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Jan Brett::The Easter Egg Tour 2010

Ask Steady Eddie, and he’ll tell you that (my) reading has taken him a lot of places he never imagined dreamed he’d go.  Like Prince Edward Island, Canada.  Or DeSmet, S.D.  Or any of the other several obscure places we’ve sought out due to my reading.  Last night, it took us to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Hastings Bookstore  for Jan Brett’s Spring Tour promoting her new book, The Easter Egg.  I first read about the tour in an issue of Family Fun magazine (which was actually promoting her handpainted egg giveaway).  When I saw on her website that she was going to be only a couple of hours from our home, I immediately begin plotting to go.  Nevermind the fact that it was on the eve of one of our busiest weekends of the enter year.  Steady Eddie, being the loving man that he is, agreed to my harebrained scheme. 

When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw the big bus.  That was exciting! 

Of course, I had to pose for a picture with it!  It is beautiful!  🙂

When we entered the store, we saw Jan Brett set up at her table.  There was a long, long line snaking away from the table toward the back of the store.  We simply found what we thought was the end of the line and got in it.  It turns out that this was only a small portion of the line, and the kind ladies at the back of this portion of the line instructed us to go get a ticket.  Ah, a ticket. 

Do you see that tiny little number in the bottom, right-hand corner?  234.  That’s right–we held ticket number 234.  🙂  After conversing with the manager, we decided it might be best to leave, get a bite for supper, and come back.  So we did.

The poor McAlister’s Deli located in the parking lot of the shopping center we were in boasted that Kids Eat FREE on Tuesday and Thursday nights!  I’ll bet they never dreamed how many kids would make their way from Hastings to their besieged restaurant last night.  😉

After enjoying our supper, we returned to Hastings at about 7:00 to resume our place in line.  Steady Eddie and I took turns taking the girls around the store to shop.  They had $5 from their nana to spend, and those bills were burning the proverbial holes in their pockets.  In some of our meanderings about the store, we ran into Hedgie!

Seven p.m. was the time the book signing was supposed to end, but we were still at the very end of a long, long line, and we had been assured that Jan Brett would stay to the very end.

She did.  A little bit before 9:00, we made it to the front of the line.  When we got almost to the table, I noticed this sweet illustration on an easel.  I learned that Jan Brett had demonstrated her drawing skills when the book signing began–at 5:00, before we arrived.  I hated that we missed it, but I was glad to snap this picture.

It turns out that those tickets were for the number of books you had for her to sign–two books per ticket.  I had already purchased The Easter Egg and On Noah’s Ark, but we also brought along our Christmas Treasury and a paperback for her to sign.  The nice folks in front of us had an extra ticket, so Steady Eddie even got in on the action!  🙂 

Jan Brett was very kind and engaging, despite the fact that we were ticket holder number 234.  She had already completed one book signing in Knoxville earlier in the day, but she and her handwriting were just as crisp and beautiful as if they had just begun!

She spent a little bit of time talking with my girls.  They showed her their coloring pages of Berlioz the Bear and some of her other characters. 

Despite the fact that we didn’t get home until midnight last night, I am very glad we went.  It was exciting to meet this real-life, extraordinarily talented, and very famous author and illustrator.  I hope my girls remember this, but if they don’t, we have the books (and the pictures)!

We still haven’t even had a chance to read either of the new books (and truthfully, I bought On Noah’s Ark in board book format for baby brother), but I’m looking forward to sharing them with the girls.

I’m glad we got to take part in Jan Brett’s 2010 Spring Tour!

After all, reading can take you places you’ve never dreamed you’ll go!  🙂

_________________________________

Please excuse this hastily written post, but I wanted to share these pictures and our little adventure before I go on semi-bloggy break for the next couple of weeks.  I’ll still be posting some TOS HomeschoolCrew reviews and Read Aloud Thursday will go on as usual, and I might have a few other pre-scheduled post.  Other than that (!!!), things should be quiet here.  My quilting post I promised earlier in the week will have to wait until after Easter.  By then, I will be posting at my new, self-hosted addressThat blog will go live April 5.

And now, I’m off to prepare for our next adventure!  🙂

Author/Illustrator Spotlight::Robert McCloskey

I’m probably coming a little late to the party for this particular author and illustrator, but my only exposure to him as a child that I recall is Make Way for Ducklings.  It is certainly a charming book in its own right (not to mention that it’s a Caldecott Medal winner!), but I must’ve been a little too old (or something?) for it to make a huge impression on me.  (Either that, or now I’m reverting back to my second childhood.)  When I discovered One Morning in Maine, I positively fell in love.  I’m not sure what it is about this book–the relationship we’ve already established with the younger Sal through Blueberries for Sal, the fact that my girls are just about the age that Sal is in One Morning in Maine, or just the simple fact that this somewhat lengthy picture book has so many interesting details about life in coastal Maine.  (An island, even!) Sal’s delight over losing a tooth; her consternation over losing (as in misplacing) that tooth while going clam digging with her father; and her fastidious care for her little sister while they travel by boat across the bay to do some shopping are just perfect–McCloskey really nailed the age, I think.   This one’s definitely going on my Best Picture Books list.


I was interested to note that McCloskey only wrote eight books.  To quote Eleanor Blau, the author of McCloskey’s NY Times obituary, “It had to be right, and it often was.”  My girls and I have also enjoyed Time of Wonder, another book for which McCloskey won the Caldecott Medal.  It didn’t grab me quite as much as One Morning in Maine, but it also doesn’t have such an endearing heroine.  I also think I prefer the black-and-white illustrations of his earlier works over the color ones in Time of Wonder.

I would really like to read McCloskey’s Homer Price and its sequel, Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price.  His obituary states that these are full of tall tales; I’m not sure if this means they are tall tales or if they contain tall tales.  Something I’ve read before about them makes me think the latter.  Has anyone read these?

If you haven’t introduced your children to the wonder of Robert McCloskey, don’t wait.  I’m planning to “Row” Lentil some time this spring.  I can’t wait!  (For more on Lentil, check out Lisa’s post.)

Illustrator Interview–Thomas Gonzalez

When Melissa at Peachtree Publishers contacted me about participating in a blog tour for Carmen Agra Deedy’s new book 14 Cows for America, I immediately said yes.  Although I was unable to interview Ms. Deedy, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the book’s very talenting illustrator, Thomas Gonzalez.  All (two!) of my previous author interviews have taken place via email, but this one was different.  Tom GonzalezI actually had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Gonzalez by telephone!  I was a bundle of nervous anticipation, and while I’m pretty sure I didn’t get everything down that we talked about, I did my best to capture the spirit of our conversation.  Conducting this interview certainly made me regret the day I dropped out of that basic reporting class back during my freshman year of college!  😉  Seriously, though, Mr. Gonzalez couldn’t have been nicer or more accomodating to this little ol’ book blogger.  Many thanks to him and Melissa for this awesome opportunity!  And now, without further ado, a little peek into our conversation:

Hope Is the Word:  Hi!  Welcome to Hope Is the Word.  This is my first illustrator interview, and I am extremely excited about this opportunity!  First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. 

Thomas Gonzalez:  I’ve been drawing since I was a child.  Growing up in Havana, Cuba, I would visit the zoo or attend baseball games and I would always draw pictures of what I saw.  It was easier to draw pictures than it was to talk about them.  When I moved to the United States in 1970,  I did not know the language, so I drew instead.  I took a high school art class, but I just took it for an easy grade.   I wanted to go to college for advertising and design.  Ironically, I used my painting portfolio for a scholarship. 

Hope Is the Word:   Is this your first picture book, or have you illustrated others?

Thomas GonzalezNo, I’ve never illustrated a picture book before this one.  My background is in advertising.  I’ve done art directing and project design for Coke, Delta, and other companies.

Hope Is the Word:  Can you tell us a little bit about the process of illustrating a picture book in terms of how an author and an artist come together? Did you and Carmen Agra Deedy actually collaborate on the book, or was the writing process already complete before you began your work?

Thomas Gonzalez:  I left my job at Coke in 2007, and I met Carmen after this.  We were actually discussing another project when I saw the draft for 14 Cows for America.  Carmen already had another artist for the book, but that fell through, and I really wanted to opportunity to illustrate it.

Hope Is the Word:  14 Cows for America is set in Kenya.  Did you actually go to Africa to experience what you’d be illustrating first-hand?  What was this process like?

Thomas Gonzalez:  I did not go to Africa, but I did a lot of research to illustrate this book.  We talked to representatives of the Kenyan Embassy, and Carmen actually tracked Kimeli [Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, whose story is told in the book] at Stanford.  I worked really hard to understand the Masai mentality.  My wife and I watched a lot of movies about the Masai. 

Hope Is the Word:  What art mediums did you use for this book?

Thomas Gonzalez:  I used a little bit of everything for this book, so it’s really a mixed media presentation.  The illustration process went like this:  I did pencil sketches to achieve a frame of reference so that everything would be very precise and the relationship between the objects would be correct.  After the line drawings came pastel drawings, in which I worked in the shapes and shadows.  After this process, I used colored pencils, then airbrush, and finally, ink.

Hope Is the Word:  I usually ask authors I interview about their favorite children’s authors.  However, since you’re an artist, I’ll ask you about your favorite artist and/or your favorite children’s book illustrator.  Who inspires you?

Thomas Gonzalez:  I really don’t have a favorite illustrator.  Instead, I have favorite ideas or concepts.  I am inspired by Maxfield Parrish, an artist and illustrator from the turn of the century.  When you die, his illustrations are the place you’d want to go.  He did some children’s books, stories. 

Hope Is the Word:  Can you offer any advice to any young person out there who is interested in pursuing a career in art or illustration?

Thomas Gonzalez:  It’s not technique, it’s idea.  The best program you learn is your head.  Everything starts with a sketch, so what’s in your head is way more important than learning a program.  For example, I’ve heard that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were first created on a napkin in a restaurant.

********

As Mr. Gonzalez and I chatted at the end of the interview, I asked him if there was anything about the book he wanted to share with my readers.  He related this about the ending of the book, which is the stunning portrait of  half of a boy’s face with a reflection of the Twin Towers in his eye:  “No one could come up with a way to end the book, but I  had done the sketch that they used as the ending first.”

  He also said that he incorporated symbols of the Twin Towers throughout the book.  For example, on one page which details the Masai tribe coming together under an acacia tree to hear the story of September 11, the illustration shows the acacia tree blurring into a brush of color–fire orange, smoky grey, etc.–all the colors we might associate with that terrible day.  In the book, there is a woman (a part of the Masai crowd) on the far right hand side of the page, but Mr. Gonzalez said that originally there was an illustration of the Twin Towers there, connected by the smoke and fire to the acacia tree.  He went on to point out that on many of the pages, on the right hand side of the two-page spread, there are two obvious objects sticking up (usually two sticks).  These objects represent the Twin Towers.  I told him it is sort of like Where’s Waldo?  😉

There you have it folks–my first live interview with a real, live artist!  I am excited beyond words!  I am really amazed at the creativity and talent involved in something that seems so simple–a child’s picture book.  Once again, I am truly honored that I had this opportunity.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to read my review of 14 Cows for America to learn how you can win a copy of this awesome book!

Oh, and one more thing–if you’re interested in hearing Tom Gonzalez talk about the book for yourself, as well as seeing some of his artwork, here’s a little YouTube video clip (hat-tip to Natasha at Maw Books Blog  for this!).  You can even see the illustration with the fire and smoke beginning at 2:24 that I mentioned above.  It’s really interesting to see the sketch that Mr. Gonzalez began with beside the final illustration that is in the book.  The clip is a little slow (it has to reload or something every few seconds), but it is most definitely worth it!  This, and a wealth of other information about this amazing story, is also available at 14 Cows for America.

Author Spotlight: Carmen Agra Deedy

Carmen Agra DeedyWhen I was asked by Carmen Agra Deedy’s publicist to participate in a blog tour next week for her new book, I almost shouted “yes” loud enough to be heard in Atlanta.  You see, I have been privileged to sit under her storytelling three times in the past few years, and each time has been a joy.  I consider this opportunity a bloggy coup on par with my interview of Hattie Big Sky‘s Kirby Larsen!  What makes this even more exciting for me is that Carmen Agra Deedy’s picture books are every bit as good as her storytelling!  I will be posting a review of her new book, entitled 14 Cow for America, next Friday, as well as an interview with the illustrator of the book, Thomas Gonzalez.  This week I wanted to introduce you all to Carmen Agra Deedy.

Carmen Agra Deedy is a gifted storyteller and author who, with an amazing ability to slip from Southern drawl to rapid-fire Spanish in one sentence, recounts her own childhood in a Cuban family that fled their native country as refugees after Castro’s revolution.  Her stories of her mother and father and their assimilation (or lack thereof) into Southern American culture as residents of Decatur, Georgia, are simultaneously hilarious and poignant.  Her storytelling is very energetic and, at times, politically incorrect.  She usually has me laughing uproariously in one moment and dabbing at my eyes in the next.  I found a You Tube video of her spinning her magic in case anyone would like to sample her storytelling.  I want to warn you that the language is saltier than I remember her being (perhaps due to the venue–I heard her at storytelling festivals geared toward families), but the ending of the tale gets me right in the heart every time I hear it.


My first experience with Carmen Agra Deedy was way back when I was first a college student, fresh out of high school.  I worked as a public library aide, so I had a good bit of free time on my hands to peruse the stacks during our slow times.  I found an audiocasette of her storytelling entitled Growing Up Cuban in Decatur, Georgia, took it home and listened to it, and then promptly forgot her name, if not her story.  Fast forward several years and I was an elementary library media specialist.  We had an intriguing picture book already on our selves when I took over the job:  The Yellow Star:  The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by none other than Carmen Agra Deedy.  Obviously, this book has nothing at all to do with Cuban immigrants, but I was completely mesmerized by this romantic legend of a king of wore the yellow star to identify with God’s people as the Nazis overran his country.  I love to read about this historical time period, so this book really hooked me!  One of my favorite stories I’ve heard from Ms. Deedy is her tale of how she came to write this story.  I won’t recount the details here, but trust me when I say it’s a good one.  🙂  If you ever have a chance to hear her, take it!

 

Not only does Ms. Deedy have an amazing ability to sniff out the most inspiring of legends, she also has a way with folktales.  Martina the Beautiful Cockroach:  A Cuban Folktale is the story of a very unlikely heroine who finally finds her true love by taking her grandmother’s unusual advice.  The best part about this story is the fact that the heroine is a cockroach–talk about upending expectations!  I am so happy to have both The Yellow Star and Martina the Beautiful Cockroach in our home collection and signed by the author, no less!

As a former school librarian, I simply cannot fail to mention The Library Dragon.  I know that Ms. Deedy has a very soft spot in her heart for librarians (and you do, too, if you’ve ever heard her story about the impact the librarian of her small southern town had on her as a child), and she really captures what it means to be a librarian in this charming picture book.  The librarian in the story, appropriately named Miss Lotta Scales, has some learning to do when she becomes the new librarian at a school.  This book is full of word play and would make a great read aloud for the beginning of the school year or with any new library user.  I think this is the next book of Ms. Deedy’s I’ll add to our collection; I think my girls are old enough (maybe!) to not be put off by the idea of a library dragon!

Carmen Agra Deedy has written several other books (you can see her full list of published works here), and she has been the recipient of numerous awards.  Most notably, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach was a Pura Belpre honor book last year.  I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to review her newest picture book next Friday, and I will also be giving away a couple of copies, so be sure to check back next Friday!

I just can’t end this blog post without sharing one last little personal story.  Last year for my birthday, Steady Eddie totally surprised me with a road trip which ended with an afternoon of Ms. Deedy’s storytelling.  I had no idea when we took the trip, which was to just be a day of puttering around, shopping, eating out, etc., that it would end the way it did.  It was at this storytelling event that I first heard Ms. Deedy’s tale that I mentioned above in which she recounted how she came to love reading and books, thanks to the public librarian in her town.  That day holds so many warm, fuzzy memories for me–toward my wonderful husband for arranging such a fun and surprising day, and for Ms. Deedy and her ability to get right at the heart of the human story.  I am already looking forward to another opportunity (hopefully!) to hear her this fall!  If she’s anywhere within driving distance, I would recommend that you go hear her.  I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Author/Illustrator Spotlight::Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson

Summer has done a number on our schedule. I used to think we would school year ’round so that we could take breaks when we needed them and have a more go-with-the-flow existence than a traditional school calendar allows, and while I haven’t given up on that plan altogether, I am already seeing that what I envision and what actually transpires in this exciting experiment of home education are surely two different things. Summer time just offers too many opportunities for us to be tied down at home every day.

I picked up The Carrot Seed several weeks ago as what will be our last Before Five in a Row selection of Lulu’s preschool.  We will probably pick up the ones that we haven’t done as a part of Louise’s preschool this year and possibly revisit some old favorites, but I’m calling it done for this year with this book.  We will begin with volume one of Five in a Row as a supplemental (read fun) part of Lulu’s kindergarten when we convene school in six weeks or so.  (Why I make the distinction between Lulu’s and Louise’s preschool when there are only eighteen short months between their ages, I don’t know.  It keeps me sane in this thinking about their schooling, I guess.)

With right at 100 words, The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss captures the anticipation and faith involved in growing carrots and believing in dreams.  The little boy’s detractors are his family members, no less, but he continues steadfast in his belief that the little seed he deposited in the earth will grow, and he is rewarded with a wheel barrow sized harvest of one giant carrot.  My girls love this simple little book.  They love the chorus of “it won’t come up” repeated by the little boy’s mother, father, and brother.  They love the triumphant ending in which the little boy wheels away his impossibly large carrot.  The simple illustrations by Crockett Johnson are limited in color to mustard yellows and browns, with an occasional punch of red, orange, or green.   We have enjoyed several other books that are thematically related to this book, so be sure to come back on Wednesday when I highlight those titles!

I picked up A Very Special House at the library without realizing it is also by Ruth Krauss.  When I first began reading it to my girls, I thought to myself that this is the sort of old, nonsensical story that doesn’t translate well to modern readers.  We kept on reading, though, and my girls, especially 3 1/2 year old Louise, LOVED it.  (Of course, since then, she has informed me that she did NOT like this book.  Hmph.  Kids!)  The illustrations in this quirky little book phrases are by Maurice Sendak and won the distinction of  a Caldecott Honor in 1954.

All of this brings me to what is possibly my favorite picture book of all time:  Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.  I’m pairing Ruth Krauss (author) and Crockett Johnson (author and illustrator) together because they were married!  I kid you not.  It’s amazing what you learn when you just do a little research, huh?  I just love that I started highlighting a Before Five in a Row book and ended up writing about the genius that is Harold. If you experienced Harold and the Purple Crayon yet for yourself, you need to!  The concept behind this book is amazing:  a little boy named Harold creates his own world with his trusty purple crayon, all the while illustrating a clever story that is chock-full of word play.  In a household where the second theings the girls do every morning is make something with paper, yarn, and glue (the first thing is the rallying cry of “Read a book!”), Harold and the Purple Crayon reminds me of the importance of creativity and imagination in children (and adults!).  Our copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon is in a wonderful anthology of picture books that we own.   I’m excited that Harold and the Purple Crayon is included in volume two of Five in a Row, which we should be ready for at least by next school year.  I even found this little animated adaptation of this book that stays very close to the original.  Harold and the Purple Crayon was published in 1955, and it illustrates the fact that simple, good art and childish imagination never go out of style. 

From Letter to Letter by Teri Sloat

from letter to letterI read about a fun, new education blog carnival on Blog, She Wrote, so I naturally clicked over to check it out.  I was tickled to discover that the Picnic Table Talk theme this week is alphabets since I have an alphabet book in my stack to share this week.  I thought, why save it for Read Aloud Thursday since I have nothing else to do right now?  😉 I’ll just write up a quick post while my girls rest. (This is said with just the slightest bit of sarcasm, in case you can’t tell.)

alphabetFrom Letter to Letter by Teri Sloat is a visually appealing ABC book.  I like ABC books a lot, but sometimes I’m not sure my girls “get” them because they are so accustomed to hearing a story.  This particular book, though, encourages a lot of discussion.  Each page features an upper- and lowercase letter.  The uppercase letter is an outline letter, and every bit of it is filled in with illustrations of things that begin with that letter.  The lowercase letter is a part of a larger illustration which relates somehow to the letter.  For example, the uppercase A is filled with things like apples, airplanes, acorns, arks, etc.  The lowercase a is a part of a neat illustration featuring anteaters.  (Louise has been fascinated by anteaters since she had an unfortunate run-in with some fireants earlier this spring, so this illustration yielded an interesting discussion.)  Some of the illustrations are unusual; in fact, I was unable to identify some of them (usually animals).  Fortunately, Sloat includes a list of objects at the bottom of each page, with a comprehensive list at the end of the book.  This is a great ABC book that would work for preschoolers on up through upper elementary students due to the sophistication of the illustrations.  Highly recommended!

Incidentally, Teri Sloat is an author/illustrator whom we have greatly enjoyed here at the House of Hope.  I reviewed This Is the House That Was Tidy and Neat here, and we have also greatly enjoyed the Farmer Brown books (I just haven’t blogged about them yet).  You can find examples of Teri Sloat’s work and all of her book titles on her website.  Be sure to check out her biography page–it’s a hoot!

If you’re interested in creative ways to explore the alphabet with your preschoolers, you might want to check out this week’s Picnic Table Talk at ABC and 123.

Hallie Durand Interview

Hallie DurandAs I mentioned earlier this week, I was privileged to interview via email the author of the new Dessert series (my  review of Dessert First here).  Ever since I hosted my first author interview here at Hope Is the Word, I have itched for the opportunity to do it again.  This was the perfect chance for me to communicate with a real, live author and pick her brain a little bit.  Care to listen in?

Hi, Ms. Durand, and welcome to Hope Is the Word. I am extremely honored and excited to host this interview! I was excited to get to read Dessert First before it is even available for purchase, and I really enjoyed it.

I am interested in how you got started as a writer. Have you always been interested in writing? How did Dessert First come to be?

I’m a very big lover of children’s books, but I never really tried to do it myself. What happened was that Dessert came knocking and I started typing. She took over my life!

See, I have a very dear friend with whom I’ve been sharing dessert for almost two decades. For the first decade, whenever the dessert would arrive, I would turn the plate a little to the left or right so that the best part of the dessert “happened” to be staring me in the face . . . you can guess what part is the best—the back side of the cake with all the frosting, the outside of the pie with the most crust—I could go on and on! But then one evening, in a booth at a cozy restaurant, I gently turned the cake like I always did and my friend said loudly, “WHY DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE THE BEST PART OF THE DESSERT?” And I said much more quietly, “Because I thought I was getting away with it.” And that was the beginning of a friendship for life–because we’d told each other how it is, which takes a lot of courage.

Then a couple of years ago, I shared a slice of iced lemon cake with this dear friend, and while we were eating it we started to talk about writing, and she encouraged me to try my hand at writing a story. I said I would, but I didn’t really mean it. Then, to my absolute surprise, as I was walking home that night, just a few hours later, the idea of a girl named Dessert came to me, and I knew immediately that she signed her name with a maraschino at the end. She was right there in my mind, clear as day, demanding my attention. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before and so I began typing that night—I was very much in a hurry to get her story down because I was afraid she might leave as quickly as she came.

I think it’s fair to say that Dessert is a little bit like me (and I’m not always especially proud of that!). But that’s the truth. She’s a little sneaky, she usually gets caught, and, she grows up a little more every time she has to say she’s sorry. Dessert First sprang from delicious food and real friendship, two things that are very important to me.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

I don’t have any typical writing days, but I do carry pen and paper wherever I go, in case I hear something funny or something that has special meaning to me. But most of the real writing happens after a day at Pippin Properties (my regular non-writing name is Holly McGhee and I opened a children’s literary agency named Pippin Properties eleven years ago), after I tuck my kids in, and after my husband and I catch up on our day. Then I sit on the couch with my laptop and see what happens.

If I’m on a roll or if there is a deadline looming, I go away—all by myself, with a suitcase full of food and my laptop.

One thing I liked about Dessert First was the idea of the “food family” and the emphasis on recipes, cooking, and baking—I love to cook and bake, too. Is this something that you’re interested in personally, or were you inspired by someone else?

When I’m not writing I head straight into the kitchen. I love food, I can cook all day long—I even like slicing vegetables. I always feel best when my cupboards are full and the house smells like Thanksgiving dinner.

I was also a big 4-Her, and one of my proudest accomplishments was winning the title of New York State 4-H Bread Champion as a teenager (I got to go on a bus trip to Chicago!). Then in my freshman year of college, I was late getting to the sign-up for the work-study program, and the only job left was a shift from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the bakery—but I had to do it because I needed the money. As it turns out, I got to work with this fantastic baker named George and I absolutely loved sticking my whole hand in the bucket of icing and “drizzling” the huge trays of turnovers.

These days, I have a French friend, Christine Snell, who’s like a sister to me. She and her husband own a French Bistro in Brooklyn, and she gave me a big red fondue pot for Christmas a month before Dessert interrupted my life. The restaurant in my book, Fondue Paris, was born of that friendship.

Dessert’s teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody, is an interesting character. Tell us a little bit about her.

Mrs. Howdy Doody came to me as soon as I started writing Dessert First. She walked around in slippers and was a bit of an outsider, someone who didn’t worry about what anybody else thought. And now I can see that I was inspired by Mrs. Normana Schaaf, who teaches the two year olds at Morrow Memorial Preschool. It’s a coop school, at which parents are helpers on a regular basis. I’m not somebody who fits into groups very well and I’m not an ideal “helping parent” either, but Mrs. Schaaf said to me when she met me, “You can do nothing wrong and your children can do nothing wrong.” That’s one of the many reasons why I love her. She marches to her own drummer, whether she is wearing her pajamas to school, or trying to teach two year olds how to make apple crisp.

The children in Dessert’s family have interesting names. Tell us a little bit about how this came about.

Let’s see. Charlie, the four year old, just came to me as Charlie. As for Wolfgang—originally I had the parents name him after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but I took that out a long time ago—the name Wolfie stuck, though. And Mushy—we used to call our son Mushy when he was a baby. So far in the Dessert books, I’ve only called him Mushy, but I may reveal his full name one of these days!

Are there more Dessert books in the works?

I have completed the second book, Just Desserts. In it, Charlie comes into her own, much to Dessert’s dismay, and we get to know Sharon S., Billy and Donnie B., Bonnie A., Evan C., Pat D., and Emily V. much more . . .

Do you write in other genres?

I do have a picture book coming out from Candlewick Press. It’s about a three year old who won’t go to bed till his father says he can drive there. It’s tentatively called Mitchell’s License and will be illustrated by Tony Fucile, whose first book Let’s Do Nothing is coming out now. I love working with Tony!

Who are some of your favorite authors, particularly children’s authors?

My very favorite author is William Steig, because he always told the truth.

Growing up I loved Madeline, Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more than any other books.

Lastly, do you have any hobbies?

I love grocery shopping with my dad.

ISBN9781416963851In my world, food and books are pretty important, so I think Hallie Durand has created a winning combination.   Be sure to check out her inaugural story, Dessert First.  I’m giving away three copies of an ARC of Dessert First here at Hope Is the Word.  The giveaway ends at midnight on Sunday, May 24.  See this post for details!

Author/Illustrator Spotlight::Mo Willems

Little did I know that when I checked out Knuffle Bunny and Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems that my girls would fall deeply, madly, and irrevocably in love with Trixie and her beloved rabbit.  I am a pretty stuffy person, I’ll admit, so Mo Willems’ cartoonish art did not appeal to me at first glance, and I suppose I expected my girls to have my same prejudice.  🙂  Well, they didn’t.

This tale really is delightful.  It’s the simple story of baby Trixie who goes on a jaunt to the laundromat with her father.  Her beloved Knuffle Bunny, the title character, gets inadvertently placed in the washing machine, and anyone who has ever had a child with an affinity for a certain animal or, as the case is here at the House of Hope, blanket knows the rest of the story.  It’s Trixie’s baby talk and Willems’ apt drawings of a child in the throes of a melt-down that make this so (familiar?) endearing.   I find myself sympathizing with Trixie’s father.  My girls LOVE it when Trixie goes “boneless.” This one always elicits cries of “Read it again, Mommy!”

The second installment of the Trixie-Bunny saga is just as popular here in our home.  Knuffle Bunny Too begins a few years later, with Trixie entering the world of pre-school.  She is excited to take her beloved Knuffle Bunny for the show-and-tell, but when she gets to school, she is horrified to learn that Sonja has a Knuffle Bunny, too.  Well, the expected mix-up ensues, but all is rectified in the end with a cloak-and-dagger meeting of the the girls and their fathers to trade back their Bunnies.

Willems’ marriage of two types of media in his illustrations, photography and cartoons, makes these books fun to look at, too.  Others agree. What amazes me about our sharing of these books is how much the girls “get” the illustrations.  These books rely heavily upon the illustrations to communicate Trixie’s emotions, and Lulu and Louise understand that so well.

When I saw how well-loved these books were at our house, I promptly checked out everything else I could find at our library by Mo Willems.  His other books have not been as popular here so far, although the Elephant and Piggie books have shown promise.

Mo Willems is one talented author/illustrator.  He even has an interesting website and blog.  Check him out!

Have you had a good Read Aloud Week?  I hope so!  Be sure to check out the Read Aloud Week book giveaway here, and come back tomorrow for Read Aloud Thursday and the end of the book giveaway!

Author/Illustrator Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats

Ezra Jack Keats is certainly an author/illustrator who needs no introduction, but I am over-fond of stating the obvious at times, I’m afraid.  : )  Besides, this little blog o’ mine is as much a record of the books we read and enjoy here at the House of Hope as it is a public resource (‘though I surely hope it is that, too), and I would certainly be remiss if I did not include this giant in the world of children’s literature and his beloved works.

Ezra Jack Keats is perhaps best known for his Caldecott Award-winning book, The Snowy Day.  Our own favorite here at the House of Hope, though, is Whistle for Willie.  In this story, Peter of The Snowy Day fame works very hard to learn to whistle, and by the end of the story his efforts are rewarded.  Like all good children’s picture books, it’s a simple story of childhood.  Children will recognize themselves in the things Peter does:  he turns around and around until he makes himself dizzy, hides in a box, dresses up and pretends to be his father, and finally, learns to whistle!  Peter lives in simpler times when children are safe to be out and about in the neighborhood alone, and this is part of the charm of this and others of Keats’ stories.

We really like Peter around here, so Peter’s Chair is another big hit.  In this story, Peter is adjusting to life with a new baby sister.  The old green-eyed monster rears its ugly head, but in the end, Peter copes with becoming the big brother.  My girls like this one a lot.  Never let it be said that we have an entirely peaceful, devoid-of-sibling-rivalry existence here.  I think we like this one so much because it reminds us of ourselves.   : )

Peter appears in many other of Keats’ stories, and in fact, he grows up right before the reader’s eyes in them.  For this reason, some of the stories will appear more to older children.  For example, the issue of bullying by older boys is broached in Goggles! We read it, and Lulu even requests it, but I think it’s more a case of morbid curiosity than anything.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Keats is that he is such a varied and prolific writer and artist.  Many of his books are peopled with African American children in an urban setting, but he has also interpreted legends, folktales, and folk songs.  One of them is a personal favorite of mine, “Over in the Meadow.”  Keats’ version is, of course, very similar to all of the others, but with his trademark illustrations.  Really, these are not to be missed.

Ezra Jack Keats has even lent his name to an award:  the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, given to a new writer and a new illustrator of children’s picture books each year.  For more about Ezra Jack Keats, his books, the award, and even some interactive stuff for children, visit the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation web site!

Author Spotlight::Jane Yolen

poe-friSince April is National Poetry Month and there’s a lovely blog carnival called Poetry Friday that I’ve been itching to participate in, what better time to highlight a very prolific and beloved children’s author who is also a poet.  That’s right!  Jane Yolen, who wrote The Devil’s Arithmetic and scores of wonderful picture books, also has many, many books of poetry to her credit.

I happened upon a couple of Yolen’s poetic works in the picture book section of our library and brought them home because I thought one would appeal to my pioneer loving girls and because I like poetry and nature, so the other one appealed to me.  It turns out I was right on both counts!

Harvest Home is a beautiful picture book written entirely in rhyme.  It is the story of Bess, Ned, and their family, working together “bringing the harvest home.”  Each page includes this refrain three times, in an ababcccb scheme which mimics the rhythm of the reapers reaping the grain.  The story begins with a remembrance of planting time  and then methodically recounts this family tale through a description of the family working together; an emphasis on the necessity of having the help of the neighbors; a description of dinner time fun and the ancestral link to the land; a recounting of the toil of working through the afternoon;  and finally, a triumphant telling of the finishing the harvest with the making of a harvest doll out of a twist of wheat, the joy of eating a bountiful harvest meal together and praising God for the harvest through song and dance. Greg Shed’s illustrations are muted, gentle, and lovely–a perfect accompaniment for a beautiful family story told in beautiful verse form.  Highly recommended!

Least Things:  Poems About Small Natures is a collection of poems and photographs.  Yolen’s inspiration for this book was this quotation from Pliny, the Elder:  “Nature excels in the least things.”  The poems in this book are all haiku, a perfect form to capture the essence of “least things” like a butterfly, a lizard, a tree frog, a snail, and a dragonfly.  This book is a collaborative effort between Yolen, and her son, photographer Jason Stemple.  My favorite poems from the book are about the butterfly which can “paint a psalm” and the dragonfly whose “flight is a hymn.”  Yolen’s foreward in which she explains the process by which she wrote this book is very interesting, as well.  This book would be a great introduction to poetry.  Highly recommended!

Jane Yolen has an awesome, interactive website.  It even includes some samples of her poetryCheck it out!

Do you like poetry?  Who is your favorite poet?  Or, are you like many participants in the Poetry Friday carnival–you write poetry?  Do tell!

Click over to ayuddah.net for this week’s Poetry Friday!