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Happy 2nd-to-last Perfect Picture Book Friday before the summer hiatus, everyone!
Princess Blue Kitty and I have been spending A LOT of quality time together.
(You all remember Princess Blue, right?)
Sorry she has her back to you. She's a little camera shy :)
I can't seem to get out of the car.
Every time I think, "Okay, maybe this week I'll do a little less driving," I turn out to be wrong!
Today, Princess Blue and I are heading north, and in honor of yet another 5+hours-in-the-car day (at least the third this week) I have chosen a book I love that has a car on the cover, in the title, and as the setting for the story... even though it's not specifically Princess Blue Kitty... and actually not even blue :)
Ready? Fasten your seat belts because here we go! :)
My Side Of The Car Written By: Kate Feiffer Illustrated By: Jules Feiffer Candlewick, April 2011, Fiction Suitable For: ages 4-8
Opening: "My dad and I are going to the zoo. We've tried to go to the zoo before. But we never get there. Something always happens."
Brief Synopsis: Sadie and her dad are going to the zoo. Their plans have been thwarted three previous times, but this time they're really going. Except... on the way... it starts to rain. They can't go to the zoo in the rain. But Sadie's not about to let the fact that her dad sees rain deter her. "I look out my window, and the sun is shining on my side of the car. People are putting on their sunglasses and heading to zoos all over the world on my side of the car." While her dad sees nothing but rain, Sadie sees people mowing their laws and eating ice cream. Is it raining or not? Will Sadie and her dad get to the zoo this time or will they have to wait for another day?
Why I Like This Book: Anyone who has lived with kids knows that their perception of reality is not necessarily the same as yours... especially when they really want something! :) What's wonderful about this book is both Sadie's determined optimism and her father's patience and his loving understanding of how she needs to cope with her disappointment. This book is also delightful because it's written and illustrated by a father-daughter team about an incident that actually happened. I'm not going to tell you whether they get to the zoo or not, though. You'll have to go read the book :)
Besides various PEN executives and trustees, several high profile writers have also signed this note. Some of the participants include PEN president emeritus Salman Rushdie, novelist Neil Gaiman, children’s books illustrator Jules Feiffer, poet John Ashbery, and playwright Tony Kushner. Here’s an excerpt:
“PEN is appalled at the intrusive, criminal and profoundly menacing reprisals and threats that Sony Pictures has endured as a result of producing and planning to distribute The Interview. PEN has long stood with writers and creators who have suffered assaults aimed to suppress the dissemination of their ideas. We believe firmly that violence is never justified as a reaction to speech, no matter how offensive that speech may be to some.”
What a great idea for a comic programming focus: this year’s Small PressE Expo, to be held September 13-14 in Bethesda, MD, will spotlight the history of alt-weekly comics, a powerful if now vanished, platform that saw creators such as Jules Feiffer, Matt Groening and Lynda Barry emerge along with dozens of other.
And to kick things off, two of those Feiffer and Barry—and Onion/Stranger co founder James Sturm are the first three announced guests.
For decades, alt.weekly newspapers such as the Village Voice and the LA Weekly showcased alternative cartoonists, many of them political, such as Ruben Bolling and Tom Tomorrow. But other strips that flourished in this venue include Maakies by Tony Millionaire, Kaz’s Underworld, and more more. But as the internet destroyed the advertising base that supported these papers, these cartoonists adapted to the web or other mediums. BUt the importance of the work and careers developed in this venue is well worthy of festival examination.
Nearly seventy years ago, a teenage Jules Feiffer entered the comics world as an assistant to the famous Will Eisner. He soon made a name for himself via his ground-breaking comic strip Feiffer, which ran weekly in the Village Voice for over forty years. Mr. Feiffer and his eponymous strip is considered the Godfather of the alt-weekly newspaper comic.
Active as a cartoonist, playwright, novelist, children’s book author, screenwriter and professor, Mr. Feiffer’s incredible career has included an Academy Award, a Pulitzer Prize, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters & the Comic Book Hall of Fame, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the National Cartoonists Society. He will be at SPX 2014 to sign his latest graphic novel, Kill My Mother, which will be released this summer from the Liveright Division of W.W. Norton.
In 1979, Lynda Barry’s seminal Ernie Pook’s Comeek began appearing in the alt-weekly The Chicago Reader. For nearly two decades, her comics — which appeared in over seventy newspapers nationwide — inspired several generations of independent cartoonists who saw themselves in her characters, and recognized their struggles in her stories.
Since retiring the strip in 2008, Ms. Barry has been active as a teacher running workshops for hundreds of students a year and doing her best to show people that everybody can be creative. She is now an assistant professor at the Department of Art at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Advance copies of her book, due out in October of this year from Drawn & Quarterly, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor about teaching art to all skill levels, will be available at SPX 2014.
Co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies James Sturm has an amazing resume. In addition to the ground-breaking school he started, Sturm co-founded The Onion as well as The Stranger, Seattle’s legendary alt-weekly newspaper, where he served as the comics editor. Mr. Sturm worked with Art Spiegleman on ‘Raw’ in the 90’s, and was a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Mr. Sturm also found time to put out graphic novels such as Market Day from Drawn & Quarterly, and The Golem’s Mighty Swing on his own imprint, Bear Bones Press. A true champion of comics, Mr. Sturm has won both an Eisner Award, and a Xeric grant. In addition, his writings and works have been published in The New York Times and The New Yorker.
In the 1950s, when the pages of the Saturday Evening Post and McCall’s were dominated with the realist paintings of Norman Rockwell and Bernie Fuchs, French-born illustrator Tomi Ungerer brought in his loose, graphic drawing style and absurdist sensibilities and changed the direction of American illustration. In the new documentary film Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, we learn about Ungerer’s early life in Alsace, France as a young artist encouraged by the Nazi party during their French occupation, to his journey to America in search of new opportunities, and his subsequent blacklisting from the children’s book industry.
Featuring interviews with Steven Heller, Jules Feiffer and the late Maurice Sendak, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough is a buoyant and vivid documentary film, painting an inspiring picture of an award-winning illustrator, trilingual author, brilliant satirist, and dedicated humanitarian advocate. Ungerer upended social and professional morays in the pre-pre-Internet era, delighting (and offending) editors, critics and readers by breaking taboos, back when there was still a better assortment of taboos waiting to be broken.
Ungerer’s portrayal is both of an unstable-but-good spirited neighborhood kook and avuncular storyteller, grinning from behind a freshly lit joint and admiring a recently found dismembered baby doll appendage. “Children should be traumatized,” he grins. “If you want to give them an identity, children should be traumatized.” And he speaks from personal experience; socially paranoid, emotionally erratic and “oblivious,” as recounted by Sendak, he represents that classic tortured artist, except that instead of wringing his hands over how best to suffer for his creations, he suffered, survived and then created.
“When I draw it’s a real need,” says Ungerer. “It’s the kind of need like, if you’re hungry, you have to eat, or you have to go to the toilet—it’s got to go out.” His early children’s books, The Mellops Go Flying and Crictor, about pigs and a boa constrictor, respectively, set the tone for the work that would follow: “detestable” creatures (a vulture, a bat, an ogre) cleverly depicted as unlikely heroes, providing children with much needed provocative subject matter.
His political posters were motivated by his fascination with the American civil rights movement and the global conflicts of the 1960s: Uncle Sam shoving Lady Liberty down the throat of a Vietnamese man, a black figure and a white figure devouring each other from opposite ends, a military plane dropping silhouetted bombs under a curtain of pink ribbon presents with the label “Give,” all of which retain their graphic resonance to this day.
And his erotic works, which served as a personal rebellion against his puritanical upbringing, began with a personal relationship that involved “a bit of bondage,” and evolved into titles like Fornicon, a collection of erotica and “mechanical sex recipes.”
While the diversity of his work is one of the most unique aspects of his career, it was this sort of simultaneous co-habitation of creative worlds that eventually worked against him, getting his children’s books (unofficially) banned from libraries for over twenty-five years. His detractors have finally come around and he has received recognition for his body of work as a children’s book author and illustrator. In 1998, Ungerer was presented the Hans Christian Anderson award for his “lasting contribution to children’s literature” and named Ambassador for Childhood and Education by the 47-nation Council of Europe.
If anything, the film may leave you longing for the Golden Age of Publishing in the 1950s and ’60s, where any talented newcomer with the right portfolio—or in Ungerer’s case, a Trojan condom box—could go from door to door peddling their illustrations, and become an industry darling.
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough is directed by Brad Bernstein, and features motion graphics supervised by Brandon Dumlao. The film is distributed by First Run Features and is continuing to open in theaters across the country.
The annual MoCCA Arts Festival, presented by the Society of Illustrators and Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art, takes place this weekend (April 6 and 7) at the 69th Regiment Armory (68 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan). Tickets are $12 online or $15 at the door. I highly recommend the event; it’s a comic convention as it should be with a relaxed atmosphere and a focus on artists of all kinds (comic artists, illustrators and animators). The list of guests is solid as usual, and includes familiar names from the animation community such as Bill Plympton, Signe Baumane, Peter de Sève, Jules Feiffer, and JJ Sedelmaier. Many of the exhibitors hawking their wares also work in the local animation industry.
A young, bored boy finds a mysterious tollbooth in his room. Hopping into his small, electric toy car, he enters the lands beyond where he meets all sorts of characters in Dictionopolis, the Valley of Sound, the Doldrums, Digitopolis, and more places filled with wonder that open his eyes to the world around him. Click here to read my full review.
Not such a preposterous idea. The intuitive narrative form of comics is a whole another kind of reading.
Searching words, pictures and panels for clues to events big and small in a story is a more active experience than watching video on a screen.
My “great books” education came from Classics Illustrated comics, which I loved. Did they ruin my appetite for dinner?
Heck no, I read plenty of real classics later. My readings of the actual Men Against the Sea,The Dark Frigate, King Solomon’s Mines, Frankenstein, David Copperfield, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and so many more were only enhanced by my first reading their comic book counterparts.
(In many cases the comics reading was a richer experience than plowing through the actual classic texts. Maybe that says more about me than any literary works. However that’s a story for another post.)
Thank you, Albert Kanter for the great contribution you made to kid culture with the Classic Illustrated series that ran for 30 years beginning in 1941.
On that note, Toon Books, produced by Raw Junior, LLC , endeavors to make comics readers of toddlers and tots.
And who better to tease little ones with artful pictures and graphics into an early habit of reading than, well, another comic book publisher.
And, in this case, someone who is also a New Yorker magazine art director.
Françoise Mouly is a veteran of more than 800 New Yorker covers, a mom, and the co-founder and co-editor, with her husband cartoonist Art Spiegelman, of the avant garde comics anthology Raw Graphics. That’s where Spiegelman’s family account of the Holocaust, Maus, A Survivor’s Tale, that later won the Pulitzer Prize, first appeared. It was the first comic book to call itself a graphic novel .
Mouly also designed and edited books for Pantheon and Penguin in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. She was helping her first grade son with his reading. she discovered — to her dismay — “beginner reader” texts.
She substituted for their home reading sessions her giant collection of French comic books, and that worked like a charm. It got her thinking, and in 2000 she launched the RAW Junior division to publish “literary comics” for kids of all ages.
She enlisted star writers, artists and cartoonists such as Maurice Sendak, David Sedaris, Jules Feiffer and Gahan Wilson.
In 2008 she started the Toon Books imprint. These were 6″ by 9″ hard cover “comics” that very young children could read on their own.
“Comics have always had a unique ability to draw young readers into a story through the drawings,” Mouly told an interviewer. “Visual narrative helps kids crack the code that allows literacy to flourish, teaching them how to read from left to right, from top to bottom.”
“Comics use a broad range of sophisticated devices for communication,” the Toon Books website quotes Barbara Tversky, professor of Psychology at Stanford University and a Toon Books advisor.
“They are similar to face-to-face interactions, in which meaning is derived not solely from words, but also from gestures, intonation, facial expressions and props,” Tversky says. “Comics are more than just illustrated books, but rather make use of a multi-modal language that blends words, pictures, facial expressions, panel-to-panel progression, color, sound effects and more to engage readers in a compelling narrative.”
"The Big No-No"
I like the Benny and Penny series by author illustrator Geoffrey Hayes, about sibling mice — a big brother and his little sister and do they ever ring true! In the latest title, The Big No-No, released this Spring, Benny and Penny confront the “new kid” next door.
In Just Pretend, Penny threatens to disrupt Benny’s make believe pirate game (because she needs a hug). But they somehow manage to play together. When Penny momentarily disappears in a game of hide and seek, Benny decides that pretending is better with his sister around than not.
Hayes has written and illustrated about 40 books, including early readers and a Margaret Wise Brown title, When the Wind Blew.
"The Big No-No!"
The Big No-No and Just Pretend are gently rendered in colored pencil and beautifully orchestrated and paced. The pages are a joy to experience. The little dialogue balloons are so natural and unobtrusive. The books give you the feeling that you’re eavesdropping on the real conversations of real children.
I haven’t yet seen Stinky about a polka-dotted swamp monster whose turf gets invaded by a little boy. It’s creator is a 25 year old rising comics star Eleanor Davis, a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. The American Library Association named Stinky its Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book for this year.
* * * * *
Mark Mitchell hosts “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator.” To sample some free lessons from his online course on children’s book illustration, go here.
I’m still wrestling with this new blog format. I worry that a lot of you are checking the old links or the old RSS feeds and are simply under the impression that I’m not updating anymore. Aside from Facebook, Twitter, and various Group updates (social networking has never been so useful) I’m not sure how to let folks know about my new location. I sort of feel like I’m whistling into the wind. But we’ll figure it all out. No migration goes perfectly the first few weeks, right? The kinks with out kinkify themselves. In the meantime, have a bit o’ Fusenews.
I was rather taken with this recent profile of children’s author and adult satirical cartoonist (amongst other things) Jules Feiffer at CNN. It has never really occurred to me, but it makes sense that he would have influenced Doonesbury in some way. Never really thought it through, though. The comments about his thoughts on Charles Schulz are also fascinating. Good reading!
Some days, you just feel like screaming. Other days, you scream and it ends up in blog posts called Why Is Fuse #8 Screaming? I’ll explain more about the reason for the less than impressive shriek (there are reasons I never became an actress) in an upcoming Lerner Librarian Preview, but for now I thought the blog post’s title funny enough to link to.
Oh man. I almost made this a Daily Image before I figured it wouldn’t be fair to Leila. Have you seen some of the awesome library posters from the late ’60s/early ’70s she’s been putting up? Honest-to-Murgatroyd, they are amazing. You can see most of them here, and an additional bit of magnificence here.
What a busy month this’s been! A lot of projects on the plate and…
Such an amazing weekend attending the SCBWI Winter Conference here in NYC. Full of inspiring keynote speakers like Jules Feiffer, R.L Stein, Dan Yaccarino, Sara Zarr…the list goes on but I won’t.
The whole weekend was filled with such an amazing rush of energy! I’ve never felt so much comfort and support from such an overwhelming amount of people (over 1100 attendees!). I can’t wait until the L.A Conference this summer! I’m totally hooked.
Managed to take some pictures and videos along the way, I’ll try and post some of my fave videos later this week!
The image is embedded above, a logo combining Eisner’s famous hero, The Spirit, and the crowded New York City neighborhoods Eisner explored in later graphic novels. Comic artist Scott McCloud wrote on Google’s blog about how Eisner’s The Spirit newspaper comic influenced many artists, from Jack Kirby to Jules Feiffer.
eBookNewser has more: “Google celebrated the late Will Eisner’s birthday this weekend with a Google Doodle, dedicated to the legendary comic author. Artist Mike Dutton drew the above homage to Eisner, in which the ‘oo’s in Google have been replaced by the eyes of one of Eisner’s most famous characters named ‘The Spirit,’ aka Denny Colt, a crime fighting detective.”
Reality is subjective. You learn this when you have children of your own. What may be glaringly obvious to a parent will pass right over a six-year-old’s head (and vice-versa). To a certain extent, children and parents live in entirely different worlds. I’ve been trying to come up with a list of children’s books that acknowledge this fact, and it’s tough. So many picture books are of the didactic let’s-teach-kids-not-to-lie variety that the ones where kids come up with their own imaginative stories and live to tell the tale are few and far between. I mean, can you think of any books where a child stretches the truth because they truly believe what they’re saying, straight in the face of parental obliviousness? Aside from Calvin and Hobbes it’s a toughie, but that’s just one of the many reasons why I am so very fond of the father/daughter creation that is My Side of the Car. A brilliant example of willful ignorance (or is it?) Kate and Jules Feiffer tap into those times in a kid’s life when the line between what’s true and what they hope is true blur.
You don’t understand. Sadie isn’t just excited that she’s going to the zoo today. She’s excited because she’s FINALLY going to the zoo today. If you ask her, she can come up with three previous times when she was supposed to go to the zoo and ended up having to do something else instead. But today’s different. She and her dad are in the car and nothing could possibly stop them . . . until it starts to rain. Sadie’s dad is understandably worried and has to inform his daughter that rain means they can’t go to the zoo. However, Sadie (ever the optimist) informs him in no uncertain terms that while it may be pouring on his side of the car, there’s nothing but sunshine, and zoo-going folks, and people watering their lawns, and ice cream eaters on her side of the car. That is until they actually get to the zoo. Then it’s up to Sadie to determine what it is they do next.
I’ve always liked Kate Feiffer’s books but until now I hadn’t found one that killed with the cadences like this one does. Repetition works in books when it’s used well and in the service of the story. That’s part of what I love about what Kate has done here. Right from the start Sadie starts in on the different days when she was supposed to go to the zoo. Listen to how beautifully Ms. Feiffer recounts these. “One day when we were supposed to go to the zoo, my mom tripped over a toy fire engine. So we went to the hospital instead of the zoo. Another day when we were supposed to go to the zoo, my dog, Pasha, got lost. So we spent the day looking for him instead of going to the zoo. Another day when we were supposed to go to the zoo, my grandparents showed up for a surprise visit. And they don’t like the zoo. So we went to the museum instead of the zoo.” First off, she gets 100 points for not beginning the third example with the word “and” (example: “And a
Nursery rhymes. What’s up with that? (I feel like a stand up comedian when I put it that way). They’re ubiquitous but nonsensical. Culturally relevant but often of unknown origins. Children’s literary scholar Leonard Marcus ponders the amazing shelf life of nursery rhymes himself and comes up with some answers. Why is it that they last as long as they do in the public consciousness? Marcus speculates that “the old-chestnut rhymes that beguile in part by sounding so emphatically clear about themselves while in fact leaving almost everything to our imagination” leave themselves open to interpretation. And who better to do a little interpreting than cartoonists? Including as many variegated styles as could be conceivably collected in a single 128-page book, editor Chris Duffy plucks from the cream of the children’s graphic novel crop (and beyond!) to create a collection so packed with detail and delight that you’ll find yourself flipping to the beginning to read it all over again after you’re done. Mind you, I wouldn’t go handing this to a three-year-old any time soon, but for a certain kind of child, this crazy little concoction is going to just the right bit of weirdness they require.
Fifty artists are handed a nursery rhyme apiece. The goal? Illustrate said poem. Give it a bit of flair. Put in a plot if you have to. So it is that a breed of all new comics, those of the nursery ilk, fill this book. Here at last you can see David Macaulay bring his architectural genius to “London Bridge is Falling Down” or Roz Chast give “There Was a Crooked Man” a positive spin. Leonard Marcus offers an introduction giving credence to this all new coming together of text and image while in the back of the book editor Chris Duffy discusses the rhymes’ history and meaning. And as he says in the end, “We’re just letting history take its course.”
In the interest of public scrutiny, the complete list of artists on this book consists of Nick Abadzis, Andrew Arnold, Kate Beaton, Vera Brosgol, Nick Bruel, Scott Campbell, Lilli Carre, Roz Chast, JP Coovert, Jordan Crane, Rebecca Dart, Eleanor Davis, Vanessa Davis, Theo Ellsworth, Matt Forsythe, Jules Feiffer, Bob Flynn, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Ben Hatke, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Lucy Knisley, David Macaulay, Mark Martin, Patrick McDonnell, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionaire, Tao Nyeu, George O’Connor, Mo Oh, Eric Orchard, Laura Park, Cyril Pedrosa, Lark Pien, Aaron Renier, Dave Roman, Marc Rosenthal, Stan Sakai, Richard Sala, Mark Siegel, James Sturm, Raina Telgemeier, Craig Thompson, Richard Thompson, Sara Varon, Jen Wang, Drew Weing, Gahan Wilson, Gene Luen Yang, and Stephanie Yue (whew!). And as with any collection, some of the inclusions are going to be stronger than others. Generally speaking if fifty people do something, some of them are going to have a better grasp on the process than others. That said, only a few of these versions didn’t do it for me. At worst the versions were mediocre. At best they went in a new direction with their mat
The summer before last, I became a student in the Southampton MFA in Creative Writing and Literature program where I am also a faculty member. (I know, it’s a little crazy, but it’s actually great.) Since then I’ve had the good fortune to take courses with such gifted writers and teachers and Billy Collins, Jules Feiffer, Julie Sheehan, and Roger Rosenblatt, among others. I have also been challenged by weekly writing assignments, something that I am often hard-pressed to find the time (or the space in my brain) to do.
Another one of our faculty members, the biographer Neil Gabler, refers to what he calls “Gabler’s Law”: First, you just sit there.
I love this, since I can come up with a thousand excuses as to why I can’t yet sit down to write – my favorites being, “I’m not ready,” “I don’t have an idea yet,” and “I’m still stewing.”
Recently I’ve been experimenting with a law of my own: Just start.
Since I’ve incorporated this law, an amazing pattern has begun to emerge with respect to these writing assignments. It generally goes like this:
Day 1 – “OK, I’ve got the assignment for this week. It seems do-able.”
Day 2 – “What was I thinking? This assignment is the hardest yet! Ack. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
Day 3: “I might have an idea. I’ll let it stew a bit.”
Day 4: “It’s a terrible idea. Never mind. Help!”
Day 4: “This is impossible. It’s actually out of the question. I don’t have a single idea!”
Day 5: “This may be the week where I have to call in sick. Is there any valid excuse I can come up with for not doing the assignment this week?
Day 6: “God, class is tomorrow. Just sit there and begin – something, anything!”
Day 7: “What time is class?”
What this has taught me is that I can afford to be patient while all those little gremlins in my head cycle through their strange but apparently necessary routine. But then, if I just sit there and START – just put my fingers to the keyboard and begin, something, anything – stuff begins to happen. It doesn’t matter where I start, just that I do. And of course it’s all about editing – but the miracle is, once I start, I have something to edit, and once I edit, I (usually) have something to present.
Video courtesy of RandomBooks: “2011 marks the 50th Anniversary of the beloved classic, The Phantom Tollbooth. Meet the book’s creators, Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer, and hear them discuss how this classic came to be.
Also with commentary from Leonard S. Marcus, children’s books critic and historian, and author of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth.”
So I’m at a lovely Little Brown librarian preview earlier this week and the first special guest star of the day turns out to be none other than Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. A resident of San Francisco, I wasn’t sure why he was in town. Turns out, he was on Rachel Maddow’s show talking about his recent Occupy Wall Street piece that had been making the internet rounds. Maddow says that he’s a “cultural hero of mine” and then later that she is “dorking out” being in his presence. The interview is great in and of itself, plus you get this fun bit at the start about what you do when the police have confiscated your generators.
Of course if I’d known he was in town I would have tried to hook him into saying hello at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival festivities. Hosted in my library I’ll be blogging about it rather soon. It was rather epic, I have to say. Everything from a children’s musical about the birth of the Newbery Award to kids singing the plot of The Westing Game to Katie Perry’s “Firework” (a song that seems to haunt Mr. Kennedy wherever he may go). Of course we ran out of time so we never got to show this final video. I present it to you now because it’s rather brilliant. As Ira Glass imitations go, this has gotta be up there:
This next link is here only because Travis at 100 Scope Notes spotted it first. According to Reuters, the Japanese have brought The Magic Tree House books to life on the screen. Apparently Mary Pope Osborne has always resisted film adaptations but the filmmakers so wowed her that she gave them the rights. The result pairs nicely with that recent Borrowers adaptation, also out of Japan:
In other news, Newbery Honor winner Kathi Appelt recently interviewed Caldecott Award winner Eric Rohmann about his latest hugely lauded Halloween tale Bone Dog. Perhaps I should have posted this before Hal
Michael Chekhov – nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov - was an esteemed Russian-American actor, director and acting teacher. Among those who studied with him were Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Quinn, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Palance, Lloyd Bridges, and Yul Brynner. Constantin Stanislavski, with whom Chekhov collaborated at the Moscow Art Theatre, referred to him as his ‘most brilliant student.’
I had the good fortune to listen to Joanna Merlin, president of the Michael Chekhov Association – speak about her mentor last week. (MICHA will be one of the theatre companies in residence at our Writers Conferences next summer.)
I have long been aware of the overlap between the dramatic and writing arts, but something Joanna said struck me as particularly relevant.
One of Chekhov’s valued concepts was that of the ‘four brothers’: ease, beauty, form and wholeness. As I listened to Joanna describe these elements with respect to art, I realized they were directly transferable to children’s literature.
Ease – Who hasn’t marveled at the ease of Dr. Seuss’s verse, or Jules Feiffer’s line? When a book really sings, doesn’t it seem effortless? Like it just rolled off the author’s pen? Doesn’t it make us think: That looks so easy! I could do that!
Beauty – From Kenneth Grahame to Gennady Spirin to Jon J Muth, there’s no denying the beauty in children’s book art. But there’s beauty in text, too… Whether it’s an exquisitely crafted message, mastery of language or authenticity of voice, there are times when the stellar narrative of a children’s book can make one weep.
Form – Thirty two pages, one thousand words or less. There’s no denying that picture books have form. The challenge is how to tell that story with a richness of character and plot that compels the reader to turn the page… within the confines of that form. Martha Grahame said “The aim of technique is to free the spirit.” I would amend that to say, “Within the confines of form, anything is possible.”
Wholeness – Beginning, middle, end. Problem, crisis, resolution. Picture books travel a great distance in a thousand words or less… and the good ones provide a complete story, and a wholly satisfying journey.
Michael Chekhov wrote and published a few great books on acting, but never any children’s books. I suspect that, had he chosen to, he could have penned one with ease, beauty, form and wholeness.
I had written a completely different post here for PiBoIdMo. I attempted to compare the PiBoIdMo experience to my old Zenith console radio. All about tuning in to our own stations. I may yet throw it up on my own blog. I was about to start a drawing for it…
Then I went to The Eric Carle Museum and listened to the epic cartoonist Jules Feiffer talk about creating. After this weekend, it seems unfair to not let others in on his brilliant analogy for his own long career as an author and illustrator.
At the risk of likening myself to his 82 years of creating amazing words and picture; He and I had a moment. He doesn’t know we had a moment. But we had a Fred Astaire moment.
I was watching two squirrels earlier this Fall, as they romped through my yard. The way their feet barely touch the ground. The circled each other, intertwining their tails as they glided from grass, to rock, to tree limb. Their movements so smooth and elegant and effortless. They made me think of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. So I sketched them.
Back to Jules;
Jules Feiffer grew up in the time when Fred and Ginger danced on the big screen. Just a young boy when the films were new in the cinema, the movies entered his consciousness in a very deep way. He relates those sublime sways and quick steps to his own career as a creative being.
“Fred Astaire made elegance look easy. He made it look easy because he worked at it constantly. He didn’t dance for the applause- he danced to dance. It was his work, it was what he did everyday, it was him. How long was he actually dancing for, four minutes? He put countless hours in for those four minutes on screen.” ~ Jules Feiffer
When Mr. Feiffer sits down to draw, He pours himself a scotch, puts on a Fred Astaire movie—and the music swells… and he dances. Both he and his pen. We look at his drawings and marvel at how effortless they look.
So I am putting on my top hat, tyin’ up my white tie… brushin’ off my tails for PiBoIdMo with this notion in my head—If you put in the hard work, it will look easy. But it takes that hard work—the hours and hours of continually doing it, backstage, to make it seem effortless, on stage. You have to rehearse, mess up, trip and fall on your face, over and over before you can have your stories go stepping’ out. So revel in the work!
Dance to dance. Draw to draw. Write to write.
Dance like Astaire—on paper.
I am thrilled to give away a print of the dancing squirrels to a dancing’ PiBoIdMo participant! Just leave a comment to enter and we’ll randomly draw a winner one week from today. (Tara’s note: click on the bottom image to see the entire illustration in full size—trust me, you want to do this!!!)
Thanks to Tara Lazar for the gift of PiBoIdMo. You’ve created the space for us to dance!
Right now for our bedtime reading, my daughter and I are revisiting an old classic — The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (illustrated by Jules Feiffer), Yearling Books, 1961. I encountered this novel when I was in grade five; it was recommended to me by a friend. I remembered reading it and loving it. It’s a witty and clever book by halves, and I don’t think I ‘got’ everything in it at the time I read it, but following the adventures of this idle and bored schoolboy protagonist Milo “who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always” was compelling. In reading it now with my daughter, I am enjoying the story again with so much more gusto — this time getting, of course, all the many puns and double entendres throughout the book. My daughter is less enthusiastic. As she puts it herself, “I like listening to it because it puts me to sleep.” (Mind you, this fact alone makes it a worthy bedtime read for the parent!) But while she dozes off, I often continue reading aloud for the sheer pleasure of the story which speaks to the book’s attractive charm and longevity.
The Phantom Tollbooth celebrated the 50th anniversary of its publication this year. There’s a Youtube video I watched recently of Norton Juster and Jules Pfeiffer talking about the genesis of the book. A commemorative annotated edition of the book is now available, and a documentary film, The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50, is currently being produced, set for release in 2012. I didn’t discover all this information, until after I’d selected this book for our bedtime reading ritual, so I was quite surprised by the serendipity of my choice and hope that my daughter might remember this book fondly herself when she begins reading to her children in the future. (If she doesn’t, Grandma certainly will!)
The Toronto Librarians are on strike. There is no need to panic… Ahhhhhhhh! Failing to reach a labour agreement over the weekend 2,400 librarians went on strike. All 98 library branches across Toronto are close as of Monday. The library is asking borrowers to hold on to all checked out books and materials. No overdue [...]
Everybody loves THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. It is many of my friends’ absolute all-time favorite kids book. I know I read it as a kid. I know I didn’t like it. I know I didn’t read it again. And that’s all I remember, and somehow even though everyone was always saying how much they loved it, I never picked it up again until now. Anyway, that’s the back story.
My feeling on recent reading is this: good book, but I totally can see why it hit wrong with me as a kid. Because the number one adjective I want to use for THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH is clever. Its incredibly clever. Its witty. The wordplay and puns are great, and I’m sure I would have picked up on them and enjoyed them back then as well.* But clever and witty alone does not a great book make. And that I think is my problem with this one. I did enjoy it. But I wasn’t really engrossed at all – there’s very little character-building, the characters are all kind of purposefully caricatures, and even when feelings or reactions by people were described, they were just kind of stated very matter of fact. I never actually found myself identifying with anyone. And while the constant humor kept the story from feeling like there was too much moralizing, it was nevertheless very clear that at each place, and with each character, a not-so-subtle point was being made about modern life, the way people behave, etc; to the point where those points felt in and of themselves to be the purpose of the story. Again, not something that really draws you (or at least me) in.
My other issue was that even plot-wise, the story kind of reads like a litany of “and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” Not much variety in pacing, and no time spent once the “point” of each episode had taken place – just “ok, that happened, next.” I’m being a little more negative than I really felt while I was reading the book – I really did enjoy it. But I can also totally see how as a kid I would have gotten bored. Puns are funny. A few pages or even a few chapters of clever wordplay and obvious-but-still-fun set-ups are fun. But a whole book of that and nothing else just isn’t enough.
Actually, now that I’m writing this and thinking it through further, I feel like a lot of the pieces of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH would make for great picture books – short, clever, funny stories, with imaginative premises, and a lot of great illustrations already included. But a whole series of those just strung together one after another doesn’t quite do it for me. And that’s why I can’t summon the love of this book that so many folks have (although I’m glad that I now see why they do love it. Especially as so many of my friends are language-loving types), and why I probably read it once, was kind of amused and kind of bored, and was left without a strong enough impression to lead me to pick it up again.
*I was raised in a very pun-filled household. In my family, birthdays and other card-giving occasions are basically a standing competition to see who can find the card with the best pun or bad joke. There have been some real prize finds over the years.
Posted in Books I felt I ought to have liked but really didn't, Childhood Reading, Feiffer, Jules, Flawed does not preclude Interesting, Juster, Norton, Phantom Tollbooth, The