the 97 year old children's book writer/editor by her daughter Crescent Dragonwagon. It focuses on Charlotte's Over and Over, in which a girl slowly learns the rhythm of time and the seasons. Crescent then compares her mother's slipping awareness of time to the girl's unfolding awareness of time. Throughout the book, the girl asks "What comes next?" and her mother provides answers. But in 2012, the tables have turned and Charlotte looks to Crescent for time references.

It's very well written and perceptive about time and aging. It brings up such questions as where do our spirits go as we age? Do we check out or just stop being so obsessed with the craziness around us; instead noticing the eternal and natural? Apparently Charlotte was a very type-A woman when she was younger: writing and editing up a storm. Now at 97 she has relaxed into her old age and enjoys small but profound things. It seems that as we age we go back to being our child selves, both physically and emotionally. Noticing the little things, our awareness shifts inward and that relentless struggle of adulthood lessens.

I hadn't read anything by Charlotte Zolotow prior to picking up Over and Over at a library sale. What caught my eye was the illustrations (guess I do judge a book by it's cover!). The illustrations were done by Garth Williams, one of my favorite illustrators. I love the softness and intimacy of his work. And the Halloween spot reminds me of my childhood.

Among the holidays there's a passage about Thanksgiving:
"What comes next?" she asked her mother the next day.
"Thanksgiving," her mother said. The little girl woke up one day to a delicious roasting smell and the fragrance of pies. That afternoon her grandmother and grandfather and uncles and aunts all came to her house for dinner and afterward they sat in front of the fire and cracked open walnuts and ate the soft sweet kernels.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Little Women

Working on the beginnings of a project: the Tomie de Paola annual illustration award for SCBWI. The start of a project is both exciting and nerve-wracking for me. I don't like the blank slate feeling but on the other hand I love researching projects. I like illustration rather than fine art because there's usually a guideline involved. The client or the project sets a limit ie: a picture book about teenage ferrets or an educational coloring book set in Nepal. Then my favorite part, the research begins. Googling away, learning new things. This is always fun.
Then I have to put a limit on it. Let the sketching begin. Unfortunately, even the best illustrators (and I'm not putting myself in that category) have to begin with roughs. And rough they are. One has to swallow pride and accept that the first efforts look like dog food at best.

With this year's Tomie de Paola project, illustrators were given three books to choose from: Tom Sawyer, Little Women or The Yearling. Now I have read none of these books. Yup, I'm illiterate... no, of course not (hah!)....just grew up under a bush in the outback. Hey, I've read David Copperfield, Huck Finn, and Phantom Tollbooth but none of those others. Somehow it escaped me. So, I chose Little Women. I always had a soft spot for the Transcendentalist/Concord bunch plus I liked the idea of illustrating 19thc. clothing. It was hard reading at first, with all the constraints placed on women in those days. Thank god for Jo, the only rebel in the family. She pulled me through the book. All in all, I'm glad I read it and I may even re-read it with my girls.

Then I had to choose a passage from the book. This was difficult, since there were so many possibilities. One could go in a million directions. I chose the moment Beth receives a piano from Mr. Laurence. She's such a humble character and loved music, so it will (hopefully) be a touching scene.
My roughs are so rough that I hesitate to include them here. But I'm including them here just to prove how infantile the beginning stages are in any project. I wonder if well known illustrators had such trouble. Did Maxfield Parish or Norman Rockwell ever produce such sketchiness?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ugly, fat pipsqueak....

Well, I was going to write about my earliest children's book memories and I suppose I can still do that. But I just read an eye-opening interview with Maurice Sendak in an online magazine called The Believer.

He reveals all sorts of tidbits in this interview about his childhood, family, the children's book world, and Roald Dahl (he didn't like him, which I found both weird and interesting). One quotable item: his image of children's book illustrator is an "Ugly fat pipsqueak of a person who can't be bothered to grow up."

It's strange how I wasn't introduced to Sendak as a child. I don't know if my parents weren't aware of his books or they deliberately edited them out due to their "harshness". It wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered him and though it's blasphemous to say it, he's still not one of my favorites. I totally respect his work, and think he has some great viewpoints, but his style just doesn't "float my boat" as they say.

What books did I love? One of my earliest favorite books was "We Like Kindergarten"  featuring the art of Eloise Wilkin. I really identified with this girl. She was in kindergarten and loved art just like me. I still like her chubby kids despite what some might say about the cuteness factor.

Another fave early book was "One Morning in Maine" by Robert McCloskey. I love the picture where Sal discovers her tooth is gone. That image is emblazoned on my mind forever.
Of course, there's Dr. Seuss with all his wacky words and crazy characters. I especially remember the wet pet from "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish".

Later I had a membership in the Children's Book of the Month Club, where it was Christmas one day a month. Some of the books that stuck with me were "Lyle, Lyle Crocodile", "Harry the Dirty Dog" and "Cannonball Simp".
It makes sense that I loved Cannonball Simp. He was an underdog (literally) and for some reason I always identified with those types. Here is a clip of someone reading it:

Later in my teens I started to discover so many wonderful kids books I can't even begin to name them. But I will mention some of the illustrators that I wish I had known sooner: Richard Scarry, Alice and Martin Provensen, Wanda Gag, Garth Williams among others I'm sure I'm leaving out.

So Maurice, I find myself becoming an ugly, fat pipsqueak. But that's okay.