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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Happy Birthday, Aaron Becker - July 14

Happy Birthday, Aaron Becker - July 14

Last summer I met Aaron Becker at the Mazza Museum. I told him about our blog and asked if he would share his birthday with us so we could plan a celebration. He said, "My birthday was just three days ago."

363 days later we finally got to celebrate, but a few things happened which made it worth the wait. In April, my whole family got to meet Aaron Becker at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library, where the children's area is like stepping into Journey. This week, we created a fun sewing project to bring to life Quest. And in less than one month, Aaron's next book Return will be available! It has been an exciting journey leading up to this blog post. I hope you read on to learn more!

Aaron Becker is the creator of the Journey Trilogy. As a child he taught himself to draw from books by Ed Emberley. His parents fostered his hobby of drawing and making books. His father made sure he had plenty of left over paper from the dot matrix printer and Aaron would tape two pieces together. His mother made him his own special space, a handmade work bench, "where he was let to discover and learn on his own." (Mazza Museum Keynote).

Despite his love for drawing, Aaron never took a formal art class until after high school. He graduated from Pomona College in 1996 with a degree in media studies after briefly considering majoring in Japanese Language and Pacific Rim politics. (Pomona Magazine). In 1998, after a brief time in web and graphic design Aaron thought about entering the world of children's books and even attended a children's book writing conference. (Seven Impossible Things). He thought if he was going to make a children's book he would need to work on his art first and chose to attend Arts Center College of Design in California for six months. This experience led him to be hired as a concept artist for the animated film The Polar Express, based on Chris Van Allsburg's beloved book. Aaron worked in the film industry for over eight years and decided to move with his wife all the way across the country. It was after this move things changed for Aaron.

The company Aaron was working for was purchased by Disney and he lost his job. He was even more concerned because he would soon be a father! He needed to find a job, but thought, "I had always wanted to do this children's book thing, a now or never kind of feeling, all my cards on the table, just a 'Hail Mary Pass'." (Good Reads with Ronna). Aaron feared he would miss out on a chance so he wrote a story, made a real life dummy book that he hand-stitched with needle and thread, got an agent, and sold his first book to an editor he met 15 years prior at the children's book conference he attended after college. (Seven Impossible Things).

Journey was a huge success and Aaron was awarded a Caldecott Honor medal in 2014. Amazingly, Aaron taught himself how to use watercolor to make the illustrations for the book. He said, "I did teach myself watercolor! Everything I had done previously was either in oils, acrylics, or digital, but I wanted Journey to have a precious, handmade feel that only watercolor can pull off." (Henry Herz). Initially, a sequel to Journey was not in the plan, but soon came Quest in 2014 and in about one month, August 2016, Return will conclude this amazing wordless picture book adventure. (I can't wait!!)

I was so excited to find out that Aaron Becker was returning to Ohio last April. I enjoyed hearing him speak and knew my family would love him too. The reason for Aaron's visit to the South-Euclid Lyndhurst Library was to celebrate the new children's area based on Journey. If you are ever in Northeast Ohio and love Aaron's books you need to carve out some time to visit this library! It is amazing.
The children's area brings Journey to life!
Children (and adults!) can walk out of the door in the tree.
Hanging from the ceiling is the hot air balloon the girl draws to keep herself from falling from the aqueduct around the castle.
There are many interactive components for the kids too.
Take a ride in the red boat.
She said, "Hey! It's the castle from the book."
Aaron wanted the children's area to include activities to encourage imagination. There are blocks, hand designed by Aaron, to build your own castles.
I was so happy my children got to meet him!
Aaron gave out these cool markers at his visit. My youngest was so excited that the next week at school she took the markers, Journey, and Quest to share with her preschool class. When I was planning our birthday celebration activity I wondered if I could use these markers somehow.
In Quest, the king gives the girl and the boy a map, an orange marker, and bandolier to hold the markers they will gather on their adventure. I challenged myself to come up with a way to make the bandolier with materials I had in my house. I started with a random roll of brown fabric we acquired many years ago.
I cut a 6 inch wide piece, folded it in half, and pinned the edges.
I stitched the edges leaving one of the ends open.
Through the opening I reversed the fabric to hide the stitch.
I used my youngest daughter as my model to check the dimensions and to plan the next step.
I needed to devise a way to hold the markers. I decided to do this with felt. 
I stitched a 2.25" x 7.75" piece of felt onto the brown fabric. When, I placed the bandolier back on my daughter I worried that the markers would be too big and heavy because of the fabric I chose to use. So, I decided to continue my design for crayons instead of markers.
Next, I took another piece of brown felt and measured out six slots. I left about 1/2 inch between each slot and each slot was 3/4 inch wide. This was the perfect size to hold the crayons snug.
It worked!
I found a purple, teal, light green, yellow, orange, and red crayon for the bandolier.
The last stitch sewed the two ends of the fabric together. It was sewn diagonally to allow it to lay against my daughter's hip. The excess brown fabric was trimmed.
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With the prototype a success, my children wanted to make one of their own.
My son ran the pedal on the sewing machine while I guided the fabric.
 My 11 year old daughter asked if she could make one too. I got her started and she wanted to do the rest.
I was amazed with how determined she was to do this project all by herself.
Wow! Great work!
Aaron, our family hopes you have a wonderful birthday! I am so happy we all got to meet you. Your books have been a huge hit in our house! Have a great birthday!
Return will be available August 2, 2016. Pre-order it today!

1. Aaron Becker's Website
2. Follow Aaron Becker on Facebook, Twitter
3. Aaron Becker's Blog 
4. Journey Trailer (YouTube)
5. Quest Trailer (YouTube)
6. Interviews - Seven Impossible Things Blog, Candlewick, SmartBooks for SmartKids, Good Reads with Ronna, School Library Journal, Design Mom, East Oakview Library, Henry Herz, KidLit 411
7. 5 Things You Didn't Know About Aaron Becker - Huff Post
8. The Making of Journey - Vimeo
9. Video Interview for Candlewick - YouTube
10. Your Guide to a Wordless Book - StoryBreathing
11. Aaron Becker feature - Pomona Magazine

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