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A writer and illustrator tries to find joy in the daily grit, connect with other writers, read books, manage four children and find out where she's put the phone today.
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1. Tiny Valentine-y

Haven't you always wanted mini flashcards?
I thought they might be a fun Valentine-y gift. 
I like to carry around pocket-sized art decks, don't you? 
Because don't we all carry words on the go?
Who doesn't like a little
fun on a ring?
Or words on a string?

They're up in my shop
perfect word surprises
for your small people - 
or your pocket card collectors.

Local buyers can enter the code: LOCALPICKUP
on my shop to waive shipping fees 
and arrange a delivery option.
Here's to the small, the tiny, the mini,
the little bits of love and beauty in this big world
that make life sweet and good.


Tiny book favorites:



Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Eric DiGiacomo
The Tiny King by Taro Miura
Tiny's Big Adventure by Martin Waddell, illustrated by John Lawrence
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes - by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter








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2. Deep Blue Birthday

My little buddy turns seven tomorrow.
He's kind of smitten with the ocean lately,
especially the big guys, the scary guys, 
and the whales.
I love discovering new beauties in the creative process.
Coloring is something I'm both awed and fascinated by,
so I decided this would be a great opportunity
to experiment with how I color my sketches.

I sketched in buttery soft oil pencils,

and layered colored pencils on top.
No paint this time.


After that, I scanned my colored sketches on to the computer
and played with laying in textures with Photoshop.

Now I get to take my sketches 
and turn them into the party - 
cupcake toppers, 
fishy "paper dolls,"
sharks on a stick, perhaps.
More to come...


Whale-y wonderful books:



Whale Song - Tony Johnston, illustrated by Ed Young
The Storm Whale - Benji Davies
The Blue Whale - Jenni Desmond
Big Blue Whale - Nicola Davies, illustrated by Nick Maland

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3. When Books Dream, and Other Caldecott Thoughts

When books sleep, do they see in color? 
In their slumbering, do they take a wayward path, 
meandering through bright worlds and words, 
do their characters reach for lofty things?

Do books dream
of Caldecott and Newbery?

Or do they wish
to be read,
to be loved,
from end to end,
from page to page,

word after word after word?

On Monday, the American Library Association announced their choices,
the most distinguished books of 2016. 
They've picked the stellar standouts, 
a handful of beautiful treasures. 
Finding Winnie gets the Caldecott medal this year. 
Oh happy day for illustrator Sophie Blackall and author Lindsay Mattick!

Caldecott Honors go to:
Waiting, by Kevin Henkes,
 
Trombone Shorty, illustrated by Bryan Collier & written by Troy Andrews,

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement,
illustrated by Ekua Holmes & written by Carole Boston Weatherford

and one more Caldecott Honor-
glorious surprise!

Last Stop on Market Street,  illustrated by Christian Robinson & written by Matt de la Peña
rode home not only a Caldecott Honor,
but a Coretta Scott King Honor,
and the Newbery Medal,
the award given each year for the most distinguished contribution
in American literature for children. 
What an exciting day!

Some of our other book favorites were honored on Monday with special awards as well.

Drum, Dream Girl, illustrated by Rafael Lopez & written by Margarita Engle
won the Pura Belpre' award for illustration.

Mango, Abuela, and Me, illustrated by Angela Dominguez & written by Meg Medina
earned Pura Belpre' Honors in both writing and illustration.

Emmanuel's Dream, illustrated by Sean Qualls 
& written by Pacific Northwest author Laurie Ann Thompson
was honored with the Schneider Family Book Award. 
Yay, Laurie! 

And tomorrow, our Library Mock Caldecott committee
finds out their winners.

Last week, the committee had to stand up
and defend their favorite book finalists,
provide good, deep dirt on why their books mattered.

 Nearly every kid present had a different favorite book.
Each speaker, even my crowd-shy wildebeests,
braved the limelight to give strong, passionate, thoughtful evidence
as to why their book was a winner.
And that's when it struck me -
each book wins.
Each book published has a chance to speak, to set a spark in a child.
And that is a win.

That's the beauty and the power
of these little, flat packages of words and pictures
that we call books.

So if tomorrow at the Library Mock Caldecott Awards Party,
there just happens to be one Mock Caldecott winner
and a surprising eight Honor books,
it is because
each of those books
has won over
some very passionate readers.

And if you just happen to be around tomorrow -

Thursday, January 14, 2016 at 3:45 p.m.

at the Jefferson County Library,

come in for the party!

All are invited!


Come see the books!


Have some party snacks and toothpicks!
 
If you read five books, you get to weigh in on the People's Choice vote.

And next Thursday at 3:45 p.m. at the library,
we'll write letters to authors and illustrators. 
We'll send awards to our winners.
 

Here's to books that dream,
and to books that spark readers and dreamers!

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4. Caldecott Countdown!


It's the final week before the 
2016 Caldecott medal is awarded!

And it's almost time for our very own Jefferson County 
Library Caldecott committee to choose a winner!
The selection  of thirty-four books has been narrowed down 
to these nine favorites:
Kid committee members meet this Thursday, January 7, at 3:45 p.m. 
to defend and debate their favorites before their peers
 and hold a final election. 

Most of our members are kids, ages 5-11. 
Did I mention that?  

I have been blown away by the details they discover,
things that my broad adult eye skips right past, 
the critical thinking skills they are developing 
as they compare and contrast books and styles, 
themes and layers of story.

What a treat to learn to look, to really look
alongside this multi-age group.
 
And the fun keeps coming!
Simultaneously, the library has displayed all 34 top contenders 
in-house for the month of January, so that patrons of all ages can participate 
in a library-wide People's Choice vote.  
 Look at those yummy choices!

Wouldn't it be exciting if picture book delight spilled over 
to the greater library populace through all of this bookish hooplah?
 I hope so.

Up next:
bring on the sparkly gowns!
the announcements!
the fancy treats!
that gold sticker we've all been waiting for!

All ages are invited to our Library Caldecott Award Party
 on Thursday, January 14 at 3:45 p.m.

Good times are sure to be had by all! 

Our Top Nine Finalists:

Thank You and Goodnight - by Patrick McDonnell
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich -by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Out of the Woods - by Rebecca Bond
A Fine Dessert - by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Sonya's Chickens - by Phoebe Wahl
Mango, Abuela and Me  - by Meg Medina, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
The Whisper - by Pamela Zagarenski
If You Plant a Seed  - by Kadir Nelson
In a Village by the Sea - by Muon Van, illustrated by April Chu








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5. Small Business Saturday

 
Small Business Saturday!

Thank you, friends, neighbors, you lovely folks all
who burst the coat buttons off our tiny downtown.
Cheers to you, supporters of the small!

Pip and Winnie helped all day.
 
 Decorating the chalkboard was one of their important jobs.

The Holiday Bazaar held a treasury of beautiful things to be found-
handcrafted jewelry, rescued cashmere, shelves of books, felted creations,
art and prints by the Watsons (my dad Richard and my brother Jesse).
 
See the sight word cards in their handmade green and blue folios?
It felt strange, seeing them all lined up so soldierly after all this work.
I was kind of excited about the greeting cards and gicleé prints, too.

My heart feels squeezed up with gratefulness.

And just to keep the adventures rolling in, 
I re-opened the Etsy Shop.
  
Birdy and Sugar Snack helped me with the photos.
Sight word art cards are in stock,
prints and cards are coming soon.
 
Have a look, if you like! 

And thank you, my friends.
I'm warmed to the toes
by all of the support and love
I've had from so many of you.

Here's to warm toes,
new adventures,
and joy in each journey!

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6. Pop-up Art Shop

Back from the printer
with my first tiny print run 
of sight word cards. 
Hooray!

 Tomorrow, it's this:
And after that, I'll get the Etsy shop oiled up and rolling. 






 Gorgeous books about creative learners:
23209952 
581373
I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann 
The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola


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7. Making Mock Caldecotts

Our Mock Caldecott project is in full swing.
 Oh, the yummy books!

So far, we've discussed the Caldecott award,
the workings of a Caldecott committee,
and what to look for in our very own sessions.
Children's librarian Martha Ashenfelter and I created ballots with four voting categories.
I thought it might be fun to share how we're teaching our committee to vote.

1. Excellence

We examine each book - its design, how the pages feel,
the endpapers, the copyright page.

We try to figure out the art medium used,
whether fancy research was done,
if the art is consistent, stunning, unique.
"In a Village By the Sea" by Muon Van, illustrated by April Chu
We noticed the book "A Fine Dessert" by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall, a book about blackberry dessert, is partly painted with blackberry juice. That's a pretty tasty detail.

Nikki McClure's book "In" is made from paper cuts.

Vincent X. Kirsch's illustrations in "Gingerbread for Liberty" are made to look like gingerbread. More deliciousness.
In - by Nikki McClure

2. Appropriateness


We consider how well the art and the text work together to fill up the story.
Is there a tone or mood to the words,
and do the pictures complement it?

We look at layers -
we ask ourselves what that story is really about,
and then, what else is it about?
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich - by Julia Sarcone-Roach

3. Importance

By "reading" the book first without words,
we figure out if the illustrations give us clues, if they tell some of the story.

Then we read it a second time with words, scrutinize how the text is represented,
if the pictures and words are perfectly matched,
or if they give too much away.

We look for details, hints, clues within the story and pictures
that might add to the wow of the book.
If You Plant a Seed - Kadir Nelson

4. Appeal

And then we ask if we'd want to pick the book up,
if we think it would appeal to kids. 
How much do we love that particular book?
 
Voters score books from 1-5 in each category,
and slip their ballot in its book envelope.
I have my favorites, but I have to keep mum.  
Here is the library's Caldecottmobile. 

Each of our nominees will be displayed in the library and available for voting 
until January, when our top finalists will be announced.

At that time, our committee will debate for favorites, 
vote on the final few, and, drumroll....

Announcements! 
Awards Party!
Letters to Authors and Illustrators! 

Some of our nominees:





Finding Winnie: the true story of the world's most famous bear
    - by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
It's Only Stanley by Jon Agee
Water is Water by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason ChinIn by Nikki McClure
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
Gingerbread for Liberty by Maria Rockcliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
The Night World by Mordecai Gerstein
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

































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8. Who

Hallo, who's there?
Halloween
Hallo, who?
Hallowhoot, and have a happy hoot!


Books:

80365036527980

10923383284665
410009228696716944
Little Owl Lost - Chris Haughton
A Book of Sleep - Il Sung Na
Little Owl's Night - Divya Srinivasan
Peek-a-Who  by Nina Laden
Owl Moon - Jane Yolen, John Schoenherr
Owl Babies - Martin Waddell, Patrick Benson
Owl at Home - Arnold Lobel

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9. Caldecott Soup




In November's gusty gale I will flop my flippy tail
and spout hot soup.
I'll be a whale!
Spouting once, spouting twice,
spouting chicken soup with rice.
- Chicken Soup With Rice, A Book of Months, by Maurice Sendak
It may not be spouting hot soup, but good news is easy to slurp about:
I get to help run Kids' Mock Caldecotts at the library!

And what a library! They've ordered heaps of new books,
which the spectacular librarian Martha Ashenfelter and I
deliberated and drooled over for hours
before whittling our selection to a mere 32 book beauties.

On the first three Thursdays in November,
our library kids will form a Caldecott Committee,
evaluate, debate, and vote for their favorite books of 2015.
In January, we'll hold a final vote,
followed by an awards party.

Doesn't it sound fantastic?

If you are a local friend who knows of some book-loving kids,
bring them in on November Thursdays!

I'll try to post about our delicious book picks and the Caldecott sessions
along the way.

 Doesn't it make you want to pick up a stack of picture books and start reading?





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10. Flight of the Birdy

And now we come to our smallest wildebeest.

I remember those tiny, newborn fists curling out of a green blanket.
I made it five summers ago out of fabric so soft it felt like clouds, 
with the hope it could keep out the world's roughness as long as possible.

Ergo, in the nature of a true youngest child,
Birdy scrambles up trees and leaps from the highest branches,
tumbles headfirst into high winds,
and rakes up her knees better than all the others.
She is so ready for this.
 
Kindergarten.

Always looking to make art,
I decided to make flashcards - heaps of them. 

I think I'll do a weekly series of the collection on my art blog.
They're for learning sight words, one of the ways to catch on to reading.

I guess this is my gift to her, like the green cloud blanket.
A way to say:
"When you want me, if you want help, I'm here. I love you."
 
Maybe it's proof. 
And maybe every parent offering,
every bowl of oatmeal we cook up,
every lunch we pack, every book read aloud,
every tuck-in at night
is us, saying:
  "You precious small people, you are loved."

   "Even though we got grouchy about the muddy footprints,
     or the scrabbly big mess in your rooms,
     you are loved." 

And maybe, it is proof for us as well.
Maybe these offerings to our small ones are gifts we keep close
as our birds wing the nest,
as our hair grays and our skin weathers,
knowing that in all our human roughness,
we have loved.


Friends, may you find love all around you,
and gifts in the giving.

 Books:

23209952
716944
658592














I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard - Jennifer Mann
Orange Pear Apple Bear - Emily Gravett
Owl Babies - Martin Waddell, Patrick Benson

2091242411288619
18490544A Year Down Yonder (A Long Way from Chicago, #2)


Bo at Iditarod Creek - Kirkpatrick Hill
The Mighty Miss Malone - Christopher Paul Curtis
The War That Saved My Life - Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A Year Down Yonder - Richard Peck

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11. Mermaid sightings

The twins are fast approaching ten!
"Tween twins!" Winnie reminds me.
"Double digits, doubled!"

And just like that, a decade ebbs with moon and tide.

 
Having soaked up the Emily Windsnap books lately, 
they want to be mermaids. 
So, I've been making art.
Mermaidy tattoos!
 
Painted shells. 
Waves of seaweed.
Glowy lights.  
Cupcakes + art = yummy.   
 


Mermaids, this way. Your party awaits.

 Books!

18153928
The Tail of Emily Windsnap (Emily Windsnap, #1)

132391 18048914
The Mermaid and the Shoe by K. G. Campbell
The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler
The Little Mermaid - Hans Christian Anderson, ill. by Lisbeth Zwerger 
Breathe - Scott Magoon
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17164725
1835396817675379

Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea - Steve Jenkins
Shh! We Have a Plan - Chris Haughton
The Storm Whale - Benji DaviesPlastic Ahoy! Investigating the great Pacific Garbage Patch - Patricia Newman
Shackleton's Journey - William Grill






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12. Art and Starlings

I'm bubbling about the SCBWI conference today.
This is the weekend children's book illustrators and writers in my region gather like starlings.
I go for the coffee and the courage. 
For inspiration and advice.
A break!
 
To find out about thrilling new books. 
To hug and high-five friends and peers.
To gain wisdom about crafting words and art.
My heart flies high. 

I'm bringing new art. More here. 

Art grown out of Joy Chu's UCSD Thinking in Pictures class. 
What a class!
Here's a peek at one of my projects:

Adventure awaits!
If you are one of my writer or artist buddies, I hope to see you there! 




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13. Hearts and Hoots


I know. 
It's been entire lifetimes in elephant years since my last post.
Entire oceans of whales have migrated North and South. 
The ducks are returning to our backyard pond. 
And I have been studying hard 
for an illustration class at UCSD, with art director/genius/professor Joy Chu.
Learning how to find the essence of a story,
learning how to write through art.

After the feathers fly and the dust settles,
I will look for more words to share. 

For now, 
enjoy each new page 
and soar, my friends!


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14. Of Rafts and Feasts


In remembrance, 
       I find thanksgiving.
In remembrance, I find a feast.

It's in big things, like remembering
rough stones that have lined my journey,
and seeing them smooth some of my sharp edges.
Like the poets, I count the ways.

I count that it's been over one year since I had a stroke
and heart surgery,
and here I am,
heart-strong and feet-steady.
Playing soccer.
When I remember, there are skeins of thanksgiving
woven into this heart.

Six months since Winnie’s leg, the worrisome spot,
the relieving news, the surgery. 
There are not enough words for this kind of thanksgiving.

This is life. There will be stormy days for all of us.
But remembrance is my feast.
thankfulness is my life raft.

I find thankfulness indeed when I count the big things.
And I find joy in the small.
 
Like when the wind pulls umbrellas
and makes us think, just for a moment, that we might fly.

Or in gathering leaves.
Reading books.
Lighting candles.
Twirling till we’re dizzy.

Holding hands.
Hugs.
Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.
I am thankful for you.
Thankful that we share this earth,
with all of our colorful, quirky differences.
What a feast!






Books!

Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Paterson, ill. by Pamela Dalton
Pilgrim Cat by Carol Antoinette Peacock, ill. by Doris Ettlinger
The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
Psalm 23 illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson
 



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15. Do You Mask Merry?


 
We like to masquerade in these parts.
Especially when learning our Pacific Northwest animals.
Especially when all fuzzed up about pumpkins and costumes.
I started with a few sketches, 
the kids made their own beautiful batches, 
and Voila!
Wildebeests, unite!


Need a quick costume this week?


I'm offering a few freebies for your personal or classroom use.

 



  {Please note that these images are my original art.
    They're not to be sold or passed off as anyone else's work.
    Thanks!}

To use, just drag the image to your desktop,
print on card stock,
color at will!
Crayon, colored pencils or watercolor work just fine.
We also tried gouache and acrylic gel medium, for hoots.

Birdie asked if she could change her name to Owly-Whoo.

When you finish all that lovely color,
cut out and fix for wearing! 

Our salmon puppet has a popsicle stick taped to his back.
Did you know sockeye salmon turn red when they spawn? I did not. 
The wildebeests told me. 
I guess this means they are learning something in the midst 
of my art diversions.
Yarn or ribbon is an easy tie for the masks.
Hey, anything for a party, right?
Anything for a printable, coloring, educational, masquerade party!
That's right. We mask merry around these parts.  

Happy hoots!

Books!

S is for Salmon - Hannah Viore
123 Moose! by Art Wolfe, ill. by Andrea Helman
Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray, ill. by Kenard Pak
North - The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration, by Nick Dowson, ill. by Patrick Benson
A House in the Woods by Inga Moore
Leaves  by David Ezra Stein
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, ill. by Jane Chapman
Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden, ill. by Renata Liwska
Kiss Goodnight by Amy Hest, ill. by Anita Jeram

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd








 
 


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16. In Season?


They say each season has a rightful place:

A time to scribble,
A time to paint.

A time to read good books,
A time to dream up new ones.

A time to craft words,
A time to delete.

A time to face the music,
A time to dance in the face of it.

It's the natural breath of our days -
The ups and downs of waves. 

Summer rushed to Fall a smidge too soon in my neck of the woods.
 
Birthdays, school starts,

First wiggly teeth,
Rounded hula hoops of doings.

Responsibilities loomed.

Do you ever drag your feet ?


I soured up a few days
kicking my heels against time and tides,
and then I remembered...

What of all the sacred moments today ?

What am I missing with my eyes shut tight against change?  

Here is the good news: 
Gratitude mends easily.
It always starts with today.

And thankfulness is magic. 
It turns straw into gold,
turns dirty dishes into a sacred space.



Farewell summer!    Hello Fall!

It's simple, right?
To find joy, we breathe.
In and out. 
   
And if breathing means working hard at a task today,
then may we find beauty under the stones at our feet.

Or if it means taking a ramble in the woods,
then let the leaves turn,
let the fruit fall
and find us with open hands.


"Nobody else but the rosebush knows
how nice mud feels between the toes."  
 - Polly Chase Boyden

 

 Book treasures that make me smile in all seasons:


The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Inga Moore
Firefly July - compiled by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
    Lindbergh - The Tale of a Flying Mouse, by Torben Kuhlmann
    The New Arrival by Vanya Nastanlieva

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Henry and the Paper Route by Beverly Cleary
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Odd, Weird, and Little by Patrick Jennings


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17. The Writing Process: How we work...


Well, here is a fun thing.
Author/Illustrator tag!
Thank you Richard Jesse Watson for picking me to join this blog tour.

Fun facts about Richard Jesse Watson:
Besides being an award-winning children's book illustrator,
Richard roasts his own coffee.
He once dismantled a hotel window so he could
roast coffee for an illustrator pal without setting off the fire alarm.

Here's a stunning painting Richard created to go with one of my manuscripts.

Snow Queen
artwork (c) Richard Jesse Watson
Richard is also a folk dancer.
He loves  books, handball, anchovies, and waffles.
He can make or fix just about anything with epoxy. 
He has taught me much of what I know about art.
And he's my dad.
I'm inspired by him as an artist and a person.
Find him online at richardjessewatson.com.

Now, to the Q & A:

What am I currently working on?

Last week I shared with you the  driftwood of my life work.
Today I'll tell you about my other work - writing and art.
 
Lately I'm playing with picture book,
chapter book, and middle grade manuscripts,
as well as trying to work in some of that gorgeous momentum
I gathered from my UCSD "Illustrating Picture Books" course with Joy Chu.

I'm also working on creative discipline - how I manage my time.
Time is my huge thing. 
How to squeeze any more drops from days plumb full?

I drew a pie chart to see where all my spare time flows out
and to hunt for extra gaps I can curb into a writing / art habit.
I think it's helping. 

Why do I write what I write?


I write
to remember
the striking thing
about a day,
a shadow,
a loss.
to turn knobby memories
into strength and courage.
to spread adventure and creativity
like seeds
that will spark and sprout
in readers
and in me.

That's my why: remembrance. beauty. courage. hope. thanks.

 How does my writing / illustrating process work?


First, inspiration:

I keep notebooks, sketchbooks,
camera, pencils, pen
in car, in purse, in library bag,
in every place story lightning might strike.

Books!  I read like a sieve.
Not really sure how a sieve reads,
but I do
a lot. lot. lot.
(c) 2014 Faith Pray


Next, drafting.
I type manuscripts into a writing program called Scrivener,
and then write and rewrite until the manuscript feels just so.

I scribble sketches and move them around.
Sticky notes are brilliant for this.

Taping together mini books helps me feel how each story breathes.

And then I play with finishes.
Splashy ink and pen. Velvety oil pencils. Pooly paints.
I'm always playing.

When a story feels just so, I send it to my agent.
If he likes it, we work on changes,
and then he sends it out to publishers "on submission."

That's my writing process.
Next in this blog tour, my friend Carrie O'Neill
gets to tell you about how she works.
art (c) Carrie O'Neill











Carrie and I were friends in high school.
What a delight to discover her now at the SCBWI conference in Seattle!
Carrie is just as witty, talented and lovely as ever, and her art is vibrant and engaging.
I am excited to see what Carrie creates next, and I can't wait for you to meet her.

You can find Carrie at www.carrieoneill.com.
She'll be playing tag on her blog soon!




  

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18. Driftwood music?




This summer is all about 
gathering what we find
and making music
out of it.
 
Sometimes it doesn't quite fly,
like our xylophone
constructed of driftwood
and rubber bands.

Scavenged from a sunny beach walk,
and a hoot to make,
it only makes one sound:
plunk.

And yet... sometimes we need to plunk
to figure out what the rhythm is.

Our new rhythm :
Winnie's had her surgery,
and after a long wait,
she can run!
the pain is almost gone!

Oh, the delight!

And here we are
in the crazy whirl.

Driftwood:
Winnie's surgery.  Swim lessons. Backyard soccer.
Cousins. Library storytime. 

Scissor mishaps.


{That's right. Preschool cutting practice.
Both of them. Missing chunks of hair.
Where was their mama, you ask?
Ten yards away, scribbling in my notebook. }


   

This has been such a year and more 
of wind and weathering.
and here is what I remember -

beautiful things come after turbulence.

sticks become pale as silver when they have tumbled through waves.
spiny stones become round and ripe across the sand,
fruit of sea and storm,
borne through time
and tides.

Is that art? music?
The transformation of rough things

into smooth beauties?

These tides might not be fruitful
in all the artsy, writerly ways I've been wanting.

but they might just be fruitful in the ways that I need.

humbling. compassion. grace. gratefulness.



To my friends going through rough waters right now,
my wish and prayer

is that Love will weather its way
through each of us
that Love will transform the rough places into smooth,
will fill the hollow places with sweet, clear water,
will turn our broken sticks into music,

and somehow
find us 
more of Love itself.


Thank you for your words and prayers,
books and courage
that have helped us march through this summer!
We are all so grateful.

Some of our brave reads:

Brother Hugo and the Bear - Katy Beebe, S.D. Schindler
Have You Seen My Dragon? - Steve Light
Soccer Fence - Phil Bildner, Jesse Joshua Watson
A Tangle of Knots - Lisa Graff
Word After Word After Word - Patricia MacLachlan
The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
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19. Sacred Muddle

I planned to tie up the last few months in a tidy bow,
to give you a round
beginning, middle, and end
to the stroke saga.
What we writers like to call a story arc.
Alas.
Some stories take longer to figure out.

My story for now is just a middle... or a muddle:
stroke,
brain blips,
ambulance rides,
hospital stays,
doctors,
uncertainties,
looming surgery.


None of our swell summer projects.
No happy new manuscripts.
No tidy bows. 

With each shift in the family balance,
part of me shrinks.
I hope it's the right part. The part that needs to go.
I hope it's the part that, before this muddle,
tried to hold everything together alone,
that didn't ask for help,
that got too busy to rest
in the numerous small things around me.

With each slip,
these small things come into focus.


Not my grand plans.
Not measurable success.

But joy.
thankfulness.
light.

cousins.

good books.

kisses.

cupcakes.

forgiveness.
rocks and sky.
breath and bread.

Life is short,
but humble things
make it deep.

Thank you
for your generosity to us through so many gifts -
art and cards, books and pens,
food and a clean house,
help with bills and the wildebeests,
prayers and wishes.
Thank you.

I am amazed at the love around us.
Amazed at how love makes every story beautiful,
no matter how long or short it is.

Here's to the sacred muddle, my friends.
To going deep!
to mysteries.
spyglasses.
buried treasure.
puzzles.
great books.
friends.
and small things.

Mystery and Adventure Books We Have Loved This Summer:


Where The Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin
The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry
Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, by R.L. LaFevers
Half Magic, by Edward Eager
The Brixton Brothers, by Mac Barnett
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

The Book of Beasts, by E. Nesbit, ill. by Inga Moore
The Red Book, by Barbara Lehman
Flotsam, by David Weisner

 

(my best reads of the summer)

Hattie Ever After, by Kirby Larson
Howl's Moving Castle, by Diane Wynne Jones
The Thirteenth Child, by Patricia Wrede
A Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Beautiful Battlefields, by Bo Stern







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20. How Does Your Garden Grow?


Words still glomm together in my mouth
like lumps of peanut butter.
I speak to people and wonder if they notice, too.
Can one be socially lame, but robustly well?
Because I am so alive, so well 
since the surgery.

Maybe these word troubles are writer's block,
part of my recovery from troubles;
an awakening to the idea that life is short.
that more than publishing stories,
I want to love.
to make it count wherever I am.

I still want to write, but my words are hiding.
So...
I'm taking an art class.
 
And oh, what a class!
It's UCSD extension course llustrating Books For Children
with renowned book designer Joy Chu.
And it's amazing.

Maybe I'll find a back door to writing this way,
through visual storytelling.
Or not.

Maybe I'll just enjoy it -
watering a different part of my brain.
creating art.
(happy sigh)


And how does the rest of this garden grow?
How is that sacred dirt of every day?
 
We have a lot of dirt lately.
Lots of squiggly worms that I don't take pictures of -
like scowly faces, and kids throwing fits,
messy hair,


















piled-up laundry,
crumbs under the table.

But how can I not be thankful?
Even for the wormy parts.
There is less to show from this garden now.
but more to feel.
more to soak in and wiggle around.

more family days.
paint and shaving cream.

















 a new outlook for Pip!

Sugar Snack turning five!















Not much of a gardener in reality,
still I will tend this sacred dirt,
I will water my back doors to writing, 
and see what wriggles.
what grows.

What are the back doors in your creative life?

What are your cover crops?

When you get stuck, discouraged or allover uninspired,
what do you plant?

How do you water your creative self?

Cooking class? Archery lessons? Trapeze?
Balloon animals? Book club?

My friends,
I thank you for your friendship and patience. 
for the many ways you make this world beautiful.
through your actions and special talents.
for your unique words and work.
for the nurture of your families and friends.
for the many creative ways you give of yourself to the world.

May your garden grow and grow
and grow,
with lots of good dirt
and wiggles. 

Another bonus from my new class? Library finds!

Here are some of my latest faves:

Journey
Mr. Wuffles!
Sea of Dreams
Journey, by Aaron Becker (Won a well-deserved Caldecott Honor this year!)
Mr. Wuffles, by David Weisner (Another Caldecott Honor winner)
Sea of Dreams, by Dennis Nolan
Flora's Very Windy Day
Harry & Hopper
Missing Mommy: A Book About Bereavement
Flora's Very Windy Day, by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Matt Phelan
Harry & Hopper, by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Missing Mommy, by Rebecca Cobb 
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
Nelson Mandela

Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert On a Beam of Light, A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Nelson Mandela, by Kadir Nelson
Bon Appetit!, the delicious life of Julia Child, by Jessie Hartland
Martin de Porres, the Rose in the Desert, by Gary Schmidt, illustrated by David Diaz


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21. Light and Wishes

 
This year, this crazy Everest of a year!
Out of all of it - 
the stroke, 
the sickness,
the faintings,
the heart surgery -
out of all this year, 
I have packed this jewel into my life suitcase:

Even in dark times, there is light.
    Maybe not a beacon, blazing with answers.
    Maybe not something you can grab onto or tangibly feel.
    Maybe not a voice that speaks that everything will be alright
      - because sometimes, it's not alright.
    Sometimes the rotten stuff still happens - 
      like war, and poverty, and cancer, and loss.   

But I have this for you, my friends...
Even in the dark times, there is light.

    Light of hope in something better. 
    Light of remembering shining moments already lived.
    Light of kindness and compassion in friends and strangers. 
    Light of faith.
For me, it is faith in Divine Arms 
that stooped down to walk in human skin
and faced trouble with love. 

in Divine Arms that are just there, like in these old words - 
 
                      "the eternal One is your hiding place, 
                       and underneath are the everlasting arms."
Even my darkest times this year, 
there was light.
Not blazing. But enough.
Even in my most scared, most vulnerable times,  
there was this awareness of not being alone.
Not anything tangible. But enough.
Everlasting Arms.
Here is my wish for you, friends.
I wish for you 
Thankfulness
in each of the sacred rites of the day - 
dishes, drop-offs,
broken pencils,
squabbles and stomps,
"stop wiping your face with pancake!" 
"don't squirt tomatoes on the ceiling!"
and writer's block,
and in all the great gulps,  too -
a happy home,
a healthy heart, 
life.

Love
like everlasting arms, 
Love that surrounds and lifts 
when you can't lift yourself.
 
Joy 
that goes down to your very roots and comes up laughing.

and Light. 



I wish you the deeps, my friends. 

Blissful Christmas!
Bright New Year!
Beautiful Life!


 

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22. Roots


In true page-turner style, the night before heart surgery,
I was rain-checked.

For a good month, I gnawed at this news like an old bone,
waited to hear if the docs would favor heart surgery after all,
or have me remain in this temporary place of not-quite-well.

 
What can we do when things aren't all better?
How can we meet the sacred in illness,
in poverty, in sadness,
in our imperfect selves?
 
Drink tea. Read good fiction. Take bubble baths.
Go outside and watch clouds.
And then, take a serious look around. 

Ill or not,  I am rich!

clean water. warm home. books.
food. literacy. art.
paint.

waves on the beach. limitless sky. stars. 

music. beauty. family.

love.
I could recount these riches all day.

Even ill, I am abundantly well.
 
I haven't been able to write.
That's the outlet that's suffered most since the stroke.
I'm tired, dizzy, and struggle with an aching head.
My dear friend Margaret Bloom of We Bloom Here
sent a breeze of wisdom my way,
likening this time to winter.
Sometimes leaves dry up and branches are stark,
but roots still go deep. 
 
Every time we struggle, may the roots go deep.
to grow us in compassion.
to grow us in perspective.
to grow us in steadiness,
and light.

What do we do with our troubles?
Find the gifts in front of us.

Even in our troubles,
there is sacred to be found:
laughter, forgiveness, grace, love.

Here's to deep roots and good dirt, my friends.

Epilogue:
I finally made peace with this middle ground,
and the next day: news!
Heart surgery is back on.

Friday, November 8, here we come!

Feel-good books:

14823919
15768811 15815400
Cover
Violet Mackerel's Remarkable Recovery,
by Anna Branford, ill. by Elanna Allen
(Thank you for the get-well-read, Margaret Bloom !)
The Mighty Lalouche, by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall
Tea Rex, by Molly Idle
!, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
A Sick Day for Amos McGee,
by Philip C. Stead, ill. by Erin E. Stead

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23. The Big Week

Words are few.
Heart surgery on Friday.
Summer is fleeting
and I survey my world,

reaching out to touch,
to linger,
to bless
like worn prayer beads,
all these things for which I am thankful.

I find myself brushing fingertips along our bumpy, imperfect walls,
savoring the unfinished-ness of them,

remembering that we are all unfinished stories,
sacred in our imperfections.


To feel the stained rim of a teacup,
a grooved picnic bench,
lichen on a tree

To soak up with my eyes
tissue-thin curlings of bark,
windowsill traffic,

popsicle drips,
  
chalk.
It's a liturgy of thankfulness
in today.
in the dirt.
in the dark. 


Last week, we stayed up late in a lightning storm.


Such power! Such beauty! 
And yet they shivered under quilts.

It's hard to be small in the dark
while thunder shakes the house with monster growls.

Being brave is having faith, isn't it?
Faith that tomorrow will dawn
calm and bright.
Faith that Light will come out of the dark.


As it turns out, some hearts
have holes that need patching.
Some hole-y hearts cause strokes.
The patch surgery may help.
We can hope!

Friday morning is my thunderstorm.
Be brave. Be brave. Be brave. Be brave.



Thankful for heart patches.
for imperfections. for thunderstorms. for light. and hope.

A brave book I hope you love as much as I do:

 
"The Girl With A Brave Heart" by Rita Jahanforuz, illustrated by Vali Mintzi.









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24. The Funny Thing about Mice



It's a little bit scary to tell you things I'm happy about. 
Things that feel like little green tips at the edges of my wintered-over branches.
 
Not that it's wrong to feel pleased with good things,
but when I remember the gravity of last year
I wonder -
is this okay?
this joy? these painted things?
Will I jinx it somehow?

 
Over the last year, I convinced myself I have permanent writer's block.
But then this week, a few words eeked out, and I wondered.

Maybe it's not writer's block.
Maybe it's just fear.

Fear is something we all have, isn't it?

Fear of failure. of something bad happening.
of shadows. heights. the dark.
Scratchy things. fish. being alone.

What are your crazy fears?



You know what's funny?
All that health craziness last year - that was like facing off against a lion.
I borrowed as much courage as possible.

Now I'm standing on a chair shrieking about a bug -
worried about putting stories on paper!
worried someone won't like them!
 

Oh, for a good gulp of perspective!

I just read "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo.
It's about a mouse who battles darkness with courageous love.
It's beautiful.


Despereaux strapped on a belt of red thread,
a sewing needle sword,
and plunged into the dungeons to save a princess.

While I don't have dungeons, or a sword,
I want to have courageous love like that mouse,
not concerned about what people will think.
brave.
true.
every day.
not just on heart surgery days. 
in the daily dirt.
in being a writer and artist, too.


So here's what I'm doing.
All fueled up from my Illustrating Picture Books class,
I'm going to the SCBWI conference this weekend.
And I'm entering my art in a portfolio show.


To go with it, I did a little spring cleaning on the blog,
redesigned The Portfolio.
I hope you like the new look around here.
I hope it's good dirt.
And if you're coming to the conference, let's hang out!
I'll be the small mouse in the corner.

 


The Tale of Despereaux
The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo









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25. Bottled Courage



This girl.
this one.


Winnie
(a.k.a. Kaylen)
has a bone scan and CT tomorrow.

out of sunny skies, we are all stormed over.

They've seen a spot around her femur that is "worrisome."
Worrisome.

That's a generous way of describing what this mama feels.
All my courageous muster has flown out the window.

And Winnie is my most heart-filled wildebeest.
Dreamer, writer, artist, she feels
every nuance in the room.
Like rough swallows
and puffy eyes.

We have no certain news yet, but
some of you have asked how you can help us as we wait
and I have been thinking...

Definitely prayers
and best thoughts
and any bottled courage
you can send our way.

Do they make that?
Bottled courage?

So here's what I'm thinking -  what about sharing your
words? 
verses? 
poems? 
quotes?
book recommendations - for an eight year-old adventurer and for me.

words to help us remember 
that there is courage
in love,
in faith,
in hope.


















I will post news when we know what there is to know.
Thank you, friends.




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