A thousand readings

I've been collecting, reading, admiring, and creating children's books for a good long while now. Until recently, I thought it a relatively easy task to pick a picture book up and determine if it will capture the attention of a child and offer them something of value. I'd flip through the pages, take in the illustrations, and read through it quickly to look for flow.

But becoming a mom has turned all that on it's head. I now read Tilly's favorites over and over, day after day, morning, noon, and night. Soon into those kind of repeat readings, the true quality of the writing becomes plain as day, and the book takes on a different feel. Some books that I first found sweet, I've come to dread slogging through. I trip on their clunky turns of phrase, mouthful of syllables, and jarring jumps in plot. I find myself editing them as I read.

Then others just glide off the tongue and virtually read themselves. It's made me realize how important it is for children's book creators to spend a lot of time reading to children, at some point in their career.

Here we are reading Peter Rabbit (best done in a lion suit).

And here are some of our other favorites; Tilly never tires of them and neither do I.


On my desk

Recently I joined a book club, thinking it would be good motivation to start reading books for an adult audience again. Sadly, I haven't finished one. My reading time is so limited now that I'm a mother, there is only room for books at the top of my list. That is, children's books.

Here are a few I've had on my desk lately. Since I've been writing in a new genre (chapter books), I've been trying to read up on some new ones, as well as review old classics. Most recently Winnie-the-Pooh has been on my nightstand. I had forgotten how utterly hilarious those books are, what genius. I can't wait to read them to Tilly when she's older!

What she likes

As I mentioned in this post, while I've got plenty of picture books on the shelf (though I have yet to determine which will be allowed into little hands and which will stay in perfect condition), I've never collected many board books. Now that I have a little one our board book library is increasing.

While baby clearly has little idea why we keep holding these boxy little pages in front of her she does seem to have some preferences. What they say about babies being attracted to high contrast images must be true, because she loves looking at this book:

By the same token Hungry Caterpillar always keeps her transfixed (I guess its a classic for a reason!). I think the bold shapes are easy for her to see, and the colors very appealing.

Here is another favorite, which I quite adore. Like I posted here, the story is so sweet and the artwork so delicate and beautiful. I love the combination of graphic shapes with collaged textures.

Lastly as a side note, when she's not looking at books baby just loves to look at her birds. She just stares and stares. Remember when we found them on a BRG weekend at Libby's? That was very lucky because they are baby's very favorite thing to look at. We first hung them in the living room and began to notice her gazing at them. When we brought her up close they would never fail to produce a grin, so we moved one string above her changing table. Now every time we change her, she looks up at them and smiles ear to ear.

On my desk

Whenever I paint a book there are always a few titles I pull out often for inspiration. So far for Greta, it has been Iona Opie and Rosemary Well's Mother Goose, and a variety of books illustrated by Melissa Sweet. The two below have been in heavy rotation.

I think what I've been trying to learn from each of them is how to balance a controlled painting style with spontaneity and loose, gestural marks. When I get in the zone and spend hours painting, I have to be on guard for my work becoming too tight or overworked. With this book, I am trying to keep some air in the pictures, to let the application be light. Will have more paintings to show you soon that hopefully will demonstrate what I mean!

The Quiet Book

Do you ever pick up a book and wish you thought of that idea? Thats how I felt when I picked up The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska, at a store this weekend. Oh what a sweet little book. The poetic text describes all the different kinds of quiet... there is the quiet of not wanting to scare away a little bird, and the quiet right before you yell surprise. The characters are soft and round and they really look quiet. I would have loved this book as a kid and I can see it being really useful in a classroom- after all kids know all about how to be loud. I think this book will help them appreciate the joy of quiet too.

Inspiration: The Wind in the Willows

Right now I am re-reading The Wind in the Willows, looking for ideas and inspiration. What an incredible book, I am completely engrossed. Its been a long time since I've read it and mainly my memories of it have been replaced by images from the various movies... but my what a masterfully told story. I've been jotting down some of my favorite turns of phrase, the ones that give me shivers and make me remember why I wanted to write books in the first place.

"...the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea."

"But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mere blank transparency on the night, that the sense of home and the little curtained world within walls- the larger stressful world of outside Nature shut out and forgotten- most pulsated."

"He clambered into his bunk and rolled himself well up in the blankets, and slumber gathered him forthwith, as a swath of barley is folded into the arms of the reaping-machine."



As I know I've mentioned before, the best way for me to get out of a writing/illustrating wheel spin is to look at books I love and get fired up about making stuff. Recently Alison over at Shelftalker (also the lovely bookbuyer at the Wellesley Booksmith), recently lent me Sweaterweather and Robot Dreams by comic/kids book extraordinaire Sara Varon. I LOVE them. I love seeing the graphic novel/comic format done with cute, funny, sarcastic little animals, and I love her bittersweet tone and sensibility. And well, I love chickens and cats. And bunnies and dogs and robots. What could be better?

Here is a sampling of her work for your inspiration.

This next one is from Robot Dreams.

Lovely, no?