Friday, December 11, 2015

A Visit With Jan Brett

Emmy and I had the pleasure of meeting Jan Brett in Portsmouth, New Hampshire during her eighteen day cross country book tour. Jan was promoting her new book The Turnip, but to Emmy and me, she was promoting the love of books and art.  Watching the tour bus pull into the parking lot was so much fun.  We imagined traveling on this large bus with the gorgeous illustrations painted on the exterior and wondered what people's reactions were when they saw it on the road.
When Jan Brett stepped up onto the stage, the excitement in the crowd was electric.  Seeing not only the children's faces light up, but also the adult's faces is a true testament to this woman's work as an artist.  Jan's depictions of animals and human cultures are full of colorful detail.  Through her extensive travels (from Scandinavia to Africa), Jan is able to vividly create artwork that makes the reader of her books feel as if they could walk right into the book page.  As a matter of fact, Jan herself has said in several interviews that she keeps on painting until she can hear the sounds, smell the smells, and feel how soft the fur of the animal is.  She has said that it takes her an hour to draw an inch!

Emmy and I were so grateful to Jan Brett for taking the time to connect with the audience through her quiet storytelling and drawing demonstration.  Watching the Badger Girl come to life right before our eyes was absolutely amazing.


It was through Jan's travels in Russia, as well as a simple carved wooden toy of three people and a bear pulling up a turnip given to her by a friend, that the retelling of the story The Turnip was realized.  For a more detailed review of this beautifully illustrated book, check out our previous post HERE.

Luckily for us, Jan brought back a pair of birch bark shoes from Russia and has been sharing them on her tour. These shoes served as a model for the shoes worn by the badger characters in the story. She also had a surprise for us...her beloved Dutch Bantams also came along on the tour ~ Rueben her rooster and Rilke her hen!   Here is something new that we learned about Jan Brett ~ she raises chickens for show!  She has been reading tons of books about poultry genetics to try to better understand the color patterns found on chickens.

There are so many wonderful retellings of this classic folk tale, some better than others.  Emmy and I enjoyed Jan's take on this story especially with the addition of the bear family under the ground.  We hope you will pick up a copy of The Turnip to see what you think of Jan's version.

Thank you, Jan Brett, for sharing your passion with us!  
Emmy will never forget your kind words to keep her creative spirit always.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Costumes Inspired by Children's Books - Part Two

In my last post I shared how book characters can become very creative costumes for Halloween or for Children's Book Week.  Since that time, I sat down with my little reader and asked her to remember some of her favorite picture book characters and then we discussed which of these characters would make interesting costumes.  Here are seven of Emmy's choices:

1)  Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Emmy has always loved the adventures that Harold went on through his purple drawings.  She said that this costume would be easy to put together. "Well, just get a white shirt and draw on it with a purple fabric marker and then carry a purple crayon around with you." Here is a really cute image that I found on the  web that shows how this could become a family costume.

2) Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola 

Strega Nona has been a favorite character of Emmy's for a long time.  When she was very little and we were cooking butter noodles or spaghetti for dinner, she would always say "Enough, enough pasta pot!" and would blow three kisses into our magic pasta pot.  Emmy suggests wearing a long dress with an apron, a scarf on your head and carrying a pot with yarn for noodles. Here is the most adorable image of this costume idea!
3)  A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

The friendly bear from deepest, darkest Peru with his battered suitcase and duffle coat would make a super cute costume according to Emmy.  Grab a blue coat, a red hat and a some sort of suitcase and you are all set.  Oh, don't forget to pack a marmalade sandwich!"  Here are two inspiring images for this fun costume.  

4)  The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

I love this book for its portrayal of a strong girl character who just happens to be a princess.  Emmy loves the reversal of the princess and the prince role.  After the prince tells the girl to go home and come back when she looks more like a princess, Emmy would always exclaim quite loudly,  "That Ronald is a real bum!  I'm glad Elizabeth didn't marry him."  I agree!  Here is Emmy's advice on how to create a Princess Elizabeth costume:  wear a white or black long sleeved shirt and leggings then get a large brown grocery bag and cut out holes for your head and your arms and wear this over your clothes, be sure to make a princess crown out of yellow paper. Check out this cute image! 

5)  Olivia by Ian Falconer

When Emmy was little, we would read the book Olivia over and over again. Her favorite page was the one that showed Olivia getting dressed in all of her red outfits.  Whenever Emmy wore red she would claim to be Olivia.  If you are interested in this costume then Emmy suggests to get a headband and attach pig ears, paint your nose with a pink circle and two black slots to look like a snout, then wear black and white striped leggings, a red dress, black shoes and be sure to accessorize with a red bow and a red pair of sunglasses! Here's a picture for inspiration.

6)  Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Emmy would laugh and laugh at the monkeys in this book.  She loved to repeat the sound that the monkeys made and could often be found putting all of her hats on her head and saying rather loudly, "Caps, caps for sale.  Fifty cents a cap!"  Here is Emmy's idea of how to become the peddler in this story - wear grey pants and a black jacket with a bow tie, stack as many hats as you can on top of your head (use safety pins to attach them together), draw a mustache above your upper lip and carry a stuffed monkey or two around with you.

7) The Jolly Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg

Delivering mail was always one of Emmy's favorite activities when she was little.  She would find one of my purses and put it on like a mail bag and fill it with papers that she had drawn on.  She would then pretend to deliver the mail all over the house.  After we read The Jolly Postman, her play became a retelling of this story as she created letters to nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters and delivered them "all across fairy tale land" as she called it.  Emmy suggests that you wear a big blue coat or shirt, a red and white striped scarf, a blue hat and boots.  Be sure to fill a mail bag with letters and maybe even walk your bike with you!  Here is a photo that should get your creative juices going.  

We hope that you are inspired by our book character costumes and would love to hear your ideas, too!  Leave a comment and let's see if we can grow this list of costume ideas!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Costumes Inspired by Children's Books - Part One

Halloween is just around the corner and answers to the question, "What are you going to be for Halloween?" can be heard all around me.  I have always been inspired by characters in books when it came down to creating a costume.  When I taught elementary school, celebrating Halloween through book characters was the way to go.  One year I was Ms. Frizzle from the The Magic School Bus series followed by The Rainbow Fish the next year, another year I was the tree in Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and even portrayed Miss Nelson from Miss Nelson is Missing! with a costume change midday to Miss Viola Swamp.  Somewhere among my teaching memories are photographs of these costumes.  As going through my storage unit in search of these photos is not on the agenda today, I am instead including some photos I found on the web that might inspire you to become one of these characters.

Another great time to dress up as a book character is during Children's Book Week.  Usually celebrated at the beginning of May, it's a great time to to bring books to life in your classroom or at home.  I remember one year when a little girl in my class came dressed as the main character in The Bad Case of Stripes.  Her mom meticulously painted stripes on her face, neck and arms.  She wore striped tights, a pink dress and a bow in her hair. It was awesome!  Here are two inspiring photos found on the web of that idea. 
Emmy's early Halloween costumes were inspired a bit by book characters as well as her personality. On her first Halloween she was Tigger.  This was inspired by her bouncy time in Mommy's belly and her need to move throughout her early months as well as our love of all things Winnie the Pooh.  Next up was a lion inspired by the book The Happy Lion (she loved exclaiming, "Bonjour Happy Lion" and "Au Revoir Happy Lion") as well as her ability to ROAR on command.  On her third Halloween, Emmy was a clown inspired by a recent trip to the circus as well as the book Circus Caps for Sale (she loved the page where the clowns were using the caps in their act).  Click HERE to see photos of Emmy on Halloween as well as read our post about one of our favorite Halloween books - Monster Needs a Costume.

Stay tuned for Costumes Inspired by Children's Books - Part Two which will highlight some more character costumes from our favorite children's books!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jan Brett's Book Tour

 Jan Brett is on tour and bringing her book bus to nearby Portsmouth, NH!  Emmy and I are beyond excited to see one of our all time favorite authors and illustrators.  We have quite a collection of Jan Brett books and Emmy often chooses these for her daily homework reading.

Jan will be visiting 23 cities and towns to celebrate her new book, The Turnip.  She will be giving a book talk and an illustration demonstration at each signing.  When I told Emmy that we would be going to see Jan Brett, she immediately asked if Hedgie would be there! Yes, Hedgie will be there. I am so grateful that Emmy gets this excited about an author/illustrator and that we can share this experience together. Click HERE if you would like to see if Jan is coming to a town near you!

With the upcoming release of her book The Turnip, Jan Brett brings another original twist to a favorite folk tale.  Jan, with her husband Joe, travels all over the world to get inspiration for her books.  When they were in Russia,  Jan was reminded of a simple carved wooden toy given to her by a friend.  The toy showed three people and a bear struggling to pull up a large turnip.  This was all it took for Jan to start imagining a story about a giant turnip.
Jan wondered if readers would believe a turnip could be as big as she wanted to make it.  She remembered someone who grew pumpkins to be over nine hundred pounds and decided that it could definitely happen.  Once again we see animal characters in beautiful clothes that show the culture of where this story takes place ~ Russia.  And, of course, the borders on the pages are full of beautiful illustrations offering the reader a further peek into the story.  

I haven't told Emmy the twist in this story yet, but I know it will give her lots of laughs!  I'm not going to spoil it for you either.  Look for the book The Turnip to hit book shelves on November 3, 2015.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Penny Paperheart

"Sharing happiness one heart at a time" is the sweet message from the adorable Penny Paperheart.  Little Penny made her debut as a doodle on a greeting card for Hallmark, but is now a character in her own book Penny Paperheart that is followed by many "Hallmarkers" - apparently this is the term for people who shop frequently at Hallmark. Now you can find Penny merchandise, such as Penny Playsets, at all Hallmark stores as well as online that give a whole new feel to paper doll play.  Also on Hallmark's website are cute videos starring Penny and her friends as well as downloads that include coloring pages, finger puppets and paper hearts to share. Follow this link for some Penny Paperheart fun (the videos are about half way down the page)!

The book Penny Paperheart was left for Emmy a few months ago by the fairies who visit the little fairy houses that she makes around the house. Let me explain...Since we live in an apartment on the fifth floor, we don't have direct access to the outdoors, so collections of nature items can be found in Emmy's room.  These items are often made into little fairy houses that cannot be taken down until evidence of a fairy visit are found.  So, unbeknownst to her, I leave evidence of their existence. Sometimes I simply rearrange the little house, but other times I leave little trinkets hidden in her fairy houses.  Trinkets such as a pretty rock, a polished stone, an interesting seashell, a handwritten note or something a bit bigger like this book.  It brings me much joy that Emmy still believes in fairies and it is such a relief when the fairy house is put away and vacuuming can commence once more!

I must share the back story to Penny Paperheart, as stated at the end of the book, as it is one of friendship, collaboration and inspiration.

One day an artist named Terry Runyan drew a little doodle.  She gazed at the little gril she sketched and then began to noodle.  Isn't she cute?  Who could she be?  Terry continue to think, then showed her sketch to her talented friend whose name is Mary Fink. 

Mary thought Terry's charming sketch was oh so very sweet, so Mary designed the girl's paper town and when it was complete Terry and Mary thought to themselves, "It's time for her to be named" "Not just a name, she needs a story!" the two artists both exclaimed.

Andre du Broc is a writer friend.  Playing with words is his art.  When he saw their little sketch he squealed, "She's Penny Paperheart!" The three friends loved their paper girl and that love just grew and grew.  Penny Paperheart had a name but not a thing to do.

That's when their dear friend, Stacy Lamb, offered a bit of advice:  "She gives away her paper hearts - that's what makes Penny so nice!" And that's how four devoted friends all played a wonderful part in bringing to life a paper girl named Penny Paperheart.  

After our first reading of Penny Paperheart, Emmy went off and gathered art supplies and began making hearts with notes on them to share with family members, friends and the neighbors in our apartment building.  Emmy highly recommends this book to readers of all ages as she says, "Penny is so cute and when I read her story, I want to be kind to everyone."  We hope that you will have a chance to get to know Penny and spread kindness to those around you.  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Children of All Lands Stories

Baldface Books ~ Dover, NH
Just the other day I walked into a used bookstore and walked out with a treasure!  I discovered the author Madeline Brandeis and brought home one of her beautiful books Little John of New England from her series The Children of America Stories.  I would have liked to have brought home the entire collection found on the shelf as it also included books from her other series The Children of All Lands Stories, but the wallet only allowed for one this time around.

With a bit of research, Emmy and I learned that Madeline Brandeis wrote works of fiction about children from the United Stares and from Europe that were interspersed with facts about these areas.  Her inspiration for her writing about children from many lands came from reading books with her daughter Marie.  They realized that many of these books were written many years ago and didn't portray children in modern times.  With her daughter in tow, Ms. Brandeis took photographs on her reflex camera, nicknamed Ref, of the various regions as well as of actors who portrayed the characters she was writing about.  Marie offered important insight to her mother.  Brandeis said, "It was Marie who guided my footsteps along the right road towards child understanding while the trusty camera made possible the illustrations."

Although the books in Brandeis' series were written in the late 1920's and the 1930's, we still feel their relevance.  I chose to purchase the book Little John of New England since this is the area where we live. Emmy enjoyed hearing the story of John who lived in Boston, but was left to live with his Aunt and Uncle in Maine while his parents went on a "motor trip."  The story includes letters from John's mother telling of her New England adventures with his father.  Emmy and I were both thrilled whenever she talked about a place where we have been.  We both enjoyed John's relationship with the teacher at the one room country school.  Miss Wells helped John come up with a plan to keep his dog Pal close by when his Aunt and Uncle sent the dog away to live in town due to his mischievous behavior.

Whenever Emmy and I are in a second hand bookstore, we will look for Brandeis' books.  It will be like a scavenger hunt to us and when we find one, we will celebrate!  We hope that you, too, will look for her beautiful books especially if you are searching for interesting chapter books to read with your child.

UPDATE 8/30/15
*We recently connected with Chris Otto who writes about all things ephemera on his blog Papergreat.  I must admit that I had to look up the definition of ephemera!  Ephemera is any transitory written or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved; items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term use.  Chris' blog is full of beautifully illustrated post cards, recipe booklets and book covers from the past. My favorite sections on the blog are School Days where old basal readers can be found along with Tucked Away Inside where Chris features items he finds inside vintage books like a Dubble Bubble quiz tucked inside of an old school book.  As a child, I loved reading the comics and the fortunes inside of Dubble Bubble gum!

After discovering that Emmy and I were also fans of The Children of America Stories, Chris sent us three books from his collection!  To learn more about these vintage books with the beautifully illustrated covers, check out Chris' post Children of America Stories: 5 awesome vintage covers.

Thank you, Chris!