Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | picture book

Marsha Wilson Chall and Jill Davis

I recently had the honor of interviewing Marsha Wilson Chall, the author of the new picture book, The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo, and her editor, Jill Davis.

Marsha Wilson ChallMarsha Wilson Chall grew up an only child in Minnesota, where her father told her the best stories. The author of many picture books, including Up North at the Cabin, One Pup’s Up, and Pick a Pup, Marsha teaches writing at Hamline University’s MFAC program in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lives on a small farm west of Minneapolis with her husband, dog, barn cats, and books.

Jill DavisJill Davis has been an executive editor in children’s books at HarperCollins since 2013. A veteran of children’s books, she began her career at Random House in 1992, and worked there at Crown and Knopf Books For Young Readers until 1996, after which she worked at Viking until 2005. After that, she held positions at both Bloomsbury and Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She is the author of three picture books, editor of one collection of short stories, and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University

Secret Life of Fiiggy MustardoMark: The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo came about in a different way than most picture books. You were asked to write a story based on illustrations of a character. Could you tell us about this process and a little about the story?

Marsha: You’re right that this story evolved differently than my others. My amazing editor, Jill Davis, sent me Alison Friend’s thumbnails of an adorable canine character she had named Figgy Mustardo in a variety of human-like poses and costumes. For me, it was love at first sight! So I set about the process of creating Figgy’s story based on my impressions of him through Alison’s art and then, via Jill, Alison’s written notions of his characterization and story ideas.

Alison FriendAn imaginative, spirited fellow, Alison visualized Figgy zipping through many adventures on his scooter. In the book, I took the liberty of changing the scooter to a race car and also cast Figgy as a rock star and a pizza chef who organizes and stars in a neighborhood rock concert, pizzeria, and stock car race with his animal friends. Lots of Figgy fun, but this did not a story make. I needed to know why these activities mattered to Figgy and how he grew as a character.

Secret Life of Figgy MustardoI also had to think about the nuts and bolts of how Figgy might transform from dog to dilettante. I was fairly certain of my own dog’s boredom and loneliness while our family is away, so I started my story exploration there. We all know that dogs, as social creatures, dislike being left alone and are often fraught with anxiety leading to certain not-so-flattering behaviors and/or the escape of sleep. A story with a sleeping dog would not be too interesting, so I chose the much more exciting, destructive route. What if Figgy ate things–any things–in his frustration, fell asleep, and dreamed about himself as a manifestation of what he ate? We all know “you are what you eat,” so in Figgy’s case, for example, he eats Mrs. Mustardo’s Bone Appetit magazine, falls asleep, and dreams of being Italian Pizza Chef Mustardo serving Muttsarello and Figaro pizzas to adoring gourmands. When he wakes, he knows his dream is a sign, so he makes a real one of his own, “Free Pizza,” and serves his entire animal neighborhood at Figgy’s Pizzeria.

Most importantly, I needed to develop a motivation for Figgy’s adventures; how were these events connected to him? What did they mean? How would they affect Figgy’s world outside and inside? The answer arrived in the form of loss; every animal neighbor came to Figgy’s concert and pizzeria and car race except Figgy’s family, the Mustardos, especially George (his boy). In desperation, Figgy creates the sign “Free Dog” to find a family who will talk and walk and play with him like all the other families he sees through his window. Where are the Mustardos? The family Mustardo arrives in time to show Figgy how much they care with a promise to take him wherever they can and to provide him companionship when they can’t in the form of new pup named Dot. Figgy and Dot go on to enliven the neighborhood with Free Shows nightly.

Mark: What kind of revising/editing process did you and Jill go through?

Marsha: Once I knew my character and his problem, I dashed off the story, sent it to Jill who loved it at first sight, then sat back satisfied with a good day’s work.

Ha! Not the way it happened, but I did write a first draft within a few days that Jill found promising. So many drafts later that I can’t even recall the original, Jill exercised plenty of patience waiting for the story she and Alison hoped I could write. I know she’ll protest my tribute, but I have never worked with an editor so open to my trial and error. Her abundant humor carried us through the process that I think would have otherwise overwhelmed me.

Mark: Will there be any more books with Figgy and his further adventures?

Marsha: Figgy hopes so and so do Jill, Alison, and I. For now, I hope Figgy wags his way into the hands and hearts of many human friends where he belongs.

WOOF!

Mark: How was this project different having a character first and then having to find a writer to tell his story?

The Secret Life of Figgy MustardoJill: It was kind of hard. The illustrator had invented this little dog who she wanted to be an adventurer—yet she wasn’t sure how to make the story happen. When I saw the dog, I thought of Marsha’s One Pup’s Up—and I knew how talented she was. Seemed like a slam dunk! But all of us—Marsha, myself, and the illustrator, Alison Friend, had  to share plenty of feedback, edit, and revise a bit before Marsha was able to tell both the story she envisioned as well as the story Alison had in mind. Marsha pictured Figgy at home, and really loved the idea of using signs. Alison seemed to feel Figgy was some kind of James Bond. So how were those two visions going to meet? They finally did when Marsha realized that Figgy would go to sleep and dream about his exciting alter-ego. And we all loved the idea. The book may seem a little bit sad because Figgy is always being left at home, but Marsha told it in such a great way that Figgy showed his grit! If he’s hungry, he eats what’s there—but then the magic happens and he goes to sleep and dreams of something related to what he ate. It’s so fun and so imaginative. I love what Marsha did with Figgy’s story, and Alison did, too.

Mark: What was it like to work with Marsha in this new role as editor after being her student in the MFA in Writing for Children program at Hamline University?

Jill: It felt very wonderful and natural. Marsha does not use intimidation as a tactic in general. She’s the rare combination of brilliant and super silly. That’s one reason she’s so loved at Hamline and in the continental United States, generally speaking.

There were times when she should have been frustrated or wanted to spit at me, but she was cool as a cucumber in the freezer in the North Pole. So professional and what I loved also about working with her is how much I learned. I learned how she makes use of repetition, alliteration, and very careful editing. I can be sloppy, but Marsha walked straight out of Strunk and White. She’s exact and wonderfully detail-oriented. She was also involved at the sketch stage. Actually at several sketch stages. We worked on the phone, we worked at Hamline, and we worked until we thought it felt perfect. And she loved it because she could use it in her teaching! And I just loved working with Marsha!

Mark:  Thank you Marsha and Jill for taking the time to tell us about your collaboration on The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo. The book is now available at everyone’s local independent book store.

Read more...

End Cap: Miss Colfax’s Light

Miss Colfax's LightWe hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about lighthouses and their heroic keepers through the books recommended in June’s Bookstorm, and most particularly Miss Colfax’s Light. If you love puzzles and games, we hope you have a good time solving this Word Search. 

Simply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the program will mark them off for you. Words can be found forwards, backwards, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. As you find a word, it will be highlighted on the board and it will disappear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hidden Words

Puzzle by mypuzzle.org
Read more...

Eileen Ryan Ewen

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to share with you our interview with Eileen Ryan Ewen, the illustrator of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this month. This book is a perfect example of the text and illustrations enhancing each other to make a picture book biography that is more than the sum of its parts. Have the book open near you when you read Eileen’s responses. With our interview, we hope to help you look more deeply at the illustrations.

In the first few pages of the book, when Harriet is walking through the door, why did you decide to draw her with one foot poised on the threshold? And was this picture always like this?

Yes, as I look back through my early sketches, Harriet’s foot is always on the threshold. Little is known about Harriet’s personality (though a bit comes through in her logs), and I was trying to imagine what it must have been like for her on that, her first day at the lighthouse. I tried to think about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 1860’s. How many women would have stepped away from a job as demanding as a lighthouse keeper? How many women (and men, for that matter) would have voluntarily stayed on for as long as Harriet did, as well as completed the job so thoroughly each day? I have to imagine that most women of that era never would have entertained such a livelihood. Yet Harriet, a former music teacher and typesetter, didn’t step away. She stepped up.

Miss Colfax's Light

You have many period details in your artwork, from a five-panel door to a log holder to changes in clothing styles. How do you do your research?

I love history! My father was a historian, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the subject. As far as research, I had the good fortune to visit the actual Michigan City Lighthouse, where wonderful docents gave me a tour, and provided great information about what the lighthouse looked like back in Harriet’s day (it wasn’t as large!), clothing from her era, and the tools she used. Combined with that information, I used the good old internet to make sure the fashions I was using were appropriate. For instance, if you search women’s clothing from the mid-nineteenth century, very formal ball gowns will be the most likely results. Harriet would have worn no such thing. So then a more refined search is needed, often with trips to the library to scour books that might fit the time period I’m trying to capture. I know some illustrators who look to period movies, and will study the costumes and sets for inspiration. In the end, I usually have loads of information about the time period, and only end up using a small fraction of it in my illustrations—just enough to hopefully give the piece an authentic feel, and accurately capture the era. The research side can be tedious and time consuming, but because I find it so interesting, it’s a lot of fun as well!

Are you in charge of deciding where you have two facing pages with different scenes and where you’ll have a two-page spread? What determines this for you?

It’s probably different for each Art Director and publisher. I have great appreciation for the trust that my Art Director at Sleeping Bear Press showed me. She gave me the manuscript with the text somewhat arranged on each page, and let me loose. I was allowed to move text if I wanted to, in order to fit my illustration ideas, and I had free rein to chose vignettes, full-page illustrations, or two-page spread illustrations. Now, all that said, I had to run all of my ideas and sketches by the Art Director, Editor, and Publisher, as well as a few other people, before I could start the final art. Sometimes they approved my decisions, and sometimes I had to tweak something small, and other times I had to do an entire illustration over. The cover of Miss Colfax’s Light was done twice.

Miss Colfax's LightIn the scene where Harriet is filling the lantern with whale oil, the light is shining up from her lantern on the floor. How do you determine where the light will originate, and where it falls, in your illustrations?

If I have to be honest, this is something I’m still working on—lights and darks. For the illustration mentioned above, I guessed. I reverted back to my figure drawing days in college, remembering studies of the planes of the face and folds of fabric, how subtle angles can be thrust into complete darkness, while a slight curve can create a sharp, bright contrast. Looking at illustrators and artists who’ve mastered lights and darks also helps (and intimidates!). I know of several illustrators who actually make models of their characters, and then place lights to mimic the lighting of their piece, and draw from that. This is something I hope to try in the future.

Miss Colfax's Light

In the double-page spread filled with small vignettes of Harriet working, how did you think how to lay out that page?

This was a challenging one for me! A lot of important information is being revealed, and all deserving of a visual component. One illustration per page just wouldn’t cut it. Add the fact that Aimée is describing the typical work Harriet would do in any one day, made me want to capture the feeling of what it was like for Harriet from sun up to sun down. For this reason, I chose to arch the vignettes around the words, starting with Harriet tending the light at the first crack of dawn, to Harriet lighting it again at dusk. But until I came up with that solution, I struggled with this spread quite a bit. I’m not sure why the solution came to me when it did, but it sort of popped up as I was walking my daughters home from preschool. I immediately had the image of clock hands, the passing of time, how the hands (and sun) arch and rotate from Point A, to Point B. It dawned on me to try to use this movement in the piece. Just goes to show that sometimes ideas pop up at the strangest moments. I wasn’t thinking about the problem that fall morning, or so I thought, but apparently some little part of my art brain was still churning, unbeknownst to me.

I love how woeful the postmaster looks when Harriet is reading the letter telling her she’s being replaced. When you begin an illustration, do you have in mind what the expressions will be on various characters’ faces?

Yes and no. Sometimes, I feel like I know the character right away, and other times I really have to sit back and let the scene marinate in my mind, create a few really awful sketches before I start to feel the true spirit of a character, even a minor one, like the postmaster. I remember reading Harriet’s obituary, which described the people of Michigan City as absolutely loving her, and holding her in high regard. So while there were some naysayers at the beginning of Harriet’s career, it seems as if almost everyone felt she was a beloved, stalwart fixture by the end of her career. The latter feeling is what I was trying to capture in the postmaster’s face.

You begin and end the book with that doorway. When did this idea for framing the story come to you in your process?

I think it came fairly naturally, and the framing is largely in Aimée’s writing, which made my job easy! And of course, doors make such nice analogies, don’t they? Comings and goings, beginnings and endings. I almost feel like this aspect of the storyline was a gift. It just made sense to me to start and finish the book with that door.

What did you want readers to know from the pages of illustrations you created for this book?

History can be such a dry subject. Until we realize that it’s all just a series of stories, made up of real people doing extraordinary things. So I hope that when people read Miss Colfax’s Light, they see a person who was courageous, and tired, and determined, with calloused hands and a smile for a friend or a cat who’s chasing the chickens again. I hope that I helped to make Harriet’s world a real, tangible place for readers, especially children. I hope to inspire someone to try something that might be out of their comfort zone, or to not back away from something they want to try just because someone says it’s not meant for them. There is so much to be learned from Harriet and her life. In some ways, her story is a small one, historically speaking. In other ways, it’s huge, and absolutely deserves to be told. It has been such an honor to be entrusted in helping bring her story to life!

Read more...

Aimée Bissonette

Aimée BissonetteIn this interview with Aimée Bissonette, author of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this monthwe asked about writing and researching this nonfiction picture book biography. 

Aimée, thank you for sharing your experiences and discoveries with our readers. We’re excited about this book that showcases an Everyday Hero, one of America’s female lighthouse keepers.

Miss Colfax's LightWhen you were writing this book, do you remember editing to include fewer details so the illustrator could do her work?

Yes, indeed! In fact, that’s half the joy of writing picture books — knowing the illustrator will fill in so many details. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s  illustrations in this book provide wonderful factual material. Harriet’s clothing and household items in the book are just like the things Harriet would have worn and owned in the late 1800’s. I did not need to include descriptions in the text. Eileen included so much historical detail in her illustrations.

How did you learn that some people in the city felt Harriet “got her job only because her cousin was a U.S. Congressman”?

In writing the book, I did a lot of research. There were several written accounts of Harriet’s life and the docents at the Lighthouse Museum had a treasure trove of information about Harriet. My favorite source of information was Harriet herself. She kept a daily journal, called a log, starting in the 1870’s. The idea that Harriet’s cousin, Schuyler Colfax, a U.S. Congressman who later became Vice President of the United States, helped Harriet get her job was mentioned frequently in my sources. Specifically, it is mentioned in a 1904 Chicago Tribune newspaper article by a reporter who interviewed Harriet right before she retired.

Miss Colfax's Light log book

The author and illustrator chose to include depictions of Miss Colfax’s log book throughout the book.

There are short segments of entries from Harriet’s journal included throughout the book. Did you have to get permission to use those? How did you know who to ask?

Those short segments are entries from the “log” I mentioned above. Harriet maintained that log as part of her official lighthouse keeper duties so the log technically is “owned” by the U.S. Government. Her log is kept in the National Archives. I did not need to get permission to use it because it is not protected by copyright. Keep in mind, though, much of the material a writer uncovers while doing research for a nonfiction book is protected by copyright. Writers need to be aware of this and ask permission when they use other people’s copyrighted work in the books they write.

Did you have to research the Lighthouse Board and the Lighthouse Inspector before you could write this book?

The references in the book to the Lighthouse Board and Lighthouse Inspector are based on Harriet’s log entries. There are many more log entries than are included in the book — 30 years’ worth, in fact! Reading them was tremendously eye-opening. Harriet referred often to the Board and the Inspector in her entries. I did additional reading about the Lighthouse Board and how lighthouses were managed in the 1800’s, but mostly relied on Harriet’s own words when writing about the Board and Inspector.

Other than “I can do this,” there is no dialogue in the book. Why did you choose to leave out dialogue?

That’s a good question! I think the main reason is that, although I had Harriet’s log entries and her letters and I had a sense of what she might say and how she might say it, I didn’t know exactly what she would have said in a conversation. I felt if I made up dialogue, it would take away from the factual accuracy of the book. We can’t even be 100% certain that Harriet would have thought or said “I can do this.” But given all I learned about Harriet — her drive, her intelligence, the hardships she faced — I felt it fit and I allowed that one exception.

Miss Colfax's Light

What do you want readers to know that they didn’t know before from the text you wrote?

I want readers to think about Harriet and others like her — the everyday heroes whose work makes life better for all of us. We don’t often think of lighthouse keepers as “heroes,” but the work Harriet did was critical to sea captains and sailors and the people of Indiana who depended on the goods brought in by ship. I also want readers to think about how Harriet and many other women of that time defied the restrictions placed on women and did incredible things — all without the cool technology we have today.

Would you have chosen to do Harriet’s job if you were alive then?

I like to think that I would have, yes. I think there is a little bit of me in Harriet. Like Harriet, I love a good challenge!

Read more...

Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose meets Mr. Wintergarten by Bob Graham has been around for awhile. I’ve been reading it to kids for almost as long as it’s been on this side of the pond. But I’ve read it two different ways, and I’m ready to confess that now.

I love most everything about this sweet picture book. I adore the Summerses—what a great hippie-like family!—especially Mom in her loose fitting dress and sandals and crazy earrings. I love the illustrations—particularly the gobs and gobs of flowers. And I experience nothing but delight with the marvelous contrast provided by Mr. Wintergarten—his dark house that the sun never hits; his cold, gray, uninviting dinner with floating gristle and mosquitoes breeding on top; his dusty coattails and huge empty dining room table. I think the not-so-subtle puns found in the neighbors’ last names (which a four-year-old had to point out to me) are brilliant.

And the story itself! Sweet Rose, brave enough to venture over to her neighbor’s house despite the neighborhood children’s stories of Mr. Wintergarten’s mean and horrible reputation, his wolf-dog and saltwater crocodile, his penchant for eating children…. I love it all.

Except that last bit. “No one ever goes in there,” said Arthur, “in case Mr. Wintergarten eats people.” I hate that. And it functions almost like a spell in the story, because as soon as Arthur delivers this worst-of-the-worse news, Rose’s ball goes over Mr. Wintergarten’s fence.

For a long time, I just left off the incaseMr.Wintergarteneatspeople part of what Arthur says. I thought it sufficiently exciting for my wee story-listeners that nobody ever went in there…(drumroll!)…and now Rose would go in there. It was but a small change—a tiny omission, I reasoned. It’s not like I totally changed the story.

Rose Meets Mr. WintergreenWhen Rose goes to ask her mother what to do and her mother suggests, like all good hippie-mothers, that she simply go ask Mr. Wintergarten to give her ball back, Rose says she can’t  “Because he eats kids.” To which her no-nonsense hippie-mother says, “We’ll take him some cookies instead.”

Again, the cannibalistic innuendo was just too much for me. I’d look at those sweet little faces, rapt in the story I was reading them…and it was just easiest to have Rose remain silent when her mother asks why she doesn’t just go make the proper inquiry. Then all I had to do was leave off the word “instead” when her mother suggests the cookie idea. The book taught hospitality among neighbors—excellent!

I read it like this for years. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. I was protecting the children! And then one day, amongst the crowd of children at my feet, there was a reader.

“Hey!” he said. “You skipped a line.”

“I did?” I said.

The boy stood and approached. “Yeah, right here. “No one ever goes in there,” said Arthur, “in case Mr. Wintergarten eats people.” He underlined the words with his index finger. I feigned surprise upon seeing them. I complimented him on his astute reading skills.

Nervously, I checked on the rest of the wee vulnerable storytime children at my feet. They were looking up at me in what I can only describe as thoroughly delighted horror.

“He EATS kids?” a little girl said.

“For real?” said another.

Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten“Probably not,” said the reading child. “They probably just think he eats kids.”

“Oh….” Big eyes looked at me and the older, wiser, more worldly reading boy.

So when Rose’s Mom says they’ll take cookies, I, of course, put in the word “instead.”

“That’s a good idea,” said a sweet little girl with dark curls. She nodded vigorously. “A really good idea.”

“Yeah,” said her little brother. “Everyone likes cookies.”

As you might guess, Rose’s brave overtures earn her a new friend in Mr. Wintergarten. Turns out her old neighbor hadn’t even opened his drapes in years. Once he goes outside and kicks Rose’s ball back over the fence—losing his slipper in the process—he’s pretty much a new man. As are the children, who learn their reclusive neighbor’s reputation might be a bit exaggerated.

I’ve not omitted the cannibalistic lines since. I bite my tongue so I don’t soften them with a “Oh that’s just silly, isn’t it?!” I just read it straight. Kids love this book—I think, much as it pains me to admit it, all the more so because of the previously censored lines. They can take it, I guess. Who knew?

Read more...

Worm Loves Worm

Worm Loves Wormfinally had a chance to read one of my new favorite picture books—Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato—to a group of kids. It was Valentine’s Day—the kids were making valentines, learning origami, and listening to love stories read by moi.

My mistake was trying to call them away from the origami and stickers and scraps by saying: Hey kids! Let’s read some love stories!

A couple of them looked up and made a face, but most ignored me. The adults came to my aid and tried to get everyone to circle up, but the assurances that everyone could go back to their crafting did little to persuade. They’re readers, but they’re also crafters. Unfair to make them choose, but I did. I announced grandly, “The first book is about worms….”

That got their attention.

“Worms?” they said.

“I thought you said you were reading love stories,” said one child (who will be a lawyer some day.)

“Yes,” I said. “This is a love story. About worms.”

A few left their scraps and stickers and came over to see. I started the story.

Worm loves Worm.

“Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm.

“Yes!” answers Worm.

“Let’s be married.” 

“I didn’t know worms could get married!” said one child. More joined our circle.

I turned the page. Worm and Worm’s friend Cricket volunteers to marry them, because you have to have someone to marry you—“that’s how it’s always been done.”  

That’s How It’s Always Been Done is a major refrain in this book.

“Now can we be married?” asks Worm.

But no, not yet. Beetle insists on a best beetle, and volunteers himself for the role. The Bees insist on being bride’s bees. And then there are the rings to consider—because, of course, “that’s how it’s always been done.”

It goes on and on—the usual trapping of a wedding, the ways “it’s always been done”—are trotted out as hurdles, if not quite objections. Patiently the worms adapt. Their friends see how things can be different. They’ll wear the rings like belts, not having fingers. They’ll do The Worm at the dance, not having feet to dance with. Their friend Spider will attach the hat and flowers with sticky web and eat the cake “along with Cricket and Beetle,” since worms do not eat cake.

Now, the adults in the room understood the story as a clever way to turn the same-gender vs. different-gender marriage debate upside down. They were delighted. These are parents who have raised their kids to support marriage for all—indeed, some of the kids in my audience are being raised in a family with two moms/dads.

The kids understood the more subtle message behind the story, though. It’s about change. It’s about learning to see past How It’s Always Been Done. They didn’t even blink when one worm wore a veil and tux and the other wore a dress and top hat. This is how kids play dress up, after all. Details do not stymie children the way they do adults.

Worm Loves Worm0797

The ending to this book is happy. When Cricket objects that “That isn’t how it’s always been done.” Worm says, “Then we’ll just change how it’s done.” The other worm said, “Yes.”

And the children said, “Yes.” And then they went back to their Valentines.

Read more...

“I’m not ready for school!”

Dad's First DayI minored in theatre in college, where I crossed the street from Augsburg to attend Arthur Ballet‘s legendary history of theatre class at the University of Minnesota.

Lessons learned in that class came rushing back as I savored Mike Wohnoutka‘s Dad’s First Day because it struck me how well this book would play as theatre of the absurd.

Mike is a keen observer of behavior, knowing what will delight kids … and their parents. Turning that first day of school on its ear, showing that, truthfully, parents are just as worried as the child is, provides good fun, discussable emotions, and a natural lead-in to conversations.

The dad’s behavior is drawn in friendly, realistically comic style with a varied palette of gouache paint. His reactions are absurd. Kids will recognize that and whoop with acknowledgment. Dad is endearing and so is the little boy who nonchalantly, even displaying confidence, can’t wait to experience his first day at school. 

Word choices make this a good read-aloud while the illustrations make this a good side-by-side book. And you must find the references to three of Mike’s previous books in the illustrations. I found six … can you find more?

Highly recommended for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and preschool educators.

Read more...

When a Prince Needs a Mechanic

by Vicki Palmquist

Interstellar CinderellaWith a deft story and otherworldly art, Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt bring us Interstellar Cinderella, a fresh and welcome take on the familiar fairy tale with a bit of Androcles and the Lion and The Jetsons thrown into the mix.

In this version, Cinderella loves fixing anything mechanical. She has her own set of special tools, all carefully drawn and named on the endpapers for the kids who love identifying things. Her companion is a robot mouse, small and seemingly insignificant but he saves the day when the wicked stepmother tries to keep the Prince from seeing Cinderella.

The illustrator used “gouache, brush and ink, graphite, rubylith, and digital process” to create a world that is readily identifiable as being set in the future, with touches of Arabian Nights and supercool spaceships, which Cinderella dreams of fixing when they break down.

When her fairy godrobot (don’t you think she’s a nod to Rosie on The Jetsons?) gives her a brand new spacesuit and a power gem to join the Prince’s Royal Space Parade, the Prince’s spaceship springs a leak and Cinderella is there to fix it.

I took a “Powderpuff Mechanics” class when I was in college (I didn’t name the class, folks), and I was mighty proud to be able to work on my own car. I know the thrill of fixing a leak and figuring out how to get better performance out of an engine, so Cinderella is my kind of gal.

I’m especially fond of the way this book ends. No spoilers here. Let’s just say that this isn’t your grandmother’s Cinderella story. In a rhyming picture book, the author creates a heroine who is talented and wise. The book sparkles and crackles with the power of the stars. Highly recommended.

Interstellar Cinderella, written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt, Chronicle Books, 2015

 

Read more...
ill_matchboxdiary.jpg

Gifted: The Matchbox Diary

When a young girl visits her great-grandfather for the first time, her imagination swirls with everything she sees in his antique shop. He asks her to pick out her favorite item and he will tell her a story about it. She chooses a cigar box filled with match boxes. As it turns out, this is […]

Read more...
bk_arlo_cover.jpg

Gifted: Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventure!

Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventures! written and illustrated by David LaRochelle Sterling Children’s Publishing, 2013 If you’re considering gifts for the holiday season … (book #1 in our series of Gifted recommendations) … No matter how uninteresting Arlo’s elderly relative insists on making their trip to the museum with her warnings to be serious and quiet and […]

Read more...
bk_campingtrip_180.jpg

Packing up the tent?

Summer Reading No. 2 Many of you are making plans to get out of Dodge when your kids are out of school for the summer. I imagine thousands of people making a list: tent, sleeping bags, mini-grill, rain ponchos, clothesline (from our camping experience, someplace to hang things up to dry is essential), cooler, GPS, […]

Read more...
8_truckstop_diner.jpg

Best Truck Stop Ever

Summer Reading No. 1 Travel season begins now. Resorts and roadside attractions and Dairy Queens are all spruced up. The OPEN signs are once again flipped to the side that matters. Will you be traveling the highways and backroads, looking for adventure? I’ve read a new picture book that made me look differently at something […]

Read more...