Monday, June 20, 2016

Happy Birthday, Steve Johnson - June 20

Happy Birthday, Steve Johnson - June 20

Reading and learning with my children is what defines me as father. I tell people all the time that writing this blog has made me a better dad and I believe that. It has inspired me to be active in my children's lives, taught me to feel grateful for all the experiences we have shared together, and keeps me excited for the possibilities.

So, how would I choose to spend my Father's Day? Of course, it would be reading and celebrating an author/illustrator birthday and I had the perfect book illustrated by Steve Johnson that would be fun for the whole family.

Steve Johnson has published over 45 books including My Many Colored Days written by Dr. Seuss, The Frog Prince, Continued written by John Scieszka, and One Frozen Lake by Deborah Jo Larson. He has collaborated with his wife, Lou Fancher, on most of his books. Their collaboration in children's books began in 1989 when they published No Star Nights by Anna Smucker which was awarded an International Reading Association Children's Book Award for Young Readers. (We celebrated Lou's birthday in September 2015. Click here to read the post!)

Steve Johnson studied illustration and painting at The College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota and Lou Fancher studied dance at the University of Cincinnati. Lou's dancing brought her together with Steve when he was photographing ballet dancers as reference for his artwork and Lou was at the ballet studio. Later, Steve offered her the painting he made of her and the rest is history.

Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference 2015
Steve and Lou's artistic collaboration is very unique. It is a "fluid" arrangement. Both artists paint on the same painting. Both may start paintings in the same book. They say, "It just depends on who is better at it." Their artwork also changes for each book. For example, they used potato stamping in Cat, You Better Come Home by Garrison Keillor, painted on fabric for The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel, and incorporated photographs of their own family for BeBop Express by H.L. Panahi. They explained the reason for the variety in their work, "Our artwork is different for each book because the author's voice has been different in each one." Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher's next book is A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney. It is set to be released November 2016.

One of our favorite books by Steve Johnson is The Salamander Room, written by Anne Mazer. It is a story about a young boy named Brian who finds a salamander in the woods and brings it home to live with him. Brian's mom asks, "Where will he sleep?" Brian answers, "I will make him a salamander bed to sleep in." With each of his answers, Brian is asked another question by his mom which transforms Brian's room into the perfect habitat. But where will Brian sleep? Brian has the best answer.

I wondered if I could take my children to the woods to find a salamander just like Brian did in The Salamander Room. We asked a few friends where they would recommend going and the consensus was Squaw Rock Loop Trail in the South Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks.

Our friends suggested this trail because of its accessible creek beds that would be just right for hunting salamanders.
I had never looked for salamanders before, but my oldest son went on the field trip in first grade and remembered the park ranger overturning rocks to find them. 
My oldest daughter was in the creek bed less than five minutes when she called out, "I got one!" We all rushed over to see.
I picked up the salamander with the leaves he was sitting on and placed him in a container for all of us to observe.
My son identified the salamander as a Northern Two-Lined Salamander that is very common in Northeast Ohio.
My oldest daughter had super-salamander-detecting skills. It seemed like every rock she looked under uncovered another one.
"See it, Dad. Right there!"
Two more salamanders! I couldn't believe how many we found. 
This was a fun activity for the whole family.
We found the perfect spot to read The Salamander Room after our salamander hunt.
A great way to spend Father's Day!
We continued our hike on the Squaw Rock Loop Trail and found another place to explore.
They loved navigating the slippery rocks to get to the other side of the Chagrin River. I was anxious that one of them was going to get hurt. Thankfully, there were just a few slips. No boo-boos. Just some wet clothes.
This boy loves nature!
So, does this boy! I found another spot that seemed like the perfect place for a salamander to live. It was like an outdoor salamander room.
I found one!
Happy Birthday, Steve Johnson! It was nice to meet you at the Mazza Museum. Thank you for sharing your birthday with us!
Check out Steve Johnson's latest books, Shh! Bears Sleeping and Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler:

1. Fancher and Johnson Website
2. The Cheese Printable - HarperCollins
3. Teacher's Guide for The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart - Elizabeth Rusch
4. The Salamander Room on Reading Rainbow - YouTube
5. The Salamander Room Reading Rainbow learning packet

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