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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Birthday, Henry Cole - December 8

Happy Birthday, Henry Cole - December 8

Henry Cole was telling a few stories about his mom during his keynote presentation at the 2015 Mazza Museum Fall Weekend Conference when he said,"You don't need a lot of stuff to make a magic moment happen." His mother was a fashion illustrator during the Depression in New York before moving to live on a dairy farm in Virginia.  (Click here to see a childhood drawing Henry Cole did of his mother.)

"Mom could make big things happen from nothing." Henry told a story about the time his mom set up a cardboard box to make viewing a lunar eclipse much more exciting. Another story he shared was when his mom drew pictures of things around the dairy farm on scrap pieces of paper; the doghouse, peony bush, etc. She placed the drawings around the farm with one drawing leading to another like a scavenger hunt. Henry and his friend, from a neighboring farm, ran around so excited to see where they would go next. At the end of the hunt they were led to the lilac bush where two small shovels sticking out of the ground awaited them. At first, Henry and his friend didn't know what to do. Were they supposed to dig? Maybe there was buried treasure! So, Henry and his friend dug and dug until they found real treasure -- GEMS! Lots of them! Henry recalled the excitement he felt unearthing the dead Christmas tree bulbs that magically became treasure that day.

Henry is right. "You don't need a lot of stuff to make a magic moment happen."

Henry Cole made a magic moment at the Mazza Museum with only a piece of paper and a crayon.
I spoke with Henry Cole after his keynote presentation. I told him that I loved the stories he told about his mom and that I thought creating a scavenger hunt for my children from scraps of paper just like his mom did for him would be a great way to celebrate his birthday. I clarified, "As long as it is not snowing!"
I am huge fan of this guy!
On December 8th, Henry Cole's birthday, it wasn't snowing in Ohio. It wasn't cold either! So, I drew eight things from our yard on scrap pieces of paper. I taped each of the drawings, with exception of the first one, to one of Henry's books and placed them around the yard.
The first thing I drew was our rain barrel. I thought Jack's Garden was the perfect book to place there. We use the water from this rain barrel to water our wildflower garden much like Jack's garden in the book. The clue on the book would lead my children to our Little Free Library.
Big Chickens and a drawing of our playground were waiting at our Little Free Library.
Unspoken and a drawing of the big maple tree were hiding at our playground.
Warthog's Paint A Messy Color Book and a drawing of our campfire were at the maple tree.
The Worrywarts and a drawing of the bench in our wildflower garden were behind a stump around the campfire. (There is no need to worry. We didn't have a campfire going on this day!)
Clara Caterpillar and a drawing of our woodpile were under the bench in the garden. I doubt Clara would come to our wildflower garden since she is a cabbage caterpillar, but we would welcome monarch caterpillars again next year.
Some Smug Slug and a drawing of a bush were on the wood pile. I am sure if we looked close enough we could find many smug slugs here.
I buried dead Christmas tree bulbs for treasure in front of the bush in the front yard. 
I hid Moosletoe under the bush and stuck two shovels in the ground.
My youngest two children were ready for the scavenger hunt. I gave them the first drawing of the rain barrel to start.
They were off and running.
He reached for Jack's Garden and the next clue.
I strategically placed the clues so they were running back and forth all over the yard.
She was proud of herself for climbing up to get Unspoken.
At the end of the hunt she found the book, but it didn't have a drawing taped to it. They didn't know what to do. My son said, "What are these shovels doing here?" I said, "I don't know. Why do you think they are there?"
"Maybe we should dig."
They found all ten dead Christmas bulbs -- I mean all ten rubies, emeralds, and pearls!
After the hunt, we went inside for a cup of hot chocolate and read Moosletoe. I didn't need a lot of stuff to make this magical moment happen. 
Henry Cole has created over 120 books for children including the Katy Duck series by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Chicken Butt! by Erica S. Perl, and the Bad Boys books by Margie Palatini. His mother encouraged him to be plumber or a teacher when it came time to go to college. (Mazza Keynote). He studied forestry at Virginia Tech and became an elementary science teacher for 17 years.

His elementary school brought in many well-known authors and illustrators to visit including Steven Kellogg, Jon Scieszka, and one of his favorite authors, Jean Craighead George. Henry told Publisher's Weekly about his brave encounter with Jean George, "I found the courage to tell her, out of the blue, that I had created a little book about bats -- inspired by a unit I'd done with second graders -- and to ask if she could recommend an editor I might send it to. Well, she stared at me for a few minutes, and then wrote the name of Katherine Tegen, at HarperCollins, on a napkin that was on a nearby table." Henry contacted Katherine, visited New York, and was offered a contract to illustrate a manuscript they had just acquired by Ann Earle. His first book Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats was published in 1995.

He went on to create numerous books with his colleague and children's librarian, Pamela Duncan Edwards. Their first books together were Some Smug Slug and Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke. Henry Cole is now a full-time children's book creator, but still reconnects with his love of teaching by visiting many schools each year! I am looking forward to one of Henry's upcoming books, a wordless picture book, Spot, the Cat (available March 1, 2016).

Our birthday celebration didn't stop with the scavenger hunt. I discovered Henry Cole's The Littlest Evergreen. A book Henry dedicated to his Aunt Marion. "After she died I found in her papers and things...a few sentences told from the point of view of a Christmas tree." (Reading Rockets). Henry took those few sentences from Aunt Marion and added his own words and pictures to create a story about a Christmas tree that was too small to be cut but was dug up and bound with cloth. The tree was purchased by a family who decorated it for Christmas. Then, they planted it and gave it everything it needed to become tall and proud.

I had never been to a Christmas tree farm. I have always had an artificial Christmas tree. My children had experienced Christmas tree farms numerous times with their grandparents (my wife's parents). Many years ago, when my wife and I were newly married, her parents bought Christmas trees that were dug and bound. Then they planted them in their backyard. I loved this idea, but I never had a reason to try something new. When I saw The Littlest Evergreen I decided this was the year for a real Christmas tree.
All four of my children were along for this family reading experience. It was the perfect December day with temperatures in the sixties!
There were plenty of photo opportunities at the Christmas tree farm. My daughter wore her  Christmas dress for this special occasion!
First, we found a tree for Grandma and Grandpa. They no longer have room in their backyard to plant Christmas trees! We each took a turn at cutting the tree.
We walked to the other side of the farm; around the small lake, through some mud to the hill with the Christmas trees that could be dug and bound.
We came to a quick decision that this was the tree for us and marked it with yellow tape.

One of the farmers dug it out of the ground for us. He said, "I can get it out for you in ten minutes."

I was going to read The Littlest Evergreen while he was digging out the tree, but we had some visitors that interrupted the story. Nine cows and one donkey live on the hill with the Christmas trees. I learned today that my wife and children are extremely afraid of cows. Who knew?
The trees on this hill were planted with a wrap around the roots to make it easier to dig up. 
The cows finally left us alone long enough so we could read the book.

Our Christmas tree was carted away right after I read the page about the Littlest Evergreen being put on the truck. My daughter said, "Hey, our Christmas tree is just like the one in the book." 
The cows decided not to stay for story time. They followed the trailer down the hill. 
At home, we decorated our first real Christmas tree with tinsel and lights. After Christmas is over we will plant it in our backyard and care for it for "many, many seasons."
Henry, I am so happy to have met you at the Mazza Museum. Your presentation was spectacular and reading your books this week with my family was so much fun. We hope you had a wonderful birthday!

Update -  December 26, 2015:

We took advantage of the warmer weather and planted our Littlest Evergreen. My two daughters were great helpers! Merry Christmas!
1. Henry Cole's Website
2. Video Interview - Reading Rockets, Allen City TV (YouTube)
3. Text Interview - Publisher's Weekly, Tiger Blog
4. Henry Cole Reads UNSPOKEN from Scholastic - YouTube
5. Teacher's Guide for A NEST FOR CELESTE - HarperCollins
6. KATY DUCK Classroom Kit - Alyssa Satin Capucilli
7. Audio Interview - PictureBooking
8. Henry Cole Draws Celeste - YouTube

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