Today it’s illustrator Cátia Chien‘s picture book life here on This Picture Book Life!
When I think of Cátia Chien’s art, I think of textures: fuzzy, confetti-ed, rich, circled, splattered, splashed.
When I think of her art, I also think of these words: dreamy, vivid, beautiful.
Each page of a picture book Cátia Chien has illustrated is a discovery, each one varied in vibrant color and shape and experimentation and emotion. Stick around to see!
The above PBS video featuring Cátia Chien is extraordinary. I remember the impact it had on me a couple of years ago when it first came out. In it, she is honest about her childhood, her life, her experience as an immigrant and feeling like an outsider. She is honest about her process of being an artist and how making art is an act of empathy for her, and for the children she teaches.
“The feeling of actually belonging, it’s self-created. Arriving at the process of creating something from the inside out, it’s really just a validation of existing. It matters that we add to the conversation so that it’s not just one voice that’s being told in picture books.”
Now for her picture books, starting with the newest one, forthcoming The Bear and the Moon (out September 29th from Chronicle Books and our giveaway book) as well as some special process photos of The Bear and the Moon Cátia Chien provided for us!
This is a story of surprise. Of companionship. Of loss. And the art is fuzzy, rich, dreamy and beautiful.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
Balloons are magic for children, and red ones have a literary and film history. And it turns out they’re magic for bears, too. This bear who is alone but curious and up for an adventure.
The red balloon the bear finds becomes not only a novel and wonderful mystery, but a friend. The bear shows the balloon all its haunts and habits, the way you’d tour a friend around too. The balloon is not only real, but feels animate. It’s a thing, yes, but a “wonderful thing! A squishable, huggable thing!”
Just look at those shapes and blended, muted pastel colors!
And here, the technicolor blue, the pops of white stars and constellations, the dreaminess of this evening scene as the bear and balloon sit together.
We all know what happens to balloons though. They don’t last forever. Nothing does, really.
The bear makes a mistake. Mistakes, like things not lasting, are something else universal. We all know what that’s like. The regret that follows. The blame. The despair and the wish that it wouldn’t have happened. That we hadn’t done it. That is the hard part.
I won’t give away the details of the ending of this beautiful, tender, reassuring book, but I will tell you that it’s hopeful. Because like anyone who’s made a mistake or experienced loss, the bear finds encouragement. The bear looks to nature. The bear accepts themself.
And like a red balloon and a full moon, the bear’s memories go around and around and around in an enveloping circle of comfort.
All the colors come together here, an emanating rainbow of everything will be okay.
A lonely turtle has a dream and then builds it, builds a whole town, and by doing so builds a whole community. The text of this book couldn’t be more perfectly paired with Cátia Chien’s absolutely fanciful pencil, acrylic, and paper collage illustrations. The turtle’s shell and then town feel like a planet and there are galaxy elements throughout—stars and dark black space and elemental shapes. The book is a dream that mirror’s turtle’s told-of dream.
It’s been seven years of This Picture Book Life! A blog anniversary around here always means one thing: a picture book giveaway. I hope the winner will be able to read these with young people in their life whether students or children and also, potentially, pass a few along to someone else to share them around.
One winner will receive seven picture books + two for the older set. Titles and entry form below! (N. America only.)
Freedom, We Sing by Amyra Leon and Molly Mendoza (2020), a gorgeous, meaningful poem exploring how we all dream of and deserve to breathe free in a conversation between a parent and child. Big thanks to Flying Eye Books for a copy of this picture book!
Our Favorite Day of the Year written by A.E. Ali, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell (2020) honors the beautiful quilt of traditions celebrated by children in one classroom. Big thanks to Salaam Reads for a copy of this picture book!
Storyboat words by Kyo Maclear, pictures by Rashin Kheiriyeh (2020) is the story of refugees and how stories offer hope. Big thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this picture book!
Don’t Worry Little Crab by Chris Haughton (2020) shows us how Little Crab (and little readers) has the capacity to be braver and stronger than they might think. (Find a crab and coloring page craft from Mayel Creates in this blog post.) Big thanks to Candlewick for a copy of this picture book!
The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey (2020), a gentle book, full of love, about a girl with dreams and determination illustrated with timeless, textured stamps. (Find a stamp craft to go with The Old Truck in this post!)
Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders, illustrated by Carol Rossetti (2019) is a wonderfully affirming book about embracing and appreciating your body, and honoring others’ too. Big thanks to Quarto Kids for a copy of this picture book!
Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Loveis Wise (2020) is a compilation of 49 powerful poems and vivid illustrations that empower and speak to Black women and girls while honoring the ones who have been killed by racist police violence and lifting up the activists fighting that violence.
This picture book (created by a pair of brothers!) is sophisticated yet simple, celebratory, and circular in that its beginning connects to its whole and its close. It welcomes you in and gently ushers you along.
It’s the story of an old truck, but it’s also the story of a family, a girl who goes on to revive the truck, and a farm. Realistic with an imaginative interlude in the middle, it speaks to the beauty of days lived, of seasons passing, of moments and dreams and determination unfolding over time. It speaks, in a particular way, of love.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
The characters in this book are the old, red truck, of course, the farm, and the family—especially the little girl coming out of the barn in the spread above. The art, to me, is also a character. The geometric yet sweet, textured stamps give a wonderful quality to the pages—warm, homey, timeless, welcoming. The stamp illustration technique also brings to mind and mimics the hard work and process we see in the story on the farm and on the restored truck and the labor done by the truck itself. (See more of Jarrett and Jerome’s stamp-making behind the scenes here.)
The girl and the truck are parallels. They are the heart of this story.
“Part of the inspiration came from looking at books we consider timeless, books that we read when we were kids and that we still have. Even though they didn’t necessarily use stamps, the work of those mid-century illustrators had texture. It was trial and error — we tried different things, but in the end, stamps had that similar look.”
“We didn’t grow up in the inner city. We lived on places like farms and in the suburbs. Telling those stories is absolutely essential, because it adds some dimension to the lives that black kids live. Black kids are not just in cities. They live everywhere. I’m glad we could contribute to that.”
And in the end it’s spring. The flowers are blooming. The truck is running again thanks to the girl who’s grown up to be a farmer. And another little girl sits on the gate of the old truck ready to help, ready to love and be loved, ready to live seasons and days and moments, to let them unfold, to dream with determination. And we as readers have a sense that this story is not over. This story goes on and on.
When I saw the stamp artwork in The Old Truck, I knew I had to try my own kid-friendly version to honor this beautiful book! I hope this proves to be a fun activity for young readers to live with this story more deeply, to explore the artistic process of creating it, and to play with shapes and paint.
What you’ll need:
Sponges! The kind that are compressed and “pop up” when you put them in water
Paint (I used Crayola tempera paint)
Paper—some for tracing, some for stamping!
Paper towels or rags for wiping up
The first step is to cut out your shapes. I started by drawing shapes from the book onto printer paper—the truck body, its wheels, the sun, clouds, stems, and flowers. Then I transferred those shapes onto sponges with pencil (while the sponges are still compressed—flat and stiff). You can do this freehand or by tracing around the paper or both. Then, cut out the sponge shapes! You’re almost ready to paint with stamps.
Once your sponge shapes are ready, it’s time to make them pop up! Run each sponge under water and feel it expand, which is super cool! Wring out the water (they do not need to be all the way dry) and you’ve got your stamps.
I poured my paint colors onto aluminum foil (you might have another method that works). To lighten the blue, I added some white. To make pink, I combined red and white. I also lightened up the yellow a tad for the flowers. Then, place your stamp in the paint and do some tests on scrap paper to see what thickness you want and how the process works. When you’re ready, stamp your craft paper and make a scene from The Old Truck! Stamp, stamp, stamp some more!
That’s it! This is definitely a fun one, with lots of room for play, process, and creativity. Enjoy!
An exploration of the many reasons we cry with acceptance and understanding of them all.
Why now? All the feelings and ups and downs.
I Am Brown by Ashok Banker, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (2020).
A celebration of brown-skinned kids—the wide scope of their play and food and languages and aspirations and pastimes and possibilities. This picture book brims with vibrance and joy.
Why now? We always need to celebrate kids, their experiences, their moments, their futures, and to show kids themselves in books.
The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho, illustrated by Jess X. Snow (out August 2020).
This gorgeous book centers Haenyeo or women divers in South Korea who can hold their breath for up to two minutes, a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The purple and orange sunset illustrations are breathtaking and the experience of Dayeon going diving with her grandmother captures the fear and relatable false starts of trying anything new.
Why now? Kids and all of us are facing new things, diving new depths.
This picture book explores the big bang by an astrophysics student—what we know, what we don’t know, and the possibility of what we might know someday—with epic illustrations of how our galaxy and planet came to be.
Why now? Absorbing the massiveness of the universe might help with taking the long view of time and circumstance.
The title of this picture book is four words we could all use right now.
Not only is it a masterful story illustrated with striking, vivid art, it’s also an exploration of fear and of what it’s like to take little steps through fear. Little Crab shows us that everyone has the capacity to be stronger and braver than they think they are, to take on new challenges, and to experience gratification and growth around navigating waves and charting new waters.
Little Crab’s story is full of hope, and it could also be a way into talking to kids about fears they may have right now as well as the stuff that’s potentially still there in every moment even as there is so much anxiety and unknown and tragedy—little bits of beauty, the natural world, and their own ability to weather the waves.
When Little Crab and Very Big Crab first set out from their tide pool, headed to the ocean, Little Crab is full of confidence. “I can go anywhere!”
But then the first wave comes. “WHOOSH!” Turns out, the sea is very big, a lot bigger than Very Big Crab. And pretty scary, too. Little Crab doesn’t like it.
But Very Big Crab encourages Little Crab. They hold tight. They stick together. They let the wave whoosh and swoop and hurtle over them. They are okay. Little Crab is okay. But still, Little Crab wants to go home. Wouldn’t you? Especially when each new wave is bigger than the last.
There are more waves. There is more holding tight. There is more whoosh and swoop and hurtling. But Very Big Crab tells Little Crab that they’re together. That it will be OK.
And then, they dive under the very biggest wave. The feeling captured is so familiar to anyone who’s had the good fortune of being at the ocean, of diving into and under a wave, of the anticipation and apprehension of not knowing exactly what will happen next. Of hoping that in being swallowed up, you are still somehow safe.
And then, finally, there is the ocean—the down below sea! Little Crab, it turns out, does love the ocean and all the underwater creatures and a colorful game of hide and seek. Little Crab can go anywhere! In fact, Little Crab doesn’t want to stop adventuring in order to go home. Because there are wonderful things to be found at the end of some of the most challenging journeys. And even along the way.
Unlike Little Crab, we cannot go anywhere right now. Quite the opposite, in fact. We can stay home. Or we can go to an essential job with great care. We can go on a walk. Children, especially, cannot just go anywhere. They are more confined than ever. But all of us can always go places—anywhere, in fact—in our imaginations. In our minds. In our ability to, like Little Crab, have courage on the journey to the unknown.
I connected with Mayel through Instagram (of course!) and am a big admirer of her creations. Her gift with paper crafting makes her a perfect person to pair with Don’t Worry, Little Crab, and she was kind enough to make something amazing for us that you can share with the kids in your life. Behold, her wonderful Paper Crab Puppets and Coloring Craft to match!
Over to Mayel!
Hello, my name is Mayel. I’m an artist, designer, creator of fun things at mayelcreates.com. I’m so delighted Danielle asked me to do a craft specifically for Don’t Worry Little Crab; it’s a simple, colorful way to talk about feelings with our littles and how sometimes things are not as we thought. I hope you’ll enjoy the process of making this craft and have fun with the end result.
Let’s get started!
What you’ll need:
5 sheets of 8.5 x 11 colored paper in different colors. Suggestions would be fuchsia, violet, purple, yellow and orange.
Cut pieces of your colored paper to sizes below. Save the scraps for the Little Crab later; you’ll need the same colored paper.
Step 1. The Big Crab’s body.
Cut the corners of your 3 in. x 4 in. paper diagonally with the top corners being slightly bigger than the bottom like in picture A. The cut doesn’t have to be perfect—imperfections add character!
Step 2. The claws.
Take the 2 in. x 4 in. paper and fold in half horizontally (see picture B). Cut a triangle shape in the middle of the open end, away from the folded side, like in picture C. Cut about to halfway of the paper so the claw will look big enough. Tip: If you feel like the claws are too big for the body, you can shape to your desired size by trimming the sides. Lastly, cut the folded part of the paper to make 2 claws, see picture D. Put the pieces aside.
Step 3. The legs.
Take one of the .75 in. x 4 in. papers and fold each one into a “V” shape (see picture E). Do the same to the other piece. Set aside.
Step 4. Now for the eyes.Take the 2 in. X 2 in. square paper and fold in half. Draw a long upside down “U” shape like in photo F. Keep the paper folded and cut the “U” shape out (see picture G). You should now have 2 pieces of “U” shaped paper.
Step 5. Base of the eyes.
Take the .5 in. X 2 in. paper and lay on top of one of the “U” shape papers. Cut to the size of the bottom of the “U” (see picture H). This will be the base of the eyes. Do the same to the other “U” shape.
Step 6. Put it all together.
Lay all your pieces out and make your composition like picture I. Glue the pieces together to make it look like picture J. Tip: Only put a little bit of glue on the edges of the eyes and legs, then glue them onto the back of the body. For the claws, put glue on the edge away from the triangle then attach onto the front of the body.
Step 7. Dot in the eyes.
Now it’s time to draw in the eyes; see picture J. Think of where you’d like the crab to look—are they looking up or looking down? Place the dots where you’d like the big crab to look.
Step 8. Turn it into a puppet.
Grab the popsicle stick and glue onto the back of your big crab. Viola! You have your own crab puppet.
Step 9. The Little Crab.
Now, let’s do the same steps again to create the smaller crab. All you have to do is cut the leftover colored paper, only smaller sizes this time. You can make the pieces about 1 inch smaller than the big crab or even smaller if you’d like. When you get to Step 7, try drawing the eyes at a different spot than your big crab so they can look at each other or at different places.
Hope you enjoyed this craft activity. I hope that you and a loved one can do it together and use it to talk about feelings during these unprecedented times. Even though some new things could be scary at first, if you keep giving it a try, you might find new and exciting ways to have an adventure.
Mayel Wei is an all around creative person. Once upon a time, she was an Advertising Art Director and Graphic Designer creating campaigns for Hollywood shows, but traded that glamorous life for a quiet one in the burbs: kids, picket fence and all. She creates whatever comes to mind with her minimalistic style and drawings. See more from Mayel on Instagram: mayelcreates, www.mayelcreates.com and on Minted.com.
Huge thanks to Mayel for creating this vibrant, playful, comforting craft!!