Thursday, April 30, 2009

Picture Book Reading Challenge Results

The real winner of my Picture Book reading Challenge was Small Fry. This week the weather finally turned warm, with the sun sifting down through the branches of the giant oak tree in our backyard, we rocked on the hammock and worked our way through about 40 picture books. Small Fry had his favorites that he asked for every night but when I'd ask "do you want Bubble Bath Pirates again or a NEW book?", the answer was always a new book! a new book!

To see the idea behind the Picture Book Reading Challenge and the original lists I pulled books from click here. I checked out our library limit of 25, plus chose several from Small Fry's and my own library. From those 40 books I piled up 4 in my Love It pile:

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin: I was mildly amused by this book until the very last page. I thought it would just a typical "look we compromised and got along" lesson with cute illustrations .... until we see that the ducks really are not a neutral party.

Small Sister by Jessica Meserve: I just love this book (maybe because I am a little sister), I found it a couple of years ago at an SCBWI conference. The language is really spare, just one sentence on each page. Meserve's great story and images really capture what it feels like to seize power, both positively and negatively, as a little kid.

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon: The pay off of this book is the fabulous illustration at the end when all the barnyard animals get a shot at what just duck as gotten to enjoy. Just like Small Sister, I think this book perfectly taps into feeling of wishing you had someone else's toy and what you do when you finally get to play with it. There's no moral story here, just full on shenanigans.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz : This was the only classic on my Love It list and an anomaly because it doesn't have a twist at the end that was characteristic of my other faves. I love the language in this book. I really empathized with Alexander. On each page I kept hoping that his day would get better.

I also chose two runner ups. These two books I wanted to put in a pile labeled "I don't love it, but I really like it and maybe in time we can be more than friends."

Duck for President by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
The Rain Came Down by David Shannon

In both of the these books my favorite things are the illustrations. Lewin's parody of Duck in the pose of Nixon in the "weight of the world" photograph is really something. Shannon's image of a city street just after the rain stops is equally transporting. These illustrations do the heavy lifting in conveying the emotion of the story.

As a picture book creator what I learned from the PBR Challenge is that I really love books with a twist at the end and with a story that makes me say "oh yeah, i remember feeling that way." I also discovered that my own drawings directly benefitted from reading several books right before sitting down at the drawing table. The few nights I was able to sketch for myself after putting Small Fry to bed, my sketches were more dramatic, more vibrant and the basset hounds and alligators of the book I am working on jumped faster off the end of my pencil than they usually do.

The books that did not make it into my Love It Pile were still good. One similar problem that I had with them was a less than developed ending. I can imagine this is incredibly hard to do when you only have 32 pages to work with. With my own story ideas I have kicked around, creating a developed ending that matches the story is the hardest part for me.

While its a cardinal no-no as a picture book professional to say "well my kid really loved this story, " I did find it interesting which books the Small Fry liked. His number one favorite was Bubble Bath Pirates by Jarrett Krosoczka, a story of bubbles, pirates and chocolate fudge ice cream why wouldn't a 3 year old boy love it? His other favorite was Granite Baby by Lynne Bertrand and Kevin Hawkes. I thought this was an odd choice since the book is kind of long but he was fascinated by the fact that these giant sisters could carve a stone dog. No matter where you are in the picture book world it is a great thing to see a child transfixed by a book. I think that as long as there is sun in the trees and a hammock, we will take the Picture Book Reading Challenge again and again.

To see some of the PBR Challenge readers visit these blogs:
Taking Flight
Kristi Valiant

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Picture Book Reading Challenge!

This week I'm taking on the Picture Book Reading Challenge as originally posted by Kristi Valiant here. The idea is to read as many books as you can, in one sitting, and then divide them into piles of ones that you are not that crazy about, ones that are OK and one that you LOVE. When Kristi originally did the challenge she was surprised to find that out of 60 books, there were only six that she loved. After reading her experience several children's book folk decided to do it as well and blog about our reading lists and the books we loved on April 30th.

if you are a kid lit creator (or even if you're not) and want to join us come on down! There is no specific list of books we are following although at the bottom I've written suggested lists to get you started. I pulled my own pile of books from these lists plus am adding several out of my own library as well as a bunch that just looked interesting as I was combing the library shelves last night.

If you are a creator of children's books then the real gem behind this idea is that it will help you decide which pile your own work belongs in - just as an acquisitions editor would - and then make improvements.

Here's some lists to get you started, see you on the 30th with the results of my Picture Book Reading Challenge!

Start with Fuse#8 countdown of the top 100 Picture Books
Then check these out:
New York Public Library's 100 best list
Amazon Best Books of 2008
A couple of random public library lists that are quite good here and here

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Featured on Illustrophile

This week I'll be the featured artist on the blog Illustrophile. Check out my feature here. I'm happy to be among the company of several other pretty cool artists in their archives.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Making sense of really bad things

A week ago, on Good Friday, our area of middle Tennessee was hit by some pretty ferocious storms. When one is in Tennessee and one says "ferocious storms" you can just go ahead and assume it was a tornado. My family watched the storms pass, staring at a TV screen, from a safe distance in a restaurant where we were eating lunch. Some other folks were not so lucky. In Murfreesboro the house of John and Kori Bryant and their 9 week old daughter, Olivia, was in the direct path of an F4 tornado. The news images of their house in the aftermath looked as if a bulldozer had scraped the house completely off its foundation. Not a stick of structure remained. Sadly, the tornado claimed the lives Kori and Olivia and left John in critical condition.

I do not know the Bryant family but I have been haunted by this story ever since hearing it. Maybe because I'm a mom of a brand new baby girl too. Maybe because I've been a new mom and remember the amazing joy that comes with the birth of your child and it seems incomprehensible that a family should experience such joy and such pain in such a short period of time. They should have had years of mundane moments, frustrating moments and boring moments - the stuff of real life - to live through before having to separate over the horizon. My heart aches for Kori's mom, who lost her granddaughter and her own baby girl; and for John Bryant, who is now facing a future he probably never, ever, imagined.

A memorial fund has been set up at Bank of America to help defray John's medical bills and the funeral costs for his late wife and daughter. If you are in the middle TN area and have heard about this family, you might consider contributing. You can do so on-line here. Yesterday I sat in the bank's drive-thru with a whiney Small Fry and a fussy baby girl, waiting to donate and thanking God for the millionth time that my kids were safely in the backseat.

I wish my donation could bring back Kori and Olivia, but of course it can't.

I wish it could have crystalized for me why such an awful thing happened to probably normal ordinary good people, but it didn't really do that either.

But at that moment it was the best I could do to make sense of such a terrible thing.
Please keep this family in your prayers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Illustration Friday - Fleeting

I did this sketch tonight. Peace in our house with a three and half year old and a four month old is often fleeting.

Overheard in the last 48 hours around meal times, bath time and bed time, I'll let you decide which ones were said by child or parent:

"mommy, i'm having problems with daddy"

"if you don't sing to me i'll have to run around the house"

"if you want one more book you better spit that out!"

"hitting mommy was the right thing to do because you wouldn't let me throw the bunny at her head"

"that's a laundry basket not a baby trap"

"do not grab the baby by her mouth"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Picture Bookies Showcase Grand Re-Opening!

Check it out!


A few months ago I stumbled across the Entrecard community on an illustrator friend's blog. Not having a whole lot to do at the time and still being on maternity leave (which gives one license carte blanche to goof off on the internet) I figured what the heck and signed up. Now without going into a complicated explanation of what Entrecard is (click here for that) the short story is its a little gizmo that lets you advertise your blog on other people's blogs and vice versa. You earn credits by checking out blogs and writing your own posts and then spend them to buy you own adverts. You can approve or decline an advert. Its all freeeee.

At least it was until Entrecard figured out that letting the blogosphere swap binary code for advertising was not putting groceries on their table.

So they developed a paid advertising system whereby people buy credits to advertise on other people's blog. Now this is all fine well and good with the Fabulous Illustrator except when I signed into Entrecard this morning there is a list of about 20 paid adverts waiting to run on my blog. I scanned through the list, a lot of Etsy shops, a few get rich quick scams.

Went to put some laundry away. Came back 15 minutes later.

There are now 40 adverts waiting my approval.

Hit refresh.

There are now 60 adverts waiting.

holy moley these people are insane. I scrambled back to my e-mails from Entrecard where I vaguely remember reading that you can control these paid adverts. I find the setting that lets me limit it at least to my category (art-duh) and set about trying to approve or decline the pending adverts. After about 45 minutes of scanning blogs I realized that I have a life and I don't have time for this. I flirted briefly with the idea of setting standards like declining if I don't see the Entrecard widget on the blog but quickly realized I don't have time for that either. So I just started randomly approving and declining based on whether I like their blog button. Cool horse-head illustration, approve! Obvious sex-sells naked chick with laptop, decline. Cute kitten picture, approve! Lame 3D snowman with dollar sign eyes, decline. It's kind of like choosing a wine based on the label.

It seems blogs are lighting up about this all over the Entrecard community. I hope this new thing works out for the folks at Entrecard, and I really hope these paid adverts don't become just another virtual junk mail pile.