Thursday, February 9, 2012

Happy Birthday Stephen Gammell - February 10

Happy Birthday Stephen Gammell - February 10

There are various levels of planning that go into each of my birthday celebrations -- traveling to multiple libraries, reading numerous books to my children to find the book that "pops", thinking of an activity to bring the book to life, and so on.  My approach to developing a blog post is in stark contrast to how Stephen Gammell creates a book. A friend once told him that his illustrations"looked like they just happened before you turned the page."  He responded by saying,

"That statement startled me and I've never forgotten it.  I have kept that in mind each time I do a book.  I try to have that element of surprise and fun in every drawing. This is why I never do any sketches beforehand, or plan ahead. My desire is that it happens for me in much the same way it happens to whoever will be looking at the book." (TTLG).

This week, the birthday celebration for Stephen Gammell had an "element of surprise".  I was not surprised by the preplanned activity, but by who got excited about the idea.

Stephen Gammell began his career as an author and an illustrator at the age of four. "Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of lying on the floor in our old house in Des Moines, books and magazines around me, piles of pads and paper, lots of pencils...and drawing. Just drawing! I was four at the time." (Children's Literature Network). This love of drawing at an early age led him to a successful career in children's literature.  He was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1989 for Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman.  Additionally, he received Caldecott Honor in 1986 for The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant and in 1982 for Where the Buffaloes Begin by Olaf Baker. I can remember my first experience with Stephen Gammell's work when I discovered the Scary Stories series by Alvin Swartz.  This series appears to be out-of-print with Stephen Gammell's drawings and reissued with different illustrations by another artist -- probably because it was listed as #7 on the ALA frequently challenged book list.  I don't remember reading many of the stories, but I do recollect the horrifying illustrations! (note: I am not recommending Scary Stories to young children!)

This week we had a morning that was beautiful and crisp.  The sunlight was tapping my youngest son and I on the shoulder and begging for us to come outside as I read Twigboy by Stephen Gammell. The story begins in Weedland, not a good place for youngsters, with a group of bugs surrounding Twigboy (he is a twig!) -- and things didn't look good.   Luckily, a rock bounds down from above and bowls over the bugs to save Twigboy.  The rock, whose name becomes Rockwell, needs help from Twigboy after he falls into the slimy swamp and can't swim. The two adventurers form an instant friendship. After a visit to Granma and Granpa's and a good meal, the dynamic duo ignore a warning to stay away from Weedland when they decide to return to seek revenge on the bugs.

I strapped on my son's shoes, zipped his coat, and grabbed a Sharpie market.  He chose his hat and carried the book. I told him that I was certain that Twigboy lived in our backyard and that we needed to find him.
He was excited to be celebrating an author's birthday with just his dad! (Well -- at least that is what I was thinking he was thinking.)
If Twigboy was going to live in our backyard this is where we would find him. After some searching, I found a stick that resembled Twigboy. Once I added the eyes and mouth with the black sharpie, I knew it was definitely him.
 I gave Twigboy to my son and asked if he could find him in the book. 
I helped him open the book and he found him right away.  He also said something that sounded like "stick" without the /k/ sound.
Twigboy! It is hard to notice his eyes and mouth that I drew with the Sharpie in this photo.  I debated adding googily eyes later on, but I figured they would just fall or get picked off. 
I told him, "We need to find Rockwell." So we checked the front yard.  He found his favorite rock and I added a face with the Sharpie.  Now the friends were together again.
Twigboy went with us to pick up my oldest son at preschool and somehow he lost an arm on the way back home.  We tried a little glue, but it didn't help.  I was very concerned for Twigboy.
However, with the help of my oldest son we used a band-aid to attach his arm back on.  This book had an ending that is very open ended. It begs for a sequel.  I think if we were to write "Twigboy 2" the band-aid would provide a very interesting plot twist!
I am so pleased with how this birthday celebration turned out.  I had originally planned to complete it with my older son when my youngest was napping.  This reading experience has taught me that my son,  even at only 20 months old, is capable of much more than I expected.

1. About Stephen Gammell - Children's Literature Network
2. Author and Illustrator Profile - Through the Looking Glass
3. Mudkin Book Review - There's a Book


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