Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Barbara Reid - November 16

Happy Birthday Barbara Reid - November 16

(Originally published April 21, 2014)

No. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you and you haven't been magically time-warped to November! My youngest two children and I just celebrated Barbara Reid's November birthday in April. Why, you ask? Well, she was listed as having an April birthday on an author birthday calendar that I frequently use to plan my celebrations. Luckily, I always double check (and sometimes triple check) to verify the author's birthday before posting it on the blog. Once I started my research for this blog post,  I found other sources that had her birthday as November 16th. So, I emailed Barbara and she replied almost immediately to confirm that her birthday is November 16th! Thank you, Barbara for confirming your birthday with us!

I thought maybe this could be our first half-birthday author celebration, but we were off by a month there too. Oh well, my children and I had so much fun reading Barbara Reid's books and experimenting with a new illustration technique that I couldn't wait 7 months to share it with you.

Barbara Reid is an author and/or illustrator of over twenty picture books including Fox Walked Alone and Two By Two. Her unique illustration style utilizes plasticine, a soft, oil-based modeling material, to create the images in her children's books. According to her website, she experimented with plasticine as a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design, but recalls, "When I was little my mom would give me some modeling clay, and I'd play happily all day. I'd make buildings, people, animals, even whole villages." (The Ultimate Guide to Classroom Publishing) Her first picture book, The New Baby Calf by Edith Newlin Chase, was illustrated using plasticine in 1984. This best-selling book was the beginning of a career in children's literature that has been highlighted by awards such as the UNICEF Ezra Jack Keats Award, Governor General's Award for illustration, and an Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award. Her latest picture books are Picture a Tree and The Night Before Christmas.

Our birthday celebration for Barbara Reid was very spontaneous.  I already had the books checked out from the library and I knew I had a bag of various colors of plasticine (modeling clay) in the basement. I was just waiting for the right time to embark on this project with my children. My three-year-old son came home from preschool one day this week asking to do an activity with his sister and I. He suggested doing a craft inside.  So, I gathered the books, the plasticine, two sturdy canvas boards and the celebration began!

We started our celebration by reading The Subway Mouse about a mouse named Nib who grew up in the subway hearing stories about Tunnel's End from his elders.  One day, when he was older, he decided to find out if the stories were true about Tunnel's end.  On his adventure he battles hunger, meets a travel-worthy companion, wanders empty track, and mistakenly steals the big mouse's jellybean before reaching his goal. Tunnel's end was "more beautiful than he had dreamed."

As we read the book, I found it interesting that when I asked my son about the illustrations in the book he was unable to tell me that the illustrations were any different that what he has seen in other picture books. I even asked him if they looked like they were made with clay or play-doh and he just shrugged his shoulders.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
After reading the book, we got out the plasticine and I asked if they would like to make a mouse.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
My son was really interested and started squishing the plasticine on the canvas board.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
He didn't know how to make a tail for his mouse.  I asked him if he could roll one and he was quite pleased with how easy it was!
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
We examined the illustrations in The Subway Mouse and noticed that Barbara Reid added texture to her illustrations. We used a toothpick to make the hair on our mice.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
Meanwhile, my daughter was making a creation of her own.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
He was really examining his work. I said to him, "You are an artist." He replied, "Why am I an artist?" I said, "Because your mouse looks great!" He really wasn't convinced with this answer.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
He added a jelly bean to his mouse just like Nib in the book.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
I made a mouse too. I added a red jelly bean, my favorite!
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
After he made his mouse, we read Perfect Snow. He was now able to notice that Barbara Reid used plasticine to make her illustrations. He was pointing out things he noticed on each page.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
I thought this was the end of our project. But, then we watched the video below of Barbara Reid demonstrating how she makes a picture using plasticine.

Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
He was inspired to continue his picture. He added grass.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
Then, he worked on the sky.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
He wanted to added purple to his sky just like Barbara Reid did in another video.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
This was his final work of art. He proclaimed, "Dad, I am an artist."
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
As we worked, my daughter was playing with her clay too.  I looked over, and my daughter said, "Caterpillar!"
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
While he was working on his picture, I was working on a picture of my own.  I asked my little artist if he would help me add some details. He started by adding windows to the castle with a toothpick.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via
He added a sun too.
Barbara Reid plasticine activity via

I hope you enjoyed this birthday celebration even though it was a little early.  I will make sure that I share it again with you again on November 16th!

Thank you again, Barbara for confirming your birthday with us!

Buy some plasticine today:


1. Barbara Reid's website
2. Barbara Reid's YouTube Channel
3. Interview - Royal Ontario Museum
4. Audio Interview - Literary Tourist, Just One More Book
5. Barbara Reid Meet the Author - Teaching
6. Guide to a Barbara Reid Author Study - The Ultimate Guide to Classroom Publishing

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, Lois Ehlert - November 9

Happy Birthday, Lois Ehlert - November 8

I had just finished trimming about fifty pieces of paper that I laminated and scraps were all over the table. My youngest son snuck up next to me and sat in the chair.  He said curiously, "What are those?"

I replied, "Plastic scraps that I trimmed off the edges."


I pushed the scraps toward him and said, "You should make something with them."

He was sort of confused at first. His face said, "Make something. With those?"

After about ten minutes, I came back to find him squirting glue on a folded piece of paper. Then, I watched him fold the paper and draw a monster face.

I was amazed. I saw only plastic scraps. He saw hair on a monster.
Experiencing this with my son inspired me. I should be asking all my children, "Can you make something out of this?"

The next day I went to the library and checked out Lois Ehlert's books, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life and RRRalph. I wanted to read these two books to my children and then challenge them to make something out of scraps.

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life is one of over 35 picture books published by Lois Ehlert. It is an autobiographical book highlighting her experience as a picture book artist. She begins by crediting her parents with having scraps available for her to create art at a young age; fabric and buttons from her mother and paint and wood from her father. Throughout the book, Ehlert shares photographs, sketches, and experiences that were important to creating her popular picture books. In an interview with BookPage she talked about the book, "My wish is that there will be little kids like I was, who read it and say, 'Well, if she can do it, I can do it.' It may take them 20 years. I was a relatively late bloomer." The Scraps Book is delightful and a must-read for all fans of Lois Ehlert.

The Scraps Book was first book I read to my children before our make-something-from-scraps activity to celebrate Lois Ehlert's birthday. They learned that Lois Ehlert's art technique is collage and that she is messy when she creates her art. Also, they learned that she often uses "what's close at hand"; scraps of paper, real objects, or items from nature

After The Scraps Book,  I quickly picked up RRRalph, a funny story about a talking dog, and read it too. My children were quick to point out in the illustrations that screws were used to make bird beaks, pop can tabs made dog noses, and buttons were eyes. Lois Ehlert affirms, "You don't have to go to the art supply store for everything." (BookPage).

All of my children were home from school on this day. It was Election Day and their schools were being used as polling stations. I felt blessed to have them all at home. Any more, my oldest two children are off at extracurricular activities or playing with friends. I started the day with this activity to make sure I didn't miss the opportunity to all work together.

They all wanted to use scraps of wood from Grandpa as the canvas for their art.
I provided buttons, broken scraps of mosaic tiles, glue, scrap paper, and glitter.
I found many pop tabs in a junk drawer. I was reminded of them after reading RRRalph.
They searched for the most unique buttons for their artwork.
My oldest son glued the items in a random pattern to resemble rain. He may have been inspired by the book, THE RAIN CAME DOWN by David Shannon that we read last month!
"Hey, Dad! Look at these!"
My youngest son said his art was inspired by a Star Wars battle. 
Last year we celebrated Lois Ehlert's birthday too. As I looked back on the pictures from the celebration I was suprised to see how much my youngest daughter had grown in one year. She was using glue sticks last year and this year she used big kid glue!
Scissors too!
Buttons, glue, and a scrap piece of wood kept her busy for over an hour.
Our family's artwork made from scraps and items we found close at hand. My oldest daughter called her artwork, TSUNAMI. (It is the piece below The Scraps Book.) 
Our dining room table was a mess. I cleaned it up only for it to be messed up again.
The next day she said, "I have to make something."
She worked very hard and declared, "I'm all done." 
I hope our schools continue to be used for polling stations on Election Day. It would be a fun family tradition to read books by Lois Ehlert and make things out of scraps on their day off!

The next time you are about to throw away a few scraps I encourage you to set them aside. Maybe they could inspire a bit of creativity with your little ones.


1. Happy Birthdyay, Lois Ehlert - Happy Birthday Author (2013) featuring FISH EYES and PLANTING A RAINBOW
1. Happy Birthday, Lois Ehlert - Happy Birthday Author (2011) featuring PIE IN THE SKY
2. Happy Birthday, Lois Ehlert: A Preschool Celebration - Happy Birthday Author (2010)  featuring LEAF MAN and WAG A TAIL
3. Happy Birthday, Lois Ehlert: Ten Things I Learned About Lois Ehlert - Happy Birthday Author (2010)
4. Happy Birthday, Lois Ehlert - Happy Birthday Author (2009)
6. Lois Ehlert Author Study with over 100 activity ideas - Educator's Spin On It
7. LEAF MAN Teacher's Guide - Harcourt
8. 5 Questions for Lois Ehlert (2014) - Horn Book
9. Milwaukee Studio Visit (Milwaukee Art Museum Blog) - Part 1, Part 2

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Happy Birthday, Eric Rohmann - October 26

Happy Birthday, Eric Rohmann - October 26

What types of books do you reread? Picture books, novels, poetry books, your own journal, board books (every mom or dad of a 1-2 year old is raising their hand).

Why do you reread a book?

A 2012 study found that "re-consuming is therapeutic and should be encouraged." (livescience). According to the Daily Mail the same study also found that, "the second time through, the repeated experience reignites the emotions caused by the book, and allows people to savor those emotions at leisure."

I love rereading picture books. I read with more expression and emotion when I know the story and text. I develop a stronger connection with characters. I notice more details in the illustrations uncovering more of the story.

Every year I pull out the books we own by the authors whose birthdays we have celebrated in the past and display them on a bookshelf in our living room. My children choose from these books for before bedtime reading. Rereading their favorite books each year is one of my favorite things about celebrating author and illustrator birthdays.

We have been rereading books by Eric Rohmann ever since we celebrated his birthday back in 2011. Our favorite books are Bone Dog, Clara and Asha, and Pumpkinhead.

Pumpkinhead was the book that inspired our birthday celebration activity for Eric Rohmann three year ago. My oldest son and I made Otho, a boy born with a pumpkin for head, out of jack o'lantern, leaves, and some old clothes.

Our Otho, 2011
This year, we read the same book and did the same activity, but rereading the book this year was different. The story even took on a very different meaning.

Otho has pumpkin for a head. He has had it since he was born. His parents love him just the same and Otho is happy. However, life isn't easy for a boy with a pumpkin head. A bat takes his pumpkin head and drops it in the ocean where it is swallowed by a fish. A fisherman catches Otho's pumpkin head and sells it the market. Luckily, Otho's mother shops for fish and sees the familiar pumpkin head. Her purchase later reunites Otho with his family. Otho's mother is happy to have him home but tells him, "You know the world will always be difficult for a boy with a pumpkin for a head." Quite a serious thought for a boy. But, Otho is happy and takes it in stride. He is okay with having a pumpkin for a head. He has had it since he was born.

My youngest son wasn't born with a pumpkin for a head, but he was born with a life-threatening tree nut allergy. As a baby he exhibited symptoms that caused my wife to severely change her diet. We narrowed it down to a possible milk allergy which he later grew out of. However, one day when he was about two years old I was eating cashews and he asked to try one. Not thinking anything of it I gave him one. He put it in his mouth, didn't even bite it, and spit it out in my hand. Within two hours he was vomiting, swelling, and covered with hives. We rushed him to the emergency room and thankfully he was okay. Since that day, we have learned that he is also allergic to pistachios, walnuts, and pecans.

A bat will not be taking my son's head and dropping it into an ocean, but every day there is danger that he could come in contact with a tree nut. We are very open, we have to be, with our son, "you know the world will always be difficult for a boy with a tree nut allergy." Quite a serious thought for a little boy. We have epi-pens stashed everywhere, food labels are checked and rechecked, and every one that comes in contact with him are aware of his allergy.  How does he handle it? He is okay with a having a tree nut allergy (as long as he is assured he is safe). He has had it since he was born.

This year, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) started the Teal Pumpkin Project to increase awareness of food allergies during the Halloween season. The project encourages homes to have non-food treats available for children with food allergies so they can feel included in the trick-or-treat events in their neighborhood.

This year, I thought we could reread Pumpkinhead, make Otho, and help spread the word about the Teal Pumpkin Project.
We chose one of our smallest pumpkins and painted it with teal acrylic paint.
When the first coat was drying we started working on Otho.
We found some old clothes in the basement and stuffed the arms and legs with towels (this worked much better than the leaves we used in 2011). We also inserted a small pedestal inside the sweatshirt for the pumpkin head to sit on.
A second coat was applied. We added some glittery teal paint too!
We let the pumpkin head dry over night and then my son added Otho's face in the morning with black paint.
Otho is sitting on our porch in a t-shirt we received at a FARE walk over the summer.
Will you provide non-food items at your home this year for trick or treat? Visit the FARE website for more information.
Three years ago when I first read Clara and Asha I feel in love with an illustration in the story. Clara is a little girl who isn't sleepy. Opening her bedroom window invites Asha, a giant fish. They have been friends for some time after meeting one day in the park. They enjoy playing together.  On this night, Clara and Asha play in the sky. It is really hard for a girl with such an imagination to fall asleep at night.

This is the illustration I fell in love with.  The text states, " On Halloween, Asha helped me with my costume." Every time I reread Clara and Asha I wondered if Clara and Asha could help me with MY halloween costume.
I bought a large mylar balloon at my local grocery store. (They were nice enough to order it in special for me.) I attached the fish to a bamboo fishing pole and weighted it properly with pennies taped to its underside so the fish wouldn't fly too high in the air.
I put on a fishing vest and hat that I have saved for three years too! I became Clara and Asha went for a walk with me.
We walked around the front yard looking at all the yellow and orange leaves.
I have a teal pumpkin! My son will be using this one to trick or treat. I think they sell teal trick-or-treat pumpkins, but we painted this one.
I took Asha trick-or-treating at my niece's house. We goofed around by a lake near their house.
Then, a big gust of wind came and Asha was gone.
I was sad thinking I could have attached Asha better to the fishing line.
A dad without his fish but happy to be with his children trick or treating.
I guess that study was right. Rereading books can "reignite emotion". I spent the week really thinking about food allergies and the stress they put on families during events that involve food. Each time I went to a house with my son I was reminded of his allergy as we tried to find a safe treat in the bowl. And Asha. My children told me they were sad that the fish balloon floated away. "You can always buy another one dad," they told me. I said, "You are right. I could always buy another one."

1. Eric Rohmann's Website
2. Video Interview - Reading Rockets, Video Interview from Kathi Appelt on YouTube
3. Text Interview - Seven Impossible Things blog, Number 5 Bus blog, Vintage Kids' book blog
4. Oh, No! Teacher's Guide - RandomHouse
5. Happy Birthday Author celebration in 2011

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