Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Happy Birthday, Brendan Wenzel - March 29

Happy Birthday, Brendan Wenzel - March 29

I loved sorting baseball cards when I was little. I would sort in numerical order, not by team or player. The card number was on the back along with the statistics and player information. I always checked the player's birthday to see if it was the same as mine. Cy Young, a player who played in the early 1900s, and I have the same birthday. I never had one of his cards but I was pretty excited when I learned that I had the same birthday as the guy who was named after the award given to the best pitcher of the year.

At some point I must have looked up all the birthdays of the U.S. presidents because as I was writing this post I recalled that I have the same birthday as the 10th president, John Tyler. I know nothing else about John Tyler, but I know his birthday is March 29th.

Maybe my fascination with birthdays started when I was in first grade when I met my best friend. His birthday is March 24th, not the same as mine, but I thought it was close enough to count. I knew right away that we would be best friends since our birthdays were so close. We still call each other every year on our birthdays.

Imagine my excitement when I flipped to March in the 2017 Perma-Bound author birthday calendar and found that I share a birthday with a recent Caldecott Honor Award recipient. I wanted to email him right away to verify but I chickened out. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to ask him in person at the Mazza Museum Fall Conference 2017. And he said, "YES!"

Brendan Wenzel and I have the same birthday!

Brendan Wenzel is the author and illustrator of the 2017 Caldecott Honor Award winning book, They All Saw a Cat. He has illustrated many other books including Some Pets, written by Angela DiTerlizzi, Beastly Babies written by Ellen Jackson, and One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom. As a child, Brendan was "obsessed" with learning and reading about animals and started drawing and creating art at a very early age. His parents were artists and "were always painting." (Mazza Museum Fall Conference Keynote 2017). His mother was an art educator and his father, David T. Wenzel, an illustrator, is well-known for his book The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic and many other children's books.

Brendan said, in an interview with Design of the Picture Book, "Seeing both of my parents work on their own projects and my dad create book after book made me realize early on how exciting and gratifying the art and bookmaking process could be."

Brendan studied illustration at Pratt Institute in New York and graduated in 2003. After graduation he worked in animation, storyboarding, and even as a puppet designer. However, after a few years Brendan felt his life needed more adventure. He joked with the audience at the Mazza Museum, "I wasn't seeing any animals. We decided to travel the world to see beautiful places and animals!"

He and his wife, Magdalena, traveled to see many beautiful places and lived in Vietnam. He said, "Everywhere we went I drew." He shared his illustrations on his website and the drawings of extremely rare animals caught the attention of animal researchers and conservationists. (Click here to see an illustration he did of Cambodia.) Brendan realized that his "enthusiasm for animals and art could help" animals that have been identified as threatened and endangered.

Brendan got his big break into children's books in 2013 when Angela DiTerlizzi contacted him to collaborate on the children's book, Some Bugs. Brendan said, "I had wanted to get this call for 30 years!" After Some Bugs, Brendan illustrated a few other books including a companion book, Some Pets, and hoped some day he would be able to write a book of his own. 

He said, "Everything I wrote had traditional story arcs and they weren't good." Then, one day Brendan went to get a snack and found a mouse in the kitchen. He thought maybe he should get a cat. But, he worried about how the mouse would feel if he got a cat. He wrote down the sentence "The mice saw a cat and the cat was a frightening cat." This moment sparked the beginning of his award-winning book, They All Saw a Cat, which was acquired by Chronicle Books after an 8-Publisher Auction. It later received a Caldecott Honor in 2017.

Brendan just released his latest book, Hello, Hello on March 20, 2018! Here is the trailer:

My favorite thing about Brendan Wenzel's art is the eyes of animals he draws. They are so big and fun! When I was preparing for this family reading experience I had an idea, but I didn't know if it would work. I may have never tried it but my wife texted me from Michael's Crafts to ask if I needed anything. I responded, "White and black puffy paint." I figured since she bought the paint I should probably give it try. I am glad I did!

What would we do with these two little tubes of puffy/fabric paint?
We would paint eyes on pairs of old sunglasses.
My oldest son laughed as he struggled to make the black pupils of the eyes.
We were able to fix it with a toothpick and more puffy paint.
We thought the puffy paint would give the eyes a textured look just like the eyes in Brendan's books.
My oldest daughter used a pair of sunglasses that already had eyebrows!
I think the white pair of sunglasses made the best set of eyes.

We set the "eye" glasses on cups to dry.
Then, we read a stack of Brendan's books before bed and decided not to touch the glasses until the next day.
When we were Wenzel-fied!
Brendan, it was so great to meet you at the Mazza Museum last fall! I am happy to share a birthday with you! Thank you for making such awesome books!

1. Brendan Wenzel's Website
2. Interviews - Let's Talk Picture Books, Design of the Picture Book, The Children's Book Review, Twenty by Jenny, Ninu Nina, Tiny Readers, Mile High Reading, Mr. Schu Reads, Children's Book Ireland
3. Brendan Wenzel at the National Book Festival 2016 - YouTube
4. Follow Brendan Wenzel - Twitter
5. They All Saw a Cat Trailer - YouTube
6. Brendan Wenzel talks about Stinky Cheese Man - YouTube
7. They All Saw a Cat song by Emily Arrow - YouTube

Friday, March 23, 2018

Happy Birthday, Jonathan Bean - March 23

Happy Birthday, Jonathan Bean - March 23

As we were "building our house" out of craft sticks to celebrate Jonathan Bean's birthday, my youngest daughter said to me, "Daddy, what are you going to do when we are gone?"

I thought for a few moments. I was slightly confused by what she was talking about so I responded, "What do you mean?"

She repeated, "What are you going to do?"

I guessed, "Are you talking about crafts and doing stuff for author birthdays?"

She said, "Yeah. What will you do when we're gone?"

I said, "I don't know. But, you are right. Someday you will be big. You will live in a house of your own."

She responded, "You could always do author birthdays with Mommy." And then we went back to "building our house" out of craft sticks.

I can't help thinking about our conversation. Was my six-year-old daughter thinking about how her older sister is five and half years away from heading off to college? Hmmm...Probably not. Did reading Building Our House trigger thoughts of having a family of her own and moving to a new house? Maybe. Does she see how happy her dad is when we do these family projects and wants to see it continue? Who knows.

Later, I asked her why she asked the question but she didn't know.  I guess it doesn't matter at this point. We have another author birthday celebration to share with you! And wait a almost thirteen-year-old daughter was involved in this family reading experience. That means I have at least another seven years of writing this blog! (Right?) Enough with all this talk about my kids growing up and moving out.

Jonathan Bean is the illustrator of several picture books including The Apple Pie that Papa Baked, written by Lauren Thompson, Real Cowboys, written by Kate Hoefler and Bad Bye, Good Bye, written by Deborah Underwood. At the Mazza Museum Summer Conference 2015, Jonathan spoke about how much he loved art when he was a child. He was highly motivated to experiment with new art techniques to impress judges at the annual community fair, "I entered fifteen pieces every year in multiple mediums just to get more points...One year, I made a diorama of Narnia."

After graduating from Messiah College, Jonathan's experimentation with art settled on one illustration style, pastel on sandpaper.  In an interview with Seven Impossible Things he said, "I used to work in pastels a lot but it seemed to give me too much control and the result was stiff drawings." He said at Mazza, "I was told that my work felt a little cold."

In graduate school at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Jonathan started experimenting again. This time with intentions of illustrating children's books. He tried to "soften" his art by working with pencil and ink. Later, he created a whole book for a project influenced by folk art and for his thesis project he experimented with watercolor and ink.

In 2007, Jonathan Bean burst onto the children's book scene by publishing four books.

For Apple Pie that Papa Baked Jonathan was awarded the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award in 2008.
At Night, was the result of Jonathan's thesis project in graduate school. For this book, he received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 2008.
Jonathan Bean described himself as, "a bit of a chameleon." His career started with different people hiring him for different styles and he decided that he liked being a chameleon. Maybe Jonathan's chameleon-style started as a child when he used multiple mediums just to get more points in an art contest, but now he uses his artistic experimentation as a way to tell the best story.

The book that sparked our family reading experience was Building Our House. This story was inspired by Jonathan's family's experience building their own house when he was just a few years old. The book chronicles the process, obstacles, and successes from the moment the family acquires the land to living happily in a finished house.

I was reading the book at the public library. I was waiting for story time to begin, my daughter and I go every Tuesday, when an illustration caught my eye.
The frame of the house to me looked like popsicle sticks.
When we got home I found a box of craft sticks and asked, "Who wants to build a house?"
My two girls said, "Yes."
"Let's read the book first."
My oldest daughter used her photography skills to take this photo.
We experimented with different ways to glue the sticks together.
We used tacky glue and hot glue. I preferred tacky glue best, but my oldest daughter like the hot glue.
Boy, did she ever!
My daughter and I worked together to build one house. 
Her design was very ambitious.
My daughter had many moments of frustration, but I was impressed with her determination to finish.
We found building the walls by making a square first and then filling in the crafts sticks worked best for us.
She thought her house was a joke, but I think it turned out great.

My youngest daughter thought she needed a few ladders so she made them all by herself. Did you know you can cut craft sticks with scissors? 
Hooray! A new house! 
But, let's not talk about you moving out for a long, long time!

1. Jonathan Bean's Website and blog
2. Follow Jonathan on Facebook, Twitter
3. Interviews - The Horn Book, School Library Journal, Seven Impossible Things Blog

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Happy Birthday, Marc Tyler Nobleman - March 14

Happy Birthday, Marc Tyler Nobleman - March 14

I thought my plans for our family reading experience to celebrate Marc Tyler Nobleman's birthday were in jeopardy when I realized we were headed to Cleveland the same day as the city's St. Patick's Day parade. I worried more when I realized that one of the locations I wanted to visit was actually on the parade route. Then, I awoke with the thought that everyone in the city would be wearing green and with green being the color of Kryptonite I couldn't help but wonder, "Was our Super-family-day doomed?" I shook off the worries with a follow-up thought of hope. "We are headed to the home of Superman. The spirit of the greatest superhero of all-time would certainly find a way to protect us on our reading adventure."

Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, and The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra. As a boy, he loved superheroes and all those years of reading comic books served him well when he became a detective. Well, not a detective like the ones that solves crimes punishable by law, but a children's book detective who uncovers the mysteries and backstories of topics we thought we fully understood.

Marc began his children's book career in the marketing department of a publishing company. In 1996, after working at the company for a couple of years he was offered an opportunity to write his first book, The Felix Activity Book (Kids Book Review). Within a few years,  Marc was laid off from the publisher but continued as a freelance writer. Over the next ten years, he wrote seventy non-fiction books about American history, animals, and a wide-variety of other topics. (Noblemania). Then, in 2008, Marc published Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. Marc acknowledged the importance of this book on his blog, "Boys of Steel was important to me...It wasn't just book #71. It was actually book #1."

Marc told the audience at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference 2017, "Superman is so famous, but his backstory was not." Marc put on his detective hat and uncovered pieces of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's story that had not been told. He uncovered the true story of Jerry Siegel's father's death during a robbery and the mystery behind Joe Shuster's house in Cleveland, Ohio. Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman includes both of these important pieces in a picture book that chronicles how the co-creators became friends in high school, failed in their early attempt to make a science fiction cartoon, and then succeeded together in creating Superman with Siegel's words and concept and Shuster's art.
In this photo, Marc shared a photo of the Joe Shuster's apartment building. Marc found the photo at the Cleveland Public Library during his research.
As important as Boys of Steel was to telling the not-so-famous backstory of Superman, it was Marc's book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman that would make waves throughout the comic book industry. It was in writing this book that Marc wanted to explain that there was a name missing in the credits of all-things Batman. There was substantial evidence that Bill Finger was involved with the creation of Batman from the beginning with long-time believed sole-creator, Bob Kane but only Kane's name was listed. The story told in Marc's book and the recent documentary Batman and Bill, led to DC comics acknowledging Bill Finger as a co-creator of the iconic character. Marc's retelling of his research efforts had the audience at the Mazza Museum in awe and when I watched documentary with my family I was moved to tears. Marc's passion to uncover the truth is inspiring. His determination to get the story right was admirable. His enthusiasm was contagious.

I can remember coming home from the Mazza Museum Summer Conference and I couldn't wait to tell my wife what I learned about Bill Finger and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Then, I couldn't wait to give Marc's books as Christmas gifts to my superhero-fanatic niece and nephew. And I couldn't wait until March to celebrate Marc's birthday where I would try to bring to life Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman for my children.

We arrived in Cleveland, the home of Superman, before 10 o'clock on Saturday morning. The St. Patrick's Day parade was scheduled to begin shortly after 1pm. We hoped this would be plenty of time to see all the Super-sites without running into any leprechauns or crazy parade-goers.

This Ohio Historical Marker is located at the corner of E. 105 St. and St. Clair.
Our first stop was the Cleveland Public Library at 325 Superior Avenue to view the exhibit,  Superman: From Cleveland to Krypton (open only through March 2018).
Right inside the door of the exhibit we found Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman on display.
My boys started asking questions right away about the origin of Superman. I knew most of the questions could be answered by reading the book. We found the perfect spot to read it.
Supergirl enjoyed the videos. 
We are Cleveland-proud!
This was Jerry Seigel's writing desk from 1940-1948 (about 2 years after Superman appeared in Action Comics #1). It was donated to the Cleveland Public Library in 2017.
"Could you really call people on one of these phones?"
It's a bird...It's a plane...It's Superman., it's Supergirl!
"One of the little known stories about Superman is that he owes a lot of his existence to this typewriter...I liked this typewriter so much that it was the only portable I ever had or used." - Jerry Siegel
After the exhibit, we went upstairs to the children's department of the library. We were surprised to find that Youth Services was providing many activities to celebrate St. Patrick's Day including balloon animals and face painting. The balloon artist made bat-wings for my son. How cool is that!
We found Marc Tyler Nobleman's The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra and of course, we had to read it.
I didn't put it back on the shelf though. I swapped it out with one of the books on display. (Shhhh! don't tell the librarians.)
It was a little before noon when we finished at the library. I was surprised the sidewalk in front of the library wasn't crowded with people awaiting the parade. So far in our journey, we had escaped a possible crippling encounter with the green stuff, but we still had two more sites we needed to see. 
The first was on Kimberley Avenue which is about a 15 minute drive from the library.
This was Jerry Siegel's house when he was a teenage boy. It was here, one sleepless night in 1934, where Jerry Siegel wrote down the idea for a superhero that was strong enough to lift cars and jump over buildings. 
"This is the house where Superman was born."

Jerry knew he needed help with his idea. He needed his friend, Joe Shuster, to bring the character to life.
Jerry ran less than 10 blocks to the corner of Parkwood and Amor to his buddy's apartment. 
The building may no longer be standing, but it was here where Superman was drawn for the first time. 
My son, the treasure hunter, said, "What if we find a copy of this comic book at a garage sale someday?" Well, you would be a millionaire, son!
"On this site once stood the home where Superman was turned from words into pictures."
The panels on the fence are pages from the Action Comics #1 which featured Superman for the first time in June 1938.
We did it! The spirit of Superman protected us from the parade, leprechauns, green kryptonite, and even terrible city traffic. We were truly blessed with a Super-day!

Marc, it was a pleasure meeting you at Mazza. Thank you for working so hard to create these amazing non-fiction picture books. I enjoyed sharing them with my children. We hope you had a wonderful birthday!

Keep an eye out for Marc Tyler Nobleman's next two books, Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real (Release Date is April 24, 2018) and Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story (Release date is October 9, 2018):

1. Marc Tyler Nobleman's Website
2. Follow Marc Tyler Nobleman - Twitter,
4. Video Interviews - 2009 Interview Boys of Steel - YouTube, NYCC 16 - YouTube FanHelix, Comicology 2008
5. Text Interviews - Comicsbeat, AuthorTurf, Den of Geek, Andrea Hurst, Donna Janell Bowman, Kids Book Review

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