Saturday, March 28, 2015

Happy Birthday, Eric VanRaepenbusch - March 29

Watch out!  Happy Birthday Author has been hacked!

Hi everyone, it is Lisa, Eric's wife.  For the first time in 5 years, I am allowed to type, not just edit a post!

For five years, we have been celebrating author birthdays in our home.  Four kids later, and many celebrations, I have come to own my place as part of the Happy Birthday Author family. People know Eric when we are at book signings, book festivals, or other book related events as "Happy Birthday Author, "The Happy Birthday Author Guy" (coined by Bob Staake) and "the dad who writes about authors and does cool things with his family. I am referred to as "Happy Birthday Author's wife" when we meet authors or other people who know Eric as "that Author Guy." What many of the people, authors and illustrators we meet may not know is that Eric is an author himself!

We first celebrated his birthday on Happy Birthday Author in 2012, just after our fourth baby was born, and his Three Ghost Friends series first came out. A friend, and fellow author, Colleen Kessler helped us celebrate Eric's first birthday as an author. Fast forward 3 years, and here we are again!

In 2013, Eric started dabbling with another story, and wanted to try his hand at illustrating the whole book himself. After many hours in the dining room with bottles of paint everywhere, and eventually a basement workspace I created for him for his birthday in 2014, Eric finished his fifth book, Baby Beards!.

Baby Beards! was inspired by our third and fourth babies, who were constantly covered in food, creating little baby beards on their faces after meal times.  Oatmeal beards in the morning, yogurt beards for snack, noodle beards at lunch and black bean beards for dinner were part of our daily life for many years. Eric was inspired to draw, paint, and create a wonderful book full of baby messes!
Not only did Eric create an adorable book full of babies, messes and a super cute dog that appears on each spread, he also turned that book into a "baby book" with pages for moms and dads to record their own baby's first foods, add pictures of their best baby beards, and keep track of their child's favorite foods. Baby Beards! has turned into a wonderful baby shower gift for many moms to be!

Since he self-published his book in the summer of 2014, he has also started doing author visits at local schools, talking about the process of taking a small moment in his life and turning it into a book as well as the process of how a book is created.  He has presented at every grade level, Pre-K-4th grade in our hometown this school year and several other neighboring local districts!  He is quickly becoming a local celebrity, with kids coming up to him while he is out and about saying "Hey, it's Mr. V! He wrote Baby Beards!" or "I remember when you came to my school and talked about black bean beards!"

Eric lights up each time a child comes to him with a memory of something he shared with him. After reading thousands of children's picture books, studying over 250 authors for this blog, and spending countless hours of his life celebrating authors and illustrators, he is now one himself.  Having a little child view him as one makes his day every time.

How do you celebrate the birthday of the person who is the MASTER at coming up with original ideas to celebrate authors and illustrators?  The only way I could think of was to ask the MASTER himself, and of course he had an idea!  To celebrate Eric's birthday, he thought we would do something to help clean up those Baby Beards! and messes!

We made messy cloths to wipe up those messy faces.  Each time Eric signs a book, he signs it "Get Messy!" and draws a quick baby beard on the dedication page.  Making messy cloths was the perfect way to celebrate Eric's birthday.

At our house, we have a drawer of "washcloths" that I made when our first daughter was a baby, 10 years ago. I surged together 2 pieces of flannel into small squares that were the perfect size for cleaning up a baby beard and the soft flannel was just right for wiping a baby face. That drawer has changed over the years, adding new messy cloths from time to time, throwing them away as they get a little too messy, but the drawer is always full.  Our kids know to ask for "a washcloth with water" if they are sticky, messy, or need to clean up a beard of their own.  It was time for us to refill our messy cloth drawer!
We have a pretty good supply of flannel at home, since making messy cloths is something we do as a baby shower present (and now they will come with a copy of Baby Beards!.)
Our youngest daughter loves scraps, almost as much as her brother does.  She was so excited to get her hands on the scraps that I cut from the edges of the flannel.
I cut each piece of flannel to be about 12 inches long, give or take an inch.  Each piece was folded over itself, to create a double layer. The final product was about 6 inches, but any size works great!
My daughter was so excited we had birthday pattern for daddy's birthday!
I started off by modeling how to use the sewing machine, but was quickly flooded with requests for "Is it my turn yet?"
My oldest son wanted to do clean up duty by cutting off the extra pieces of thread.
Then, he tried his hand at using the sewing machine himself.
His first ever project made all by himself using the sewing machine!
My oldest daughter has sewn before, with a very dear neighbor friend, but today was the first time she "flew solo" and used the machine herself.
She was quite proud of herself for doing it without help.  She asked if she could take sewing lessons this summer!
The youngest can't be left out.  Her brother worked the foot petal and she guided the messy cloth through the machine with some help.
Look daddy, I did it!
We needed a little quality control when we were done, but overall, they were well-made messy cloths!
Happy Birthday, Eric VanRaepenbusch!  I hope you have a wonderful birthday, full of cake and love.  You are my favorite author and illustrator.  I love you!
Eric is doing a giveaway as part of his birthday celebration!  He is giving away an autographed copy of Baby Beards! and a set of messy cloths to wipe up those baby beards!

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Do you have a baby shower coming up? Do you need a 1st birthday present? Do you know a young child that would love this book? 

Support Eric by purchasing Baby Beards! on

1. Eric VanRaepenbusch's Website
2. Three Ghost Friends Website
3. Follow Eric on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+
4. Read about how Eric made BABY BEARDS! - Start here!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Happy Birthday, Steve Light - March 19

Happy Birthday, Steve Light - March 19

Have You Seen My Monster? by Steve Light
In December 2010, I was nearing the end of my first full year writing this blog. I was still trying to find my voice as a writer while attempting to find the right formula for each blog post. I hosted contests, wrote book reviews, and was lucky to conduct a few author interviews. One of those interviews was with Steve Light. I was immediately a huge fan of his work and have closely followed his blossoming career ever since.

His latest book, Have You Seen My Dragon?, has been a huge success. It was a 2014 Parents' Choice Gold Award Winner for Picture Books, 2015 ALA Notable Book for Young Readers, and is currently a finalist in the 2015 Children's Choice Book Awards in the Children's Choice Illustrator category (Support Steve by voting here!). Steve Light's next book, Have You Seen My Monster?, will be available April 7, 2015! I have already pre-ordered my copy and can't wait to read it with my family!

Last fall, I read Have You Seen My Dragon? to a few small groups of preschoolers and kindergartners at Family Reading Night at my son's school. The theme for the evening was "Castles and Dragons" and I knew Have You Seen My Dragon? would be the perfect book to read. Plus, I had a surprise for them after I read the book that I knew they would enjoy!

Have You Seen My Dragon? is about a boy who searches for his dragon throughout the city. He searches the bus stop, the park, and the rooftops of tall buildings to find his dragon. On each page, readers are provided an opportunity to show off their counting skills by counting the brightly colored objects; 3 buses at the bus stop, 6 monkeys in the park, 12 pigeons on the rooftop, and more. Also, on each page the dragon is hidden, but visible enough for young readers to enthusiastically shout out, "THERE HE IS!" After boy searches everywhere and asks just about everyone he remembers exactly where he left his dragon.

When I read Have You Seen My Dragon? to the small groups of children at Family Reading Night I noticed by the end of the book all of them were practically in my lap -- actually, one little guy climbed right into my lap! They wanted to see every last detail of Steve Light's elaborate pen-and-ink illustrations and count every brightly colored object. The book was a hit. But, I still had a surprise for them. I made a dragon, hid it in the gymnasium and it watched over us as we read the book. None of the children noticed him until I asked, "HAVE YOU SEEN MY DRAGON?" After they found the dragon I had them close their eyes so I could hide it again. Super fun!

I drew the dragon with black Sharpie marker on foam core. Then I painted each scale with glue and added green glitter!
I wanted to use the dragon with my family to celebrate Steve Light's birthday, but we had already played hide-the-dragon at Family Reading Night. I thought about all the elements of Have You Seen My Dragon? that my family really liked. I realized one of their favorite things about the book is the end papers. The end papers are the pages that you see when you first open the book. One side is pasted to the cover and the other becomes the front side of the first page.

In Have You Seen My Dragon? the end papers feature a map with colorful circles with numbers that show all the stops the boy makes throughout the city trying to locate his dragon. My children love following the red arrows to find the next number. This map gave me an idea for a birthday celebration activity for Steve Light.

Follow the red arrows!
Every time we read Have You Seen My Dragon? my children find Steve Light in his apartment with his fountain pens on the "7 Boxes" page.
After reading, Have You Seen My Dragon? we filled our fountain pens with ink. We used these fountain pens to celebrate Steve Light's birthday in 2013
My son tested out his pen.
This was my daughter's first time using a fountain pen.
Steve Light used a specially tailored fountain pen to create the illustrations for Have You Seen My Dragon?. Here is a photo of our family's fancy fountain pens that were given to us by Edison Pen Co. (We are still very thankful for this gift!!)
My children painted 20 card stock circles with watercolors. The dragon watched on as they worked.
My son used his special fountain pen to write a number (1-20) on each circle.
He was great big brother and let his sister write the number 11.
I love this picture. Lil' sis learning from her older brother.
They finished all the number circles. Then, I told them to go to a bedroom while I hid the circles all over the house.
My son asked for a list of the numbers so he could check them off as they found each one.
She found number 4!
Number 8 was on The Christmas Giant which was the topic of the interview I had with Steve Light back in 2010
I hid all the numbers, in order, along a path of red arrows. The path led them into the basement. 
Number 11 was on Zephyr Takes Flight which was highlighted in our birthday celebration for Steve Light in 2013
Number 14 was on one of our many bookshelves!
The last red arrow pointed the way to number 20 and the dragon!
They loved the number hunt and were so happy they found each one!
We have played "Have You Seen My Dragon? Number Hunt" many times.  My son loves to hide the numbers, but chooses not to use the red arrows. It has led us to renaming this activity, "Have You Seen My Numbers?"! We usually are missing at least 3 after each round!
Steve, "Happy Birthday" and congratulations on all your recent successes! I am so thankful that I was introduced to you in 2010. Your artwork and creativity are an inspiration! Thank you for making such wonderful picture books!

Don't Forget to Pre-order Have You Seen My Monster? by Steve Light:

3. Zephyr Takes Flight - Facebook Page
4. Steve Light Talks Fountain Pens - Darkly Wise, Rudely Great - A Damon Young Blog,
6. Follow Steve Light on Pinterest
7. Zephyr Takes FlightKirkus Reviews
8. GuideCraft Story Boxes by Steve Light Videos - RapunzelHansel and GretelThe Girl Who Loved DangerLittle One Inch

Monday, March 2, 2015

Happy Birthday, Susan Stevens Crummel - March 3

Happy Birthday, Susan Stevens Crummel - March 3

February is my toughest month as a stay-at-home parent. The kids have been cooped up for four months and they just want to play outside (and I wish they could, too, especially after dinner!). Their frustration becomes my frustration. Numerous times this week my children have said, "When will it be warm enough for us to go out to play?" We can't wait for spring!

The one good thing about February, as I try to be positive, is that it is followed by March. This year, March will probably still be cold and snowy since February was one of the coldest on record. But, it feels good to have March here. Winter is almost over, college basketball will be heating up, and we have planned many author and illustrator birthday celebrations!

Susan Stevens Crummel is the author of over a dozen books for children including The Great Fuzz Frenzy, Jackalope, and Ten-Gallon Bart. She became a children's book author after thirty-one years as a math teacher. Her sister is illustrator Janet Stevens of the Caldecott Honor book, Tops and Bottoms. Susan and her sister talked about collaborating on books, but it wasn't until Janet needed Susan's help that it actually happened. "She was asked to write and illustrate a story for a Harcourt School publication and the deadline was rapidly approaching. She knew what she wanted to draw -- she just was stuck on the how to word it. I became her voice; and in that week of brainstorming, writing and rewriting, we discovered that the collaboration was purr-r-r-fect." (Holiday House).

The Stevens team has collaborated on 10 books together. Susan is often asked how their collaboration works, "Janet will say 'I have this idea,' and I put it down on paper and send it to her. She prints it out and writes all over it and faxes it back. I incorporate her ideas, and then at some point she starts drawing. We have different kinds of brains but the same sense of humor." (TCU Magazine). Together they have created many award winning books including Help Me Mr. Mutt: Expert Answers for Dogs with People Problems, a 2008 Time Magazine Top 10 Children's Book and Cook-a-Doodle-Doo, a 2001 Texas Bluebonnet Award winner. In fact, their books have won so many awards Susan has a page on her website listing all of them!

My children have had many days of school cancelled this winter because of below-zero temperatures and dangerous wind-chills. One night this week after dinner, we received a phone call from the superintendent cancelling class for the next day. I immediately went into survival mode. "What am I going to do with all four kids tomorrow?"

I started to play around with an idea for an activity for one of our favorite books, The Little Red Pen. It wasn't my intention but my tinkering and planning in the kitchen got my children quite excited for the next day's activity. I was just thinking, "I hope this works!"

They were up early despite having no school. They brought me The Little Red Pen as I got out of bed and asked me to read it to them.
My Pac-man jammies prove that I am not making this up. I was reading this book before 8am!
The Little Red Pen was inspired by Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens' editor because of her tendency to leave red marks all over their manuscripts. "We started calling her 'the little red pen' years ago. We made up a little story similar to THE LITTLE RED HEN and would tell it at reading conferences. Finally we turned it into a book. (Mom Colored Glasses).

In the story, Red Pen asks all the desk supplies to help her grade a huge stack of papers. She warned that things would go very badly if the papers weren't graded by the morning. The desk supplies refused to help, much like the animals refusing to help bake the cake in The Little Red Hen. Red Pen was forced to work by herself. She worked so hard that she grew tired and weak and wobbled right off the table into the trash. The rest of the story unfolds with the desk supplies working together to rescue Red Pen. (Hint, Hint: The dramatic rescue involves a paper clip chain.)

The illustration above shows the desk supplies using their paper clip chain. I thought, "I wonder if my children would like to make paper clip chains. Maybe we could make paper clip chain necklaces."

The most distinct characteristic about Red Pen, besides being red and having a red cap on her head, is her glasses. I wondered if we could make her glasses as a charm to put on the paper clip necklaces. (This is when my children started to get excited. I was playing with leftover modeling clay that we recently used for Bryan Collier's birthday.)
I rolled a thin piece of clay.
Then, I rolled two shorter pieces of thin clay and bent them into a curve.
I pinched all the pieces together to look like glasses.
I smoothed out all the creases with a little water and baked the glasses in the oven on the "broil" setting for about 5 minutes. After that I had glasses that looked like Red Pen's! I was happy with my experiment and my children were very intrigued. I was ready for the next day.
We changed our clothes shortly after reading the book in our jammies and then we were ready to start our Little Red Pen jewelry project.
They rolled and shaped their clay to make glasses.
I was surprised with how quickly and easily they formed the clay into glasses.
I asked them to make more than one pair of glasses, and then they could pick their favorite one for their necklace. This also helped ensure there were enough if they broke or didn't dry correctly.
Once the glasses were formed we started working on the paper clip chains. Luckily, the night before, my wife was running to the store and she picked up some colorful paper clips for our necklaces. 
After some initial frustration, they figured out how to make a paper clip chain.
While they were working on their paper clip chains I drilled a small hole in the red pen caps. (My wife picked up the red pens at the store, too. This craft cost only $3!). Next, I unfolded a paper clip and fed it though the hole. This would connect the Red Pen charm to the paper clip chain.
After the paper clip chains were made and the glasses were baked and cooled, my children painted them red.
Then, I attached the pen cap onto the necklace by twisting the unfolded paper clip. The red glasses were then super glued onto the cap.
Check out the Little Red Pen bling!
He was quite proud of his necklace.
Looking good, little one!
My son made a large pair of glasses and the super glue did a great job holding it on. (He was worried!) I did try other glues (hot glue and white) and they did not work. "Stick" with the super glue!
This was a fun way to spend the morning of a day of school. However, I am hoping our school cancellation days are through and that March will bring us warmer weather!
1. Susan Stevens Crummel's Website
2. Interview - Harcourt (Jackalope), Holiday House, Mom Colored Glasses, Dear Editor, TCU Magazine
3. The Little Red Pen Activity Kit - HMHbooks
4. Reader's Theatre - The Great Fuzz Frenzy and The Little Red Pen from

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