Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, Raúl Colón - December 17

Happy Birthday, Raúl Colón - December 17

My wife and I decided that we were not mailing Christmas cards this year. In the past we mailed cards featuring a photo of our children or the whole family in front of the Christmas tree. We realized that almost everyone we normally send Christmas cards already sees photos of our family throughout the year on Facebook. Plus, the cost and preparation time pushed us to not to send them out.

Well...these were our thoughts before we decided to read picture books by Raúl Colón. His books and artwork inspired our family to make Christmas cards that we can't wait to give to some special people.

Raúl Colón is the illustrator of over 30 books for children including As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson and A Weave of Words by Robert D. San Souci. As a child growing up in New York City, Raúl Colón struggled with chronic asthma which caused him to miss lots of school. While he was sick at home he "filled up dozens of composition notebooks with all kinds of drawings." (NCCIL). His mother thought it would be better for him to live in a warmer climate so his family moved to Puerto Rico. Upon his arrival in Puerto Rico, Raúl drew more and more and later in high school he was lucky to take a special course in commercial art for three years. (Colorin Colorado). Upon moving back to the United States, he obtained a job as a graphic artist for an educational television station for a Florida school district. After working at the television station for almost ten years he decided to become a freelance illustrator in New York. His artwork appeared in the New York Times, Time, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal.  (HarperCollins).

His work for the New York Times Book Review gave him great exposure and led to his first book Always My Dad by Sharon Dennis Wyeth which won a Gold Medal from Society of Illustrators for one of its illustrations. (Colorin Colorado). He followed up his first book with My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray which was named one of the Best Illustrated Books of the Year by the New York Times. (NY Times). In 2006, he was awarded the Pura Belpré Award for Illustration for Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart. In 2008, he was awarded the Pura Belpré Honor Award for illustration for My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez by Monica Brown. His latest book is DRAW! was released September 2014.

I had a chance to meet Raúl Colón in Washington D.C. over Labor Day weekend 2014 at the National Book Festival (Click here to see his presentation. It is fantastic!!). He signed our copy of Always My Dad and our National Book Festival poster. I was so happy that he shared his birthday with us.

Before this week, we had only read one of Raúl Colón's books, so I ordered all the books I could find from two local libraries. While I waited for them to come in I began my research for this post and I learned about Raúl Colón's unique illustration style. This video describes his technique of using colored pencils on top of layered watercolors along with a "scratcher" to give the artwork texture.

I was intrigued by his process and I thought it might be something my children would want to try. As we read each book my children were quick to point out where Raúl Colón used his "scratcher". I decided that since they were excited to point out the "scratches" in the illustrations that I definitely needed to try it with them. But, I wasn't sure exactly what were were going to make until I was talking with my local librarian about this upcoming post. I told her my children loved Raúl Colón's Christmas books, Angela and the Baby Jesus and A Shepherd's Gift along with The Snowman's Path.  It was then a light bulb went off in my head. We could use his art technique to make Christmas cards.

The "scratcher" was used in the snow and on the pants of the boy for this illustration from The Snowman's Path. My youngest son noticed the fence in the background too.
Raúl Colón often applies a yellow watercolor wash to watercolor paper before he begins his illustration. My youngest daughter applied a wash using acrylic paint and water.
My oldest daughter used a darker, more golden yellow watercolor. 
My youngest son applied other shades of yellow available in our watercolor set.
We allowed the watercolor and acrylic washes to dry. Then we folded the paper to make our cards and readied our colored pencils. Raúl Colón sketches his illustration onto the yellow paper, applies layers of darker watercolor washes, and then etches into the paper with his "scratcher". Lastly, he adds layers of color with colored pencil. The scratches keep the colored pencil from covering the watercolor washes underneath. This gives his illustration a "luminous" look. (Numerous publications describe his work as "luminous".)
My daughter sketched a snowman on her card and then consulted the illustrations in The Snowman's Path for ideas for her scratching. We didn't have a scratching tool like Raúl Colón (click here to see a photo), but we used a empty pen which he sometimes uses for his illustrations. (Colorin Colorado).
My daughter and I talked about the blues that were used for the shading the snowman.
My daughter's snowman card turned out great. I made a Christmas tree one. We chose to not use additional watercolors, so all our color (other than yellow) was made with colored pencils.
We have a pencil sharpener in our kitchen. It really came in handy for this activity.
My youngest son wanted to make a card too. In this photo he sketches a Christmas tree with a regular pencil before scratching and using colored pencil. 
After he finished his Christmas tree card he wanted to make a snowman card just like his sister.
Raúl Colón's newest book is DRAW! It is a wordless book about a boy's imagination transporting him to Africa to sketch animals with colored pencils. The adventure is full of close encounters, sandwiches, and a new friendship with an elephant! Reading DRAW! with my children inspired us to DRAW more cards.
Who will be the lucky people to receive these cards? (Early reports are leaning toward my children's teachers!)
Check out these holiday and winter time books by Raúl Colón:

1. Biography - NCCIL
2. Interviews - Illustration Friday, ¡Colorin Colorado!, School Library Journal (DRAW!), Children's Literature, Workbook (2012), Mark Blevis
3. Audio Interviews - Teaching Books.net (DRAW!), Just One More Book (2009)
4. Photos of Raúl Colón's art technique - Carle Museum
5. View the art of  - MGI KIDS, ISPOT, ALTPICK, Directory of Illustration
6. Raúl Colón at the National Book Festival - YouTube

Monday, December 15, 2014

Happy Birthday, Quentin Blake - December 16

Happy Birthday, Quentin Blake - December 16

Most of our author and illustrator birthday celebrations are planned well in advance, however occasionally we will have a spontaneous celebration that surprises us. I love the spontaneous celebrations because I don't have the stress of planning out an activity and the worry that it won't work out the way I saw it in my head. This week, coincidentally, we had a spontaneous birthday celebration for a very spontaneous illustrator, Quentin Blake.

Quentin Blake has illustrated over 300 books including Zagazoo, Loveykins, and Mrs. Armitage Queen of the Road. Most of us are familiar with his illustrations in chapter books by Roald Dahl like The BFG and Charlie and Chocolate Factory. Quentin Blake has been illustrating since the age of 16 when his drawings were published by Punch magazine. In college he studied English and earned a post-graduate teaching diploma (quentinblake.com). In 1960, he published his first book, A Drink of Water by John Yeoman. Eight years later he published his first book, Patrick, as both author and illustrator. Throughout his career, Blake was also a teacher of art at the college level.  In 1999, his experience creating books and art and teaching students in the classroom made him an ideal selection for the first ever Children's Laureate.  He followed up his tenure as Children's Laureate with being awarded the Hans Christian Anderson Award for illustration in 2002.

In a video by Tate Shots (YouTube), Quentin Blake discussed his recognizable illustration style, "I want everything I do to look spontaneous. It's not that I think illustration should necessarily be like that, but this is what I can do." In addition to all of his children's books his spontaneous artwork can now be found in hospitals and other health care settings. He hopes that his artwork not only brings smiles to the faces of the patients but to the families and friends visiting too. In 2013, Quentin Blake received knighthood to recognize him for a career that has brought happiness to both children and adults.

Our spontaneous birthday celebration began with a used book sale where I found a paperback copy of George's Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. That night I decided to read it to my boys before bed. I thought I would read one or two chapters and call it a night.  My boys had other plans! They really got into the story about George whose parents left him home alone to take care of his grandmother. I think my boys were initially creeped out by George's grandmother who became very mean after George's parents went away. They were hooked (and no longer creeped out!) once George planned to prepare a new medicine he hoped would "shake up the old woman quite a bit!"

With each finished chapter I said to my boys, "Do you want me to keep reading?" and they said "YES!!!".  My youngest son, age 4, was turning the pages before I was finished reading because Quentin Blake's illustrations allowed him to know what was going to happen to George's grandmother before I read the words.  My boys laughed and screamed with joy after seeing and hearing what happened to George's grandmother after she took the new medicine! (They were so loud. Just ask their sister who was trying to go to sleep!)

I eventually said, "One more chapter and then we will read the rest tomorrow." After putting them to bed I started to think that maybe this book could be the inspiration for a birthday celebration activity for Quentin Blake! I felt I had to come up with something since they were so excited about the book.  I wondered if we could make George's Marvelous Medicine. Hmmmmm.....

The next day, while everyone was downstairs playing, I gathered up items from around the house just like George did when he prepared his marvelous medicine. I found a can of shaving cream which became SUPERFOAM SHAVING SOAP and a box of baking soda which became SUPERWHITE FOR AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES. I also colored vinegar with food coloring to make BROWN PAINT and SHEEP DIP. These were all items George added to his marvelous medicine for his grandmother in the book.
I called my children upstairs when all the supplies were ready. I showed them each item and reread the description from the book. "SUPERWHITE FOR AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES. DIRT, it said WILL DISAPPEAR LIKE MAGIC. George didn't know whether Grandma was automatic or not, but she was certainly a dirty old woman." (My oldest son loved that line!) 
My children each squeezed a tube of toothpaste in "one long worm" just like George. 
We emptied our can of SUPERFOAM SHAVING SOAP.
My daughter added the FLEA POWDER FOR DOGS which was actually baking soda and glitter.
My son poured DISHWORTH'S FAMOUS DANDRUFF CURE into the pot which was actually yellow dish washing soap!
We saved the items that were actually colored vinegar for the end (BROWN PAINT and SHEEP DIP). Their job was to react with the baking soda in the pot to give our MEDICINE an explosive kick! 
Each of my children took turns stirring the bubbling brew with a wooden spoon.
It bubbled right up to the top! 
It looks like it is ready to give to Grandma!
We showed the girls the illustrations by Quentin Blake so they would know what happened to Grandma when she tried the medicine! (She exploded right off her chair, blew up like a balloon, and then started to grow taller and thinner. She grew until she when right through the roof of the house!)
I hope you enjoyed our birthday celebration. The truth is that I have tried to celebrate Quentin Blake's birthday with my children for a few years now. The busy holiday season and always made planning an activity overwhelming. I guess I was just trying too hard and needed to be more spontaneous!

Check out this video about Quentin Blake's latest book, THE FIVE OF US (available March 3, 2015):


1. Quentin Blake's Website
2. Follow Quentin Blake on Facebook, Twitter
3. Illustrator Quentin Blake on how he draws - BBC video
4. Quentin Blake - Ten Minutes of Illustration - Vimeo
5. Quentin Blake on creating a story on a page - The Guardian (video)
6. A List of Interviews with Quentin Blake - quentinblake.com
7. Sir Quentin Blake Knighted after 64 years as illustrator - The Telegraph
8. Quentin Blake on Jackanory show - YouTube

Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Birthday, David Macaulay - December 2

Happy Birthday, David Macaulay - December 2

We were driving to Squire's Castle in the Cleveland Metroparks to celebrate David Macaulay's birthday when I turned to my wife and said, "I feel blessed to be doing this today." My wife asked why and I said, "Because the kids continue to be excited about these crazy adventures I plan and the weather is perfect for a November day. Also, we have friends that are coming along with us for this celebration and I have been wanting to celebrate Macaulay's birthday for a couple of years." It probably wouldn't surprise you that this author birthday celebration was the day before Thanksgiving. I guess I was feeling thankful!

David Macaulay is the author and illustrator of over 20 books including ShipThe Way Things Work, and Black and White (1991 Caldecott Medal Winner). At the Rhode Island School of Design, Macaulay studied architecture and spent one of those years studying in Rome which later influenced many of his books (City, Angelo, and Rome Antics). "I realized after graduating from architecture school that I wanted to illustrate books, but not about architecture. I had a quite different direction planned -- a much more playful, fantastic career of purely imaginative picture books." (National Building Museum). However, Macaulay's knowledge and understanding of architecture were noticed by his editor when he was working on sketches for a story about gargoyles and a cathedral. His editor thought, "It would be much more interesting to have a children's book story about architecture than one about gargoyles." This exchange of ideas led to Cathedral (1973) for which Macaulay was awarded his first of two Caldecott Honor awards.

In 1978, Macaulay received his second Caldecott Honor award for Castle. This fascinating book explains step-by-step how a castle was built. It begins with the selection of the perfect location, continues with the details of the construction, and concludes with an invasion that tests the castle's design and strength. The story, characters, and the castle in Castle are fictitious however Macaulay's storytelling provides him the opportunity to accurately depict how people would have built a castle in Wales during the 13th century.

Castle was recently updated with a new edition. It is now in color and more than half of the illustrations "display little of no resemblance to their predecessors." (Castle, 2013). You can also find Castle on  DVD from PBS and in a "My Readers" edition, Castle How It Works (Level 4).

David Macaulay said "The more you look. The more you learn." (THE BIG DRAW). My family tried to put this into practice by exploring all the versions of Castle. We read all the editions and watched the video which allowed even my youngest children to learn about castles. After reading the books and watching the video the only thing left for us to do was to visit a real castle.  So, I booked flights for the whole family to Wales.

Just kidding....

Actually, about six months ago, a friend told us how much they enjoyed their visit to Squire's Castle. She said if we ever wanted to go to let her know and they would love to go back. I told her, "I will need a visit to a castle in December." Thankfully, our families were able to plan a trip together to explore the perfect local location to celebrate David Macaulay's birthday.

Squire's Castle was built in 1890s by Feargus B. Squire to serve as the gatekeeper's house for his 525-acre estate. However, the estate project was never completed and he sold the property in 1922.
The scenery was beautiful. We were excited to find a hiking trail in the woods behind the castle too.
Our friends showed us around the castle when we arrived.
I attempted to take photos from different perspectives much like Macaulay's books. I later found out that many feel the castle is haunted. Spirits have supposedly shown up in photos. Do you see anything?
My youngest daughter enjoyed spending time in the castle. David Macaulay enjoyed spending time in castles when he was younger. He stated in Castle How it Works, "The castle in this story is like the ones I visited when I was young. They were built in a country called Wales. I grew up in England so we didn't have to go far to see them. There are many kinds of castles in the world but these are still my favorite."

My daughter said, "This was really fun!"
The whole crew had a great time!
Oh, there is one more reason to feel blessed. We safely returned to the castle after a two-hour hike in the woods with seven children without any tears! Thank you to our friends for joining us on this adventure! We had a great time!
1. David Macaulay Website - HMHbooks
2. Interviews - NCBLA, NPR (2003), National Building Museum, TeachingBooks.net
3. Biography - National Building Museum
4. More about THE WAY WE WORK - Kids Health
5. David Macaulay talks about THE WAY WE WORK - YouTube

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