Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Happy Birthday, Brendan Wenzel - March 29

Happy Birthday, Brendan Wenzel - March 29

I loved sorting baseball cards when I was little. I would sort in numerical order, not by team or player. The card number was on the back along with the statistics and player information. I always checked the player's birthday to see if it was the same as mine. Cy Young, a player who played in the early 1900s, and I have the same birthday. I never had one of his cards but I was pretty excited when I learned that I had the same birthday as the guy who was named after the award given to the best pitcher of the year.

At some point I must have looked up all the birthdays of the U.S. presidents because as I was writing this post I recalled that I have the same birthday as the 10th president, John Tyler. I know nothing else about John Tyler, but I know his birthday is March 29th.

Maybe my fascination with birthdays started when I was in first grade when I met my best friend. His birthday is March 24th, not the same as mine, but I thought it was close enough to count. I knew right away that we would be best friends since our birthdays were so close. We still call each other every year on our birthdays.

Imagine my excitement when I flipped to March in the 2017 Perma-Bound author birthday calendar and found that I share a birthday with a recent Caldecott Honor Award recipient. I wanted to email him right away to verify but I chickened out. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to ask him in person at the Mazza Museum Fall Conference 2017. And he said, "YES!"

Brendan Wenzel and I have the same birthday!

Brendan Wenzel is the author and illustrator of the 2017 Caldecott Honor Award winning book, They All Saw a Cat. He has illustrated many other books including Some Pets, written by Angela DiTerlizzi, Beastly Babies written by Ellen Jackson, and One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom. As a child, Brendan was "obsessed" with learning and reading about animals and started drawing and creating art at a very early age. His parents were artists and "were always painting." (Mazza Museum Fall Conference Keynote 2017). His mother was an art educator and his father, David T. Wenzel, an illustrator, is well-known for his book The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic and many other children's books.

Brendan said, in an interview with Design of the Picture Book, "Seeing both of my parents work on their own projects and my dad create book after book made me realize early on how exciting and gratifying the art and bookmaking process could be."

Brendan studied illustration at Pratt Institute in New York and graduated in 2003. After graduation he worked in animation, storyboarding, and even as a puppet designer. However, after a few years Brendan felt his life needed more adventure. He joked with the audience at the Mazza Museum, "I wasn't seeing any animals. We decided to travel the world to see beautiful places and animals!"

He and his wife, Magdalena, traveled to see many beautiful places and lived in Vietnam. He said, "Everywhere we went I drew." He shared his illustrations on his website and the drawings of extremely rare animals caught the attention of animal researchers and conservationists. (Click here to see an illustration he did of Cambodia.) Brendan realized that his "enthusiasm for animals and art could help" animals that have been identified as threatened and endangered.

Brendan got his big break into children's books in 2013 when Angela DiTerlizzi contacted him to collaborate on the children's book, Some Bugs. Brendan said, "I had wanted to get this call for 30 years!" After Some Bugs, Brendan illustrated a few other books including a companion book, Some Pets, and hoped some day he would be able to write a book of his own. 

He said, "Everything I wrote had traditional story arcs and they weren't good." Then, one day Brendan went to get a snack and found a mouse in the kitchen. He thought maybe he should get a cat. But, he worried about how the mouse would feel if he got a cat. He wrote down the sentence "The mice saw a cat and the cat was a frightening cat." This moment sparked the beginning of his award-winning book, They All Saw a Cat, which was acquired by Chronicle Books after an 8-Publisher Auction. It later received a Caldecott Honor in 2017.

Brendan just released his latest book, Hello, Hello on March 20, 2018! Here is the trailer:

My favorite thing about Brendan Wenzel's art is the eyes of animals he draws. They are so big and fun! When I was preparing for this family reading experience I had an idea, but I didn't know if it would work. I may have never tried it but my wife texted me from Michael's Crafts to ask if I needed anything. I responded, "White and black puffy paint." I figured since she bought the paint I should probably give it try. I am glad I did!

What would we do with these two little tubes of puffy/fabric paint?
We would paint eyes on pairs of old sunglasses.
My oldest son laughed as he struggled to make the black pupils of the eyes.
We were able to fix it with a toothpick and more puffy paint.
We thought the puffy paint would give the eyes a textured look just like the eyes in Brendan's books.
My oldest daughter used a pair of sunglasses that already had eyebrows!
I think the white pair of sunglasses made the best set of eyes.

We set the "eye" glasses on cups to dry.
Then, we read a stack of Brendan's books before bed and decided not to touch the glasses until the next day.
When we were Wenzel-fied!
Brendan, it was so great to meet you at the Mazza Museum last fall! I am happy to share a birthday with you! Thank you for making such awesome books!

1. Brendan Wenzel's Website
2. Interviews - Let's Talk Picture Books, Design of the Picture Book, The Children's Book Review, Twenty by Jenny, Ninu Nina, Tiny Readers, Mile High Reading, Mr. Schu Reads, Children's Book Ireland
3. Brendan Wenzel at the National Book Festival 2016 - YouTube
4. Follow Brendan Wenzel - Twitter
5. They All Saw a Cat Trailer - YouTube
6. Brendan Wenzel talks about Stinky Cheese Man - YouTube
7. They All Saw a Cat song by Emily Arrow - YouTube

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