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My Visit to Burgundy Farm Country Day School

This is my pal and fellow Children's Book Guild member, Jane Harrington, who teaches at Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Virginia and is the author of several great books including the terrifically named "My Best Friend, the Atlantic Ocean, and other great bodies standing between me and my life with Giulio" (lime green cover seen in the poster next to her):

She kindly invited me to visit her class for Poetry Month to discuss writing rhymed verse, writing picture books and writing in general. Her sixth graders were a well-prepared bunch in many ways. They had great questions, great ideas, and great snacks! Here are some photos of the class and the buffet they provided. Note that there are healthy options (grapes) and brightly colored fun-if-somewhat-less-healthy-but-what-the-hay options (sour skittles were a big hit):

SOOO, word to the wise, folks. If you invite an author to visit your class, be prepared in all ways! Read up, write some questions in advance, and break with the skittles. Oh, yes, and if your school has chickens (BFCDS does) and your visiting author has written about chickens, take her to visit them.

Your visiting author will thank you!


Clueless about Emma?

As you will learn, I’m not what you’d call a closet Austen fan. I would even go so far to label myself a bit of an Austen-phobe. Over the years, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid period drama (in my review, I admit that I prefer South Park to Gosford Park).

It was only the threat of public humiliation on the PBS website (and the possibility of their reposessing the lovely Jane Austen action figure they sent me, shown here with my wind-up Kyle Broflovski) that got me to watch.

However, once I tuned in, I heartily enjoyed Emma and gave it a big thumbs up. It airs March 23rd, 2008 on PBS. Enjoy!


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More Kid-Lit Peeps

Lest you think that I’m the only one creating marshmallow Peep dioramas based on children’s books, I thought I’d share this finalist entry from the Chicago Tribune’s contest.

My entry was not, I am sad to say, a finalist in the Trib’s contest… though it did get a shout out in Publisher’s Weekly, which is not chopped liver. Plus, I’m still waiting to hear from the Washington Post, which is the newspaper for which we designed HARRY PEEPER AND THE DEATHLY MALLOWS in the first place. Fingers crossed!

Of course, the entry depicted above is “Where’s Waldo” based on the books by Martin Handford. In England, the book’s original title was “Where’s Wally?” The name ‘Wally’ was apparently viewed as less commercially viable… or more British, but not in a good way… than ‘Waldo.’

Although these books probably need no explanation, the Peeps diorama illustrates the concept nicely: Waldo, always dressed in a red-and-white-striped ensemble and big round glasses, hides in plain sight and children scan the illustrations to find him. Unlike the diorama, the Waldo book illustrations are detailed to a degree that makes this simple task surprisingly difficult at times.

Plus, unlike the gimmicky I Spy books (illustrated by photographs of the contents of a typical kitchen junk drawer), they contain intricate illustrations of various locales, time periods and scenes with historical significance (ancient Egypt, for example). Which make them fun for a really wide range of kids - and adults.

Nice to see them reissued for a new generation to discover… and spoof.

Okay, Kids. Where is Waldo?


Asked and Answered

After I gushed about Elizabeth Matthews' lovely biography of Coco Chanel (DIFFERENT LIKE COCO) and expressed curiosity about her next project, I got my answer.

The answer came from Deanna Caswell, a soon-to-be new picture book author (welcome aboard, Deanna!). She wrote to say: "my friend Boni Ashburn (Hush Little Dragon, Abrams 2008), reads your blog all the time and told me that you would like to know what Elizabeth Matthews is up to. I can tell you! She's illustrating my first picture book called FIRST BALLET for Hyperion."

How cool is that? Asked and answered, as we used to say in my lawyer days. And a ballet book sounds like a great fit for Matthews (whose Coco seems to be dancing on several pages of DIFFERENT). I look forward to seeing it!

With helpful readers like Boni and Deanna, it is clear to me that I need to do more musing on my blog. So, here goes: Will that meat in the back of my fridge go bad before I get a chance to cook it? Will the Democrats - I've stopped caring about whether Hillary or Barack wins the nomination - prevail in November? Should I keep reading my book club book even though I just started another book I like better?

Chime in any time, readers!


Substance, meet Style!

Just wanted to let everyone who read yesterday’s Project Runway Junior post on Pajamazon know that we went to the library (to find my clueless child a book about that legendary Black [as in Dress] History Heroine, Coco Chanel) and, low and behold, look what we found:

Yes, it is a picture book biography of Coco Chanel!

Who says the library doesn’t have everything?

As soon as our beloved librarian found it, I suddenly remembered hearing about this book last year. I had filed it away in my overburdened brain and forgotten all about it until I saw the cover. It is a fabulous book (a “fierce” book, dare I say it) and an exemplary biography insofar as it captures not only the facts of the subject’s life, but the essence of what made him or her groundbreaking. I was interested to learn that, in the case of Coco Chanel, she was a woman of style AND substance. She dressed in men’s clothing, ripped up garments to create never-before-seen looks, and did not allow societal conventions to define her. And she helped free women from corsets, gotta love THAT.

DIFFERENT LIKE COCO is author/illustrator Elizabeth Matthews’ first children’s book. I for one am eager to see what subject she turns her pens and brushes to next. I am also eager to see more non-fiction books like this one, which prioritize the style of their book design (don’t you want to eat that buttery yellow cover?) as much as the substance of the text. It is particularly appropriate for a book about a fashion icon, but would be a refreshing direction for books on less-glamorous historical figures (poor queasy Harriet Beecher Stowe, anyone?) and subject matter.

Hmm, there’s a new show for Bravo… Project Runway, Book Design Edition!