Sunday, November 12, 2017

Happy Name Day, Renata Liwska - November 12

Happy Name Day, Renata Liwska - November 12

Today is an exciting day for Happy Birthday Author. For the first time, we will be celebrating the name day of an author-illustrator. When I met Renata Liwska, at the Mazza Museum summer conference 2017 I asked if she would be willing to share her birthday with us so we could plan a celebration. She suggested celebrating her name day which is an important tradition in Poland where she was born.

On November 12th, you will find Renata's name on polish calendars along with many others who share her name day. Name day celebrations are similar to birthdays in that friends and families get together to celebrate with food or drink, but a person's age is not discussed. There are no special cards embellished with the number of years you have been alive or candles to count on a cake. (Want to learn more about name days? Click here.)

This is so much fun! And I think we found the perfect spot for our first author name day celebration.

Renata Liwska is the illustrator of over a dozen picture books including The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood, Waiting for Snow by Marsha Diane Arnold, and her own Red Wagon. She grew up in Warsaw, Poland with her creative grandmother, her mother who was a seamstress, and her father who could draw but chose not to pursue his talent. (Mazza Keynote). Renata said she could have done better at school, but all the drawings she filled her school books with were the start of a wonderful career in illustration.

For her secondary schooling in Poland, Renata decided to apply for art school but one of her teachers had other thoughts. "My teacher wasn't too pleased...She said I wouldn't pass the entrance exams and that I should take up a trade instead." (Art of the Picture Book). However, her teacher was wrong. Renata went to art school in Poland and later moved to Canada and studied art at Alberta College of Art and Design. (Goodreads).

Renata Liwska at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference 2017
The most important tools for Renata are her pencils and sketchbook. "Their portability and intimate size allow my creativity to flow. Working in a sketchbook allows me a lot of freedom. With a sketchbook in hand I can look for just the right creative space in which to work." (Pippin properties). In this video below you get a chance to peek inside Renata's amazing sketchbooks.

A Quiet Look - How to become a children's book illustrator in one (not so easy) step from mike kerr on Vimeo.

It was Renata's sketchbook art that would become her style for her children's books. "When I first started illustrating professionally I was painting in acrylics or oils, but a client who had seen my sketchbook was interested in my pencil drawings. So I figured out a way to color the drawings digitally by multiplying transparent layers over the drawings." (Jennifer Chambliss Bertman). Renata's first book was Nikolai, the Only Bear by Barbara Joosse in 2005. She followed that book with Little Panda, the first book she both wrote and illustrated.

In all of Renata's books, you will find her characters expressing a wide range of emotion. She hopes her readers feel all the emotions too. "I try to remember what it was like to feel as a kid, that way children can identify with the feeling and parents can remember experiencing the same sentiment themselves." (Art of the Picture Book). Renata's latest book is Dormouse Dreams by Karma Wilson.

As I was preparing for this name day celebration I noticed a sentence in Renata's biography blurb in the back of Boom Snot Twitty This Way That Way. "Renata's perfect spot is on a beach, watching dogs running free." This reminded me of a photograph she shared of her writing a story in the sand on a beach and then I realized that we were going to be near a beach on November 12th.

This is the photo she shared during her presentation at the Mazza Museum
The waves eventually took her story away.
We found a beach at Lake Erie on November 12th.
We brought our copy of Boom Snot Twitty This Way That Way, written by Doreen Cronin. In this book, Boom (a bear), Snot (a snail), and Twitty (a bird) are trying to find the perfect spot for the day. Boom thinks the beach. Twitty thinks the mountains. Snot has other plans but doesn't rush her friends. Snot handles the situation perfectly and finds the perfect spot for her and her friends to spend the day.
I told my boys that I wanted to write a story on the beach. My oldest son found the perfect spot. He was inspired to draw a huge rocketship right away. 
My youngest son drew a turtle in his perfect spot many yards away. 
I helped him by writing the words of his story under his drawings.
There once was a turtle.
I asked him, "What is your turtle going to do?""
He walked down the street.
He didn't know what should happen next. His brother had a suggestion.
He fell in a hole.
Poor turtle.
He could not get out.
Once again my son got stuck with his story and his drawings were getting very close to his brother's giant rocket ship. Once again his brother helped out.
Suddenly, a rocketship appeared in the sky.
I asked, "How doesn't the turtle feel about this rocket ship?"
The turtle was afraid.
The giant rocket ship drawing worked its way into the story.
In the rocket ship was a bear.
The bear saved the turtle. Yay!
The End
Here is a close up of the bear and the turtle.
He reread their story to make sure it sounded O.K.
Grandma and my youngest daughter read the story together.
My kids (...and my nephew) found the perfect spot to read Boom Snot Twitty This Way That Way.
Thank you, Mom, for taking these photos!
My oldest daughter thinks the next book should be called Boom Snot Twitty are Really Cold.
Happy name day, Renata. It was so nice to meet you at the Mazza Museum. Thank you so much for coming up with the idea of celebrating your name day. We had so much fun reading your books this week!

Check out Renata's latest book, Dormouse Dreams:


1. Renata Liwska's Website
2. Renata's blog - RANDM collective
3. Interviews - Art of the Picture Book, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, Owl Kids, RANDM
4. The Quiet Book feature - Seven Impossible Things
5. Follow Renata on Twitter
6. View Renata's art on Pippin

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Happy Birthday, Stephen R. Swinburne - November 8

Happy Birthday, Stephen R. Swinburne - November 8

We were safe in a storm. Our home and neighborhood escaped without damage after an intense thunderstorm swept through our city last night. To be safe we huddled in the basement with flashlights, headlamps, and Halloween candy until the power returned less than thirty minutes later. Unfortunately, it was a different experience for others in our community. Power lines were toppled and trees were uprooted just minutes away from our house. There was damage to homes and vehicles. (Power would remain off for days for some families.) The emergency crews closed roads to make repairs and recommended our schools be closed for the day. We were thankful for our safety and that there were no reports of injuries. We were safe in a storm. (Click here to watch news coverage of the storm.)

I was planning an author birthday celebration for Stephen R. Swinburne before I received the phone call about the school closing. I had gathered up all our books written by Stephen including Safe in a Storma rhyming picture book that features animals staying safe in a storm.

"When the winds howl and blow with all their might,
Hang on, my little sloth. I've got you -- hold tight."

"The winds moan outside the den we have dug,
Hush now, my little bear. Inside we're all snug."

I didn't plan to feature this book for Stephen's birthday however as we read it this morning it reminded my children that they can count on their mom, dad, and each other to keep them safe in a storm.

Stephen R. Swinburne is the author of over thirty books including Sea Turtle Scientist, Once a Wolf: How Wildlife Biologists Fought to Bring Back the Gray Wolf, and What Color is Nature?. He was born in London, England and in 1960, at the age of 8, he sailed to America. He spent his childhood moving homes numerous times, writing in his journals, loving words and nature, dreaming about becoming a marine biologist and playing with his many friends. (Mazza Museum Keynote and website). Later, he studied biology and English at Castleton State College. "I was the first student in the history of my college to receive what they called then a 'contract' degree, a combined major of biology and English". Stephen used his degree to become a park ranger for the National Park Service. (Miss Rumphius Effect blog).

In 1988, Stephen and his wife had their first child and he was inspired to follow his childhood passion for writing. "I found one book in particular, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, and I realized that I'm a naturalist and that I love animals. It was a slow process that began around 1990, and then I started writing children's books full time in 1994." (Crawford County Now).
"I am trying to create an army of conservationists, people that love these animals, and will eventually protect them." (Just One More Book). Stephen has written many non-fiction books about animals including a few for inclusion in the Scientists in the Field series.
I wanted to feature Guess Whose Shadow? for our family reading experience. I had a fun idea that I thought my youngest daughter would enjoy. However, with the school cancellation, the whole family was able to enjoy this book and the activity together.

Guess Whose Shadow? features vivid photography and simple text to explain shadows to young children. Near the end of the book, Stephen suggests, "You can go on a shadow hunt. Can you guess whose shadow?" Then, a series of photographs allow the reader to guess what might be making the shadow before turning the page to find out what it really is.

After reading Guess Whose Shadow? we played a shadow guessing game in our basement. We set up a white sheet and a bright light. My youngest daughter was up first. She gathered a box full of things from her bedroom for us to "Guess Whose Shadow?".
Guess whose shadow? (It's not an octopus...)
It's a monkey!
We made a SHADOW shadow while we waited for my youngest son to pick out his items.
Guess whose shadow?
It's a hat to keep you warm!

Here is our shadow-making set-up. All you'll need is a bright light and white sheet.
Guess whose shadow?
It's a horseshoe for good luck!

A belt to hold up your pants!
Hey, Stephen would like this shadow!
He played his ukulele for the audience at the Mazza Museum summer conference 2016. (Listen to some of Stephen's music here.)
Yum! A tasty banana!
A guitar! Stephen is a huge fan of The Beatles. (See Steve's website).

Just one more shadow...Guess whose shadow?
Hey, it's a really cool book!
Stephen, it was nice to meet you at the Mazza Museum. We hope you have a wonderful birthday and please keep writing such fun and fascinating non-fiction books! (Oh...and we really enjoyed many of your videos on YouTube too. One of our favorites is below!)

1. Stephen R. Swinburne's Website
2. Follow Stephen on Facebook, Twitter
3. Steve's YouTube Channel
4. Audio Interview - Just One More Book
5.Text Interview - Miss Rumphius Effect
6. Biography with video - InkThinkTank

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Happy Birthday, James E. Ransome - September 25

Happy Birthday, James E. Ransome - September 25

Star light, star bright, we got our wish tonight. Up above the world so high, we saw so many diamonds in the sky. With the "stars" aligned - good weather, a great location, and a weekend night with no prior commitments - we had a family reading experience we will never forget. It was the night we saw more stars than we could count, the night where we stayed up way passed our bedtime, and the night where the line for the telescope tested our patience but was definitely worth the wait.

James E. Ransome is the illustrator of over 50 books including Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome, This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, and Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard. Additionally he wrote and illustrated three books of his own; My Teacher, New Red Bike!, and Gunner, Football Hero. As a child, James loved to create his own stories and drawings inspired by the Bible, comic books, and Mad Magazine. James recalled his earliest memory of this in an interview with NCCIL, "My grandmother, who raised me, began asking me to read the Bible to her. And as I read, the illustrations - filled with figures in dramatic poses wearing flowing garments and surrounded by beautiful landscapes or elaborately detailed architecture - sparked my imagination. These images were the first types I tried to imitate."

In high school, James was passionate about photography and film, however one of his teachers urged him to take a drawing and painting class. This "rekindled" his childhood love of drawing. He decided to attend Pratt Institute to study illustration. At Pratt, James had the opportunity to meet Jerry Pinkney who became a mentor and had a positive influence on his art. "I had always been given the impression that there were virtually no African-American artists, so meeting, Jerry Pinkney and discovering his large body of work was very encouraging." (James E. Ransome website). It was a book by Jerry Pinkney that made a huge impression too. "I was in college when my girlfriend, now wife Lesa, gave me a copy of The Patchwork Quilt written by Valerie Flournoy, a book illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. That first opened me up to the idea to illustrating children's books. I was in the last semester of my senior year. At that time I was doing mostly sports images with the hopes of illustrating for Sports Illustrated. At that point I began making images that included children and received my first book contract within two years of graduating." (Don Tate).

James' first book contract was for Do Like Kyla by Angela Johnson. James said, "I sent a mailer of my work to a publisher, who invited me to come in and show my portfolio. He offered my first book contract." (Seven Impossible Things). James went on to receive a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for Illustration in 1994 for Uncle Jed's Barbershop written by Margaree King Mitchell and a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration in 1995 for The Creation, written by James Weldon Johnson.   

James Ransome has used a variety of mediums - oils, acrylics, watercolor, and collage - for his artwork during his career. There is an amazing video of him painting in watercolor at the bottom of this post. I would recommend watching it at length. Our family can't wait to see his artwork in The Nutcracker in Harlem, written by T.E. McMorrow. It will be released September 26, 2017. (A wonderful birthday gift!!)

The book that inspired our family reading experience was How Many Stars in the Sky?, written by Lenny Hort. A boy unable to sleep with his mother away for the night wonders from his bedroom window, "How many stars in the sky?" His father suggests going for a drive to find the best place to count all the stars. The city proves to be a disappointment but a late night drive to the country ends up being totally worth it.
We couldn't have asked for a more perfect night for star counting. This was the view from the high school football stadium where my son was playing a flag football game during the intermission of the area high school band showcase.
As we walked back to the car after the game, I asked, "How many stars in the sky?" The bright lights from the stadium surprisingly didn't prevent us from seeing stars. My girls said they counted about twenty-five.
We left the stadium and went for a drive to the country. We were headed to a place where the counting would be easy. I read the book in the van on the way there.

"We drove back through the tunnel. I was tired, and I thought we were going home. But instead, Daddy drove us deep into the country. There weren't any cars. There weren't any streetlights. There weren't any houses." -from 
How Many Stars in the Sky?
After a 45 minute drive we came to our destination, Observatory Park in Montville, Ohio. The Geauga Park District website describes the 1,100 acre park as "an area that had long been recognized by astronomers as one of the few regions left in Northeast Ohio that had not yet been affected by light pollution."
The moon was setting when we arrived and the stars were "thick" just like the boy described them in the book.
My oldest daughter had just visited a planetarium for a school field trip and she was an expert at pointing out the constellations. I was happy to capture this photo of the Big Dipper of the Ursa Major constellation.
They loved using the Skyview app on the iPhone to help them learn new constellations.
The Skyview app overlays the constellation you should see as the phone is pointed at the sky. Here it shows that Saturn was out there too.  At this point we didn't know we would get a chance to see it!
At Observatory Park is the Oberle Observatory.  The park service had the observatory's retractable roof open and the 25.5 inch Newtonian telescope pointed and focused on Saturn for visitors to enjoy. And there were so many visitors. We weren't the only ones enjoying the beautiful night. I listened to conversations nearby as I stood in line. I learned there are many people who know an awful lot about stars, and I know very little. I said, "We are in the Milky Way galaxy, right?" My son oldest said, "Duh, Dad. I knew that in Kindergarten."

In case you know very little about stars like me, I looked it up...Earth is in the Milky Way Galaxy. It is in smaller spiral arm called Orion Spur which is between two of its bigger spiral arms. It is 25,000 light years out from the center of the galaxy. (Universe Today).
We walked up the ladder, peered through the lens, and observed the rings of Saturn. It was so cool! The park has an even larger telescope (36 inch reflector) available to the public at the Nassau Astronomical Station. Unfortunately, it was offline.
I asked my youngest daughter, "How many stars did you see in the sky?" She shrugged. 

I responded, "Did you see more at the football stadium or here at the park." 

"Here at the park," she said. 

"How many more?" I said.

"A lot more. Hundreds more. Millions more!" she described.

At the end of How Many Stars in the Sky? the boy asked his dad, "Can we try to count them again sometime?" 

If any of my kids were to ask me this I would have the same response as the boy's dad, "Any night you feel like it. You and me and Mama can all go out together."

James, thank you for sharing your birthday with us at the National Book Festival in 2013. We hope you have a wonderful birthday. Sorry it took us so long to celebrate!

Pre-order James E. Ransome's next book, Before she was Harriet, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome (available November 7, 2017):

1. James E. Ransome's Website
2. Video: James Ransome: Building a Drawing Demo (YouTube)
3. Follow James E. Ransome: Facebook
4. Video: YOUNG AT ART with James Ransome - KidLit TV
5. EVERYDAY PEOPLE: The Art of James E. Ransome - NCCIL
6. Feature: James E. Ransome - The Brown Bookshelf
7. Interviews - Seven Impossible Things Blog, Don Tate

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