Sunday, May 1, 2016

Happy Birthday, Jeff Mack - May 2

Happy Birthday, Jeff Mack - May 2

AH HA! A new author birthday blog post! In the month of May? For real?

I am so thankful to start off this month celebrating Jeff Mack's birthday. Not just because he is a really funny guy (HA HA!) and a talented storyteller, but I remember last May when we didn't celebrate any author birthdays.

The month of May is so crazy for our family. (AAAH!) Baseball practices and games take up most of our evenings and the end of the school year is packed with many extra activities. (AAAH! AAAH!) So, I wish everyone a fun and stress-free start to the month of May. If you need me, I hope to find some time to put up my feet so I can read more books by Jeff Mack. (AAAH!)

Jeff Mack has illustrated over 25 books for children including Hurry! Hurry! by Eve Bunting, Rub-A-Dub Sub by Linda Ashman, and his own, AH HA! and Good News Bad News. Jeff loved to draw monsters and other things that scared him when he was young, "I always had a tough time but my dad would give me a hand. He would show me how to draw a Dracula's face and I would practice it. After a while I got a lot better at it." (Creating Cooperative Kids).

In the first grade, he began making his own books, "Our library had just two monster books: Famous Movie Monsters and Bigfoot. I wanted more, so I made my own. Usually they were in comic book form and starred the other kids in my class. At the beginning, it would seem like a normal day, but, by the end, everyone got eaten by monsters." (Chronicle Books).

In second grade, Jeff's teacher allowed him to use his comic book storytelling format for a Halloween short story contest and when it was finished he was able to hang it in the classroom. His story was big hit which prompted him to make more comics for his classmates to read. (Mazza Museum Keynote).

Jeff Mack went onto study fine art and writing at SUNY Oswego at Syracuse University and Scuola Lorenzo De Medici in Florence, Italy. He started working as a painter, painting movie and music posters and then as a muralist and faux-finisher. But, Jeff really wanted to make books. So, he wrote a story, did all the paintings, photo-copied it into a book dummy, and "snuck it into his portfolio" which he dropped of at publishing houses during the "Drop Off Days". (Mazza Museum Keynote). The publishers thought his story and book dummy were "a little too weird", but the artwork in his portfolio caught their eye and led to his first book, Icky Sticky Chameleon by Dawn Bentley in 2002.

For many years, Jeff illustrated books for other authors including the Bunnicula and Friends early reader series by James Howe. Jeff said during his presentation at the Mazza Museum, "All of these illustration jobs led me to write my own stories."  His first book that he both wrote and illustrated was Hush Little Polar Bear in 2008. Later, writing his own picture books led him to write a few graphic novel-type early readers about Hippo and Rabbit and the chapter book series, Clueless McGeeCheck out Jeff's latest picture books Look! and Who Needs a Bath?.

Our favorite book we read this week was AH HA!. It is a very clever book. Jeff Mack tells the story of a frog and its multiple escapes with just four letters (actually just two letters, A and H)! He talked about picking just the right text for he book, "The book is too action-packed to be quiet and wordless. I wanted kids to have something to say out loud so they could express their emotions as they read. So I replaced the words [written in an earlier draft] with expressions made from the letters A and H. The pictures show the action, and the words let the readers know how the characters are feeling." (Seven Impossible Things).

AH HA! starts out with a happy frog in a pond. (AAHH!) The frog finds a rock. (AH HA!) As it sits on the rock it is captured in a glass jar by a boy. Then, a dog knocks the frog out of the jar (AAHH!) and sends it flying back into the pond. The frog thinks it has found safety on another rock, but this is just the beginning of a story that is sure to make your family laugh out loud. (HA HA!)

I read this book before bedtime and my kids LOVED IT! I had to use it to celebrate Jeff Mack's birthday. Then, AH HA! I knew just what we could do and thankfully the weather was beautiful the next day!
First, we punched holes in the lids from two mason jars with a hammer and a nail.
Then, we grabbed our frog-catching net and hiking sticks for a walk down to the pond.
 My children were shocked by all the frogs jumping in from the edge.
They were determined to catch a frog.
They were quiet but not quiet enough to sneak up on the frogs.
They could see them everywhere and had many opportunities to catch one.
They were just too slow.
I think this frog knew we were trying to catch him.
Finally, I scooped up a frog for them. But, it jumped out of our net. As it was hopping away I grabbed him and put him in the glass jar. My son twisted on the lid.
He was so excited to see the frog close up.
The frog...he was not pleased. (AAAH!)
My daughter took a peak.
Just like the book.
Let me out of here!
Maybe we misunderstood his AAHH! He didn't want to come out at first. Maybe he liked it in the jar.
AH HA! He's out!
He started to hop away.
But, my son wanted to help him get back to the pond.
This time the frog wanted nothing to do with the glass jar, so my son asked to borrow his sister's gloves and carried him back to the pond.
The frog happily jumped back into the water. AAHH!
After the frog catching fun we read a few of Jeff Mack's books in the warm sunshine!
Jeff, thank you for sharing your birthday with us at Mazza! We hope you have a wonderful and relaxing birthday! (AAHH!)
Jeff Mack's next book, PLAYTIME? will be available May 10, 2016 (only 1 week away!!):

1. Jeff Mack's Website
2. Follow Jeff Mack on Twitter and Facebook
3. GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS book trailer - Chronicle Books YouTube
4. Interviews - Watch.Connect.Read., Seven Impossible Things Blog, Chronicle Books, Examiner Part 1, Examiner Part 2, Examiner Part 3, This Kid Reviews Books, The Last Draft Writers GroupSeven Impossible Things (2015)
5. Animated Version of HUSH LITTLE POLAR BEAR - YouTube
7. Jeff Mack feature from MSLA
8. Rockstars of Reading: Painting with Jeff Mack - YouTube

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