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Make Meatballs Sing: The Life & Art of Corita Kent, words by Matthew Burgess, pictures by Kara Kramer (2021).
This picture book emobies bold inspiration! It bursts with color. With art. With creativity and the impulse to share it. With love. And most importantly, with “plork“!—a term Corita coined, her portmanteau in the service of making work and play one undertaking.
And it certainly does sing, with vibrant illustrations, striking design, and explosions of Corita’s wonderful quotes. It’ll teach you about her life and her art, and it’ll teach you to embrace both for yourself.
“The person who makes things is a sign of hope.”
Corita grew up a reader. A kind person. A draw-er. A dreamer. Influenced by her father, she followed her heart. She also became a nun: Sister Mary Corita. (But she wasn’t a nun forever.) In the role, she taught art to young children. Then to older ones.
“Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”
Corita made viewfinders (that she called finders) with her students to “look at ordinary things until the little details came alive.” She made screen prints and pop art. She made celebrations. She plorked and helped others do the same!
She made statements about social justice. She pushed for reform. And she left her vows because of it.
I hope you get to read Make Meatballs Sing for yourself. I hope it inspires some plorking, some making, some spirited singing in your own life. And don’t forget to follow that little blue bird that accompanies Corita through the book!
You can learn more about this artist and educator and activist at the Corita Art Center.
Big thanks to Enchanted Lion Books for review copies and images!
Ready to plork away?! It might be impossible not to want to make something fun after reading this book! Lucky for us, artist Anna Totten is here to inspire. Just like Corita’s students (and her little buddy the blue bird in Make Meatballs Sing), you can make a decorated paper finder (and more!) with the children in your life too! Anna’s craft is a burst of joyful creativity!
Over to Anna!
YOU’RE INVITED TO PLORK!
Let’s open our eyes to a new perspective. First, you will learn to make a finder like Corita and her students used. Second, you will learn how to make stamps from an ordinary object. Finally, you will create art with your new tools and plork away!
Cut card stock in half (unless you want a giant finder). Lay your sheets vertically. You need to cut a square in the top half of each sheet. I’m going to share my technique for making squares without using a ruler. Trace a circular object on the top section of each sheet. Pinch your paper in the middle of the circle but not to the edges. This pinch gives your scissors some paper to grab and allows the first cut to begin. Using the circle as your guide, cut straight lines parallel from the top, bottom, left, and right of the circle.
Now that you have your finder, hold it away from your face and look through it. A finder focuses your attention on smaller areas of what we usually see. For example, can you use your finder in a busy store to focus on only the letters on a can? What about the street where you live, the playground, or your bedroom? Do you notice any new details? A finder gives us another way to see the world. How can your finder views inspire your art?
Look at your sponge before you cut. Can you imagine the shape you want to create? Do you want to create a shape that already has a name, or would you like to invent a new shape? If you’d like a guide to follow as you cut, use a marker to draw a line on your sponge.
Cut the sponge and then stop and look at your shape. Are you done, or do you want to cut more? Repeat until you have a shape or many shapes you like. Remember, not all scraps are trash! Do you have any leftover sponge for a smaller stamp?
Sponges are just one item you can use for stamping. Are there other everyday items around you or in the recycling bin that could become a stamp? The lip of a milk jug or a cinched paper towel roll? Experiment! It’s okay if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. That’s all part of the process.
For printing with stamps:
Squirt some paint on a bigger surface so you can spread your paint around. I used paper this time but scrap cardboard, a paper plate, or a washable tray are other items I often use when stamping. Dab one side of your sponge up and down in the paint a few times to coat the underside of your stamp. Then pick up your stamp and place it paint side down on your paper (or finder, scraps, cardboard, etc.). If you have a lot of paint on your sponge you can probably stamp more than once. Dab your sponge back into the paint and repeat as often as you like. Are you placing your shapes randomly? Can you make a pattern? If you need more paint, dab it around or you’ll likely get a gloop of paint on your artwork. But as Corita believed—there are no mistakes, just make! You can use more than one color to stamp and be open to mixing colors. It’s fun, sometimes surprising, and definitely a great way to PLORK!
A decorated finder discovers new views.
There are no rules on what supplies you use for this art: layer paint, tissue, stamps, collage, and more to allow surprises. Tissue paper is easy to cut and tear for all ages and adds beautiful saturation to art. Old magazines or newspaper advertisements are an excellent source for texture, imagery, and type. Don’t throw out that box; make it into art! Cardboard is sturdier than paper and takes material well. Remix art supplies from where you live.
Anna Totten is an illustrator and designer who works at the intersection of creativity and kids. She writes and illustrates stories, instructs art, and organizes community art projects. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina where her murals are popping up where kids learn and play.
Thank you, Anna, for truly bringing this picture book to life with an inspiring tour through your “plork away” activity!
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.”
She has art and prints for sale at Gallery Nucleus here in Los Angeles.
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!
The Bear and the Moon written by Matthew Burgess (September 29, 2020).
This is a story of surprise. Of companionship. Of loss. And the art is fuzzy, rich, dreamy and beautiful.
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.
The Town of Turtle written by Michelle Cuevas (2018).
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.
Things to Do written by Elaine Magliaro (2017).
A compilation of poems that explore things to do according to your perspective and place—a celebration of moments and nature and soaking up every small experience.
The Sea Serpent and Me written by Dashka Slater (2008).
This one is sweet-sweet-sweet and mirrors what it’s like to find, to love, and to, when the time comes, let go.
A Boy and A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz (2014).
This is the autobiography of Alan Rabinowitz, wildlife conservationist, who found that his ability to speak with animals was his special gift.
My Blue is Happy written by Jessica Young (2013).
An exploration of color and feelings and the way two interplay.
Thanks to Chronicle Kids, I’m giving away a copy of the latest picture book Cátia Chien’s illustrated, The Bear and the Moon, words by Matthew Burgess—out September 29th, 2020!
Simply comment below for a chance to win! (U.S. only; ends Friday, September 4th at midnight Pacific.)