Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Library of the Early Mind

I recently attended a screening of a new documentary on literature for children called: Library of the Early Mind. It was shown for free at my local library in downtown Minneapolis and after the film there was a panel discussion which included the director of the film, Edward J. Delaney, a school media specialist, Julie Reimer, (also the author of the blog, Extended Self Life, see my list of favorite blogs below!), and three authors, Catherine Thimmesh, David LaRochelle, and John Coy. The panelists were excellent and added to the experience of the film, which interviews twenty creators of children's books. There is humor, clarity, and intensity in the stories of each of the artist/authors being interviewed. The film begins with the voice of Chris Van Allsburg telling the story of how the idea for the book, The Polar Express came about. After drawing the headlight of a train in the woods with steam glowing in the night he asked himself: "If I were a child and a train could take me anywhere, where would I want to go?" And from there the story evolved. Later in the film, the author Natalie Babbitt says "The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in pictures." I loved this!

One point that the panelists discussed was how picture books become the "wallpaper" of our lives, meaning, how our favorite books we read when we were little, stay with us the rest of our lives. John Coy made the point that it wasn't just "wallpaper", but that the books he remembers from when he was little actually changed his life-- they did not stay in the background. And since today is my birthday, I thought I would list the books that are not only wallpaper decorating my life, but also changed the way I thought, the choices I have made, and who I am now and at different ages and stages of my life. After reading my list, if you are so inclined, please leave your list of favorite books from your childhood, the one's that still remind you who you are. During the panel talk, the director of the film, Edward Delaney, said the one book he remembers that made a difference in his life was: The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. I have never read this book, but I went to the library yesterday and checked it out in order to add it to my library of the aging mind!

My List of "Wallpaper" Books, favorites from when I was little:

  • Millions of Cats

  • The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

  • The Ugly Duckling

  • The Little Engine That Could

  • Little Bear

  • The Phantom Tollbooth

  • The Secret Garden

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Three Cats

Three Cats, Franz Marc

I live in a big house with three cats: Lucy, Buster and Indigo. They are my amusing muses and appear in many of my books, especially Buster, as he is likes to pose in my studio. I have always lived with cats, sometimes whole litters of cats, thus, naming my blog: "Artist and 3 Cats" seemed just right.

I met the author, Joan M. Wolf, at a book signing just a few days ago who also has three cats. She calls them her "Literary Cats" and writes extensively about them on her website including lots of wonderful photos. (She has a chicken too, but that is not the name of my blog.) Three seems like a perfect number for cats~ Art has always provided me with answers and reassurances in times of wondering why, so when I came across the painting "Three Cats" by the artist Franz Marc, I felt even more certain of the title for my blog.

Franz Marc has always been one of my favorite artists. His paintings curve and move, explode and soothe with line and vibrant expressive color. He mostly painted animals; blue horses and leaping yellow cows. He was born in Munich in 1880 and died much too young in 1916 in WWI. I always look at the art of other artists to give me ideas-- take me to places I may not even imagine. When I was illustrating my book, Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs, I had pictures of Franz Marc's paintings of animals all over my studio walls.
Two Cats, Franz Marc

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Love to Read Month!

Folding origami all together!
February is "I Love to Read" month, the month when I visit the most schools as an author/illustrator! I want to highlight a wonderful visit I had last month with Baxter Elementary School in Baxter, MN. Organized by two extraordinary media specialists, Sandy and Jennifer, I was welcomed by over 600 students who had read all of my books and were ready to learn how they were made and ready with great questions! My first day was a day of large presentations: slides showing my process from thumbnail sketches to final art. A movie of my newest book, The Princess and Her Panther was featured, narrated by the author, Wendy Orr, with music by my husband, Matthew Smith. At the end of my presentation we all folded origami frogs, inspired by my book, Fold Me A Poem, written by Kristine O'Connell George. This is always a great accomplishment when there are over a hundred kids folding at one time! It makes for wonderful papery-whispery sounds which just might inspire a poem! (Origami became very popular during my visit~ the second morning, Jennifer was leading "flower" paper-folding lessons to all the early arrivals in the library before the bell rang. I wonder how many paper animals are running around Baxter Elementary these days?)

Snowflake Poems!
Media Specialists Extraordinaire!

During my second day I visited several classrooms for smaller workshops. Students learned about storyboards and pagination, dummy-books and how to tell a story within the story in pictures. In my kindergarten and second grade classrooms we wrote a group poem inspired by my book, Snow, written by Cynthia Rylant. Then we cut out snowflakes with six points, never eight! and arranged snowflakes and poems on a double-page spread.

Each day I had lunch with a group of students who had written essays and poems about why they wanted to have "Lunch with the Author". During lunch we shared what we liked to write about and what sort of pictures we liked to draw. I even led a spontaneous drawing lesson one day, shoving our lunch trays aside for space to move paper and pencil.

It was hard to leave Baxter Elementary at the end of my two-day visit. I felt as if I was just getting to know everyone! A week after I arrived back home I received a packet of the most beautiful thank you cards! Thanks Baxter Elementary!
Making books in the classroom.