Lucky us! Two fantastically fun things this week in one post, from two talented Red Cap artists: Kate Pugsley and Krista Perry. This week, we are excited to be showing off Kate’s brand new children’s book from Tundra Books, Mermaid Dreams, plus an inspirational artistic process tutorial from Krista Perry. Read on for more!
Have you caught a glimpse of Kate Pugsley’s new book, Mermaid Dreams? We are entranced! Full of color, brilliant sea creatures, and with an embossed cover (oh my, check out that detail) this is one we are going to pick up for certain! Am I the only one that held my ankles together in the pool as I swam and pretended to be a mermaid? It probably looked more like flailing than swimming, but the magic was there, right!?
The story: “One sunny Saturday, Maya and her parents visit the beach. Maya loves the beach: the warm sand feels wonderful between her toes. But it would be more fun if she had a friend. Too shy to say hello, Maya watches the kids play nearby, and slowly her eyes droop closed . . . When Maya awakens she has been transported to a magical underwater world. Maya admires the sea creatures flitting around her, and she discovers that she too has a beautiful tail. Maya is a mermaid! But who is calling out a greeting from behind that coral? Whose bright eyes are peering at her from the sea grass? Whose laughter does she hear? Could it be a new friend? Or just another sea creature?”
Mermaid Dreams by Kate Pugsley, Tundra Books, 2019. Preorder now–the book comes out on April 30th. We can’t wait to get our hands on it! The perfect gift to get a little reader ready for those summer swims.
Up next, how amazing to have a little in-progress tutorial from RCC artist, Krista Perry! Each of our artist’s processes are so different and we love being a fly on the wall, able to catch a glimpse and learn a thing or two. Krista offered to guide us through her process in the creation of a personal piece, and we jumped at the chance… Take a look below, and thank you, Krista!
From Krista: The steps that I use to make a painting can be extensive, but nonetheless rewarding! I usually start with a couple quick thumbnails and then turn them into a finished drawing. When I’m sketching for a new painting, I usually have a pretty solid color scheme in mind, but still make color studies just in case experimenting with color changes my mind. Color studies also make the painting process easier to begin because you’re essentially making a color-by-number for yourself.
After drawing or printing my sketch to the size I’d like, I transfer it to the surface. I like to use red Saral brand transfer paper! Next, I paint all of the solid colors in. With most paintings, I’ll paint small details and line work last. This is a fairly straight forward technique that I’ve been following ever since I was in art school.
All of my Red Cap Cards work also follow these steps! I love working like this because it keeps me easily organized so I can focus on the best part — painting! KP
When artists band together, they can change the world! We are very excited for this upcoming children’s book from Scholastic UK’s Alison Green, Kind: A Book about Kindness, with a forward by Axel Scheffler (The Grufflalo), and pictures by 38 kind illustrators.
Each of the 38 artists gifted their work as a celebration of kindness to this project in order to benefit Three Peas, a charity which helps families that are forced from war-torn countries, specifically Syria. A donation from the sale of each book benefits the work that Three Peas does in these countries. Illustrators include our very own Red Cap artist, Lizzy Stewart (!), Melissa Castrillon (see her gorgeous illustration of a “kindness jar” below), Sir Quentin Blake, Chris Haughton, Birgitta Sif, Britta Teckentrup, Marianna Coppo, Nick Sharratt and more! You can get your own copy here, soon to be available at more locations. We can’t wait to get our hands on one, and are inspired by the kindness, beauty, and love that art can inspire. See below for a statement from Alison Green. Way to go, artists! #keeptheloveflowing
Publisher Alison Green says: “Kind is one of the most important projects I’ve ever worked on. I’m thrilled to be raising money for Three Peas, to support their vital work, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the response from all of the illustrators. I’m incredibly grateful to them for their generosity in donating the artwork for the book, and would like to thank Axel, in particular, for all his support in championing the project. This feels very much like the right book at the right time. With so much division in the world, it seems more important than ever to talk about kindness, and to offer children a positive, hopeful and empowering message.”
We are so proud to help share this fabulous news from a long-time member of our Red Cap Cards family. Christian Robinson, award-winning illustrator of many books (Rain!, School’s First Day of School, Last Stop on Market Street, Gaston, and so many more…) is now debuting the cover and release date of his first solo picture book project: Another from Atheneum Books!!
Debuting on March 5th, 2019 — mark your calendars! — Another tells a story of perspective through wordless illustration. In “Alice-in-Wonderland” form, a little girl follows her kitty down a hole into a magical world all her own. And in a fun twist, you may find yourself holding the book upside-down and twisting it all around!
‘”When I think about stories that I gravitated toward as a child, I think of narratives that take you on adventures to other worlds, places in which anything is possible,” Robinson said in a promotional letter he wrote for the book addressed ‘Dear Observers,’ which he says “feels like the most accurate name for someone viewing a wordless book.”‘ (Publisher’s Weekly)
We absolutely can’t wait to get our hands on a copy and are delighted to see another creative project from such a wonderful human and artist. Hurry up, March 5th! We love you, Christian!
See below for some of our favorite shots of Christian’s work for Red Cap:
Recently, Forbes magazine published an op-ed by economist, Panos Mourdoukoutas, about why we should do away with public libraries as we know them, and replace them with Amazon Bookstores. You heard me correctly! The article detailed the taxes levied toward keeping public libraries afloat, and the opinion that libraries “don’t have the same value they used to.” All of the services provided by libraries (according to Mourdoukoutas) have been replaced: community and wifi are now provided by Starbucks; video rentals by Netflix and Amazon Prime; and books by Amazon.
Needless to say, the article has since been redacted by Forbes, with apologetic comment: “Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view,” a Forbes spokesperson says in a statement. “Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”
Regardless of the disastrous article and subsequent backpedaling by Forbes, the article did it’s due-diligence in getting people talking about libraries again. What are they, why are they? Are they important. The answer, it seemed, was a very loud YES from across the internet and country.
Here is what a library means to us:
• Fosters a love of reading, education, and art in children and adults.
• Provides access to a world of art and illustration materials that teach as well as entertain
• Gives free access to media materials, internet and computers for all citizens regardless of class and pay grade.
• Offers jam-packed programming schedules with classes such as ESL, citizenship, writing, cooking, and more.
• Offers free tickets to museums, zoos, aquariums and other experiences
• Schedules after-school programs for kids and teens
• Archives genealogy and historical materials.
• Acts as a community safe haven for those in need.
• and so, so much more.
In 2016, one of our own beloved artists, Christian Robinson, partnered with the San Francisco Public library and Chronicle Books for a program called “Summer Stride.” Check out that awesome swag (below)!! The program “encouraged all ages and abilities to have fun reading and learning” during the summer. Here are some amazing images from that program:
This summer, the program is up and running again, this time with work by Shawn Harris. Check out their awesome video, and “stop by a neighborhood library and check out books, comics, eBooks, audiobooks, movies, music and more. Plus, choose from more than 800 programs (all free!) to deepen reading enjoyment, spark STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) passions and learn through active, outside exploration.”
We love you, libraries. Don’t ever change…unless you want to start offering free coffee and drinks too. We’re good with that.
And sidenote: if you need ideas, you can check out my handy-dandy hashtag on Instagram: #overduelibrarybookoftheweek for the best books that I’m going to end up paying $0.25 a day for.
Arlo has missed you! We’re back with a brand new edition of Arlo’s Book Club, and we can’t wait to connect with your tiny readers as they learn about and examine their surroundings through the written and visual word. In light of the recent political and social climate, we wanted to spread some love to the people around us. Times are tumultuous–peace and mindfulness has been at the forefront of our thoughts, and feeding those we love is important. Who are we and what is our purpose? How can we spread love to all that we come into contact with on a daily basis? Mindfulness starts with a seed. A favor. A compliment. A picture book. We picked several of our favorites to promote mindfulness in our tiny successors. Sponges. Bright lights. Enjoy:
“I breathe slowly in,
I breathe slowly out. My breath
is a river of peace.
I am here in the world.
Each moment I can breathe and be.”
Nothing connects us more strongly than the bond we have with nature. Our earth is our home, and through it, we may see others’ experiences and joys. Breathe and Be is a collection of poems by Kate Coombs with illustration by our own Anna Emilia Laitinen, that lends an ear to the quiet nature that goes on around our bustling lives and conflicts. A beautiful reminder of where we fit on the planet.
Singing Away the Dark
by Caroline Woodward, with pictures by Julie Morstad
Simply Read Books, 2017
Not just a simple picture book about a frightened girl walking home from her school bus–Singing Away the Dark unwittingly captures an undercurrent in today’s society about fear, consequence, and light at the end of the tunnel. This is a gorgeous work of art that offers quiet solace to a long walk toward more joyful times.
They All Saw a Cat
by Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books, 2017
What do others see? What do they feel? Who would I be if I walked a mile in someone else’s shoes? They All Saw a Cat offers picturesque perspectives of what a wide variety of characters view when they see a cat. This is a beautiful book that offers the first existential explanation of “the other’s gaze.” Let us all seek to understand what others see and what they feel.
You Belong Here
by William M. H. Clark, Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Compendium Inc., 2016
“And you belong where you love to be,
and after each day is through,
you will always belong right next to me
and I’ll belong to you.”
We have a soft spot in our heart for this one, as our own Red Cap artist, Jill Labieniec, served as art director along with Heidi Dyer. This beautiful narrative shows us the different home environments of mammals and birds and fish and humans. The different places that we “fit” on earth and amongst each other. A beautiful reminder that we are but a piece of a magnificent, ever-moving puzzle.
Horton Hears a Who
by Dr. Seuss
Random House., 1954
Quite possibly the poster boy for mindfulness, kindness, and respect, Horton Hears a Who follows an elephant who stumbles upon an entire town that lives on a simple speck of dust. The story follows the existential realizations of the elephant and of the town, as they learn about what makes a person a person, and what equality truly means. A brilliant, encompassing picture book for every reader, young and old.
Halloween is almost here! If you know us, you know we’re pulling out all of our favorite books for the spooky season and gathering new ones to add to the collection. Fall makes reading so fun–doesn’t it? The crisp autumn leaves, cozying under a blanket with apple cider and reading with your favorite kids. Magic!
If you’re lucky enough to live in the UK, you may already have a copy of this awesome release by Nicholas John Frith, which was released there on September 7th. If you’re stuck on this side of the pond, like us, expect to grab a copy on June 26, 2018. BOO..hoo. Rest assured it will be worth the wait! Frith’s previous books, Hello, Mr. Dodo! and Hector and Hummingbird were delightful, and the latter also snagged him the Klaus Flugge Prize!
As for A Werewolf Named Oliver James, see the publisher’s excerpt:
“On his way home one moonlit night, a strange thing happens to Oliver James: he unexpectedly turns into a werewolf! Suddenly, he can run faster than an express train! He can leap higher than tall buildings! He’s stronger than a lion! There’s only one problem: what on earth will his parents say, when he gets home? Nicholas John Frith’s third picture book is a rich, dramatic visual feast – and a wickedly funny romp featuring the most endearing little werewolf imaginable.”
We are so looking forward to it!
The cover alone makes us want to dive into this one. How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green is the sweetest, spooky manual that you will ever need. Closely follow all of the instructions for making a ghost’s acquaintance, not scaring him off, feeding him, bathing him, and most of all, how to have fun with him. This one is a great laugh, and the fun details will charm adults as well. However, make sure your kids are ready to learn what a ghost actually is! This ending is sweet, but transparent. (Pun most definitely intended).
The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea is anything but, and will surely delight kids young and old. Brought to you by the artist and author who created The Happiest Book Ever, this one focuses on a tiny ghost who is scared of going into the deep, dark, and anything-but-scary woods. The trailer alone is enough to make you want to scoop this one up:
Last is another project from an amazing publishing house, Flying Eye Books. No Such Thing by Ella Bailey tells the story of skeptical little Georgia, who has an explanation for every spooky occurrence that is occurring in her house. Told with brilliant color in a non-traditional fall palette, the reader is able to one-up Georgia by being privy to the shenanigans of the ghosts long before she is. Adorable and modern–a brilliant read.
Andie GW Powers
We are so happy to announce the release of a special collection of celebratory greeting cards and wrapping papers alongside the release of When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano with illustration by our own Christian Robinson from Roaring Brook Press (out in bookstores today!) Click over to his artist page to see more!
PLUS, click here to visit the Official Website for When’s My Birthday?
“The Wild Flower’s Song” by William Blake
As I wander’d the forest,
The green leaves among,
I heard a wild flower
Singing a song.
I slept in the Earth
In the silent night,
I murmur’d my fears
And I felt delight.
In the morning I went
As rosy as morn,
To seek for new joy;
But O! met with scorn.
We are especially fond of all things wild: foliage, botanicals, wildflowers, umbrage. Nothing is more beautiful than nature’s palette, and in turn, artistic depictions of it. Today, we are excited to show some love to artists of the botanical–whether they be floral designers, artists, or picture book illustrators. Look below for some of our favorites, and make sure you go for a walk outdoors soon to soak it all in.
First up, Pittsburgh’s The Farmer’s Daughter Flowers, whose Instagram is a constant source of floral inspiration. We were so inspired by their photos, that we paid homage to them in Carolyn Gavin‘s Red Cap Cards collection:
by Emily Hughes
Emily Hughes’s story about a feral girl who is taken from her “wild” life and placed into modern society is full of glorious landscapes and visual worlds that are brimming with beautiful foliage and woodsy willows. Hughes is a genius at capturing devil-may-care landscapes, and this one takes the cake.
This classic picture book tells the tale of Alice, who finds her way through travels and life experiences to her life purpose: planting beauty (via purple lupine) wherever she goes. Barbara Cooney is a master illustrator (you can see her Master’s Showcase here) and she depicts the North American tundra with colorful precision.
This stunning, modern children’s design book offers illustrations on all matter of the seasons, from firefighters to snow, to Spring Fever and torrent. The modern depictions of the natural world are fascinating! Plus, this one allows children’ imaginations to grow and connect concepts via a main theme.
This classic M.W. Brown picture book features a story that focuses on the opposite of natural growth: natural death. In the story, children witness nature’s ebb and flow, from life, to growth, to death, and to a return to the earth. The children pick flowers to place on the little dead bird’s grave, and we learn about the beautiful process of death and dying.
A Child’s Garden of Verses
by Robert Louis Stevenson with illustration by Gyo Fujisawa
Another classic, this collection of poems includes sweet stories about childhood, the outdoors, and the magic of the world. The illustrations by Gyo Fujisawa are meticulously curated, with details to rival your own garden.
Over in the Meadow
by John Longstaff with illustration by Feodor Rojankovsky
Over in the Meadow is an illustrative journey through the meadow and the homes of the animals who live there. From foxes to birds, to spiders and chipmunks, the animals and insects of the meadow rely on this botanical wonderland for their livelihood. Gorgeous illustrations by Feodor Rojankovsky detail prose by John Longstaff.
I Can Fly
by Ruth Krauss with illustration by Mary Blair
Another example of modern illustration comes from this classic Golden Book by Ruth Krauss, with illustration by Mary Blair. Mary Blair is a favorite of ours (see her Master’s Showcase here), and we love her bold and modern depictions of the lively outdoors. Pastel florals, vibrant meadowscapes, and colorfully simplistic arrangements make I Can Fly come alive.
Another exciting botanical wonder: Work by upcoming Red Cap Cards artist, Strange Dirt! See below:
They say the eyes are the window to the soul. We say they are the window to the story. Part of our jobs as art curators is finding personality and perspective in our artists’ characters. A huge chunk of that personality and perspective is found in the character’s gaze. The intricacies with which artists are able to convey emotion and intent through slight subtlety in their character’s features is fascinating!
Part of what makes a successful picture book is a 50/50 partnership between words and illustration. Words tell half of the story, while the illustration tells the other half. Sometimes, these halves conflict in their truths…and that’s when things get really exciting! When you start to focus on these tiny details in a picture book’s illustration, it’s amazing what layers you can find.
It’s no secret that we are huge Jon Klassen fans. Celebrated author, illustrator and Caldecott award winner (not to mention Red Cap Cards artist), Jon is a master at creating tension and story arcs with very subtle details in his art work. Look below for some fascinating examples from several of his books.
This is Not My Hat
by Jon Klassen
This one tells the story of a tiny, mischievous fish who has stolen a hat (quite stupidly) from a much bigger fish. He is sly and aware of his surroundings until he gets a little bit too comfortable. We love the facial expressions on both fish (and a few other characters) as the story emerges, showing complex emotions in a battle of wits.
“He probably won’t know it was me who took it.”
I Want My Hat Back
by Jon Klassen
In this story, a much-too-trusting bear goes on the hunt for his missing hat, until he ultimately finds it, much to the dismay of the thief. The range of emotion in this one is perfect! Trust to deception, realization, intent, surprise, and ultimately, satisfaction. The illustration is able to stand completely alone in its story.
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Words by Mac Barnett, illustration by Jon Klassen
This one is magical and has new layers that are discoverable with each reading. Sam and Dave do simply that–they dig a hole. Their trusty dog is there to attempt to steer them in the right direction, but ultimately, they wrap up the day’s work and head home…or do they? The very subtle inconsistencies in the two home settings create a story within a story. The look between the cat and the dog tells us there’s more to this narrative that we are invited to put together on our own after the book is closed.
We Found a Hat
by Jon Klassen
Jon’s newest addition to the “hat” trilogy tells the story of two turtles in a desert who have found a hat. Who will claim the hat? They both like it, and it looks good on them both. The internal struggle of one of the turtles is hidden from the text, but is given away in the eyes of the character illustration. See the images below:
How many characters are completely recognizable by their eyes? We wanted to touch on Jon’s characters to get you on the lookout–who are your favorite characters with stories told through their expressions? We will be back with some more illustrative techniques for telling a complete story through illustration. Keep your eyes peeled!
-Andie Powers for Red Cap Cards
It’s no secret that we are enamored with great illustration and creative work for children. The only thing better than finding those two components in one tiny package is if they are mailed directly to our house on a regular basis! Creative magazines for children are such a fabulous way to consistently inspire kids to use their imaginations and have fun with art and literature. Plus, the added bonus of receiving mail addressed right to them is like a surprise party with every single issue. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites (plus one or two for the grownups in the house as well). Enjoy!
A favorite of ours, Illustoria is a quarterly, printed magazine for kids that celebrates “visual storytelling, makers and DIY culture through stories, art, comics, interviews, crafts and activities.” This one is geared toward kids of ages 6-12, but don’t let that hold you back. Even grownups can find tons of colorful inspiration in these pages. An added bonus–check out the “kid art” section of their website to view art by tons of tiny Picassos.
Anorak. Eat your veggies! Or at least read them. This quarterly mag for kids is printed with real vegetable inks on all recycled pages for kids ages 6-12. It’s a treasure trove of all things happy and colorful. Also lovable is that each issue is themed with an interesting topic, like Under the Sea, Party, or Daredevils. We’re a bit biased about their Museums issue (above) as it features a beautiful illustration by Red Cap Cards artist, Barbara Dziadosz, on the cover.
Dot. We like to think of this as Anorak‘s little sister. It’s everything that Anorak offers for older kids, but bite-sized for pre-schoolers. Dot, is ad-free and geared toward children 5 and under. “Just like its older brother Anorak, DOT encompasses all aspects of a child’s life, from jumping in puddles to learning through play. It encourages kids to be resourceful and find solutions using all the tools they naturally have at their disposition: imagination, creativity and fun.”
Bright Lite is a new one on the scene, and was initially launched via Kickstarter. “For girls / by girls” is this quarterly magazine’s motto, that strives to empower girls through photo, story, and art submissions from girls all over the world. We love their emphasis on “focusing on that incredible time of just being a kid; that blissful part of youth before dating, parties, and ‘coolness’ seem to distract us from simply being in wonder of the world.” Thumbs way up for that!
Honorable Mention: Not for kids, but for the kid-at-heart.
Flow is a great Dutch magazine that explores creativity and mindfulness in daily life. “Flow is all about positive psychology, mindfulness, creativity and the beauty of imperfection. We love illustrations and in each issue there is a gift made of our much-loved paper. We print the magazine itself on different types of paper.” One of the many reasons we adore Flow is because they love wonderful illustrators as much as we do, like Yelena Bryksenkova who is a regular in print. Check out this awesome feature of Yelena’s day-in-illustrations. Love it!
Another one for creative kids at heart–Uppercase Magazine. An independently printed magazine out of Canada, Uppercase is a smorgasbord of creative inspiration. Each issue is themed, such as the Stationery issue (above) and features work and art by some of the most talented in the business. Check it out–the print job is a work of art in and of itself!
What are your favorite creative magazines?
We know it has been a difficult week for some of us. In times like this, we look around and wonder how we got here. However, here at Red Cap, we choose to meditate on the love, kindness, and beauty that we know resides in our great nation. In times like this, let’s look to our littlest truth-tellers and find a way to guide them to the values that we hold dear. We picked a few books out that showcase what it means to live in kindness and in service to others. Enjoy.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade
by Justin Roberts, with pictures by Red Cap artist, Christian Robinson
A beautiful, poetic story about a very small girl in the smallest grade. This one has a wonderful message, about standing up for what’s right–Love!–even when you feel very small. “Sally notices everything—from the twenty-seven keys on the janitor’s ring to the bullying happening on the playground. One day, Sally has had enough and decides to make herself heard. And when she takes a chance and stands up to the bullies, she finds that one small girl can make a big difference.”
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Written by Philip C. Stead with pictures by Erin E. Stead
“And in the end, the love you take Is equal to the love you make.” This Caldecott medal-winning picture book tells the story of Amos, a zookeeper, who gives extra-special attention to all of his animals each and every day. When he becomes sick, the animals return the favor by visiting him at home. It is a lovely example in the lesson of love and care for your fellow friends.
The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein
It’s rare that someone hasn’t read The Giving Tree, but some still miss the underlying message. In the story, a tree loves a boy so much that she gives him everything of herself until she is a lowly stump. We learn from the tree that giving and generosity equals happiness, regardless of outcome. Kindness is, in and of itself, happiness.
Jane, the Fox & Me
by Fanny Britt, with illustration by Isabelle Arsenault
Translated from French, Jane, the Fox & Me is a poignant and beautiful graphic novel. This should be required reading for middle school-aged girls, and teaches a valuable lesson about understanding differences, having compassion, and fostering friendship.
by Ame Dyckman with pictures by Zachariah O’Hora
Who is really the horrible one in the situation–the girl or the bear? And who will say sorry first? This is a great story (with awesome illustration by Zachariah O’Hora) about seeing your opponent’s side with compassion and coming together on common ground. A lovely lesson for every age group.
Much love and kindness to all…
-Andie Powers for Red Cap Cards
We couldn’t wait to get our hands on a copy of Ghost, and the day has finally arrived. Written by Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin, and illustrated by Red Cap artist, Chris Sasaki, and Jeff Turle, Ghost originated as a Kickstarter project and has blossomed to life (and we use the term loosely) just in time for Halloween. The description of the book below paints a picture of a beautiful job well-done:
Some of our most vivid childhood memories are of being huddled around a campfire, the hair on the back of our necks standing upright as we listened to tales of terror…or of staying up late, hiding beneath the covers with a flashlight in hand, reading a ghost story we swiped from our older brother. We all loved these stories that both ignited the imagination and stirred up feelings of dread that kept us up until morning’s light broke.
However, we’ve been frustrated in our search to find collections of ghost stories that strike the classic tone of the books from our youth. Stories that are as surprising as they are terrifying. Stories that stick with us. Stories that we can tell the next time we find ourselves around a campfire.
GHOST is a collection of 13 original poems and tales written by Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin and illustrated by Chris Sasaki and Jeff Turley. The book is hard bound, full color book- filled with more than 100 pages of bone chilling stories and illustrations. With GHOST, we wanted to create new ghost tales for a new generation both written and illustrated in a classic, timeless style.
Last night, the publisher of Ghost, Illustrátus, hosted a book release and charity auction at the usually closed-to-the-public, Historical Castle Green Hotel, with original works by a huge list of talented artists. (Check them all out in the list below). All of the proceeds will go to 826LA…and who knows, maybe there are a few Halloween treats left over to nab? Check out some of the featured works below, courtesy Illustrátus’s Instagram, plus a video from the makers of Ghost.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we create for children, due to this week’s celebration of what would have been Roald Dahl‘s 100th birthday. So many adults and children (including myself!) flooded the internet and Instagram with praise and admiration for Dahl, a man who (according to The New Yorker) was not so much of a good person as a great writer and creator of stories. Roald Dahl’s books touched me personally after having spent most of my middle grade childhood in England. When I eventually returned to America, there was always a slight culture gap that these books helped me to bridge. He is still a hero and someone who inspired me to be a writer for kids. Seeing the immense love for Roald Dahl reminded me of a quote by contemporary children’s author, Mac Barnett, another favorite:
“Too often we tell kids pleasant stories devoid of truth, and stories without truth are not good stories. Our audience deserves more from us. —Mac Barnett”
Why do we write or illustrate for kids? And why is it so important? In my opinion, the best books for children are tellers of truth. Kids crave truth, and all forms of it. The creation of a great children’s book combines story with illustration to convey an idea that touches and inspires a child. When that happens, anything is possible. I personally believe that the most important reading you will do in your entire life is when you are young. It helps to form our perceptions and opinions when our minds are malleable and sponge-like. That is the time that we must read what is true and good and miraculous. I’ve collected a few wonderful examples of the art of truth below to illustrate (pun!) what I mean:
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child’s need for quietness is the same today as it has always been—it may even be greater—for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.” —Margaret Wise Brown
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown with new, lovely illustration by Red Cap artist, Christian Robinson. We took a look at this one in Arlo’s Book Club. It’s a remarkable illustrative achievement that couples the innocence of childhood with the harsh lessons of the world. Margaret Wise Brown’s lyrical writing is juxtaposed with the playful, artistic work of Christian Robinson. This is the perfect story to appeal to the emotional maturity of children and to convey the beauty and sadness of the world around us.
Seasons by Blexbolex. This design-heavy book is almanac-esque and may seem like an odd choice for this post, but once you start flipping through the pages, you will see what I mean. Blexbolex uses graphic imagery to convey a tongue-in-cheek definition to words—each correlating to a season. The illustration defines underlying details that mostly children will relate to, using their ability to see such fine details that adults usually gloss over—even words that are seemingly unrelated. For example, in the fall section of the book, Blexbolex’s word is “STUBBORN” and he defines it with an illustration of one lonely, foliage-filled, orange tree in a row of ones that have already lost their leaves.
Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt, with illustration by Isabelle Arsenault. Another one that I recently checked out at the library is the magnificent graphic novel written by Fanny Britt, with illustration by Isabelle Arsenault. Originally written in French, this is the most raw and truthful rendition of what it feels like to be a middle-school aged girl that I have ever seen. Combining vibrant, life-like illustration (most of which is imagined by the young girl in the story) with a story-line that relates love, puberty, body issues, self-esteem, and hope for the future, this is definitely one that needs to be on everyone’s shelves. Bonus: It may also inspire younger kids to pick up classic literature that they haven’t read before!
A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni. Finding oneself is no small feat. In fact, most adults I know are still trying to do it. Leo Lionni (a selection from our Master’s Showcase) created a story that is deceptively simplistic. It speaks philosophical truth on so many different levels, specifically about personal identity. I feel like we need to revisit this book through each milestone we come across, most specifically our college years. I like to take away the simplest lesson: when you feel as if you have no place, rely on those you love to see you through.
“I don’t want to write for adults. I want to write for readers who can perform miracles. Only children perform miracles when they read.” —Astrid Lindgren
Pax by Sara Pennypacker with illustration by Red Cap artist, Jon Klassen. One of the reasons that I spent some of my childhood in England was because my dad was a Special Ops helicopter pilot, flying in the Middle East just after the first Gulf War. People have asked me about how I felt as a kid, with my dad in harm’s way so far away. In reality, I don’t remember much of it. I remember that kids had different accents then I did. I remember that my friends from America and I wrote letters (this was long before email!) and I remember that we had to give my dog, Scout, away. War is heavy and hard and long–but the things that children remember about it are very different from what grown-ups remember. And those things are no less heavy. This beautiful story was just nominated for the National Book Award and is wonderfully complimented by the soft, heartfelt illustration of Jon Klassen. The story is about a boy and his fox, who are separated due to the subtle hint of a war. Our perspective of war is seen through the eyes of the child in one of the most realistic ways I have ever seen. It’s just lovely.
“Growing up I actually, I didn’t have that close of a relationship with books. I actually struggled to read. And, so I was definitely drawn to books with pictures. I just loved that so much could be communicated with just an image.” —Christian Robinson
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex with illustration by Christian Robinson. I’ll finish off with something light-hearted but equally wonderful. This one tells the story of a brand new school and his reservations about what the school year will hold and whether he will be liked by the kids who come through him every day. This one is heartwarming and is perfectly applicable to what lots of kids are going through right now. School is a scary place, man. It’s full of people who are different from us, just like the rest of the world. They have different expectations, goals, likes, and dislikes (and political opinions!) and we must learn to come to terms with that, find peace with it, and thrive.
-Andie Powers for Red Cap Cards
Every once in a while, a picture book comes along that truly makes a difference in the spectrum of children’s literature and all of those who read it. We are lucky enough to be privy to the artist of one such book: Red Cap artist, Christian Robinson, half of the dream team that created 2016 Newbery Medal winner, Last Stop on Market Street. Christian Robinson and the book’s author, Matt de la Peña, were recently interviewed on MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) about the importance of diversity in children’s books. If you’ve got 45 free minutes, you should most definitely settle down with a cup of tea and listen to the show. Matt and Christian chat with MPR about what it means to create a diverse books in terms of both class and race, and what books have dealt with these subjects well in the past.
While a moralistic story like this runs the risk of being heavy-handed, especially when written for children, this one is not. The writing remains subtle and relies on Christian’s light-hearted illustration. With minimalist and colorful drawings and papercuts (he even references them as “lego faces,” ha!) the book accomplishes its objective while remaining soft. “I love this idea that a drawing has a life of it’s own, has integrity and should be respected, and I try to put that same spirit into my illustration,” says Christian.
And on a quirky note, he talks about injecting a bit more fun into the text with the use of dog illustrations: “any opportunity to make the world more colorful, more exciting, more fun!”
Make sure you take the time to listen to this show on MPR. It’s a delight. Great work, Matt and Christian! To view Christian’s work for Red Cap, click here.
We are ever-so-excited to be interviewing Red Cap artist, Christian Robinson in the artist spotlight today! He is the illustrator of Harlem's Little Blackbird, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in 2013, and most recently won the Ezra Jack Keats Award for his work in Rain!. Christian currently lives in San Francisco where he works mostly in the medium of paper-cuts and animation. His illustrations make us so happy! We're honored to have him in the interview hot seat.
We absolutely love your illustrations and papercuts–what is your favorite medium to work with?
Thank you! Paper cut-out might be my favorite. I love the texture and simplicity of collage. Cut-outs force me to design simple and rely more on basic shapes to communicate.
Did you always draw and create? Did you always want to be an artist as a child?
ALWAYS! As a child I wanted to be a paleontologist, Jurassic Park convinced a whole generation of kids that you could have a pet dinosaur. Later on I learned how to bring dinosaurs back to life with animation!
What is or has been the biggest inspiration for your work?
Epic question! So many things inspire me. Children's book illustration and graphic art from the 50s-60s, nature, simplicity, cities, children's art, animation, fine art, music, I could keep going.
Click the image below for an old blogpost on things that inspire me:
Do you have a personal admiration for Josephine Baker, ie your work in Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker? Are there other historical figures about whom you would love to illustrate a children's book?
Yes, Josephine Baker is one of my Sheros and someone who's story inspires me. When the opportunity to illustrate a picture book about her life crossed my path I was beside myself. I'll share this story that I came across during my own research, It just shows the magnitude of Josephine's heart.
What was your favorite book as a child and why?
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. This is probably too heavy of an answer: I was raised my grandmother and probably felt very empathetic to this baby bird trying to find his real mother.
You just won the Ezra Jack Keats Award for Rain!–how did you feel when you found out that you won?
GREAT!!! Like, please-don't-awake-from-this-wonderful-dream-great!
What is your studio space like?
Well, until recently my studio was a corner in my bedroom. Josephine was created in this sunny corner. But now I work in a shared artist studio.
What other contemporary illustrators do you admire?
Lots! Beatrice Alemagna, Kevin Waldron, Jean Jullien, Jockum Nordstrom.
What is your dream job (besides what you are doing now)?
Honestly just being able to continue doing all the sorts of things I'm doing now is the dream. I want to continue making animations, hopefully some music vids. Also to write and illustrate a picture book of my own one day.
What are your favorite things to do during your free time?
Dance, laugh and movies!
If you could vacation anywhere in the world–where would you go?
India is pretty high on my list, ooh or Istanbul!
What is your favorite piece or work you have ever created?
Thats tough, considering I'm my worst critic and often times find it difficult to be satisfied with my work. although it's that same unease that drives me to want to continue to grow and create. Sorry for the non answer 🙂
And–what is your all-time favorite meal?
Dang these questions are tough! I can always eat Pupusas (El Salvadorian dish) with avocado and rice and beans on the side. Oh and fried plantains are a must!
Images courtesy Christian Robinson.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go” —Dr. Seuss. BUT, you don't have to take my word for it—Arlo's Book Club is here to advise you! We've gathered some of Arlo's favorite children's books for this post. Which ones do you have in your library?
What are your favorites??
Scandinavia–such a whimsical and magical place: where forests, ice and ocean collide. The magnificence of this portion of the globe breeds art and illustration that is lively and inspiring. We couldn't give up the chance to focus on a few favorites from past to present! Such a daunting task as this will obviously take more than one entry–up next, Iceland and Norway!
1. You may recognize some of these little characters, especially if you lived or traveled extensively in Europe when you were small! Tre Sandberg is a family-owned children's book and branding company dating back to the 1950s, that was initially begun by a married couple of illustrators: Inger and Lasse Sandberg. “Little Ghost Laban” is a popular character you might remember, and Little Anna and the Tall Uncle, pictured here.
2. Another one from your childhood! One of the most influential illustrators of today's fairy tales and animated films–Gustaf Tenggren. Aside from being in the inner circle to Disney's first illustration work in regards to animation–Tenggren also illustrated almost all of those Little Golden Books you love so dearly, such as Bedtime Stories, The Poky Little Puppy and Snow White (shown here).
3. This brilliant artist passed away just last week at age 90, but his work will live on, fabulously. Danish illustrator, Erik Blegvad, is the illustrator to Bed-knob and Broomstick, Hans Christian Andersen's Stories and Fairy Tales, and some of the illustrations in the original, The Borrowers (shown here). Love the “sketchy” textural aspect to his work!
4. A 20th century artist, and another legend. Kay Nielsen's work was the inspiration for the original Disney's Sleeping Beauty. If you re-watch it today, you will notice the linear aspect that none of the other early animated features conveyed. Nielsen had a knack for fairy tales, and you can find his work in the original Little Mermaid and other fairy tales.
5. We love the deliberate silliness in Tov Jansson's work. Another, slightly lesser-known artist from your childhood, Tove Jansson, was a Finland-native responsible for the wildly popular The Moomins. Jansson also dabbled in comic strips and wrote all of her Moomins books, as well as illustrated them. Shown here: Finn Family Moomintroll.
6. And how could we mention Finland without including one of our own, dear Anna Emilia Laitinen. Born in Leppävirta, a small town in Finland, she is a rising star as not only a Scandinavian illustrator, but a designer and artist as well. Check out her brand new book, Casa Di Fiaba, here.
Who are your favorite Scandinavian illustrators?
Photos as linked above