New York is My Playground

NewYorkIsMyPlayground

Image Credit: POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), Jane Goodrich/Bob Raczka

City life. Movement. Happy kids.

New York is My Playground is a joyful romp though New York City. Goodrich’s vibrant photographs accompany Raczka’s playful words in this simple and beautiful book. It’s more of a collection of photographs with text than a story; one huge spread shows a little boy “holding up” a large red sculpture and he says “I feel like I can do anything in New York.”

This book showcases the hustle & bustle of New York but also explores the fact that you can find a quiet, restful spot when you need it. Curious kids twist, run, jump and play on every page. I love the diversity of the kids and the energy of the photography. Goodrich’s shots are dynamic! The typography, with its vibrant colors, is fun; it looks like graffiti covering the city landscape. Instead of sitting in straight lines on the page, the typography is blended & bended into the city landscape. It’s really visually interesting.

This is a fun one! Kids in New York might recognize familiar spots and kids not in New York have the opportunity to check out a new city. New York is My Playground, with words like “running,” “dancing,” and “jumping,” is great for getting kids up and moving during story time!

Enjoy!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: City Life, New York, Movement, Diversity, Read Aloud, Friendship, Family, Photography, Exploration, Feelings, Colors
Book Info: New York is My Playground photographs by Jane Goodrich/Text by Bob Raczka, 2016 POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), ISBN: 9781576877890

City Shapes

CityShapes

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Diana Murray/Bryan Collier

I first saw this book cover online many, many months before it published and I couldn’t forget it. How could I?? Her smiling brown face is full of joy and wonder. Now I finally have my own copy of this book and it is a delight.

Summer is starting to wind down and like the little girl in this book, kids are holding onto the last bits of fun before they head back to school. City kids will really relate to City Shapes; it celebrates the beauty of city-living and also teaches shapes! In the story, a mama pigeon and an imaginative girl spend the day exploring their city. The dynamic spreads and gorgeous rhyming sentences teach children about shapes found in the city. Children will enjoy reading Murray’s rhymes and searching for shapes in the illustrations. Maybe they’ll even be inspired to search for shapes in their own home.

This book sounds beautiful read aloud. I hope families, teachers and librarians are reading it to their children. Murray’s flowing words are enhanced by Collier’s colorful and dreamy art. Collier’s signature watercolor and collage art has so many layers for children to explore; he truly brings the city to life. I especially love that the girl in the book is his daughter! In a time when we need many more excellent books staring black children, I’m so happy to have this one to love and recommend.

What a lovely book! With every read you’ll find something new to enjoy. ❤

 

P.S. Towards the end of the book, look for the tiny photograph of Collier’s daughter! 😀

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Imagination, Discovery, City Life, Creativity, Shapes, Animals, Friendship, Read-Aloud, Diversity, African American, Black Girl Magic
Book Info: City Shapes by Diana Murray/Illustrated by Bryan Collier, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316370929

 

 

 

 

Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity

Puffy

Image Credit: CreateSpace, Aya de León

Black hair texture varies and because many of us are blended, it comes in every form imaginable. People of African origin naturally have a coarser hair type and our hair is often seen as unkempt, not beautiful and unprofessional. We can also be the toughest critics of our natural hair and therefore it’s SO important that children with “puffy” hair see positive images of themselves.

This picture book is a celebration of puffy hair in every magnificent form on various shades of skin. While reading Aya de León’s rhyming text and seeing the joyful photographs, readers will delight in the diversity of natural hair. Puffy isn’t just about hair, it’s about vibrancy and pride in oneself.

Representation matters and I would’ve loved this book as a child. My peers had a lot to say about my dreadlocks (“Are you a boy or a girl??”) and reading a book with people who looked like me in it would’ve been empowering! This unabashedly happy book is needed; it’s already difficult enough to find shining brown faces on book covers and this one is a welcome addition to every library.

I hope you’ll enjoy Puffy: people whose hair defies gravity! #CareFreeBlackKids

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Pride, Hair, Black Hair, Empowerment, Diversity, Black Girls Rock, Identity, Encouragement, Read-Aloud
Book Info: Puffy: people whose hair defies gravity by Aya de León, 2013 CreateSpace, ISBN: 9781494436773

Have You Seen Elephant?

HaveYouSeenElephant

Image Credit: Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), David Barrow

I finally got my hands on this book, y’all!  I spotted it on Twitter months ago and it’s finally available in the US. *victory*

Do you know how refreshing it is to open a picture book that’s obviously about an interracial family…but doesn’t focus on it? We’re starting to see more books like this (The Airport Book) in children’s literature. Don’t get me wrong; books that focus on race are necessary but it’s also important to have ones that present multiculturalism as norm. The endpapers & first page of the book show a wall of family photographs that tell us a bit about the family’s genealogy.

In Have You Seen Elephant?, a boy is invited to play a thrilling game of hide and seek. Elephant kindly warns him that he’s very good. He’s up for the challenge though and it turns out that Elephant is rather good. My goodness, Elephant is in the most obvious places but no one sees him. 😉 After they finish their game, Turtle asks if they want to play tag…he’s quite speedy.

HaveYouSeenElephantExtra

Image Credit: Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), David Barrow

I like this book very much. Not only is it very sweet, it’s playful, hopeful and kind. They’re all very good friends and care about each other. The text is sparse but it allows the illustrations to speak loudly. Children can fill in the gaps and decide for themselves whether Elephant is really good at hiding or if the boy and his family are very generous. Barrow’s illustrations are heartwarming; he uses lots of warm browns, golds, oranges and reds. There’s a lot of texture in his technique; spirals radiate out from light sources and scratches, splotches and drips are on every page.

I think you’re going to really enjoy this book. I can’t wait to see what’s next from David Barrow!

P.S. Pay attention to the endpapers for laughs. 😀

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Animals, Love, Diversity, Multiculturalism, Discussion, Read-Aloud, Humor
Book Info: Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow, 2016 Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), ISBN: 9781776570089

What Can You Do With a Paleta?

WhatCanYouDoWith

Image Credit: Tricycle Press (Ten Speed Press), Carmen Tafolla/Magaly Morales

What Can You Do With a Paleta? is a joyful celebration of summer and community. The little girl’s barrio is rich, vibrant and full of juicy paletas!  Summertime isn’t complete without a cold sweet treat to cool you down and in this book we learn all the things that can be done with a paleta…

Food is community; it brings people together. In the girl’s barrio, the tinkling bell of the paleta wagon mixed with the smell of fresh buttery tortillas is distinct and welcoming. We follow her as she shows us how a paleta can help make new friends, how an icy blue one leaves a big blue mustache and how giving someone a paleta can make their day! I love how Carmen Tafolla opens the book with a lyrical, visual description of the barrio and ends with the same words. This creates the feeling of being invited to the barrio and as we leave, we’re reminded of the sweet smells, flavors and sights of our visit. It’s lovely!

Magaly Morales’ illustrations are bold, rich and earthy. Her style reminds me of Yuyi Morales’ older work (Sand Sister). We get to peek through the windows of the houses in the community and Morales’ use of pink, orange and yellow acrylics washes the pages in warmth. Brown faces are smiling, laughing and enjoying the hot summer! The paletas, in all their vibrant colors, look refreshing and delicious.

I hope you’ll enjoy What Can You Do With a Paleta? It’s the perfect summer read-aloud. 🙂

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Love, Mexican Culture, Food Culture, Summertime, Friendship, Fun, Happiness, Diversity, Siblings, Read-Aloud
Book Info: What Can You Do With a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla/Illustrated by Magaly Morales, 2009 Tricycle Press (Ten Speed Press), ISBN: 9781582462219

It’s Ramadan, Curious George

Curious George 1

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s the month of Ramadan, a time for Muslims around the world to pray, reflect, and fast with loved ones. Last night at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, at least fifty people were killed and the shooter seems to be Muslim.  In this time of sadness, this tragedy has already resulted in increased Islamophobia and racism towards Muslims in our country.

We MUST love and understand each other. Hatred has no place here.

It’s Ramadan, Curious George is an important and sweet addition to the Curious George book series. We need more books that are mirrors for Muslim children and this is one more to add to your shelf. There’s already a Happy Hanukkah, Curious Georgemany Christmas books, and now we have one to celebrate Ramadan! I hope this cute book makes it into the hands of Muslim children who need it and any child who wants to learn more about Ramadan and Islam.

Curious George 2

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s Ramadan, Curious George is a tabbed board book; its sturdy size and format is perfect for little hands to grasp. Each tab highlights a chapter of the story with a small illustration. The story follows Curious George, The Man with the Yellow Hat and their new friend, Kareem. Kareem is going to try fasting for Ramadan for the first time and Curious George is actually helpful!  😉  He cooks delicious food with Kareem’s family and helps Kareem make it through his tough first day of fasting. The book also discusses the importance of sharing with others; Curious George helps with a food drive at the mosque and even inspires a new tradition! At the end of Ramadan, they happily celebrate Eid together and Curious George is glad to have experienced it all.

Hena Khan (Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns) did another great job with this one. Her informative rhyming text with Mary O’Keefe Young’s sweet illustrations is perfect. You’ll want to keep this book on your shelf not only for Ramadan, but all year long. Books like this are not only important for children who need them but are also important for fostering respect and understanding of different cultures at an early age. I hope you’ll enjoy it with your family!

Ramadan Mubarak!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Community, Ramadan, Religion, Relationships, Love, Respect, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Cultural Relativism, Cultures, Understanding, Discussion, Animals, Read-Aloud
Book Info: It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan/Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young, 2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544652262

Teeny Tiny Toady

TeenyTinyToady

Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Can you say “Modern Classic?” The story and art feel old in the best way. This book feels warm and happy, like sitting snuggled on Grandma’s lap as she reads you The Three Little Pigs and a slice of her chicken pot pie sits comfortably in your belly. Yup, Teeny Tiny Toady feels familiar…and EPIC.

The story starts in a super dramatic way; a big bad human picks Mama Toad up and traps her in a bucket! Cute little Teeny Toady rushes to get her seven big, burly, body-building older brothers to help her but they insist they can handle the situation themselves. The Toady Bros struggle to rescue their mother; every one of their attempts fail and of course they’re too busy to listen to their teeny sister’s suggestions! Before they know it, they’re in trouble too and Teeny must find courage & strength to become a Teeny Hero. There’s something to be said for brains over brawn and her Mama believes in her from the very beginning. 😉

TeenyTinyToady2

Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Esbaum’s rhyming text is delightful and sounds great when read aloud. She’s a very good storyteller; the pacing, drama, humor and characters are perfect. This story teaches an important lesson for little ones; have faith in yourself and even if you’re little, you can do big things! Yamaguchi’s digital illustrations are magical; lush greens, soft colors and warty chubby toad bodies fill the pages. The toads ARE.SO.CUTE. My goodness. I love how she illustrates and characterizes them; their expressions and personalities are great and feel inspired by Disney and/or anime (especially their eyes!).

One of my favorite spreads is when Teeny thinks up her plan; Esbaum’s text floats and curls from left to right alongside the swirls of leaves and color straight to Teeny’s brain! What a great story! You will fall in love with this family. Teeny Tiny Toady deserves a spot near your favorite fairy tales and fables.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Fables, Lessons, Inner Strength, Creative Thinking, Determination, Rhyme, Family, Relationships, Siblings, Girl Power, Read-Aloud, Animals, Love
Book Info: Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum/Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi, 2016 Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), ISBN: 9781454914549

Good Night, Baddies

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Deborah Underwood/Juli Kangas

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Deborah Underwood/Juli Kangas

After a long day of scaring, huffing & puffing, and being downright wicked, a baddie needs rest too. What?? You think baddies can’t relax and unwind? Tsk, Tsk! Shame on you!  😉

In Good Night, Baddies, all the familiar “bad guys” from our beloved tales travel back to their castle after a long day of being bad. The yawns are endless as they relax and prepare for bed. They save the impoliteness and nastiness for their jobs; home is for rest and good friends! I love a good story that flips the script and shows a different perspective. Underwood’s rhyme is just right to tell this wickedly sweet story. The final line of the book is the best and kids will get a kick out of it!

GoodNightBaddies2

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Deborah Underwood/Juli Kangas

Juli Kangas’ art is divine. Her watercolors with oil washes are soft and inviting. There’s nothing scary about the baddies; they’re quite warm and inviting as they dine, read and laugh together. Her attention to detail is amazing and each scene is very well composed and executed. But beware! Reading this book may put you to sleep; the combination of Underwood’s quiet rhyme and Kangas’ soft candle lit scenes and sunsets will lull you away. Enjoy this one while snuggled in bed with someone you love and click here to listen to the Good Night, Baddies Song written and performed by the author herself!

P.S. The endpapers are lovely! This book opens with a very classic sephia leaf design that highlights every baddie being, well, bad. But the final endpaper shows all the baddies tucked in for the night; lost in dreamland. So cute!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Animals, Fairytales, Fractured Fairytales, Personalities, Perspective, Rhyme, Read-Aloud, Lullaby
Book Info: Good Night, Baddies by Deborah Underwood/Illustrations by Juli Kangas, 2016 Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481409841

Thunder Boy Jr.

ThunderBoyJr

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Sherman Alexie/Yuyi Morales

There aren’t enough words to describe the joy that is this book and how ecstatic I am to know it. I feel privileged to be a bookseller and share this book with the world. I get to put this book into little hands and I’m hoping that kids will connect to Thunder Boy Jr.

I’ve been anticipating this collaboration for over a year, since it was announced, because Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales create magic…and together?? Rarely do we get such cosmic levels of possibility and creativity as this. I’m calling this book for, at the very least, a Caldecott Honor but it deserves a Caldecott Medal. I doubt the Newbery Committee will choose a picture book winner again this year but the story/writing is POWER.

You’d think Thunder Boy Jr. is a super special name; that only one person in the world has it but actually that’s not true. Thunder Boy is named after his dad and though his dad is great, he wants his own name! Thunder Boy likes to do things like ride his bike, roll in the mud and Grass Dance so maybe his new name could be related to those things? With a nickname like Little Thunder, it sure is easy to feel small but his bright and rambunctious personality (and the love between him and his father) will see him through.

ThunderBoy2

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Sherman Alexie/Yuyi Morales

Rarely do we get to see picture books about Native American families and this important and beautiful book should be in every library. I’m hoping teachers and families around the world will love Thunder Boy Jr. because it speaks to individuality, growing up and identity (and just happens to feature a loving Native family.) Indigeneity is central to the story but also it isn’t. It’s SO lovely to read a picture book that talks about powwow and how names are given and earned in Native cultures! Wow! ❤ Though the story focuses on a son-dad relationship, readers will love Little Thunder’s cool mom and his cute little sister who, by the way, have “fancy-normal” names.

Yuyi Morales’ illustrations have so much raw energy and vivid color and for that reason she’s one of my favorites (I’ve reviewed Just a Minute! in the past). I love how she draws the big body of Thunder Boy Sr. next his small son; he really is like his namesake. Earthy & bright colors and lots of movement fill the pages; this family bursts onto the scene like a lighting bolt and at the end of the book, I feel as though I know them. I enjoy how the writing matches the illustrations exactly in some parts of the book but Morales also uses her illustrations to create a separate story that gives us more insight into Little Thunder’s personality. He rocks out hard on a guitar but his dad is angry about the broken strings and he slyly steals his sister’s red ball as he continues sharing his story.

Thunder Boy Jr. is the strongest picture book so far of 2016 and I’m hoping people will love it and cherish it. Something tells me Little Thunder would gobble up all the love and attention…especially now that he has confidence in his brand new name!

MeWithThunderBoy

All the love and happiness

 

P.S. Since this book is out in the wild now, great discussions are starting. It has a lot of potential to teach but it also discusses aspects of native cultures that might need explanation to some readers. Please check out Debbie Reese’s two posts about how to read this book with your children; it gives context that the book itself is lacking. They are here and here.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Love, Humor, Identity, Struggle With Identity, Individuality, Growing Up, Native Americans, Father-Son, Siblings, Frustration, Powwow, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Read-Aloud, Discussion
Book Info: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie/Illustrated by Yuyi Morales, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316013727

Color and Charisma: Talking with Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert is, without a doubt, one of the most important creative talents in children’s literature.

I grew up with Lois’ art but it wasn’t until I found her Scraps book tucked in the art section in my bookstore that I really started to LOOK at her work and think about her legacy. As I re-familiarized myself with her books, I wanted to learn more about her…and so, a tiny seed was planted. That flower has finally bloomed and I hope you’ll enjoy our conversation.

 

Alia: Q1. What are three words to describe yourself?

Lois: By that do you mean my work?

Alia: Your work or just you. Anything you’d use to describe yourself.

Lois: Well, let’s see…I dress colorfully. I enjoy nature and I love to walk.

Alia: Cool! Those are good. I like that.

Alia: Q2. What’s your favorite type of sandwich?

Lois: Oh boy. I think peanut butter sandwiches.

Alia: What kind of jelly do you put on your peanut butter sandwiches?

Lois: I don’t put the jelly in at all. I just love chunky style peanut butter.

Alia: Ah. I’m more of a creamy peanut butter person.

Lois: Ah. Oh okay. We can differ on that. 🙂

[Laughing]

ScrapsBook

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Lois Ehlert

Alia: Q3. The way that I started to learn more about your work was when I read your Scraps book and then your Hands book. In those books, you talk to us about how creative your parents were. So I’m wondering how important it is, in your opinion, to have parents or family who really nurture and encourage creativity.

Lois: I think it’s extremely important and in my case, when I speak with children, I always tell them the story about my dad fixing up an old table, a folding table, which I mention in the Scraps book and also in the Hands book. They made a bargain with me that if I kept working at my artwork on that table, I didn’t have to put things away every day. I think that was very unusual because I’m the oldest of three children and we had a very small house and I was right in the middle of everything. I often said to them, when I grew up to be an artist, did you realize how important that was for you to allow me that because a lot of parents want things to be too neat and if you have a creative soul, you can’t always be neat. You have to be messy some of the time. So, I think it’s very important.

Being the oldest of three, I would think [being an artist] was an unusual vocation to choose because there are certainly other vocations that are more steady. But they just allowed me to do what I wanted to do and I always said they were creative but they always said “No, no we’re not creative.” “Yes, you are!” But that was before the time that art was considered a profession, in a way, except maybe for painters (fine arts) and so they did their thing in their spare time because they both worked at other jobs during the day but I watched them and got little scraps from them. I do think I had creative parents.

Alia: I can kind of relate to that too because I’m also the oldest of three and I understand what you mean about as the oldest you might expect your parents to have strict expectations for what you want to do for your career but my parents too always told me “No you just do what you want to do.”

Lois: Yeah and that’s very liberating.

Alia: Yeah. Definitely. To not have that pressure; to know that they’re supporting you in everything that you’re going through and learning.

Lois: Yeah.

Alia: Q4. I really like your books because they’re not only beautiful, they’re very educational. I really appreciate how approachable your books are because children of many ages can enjoy them because of the way you write. You have simple text but then you also have a little more complicated text for them to grow into or for older children to enjoy. So I’m wondering, how did you go from an art school student to picture books??

Lois: Well, when I was growing up and I learned to read, we would go to the library every week, usually Saturday mornings and the three of us (my younger brother and sister and I) would pick out a maximum of five books each. So we had fifteen a week. Then we would read those and kind of interact with them; our mom would read them to us. So first of all, I loved reading and secondly, the only art, really, that I was exposed to, because I was from a small town, was art in picture books. And maybe later Art History books but I never went inside of an art museum until I was older, much older, because we didn’t have an art museum. I always like to think that art and writing help each other. That sometimes the younger children read the pictures-

Alia: Yeah! Yeah!

Lois: -and the middle kids, like my sister, would read the big type and then the older of the three (if there were three as we were) would read those little labels or read the content in the back of the books for some of the science books like about butterflies or animals or whatever. So what I try to do is to span the ages a little bit, both ways, younger and older but having the same thing. It’s deceptively simple because I really work on the text so that each word works. I don’t know if that makes sense or not but that’s my theory.

Alia: Oh it does because now that I look back on your books (I’ve been doing some research for this [interview]), you think “Oh it looks simple” but really when you dive into them, you can see how they are written for such a ride range. Like you said, the whole family can experience the book.

Lois: That’s right and if the book is popular, you know, if you’re a parent you’re going to be reading that book over and over and over until you’re kind of sick of it, so it better be something! I always liked the books where you didn’t notice everything the first time you read them and you could go back and discover little things like, for instance, have you looked at Fish Eyes?

FishEyes

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Lois Ehlert

Alia: I haven’t looked at that one yet but I’ll check it out.

Lois: It’s a counting book and it’s all fish and where the eye of the fish would be, it’s a cut out circle. From a tactile sense, you could read the text for “Number 2” and then there would be two fish on that page with two eyes cut out. Anyway, if you look at that, there’s a big fish for “Number 1” and the fish scales spell out a word! I won’t tell you what it is, but some kids see it the first time they read the book and other kids never see it until I ask them about it. So I like to put those surprises in. Another thing is I kind of blend fiction with non-fiction and I know the Library of Congress sometimes has trouble putting me in a category because it’s not one or the other; it’s both. But I like to do that because I think it’s all a part of learning and when I do research, I might as well share it, you know?

Alia: Yeah, I mean picture books are art and you can tell how much time and thought you put into every page. They’re very carefully laid out but it’s not overdone.

Lois: Yeah, I majored in graphic design when I was in art school and that encompassed both the page composition and a lot of things; other artists might not come from that point of view. Especially if somebody else is doing the writing for a book, some illustrators might not think about the placement of the text, particularly, and it’s understandable because they don’t interact with it. But when you do both the writing and the art, you have an advantage because you can talk to yourself and say “Lois, I don’t think that’s in the right spot! [Laughing] Either move the art over or put the type somewhere else.” You don’t want a young kid to have to struggle too much to read the book.-

Alia: Because you’ll lose their attention.

Lois: -It’s hard enough learning to read. Yeah, yeah. But you want it to be a challenge also. So, somewhere in between there is best, I think.

Alia: Q5. So I noticed that you like moles! At least four books of yours that I read were about moles or had moles so what do you like about moles?

Lois: Well, first of all, I am very interested in Anthropology…

Alia: Oh really? I studied Anthropology in college.

Lois: Oh! We’re twins I think!

Alia: Yes!

Lois: I’ve done a lot of traveling in a lot of countries so I have a collection of folk art but what I noticed is that the mole is an animal that appears in a lot of folk tales and it’s funny because they’re not particularly good looking; they’re small and rather insignificant and people don’t like them here because they dig holes in their lawn. But I started by looking up some folk tales. One is from Peru [Cuckoo], another one is from Mexico [Moon Rope], and one is Native American [Mole’s Hill] and the fourth one is pretty much the Midwest where I live. But I don’t know, I’ve always thought that they could be joined together in one book and be called “Mole Tales” but nobody’s done that yet.

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Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Lois Ehlert

Alia: So you were kind of inspired by the moles that you saw in different indigenous people’s stories so that made you interested in the animal itself and you incorporated moles into your books and art. I also noticed for Holey Moley you just gave the mole his own book! He’s just running around in that one…

Lois: Yeah, actually he takes care of some of the predators in the garden but they don’t surface very often. They stay primarily underground; their eyes are not very well developed. They just keep digging, you know, and I think there’s something to be said about that as a trait, even for human beings. Just keep working, you know.

Alia: Just keep stay working on your work and focus on what you’re doing; your own projects. Yeah, I think so.

Lois: Yeah, right.

Alia: Q6. So you touched on it a little bit but where are some of the places you’ve traveled through in your life and how do you think going to those different places has influenced your art style?

Lois: Well I have been to Europe but I’ve been to Central and South America more frequently. I just simply love color and of course my art is based on realism but it’s stylized realism and a lot of the cultures, especially their weavings and things are simplified but not simple. Like Pre-Columbian things are just beautiful in their simplicity but you can learn a lot about the culture; like what vegetables they have because they portray them in their art. I just have a big collection of things like that; some expensive and others very inexpensive and what I like best about it is they’re made by hand. They’re not made by machine.

Alia: Q7. The thing I like about picture books is that I think the images in picture books are very powerful and visceral because they stick with you. I’m twenty seven so I grew up with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom [she laughs joyfully] because that book was out when I was in pre-school so…that coconut tree, those bright letters, the bright cover; those images are a part of my childhood. That’s what I love about picture books and growing up with them. So my good friend Nida, she has a question for you. She wants to know 1) What’s your favorite color? and 2) What’s your favorite letter of the alphabet?

Lois: Oh boy. I don’t really have a favorite color. If you saw my studio you would know that I just love every color. If you read Planting a Rainbow, that’s about flowers and colors. I just can’t…I try to use as many colors as I can in the books and experiment with quiet colors and loud colors and as far as the alphabet’s concerned, I don’t know. I can’t quite think that I like one better than the other either. I think the idea that I put all the alphabet, for the endpapers [of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom] appeals to me more; each letter in a different color-

Alia: Yeah I really liked that.

Lois: -The capitals and the lower case. A lot of books like, if you’ve seen Eating the Alphabet, have you seen that?

Alia: Yeah I think that’s my favorite one of yours, actually…

Lois: So that’s a completely different approach to the alphabet as far as letters, style and everything. I just try to use as many of the letters of the alphabet and as many colors as I can, I guess. I just can’t make the other letters feel bad by picking one of them.

Alia: Just like with the colors, you can’t make them feel bad. There’s just too many good ones, right?

Lois: Yeah! Right!

[Laughing]

Lois: I don’t think you can have too many colors as far as I’m concerned!

Alia: I think so too! When I was in middle school I had a favorite skirt (I like long skirts) and it had all types of colors on it and maybe I was teased a little bit for it but I just loved that skirt because it was so bright.

Lois: Yeah, I dress that way and I have colorful socks and t-shirts all different colors that I wear when I’m working. I don’t know, it’s hard to find a lot of color in today’s clothing industry. They have a lot of gray and black and white, you know. It’s hard to find.

Alia: I think some people, it’s not that they’re afraid of color, they’re hesitant to embrace it maybe? Especially around the cold months and winter time. It’s like for some reason people think “Well I have to wear dark clothes, dark brown, black, grey.” I’m like “Wear bright colors too!” It kind of livens things up, you know.

Lois: Yeah. It’s also economical to have a lot of black and neutral colors, you know. Because if you wear something red people will remember that! If you wear it every day, they’ll say “Well…” you know, but I like color wherever I find it.

Alia: Me too.

Lois: Now you said you saw the advanced copies for Rain Fish, right? And so you can see I even found some colorful things in the gutter!

Alia: Oh, yeah! 🙂

[Laughing]

Alia: Q8. This might be tough but out of all your books, do you have one that you just really, really enjoyed working on or when you think about it, it makes you very happy?

Lois: No, I really don’t because I work a long time on the books. I spend maybe 50 percent of the time making art and doing the writing and the other 50 percent of the time taking things out and doing it over. But they’re all enjoyable I think. When an artist gets an idea, an original idea, that’s probably the most joyous part about it. Working on it is really work! But I try to use different art techniques and different art materials and different ideas for the writing and subject matter so it’s pretty hard to pick out one. I think if there is one that’s closest to my heart, it’s Hands.

hands

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Lois Ehlert

Alia: Yeah, yeah. Yeah I really enjoyed that one because I felt like Hands was very, not only is it educational, but it felt personal. You can really tell how close you were to your parents, especially when you were creating, when you read through that book. So I really enjoyed that one.

Lois: Yeah I would say that began as an artist’s book which, simply put, is one of a kind. I was studying the composition of books at the university as a graduate student and my dad had died and one of the assignments was to make a book about someone or something. So what I did with the artist’s book was to talk about my dad but indirectly by showing his gardening gloves for instance and that he liked to go fishing, without showing a photograph of him. It evolved twelve years later and by that time my mom had died, into that book. So I have to thank Allyn Johnston, my long time editor, for asking me to change it from an artist’s book, which is one of a kind to like thirty thousand of them. I devised a format and everything, which is more graphic design than illustration, in some regards, but it’s closest to my heart.

Alia: About the design of the book, that’s another thing that I think really stands out because as you’re reading it, you’re flipping the pages and you’re not only reading, you see the images, you see the gloves, you see the paints, and it’s like you’re a part of the story as well as-

Lois: Yeah you’re using your hands to read it!

Alia: -Right! Yeah, exactly. Using your hands to read Hands! You’re reading about the relationship between your hands and your dad’s hands and your mom’s hands. It’s such a nice book.

Lois: Well thank you.

Alia: Q9. So you touched on it a little earlier but I can tell that you’re a collector. [She laughs and we both laugh] Is there anything that you’re collecting these days that you’re excited about? Any new collections?

Lois: I’m trying not to collect so much. I have a very, very full apartment but one of the things that I collect that is pretty Midwest is ice-fishing decoys. There’s one spread of some of them in the Scraps book. They’re little carved, wooden, painted things and they have lead in their bellies and then they cut a hole in the ice in a lake and put those on a line and supposedly they attract a larger fish to come to the opening in the ice and then they’re speared. It’s a Native American tradition but now other fishermen partake in it too. So that’s an ongoing collection. They’re hard to find but I like the ones that look like they’re used and I think I have 178 now-

Alia: Wow…

Lois: -and they’re small. They’re like 6 inches, 7 inches and I have them all swimming together on top of my bookcases. It looks kinda nice. So there’s always room for a couple more of those!

Alia: I bet you like the thrill of seeking them out too. I think that’s-

Lois: I do indeed!

Alia: -the best thing because I like collecting things too and I like markets. I know you like markets; I read your book Market Day. I like markets and flea markets and thrift stores but half of the fun is going there to look, you know? The thrill of the hunt.

Lois: Absolutely! Yeah. And you know a lot of things that I have are not very expensive. I’m not into modern paintings, although I love them at the art museum. That’s not my interest…but I do like the fish.

Alia: Yeah they’re cute. I saw the photo you mentioned in your book. They’re really pretty; the different designs on each one.

Lois: Yeah, they’re neat.

Alia: Q10. Do you still do author visits at schools and if not, do you miss doing them?

Lois: I’m afraid I don’t do them anymore. As I grow older, I find I just don’t have the energy to do everything and I kind of decided I better just stay home a little bit more and make art as long as I can. But I do miss it. But I have hope that the Scraps book would be my stand-in a little bit, so that young kids would understand what it’s like to be an artist. So I’m doing my best but I just can’t do everything unfortunately. I have to leave that to the younger artists and writers. I did it for many years, so.

Alia: I bet that all the kids you’ve met really enjoyed seeing you.

Lois: I still do workshops once in a while at the art museum with kids and so I keep my hand in it but, you know. I’ve just decided, can’t do everything!

Alia: Right. I’m glad you’re still creating and putting books out there.

Lois: Oh, so am I!

Alia: Because we want to keep reading them, so we’re glad for that!

Lois: Oh good. Good, good!

RainFish

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Lois Ehlert

Alia: Q11. So since you’ve been talking about it a little bit, can you tell us what Rain Fish is about? I know it comes out in April. Can you give us a little bit about it and what you hope kids will take from it?

Lois: Sure. I’d be happy to. Sometimes I see things that I don’t think other people see. For instance when I go to a farmer’s market, I sometimes see faces in the potatoes or I might see something in the leaves in a tree. I have often been out when it’s raining and I notice on the sidewalks, mostly and in the gutter there are things that people throw away that to me, look like they might be like a fish. Now again, that’s maybe something that if somebody else looked at it they wouldn’t think the same thing, so that’s how I began with the idea of Rain Fish. Things happen with the rain and the wind and just for a moment these things come into play with each other and they look like fish! But then as it continues to rain, they wash away and go down the drain and so it’s sort of a story that is more magical than real.

When I started looking for objects to make fish, because I thought that’s what I could do for the art, I looked for things that most people would throw away. I got to thinking that lots of times people go to art supply stores and they buy expensive things and this could be something where kids, some of whom maybe didn’t have extra money to buy art supplies but were so creative, could find things that people had discarded and make them into fish. I thought well, that was the way that I did it and I hope maybe there will be some kids that could do that too. I used that technique a little bit in other books like Snowballs. I don’t know if you’ve seen that?

Alia: Yeah, Mmm hmm.

Lois: Where I use real objects and then part of it is painted or Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf and Leaf Man. I’m playing with free art supplies so to speak and also with the idea that if you look at something and you use your imagination, it turns into something else. We’ll have to wait and see if the book is successful in its message or not; I always try my best but you never know really. It’s interesting because kids don’t all have the same favorite book of mine and I like that!

Alia: Kids connect to different things.

Lois: Yeah I think that’s good.

Alia: Well when I read it myself and now thinking about what you just said, what I like about it is that it encourages kids to use their imagination and I do know a lot of teachers like to do “Found Art” units in school so I think your book would work well for those kind of units where they take the kids out to the woods to get sticks and stones. I think it would fit well into that Pre-School-2nd/3rd grade age when they’re still doing those fun art projects, you know?

Lois: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I hope so.

Alia: Also Rain Fish reminded me of Leaf Man in the way that in Leaf Man you have to really look at the leaves to find the turtle and the fish and all the little things. So with Rain Fish you kind of have to stretch your brain a little bit and say “Yeah that looks like a fish, I see it swimming.” I think that’s good for kids and their brains. I think they’re going to enjoy it.

Lois: And you know so many things in our world are so nailed down and so prescribed. It’s kinda nice to float out a little bit and use your imagination, you know? That’s my own opinion!

Alia: Definitely. And I think kids these days, they’re so tied down to media and TV, etc. and it’s good to go back to a good book that they can sit down with and just “Go” and explore with their mind. I think that’s important.

Lois: Yup. I bet you were a good teacher.

Alia: Haha. Oh thank you. I tried. I had fun with my students and I was about making sure that they felt comfortable and that they had a good time in the classroom. That’s what it’s about.

Lois: Yeah, I think so. But you know it’s too bad that some of that joy is taken out of the classroom, I think.

Alia: Yes, I think school can be extremely stressful for kids, all over the world. I taught in Korea and their education system is very tough and the kids there have a lot to do, a lot of responsibilities and sometimes they don’t have moments to just play and explore so it’s extremely important for children and their development to have those moments to just be kids.

Lois: Yeah, I agree. It’s interesting. Quite a few of my books are reprinted in Korean.

Alia: Oh good! Yay!

Lois: And Chinese and Japanese and other countries too, like Spanish speaking ones. But I’m thinking maybe it’s the visual aspect of them that appeals to their sensibilities.

Alia: Yeah, I think, from my experience, Korean kids are just like American kids. They enjoy funny books, they like the jokes and the good thing about your books is that they could translate well. Like we talked about how they’re simple but are also complicated. I think that’s why they work well.

Lois: The only thing that’s missing when they translate it is the rhyme.

Alia: Yeah…

Lois: And of course, that can’t always be translated. But that’s okay. I think rhyming helps a young kid to learn the pronunciation of words that maybe are spelled differently but pronounced the same.

Alia: Well maybe there’s a young author/illustrator in Asia who’s been inspired by your style and they’re doing their own original work with rhyme. So that’s a possibility.

Lois: Yeah.

Alia: Q12. You’ve been a part of the evolution of the picture book/children’s literature industry. It’s really grown to become a very big industry. How do you feel about the current push for more diverse stories and diverse authors in children’s books?

MoonRope

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Lois Ehlert

Lois: Oh I’ve always been for that. In fact, some of my earlier books [Cuckoo and Moon Rope], two of the mole books, are bilingual and I really at the time had to argue about having two languages in the same book to make them more multicultural. But they did it. So, now it’s not uncommon to do a lot of those things but I’ve always felt that I was talking to a child no matter where they lived and of course some books are more specific than mine are. My books speak a little bit more about things that any child can approach but I think the more the merrier. I really do.

Alia: The good thing about your books is that any child can pick them up and see nature and learn about that. I think that’s why they’re so good for all types of children to learn from.

Lois: I always worry about kids not going outside so much anymore.

Alia: Yeah that’s true. Also some schools have cut back on recess time too. It’s a tough time for education but I have hope for the future. I’m hopeful.

Lois: I am too. I’ve always been and you can’t maybe change the word but just a little part of it.

Alia: Yes, definitely.

Alia: Q13. Did you have a favorite food when you were growing up?

Lois: No. Not really. I’ve always liked fruits and vegetables. We always had a garden and to this day I’m not sure what made me like them so much. I think sometimes it was the way they looked, the colors, like red strawberries and green leaves. I just don’t know but for fruits and vegetables I love to go to the farmer’s markets and pick out things. I would say fruits and vegetables.

eating-the-alphabet-lois-ehlert

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Lois Ehlert

Alia: Well you can definitely tell because in Eating the Alphabet, just the amount of time and love you put into each fruit and vegetable-

Lois: Yeah and I ate all those too!

Alia: -Oh you did!? When you were doing research?

Lois: Yup.

Alia: I remember reading it for the first time and there were a lot of fruits and vegetables in there that I’d never heard of. I was like “Oooh what’s that?” and it made me want to look them up!

Lois. Yeah! One of my best friends was a food editor at the Milwaukee Journal newspaper and so I’d sometimes ask her about things. Like at that time, kiwi fruit and star fruit were not very common. They are a little bit more now. Also ugli fruit, you know? It was fun to do; I painted them and then I ate them.

Alia: That’s some good research.

Lois: Well you know, you gotta be practical about these things!

[Laughing]

Alia: That reminds me. There’s a book that I’m not sure if you’ve read it but it’s called The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin. Have you read that one?

Lois: No.

Alia: It’s really good. It was Grace Lin’s first book and it’s about a Chinese family that’s growing a garden and the little girl is a little dismayed because she thinks their garden is ugly. Their neighbors have beautiful flowers and they have ugly vines but her mom has a plan; she’s growing a vegetable garden. I think you’d really enjoy that one. It’s a good one.

Alia: Q14. We know Rain Fish is coming out in April. Do you have any other projects that you can talk about yet?

Lois: Well I am working on a project right now. I’m about halfway done but I never talk about it until I get it done. Partly because I think it dissipates the idea somewhat to talk about it too much but sometimes the idea changes too. But there will be something that’s scheduled for probably of Spring 2017.

Alia: Okay so not too far. So, about a year from now.

Lois: No. But the deadline to do the art and everything is the end of this June because they need time to allow for printing and biding but I’m hopeful. I keep changing the text; every day it seems I change a word or two but it’ll get together. It’s quite different than any of the other things.

Alia: Oh? Oh really?

Lois: Which is probably no surprise to you, right?

Alia: No! Because every one of your books is a little different!

Lois: Yeah!

Alia: Which is good. Oh good, I’m excited.

Alia: Q15. Do you have a favorite place that you recommend in your hometown of Beaver Dam or in Milwaukee? A place that you really enjoy going to?

Lois: I like to go to the Audubon Center in Milwaukee. I love to go out there and walk around but for a more formal setting, I live about three blocks from both Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee Art Museum and that is a very interesting building. They’ve just remodeled the interior of it so I spend a lot of time over there both with teaching children and just looking. But there are not so many wild places left but the Audubon center is kinda wild and nice.

Alia: Yeah, I always like to ask authors/illustrators in my interviews about your favorite places because it helps me get a better understanding of where you come from.

Alia: Before I go, because I’m coming to the end, I wanted to give you one more book recommendation because that’s what I do! I’m a bookseller. Do you know the author/illustrator Julie Flett?

Lois: No.

Alia: She is Canadian, Cree-Metis-

Lois: Oh! 🙂

Alia: -and she is awesome. She mostly illustrates but has also written her own books. But her style, I think you’d like her because she does collage and painting too. She does a lot of depictions of Native families and also, like you do, incorporates nature like the woods and areas in which she grew up. I really think you would like her work.

Lois: Oh, okay!

 

Thank you again Lois. I really enjoyed our talk and I encourage you all to check out her many, many beautiful books! They’re a part of most public library collections and are available at your local bookstores.

Website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Lois-Ehlert/1877089