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coloring page tuesdays, news and events, blog book tours, reviews, illustration and promotion, and general weirdness from a children's book author/illustrator.
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1. POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON by Don Tate

It's black history month and my friend Don Tate has a truly special book out that I have to share with you. It's called POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON and it's published by Peachtree. (Gads, they do some good-looking books!) I emailed Don for a full on guest post, but he is riding high right now, super busy. As he said, "...things are so crazy right now. I'm on deadline to finish sketches for this next book before next Wednesday (when my travel schedule kicks in), and I have to start over on the sketches." So, I asked him some quick questions...
Me: How did you learn about George Moses Horton
Don: I wish I had a more interesting or profound answer to this question, but I learned about Horton through a writing partner, Chris Barton. I started researching Horton on that same day. I knew from day one that Horton's story would be loved by readers, but because of my heavy illustration schedule, I didn't know when I'd find time to write it. And then I had this fear that someone else might publish the story before I had a chance to start writing, so I found the time. Several years and many, many revisions later, the book was acquired by Peachtree Publishers.
Me: What was your medium for this book?
Don: Initially I wanted to illustrate "Poet" digitally. I'd just purchased a Cintiq, and I was anxious to put it to use. I did all of the line work on my Cintiq, but I think it freaked out my art director, who had another look in mind. She loved my hand drawn artwork, as done in the book "Hope's Gift," so I decided to use the same medium, acrylic watercolor washes and ink (Micron) lines on watercolor paper. Acrylic dries hard and allows for layering without disturbing under painting. And I used colored pencil in places. I also wanted to find a way to include Horton's poetry, since I'd not included any in the text (intentionally). So I hand lettered portions of his poetry and worked them into the illustrations using Photoshop. I did eventually get to put that Cintiq to work on my following book, "Whoosh!"
Me: With your busy schedule, how do you fit in creative time?
Don: Balancing creative time with travel can be a challenge. To help, I recently purchased a Surface Pro 4. It's a tablet that allow me to sketch on it using Photoshop or Manga Studio. I completely sketched and laid out my last two books on it. It's not great for creating final art, but totally saved me with my last two books. I also have a great booking agent who helps with the details of travel, so that I can spend that time in creative mode. I take it one day at a time.
Me: what are you working on next?
I have five more books under contract, and one to be announced soon. Most of them are nonfiction and involve little-known historical figures. I'm especially excited about an opportunity to work with Eloise Greenfield. That will be so cool!

Learn more about Don at http://dontate.com.

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2. Lose something?

I've been collecting gloves. Well, pictures of gloves, at any rate. You know how I go on and on about how nice people are here in Edinburgh? Here's proof.
     It gets windy here and folks are constantly dealing with layers of hats and scarves and gloves. You're bound to drop something at some point and have it blow away. But rather than getting trampled, oftentimes, somebody will pop your lost item on a fence tine in the hopes that you'll be back by that way to reclaim it.

     Every time I see one of these, it makes me smile. It's like a polite little, "Did you lose this? Here you go." (Said in the sweetest Scottish accent.) It's a lovely act of kindness and I see it all the time.

     (That's the castle behind this pink glove, hidden by the tree branches.)
     Heck, once I even saw an entire outfit. It started with the tie.
And was followed by the shirt and the pants. Not sure what that was about, it was on Rose Street after all, which is a bit of a party central after hours. At any rate, even the pants were nicely folded and placed over a rail (you can see them behind the tie).
     Just the other day I became part of the process... I found a sweet little pink mitten that some little girl was bound to be missing. So I put it on a windowsill where she might find it.
     These found items make me happy, so I'm going to keep collecting photos of them.

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3. Coloring Page Tuesday - Sleeping Cardinal

     I wonder if birds ever wish they could just hibernate rather than flying south?
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

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4. Learning Watercolors at the University of Edinburgh - Part II

For the second day of our watercolor workshop with Darren Woodhead, we went outside. And not just any outside - we headed for Arthur's Seat.

That's the former volcano that sits in the middle of town east of the castle. I've been so caught up with school and winter, we haven't actually hiked up it yet, so this was my first experience with this amazing mountain.
     We met at St. Margaret's Loch.
     The loch was full of swans and ducks and gulls.
It was cold and windy, but we pulled out our paints and paper and gave it a go.
Eventually, it just got too cold to keep our fingers moving, so a few of us hiked up to the St. Anthony's Chapel ruins.

It really was a beautiful day, albeit COLD! Here I am with Lily, Boris and Chiho. The hike got us warmed up a little bit.
And the view of the city from the mountaintop was amazing.
All said, more beautiful works were created (not by me!), and everybody got to try a hand at true plein air painting. I don't know if anybody caught the bug as strongly as Darren has it. Here he is in his painting garb - knee pads and all. But it sure was nice to try!

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5. Pixar's Movie Tributes

This is a fun video putting Pixar movies side-by-side with scenes from famous movies they were mimicking or were inspired by. Click the image to watch on YouTube.

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6. TEDx TALK - getting closer!

Yesterday I attended a TEDx Master Class led once again by the amazing speech coach, Mel Sherwood. A team of volunteers gathered to give feedback to five of the speakers (me included). It was the first time to share my speech with an audience and their feedback was fantastic - a roomful of brilliant minds! (Photo shared with permission by Nel Raymond.)

But first, Mel walked us through a bunch of exercises getting our minds, bodies, and mouths ready to be fully engaged. She's brilliant with her insights and I once again learned so much from her.
     There have been several stages with this preparation for a TEDx Talk. A few weeks ago, I saw the venue for the first time - Edinburgh's Central Hall. It is truly lovely and will hold 700 audience members. 500 tickets have already been sold, and you can buy yours HERE.
     They took my official photo while I was there, although I might need a redo as I recently got new glasses:
(Click here to see the photo with its write-up on the TEDx FB page.)
     What's been especially nice is how supportive my Uni classmates have been. They've been cheering me on, helping with design tips and Michal even gave my talk a listen in preparation for the master class. I am so grateful for all of them!
     So, how'd I do for my practice run? Well, I still need more practice, but overall, I felt good about my talk, "Is Your Stuff Stopping You?" It will be recorded, so if you can't make the journey to Edinburgh, it will be online soon after the date - where it can be viewed by millions of people if it goes viral. No pressure. But really, yeah, I hope it goes viral!!!

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7. Illustration Challenge #35

Have you ever heard of a palomino blackwing pencil? Vivian French kindly gave me one recently and I have loved how soft the lead is - especially on a soft, high quality paper. If you can't get your hands on the pencil, try a 6B or an Ebony pencil and draw on some nice paper. I promise it will be a unique experience for you!

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8. Friday Linky List - 5 February 2016

From The Guardian: Fances Hardinge's THE LIE TREE Wins Costa Book of The Year 2015 - I want to read this!

From Scholastic's On Our Minds: Statement on Claim of Self-Censorship by Advocacy Groups (over "A Birthday Cake for George Washington")

From The Observer: What the Blues Can Teach You About Life, Art and Everything In-Between (also a great commentary on writing voice, although it's all about music)

From The Scottish Book Trust: Grimm Stories: Why fairy tales are not just for children's

From School Library Journal: Support Pours In for 11-Year-Old Girl Gathering 1,000 Books with Black Girl Protagonists

From Den of Geek! (via PW): From The 5th Wave to The 100: The State of Onscreen YA

From Literary Hub (via PW): Our Fairy Tales Ourselves: Storytelling From East to West

From Slate (via PW): Quiz: Match the Mouse to the Storybook - FUN! I got them all, how about you?

From The Bookseller: Said campaigns for more children's book reviews - HEAR! HEAR!

At It's Nice That: The man behind the best hand-painted classic film posters, Steven Chorney

From Scary Mommy: Kids Develop Better Language Skills When Dad Does The Bedtime Story

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9. Sarah Dillard's MOUSE SCOUTS - Guest Post!

I remember going to the Kindling Words conference in Vermont and seeing early sketches and story ideas for Sarah Dillard's MOUSE SCOUTS, so I am thrilled to have her on today to talk about these adorable books which are finally in print!



MOUSE SCOUTS
by Sarah Dillard

      Mouse Scouts took a long time to write. It started as a picture book, spent some time as a graphic novel and finally found its place as a chapter book.
      In the beginning they weren't even scouts. There was just Violet and Tigerlily, two mice who were best of friends but very opposite. I loved the characters and wrote many different versions of their story, but something just wasn’t working. One day I was talking about it with my agent, the fabulous Lori Nowicki. She said that they really needed something to do; just being best friends who were opposite really wasn't quite enough to sustain a story. We bounced some ideas off of each other, and then one of us, I can't even remember if it was me or Lori, said MOUSE SCOUTS! From that point on, that was what they were.
     I was never much of a Girl Scout myself. My older sisters were both scouts and I was fascinated by their Girl Scout Handbooks and their badges. I couldn’t wait to be a Girl Scout myself. I was so proud when I was finally a Brownie, and I remember how magical my Flying Up ceremony felt. But Girl Scouts itself was a disappointment for me. At meetings we talked about hygiene and made macaroni necklaces.   There was a miserable sleep over at Camp Green Eyrie, our local Girl Scout Camp. It was cold, damp and smelled like Pine Sol. We slept in musty sleeping bags, in cabins with dirt floors. For breakfast there was gluey oatmeal with cold hard raisins. I never earned many badges, but I remember taking some off of my sisters’ badge sashes and sewing them on to mine. I was not a very good Girl Scout and it wasn’t long before I drifted away from it.
      So before writing Mouse Scouts I felt that I really had to do some research about what scouting was all about. I got a hold of the current Girl Scout Handbook and Badge book and read it cover to cover. On a visit to my husband's parents, we found his old Webolos and Wolf Scout handbooks. I felt like I was starting to get a grasp of scouting but something was missing. Then one day we were at a flea market and I found the exact same Girl Scout manual of my sisters that I had loved. All of my early memories of dreaming of being a Girl Scout came back.
      Originally, Violet and Tigerlily lived in a world of mice. They had computers, bicycles and all of the accoutrements of their human contemporaries. Other than their appearance, there really wasn’t anything mouse-like about them. I started to wonder what it would be like if they were mice living in a human world. It was a hard decision at first. There were many things that I liked about their mouse world that I would lose if I put them in a human world. It was like reaching a fork in the road, and I struggled for a while deciding which direction to go in. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that mice living in a human world would be much more interesting. It would emphasize the mouse like aspects of Mouse Scouting and serve to differentiate them from Girl Scouts. I drew on my memories of books like the Borrowers, The Rescuers and Stuart Little.
      The art for Mouse Scouts is black and white, except for the covers. This was something new for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed working on it. I started with pencil drawings, using water soluble graphite pencils. I love how you can go into the drawing with a damp brush and get wonderful gray tones. Then I put the drawings into photoshop to clean them up a little and make them richer. It has been fun playing with working digitally and it turned out to be a godsend for me. Soon after I started on the art for the first book, my mother became ill. I found myself dividing my time between my home in Vermont and Massachusetts caring for my mother. Working digitally meant that I could just pick up and go at any time and set up shop where ever I happened to be.
     Spending so much time in the house where I grew up gave me a window to my childhood self. While going through things in the attic I came across some mouse dolls that I treasured as a child. They now sit next to me while I work. They are a great reference for scale. One day I was looking at them, remembering how I used to play with them in the woods, taking them on camping trips and other adventures. I realized then that in many ways my life hasn’t changed very much since I was eight.

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10. Learning Watercolors at the University of Edinburgh

Recently we had a visiting artist, Darren Woodhead, come in to conduct a watercolor workshop with the MA and MFA Illustration students. Hard to believe that in my entire art career, I'd never had a watercolor lesson. Wow, what a good one to start with! Darren is amazingly talented. You really need to have a look at his website before reading more.

     Darren started us off with just one color in a limited palette. I learned so many seemingly simple things, like working with tube paint, how much water to mix with the pigment, what sort of paper to use. Darren brought in skulls and a large stuffed heron named Patrick for us to render.
     Darren talked a lot about the simple nature of watercolor and how ironic it is that it's one of the hardest media to master. (He doesn't feel like he has - HA!)
     There were lots of sighs of frustration as we all struggled to create something we were happy with. Catherine took to it pretty easily.

     Nadee and Chiho did too.
     I must admit, though, I was one of the sighers. This is the only piece I was moderately happy with.
     To a non-illustrator, it may seem silly to become so angst-ridden over the ability to apply paint to paper, but that's what we're all about and it means the world to us!
      Darren was a great teacher as we took on this great challenge. And this was only the first day. Wait until you read about our plain-air exercise next week!

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11. Coloring Page Tuesday - Bird Art

     This week we painted birds using watercolor as our medium. Made me wonder, what if the birds did the painting?
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

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12. National Museum of Scotland

Saturday I took care of two homework assignments at one time by visiting the National Museum of Scotland. (Worth a click-through.)
     My first assignment was to sit somewhere and for two hours try to record everything I saw through text and illustrations. The point being, it's an impossible task. When we interpret or try to describe something, anything, we can't help but fall short. It's an important lesson towards trying to describe or interpret your own work, let alone anybody else's.
     The second assignment was for Vivian French's writing workshop. She told me to go sit in the cafe of the National Museum and live sketch - observe the children - the gestures, the outfits, the motion. So that became my location for the first assignment and a wonderful exercise for the second one.
     Stan and I went early to just wander about for a few hours. It really is a spectacular museum with its lacy Victorian atrium and metal work. And the coolest thing is, it's FREE - always.

It has dinosaur bones and beasts of all sizes, both land-dwelling and aquatic.
The exhibits are eclectic and varied between the old and the new.
This is a part of an Atom Smasher used between 1950 and 1972. Isn't it beautiful?
Stan and I had lunch, then he went to run his errands and I went to plant myself in the cafe. This was my view to the left.
and the right.
I had purchased a cute little moleskin in the gift shop. It had a blank page on the left for sketches and a lined page on the right for my descriptions - perfect! (Click the images to see them larger in a new window if you're curious about the writing required by the brief. I used a varied nib pen and a palomino pencil for my sketches.

About half way through, the head of our TEDx Talk walked by, so she joined me and we chatted for a while. Otherwise, I wrote and I drew, wrote and drew.
     The whole exercise was surprisingly relaxing. As I wrote at the end, "Observing others takes you out of yourself and I find myself eager to keep going - to record everything. But of course, I can't. And isn't that the point of this project after all?"
     What I did find is a lovely place to hang out, sketch, drink tea and enjoy some fabulous references. I can't wait to go back.

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13. Bologna Book Fair - SCBWI Illustrators' Gallery Shortlist!

Woohoo! I've made it into the shortlist for this well-respected gallery show which will be on display during this year's Bologna Children's Book Fair, which I will finally be attending!
     The images are listed alphabetically by image title, so mine is the last one, called "Where Did She Go." My piece is alongside some pretty amazing company. I especially love the Billy Goats Gruff piece by Nicola Robinson, fellow SCBWI British Isles illustrator. CLICK HERE to have a look at all the finalists! (I think, I hope this page is open for public viewing.)
     At any rate, this is an awesome welcome to Italy for me! I can't wait for the Fair way away in April.
     Here was my entry...

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14. Spec Work

Have you seen this video about people in "normal" professions being asked to do spec work? It's been making the rounds - deservedly so.

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15. Snow in Edinburgh

It didn't last for long, but it did indeed snow this morning in Edinburgh - GORGEOUS!!!

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16. Illustration Challenge #34

Use a pen (a really nice pen) and a pencil (a really nice pencil) and switch between them as you sketch your favorite things to draw. How does the tool change your artistic expression?

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17. Friday Linky List - 29 January 2016

From Jennifer Garam via Susan Dennard's newsletter: How to Keep Writing When Nobody Gives a S*** - good advice

From Pub Crawl - also via Susan's newsletter: Eight Thing To Do While You're Waiting

From The Bookshelf: Mini mobile libraries in Seoul and The Search for Tiny Libraries in New Zealand

From BoingBoing: Best older kid's literature from 1966

From Picture Book Builders: Reporting From the Picture Book Bunker - by Eliza Wheeler!

From Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Featuring R. Gregory Christie!

From The Guardian: Fairy Tales much Older Than Previously Thought



From BBC: Is the writing on the wall for handwriting?

From The Guardian: The greatest inspirational quotes from children's books

From Literary Hub: How I Gave Up On The Great American Novel And Got A Book Deal

A fellow illustration student, Sara Julia, has a groovy Kickstarter project going on. Click the image to learn more:

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18. Cockatoo, Too - Guest post


COCKATOO, TOO
by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

      The idea for Cockatoo, Too arrived late one night as I was working on another book that also features a cockatoo. (That book, Violet and Victor Write the Most Fabulous Fairy Tale, is also due on shelves this January.) I was scanning sketches to my computer. I named the first file “cockatoo”, but what to name the second? Cockatoo2? CockatooToo? 2cockatoo? You see my dilemma. And, like all good procrastinators, I turned my attention to playing with those sounds instead of the task at hand.
      Before long, I had the beginnings of a story, and it made me laugh. When I woke up in the morning, it still made me laugh. I shared it, and it made some other people laugh. 24 short months and numerous revisions later, it’s out in the world.
      The book is filled with tongue twisters and fun wordplay–it uses the sounds in “toucan” and “cockatoo” to tell a simple story of dancing cockatoos, toucans, and tutus (all things that make me happy). The words alone are almost non-sensical, but when combined with the images, the narrative unfolds. I appreciate picture books in which the words and pictures are both integral to the storytelling. Readers have to work a bit, but I think it’s more rewarding that way. And, there are surprises and details built into the images that will reward close inspection.
      People often ask if the words or pictures come first for me. Because I worked as a designer and art director for many years, my ideas are usually a bit of both—I tend to think of a book’s action in thumbnails. This is the first book I’ve written and illustrated where the words came first. The entire idea was driven by the wordplay. So, after I wrote the text, I had to get to know the cockatoos and toucans I’d been writing about. I did pages and pages of sketches before settling on the design for the birds. The final art contains watercolor, gouache, ink, and crayon, all composed in Photoshop. And, the text is hand-lettered with a calligraphy nib.
      I work in a studio in my home in the Bay Area. My three favorite things about my studio are: the giant corkboard my husband and I installed, the view overlooking the bay, and the door (because it has a lock!). I do all of my painting there, but my writing, sketching, and thinking happen all over town—I’m a frequent visitor to cafes and I can often be found hiking or on my bicycle in the headlands overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Click the image to see it larger in a new window.
      I’ve devoted much of the past six years to writing and illustrating picture books. They have many superpowers, and one of my favorites is that they can make adults silly. As a child, I often visited my grandparents’ house. Whenever I became bored with all of the serious adult talk, I would hop up next to my grandfather and hand him a Dr. Seuss book. I loved watching him become a different person as he delighted in the Seussian rhythms, sounds, and absurdities of language. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.
      And indeed, language can be absurd. Sometimes we forget that language is just sounds—sounds that have meanings, sounds that sometimes sound silly, sounds that sound the same but have different meanings! If we learn to play with words and all of those absurdities—in the same way we learn to play with soccer balls or puzzles—I think it paves the way for reading and writing to become lifelong pleasures. So, if this book feels like silly, playful fun with words, then it has achieved its mission.
      Cockatoo, Too was released into the world on National Bird Day, as fitting a publication day as I could imagine. Thanks so much for having me, Elizabeth!

      About Bethanie:
      Bethanie Deeney Murguia graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City with an MFA in Illustration and has created numerous picture books. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay area. Some of her favorite things about her town are: the smell of eucalyptus, the fog when it creeps over the hill, and her studio, like a little birdhouse overlooking it all. To learn more about Bethanie, please visit her website: aquapup.com.

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19. Jessica Young and James Burks interview for HAGGIS AND TANK

Jessica Young (author) and James Burks (illustrator) dropped by today to interview each other as they talk about their new series featuring Haggis and Tank. Enjoy!



JB: Should we draw straws? Flip a coin? Or dance battle to see who goes first?

JY: I would totally dance battle, but since you’re in CA, and I’m in TN, you can go first. You’re first alphabetically.

JB: Are you more like Haggis or Tank? Why?
JY: I was going to ask you the same thing! My Haggis and Tank proportions vary from day to day. I tend to worry a lot and want things to be just so, especially in terms of my physical space—like Haggis. But if you get me at the right time I can be Tank-ish, too. I love trying new things and seeing new places, and I can be overly optimistic, impulsive, and goofy. Like Tank, I love dreaming up crazy adventures!

(Click the image to see it larger in a new window.)
JY: All right, I'm still going to ask it: What about you? Haggis or Tank?
JB: We are just two peas in a pod. I’m also a little bit Haggis and a little bit Tank. (That sounds like an altered version of a Donny and Marie song.) I like to feel like I’m in control of what’s happening in my life like Haggis. But I also love to live life to the fullest like Tank. I’m always up for an adventure. Life is short and I want to collect as many experiences and memories as I can.

JB: How did you come up with the idea for Haggis and Tank? What made you choose a Scottish Terrier and a Great Dane?
JY: Haggis and Tank started as a picture book—Not a Knot—about a girl learning to tie her shoelaces. After wrestling with the all-dialogue text, I realized it wasn’t working. My brilliant critique partners and agent suggested turning it into a chapter book. The main characters evolved into a doggie duo, the setting changed to a pirate ship in order to keep the knot/not wordplay (the only thing I kept from the original text), and I wove in other homophone-based misunderstandings throughout the story. I’ve always been fascinated with Scotland, hence the Scottie named Haggis. (Elizabeth piping in here: YAY!) And one of my roommates after grad school used to have a Great Dane who was a real character. She probably influenced my choice for Tank. Also, I wanted the characters’ physiques to be as different as their personalities.
JY: When you get a new manuscript, what's your process? And when you write and illustrate a story, does the drawing ever come first?
JB: The first thing I do when I get a MS is read through it. Then I ask myself: Are the characters interesting? Will it be fun to work on? Is it different than what I’ve done before? If I can answer yes to all of those then I’ll start working on designs for the characters. I’ll explore different shapes and features until I find something that I can draw from almost any angle with a wide range of expressions. I want to make sure the characters are able to move around on the page and act without limitations.
Once everyone is satisfied with the designs, I’ll move on to roughing out the pages. This can be in my sketchbook or in Photoshop. Once the roughs are approved, I’ll do all the final line art and color in Photoshop.
      For books that I write and illustrate, I always start with the character sketch first. If I find the character interesting and feel that he/she/it has a story to tell, I’ll write out an outline with the basic plot points. I’ll send this to my agent to see what she thinks. Once I have a story that my agent and I are happy with then I’ll move on to drawing. From there it’s pretty much the same as above.
JB: Do you want to tell about how we ended up working together on this project?
JY: Yes! I'd been a fan of your work for a long time, and we’d met at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in L.A. After seeing some of the sketches you were posting on Facebook, I mentioned to our amazing agent that I thought you'd do a great Haggis and Tank. She asked you if you'd be interested in creating a sample we could submit with the text. And the next thing I knew, Haggis and Tank were staring at me from my computer screen, making me laugh with their hilarious expressions! They were perfect. And our wonderful editor, Katie Carella, thought so, too.

(I just wanted to add this initial sketch that James did of Haggis and Tank. When he sent it to me (Jessica) through our agent and I opened it, it was the first time I "met" Haggis and Tank!)
JY: So what creators inspire you?
JB: I take inspiration wherever I can find it. Charles Schulz and the pre-1970s Peanuts strips are a big influence. I just like how simple they are in terms of the layout and the characters. There’s no unnecessary clutter. Each panel only contains what’s needed to get the idea across. Which is something that I make a point of doing in my own work. I’m also a big fan of Tim Burton. I like his dark sense of humor and the looseness of his line drawings. They just have so much life in them. Walt Disney is another influence. He had a vision and thought outside the box. He made it possible for so many great artists to create such phenomenal works of film and art. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today if it weren’t for the inspiration I’ve gained from studying their work.
JB: What inspires you to create your books? Are there certain authors or illustrators that you admire?
JY: My tastes and interests are pretty eclectic, but as far as inspirations for this series, I’ve always loved wordplay and fun pairs of characters. Early influences include books that experiment with language in funny ways, like Edward Lear’s The Quangle Wangle’s Hat and Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, as well as great characters like James Marshall’s George and Martha, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, and Munro Leaf’s Ferdinand. As far as contemporary authors and illustrators I admire, there are too many to name!

(Click the image to see it larger in a new window.)
JY: What’s your favorite medium, and why?
JB: My books are pretty much all done digitally with the exception of the initial sketches which are done in my sketchbook. I do love the idea of watercolor and would love to one day do a book using it. I just love the looseness of it. I always want to retain as much life in my work as possible. I want the characters to live and breathe on the page, and I think watercolor could push it even further. I just need to work with it a bit more before I can attempt to use it for an entire book.

JB: What do you like to do when you’re not writing children’s books?
JY: My other favorite things to do are hanging out with my family, cooking, playing music with my kids, and drawing when I get the chance. I also love dancing, swimming, and riding my bike, but I need to work on doing those activities more often.

JY: I know exercise is an important part of your life. How do you balance work and family and keeping healthy?
JB: Three years ago I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. So I made it a priority to get in shape and to take better care of myself. I don’t so much watch what I eat as much as I make sure to get plenty of exercise. I run, bike, or swim pretty much six days a week. The key for me is to not make excuses why I can’t exercise. I make time for it. I make it a priority. I make it a habit just like brushing my teeth. It makes me feel good and most days this spills over into my work and the time I spend with my family. It has changed my life.

JY: Okay, speed round: You're Tank. Where would you convince Haggis to go on an adventure, and what would you eat?
JB: If I were Tank I think I’d convince Haggis to bike across the United States. We’d eat all of the great foods from all the places we’d pass through. Haggis could ride in the sidecar and I’d do all the pedaling. It would be an epic adventure!

JY: Do you like black licorice?
JB: No. Black licorice is my kryptonite. (Well, that and drawing horses.)

JY: As you know, my kids are huge fans of yours. They especially love your Bird & Squirrel series. What are you working on now?
JB: Currently I’m roughing out the fourth Bird and Squirrel book. I’m also writing the follow up to my next picture book, Pigs and a Blanket (April 5) for Disney/Hyperion.

JB: What about you?
JY: I have a couple of picture book manuscripts I’m working on. And an unfinished novel I’ll go back to one day. And some other top-secret surprises!

JY: Thanks so much for doing this with me! I learned a lot!
JB: I had a blast. I can’t wait to see what Haggis and Tank have in store for us in the future. Onward and upward!

About Haggis and Tank Unleashed:
      Tank is a clumsy, outgoing Great Dane. Haggis is a dapper and grumpy Scottie dog. In the first book in the series, Haggis and Tank set sail as pirates. At first, Haggis doesn’t see what Tank does–that an adventure awaits them with just a little imagination! But soon, Haggis joins in the fun and the two friends talk like pirates, swab the deck, and search for buried treasure. This series is full of wordplay and homophones that make Haggis and Tank’s adventures even more fun!

Reviews:
Kids dipping a toe into the waters of early chapter books will find themselves challenged by the text while simultaneously enticed by the alluring art. These salty sea dogs put the bite back in buccaneering. — Kirkus Reviews (Whole review here.) Odd-couple antics, loads of goofy humor, and an appealing comics/early reader format make for an all-around entertaining read. — Publishers Weekly (Whole review here.) “a must-have for the difficult-to-fill niche for readers transitioning from picture books and beginning readers to early chapter books.” –School Library Journal

Illustrations from Haggis and Tank Unleashed written by Jessica Young and illustrated by James Burks. Illustrations © 2016 by James Burks. Used with permission from Branches/Scholastic Inc.

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20. Friday Linky List - 22 January 2016

At The Bookseller: Pullman resigns from Oxford Lit Fest over author pay (there is none) - interesting!

From The Washington Post: One of America's most popular children's books has a secret political message

From Janice Hardy's Fiction University: 5 Ways to Tell if a Subplot is Leading You Astray

At Bran Lindy Ayres "Let's Get Complicated": The Non-Traditional Hero: Part 1 (Read them all!)

From Idealist4Ever: 50 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature

From Houzz: See the Estate That Drove Jack London to Write

From The Bookseller: IBBY announces Hans Christian Andersen Awards shortlist

At The Write Conversation: Write to Entertain Yourself

At HuffPost: 5 Things Every Author Needs to Understand About Book Cover Design

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21. Illustration Challenge #33

This week lets play with mixed media in different orders. Try watercolor with pen and ink on top. Or pen and ink with watercolor or pastels on top. Or pencil with watercolor on top. Or watercolor with pencil on top. The variations are endless! Experiment and see what happens!

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22. Disney Pixar's La Luna!

Oh, this is positively lovely! Thanks to classmate Boris for sharing!
Click the image to watch on YouTube.

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23. Happy Burns Night!

There is a holiday here in Scotland called Burns Night in celebration of the birthday of the National Poet of Scotland Robert (Rabbie) Burns (1759-1796). Burns suppers began in 1801 and are still going strong today.
      Chances are you've heard of Rabbie Burns and didn't realize it. He wrote the famous poem Tam O Shanter and Auld Lang Syne - yes, the one you sing at midnight at the turn of the New Year. He also wrote the famous line, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry" in his poem "To a Mouse." It was later used by John Steinbeck as the title of his novel.
     Rabbie Burns celebrations have been going on for over a week now. His face is everywhere in Edinburgh. And haggis, neeps and tatties are on sale in the grocery stores (neeps=turnips; tatties=mashed potatoes).
     Stan was invited to a very formal Burns Supper last week. He had to wear a dinner jacket and women weren't allowed. (Kilts and whiskey were involved.) A traditional Burns supper consists of traditional Scottish Food, such as Scotch Broth (lentils and root veggies soup) or Cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and plums), and of course (you knew it was coming), the haggis:
It is presented with pomp and a prayer called "The Selkirk Grace" (or "Burns's Grace at Kirkcudbright"):
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
     And then it is stabbed indelicately with a large knife.
     Haggis is typically not gluten free, although sometimes it is. (It is made with oatmeal.) I have had GF haggis and I can tell you honestly, I sincerely like it. It's a comfort food and I understand why it has remained popular. That said, an any-time haggis is usually much smaller than this, more like a large sausage. This one was most definitely for show at the Burns Supper Stan and I attended together this Sunday.
     It was held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre where my friend David Campbell and his former wife Linda gave a lovely performance about Rabbie's life. (He was quite the rogue and songwriter - a true character.)
     To cap off the evening, Donald Smith, head of the Scottish Storytelling Centre, performed the entire poem, Tam O Shanter in Scots. I have a feeling I have now seen it done at its very best and other performances will pale in comparison. He was fabulous!
     All said, Burns Night has been a fun addition to our Scottish experience and I'm happy to join in to sing the bard's praises.

Burns image from Getty.

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24. New Year's Eve in Newcastle - Guest Post

I told you about our recent visit to Newcastle. Well, one of the reasons we were so tempted to go was Phil Gates' amazing photos of New Year's Eve and the fabulous puppets. Since he took the photos, I asked him to share his experience...


New Year’s Eve in Newcastle
Guest Post by Phil Gates

      We follow the crowds towards the start of the Winter Carnival Procession. The throng is ten-deep by the time we reach the bottom of Northumberland Street.
      There’s distant drumming; excitement; anticipation.
      And suddenly they appear. There are ‘ooohs and ‘aaaaahs’ and cheers from children perched on fathers’ shoulders. Eyes shine with the reflections of flaming torches and a blazing golden cauldron. A fire-breathing dragon bends over us and belches smoke from its nostrils. Strange alien monsters mingle with creatures from medieval bestiaries.
      The crowd folds in and follows the tail of the procession, a river of people. Music dies away as the first rocket bursts overhead and the city centre echoes with firework explosions. Windows glitter with cascade of falling sparks.
      The crowds disperse but the evening is still young. We make our way down to the Quayside, past an endless stream of taxis carrying revellers. The bar in the Broad Chare is warm, convivial, inviting. Upstairs in the restaurant we join other families, reunited at the turning of the year.
      Afterwards we walk down beside the river Tyne which is patterned with liquid light. Music and conversation spill from doorways.
      We head for the Cluny bar beside the Ouseburn, down three floors to a basement stage where a band is playing the old year out with hits from the 1960s and 1970s. A gaggle of women in their glad rags are dancing to ‘Sultans of Swing’, with the same sensuous moves that captivated husbands and lovers forty years ago. A couple shuffle along the seats to make room for us and soon we are in conversation, sharing experiences of past gigs. Newcastle is a friendly city, a place of conversations with total strangers.
      At half past eleven we head back down to the river, past the Pitcher and Piano bar where old friendships are being revived and new ones forged. By the time we cross to the Gateshead side of the river thousands of people are lining the banks of the Tyne and standing on the bridges, waiting for the midnight hour.
      Revellers spill out onto the concourse of the Sage concert hall, some clutching champagne bottles and glasses. We spot old friends in the crowd but can only exchange brief greetings before the countdown begins: 5-4-3-2-1. Then bells ring and there are handshakes, hugs and kisses. As the strains of Auld Lang Syne die away the sky erupts with fireworks again.
      As the last rocket falls to earth, under a clear starlit sky, we wish each other well and head for home, promising to meet here again, this time next year.
      Phil Gates
@seymourdaily
Blog: http://cabinetofcuriosities-greenfingers.blogspot.co.uk/

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25. Coloring Page Tuesday - Birdie Perch

     This snowman loves the little birdies so much, he gives them a place to perch upon!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

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