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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Clueless about Emma?

As you will learn, I’m not what you’d call a closet Austen fan. I would even go so far to label myself a bit of an Austen-phobe. Over the years, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid period drama (in my review, I admit that I prefer South Park to Gosford Park).

It was only the threat of public humiliation on the PBS website (and the possibility of their reposessing the lovely Jane Austen action figure they sent me, shown here with my wind-up Kyle Broflovski) that got me to watch.

However, once I tuned in, I heartily enjoyed Emma and gave it a big thumbs up. It airs March 23rd, 2008 on PBS. Enjoy!


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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More Kid-Lit Peeps

Lest you think that I’m the only one creating marshmallow Peep dioramas based on children’s books, I thought I’d share this finalist entry from the Chicago Tribune’s contest.

My entry was not, I am sad to say, a finalist in the Trib’s contest… though it did get a shout out in Publisher’s Weekly, which is not chopped liver. Plus, I’m still waiting to hear from the Washington Post, which is the newspaper for which we designed HARRY PEEPER AND THE DEATHLY MALLOWS in the first place. Fingers crossed!

Of course, the entry depicted above is “Where’s Waldo” based on the books by Martin Handford. In England, the book’s original title was “Where’s Wally?” The name ‘Wally’ was apparently viewed as less commercially viable… or more British, but not in a good way… than ‘Waldo.’

Although these books probably need no explanation, the Peeps diorama illustrates the concept nicely: Waldo, always dressed in a red-and-white-striped ensemble and big round glasses, hides in plain sight and children scan the illustrations to find him. Unlike the diorama, the Waldo book illustrations are detailed to a degree that makes this simple task surprisingly difficult at times.

Plus, unlike the gimmicky I Spy books (illustrated by photographs of the contents of a typical kitchen junk drawer), they contain intricate illustrations of various locales, time periods and scenes with historical significance (ancient Egypt, for example). Which make them fun for a really wide range of kids - and adults.

Nice to see them reissued for a new generation to discover… and spoof.

Okay, Kids. Where is Waldo?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Asked and Answered

After I gushed about Elizabeth Matthews' lovely biography of Coco Chanel (DIFFERENT LIKE COCO) and expressed curiosity about her next project, I got my answer.

The answer came from Deanna Caswell, a soon-to-be new picture book author (welcome aboard, Deanna!). She wrote to say: "my friend Boni Ashburn (Hush Little Dragon, Abrams 2008), reads your blog all the time and told me that you would like to know what Elizabeth Matthews is up to. I can tell you! She's illustrating my first picture book called FIRST BALLET for Hyperion."

How cool is that? Asked and answered, as we used to say in my lawyer days. And a ballet book sounds like a great fit for Matthews (whose Coco seems to be dancing on several pages of DIFFERENT). I look forward to seeing it!

With helpful readers like Boni and Deanna, it is clear to me that I need to do more musing on my blog. So, here goes: Will that meat in the back of my fridge go bad before I get a chance to cook it? Will the Democrats - I've stopped caring about whether Hillary or Barack wins the nomination - prevail in November? Should I keep reading my book club book even though I just started another book I like better?

Chime in any time, readers!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Substance, meet Style!

Just wanted to let everyone who read yesterday’s Project Runway Junior post on Pajamazon know that we went to the library (to find my clueless child a book about that legendary Black [as in Dress] History Heroine, Coco Chanel) and, low and behold, look what we found:

Yes, it is a picture book biography of Coco Chanel!

Who says the library doesn’t have everything?

As soon as our beloved librarian found it, I suddenly remembered hearing about this book last year. I had filed it away in my overburdened brain and forgotten all about it until I saw the cover. It is a fabulous book (a “fierce” book, dare I say it) and an exemplary biography insofar as it captures not only the facts of the subject’s life, but the essence of what made him or her groundbreaking. I was interested to learn that, in the case of Coco Chanel, she was a woman of style AND substance. She dressed in men’s clothing, ripped up garments to create never-before-seen looks, and did not allow societal conventions to define her. And she helped free women from corsets, gotta love THAT.

DIFFERENT LIKE COCO is author/illustrator Elizabeth Matthews’ first children’s book. I for one am eager to see what subject she turns her pens and brushes to next. I am also eager to see more non-fiction books like this one, which prioritize the style of their book design (don’t you want to eat that buttery yellow cover?) as much as the substance of the text. It is particularly appropriate for a book about a fashion icon, but would be a refreshing direction for books on less-glamorous historical figures (poor queasy Harriet Beecher Stowe, anyone?) and subject matter.

Hmm, there’s a new show for Bravo… Project Runway, Book Design Edition!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gibbs Elementary!

For two years now, I have participated in a program called Community Nights. Last year, I visited River Terrace Elementary, in NE Washington, DC. And this year I visited Gibbs Elementary, also in NE Washington, DC.

The Community Nights program is run by the literacy organization Turning The Page, and it brings authors into partner schools for author visits with kids and parents. Turning The Page also provides the students who participate with signed copies of the authors' books. So the kids get wonderful momentos of their evenings with the authors.

And so do the authors, as you can see here (scroll down to see more). I received paintings from the first grader "superstars" in Ms. Chu's class. Using watercolors, the students created their favorite scenes from my book, NINETY-THREE IN MY FAMILY. Tyesha captured the family car, packed to the brim with animals and people. And Raven represented the disbelieving teacher. Thanks so much! Great job, everyone!

I also received a lovely illustrated card from the kids at the end of the evening. As you can see, Laura, Jamal and James worked on it. And Mayah, and Imani and LOTS of other kids. Thank you, everyone!

It makes me more than a little sad to note that Gibbs Elementary is one of the schools that will be closed at the end of this year. The DC government is closing many schools, alleging that they are underperforming or underenrolled. Although I was only at Gibbs for one evening, I saw a school where the president and VP of the PTA were still at the school at 8 pm, where many generations of families came to participate in a community event, and where the classrooms were wallpapered with the work of eager kids and dedicated teachers. One of those teachers (not Ms. Chu, who unfortunately had a prior commitment) sat through my reading with her students clustered around her, some even sitting on her lap. In other words, exactly what you'd want to see in a school.

I'm not saying that the closing of this school is part of some big sinister plan exactly. I'm just saying it is a real shame that Gibbs will be closing. I would have really enjoyed going back to visit my new friends there.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Harry Peeper and the Deathly Mallows

What have I been up to this weekend, you ask?

Well, let's see... doing four back-to-back performances of my books at Imagination Stage (sold out shows! too cool!), which gave me newfound respect for professional actors and classroom teachers... going bike-riding, running, visiting Dumbarton Oaks and generally enjoying the lovely spring-like weather here in our nation's capital...

Oh, yes, and sewing clothing for marshmallows.

If you are familiar with the Washington Post's Peeps diorama contest, you won't need to ask what I mean. This year, we struggled for a while before starting our entry. Hannah Peeptana? High School Peepsical? Ooo, how about Peepspray? But when we came up with HARRY PEEPER AND THE DEATHLY MALLOWS, we knew this was the concept for us. As you can see from this photo, a considerable amount of felt in various shades played a role. As did regular marshmallows - plus the sugar coated Peeps - plus frilly toothpicks, floral wire (Harry's glasses... hard to see in this photo, alas), stickers, rubber bands (yes, they can be made into tiny ties... see Ron and Hermione) and yarn. Oh, yes, and pipe cleaners (see Hedwig's wings and talons and Dumbledore's beard).

Anyway, we probably won't win but this was definitely a situation where just playing the game was all the fun. Or at least I thought so... not sure if Mike and the kids would agree with me. They found me particularly insufferable when I art-directed our photo shoot ("Wait, fix Hedwig's wing!").
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