Emma just moved to a new school and was sure no one would like her. Her hair was too plain, her dress was too plain, even her lunch was too plain. Several kids opened conversations, but Emma assumed they were better than her and didn’t respond. The class learned to make peace cranes and when Emma returned to her desk, she found a desk full of cranes with personal notes. She began to think that, “maybe, just maybe, me is enough!” A wonderful story that gives voice to all the ways kids think no one will like them. Included in the book are a pack of origami sheets and instructions on how to make a peace crane to share with others.
The words and illustrations take readers into the heart of a ‘sound’ genius, Mel Blanc, who, as an adult, created voices/sounds for 1500 movie/television characters.
Young Mel loves to create sounds to go along with the vivid characters he imagines. Everything is BIG for Mel. He Whooooooosh’s down the hall. He captures kids with his Rrow! RROW! Even, ‘garbage duty’ turns into a Zrroom-Zroom race car screeching around corners. Readers will love all the trouble Mel gets into just being himself. And they will love that the parents accept that someday Mel will use his ‘talent’ in some useful way when he grows up. A supportive story for a child’s ‘gifts’. Back matter includes background on Mel’s work as an adult. (Think Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Barney Rubble and 1,497 more!)
It’s a delight to read each poem celebrating a poet and written in that poet’s ‘style’. This poem collection is packed with freshness, with so many layers going on at once. Poets celebrated include Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Nikki Giovanni, and Langston Hughes, twenty in all.
Using bright, bold colors and shapes, Ekua, a fine artist, uses mixed-media collages to explore the poem’s message in visual form. Each poems’ illustration is uniquely and masterfully done. This is a treat for poetry lovers and an interesting way to introduce poets to young readers.
The book includes an afterword with a few paragraphs on each poet celebrated and on the three poets who created this collection. Good energy exudes from between the covers. A book worth picking up.
Are You an Echo? is a treasure. The beautifully illustrated cover and the textured and heavy-stocked pages, make a strong presentation of Japan’s beloved children’s poet. The book includes Misuzu’s brief biography and presents 25 poems. Fifteen poems are presented in English and Japanese on beautifully illustrated two-page spreads.
Misuzu’s poems give voice to cocoons, fish and snow. Written with such innocence, they are the words of a four-year-old. Of course, they are translated from Japanese, but they have a unique flavor different from children’s poetry in America.
Unlike most girls of the early 1900’s who stopped going to school after the sixth grade, Misuzu went to school until she was seventeen. She was raised in her mother’s bookstore and she had a hard time telling the difference between real life and what she read. Everything was alive and had its own feelings. Always a thoughtful child, she was sensitive to everything around her and questioned everything. Unfortunately, extreme hardships entered into Misuzu’s life and she took her life at the age of 25. This fact is included gently in the brief biography.
A delight to the imagination, this is a book to savor, study, and enjoy again and again.
The artwork, made of water-smooth stones, will fascinate young readers and their parents. River rocks beautifully laid out, tell the story of a Syrian refugee family escaping from their now hostile home to a new, unknown place. The natural hardness of the stones poignantly illustrates to hardships the family experiences. The book includes photos showing how the artist creates the illustration. After the scene is captured in photos, it is dismantled for the next scene, for the artist can’t afford ‘glue’ to make them permanent.
The story starts out on a normal day before there was hostility. But even then, the family wasn’t free, for they could not sing their songs, dance their dances, nor pray their prayers of choice. Then rivers of people began leaving the city, until one day the family decided they must leave, too. Only what they could carry went with them. They traveled by foot, then by boat, hoping they’d be safe, for many others did not survive. After a long time, a family took them in and helped them create a safe home. The story ends on a note of peace.
Written in poems, readers learn how Ezra Jack Keats bravely pioneered books in 1962 about African-American kids’ experience in the city. Born of poor Jewish immigrant parents, Ezra faced prejudice early. Drawn to be an artist, his father supported Ezra’s interests as much as he could with leftover paints. Just when Ezra managed to get a scholarship for college, his dad died, and he had to earn a living to support his family. Enlisting in the Air Force for World War II, he made posters, booklets, charts, maps and art. After the war, he returned to the same prejudices and decided to rearrange his name. After he successfully illustrated a couple children’s books, the editors invited him to write and illustrate his own story. He created a story of Peter, a ‘brown-sugar boy’. In 1962, his book, The Snowy Day, led to six others.
The book takes you down a delightful lane sharing how Ezra came to do his books and how much kids enjoyed them. Illustrations used are similar to Ezra Jack Keats style. A great reminiscent look down memory lane for parents, a great introduction to a writer/artist for children.
Little Night Cat’s breath-taking illustrations will capture reader’s hearts in this heartfelt story of a young boy who gives away his most cherished possessions.
Tony wakes in anticipation of a big day at the animal shelter. He decides to donate his collection of stuffed animals. His mother suggests that it is not a good idea, but Tony insists the animals want to do it to help. While at the shelter, Tony is attracted to a gray tomcat, who approaches Tony and purrs. Without his animals, Tony can’t sleep that night and his mother pulls out of the closet an old, ragged stuffed animal from her childhood. He begs her to bring the stuffed animal when she returns to pick him up from school. She does not and he is crushed, until…he sees the surprise waiting for him.
Illustrations are rich in colors, rich in details, and moving. Each page is filled with life. This is the kind of art most can’t afford, but it can be found in a picture book. A book that will be read over and over again.
In Adventures in Asian Art, An Afternoon at the Museum we follow a girl and her brother as they explore 53 pieces of art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The author and illustrator cleverly work in how the children interact with each art piece shown. They meditate with the Buddha, they ride rhinos, they wear samurai warrior suits of armor. The story is written in simple, up-beat rhyme, blending the art with the child’s imagination:
“You’ll dance with the Sky-walker
And clear the path ahead.
You’ll carry the fire of wisdom
Through the hair upon your head.”
Juxtaposing the rhymes with the art, the child can put together the references to each. Each page invites the youngest into the fun and imagination of the artwork, while showing the actual art piece itself. Art pieces includes kimonos, statutes, puppets, paintings, and more from centuries ago to modern times. Unlike traditional museum art books, this book is abundant with up-beat energy and kid-like fun on every page to draw in young readers.
Mountain Chef tells of Tie Sing’s trials and tribulations to prepare gourmet meals for first trip of visionaries taken to Yosemite in the effort to form a national park service. The time was 1915 when all food and people were carried in on mules and horseback. The parks were undeveloped and the terrain was rough. For the chef, it was one of those trips where everything that could go wrong did, and how he creatively solved each challenge and kept the bellies of the visionaries happy.
Tie Sings accomplishments were significant in an era where Chinese-American discrimination flourished. A mountain peak named after him honors his consistent contributions towards forming a national park service.
Illustrator Rich Lo’s pencil drawings and watercolors splash Yosemite to life and invite readers to savor each page. The artwork itself is well-worth discovering. The book’s beauty wrapping the historical story of one person’s dream in an area of discrimination makes for a fascinating, inspiring read.
Following a well-told story are photos from the trip and background on the National Park Service.
In an era where Chinese-American discrimination flourished, Mountain Chef features Tie Sing who kept the bellies of the visionaries happy on this first critical trip to Yosemite.
Interview with Illustrator/Author Rich Lo
Q. I fell in love with your art when I read your book, Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost his Groceries, Changed his Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service. How did you come to illustrate the book? How long did it take to develop and complete the illustrations? What medium(s) did you use?
I was contacted by Charlesbridge last fall about illustrating the book. They liked the watercolor technique used for Father’s Chinese Opera. It was a technique I had used on a couple of projects commissioned by Great Books Foundation 2010. It took about two weeks to create the sketches from the manuscript and about 30 days to complete the finished art. The media are pencil and watercolor composed digitally.
Q. What do you mean when you say the publisher used ‘spot varnish’ on your illustrations? Where was it used on your book, Mountain Chef, and how does it help ‘pop’ the illustrations?
Spot varnish is a printing process used to highlight areas of emphasis. In the book Mountain Chef, the varnish was used on the artwork. If you look closely, you can see a slight sheen over the illustrations. The publisher also used quality semi-gloss white paper stock. The combination resulted in rich colors throughout the book.
Q. As an accomplished artist in your own right, how did your journey take you to illustrating children’s books?
In 2012, I was emailing out samples of my work one night on the internet. One email was answered. It was from Anna Olswanger, a literary agent working out of NYC. She asked “I know you can do great art but can you write text?” Without hesitation, I said yes. I had no experience. In about 6 months, she chose 1 of 9 vignettes loosely based on childhood memories when I lived in Hong Kong. Layouts were created into a presentation. She sent the text with three color illustrations to the editors. We agreed on the terms with Sky Pony Press in 2013 and Father’s Chinese Opera became my first published book in 2014.
Q. For your first book, Father’s Chinese Opera, you won the 2014-2015 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the Picture Book Category. How did you come to write the story? How has that award on your first picture book impacted your life?
I lived in Hong Kong for the first 6 years of my life. Father was a famous opera composer and a conductor. I was too young to be in school, so he often took me to work. I met all the actors and acrobats and sat in on rehearsals and performances. Those were happy times, so it was easy to visualize. I used my imagination to create the scenes and wrote text to describe them. It was the right process for me.
The award was unexpected. It is an accomplishment like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It gave me confidence to write and illustrate more children’s books. At a book talk at the Chinese American Museum Chicago, I honored my parents as heroes of my life. It also validated for me that miracles can happen.
Q. How is creating picture books changing your life?
It adds another dimension to my repertoire. The picture book industry provides a stage for creativity. As a professional artist, you want to extend and build skill sets to be better. I was fortunate to be invited to the ALA (American Library Association), participated in an award ceremony in San Francisco and the Book Expo in Chicago in the last two years. These are incredible experiences and are not to be taken for granted.
Q. Your first book was inspired by your father’s work as a composer, so you were born into a creative family. Was your artistic interest always supported by your family? How has their support helped? When did you know you were going to be an artist?
Growing up in a pragmatic Chinese American culture, the arts are not always looked upon as valued professions. I followed my passion and worked hard to develop an artistic life and career. Raw skills are refined and imagination cultivated. With strong fundamentals and a lot of luck, I was able to make a living and raise a family with the earnings from the artwork.
Q. Do you do classroom visits? If so, what is the response of the children?
Yes, I do. The children are more fascinated by the illustrations than by the story itself. I am learning how to make the artwork even more interesting for children.
Q. Earlier, you were commissioned to illustrate stories by Ray Bradbury and Langston Hughes, among others. What was it like for you to create visuals for some of these great writers? Did you immediately see images as you read their words?
It is a privilege to illustrate for any author, but the great ones are icing on the cake. I do see imageries as I read. Keywords are used for initial ideas. Compositions are refined and techniques chosen to fit the story. I am blessed to be able to explore and then perfect techniques on projects.
Q. Do you have any more books coming out soon? Where can people find out more about you?
A picture book titled New Year, published by Sky Pony Press, will be coming out in November 2016.