Illustrators, how do your stories grow?

Illustrators, writers, quite inspired, how do your stories grow? was the theme for the 2012 regional conference of the Houston Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) back in March. The weekend featured a most inspired and prolific storyteller-artist Dan Yaccarino along with editors, agents and one art director, Susan Sherman of Charlesbridge Publishing.

By Daniel Miyares for "Bambino and Mr. Twain" by P.I. Maltbie (Charlesbridge Publishing)

Front matter art by Daniel Miyares for “Bambino and Mr. Twain” by P.I. Maltbie (Charlesbridge Publishing)

Jennifer Rofe, literary agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency discussed The “So What?” Factor. Susan Sherman showed Pictures That Make the Words Work and Dial Books for Young Readers editor Heather Alexander walked the crowd through a document used by the department heads at Penguin’s Young Readers Group to evaluate if a dummy/manuscript is a go or no go in The Hard Sell: How Publishers Sell Your Manuscript In-house and Out. This all before lunch.

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Editors Jenne Abramowitz of Scholastic, Connie Hsu of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers  kept us awake all afternoon in their talks on writing and and book concepts. Kathleen Ortiz discussed author web sites.

For illustrators, this bracing counsel from Dan Yaccarino in his answer to a question from the assembly (and I’m paraphrasing): Don’t spend your time working for small presses or author self-published projects. Aim for the big houses, the major trade book assignments, the important work. ASAP.

Faculty for the Houston SCBWI regional conference 2012 art director Susan Sherman, agent, Kathleen Ortiz, editor Jenne Abramowitz, author-illustrator Dan Yaccarino, editors Heather Alexander and Connie Hsu, and agent Jennifer Rofé. Photo by Marianne Dyson, Houston SCBWI

Faculty for the Houston SCBWI regional conference 2012 art director Susan Sherman, agent, Kathleen Ortiz, editor Jenne Abramowitz, author-illustrator Dan Yaccarino, editors Heather Alexander and Connie Hsu, and agent Jennifer Rofé. Photo by Marianne Dyson, Houston SCBWI

InteractBooks contest winners created six new children’s books for the iPad

Congratulations to author Gwen Christie and illustrator Paul Wrangles of England for winning the 2012 Winter InteractBooks competition with their interactive digital book The Champion Hare. 

First Place winner of the InteractBooks Winter interactive digital book-building contest, "The Champion Hare" by Gwen Christie and (illustrator) Paul Wrangles of England.

First Place winner of the InteractBooks Winter interactive digital book-building contest, “The Champion Hare” by Gwen Christie and (illustrator) Paul Wrangles.

CEO Ezra Weinstein announced the first place through fifth place winners (there was a tie for third place) for the winter contest in a live webinar broadcast.

See the recording with news about the 2012 spring contest and an upcoming class series on building interactive books for electronic tablets, using the new 3.0 InteractBuilder software.

Check out the covers of all the winning books on the InteractBook Facebook page.

Behold the “e-Future”

A couple of years ago editor and publisher  Stephen Roxburgh put his thoughts together on the “e-Future”  — for a talk he was to give at the Austin SCBWI regional conference.

He’s updated it since then and in April Horn Book magazine featured his essay that offers a remarkable snapshot of the publishing industry at the crossroads.

If the topic of e-books interests you, you’re in for a great read.

Author-illustrator Peter Sis

Author-illustrator Peter Sis

Sis named 2012 Hans Christian Andersen book artist

In this interview by Takoma Park. Maryland librarian Karen McPherson, distributed by  the Scripps Howard News Service, Peter Sis, the winner of this year’s Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Awardtalks about three phone calls that changed his life.

One was a collect call from Maurice Sendak who urged him to move to New York if he wanted a serious career as a children’s book author-illustrator. (Sis took his advice.)

A call from editor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at Doubleday led him to writing and illustrating a book about growing up in his native Czechoslovakia.

From the McPherson interview: “Sis remembers that, in communist Czechoslovakia, ‘we couldn’t talk openly… We all started to think and talk in different layers — protective layers,’ he said. Those “layers” became second nature to Sis, whose books and other artwork now are noted for their stratums of design and meaning.”

The third call came from the MacArthur Foundation to inform him that he’d been selected to receive one of the foundation’s “genius grants.”

Sis, who once made an animated films and later illustrated for the New York Times,  mentioned the three life-changing calls in his acceptance speech for the award.

The Hans Christian Andersen Awards were announced by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March. You can learn more about the awards and this year’s other winners here. You might also enjoy this short audio in which Peter Sis tells interviewer Susan Viebrock how growing up in a communist state has informed his books, themes and artwork. You can listen to the audio here.

Sizing up Sendak

As news of Maurice Sendak’s passing settles down it might be time to reflect a little on his scruffy, straightforward, exquisite cartoon art and what it’s meant to two generations. Here are some resources to consider.

Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 83… ” the obituary leads off.

Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak with "Pierre" featured on the cover

“…Roundly praised, intermittently censored and occasionally eaten, Mr. Sendak’s books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960 or thereabouts, and in turn for their children.”

How has the art of Maurice Sendak affected you in your life?

What’s your PB Dummy Challenge?

Chances are you’ll see your issue addressed in the Picture Book Dummy Challenge series that’s been going on all year over at the #KidLitArt blog.

You’ll enjoy this latest process post by Aaron Zenz on that critical stage of producing the final art for your picture book.

Illustration by Aaron Zenz

Zenz shows how he’s willing to re-do a painting or try a new concept — sometimes more than once —  if that’s what it takes to delight his editor, publisher, or client. The post is filled with ‘case studies’ and Zenz’s appealing artwork from these assignments.

Illustrators Bonnie Adamson and Wendy Martin do a great job riding herd on the #KidLitArt blog series.This could be a biased statement, because I also guest posted for the series (PB Dummy Challenge Step 5,  Creating Full Sized Drawings for your Dummy Pages.)

But I can vouch with complete objectivity for the #kidlitart chats that Martin and Adamson host every Thursday night (U.S. Time zones) and are open to anyone on Twitter.

Each chat is based on a theme important to children’s illustrators. Each chat provides a fine opportunity to hunker down with your picture-making colleagues, published and aspiring. If you miss a live session you can always catch the transcript archived on the blog.

And the learning never stops…

Austin, Texas sure likes digital storytelling for children.

Registration has opened for Austin SCBWI’s Digital Symposium II: Nuts and Bolts of Success, a hands-on technology workshop for illustrators and authors of all techie levels.  Set for Saturday, October 6, once again this year at St. Edward’s University’s Fleck Hall.  Read more.

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featuring illustrations by Charisse MellizaThree cheers for Charisse Melliza whose illustrations appear in the newly released Mama and Asha by Carolyn Rohrbaugh (Shapato Publishing)

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Then, there’s Mowgli and Baloo…

Yes, we’re exploring the art and cunning of the Disney animators over at the Illustration Course blog.

The latest video post shows how Walt Disney and his team turned the Rudyard Kipling stories sideways and added songs for their animated version of The Jungle Book. Part1 of an absorbing documentary.

* * * * * "Make Your Splashes Make Your Marks!" course modules

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Discover a way to righteously better drawing. These free videos show you the secret.

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The miracle month

You might have noticed that the blog has been left with the lights still on, but untended lately.  Not a lot of discussion about illustration, drawing or painting has been going on here.  I’ve been distracted by worry — not an uncommon ailment in families.  Yes, I’m going off the topic of children’s book art — just for today. Because  I want to explain whats been happening and ask your indulgence in my failures to post this first quarter of the year.

My stepson Glenn had been taking an intravenous drug to keep his multiple sclerosis in check. It was a true wonder drug, brand name, Tysabri that had allowed him to remain at work in a demanding telecommuting job and stay highly engaged as a wonderful parent, with his wife, of two small children.

family photo

Perhaps the drug worked too well. It completely suppressed his immune system, leaving him vulnerable to an intruder, a strange little virus carried by most of the  human population – the John Cunningham (JC) virus.

Glenn’s first symptoms were failing vision, weakness, blurred speech and a loss of balance. Just after New Year’s Day he was diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalitis,  a rare, often fatal viral disease (called PML for short, mercifully.)

The virus, which most of us catch in early childhood, never troubles us much — unless our central nervous system immune barrier stops working. Then it can pass from the blood into the brain and trigger the condition of PML.

PML attacks the myelin sheathing of our nerves. Myelin is the white tissue of the brain, an electrically insulating material that wraps our nerve fibers and actually speeds the transmission of electrical signals.

In fact the auto-immune disorder MS acts the same way as PML, chewing up these insulated nerve pathways and leaving scars that block the nerve signals. But PML is more aggressive and there’s no medicine or cure for it except the body’s  natural immune defense system.

Tysabri molecules were removed from Glenn’s plasma in an emergency series of blood transfusions.

But it didn’t slow the progression of symptoms.  Over the next few weeks we watched in helpless terror as he lost his vision, his abilities to speak clearly and remember what had been said to him just  moments before.

His brain stopped communicating with the left side of his body. He could no longer walk, sit or hold up his head (although he still had use of his right hand and  right leg. )

myelin sheath diagram

A watch and wait vigil began. Glenn’s own immune system (suppressed since 2006 by the the Tysabri) would have to wake up and confront the virus.

But that first month, his body did not want to engage the enemy.

He was moved from the hospital into a skilled care nursing facility.

No one knew where this was going — not even his doctor, a highly regarded MS specialist.  Glenn was his first case of  PML induced by Tysabri.

A new threat appeared, even more life-threatening than PML.

Glenn was now joining the battle. But sometimes when a CNS immune system awakens to danger, it over-reacts. The result is the brain swelling, like you see in severe head injuries.

Steroid drugs were administered to counter the  inflammation. Doctors wanted Glenn to fight — but not overly hard. They wanted to manage the immune reaction like a controlled burn — and wait for the forest fire (the PML) to rage itself out.

There was nothing for us to do but hope and say our prayers. There was nothing for Glenn to do but try to survive

He turned the corner ten days ago. His sentences became longer and his speech, more coherent. (I should say that a therapist at the center had been working with him every morning on these abilities.

For the first time in nearly four months, he moved his left foot.  The next day Glenn was  lifting his left leg off the bed, demonstrating for anyone on the floor who could stop and watch.

One evening while he sat propped up in bed, visiting, his left arm moved on its own. It straightened out a little at the elbow, almost as if by accident. Glenn paused mid-sentence. He looked at his arm and started to cry.

“I don’t want you to think I’m crying because of pain or sadness,” he told us. “These are tears of joy.”

Last night I saw Glenn stand by himself — and my eyes had difficulty believing the sight. His nursing attendant Blanca was helping him from his wheel chair to his bed. But she didn’t pull or lift him this time. She just stood close for support. “Okay you can do it, Glenn,” she said.

He raised up somehow on both legs, holding on to her shoulder for balance. He turned a quarter of a circle and sat himself on the bed.

He has a long road ahead and he knows it.  He’s still blind. Yet his vision, or much of it could return.

He’s still quite weak — his muscles have atrophied after four months in bed. But the therapy will be stepped up and expectations are for him to be able to walk again.

His MS has not gone away — and Tysabri is no longer an option to help him. But we’ll take — and celebrate  — this day and future days as they come.

His physician, therapists and caregivers have been superb and kind.  Glenn has shown uncommon bravery, toughness, patience and wisdom (typical for him, really) — as has his family.

The most devastating thing I’ve ever seen has turned into the most extraordinary thing. We’ve seen enough miracles unfold in the past few days to last a lifetime. Or maybe I should say, we’ve seen enough miracles now to know that life teems with them.

So, if you’ve seen me not “showing up” lately here’s my why —  my “dog ate my homework” story.

To my friends: if I’ve seemed distracted while dealing with you since the first of the year or rude in the way I’ve not responded to invitations or replied to e-mails or phone calls, please excuse, understand and forgive me.

Now that things actually might be returning to normal, I’ll take my cue from Glenn — and strive for improvement.

Portfolio Room

Portfolio room at the Austin SCBWI 2012 Regional Conference, “Something for Everybody” at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas

And you thought this was a blog about children’s book art crafting…

Oh, it still is. I have photos of the Houston and Austin SCBWI 2012 regional conferences and from Dan Yaccarino‘s Picture Book workshop and  some interviews from the 2012 Digital Heroes Tour to share with you in the coming days.

There’s a one- question trivia contest newly up on the other blog.

We’ll select a winner Wednesday so there’s still time for you to enter.  The winner will receive a link to Dauntless Design, a lesson from the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course.

I have a guest post up on the KidlitArt blog — part of their Picture Book Dummy Challenge series. The topic is how to turn a thumbnail scribble into a full-sized finished sketch. I think you’ll enjoy checking out the entire series of guest posts on the blog there and reading the chat transcripts for the KidLitArt Twitter sessions on Thursday nights that you’ll find there.