Monday, January 15, 2018

Happy Birthday, Kate McMullan - January 16

Happy Birthday, Kate McMullan - January 16

Every year since 2010 our family has baked and decorated a cake for Kate McMullan's birthday.

Why is this so important to our family?

Well, most of all we love Kate McMullan's I'm...! book series which includes the beloved books I'm Brave, I'm Dirty, I'm Mighty and more. Over the years we have watched this series grow to seven books about vehicles, two about dinosaurs, and The Stinky and Dirty Show available on Amazon Prime now in its second season.

Secondly, we recognize Kate's birthday in 2010 as the beginning of our adventure celebrating over 325 author and illustrator birthdays. Celebrating author and illustrator birthdays as a family has built a strong foundation of reading in our home. There are always new books to read, new authors and illustrators to discover, and a reason each year to revisit our favorite picture books. The activities and experiences we feature on our blog create excitement beyond the book and we hope it inspires your family to read together.

Reading and sharing our love of books is now a vital part of family's identity.

You may have noticed, if you are long-time reader, that our birthday celebrations are getting less frequent. This is not a surprise to me. My children are getting older, they are involved in more and more school and extracurricular activities, and even I have started working for the first time in twelve years! There is not as much free time as there once was just a few years ago and the free time we do have is different in that there are many more options on how to spend it.

So, I guess there is a third reason why this birthday celebration for Kate McMullan is so important to our family. It brings us together no matter what. This year we found a way to bake and decorate the cake in between social engagements, basketball games, robotics competitions, play dates, and school. This activity reminds me of all activities and experiences we have had together over the years and that my kids really have enjoyed every single one of them.

9 cakes! Wow!
Before we started baking the cake my youngest son enjoyed looking at the cakes we made in the past.

My kids get more excited each year to bake and decorate this cake and this year we had a new book from the series to read too! Kate and Jim McMullan's latest book is I'm Smart. In this picture book, a school bus safely transports a group of children to school. The school bus is "smarter than a rocket scientist, more powerful than a monster truck, and able to halt traffic with a flick of a switch."

I'm Smart is a great book! My kids enjoyed it almost as much as their all-time favorite, I Stink
I just got out of their way as they got to work.
My only job was to take pictures and to make sure everyone had an equal chance to help.
Two SMART kids!
He is always willing to help his little sister.
If he had it his way he would have baked this whole cake by himself. I give him a lot of credit for working so well with his brother and sisters.
My youngest son sketched out a design for the cake.
Everyone looks calm in this photo, but soon there would be a lot of arguing about how the cake should be decorated. Each of them had their own idea. They learned that working together can be hard!
Everyone agreed on a design and the boys planned out their cake design. Immediately there was some nervousness that the cake wasn't going to meet their expectations. 
My youngest said, "This cake looks horrible." Even I was worried at this point. I wondered if they were going to be able to pull themselves together to complete the cake.
They were determined and by adding just adding a few details there was hope.
And things started to look up.
"We can use red M and Ms for the lights."
The cake started to look more and more like a bus with each line of icing.
And everyone's smile was back!
Our 9th birthday cake for Kate McMullan!
This young man loves to make these cakes!
Big sis was worried he was going to tip the cake too far like in 2015 when the I'm Brave cake took a tumble.
Good work, kids! It is hard to work together sometimes. You should be very proud of your cake!
Happy Birthday, Kate McMullan. We hope you have another fabulous birthday!
Thank you for making such fun books for us to enjoy as a family!

GREAT NEWS! There will be another book in the I'm... series! Be on the lookout for I'm Tough in the fall of 2018! (Click here to visit Kate's website to read more about the book!)

From HarperCollins website:
I'm not the BIGGEST TRUCK in the parking lot...
but when my cargo bed's PACKED and STACKED!
I've got what it takes to HAUL it ALL!
You can count on me -- I'll get the job done!
'Cause guess what -- I'm Tough!

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 and Jim McMullan at SouthHampton Arts 2013 - YouTube
13. Stinky and Dirty TV show - Amazon
14. I'm Brave Trailer - YouTube
15. Behind the Scenes at the Stinky and Dirty Show - Animation World Network

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis - November 29

Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis - November 29

In second grade my teacher, Mrs. Dudenhofer, read aloud to the class The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I do not recall every detail of the experience, but I know I was very excited about the book. I know I looked forward to her reading so I could find out what happened next. Lucy, Mr. Tumnus, Edmund, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and Aslan were so vivid in my mind. The story seemed so real; the White Witch's sledge, talking animals, a wardrobe portal to another land, and enchanted Turkish Delight.

I know this was the first time I experienced the magic of a chapter book. It was a gift. Thank you, Mrs. D. for reading to me!

My oldest son is now in fourth grade and my youngest son is in second grade. I wanted to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my children just like Mrs. Dudenhofer read it to me. I wanted to pass on her gift. However, it didn't go like I expected. I imagined all four of my children huddled around me for every chapter. I have two girls too, ages 12 and 5. I envisioned all of them hanging on every word just like my second-grade class.

After the first few chapters, only my oldest son was sitting with me on the couch. The others were in and out of the family room, picking up pieces of the story here and there. There were nights when they weren't in the room at all. I didn't get discouraged. Surprisingly, I didn't get disappointed. I was just thankful for my oldest son and his willingness to sit with me despite the distractions. Together, we just kept reading.

Then, with six chapters or so to go, this happened.

My two boys followed along with their own copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe like many of my classmates did when Mrs. Dudenhofer read it over thirty years ago. For me, it was like magic all over again!

For our family reading experience activity, I wanted to make Turkish Delight. If you recall, Turkish Delight is given to Edmund by the White Witch. Edmund really liked the Turkish Delight. He asked the White Witch for more many times. She promised more only if he brings all of his siblings to her castle.

There are countless recipes for Turkish Delight on the internet. I decided to follow one offered by Nerdy Nummies. I couldn't find their recipe in print so we watch their video. For your convenience, I typed up the ingredients and our experience with the process at the end of this post.

My boys readied the ingredients and supplies.
My daughter added the unflavored gelatin to the cranberry juice.
There are many steps to making Turkish Delight. Everyone was able to participate.

If you have younger readers in your house, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is available as a picture book. 
We read a version illustrated by Christian Birmingham which is out of print but there is a new version illustrated by Tudor Humphries.
My daughter is smiling in this picture, but just moments before she was turning her nose up at the smell of the mixture. I can't remember what she thought it smelled like. Something like stinking feet. I don't know.
Our mixture was finished. It was time to wait. The recipe called for the mixture to set for over five hours.
Whew! I didn't ruin it when I flipped it onto the counter.
The Turkish Delight was very sticky and needed lots of powdered sugar to make sure it was easy to cut into pieces.
Everyone took a turn cutting the Turkish Delight.

Each piece of Turkish Delight went into a bowl of powdered sugar.

Would my kids find Turkish Delight as delicious as Edmund? 
"It's kinda weird." 
The texture was gooey. The taste was just okay. We definitely didn't like it as much as Edmund.
A friend told us that she enjoys her Turkish Delight with chocolate. We tried a little chocolate sauce. It was still weird and not that yummy, but we had a great time making it.
Do you follow Happy Birthday Author on Pinterest? Please pin.
Turkish Delight recipe:

What you need:
3 cups white sugar
1/2 cup cranberry juice
3/4 cup cornstarch
3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3 packs of unflavored gelatin
2 cups of water (split into 1/2 cup and 1 1/2 cups)
Powdered sugar
Red food coloring
Candy thermometer
8 x 8" pan lined with plastic wrap

1. In a bowl, pour in 1/2 cup cranberry juice (we used plain cranberry, but you could use cran-raspberry too). Then, add the three gelatin packs, but do not mix in. Set aside.
2. In another bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup cornstarch, 1/2 cup water until smooth. Set aside.
3. In a saucepan, whisk together 3 cups of white sugar, 1 1/2 cups of water, 3 T light corn syrup. Heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 240 degrees. (Our thermometer only when to 220 degrees, so we just guessed after that.)
4. Once your sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees add the cornstarch mixture and heat on medium-low heat until thickens (We did this for about 10 minutes. Whisking constantly. It didn't seem like it was thickening, so we just let it rest on the medium-low heat for about 5 more minutes. It never got really thick.)

5. Remove pan from heat and whisk in gelatin mixture and 1 T of vanilla extract. Whisk together until everything is dissolved. This took a while. Our hands were tired. We all took turns. Then, we added 5 drops of red food coloring.

6. Make sure the plastic wrap covers the bottom and sides of the 8" x 8" pan. Sprinkle powdered sugar on the plastic wrap. Then, pour in the mixture. Scoop off all the foam from the top of the mixture.

7. Let set in the kitchen at room temperature. Not in the refrigerator. We let ours set for 7 hours. Overnight would work well too.
8. After the mixture is set, cover your surface with powdered sugar and flip over the 8" x 8" pan. The plastic wrap will be hard to remove.  I used a spatula to carefully and slowly pull off the plastic wrap.

9. Cover the top of the Turkish delight with powdered sugar. Use a pizza cutter to cut into strips and then into pieces. 

10. Dredge each Turkish Delight cube in a bowl of powdered sugar. Enjoy! Do you like it as much as Edmund? (We learned how to make Turkish Delight by watching a video at Nerdy Nummies.)

Give the Gift of Narnia:

1. The Official Site of C.S. Lewis
2. Follow C.S. Lewis on Facebook, Twitter

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

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