What I like best about this picture book is the original and inventive format that uses “or” for two different options at every plot turn. Let me show you what I mean (see that “or” in the corner?):
The whole story uses this format of one thing could happen OR another thing could. That’s what moves the story along. It’s a great technique for suspense and humor with a bit of a guessing element. And I could see it being used to teach storytelling to kid writers to.
At its heart, this is a kind of adventure story for Squirrel that ultimately brings Squirrel back to the character who set off the whole adventure: Squirrel’s friend Moose.
I asked Cathy Ballou Mealey, the author, about “or” situations in her own writing journey and about her debut picture book.
This Picture Book Life: Did you have a significant this “OR” that moment in your own writing journey, a fork in the road that determined your path?
Cathy Ballou Mealey: Absolutely! Joining a critique group in the metro Boston area was the fork in the road that made all the difference in my writing journey. Green as a leaf in springtime, I had already enrolled in SCBWI and written at least a dozen “not ready for prime time” picture book manuscripts. I was eager for feedback on my work, but I learned the most from actively observing the working rhythms of this cohesive, supportive and experienced group.
So if you could: Read, research, write and revise alone,
Collaborate with talented, thoughtful and engaged writers and illustrators who love books.
I highly recommend that you choose the *OR*!
TPBL: How did you come up with the idea for this story, and specifically the super inventive format?
Cathy: While our family was enjoying a woodsy hike, an unusual Crash! led us to speculate whether a tree had fallen or an animal was coming our way. We froze, listening for clues. Heart pounding, I tried to recall whether to hide, run, or confront whatever wild creature might appear. “It must have been a tree,” we reassured the kids after a long silence. As we hiked on I wondered, What if the falling tree had scared a bear, or frightened a deer? Thus the initial seeds of this story were planted in my brain.
TPBL: What was the process of developing the method of having “or” in the corner of each page as the text and illustrations were plotted out in picture book format?
Cathy: To emphasize the *OR* and ensure that it would lead directly to a funny or surprising page turn, I inserted plenty of white space into my manuscript around the word itself. In my early drafts, I brainstormed to generate as many potential *OR* consequences as possible. That led to a door-sized diagram of sticky notes, plotting events that could lead from one thing to the next with increasing intensity! Ryan Thomann was the talented art director at Sterling who developed the curled page corner effect, which I think adds so much to the *OR* page turn!
Big thanks to Cathy for talking with me and to Sterling for images!
I am Sonia Sotoymayor by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulous (2018) is part of the “Ordinary People Change the World” series that highlights incredible individuals in a comic book biography format for kid readers.
It covers her childhood in New York City, her Puerto Rican family, and the injustices she could already see around her. First, she wanted to be a detective like Nancy Drew, but felt like her diabetes would hinder her. Then she wanted to be a judge like Perry Mason. She was valedictorian of her high school class and attended Princeton, a place where she took refuge in books. In 2009, after a career as a prosecutor and a federal judge in New York, she was nominated by Barack Obama and sworn into the Supreme Court, becoming the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.
Because Sotomayor is such an inspiration, I thought I’d share with you some inspiring photos and quotes to celebrate her as a force for justice.
Sonia Sotomayor has also written a book for kids, in her own words: Turning Pages by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (2018). I’ll leave you with quotes from that one about books and reading, the through line of her life story.
Today, I’m happy to dive into Sean Quall‘s picture book life! I’ve been following his career and have been a big admirer of his artwork for a long time so this is a neat chance to showcase some of his projects for kid readers and viewers.
When I think of Qualls’s work, I think of smooth yet textured layers. I think of pastels and pencil lines. I think of muted pinks and purples and blues that still pop. I think of shapes—circles and winking stars—on abstract backgrounds. Vibrant. Impacting and engaging. Dreamy. Beautiful.
Sean Qualls has illustrated 20 books for children (and I might even be missing a couple)!
He’s a painter and you can see a sampling of that work here.
He sometimes collaborates with his partner, Selina Alko. (See all of herbooks.) I wonder if (and hope!) they’ll keep making art for picture books together. When they make work together, Alko brings more collage into the mix.
He’s illustrated projects by Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, and Young People’s Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle.
“After getting my kids off to school, I spend some time (usually in cafes) journaling/self reflecting. I also use that time to figure out what projects to spend my time on that day/week. Green tea is my drink of choice.”
I studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for about a year and a half and then dropped out. Later, I took a few continuing education classes at SVA (School of Visual Arts) but much of my training has been trial and error.
KidLitTV has a wonderful video featuring both Qualls and Alko. It’s a very special studio visit that shows the pair painting together while they speak about collaboration, expressing yourself, facing your fears, and more.
“Each time I sit down and make a piece of art…that fear comes up, that fear of not being liked or not knowing that people will accept me or the art or what I’m trying to say. But I think it’s important to keep on creating even though you may be afraid because in the end you’re only you, you’re yourself…that’s all we have is who we are and that’s all we can really share with the world…”
This picture book takes a bit of mind-bending, and that’s fine by me. There’s a boy who believes he’s a bear. There’s a bear who believes he’s a boy. And there’s a friendship of misunderstoods who understand each other.
This is one of those stories that affirms a child’s view of things and leaves adults of out it. I love books like that.
Archie is fed up with no one believing he’s a bear, so he goes to the forest. Where bears live. And he meets one. A bear who believes he is a boy!
The pair share honey sandwiches and teach one another. Archie teaches the bear the ways of being a bear. The bear teaches Archie the ways of being a boy.
And eventually, they go home and find that both bears and boys like sitting by the fire with a warm blanket. Every kind of creature likes that.
Mackintosh’s dynamic and varied illustrations zoom in and out and play with scale in wonderful ways. They combine stark contrasts and soft watercolors and pencil drawings. They sometimes leave things out. The artwork is both simple and complex, like the story.
This is an inventive and satisfying picture book about affirming one’s imagination and finding a kindred spirit.
Big thanks to Zanni Louise for images!
I’ve been waiting for cooler weather to post about this book, and since it’s Halloween-time, what better picture book craft than the costume-y kind! And we’re very lucky because Zanni Louise, the author herself, has stopped by to show us how to make a bear hat and be like Archie. Or like the bear. Well, how to look like a bear anyway.
Over to Zanni!
What you’ll need:
2 x brown sandwich bags
2 x small paper doily
1 x large paper doily
Thick black marker
Cut paper bags in half, lengthwise (top to bottom).
Take one piece of brown paper bag, and fold lengthwise. Roughly calculate the centre point of the strip, and on the fold make two dots approx 3cm / 1.25 inches apart. These are the inner corners of the eyeholes.
On the fold, use markings and cut two semi-circles for eyes. Unfold.
Stick three brown paper strips together, which make one long strip, with the eyeholes in the centre strip. Make a crown around the child’s head, which goes over their eyes, and stick ends together to fit crown securely. You may need to trim ends, depending on the head size. Aim for a big overlap though, as this will be more secure.
Using the larger doily, trim away the ‘lace’ so you are left with a round circle. You can also use white paper or board for this. Draw a black nose and mouth on the white circle, and fasten to your crown, between the eyes. The bottom half of the white circle will hang over the child’s nose and mouth.
Attach the smaller doilies above the eyeholes, on the inside of the crown. These are the ears.
Voila! Your child is now a bear.
Zanni Louise has written numerous books for kids, and is published in 19 countries worldwide. Zanni runs writing workshops for kids and adults, and provides one-on-one mentoring services. Archie and the Bear is Zanni’s first North American publication, and has just been announced as a White Ravens Book for 2018. Find out more about Zanni at www.zannilouise.com
Hannah is a children’s bookseller who once stopped by to give us 5 elements of a successful storytime, evidenced by 5 picture books. Now she’s back as part of my picture book gems a bookseller/librarian recommends series! And this is a treat because she’s chosen international picture book translations.
Over to Hannah!
I have always loved learning languages. As a kid, I studied Spanish in school, and as an international affairs major in college, I studied Arabic, Hindi, and Farsi. Each language has a particular nuance, reflecting unique cultures and histories–when translated, the best stories do not lose any of that uniqueness. I’m drawn to translated children’s books in particular because I believe they offer a window to the world to kids that an atlas or a nonfiction book cannot–reading a translated book gives a child a bridge across the globe, connecting the reader to a different way of thinking and imagining. The following are six of my current translated favorites from around the world.
Seven Pablos by Jorge Luján, translated from the Spanish by Mara Lethem, illustrated by Chiara Carrer.
“There are many Pablos in the world, yet they are all one. Inside each of them is a heart that beats to the same rhythm as the ocean’s waves and the rotations of the planet.”
I wish that line from Seven Pablos could be written everywhere and understood by those at the highest levels of power. This is a book that meditates on the universal human experiences of children around the world, touching on issues like migration, poverty, and bullying. It is a necessary book for the time we live in–one of those Pablos could very well be one of the 12,800 detained children at the United States border.
My Valley by Claude Ponti, translated from the French by Alyson Waters.
I’m a huge fan of weird, cozy, imagined worlds–the Moomin series is my absolute favorite–so this one appealed to me right off the bat. Its giant trim size is difficult to shelve, but it’s so necessary for spying all the minute details of the Twims’ world. These cute, squirrel-like beings live in trees with rooms that have specific purposes: a room to be born in, a room to read in, a room to swim in. With notes on their history, their mythology, and their daily lives, Ponti builds an immersive experience akin to reading a fantasy novel–making this book a delight to pore over and get lost within.
There have been many picture book explorations of the Syrian refugee experience, but this one is my absolute favorite. A true collaboration between author and artist, this bilingual story is a resonant, lyrical tale of one family’s life before and during the war and their hard journey out of Syria and into a hopeful future. Though Badr’s images are composed only from sea-smoothed stone, they are full of life and poignancy.
Never have I wanted to hug a book so much. This is a delicious and delightful ride of a book–one of those you want to step right inside and live within, featuring two adorable girls who ride their bikes through a magical world where friendly animals serve them jam sandwiches and clover blossom tea and other delicious treats. Though this book was published in 2016, its comforting, cheery atmosphere gives it the feel of a bygone classic.
Feather is a unique, beautiful take on the “Are You My Mother” story structure as a lost feather floats along, trying to find the bird it belongs to. Paired with Mello’s spare yet rich and dynamic illustrations, this hopeful story of searching for belonging soars above the rest. I highly recommend this one for fans of birds, folktales, and accessibly philosophical kids’ books.
Nature can awaken even the most stodgy of imaginations. In On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, Alemagna’s bespectacled, bored child (gender is never addressed, which I LOVE) finds theirs jump-started after they drop their video game in a pond and begin to notice the wonder of the woods around them. Alemagna’s prose and illustrations sing with delicious metaphor, and her magical, mystical forest is rich in texture and detail. I dare you to read this book and not want to immediately go traipsing through the woods, finding your own magic.
Hannah lives in Athens, GA, where she works as the manager of children’s books at Avid Bookshop. She often daydreams about living a calm and peaceful life in Moominvalley or traipsing the Maine coast with Miss Rumphius. A librarian at heart (and in training), Hannah loves the look on a kid’s face when they find a book they truly love.