Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What Happens on Wednesdays

Yeesh! I started writing this post last Wednesday and then my internet connection was disabled. After 7 technicians I'm back and it's almost Wednesday again! Where does the time go? It seems like it's flying by these days.
Well, I'm glad to be back and raving about What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins because this book is absolutely one of my new favorites.
Set in a colorful, lively Brooklyn neighborhood, it tells the story about a little girl's typical weekday. What I love most about this story is how both parents play an equal role in raising their little one. It's a busy schedule (like that of most of today's families) but they manage to fit in a lot of book reading, a visit to the library, tons of exercise and play. It's good for little ones who need to be assured that their busy schedules can become comfortable and fun routines.

Fresh out of the School of Visual Arts, Lauren Castillo sure knows what she's doing. Her style flows through the pages using mixed media: collage, pencil, pastel and watercolor. I'm really looking forward to seeing more of her work.
What happens on Mondays at 4:55 is:
it's time for me to get started, cooking dinner!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Watermelons, Bulls and Nevada City

Blogging about children's books keeps us connected to a creative group of independent publishers, authors and illustrators we may otherwise never know about. Of the thousands of children's titles published, I enjoy receiving books from authors who are clearly publishing for the love of children and market their books in their communities and schools with joy.

Lovabull Stories and Adventures written by Tony Bosserman and illustrated by Alice Brown was inspired by the bedtime stories Tony told his seven children while living on a ranch in Wyoming. The characters are Big-Horn bulls with names like, Constabull, Knowledgeabull, and Honorabull. The Lovabulls' adventures take them around the world and through history. They travel from Istanbull where they search for Noah's Ark in the mountains of Arat, to Wallstreet where they experience a bullish stock market and play cards with a bunch of donkeys in the capitol building. And these are only two out of seven adventures. The stories weave fact and fiction in way that will entertain children 8 to 12 who may be learning about some of these subjects in school.

Mommy's Having A Watermelon, co-written by Danny and Kim Adlerman, with mixed-media illustrations by Megan Halsey, is a lovingly humorous tale about a girl who discovers that her mother is not having a watermelon like she thought (on account of a seed she may have swallowed when the girl accidentally spit it into her mom's water glass.) The story is told in 6 very short chapters and the simple dialogue makes it an easy reader for children ages 7-10. There are bonus watermelon recipes at the back including, Watermelon in a Blanket. This is the tenth book by Danny and Kim who also produce music for little and big people. What a creative, and busy team!

There are wonderful new children's books by small publishers to discover, and vintage and out of print books too. Imagine my amusement when we turn a corner in the tiny mountain town of Nevada City, CA on a family snow trip to Find, Toad Hall Book Shop "Books for Children of all Ages." It's a tiny, colorful shop located on North Pine Street. If you are looking for a vintage classic or a signed copy of a childhood favorite, owner Clarinda Stollery, may have it. You can contact Clarinda at As often happens on family trips with small children, I didn't have much uninterrupted time to browse the shelves but I'll be back to visit Toad Hall and this other bookshop that was closed, so I could only press my nose against the glass.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ladybug Girl

When I was a little girl, I was very much like this character in Ladybug Girl. When my older siblings didn't want to play with me, I would go out into the backyard or the reservoir behind our house and create my own adventures. Bug Girl would have been a great name for me, as I loved to feed the hungry anthill mobs crushed sugar cubes, rescue bees from the swimming pool and collect caterpillars from the grape vines to place in screened jars.

Artist David Soman and author Jacky Davis are a husband-and-wife picture book creating team. This is their first project together which was inspired by their youngest daughter. It's a fun read with whimsical illustrations of a little girl who creates her own adventures to become a superhero to the bugs after she is told that she is "too little" by her older brother.

Published by Penguin's Dial Books in 2008, I am already looking forward to the sequel, Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy to be released this year.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Interview w/ Comic Book Artist/Author Eleanor Davis

This is Eleanor Davis. She is the amazing new, young and very hip artist and author on the scene. Just this morning I received her email with all the answers to my questions and I'm so excited to share this interview with you.

On December 9th, I posted a review of her new picture/comic book for children, STINKY. Toon Books had the brilliant idea to incorporate comic books into picture books and Eleanor is one of the first creators to be involved.

Top Image: Eleanor Davis in Athens, Georgia

Above Image: Dot and Louisa comic series

Below Image: Witch House from Hansel and Gretel

1. Where were you born/raised? Do you have siblings?
I was born and raised in sunny Tucson, Arizona. I have a younger sister named Leta.

2. What made you want to become an artist? Who or what encourages/influences your art?
My family and teachers were always very encouraging. I drew a lot of comics when I was younger, and in Highschool, my best friend Kate Guillen introduced me to zines and minicomics. Those were a huge inspiration; I got really making zines and minis myself. The work of John Porcellino was really important to me.

3. Is STINKY your first publication? How old were you when it was published?
I have self-published lots of comics, and also contributed to comics anthologies, but Stinky was my first solo professional book! I was 23 when I wrote and drew it, and 25 when it came out. I was very excited that Francoise Mouly, the mastermind behind the Toon Book series, asked me to do a book with them!

4. Where did you go to college and did you major in art?
Savannah College of Art and Design; I majored in comics. (Sequential Art)

5. Where do you live now?
Beautiful Athens, Georgia.

6. As a child, what were some of your favorite picture books?
Little Lulu comics were probably my favorite, along with Carl Barks' Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. Also, Paddle to Sea, Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas books, Mister Dog by Margaret Wise Brown, The Funny Thing by Wanda Gag, anything by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, the My Father's Dragon books, anything by Tove Jansson- the list goes on and on!

7. What's your favorite way to spend free time?
I like talking with my family and friends, bicycling, walking, traveling, and eating. I'm also getting into puppetry and puppet-making.

8. What do you think is the hardest part about putting together a children's picture book?
Whatever part I'm having to work on at the moment! Every part is hard. The hardest part might be the writing, but that's also the most rewarding.

9. What kind of movies do you enjoy?
I like old movies. I get really emotionally involved with the movies I watch, so I can't watch anything too scary, and I have a hard time with movies that are too sad. My current favorite movie is Children of Paradise.

10. Are you a comics reader? And if so, what are your favorites?
I am an avid comics reader! Some of my favorite comics include: Anything by Joann Sfar, Rutu Modan, Dan Zettwoch, Gipi, Daniel Clowes, Osamu Tezuka, Raymond Briggs, Ai Yazawa, Carl Barks, Lynda Barry and Dash Shaw; The Kind-er-Kids, Scott Pilgrim, 20th Century Boys, Maison Ikkoku, Skim, the Dungeon books, and the list goes on and on and on. These are not all comics for children, but all of the books and authors are highly, highly recommended.

11. What kinds of things give you ideas for your art?
I try to sketch a lot. I'll draw a picture, and then try to figure out the story behind the picture.

12. Please describe your creative process how, when, materials, etc.
To start a story, I'll spend a long time brainstorming in my sketchbook. Then when I come up with a good enough idea I roll it around and around in my head and take a lot of notes. I spend a couple days on character design and development, and try to thumbnail the thing out- drawing little sketches of each page, figuring out the staging and pacing and dialog. I pencil and ink the final art on bristol board, with crow quills and brushes. When I'm able to work on art full time I try to spend eight hours a day at my drawing board, although often I sketch and thumbnail at coffee shops. And of course, the longer the comic, the longer the whole process takes!

13. What kind of music do you like to listen to, favorite songs/musical groups? Do you listen to music while you are creating art?
I have to listen to music all the time! I love The Knife, Bonnie Prince Billy, De La Soul, MIA, old Soul music, old Country music, and on and on. I don't like music with yelling unless it's the Pixies. I don't like music without any singing unless it has banjos.

14. Do you cook and if so, what is your favorite thing to make?
I actually hate cooking! I'm too impatient. Luckily my awesome boyfriend loves to cook and bake. My current favorite thing for him to make for me is Chile con Queso. I do the dishes.

15. What can we look forward to from you in the future, are you working on another great book?
I have just finished my second book, written and drawn with my boyfriend Drew Weing. It's called The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook, and it should be coming out in 2010 from Bloomsbury books. It is an action-adventure about a team of kid inventors, for ages 8-12. We've been working on it for two years so I'm very excited about it.
Now I am just starting on a young adult murder mystery set in Tajikistan in the 8th century. (I'm writing it with my mother!) I'm also looking forward to spending more time on my adult short story comics, which are often featured in the comics anthology MOME.

Thanks so much Eleanor! Here's a very cool video I found for you:
The Knife - Heartbeats

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Bare Necessities, SNAP!

*I took this drawing off the fridge, but could't put it away just yet* This morning there was an email from a small ad-free magazine titled, Seeing the Everyday in my inbox with a quote I think explains a bit of how I feel today: The philosophy of “prosaics,” created by contemporary literary critic Gary Saul Morson, “. . . Questions whether the most important events may not be the most ordinary and everyday ones. Cloaked in their very ordinariness, the prosaic events that truly shape our lives—escape our notice.” In other words, the big milestones of life, important as graduations and job promotions are, may cause us to overlook what Morson calls “the infinitely numerous and apparently inconsequential ordinary ones, which taken together, are far more effective and significant.”

Monday morning we are back to our routine but that doesn't make the day less significant than the weekend. After preschool we'll return the library books that we've renewed as many times as possible. Snap! by Mick Manning, illustrated by Brita Granstrom and published by Frances Lincoln, is a wonderful read-aloud. My three-year-old insisted on shouting out the "SNAP!" part on every page everyday! The story starts with a fly that is eaten by a duckling, that is eaten by a pike.... You're familiar with the pattern I'm sure and that's why it works so well for little ones. Repitition, we love it!

Brita Granstrom's illustrations are a perfect match for the text with large full-spread pages- not too much detail and fabulous with its cut, torn and painted collage elements. She draws and colors outside bold black ink outlines, and much of the background is scribbly.

It's also simply fascinating for little ones to see one animal inside the stomach of another, "Ducking is in Pike's belly!... Pike is in fisherman's belly!" More like playing with Russian nesting dolls than a scientific diagram of the food chain. The ending is humorous but perhaps a little disconcerting for some as we see fisherman inside bear's belly with a quizzical expression. And, "LOOK! Another fly buzzing by..." What will eat that fly? We had a lot of fun with this book. On another note, I'm looking forward to Obama's inauguration and the change this country is expecting. The job layoffs continue and many of us have been scaling back, and redefining what is truly valuable to us. Are we joyfully getting back to the bare necessities of life?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yuki's Ride Home

All morning, I've been obsessively going through boxes of old photos to find images from my trip to Japan in 1996. A great book like Yuki's Ride Home by Manya Tessler can do that to me; take me back to a lovely, far away place on such a cold and dreary January day. Mmmmm..... that udon soup in the illustration above is making my mouth water, Manya!

Manya Tessler's illustrations are gorgeous, with wonderful blends of color and soft shading. Her work is minimal with simple, clean lines yet full of delicate human emotions. Manya hails from Queens, NY yet lived and worked as an English teacher in Wakayama, Japan from 1998-2000. She credits Tamaki-sensei, a master sumi-e artist and his wife Fumi-san, a doll maker for teaching and sharing their home with her and inspiring her own art. I found a great interview of her at Monica Wellington's Book Blog.

Yuki's Ride Home is the sory about a little girl who rides her bike to Grandma's to spend a perfect day and when evening comes, she is afraid to ride home alone. Knowing that she must accept the challenge and journey home, she does,
learning to let go of her fears and ultimately, grow up.

This book was published in 2008 by Bloomsbury Children's Books and I am already looking forward to another book by this incredible author/illustrator.

The two photos I am sharing with you were taken in Kyoto at the famous Kiyomizu hillside temple. There I am in the far left corner and Steve is on the far right. (this is when we first started dating :) Next to him are friends, Yoshiko of the's, Toru of Guitar Wolf and Ono of the Jet Boys. I can't believe I actually wore those heels to walk a zillion temple steps!! Ahhh....... to be 25.

As a sort-of New Year's resolution, my sister and I are going to try to eat a little healthier and cook more meat-less dishes this year. Nancy called me to tell me that she found an amazing new cookbook at her favorite bookstore in Berkeley. The author of the Veganomicon has a really cool website called the post punk kitchen. Nancy is already raving about three of the recipes she tried and I'm going to attempt to make the sushi in this cute video clip here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Celebrating Cuba

Every day this past week, I have been hearing and reading news reports about Cuba or coming across various Cuban connections.
This year, 2009 marks Cuba's 50 years of Independence. With the weakened Fidel Castro no longer in power, President Obama has hopes of creating new, positive US ties with Cuba. There has been talk of lifting the old embargo to allow free trade and open travel. This would be wonderful, especially for those who have not seen their relatives for years.

Someday I would love to visit Cuba myself. One of my favorite artists, Elsa Mora (aka Elsita) hails from Cuba. I love to read her blog and childhood stories about growing up in Cuba.

Oye, Celia! A Song For Celia Cruz, a picture book by Katie Sciurba is a fun celebration about being Cuban and of course about Celia Cruz. It's an easy read for little ones, not too autobiographical. The brightly colored pastel illustrations are by Cuban born artist Edel Rodriguez. They are full of energy and are paired perfectly with the lively story. Here's an excerpt:

"You mix Azucar! into the sounds of Rumba, jazz, hip-hop and guaguanco." "It becomes a blend, a salsa, just like us- African, Carribbean and European."

Celia was known for adding her trademark "Azucar!" into her songs. Although she is no longer with us, her music is very much alive.

Another fun picture book (and Pura Belpre Award Winner) based on a Cuban folktale is The Bossy Gallito by Lucia Gonzalez. It's about a little rooster in Cuba who goes off to attend his uncle's wedding and runs into some trouble along the way. The story has lots of repetition which makes it perfect for little ones and the book is bilingual. Amazing artist Lulu Delacre is responsible for the gorgeous illustrations. She also sells art on her site. Just email her and tell her about your favorite work from one of her books and chances are she will have it for sale...or one that is similar.
Here's a great clip of Celia Cruz doing Guantanamera: