Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Jules Feiffer - January 26

Happy Birthday Jules Feiffer - Born January 26, 1929

"I wanted to overthrow the government. That was my job.  I was much more interested in politics than children," said Jules Feiffer, the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist that spent 40 years writing weekly editorial cartoons for The Village Voice. (Dartmouth Interview, embedded below)  However, early in this career he collaborated with Norton Juster by creating the illustrations for The Phantom Tollbooth that later became a classic children's novel.  But, "it certainly wasn't anything I wanted to do again," he explained (Dartmouth). For Feiffer at the time,  The Phantom Tollbooth was just an "exercise in experimentation." (National Book Festival).

So, what happened? How did Jules Feiffer, the screenwriter, the playwright, and the cartoonist become a successful children's author and illustrator when he had no interest in the field? The answer is quite simple. He had children of his own.  His daughters loved having him tell stories before bed.  Actually, one of his most well known books, Bark, George was a story he invented one night for his youngest daughter, Julie.  According to the Post-Gazette, his stories often put both of them to sleep, but he luckily forced himself to write down a few notes, that helped him later write the book, before he nodded off. "Who knows how many other hundreds of best sellers I could have written if I had been able to stay awake?" (Note to self: write things down!)

I can still remember the first time we experienced Bark, George. We had never heard of the book before a librarian at an evening story time performed the story as a puppet show.  This week I visited that library to see if I could borrow the puppets to use with my children. Unfortunately, I was informed that the librarian had made the puppets herself and therefore they were not available for check out.  So, we improvised with old stuffed animals and tiny toys to put on our own puppet show to celebrate Feiffer's birthday.  I was so excited that my son decided to participate.  He is usually shy and unsure of his acting abilities.  But, today he starred as the veterinarian complete with latex gloves, glasses and a mustache. He projected his voice very well, too! I regret to say that I am unable to share the video as it had running commentary from my 7 month old throughout the recording! (But, here are couple of links to other Bark, George puppets shows on YouTube - Salt Lake City Library, Paul Mesner Puppets.)

We picked up By the Side of Road this week at the library and my daughter actually read it before I did. She summarized it this way, "A boy misbehaves in the car and his dad leaves him by the side of the road.  He builds a house and a girl comes to live with him." I joked back, "Did you know that to celebrate Jules Feiffer's birthday I am going to drop you off on the side of the road?  I think it sounds like a good activity." She replied, "Whatever, Dad!" and rolled her eyes. (Yep...she's only 5. It is starting already.)

I want to close with a quote from Jules Feiffer's speech at the 2010 National Book Festival. "What saves us is a continual rediscovery of innocence and nothing is better [at that] than children's books... For kids if you don't find a sense of hope or sense of identification at home, in the neighborhood, with your friends, in school, My God, there it is in literature.  Over and over again."

Check out Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer's latest collaboration, The Odious Ogre released in September 2010 and his upcoming book with his daughter Kate Feiffer, My Side of the Car in April 2011:



Links:

1. Jules Feiffer Website
2. Jules Feiffer - Facebook Page
3. Growing Every Which Way But Up: The Children's Book Art of Jules Feiffer: Upcoming Exhibits Eric Carle Museum (Oct. 25, 2011 - January 22, 2012)
4. Text Interviews - Big Think (video too), AV ClubNJ.com, Panels and Pixels, Mother Jones
5. Video Interviews - Charlie Rose, Leonard Lepote Show (YouTube), With Norton Juster Odious Ogre (YouTube), Fora.tv
6. I Lost My Bear Lesson Plan 
7. Jules Feiffer Dance Films Project - Kickstarter
8. Kate Feiffer's Author Website (his daughter)
9. Trailer for Picture Book The Odious Ogre by Norton Juster Illus. by Jules Feiffer
10. National Book Festival 2010 - Jules Feiffer and Norton Juster - YouTube (GREAT VIDEO!)
11. Birthday Wishes from 2009 from JacketCopy
12. Audio Interview with BookTalkRadio - Mr. Media




Note: Starts discussing children's books at around the 20 minute mark.

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