Saturday, December 17, 2011

Making Snowflakes!

Last November, I was invited to present at the North House Folk School's Winterer's Gathering in Grand Marais, MN, one of my most favorite places on earth! I led the family event, reading from both of my winter books, Winter is the Warmest Season and Snow, and as the snow fell outside on Lake Superior and the town, we made shiny, glittery paper snowflakes inside. It has been my experience that once you start cutting paper snowflakes, you cannot stop at just one.
Demonstrating the art of cutting a six-point snowflake.
Most people think cutting a snowflake from paper is just a matter of folding the paper into quarters and cutting designs from there. That is fine for a lace-like doily, but when I illustrated Snow I studied snowflakes. I learned that most snowflakes have six sides. Some have twelve, but never four or eight! I also learned that a snowflake is not a frozen raindrop-- it is an ice crystal that forms from water vapor in the air and it takes about fifteen minutes for a snowflake to form as it falls to earth. It takes about the same amount of time to cut out your first six-sided paper snowflake. 
Sometimes a little help is needed to cut snowflake designs. 
Last week I hosted a gathering of CMLS (Circus Mom's Literary Society) at my house. This group of friends is famous for good food, wine and conversations about books, but this time I added making snowflakes to the mix. Scissors and shiny square origami papers were all the ingredients needed for a fun activity. I think active hands make for lively conversations.
Conversing and cutting snowflakes
Shiny origami papers make shiny snowflakes!
Buster and snowflakes.
It is mid-December in Minnesota, and believe it or not, there is NO SNOW! At least not in the Twin Cities. We had a paltry few inches a couple of weeks ago, but nothing since then and there is no forecast for snow in the next ten days! So what do you do when there is no snow? Make snowflakes! 

Snowflakes fall in my window, even with no snow outside.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Magical Literary Party!

When magic happens, sometimes you have to keep it a secret, because no one will believe you if you told them. But sometimes when it happens, you have to tell everyone in order to share the magic and hope that it inspires more magic! Sunday night I was invited to the house of a children's librarian. It is no ordinary house. There are quotes from books on the windows, a Narnia train that travels from the kitchen to the living room bringing your beverages and if you are lucky, a letter in a miniature mailbag!
A letter from Narnia!

The people invited to this literary dinner party consisted of book writers and readers, painters and composers, wood artists, and philanthropists, who all had two things in common: we were all children once and we all loved to read, especially children's literature! As we toured the house, there were two bathrooms, one dedicated to Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, by Bernard Waber and the other to the Frog and Toad books, by Arnold Lobel. In the lower corner of the Frog and Toad bathroom is a small mailbox and if you are lucky, (and we were that night!), there might be a package for you inside!
A package in Frog and Toad's mailbox!
Letters written by frogs and mice are lovely to read, but sometimes you might need a magnifying glass!
Reading a letter from a mouse.

The guest room in this house is where I want to come and stay awhile. It is painted purple and is dedicated to the book, Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. The walls are painted with magnetic paint, so you can move pictures around and make your own decor for the night! 

Everywhere you look in this literary home are hundreds of references to children's picture books! Even the wall sockets are decorated with illustrations from picture books! 
Using a magnifying glass to examine the illustration in the wall socket!
Because one of the guests was the wonderful author/illustrator David LaRochelle, who LOVES contests, there was a literary contest played before and after the meal. With pens and questions with fill-in-the-blanks, we combed the house, racking our brains to figure out who was in the picture over the stove and what book was it from? And what book was the quote on the studio window from? There were framed illustrations on the walls to identify, runes on chairs to translate, and pictures on a clock that referred to specific times in specific books. It was hard to stop for dinner! But stop we did and conversation flowed about books of course. Books we were reading and books read when we were little. Books we were writing and books we were illustrating. It was a magical night! And who won the contest? I did, with the help of my husband! Our prize was a miniature dollar bill with miniature coins, in a miniature green envelope from Frog and Toad!
Party gifts and contest forms from the magical Literary Party!

I have not had so much fun at a party in a very long time. Truly a magical evening. I hope this post inspires you to have your own literary party and share the magic of bringing books to life!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Time Travel

I have become a time traveller. It began with the Wild West, walking the dusty streets of Dodge with Wyatt Earp and galloping to the next boomtown in search of gold, then with the beginning of NaNoWriMo, I found myself in 18th Century Venice, floating the canals and listening to the music of Vivaldi, and now suddenly I am thrust into early 20th Century watching rehearsals of The Rite of Spring in Paris!
The Wild West and Circus Juventas!

A view of Venice by the artist, Guardi

Dancers from The Rite of Spring, 1913

How is this time travel possible, you might ask? Imagination helps, but research is the key. Immersing myself in library books, internet sites, art books, Westerns, movies set in Venice, fiction and non-fiction, I am swimming from one century to the next. Why am I time traveling? All fall I have been writing the script for the next Circus Juventas summer show. The theme this year is the "Wild West". Finding characters, hearing conversations with a cowboy twang, envisioning the locale, and determining a plot are possible only through lots of research- books on the West and movies, lots of Westerns!

I was sick with the flu for nearly three weeks in October and when November 1st rolled around I decided to amuse myself in bed by trying NaNoWriMo for the first time. A story set in 18th Century Venice had been knocking around in my head for over a year, so I took this opportunity of being housebound and joined the thousands of people who take the pledge to write 1600 words a day for the month of November and begin my first novel! Books and music filled my days as I asked questions of my characters, made up conversations, and began to determine a plot. I managed to write 105 pages by the end of the month. I didn't win the NaNoWriMo medal, but I have begun a story I love and that is what counts! However I have to put it away because I have a new deadline for a new picture book set in Paris in the early part of the 20th Century. Now I find myself rehearsing with the Ballets Russes and listening to Stravinsky's outrageous orchestrations through books, CDs, and documentaries, then making sketches for the illustrations inspired by all that I see and hear. I think I will stay in Paris for awhile now, though the Wild West will undoubtedly lasso me back from time to time.