Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Happy Birthday, Janet Morgan Stoeke - April 30

Happy Birthday, Janet Morgan Stoeke - April 30

My grandfather taught me a lot about caring for chickens when I was a little boy. When I would help him gather the eggs in the chicken coop he told me to be very quiet and move carefully. One time I wasn't careful. All I saw were wings and feathers. I ducked for cover behind a chicken feed trough.

Also, Grandpa taught me that when you carry a heavy bucket of water or a large basket of eggs in one arm it is best that you put your other arm straight out to balance. I remember being amazed at his strength. He said that putting his arm out helped make him stronger. Now every time I carry something heavy in one arm and my arm is out straight I think of my grandpa working hard on the farm.

Another thing my grandpa taught me was that baby chicks can be sent in the mail! My grandpa loves to tell the story about how happy the postal worker was when he picked up his shipment of chicks at the post office. That must have been the noisiest package. I can still remember walking into a chicken coop full of new baby chicks -- CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP.....Who knew such little things could be so noisy?

I have some great childhood memories of chickens on my grandparent's farm. I would like to think all that I learned from my grandfather and all my experiences with chickens qualify me to know a good chicken picture book when I see one. This week, our family found some of the best books about chickens that we have ever read together!

Janet Morgan Stoeke is the author and illustrator of many picture books about chickens including Minerva Louise and The Loopy Coop Hens. Her path to becoming a picture book creator is unique. She was working as an ad designer at Washingtonian Magazine when her boss informed her that Dutton Children's Books was having a picture book writing contest. The contest deadline was only 10 days away, but she started working on a story that would later become Minerva Louise. "Minerva Louise, her blithe, funny hen was born in the wee hours as she juggled graduate school and full time work at a magazine. Just barely making the deadline for the contest, her submission beat out all the others and won her a publishing contract." (Janetstoeke.com).

After becoming pregnant with twin boys, Janet left her job at the magazine. She decided it was best to be at home to care for her family and work on her children's books. "There was a real drive to do it. I not only loved being a mom to my kids, I loved doing the work. When I explain it to kids I say, 'My job is the kind of job where you lose track of the fact that time is going by and that you're actually working. And if you can find a job that's like that for you, go get it." (Colgate). And "Go Get It" she did! You can find Minerva Louise in eight picture books, two board books, and a sticker book. Now Janet spends her time writing and drawing books about the Loopy Coop Hens who are equally as entertaining as Minerva Louise!

Last week, I looked at my calendar of author and illustrator birthdays. I saw Janet Morgan Stoeke's name on April 30, so I went downstairs and grabbed a few of her books that I knew we had. I read the books (laughed a lot!) and immediately had an idea for a birthday celebration activity. I sent Janet an email to confirm that the 30th was indeed her birthday. She got right back to me and said, "Yes!" (Thank you, Janet!!)

Over the weekend we went to my grandparent's farm for a family celebration following the baptism of one of our new baby cousins. My grandparent's farm was the perfect place to read Janet Morgan Stoeke's books. Not just because it was once a thriving chicken farm, but because of this:
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
This giant chicken looks just like Minerva Louise.
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My youngest daughter readied all our Minerva Louise books to read.
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
I had a hat that looked just like Minerva Louise, too. My wife, a teacher, wore it at her school for Halloween a few years ago. I wore it while I read the books to my youngest two children and three of their cousins.
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
They wanted me to read Minerva Louise and the Colorful Eggs first. They chose this because every year we have a huge egg hunt on Easter at the farm. 
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
A close-up of my chicken hat!
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
They all loved the books. They thought Minerva Louise was "really silly". 
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My youngest holding her favorite Minerva Louise book; A Hat for Minerva Louise.
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My son hold his favorite book, Minerva Louise and the Colorful Eggs.
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My oldest son didn't join us for Minerva Louise story time, but he was very proud that he was able to read Minerva Louise at School all by himself.
My grandparent's sold the eggs from their chickens in a country store. When I was little I didn't come for the eggs. I came for the candy that was also sold at the store. I loved bringing my own money to buy some every time I visited Grandma and Grandpa. After I bought something, my sister and I always seemed to find more money on the floor by the cash register that Grandpa and Grandma dropped. 
These are some of the chicken coops. I remember visiting those noisy baby chicks in there.
I remember using this tool to measure the size of the eggs when I helped pack the eggs into cartons to sell in the country store.
Grandma just celebrated her 88th birthday this week, too! Grandpa turned 91 in February! It is such a blessing to spend time with them on the farm.  They don't have a computer, or access to the internet, but we will be sure to print this out for them so they can see how much being part of their farm meant to me as a child.
I found this picture from 1985. The giant Minerva Louise-look-alike chicken was there. I am the kid with cool grey hat! The chicken still has its feet back then. If you notice in the first picture above, it no longer has its feet. The chicken was stolen, but luckily it was later found. If I remember correctly high school pranksters were to blame.
Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke -- activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
One last photo from this week -- my son loved the Minerva Louise books so much that we went to a second library on Monday to the find ones we hadn't read!
Links:
1. Janet Morgan Stoeke's Website
2. Interviews - Tina Nichols Blog, Seven Impossible Things Blog
3. Chicken Delight article/interiew - Colgate

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Happy Birthday, Loren Long - April 24

Happy Birthday, Loren Long - April 24

O-H...I-O....Ohio...Ohio...Ohio! I have lived all my life in Ohio. The winters are tough, but there are so many cool things about living in our state; great amusement parks (Cedar Point, Kings Island), fishing and boating on Lake Erie, hiking in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the Mazza Museum Summer Conference. As an Ohioan, I can even brag about all the famous Americans that have called Ohio their home including Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong, and eight U.S. presidents! Also, I am proud of the many famous children's author and illustrators from Ohio including Loren Long! So, for this week, in honor of Loren's birthday, I am asking the Ohio State Buckeye fans to allow me to change the famous OH-IO cheer to O-T...I-S...Otis...Otis...Otis!

O-T-I-S! (We took this picture yesterday and yes, that was snow on our deck!)
Loren Long is the illustrator of over 15 picture books including OtisNightsong by Ari Berk, Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna, and Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt. At the Mazza Museum Summer Conference 2014, Loren Long opened his talk by saying, "Nobody in my family was an artist." However, his mother and father were always supportive of his love of drawing. "My mom would frame many of my drawings, and that's important. A lot of mothers are worried about matching decor and keeping everything neat and tidy, but my mom didn't care. She'd put my stuff on up on the wall because she was proud." (Mackin). Later, after struggling to settle on a major in college and only really enjoying his art classes, Loren said to his father, "Dad, I think I want to become an illustrator." His father replied, "Well, son I have worked in gypsum supply for 20 years and not one day have I been passionate about drywall. So, if you can, do something you are passionate about." (Mazza Museum Keynote). At that time, Loren Long didn't know how he was going to make a living doing what he was passionate about, but if you read on you will learn that he definitely figured it out!

I hope you are lucky enough to someday meet Loren Long. You will notice right away his passion for children's books.
After attending art school at The American Academy of Art in Chicago, it took over 12 years for Loren to become a children's book illustrator. He worked for Gibson Greetings (now a part of American Greetings) and also illustrated for many magazines; Sports Illustrated, Time, Reader's Digest, Forbes. His "americana style" influenced by American Regionalist painters like Thomas Hart Benton was catching people's attention and led to a few illustration jobs doing covers for novels. Then, in 2003 he illustrated his first picture book, I Dream of Trains by Angela Johnson which received the Golden Kite Award for illustration.

In 2005, Loren Long illustrated The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. "The Little Engine That Could marked a new direction for me, from the standpoint that this was the first book where I was obviously digging into a tried and true classic. I began thinking about creating books that might someday become a child's favorite, become classics." (Publisher's Weekly).  Next, he published a few more picture books including Toy Boat by Randall de Sève and started working with Jon Sciezska, David Shannon, and David Gordon on the Trucktown project which produced numerous book titles and is now a TV Show.

In 2008, he wrote and illustrated Drummer Boy which became a favorite of President Barack Obama and his family and later led to Loren being selected to illustrate Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. (2010). "Doing the art for Of Thee I Sing was an honor and something I'll always be proud of. President Obama invited my two sons and me to visit him at the The White House." (SCBWI).

Loren Long's two sons not only got to meet President Obama but they were involved with the initial idea for Otis. "Actually, Otis started as a story my wife and sons made up as she took them to school when they were preschoolers. It was a homespun story that was more convoluted and took a totally different direction than my book. Now [my sons] tease me a bit and say I took their story, tweaked it, and called it my own. But, then I reminded [them] that it's good to be able to buy groceries and soccer cleats." (Publisher's Weekly). In their story, the tractor's name was Little Green Samuel. Loren came up with the name Otis from the The Andy Griffith Show. (Mazza Keynote).  The Otis series has now sold over 2 million copies and the latest book in the series is Otis and the Scarecrow which was released August 2014. (Cincinnati.com).

Last summer at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference when I heard Loren Long speak I was inspired. I loved how he talked about being a father, creating emotional picture books, and feeling a responsibility to produce quality books for children. I had numerous books that I wanted Loren to autograph for my family, but after his keynote I found myself walking to the Mazza Museum bookstore to pick out another book! I found Toy Boat. It was a book that I knew my children would love, because we had often made toy boats to sail down our street when our fire hydrants are flushed by our local water department each spring.

Toy Boat is about a little boy and his toy boat that is made of a can, a cork, a yellow pencil, and some white cloth.  The little boy loved his toy boat and would sail it at the lake every day. The toy boat loved sailing with the boy but often wondered what it would be like to break free from the boy's string to sail free. One day, the boy dropped the string attached to the toy boat when a storm was approaching.  The toy boat quickly was pushed far away from the shore. When the skies cleared the toy boat was pushed, knocked around, and told to "Move along!" by the other boats it encountered. The toy boat missed the little boy but would need to find a way to right its sail to catch the wind to get back to the shore.

Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We read Toy Boat on Sunday morning before church.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My children were eager to build their boats using corks and pencils.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My oldest son quickly came up with a design for his toy boat.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
I cut a plastic container in the shape of a boat for my daughter to allow her to begin designing her toy boat.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We used hot glue to attach everything together. (We learned that hot glue is not water resistant and will come loose after getting really wet. )
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My youngest son added a smiley face to his cork.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Every creative family needs a drawer full of plastic containers and lids.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
A box of old pencils from my wife's school came in handy for this project too.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
He carefully added a foil sail to his toy boat.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
He was quite pleased with his toy boat.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
"Hey, Dad! Take a picture of my boat."
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Another toy boat is ready to sail!
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Wow!
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Please Pin to Pinterest! Follow Happy Birthday Author too!
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
After church we went to our neighborhood lake to sail our toy boats.  I attached a kite string or yarn to each boat.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
There was good breeze but it was blowing slightly back to shore.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
They decided that the floating dock was the best place to sail their boats.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My oldest daughter joined in by using the toy boat that I made.  She said, "You did it again, Dad. You came up with another author birthday celebration that I like." 
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
The toy boats floated pretty well.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
After a little patience, the breeze carried our toy boats far from the dock.
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
I turned away for a second and my oldest son yelled, "Oh, no! My string is in the water."
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We waited for the wind to carry the boat close to the shore and my daughter snagged it with a stick. 
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
"Yay! We got it!"  Then, my oldest son said, "It was just like the book. The boat got away, but then came back." When he said this I wondered if he planned dropping his string in the water in attempt to make it just like the book. Hmmmmm....
Making Toy Boats for TOY BOAT by Loren Long, Randall de Seve via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Back at home my daughter made repairs and adjustments to all the boats. Now they will be ready for the fire hydrant flushing that has started around the city. We will be using our toy boats from this reading experience for this year's travels down our street.
I thought our author birthday celebration was over, but then....

Yesterday morning, after our O-T-I-S picture, my children were waiting for me to take them to the bus stop, when I hear, "THEY ARE FLUSHING!!" We rushed to find our toy boats before we missed the hydrant flushing right in front of our house.

My older children were so excited to be involved this year. They missed their chance to sail toy boats the past few years because they were at school. (In case your wondering, the truck with the headlights was parked. My children were not in any danger.)
video

The Water Department worker said as he walked up to the hydrant, "I have never flushed hydrants with snow on the ground before." And before he left he said, "120 more and I'll call it a day!" 
Loren, we hope you have a wonderful birthday with your family and friends. Thank you for creating such beautiful picture books for us to read and enjoy together! OH-IO! OT-IS!

You can pre-order Loren Long's next book, LITTLE TREE, available September 22, 2015:



Links:
1. Loren Long's website
2. OTIS THE TRACTOR website (Many printable available!)
3. Follow Loren Long on Facebook and Twitter
4. TRUCKTOWN wesbite
5. Interviews - Publisher's Weekly, Mackin, Idle Illustration, The Children's Book Review, SCBWI, Patricia Newman
6. Video Inteview (newer) - YouTube
7. Anothor Video Interview with Loren Long by Loveland Magazine - Vimeo
8. CATCHING UP WITH LOREN LONG - Cincinnati.com (Sept. 2014)
9. Loren Long: Soul of the Heartland - Artists Network
10. Loren Long at National Book Festival 2011 - Library of Congress on YouTube
11. Loren Long Audio Interview - BOOKTALK


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