Monday, August 1, 2016

Happy Birthday, Christian Robinson - August 2

Happy Birthday, Christian Robinson - August 2

On the first day of second grade, my teacher gave each student in my class a worksheet to complete. The title of the worksheet was A Time Capsule About Me and it had a list of fourteen things to respond to by filling in the blanks;

What is my favorite thing to do?
My favorite hobby?
My favorite TV show?...and more.

Then, on the last day of school the worksheet was returned to us.

My mom kept this worksheet in my Baby Book and I still have it. I recall looking at the worksheet often while I was growing up. I was intrigued by how my favorite things had changed. For example, my favorite thing to do in second grade was playing soccer, but that was the only year I ever played soccer. My favorite hobby in second grade was collecting bottle caps? Really? I don't think I ever had a bottle cap collection, but I loved watching Sesame Street and I admired Bert's amazing bottle cap collection. I am thankful my second grade teacher gave us this assignment. Without it I may have forgotten how much I loved the TV show, The A-Team. (Mr. T was my hero!)

When my family attended the 2015 National Book Festival where Christian Robinson and Mac Barnett read their latest collaboration, Leo: A Ghost Story, they demonstrated a creative way to document your favorite things. Their demonstration reminded me of my second grade time capsule. I thought about how "favorite things" change. Sometimes they change often. I knew at the Festival that I wanted to give my children a chance to record some of their favorite things so they could have the same experience I had and Christian Robinson's birthday would be the perfect time to do it.

Christian Robinson is the illustrator of ten books for children including Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts. When Christian was a child he loved to make things. He said, "Creativity allowed me to be in charge, to make my own rules, to make my own little world on paper." (Read Brightly). He did not have many resources growing up, but his grandmother taught him "how to make the most of whatever I had and to count my blessings." (The Horn Book).

Christian Robinson graduated from California Institute of the Arts in 2008 with a degree in Character Animation. After graduation he interned at Pixar Animation Studios and was paired with a mentor who happened to love picture books, talked about them all the time, and encouraged Christian as an illustrator. (Ezra Jack Keats Foundation). One day, his mentor invited Christian to attend a consumer products meeting with the director of the movie Up and asked him to bring some of his artwork featuring the characters from the movie. (Seven Impossible Things). The director saw Christian's artwork and suggested that he should make a book based the movie. This suggestion allowed Christian to became a children's book illustrator with his first book, Beware of Dug!, in 2009. 

After Pixar, Christian continued making art for various projects and shared his work on his blog. Steven Malk, a top agent in children's literature, took notice of Christian's illustrations. In an interview with The Brown Bookshelf Christian described the experience, "One day I get an email from a guy who had come across my blog asking if I had an agent and if I did to just consider the message as fan mail." Christian signed on with Steven and quickly published his first picture book Harlem's Little Blackbird by Renée Watson.

It didn't take long for Christian to gain more attention for his picture book illustration. In 2014, he was awarded the 2014 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for Rain! by Linda Ashman. In 2015, he was awarded a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award for Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell and this year he received his 2016 Caldecott Honor and another Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award for Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. Christian's next books are Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant (October 2016) and Antoinette, a companion to Gaston (February 2017).

At the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., it was a treat to hear Christian Robinson read Leo: A Ghost Story. It is a story about a house ghost named Leo who is unwanted by the new family who moves in. So, he decides to roam. He meets a girl named Jane and together they play Knights of the Round Table. Jane thinks Leo is her imaginary friend. Leo doesn't tell her that he is ghost. With Jane asleep, Leo is designing his coat of arms when a robber breaks into Jane's house. Leo knows exactly what to do, but his decision reveals his true self. What will Jane think?
Christian Robinson told the audience, "I start small...before I make all the art in the book I have to do storyboards which are like little teeny tiny doodles, little teeny tiny sketches."
What is Christian Robinson's favorite tool for storyboarding? Post-its!
He said, "Starting small helps me think about what to put on the page. Where do I want the characters to go? Not get overwhelmed by the colors and the backgrounds."
"I make lots and lots of mistakes...I keep trying until I get it just right." The post-its in his photo "didn't work out" and found their way to the trash can!
Mac Barnett, the author of Leo: A Ghost Story, joined Christian on stage. Together they removed the dust cover from the book to reveal an illustration of Leo's coat of arms. They explained that a coat of arms displays the knight's favorite things. On Leo's coat of arms are mint tea, honey, toast, and a rocking horse.
Here is a close-up of Leo's coat of arms.
Mac and Christian invited a young girl on stage and Christian drew a coat of arms of her favorite things. It was pretty awesome! Christian drew the girl's favorite food, the favorite thing she did over the summer, and her favorite animal.
Christian Robinson and Mac Barnett are August birthday buddies! Mac's is August 23!
During the presentation Mac Barnett said, "We want everyone here to make their own coat of arms." So, I thought it would be fun for my children to make one in the style of Christian's sword and shield in the photo above.
I purchased four pieces of foam board from the dollar store. My children picked out their favorite color of paint. 
They asked, "Why are we painting the whole thing?"  I said, "I don't know. I THINK it will make the next step easier?.?"
I made a paper template for our coat of arms. After the paint dried, I used an x-acto knife to cut out the shape.
My son was working faster than everyone else. So, he started working on his sword. 
Busy, busy, busy.
In this photo, my youngest son started to draw his sword.
After the coat of arms and swords were cut out they painted the edges with white paint.
Then, they added their favorite things. My son's favorite animal is a cat.
My daughter was so excited I let her use the x-acto knife.
My son got inspiration from Leo's coat of arms.
They loved this painting activity.
My daughter's favorite thing of the summer was playing with her friends.
After they finished painting they said, "Now we need mint tea and honey toast for a snack." I made some for them and we listened to Emily Arrow's Leo song as we ate.
We let our art dry over night and then we added a handle to our coat of arms to make it into a shield.
She looked more like a princess than a knight.
It looks like Mr. V and his A-Team have a new favorite book.
Are you a teacher or homeschooler? Read LEO: A GHOST STORY and download this worksheet for the first day of school! One of your students will appreciate this in the years to come.
Click here to download!

Christian, thank you for sharing your birthday with us!! We hope you have a wonderful birthday! AND THANK YOU, again for signing our book!

Check out Christian's latest books, THE DEAD BIRD by Margaret Wise Brown and SCHOOL'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL by Adam Rex.

1. Christian Robinson's Website
2. Christian Robinson's Blog
3. Follow Christian Robinson on Instagram
4. Interviews - Read Brightly, Seven Impossible Things, Fish Ink Blog, Art of the Picture Book, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, NPR, The Brown Bookshelf
5. 5 Questions with Christian Robinson - The Horn Book
6. Audio Interview - Let's Get Busy Podcast
7. Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson Interview at the National Book Festival - Book View Now (YouTube)
8. JOSEPHINE book trailer - Chronicle Books on YouTube
9. LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET book trailer - Scholastic on YouTube
10. LEO: A GHOST STORY song by Emily Arrow - YouTube
11. LEO: A GHOST STORY book trailer - Chronicle Books on YouTube

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