Sunday, May 1, 2016

Happy Birthday, Jeff Mack - May 2

Happy Birthday, Jeff Mack - May 2

AH HA! A new author birthday blog post! In the month of May? For real?

I am so thankful to start off this month celebrating Jeff Mack's birthday. Not just because he is a really funny guy (HA HA!) and a talented storyteller, but I remember last May when we didn't celebrate any author birthdays.

The month of May is so crazy for our family. (AAAH!) Baseball practices and games take up most of our evenings and the end of the school year is packed with many extra activities. (AAAH! AAAH!) So, I wish everyone a fun and stress-free start to the month of May. If you need me, I hope to find some time to put up my feet so I can read more books by Jeff Mack. (AAAH!)

Jeff Mack has illustrated over 25 books for children including Hurry! Hurry! by Eve Bunting, Rub-A-Dub Sub by Linda Ashman, and his own, AH HA! and Good News Bad News. Jeff loved to draw monsters and other things that scared him when he was young, "I always had a tough time but my dad would give me a hand. He would show me how to draw a Dracula's face and I would practice it. After a while I got a lot better at it." (Creating Cooperative Kids).

In the first grade, he began making his own books, "Our library had just two monster books: Famous Movie Monsters and Bigfoot. I wanted more, so I made my own. Usually they were in comic book form and starred the other kids in my class. At the beginning, it would seem like a normal day, but, by the end, everyone got eaten by monsters." (Chronicle Books).

In second grade, Jeff's teacher allowed him to use his comic book storytelling format for a Halloween short story contest and when it was finished he was able to hang it in the classroom. His story was big hit which prompted him to make more comics for his classmates to read. (Mazza Museum Keynote).

Jeff Mack went onto study fine art and writing at SUNY Oswego at Syracuse University and Scuola Lorenzo De Medici in Florence, Italy. He started working as a painter, painting movie and music posters and then as a muralist and faux-finisher. But, Jeff really wanted to make books. So, he wrote a story, did all the paintings, photo-copied it into a book dummy, and "snuck it into his portfolio" which he dropped of at publishing houses during the "Drop Off Days". (Mazza Museum Keynote). The publishers thought his story and book dummy were "a little too weird", but the artwork in his portfolio caught their eye and led to his first book, Icky Sticky Chameleon by Dawn Bentley in 2002.

For many years, Jeff illustrated books for other authors including the Bunnicula and Friends early reader series by James Howe. Jeff said during his presentation at the Mazza Museum, "All of these illustration jobs led me to write my own stories."  His first book that he both wrote and illustrated was Hush Little Polar Bear in 2008. Later, writing his own picture books led him to write a few graphic novel-type early readers about Hippo and Rabbit and the chapter book series, Clueless McGeeCheck out Jeff's latest picture books Look! and Who Needs a Bath?.

Our favorite book we read this week was AH HA!. It is a very clever book. Jeff Mack tells the story of a frog and its multiple escapes with just four letters (actually just two letters, A and H)! He talked about picking just the right text for he book, "The book is too action-packed to be quiet and wordless. I wanted kids to have something to say out loud so they could express their emotions as they read. So I replaced the words [written in an earlier draft] with expressions made from the letters A and H. The pictures show the action, and the words let the readers know how the characters are feeling." (Seven Impossible Things).

AH HA! starts out with a happy frog in a pond. (AAHH!) The frog finds a rock. (AH HA!) As it sits on the rock it is captured in a glass jar by a boy. Then, a dog knocks the frog out of the jar (AAHH!) and sends it flying back into the pond. The frog thinks it has found safety on another rock, but this is just the beginning of a story that is sure to make your family laugh out loud. (HA HA!)

I read this book before bedtime and my kids LOVED IT! I had to use it to celebrate Jeff Mack's birthday. Then, AH HA! I knew just what we could do and thankfully the weather was beautiful the next day!
First, we punched holes in the lids from two mason jars with a hammer and a nail.
Then, we grabbed our frog-catching net and hiking sticks for a walk down to the pond.
 My children were shocked by all the frogs jumping in from the edge.
They were determined to catch a frog.
They were quiet but not quiet enough to sneak up on the frogs.
They could see them everywhere and had many opportunities to catch one.
They were just too slow.
I think this frog knew we were trying to catch him.
Finally, I scooped up a frog for them. But, it jumped out of our net. As it was hopping away I grabbed him and put him in the glass jar. My son twisted on the lid.
He was so excited to see the frog close up.
The frog...he was not pleased. (AAAH!)
My daughter took a peak.
Just like the book.
Let me out of here!
Maybe we misunderstood his AAHH! He didn't want to come out at first. Maybe he liked it in the jar.
AH HA! He's out!
He started to hop away.
But, my son wanted to help him get back to the pond.
This time the frog wanted nothing to do with the glass jar, so my son asked to borrow his sister's gloves and carried him back to the pond.
The frog happily jumped back into the water. AAHH!
After the frog catching fun we read a few of Jeff Mack's books in the warm sunshine!
Jeff, thank you for sharing your birthday with us at Mazza! We hope you have a wonderful and relaxing birthday! (AAHH!)
Jeff Mack's next book, PLAYTIME? will be available May 10, 2016 (only 1 week away!!):

1. Jeff Mack's Website
2. Follow Jeff Mack on Twitter and Facebook
3. GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS book trailer - Chronicle Books YouTube
4. Interviews - Watch.Connect.Read., Seven Impossible Things Blog, Chronicle Books, Examiner Part 1, Examiner Part 2, Examiner Part 3, This Kid Reviews Books, The Last Draft Writers GroupSeven Impossible Things (2015)
5. Animated Version of HUSH LITTLE POLAR BEAR - YouTube
7. Jeff Mack feature from MSLA
8. Rockstars of Reading: Painting with Jeff Mack - YouTube

Monday, April 18, 2016

Happy Birthday, Jon Agee - April 19

Happy Birthday, Jon Agee - April 19

It was five years ago when we first celebrated Jon Agee's birthday with an author birthday blog post. Many things have changed with our family since that first celebration, but something that hasn't changed is how much we love his books. I get excited every April to reread many of our favorites but I have found that I need a Jon Agee fix more than once a year.

A few years back, during one of the times I was craving a zany Jon Agee picture book, I discovered The Other Side of Town. This book became an instant family favorite. We have read it countless times and check it out from the library quite often throughout the year. For Jon Agee's birthday, I challenged myself to come up with something fun so I could share with you how much we love this book.

Jon Agee is the author and illustrator of over 30 books including The Retired Kid, Terrific, My Rhinoceros, Nothing, and Milo's Hat Trick. When he was a young boy his mother had a clear vision for his future. In an interview with Authors Revealed he said, "My father tells me that my mother brainwashed my sister and I. We had no choice but to be artists...because she herself is an artist and she put a crayon in our hand and took every drawing we had and saved them and put them in boxes. I still have the little books I created when I was a boy."

Jon experienced success as an artist at the early age of 17 when one of his drawings was published in the New York Times. He went on to study painting, sculpture, and film making at Cooper Union School of Art. Near the end of art school Jon was leaning toward exploring film making as a career, but thought many of his drawings and cartoons could possibly be published. He approached many editors but they weren't interested in the drawings themselves. However, they were intrigued by some of the ideas and suggested that he try writing children's books. At the time it was October and Jon "naively" thought he could write a story about Santa and get it published by Christmas. He wrote the story, received interest, and it was published, not that year, but the following year as If Snow Falls (1982). (Intersect Podcast).

His first book was followed up by Ellsworth and Ludlow Laughs. He received much praise for his fourth book, The Incredible Painting of Feliz Clousseau including a blessing from Maurice Sendak. Sendak told him he thought the book should win a Caldecott despite being up against one of his own books. ( Neither Agee or Sendak won a Caldecott that year, but Jon did receive many awards for the book including an American Library Association Notable Book recognition and being named a Best Illustrated Book of the Year by the New York Times.

Whether it is his word play books on palindromes or his latest picture book It's Only Stanley, I find that the more our family reads books by Jon Agee, the more we love them.

The Other Side of Town is a story about a New York City taxi cab driver who picks up a strange little man wearing a green and pink outfit. The strange man asks to be taken to Schmeeker Street, but the taxi cab driver questions him, "You mean Bleecker Street?" The strange man insists on Schmeeker Street and shows the driver the way. They pull up to a wall and the strange man pushes a button on a remote control to open the way to the Finkon Tunnel. The taxi cab driver says, "You mean the Lincoln Tunnel after Abe Lincoln," but the man says, "No, the Finkon Tunnel after Gabe Finkon. He's famous on THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN." Agee's funny word play creates a parallel universe that the taxi cab driver crosses into only to return to his home in New York to find things are not quite the same.

At one point in The Other Side of Town, the strange man is reading the sports page and the taxi driver asks if he likes baseball. He replies, "I root for the Spankees." The taxi driver says, "You mean the Yankees?" Then, the strange man says, "No, the Spankees. They are the best team on THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN." This is our favorite part of the book. If my kids hear someone say "Yankees" on TV it is guaranteed they say, "You mean the Spankees!"

I had this kooky idea to create my own OTHER SIDE OF TOWN baseball team based on our hometown team of the Cleveland Indians.
I had a Cleveland Indians jersey that we received free as a promotional item at one of the games last year. I also found pink and green fabric which are prominent colors in the book.
I decided to call my team the Spindians. Do you mean the Indians? No, the Spindians. They play against the Spankees on THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN.
The most challenging part of this project was to cover the "I" in Indians so I could change the name. First, I sewed a piece of green fabric over the I.
Then, I added the SPI letters I cut out of the pink fabric.
I was surprised that this was working out the way I envisioned. I wondered what else could I do to make this jersey even more awesome!
I covered the name on the back of the jersey.
Then, added AGEE. (My oldest daughter said, "It would have been sweet if Jon Agee's birthday was on the 15th because of the number on the jersey.")
I thought if I could make a jersey. I could make a hat, too. So, I made this logo that was inspired by the strange man's funny hat in the book. I glued the green and pink fabric with fabric glue and then glued the logo onto a navy blue hat.
Now I have the perfect outfit to wear when I read this book.
I was beyond pumped with how this turned out. There was only one thing left to do...
read the book with my kiddos one more time!!
Pre-order Jon Agee's next book, LION LESSONS, available July 5, 2016:

1. Jon Agee's Website - 20 Questions Interview
2. Author Spotlight - Reading My Library
3. Video Interview - Authors Revealed (YouTube), School Interview (Vimeo)
4. Five Questions of Jon Agee - The Horn Book
5. Jon Agee introduces My Rhinoceros - YouTube
6. Audio Interview - Intersect Podcast
7. Happy Birthday Author Celebration 2011
8. Orangutan Tongs Song -
9. Text Interviews - Kirkus

Birthday Source - BTSBChildren's Book A Day AlmanacSchool Library MonthlyChildren's Lit, Mazza Museum Calendar, Perma-Bound Author Birthday Calendar

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Happy Birthday, Elise Parsley - April 10

Happy Birthday, Elise Parsley - April 10

Origami makes me anxious. It should be a relaxing activity. Right? One of the most common origami projects is the peace crane. It should be peaceful to make one. But for me, its not peaceful at all! I glaze over while following the lengthy step-by-step directions and always do something wrong.

I feel this anxiety when I do origami by myself. Imagine how I feel doing origami with children. It might be the most frustrating thing ever! My most epic failure as a teacher was thinking I could instruct over 100 fourth graders in the art of origami.

When I was planning this month's author birthday celebrations I made a note next to Elise Parsley's name -- alligator origami. What was I thinking?!? I thought it would be the perfect activity for her debut picture book, If You Ever Want to Bring An Alligator to School, Don't!, because the alligator gets Magnolia, the main character, in trouble at school for littering the floor with origami.

However, while practicing origami so I could teach my children I started thinking, If I ever want to do origami to celebrate Elise Parsley's birthday, DONT!. So, I started brainstorming and fiddling around with other craft activities when my son gave me a pile of his folded paper creations; a wallet, a chain of rings, a flower pot, a pocket, and something that looked like a torch. My wife said to him, "I have an origami instruction booklet in the basement. Do you want it?"

He said, "Why would I use a book? I just fold paper and it turns into something."

There was wisdom spoken in those words from my five-year-old. His passion for folding paper made me realize that I was being silly for fearing origami. I should just relax, fold paper, and turn it into something. Right? So that's what we did...but first I must tell you about Elise Parsley.

Elise Parsley is the author and illustrator of If You Ever Want to Bring An Alligator to School, Don't! and the upcoming If You Ever Want to Bring A Piano to the Beach, Don't! (available May 3, 2016). She studied drawing and creative writing at Minnesota State University in Moorhead, Minnesota. She admits that she had "no art background at all before college other than the casual drawing that everybody does." (Publishers Weekly iHeart Radio). Thankfully, she had professors at the university that "took in mind what [she] wanted to do after school" which was illustrating children's books and helped her learn to "draw from scratch." (MSUMoorhead on YouTube).

After college, Elise spent two and half years working on her craft, making mistakes, and adding to her portfolio. One the pieces she made for her portfolio was of an unhappy teacher standing with a paper airplane in her hair listening to an alligator tattling on a young girl. This artwork inspired her to write story about the alligator and the girl which led to one of the most amazing book deal stories ever.

Elise emailed a prospective agent and the agent liked her story and signed her on as client the next day. Then the next day, the agent sent the manuscript to publishers and an offer was made the following day to acquire the book! (Publisher's Weekly). (Things rarely happen that quickly in the book business!)

If You Ever Want to Bring An Alligator to School, Don't! is about a girl named Magnolia who must bring something from nature to school for show and tell. She decides on an alligator and assures her teacher that he will be good. But, the alligator doesn't behave and Magnolia gets her name on the board for laughing at his funny drawings. Later, one of his paper airplanes lands in the teacher's hair as origami covers the floor. His shenanigans continue and Magnolia freaks out when he almost eats a classmate! Thankfully, Magnolia knows just how to salvage this horrible day. Well, almost salvage the day. She still has to go to the principal's office.

It was raining the day after my son spoke his words of wisdom about origami and we couldn't go outside to play. So, I thought we should give origami a try. We had an Awesome Origami Kit with over 100 origami papers sitting unopened in our basement. (Imagine that!)
My children were very excited for this project. (Me...I was a little anxious, still.)
First, we made an origami alligator head. It took some time to make, but it turned out awesome! The mouth chomps!  (We watched an excellent video on how to make it. Not having to follow step-by-step paper instructions really helped!)
Then, it became a free-for-all! We were folding things like crazy and our kitchen table soon looked like the floor in Magnolia's classroom.
My son made this. He said it was a spaceship. It even had a movable piece on top.
He also made a bird with a green feather. It looked so much better than my peace crane!
Read this book and make origami!
We had very peaceful time making origami but I was prepared with a backup activity just in case things went terribly wrong. There is a scene in If You Ever Want to Bring An Alligator to School, Don't! where Magnolia gives the alligator three pieces of gum to keep him from eating her classmates. The gum doesn't stay in the alligator's mouth and ends up hanging from the classroom ceiling and on the chairs and desks. The way the gum hangs from the ceiling reminded me of making slime. 

To make slime you will need:
1 cup of warm water
1 tsp. of Borax
Food coloring (in this activity we used red food coloring to make the slime pink like bubble gum!)

Mix the entire bottle of glue with 1/2 cup of warm water in a bowl. Add a few drops of red food coloring and mix. Dissolve Borax in another 1/2 cup of water. Add the Borax solution to glue mixture and stir. The slime can be stored in an air-tight container so you can play with it again the next day.

First, we emptied the entire bottle of glue into a bowl. Then, added to a little bit of water to the bottle, shook it up, and added that to the bowl too. We wanted to make sure all the glue was out of the bottle.
Then, we added a 1/2 cup of warm water to the glue and stirred.
Then, we added a few drops of red food coloring to the glue and mixed.
Lastly, we dissolved 1 tsp. of Borax in a 1/2 cup of warm water.
The Borax solution was added to the glue and water mixture.
Immediately it looked like the alligator's favorite gum! It was awesome!
My daughter wasn't sure at first. She thought it was a little yucky! (Eventually, after playing with it for a while she really liked it!)
What a mess! 
Alligator gum was everywhere even on the book! Good thing we were at home and not at school. We would have been sent to the Principal's office.
If you are thinking that you can't make origami and slimy pink alligator gum, DON'T! You CAN and your children will love it!

Elise, it was so exciting to meet you at the National Book Festival. Thank you for sharing your birthday with us. We hope you have a wonderful day! We can't wait to read the next Magnolia book!

Pre-order Elise Parsley's next two books; IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING A PIANO TO THE BEACH, DON'T! (available May 3, 2016) and THE MAGIC WORD by Mac Barnett (available October 4, 2016):

1. Elise Parsley's Website
2. Follow Elise Parsley on Twitter
2. Video ART: ELISE PARSLEY - MSUMoorhead on YouTube
3. Elise Parsley at the 2015 National Book Festival - Library of Congress on YouTube
4. FROM QUERY TO BOOK DEAL IN 72 HOURS - Publisher's Weekly
5. IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING AN ALLIGATOR TO SCHOOL, DON'T - Story Time Kit from Barnes and Noble
6. Interviews - Barnes and Noble
7. Audio Interview - Publishers Weekly iHeart Radio

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