An Artist’s Eye
We are in the heart of summer, one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a time for playful days of splashing and sand castles on the beach, road trips and exploring new places with friends and barbecuing delicious meals late into the warm evenings. And books. No matter what time of year, there will always be books, but there is something about the summer that beckons me to sprawl out on a blanket in the backyard, and get lost in a book under the shade of our olive tree. Book, written by David Miles and illustrated by Natalie Hoopes, captures some of the greatest outdoor summer scenes and fantastical places to get lost in words and pictures.
What’s the book?
Are you intrigued yet? Just a little curious about this? Book is so charming in it’s simplicity, I almost don’t want to share any more photos and ruin the experience of discovering this wonderful picture book. What I will say is Book is about just that- a book. But how can one describe the feeling of being unexpectedly captured by words on a page, and illustrations filled with color? What is that special quality capturing your curiosity when you turn the first few pages of a picture book to discover what will happen next? Miles and Hoopes create a world where readers join a sweet little boy away from the modern world of technology and screens into one of imagination and possibilities. I won’t say too much more about this, please just go and discover this journey for yourself.
Art and the fun stuff!
I have to do this blog post justice and share a few pictures, I am an artist at heart after all. These won’t give away too much of the story, I promise. I absolutely fell in love with the illustrations by Natalie Hoopes. The details aren’t printed in the book, but I was only one click away finding Hoopes and her amazing artwork online. Illustrations in Book were made in watercolor, acrylic, gouache, micron pens, colored pencils, watercolor pencils and torn paper. This treasure trove of mixed media adds texture and detail to the illustrations, adding new layers to the way the story unfolds.
Just look at this scene- don’t you just want to join in the dance circle or roast marshmallows with this mystical bunch?
The touches of torn paper not only add a textural quality to the illustrations, but an almost poetic touch of intrigue beyond the soft landscapes and whimsical characters to explore.
For more of Natalie’s artwork, check out her website: http://www.nataliehoopes.com/
Kids will love it because…
Book is like a journey that draws you in with each page turn and invites you to stay a while to admire the wondrous scenery and decipher messages among the little scraps of words. Young readers will love returning to Book again and again, to meet a new monster hidden in a mysterious bog, or discover a novel phrase among the collage of papers. And with scenes of fireflies and exploring a world with new friends, hopefully Book will also inspire new summertime adventures to be had and new friends to be made. Happy Summer everyone!
Sarah Momo Romero is a Japanese Peruvian American artist, a graphic designer by day and children's book author and illustrator by night. She’s loved drawing and painting since she was a chiquita and now crafts stories of adventure and wondrous creatures. Sarah is an active SCBWI member who draws inspiration from her life in sunny Los Angeles with her husband/creative partner and dog/infamous escape artist, Peanut. Look out for her first picture book coming out in
You can find more of Sarah's musings and drawings here:
Facebook: Sarah Momo Romero + Instagram: @sarahmomoromero + Twitter: @sarahmomoromero
Can Ms. Frizzle be black? Changing the race of beloved characters.
A former coworker of mine reacted negatively to my shared post on social media. She is Caucasian and young enough to have grown up reading The Magic School Bus books and watching the television series. She expressed her displeasure at this casting decision (failing to notice that it is not actually a casting decision, just hopeful people on the internet).
"Sorry, but why can't they just cast someone white with frizzy red hair?" She went on to say that race-changing isn't necessary, she doesn't "get it," and that it ruins iconic characters. Tell me how you *really* feel, sweetheart. I wasn't sure how to reply, so I just used the "wow" emoji. Her response was angry and defensive, saying that POC only get cast when a project is trying to be "edgy." She went on to name a movie that was "ruined" for her when a South Asian man was cast alongside all white actors. At a loss for words, I decided not to reply.
In recent years, white people have openly and bitterly complained when a POC was cast in a role that they felt belonged to a Caucasian actor. We have also seen in recent years roles that specifically call for a POC being awarded to a white actor. It feels like a throwback to the 1960s when Native Americans and Asians, in particular, were frequently portrayed by Caucasians in dark makeup and dramatic eyeliner. The incredibly popular Broadway musical Hamilton is the rare exception, ironically, because the characters in the play are based on actual Caucasian people, real people. Ms. Frizzle is not real, as much as I wish she was.
The anguished cries of white people who are somehow injured when fictional characters are portrayed by brown actors remind me of the publishing industry's call for diverse books and the criticism of these diverse books receive from some members of the white children's lit community when these books win major awards. The recent discussion in the comments section of the Horn Book Magazine's Read Roger blog after Javaka Steptoe's Caldecott acceptance speech (http://www.hbook.com/2017/06/blogs/read-roger/im-rubber-and-youre-glue/) reveals one woman's anger over the fact that Mr. Steptoe won the medal.
"So, Javaka won the award because he is John Steptoe's son. The Newbery, Caldecott, CSK and Belpre committees must share notes. No objectivism left - just brainwashed librarians." - Agnes Smythe
"Objectivism is a noun which also means "the tendency to lay stress on what is external to, or independent of, the mind." Thus I have used it correctly. The pattern of ALA award committees in the past several years is obvious in its selections of winners/honors: Promote diversity for diversity's sake. Today I received from final issue ever of the Horn Book - very bittersweet. I can no longer subscribe to a magazine that promotes a narrow-minded political philosophy. It was a real treat for me to purchase the HB on newsstands and later by mail. I own back issues dating to the forties. All good things must end someday😥" - Agnes Smythe
"NO! I am not suggesting they should consult! My whole point is, the Awards committees have lost their objectivity- they are choosing the same diversity-themed books for diversity's sake, and not based on technical merit or artistry. This is why I dropped my 25-year ALA membership and my Horn Book subscription (and because of the Trump bashing). The awards have lost meaning." - Agnes Smythe
"No worries, everyone. I have plenty of genuine Horn Book back issues to read and enjoy. So sad that books are no longer being judged on their technical merits alone - the awards have lost all meaning now." - Agnes Smythe
Oh, Agnes! You are in so much pain. I'm not sure who you are, or if Agnes is even your actual name, but the level of injury that you are claiming to feel is pretty heavy here. To walk away from the Horn Book and from ALA because you somehow feel slighted by the fact that a POC won the Caldecott Medal? For some people, allowing anyone who isn't white to take up space in what they perceive to be a world that they are entitled to is unthinkable. It just can't happen. And it doesn't matter if that person is a real and incredibly talented artist who created a brilliant book and is selected for recognition by a team of highly esteemed industry professionals or if that person is a an incredibly talented actor who was gleefully selected by anonymous people on the internet to replace a fictional white woman in a project that doesn't actually exist.
For next month's post and moving forward, please send me questions and topics that you would like to discuss that involve libraries, books, diversity, and the children's literature community. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifi Abu spends her days surrounded by books that have already been created and the rest of her time writing and illustrating books yet to be born. She looks forward to a day when all children can see themselves reflected in the books they read. Ms. Abu holds a master's degree in children's literature and a master's degree in library science, is an active member of SCBWI, a Children's Book Academy graduate, and is represented by Linda Epstein at the Emerald City Literary Agency. She is pleased to announce that she has been elected to the 2019 Caldecott Committee.
Writing poetry for the very young is a tough balancing act: How to be simple, yet not simple-minded, playful, but not coy? You’re probably familiar with the poetry books of award-winners Joyce Sidman and Jane Yolen. If not, you’ll find blissful inspiration by checking them out. Poetry is a tough sell in any era, but poetic books about nature, especially those with an informational component (most often in the back matter) have a better shot at getting published today.
One long, lyrical poem, wonderfully illustrated, can make a delightful picture book. For older readers, themed collections (especially if you have an unusual topic or a new angle on a familiar theme) are viewed more kindly than a collection of poems on a range of topics, unless it happens to be laugh-out-loud funny.
For the pre-school set, there’s no need to work on your stand-up act. Just use your eyes, ears, head and heart, inviting children to do the same. A poet, Helen Frost, and a photographer, Rick Lieder, have created a series of books that is fast becoming a franchise. In their latest collaboration, they ask children to Wake Up! (Candlewick, 2017). Close-ups of startling, luminous beauty— of mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and plants— are pared with a spare, poetic text: Sun says, Wake up—/Come out and explore./New life is exploding/outside your door!
The questions that follow invite the child to wonder about what Walt Whitman called the miracles all around us. (Who’s inside these eggs?/What catches the breeze?)
You may be wondering, Do we really need this? Getting children to wake up is no problem. We have trouble getting them to sleep! And yet, in this digital era, sometimes they have to be coaxed into noticing the world around them. I took two bright six-year-old girls, hardcore Minecraft addicts, on a walk around a reservoir in San Diego a few years ago. They got very excited about some purple wildflowers. “Look!” Minu said to her cousin, Darcy, “they’re just like the ones in Minecraft!”
Before we all find ourselves living in a world made by Minecraft, you might want to look at other books by Frost and Lieder: Sweep Up the Sun (Candlewick, 2015) about birds in flight) and Step Gently Out (Candlewick, 2012), where Lieder’s portraits of garden bugs are accompanied by lyrical lines: Step gently out,/be still and watch a single blade of grass./An ant climbs up to look around./A honeybee flies past./ A cricket leaps and lands, then sits back and sings…
Even children who’ve seen everything (or think they have) will be slack-jawed before Lieder’s stunning photos in Among a Thousand Fireflies, where you see what you can’t see with the naked eye in such detail at night. The clarity of the images is astounding. How did he do that?
The book doesn’t answer that question, but it will tell those who read the back matter what makes fireflies flash and whether heat is produced as well as light. It’s an audacious topic for a picture book, the perennial problem of finding a mate: Here I am. She sends a silent call…Look! I’m here.
Look, indeed. And look again. Like all of the Frost/Lieder books, this one gives off a cozy warmth with its low-wattage light that might, on a summer’s night, flickering with firefly ardor, even lull a wide awake child to bed.
Orel’s fourth picture book, Thelonious Mouse (FSG), won a Crystal Kite, 2012, from SCBWI. Her third was a Bank St. Best and the second made the NY Times Ten Best-Illustrated list. A Thousand, Peaks, Poems from China (with Siyu Liu) was selected for the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age list. A Word’s a Bird, her animated, bilingual (English/French) poetry book for iPad, was on SLJ’s list of ten best children’s apps, 2013. Her book for teachers, Metaphors & Similes You Can Eat (Scholastic) has inspired great poems from children in grades 4-8. Orel won the Oberon poetry prize in 2010 and commendation in other reviews and anthologies. She teaches at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, Huntington Station, New York. www.orelprotopopescu.com
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