Thursday, January 21, 2016

Happy Birthday, Brian Wildsmith - January 22

Happy Birthday, Brian Wildsmith - January 22

I celebrate author and illustrator birthdays to create family memories. The books we read together inspire unique projects, crafts, and family outings. I have found that we can easily recall our experiences when the authors' birthdays come back around years later or when we see the books at the library, a book store, or on our book shelf. This week, to celebrate Brian Wildsmith's birthday I tried not only to create a memory but to preserve a memory.

Brian Wildsmith is the author and illustrator of over eighty books for children including Carousel, Pelican, and Professor Noah's Spaceship. He was leaning toward a career in music or science, but decided to follow "an inner voice" to study art. (Books for Keeps, Carey). He recalled, "One morning I was going into a physics class and I remember thinking 'Is this really what I want to do with my life?' and the answer was no. I want to create." (Books for Keeps, Authorgraph 16). Brian Wildsmith listened to his heart and went first to Barnsley School of Art and then Slade School of Fine Art.

Later, after time spent in the National Service he became an art teacher, but it really wasn't what he wanted to do. He wanted to paint and create. "I read that 28,000 books a year were published and I thought they'll all need book wrappers, so I spent my evenings designing them." (Independent, 2010). He was a teacher by day and an artist by night. His freelance work led him to Mabel George, at Oxford University Press, who had the idea to put the "artist on the same business footing as the writer." She gave Brian a few projects including four full-color illustrations for Tales from the Arabian Nights (1961) which was not well-received by critics and Brian's art was described as "aimless scribbles...drawings splashed lavishly and untidily with bright smudges of paint." (History of Oxford University Press).

Mabel George was undeterred by the critic's remarks and asked Brian Wildsmith to create an ABC book. He created Brian Wildsmith's ABC and described it this way, "The logical function of an ABC is to teach. To teach how? Through basic shapes, colors and textures. It was a new concept: to produce pictures of value in their own right which would stimulate and excite children. And I wanted a new design. Most ABCs say 'A is for Apple.' A is not for apple. A is for A. I wanted this book to say that." (Books for Keeps).

Brian Wildsmith's ABC was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1962. Brian Wildsmith explained the shift this book brought to picture books, "[Before ABC] the text was the most important thing and pictures would just accompany it, diagrammatically explaining what was going on in the words. But I could limit my text so the illustrations explained what actually happened. And not just the physical event of what was happening, but the vision of the people or the animals or the landscape around them. I was expressing in color the wonder and beauty of the world in which we live, which had never happened before, and would have been difficult to explain in words for children." (Independent, 2010).

Brian Wildsmith went on to create more picture books; a Mother Goose collection, fables including The Hare and the Tortoise and The Lion and the Ratand many books about animals, Wild Animals and Fishes. He has sold over 20 million copies of his books worldwide. "From the beginning, what I wanted to do above all for children's literature was to try and span the whole spectrum from an ABC to counting -- through puzzles, myths, nursery rhymes, and stories." (Children's Books and their Creators). "A lot of illustrators have one central character and then they develop it, and all their books are based around it. But that was not my wish. I wanted to introduce children to the whole creative side of many aspects of life." (Independent, 2010). "I use whatever colors I feel like. When I paint a fish, I paint the kind of fish I would like to see. The same is true of my trees. I don't care if they're not the colors in the photographs. I paint what I see with my eyes and feel in my heart." (SGI Quarterly).

I wanted to preserve the memory of what it is like to take my young children to church on Sunday; trying to find seats for our large family when we are running late, the large bag of activities and books, their wiggles and need for movement, their curiosity about God, their attempts to sing the songs with the hymnal, "I have to go to the bathroom", our walks in the prayer garden, and the feeling of relief and accomplishment when mass is over and no one has freaked out. As I looked around church this Sunday, most of the families I saw had older children. Someday that will be my family.

My young children need a opportunity to get their wiggles out at church. I bring many activities to keep them busy; crayons and paper, books, stickers, but my kids need to move. A few years ago, I started taking my children for a walk after Communion. They walk with me in the line for Communion and then we walk to the lobby of the church instead of returning to our place in the pew. When the weather is warm we continue our walk outside in the prayer garden.

In the prayer garden we stop at the small pond to see if we can see any frogs or tadpoles, then we talk about statue of the Holy Family, and then we say hello to Saint Francis. I remember saying to my children countless times, before they learned it was St. Francis, "Who is that statue of?" I think took it so long for them to learn his name because I had nothing more to offer them besides, "He really liked animals and he was from Assisi."

I found Brian Wildsmith's book, Saint Francis at the library and I thought to myself, I am going to read this book and then the next time we take a walk I will be able to tell them something about his life. In the back of the book it states, "Brian Wildsmith's first encounter with St. Francis of Assisi occurred as a young boy, when he was taking his first communion in St. Helen's Church Hoyland, a small mining town in English Midlands. He recalls kneeling at the edge of the altar rails, feeling more embarrassed that the holes in his shoes could be seen by the congregation than terrified at receiving the Host for the first time. And then, looking to his right, he saw a statue of St. Francis, a lamb in his arms and a squirrel perched on his shoulder. There was a look of kindness on his face. His clothes were shabby and drab. He doesn't seem to mind so why should I worry about the soles of my shoes? thought young Wildsmith. St. Francis seemed to say, It's not the soles of your shoes but the soul within your body that I am looking at."

The passage went on the say that the statue inspired Brian Wildsmith to take a great interest in St. Francis and later led to large amounts of research and visits to Assisi. I immediately thought about our walks and our St. Francis statue. I thought about how this statue is an important part of our Sunday church experience.

At church this week, I asked my son to carry the book about St. Francis when we went to Communion. He knew right away what it was for.

We don't walk through the prayer garden in the winter and instead we hang out the in lobby for a few minutes and then head back into church. But, on this day, we sat on the floor in the lobby while overlooking the prayer garden and the statue and read Saint Francis. We learned that Saint Francis was from Assisi and loved animals, especially birds. We also learned that he grew up in a rich family but chose to live a life among the poor. He rebuilt churches that were falling down, tried to stop people from fighting, got others to live a life of prayer, and had many visions from God.

Saint Francis is one of many Christian books by Brian Wildsmith. His others include Mary, Jesus, Exodus, Joseph, and more.
After mass my children wanted to walk through the prayer garden. 
No frogs or tadpoles to see today. Each time I have to remind them not to step on the rocks. One of these days one of them is going to fall in and we will return to church with wet pants. 
This is the statue of the Holy Family. On our first walks I asked them, "Who are these people?" Identifying Mary and Jesus was easy. It took them time to learn Joseph's name. 
Here is the statue of St. Francis. We had not noticed that a bird sits on the book he is holding until today. In Saint Francis, we heard the story of a time when Saint Francis saw a great flock of birds and told them "God loves you. He has given you wings and beautiful feathers. He has made you free to fly wherever you want. It is your duty to sing to God all day long."
This book made me realize the significance of taking my children for a walk during church. After writing this post my memory of this time with my children will be stronger and will stay clear for years to come.
1. Brian Wildsmith's Website
2. Features: Independent 2010, The Guardian 2006, SGI Quarterly, BookTrust, Books For Keeps
3. Biography - Children's Books and their Creators, Illustration Cupboard
4. Brian Wildsmith Museum of Art

Birthday Source: Children's Book-A-Day Almanac, Mazza Museum Calendar 2016, Perma-Bound, Illustration Cupboard

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Happy Birthday, Raymond Briggs - January 18

Happy Birthday, Raymond Briggs - January 18

This week my youngest son said, "Dad, when are we going to celebrate another author's birthday?" I thought to myself, Argh! I wish I knew. 

Then I said to him, "Well, actually, I am working on that. I just don't know. I am reading lots of books by Raymond Briggs, Blair Lent, and Brian Wildsmith. I hope I come up with something for us to do."

I was hoping for something. Actually, I was hoping for snow. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I thought it would be so cool to make a giant snowman just like the book, but the weather wasn't cooperating and I was running short on time before his birthday.

We had about an inch or two of snow on the ground leftover from a snowfall earlier in the week. No more snow was in the forecast. In fact, it was going to be 45 degrees! Then, I thought, Wait! The little snow we do have will start to melt and might be perfect for making a snowman. Maybe this could work....

Raymond Briggs is the author and illustrator of many books for children and adults including The Snowman, The Bear, Father Christmas, and The Man. At the age of fifteen, he left school and applied to Wimbledon School of Art with aspirations of becoming a cartoonist. The principal said, "Good God, boy, is that all you want to do?" Instead of illustration, he followed the path suggested by the school and studied painting for four years and continued his studies later at Slade School of Fine Art where he graduated in 1957. Raymond Briggs stopped pursuing painting soon after graduation and started work in illustration.

In 1958, he published his first book, Peter and the Piskies: Cornish Folk and Fairy Tales by Ruth Manning-Sanders. He met the idea of working on his first children's book with apprehension, "How has it come to this? Six years of fine art and now talking fairies...But it was absolutely marvelous. I realized fairy tales and nursery rhymes were the absolute crème de la crème for an illustrator. They are just brilliant. Full of magic. Full of madness. Full of craziness. Full of a kind of wisdom as well." Later, in 1966, he won the Kate Greenaway Medal for The Mother Goose Treasury which includes over 800 of Briggs' illustrations. "It slowly dawned on me that the best field for an illustrator is the picture book." (The Guardian, 2010).

The next stage of Raymond Brigg's life brought great change. He lost both of his parents in 1971 and his wife also died two years later. During this tough time, he remarkably created some of his best children's books, Father Christmas, Father Christmas Goes On Holiday, and Fungus the Bogeyman. Then, in 1978 he published his most popular book, The Snowman.

"I'd been involved in Fungus for over two years, immersed in all that slime and muck, so I dug out this thing out of my files - it had been in there for about six years - this idea of a snowman coming to life: nice and simple, clean and silent." (The Telegraph, 2007). The Snowman has sold over 8 million copies and the animated version of the story was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1983.

Raymond Briggs explained his work this way, "I never think about my audience. Some people write for particular children, but I haven't got any kids, so I couldn't begin to think in that way. I just take something I want to explore - like Father Christmas, where he lives, what it's like to be him - and try to get it out of my head and on to the paper so that I'm satisfied with it." (The Guardian, 2014).

There really wasn't much snow on the ground, but it was melting just enough to become perfect packing snow for a snowman. Our neighbor had a reasonable amount of snow piled at the end of her driveway from the truck that plowed her driveway earlier in the week. I thought, I could carry the snow from there if I needed. It wasn't cold out either -- it got as high as 46 degrees. I thought, it might actually be enjoyable to be outside for a change. So, I decided to make THE SNOWMAN with my children.
Here is where we started. Not much snow at all.
A snowman this big just wasn't impressive enough.
So, I brought over more snow, but it was too skinny. 
I shoveled snow from the yard, the neighbor's pile, the side our driveway that had extra snow from where I shoveled earlier in the week. It was getting there, but our gloves were soaked and it was time to get my son from school.
We picked him up from school and he already had his snow gear on because it was "Friday Fun Day" and his class got to play outside. He helped me carry snow to the snowman, and then we rolled a big ball for the head. I don't have a picture because there was really now way to taking a picture of me carrying the big ball of snow!
Once the head was in place my son said, "Dad, I have coal for the eyes and buttons." He had pieces of cinder from our fireplace that he had confiscated and put in his box of driveway chalk. I said, "Where did you have that?" He replied, "I like to draw on the driveway with it sometimes." 
After some hard work carving and smoothing, we added a hat, a scarf, an orange for the nose, and the "coal" to bring The Snowman to life.
My daughter said, "You don't need anything for the mouth. Just use your finger like the boy from the book."
We went inside and they watched The Snowman while I prepared lunch. (Click here to watch the show on YouTube.)
They were so engrossed in the show that I was able to surprise them with snowman-shaped sandwiches -- raisins for the eyes and buttons, a carrot for the nose, and a caramel syrup smile.
The warm weather was creating problems for our snowman. I went out a few times throughout the day to strengthen and repair. But, after dinner we found him really leaning forward. To make matters worse, the weather forecast changed and it was going to RAIN! The Snowman would surely fall over by morning if we didn't do something. By morning the temperatures would be back below freezing so there was a chance to save him.
We had to try something. So, we did the unthinkable. We cut him in half, repositioned him, and patched in some snow.
He was standing much better, but I was sure our snowman was destined for the same fate as THE SNOWMAN in the book. If you know the story, the boy finds the snowman melted the next day -just a small pile of snow, a hat, a scarf, and the pieces of coal.
The whole family worked diligently to save The Snowman!
Things looked up. (so did his posture!)
We really hoped he would be there in the morning.
Goodnight, Snowman.
My oldest son woke me up in the morning. "Dad, the snowman is still standing." He survived the warm temperatures, being sawed in half, and the rain! He only lost his eyes, buttons, and his orange nose which were easily replaced. Now all we need is a little more snow to get him to stand up straight again.

1. Features - The Guardian (2015), Independent (2015), The Guardian (2014)Channel 4 (2012) The Telegraph (2007)
2. Video Interview with George Blacklock about experience at Wimbledon School of Art - YouTube
3. The Snowman Full Length movie - YouTube
4. Making of The Bear animated movie, YouTube - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
5. The Snowman and the Snowdog - YouTube
6. Audio Interview - The Guardian 2010

Birthday Source: The Guardian, Perma-Bound, Mazza Museum 2016 Calendar, Children's Book-A-Day Almanac

Friday, January 15, 2016

Happy Birthday, Kate McMullan - January 16

Happy Birthday, Kate McMullan - January 16

Do you know what's COOL?

Kate McMullan's new book I'm Cool! is cool. Going to a hockey game with your son is cool. Watching a Zamboni smooth the ice is cool, too.

Also, it's pretty cool that our family is celebrating Kate McMullan's birthday for the seventh time! Each of the past six years my oldest son has baked and decorated a cake inspired by one of Kate's books for her birthday. This year's book, I'm Cool!, had my son more excited than ever to continue the tradition!

On Christmas morning my son received I'm Cool! as a gift from us! He couldn't help reading the book despite all the commotion around him. He was excited to find that the book starts with the announcer calling out the action of a hockey game. This past year, my son has attended a few Lake Erie Monsters hockey games in Cleveland with his best friend. He said, "Dad, at the Lake Erie Monsters games they have two Zambonis."

The announcer from I'm Cool! says, as a player falls to the ice, "Nobody can skate on ice this rough. I mean NOBODY!" At intermission Zamboni enters the rink to repair and smooth the ice. The announcer urges him work fast, "Hurry up so we can get back to the game!" But, Zamboni doesn't lose his cool and urges the announcer to relax and let him do his work. Zamboni shaves the ice, washes, sucks up the extra yucks, spritzes warm water to fill in the ruts, and makes the ice as "S-M-O-O-T-H as glass" all before the buzzer sounds. The announcer applauds Zamboni for a job well done, the hockey players return to the ice, and Zamboni knows he has the coolest job in the world. SHAZAMBONI, BABY!
Shortly after receiving I'm Cool my son opened another gift to find tickets to go another Lake Monsters game.
About a week after Christmas, my son and I went together to the hockey game. We took I'm Cool! along with us. We were excited to be in the fourth row!
Here is the first Zamboni. You can see the smooth ice it leaves behind.
Here is the second Zamboni. We loved the page spread in I'm Cool! that shows the path a Zamboni takes around the ice rink. "Around and around and around and around and around and around I go, 'til the whole rink's S-M-O-O-T-H as glass." It was so COOL to see this part of the book in action.
Quicken Loans Arena had entertainment on the ice for the first ten minutes of intermission which left less time for the Zambonis to work. The two Zambonis worked together to get the ice smooth before the players returned. Intermission is only 18 minutes. 
Shazamboni, Baby! We were happy to be at a hockey game together.
We got to see a winner too! The Lake Erie Monsters won 2-1!
A few days later, our local school district's hockey team offered a Family Night. My whole family was able to attend the game for free. Here I am showing my daughter and the kids around her the path a Zamboni takes to smooth the ice.
My youngest daughter got to see the Zamboni up close!
After the game, my kids were allowed to ice skate too!
This was my youngest son first time ice skating!
The walker allowed my youngest daughter to try ice skating too!
We had so much fun watching hockey, seeing Zambonis, and ice skating, but there was still one thing to do to celebrate Kate McMullan's birthday. We had a cake to make! Last year, Kate made a post on her Facebook page and my wife commented. It was Kate's reply that gave us an idea for this year's cake.

We had never made an ice cream cake before, but my sister has made a few for my nephew's birthday parties and they were delicious! We couldn't wait to make one of our own!
I found my son making sketches the morning we were to make the cake. He wanted an oval cake, like an ice rink, with Zamboni in the middle. 
He had two helpers making this year's cake.
I taught him how to make homemade whipped cream.
We made a layer of ice cream sandwiches and covered it with the whipped cream. His brother added a layer of crushed Oreo cookies.
His sister stacked up the second layer of ice cream sandwiches. We put the cake in the freezer for about a half and hour before we started the next step.
He sketched a Zamboni with a toothpick into the top of the ice cream sandwiches.
Then, added orange and purple buttercream icing. He used black icing from a small tube to outline his design.
We added a little blue food coloring to his homemade whipped cream and then smoothed it out around the Zamboni.
I added I'M COOL to the top with whipped cream from a can.
After a few hours in the freezer we took our yearly photo!
We are looking forward to our 7th year of celebrating children's author and illustrator birthdays.
Of course, we had to read I'm Cool! again while we ate!

For those of you who are new to our blog, it all started with an I STINK cake in 2010. The I STINK cake made me realize that it would be fun to celebrate author and illustrator birthdays with my children. I never anticipated that baking one cake would spark so many other family reading experiences. It has been quite a journey, and I looking forward to seeing what is next. If you would like to follow along, join us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. You can sign up to receive emails too!

Kate, our family wishes you the best of birthdays! Your books have brought so much joy to my family! Thank you for your creativity and imagination! Have a great birthday!!

2. Follow Kate McMullan on Twitter
3. Other Happy Birthday Kate McMullan Posts - Happy Birthday Author
5. Text Interview - Library Media Connection (2012)
6. Audio Interview - Just One More Book (2007)
7. Just One More Book (2006) Podcast about Nutcracker Noel by Kate and Jim McMullan
10. I'm Fast Book Trailer  -YouTube
11.  Buy Kate McMullan Merchandise - CafePress
12. Kate McMullan Biography - Scholastic
13. Kate McMullan Talks Myth-O-Mania with Sag Harbor Express (September 2013)
14. Kate and Jim McMullan at SouthHampton Arts 2013 - YouTube
15. Stinky and Dirty TV show - Amazon
16. I'm Brave Trailer - YouTube

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