Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Duck at the Door

In Duck at the Door, a curious duck named Max decides not to migrate, but to stay and experience the season of winter and quickly regrets this decision. Emmy had her first real experience with winter this past Christmas when we spent the holiday in Denver, Colorado. Unlike Duck, she absolutely loved the cold and snow! I enjoyed watching her explore and especially loved the look of absolute joy on her face.Ms. Urbanovic began drawing characters and telling stories before she could read. In her family, the art of telling a good story---especially a humorous one-- was highly prized. As you can see in the illustration above, Jackie's illustrations are full of warmth and personality.

Duck at the Door is the first book in the series by Ms. Urbanovic. The other two, Duck Soup and Duck and Cover, are just as delightful as the first. All are filled with humor and whimsy.

Reading books with subtle humor is something that I am really beginning to enjoy with Emmy. She is just starting to understand these bits of humor. Her comment is almost always, "Why?" which I most often do not have an answer to, but I try.

Two of Jackie's books, Duck at the Door and Duck Soup, are being featured in the Kohl's Cares for Kids program for just $5.00 each. 100% of the profits goes to support children's health and education initiatives. They are also featuring the cutest plush duck! What a great way to add to your home library.

Happy Quacking - I mean - Reading!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Charley Harper

Anyone following familiar with Charley Harper? If not, then you are in for a real treat. I first came across his work last summer while browsing through a local boutique. I certainly wasn't there to look at books, in fact I was hoping to find a cute pair of shoes for Emmy, but instead I noticed an interesting book cover that stopped me in my tracks. I took the book, Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life, to a corner of the shop and sat admiring the illustrations for the better part of an hour. WHOA! I was so impressed with this Harper man and delighted that Todd Oldham had taken the time to honor this man's work in a beautiful coffee table book. As much as I wanted to take this book home with me, I had to leave it behind due to the price tag of $150.00 (one day this book will be mine). When I returned home, I researched Charley Harper and found out that he is a much admired artist in the world of modern art and design. He is called an American original and is beloved for his delightful, graphic, and often humorous illustrations of nature, animals (especially birds), and insects. His inspiration came from the woods behind his home where he would walk and sketch daily. Mr. Harper liked to say that when he painted a bird, he didn't count all the feathers in the wings -- he just counted the wings. In a style he called "minimal realism," Charley Harper captured the essence of his subjects with the fewest possible visual elements.

Here is a glimpse into the world of Charley Harper:

I was also pleased to find out that his artwork was available in a board book for children. SCORE! ABC's by Charley Harper was quickly added to Emmy's book collection. (I wonder when Emmy will realize that this is really her Mommy's collection!) Now I could admire his work every day while introducing a new artist to Emmy. As with all of our books, this one was out of circulation for awhile, but it found its way back in when we discovered a bird's nest outside of our balcony. The nest reminded Emmy of the book and we eagerly looked for the pages B is for bird and N is for nest - simply delightful.

Of course I am on a mission to collect all of Charley's work and maybe acquire his best known children's book The Golden Book of Biology published in 1961 - vintage and pricey, perhaps I'd better hope that it will be reissued one day!

A few more books by Charley Harper:

ABC's II Skinny Edition


Birds and Words

Beguiled by the Wild

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Dot

One of my wishes for children is for them to be surrounded by an endless supply of art materials with which to create an endless amount of art to be shared and conversed about all over the world. Isn't it Pablo Picasso who said something along the lines of it takes a lifetime to paint like a child. I agree. As adults we tend to focus on form rather than process where a child is all about process and not form. As a parent, I am trying to remove myself from my daughter's art. I am not showing her how to, but rather working along side of her. My biggest pet peeve is coloring books. Why present a finished form for a child to color in when a blank piece of paper allows for so much more creativity. Emmy has a wonderful sketch book that she fills with lines and circles in all the colors of the rainbow. It's one of our favorite "books" to look at.

A wonderful book to help a child (or an adult) with understanding that we all have the ability to create something wonderful is The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. When a young girl is hesitant to draw, her teacher says, "Just make a mark and see where it takes you." And when the girl makes an angry dot, the teacher responds, "Now sign it." This very wise teacher takes this picture, frames it beautifully and hangs it in a prominent place in the classroom. Upon seeing her art hung, this budding artist is inspired to create even greater pictures filled with dots. This book is such a treat. When the end comes, you just want to hug it. The author sends a very important message to young and old alike - be brave about expressing yourself!

I believe I've mentioned in an earlier post about how I like to share a bit about the author or illustrator with Emmy. Well I found out that Reynolds was a reluctant reader but an incessant doodler as a child. The word "doodler" just cracks Emmy up. She likes to pretend that she is doodling when she gets out her art materials. How do I explain to her that she is not pretending, but truly doodling?

This is what Peter H. Reynolds has to say about art and children:

"I often visit classrooms and ask who loves to draw," he says. "In kindergarten and first grade, all the hands go up. In second grade, most of the hands go up. In third grade, half the hands are up. By fourth and fifth grade, most of the hands are down, or perhaps pointing to ‘the class artist.’ It’s sad to see the artistic, creative energy slowing down, being packed away. I am convinced it’s because children learn early that there are ‘rules’ to follow. But when it comes to expressing yourself, you can invent your own rules. You can change them, you can stretch them, or you can ignore them all and dive headfirst into the unknown."

I hope that this inspires all of my followers to go out and buy a sketchbook and start doodling!

"All children are artists. The problem is how to
remain an artist once he grows up.
Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Books Are Important

This post is simply to celebrate the importance of books!

The other day, as I was reading to Emmy, she looked up at me and said, "Mommy, books are so important." I agreed and asked her why she thought so. Her response, "They put pictures in my head."

Later that same day, I came across this quote from Anne Lamott.

"For some of us, books are important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life—wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded…"

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)

Three cheers for books! Hip, hip hooray! Hip, hip hooray! Hip, hip horray!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Carrot Seed

I find comfort in things that have endured for many years. Take the Crayola Crayon for instance. The first box of eight Crayola Crayons was introduced in 1903. Invented by cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith, the crayons sold for a nickel a box and came in black, brown, blue, red, purple, orange, yellow, and green. Feeling the slight weight of the crayon in my hand and smelling its unmistakable scent takes me directly back to my own childhood. What joy I found in spending the morning busily working with paper and crayons. This joy continues as I watch Emmy carefully choose a crayon and transform her white paper into a world of color.

And who could forget the classic board game Candy Land! Invented in 1949, Candy Land has been a beloved game with children for 60 years now. The game was first invented by Eleanor Abbott to keep herself busy while she was recovering from polio. Children loved the game so much that she submitted it to Milton Bradly where it went on to become the number one top selling preschool game of all time. Of course I remember playing this game as a child and then teaching my nieces and nephews to play. This past Christmas, Emmy's Aunt and Uncle gave her Candy Land and together we continue the board game tradition.

And so we come to a children's book that has also endured the test of time. The Carrot Seed was first published in 1945 and has never been out of print. The combination of Ruth Krauss's simple text and Crockett Johnson's (of Harold and the Purple Crayon fame) eloquent illustrations creates a triumphant and deeply satisfying story for readers of all ages. I have always thought that children's books carry more meaning than many novels do and in less than 20 pages. This book is a fine example of that. With childhood determination, a young boy shows, through the planting of a seed, that with faith anything is possible!

Rediscovering the joys of my own childhood has been one of the most amazing aspects of becoming a parent. Emmy allows me to become that child again. The one who was not afraid of anything and ran full force into every new adventure. Through her I see the possibility of every day being lived to its fullest. I am forever grateful to my little girl!May the light always shine within you!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Not A Box

Oh my goodness! I found the most adorable books today. They are written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis and are so simple in their format that it just blows me away!

Not a Box is the story of a small rabbit who shows that a box can take the imagination absolutely anywhere. Portis successfully captures the thrill of when pretend feels so real that it becomes real in this understated masterpiece. I love it when a book can take me back to my own childhood and this book certainly did it for me. I remember being fascinated with boxes as a child and using them to form elaborate creations from a boat to an entire kingdom. It was on Emmy's first birthday that she was first introduced to boxes. She took to them right away ignoring most of her gifts in favor of being pushed around in a box while her Mommy or Daddy made some kind of funny motor noise -Vroom, vroom!

With the success of the first book, Portis followed it with a second book titled Not a Stick. This time we follow a small pig with a stick in his hand as he finds out that there are endless options for play. Whether it's conducting an orchestra, painting a masterpiece, or slaying a dragon, give a child a stick and his imagination will take over! This is a picture of Emmy's stick collection that she keeps outside our front door. I have heard of moms who disapprove of sticks, but I say go for it!

When I come upon book treasures such as these, I tend to WAIT for the right moment before I share them with Emmy. I have a "secret" box that holds among other things, books that I want to read with Emmy. This box has recently been discovered by my curious 3 year old and now resides on a higher shelf in my closet. I am waiting with anticiaption for the just right moment to pull these books out of the box.

Here is a fun animated version of the book Not a Box found on YouTube. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 2, 2009


As a former teacher of young children, who always had a project up her sleeve, I thought that Emmy and I would be doing projects constantly. Sadly, that has not been the case. Days seem to go by without even a crayon being taken out of the box. Well, that is going to change! I know that allowing Emmy the opportunity to work with lots of art materials is a must and I am on a mission to do a project, if not every day, then every other day.

Recently, Emmy's Daddy came across a very simple science experiment that got all of us talking about color. Using milk, food coloring, dish soap and cotton swabs, we got some first hand experience with color mixing. Here's just how simple this project is: pour milk onto a plate, squirt small puddles of red, yellow and blue food coloring (separately) into the center of the dish. Take a cotton swab and dip it into the dish soap. Now, dab the cotton swab into each color puddle and watch the colors swirl! Oh, Emmy thought she was a color magician.

This experiment got me thinking about books that discuss more than just objects of a certain color. The first book that came to mind was Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. Walsh cleverly introduces her readers to the subject of colors using her adorably illustrated white mice. When these three mice discover three jars of paint - one red, one yellow and one blue - each climbs right in. The red mouse stumbles onto a surprise when he finds out that if he steps in a yellow puddle and does a little dance, his paint puddle turns orange. The other two mice follow suit creating paint puddles of green and purple. But when a cat approaches, the three mice quickly return to their original white color and hide among the white paper. It's no wonder that this creative book has won several children's book awards.

Another book to come to mind is Color Dance by Ann Jonas. This book is a joyful celebration of color and movement with the primary colors - red, blue and yellow - being showcased beautifully by three dancers holding scarves. As the dancers begin to move, the primary colors blend together to create secondary colors - green, orange and purple - as well as tertiary colors - yellow orange, blue violet, blue green, etc. With minimal text, Jonas allows the concept of color to come across vividly through her illustrations. A color wheel at the end of the book completes the conceptual design.

And finally, Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni is another wonderful book that not only shows the color process, but also allows a glimpse into an endearing friendship. Little Blue and Little Yellow are best friends, but one day they can’t find each other. When they finally do, they give each other such a big hug that they turn green! How they find their true colors again concludes a wonderfully satisfying story told with colorful pieces of torn paper and very few words. First published in 1959, this classic book is being celebrated with a 50th-anniversary edition, to be released in October 2009, that includes Lionni’s own explanation about how the book came to be. Using torn pieces of paper, Lionni created the story of Little Blue and Little Yellow to help pass the time on a dull train trip with his very young grandchildren. I was introduced to Lionni's books by a very dear friend of mine and as such each of his heartwarming stories holds a special place in my heart that I hope will also find a place in Emmy's heart.

With these three books checked out of the local library, I am ready to continue the study of color with Emmy!