Yesterday was a great day for RISD-CE Children’s Book Illustrators! Collectively, we won more than half of the poster contest awards – evidence of how wonderful our professors are and what a talented group of students are in the program!
This year’s poster contest theme was “Reimaging a Classic” – we were asked to redesign the cover of a book we felt was a milestone in children’s literature.
(Cross-posted with our RISD group blog Drawing Together)
Spring is coming, at least theoretically. Here in the Northeast we are still shivering in our winter coats and looking longingly at the small patches of dead grass that have begun to appear. There is still about a foot of snow on top of my garden, but I am dreaming of green growing things.
Some of my favorite books about gardening, gardens, the cycle of seasons, and the cycle of life are (in no particular order):
The Curious Garden
by Peter Brown
The Curious Garden is magical and gorgeous and features acts of guerrilla urban gardening. Kids relate to Liam’s mistakes as he learns to tend his accidental garden and his joy as it spreads. Knowing that the book was inspired by the true story of the High Line, an elevated garden built on reclaimed freight tracks in New York, just makes it more magical.
Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
by Candace Fleming, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Reading Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! aloud is a treat. Adult gardeners will relate to Mr. McGreely’s escalating attempts to keep the bunnies out of his vegetables. Kids will root for the adorable (and persistent) bunnies. This book is just fun.
(illustration excerpt above)
by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Sophie’s Squash is not a gardening book, though it does celebrate a love for vegetables. It is a warm and wonderful introduction for young children to the cycle of loss and rebirth with the seasons.
Linnea in Monet’s Garden
by Christina Björk, illustrated by Lena Anderson
Linnea falls in love with Monet’s waterlilies, and the reader falls in love with Monet’s garden through her enthusiasm. Lyrical text and whimsical illustrations blend with reproductions of Monet’s paintings. I love the movie made from the book even more than the book itself, which is a rarity. It is a quiet story, but it inspires and engages kids.
by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
Set during the Depression, a young girl brings seeds with her to the city, where she creates a secret rooftop garden in hopes of bringing joy to her uncle. Lydia, like Liam, is determined to transform her environment bit by bit.
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt
by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
The same duo that created Over and Under the Snow, one of my favorite nature picture books, now brings us a book timed perfectly for the spring thaw.
Ten years ago, when I was searching for books about different family structures, there were only a couple. Happily, there are more and more being published each year. Here are some of my favorites to read and to share.
Who’s In My Family?: All About Our Families (Let’s Talk about You and Me)
Written by Robie H. Harris, Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott (2012)
This simple yet charming book presents a wide variety of families, in a matter of fact way that is accessible and appealing to preschoolers. For example: “Children are born into their families or adopted into their families.” The book starts at the zoo with children pointing out different animal families, and then transitions to talking about human families. Families are illustrated with different family structures, race, and ethnicities. The text explains simply and directly that families may eat different foods for breakfast, but who all like to do fun things together.
All the World
Written by Liz Garton Scanlon, Illustrated by Marla Frazee (2009)
This is one of my favorite picture books. Period. I love reading this as a bedtime book. Scanlon’s text is a lyrical celebration of the beauty of everyday life, and Frazee’s illustrations tell a pictorial story that weaves together with the text to produce a whole that transcends each part. Why include this book in a list of books about family diversity? Because Frazee’s joyful illustrations follow several families as they go about their day, going to the beach, the farmer’s market, getting rained on, eating dinner, and going to bed. The families are diverse in age, race, family structure, and general quirky individuality, but all express warmth and love. There’s a reason this book has a Caldecott Honor sticker on the cover. It’s gorgeous.
Written by Susan Meyers, Illustrated by Marla Frazee (2004)
This adorable board book was a favorite at my house. Frazee once again illustrates a diverse range of families living with and loving their babies. A favorite page is the exhausted new moms with their newborn.
The Family Book
by Todd Parr
This is the book I read to my eldest. It has the familiar Todd Parr structure and bright, primary colored illustrations. The refrain in this book is “Some families are…” Young children love this book, and the other Parr books (It’s OK to be Different, The Feelings Book) but adults may tire of it after a few re-reads.
The 22nd Annual Illustrator’s Exhibit at R. Michelson Galleries will be up November 1, 2011 – January 31, 2012. I fortunate to have a poster in this exhibit, which I am very excited about. I hope to see you at the opening reception!
Opening Reception: November 6 from 4:30–6:30pm
Gallery Location: 132 Main Street, Northampton, MA 01060
To see photos of the opening night reception, visit Seth Kaye Photography’s public photo album. Can you find me, feeding my baby while admiring the paintings?
“What’s wrong with me? Why are all the other seedlings bigger than me? Am I ever going to grow that big? What if everyone else grows but me?”
Conferences are strange moments outside of everyday space and time. In artificially lit, air-conditioned hotel ballrooms you sit and take in more information than you can possibly absorb. You swing wildly between bored, exhilarated, overwhelmed, inspired, eager to get to work, and intimidated by those around you.
I just returned from my third New England Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI) conference. I felt (and still feel) all of the above, and more. Last year my poster won the prestigious R. Michaelson Gallery Emerging Artist Award. The poster actually sold a few weeks ago, my first gallery sale since 1995. This year I didn’t manage to get my poster done in time, and my portfolio looked like I had slapped it together at midnight (which I had.) I’ve had a year of getting more and more frustrated with the work I am producing – when I manage to produce anything. I have many incomplete projects on my desk and desktop.
So I was in exactly the right place-outside-of-time to hear Sara Zarr’s talk on living the creative life, interspersed with readings from Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. She read “The Garden”, a story in which Toad plants seeds and then yells “Now seeds, start growing!” at them. I had a flash of insight into my creative troubles.
Of course nothing I make will be as good as that poster, as long as what I am trying to make “something as good as that poster.” How dull is that as a goal? My work needs to change and grow organically and trying to force it to live up to something else is as damaging creatively as comparing my rate of progress to that of classmates, colleagues, or other conference-goers.
I’m not the same person I was when I made that poster – I’ve had all sorts of life experiences since then, including having a baby. I would never yell “Grow faster!” at my baby, so why am I doing it to myself?
So my big take-home message from this year’s conference is not how to produce an ebook or the best way to approach a book packager (which I learned.) It is to take a step back, trust that the seeds are there, and stop trying so hard. Have fun. Play with paint. And pencils, and old newspapers, and sticks. And whatever else inspires me at the moment. And just don’t worry about how professional my portfolio looks or how marketable something is. Play.
The seeds will grow. When? “Soon Toad, soon.”
The NEWSCBWI conference theme this year is “Celebrating Milestones.” For the poster conference, illustrators have been asked to redesign the cover of a classic work of children’s literature. I chose one of my childhood favorites, a book I still re-read as an adult occasionally –The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
I’m experimenting more with the combination of digital artwork and fabric – this piece was done entirely in Photoshop.
I am honored that this cover redesign was chosen by the staff of R. Michelson Galleries to be included in the 22nd Annual Illustrator’s Exhibit from November 1, 2011 – January 31, 2012. To be included in a show featuring Jules Feiffer is truly amazing.
I am also thankful to my fellow SCBWI members who voted for me in the poster contest. I am so honored to win third place in the People’s Choice category and first in the Unpublished category. Thank you, everyone!
by Lise Lunge-Larsen. Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Today we were searching the house for a toy, and from under the couch we unearthed a forgotten library book titled “Noah’s Mittens.” This turned out to be a fantastical tale of Noah discovering felt on the ark, when the animals get tossed around in the rain and the sheep felt themselves. Strange, but with appealing illustrations.
The last page of the book contained a historical blurb about felt. Who knew that archeologists have discovered 8,000 year old felt objects in Turkey or that the Chinese used to make armour out of felt thousands of years ago? Who knew there where sheep living in China thousands of years ago?
After reading the book twice, I was inspired to find the wool I’d ordered a couple months back and try to make felt. An hour and lot of hot soapy water later, we had two beads, a snake, and a bracelet. We discovered that making wool isn’t as quick and easy as it sounded in the book, though it was a wonderful sensory experience. Very calming.
After trying out the wet woolmaking, we gave the dry felting technique a spin. We discovered it was easier to make flat designs with the felting needle, but that it really, really, really hurt when you accidentally stabbed yourself with it. The needle has tiny barbs and is three inches long, so you can imagine how it felt. (pun intended).
An Indian folktale, retold by Deepa Agarwal. Supposedly about the origin of golden orioles (mango birds) — but really a fable about a common-property resource problem.
The story line is that long ago, in a simpler time, the people of a hill village would pick and eat the mangoes off the tree when they were ripe. People and animals both enjoyed the mangoes, and the spirit of the mango grove, in the form of a wind, would whisper to them “Eat all you like, but take only what you can use.” And there was plenty for all.
Then one night, a man came and began to pick all the mangoes and put them in sacks. The mango spirit was upset about this and made the sack of mangoes tumble down the hill. The man chases the mangoes but is unable to catch them. He trips and falls, the bag tumbles open, and out come the magoes — but they fly out of his grasp and up into the air, turning into birds.
This text block would be in the lower left corner of the image, in white:
“The mangoes have ripened, deep in the forest,” the people of the jungle sang as they danced around their fires at night. And before the first streaks of light appeared in the sky, they padded down to the grove. Effortlessly they shimmied up to the highest branches of the tree and ate their fill of the choice fruit.
The spirit wafted among them in the form of a breeze. “Eat as much as you like, ” she murmured, “But remember, this fruit is for everyone.”
The funny thing about this project is that I drew the preliminary drawing and mentally planned it out with a mental image of a hot, steamy, midday in the rainforest. Then I went back and looked at the text and realized that the scene took place at night! Ack! So I added in the man holding the lantern, and spent hours working out where the (imaginary) light of the (imaginary) lantern would fall on the (imaginary) people and tree, and how it would cast (imaginary) shadows.
I wanted to evoke some of my sensual memories of India and give the viewer a sense of the oppressive heat, the slowness of everyone’s movements, and the crowds. I never visited the rainforest or the mountains in India, so I had to imagine that part after looking at photos and reading about the Himalyan foothills. I had never seen a mango tree before, and was charmed to discover that the fruit hangs down on vines — they look like a child’s drawing of apples hanging from a tree.
This spread is 12 x 20 inches, and contains 10 figures. (Can you find them all?) I discovered that a 4 inch high figure takes as much, if not more, time to render than a drawing on a “normal” sized piece of paper — say 18 x 24. Those teeny-tiny hands are killer. And one tiny movement of the brush and suddenly the person is scowling, or has no nose, or three eyes.
Despite high frustration levels, I had so much fun with this. I have a sketch of the mango bird mid-transformation that is so cute that I will post it once I’ve worked on it a little more.