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By: jenny sue kostecki-shaw,
above, Summer, 2012
It feels like it has taken me a long time to gain my momentum back with my art since Tulsi was born, but I’m thankful it’s back. I am only working part-time, but I realized about 9 months ago that the “lack” of time for my art could actually be a gift. And that has made a huge difference.
It gave me permission to let go of a lot of work that wasn’t important to me — freelance that was fun and paid well but didn’t fill my cup with energy and excitement — and also excess pro-bono projects. Can anyone relate? When I realized I could only do so much, I decided to choose one focus (for now). That was easy. Books! Books inspire me wildly and feel like a way I can really contribute to the world and to future generations. One of the most freeing things I heard last year was “a ‘no’ is a ‘yes!’ to something eles.” Yes! (In case you are wondering about the financial part of that decision, of course it makes it a challenge, but there is always a way. Just gotta get creative.)
Once I made that decision, I felt like the universe supported me. I was chosen for the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Book Award for Same, Same but Different (I’m still wowed.) And then the South Asian Book Award and Frostburg State U CLC Book Award. What honors!
Suddenly, I also felt nervous and worried since I didn’t have more books in the works yet. Of course, that was one question everyone asked me, too.
Transitions are tough. Standing in between worlds. Looking at a blank slate. No, not a comfortable feeling exactly. But necessary sometimes to grow, you know?
Luckily for me, these honors, and especially the amazing PEOPLE who offered them to me, and the other award-winners, filled my cup with encouragement. I am grateful. :)
So then what?
I admit, I still have a hard time calling myself an author and yet, I love to write and dream up stories. (Author Kristin Bair O’Keeffe interviewed me in the fall about my writing process.) In May, I was feeling stuck. Jane Yolen, the most prolific author of children’s literature, thankfully shifted something for me when I heard her say in an interview that she NEVER gets writer’s block because she works on several different things at the same time. Light bulb! So I looked through my notebooks and made new lists of ideas and themes of what felt really important to me and inspired me. After talking these ideas through with my editor last summer, she asked me to focus on bringing two (specific ones) to life.
Enter Patrick. My hubby is a rockin’ partner. We both work for ourselves and “trade off” working and being with Tulsi. He sent me off during the day, for a few days a week, during July and August — always with chai — to write in a friend’s cabin (above — so peaceful and a perfect retreat!) and then to OCHO, a wonderful local artist co-op. Patrick kept cheering me on even when I’d come home after 7 hours with very little progress to share. He listened to draft after draft after draft. He trusted I knew what I was doing when I scrapped a manuscript I had worked on for a month in order to follow a different, approach that meant drawing the entire story out in search of the text. The funny thing is, I remembered this is how I work best! This took another month though, or was it two? I then shared rough dummies and manuscripts with a few close friends (and Tulsi) which was really helpful.
I definitely questioned myself as an author during those few months until I realized I don’t have to call myself that. I can simply be a picture book maker. I like that. After all, the words and pictures and story have a way of dreaming up something more than I know how to do with words alone. Yes, it’s scary and daunting at first…trying to bring a book alive…and I stall, drag my feet, procrastinate, but when I finally work through the scary beginning, it’s awesome. And I love love love it!
Well, fast forward 6 months and travel and holidays and one round of edits with my editor…I am in my new studio every night, still plugging away and nearly finished with both book manuscripts and dummies! Although I can’t share much yet on either of these books, I can say that it’s amazing how the universe supports dreams (and sends obvious signs) after I give more effort, trust more, believe more, and take chances. :) Plus, I’m having so much fun and feeling excited! It is certainly a journey!
Yes, every book has its own birth story! In case you missed it, in November, I shared the back story of Same, Same but Different at the Taos Pecha Kucha night. (For me, this presentation was another moment of finding courage. Luckily I didn’t faint.)
What about you? Where are you on your own journey(s)? I’d love to hear about your process, too.
And one last thing, these really inspired me during the past 6 months of taking chances: What if Money Didn’t Matter and the film HAPPY. Hope they do the same for you.
By: jenny sue kostecki-shaw,
This morning Tulsi whispered in my ear, “Pssssst, let’s go for a ride on a butterfly.”
“Let’s,” I replied. In case you didn’t already know, you know now who keeps me in check. And busy.
There is much I want to share from the past couple months! Where to begin?
I’ll start with Hattiesburg, Mississippi…I was very fortunate to attend the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival (WOW, AMAZING!!!) where I received the Ezra Jack Keat’s New Illustrator’s Award and faced my biggest fear of speaking in public — one planned speech and one surprise-to-me-speech (gulp) in front of authors I admire ten-fold and hundreds of librarians. I think I did ok, but most importantly, I survived.
- drooled over Ezra Jack Keat’s original art. OMG!!!! I learned SO much in that hour of staring UP-close!
- am treasuring this book, a gift from my new friends in Hattiesburg. Deborah Pope also read a heartfelt letter from her father, Martin Pope, who was best friends with Ezra since they were kids. You can read Marin’s words here.
- toured the outrageous de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection (whoa–an impressive treasure!). the highlight was a 50ft + (?) long fabric collage mural by Esphyr Slobodkina!! I would love to create a huge mural someday and when I do, I’ll look to this for inspiration!
- was hosted by some lovely, lovely people (!!), and soaked up inspiration, wisdom and stories from extraordinary children’s book authors!
- scratched hashmarks of some 30-something times I was ‘hit’ by surprise from tidal waves of goosebumps during the talks. So much of Jane Yolen’s talk is still playing in my head. I’ve also got Jane’s “The Alphabetics of Story” on my mind.
- geeked out with librarians :) and loved spending time with the other award winners! Meg, Micha, and Nicola and I shared about art, writing, inspirations and motherhood.
- was beyond excited to meet Anita Silvey and hear her lecture on the history of the American Picture Book. I am hooked on her Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac!
Can you tell I had a wonderful time?! It was awesome having Patrick and Tulsi with me, too, and this photo reflects how grateful and energized, inspired and dreamy I felt (and still feel). Weeeeee!
By: jenny sue kostecki-shaw,
Four months ago, I said I would post on the 13th of every month, in a countdown celebration for the release of my new picture book, Same, Same but Different. Um, while my excitement did not diminish, Summer took over. Hee.
Here’s an update:
After the smoke and wild winds left, the bears came. Patrick and I discovered our “roars” and have managed to scare many away (thank goodness, our 17 chickens have survived, too! There were some close calls). Tulsi has been developing her chicken wrangling skills and loves to watch the chicks play tomato soccer — quite a thrilling event on our littl’ homestead!
We have been blessed with another bountiful garden season that is in its most magical-stage right now. Canning season is very near. I am recruiting MY mama again this year.
I have “sorta” taken a photography course with Andrea Scher, only life got in the way of that, too. Still, I have been taking more photos than ever and learning a lot from her course emails. Just looking at the endless photos participants have posted has inspired me and pushed me to think differently when holding a camera. Andrea rocks! I highly recommend her course. This is a photo of Tulsi dancing with peacock feathers in the peacock yard at Baba’s house (the temple).
Other than my family, what has filled my summer mostly, is goddesses and mama-meditations and research and collage and stories and collaboration. I’ve been painting my heart out on an oracle deck, coming your way Spring, 2012! It has been a challenging and beautiful project on many levels that I will share about in the future. I’m nearing the end and looking forward to seeing it come to life AND for a much-deserved, family vacation. Feels like I’ve been running a perpetual marathon. I haven’t painted this much since finishing Same, Same but Different.
And so, the countdown now is 30 days! THIRTY days until my new book is released! Whew! And a really exciting thing just happened — I found out Same, Same but Different got into the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators in NYC! I am happily in shock and feel so honored :). OK, actually, I cried when I found out because I was in awe reading the list of illustrators who are in the show (you can download it on the show’s link page) — SO many of whom I adore and respect. Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Tommy de Paola, Giselle Potter, Calef Brown, David Wiesner, to only name a few — really, I could name them ALL. I can’t wait to see their art in person in NYC in October and visit with my editor and friends. I know it will inspire me like crazy.
By: jenny sue kostecki-shaw,
Brace yourself, my book tour was long and so is this post. (But fun!)
In a little over a month, I read at ten bookstores and libraries, gave 17 school presentations and 4 skype sessions, and I think it went great. I planned the events myself, and most of the school visits were arranged by bookstores. NONE of it would have been possible without a very, very long list of generous, loving friends, energetic librarians and teachers, my supportive agents, several amazing independent bookstore “families”, and my own family. And I owe countless kisses and hugs to Tulsi, who was my sweet-n-steady compadre.
After a rockin’ first event in Taos at Twirl Toystore with my parents, friends and masala chai, we hit the road. Here are some highlights and lessons learned:
- It’s best to set up events where you have friends or family! (for me, Taos, Boulder, KC, Omaha, and St. Louis)
- Choosing scenic towns for events is a NICE balance to bigger cities. Durango and Boulder were peaceful yet funky, inspiring places with interesting people (and some of the best hiking!)
- A Two-author event is GREAT energy, draws good crowds, and it takes a lot of pressure off sharing the spotlight. Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, CO invited Uma Krishnaswami and I to do a joint storyhour for our new books. Uma’s YA novel, The Grand Plan To Fix Everything (a sparkly, whimsical tale about two friends in the US and India), and Same, Same but Different, complimented each other perfectly. They were, um, same, same but different. :) It is also interesting and helpful to watch how other authors/illustrators present. Uma baked samosas and Patrick brewed up some masala kid-chai — a fabulous and a sweet detail to the day.
- It’s natural to be ambitious and want to “do” all these things for events (craft, bake treats, brew chai, show slides, etc.), but really, it’s just too much (on my own) and events go by so quickly. It was fun to mix it up and try different things, but when I finally let go of trying to do so much, I felt more energetic and had more fun.
- I laughed when I walked into the Boulder Bookstore and saw my book/photo side-by-side with Jon Scieszka! He’s been an inspiration to me for years, and he’s currently the US Ambassador of Children’s Books! I was bummed we couldn’t stay for his talk as I had another event in Denver.
- Sometimes you’ll have huge crowds and sell out of books, other events might be a few people, but if you go with an attitude of simply wanting to share and connect with others, then every one will be worth it! One REALLY sweet reading was at a library in Omaha with two families and 4 kids!
- If you don’t know, I lived in Kansas City, MO for 9 years and have incredibly dear friends from school and my Hallmark days. Another huge lure to KC — my favorite kids bookstore of all time is there: Reading Reptile, created and nourished by Deb and Pete Cowdin and their five children. It is a wild, free-spirited, dream world with secret passageways and an amazing book selection to feed your soul.
By: jenny sue kostecki-shaw,
A few months ago, I shared my new picture book, Same, Same but Different, with my long-time client Karen Capp of Oopsy Daisy Fine art for Kids. She had an idea to host a craft to connect young artists with my book and my travel-inspired Oopsy Daisy art, while encouraging children to create art about our world — just as Elliot and Kailash share with each other in my book. In addition, Karen generously decided to make it a contest for kids and schools giving away several of my Oopsy Daisy canvases and signed copies of my books as prizes!
Children 12 and under are invited to submit their art for the random drawing. Parents and teachers, this art project can be a great conversation starter for learning more about geography and world cultures, or even starting a pen pal exchange. And Teachers, please note there is a special prize for the school with the most participants!
So, how to play? Look around you. What colors YOUR world? What do you love? What sounds do you hear? What makes your world unique from Elliot and Kailash’s and other kids around the world? Create your own art inspired by an imaginary or real pen pal, your travels or ideas about the people and cultures of our world. Draw, paint or collage a picture of your world, and share it with us. Please include a sentence explaining the child’s drawing. I posted the craft on Oopsy Daisy’s blog. The official contest guidelines and instructions are on their “Budding Artists Contest” page. It runs from today thru March 14th!
Your child’s art can be SIMPLE! A line drawing, simple shapes collaged to form a picture, watercolor or even finger painting for the toddlers. It could even be drawn words. It’s endless. :) Just have fun! I am excited to see your art and hear your thoughts! And please share with other parents, teachers, librarians, your children’s schools…
To start, Tulsi and I created a picture of “our” world. We are working on another picture of a little girl we are reading about who lives in a very different world than ours (how we imagine her to be). These are just two examples of endless approaches to this prompt.
by Tulsi Shaw and Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw Tulsi
In our world, 3 baby chicks are riding on their mama’s back or hiding under her wings. Little Red Rooster is singing, we are dancing outside in our garden, and the Milky Way shines right over our house.
By: jenny sue kostecki-shaw,
OH Wow! It has been an ongoing joke in our house that Tulsi says, “Mama, your books have no Caldecott Medals, but someday you’ll get a sticker!” I smile and give her sweet head a kiss. Well, I am beyond excited to share some news — The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation awarded me the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award and the New Author Honor for Same, Same but Different! Whoa. I’m all smiley and a bit teary realizing what an honor this is.
I want to sing out a thank you song to so many people who have helped this book come alive, who believed in me and cheered me on, (and who supported me while I worked on it, creatively and physically!): my husband Patrick and Tulsi, my amazing editor and book guru Christy Ottaviano and my art director Patrick Collins, my rockin’ agents Jo-Lynne Worley and Joanie Shoemaker, my Mom (who came to play with Baby T while I painted my heart out) and Dad (always my biggest fans), my sister Renee (!), Neeru Dhakal and my Sunshine School Family in Nepal, my book gal friends, and countless little friends across the oceans and at home who inspired this story. This is yours, too!
This is a description from the full press release:
“Fifty years ago, Ezra’s book The Snowy Day, which featured an African American child, broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s book publishing when it was embraced by families across racial, economic and ethnic lines,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “Like Ezra, this year’s Book Award winners have, in their own way, celebrated the similarities—and differences—of people whose life experiences are dramatically varied.
The Book Award was created to acknowledge and encourage budding children’s book authors and illustrators who impart Ezra Jack Keats’ values—the universal qualities of childhood, a strong and supportive family and the multicultural nature of our world.”
I have been a fan of Ezra Jack Keats since I was young and dreaming of making children’s books! I really admire him as an illustrator and a person, and I am inspired by his books and mixed-media experimentations. Plus, we are both Polish! Hee. :) Thanks everyone for ALL your encouragement over the years and for letting me share this FUN news! I am playing “hard” to bring some new books to you.
And a big congrats to Meg Medina for winning the New Authors Medal! Patrick, Tulsi and I are looking forward to the ceremony on April 12 in Mississippi!
By: jenny sue kostecki-shaw,
One of the most interesting things about picture books is the story behind the books — where the seeds of ideas came from and how they grew. As promised, I am posting about how my new book, Same, Same but Different came to be. I hope it gives you some good book-energy and that hearing about my work-process is helpful.
Unlike some tales I’ve heard of children’s book authors who woke up from a dream in urgency to scribble down a story appearing to be a gift from the beyond, I had to travel to the other side of the world 3 times to find this book. The first time, I found only the title. The second time, I found the experience. And the third time, I found the content and research.
In 2000, eleven years ago, my friend Maria and I wandered around SE Asia for a month, and I jotted down a saying, “Same, Same but Different” that we heard in Thailand. My favorite part of the trip was playing with kids in a remote village in Northern Thailand — which inspired me to return.
In 2002, I traveled to Nepal to volunteer at a school. I lived with a family of 14. Everything seemed SO so foreign to me, and I LOVED that. On the second day with my family, I was given a bucket of cold water and soap. Hmmm…did she want me to clean?
“Bucket shower,” she said. “Same, same but different.” There was that saying again…
I had been collecting M. Sasek’s “This is…” book series and had a secret daydream of picking up where he left off. I doodled ideas for “This is Nepal” in my sketchbook. I knew I wanted to make books from my travels.
I feel like it took me a while to find my way at the school — what did I have to share? I wasn’t an English teacher or a musician (like the amazing previous volunteer I heard so many stories of). So for awhile, we simply played and became friends with each other. We became a beautiful part of each other’s worlds.
After observing an art class with twenty 4th graders copying Mickey Mouse in their notebooks that the teacher had drawn on the blackboard, I decided to ‘play’ art with them every day, all day. The school building was dark. The rooms were small and cramped. There were even rats the size of obese American cats lurking in the playground corners. So we went on walks everyday to draw temples, people, chickens, cows, mountains, Buddhas, flowers, and more. We painted self-portraits and each other. We painted a 60 ft long mural in the playground. The school was buzzing with art. I emailed my friends back home and asked them to send postcards of their lives in America. Soon, photos and drawings of landscapes, families, pets, art, schools, food, gardens and cowboys showed up with messages to the kids. I thought Same, Same but Different could be a fun idea for a children’s book. When I was back in Kansas City, we had an art show of the students’ art sharing all about their country and culture.
Four years went by, and I kept in touch with my ‘new’ family in Nepal. Patrick and I decided to visit them and travel in India for several months on another book project. I also planned on writing a story to g