Monday, August 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Lane Smith - August 25

Happy Birthday Lane Smith - Born August 25, 1959

Lane Smith spent time as a janitor at Disneyland to put himself through college, however things have changed and he is no longer cleaning up messes for Disney. These days he is cleaning up profits for Disney's Hyperion Books Division with his creations John, Paul, George and Ben, Madam President, and The Big Elephant in the Room.

Smith had been attracted to children's books his whole life.  He began building his illustration portfolio in his free time while working for many high profile magazines after college.  It was in 1986 that he got his initial big break after MacMillan Publishing loved the "spooky"art he developed for a wordless ABC book.  MacMillan decided to match Smith's art with poems from Eve Merriam to create Halloween ABC that has recently been re-released as Spooky ABC.

If Halloween ABC was Smith's initial big break then pairing up with Jon Scieszka was his BIG BIG break. Lane and Jon were introduced to each other by their wives in 1989.  Jon was struggling to get a Three Little Pigs parody accepted by a publisher.  Lane decided to work on the book with Jon because he was convinced he could get the book published immediately.  It took some time, but eventually Viking Press published The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.  This book was the beginning of a partnership that has lead to them creating dozens of books together including the The Time Warp Trio Series, Squids Will Be Squids, and Science Verse. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales was Scieszka and Smith's most notable book which received Caldecott Honor in 1993.  It is important to note that Smith's wife, Molly Leach, played an integral role in the book as its designer (Click here to see why Molly's "design matters"). She brought her expertise of commercial design and turned the children's book industry on it head with large fonts, lack of margins, and overall organized chaos.  She continues to design with Smith and he feels she brings "class" to his books and helps balance out his "goofiness".

This week I focused on reading books that Lane Smith wrote and illustrated with my children because we will be celebrating Jon Scieszka's birthday right around the corner on September 8. Our family favorites were The Happy Hocky Family and The Happy Hocky Family Moves to the Country.  These books were written and illustrated to be throw backs to the Dick and Jane and early Golden Books. The Happy Hocky Family illustrations were actually designed to utilize an older printing technique that uses color separated printing plates. Lane Smith's humor and quirkiness shine throughout the books through a series of funny little skits involving members of the Hocky family.  Our favorites featured Baby Hocky and his positive outlook on life even after tragic events like a balloon popping, losing a tooth, and getting a new coat dirty.  We created our own Baby Hocky comic strips using the website ToonDoo. (You can see Lane Smith reading a Baby Hocky skit by viewing the Rock Stars of Reading Video at around the 8:30 mark of the video).  My daughter came up with the Banana Peel skit!


Banana Peel

John, Paul, George, and Ben and Madam President are two books by Lane Smith that make me wish I was back teaching fourth grade.  These two books bring some much needed humor to the subject of social studies yet provide the opportunity to learn something too.

Madam President is about a little girl who imagines what it would be like to be president.  The text uses somewhat difficult social studies vocabulary like diplomat, veto, and cabinet but the illustrations define the terms and ideas with situations familiar to children.  For example, she is seen"vetoing" tuna casserole at the school cafeteria.

John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, and Ben Franklin (and independent Tom Jefferson) are all featured in the other social studies friendly book. Smith provides his spin on some of the famous historical stories like George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and Paul Revere's Ride.  There is also a great true and false section called "Taking Liberties" that expounds on the events discussed earlier in the book.   The story is also available on DVD in which the animation is narrated by James Earl Jones.

In closing, I must plug another upcoming birthday.  The anniversary of Roald Dahl's birthday is September 13. Lane Smith illustrated an edition of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, plus worked on the conceptual design behind the 1996 movie of the same title.

Click here for this week's Library Checklist.

Check out Lane's latest book on Amazon, just released August 17, 2010! Click here to read an article from NPR mentioning It's a Book and the future of books.


1. Lane Smith's Website
2. Lane Smith's Blog - Curious Pages
3. Lane Smith's Art Blog - Lane Smith's Closet: Illustrations from My Drawers
3. Video Interview with Lane Smith - Reading Rockets
4. Henry P. Baloney Website
5. Lane Smith and Molly Leach Video Interview - YouTube
6. Math Curse Reading Rainbow Episode - Vimeo
7. Cowboy and Octopus Blog
8. Text Interviews with Lane Smith - Adventures Underground, Estella's Revenge
9. Audio Podcast - Just One More Book
10.  Rock Stars of Reading Video with Lane Smith from JOMB - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (AWESOME!)
11. Princess Hyacinth Printable Activity Booklet/teacher's guide - RandomHouse
12.  Madam President Printable Activity Booklet/teacher's guide - Hyperion Books for Children
13. Hooray for Diffendoofer Day Printable Activity Booklet/teacher's guide - Seussville
14. John, Paul, George and Ben Printable Activity Booklet/teacher's guide - Hyperion Books

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