I’m taking a minute to let readers of This Picture Book Life know that I have a new endeavor, a companion to this blog and all the stuff I’m putting out into the world. Introducing: This Writer’s Life.
I’d like to tell you about it, and then I’ll go back to regular programming here with a picture book craft post tomorrow!
I’m super excited about this project because it combines two things I’m passionate about: writing and teaching writing to kids!
This Writer’s Life is an educational video series for 8 to 12-year-olds and their classrooms—a resource library if you will—that peeks into the writing process. That means tools, writing activities, guidance, and encouragement for young writers to help develop their unique voices and imaginations.
My goal is to show kids what writing looks like, from the inside, with honesty and tips and cheering-on in order to inspire them in their own writer’s lives. And my dream is for educators to find it of use in their classrooms. I’ve got eleven episodes up so far and lots more planned. They cover “show don’t tell,” first lines, what I learned about writing from watching Project Runway, how to get ideas, revising with punchy verbs, crafting a character, and lots more. Many of them have free, printable corresponding PDFs in the show notes as well!
And my favorite part is that each episode features someone I know and admire with advice from their own creative life! I want kid viewers to see a diverse scope of creatives from a wide variety of fields represented to inspire them.
Since you follow this blog, you might want to start with Episode 8: “Picture Book Inspiration.” I talk up loads of picture books that are either about creativity in some way or else about a famous artist or writer. They’re a big help to me as a writer when I’m looking for motivation to keep dreaming and making stuff and I hope they will be to kids—or anyone of any age!
Would you like the best way to stay up to date with This Writer’s Life?
By subscribing to my author newsletter, you’ll get each new episode delivered to your inbox as well as a free, printable PDF if there is one that goes with that topic.
You can also subscribe to the YouTube Channel or like This Writer’s Life facebook page as I’ll post each video there as well if you prefer it. Subscriptions to the channel and video likes really help me out to show I’ve got an audience tuning in.
Thanks for reading! Please follow along and reach out if you’d like to collaborate in some way.
Picture books touch on so many topics, including elements surrounding food—feasting it, traditional kinds of it, and the connections shared over it. Here’s a roundup of 18 food-centric picture books to savor! Bonus, some of these include recipes in the back matter too!
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (December 10, 2019).
Ti Gran teaches Belle to make Freedom Soup for the new year in a book that celebrates the history of the Haitian Revolution, family, and the joy and connectivity of traditions. Includes a recipe at the back and the most wonderful, gestural illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara.
An inventive, gorgeously illustrated mother-daughter moon myth inspired by Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncake midnight snacks!
Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, pictures by Julie Morstad (2013).
A fictional imagining inspired by Julia Child on keeping the joie de vivre of childhood in cooking and eating no matter how old you are. And the one and only Coco Cake Land made chocolate almond cupcakes from this picture book in our collaborative blog post a few years ago too!
Omu’s stew smells so good, it attracts all kinds of visitors from her neighborhood, who she shares it with. When she has none left, those same people show up to return the favor. You can check out my post and craft to go with this lovely picture book here.
Rashin visits the beach in Brooklyn and compares and contrasts it to the beach she used to visit in Iran, the home she misses. Luckily, she meets a new friend and a new ice cream flavor in her new home, both ways to sweeten it.
This picture book has two key ingredients that make it a fit for a food list: manners and donuts! Plus, you can check out the donut recipe my dear friend at Thirsty for Tea made to pair with Mr. Panda’s story a couple of years ago.
Your turn! Any favorite food-centric picture books to share?
This picture book has math on its mind. And so does its main character who tells the story.
Though it takes her a minute to figure out that just like her family and classmates, she has a passion too! It’s not science or painting or playing the tuba. It’s math! And not only numbers, but all kinds of shapes, patterns, and concepts, which appear throughout the nuanced neutral watercolor illustrations.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
This story inspires in two ways. One, it tells us that everyone has a passion, it’s just a matter of finding the one unique to you. And two, that math is in so many more places than your textbook. It’s all around us. It’ll be hard for a reader to look at the world in the same way after a tour from this math-loving child. It just might turn math into the magic of the everyday.
“Math is all around us. It’s often hidden, and I love finding it.”
Each spread is a veritable seek and find of math-related elements, even before it becomes the focus of the narrative. On the first page, the main character plays checkers (math!). Outside the window, bare tree branches adorn the landscape in delicate designs (math!).
And so it continues, with little bits to notice on this math expedition through the natural and human-made world, the pale, sandy and gray palette making shapes rather than color shine. You’ll also find a math glossary at the back titled “My math,” in honor of the notebook the character carries with her on certain spreads.
Count on Me is an inventive book that pays tribute a subject no one is ambivalent about and that shapes our surroundings in myriad ways. To math!
I knew there was a super cool math activity to go with this book, and I knew just the person to dream it up and show us how to do it. Cue Margaret, inspirational librarian and amazing crafter at Homemade City.
She’s sharing math quest cards with us today, perfect for that quote about math being hidden around us and the main character searching for it. This art project and math-in-nature search promises delight and discovery to anyone who makes and partakes of this project. Happy scavenger-hunting!
And, in exciting news, I must also mention that Margaret is the author of a picture book coming out from Charlesbridge in 2021, illustrated by Adam Gustavson: Flip: How the Frisbee Took Flight. Cannot wait!
Over to Margaret!
The curly-haired heroine of Count on Me by Miguel Tanco has a special love for math. While her dad has a passion for painting, her mom science, and her brother music (he plays a tuba twice his size), the smallest member of the family sees shapes and patterns everywhere. She skips stones to see concentric circles form and tracks the trajectory of a paper airplane. She finds math everywhere.
Tanco’s sweet story is followed by a book-within-a-book: the heroine’s math notebook that illustrates math concepts like fractals, polygons, curves, solid figures, trajectories and sets (in terms clear enough that even I can understand).
Inspired by the small heroine’s passion for math, I painted a deck of cards with basic concepts from the book to spark my own scavenger math hunt. If we take the time to notice, what patterns, polygons, circles, and curves can we discover in the world around us?
What you’ll need:
Art cards or index cards (I picked up these little Legion Paper samplers at my local craft store)
Pen, marker, and/or paint
I copied the math concepts illustrated in Count on Meand in an attempt to emulate Tanco’s delightful, watery illustrations, I used watercolor paint to tint them. However, young artists can skip the paint and get the job done easily enough with markers and crayons.
I drew and labeled the cards with a range of basic polygons, solid forms like cones and cylinders, patterns of concentric circles and curves, and other concepts to create a deck of 25 cards. Then my son and I went hunting through the house and around our neighborhood. This is some of what we found:
We discovered so many surprises: dandelion fluff fractals, milk carton polygons, the curved trajectory of a Frisbee in flight. What will you find?
Thank you, Margaret, for this creative math scavenger hunt activity!
Margaret Muirhead is the author of Mabel One and Only (Dial Books for Young Readers) as well as Flip: How the Frisbee Took Flight, a nonfiction picture book slated for Fall 2021 with Charlesbridge Publishing. By day, you can find her wearing cat glasses and cardigans as a children’s librarian. In her free time, she makes wacky, colorful crafts at homemade city.
You might also like Margaret’s amazing pop-up paper craft for Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério. Check it out!
Señorita Mariposa does several things all at once. It pays tribute to one monarch butterfly, and the many like it who travel together, pollinating flowers along the way.
It shows the beauty of these magnificent marigold insects dancing through the sky by way of Marcus Almada Rivero‘s lush, crisp, and joyful illustrations.
It captures how those of us in the city or desert (my favorite spread!) or forest get to see this epic event if we look up to the sky in wonder.
And finally, it encourages love and care for the world around us, for these creatures who are part of a vast ecosystem that connects us all. The above spread in particular shows people doing just that through a community garden.
I love the way the text shows the lyrics in both English and Spanish and alternates in terms of which one is sort of singing lead (while always including translated text) on each spread.
A lively book that takes monarchs as its muse to inspire song and sweetness and science!
Big thanks to Penguin for the review copy and images!
Not only that, but this book has also inspired a butterfly clothespin craft!
Kait Walsh is the visionary behind the Zinnia and the Bees pom-poms I’ve made with kids in libraries and bookstores for the last two years AND she devised a yarn bomb for us to do with young artists the week my book launched, so I’m already a big admirer and super grateful to her.
She’s a former teacher and illustrator who makes books for kids—you can check out her latest one, Don’t Cry Duck. She tells stories and facilitates crafts and does art-inspired community projects all over Los Angeles and I’m happy to have her on This Picture Book Life.
Over to Kait!
“Little butterfly you caught my eye”
This craft was inspired by the beauty of one butterfly and the incredible journey they make when millions of them come together.
Making this with your family? Create butterflies in honor of your relatives and discuss how the butterflies migrate north over three or four generations.
Making this with your class? Use it as a lesson about working together. Have each student make a butterfly, attach the clothespins to yarn or a string, and hang it somewhere in your classroom as a bright and beautiful reminder of connectedness.
Allow your child or students to play and discover new and unique shapes as they paint the wings. But the real fun happens when you clip all the butterflies together in a group, reminiscent of the beautiful illustrations by Marcus Almada Rivero of the Sierra Mountain butterfly hibernation in the oyamel fir trees.
The sky’s the limit! xx
Thank you so much, Kait, for making this little butterfly come to life!
For almost a decade, Kait Walsh taught five and six year-olds in a classroom. Now she spends her days creating art and stories for kids and kids at heart. Her art is a love letter. A letter that has been sketched, painted, cut, carved, stamped, sewn, glued…everything but the kitchen sink! But like all the things she has ever worked on, the real magic happens in the spaces where it interacts with you! Follow Kait on Instagram for more art, more stories and more community.
Out in just a couple of weeks, I’m so pleased to share the book trailer for Alma and the Beast by Esmé Shapiro with you today! It’s magical and mysterious, just like the book!
My favorite thing about this picture book is the way it plays with expectations and perception and reversals, namely who is Alma and who is the beast. It might not be who you first assume! In fact, like the cover, this book turns what we expect from a fairy tale on its head. Plus, a shaggy forest containing a “plumpooshkie” butterfly—I mean, this world is as inventive and charming as a world can be.
If you’ve read Ooko, her first author-illustrator offering, you’ll know that Esmé Shapiro likes to experiment with perception, the unexpected, playfulness, hand-drawn type, and quirky yet gorgeous artwork where you can see the strokes and seep of watercolors and paint, all with a fantastical quality. (She also illustrated Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear, whose picture book life I’ve featured.)
And now…the trailer! Made by Esmé Shapiro, followed by an interview with the author-illustrator and some behind the scenes photos.
This Picture Book Life: How did you conceive of ALMA AND THE BEAST?
Esmé Shapiro: I always have believed that ideas land on our heads like little clouds. They have a mind of their own and we never know when they are going to choose us. The idea for Alma and the Beast landed on my head about six years ago in the form of an image. The image was of a little girl being surprised by a hairy being in her garden. It was a striking idea, and I wanted to unfold the story around it.
TPBL: What were you thinking about when you got the idea and began the process of creating it?
ES: Once the image came to me, I wanted to understand it more. The big thing I wanted to explore was, what did hair mean to me? This little hairy girl in the garden – who was she? I have always been fascinated with the symbology of hair. To me, it represents the side of ourselves that is more connected with nature and to our instincts. InAlma and the BeastI used hair as a symbolic device for our inner wildness, our untamed and true selves.
Originally, the story was told from the point of view of the little girl, who was frightened to see a bluish grey hairy girl in her garden. Eventually I started to question why I was telling it from the perspective of the little girl. I suppose I related to her right off the bat because she looked more like me. I felt it was important to challenge that impulse, because the little hairy being would be just as frightened to see the little girl. That’s when I decided to flip the story on its head and tell the tale from the perspective of the hairy girl. That’s when the fun started.What wouldherworld look like? And how would that change in perspective challenge our ideas about what we expect from a picture book and from other people?
TPBL: What did you want to achieve or get across to readers especially in terms of reversals and perception?
ES: Kids and adults alike are often wary of people they don’t understand, when really if we just took the time to get to know them, we would find we are much more alike than different. We all just need to feel safe and most importantly, be loved for who we are. In Alma and the Beast, I wanted to show that empathy is a powerful tool that can bring us closer together in understanding each other. I think the reversal in point of views from the beginning helps hit this message home. It was important to me to show that, at first, Alma was imperfect in how she reacted to this strange human creature in her backyard. She even refers to her as “a beast.” But a conversation with the “beast” leads Alma to understand that this creature is really just frightened and far away from home. Alma’s empathic moment brings these two girls together, and eventually leads her on an adventure into friendship and understanding.
TPBL: Where did you find inspiration for Alma’s “hairy world”?
ES: I drew a lot inspiration from nature, especially willow trees, who seem to always have the best hair styles. That’s why I wanted a willow tree to be the portal between the two worlds, because they seem like they could belong in either realm. I started to see grass as the earth’s hair, and I thought about fuzzy moss and the thin lines on bark, too. And, of course underwater plants, like lanky kelp and stringy seaweed. I imagined that in the hairy world, the plants and trees are always a little wiggly. I tried to channel Mary Blair, and the strength of her landscape design for early Disney animations. I wanted Alma’s world to seem like it could possibly exist if we just looked long enough through the forest – perhaps in a bog behind a log.
TPBL: Please tell us about the process of making the trailer, which is wonderful!
ES: Thank you so much for your kind words! I knew from the beginning that I wanted to send Alma and the Beast into the world with an animated book trailer. The world just begs to be explored through sound and movement. But there was only one small problem: I don’t know how to animate.
So I tried to teach myself – but, boy, was that difficult! My instinct was to imagine the story as if it were a play. So I made a stage out of paper cutouts and created little paper dolls of Alma and the Beast. Then I took photos of it at a photo studio in the back of my friend’s shop. I spent a few days slowly moving the paper dolls across the stage. It took a long time and many bowls of soup to get through it.Then I brought the footage home and thought it looked wonderful, but it was really missing the hair moving through the wind. I taught myself how to draw on top of the photos to create a sense of movement.
Once I was finished animating some hair flowing in the wind and tiny squishy bugs, I had my incredibly talented friend Allyson make the soundtrack. Allyson has been very supportive of this hairy tale from the beginning and feels very close to it. So when I asked her to make the music for the trailer, I barely had to give her any direction. She used sounds from a really old-fashioned sampling keyboard called a mellotron. The recorded sounds are from people playing instruments in the 1950s. It gives the sound a really interesting texture. The result is a song that is equal parts whimsy and bizarre. In my mind, it carries you away to another realm: Alma’s hairy world.
Thanks so much, Esmé, for the trailer, the behind the scenes photos, and sharing your process with us! And big thanks to Tundra for images and review copies as well.
We’re giving away a pair of books in honor of Alma and the Beast‘s release! Hop on over to my Instagram account (@writesinLA) to enter a giveaway for both of Esmé Shapiro’s author-illustrated books, Ooko and Alma! Come see!