Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Happy Birthday, Aaron Becker - July 14

Happy Birthday, Aaron Becker - July 14

Last summer I met Aaron Becker at the Mazza Museum. I told him about our blog and asked if he would share his birthday with us so we could plan a celebration. He said, "My birthday was just three days ago."

363 days later we finally got to celebrate, but a few things happened which made it worth the wait. In April, my whole family got to meet Aaron Becker at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library, where the children's area is like stepping into Journey. This week, we created a fun sewing project to bring to life Quest. And in less than one month, Aaron's next book Return will be available! It has been an exciting journey leading up to this blog post. I hope you read on to learn more!

Aaron Becker is the creator of the Journey Trilogy. As a child he taught himself to draw from books by Ed Emberley. His parents fostered his hobby of drawing and making books. His father made sure he had plenty of left over paper from the dot matrix printer and Aaron would tape two pieces together. His mother made him his own special space, a handmade work bench, "where he was let to discover and learn on his own." (Mazza Museum Keynote).

Despite his love for drawing, Aaron never took a formal art class until after high school. He graduated from Pomona College in 1996 with a degree in media studies after briefly considering majoring in Japanese Language and Pacific Rim politics. (Pomona Magazine). In 1998, after a brief time in web and graphic design Aaron thought about entering the world of children's books and even attended a children's book writing conference. (Seven Impossible Things). He thought if he was going to make a children's book he would need to work on his art first and chose to attend Arts Center College of Design in California for six months. This experience led him to be hired as a concept artist for the animated film The Polar Express, based on Chris Van Allsburg's beloved book. Aaron worked in the film industry for over eight years and decided to move with his wife all the way across the country. It was after this move things changed for Aaron.

The company Aaron was working for was purchased by Disney and he lost his job. He was even more concerned because he would soon be a father! He needed to find a job, but thought, "I had always wanted to do this children's book thing, a now or never kind of feeling, all my cards on the table, just a 'Hail Mary Pass'." (Good Reads with Ronna). Aaron feared he would miss out on a chance so he wrote a story, made a real life dummy book that he hand-stitched with needle and thread, got an agent, and sold his first book to an editor he met 15 years prior at the children's book conference he attended after college. (Seven Impossible Things).

Journey was a huge success and Aaron was awarded a Caldecott Honor medal in 2014. Amazingly, Aaron taught himself how to use watercolor to make the illustrations for the book. He said, "I did teach myself watercolor! Everything I had done previously was either in oils, acrylics, or digital, but I wanted Journey to have a precious, handmade feel that only watercolor can pull off." (Henry Herz). Initially, a sequel to Journey was not in the plan, but soon came Quest in 2014 and in about one month, August 2016, Return will conclude this amazing wordless picture book adventure. (I can't wait!!)

I was so excited to find out that Aaron Becker was returning to Ohio last April. I enjoyed hearing him speak and knew my family would love him too. The reason for Aaron's visit to the South-Euclid Lyndhurst Library was to celebrate the new children's area based on Journey. If you are ever in Northeast Ohio and love Aaron's books you need to carve out some time to visit this library! It is amazing.
The children's area brings Journey to life!
Children (and adults!) can walk out of the door in the tree.
Hanging from the ceiling is the hot air balloon the girl draws to keep herself from falling from the aqueduct around the castle.
There are many interactive components for the kids too.
Take a ride in the red boat.
She said, "Hey! It's the castle from the book."
Aaron wanted the children's area to include activities to encourage imagination. There are blocks, hand designed by Aaron, to build your own castles.
I was so happy my children got to meet him!
Aaron gave out these cool markers at his visit. My youngest was so excited that the next week at school she took the markers, Journey, and Quest to share with her preschool class. When I was planning our birthday celebration activity I wondered if I could use these markers somehow.
In Quest, the king gives the girl and the boy a map, an orange marker, and bandolier to hold the markers they will gather on their adventure. I challenged myself to come up with a way to make the bandolier with materials I had in my house. I started with a random roll of brown fabric we acquired many years ago.
I cut a 6 inch wide piece, folded it in half, and pinned the edges.
I stitched the edges leaving one of the ends open.
Through the opening I reversed the fabric to hide the stitch.
I used my youngest daughter as my model to check the dimensions and to plan the next step.
I needed to devise a way to hold the markers. I decided to do this with felt. 
I stitched a 2.25" x 7.75" piece of felt onto the brown fabric. When, I placed the bandolier back on my daughter I worried that the markers would be too big and heavy because of the fabric I chose to use. So, I decided to continue my design for crayons instead of markers.
Next, I took another piece of brown felt and measured out six slots. I left about 1/2 inch between each slot and each slot was 3/4 inch wide. This was the perfect size to hold the crayons snug.
It worked!
I found a purple, teal, light green, yellow, orange, and red crayon for the bandolier.
The last stitch sewed the two ends of the fabric together. It was sewn diagonally to allow it to lay against my daughter's hip. The excess brown fabric was trimmed.
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With the prototype a success, my children wanted to make one of their own.
My son ran the pedal on the sewing machine while I guided the fabric.
 My 11 year old daughter asked if she could make one too. I got her started and she wanted to do the rest.
I was amazed with how determined she was to do this project all by herself.
Wow! Great work!
Aaron, our family hopes you have a wonderful birthday! I am so happy we all got to meet you. Your books have been a huge hit in our house! Have a great birthday!
Return will be available August 2, 2016. Pre-order it today!

1. Aaron Becker's Website
2. Follow Aaron Becker on Facebook, Twitter
3. Aaron Becker's Blog 
4. Journey Trailer (YouTube)
5. Quest Trailer (YouTube)
6. Interviews - Seven Impossible Things Blog, Candlewick, SmartBooks for SmartKids, Good Reads with Ronna, School Library Journal, Design Mom, East Oakview Library, Henry Herz, KidLit 411
7. 5 Things You Didn't Know About Aaron Becker - Huff Post
8. The Making of Journey - Vimeo
9. Video Interview for Candlewick - YouTube
10. Your Guide to a Wordless Book - StoryBreathing
11. Aaron Becker feature - Pomona Magazine

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Happy Birthday, Patricia Polacco - July 11

Happy Birthday, Patricia Polacco - July 11

I was lucky enough to hear Patricia Polacco speak at the Mazza Museum Fall Conference 2013. My notes from her talk are sparse. I remember just listening. Hanging on to each of her words. She spoke of Mr. Falker, The Keeping Quilt, the importance of the arts in schools, and more. I remember crying. She has a way of doing that to me, to everyone who reads her books.

I urge you to visit the children's section the next time you are at your library. Find Patricia's books. There will be many. The Junkyard Wonders is my favorite. Pick one of them. Her books are unlike any others.

I did write down one thing in my notes that day. She suggested making a tent with a blanket. Lots of pillows. Maybe some peanut butter crackers like she loved when she was a child. No electronics. Some books. A flashlight. She said, "You will be somewhere magical."

On Patricia's Facebook page, she wrote about some of her magical childhood experiences:

"In the summer, in the backyard, we would put on a circus, our poor dogs and cats would be dressed up and paraded down the streets in our radio flyer wagons, while a band of three kazoo players walked in front of us, lead by a grand drum major! And how about those wonderful running games that were invented on the spot? All that needed to happen was a large group of children dividing into opposing teams. Games like 'Red Rover Come Over', 'Mother May I', 'Simon Says', 'King of the Mountain', 'Kick the Can', and some version of 'Buck Buck or Leap Frog', and of course the old standard, 'Hide and Seek' and 'Ollie Ollie Ox and Free'."

"We also use to rip all the sheets and blankets off the beds, drape them over tables and chairs, safety pinned together, making an amazing maze of tunnels and forts. We would fill these tents with crackers and peanut butter, flashlights, cushy pillows, and tons of picture magazines, comic books, flash cards, and board games." (Facebook January 28, 2015).

I have been wanting to make a tent out of blankets to celebrate Patricia's birthday with my children ever since I wrote it down. This year it finally happened.
I thought the best place to make our tent with blankets was in our basement library. 
I brought down three card tables and a larger table to build our tent. We also had the table and chairs from our library. My son worked on covering the tables with blankets.
I have always thought we had too many blankets in our house. Today, however, I was thankful for having so many.
Our tent was finished. It took 45 minutes to build!
A view from inside our tent. Plenty of blankets. Plenty of pillows and stuffed animals. Plus a stack of Patricia's books.
My daughter came up with the idea of hanging flashlights from the tables and chairs.
Of course we had peanut butter crackers for a snack.
The blanket-tent is still up in our house. I think it will be up for many days to come. They even slept in it one night with their older sister.  
We read Some Birthday inside the tent. It was a tiny bit scary and fun to read with the flashlight.
They were so proud of their tent. Each time a new friend came over I heard them say, "You have to come downstairs and see our tent."
Patricia was right. It was magical.
Patricia has two new books coming out later this year, The Mermaid's Purse, (October 4, 2016) and Because of Thursday (October 18, 2016). Both are available for pre-order!

1. Patricia Polacco's Website
2. Follow Patricia Polacco on Facebook and Twitter
3. Video Interview - Reading
4. Patricia Polacco Author Study - Reading LadyScholastic
5. Other interviews -
6. The World of Patricia Polacco -  Teacher's Guide
7. Patricia Polacco reads Thunder Cake - DreamJam World on YouTube
8. Books Alive! Interviews Patricia Polacco - YouTube

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Happy Birthday, Laurie Keller - July 3

Happy Birthday, Laurie Keller - July 3

My son's elementary school had Right to Read Week at the end of May. The theme for the week was the Olympics. My responsibility was to design a reading room for all the first and second grade classes to visit. I came up with the idea of "Reading the World" and found books that featured over fifty different countries. When each class visited the reading room students chose a book from the country they wanted to learn more about and read it silently while sitting on bean bag chairs or carpet squares. One of the books that was available to read for the United States was The Scrambled States of America Talent Show by Laurie Keller.

After Right to Read Week concluded I brought all the books home. My oldest daughter was looking through them before I returned them to the library and our bookshelves. She came running over to me and said, "Dad, look at this."

She showed me the end pages for The Scrambled States of America Talent Show. Kentucky says, "Hey, Idaho - you and Laurie Keller have the same birthday!" Idaho, whose birthday is July 3, 1890, replies, "Hmmm, I wonder which one of us is older?"  We were so excited to learn Laurie Keller's birthday. My daughter said, "You need to write it on your calendar!"

I did and we hope you enjoy our author birthday celebration for the hilarious, Laurie Keller!

Laurie Keller is the author and illustrator of many funny books for children including Open Wide: Tooth School Inside and Do Onto Otters: A Book About Manners. She was offered a scholarship to study dance at Western Michigan University, but chose to study art and illustration at Kendall College of Art and Design. After college, Laurie worked at Hallmark Cards for seven years. On her lunch breaks she loved visiting a nearby children's book store and fell in love with picture books.

She was given a special four month assignment at Hallmark to generate ideas, write, and create art on whatever she wanted. She loved the freedom of this assignment and after it concluded she had a hard time adjusting back to her old job. She missed the "creative freedom". (Let's Get Busy Podcast).

One night, almost like a dream, she had an idea of the states of America having arms and legs. She loved the idea and put all her creative energy into developing it into a story. She said, "I would come home from Hallmark every night and work into the wee hours of the morning." (MLive). After the idea came together she set up a few meetings in New York with children's book publishers. There was no initial interest, but upon arriving back at home in Kansas City she decided that she wanted to move to New York.

During her six month preparation for the move, she received a few rejections, but then a short time after she quit her job at Hallmark she got an offer to publish her first book which was The Scrambled States of America.

Our favorite book by Laurie Keller is Arnie the Doughnut. Arnie is a chocolate-covered doughnut with sprinkles and is so excited to be chosen by Mr. Bing, a regular customer at the Downtown Bakery. Much to Arnie's surprise Mr. Bing tries to eat him. Mr. Bing, who is very patient and kind, tries to explain to Arnie that people eat donuts. Arnie is in disbelief and only a phone call to the baker helps Arnie face the truth. Mr. Bing decides it wouldn't be right to eat Arnie, but wants to figure out a way for Arnie to be of some use. However, none of their ideas are stellar and Arnie says, "I guess doughnuts really are only good for eating aren't they?" and he walks out the door. It looks like a sad ending for everyone, until Mr. Bing comes up with a clever idea.

My children came up with a clever idea for their end-of-the-year gifts for their teachers. They wanted to give them Dunkin' Donuts gift cards and accompany the gift card with a hand-painted piece of cardboard that looked like a donut. They turned out so cool that I thought it would be fun to repeat the craft, but this time turn the cardboard donuts into Arnies!

My daughter was there to support me as I got the craft supplies ready.
I cut the donut circles out of corrugated cardboard. Also, I had acrylic paint, pipe cleaners for Arnie's arms and legs, glitter, and SPRINKLES!
My youngest two children wanted to hear Arnie the Doughnut one more time! Did you know that Laurie Keller has written chapter books about Arnie the Doughnut?
They came up with idea of squirting acrylic paint into an empty yogurt container. In this case it was brown paint for Arnie's chocolate icing.
Then, he added glitter. Not a little glitter...A LOT! This made the paint spreadable with a craft stick.
Big brother decided to join the fun!
My daughter had her sweatbands on. Mixing paint is hard work!
Icing his doughnut.
My oldest daughter joined in too. While the paint was still wet she added googily eyes. We added the pipe cleaners too. This was easy to do. We just slid the pipe cleaner into the opening in the corrugated cardboard.
We made Arnie's mouth on another piece of cardboard with a black Sharpie marker.
Adding the sprinkles was the most fun!
He shook off the extra sprinkles.
Hello, Arnie!
She loved this craft!
This is my youngest daughter's Arnie the Doughnut.
This is my youngest son's Arnie the Doughnut. It had so many sprinkles we needed to think of a way to keep them from falling off.
We squirted fast finish decoupage onto Arnie. After a few applications all the sprinkles stayed in place. It worked out so well that we decided to decoupage all of our Arnies.
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We did this activity right before all of our children went to stay at grandma and grandpa's house for the weekend. Then, my wife and I got away to Geneva on the Lake in Ohio. Once we arrived in town, by coincidence we were told that we had to visit Madsen Donuts for breakfast. How could pass up this opportunity to visit a donut shop on Laurie Keller's birthday. The donuts were the best I have ever had. Of course, I had to get one with sprinkles!

My wife loves taking selfies.
I loved watching them glaze the donuts!
Is that a Scrambled States of America map on the wall?
The best donut I have ever had!
Pre-Order Laurie Keller's next book, WE ARE GROWING! It will be available in September 2016!

1. Laurie Keller's Website
2. Follow Laurie Keller Books on Twitter
3, Interviews - Watch. Connect, Read., Kids' Book Review, Zrecs, LibrarySparks, Literacy Worldwide, Seven Impossible Things Blog, Bookie Woogie, 100 ScopeNotes
4. Audio Interview - Let's Get Busy Podcast
5. Video Interview - Scholastic
6. Gaithersburg Book Festival 2014 - YouTube

Birthday Source: Scholastic/Weston WoodsJunior Library Guild, Scrambled States Talent Show End Pages

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