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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Happy Birthday, Matthew Reinhart - September 21

Happy Birthday, Matthew Reinhart - September 21

I was this close to dissecting a book for our family reading experience. I really wanted to make Frankenstein from Matthew Reinhart's pop-up book, Mommy?. I was going cut apart the page, dissemble everything, and trace all the parts just so my family could have the experience of making a cool "POP". Thankfully, I hesitated and stumbled upon Reinhart's how-to videos on YouTube that teach the basics of pop-up book engineering!

I watched one of the videos and then another and another. I was fascinated. I couldn't get enough. Then, I thought, Wait! My kids would love these videos. And if these videos can teach us how to make cool pops then I won't have to destroy our book! (Whew! I can't believe I was going to ruin such a cool book!)

Matthew Reinhart is an author, illustrator, paper engineer, and pop-up book extraordinaire. He has created pop-up books on a wide variety of topics including Lego, nursery rhymes, Frozen, My Little Pony, Star Wars, and more. His path to becoming one the premiere pop-up book designers started when he was just a kid. He loved to draw, watch cartoons, and was obsessed with Transformers. He recalled, "Growing up I drew on everything I could. I built things from cardboard and construction paper. I really don't remember any box that left the house that was unmarred by me. Anything to build something that was in my head." (That's Art: Matthew Reinhart - Roam new Roads on YouTube).

Matthew's path took a detour when he decided to attend Clemson University. He studied biology and pre-med, but also took art classes as electives. After graduation, he decided not to start medical school right away and took a job at Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration. He explained his job in an interview with No Joe Schmo, "I went to morgues and took out people's eyeballs, sometimes in the middle of the night. By the time I was 22, I had been to every morgue in the New York City area. I saw a lot of dead people -- a lot of whom were really young. That made me realize that life is short, and I have to do something I love."

What does Reinhart love? Building and making stuff, so instead of going to medical school Reinhart enrolled at Pratt Institute to study industrial design. He told the audience at the Mazza Museum Fall Conference 2015, "I wanted to be a toy designer. I wanted to make Transformers." While at Pratt, Reinhart started working for paper engineer, Robert Sabuda. "My journey into the world of paper engineering was initially motivated by survival. I needed a job!" (Raising Nerd).

In Robert Sabuda's studio, Matthew learned all the rules of paper engineering. He helped Robert with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and ABC Disney. (Matthew Reinhart Website). Then, Reinhart had the opportunity to make his first pop-up book, The Pop-up Book of Phobias in 1999. Reinhart continued collaborating with Sabuda on many more projects and also branched out to work with children's literature greats, Maurice Sendak and Tomie dePaola. Reinhart credits them with helping him make his work better. (Mazza Keynote 2015).  Reinhart didn't have the opportunity to design Transformer toys, but in 2013 he published Transformers: The Ultimate Pop-Up Universe.

In 2015, the Mazza Museum in Findlay, Ohio opened the world's first gallery dedicated to pop-up books. According to the Mazza Museum, Matthew Reinhart donated more that 300 original works of art from his books and over 250 pop-up books from his personal collection. I have viewed the exhibit and it is amazing!

Artwork and process from Cinderella
Artwork from Dragons and Monsters
I love that the Mazza Museum displays the process of making the pops.
It is so cool how the artwork pops right out of the frame!
Matthew Reinhart makes all of his pops by hand. He has a vision in his head and works until he gets it right. The artwork doesn't just happen. It takes many attempts, many mistakes, and he often has to reexamine things before he is happy with the pop. It all sounds difficult but Reinhart believes everyone can be an artist.  He explains, "Making pop-ups is something a kid can do. You've got the material (paper). You've got the tools, like scissors and you've got some tape...Hopefully [my books] get [kids] excited about,  'How is this done?', 'Can I do this?', and 'I want to make this.' and 'I want to be creative.'" (video from Sci Fri below).

Well, we were going to find out...

I was getting everything ready when my son grabbed a piece of 110 lb. white card stock paper and starting cutting. I said, "Hey, I saw those cuts in one of Matthew's videos last night. How did you know how to do that?" He said, "I taught myself." (It came out later that there may have been an art lesson at school that covered the technique of making layers for a pop-up.)
I set up our TV in the kitchen to watch Matthew Reinhart's Pop-Up Master Class: V-Folds Part 1. Why V-folds? Well, we are the V-Family so I figured we could handle a few V-folds!
Before we even started I said to my children, "You may need help during this video. Remember I am only one person. You will have to be patient if I am helping someone else." Inside I am thinking, Stay calm, Eric. You can do this.
I paused the video after each step to allow every one to stay together.
My youngest was able to follow along with Matthew's step-by-step instructions with a little help from her big sister.
It feels pretty good when it works!
The mouth and eyes were made only by cutting and folding the paper.
After each of my children created their pops, they used colored pencils and crayons just like Matthew Reinhart did in the video. However, for Reinhart's books he uses cut paper collage to added color to his pops.

After the coloring was complete, we covered the back edges with glue and attached a full piece of white paper. This covered up the cuts and made the design into a card. 
My son wrote, LOOK INSIDE, on the outside. Everyone thought this was cool and decided to add it to their cards too.
"Can we make more?"
There are two paper engineering crafts in the video. The second introduces using V-folds to create movement with your pops. My son made a pretty cool dinosaur pop with a moving head and tail.
When mom came home they couldn't wait to share their artwork! (When we started this project it was light outside!)
They could not stop making Pop-up cards! So, I put on Matthew Reinhart's How Does One Make Pop-Up Books? to listen to while they created their artwork. 

Check out all these POPS! This was such a fun way to spend a Saturday evening together as a family.
Matthew, it was so awesome to meet you at the Mazza Museum! We hope you have a wonderful birthday. Thank you so much for creating such amazing books...and videos. (We are happy to have our Mommy? book still intact!)
Pre-order Matthew Reinhart's next book, DisneyPixar: A Pop-Up Celebration (available November 21, 2017):

1. Matthew Reinhart's website
2. Matthew Reinhart's YouTube Channel with Pop-Up Tutorials
3. Follow Matthew Reinhart on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
4. Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart: Pop-up Duo Finishes Off the Dinosaurs (2007) - BookPage
5. Interviews - Best Pop-Up Books (2016), Transformer World (2014), LA Times (2012), Raising Nerd
6. Making a Transformer Pop (YouTube)
7. How a Pop-Up Book is Made via Business Insider (Awesome Explanation of Matthew's Work)
8. How Does One Make Pop-Up Books? via Google Talks
9. That's Art: Matthew Reinhart - Roam new Roads on YouTube
10. World's First Pop-Up Gallery - Mazza Museum
11. Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart - BN (YouTube)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Happy Birthday, Arthur Geisert - September 20

Happy Birthday, Arthur Geisert - September 20

"What are you making?" I asked my daughter as she tinkered with Legos.

"Something," she responded. "I don't know what it will turn out as."

I liked her thinking.

We had just read Arthur Geisert's Hogwash and wanted to bring it to life, but I didn't know exactly how to do it. We thought it would be fun to make one of the contraptions from the book out of Legos. I wasn't confident we would succeed but she was content to just tinker and figure it out. So, I followed her lead.

After two afternoons of tinkering and thinking and eventually putting all of our ideas together we figured it out. We definitely made something.

Arthur Geisert is the author and illustrator of over 25 books including Thunderstorm, Country Road ABC: An Illustrated Journey Through America's Farmland, and Oops.  As a child growing up in Los Angeles, Arthur admired his grandmother "who was always painting" and he loved to read books by Holling C. Holling. He said, "I used to read [Minn of the Mississippi and Paddle to the Sea], never cover to cover. I would just thumb through and just look at the margins and go back and forth through the books. I think my books can do the same thing." (MackinVIA and The Gazette).

Geisert graduated from Concordia University and studied further at University of California at Davis, Chouinard Art Institute, the Otis Art Institute, and the Art Institute of Chicago (Children's Books and their Creators). He spent time as an art teacher and made a living selling prints of his copper plate etchings, a printmaking technique he learned in college. According to MackinVIA, Geisert thought his prints could work as illustrations in children's books and started submitting his work to publishers. He submitted for over ten years with no contracts. Then, at a print show, Arthur met an editor from Houghton Mifflin who helped connect him with the children's editor who later would publish his first book Pa's Balloon and Other Pig Tales in 1984.  (Patricia Newman).

Oh, Arthur's pigs! Many of his books feature pigs as characters including his three New York Times Best Illustrated books, Pigs From A to Z (1986), Roman Numerals I to MM: Numerablia Romana Uno Ad Duo Mila (1996), and Ice (2011). It has been widely documented that Arthur never saw a pig until he moved to Iowa as an adult. (Amazon and The Gazette).

Which of Arthur Geisert's pig books is our favorite? We love Lights Out and The Giant Seed, but our favorite has to be Hogwash.

In Hogwash, all the little pigs in the village meet up for some messy fun at the local mud hole. A short distance away is a building with barrels of paint. Soon, the pigs are covered in mud and paint but the pig mommies aren't worried because there is a sophisticated machine to wash the piggies before they head home for the day. Arthur Geisert devotes seven page spreads of the book to the complex cleaning machine. It is so fascinating to page back and forth through the book to see how the pigs are placed on the machine, washed, rinsed, and dried. The expressions and body language of some of the pigs make it fun to add dialogue to this wordless book.

We have had these little pink pigs for years. I remember playing farm with my youngest daughter. That was over ten years ago. The pigs were always the key characters in our little skits. When I found the box of farm toys a few years ago, I immediately thought of Arthur's books. I wondered how these pigs could be used for a family reading experience.
There is so much to look at Arthur's books.
This was my favorite part of the Hogwash cleaning machine. The little pigs are clipped to a clothesline by two pig mommies. Rotating wheels send the pigs across to the other platform where two more pig mommies are waiting.
I wondered if we could make this part of the cleaning machine with Legos. We had a few failures, but this design was moving in the right direction.
Meanwhile, my daughter experimented with making clothes out of felt for our pigs.
We tried clipping the pigs to the line, but even the mini-clothespins were too heavy.
Instead, we wrapped the felt clothes around the line to attach the pigs. The pigs stayed on and the two rotating wheels successfully moved the pigs across the line. 

My daughter said, "I want to try to make everything in the whole book." Unfortunately, it took us all afternoon to figure this out. It was time for all of my other kids to come home from school and for me to start cooking dinner. (No ham tonight!) 
The next day, I followed my daughter's lead of wanting to do more. I had a few ideas. We started by making a hill out of a cardboard box.
She was a little excited!
In Hogwash, paint spills down the hill and the pigs play. Could we reenact this part of the book? I didn't know how it was going to turn out but it sounded like fun.
All the pigs waited as she poured washable paint at the top of the hill.
Blue, yellow, and red.
Oh, what fun! Squeal!
"More paint, Dad!" she said.
I thought this would be fun, but I never imagined it would be this fun!

"Dad, look at that little piggy."
The paint swirls were awesome.
Pig art!
My little piggy wanted to play in the paint too.
"Bwah-ha-ha-ha! I like getting the pigs dirty," she said.
We took all the pigs out of the paint. It was time for a Hogwash.

In the book, the pigs slosh around in a big pool. We used a bowl.
After the pigs were a little cleaner she said, "Wait! Can I do it again?" She helped the pigs play in the paint two more times!
Next, it was time to rinse them off. We used a colander to give them a shower.
Then, the pigs walked through the blowers.
Finally, it was time for pigs to get hung out to dry.
She put on their clothes.
Away they go!
The pigs were clean and happy!

In an NPR interview with Arthur Geisert about his 2013 book Thunderstorm the interviewer concluded with, "For now Arthur tells me he won't be making anymore books." However, there is exciting news! According to Guttenberg Press and a Facebook post, Arthur Geisert has just finished his next book, Pumpkin Island! (No release date is available.)

1. Arthur Geisert, legendary pigs - Patricia Newman
2. Pumpkin Island - Arthur Geisert's Latest Book set in Elkader - Guttenberg Press
3. Arthur Geisert feature - MackinVIA Community
4. A Studio Visit with Arthur Geisert - Enchanted Lion Books via YouTube
5. Audio Interview - NPR

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