There are many reasons, one of them being this (if it is —fingers crossed —any good):
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There are many reasons, one of them being this (if it is —fingers crossed —any good):
Yesterday evening, a publishing friend and I were just heading out of her office into a very rainy New York City for a quiet pre-Thanksgiving dinner when I received an email letting me know that Africa is My Home is a New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2013. It was great to get the news with her as she knows just how big deal it is. I’m still floating on air amazed that this happened and to be among those other distinguished book creators. Just…well…wow….
Melissa’s Sweet is on a glorious roll this year getting a lot of well deserved attention for her illustrations for A Splash of Red, Brave Girl, and Little Red Writing. So I thought I’d republish this interview from a couple of years back about her delightful book about Tony Sarg and the Macy’s Parade balloons.
Just in time for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade comes Melissa Sweet‘s picture book biography, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. That puppeteer is none other than Tony Sarg, a remarkable man indeed. Author/Illustrator Melissa Sweet has done a bang-up job focusing in on the man, directing young readers toward the activities that led him to his epiphany — why not float creature balloons over the parade? Why not indeed?
Sarg being a unique man, Sweet’s story is a fascinating one. But it is really with her illustrations that she, an already much lauded illustrator, has truly outdone herself. Mixing primary sources, toys she made herself for the book, collages, assemblages, comics, drawings, paintings, and more, she has created a picture book biography like no other. Through her text and art the brilliant Sarg bounds to life in this book as do his ideas, his creations, and his stories. Balloons over Broadway is a book that will be enjoyed by everyone in the family — be sure to have your copy on hand when watching this year’s parade!
Thinking that many would enjoy knowing more about how this book came to be I asked Melissa if she’d be willing to answer a few questions and provide a few images. She did all that and more as you will see.
So everyone in America it seems spends Thanksgiving morning watching the Macy’s parade and those incredible balloons. But I have to say it never really crossed my mind to consider how they came into being so your book was quite a revelation. What inspired you to do it? Was it the balloons first or Tony Sarg?
It was Tony Sarg that intrigued me first and I had the same response–how did this brilliant illustrator and puppeteer invent the character balloons? I knew there was a story there. The Macy’s parade and Tony’s life are so intertwined that parade was the perfect vehicle to tell his story.
Tony Sarg seems like such a larger-than-life figure. Did that make it a bit hard at times to write the book? I mean, did you have to pick and chose stories, winnow the text down a lot to get to the essence of his life in terms of the balloons? Was there anything you found especially hard to put in or leave out?
It’s true, with a character like Tony Sarg, every story seems worth telling. In this case, the essence also had to be something that children could relate to. There were many stories I wanted to tell–how he sat in a theatre watching a puppet troupe perform for 50 nights in a row to learn their trade. And how at the end of the Macy’s parade he released the balloons into the sky with a reward for their return.
But my favorite story is when a “sea monster” was sighted off the coast of Nantucket, (where Tony had a house). Luckily, Tony and some friends “captured” it and brought it onto the beach as everyone Nantucket watched. He had a great humor and was a bit of prankster. (The image of this event below is courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.)
I’m curious about your research which was clearly extensive. You seem to have traveled, interviewed, made things, and read and read. Any especially memorable moments along this journey?
A few years into the research I was in touch with a man in his nineties who worked for Sarg at the 1939 World’s Fair. It was remarkable to hear his stories of that time. Another was when I was visiting Nantucket for the first time (where there is a great collection of Sarg’s work at the Nantucket Historical Association), I went to the public library which is in a gorgeous old building on a cobblestone street. It started to snow as I was looking through old newspaper clippings about Sarg and it was dawning on me what a legend he was. The whole place seemed magical.
Tell us a bit about creating the art. You mention it at the end of the book, but HuffPo readers might enjoy learning a bit about how you went about making it. Just a little bit, perhaps?
My studio is full of old toys, fabric and found objects I’ve collected. I started making quirky toys and paper-mache puppets using the materials I had on hand. People often ask which comes first, words or pictures, and in this case making these objects taught me about Tony’s creative process and helped me figure out an angle to tell the story. I knew I wanted a 3-dimensional aspect to the art to give the feel of what Tony’s studio might’ve been like. I recently made some fun Christmas ornaments based on the book for the Martha Stewart show with instructions on her website. They’re miniature parade balloons.
What are you working on now?
I have a wonderful mix of non-fiction and picture books I’m working on and next year I have a picture book biography coming out: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda By Alicia Potter and Spike: The Mixed Up Monster by Susan Hood, about an axolotl which is as funny as its name.
Melissa, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and providing the following movie of Sarg in action as a puppeteer.
Also at the Huffington Post (along with a slide show with more images of Sarg and some interior art from the book).
@PhilipPullman Jeffrey our resident fly is the most polite insect I’ve ever met. He leaves our food alone but sits on my shoulder to read the Oxford Times.
Philip Pullman is now tweeting and mixed in among his remarks on various issues are occasional reports on Jeffrey. This gentlemanly insect seems to have mixed feelings about others of his sort — he reacted poorly to a spider, but has fallen headlong in love with a ladybird. Highly literate it seems in multiple languages, he has already expressed strong reactions to Sartre and Baudelaire. It reminds me of don marquis’s archy and mehitabel, but with punctuation and capitals as it isn’t Jeffrey doing the writing in this case.
Wow. It was amazing to be at NCTE as a children’s book author. As I wrote in my previous post I’ve been a member of the organization and attending conventions (at one time there was a second spring conference as well) for many years, but always as an educator. So this was a very special NCTE for me.
First of all, on Thursday, I visited my publisher, Candlewick Press. They are housed in a beautiful building and it was so kind for the executive director of school and library marketing, Sharon Hancock, to take the time to show me around. It was wonderful to finally meet my book’s fantastic designer, Heather McGee, and terrific copyeditor, Hannah Mahoney. A special thrill was reading to Candlewick staff in the kitchen, a tradition for authors who visit. All in all, a wonderful experience.
The historical fiction session with M. T. Anderson, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Gene Yang chaired by Teri Lesesne was great and I hope that there are opportunities for further explorations about the nuances of writing about the past for young people. In a future post, I plan to go into more detail about the session and what we discussed.
I did a book signing and Candlewick had my book on display with one of those cool star bookmarks (for the one it got from SLJ)!
After a family dinner with just Candlewick folk, including Gareth Hinds and Burleigh Muten I stayed up way past my bedtime at the Nerdy Book Club gathering. As my friends know I’m very much an early-to-bed-early-to-rise sort of gal and not much for crowds, but I ended up having a fantastic time at this event. I mainly went to celebrate my book’s publication with Jenni Holm who had been there way back when I was just beginning to work on it and who was very supportive as I tried to figure out just how to tell the story. So, thanks for that, Jenni, and the champagne! (And, thanks also to Louise Borden who took this photo.) But I also met many other friends and made new ones too. It was a great event so thanks, Nerdy Book Club for setting it up.
Saturday morning I switched hats to my critic/educator one and attended the ALAN Breakfast as a guest of Random House. Jennifer Burhle’s tribute to Judy Blume was so moving as was Judy Blume’s acceptance of her award. And then there was the one and only Walter Dean Myers who spoke passionately about economic diversity.
Arguably the best speaker I heard at the convention was Temple Grandin. Certainly she was the most unique, funny, blunt, and practical. A few of my tweets:
Then I attended the Books for Children luncheon as an author. Among other things, that meant sitting at a table with my books and attendees and talking to them about my book. I also was thrilled to see my old friend Leda Shubert receive the Orbis Pictus Award for her book Monsieur Marceau. Here’s her editor (another old friend of mine) Neal Porter with a book that is not hers.
The keynote speaker was Steve Jenkins who was outstanding. I’ve always admired his books, but he is a terrific speaker too. I especially enjoyed his dry deadpan wit. One example: “I must say I find the creatures much easier to work with when they are stuffed.”
That evening I met Jen and Lisa of the excellent blog, Reads for Keeps, for drinks and we stopped by the Stenhouse party so I could see the wonderful editors of my two books on teaching history, Philippa Stanton and Bill Varner. It was a special treat to then run into some several other old friends as well. I then went off to a dinner as a Candlewick author which was very, very cool indeed. It was at the Forum restaurant which had been the site of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing and that was moving too. My table mates and I had a splendid time talking books — pretty much exclusively adult ones for a change.
All in all it was a glorious few days! Thank you, Candlewick for my beautiful book and for a wonderful conference.
I’m off to Boston tomorrow for the National Council of Teachers of English convention. With rare exceptions I’ve been attending yearly since I joined the organization way back in the 1990s. This year will be markedly different from all my previous times as I will be attending in a new and different capacity: as a trade book author. And so, in addition to attending sessions, visiting exhibits, and talking to like-minded educators as a teacher, I will also be attending events as an author. Hope to see some of you at these or elsewhere around the convention!
One of my perpetual concerns is how we help children understand the complicated interrelated ways of wildlife and people, especially when it comes to endangered animals. My longtime experience in a school is that too often animals in places where lives are significantly different from those of my students are attended to at the expense of the people. That is, I fear that they will inadvertently develop a negative view of the people native to an area where animals are in danger rather than develop a deeper understanding of the complexities of the situation. So what a delight to read Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore’s Parrots over Puerto Rico where the intertwined histories of animals and people are thoughtfully, intelligently, and beautifully presented.
To begin with there were the birds — striking green and blue parrots with the distinctive flight call, “Iguaca! Iguaca!” There were evidently hundreds of thousands of them all over Puerto Rico when people started to arrive around 500 BCE. Among them were the Taino people who hunted the parrots and kept them as pets. After Christopher Columbus’s “claiming” of the island for Spain in 1493 the island became full of Spanish settlers and a century later enslaved Africans were brought there to work the sugarcane. These new arrivals also brought new life with them: ships’ rats and honeybees that managed to get to the parrots’ nesting holes and attack their eggs. Others needed timber and so the forests where the parrots lived were cut down. And even as their homes were in peril, so were the birds themselves as people continued to hunt them and keep them as pets.
For the first half of the book, Roth and Trumbore do a splendid job providing young readers with a history of the island, intertwining the birds’ history with its human inhabitants along the way. In the second part they indicate the awareness by Puerto Ricans that the birds are almost gone and then their efforts to bring them back. The book ends with a very informative afterward with photos as well as a timeline and a list of sources. Their research appears to be impeccable.
Of course, it must be said, that what brings this book to a level I might term “awesome”are Susan L. Roth’s remarkable paper-and-fabric collages. Elegantly designed, the book’s vertical orientation allows for her spectacular double page spreads throughout, increasing the sense of the birds’ habitats and movement as well as the way humans affect them.
I can’t say much more than that this is a fantastic book — I recommend it highly.
Poking around Netgalley I came across Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy and, intrigued by the description, began reading it and was quickly hooked. It is a lovely, moody contemporary reworking of Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” set in a museum, no less. I find books set in museum to be tricky things — sometimes the setting seems more important than the rest of it. Fortunately, in this case, it totally works. Our heroine, Ophelia, has arrived in the never-identified city with her older sister while their father works on a blockbuster exhibit of swords. They are all mourning the loss of the family’s mother in their own ways: the father throws himself into work, the older sister becomes eagerly distracted by the exhibit’s fashionable female curator, and Ophelia gloomily wanders the museum, counting the days and hours since her mother’s death. In her wanderings she comes across the Marvelous Boy of the title and so her adventure begins. Ophelia is a winning heroine as she fights fear to do what needs to be done (just…you know..saving the world and stuff), the Boy sad and stalwart (his own back story meanders through the larger story taking place in the museum), the writing elegant, and the plot compelling. There are creepy creatures, ghosts, a deliciously evil villain, magical things, and plenty more to keep middle grade readers engrossed.
Recently the publisher sent me a print ARC along with a key and a tiny tube of super glue (a particularly clever, if for those who haven’t yet read the book, especially enigmatic touch), all of which made me smile.
Yesterday I had a splendid time speaking and signing at an event organized by the Farmington Historical Society and the First Church. It was held in the church’s Amistad Hall and the attendees were so well-informed about the Amistad affair and Sierra Leone that it was very special experience indeed. My great thanks to all those who organized this so beautifully.
Speaking with an attendee who was originally from Sierra Leone.
They brought a Mende Bunde Mask that looks very similar to the one on the cover of the book and a footwarmer that might have been used in the church when Margru was there.
Before and after the event my friend and I revisited some of the Amistad sights we’d seen during our previous research visit so many years ago and finally found the grave of Fone, one of the Amistad captives who died during their time in Farmington.
After the Amistad captives won their case and were freed, they had a long wait until sufficient funds were raised for a ship to take them back to Africa. Happily, there were people in Farmington, CT, who took them in. As part of my research for Africa is My Home I visited Farmington and I’m thrilled to be returning to speak and sign books this Sunday. The details are all here.
Now, of course, “best of all time” is hyperbole, but EW realizes that and still is going forward with their bracket game, pitting 64 titles against each other for the “best of all time” title. Now I tend to get my back up the minute I see another list, but I have to say this is a good one. The titles are mostly recognizably YA (the main one I’d argue with is Hugo Cabret as I see it as solidly juvenile and there are a few that were originally published for adults) and a great bunch indeed. And since I too run a yearly bracket contest I am all for them. They are fun ways to highlight a whole bunch of books, some of which those participating may have forgotten, overlooked, or just not known about until then. I just voted in their first round and, boy oh boy, were some hard to decide. In some cases, it was problematic as I haven’t read all the contenders and sometimes voted unfairly for the one of the pair I had. I didn’t vote when I hadn’t read either book, tempted though I was to go for the one that I’d heard better things about. But this sort of thing is basically random and fun — that is true for the BoB as well. It gets the word out, gets folks looking at books they didn’t know about, and is all good, to my mind. Well done, EW! I’m on tenterhooks to see what titles advance to round two!
I just got my copy of the the German edition of Philip Pullman’s retelling of the Grimm fairy tales, Grimms Märchen, and it is a beautiful, beautiful book. The Shaun Tan illustrations are amazing. And the only way to see them all is to get this edition. It doesn’t matter if you don’t read English. Just get the book for the Tan art and shelf it next to the English edition. (FYI: I got it from Book Depository.) Awesome, awesome, awesome.
A big fan of Makus Zusak’s The Book Thief, I have been very curious about the film opening next week. The moving trailers didn’t feature the most powerful element of the book — the narrator Death and I wondered if he had been eliminated. That troubled me as he really makes the book so transcendent. And so I was very happy to come across a very informative PW article about the movie with the following:
One of the most critical choices that Percival would make concerned the role that Death would play in the film. While in the book Death’s voice is ubiquitous, Percival did not want Liesel’s story to be overshadowed by a voice-over narration or the physical presence of a Death character. “I didn’t want to have Death narrating throughout the entire film,” he said, because of concerns that “it would take viewers out of the film and it might have lessened the connection with the characters.” Visually, wide-angle, high camera shots served as a means to “reinforce the idea of a third party watching the story,” allowing Death to be present as a character while also not “taking the audience outside the narrative.” Finding just the right actor to be the voice of Death, speaking only intermittently throughout the film, was a struggle: “We just knew that Death had to be warm, witty, wry, and have the welcoming but knowledgeable nature of someone we would trust and be drawn to,” Percival said in the press release. Eventually, the English actor Roger Allam was cast.
Here are some clips (sans Death):
And here is the official international trailer:
Since NCTE is in nearby Boston this year and knowing my book would just be out, I put together what looks to be a stimulating panel on historical fiction, “Inventing the Past: Historical Fiction Comes Alive.” Here’s the annotation:
Complex, creative, and compelling, historical fiction challenges young readers with ideas from a wide range of times and places, offering rich instructional possibilities in this time of Common Core. Join M. T. Anderson, Monica Edinger, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Gene Yang in an exploration of the creation and teaching of fictional works about the past.
Our chair is Professor Teri Lesesne (aka The Goddess of YA Literature and an unceasing advocate for teachers). Looks pretty awesome, does it not? It is 11 -12:15 on Friday, November 22nd in the Hynes Convention Center.
BBC One/BBC America co-productionJonathan Strange And Mr Norrellstarts shooting next week with Ray Donovan‘s Eddie Marsan and Olivier award-winning Bertie Carvel (Matilda) starring in the lead roles. Based on the bestselling novel by Susanna Clarke, the seven-part series has been adaptedby Wallander‘s Peter Harness.
From this. Hurrah!
I am delighted that Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy won this year’s Guardian Children’s Book Prize. I was a big fan of the book and so am thrilled to bits to see it get this well-deserved award. Congratulations to all!
My birthday was a few weeks ago and for fun I decided to read aloud Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers’ wonderful and subversive-to-the-depths Battle Bunny. I thought I’d made clear just what it was, but my class was silent and I was puzzled. Later I discovered they thought someone named Alex had really destroyed the book and were very confused and even a bit dismayed. Once I made things clear they breathed sighs of relief! Ah well… I will just have to do better next time, because I adore the book (and already wrote a longer post review articulating my my enthusiasm).
So how fun to see My Birthday Bunny — a site with all sorts of crazy things you can do with the book created by Bank Street College librarian Allie Bruce. It is fun to navigate through and provides all sorts of great ways to get kids to take the crazy ideas of the book out and beyond. To my mind, of particular fun, is the blank Birthday Bunny provided along with the invitation to kids to make their own crazy messed-up re-write. They’ve already got a bunch here.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A world-renowned educator, poet, anthologist and advocate for poetry has arranged to give the Penn State University Libraries his 18,000-volume book collection and correspondence papers from his lifelong career in children’s literature. Lee Bennett Hopkins, a Guinness World Record holder as the most prolific anthologist of children’s poetry, has committed to give Penn State the collection, valued at approximately $3.25 million. The gift will provide Penn State with one of the most extensive and unique collections of children’s literature in the United States.
More about this gift and Lee’s amazing collection here.
This looks great fun:
Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus trilogy, will be writing an exclusive interactive story for Halloween based on the intrepid ghost hunters from his latest book, Lockwood & Co – but he needs your help!
Go here to help out and see his progress.
I will be doing my first event for Africa is My Home this coming Sunday, October 10th, at 2:30, at the Bank Street Book Store. I’ve been to so many of these over the year, but never as the featured author! Maybe I’ll see some of you there?
It is great that the National Book Foundation has broaden aspects of their National Book Award. They are now including other knowledgeable book people besides writers on the juries and introduced a 10 book long list this year. Yesterday the short lists were announced — five books from those original long lists. (Reminder: this is a very different award from the Newbery as only books submitted for a significant fee by the publishers are considered. There were under 300 of these submitted for the Young People’s award. More on the process here.)
I have to say I’m delighted with the Young People’s Literature shortlist, having read and enjoyed very much four of the five. Congratulations to all!
Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
I’ve been reading this one aloud to my 4th graders and we are having an absolutely grand time with it. Appelt is a storyteller for sure — her books just demand that you read them aloud. This one is especially fun and funny. Just one thing— I want a sugar cane pie!
Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
This feels like a slice of life story, a point in time, vividly evoked. Wonderful characters, setting, and set pieces. The last part was especially beautifully done.
Tom McNeal, Far Far Away (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)
I found this a unique read, sort of spooky, definitely creepy as it goes on. McNeal really knows how to make food sound really scrumptious and also various characters twinkly and fun until…they are not. It probably would have given me nightmares as a kid!
Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Group USA)
Need to read this one!
Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints (First Second/Macmillan)
Liked both of these tremendously. Really vivid portrayal of a difficult historical period, one that makes you think and feel.
As someone who teaches in an elite NYC private school I am very aware of the moral quandaries our parents find themselves in, a situation that was highlighted in the recent New York Magazine article, “Ethical Parenting.” Not being a parent myself I am cautious about judging those who are, but have to admit to discomfort at the justifications made for actions that benefit some at the expense of others. And so I was very happy to read Marjorie Ingall‘s riposte, “Ethical Parenting is More Than Possible: It’s Essential for Parents and Children Alike.” Marjorie is an urban parent, one whose children go to local public schools. (She has worked liked crazy to keep a library in one of them in this era where too many public school leaders see them as a frill). She is also a terrific writer — this article is smart, funny, and furious. Read it and then joint the rest of us who are waiting with bated breath for her forthcoming book.
Last summer, at a wonderful international children’s literature conference, I met Klaus Humann of Aladin Verlag at which time, among other things, we chatted about his publishing a German edition of Philip Pullman’s Grimm fairy tales retellings. It was interesting to talk to him and later to Philip about the interesting situation of translating a British retelling of what was, after all, originally a collection of stories written and published in German.
I think I also did vaguely know, but forgot until now that Shaun Tan was to do the cover. But now I just learned that he did much more than that, he did illustrations too, small sculptures for each of the stories, no less! Of course, I ordered it immediately. You can see a few of them and read about Shaun’s thinking about the creation of them here.
Thanks to everyone at the Bankstreet Bookstore, especially manager Andy Laties, and to all who came to yesterday’s event. It was really, really lovely to see my family, colleagues, old friends, and students with their families. It was surprisingly daunting to be on the author-side of things, but everyone was so positive and interested that I was able to relax, read, answer questions, and sign. (If you weren’t able to make it you can still order signed copies from the bookstore.)
Now that the book is out in the world it is really exciting to see mentions, features, and blog reviews. Here are some I came across recently:
And finally, for those in New York City, Robert Byrd’s glorious final spread from the book is in this year’s Original Art Exhibit at the Society of Illustrators — go see it!