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1. Valentine's Kittens

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

My cat, Galileo, received two new kittens for Valentine's Day. They're litter-mates, adopted from Austin Pets Alive! (Austin is celebrating five years as the largest no-kill city.) Meet:


And you may remember....

Galileo (AKA "Leo")

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2. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here is a piece that I did for Illustration Friday a bit ago entitled “Artificial”. I remember I really enjoyed creating this one. It is fun to add humor into your work. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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3. SCBWI Staff Introduction

Lin Oliver introduces the amazing staff of the SCBWI. A much deserved standing ovation received.

Thank you, SCBWI!

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4. KING BRONTY IS TWO YEARS OLD! Happy 2nd Anniversary!

Valentine's day, 2014 was the first day I published by web comic "King Bronty, The World's Greatest Dinosaur Knight!"
I initially started with a kingbronty.com address but it became easier, and more fun, to use my blog and YouTube as King Bronty's home.
Here is the beginning of King Bronty, I hope you'll enjoy King Bronty!

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5. Happy Valentine's Day

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6. Day 14: Dr. Lorenzo Pace

Photo by Cindy Reiman

Photo by Cindy Reiman

Renowned artist and storyteller, Dr. Lorenzo Pace created a series of poignant picture books – the African American Quartet –  that pay homage to black history and the power of the human spirit. Pace’s debut, Jalani and the Lock (Rosen), was inspired by the lock that bound his enslaved great-great grandfather and was handed down to him. The three others –  Marching With Martin, Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts and Frederick Douglass and the North Star – explore the lives of these pivotal historic figures Dr. Pace, whose monument Triumph of the Human Spirit in New York City’s Foley Square honors the enslaved Africans originally buried there, uses words and mixed media artwork in his children’s books to bring to life stories from the past.

We are proud to celebrate Dr. Lorenzo Pace on Day 14.

Journey to Publishing

It began with a lock. A cold, hard, more than 150-year-old iron lock. A legacy of man’s inhumanity to man. When my father passed away in Birmingham, Alabama in 1991, I left New York and went South to bury him. My Uncle Julius shocked me and the rest of my family by giving me a lock that had shackled my great-great grandfather Steve Pace in chains. Steve Pace had passed down the lock to other Pace men. I accepted the lock but really didn’t want it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I put it in my closet in Brooklyn.

Not long after that, my daughter, who was about 8, came home and said, “Daddy, kids are making fun of me because of my hair, my nose, and my lips.” I asked why. She said they told her it was because she was from slaves. I said, “Wow, baby. You don’t have to be ashamed of your looks.” I told her she came from beautiful people, strong, creative, and resourceful people.

Our conversation inspired me to explore the lock. The lock was calling out, “Hey, come deal with lockbookme.” So I explored the lock and my great-great-grandfather’s story. Turns out, after emancipation, Steve Pace purchased more than 500 acres of land and shared it with his family. His third eldest son was in the first class at the Tuskegee Institute. He was a minster and the church he founded still exists and will soon be on the National Register of Historic Places. Soon, I found myself writing Jalani and the Lock, to explain to my daughter and other children our history and the triumphs that are the essence of it.

I finished writing and illustrating and shopped for a publisher for five long years. One day a buddy in Chicago referred me to Rosen Publishing. I met with the publisher. He loved the content. He loved the illustrations. He agreed to publish it. It came out in 2000.

I’ve traveled the world with Jalani and the Lock and the book has been translated into Spanish, French, and Dutch. Last year, Jalani and the Lock was re-printed as part of a series I wrote and illustrated called the African American Quartet. The Quartet includes: Marching with Martin, Frederick Douglass and the North Star, and Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts. The Quartet came about after the publisher and I began talking about ways to build on Jalani’s story and bring it into the 21st century.

Art from Marching with Martin

Art from Marching with Martin

All of the books relate to my personal experiences. I marched with Dr. King in Chicago when I was a teenager. I grew up seeing Frederick Douglass on my grade school walls. I grew up hearing about Harriet Tubman from my grandmother. She and my mom were quilters. I learned that quilts sometimes had anti-slavery sayings woven into them, and there is a legend that the enslaved put Underground Railroad symbols and routes in their quilts. There’s also an Underground Railroad station in my Brooklyn, NY neighborhood. For all these reasons, I wove photos of my family’s quilts into the book’s illustrations.


The inspiration for my books has come first from my personal history. It occurred to me that if these stories are in my family, they’re probably in most African American families. I’m inspired by John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. I listen to them as I write and create. They are such innovators, constantly bringing out new ways of thinking in their music. They make we want to go to a higher plane as an artist. Alex Haley inspires me because of his groundbreaking research on our history. He made me want to dig deeper and deeper. The artist and author Faith Ringgold also inspires me. I love Maya Angelou’s books, period. Her gift for playing with language is second-to-none. There are so many great writers, but those who tell our stories –new stories, uplifting stories –inspire me most. I’ve also gotten motivated by the books of Caroline Brewer. She’s been under the radar because of her focus on literacy, but is about to come into greater recognition. She has some very intense and motivational books on the African American experience, like a fun but educational picture book on President Obama’s 2008 election, Barack Obama: A Hip Hop Tale of King’s Dream Come True. And the next book, a middle grade novel, is intense, fun, and motivational, too.


I just go. If I have a character or concept, I just begin to feel the energy that goes into how to tell a

Art from Marching with Martin

Art from Marching with Martin

complete a story and how to illustrate it. I go out and get all kinds of materials that I think can help. I go to the art store. I look for materials in the street, in my environment, and just go.

I’ve illustrated my Quartet books using mixed media and collage. I will use an old dress from a thrift store with a particular pattern or color, beads, paper sacks, kente cloth, animal print, newspaper print. I also use acrylic paint, watercolors, colored pencils, markers, glitter, whatever makes a page pop. I let everything around me speak to me and then I put the pieces together.

The most important thing that I do as I work is have fun. I also know I can get kids on color. They love color and so do I. I approach my art in the same way I approach living: be sure to have some fun and add lots of color.

The Buzz

tubmanpacePublisher’s Weekly called the first edition of Jalani and the Lock “a stunning debut.” NBC News cited Harriet Tubman as one of the top 14 books to read in February 2015. The School Library Journal met me at my Brooklyn studio last year to do a piece on the art I created for the books. Booklist offered these words below about the new quartet.

“Perhaps the most personal entry in celebrated sculptor Pace’s ambitious African

American Quartet is this first-person remembrance of what Martin Luther King Jr. meant to Pace while growing up in Alabama and Chicago. The design of the book, and indeed the entire quartet, features two-page spreads of wild, almost Basquiat-like art incorporating paint, jewelry, paper, plastics, and anything else that captures Pace’s fancy. On the left-hand page goes the prose, which, though simple, is packed with restrained emotion: “Many years ago, in 1949, to be exact, when I was a little boy in Alabama, I saw signs that I did not understand.”

State of the Industry

Walter Dean Myers and Chris Myers said it best in their New York Times pieces a couple of years ago. The publishing industry is not doing enough to reflect the rich and deep and vibrant diversity of this country. There are so many children who need to see themselves in books. Books are game-changers. And yet, authors of color can’t depend on the industry to do it all. The efforts of sites like thebrownbookshelf.com are critical to helping put the spotlight on authors and illustrators of color. Whatever we can do to support one another makes us more powerful.

Find out more about Dr. Lorenzo Pace here.


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7. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #470: Featuring Benji Davies

“It’s got bright, waving things attached to it like huge kites. It’s got colors.It’s got sound. It’s got, it’s got—WHEELS!”(Click to enlarge spread)   I’ve got a review over at BookPage (here) of Linda Sarah’s Big Friends (Henry Holt, January 2016), illustrated by Benji Davies and first published in the UK in 2014 as On […]

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8. Book Launch: Once Upon an Elephant


On the African savanna Elephants are gentle giants that have an incredible impact on the ecosystem. Once Upon an Elephant by Linda Stanek debuts this week, and the amazing facts about elephants are sure to make any child want to know more about how they can help this important animal.

Learn how this book came to life from the author Linda Stanek:

lindastanekIt’s funny how researching one thing can lead to something else. While working on a book for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium about their baby elephant, Beco, elephant expert Harry Peachey mentioned the words “keystone animal” to me. Keystone animal? I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what that was. When he explained that these are animals so critical to maintaining their ecosystems that without them, other species would die, I was shocked. This was important stuff! How did I not know about it? If didn’t know about this, then who else didn’t know as well? And what an important concept to share those who would inherit this fragile Earth—our children.

That was the beginning of Once Upon an Elephant. What if, I thought, elephants were only “Once Upon a Time?” It was a heartbreaking thought. And if they did, indeed, become extinct, what else might become once upon a time as well?

After writing this manuscript, I shared it with my friend, Harry and got his thumbs-up. Then, I sent it to a handful of publishers. Within two weeks (which is quicker than lightning, in publishing-time) Arbordale made me an offer. And even more quickly, I accepted.

Two days later, I got an offer for Once Upon an Elephant from another publisher. “Drat!” my sister said. “You could have an auction!”

But I was satisfied. I knew that Arbordale produces beautiful books. And, I onceelephant_pic3appreciate that they place their books not only in bookstores, but in museum, aquarium, and zoo gift shops as well—where interested readers are likely to be found. When they signed Shennen Bersani to illustrate it, I was even happier. She crafted the amazing images to make this book complete, allowing me to share with children the concept of the keystone animal, and my love of elephants.

Learn more! Teaching activities, quizzes and other printable activities are available on the book’s homepage, check it out!

Enter to win your own copy of Once Upon an Elephant on Goodreads!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Once Upon an Elephant by Linda Stanek

Once Upon an Elephant

by Linda Stanek

Giveaway ends February 29, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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9. Achieving Softness in Gouache

In honor of Valentine's Day, here's a romantic magazine illustration from 1950 by Harry Anderson. It's in gouache, 10 x 13.5 inches. It's a fine example of soft edges, which are challenging to achieve in gouache because of the rapid drying time.

Note the soft edges in the man's collar above, the woman's hair against her neck and temple, and the plane changes around her jaw and neck.

Anderson used plenty of paint, big brushes, and fast decision-making. One of his secrets was to carefully preload the brush with a gradation that he prepped on the palette. Easier said than done—wish there were videos of him painting!
More Harry Anderson at Jim Pinkoski's website
Preview my gouache tutorial at Gumroad

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10. Speed painting Children's Books Illustration

This is a fascinating peek at one artist's watercolor (LIAN) and ink illustration process. With my recent interest in the media, I learned a lot watching this! Click the image to watch on YouTube and learn more about the artist:

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11. Happy Valentines' Day from #NY16SCBWI

A special message from all the authors and illustrators gathered this morning...

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12. Two Current Art Shows

Hello, my friends! I’ve been busily working away on 10 new pieces (11×14) that are currently showing in two locations in Sacramento, CA. Six of my little waifs are at Details Salon and four others are on exhibit at Little Relics Gallery.
alice in wonderland white rabbits
For all those local or nearby, I urge you to pop in and say hello to Alice and a few of her other friends. Not nearby? Don’t fret…for I am offering LIMITED edition prints of each of these. Here are three of them and I’ll continue to share the others both here on on my Instagram @caitchock [so do follow me there, if you’ve not already :) ]
geishas and cherry blossoms
To ORDER, simply drop an email to: cait@caitchock.com and I’d love to send one of my special prints your way.

Thank you, as always!
snow queen

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13. Tomie dePaola Award Winner

This year's illustration inspiration is based on Phillip Pullman's version of Red Riding Hood. Tomie received over 400 entries this year!

While the award is presented today, the announcement happened a little bit ago, be sure to check out the fantastic unofficial gallery put together by Diandra Mae.

From Tomie:

The task for this year's award was about UNIQUE VISUALIZATION of the MAIN CHARACTER.

As I warned, "So often, I have seen illustrators resort to generic depictions of the star of the story—too 'designed,' too ordinary, too much like characters already seen in media, especially on TV and video games."

That said I have chosen the following illustrators:

First Place - Lisa Cinelli

Second Place - Adrienne Wright

Third Place - Christee Curran-Bauer

See the other notables at our link

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14. Forthcoming in ... South Africa

       At Books LIVE Jennifer runs down The local fiction to look forward to in 2016 (Jan - June) in South Africa.
       Always interesting to see what gets published in other countries -- especially a place like South Africa, where even though the majority is written in English, very little finds its way to the US/UK markets.

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15. Portfolio Showcase Award Winners Announcement

It's the coldest Valentine's Day in 100 years, but the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase winner announcement warms our hearts. It is with great excitement that we announce this years winners. Congratulations to all!

Winner: Sarah Jacoby

Honors: Jacob Grant

Brooke Smart

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16. Illustration Inspiration: Patrice Barton, Illustrator of Little Bitty Friends

Patrice Barton’s artistic talents were discovered at age three when she was found creating a mural on the wall of her dining room with a pastry brush and a can of Crisco.

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17. THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU: The Goodreads Giveaway, and signings

Friends, This Is the Story of You, my Jersey shore storm mystery, is (I have heard it said) printed and on its way to me. Story has received two stars in these early days (Kirkus and School Library Journal) and kind words from BookPage and Publishers Weekly. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and will be featured in an upcoming story on environmentally aware novels for younger readers in The Writer Magazine.

The launch date (early April) grows near.

In celebration of it all, Chronicle Books is sponsoring a Goodreads Giveaway, starting tomorrow.

Information is right there (I turn to glance toward the left side of my blog, where I hope you now glance as well), should you wish to enter. Twenty-five will win.

In the meantime, a big box of One Thing Stolen paperbacks has arrived. One Thing Stolen, which won a Parents' Choice Gold Medal and is a TAYSHAs selection, among other things, will launch alongside of Story.

I'll be signing early copies of Story at Books of Wonder, during the New York City Teen Authors Festival, on Sunday, March 20.

I will be signing Story and Stolen (and possibly even Love: A Philadelphia Affair) at Main Point Books, in honor of Independent Bookstore Day, at 2 PM.

I'd love to see you.

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18. Happy Valentine's Day!!!

As you share this day with your favorite Valentine, don't forget to color! I have lots of Valentine's Day themed coloring pages - just CLICK HERE to see them all!

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19. Student Illustrator and Writer Scholarships

Each year the SCBWI sponsors two student writer scholarships to the Summer and Winter Conferences for full-time university in and English or Creative Writing program.

Lauren Hughes
Ellen Wiese

Likewise, each year, the SCBWI sponsors four conference scholarships for full-time graduate or undergraduate students studying illustration.

Jia Liu
Suyoun Lee

Congratulation to this year's winners.

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20. Caterva review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Juan Filloy's 1937 novel, Caterva, recently published in English by Dalkey Archive Press.

       Filloy -- who died aged over 100 -- is a fascinating figure, and among the titbits from translator Brendan Riley's Introduction: since his death three books have been posthumously published -- but there are still twenty-one unpublished ones ! (As far as English, the situation is even worse, with this just the second work available in translation (while Faction has been long-announced but oft-delayed ...).)

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21. Leap Year Time Capsule

2016 Is a Leap Year!leap year time capsule

After February 29, 2016, the next leap day will not happen again until 2020! Imagine how much you will have changed and grown by then! A fun way to track your changes through the next four years is to create a leap year time capsule.

A time capsule is a collection of items that are stored away as a method of communication to the people of the future. In this case, the people of the future will be YOU in four years. To create the perfect time capsule, you will need a few things—a small sturdy box or metal tin, a piece of paper and pen, and few of your favorite items that can fit inside the box.

On the piece of paper, write your name, date, and answers to the following questions:

1. What is your favorite food?
2. Who is your best friend?
3. What are you most thankful for?
4. Where do you see yourself in four years, or what will your goals be?
5. What is one piece of advice you want to give to your future self?
6. (Optional) Get your friends involved and ask them to write down one good quality they love most about you and why.

When you are done, fold up your paper into a tiny square, seal it with a kiss, and toss it inside your small box. Feel free to add anything else that is significant to you. For example, in my box, I am adding the front page of a local newspaper, my most recent movie ticket stub, a photo of me and my best friends, a piece of jewelry, and my favorite flower.

After you’ve finished stuffing your box, seal it, and make a note on the surface saying, “Do NOT open until 2/29/2020.” In four years, dig out your box and read what you wrote. It will be interesting to see how much you’ve changed since then.

What will you add to your time capsule? Drop a Comment to give your ideas. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!


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22. loaded...Found Objects Day 14

May your Valentine's Day be loaded with everything lovely, just like this baked potato...


which is the Found Object for Day 14 of  Laura Shovan's February Poetry Challenge.

Loaded Language

"Does this potato come with any toppings?"
"Lady, that's a loaded question."

"Whoa, that baked potato must be loaded!
Look at his white stretch limo!" 

"Get a load of Baked Potato--
she thinks she's so fancy in her cream-colored coat,
butter pat hat and her chives-and-cheese
statement necklace."

"Baked Potato's been down at Benny's Bar & Grill all night."
"Yep, he'll be heading home loaded again..." 

© Heidi Mordhorst 2016

The photo is by Diane Mayr, I believe, and I was torn--should I treat the potato as the Found Object, the poster, or strange, seemingly pointless object taped to the front of the poster?  As you can see I picked none of those and chose the LANGUAGE as the object instead.

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23. Jane Yolen presents the Mid-List Author Award

Jane speaks eloquently of how re-inventing a career in the arts every seven to ten years is a way to keep your writing fresh and alive. And yet, how difficult it is when then re-invention is forced on you.

So, to help honor the contribution of mid-list authors in general, and celebrate two mid-list authors in particular, Jane announces this year's winners:

Karen Coombs and Sallie Wolf

Sallie was here and joined Jane on stage for an enthusiastic standing ovation!

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24. Waving the White Flag on Valentine’s Day!

There are some days in an elementary school teacher's life where the white flag must be waved. Halloween. The day before holiday break. Pajama Day. Crazy Hat Day. And, of course, Valentine's Day...

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25. thoughts on it all, on Valentine's Day

This Valentine's Day weekend, I write of long love in an era of tighter purse strings, a shared photography adventure, and wandering the streets of Conshohocken (and meeting one young entrepreneur, Marcie Spampinato, in a market fresh cafe) in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I read Bettyville—that great George Hodgman memoir—through for the third time, as my class at Penn, joining with the students of dear Julia Bloch, prepare for a special Skype visit from the author. I first encountered Bettyville when reviewing the book for the Chicago Tribune. In returning to these pages, I find myself even more grateful for its championing of heart, its honesty of emotion, its embrace of sliding time, and its wisdoms, large and small. "To fall in love you have to think you're okay, stop watching for clues you've done something wrong."

I look toward a simple meal with the man I love.

These have been interesting days. I am learning how to live through uncertainty, find peace with broken promises, work toward the tangible in often intangible times, wrangle with dishonesties and pressures. I do less well when I survey the world at large—the posturing of politicians, the schoolyard antics of debates, the cruelty of regimes, the small voices that are not heard, the cracks in the earth. Three a.m. is my internal monologue-ing hour, and often nobody wins.

And then I remember to be grateful. For sun despite the frigid cold. For the laughter of my son over the phone. For the emails from friends who write of warming days, risotto, a mother's whisper, HelloFresh, encouragement for the books I write. For the team my father and I have become as we continue to hope for the sale of his home. For the orange roses that were waiting for me at five a.m. today, when I stopped talking to myself.

It's the small things, I think, that are the biggest things of all. The small things that sustain me, that break the monologue.

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