Everything You Need for a Celebration

Mimi

It’s been a busy few weeks around here. I’m still trying to figure out where the summer part of summer is!

But.

It’s all been fantastic things.

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Mathilda and the Orange Balloon

Mathilda and the Orange Balloonby Randall de Sève, illustrated by Jen Corace

(published 2010, by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins)

(You might remember one of my other Jen Corace faves, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, over at Design Mom!)

Oh, Mathilda. You are a determined sheep. A sweet sheep. A sheep with a story. Mathilda and the Orange Balloon Mathilda and the Orange Balloon Mathilda and the Orange Balloon Mathilda and the Orange Balloon See, in Mathilda’s world, everything is small. And green. And gray. A fluffy sea of same. Which is only a shame for a page or two, because then . . . an orange balloon. Mathilda and the Orange Balloon It’s just the thing to buoy the heart of a sheep weary of the same. She calls it magnificent, and something inside her wakes up. I love that, don’t you? The hope of a floating balloon, and the hint that the world is bigger and more colorful than you know.

While this magnificent thing sparks a joy in Mathilda, the other sheep are unimpressed. Heads down, mouths chomping on clumps of clover, they are uninterested. Blind to the magic. Especially when Mathilda says she is an orange balloon. When you’re blind to the magic, that friend filled with joy is just a gray sheep. And will always be a gray sheep. Mathilda and the Orange Balloon Mathilda and the Orange BalloonMathilda and the Orange BalloonBut when you are Mathilda, you are round and warm. You fly. You are fierce and big, and you are happy. Of course, because you are an orange balloon. You are.

I adore this story. I love that it’s utterly ridiculous but full of hope. I’d like to give Mathilda a fist bump and say, “you go, girl.” And I’d like to be an orange balloon, too.

So the color here is masterful. Its contrast to the herd of gray sheep is a delight. It’s also restrained, and that’s why it soars.  Mathilda and the Orange Balloon Last week I woke up in the middle of the night for the ALA Youth Media Awards. What a celebration of art and story, and man, aren’t our readers the real winners? Thinking about the Caldecott awards, this struck me: Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 1.48.25 PM (Come on, that Mr. Wuffles bit about nine-tenths is funny, right? Still searching for validation on that one.)

(Also, here’s where I’ll put a little I-told-you-so about Flora and the Flamingo‘s win. Remember this post from July?! I told Molly Idle that I immediately felt guilty for publishing those words so early in the year, so what a relief that I didn’t actually jinx the process.

I know. That’s not how it works. Still.)

So.

Mathilda and the Orange Balloon is a stunning example of the balance between words and pictures. Type out Randall de Sève‘s words. Her text doesn’t dictate how Mathilda became the orange balloon. It didn’t have to. The pictures solve that puzzle. The pictures jump into the playground of your imagination and fill in the gaps. Her words are beautiful, but spare, and leave breathing room for the illustrations. This form is visual. Isn’t that the best part? Breathtaking mini-museums, and a rich storytelling experience. We have to leave them room, writers!

Enjoy this one. And check out this Mathilda birthday party! How fun!

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Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue

RedKnitCapGirlToTheRescueby Naoko Stoop

published 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Naoko Stoop’s work has enchanted me for some time now. I’m thrilled she is in the picture book world because her voice is unique. It’s haunting and heartwarming at the same time. Terribly beautiful. I wrote about Red Knit Cap Girl over on Design Mom, and now she’s back in another lovely episode.

And how thrilled was I to connect directly to Naoko and find out some nitty gritty details of her process, inspiration, and drive to create story? Very. Hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have!

Be sure to visit Naoko’s etsy shop if you are still in the hunt for Christmas gifts. I’d take one of each, wouldn’t you?RKCG2-10(Click any image to enlarge. You have got to see the detail and texture in its full glory!)

When did you first know you were meant to be an artist? Was it a particular moment? A habit? An inspiration?

I have to say, I still hesitate to call myself an “artist”. Because, to me, “art” is about expression, and everyone has his/her own way to express themselves. I’ve been very, very lucky that I’ve made a career in what I love to do. I never considered that I would be in the art field when I was studying business at college, or working in marketing for a big corporation back in Tokyo. Back in those days, I felt something was missing in my life. I didn’t know what it was, but I remember that my grandmother used to tell me that when I was five, I never stopped drawing. Her words stayed with me for years. Several years ago, when I was feeling lost, I quit everything and started to paint. I was hoping to find new prospects in my life and nurture my inner child, and it opened me up to a new world of possibilities. Since then, I’ve been painting.

What are your creative influences – in books, or film, or art, or nature, or anywhere else?

I grew up mostly in Tokyo. I was a typical city kid, busy with studies and school activities—I didn’t spend much time outside. After college, I lived in Vancouver B.C. Canada for about a year, and it was the first time in my life that I was exposed to nature on such a large scale: huge mountains, endless rain forests, magnificent glaciers and lots of wild animals. Canada’s natural beauty amazed and inspired me. I felt so spiritual by just being in nature, it gave me a sense of security and stability which I never felt in Tokyo. My time in Canada has been a strong influence on my current artwork, considering that I didn’t yet know how to paint when I was there. Life is interesting; I would’ve been very happy living in Vancouver had I stayed there, but I’m not sure if I would’ve become an artist. It was living in Brooklyn that gave me creative inspiration—Brooklyn definitely has an artistic atmosphere, with a lot of support for young artists. People accept individual creativity and don’t negatively judge your work. When I was painting on used brown paper grocery bags, a gallery owner discovered me, and she gave me my first gallery show opportunity.

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And who are your creative heroes?

Hayao Miyazaki,
Hokusai Katsushika,
Maurice Sendak
Is there a book from your childhood that has stuck inside your soul?

It’s not a book, but an early Miyazaki movie, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It had a strong influence in my developing my own stories. I also love Totoro by Miyazaki. Totoro is my spiritual home :)

Which comes first – the story in words, or the story in pictures?

Definitely story in pictures first. I develop the stories in my head with sketches, visualizing the storyline. Later, I write a simple text to accompany the illustrations.

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Tell us a bit about your physical process of creating art? I see wood, paper, paint, and pencil? Your pictures are so tactile and lovely – the spread with the waves (where their eyes are squeezed closed tight!) grabbed me and plopped me right into that sailboat with them! What a rush!

First, I find a piece of wood which has the right grain for the scene, then I start with background. This is the most intriguing part of my painting process because wood grain gives me a spontaneous pattern, and I can never predict the exact result before I paint on it. (Sometimes, I get very a different painting idea by looking at the flow on the grain!) When the background is dry, I start drawing the outlines of the scene with inks, then color them with acrylic paint, gouache, pencil and pastels… whatever would suit best to give the appropriate texture for the scene. I try to use found materials as much as possible, since I believe that art is a form of expression and separated from materialism.

What parts of Naoko are in Red Knit Cap Girl?

I created Red Knit Cap Girl as my inner child. I drew her playing in nature with forest animals, which I never had in my real childhood. I came to realize that I wasn’t the only one—people started telling me that Red Knit Cap Girl reminded them of their childhoods. I guess Red Knit Cap Girl could be lots of people’s childhoods! When I realized she wasn’t me anymore, I think I grew up a little bit :)

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Will we see any more of her adventures?

Yes! I am currently working on the third Red Knit Cap Girl adventure, coming in Fall 2014.

What’s next for you?

As long as I’m able to, I’d like to keep creating. I’m grateful to the people I work with—those who read my books and talk about my work. Thank you so much for interviewing me.

No, thank you, Naoko for the glimpse into your studio and story-loving soul. We are thankful! Are you as inspired as I am?

Thanks to Little, Brown for the images in this post. (Don’t forget to click on them to see them larger! You won’t be disappointed.)

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Sweet and Shorts: Lost My Name

Image 3One of the things I love about keeping this blog is the crazy creative people who share things with me. I’m looking at you, crazy creative people.

Asi Sharabi emailed me about Lost My Name, a labor of love created by three dads and an uncle. And in his words, it beat putting up wonky looking shelves. And in my words, I’d say the results are way more meaningful.

You can personalize your book for any name, and the book will follow that little boy or little girl who has lost it. Meaning Asi and his crew created a near infinite combination of story possibilities. Kind of an impressive undertaking, no?

He said, “Of course, we had to write a lot of stories, for each letter of the alphabet and then some. And they all needed beautiful illustrations (over 150). Then we had to come up with the technology to make it all happen, and find a printer who could handle it. So, a bit more ambitious than putting up a wonky shelf. But the results are, we think, rather wonderful.”Image 2Image 4 Image 1 Agreed. Check out their feature in the Guardian for a closer look at these treats. I love the concept, and I love the heart. breaker MoreToRead

I always say this, but my last couple Design Mom posts are some of my favorites. Remember The Little House? How about a look at On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein?

Also this week, I added a ‘How I Got My Agent’ story to the kidlit-writer-y-sphere. It’s in Julie Hedlund’s blog series, and what an honor to be there! I adore reading stories of hard work and success, and hope my addition to that canon is encouraging. ch