Tag Archives: groundwood books

blue rider + pop-up paper craft by homemade city!

Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério (2018).

This book is a stunner—wordless and captivating. The colors! The cut paper! The journey from the uniformity of the everyday to the magic of story and art and imagination. All because of a book!






(click image(s) to enlarge)

The story is simple. A child finds a book with a blue horse on it on a city sidewalk. Back in her apartment building, we see her reading in her room, the rest of the windows around her opaque and beige. But she’s reading this bright blue book with a bright blue horse on the front.


And then, we glimpse the vibrant, exuberant horse inside! It’s mid-jump and kind of carries the girl away, and into the book. Out of everyday life. Pages continue like that—we are in the book with the child, the horse artwork getting more and more colorful and more and more abstract. Now, the child’s room (and world and imagination) are filled with art and color and shapes and possibility.

Geraldo Valério was inspired by the German Expressionist Group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) when making this book. It weaves in elements the group explored, like color and form having resonant meaning of their own. “The name ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ referred to Kandinsky and Marc’s belief that blue was the most spiritual color and that the rider symbolized the ability to move beyond.” (Quote found here.)

The child rider of the horse in the story certainly moves beyond—her surroundings, her modern, mundane world, her limits, by riding that horse out of the book and into her life. It moves her, it changes her, it shows her all kinds of possibility. Just the way reading and art can do.

This excerpt is taken from Blue Rider, text and illustrations copyright © 2018 by Geraldo Valério. Reproduced with permission from Groundwood Books, Toronto. www.groundwoodbooks.com 

Big thanks to Groundwood Books for images!




I’m delighted to have Margaret from the wonderful literary kids’ craft blog, homemade city, here to share a truly exuberant Blue Rider craft with us! I’m a huge admirer of Margaret’s aesthetic and creations—her crafts are a must see (and make!).

Over to Margaret!


When you open the cover of Blue Rider by GeraldoValério, you’re met with delicious saturated color in an array of forms and shapes. It’s a treasure just like the book that the child character discovers on a city sidewalk in this wordless story. As the child opens the book, a blue horse leaps across the sky streaking the city’s gray grid with a spray of color.

When Danielle suggested I make a craft for Blue Rider, I happily took up my scissors and glue stick. But how best to reproduce the surprise and pleasure that a reader, like the child in Blue Rider, can find just by opening a book? How about a pop-up? With collaged bits of jewel-hued paper. And a blue horse, of course.

What you’ll need:

Card stock or construction paper

Paint color sample cards


Glue stick

First, fold a piece of paper in half. I used an 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet of dark blue card stock. Set it aside.

On a different piece of paper, trace and cut out a circle on stiff paper. I traced a circle about 4″ in diameter using a tin coffee can. Cut a spiral into your paper circle. It’s OK to freehand, lopsided spirals are as beautiful as uniform ones. (Spirals are the simplest way to create a pop-up–and their shape adds whimsy and movement as you open the fold.) 

Dab glue to the center of your spiral. Place your circle (side with glue facedown) inside of your folded paper.

Apply glue to an inch or two of the exposed tail of your spiral. Press the folded paper closed so that the glued tail will adhere to the other half of the paper. When you open the card, the spiral will pop up like a spring!

Now for the fun—cut shapes or hole-punch dots or stars or flowers from your paint sample color cards. If you want to write a message, trace letters and cut them out—whatever pleases you!

Glue your shapes to the spiral, making sure nothing peeks out when you fold the paper closed.

I cut out a blue horse and fashioned a rainbow mane like the one that canters across the city sky in Blue Rider. Then I added abstract shapes to the dark blue background, inspired by Valerio’s pages of rich color and collage. It was so delightful, I quickly made another with abstract bits and tiny hole-punched blooms. No horse this time, just color, shape, and surprise.


Thank you, Margaret! This craft is bursting with joy!


Margaret 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 2019 with Charlesbridge Publishing. By day, you can find her wearing cat glasses and cardigans as the children’s librarian at Hardy Elementary School in Arlington, Mass. In her free time, she makes wacky, colorful crafts at homemade city.


You might also want to check out this NORMAL NORMAN paper craft Margaret from homemade city featured here a while back!





















tokyo digs a garden + interview with jon-erik lappano and kellen hatanaka

Groundwood Logos SpineTokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka.



This cover is everything for me. Wow and wow. That’s Tokyo. And that’s his cat Kevin (who likes ice cream). And that’s the garden that grows. Isn’t it wonderful?







(Click image(s) to enlarge.)

This is a story about cities and nature with a boy, a grandfather, and a cat at its center.

It echoes fairy tales with its magic. With the way the boy is mysteriously chosen by an old woman. And, of course, the three seeds she gives him. The way they contain a wish.

And I love how we are never told what Kevin’s wish is. But we know. Because he’s heard those stories from his grandfather about a time with salmon and streams, a time that’s now gone. That’s been eaten.




“Cities had to eat something, after all.”


“Gardens have to grow somewhere, after all.”

This pair of lines serves as bookends. Cities do have to eat! Gardens do have to grow! How can we make the two work together, the book asks? Can we get used to a new way of life in cities? What would happen if nature took over us the way we’ve taken over nature?



Nature taking over doesn’t, in the end, feel apocalyptic. It feels pretty cool. Like something we can work around and learn to like (rowing to work and sloths in the elevator, for example). And the story never feels like a treatise. It feels like a flight of fancy about how the world could be.

The illustrations? They’re delicious.


Big thanks to Groundwood Books for images!



I was lucky enough to have both author and illustrator answer some interview questions!

First up, author Jon-Erik Lappano!

This Picture Book Life: Please tell us about naming your main character Tokyo and how that relates to what you envisioned for the setting of the book. What significance does Tokyo have to you? 

Jon-Erik Lappano: There’s definitely a backstory with Tokyo. I first came up with the idea for the story while working as a landscaper in the centre of Toronto, Canada, transforming tiny backyards and rooftops into mini-ecosystems. The gardens we designed in the early years were heavily influenced by Japanese aesthetic, as the owner of the company had spent time apprenticing in Tokyo. One of the first projects I worked on was designing and installing a small pond with a bamboo water spout. I was taught about the art of Suiseki, which translates to “stone appreciation,” and spent hours carefully placing boulders to frame the water feature. I so wholeheartedly embraced the process, that my boss affectionately referred to me as “To-chan,” a nickname you might give to a younger brother named Tokyo. 

bambooThe name has reverberated in my head since then. I had the title for at least a decade before I had written anything down. Tokyo Digs a Garden was always there in the back of my mind, scrawled on notebooks with accompanying doodles of Tokyo and his wild urban garden.

I loved the contrast in naming a small, thoughtful boy after the world’s largest mega-city. I also felt Tokyo was a really unlikely name for a main character, which added to the general weirdness of the story.

Fun-fact: Kevin the cat is based on a stray (and well-fed) cat named Kevin that hung out in my apartment for a few weeks around the same time. I’m sure he’s still out there, somewhere, roaming the alleyways of Toronto.

TPBL: Why did you want to write this book?  

JL: I’m an environmentalist at heart, and I’ve always worked in sustainability (formerly as a journalist, a youth educator, and now leading the communications of a Canadian environmental non-profit). I wonder if the reason for our ill-treatment of our environment begins with the disconnection we draw between ourselves and the ‘natural world.’ I never understood that separation — we’re a part of it.

I wanted to write this book to convey the idea to children that our cities are also natural places. They’re teeming with the wild, we just need to let it out a bit. 

Screen shot 2016-04-21 at 1.10.08 AMWe shouldn’t have to retreat to the wilderness to discover a love of nature. We can cultivate an environmental ethic in the cityscapes where many of us live. Weeds push through cracks in pavement, birds nest in windowsills, and people (animals) set up shop in concrete and timber and steel and glass. The point is, we’re all part of the same ecosystem; ours just looks starkly different and has typically destroyed whatever lies in its path – but it doesn’t have to be that way, and earth is not so easily defeated. With an increase in green urban design, biomimicry and low-carbon infrastructure, I think we’re starting to get that.

Tokyo Digs a Garden is less about living in harmony in nature (although that’s certainly important), and more about understanding that the wild is waiting beneath the bricks and concrete of our cities. The ecological memory of what our cities once were is just beneath the surface, and the wilderness will absolutely return and flourish, if given the chance.


TPBL: I love the way Tokyo’s parents are only mentioned in passing, to further the story of how the garden is changing the city. How did you decide to have his grandfather be Tokyo’s co-star?

JL: Tokyo is a child of working parents, which I felt was a likely indicator of his family’s economic status (being in a tiny house that has been swallowed up by the pace of growth). It made sense to me that he’d spend most of his days with his grandfather. I’m a parent of two wonderful, imaginative, and wild young children. My partner Stephanie and I are lucky to get to spend a lot of time with them, but we love that they also learn from others in their lives.

There is a richness and depth to intergenerational relationships that can’t be passed on from parent to child. They are relationships that are often short-lived and important to cherish. I think this is especially true when gaining knowledge of our environments (natural or built). When things change as fast as they do, it’s important to be able to time-travel through the stories of our elders. We’re pretty wrapped up in instantaneous time. Stories from close to a century ago at least root us to timelines that are closer to the natural rhythm of things. Tokyo’s grandfather can tell stories of the way things used to be – not to go back, but to put their lives in context.

Only Tokyo and his grandfather have the space and time to let their imaginations run as wild as the garden they plant: one stems from the boundless possibility of childhood, the other from the visceral imagery of nostalgia. This kept lines of reality blurred in the story, which made it a lot of fun to write: did the garden really grow or is it an imaginary pact between the two generations?




TPBL: What was your favorite thing about first seeing Kellen Hatanaka’s illustrations? How did they surprise you or further tell the story in a way you admired? 

JL: I’m a huge fan of Kellen’s work. My home office is plastered with his prints. Getting the opportunity to collaborate with him was so exciting.

His illustrations brought a vibrancy and quirky humour to the story that simply wasn’t there before. His brilliant use of collage and colour added a sense of surreality to the book that I think took it to strange and exciting new places. He brought Kevin and his quest for ice-cream to life. I also love the other-worldly body types Kellen used for characters in the book, especially the old woman who gives Tokyo the seeds and Grandfather, of course. Grandfather is the coolest. I want to hang out with that guy, and eat whatever they are having for lunch on that spread.

My 2 and 4 year old daughters also love pouring over every page pointing out the endless details in the illustrations. The illustrations keep their attention, which opens up the space for storytelling.


Next up, illustrator Kellen Hatanaka!

This Picture Book Life: How did you come to work on this project and what drew you to it after reading the manuscript?

WorkABC_PLC_Square_KELLENKellen Hatanaka: Jon-Erik is actually my brother-in-law, so we’ve known each other long before the idea of publishing this book came about. I think he and I were driving back from a family gathering and we got to talking about this idea for a story he had come up with while working as a landscaper. I instantly fell in love with the story and the characters. At the time I had already published my first book, Work: An Occupational ABC, with Groundwood and was in the process of pitching ideas for my follow up. Jon-Erik had a manuscript ready to go so I suggested that I send it over to Groundwood to see if there was any interest.


TPBL: The way you transform the city from modern and full of symbols to lush and more livable is incredible. One detail I especially admire is the way the muted buildings at the start have features that give them faces, as though they’re the things that are alive in this place rather than the people. Machines are “eating” a tree by cutting it down with utensil-shaped implements. And the billboards! A hamburger billboard changes to one featuring veggies. Will you talk about your intent and process with some or all of those elements? 

KH: The city’s transformation is one of the most important aspects of the book and one of the most difficult challenges that I faced while creating the illustrations. I wanted to make sure that there were clear visual cues to communicate the transition from the congested city to the lush Utopian landscape. The obvious change is that the vegetation becomes over grown and wild, but I wanted the change to feel more severe than just the introduction of a few plants to the roof tops. Starting with a greyed-out, dingy landscape really helped to communicate that the new city was a bright, sunny, and clean place.

Working with another person’s story I feel a great obligation to do their work justice. I was particularly concerned about the line “city’s have to eat something after all.” I love that imagery and I wanted to find a way to capture that sentiment without being too heavy handed. I knew that I wanted to represent the image of the city eating in a literal way, but at the same time I wanted the hints to be subtle. I like the fact that you might not notice all of the visual references to food right away.

TPBL: Who are some of your favorite picture book illustrators right now/big influences of yours?

KH: There are so many amazing picture book illustrators out there that it is really difficult to narrow it down. Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, Chris Haughton and Joohee Yoon are a few of my favorites. My influences and inspiration come from a wide variety of art, design and random imagery that I come across day to day.


Huge thanks to both Jon-Erik and Kellen for stopping by!

Garden photos credit: TS Garden Design


a year without mom + interview with dasha tolstikova

a-year-without-momA Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova (October, 2015).

I’m a huge fan of Dasha Tolstikova’s illustrations (see: The Jacket; see: her website.). And this new book is a wonderful showcase for her art and storytelling.


Kind of a middle grade graphic novel, A Year Without Mom tells the story of Dasha’s 12th year in Moscow, the year her mother leaves for America to attend school. If you loved Jane, the Fox and Me, I think you’ll love this book too.




It’s one girl’s growing up, with specificity of characters and moments and friends and feelings.  Swan Lake on the television during political unrest. A trio of friends and the worries of feeling left out. School. Slights. Worries. Insecurities. Spurts of joy. New discoveries. Cold, cold Russian winter. Dasha’s crushes: Petya who’s the coolest ever as well as the nice guy who’s always there in art class, Maxim.



The whole book so beautifully captures the pre-teen and early teenage years, moreso perhaps because of the absence of Dasha’s regular caregiver. Every event is infused with the swings and sways of adolescence.



But it all adds up to something wonderful to read and behold. Something true about childhood and change and resiliency. About how the way we grow up shapes us even as we have no idea we’re being shaped. About how children need an anchor, like a mother, in the midst of the turmoil and mundaneness of everyday life at school. About how our stories are our own.


The book begins and ends in two entirely different places, but with the same girl, with the same name, with the same pink cheeks. That girl’s going to be okay.





This Picture Book Life: Can you tell us about how you’d classify this book in terms of memoir or fiction or combination of both?

Dasha Tolstikova: I was actually just asked today by the Swedish publisher of AYWM (what?! A Swedish publisher? I know! I am so excited!) whether I would mind if they refer to the book as a graphic memoir – which I think is very interesting. But really it’s a combination of both memoir and fiction – real life events and situations are a jumping off point – my mom DID go to America to study, I DID stay with my grandparents, I DO have best friends named Masha and Natasha – but there are also some places where things are exaggerated to move the plot forward.


TPBL: When did you have the idea and how did that turn into a graphic novel/lengthy picture book for Groundwood? 

DT: The book started out as a graduate thesis project while I was at the School of Visual Arts. I had come across another Groundwood book actually, called Harvey, and became obsessed with it and its format – a picture book novel about a boy who comes home to find out that his father has died – and wanted to immediately make a book like it. It felt right to base it on a story that happened to me. I knew that I wanted it to be for older kids – so a story that happened when I was twelve seemed appropriate.

And I also knew from the beginning that I wanted it to be a long book. My first dummy was 212 pages and I had thought I would be able to finish the whole book in six months for our graduate show (hahahaha) – but then only completed the first chapter.

Sheila Barry, the wonderful Groundwood publisher, found my work online about a year after I graduated and thought it might be the right fit for them – obviously I was thrilled – I had felt (hoped?) like I was making it for Groundwood all along. And it was incredible to have someone in my corner while I DID finish the whole thing – it took two years – I scrapped everything I had done at school and started the art from scratch.




TPBL:The illustrations in A Year Without Mom are fantastic. This may sounds simplistic, but I love the variation in pages. You use white space, then a spread filled up with gray. You vary your composition to great effect so that we’re kind of zooming in and out with different page turns, seeing details then people then settings. Can you talk about your process and vision with illustrating a lengthier book like this?

DT: Thank you so much!

I really wanted every illustration to be emotionally meaningful, but also to be coherent and to move the story along – so I spent a lot of time thinking about individual compositions, but also about the flow of the book as a whole. I made a lot of really haphazard dummies and also these crazy diagrams – almost like shot lists for a movie.



TPBL: What’s your medium and who are some of your influences?

DT: I draw with a mechanical pencil and use sumi ink washes on Arches Hot Press watercolor paper. For this book all the color was added digitally.

Some of my illustration influences are: Anne Herbauts, Beatrice Allemagna, Laura Carlin, Marc Simont, The Provensens, Zach O’Hora, Isabelle Arsenault, Hadley Hooper, David Roberts, Tomi Ungerer, Carson Ellis – I can keep going for a long time…but then there are also fine artists and novels that I read and movies and everything around me all the time.

TPBL: How much American popular culture was part of your growing up in Moscow and what was your relationship to it?

My friends and I were actually pretty snobby about American pop culture when we were growing up – and I wasn’t super excited to move to the States – but I don’t even know what we were basing our opinions on – it’s not like we had a lot of exposure to it – we did read a lot of classics (Dickens and whatnot) and there was a sort of cult of England when I was growing up – so maybe America seemed in opposition of that somehow? But also maybe we were just bratty children.

But then there were American movies – which we LOVED – they screened a lot of old movies in movie theaters and we went frequently. After I moved away Masha continued to go on her own and eventually studied to be a director of photography in Paris.

They did broadcast soap operas and I got really into Santa Barbara as a child – when I moved to the States I was SO EXCITED to find it on TV – except of course the episodes they were showing in Russia were from much earlier seasons and none of my favorite characters were even on anymore.


TPBL: I assume you were 12 or so years old during the coup against Gorbachev. Did life change after that?

DT: You know, it did – but this is actually where the book is really true – that first year after the coup was a pretty selfish year for me – navigating life with my mom in America and growing up – I remember the personal stories a lot better – and I did move to the States in 1992 – I think things got even crazier politically after that – my former classmates have some intense stories of what life was like in the 90s – but I wasn’t there anymore…

TPBL: Can you tell us what happened after the book ends in terms of your own life? Did you really only stay in America for one year and then go back to Moscow? What about Maxim?! What is your story of moving to America and that adjustment?

DT: After my mom and I came to Urbana – we ended up staying for nine years – I went to high school and college there and she got her PhD. We went back to Moscow pretty frequently and after I graduated from the University of Illinois I moved back for about three years. Maxim is an amalgamation of two boys I had crushes on at the time – one of them continued to go to art school with my cousin and they even ended up at architecture college together – she said he asked about me from time to time – which warmed my heart, of course – the other boy I still have a little crush on and sometimes see out and about when I am home visiting my grandmother…

The adjustment of moving to America is something I am toying with as a subject – I feel like it’s such rich material and then also MIDDLE SCHOOL!

TPBL: The book is an entire year in which the character’s mother is abroad. How do you think that changes life for a twelve year old? What does one miss out on and what does one gain from that kind of experience? 

DT: You know it’s hard for me to say – because this was my actual experience I can only speak to how it affected me – I think I grew up a little faster – but who knows what would have happened had my mom NOT gone to America, it might have all been the same, or entirely different. I generally feel like ALL experience propels us forward – it’s all it can do really – bad or good – so I think I tend to think of things that happen to me as stories – so this happened and then that – and it wasn’t good or bad it just happened and now I’m THIS kind of person – it’s sort of a positive sum game.

TPBL: Finally, your opening is this really interesting technique of almost a prologue, then a visual introduction to the setting and main character. That prologue is: “Once, when I was very small, I bit my mom’s finger.” It takes quite a few pages for us as readers to hear about that occasion. Tell us about why you used it to frame the opening and what it tells us about the character of Dasha.

DT: I wanted something that highlighted the relationship between the mother and the daughter immediately. It’s also a real thing that happened that I remember. I was about three and mom was feeding me a tomato and I bit her finger really hard – not on purpose – the tomato was just really good.

Thank you so much for having me.


Big thanks to Dasha for talking to us and for providing images!