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Here we are at the end of our trip. I've been dragging these posts out in the hope I'd never reach this point. But, yes, all good things must come to an end (I've never really known why) and we were sure to cram as much fun into the last two days as possible. Starting with breakfast at The One and these coffee cups. I loved them so much I had to buy a set for home:
I don't think my husband is as impressed with them as I am, but I thought they were cute. And they're definitely a fine example of "splash ink" technique. After leaving The One, we headed back up toward Taipei and a village famed for its ceramic work. We were running a bit behind schedule so we decided to forgo a sit-down lunch in favor of exploring what the street vendors had to offer. They were especially plentiful thanks to the ongoing national holiday. My choices included a steamed spinach-green onion-and-cheese bun, a fried doughnut, and a huge cup of iced lemon tea that lasted me most of the day.
Loved this tunnel kiln! I need one at home.
Bought chopsticks for home, too. Finally learned how to use them, LOL!
The afternoon took us further into Taipei:
Taiwan's "White House."
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial (unfortunately covered with scaffolding.)
. . . and the National History Museum. I thought this little pagoda was perfect painting material:
Before studying any artwork we needed afternoon tea in the museum cafe:
The view from the cafe windows:
Someone actually gets to live in this building.
These beads date from 403-221 BC. Still so modern. I'd buy them!
After the museum we found ourselves in a busy part of downtown where I had the opportunity to investigate some of the backstreet shops. Thanks to having bought the pig teacups I needed a larger carry-on. I found just what I wanted in a small suitcase store: bright pink canvas and made in Taiwan. A great souvenir for future travels.
Which store first??
Dinner that night was once again "family style" when we met up with some of Ming Franz's cousins, former high school classmates, and teachers in a downtown restaurant. It was a genuine reunion for them all, and wonderful for us to be part of such a special evening. Then we were back to The Grand Hotel for our final night. By now we had traveled in a huge circle, seeing three coastlines and parts of the interior too. We also arrived back in time for the start of "frog season." Right outside our windows: croak, croak, croak all night. As I noted in my journal: "These frogs are VERY disagreeable!"
A grand entrance, indeed.
Accompanied by the frog serenade, our packing lasted well into the early morning hours. We had become so spoiled in our big bus, a vehicle designed to sit 30-40 passengers when there were only 10 of us, that our daily habit was to load up the empty seats with our purchases from each stop and then forget about them. Now was the night of reckoning and everything had to find its place or get left behind. First to be discarded were all the beautiful shopping bags--so lovely but way too bulky. The next morning, packed and ready for our night-time flight, we still had a full day to spend in Taipei. First stop was a visit with Welsh paper artist, Tim Budden, now a Taiwan resident, who led us to his studio through this interesting neighborhood:
Hot spring water flows right through town.
Mr. Budden explaining the intricacies of paper art.
Following our studio tour, we were off to Taipei 101, regarded to be the world's highest completed building. We were booked for lunch on the ground floor at an Anthony Bourdain-recommended restaurant specializing in xiao long bao, steamed soup dumplings. Yum.
Before lunch we had 30 minutes to ride up to the 89th-floor.
Next and final stop: The Eslite Book Store. The best bookstore in the whole world. Several stories high, filled with treasures I'll never see here in the USA, I could have moved in permanently. I bought more brush pens (black, forest green, gray, and rust red), a book on painting cats in the Chinese style, and a book on French shabby chic. In Chinese. Don't judge. And then we were off to the airport. Our superb and talented tour guide gifted us all with special little items to remember our trip. For me it was a wooden key-ring carved into the shape of horse complete with saddle, bridle, and tons of intricate detail. She told me she had chosen a horse so that I "may keep traveling, and go far." She also gave me a postcard of a Taiwanese kitten, "Because you love cats!"
On the way to the airport . . .
After dinner on the plane I think I slept more soundly than I did at the monastery. I don't remember much about the flight home except for the movie I watched before falling asleep: The Crossing--a recent film set in Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War. It was excellent, and a real tear-jerker, but then it suddenly ended with the words 'To be continued." Apparently Part II comes out this summer, but I wanted to keep watching! Along with two of my travel companions, I had decided earlier to stopover in San Francisco before going home to Albuquerque, and I'm glad I did, but it sure seemed strange (and lonely) to be on our own without the group or my roommate.
A room of my own. New pink Taiwan travel bag in the back there.
My version of my cat postcard: "This kitty is sad to leave Taiwan."
And then we flew into Albuquerque, and . . . that's all, folks, 12 unforgettable days of Taiwan.I hope you've enjoyed reading my trip diary; I certainly enjoyed sharing it with you. May you one day travel far and wide, too! (Next post: A review of my travel sketch supplies, what worked, what didn't. Stay tuned.)Add a Comment
This is your chance to own a unique piece of original art by one of the UK’s best and most popular illustrators. Come along on the night to bid on one of several framed pieces of art – each depicting the famous Bath Children’s Literature Red Chair. Amazing artists including including Chris Riddell (Goth Girl), Ben Cort(Aliens love Underpants), Nick Sharratt (The Story of Tracey Beaker), Korky Paul (Winnie the Witch), Alison Jay (Welcome to the Zoo), Michael Foreman (War Game) and Axel Scheffler (The Gruffalo) have all donated pieces featuring their own, entertaining interpretation of the Festivals’ iconic red storytelling chair. Help secure the future of the Bath Festivals internationally renowned programme of popular Festivals and be in with a chance of acquiring a piece of artwork to treasure for your family, school or business. An Online Auction of many more Artworks will be launched on the night.
My picture is painted using all materials I have picked for the art lessons and workshops I'll be giving soon via The Kraken Studio - all cheap stuff but really nice.
Go and admire the rest, there are some Mighty Fine Red Chairs to be had.
Title: Good Morning to ME! Written and illustrated by: Lita Judge Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015 Themes/Topics: exuberance, indoor voices, pets, parrots Suitable for ages: 3-6 Opening: Early one morning in a little cottage, Beatrix was wide AWAKE. She knew it was … Continue reading →
No, I don't mean John (who is actually getting less furry every year, though don't tell him I said that), but Maddy, my friend's cat. We have been 'babysitting' her for years, including on the occasion of my friend's honeymoon, when Maddy nearly plunged to her death by trying to jump out of the velux in the studio. I only just grabbed her back legs in time.
These days she is a very old lady, so is far less trouble. She is not above stealing my chair as soon as I get up to make a cuppa though:
Even though she just sleeps all day, it's kind of nice to have her in the room with me. I do miss having an animal, but John and I are too keen on gadding about, so it wouldn't be fair.
Our friends all know we are a soft touch with pets though, so don't need much persuading to act as kennels. One friend got stuck in temporary accommodation some years back, so we had her two cats for months. That turned into quite a challenge: poor Clyde expressed his disorientation in pee, on almost every carpet in the house. I expressed my feelings about this in an illustration:
We did have our own cat once. We stole Smudge from a neighbour. Well, not quite literally, but she came into our house more and more, so we put a collar on her with a message, asking who owned her. The man round the corner turned out to be allergic to cats (Smudge had been his wife's, who had moved to Ireland), so he was very pleased to officially hand Smudge over.
Unfortunately she wasn't an ideal addition to the studio. She once nearly ruined one of my pastel illustrations, by jumping up on my desk. I think Maddy's days of leaping across the room are behind her, so that's reassuring.
Happy Feline Friday! Feline Friday is fun meme my friend Sandee at Comedy Plus posts every Friday. The meme was created by Sandee's buddy Steve, at Burnt Food Dude because he wanted his friends and readers to know he likes cats. I'm not sure why everyone thought Steve disliked cats, but it's been my experience that you have to own a cat to understand them. I've always been a dog lover, and never expected to own a cat, not because I disliked them, I just preferred dogs, and had never raised a cat. If you have never owned a cat this video will give you an idea about how cats and dogs love and learn to trust in their own way, plus it's fun to watch.
Thank you for visiting, and feel free to leave a comment, or check your "Reaction" in one of the boxes below this post. To participate in this meme, just read Sandee's post at Comedy Plus for more information and fun.
Oh, and if you have time, let me know "What Song Is In Your Head Today," the song in my head is posted on the sidebar.
Series: When I Grow Up Written and illustrated by WIGU Publishing WIGU Publishing 12/08/2014 978-1-93997314-6 56 pages Age 7—12 . . “Sofia wants to care for all the animals in the world. But Mom does not think Sofia is ready for the responsibility of even one pet. Ready or not, when a hungry and sick-looking cat appears at the family’s back doorstep, Sofia takes action. When Sofia is found feeding the cat, Mom gives in and agrees that a trip to the vet will tell them if the cat is healthy and not someone’s lost pet. As the veterinarian introduces Sofia and readers to the important and wide-ranging work of animal doctors, Sofia learns how she might help all kinds of animals, including a little stray cat!” [back cover]
Review Like every kid, at some time in his or her life, Sofia desperately wants a pet. Mom sternly responds, “No,” after every plea. I suspect many kids will relate to this situation. Dad tells Sofia gets her love of animals from Mom, which made mom’s stern and resolute rejections surprising to me,
“. . . the answer was always ‘No. And I mean it, Sofia!’ . . . and she meant it.”
Mom’s reluctance must be due to something she went through as she has some definite opinions about caring for pets. While looking outside at the soaking wet cat, mom says:
“People should be more responsible about animals.” “There are too many unwanted animals running around.”
Veterinarian does not delve into the reasons behind the above statements; instead letting Sofia remark that she cannot believe any pet could be unwanted. I agree with Mom and Sofia. Bringing a pet into the family is a big decision, and includes much more than housing and feeding. But Veterinarian is about the career, not the social issues. Continuing with the story, mom finally tells Sofia her reasons for saying no: she does not think the family is ready for a pet. But then it rained.
“It rained cats and dogs.”
That night it really did rain cats . . . one little, hungry, “sorry-looking,” water-soaked cat. To Sofia’s amazement, her mother was also upset and concerned about the cat. With dad taking the lead, mom agrees to take the cat—now called Samantha—to Dr. Helen, a veterinarian.
Dr. Helen looks for a microchip, listens to Samantha’s heart, weighs her, and then tells Sofia, there are an estimated 10 million different kinds of animal species on Earth . . . that we know of. Much of our planet is unexplored—mostly underwater—and there are animals we have not seen, and some we never will. I did not know this, which is why I love the WIGU series—I learn something with each edition.
Dr. Helen gives a short history of cats and dogs. Cats first became household “pets” 3,000 years ago in Egypt, where they were worship (cats kept rodents out of the grain and hunted dangerous snakes, including cobras). Dogs, as pets, began roughly 33,000 years ago. Dogs were valued for their companionship and keen senses—hearing, sight, smell—that helped protect humans. Dr. Helen told Sofia cats are the most popular pet (2:1 dogs), yet veterinarians treat more dogs than they do cats. No explanations are given.
As with the other When I Grow Up editions, Veterinarian is loaded with useful information kids will enjoy reading, can use as a reference, or when exploring possible careers. Teachers can use this series as adjunct texts. In Veterinarian, Dr. Helen describes many areas of specialization and the road to becoming a veterinarian. The illustrations are a combination of actual photographs and digital images. On the cover, I adore Samantha’s contented look on her face as Sofia hugs her.
In the end, Sofia decides she wants to become a veterinarian. The family decides to keep Samantha, even with the funny, unexpected twist. Veterinarian’s tone is positive and it highlights the best about being a vet. This is my favorite edition thus far. Wigu Publishing is planning to explore more careers for the When I Grow Up series and is working on Spanish versions. Every school should have this series, keeping room for new editions. The When I Grow Up series might go on forever.
Out in the depths of the Spooniverse Space Dog is getting read to return home following a long mission sorting out planetary problems in the Dairy Quadrant. Just as he starts to unwind a distress call comes through on his Laser Display Screen. Without a moment’s hesitation our super hero, Space Dog, jumps to and rescues the occupant of a flying saucer drowning in an thick ocean of cream on a nearby planet. But what’s this?
It turns out he’s saved his sworn enemy: Astrocat.
Will they be able to put aside their differences as another cry for help comes in over the space ship tannoy? Will teamwork triumph as they face terror together?
Space Dog by Mini Grey is an anarchic, adrenalin-packed adventure of The Highest Order. Utterly and joyously playful, wildly and lavishly imaginative, this dynamic and delightful journey exploring space and friendship is sublime.
Grey’s witty language, from the hilarious exclamations made by Space Dog (“Thundering milkswamps!”, “Shivering Stilton!”) to the deliciously outlandish names of rare alien life forms (the Cruets of West Cutlery, the Fruitons of Crumble Major) has had us all giggling time and again, even on the 15th reading of Space Dog. Her pacing is timed to perfection, with dramatic stretches interspersed with moments of great relief and humour, drawing readers, listeners, grown-ups, children ever more closely in to Grey’s fantastic, phenomenal universe Spooniverse.
Grey’s illustrations are equally packed with panache. From the detailing given to brand labels and packaging (whether on space food or game boxes) to her powerful use of suggestion (look out for what is almost missing off the page on the spread immediately before Space Dog and Astrocat land on Cheesoid 12, or the shadow redolent with threat as they turn to leave the Cheesy planet), Grey’s illustrations richly illuminate the world she has built to share with us, giving enormous pleasure every time they are returned to.
Although there are echoes of super hero comic strips and silent movies with their intertitles, dramatic soundtracks and expressive emotions theatrically mimed, Mini Grey’s visual and verbal style is truly unique. Spirited and inventive, Space Dog is an outstanding book and fortunately you can find it right here right now in our very own universe.
Every single page turn of Space Dog was met with “Mummy, can we do that??!!”, whether it was making a planet out of cereal packets, coming up with a recipe for supper based on the Spaghetti Entity in the Pastaroid Belt, designing our own version of Dogopoly, rustling up Astrocat’s cake, making spewing tomato ketchup volcanoes, or playing with fondue. In the end we settled for making spaceships for the characters in the book, and flying them over our patio.
We dressed up as astronauts ourselves, making space suits from disposable painting overalls, decorated with electrical tape and completed with control panels from cardboard.
Once appropriately attired we were ready to launch our space ships. Unlike Pop Goes the Page we used nylon bead thread rather than wire to make a zip line, partly because this is what we had to hand, but also because it’s extremely smooth and there are no issues with kinking. One end was tied to the bathroom window, the other to the end of the washing line in the garden.
Soon spaceships were zooming all over our patio…
Later we turned our hand to making hats for a fruit and vegetable parade, inspired by the hat competition which Space Dog has to judge:
Other activities you could try inspired by Space Dog include:
Making space ships big enough for kids (and their grownups?) to fit in. A large cardboard box, a roll of tin foil and some plastic lids or moulded plastic from biscuit boxes is all you need to get you started. (Here’s one we made earlier).
Reading the extraordinary graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis. This is more for us grown ups than the kids (though my 10 year old has read it) but I can’t resist recommending it whilst I’ve got a chance.
Would you like to go into space if you had the chance?
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Space Dog by the book’s publisher.
We had the fiercest artists around today at Peninsula Art Academy!
I got my jungle jaguar inspiration from Mary Making. She created her own jungle jaguar using paper collage and colored pencils. I love the mixed media approach, but we didn’t have time for watercolors to dry today.
I decided to go a step further and teach the kids how to create a foreground, middle and background using collage elements. But first, we created our jaguar close-ups with a guided drawing that explored blending and shading. So proud of how much the kids absorbed!
Maura’s jaguar drawing
Next the kids cut out their jaguars, and I gave them big construction paper to create their ‘background’ rain forest.
We used oil pastels and colored pencils to draw our jungle scene. Then we added the ‘middle ground’ or the middle of our scene, by collaging paper leaves and water. Finally we added the ‘foreground’ of our pictures, and glued our super-big jaguars and leaves in front.
The kids used their imaginations with the rain forest scenery, but we also had reference images for inspiration!
Title: Won Ton and Chopstick – A Cat and Dog tale Told in Haiku Written by: Lee Wardlaw Illustrated by: Eugene Yelchin Published by: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2015 Themes/Topics: cats, dogs, haiku, pets, friends Suitable for ages: 7-11 Hardcover, 40 pages Opening: It’s … Continue reading →
I did a rather big guest blog over at Picture Book Makers about my series of interactive books featuring cats.
I’ve been working as a picture book writer and artist for about fifteen years now – that is, as a published one. I’ve been making books all my life, pretty much. Before I could write, I drew and dictated them. My mother pierced bundles of my stories with a cast iron hole punch, and she said: “Behold the strength of your mother’s arms.” My father gave me binders to keep them in and said: “What are you going to make next?”
A page from my diary.
I was surrounded by books about everything that anyone in the family had ever wanted to know. Our walls were lined with bookshelves. My parents took me to the library weekly to take out as many as we could carry. It was awesome. I taught myself to read very early, because I had the notion that I could find anything I would ever need in books.
Well, first of all, we made fabulous ravioli for Easter. Like, handmade, beautiful ravioli. Like, check out Treskie's blog to see HOW beautiful this ravioli really was. (And you can enjoy the overall post, anyhoozle. If you want. Don't feel pressured or anything.)
I apparently have a boring life, because I can't recall much of what has happened between then and now.
Well, I take that back. I had a jury summons, for which I HAD to appear (which, by the way, is one of the few things that can put me into a state of hysterical panic), and then, for 1-1/2 days, I got to sit in court while the judge and attorneys made up their minds who they really wanted as their jurors and alternates.
They didn't even choose jurors the first day. The first day, all of us potential jurors got to complete a hardship form if we wanted to (Like, if you miss three out of five days of work for five weeks, can you survive on what little pittance of money you WILL be making?). Then we got to fill out a 30+ page questionnaire of random questions, like WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOW? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HEALTHCARE?
The second day, by 10:30 a.m., eighteen people were chose for jurors plus six alternates, and I WASN'T ONE OF THEM! Praise God. But then none of the rest of us could leave, and we had to sit in the courtroom while the attorneys took turns asking jurors "pertinent questions" from their questionnaires, and the judge told us to make sure and pay attention because they would be "winnowing" their jurors and choosing new people to take their place.
We had to adjourn for lunch, and we came back to the courtroom at 1:30, at which point eight people were excused from the jury box and eight more people from the audience were chosen to take their place. Again, I was not one of them. Praise God.
After endless questioning, three people were excused and three more chosen (none of them me).
Then SEVEN people were excused and seven more chosen! (Thankfully, again not me.)
Then three more people were excused and three more chosen. (At this point, I'm still safe.)
Then two were excused and two more chosen. (I'm still not a juror.)
Then two more people were excused, and THIS time my name was called. At this point, it was 4:00 in the afternoon and I had been in a state of constant panic that my name WOULD be called.
But God had not abandoned me, because over the course of the loooooong day and the questions, questions, questions, I had realized my job as a medical transcriptionist would conflict with some of the rules regarding the case, and when I pointed this out to the attorneys they seemed to agree with me and I was excused from jury duty.
So THAT wasn't the most fun I've ever had, but I survived.
On a happy note, prom for the high school was last night, so this week at the flower shop was busy making corsages and boutonnieres, so I had tons of fun doing those.
Speaking of the Phantom of the opera, we've also been binging quite a lot on musicals - Phantom of the Opera, Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, and sometime in the near future we are going to watch Oklahoma! We are also listening to a lot of musicals - the best parts of Jekyll and Hyde... the Anthony Warlow version; Phantom (Duh); and we will be listening to Jane Eyre (tolerated because of Mr. Rochester. Amazing voice!); Secret Garden, and Tale of Two Cities.
A lady I know, the Amazing Jan Fields (better known as the Ghost in the Machine and Administrator of the Institute of Children's Literature chat boards, the Writer's Retreat) is having a drawing to win an autographed copy of her two books, The Wellspring of Magic and The Emerald Dragon. Plus, you can also win a super cute doll who represents a character in the book, and she is holding a bear. Check it out here. Isn't that fantastic?
I'm starting it off by painting a lot of dark little paintings. You may be able to tell what I'm up to here, but I won't spill all the beans yet, and instead will talk about how I'm painting them, and how they're kind of giving me fits.
My plan was to do these with watercolors on illustration board.
So I went into my supply closet, where I knew I had a whole box of boards (Strathmore 500 Series). But when I opened the box, . . . it was empty! Somewhere along the line I'd pulled out the last board; but because the box is a sturdy, very boxy box, I didn't even notice there was nothing left in it except for some liner boards (and whatever they built the box with to make it sturdy enough to ship fancy illustration board across the country without it getting damaged).
And so onto Plan B. I wanted to get these started, and didn't want to wait for new board to arrive, so I dug out some Arches watercolor paper. Which is really beautiful paper. But its very bumpy. And kind of rough. And I'm trying to get used to painting on it.
The piece above has several layers of different blacks, but still isn't quite what I wanted the finished 'look' to be.
With this next one, I did a bit less, and somewhere along the way figured out I will still need to add some colored pencil to get the final look I want.
So then I started doing just a base layer of color, without worrying so much about modeling the form or any details, which let me relax a little and enjoy just putting some paint down. The 'splotchy' look is driving me crazy though. I wet an area, then apply the paint (see, I do know how to do this properly), but am still getting uneven-ness. It wouldn't kill me to use a larger brush, which would probably fix the problem. But like I said, I now know I'm going to go over it with pencil, so that will even it all out.
I can see I need to fix the buttons on this one, because they're not lined up right. (How did that happen?)
The paper warps, which drives me insane. I am too lazy to stretch it, and don't want to tape it down either (these are really small little pieces.) I learned all that stuff in art school, and remember running whole sheets of paper under the tap in the bathtub, then taping them down to a board to dry overnight. !!!!! I just don't have the patience for that anymore (but do have the patience to fiddle endlessly with a 00 brush or needle sharp pencil point - so go figure).
Anyways, that's what I'm up to. And I'm not complaining, really! I'm just sharing. I'm actually having fun, and am looking forward to getting these finished.
I hope the new year is starting off well for you. So far so good here. I confess I was happy to get back in the swing of things after the holidays. Its all fun, and emotionally uplifting, but also exhausting. There comes a point when you just can't eat one more cookie or fat-laden thing, and anything red and green and sparkly makes you twitch, and you know you're done. Amirite?
I did have one bit of drama for Christmas, involving a kitty. I'll copy it here as I recounted in on Facebook, if you're interested (and haven't already read it). It has a happy ending, and won't even make you cry or anything, so its an easy read. And with that I'll say good night, and go back to my little black paintings. Good night!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* * Christmas Miracle * *
On Christmas EveEve, Tracy kitty got himself stuck in a Barnes & Noble plastic bag, with the handle around his body. He freaked out because he couldn't get away from the crackling bag noise, and although hysterically funny to watch at first (just because it was only a stupid plastic bag), it quickly turned serious as he dashed madly around the house, knocking stuff over, then out the cat door. I heard him and the crackling bag whoosh past the front window and off down the street, poor thing, madly trying to run away from the bag.
So I put on shoes, got the flashlight, and even though I was trying to hurry, felt like the slowest moving beast on the planet - he was long gone, down the street who knows how far and to who knows where? I went to the end of the block, but how did I know which way he turned? He could be blocks away already. I trudged home, simultaneously thinking "Oh, he'll be alright", and "I'll never see that cat again".
A long evening, then sleepless night passed, with me imagining every awful thing that could happen to a cat with a plastic bag attached to himself, and listening for any sound of him coming in the cat door, and getting up more than once to check to see if he'd snuck in. All his beds were empty, and in the morning there was still dry food in the bowl, (its usually totally empty), so I knew he hadn't been back and gone out again.
A long Christmas Eve day of Christmas prep and worrying - no Tracy. Then out to dinner, trying to keep a brave face and smile, and be entertaining to my Mom who was spending the night, doing Christmassy things and just saying "Oh, he's outside somewhere" when she asked about him.
Did I mention I was praying to everyone and anything who might be able to help? Jesus, guardian angels, cats on the Other Side . . . . Mom turned on "Its a Wonderful Life", and I sat in the kitchen, listening to George and Mary and Mr. Potter in the other room, feeling completely miserable.
And then. Twenty four hours after this story began, in the shadows near the cat door, the next room over, I see a little body. At first I thought it was one of my other cats, but then realized they were all accounted for somewhere else in the house. "Tracy?" . . . He'd popped back outside . . . "TRACY?!" again, and he popped back in, and ran right to the 'treat station' (here, next to the computer) and was perfectly fine! Not a scratch on him! Hungry, but not starving, just his regular self, pretty much. Joy! Relief! There was lots of thanking god, jesus, all the others who'd helped bring him back! In the living room, George Bailey was just starting his journey with Clarence, and so I watched and appreciated George's joy at getting his life back, and it really felt like Christmas.
Tracy slept tucked in next to me, right by the pillow, all night, which he's never done before. Santa brought him a new cat nip cigar, and he's been enjoying that and some Christmas sun all morning.
It does feel like a wonderful life today. And I will never let the cats play with plastic bags again. Especially ones from B&N.
Millions of Cats. Wanda Gag. 1928. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman. They lived in a nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was. But they couldn't be happy because they were so very lonely. "If we only had a cat!" sighed the very old woman. "A cat?" asked the very old man. "Yes, a sweet little fluffy cat," said the very old woman. "I will get you a cat, my dear," said the very old man. And he set out over the hills to look for one.
Millions of Cats is a Newbery Honor book from 1929.
Premise/Plot: A very old man and a very old woman long for a cat. The husband goes on a quest to bring back a "sweet little fluffy cat" to please them both. Is his quest successful? Yes. A little too successful. For in fact he finds
Cats here, cats there, Cats and kittens everywhere, Hundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and billions and trillions of cats.
How is he ever to choose just ONE cat from so many?! Especially since as he picks up or pets each one he sees, he finds it to be the prettiest cat. He can't bring himself to leave any of the cats behind. But it isn't practical to bring home hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, and trillions of cats. You can probably guess what his wife's response will be! Surely, they can't keep them all. For better or worse, he lets the cats decide amongst themselves. One scrawny cat remains, but, it may be the best one of all.
My thoughts: I loved this one growing up. I loved the repetition. I thought it was a fun story. I didn't--at the time--take the man's conclusion that the trillions of cats ate each other up literally. Is the book violent? Perhaps. Perhaps not. See for yourself. "They bit and scratched and clawed each other and made such a great noise that the very old man and the very old woman ran into the house as fast as they could. They did not like such quarreling." This one might pair well with Eugene Field's "The Duel." (The gingham dog and the calico cat).
Have you read Millions of Cats? Did you like it? love it? hate it?
A longtime reader wrote to ask if everything’s okay. He was concerned because I post here so rarely.
Everything is okay! My stepdaughter, Autumn, turned twenty-one! Often I still think of her as the little waving girl in the photo above. But she is an astounding young woman, a clear and compassionate thinker, a poet, a gift, my only child. Also, my goddaughter and her mom moved away. I miss them tons. And my cats died, a few months apart. Oof, as my friend Carrie says. That was sad.
Right now there’s a blizzard outside. I’m drinking water and tea and working on my book, which is usually what I’m doing, unless I haven’t refilled the water and tea recently.
The manuscript is due in 2016, and I asked for regular installment deadlines with my editor to keep myself on task, and I’m so busy writing that I actually got excited when an app I use to keep myself from wasting time online malfunctioned for a few weeks. It cut off my access to half the Internet, including this very site. I’m also working on a related profile-essay thing that’s taking me a long time to finish to my satisfaction, and I’m very excited about it. And I’ve been doing a lot of weird, wide-rangingreading, which I’m sure will all be reflected in my book, if you’ve missed my meandering fixations.
Enter to win an autographed copy of Homer the Little Stray Cat (Little Balloon Press, 2014), by Pamela L. Laskin and illustrated by Kirsi Tuomanen Hill.
Giveaway begins February 27, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends March 26, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.
Title: A Boy And A Jaguar Written by: Alan Rabinowitz Illustrated by: Catia Chien Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014 Themes/Topics: jaguars, conservation, stuttering, big cats Suitable for ages: 3-7 Awards: Schneider Family Book Award for Children (2015) Autobiographical Opening: I’m standing in … Continue reading →
Barcelona-born Marta Altés is a graduate of one of the most fertile courses in the UK when it comes to producing fabulous illustrators – the MA Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. She originally trained and worked in Spain as a graphic designer before taking the plunge to follow her childhood dreams, move country and retrain as an illustrator. “I think it was the BEST decision I have ever made,” says Marta, and with nine books already to her name and more following later this year (noting Marta graduated only four years ago) her success speaks for itself. Her latest book in English is The King Cat, a lovely story about friendship, negotiations and adjusting to change, especially in families welcoming a new arrival.
I recently caught up with Marta and asked her about The King Cat, her love of dogs, chocolate and more. Here’s how our conversation went:
Playing by the book: I know you sometimes include secret details in your illustrations – images of friends and family for example. Can you share a secret about your new book, ‘The King Cat’ – something we should look out for in the illustrations?
Marta Altés: Yes I do that! But I don’t always do it on purpose… It just happens. I start drawing a character and it ends up looking like somebody I know. In this case, I think, somehow I ended up illustrating the house that I would like to live in. Walls full of different sized frames (not with cat photos!), old and nice furniture, a sofa full of cushions with different patterns…
Also… Even though the story was VERY different when I started it, now it is the story of any person who has a young sibling (including me). My brother is 4 years younger than me, so I guess I was “king cat”. Although I don’t think I had his strong personality (a part from the times he broke my toys… of course)
Another thing that you can look out for in the illustrations is the little joke on the endpapers. On the first one we see a little basket full of wool balls and knitting needles on a table. Check out what’s on the last endpaper Both cat and dog don’t know yet, but they are about to deal with the arrival of a new member to this family.
Playing by the book: I’m guessing you’re quite a dog person given your very funny book No! and your new book – what dog books (for kids) have made you laugh or nod in recognition of your life with dogs?
Marta Altés: You got me! Yes I am! I dogs make me laugh… My mum is taking care of my dog in Barcelona, and I miss him very much. Dog books that have made me laugh recently are:
Playing by the book: What aspects of being a graphic designer (in an earlier life) have helped in your career as an illustrator?
Marta Altés: I think having been a graphic designer has definitely influenced the way I work as an illustrator. Mostly in the way I use colour (always a very limited palette), the use of white space, the compositions of the illustrations on the page and knowing how to use some software like Photoshop.
I also enjoy hand-lettering quite a lot, and the importance I give to the fonts is probably because of my graphic design background.
I suffered a lot when it came the time to write our final dissertation in the MA, my English wasn’t the best, and it was a big effort. But I learned a lot. I wrote about Graphic Design in Picture Books, and since then, I try to take all the elements that you have in a book to communicate the main idea (Cover, endpapers, title page, font, colour, where the text is placed…).
Playing by the book: What was hard to “unlearn” when moving from graphic design to illustration?
Marta Altés: It was difficult but at the same time one of the most exciting things was to try not to use the computer too much. And another thing was to not be afraid of trying new things, like – for example – watercolours! I hadn’t used them before joining the MA, and I’m so glad our tutors were always encouraging us to try new techniques.
Playing by the book: Do you see differences in illustration styles favoured in the UK as compared to in Spain? If so, what are they?
Marta Altés: I don’t like to generalize and I think each illustrator has a different way of seeing life and working, no matter where they live. There are English illustrators working for Spanish publishers and vice versa.
A couple of years ago at the Bologna Book Fair, I started talking to a Spanish art director that was there seeking talent at the MA Children’s Book illustration stand. And she pointed out how the main characters of many English picture books were animals, and that it is something that usually doesn’t happen there. I thought that it was a very interesting thing!
Playing by the book: What Catalan children’s books do you wish were translated into English so a wider audience could enjoy them?
Marta Altés: Probably all the ones I use to read when I was a kid (although I’ve just checked and many of them have already been translated!). One of my favourite ones is “El Patufet” a very surreal story about a little boy that was veeeeery tiny (and I won’t spoil the ending because is one of the most surreal endings ever!)
There are also many small Spanish publishers doing very interesting things.
Playing by the book: Could you share some of the illustrations you made for the Catalan/Spanish/Galician chapter books/poetry you’ve illustrated?
Marta Altés: I really enjoy working on different projects at the same time as working on picture books. It gives me the opportunity to experiment with new techniques. Illustrating a text that is not yours is lots of fun because you can give your vision of the story through your drawings. But is a completely different approach to when you illustrate your own text. In the latter case, you keep editing text and image to make them work together, almost until the day you send the files to print!
A very challenging project I’ve just illustrated is this Catalan Poetry book for kids (‘Tan Petita i ja saps‘ written by Maria Mercè Marçal). I hadn’t illustrated poetry before, and it was quite difficult. Also, I was told there had to be something that graphically linked together all the pages of the book. That made me go and do some research on the symbology of the author and I ended up using the night, stars and sea as the main elements of the book. The idea of the darkness of the night sky made me try to use brush and black ink. And I coloured things digitally.
The chapter book I’ve just illustrated for a Spanish publisher talks about the story of a little mouse meeting a girl who has just moved into a new house. I thought it would be fun to play with shadows and lights. Something that I’m not very good at but I wanted to give it a try. So I did try, and it was lots of fun. Again it was a mix between digital colouring, pencil and millions of layers of photoshop.
Playing by the book: I believe you work as a part time lecturer in the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. What’s your role on the course?
Marta Altés: Studying in the MA was one of the best experiences ever! I met so many nice people and it was very sad when it was over. So I felt over the moon when Martin Salisbury offered me the opportunity to go back and work there.
What I enjoy the most is working with the students on the sequences, storyboards and story lines of their projects. Each project is very different from the other so going there is very challenging but also very exciting!
I’m so happy to still be involved with the MA. I get to meet lots of lovely people and I’m super lucky to be working there along with amazing illustrators like James Mayhew, David Hughes, Pam Smy, Alexis Deacon, Paula Metcalf and Hannah Webb!
Playing by the book: If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you like to be?
Marta Altés: I’ve been a full time illustrator just for the past 4 years, so this is a difficult question to answer… 5 years ago I was a graphic designer that wanted to be an illustrator (my dream came true). Now… If I weren’t an illustrator, I guess I would like to be a dancer (I know it’s WAY too late). I’ve danced since I was little and it’s something that I love doing.
Playing by the book: I hear you like chocolate. What sort of chocolate is your favourite?
Marta Altés: I loooove chocolate. All sorts of chocolate… But if I had to pick one it would be dark chocolate. Or triple chocolate covered with a layer of double chocolate with chocolate sprinkles to top.
Playing by the book: Many thanks Marta – it’s been great fun interviewing you. I hope you enjoy the virtual chocolate I’ve found for you
The Maine Coon's Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers. Michael J. Rosen. Illustrated by Lee White. 2015. Candlewick. 56 pages. [Source: Review copy]
If you love cats and poetry, this one may prove quite satisfying. If you merely like cats and poetry, you still might find something to make the book worth your time.
All of the poems are haiku. Each haiku is titled after a particular breed of cat: twenty in all. The book also provides readers with an opportunity to learn a little bit about each of the breeds featured in the book. I liked this back matter.
Which cat breeds are included?
Norwegian Forest Cat
I enjoyed this one. I can't say I loved it. I certainly found two or three poems which I LOVED. But I didn't love each and every poem.
Bombay paired shadows prowling in nightfall, but just two lights pierce that darkness
Balinese on the windowsill's balance beam, the cat pirouettes as the kipple pings
Abyssinian curled up on your book cat won't care what happens next now's the only page
Lee Wardlaw is the author of 30 books for young readers, including Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award, the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry, and the Purina/Fancy Feast “Love Story” Award.
Over the Emerald City Comic Con weekend, Andrew MacLean was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to chat with Comics Beat about his new graphic novel, Apocalyptigirl: An Aria for the Endtimes.
Comics Beat: So give us the rundown on your book. What can readers expect?
Andrew MacLean: Sure, but I’m terrible at talking about it! Basically we follow this girl Aria and her cat, and they’re on a mission to find this ancient relic that used to be a power source for the world before it kind of collapsed. So now the world is city ruins covered in trees and undergrowth and all that stuff, and the humans of the area are all really savage. So while Aria is searching for this, she’s constantly hindered by the savages, and then other groups come in… It’s tough to talk about it without spoiling anything, but that’s the jist of it. Robot fights and savage fights.
CB: So what gave you the idea for this story?
AM: Most of the things I do usually start out with a single drawing. I did a drawing as a sort of collaboration with my buddy Toby Cypress, and we did a print. It was just a girl sitting on a motorcycle with a spiked bat and a bunch of cats. So I have a character and then I wonder what world they’re in, and it starts coming to me. Once I realized what kind of world she was in, I kind of tapped into my love for Akira and Tekkon Kinkreet and the manga style.
CB: The art is beautiful – full of texture and grain. Did you use traditional tools for this?
AM: Yeah, I used ink and black watercolor for tones, on watercolor paper and then simple colors underneath that are digital. It was my first time coloring a book, so I did a lot of trial runs.
CB: You’ve crafted a pretty interesting mythos here. Were you influenced by anything in particular?
AM: I started out with a couple things I wanted this character to do, a string of events and stuff. It’s hard to say because the pieces just fall into place on their own. I like contrasting ideas, so it’s the future, but it’s a collapsed world, so I kind of wanted the old residents to feel savage. The characters kind of tell me what to do.
CB: The story is very heavy on narrative and light on dialogue. Is that just symptomatic of having a main character with only a cat to talk to, or do you naturally gravitate to the narrative style?
AM: I’m kind of like an artist who writes rather than a writer who draws. I have a lot of respect for people than can carry a story with minimal dialogue, and so I like to attempt that. I don’t even have the cat meow that much, so it’s really just Aria carrying the story – thoughts she has or just talking to the cat. It’s more the nature of the solitude of the character than anything else.
CB: There are these striking panels littered throughout the comic that are just eyes, colored with blues and reds. It sort of reminded me of the eyes in The Great Gatsby, which in the book is a pretty dismal symbol. Anything meaning in those panels?
AM: It’s not so much The Great Gatsby… The savage boy in the comic – there wasn’t really enough dialogue in the book for me to name him – but to me he was always “Little Dead Eyes,” so the idea was that you look at him and think he’s a little nuts, even before you see his actions. So I like that Aria only had to see him once and she was kind of already haunted by him, and so his eyes always come up again and again. The two characters are head to head, so it seems only right that we could see that through her eyes meeting his on the page. It’s a little more subtle than my other stuff.
CB: There’s definitely a musical undercurrent to this work. Could you tell us a little more about your choice to have Aria sing opera throughout the book?
AM: Mostly I just chose them so I could have something that was public domain, first and foremost. The songs I wanted to sing were more like Three Stooges songs, because that’s more in line with the personality. I went to college for music, so I just have an affinity for it. I didn’t go into it thinking I wanted to use music, but the dots just kind of connect on these things. I don’t have a map. There’s no rhyme or reason to half the stuff I do, haha.
Apocalyptigirl: An Aria for the Endtimes will be released by Dark Horse Comics on June 2, 2015.
Dick Whittington and His Cat. Told and cut in linoleum by Marcia Brown. 1950. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: Long ago in England there lived a little boy named Dick Whittington. Dick's father and mother died when he was very young, and as he was too small to work, he had a hard time of it.
Premise/plot: Dick Whittington, an orphan, goes to London to seek his fortune--or at least a somewhat better life. It won't be easily come by that's for sure! He eventually finds work in the home of a merchant as a cook's assistant. With his one penny, he happens to buy a cat who is an excellent mouser. The cat will be the key to it all: his eventual success.
Not long after this, Mr. Fitzwarren had a ship ready to sail. He called all his servants into the parlor and asked them what they chose to send to trade. All the servants brought something but poor Dick. Since he had neither money nor goods, he couldn't think of sending anything. "I'll put some money down for him," offered Miss Alice, and she called Dick into the parlor. But the merchant said, "That will not do. It must be something of his own." "I have nothing but a cat," said Dick. "Fetch your cat, boy," said the merchant, "and let her go!"
My thoughts: Loved the story. Dick Whittington and His Cat received a Caldecott Honor in 1951. I can't say that I particularly "liked" the illustrations. (But I didn't dislike them either.) I enjoyed the story more though.
Have you read Dick Whittington and His Cat? What did you think? Do you have a favorite Caldecott or Caldecott Honor book?