Tuesday, October 09, 2007


ARTIST TO ARTIST: 23 MAJOR ILLUSTRATORS TALK TO CHILDREN ABOUT THEIR ART, to benefit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (Philomel)
"Dear Young Artist," the book begins. Three words against a blank white background. What follows makes for one of the most useful and most inspiring books of the year; a series of letters by twenty three illustrators directly addresses aspiring artists young and old with true pearls of wisdom. The letters express a variety of views, some suggesting that artistic talent is a gift you are born into while others believing it is hard won and still others believe it is in all of us. Some artists encourage academic study while others recall a more autodidactic path. Some voices feel academic while others are more colloquial. The contradictions do well to serve the idea that there is no one way to skin a cat or make a beautiful picture. Each letter is followed by an illustrated self-portrait by the artist, and then a fold-out double-page spread which displays a variety of samples of early work, sketchbook pages and studio photos. A small sampling of some of the wisdom and insight contained in the text:

"Leo would quote a book that he read years ago--'when a painter paints a tree, he becomes a tree.' Whatever we create, he believed, we fill with our own thoughts and feelings...but when Leo said he became a tree, he also thought the tree became him. 'Of course, I am Frederick,' he said...and he was Swimmny when he became the eye of the giant fish. All of his characters were part of his own self, and he thought that was probably true of every children's book author." --Annie Lionni (Leo Lionni's granddaughter)

"If you dare to dream of becoming an artist, you will dare to be different. This will take courage, and your family and friends may not always understand, but to be an artist is to have the gift of seeing the world in a unique way; a gift you can share with the world for the rest of your life. " --Wendell Minor

"You must never illustrate exactly what is written. You must find a space in the text so that the pictures can do the work. Then you must let the words take over where words do it best. It's a funny kind of juggling act."
--Maurice Sendak

"Young children make marvelous pictures. There is nothing they can't draw. They paint and draw from their imaginations and the world around them. And they are not afraid to draw anything." --Alice Provenson

Sometimes esoteric, sometimes direct, each letter is filled with real, usable advice given in a palpable spirit of generosity, an outpouring that suggests this was a letter each artist had been waiting to write. The all-star casting reads like a literary red-carpet walk: Quentin Blake (most famous for his illustrations for Roald Dahl). Steven Kellogg. Mordicai Gerstein. Tomie dePaola. Robert Sabuda. Rosemary Wells. On and on, this book is like getting to hear the secrets from some of the true greats of the past quarter century, and is full of surprises (do you know why THE POLAR EXPRESS is illustrated in pencil?). But beyond these pragmatic offerings, this book goes far to connect children to the idea that there are real people trying to share something behind every book they read, and is a marvel of contemplative appreciation of process. Readers will come away with the understanding that art is a lifelong endeavor with room to change and grow and improve, and children in particular will recognize their own location on the timeline of creativity like a big red dot that reads, "you are here." These letters are a road map to artistic enlightenment in the world of children's literature, and makes for the most instructive book about the illustrative process I have read since Molly Bang's PICTURE THIS: HOW PICTURES WORK. I shared it with a teacher friend in pre-publication form, and she said she literally had dreams about it and had its pub date on her calendar, but the wait is over. Every single member of SCBWI, every art educator, every children' book lover and certainly every child deserves to have this extraordinary book to pore over for years to come. And an added bonus: royalties benefot the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. You just can't beat this book with a stick...or a paintbrush, pen, pencil or marker, for that matter.

Also of interest:
THE DOT by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick)
Aggghhh, the empty paper, every artist's bane! What to draw, what to draw? "Just make a mark and see where it takes you," Vashti's teacher advises. When the dot gets kudos in class, Vashti ups her own antie and makes quite a splash at the art show. When another student asks her advice, Vashti knows just what to say. Simple lines of pen and ink, and simple lines of text, but don't be fooled. This unassuming little book is really a splendid tribute to the daring of art, and how much chutzpah it takes for any artist to make his or her mark. An inspiring must-have for any school with an arts program, and a double-must-have for any child who attends a school without one! (6 and up)
Check out more great books for aspiring young authors and illustrators at http://planetesme.com/creative.html! I especially like TALKING WITH ARTISTS series edited by Pat Cummings and Aliki's HOW A BOOK IS MADE, pages of which I just showed on an overhead to the whole second and third grade. Good, solid, informative stuff!

On a personal note:
This past weekend was the awesome booklover blowout, the First hopefully Annual Kidlitosphere conference which by some very happy accident ended up being held in Rosemont, Illinois, right outside of my-kind-of-town, Chicago-is! Initiated by Robin Brande (author of the funny and brave teen fiction EVOLUTION, ME AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE), it was supposed to be a dinner party for a few on-line friends but blossomed into a pow-wow of over 60 cyberspace superstars to determine the best ways to disseminate information, to hone the fine art of book-sharing, and to put real friendly faces together with cyberspace personas. Sessions about the business side of blogging, promotion, the many reasons authors blog, how to hone our on-line voices and the ethics of writing reviews were just a few of the many hot topics shared in tight, rapid-fire sessions done largely in a round-table forum that allowed for so much participation. A few highlights for me:
- Podcasting 101, led by the very knowledgable Mark Blevis. He also compiled an amazing photo album of the conference, with a slide show that allows me to keep enjoying the day that I wished would never end, and through which you can attend the conference vicariously. My favorite part of his presentation, though, was learning that I could subscribe to his children's literature podcast...and so can you!
- The author signing at the end of Saturday, in which attendees each got a limited edition linoleum block print poster done by my husband Jim Pollock. The poster featured John "Appleseed" Chapman who planted a seed every day and changed the landscape of our nation. Reading aloud every day and sharing a book every day can change the landscape of our nation, too! Woo-hoo! Attendees then visited with over 20 local and national authors who signed the poster and talked about their books, and shared some of them as juicy door prizes, ooooo, including a great surprisr gift bag from Three Silly Chicks that included a chicken gun (!) and a copy of Andrea Beaty's latest picture book, IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT. I was excited to learn about Micol Ostow's work in progress, THE GITTLEMAN STAR, a hilarious graphic novel for intermediate readers that will knock your socks off! It was also a thrill to meet P.J. Haarsma, author of THE SOFTWIRE: VIRUS ON ORBUS I who I have long admired; hey, it's plenty hard to find a good science-fiction pick for kids 9-12 and this one does the trick! I was crazy psyched that illustrator Matthew Cordell (THE MOON IS LA LUNA: SILLY RHYMES IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH) and Julie Halpern, author of the young adult novel GET WELL SOON made it, because their books are so brand-spanking new and their talent is so sparkling, it made me feel very cutting-edge that they were there...I also loved Julie's frowny-face cookies to match her book cover. And goody, I scored a copy of Sara Lewis Holmes' LETTERS FROM RAPUNZEL, a book of fairy-tale correspondence that I can't wait to climb into my tower and read. It was also so great so to see so many of my Illinois SCBWI brethren, including ; we do have the most amazing chapter, just check out our newsletter, The Prairie Wind, and see for yourself. Special thanks to Ruth Spiro for her list of Illinois authors with upcoming books which was so helpful in organizing this event.
- Laini Taylor's hair, which was the most gorgeous shade of pink, I could totally not stop staring at it and even made her hold it against my head in the bathroom so I could see what it would look like on me (alas, a far cry). She attended with her lovely husband Jim, the illustrator of her wildly popular young adult fantasy, THE FAERIES OF DREAMDARK. Her description of the conference on her really beautiful blog also captured the spirit of the thing and gives a pretty good description of what the "kidlitosphere" is all about.

See, isn't it the best hair ever?
Her book is every bit as wonderful.

- The thrill of meeting bloggers in person, like Kelly Herold of Big A Little A and the real live MotherReader, whose blogs I frequent. I also learned about the importance of community (I am more of a lurker than a commenter and that is naughty), chatting with the very friendly Jenny Schwartzberg of the Newbery library in Chicago (who knew they had a collection of thousands of rare children's books?) and was newly inspired to try to figure out how to create a blogroll of links to the kidlit universe on this blog (coming soon)! It was also great to get to know the very kind school librarian Camille Powell, a Texas soul-sister, and the extraordinarily inventive bookseller Faith Hochhalter from Changing Hands Bookstore in Arizona. Not everyone there was a blogger, but everyone there sure was a booklover!
poster given to conference attendees as a PlanetEsme.com present

- Lunch at Steak and Shake, and while that double cheeeburger was pretty delicious it not as good as sitting across the table from premier writing coach Esther Hershenhorn, whose skills are often imitated in the industry but never ever duplicated.
- The ride home with Laura Montenegro, author of A BIRD ABOUT TO SING, a really sensitive story about a girl who is shy to present in front of people that has encouraged many of my early childhood students. The car seemed to float instead of drive as we relegated our everyday to-do lists to the back seat and shared dreams of exploding the world of book-loving like a beautiful pinata, dreams that I'm afraid we will have to make come true sooner rather than later...
- And finally, the off-site blogger's brunch at the PlanetEsme Gingerbread apartment. I was actually very nervous about this as it was the first unveiling of the new space since moving from the Bookroom, and I had three separate nightmares the night before about various surreal ways I was being kept from preparing a decent breakfast for my guests, but luckily the sun rose and none of them were true. And so after a long hot summer of unpacking 12,000 books and trying to undo some of the decorating heinousness of the prior owners (do closets really need green carpeting?), it was with a sigh of relief that people seemed to enjoy the new space and filled it with the good spirit that makes a place special more than any paint or bookshelves or Halloween decorations ever could. I am so grateful to have the space graced by such esteemed guests. Thanks to all who attended!

Thanks to Mark Blevis for the photo.
Thanks to my husband and son for my special gift from

One of the things that was brought up was compiling a list of teacher-friendly blogs for sharing, and on my lunch break today I compiled a few faves for the grade-school set, so you educators out there can cut and paste for your parent newsletters:

Mother Reader
Big A Little A
Just One More Book
Jen Robinson’s Book Page
What Adrienne Thinks About That
A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
Book Buds
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Wizards Wireless
A Year of Reading
The Edge of the Forest
The Miss Rumphius Effect
A Fuse #8 Production
Jacket Flap
Three Silly Chicks
Chicken Spaghetti
Purled Pouches and Things Unstrung
The PlanetEsme Plan

As a school librarian I am going to send my list home with teachers and parents with a packet of instant hot chocolate or maybe some ginger-peach tea attached, to remind grown-ups to take their time and really explore the resources out there, not to rush through, relax and seek out a reviewer and a resource you can really trust and will suit the tastes of the young readers you know and the collection you are trying to build. Keep in mind, my list reflects my k-6 leanings but there are tons of great young adult resources to be discovered as well; check out Cynthia Smith's Cynsations for a springboard into that world, and feel free to post your own faves in the comments section. It's fine and dandy when folks ask the librarian what their children to read, but I've said it before (wait! wait! Let me drag the soapbox out of the closet), in order to become true supporting characters in our children's reading life stories, we've got to be active participants and do all we can to widen our own girth of knowledge so we can individualize instruction using children's lit.

And speaking of widening our girth. Here is the much requested recipe from the brunch at the PlanetEsme Gingerbread Apartment:

Blintz Souffle Recipe (adapted from the King Kold website)

2 packs frozen blintzes (any flavor)
1/4 lb. butter
5 eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon Orange Juice (optional)

Melt butter in 2 quart casserole and place blintzes over butter in one layer. Blend other ingredients with well beaten eggs and pour over blintzes. Bake for 45 minutes in 350 degree oven or until the tops start to brown. Serve with powdered sugar, jam or sour cream.

Serving Suggestion: use both cheese blintzes and fruit filled blintzes. When placing the blintzes in the casserole, alternate the cheese blintzes with the fruit blintzes for a unique variety!

Enjoy! And hope to see you next year at the blogger's jubilee in Portland, Oregon!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


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