Monday, February 28, 2011

Dr. Seuss Day

Last Thursday, I dropped my first grader off at school, and all of the teachers and staff were dressed like this:

And then, all the kids were dressed like this:

It was the anniversary of Dr. Seuss's birthday, and the school went all out--from a live performance of Seussical  by the middle school to Dr. Seuss birthday parties in every classroom.  It was crazy, silly mayhem all day long.  You've got to love a huge celebration for a children's book author.  Woo hoo!!!

Being the aspiring Martha-mom that I am (key word--aspiring ... I'll never actually be one--you should see some of these people, sheesh), I signed up to make a cake and help with my daughter's party.  Since everyone knows that I illustrate children's books, the bar is high for me.  People expect me to show up with this:

Or this:

But, after a jolt back into reality and a little bit of hair pulling, I made your basic Betty Crocker sheet cake and drew a picture of the Cat in the Hat in icing.  Like this:

It's fine.  It won't appear on Cake Wrecks (I hope not, anyway), but it won't win any kind of awards for the most fabulously stupendous Dr. Seuss cake either.  And, really, the kids barely even looked at the cake. They just wanted to cut it and eat it (and fight over the pieces with the gloopiest icing). I could have just picked up the generic "Happy Birthday" cake at Kroger, and it would have been just as good.

It would have been better actually because it would have been covered in crisco-icing blobby roses.

Ahhhh.  Live and learn.


Thursday, February 24, 2011


It's Thursday, and here's the Bookanista roundup for today:

I'm reviewing Kathryn Erskyne's middle grade book MOCKINGBIRD which won last year's National Book Award.  I was lucky enough to meet Kathryn when she was here last year for a signing, and she is a lovely person.  So .... I admit it. I'm a little late reading this one, but once again, I wasn't sure if I could handle the subject matter of the book (I was reluctant to read last week's book for the same reason).

In MOCKINGBIRD, Caitlin, a young girl who has Asperger's syndrome, struggles to deal with her brother's horrific death at the hands of a school shooter.

So, yes.  Heavy stuff, right?

Kathryn Erskyne  is a master, though. Her own daughter has Asperger's, and she was able to draw from her view of the world (as well as from hours and hours of research and interviews).  The book is written in first person, and we are inside the head of Caitlin who doesn't process the event the way any of the people around her do. She doesn't relate to things on an emotional level--her thought process is very logical, literal and ordered.  We see everyone's emotional trauma through Caitlin's eyes. We experience the loss of death through the filter of a girl who doesn't have an emotional grasp of loss.  

I think that Caitlyn's point of view is why this book works so well as a children's book. We experience events that might be too horrible to read through Caitlin's filter. The subject matter and emotional depth of the writing is incredibly poignant, but the reader is allowed a little bit of distance through which to process everything.

And, ultimately the story is one of hope, closure, love and loss--with a little humor thrown in.


Monday, February 21, 2011


On Friday, John Bemelmans Marciano visited our bookstore in Oxford to sign his latest Madeline book MADELINE AT THE WHITE HOUSE.

John is the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans who wrote the original Madeline series, and John has stayed true to both his grandfather's painting and writing styles.  The paintings have that wonderful, loose Bemelmans' style, and the prose has a wonderful quirky offbeat rhyme. If you loved the Madeline books as a child, you will love what John has done to give us more beautiful books about the sassy little redhead.

Katie and I are total fangirls.  Plus, I loved getting to meet another Viking author/illustrator (and I was in school with John's brother ... I only stalked his brother a little when I found out who his grandfather was).

While in Mississippi, John also paid a visit to Lemuria, another wonderful indie bookstore, in Jackson.  On their blog in the weeks preceding John Marciano's visit, readers were asked to share their favorite Madeline stories.

Here's mine:

This is my copy of Madeline which was given to me by my beloved red-headed babysitter Madlyn.  She lived down the street from us and introduced me to a world of wonderful children's books--everything from Beatrix Potter and Mother Goose to A Wrinkle in Time.  She was also an incredible artist. But, most importantly, she was loving and encouraging and VERY mischievous (we were always covering up for each other).  I'm sad to say that Madlyn was killed by a drunk driver when I was nine.

Here's how she signed my book which was my birthday present when I turned three.

Even though she died when I was still youn, she'll always have a place in my heart and I think about her so much, especially now that I have children of my own. It is amazing how much of an influence Madlyn had over me--not just when I was young, but throughout my life.

Here's to Madeline ... and Madlyn.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes

When I heard about NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes last year, my first thought was "Well, that's one I'll avoid ..." Here in Mississippi, our coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and we live close enough (and just far away enough) to have hosted an influx of hurricane refugees, many of them from New Orleans.  And, I, like the rest of the country watched the horrible spectacle of people in New Orleans trapped on bridges, on rooftops, and in the Super Dome where there were tales of human violence and inhumanity. Katrina is still an event I'm trying to make peace with.

But, I kept reading reviews about how wonderful this book was--and how it was a story of hope.

So, I read it.  And, I'm glad that I did.

In NINTH WARD, a motherless young girl is being taken care of by her mother's midwife (her mother died in childbirth).  Her caretaker's name is Mama Ya-Ya and she is a wonderful, magical healer true to the spirit of New Orleans voo-doo, jazz, and gumbo-style of living.  The girl's neighborhood is the poverty stricken Ninth Ward, but the author shows the neighborhood as a communal place full of loving, unconventional families.  When Katrina hits, the story turns toward survival, and yes, hope.

The story is beautifully written and doesn't take the young reader into the depths of horror and despair that we adults watched on the news.  At its heart it is a story about connection, survival and love.  It is a lovely read that I have recommended to all of my middle grade readers.

Take a skip around the blogosphere and visit the other Bookanistas posting today:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Over the weekend, I paid a visit to my favorite local indie bookstore, Square Books.  I usually hang out at their children's branch, but my dad was in town, so we headed to the adult store.  And, while I was drifting among the stacks, I spotted this:

Imagine my squeals!  Who did this cover??!!

The artist's name is Ruben Toledo, and he is the husband of the super-fabulous fashion designer Isabel Toledo, who designed (among other things) Michelle Obama's yellow dress and coat that she wore for her husband's inauguration.  Here is a picture of the two of them (I can practically hear the tango music playing in the background):

And here's a picture of a Nordstrom ad that ran in the 2008 Vanity Fair.  Ruben Toledo painted the background.

As you can imagine, since my discovery I've spent mucho time searching for images of Ruben Toledo's work, and I've printed up images and tacked them around my studio for inspiration.

And, I found this inspiration by simply switching gears the tiniest bit.  Yes, I spend tons of time in the children's section of libraries and bookstores.  I have several children's book illustration sites that I visit often.  But the tiniest shift led me to this wonderful artist and new source of inspiration, and it made me realize that we all need to break genres every once in a while--just to find some fresh, new wonderfulness that we might have otherwise missed.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Hail to the Spork and Reply All

Today's post will be short and sweet.  I've got a house full of sick people over here, so I'm going to piggy-back onto my friend Katie's brilliant spork post.  She talks about how we should use the spork as our guide when writing--you may think all of the world's stories have been told, but you can always add a new twist.  

Like this:

My husband brought this home from a camping trip.  If you can't tell from the picture, it is a spork with a serrated handle.  A spork-ife? knispork?

And this:

My set of antique sterling silver Tiffany sporks.  I know.  If that doesn't say "Southern", I don't know what does.

Finally, switching gears here, one of my favorite things about going to SCBWI Conferences is meeting other writers.  Check out my friend Bill Cochran's Super Bowl ad for Bridgestone Tires that ran last night. 

And, if you have an opportunity to vote for your favorite Super Bowl ad (like here), then vote for him.  Yay Bill!!!!

Have a great day. Stay well. Stay warm.

Hail to the spork!  Why am I suddenly craving Kentucky Fried Chicken ....