Saturday, July 2, 2016

Happy Birthday, Sophie Blackall - July 2

Happy Birthday, Sophie Blackall - July 2

Today I told my children, "We are celebrating our 300th author birthday." They looked at me with disbelief and said, "What!?! NO WAY!"

I can't believe it either. I can remember how excited I felt when we reached fifty celebrations. Today I couldn't help thinking, Why do I keep writing this blog?

There are many reasons.

Because it is fun.
Because I like the challenge.
Because my kids like it.
Because it makes me a better dad.
Because it keeps me reading children's books.
Because it inspires me to do things I normally wouldn't do.
Because it makes me feel creatively anxious.
Because we get to meet really cool authors and illustrators.
Because it keeps me feeling young and alive.
Because maybe I will inspire another dad to read to his child.
Because what else would I do with my spare time.
Because with each blog post I am becoming a better writer.
Because I never know what could happen.

I never know what could happen. That is my favorite reason. I keep reading, thinking, creating, and writing just because I want to find out what is going to happen next.

This week's birthday celebration for Sophie Blackall went nothing like I expected, but I realize as I write this that it was still pretty awesome. My mom, who encouraged me to write this blog from day one, helped with part of the celebration. The weather wasn't cooperating, but improved just at the right time and despite getting lost in the woods we found our destination, the perfect spot to wrap up the celebration.

Sophie Blackall has illustrated over 30 books for children including Jumpy Jack and Googily by Meg Rosoff, Edwin Speaks Up by April Stevens, and Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children by Lisa Wheeler. She was born in Australia and spent many hours of her childhood reading books in trees. She said, "I spent a great deal of my childhood up a tree with a book. My brother was usually in the tree next door, also with a book. We had a brilliantly designed, poorly executed rope, pulley and basket system between trees to exchange books." (Nerdy Book Club). Her favorite book when she was younger was Winnie-the Pooh. She said, "Winnie-the-Pooh was the first book I bought with my own money. It was an old, worn edition. A prop in my mother's antique shop. I read it in my secret spot under a table. I used to hide the book so nobody would buy it. Eventually my mother sold it to me for a dollar, and I polished the steps to earn the money." (The Horn Book, Caldecott Acceptance Speech)

Sophie earned a Bachelor of Design in Sydney in 1992. After graduating, she held a variety of art-related jobs and had a few exhibitions of her art in galleries. In 2000, she won a green card in a lottery and moved to New York with her family with hopes of making children's books. ( In 2002, she published her first book Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim and was awarded the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award in 2003.

Sophie Blackall has been very busy during her sixteen years living in the United States. She has created editorial illustrations for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and more. In 2011, she created a poster for New York MTA that hung in all the new trains in the city. Also, in 2011 she both wrote and illustrated her first children's book, Are you Awake?. She has illustrated the successful chapter book series Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows and a few chapter books by her studio-mate John Marciano. (Click here to read more about her studio). Their latest collaboration is the The Witches of Benevento series. Sophie Blackall told Don Tate, "I have done at least two (and up to four) picture books and a chapter book and a bunch of other projects every year for the past 13 years. And THEN I realize that I haven't had a proper weekend in about 13 years. And then I feel like taking a nap." (Don Tate).

All this hard work led up to winning the 2016 Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear. When she spoke at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference she described this book as a "once in a lifetime book." As she spoke of the book, you could feel her excitement. All of us at the conference had to wait as it wasn't available at the time of conference. But, it was worth it and I was beyond excited for Sophie when my family and I heard the announcement that she had won the Caldecott! A well-deserved award for and amazing illustrator and person!

Additionally, at the Mazza Museum, Sophie Blackall talked about A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins. A story about blackberry fool, one of the oldest desserts in Western culture.

We read this book before bed on a night my mom came to stay at our house. The next day my youngest two children went back to her house for special grandma and grandpa time. What was one of the things they did? The made red raspberry fool to bring back to share with us the next day! How cool is that?

It is even more cool that they went to their great-grandpa and great-grandma's farm to pick the red raspberries to use in the dessert. Do you see great-grandpa in the background? He is 92 years old and loves his great-grand children very much!
 They needed to pick a lot of berries to make fool. The recipe in the back of the book calls for 2 1/2 cups of fresh fruit. (Click here for the recipe online.)
They used special baskets designed by great-grandpa to make picking berries more efficient. The bucket was tied around his waist to allow him to pick with both hands.
Fool is made with fresh fruit, sugar, vanilla, and heavy cream. The big kids were very happy that grandma brought the fool back to share!
Yum! The fool was so good!
We reread A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat while they ate.
The book shows families from 1710, 1810, 1910, and 2010 eating blackberry fool.
This is how a family from 2016 eats it!
Thank you, Mom, for helping out with this part of the author birthday celebration!
Remember at the beginning of this post when I shared with you that Sophie Blackall spent a lot of time reading in trees with her brother when she was younger. I thought this would be a fun activity for my family too. But, the weather wasn't cooperating. It was supposed to rain the day I planned to take the whole family to a special tree I found in the woods. We were patient and the skies cleared in the afternoon, but would I remember where to find the perfect tree?
Something didn't seem right about this path. I didn't remember walking this long the day I found the tree. I was getting a little nervous.
My son checked the signs and tried to help me remember. We doubled back and I realized we took a wrong turn right at the beginning of our hike. We walked for a over a mile, when it should have been a 3 minute walk to find the tree.
We found it! This was the tree with its massive low lying branch we were looking for. Local friends, this tree is at the Moebius Nature Center in Aurora, Ohio.
Just a boy and one of his favorite books of all time!
Do you want to trade?
I am so happy to have shared so many reading experiences with these two. They were 4 and 2 when we started celebrating author birthdays.
I think we should frame this photo.
We love your books, Sophie!
Thank you, Sophie for sharing your birthday with us. It was beyond awesome to spend time with you at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference. It has been one of the highlights of all my experiences writing this blog!
Update - July 28, 2016 - A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat made a positive impact on my family. My children have talked about the book many times since Sophie Blackall's birthday. Blackberries are usually "in season" around the middle of August in Ohio, but this year because of the hot summer they were ready to pick in July! We went to Walnut Drive Gardens in Mogadore, Ohio to pick blackberries to make a fool exactly like the book.
Just two happy boys in blackberry patch!
I found her sneaking a taste of the blackberries many times! She said, "These taste so much better than the ones from the store."
Beautiful blackberries!
Wow! We picked A LOT of berries! 
My daughter made the fool for everyone to enjoy!
1. Sophie Blackall's Website
2. Sophie Blackall's Blog
3. Follow Sophie Blackall on Facebook, Twitter
4. Sophie Blackall's Etsy
5. Sophie Blackall and John Marciano talk about THE WITCHES OF BENEVENTO - YouTube
6. Interviews - Don Tate, Brain Pickings, Juana Martinez Neal blog, BookPage, Veerle Blog, Seven Impossible Things Blog 2008, Seven Impossible Things Blog 2011Pen and Oink, The Horn Book, Audrey Moore Blog, The Rumpus
7. A FINE DESSERT teacher's guide - RandomHouse
8. IVY + BEAN Teacher's Guide - Chronicle Books
9. FINDING WINNIE Educator's Guide - Little Brown
10. Sophie Blackall and Emily Jenkins make Blackberry Fool - KID LIT TV

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