Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, John Rocco - July 9

Happy Birthday, John Rocco - July 9

As I listened to John Rocco's keynote last fall at the Mazza Museum, I wrote a note in my journal, "b/c loved books." Rocco said that it was his love of books that drove him to return to creating children's books after many years away from the field of children's literature. I wanted to know more about this so I googled, "John Rocco loves books." I found a short passage that John wrote that explained his love further, "I feel that picture books are the connective tissue between a parent and a child. Reading a picture book with a child is a sacred and special time. It's the one time in a busy day where you stop everything, snuggle up on the couch, or the floor and share a story." (Picture Book Month 2012).  I don't think I have heard the act of reading picture books to a child described any better.

John Rocco has illustrated eight picture books including the 2012 Caldecott Honor Book, Blackout, which is one of five books in which he was also the author.  He also has illustrated the popular chapter book series by Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, and The Heroes of Olympus. Rocco's story of becoming a children's book illustrator is unique. He didn't start "seriously" drawing until the age of 19. (Roccoart.com). Additionally, he illustrated his first picture book in 1992, Alice by Whoopi Goldberg, after graduating from School of Visual Arts in New York, but did not illustrate another until 2005 when he designed the cover for The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Orlando Museum of Art).

John Rocco was quite busy during the time between Alice and The Lightning Thief. He designed theme park attractions for Disney, served as pre-production art director for the DreamWorks animated film, Shrek, and worked on many other television and video game projects. (Mazza Museum Keynote, Fall Conference 2013).

At the age of 38 Rocco decided he wanted to move back to New York with his wife, Aileen Leijten, who also illustrates children's books. In 2007, he was back publishing picture books with Wolf! Wolf!, an imaginative recreation of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. John Rocco said at the Mazza Museum Fall Conference 2013 that a series of "what if?" questions led him to tell a story that was set in China told from the point of view of a wolf who was old and loved vegetables. (I told you it was imaginative!)


My family loved the artwork in all his books. When my wife commented on how much she liked them I recalled what John Rocco said in his keynote speech, "I don't have a natural gift. Drawing is like trying to eat an elephant, one bite at a time." He went on to talk about his time in art school, "I was determined to work harder than the more experienced student." Well, I believe his hard work has paid off. His latest picture book,  How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton, was a hit with my children. Plus, he just released the chapter book Swim That Rock with his best friend and co-author Jay Primiano, which I LOVED!

Unquestionably my family's favorite book we read this week by John Rocco was Moonpowder, published in 2008. In this story, Eli is having trouble with a reoccurring nightmare and vows to never sleep again. He is up late tinkering with his inventions when he is visited by Mr. Moon.  Mr. Moon is aware of Eli's uncanny ability to "fix all things fixable" and tells him that the Moonpowder Factory is not working which is why he was having trouble with nightmares. Moonpowder ensures that children will have sweet dreams.  Eli and Mr. Moon travel to the Moonpowder factory and discover that the Dream Tank is empty which is not good because the only remaining Moonpowder is supposedly in the S.E.D.K. (Special Emergency Dream Kit) that is in Mother Nature's closet. Mr. Moon needs Eli's help to recover the Moonpowder to get the factory started again to keep nightmares away from the children of Earth.

I had an idea for a family reading experience that I never dreamed would be so much fun and exciting for my children.  We were going to make a S.E.D.K. (Special Emergency Dream Kit)  and fill it with Moonpowder to ensure that we never run out.  We don't want any nightmares!

Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
I found a small wooden chest in our craft box that I picked up at a garage sale last year.
Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My boys worked together to decoupage red tissue paper on the outside of the box to turn this ordinary wooden box into the S.E.D.K.
Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Then, we reviewed the illustration from the book on how to create Moonpowder. We needed sweet dreams, starlight, and moon dust.
Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
In the book, the Moonpowder was kept in a velvet bag inside the S.E.D.K. I was sure a velvet bag would only lead to a big mess. So, we went to Michael's craft store and found mini pails that were clear on the outside to hold our Moonpowder. In the photo above, my daughter began making her Moonpowder by adding sweet dreams (actually cotton balls that we pulled apart!)
Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Next, we needed to add starlight. We found silver stars in the glitter aisle at Michael's that were perfect for starlight.
Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We also added all different colors of glitter to represent starlight.
Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Lastly, we needed moon dust. We used white decorative sand to represent the moon dust.
Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
This was a blast! A messy blast!
Moonpowder by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
It was nothing the handheld sweeper couldn't handle. "Dad, that's loud!"
Moonpowder by John - Special Emergency Dream Kit and Moonpowder Activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Do you follow Happy Birthday Author on Pinterest? Please pin this picture.
Moonpowder keeps the nightmares away and ensures sweet dreams
A close up view of our Moonpowder. 

Tonight before bed my boys asked for me to open the S.E.D.K. and sprinkle Moonpowder on their bed so they would have sweet dreams.  I pretended to shake the Moonpowder from the pail onto their bed. I am sure they will have sweet dreams tonight. Thank you John Rocco for writing a book that became the "connective tissue" between me and my children.

There was one more thing that I wanted to do before our birthday celebration for John Rocco would be complete. We needed to have a blackout.  After my two younger children went to bed, my older two children were allowed to stay up late to read Blackout. In this story, the city is busy. The family is busy too. But, then the power goes out. What do you do when there is a blackout? In Blackout, the family finds great joy in spending time together without any distractions.

Blackout by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
In our pretend blackout, we lit candles and played a board game together.
Blackout by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We also read Blackout by candlelight.
Blackout by John Rocco activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
It wasn't a "normal" thing to do on a summer night during the week of John Rocco's birthday. But, "not everyone likes normal."
Links:
1. John Rocco's website
2. John Rocco's Blog
3. Follow John Rocco on Twitter
4. Trailers - Blackout, Fu Finds the Way, The Flint Heart
5. John Rocco talks with Jay Primiano about SWIM THAT ROCK - YouTube via Candlewick
6. John Rocco "Committed to Telling Stories" - Publishing Perspectives
7. Interviews - Seven Impossible Things Blog, Candlewick, Lee Wind


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Happy Birthday Eric Carle - June 25

Happy Birthday, Eric Carle - June 25

2014 has already been an exciting year for Eric Carle! He is celebrating the 45th anniversary of his book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In April, he experienced what he called the "Easter Miracle" when he spoke to the childhood friend who was the inspiration Friends after losing contact with for 82 years. Now today, June 25th, he celebrates his 85th birthday!

Eric Carle has touched the lives of so many children with his classic picture books and his influential work continues with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (which I hope to visit someday!). Did you know every 30 seconds a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is purchased somewhere in the world?  It is simply amazing how important Eric Carle is to us all.

How will you be celebrating this week? Will you read your favorite book by Eric Carle, maybe The Very Busy Spider or The Tiny Seed? Will you share the book with a child?  Will you get crafty and make something from this awesome Pinterest board dedicated to Eric Carle? Maybe you can start your celebration by watching this quick video with Eric Carle talking about the message behind The Very Hungry Caterpillar:



Our birthday celebration started rather serendipitously. I returned home after running an errand. My wife was on the computer and said, "We have a bunch of strange bugs crawling around the cherry tree in the front yard." Then she immediately said while pointing at the computer screen, "Aha! That is the bug!" She found a picture of the bug in a Google Image Search, clicked the image and found out it was a ladybug larva!

We went outside together, took the camera, and this is what we saw. Ladybug larvae were crawling all over the tree!
A photo of ladybug larvae via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
According to Ladybug-Life-Cycle.com, female ladybugs lay eggs where they know their larvae will immediately find food.
A photo of ladybug larvae via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Ladybug larvae love to eat aphids and other mites. This particular tree also has lots of carpenter ants who also love aphids so there must have enough aphids for everyone to share. In Eric Carle's The Grouchy Ladybug, two ladybugs meet on a leaf covered with aphids. The friendly ladybug suggests that they share, but the grouchy ladybug insists on fighting for the aphids. When the friendly ladybug agrees to fight, the grouchy ladybug backs down and flies away to grouchily confront many other animals before returning to the leaf at the end of the day. This time, the grouchy ladybug is friendly and dines upon the remaining aphids.
Ladybug pupa stage via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Upon, closer inspection we found larvae that had entered the pupa stage!
Ladybug pupa stage via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Once again according to Ladybug-Life-cycle.com, a larva grows and eat aphids and mites for a couple weeks and then enters the pupa stage which lasts only a few days! Then, the larva experiences metamorphosis and changes into a ladybug!
Ladybug larvae via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We were quite excited to have this happening right in our front yard. My children enjoyed observing the larvae crawling around the tree.
The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
It dawned on me that Eric Carle's birthday was just a few days away and that reading The Grouchy Ladybug under the tree would be the perfect way to celebrate!
The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My wife tried to get a ladybug larva to give my daughter's closer look.
The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We found pupae she could see too!
The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Then, she observed a larva skin that a ladybug had left on a leaf after metamorphosis.
The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
The next day, my daughter and I read The Grouchy Ladybug on the steps under the tree. She wore her sister's fancy pink shoes!
The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We found a ladybug and let it crawl on the book to meet The Grouchy Ladybug. We hoped he would not be too grouchy and wouldn't want to fight our ladybug.
Ladybug emerging after metamorphosis via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
While we were outside we saw a larva emerging as a ladybug.
New Ladybug, no spots after metamorphosis via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
After coming out, it turned itself around and rested on top of the skin.
New Ladybug, no spots after metamorphosis via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
It stretched!
New Ladybug, no spots after metamorphosis via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Then, it extended its wings. We thought it must be drying its wings just like a butterfly does after it emerges as "a beautiful butterfly".
A Grouchy Ladybug via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We are so happy that these ladybugs chose our tree. We learned so much and had a birthday celebration for Eric Carle that we will not forget!
You can observe ladybug larvae change into ladybugs too! We have not tried the ladybugs kit from Insect Lore but we had great success with their butterfly kits:



Check out how our community is celebrating Eric Carle's birthday:


Eric Carle Birthday at Little Free Libraries via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
This is Little Free Library is in front of our house. Our family decorated the sidewalk too!
Eric Carle Birthday at Little Free Libraries via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
The Very Hungry Caterpillar visited all five Little Free Libraries in the city and brought books by Eric Carle to share. (I painted the caterpillars, laminated each one, and stapled them to the pole.)
Eric Carle Birthday at Little Free Libraries via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
On June 25th, I will be hosting story times at each Little Free Library. I will be reading my favorite books by Eric Carle. (Schedule: 9am - Sunny Lake, 10am - Craddock Elementary, 11am - Kiwanis Moore Park, 12pm - New Life Assembly Church, and 1pm Four Seasons.) It should be a fun day (if the rain stays away)!
Links:

1. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art - Follow The Carle on Facebook and Twitter
2. Eric Carle's Blog
3. Eric Carle's Website - Lots of Downloads
4. Previous Birthday Celebrations from Happy Birthday Author - 2010, 2011
5. Author Study - Scholastic
6. House for Hermit Crab - Lesson Plan (Scholastic)
7. Brown Bear, Brown Bear Teacher's Guide - Brown Bear and Friends
8. Eric Carle Video Interview - Reading Rockets
9. The Education of a Good Picture Writer - Eric Carle - YouTube (a 1 hour long speech)
10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar turns 45 - CBS NEWS video
11. Eric Carle describes his illustration technique with tissue paper - via MacMillanKids on YouTube
12. Eric Carle reads THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR - YouTube
13. Eric Carle activities on Pinterest - Great board with tons of ideas!
14. 45th Anniversary of THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR website - Penguin
15. Eric Carle Biography - Eric-Carle.com
16. The World of Eric Carle on Facebook

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Birthday Michael Hall - June 22

Happy Birthday Michael Hall - June 22

I wanted this to be a perfect blog post, but it started in a way that left me wondering how it was going to shape up.

I began my preparation for our birthday celebration for Michael Hall by looking through my notes from his keynote speech at the 2013 Summer Conference at the Mazza Museum. All I found were notes that that looked like someone removed all the good and juicy details with a hole-punch and snipped all the inspiring quotes with a pair of pinking shears. Even the birthday celebration activity idea that I had during the speech was illegible. Aarrgh! (Note to self and a small plug for my favorite event of the year: I MUST take better notes at this summer's Mazza Museum Summer Conference -- July 14 - July 18! Sign up today!)

I was starring at three of Michael Hall's books in my lap, feeling a little stumped about the direction I should head for his birthday celebration, when my oldest daughter came over and said, "Hey, is that Perfect Square by Michael Hall? We did a project with that book in media class this year."

She went on to tell me that her teacher read the book in class and then they had 15 minutes to cut a paper square into shapes, arrange it into something else, and glue it on a piece of white paper. I said to my soon-to-be fourth grader,"Do you think you could show your brothers how to do it?"

She agreed and I started to feel that maybe she could help me piece together our birthday celebration for Michael Hall.

Michael Hall is the creator of four picture books including My Heart is Like a Zoo and Cat Tale. However, before creating picture books he studied biochemistry and psychology at the University of Michigan. Then, after spending a few years working in biomedical research he turned to graphic design. (from the biography in My Heart is Like a Zoo). He has dedicated over 25 years to Hall Kelly, Inc., a graphic design firm he co-owns and is the principal designer.  His work has been described as "simple and engaging." It was suggested to him that his "simple and engaging" artwork would be great in a children's book. He took the suggestion seriously and in 2010 he published his first book My Heart is Like a Zoo which features 20 animals that are illustrated with bright colors and heart shapes. Amazingly, Hall created around 70 heart-shaped animals before narrowing it down to the final group that made it into the book. (Click here to see some of the animals that didn't make the cut!).

My Heart is Like a Zoo was followed up with Perfect Square which also brought many rave reviews. The story is about a perfectly happy square who is one day cut into pieces and poked full of holes. The square finds itself broken and misshapen throughout a whole week. But as Michael Hall describes, "with each imperfection, the square makes itself into something beautiful." (Under the Green Willow, The Official Blog of Greenwillow Books). Michael shared at the Mazza Museum conference that this book helped him cope with his daughter receiving a diagnosis that she had Type 1 diabetes. "As a father, when your child is diagnosed with chronic illness, you have to confront the idea of her being imperfect. Hannah's attitude, even when she was 13, was that she wouldn't be beaten by the disease. That's what the book is about -- finding beauty in broken. But it's broader that this one issue. It's also about adventure, change, expanding our boundaries." (Twin Cities).

PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My daughter began the activity with her brothers by reading Perfect Square.
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We each picked out a colored piece of construction paper and then we cut it into a perfect square.  My daughter pointed out that the squares that she used in school were much smaller. She gave guidelines to the project -- use scissors and hole punches to make your square into other shapes and then design something new. But, you must use all of the square. Lastly, you can use a black marker to add small details to your design.
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
She was a great model for her brothers and got started right away cutting and creating a scene with her green square. 
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My youngest son got busy too.
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My oldest son had some trouble getting started on this project. Notice the pile of crumpled paper on the left. He really wanted to make a pumpkin out of his orange square but was frustrated that he couldn't have any scraps left over.  I told him that it doesn't have to be perfect and that even though there are guidelines you really can make it your own.

Later, I found this quote from Michael Hall which would have helped too. "Before I knew what sort of story this would be, I cut, ripped, and otherwise mangled hundreds of paper squares and looked for images in the resulting pieces -- like looking for animals in clouds."(Under the Green Willow, The Official Blog of Greenwillow Books).


He looked and looked at his square and said, "I want to make this a picture frame." I was so proud of him for not giving up.
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My daughter finished her design by writing, "So, it (the square) made itself into a bunch of nature put together."
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Pin this picture and follow us on Pinterest!
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My son's perfect square became a picture frame filled with lots of people.
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My perfect square burst into many pieces and made itself into a bright and shiny sun.
PERFECT SQUARE by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
My four-year-old son worked really hard and made some Christmas trees!
My daughter's art activity for Perfect Square would have been enough for this birthday blog post. However, on our weekly visit to the library we found Michael Hall's his brand new book It's An Orange Aardvark which inspired an activity for my two-year-old daughter.

It's An Orange Aardvark is another great book by Michael Hall! In fact, I would say that it is my favorite read aloud of all his four books. In the story, five carpenter ants hear a "BOOM! and "Rumble! Rumble!" while they are asleep in their tree stump. The carpenter ant in the red hat gets the rest of the ants in a tizzy when he speculates that the noise could be an aardvark that wants to eat them. The ants drill holes through their stump to see outside (which are illustrated with die-cut holes reminiscent of The Very Hungry Caterpillar).  All they can see are colors through the holes and with each new color the red-hatted ant's theory intensifies about aardvark and their impending doom. The ant in the yellow hat is a little more rational, thinks about the colors he is seeing, and has a much more realistic theory about what is outside their stump.
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
removed the label from a large rolled-oats food container. I thought it would make the perfect tree stump.
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Then I drilled ("Wrrrrr!") six circles -- well, actually cut with an x-acto knife -- in random places all over the container. 
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Then, I cut squares of construction paper for each the six colors revealed to ants as they drilled their stump -- orange, blue, red, green, yellow, and purple.
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
I glued the pieces of paper to the inside of the container so that the colors showed through the holes. 
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Next, I pasted "life-the-flaps" made out brown construction paper to cover each hole.
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
We read It's an Orange Aardvark together!
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
After reading, my daughter placed carpenter ants into the stump. My older children drew the ants with black crayons on white construction paper and we laminated them.
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
After counting all the ants she lifted the flaps and told us the colors she found.
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
Purple was her favorite!
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
I think she liked the activity! 
IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall activity via www.happybirthdayauthor.com
When her mom came home from work she told her all about her new favorite book!
Our birthday celebration for Michael Hall shaped up just fine! I want to thank my daughter for sharing her Perfect Square activity with us. It ended up being the perfect way to spend the day together as a family!

Hey! This looks fun! A sticker book based on My Heart is Like a Zoo:


 
Links:
1. Michael Hall Studio Website
2. My Heart is Like a Zoo Website
3. Hall Kelley Inc. (Michael Hall's design company)
4. It's an Orange Aardvark! Trailer
5. Perfect Square Trailer
6. Cat Tale Trailer
7. My Heart is Like a Zoo Trailer
8. Deleted Scenes from My Heart is Like a Zoo - Greenwillow Blog
9. About Michael Hall - Mazza Museum Summer Conference blog
10. Michael Hall Talks about It's an Orange Aardvark - KUT.ORG 
11. Behind the Scenes of Perfect Square - Greenwillow Blog Posts (here is cool post, and another
12. A look at many different covers for PERFECT SQUARE - Greenwillow Blog

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