Exceptional illustrators are coming to the Kutztown University campus this week. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference. I’ve been on the conference committee from the beginning and met some stellar writers and illustrators. This year’s line-up is amazing.
Peter Sís came to the U.S. as a political refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia. He has earned a MacArthur genius award and won every major illustration award. His most autobiographical work is The Wall, Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain.
“When my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it’s hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life— before America—for them.”-Peter Sís.
Raul Colón was born in Puerto Rico and now based in New York City. He has illustrated a number of bilingual English/ Spanish children’s books including “My Name is/ Me Llamo Gabito, A life of/ la vida de Gabriel García Márquez.” He will be visiting design students to share his work, in addition to addressing the literature conference.
Lee Harper grew up in Pennsylvania and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He now lives in Doylestown. He has illustrated children’s’ books by Walter Dean Myers and Wendi Silvano, as well as illustration for his own writing.
Sís, Colón, and Harper will be presenting their work to KU Children’s’ Literature Conference attendees on Saturday, April 21. Colón and Harper and author Sharon Draper will be doing Friday talks for the KU community. Details and times of the Community Day presentations can be found here.
These artists’ books will be on sale at the KU Bookstore this week. Plus KU alum Jennifer Hansen Rolli will also be here. Her work is featured in an earlier blog post.
I will also be sharing my latest silly TOON Book, Snails Are Just My Speed! during a breakout session at the conference. Original art from my TOON books is currently on display at the Kutztown Community Library, info here.
Jennifer will take part in our “Author Chat” breakout session. What’s that mean? The truth is, at any sort of literature conference it is very hard to chat with the headliners. So, authors and illustrators with Kutztown roots volunteer their time and talents. In recent years, Lisa Kahn Schnell, Rachel Yoder, Kathi Ember, and Aubry Joi Cohen shared their recently published children’s books at a chat session.
We’re delighted that Jennifer Hansen Rolli has accepted our invitation for 2018
Jennifer has been painting since the day her father bought her a professional painter’s box at a very young age. She went on to run her design firm in Philadelphia for many years. But, after her 3rd child, she fell in love with the all picture books she was reading and started making up stories and pictures of her own.
School Library Journal gave high praise to her picture book Claudia and Moth: “Rolli’s illustrations are painted in oil on brown paper and the bright, texture-rich, full-page spreads are a delight. Recommended.” -SLJ
School Library Journal called her first book, Just One More, published by Penguin Random House in2014, “A Must Read for Pre-school and kindergarten.” Among other honors it is a selection of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Q & A with JHR
Q: Was your name Jennifer Hansen when you went to Kutztown?
A: That Evangelista was a toughie, but boy, did he squeeze the best out of us! Landis, –he kept the whole show together. I loved Breter. Q: Out of college you had your own design practice. What sort of clients did you have?
A: Since I was in Philly, it was a lot of local companies like Comcast and Ibanez Guitar. My big winner was Genentech in San Francisco. Microbreweries were popping up everywhere and I had a good footing in that market (as long as I didn’t sample the product too much). Tons of fun.
Q: How did you come to publish your first book,Just One More?
A: I really loved the picture books I was reading to my young children and started writing during my downtime silly things my kids were doing…like asking for “just one more of just about everything.” It was unbelievable, kids are kids in their own bubble. But, it was a great way of learning natural consequences if they go overboard. So when all my kids were school age, I went to that notebook and made a story out of all the “just one mores” I had made a list of.
Q: Were there books, websites, or other resources that helped you reach that point? For example, did you join the SCBWI , Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ? A: I had no idea what I was doing, so I did some research via websites about getting published. I had tried selling my story – only once – and that was enough for me. I needed help and decided to get a good agent if I was going to do this. With a little more digging, I emailed my current agent and that was that. He loved my concept but said, “Jenny, this is not a story, it needs a conflict and a resolution…join SCBWI, go to a conference, and learn how to do this.” I did, and one conference was equivalent to a college education in picture book writing. Really.
Q: A lot of aspiring children’s book creators expect getting a book published is the goal line. How important is follow-through when the books come out? Website, educator packets, social media, etc?
A: You are right, we all think getting published is the “be all end all” but actually, getting published includes the whole process leading up to your book sitting in a bookstore. But that is only the half of it, everything you do to get your book into little hands is just as important. Q: Did you initiate your great Educator packets, or was this something you publisher did? A: I met Marci Colleen at an SCBWI conference, she’s a former teacher who creates these magnificent guides. She now has her own middle grade series and picture book…but still creates the guides, thank goodness.
Q: I grabbed Life Cycle image above from your Educator Guide. Do you want to say anything about this particular image? A: The life cycle of both the moth and the butterfly are threaded throughout Claudia & Moth and it’s a great teaching tool for 1st and 2nd graders.
In May How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell with art by Jennifer will be published. A limited number of copies of this new book may be avaialable at the conference. Jennifer will talk about all her books and what it takes to have a successful author visit at a school. The books will be available at the KU bookstore at a discounted price and she will be happy to personalize them. It is still possible to register to attend The 2018 Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference, Info Here.
Collier is a stellar illustrator, best know for his vibrant collage work focusing on the African-American experience, such as Uptown and Rosa. He’s won The Coretta Scott King Honor and Ezra Jack Keats Awards. Trombone Shorty, image below, is a 2016 Caldecott Honor winner. Collier is only one of the four award-winning authors and illustrators coming this year.
We’ll see Caldecott Medal winning illustrator/author Lauren Castillo. In a starred review, Publisher’s weekly praised the artwork above- “Castillo conjures security with her trademark warm colors and solid black contours .” Castillo is a graduate of NYC’s School of Visual Arts and, I think, she shares a Harrisburg studio space with Jonathan Bean, who was a hit at last year’s conference.
Rounding out the Keynote speakers is nonfiction writer Deborah Hopkinson. She is the author of over 50 books ranging from picture books to middle-grade history titles.
Besides hearing these superstars, conference attendees have a chance to join in informal chats with Aubry Joi Cohen and me.
Aubry Joi Cohen is a 2014 grad of Kutztown University’s Communication Design Dept.She did a great job illustrating Seek and Find Animals Around the World while keeping her day job. Aubry is currently a designer for Artskills, an educational art firm specializing anything related to posters: poster markers, poster lettering, and decorative items like stickers. Aubry will talk about how her first book came about. She was contacted by Auzou, a French children’s book publisher, because of her artwork online.
All the books will be sold at a conference discount (20% off) at the KU bookstore through April 1. The full schedule for the Saturday conference is here. A number of activities will be available free to the KU student and faculty community on Friday, March 31, info here.
KU students may attend the full conference Saturday for a reduced fee of $10.00! You can show up Saturday with your student ID and register by 8:30am in the Student Union Building.
I recently had the honor of being on a panel for reluctant readers at the ALA Convention in Orlando. The other panelists were Jim Ottaviani, M.K. Reed and a charming young Englishman, William Grill, who goes by Will. Will told the assembled librarians that he was a reluctant reader himself. He has dyslexia. As a kid he’d slog through a novel, but he loved to read maps, atlases, and illustrated coffee table books. Today at 26, he makes the sort of book he would have happily read as a child. His oversized picture books are light on text, but filled with maps, diagrams, and visual information.
Will won the Kate Greenaway Medal, Britain’s version of the Caldecott Medal, for the best picture book of the year. That book was Shackleton’s Journey, about the epic 1914 journey to Antarctica. It is published by Flying Eye Books.
The book began as a junior year project at Falmouth College. He visited New York while still in school to pitch the idea to U.S.publishers. He met several editors and art directors. They told him to keep working on his art and “perhaps visit again in ten years.”
Back in England, he exhibited the original Shackleton art at an annual exhibition for new illustrators called ‘New Blood.’ Will explains, “Shackleton’s Journey started as a relatively small third year university project. However, it later grew into an 80 page book after being spotted by Flying Eye Books at the D&AD (Design and Art Directors) show. As well as wanting to create an unconventional picture book, I saw the project as a chance to channel the way I draw in my sketchbooks into a more finalised piece of work.”
His new book is The Wolves of Currumpaw. He got the idea when he came upon an old leather-bound book in a used bookstore in the village of Peterborough, England.
It was a work by Ernest Thompson Seton written in 1898. Seton was born in England, but raised in Canada, where he became an expert outdoorsman.
In the 1890’s Seton moved to New York City to work as a writer and illustrator. He missed the great outdoors. Seton heard about a $1000 reward to kill a legendary wolf, Lobo, the King of Currumpaw, in New Mexico. Lobo was said to be so smart one trapper insisted he was a werewolf. Seton headed west to kill Lobo. I will not spoil the story. Like his Shackleton book, The Wolves of Currumpaw is 80 pages. This is more than twice the length of a typical 32-page picture book. The pages are airy, some resemble a storyboard with dozens of vignettes on a page.
Other pages are wordless, atmospheric images that maintain the immediacy of the artist’s sketchbook. He uses Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils in his sketchbook and for the finished illustrations.
William Grill didn’t go to Antarctica to sketch for his first book. Some of his best reference for that project came from old Pathe newsreel footage of Shackleton’s voyage. But he did go to New Mexico and camped out and sketched in the same valley where Seton tracked Lobo over a century ago. He spent a week drawing at a wolf rescue station.
Will’s work is simple yet remarkable. The writing is spare. The drawings are marked by sincerity and a keen sense of observed details. The term I hear used to describe illustration created by actual observation and drawn on paper, unfiltered by Photoshop, is mid-century. It refers to the mid-twentieth century, which doesn’t seem so far away to me. Will’s style is often compared to the great Raymond Briggs.
I asked him if there were other British artists who influenced him. He named two, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden. I had to look them up.
Here are links to bios of Ravillious and Bawden. It is great to meet a talented young artist following in the footsteps of these midcentury masters. More work by William Grill can be found on his website. There is also a fascinating interview about his wolf project on his publisher’s site, here. I also recommend the Guardian page where he shares his sketchbooks. It gives give a great overview of his artistic process.
The reviews for The Wolves of Currumpaw have been great. Publisher’s weekly calls it “A powerful, cinematic work of naturalistic fiction that deftly outlines the importance of respecting nature.” I think it is the perfect book for reluctant readers. I know we will be seeing more from William Grill.
He flew down from Toronto where he heads an award-winning graphic design agency, Viva & Co. I was blown away by his new book Sea Change. The book is getting sensational reviews for both its story and graphic design. Sea Change is a Toon Graphic title. That means it is geared toward middle-grade readers. The literary quality and the visual design is so fine that older readers will appreciate its genius.
The pages of Sea Change are filled with playful typography, -the sort we read about in Phil Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. I showed my copy to Prof. Karen Kresge, who teaches advanced typography at Kutztown. She was so impressed she went directly to her computer to preorder a copy.
School Library Journal says “Viva’s bold, simple illustrations are whimsical and bring to life the story’s unique characters. The unconventional format of this funny, poignant coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of comics and graphic novels.”
Graphic designer Chip Kidd is a fan: “In ‘Sea Change’ Frank Viva ingeniously weaves words and pictures to evoke that heartbreaking, strange, wonderful moment—when the very worst experience of your life somehow becomes the very best.”
It would be a crying shame if the design was extraordinary and the story fell flat. That is not the case here. The story is quite moving, written with an understated grace. The narrative has a great sense of place, namely, a remote fishing village in Nova Scotia. The author’s voice reminded me of Jack Gantos’s popular Joey Pigsa novels, though Viva told me he was not familiar with those books.
None of the great reviews I’ve seen touched on the chilling anti-Italian bias our young hero endures. The book is not a memoir, but I asked Frank Viva if he had experienced bigotry as an Italian kid in Canada. “Oh Yes” he said, “I grew up in a very Anglo neighborhood. It wasn’t hurtful, but it was memorable, and it was typical.”
The drawing style in Sea Change recalls Ben Shahn’s best graphic works. Viva explains that he sketches freely in pencil, then digitally colors the work in Photoshop.
A New Yorker cover by Frank Viva
Besides his children’s books Frank Viva is known for his elegant design work for fortune 500 companies and many New Yorker covers. He has come a long way. He told me about his college years delivering seltzer bottles to fifth floor walk-ups in Manhattan. Oddly enough, Ontario College of Art and Design allowed him to pursue his art studies in New York City.
Young Frank once thought he was headed for a career in fine art, but found work as a junior art director when he returned to Toronto. In the 70’s, he was a contributing cartoonist to the short-lived Toronto-based underground comic, “Berford Seaman’s Fabby Thighs and Butter.” I found a cover of the comic online. It bills itself as “a Canadian Magazine Everyone Can Read and Not Understand.
Sea Change is an important work. It delivers a sea change from the typical design of ‘chapter books’ for young readers. I found myself totally immersed in the story, and I expect younger readers will, too.
Full disclosure: I got a free advance reader’s copy of Sea Change. Not only that, Frank Viva bought me a beer on a barge in Boston Harbor. Really! However, that one strong pint at the Barking Crab did not affect this review.
I was driving in my car and heard a radio interview with Randall Munroe. The author and illustrator of Thing Explainer was speaking on Science Friday. I was stunned when host Ira Flatow said to Munroe, “Before you were a full-time comics artist you were a roboticist at NASA…” YOW! I thought, “How can I do science comics for kids if NASA engineers are making comics?”
I saw his wonderful book and I calmed down as I realized his bestseller is far different than anything I will ever write. Munroe uses only the most 1000 common English language words to explain science. Cells are called, “tiny bags of water you’re made of.” The Mars Rover is “the Space Car for the Red World.” It is a chill formalist exercise I appreciate, but I am not likely to ever try myself.
Munroe is not the only scientist turned comic book artist, however. I met Maris Wicks at the Miami Book Fair. She is a museum educator at Boston’s New England Aquarium. She was signing copies of her hit informational comic book, Human Body Theater. That book made School Library Journal’s list of 2015 TOP 10 Graphic Novels for Kids. I have hip friends who used Human Body Theater to teach anatomy to their home-schooled daughter.
Maris Wicks draws in a kid-friendly style. First Second Books sent me a review copy of her new book, Coral Reefs, Cities of the Ocean. It is is quite wonderful. It has a cute Kawaii feel, but still delivers the goods -educational info on the undersea world. When I met Maris in Miami, she was rushing to that airport to draw while she waited in the terminal for her plane back to Boston.
Maris Wicks is quite amazing, she can write, she can draw, and she knows what she is talking about. Plus: she clearly has a professional attitude about deadlines.
Coral Reefs is geared toward middle schoolers, but I read it aloud who to a precocious second-grader who hung on every word. There is one sequence that explains the scientific evidence for global warming. Kids who understand this science will be smarter than several candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Imagine that.
Maris Wicks has a great attitude despite the challenges our oceans face. She presents the science, yet manages to be upbeat about the future of the oceans. She tells young readers that even if they live far from the ocean they can help to protect their local ecosystem.
First Second is also releasing another volume in the Science Comics series, Dinosaurs, Fossils and Feathers, written by MK Reed, illustrated by Joe Flood. Years ago I loved John Noble Wilford’s 1985 book, The Riddle of the Dinosaur. This new book has the same amazing cast of characters. I’m thinking of the humans, not the dinosaurs: Young fossil hunter Mary Anning; feuding paleontologists Marsh and Cope, and the larger-than-life Baron Nopsca. Who knew a paleontologist was the first person to hijack an airplane?
Joe Flood’s dinosaur illustrations are perfect for the story. His art is detailed, energetic and clearly well-researched.
Near the close of Dinosaurs is a page that channels Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur. Reed and Flood, author and illustrator, are pictured with a Brontosaurus. Earlier in the book they had reported the brontosaurus was not a separate dinosaur. But in 2015, just as their book neared its deadline, the scientific community reinstated the creature.
Both Coral Reefs and Dinosaurs have forwards written by Phd’s. No doubt the editors want to assure parents and educators these books are accurate. From a design standpoint, I would have preferred if these text essays came as an afterword. That said, I love the series so far. These two wonderful books should compel more youngsters to maintain their natural curiosity about the world around us.
The Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference is 18 years old this year. The event takes place Saturday, April 16. The beautiful poster by Christina Davies is a puzzle showing a cast of famous children’s book characters heading for Kutztown’s campus.
This year is a great year for illustrators. Three of the four keynote speakers are illustrators, and the fourth is married to one. Jonathan Bean, a native son of Fleetwood PA, is author & illustrator most recently of This is My House, This is My School. The Kutztown U Bookstore will have plenty of copies of this and all the titles by the conference speakers.
Daniel Kirk is the author and or illustrator of over 40 children’s books, including the hit series about Library Mouse. He often brings his acoustic guitar when he visits elementary schools. We will see if he sings at the KU conference.
Speaking of music, Andrea Davis Pinkney is the author of Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound. School library Journal calls it ” A well-crafted spin that will reverberate in the hearts of music, African American culture, and history buffs.” Pinkney may be one of the most famous names in the field of American Illustration. Andrea Davis Pinkney is the daughter-in-law of Jerry Pinkney and the wife and sometimes collaborator of illustrator Brian Pinkney.
This year’s KU Children’s Literature Conference is a bargain at $50. Enrolled KU students can attend for $10. There will be autograph sessions and lots of networking. Qualified teachers earn Act 48 credits. There will be free events for the KU community. Details can be found here. Like the Conference Facebook page for updates. Questions? Contact Sarah Bryski: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll be there, too, launching my 2016 Real Poop on Pigeons Tour. KU MFA student Rachel Yoder will display her bilingual PA Dutch/English children’s book, Penny Olive.And Kathi Ember, KU grad will be there with lots of her illustrated books.