The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone (Candlewick, 2003)
by Timothy Basil Ering
I have a feeling this is one of those books that you either adore to hyperbolic proportions or is completely off your radar.
I’m in the hyperbolic proportions camp, but it’s still a book I forget about. And then when I remember, I wonder how I forgot?!
So this is an origin story, one that starts in Cementland and ends in gritty beauty.
The first spread is so perfect. A wide shot of Cementland, described as a dull, gray, endless place. A boy, arms open and striped in red, stands at your attention in the midst of all that gray. All of the lines and the stress and the mess lead you right to him.
This red-striped fellow believes treasure hides among the heaps of junk in Cementland, and in a triumphant moment finds a box bursting with color. Bright colored packages, but filled only with tiny gray specks.Hundreds of them. Not wondrous riches.
He plants anyway. And after two or three minutes, nothing happens.
While he’s gone, thieves root and loot the plot. So this boy–this treasure hunter, gathers smelly socks, scraggly wires, and of course, a crown, and dubs his creation Frog Belly Rat Bone, the monster who will protect the specks.
They are a duo with a mission and a patched together friendship that pays big rewards.
That’s why Timothy Basil Ering’s use of texture is the only possibility for this type of storytelling. The art is the story. It’s stitched up. It’s not slick. It’s piled up and layered and cobbled together just like Frog Belly Rat Bone himself.There’s warmth in the mess and intention in the scatter. It’s as beautiful as that treasure that the red-striped boy finds. And creates.
“…[W]hen I first made the dummy book for Frog Belly Rat Bone, naturally, I beat up some wood and sewed it all together. It gave it that nostalgic, cobbled-together look that’s just plain interesting to me. I wanted it to look like it was made the same way the little boy in the story makes Frog Belly, with just raw hand-stitching and splashes of paint.”
(That’s from here, which is a great read!)
It’s definitely one I want to share early in the year with our fourth graders who are the school’s expert gardeners. It would pair well with The Curious Garden (for obvious reasons) but also classic unlikely friendship stories. Isn’t a trash-made monster-thing with picky underwear a pretty unlikely friend? I’m thinking about Amos and Boris and Leonardo the Terrible Monster.
Giveaway Update: Thanks for playing! I’ve picked the winners, but I’m going to wait until my order comes in from the bookstore to share the spoils. We had to special order a few titles. Did you know your local indie will do that for you?! And then you get to go back. Stay tuned!
, timothy basil ering
by Jutta Bauer (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published in Germany, 1998, as Die Königen der Farben.)
I love the work NorthSouth is doing, and this book in particular has stuck with me for a while.So it’s a funny little book, but it’s also literally little, and there’s a lot of mayhem happening in such a small package. I think that’s smart.Color’s been on the brain a lot this week because I’m in the thick of teaching an Intro to Photoshop and Graphic Design class to kids. This has been a fun one to show them, because the colors in this book take on such a clear identity.Blue is soft and gentle. I love how the Queen is giving it a hug and kiss. Red barrels in and nearly knocks her over. It’s wild and dangerous.And then there’s Yellow. Warm and bright and sunshiny on her toes.
These colors have purpose, but when Matilda can’t control them, the whole mess turns Gray. It’s the same in art. Too many colors competing leaves you a whole lot of buzz and confusion. It doesn’t work.(image source.)
This Gray sticks around for a while. It doesn’t work. But it does make the Queen of Colors sad. Not gentle, not wild, not warm. Not colorful.
So she cries. You’ll have to see for yourself what her tears do to the gray. Here’s a hint: it’s scribbles and stars and swirls. It’s a happy ending.
Color has a story, and it’s a story that matters.
P.S.—Does Queen Matilda remind you a little bit of Queen Ursula from the Little Mermaid? I think it’s part her bossiness, and part her curves. I’m awful at remembering lines from films, but this is one that has stayed with me a long, long time. I think it’s thanks to the bubbles that shimmy out of her hind parts!
, color theory
, jutta bauer
, north south
by Arree Chung
published June 2014 by Henry Holt and Company, an imprint of Macmillan.
Friends, I’m so excited to have Arree Chung in this corner of the internet today. I met Arree last summer at SCBWI in Los Angeles, and am humbled every time I think about how we share an agent and a friendship. He’s an expert storyteller with a bright, animated style and a fresh perspective. Ninja! is his debut picture book, and it will be far from his last.
First, you should watch this short film. And here’s my confession. Arree sent this to me a number of weeks ago with the caveat that it was unreleased and not to share. Except: it was too awesome not to. So I showed it to my students, because single-digit-aged kids are pretty good at secrets and don’t have Twitter accounts anyway.
They loved it. And I mean L O V E D I T. Each class, without fail, asked to watch it many, many times in a row. So we did.
Meet Maxwell, and then meet Arree.
What has been the most surprising thing about this whole debut picture book thing?
The most surprising thing about the publishing process is how long it takes to actually bring a book to market (1.5 – 2 years). My background is in games, where companies can publish with the click of a button and make updates via the internet. The process gives me appreciation for the care that goes into the publishing process. It also helps to have a great team of people to work with. Everyone from your agent, publisher, editor and art director in making the book and then there’s publicity, marketing and sales folks that help in getting the book out.An early cover design.revision notes.
I’m fortunate to have a supportive publisher in Macmillan. They have a great team of experts. Each one helps you with a specific aspect of the publishing process. I’ve learned so much. I’m so grateful I’ve been in good hands. I’ve worked hard to hold up my end of the deal and make something special. With Ninja it was easy, because I loved it so much.
Who are your creative and/or literary heroes?
Oh, so many!
Guillermo Del Toro
Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit)
Can you talk about the similarities and differences in animation and the picture book form?
I love both mediums for different reasons. Both mediums can transport the reader into new worlds. I love it when a book or movie captures my imagination and I am completely immersed in a world that has been built. The world is invented but it feels familiar and the story resonates with honesty. I hate it when a story is force feeding me a message and it feels like an infomercial or when a story rambles without a focus. Storytelling is magical when it has both the imagination and heart and speaks to you directly and honestly. A great story is so exhilarating. There’s nothing in the world that feels like it. I love both animation and picture books because they have the ability to create magic.
How they are different? Well, I think the main difference is that film tends to be a passive experience. The viewer is in a dream like state that watches the story unfold. It’s like being suspended in a time capsule and you watch everything that happens. You take the story in a more subliminal kind of way.Books on the other hand I think are active experiences. You as the reader actively interact with the words and pictures. It’s like your brain is the film projector and is working to play the story. Because of this, I think books are much more intimate experiences. You go at your own pace. You stop, question and wonder. Sometimes you’re so engaged, you speed all the way through and sometimes you like to read slowly just because. Readers engage books with their imaginations and a lot of the story is told in-between the words, the page turns and the illustrations whereas films are full experiences that use all the arts of composition, acting, music and visuals to put you in a state of suspension.
Both are magical and I love doing both so much.
Can you give us any behind-the-scenes information on how you created the short film? Did you get to know Maxwell differently in that format?
Yeah! It was so thrilling to bring Maxwell to life. I had a pretty good idea of who he is as a character after creating the book but actually seeing him move and casting Taylor Wong as Maxwell brought another whole dimension.
As for production, here’s a quick behind the scenes look of what it took to make the short film. I plan on doing a much more in-depth look in a separate blog post.
We used 4 software tools: Photoshop, Flash, After Effects and Final Cut Pro. The process was a highly collaborative effort between folks at MacMillan, myself and David Shovlin, the animator. It was a ton of work to do but a ton of fun as well.
In all, it took about 5 weeks of work. David and I worked really hard on it and I’m really proud of what we created in a relatively short period of time.Where did Ninja! come from?
It’s been my dream to make my own picture books for a long time. The first conception of Ninja came when I was in art school. I jotted down “A boy goes creeping around the house dressed as a Ninja and causes trouble.” That was probably in 2007 or so.
Early Ninja! thumbnails and character sketches.
In 2012, I decided to do the Illustrator Intensive at the SCBWI Summer Conference. We were given an assignment to submit a story along with a manuscript, thumbnails, character sketches, and a finished illustration. Up to that point, I had been writing stories for years but was stuck on many of them. For the workshop we had to write down answers to the following questions:
WHAT is the dilemma?
WHERE does it take place?
HOW is the problem solved?
This really helped me a lot. Previous to this, many of my stories didn’t have focus and wandered a lot. Ninja was a big break through for me as a storyteller and I had lots of people who helped guide me through it. I’m so thankful for Rubin, my agent, and Kate, my editor. The more I worked on it, the more the world and character took shape and gained depth. It was so much fun to make.
Do you remember any art you made as a kid? What was it?!
Yeah, I made a lot of ninja stars and origami. I was also obsessed with Legos. I loved to build cruiser space ships and large fortresses armed to the teeth. Whenever my uncle bought us Legos, we would make the thing we were supposed to make and then tear it apart and then make what we wanted to make. Making your own thing was much more fun.
I was a huge comic book reader and collector as well. I bought all of the X-men, Spiderman, Spider-ham, Batman and Spawn comics. I still buy comics.
I also really love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I used to record all of the episodes. In fact, I used to press pause on the VCR and trace drawings of the Ninja Turtles by overlaying paper onto the TV. At school, everyone thought I was the best drawer, but I never told anyone my technique til now! Eventually I copied so many drawings I could draw it out of memory. I tried to do the same technique with Transformers but that wasn’t nearly as successful because I didn’t understand perspective as at 12 year old.
And now what’s next for you?I’ve got a lot of things I’m working on. I have lots of Ninja stories to tell with Maxwell. (I’m so excited about all of them!) One of them involves an old Chinese folktale involving ghosts!
I’m also illustrating two Potty Training books for kids that are hilarious.illustrations from How to Pee
I have lots of picture book stories I’m developing and I’m also writing a middle grade novel titled Ming Lee, All American. Ming Lee chronicles my experiences growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese). It’s deeply personal and is funny in that Louis CK, embarrassing but honest kind of way. I would describe it as Judy Blume meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Of course, it is its own thing that I am figuring out. I have a sense of what I want it to be but you never know what it will be until you get there.
A huge thanks to Arree for this peek into the mind of a master craftsman. Be sure to get your hands on Ninja! this week!
Tagged: arree chung
, character sketch
, picture book
, rubin pfeffer
, teenage mutant ninja turtles
While I'm on the subject of American illustrator Pruett Carter
(1891-1955), I thought I would share some notes about his palette and his use of light and color.
Here's his palette. Ernest Watson writes, "Note that the colors on the palette's edge follow the color circle of the spectrum—from ultramarine through the blues, greens, yellows and reds to alizarin and rose madder. The colors on the inside row are extra or additional pigments to be used for their particular color identity. The earth group—ochres and siennas—are kept by themselves at the top right of the palette."
In his early career, Carter, like Loomis, Lovell, Rockwell, and other contemporaries, worked within the confines of restricted color palettes. These two-color schemes were usually determined by the magazine, which could only afford black plus one other color of ink. This painting, for instance, would have been printed only in black and yellow, so all the cool colors had to come from grays. This discipline produced great colorists when the magazines made the full printer's palette available later on.
During the period that Carter worked exclusively from life, he would pose the models in a section of the studio where he could black out the ambient light and control the illumination with artificial lights only. However his painting area was under a skylight. Between the two parts of the studio, he drew a black curtain, opened just enough to see the models posing.
One other note: as Stuart Ng
mentioned in the comments, Pruett Carter taught at Chouinard Art Institute, where one of his students was Mary Blair, a stylist for the Disney films, herself noted for her bold color designs. There's an exhibit of Mary Blair's work at the Disney Family Museum
through September 7 which includes a Pruett Carter original.
Martin Pebble (Phaidon, 2006; first published in French, 1969)
by Jean-Jacques Sempé
I love this book.
I love the type on the cover.
I love the yellow.
I love the shape and the size and the story.
I love Martin Pebble.
(I picked this up on a recent trip to Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA, which is exactly why shopping in stores is the greatest thing. I had to touch this thing to believe it, and I might not have seen this thing if it weren’t for the bookseller. Bookstores are like story petting zoos and museums that don’t give you the stinkeye if you get too close to the art.)
(Something like that.)
But poor Martin Pebble.
Martin Pebble could have been a happy little boy, like many other children. But, sad to say . . . he had something that was rather unusual the matter with him:
he kept blushing. Martin Pebble blushes for all the usual reasons and for no reason at all. The brilliance of Sempé’s color here is hard to miss. Black and white line work contains the red of Martin’s face, and that red occasionally extends to the text as well.
Subtle. Striking.The contrast Sempé crafts between Martin’s red face and all that black and white makes that blushing even worse.
Martin is in a pickle. He’s tiny and nearly lost on the page save for his giveaway condition.
He dreamed of fitting in.But he always stood out.Then comes a series of sneezes, some very loud A T I S H O O s, and there he is.
Roddy Rackett, the new neighbor.When the story changes, and the hardships knock at the door, Sempé doesn’t just use the suspense of a page turn. He stops the story cold.Roddy Rackett’s family moves away.
When you are a boy, and when you are made normal in the quirks of another, you never really forget about it. You think about A T I S H O O s while you are doing grownup things like riding taxis and elevators.Sometimes things get back to normal.I won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.
But I love it.
Sempé himself sounds like a storybook character. He sold tooth powder door-to-door salesman! Delivered wine by bicycle! (More here.)
Click here for some of Sempé’s covers for The New Yorker. Lovely.
And this Pinterest board is a feast for the eyes, too. Enjoy!
, Jean-Jacques Sempé
, Martin Pebble