Monday, March 31, 2014

Bad Blogger

I apologize.  I have been a bad blogger.  There's just been so much going on that I've been struggling to balance it all, and I'm afraid my blogging has fallen behind.

So here's a little catch up cheet-sheet.

Right now, this is happening.

Surprise!  A big, wet, juicy snow storm!

If it was a perfectly normal morning, I wouldn't sweat it because I'll just walk the boys to school.  But I had to drive the hubby somewhere this morning and I'm going to have to pick him up in about an hour, and I am NOT looking forward to that - at all.

Slip, sliding away.

But that's just this morning.  Here are some general things I've been working on.

My agent, Scott, has three projects of mine that he's shopping around.  He called last week and suggested some last minute changes to one of them.  So I'm working on that.

I have another project that we were shopping last year and lots of people liked it, but it just didn't click 100% with anyone.  I put it away for 6 months, and have just come back to it with fresh eyes and new energy.

I'm working on teacher worksheets for THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC that I'll start posting on Teachers Pay Teachers starting tomorrow.  This is part of my marketing plan to get teachers interested in the book.  So far I have some fun pages: mazes, word search, and coloring sheets.  And I have some actual Core worksheets for K-1 of pronouns, prepositions, graphing, and sorting.

I'm on Twitter much more than I have been recently.  I'm starting to view it as part of my job.  I need to have a presence there so people know who I am and know about the book.  It does not come effortlessly to me, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.

The book comes out April 8th, just a week away now, so I'm also getting ready to hold a giveaway on the blog.  There's a giveaway on Goodreads right now, if you want to try your luck over there.  But come back here next week, because I'm also going to have a grand prize!  Ooooo!

And in the world on Mom, I'm busy going to middle school orientations, school conferences, and working on the 5th grade yearbook, which is turning out to be much more of a time suck than I had hoped.

So that's what I've been doing, instead of blogging.  Sorry.  But I'll do better because at least I'll be able to post about the new free worksheets going up.

Have a great week!  Wish me well on the snowy road!

Update:  I just got back from picking M up.  It was nightmare driving, but I did it and it's over.  Phew!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Picture Book Spotlight: LION VS. RABBIT

This week the Picture Book Spotlight shines on LION VS. RABBIT by Alex Latimer.

LION VS. RABBIT starts off in a similar vein to the Clint Eastwood movie, Unforgiven.  A group of desperate creatures who have been treated unfairly put out an ad to hire justice.  In Unforgiven, the mistreated party was a group of prostitutes who hired a gunslinger to kill a man who had mutilated one of their faces.  In Lion vs. Rabbits, a group of bullied animals hire a rabbit to stop a mean lion.  I don't mean to suggest that anything in Lion Vs. Rabbit is as harsh as in Unforgiven, but comparing the two is rather funny to me.

But let's go back to the beginning of the book, to the lion.  He's pulling standard bully pranks like giving wedgies, putting silly notes on people's backs and stealing lunch money.

After the bullied animals put the ad out, a bunch of critters show up to teach the lion a lesson.  One by one, the lion defeats them by boxing, fencing, and arm wresting.  (Sidenote: as an illustrator, I was very interested in how these scenes play out because you can't show two characters beating the snot out of each other in a picture book.  Mr. Latimer gives us the set up and the pay off without any violence and it works brilliantly.)

Finally, a rabbit shows up.

This teeny little rabbit is able to beat lion is a variety of different of unexpected competitions, including the one the lion suggests!

The rabbit has a little trick up its sleeve and I won't spill the beans here, you'll just have to buy the book.  But, ultimately, the lion concedes victory and promises to stop bullying the other animals.

(Just think, if Clint Eastwood would have had an imaginary Harvey instead of Morgan Freeman, it would have been a very different movie.) 

I picked up Lion Vs. Rabbit because I was drawn to the art.  These days, as I am exploring my own illustration styles, I am paying extra attention to books where the art is especially appealing to me.  Who doesn't love David Weisner's realism? It's stunning!  It's gorgeous! But it's not really my style.  Yanno?  Like, I love to look at it, but I have zero interest in trying to do something like that.  I'm drawn to stylization and I really loved the line work and color palette of Lion Vs. Rabbit.

When I look at the illustration above, I'm interested in all the detailed line work in the grass, while the clouds have zero linss.  The sky is a flat blue, but the clouds have texture.  There are probably 6 - 8 different shades of green in the grass and one blue.

The line work is clean.  The colors are bright.  And there's just enough texture to create pops of depth.

Very interesting.  Very appealing.

Lion Vs. Rabbit is funny and clever and kids will probably relate to the animals' problem solving. They'll learn that with a few tricks, even a tiny rabbit can outsmart a big bully!

Have a great week, everyone, and thanks for stopping in!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Picture Book Spotlight: WARNING: DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK!

This week the Picture Book Spotlight shines on Warning: Do Not Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe.

When I was cruising through the picture books at the Eric Carle Museum bookstore, I noticed  this one because of the watercolor monkey.  I'm a big fan of Wang Yani's monkeys (below) and the charming monkey on the cover reminded me of her work.

Then I saw the title.

Now, before I go further, you should know, I can be cynical biddy.    I saw the title and I thought, Oh no, it's gonna be a reworking of The Monster at the End of this Book.  I was going to put it down, but that cute little monkey face made me open it up and find out if the book was exactly what I expected or less or more.

I'm happy to say, it was more!  Way, WAY more!  I'm talking surprises!  Action!  Silliness - galore!

But let me back up.  The book starts with a warning.  Do not open this book.  There are monkeys inside.  The quirky, fun illustrations show standard roadside warning signs, but with monkeys on them instead of a deer crossing or other hazard.

Of course, you open the book, you turn the page, you go further.  And it's fun because the child reader is doing something he or she is being told not to, but at the same time, because it's a book, they know it's OK to be naughty in this situation.  And being naughty is fun!

You turn a page further and OH NO - YOU'VE DONE IT!  YOU'VE FREED THE MONKEYS!

And the monkeys are making a big mess, just like we knew they would!

I won't go on because, for me, the fun was seeing how far they could take the monkeys and add to it and twist the surprises around.  And it is fun.  It's really, really fun.

Not to mention, OH MY GOODNESS, I love the art!  (One more illo to savor)

I LOVE those monkeys!

Here's the book trailer with Carmina Burana in the background.  (So funny!)

If you have a little monkey at home who loves stirring up trouble - or you just have a monkey thing in general, pick up a copy of WARNING: DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK!  I think the real warning is make sure you don't miss it!

THANK YOU so much for stopping in.  Happy St. Paddy's Day to all you Irish out there!  I'm wearing my green today.  Are you?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Kickin' Off the Season at Hockanum School

Spring time is School Visit time for me - and I LOVE it!

I was a tad under-the-weather today, but when I got in front of an auditorium of kids, I went to 11! 

I enjoy the solitude of writing (one student asked if I got lonely being by myself all day) but I also, equally, enjoy getting out to the school and talking to kids.  It's just fun! 

I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the second, third, and fourth graders at Hockanum School in East Hartford today, and I had a blast telling them all about what it's like to be an author/illustrator!
Then I retired into the art room (hosted by the fabulous art teacher, Liz Finnegan) and walked the third and fourth graders through the Dreaming Ninja collage project - which they ROCKED!

Thank you SO MUCH to Liz Finnegan and everyone at Hockanum School!  You all were great and showered me with such enthusiasm!  Sure, I had to go home and wind down with soup and carrots, but you all made me smile and laugh and that's the best medicine!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Workin' It at the Eric Carle Museum

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of participating in SCBWI-NE's Picturebook Revision Workshop at the Eric Carle Museum, lead by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson.

It was EXACTLY what I needed to breakdown some issues I was having with a manuscript and reimagine different ways to solve the problems.

Harold and Eileen walked us through many different strategies to get us to see inconsistencies in character choices, places with no action, redundancies, repetitive word choices, etec. and thought us new ways to switch up POV's, anaylize characters, and add layers to the stories we have.

It was a long day.  A tiring day.  But I did get to sneek out and do a wee bit of paper craft in the art studio!

The project theme was "paper sculpture" so I made a sassy lady with a feathered cap.  I was the only on in there!  (I think I might have been the only illustrator in the group.  Maybe.)  But I was having a serious input/output balance problem and NEEDED some creative output.  Ahhhhh.

I met a ton of great people and got a ton of good information and tools.  Harold and Eileen referred to several great books on craft, so if you couldn't make it, check out these titles:
Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein
Writing It Right! by Sandy Asher

Also both Harold and Eileen offer websites with tons of information and editorial services.  You can find Harold at THE PURPLE CRAYON website and Eileen at F1RST PAGES.

THANKS SO MUCH to SCBWI for offering this fabulous workshop at such a generous price.
THANKS to the ERIC CARLE MUSEUM, a lovely place to spend the day.
THANKS to HAROLD and EILEEN for sharinf their wealth of information.
And THANKS to CAROL MUNRO for organizing the whole thing.

Selfie at the Eric Carle:

Thanks for stopping in!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Picture Book Spotlight: TRACTION MAN IS HERE!

This week the Picture Book Spotlight shines on TRACTION MAN IS HERE! by the marvelous Mini Grey.

When I went scouting through my picture book shelves to find a good book for this week's Spotlight, I saw certain titles and said, "Sure,"  or "That could work," but when I got to TRACTION MAN it was a big YES YES YES because this is a really fun and fabulous book that both my son and I loved.

The thing that is sort of wonderfully original about TRACTION MAN is the way the story telling is less like an author writing and more like a child playing.  The child narrates Traction Man's adventures against the Pillow Monsters and the Poisonous Dishcloth while highlighting the fun costume and accesory choices Traction Man has for each mission.

Traction Man is diving in the foamy waters of the Sink (wearing his Sub-Aqua Suit, Fluorescent Flipper, and Infra-Red Mask.)

Both Boy and Traction Man are having a grand old day until they arrive at Grammy's house and she presents Traction Man with a hand-knit green romper and matching bonnet.

After that, Traction Man has some hilarious confidence problems.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the art with its shaggy black lines and rough, textured colors.  I love the compositions and how Ms. Grey breaks up the space.  It's full of action and fun.

Now, apart from the artistic merits of the book, I would like to note that this book was a HUGE HIT when I read it to my son's Kindergarten class.  One time, one of his friends came over to the house and instead of playing he wanted to read TRACTION MAN again.   This book, character, and series is BIG TIME FUN again and again.  If you don't rush out and buy my new book (self-plug: THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC) then you should absolutely get one of the TRACTION MAN books: TRACTION MAN MEETS TURBODOG or TRACTION MAN AND THE BEACH ODYSSEY.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Today I'm up at the Eric Carle Museum at a Picture Book Revision workshop hosted by SCBWI, so I should have a full report on that soon, Picture Book Peeps!

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Simples Love a Picnic: Art & Crafts

Hi all!  I've been very busy doing marketing things and preparing marketing material for THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC which comes out next month.  (April 8th!!!)  Yeee!

On that list is peppering some images on Pinterest.  Of course, in order to do that, I need to put them on the web.  So I now present....da, da, dummmmmm:  some sneak peaks into THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC.  (Click on the image to enlarge.)

This is the family when the first set off on their journey.  La la la.  Everyone has their job.  Everyone is happy.  Trust me, this won't last for long.

This is one of my favorite illustrations from the book.  For one thing, I too, am a little freaked out by birds.  I LOVE them, but I love them from afar.  I once had a roommate with a pet bird and I asked her "Will it fly at my face?" 

"No, no," she assured me. 

I think we all know what happened next; it flew at my face!

So I empathize with Lulu in this scene.  I also love the white bird in the foreground, the one who's looking at YOU!

I also made another trailer this week.  I made it on iMovie and it was more informative, like, I was in it and I talked about the book and what inspired the book.  That sort of thing.  I'm saving it until April so I have something new to bug everyone with, but I made some Simples dolls (Ben and Lulu) and I featured them in the trailer.

Java got in on the act too.  She's such a diva!

Someday I think it will be totally awesome to have a company make softies from one of my characters, but until that day, I am very happy to be able to make them myself.  Go sewing skills!

Thanks so much for stopping in.  I hope it's warming up wherever you are!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Picture Book Spotlight: JOURNEY

This week's Picture Book Spotlight shines on JOURNEY by Aaron Becker.

I like my graphic above, but the art in this book is so spectacular that a small cover just won't do.  You need a BIG cover so you can see the GORGEOUS watercolor illustration on the front.  

JOURNEY is the story of a girl who's bored at home.  Everyone is busy and no one wants to play with her.  When she finds a magic piece of red chalk in her room (which the cat had been sitting on.  By the way, has anyone noticed that it's usually a cat that leads the way to a magic portal?  Is there a story out there where a pug points out another dimension?) she does what any kid would do ...

... she draws a door on her wall and marches right through.

I won't tell you where she goes or what she does because you'll want to discover that on your own.  But I do want to share some of the illustrations from this book because they are TOO GORGEOUS not to.

The palette, the depth, the glow.  It's Ambiance City, baby!

I know I'll be referring to this book again and again when I struggle with a composition or a color palette or ways to create depth in my backgrounds.

This is truly as masterwork of illustration and it deserves all the praise it's getting, and the Caldecott Honor that it just received.

If you're like me and you're looking at the artwork and feeling kind of blown away but you wish you could be humbled and amazed just a little more, check out this blog post where Mr. Becker describes how he created a 3-D computer model of the castle before drawing and painting it.  HOLY CROW!

It kind of makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and chant, "I'm not worthy.  I'm not worthy."  But instead I'll chug some cocoa and try to up my game.

Here's the beautiful trailer:

JOURNEY is a wordless picture book that a child will simply pore over for hours and hours.  Buy two.  One to read and one to cut the illos out of and frame in your kids' room. 

Just make sure you hide your red chalk or you'll soon find scribbled doors all over your walls and bumps on your child's forehead.   ;)