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Jul. 3rd, 2011


July! Jama! At the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Swimming and picnic fare with friends is planned for Monday, but my weekend struck an epitome of celebration yesterday when Jama jamarattigan  and her husband took a break from visiting relatives to meet me and Peter at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  Little is more exciting than meeting in person someone you’ve come to know and adore on their blog. Jama is as sweet and funny as you’d guess from Alphabet Soup.

We saw the Tomi Ungerer exhibit  with lots of art from the Mellops, a pig family, and Jama was won over by the mother carrying a cake almost as tall as she was. There was also a bat chasing a moth with a net, crocodiles, boa constrictors, a flying kangaroo, and an octopus playing checkers and the piano. Most were drawn with delicate but assured lines, which I preferred to some of the bolder Ungerer pictures I’ve seen reprinted: of course these do look better reproduced small, and that’s why I, too, chose to put one here. Ungerer says, “If my books teach children anything, it’s to make fun of adults, especially those who are taking themselves too seriously.” Here's a recent New York Times interview.

He is a friend of Maurice Sendak, who I learned was also was an early encourager of Barbara McClintock, whose work often shares his fascination with stage design. One gallery featured art from what I believe was Barbara McClintock’s first book, Heartaches of a French Cat (David Godine, 1989) which someone told me took about eight years to write and draw. Certainly her labor shows in the elegant detail. She was inspired by a Balzac play to come home and create an 87 page sketchbook from memory, and the show displays the gesture drawings and photocopies she made to experiment with different color schemes. I love the sense of place and history in all her work, and how she credits some of this to growing up near grandparents who lived in an old Victorian house, which included her grandmother’s special collection of woman writers. Sigh of happiness. I hope that collection was passed down to her.

The third gallery was the one devoted to Eric Carle, which included artifacts going back to early childhood drawing and examples of the design work he did as a young man. We saw the cover of A Week with Willi Worm. Astute editor Ann Beneduce asked him to change the protagonist to a caterpillar, which became the Hungry, Hungry one we know, and offered the ending with a butterfly. There were also pages from other works, a display case with tools and examples of linoleum block prints, and a very green costume designed for a 2001 production of The Magic Flute.

After leaving the museum, Jama, our husbands, and I ate fat sandwiches and daintier carrot cupcakes at Barstow’s Longview Farm talking about life, writing, and hoping to set the ears burning of bloggers including Sara Lewis Holmes, Kelly  [info]kellyrfinemanJo [info]jbknowles and Jules of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast  as we marveled at their energy, wisdom, and kindness, while we enjoyed cool drinks, a warm breeze, and a view of the Holyoke Range, slow-shuffling cows, and Cornelius.

Now I’m drinking the delicious macadamia-cocontut tea Jama brought me via Hawaii, but already missing her smile. And hearing rain and thunder. That beautiful lake with wonderful friends may have to wait for another year, but my weekend feels pretty great. 

Jan. 1st, 2011


Into the New Year

I’ve been reading with awe other bloggers’ accomplishments and resolutions. I’m not inclined to look at the pile of books by desk, sofa, and bed and list those I’ve yet to read. It’s a bit of downer when you haven’t cracked hardbacks that are now out in paperback. So what can I do but resolve to read more this year. Novels, as well as a re-immersion in picture books, which I start reviewing this month for Shop Talk: Connecting People and Picture Books  at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  I’ll be filling in with Top of the Shelf recommendations while writer/editor/educator Barbara Elleman takes a winter break. I look forward to keeping blog company with Andy Laties and Eliza Brown who run the well-stocked shop beautifully. Their entries run from fun to pensive, through quizzes, books on themes, children’s book news, and notices of some pretty amazing sales, so it’s a good blog to bookmark.

And I’ve started writing some picture book biography manuscripts again, a form I’ve always loved, but is hard to sell. Then what isn’t? So I resolve to explore this genre as well as poetry. And my husband is urging me to collaborate with him. I kind of think 27 years of marriage is collaboration enough. We have a different aesthetic, and I like working alone, and really could he deal with me? This morning I was making cranberry bread to take to brunch at friends. Peter asked if he could help, and I asked if he’d cut the cranberries in half. After about a cup he asked why they couldn’t go in whole. I said they could, which my niece Tori taught me by making it once in our kitchen. She threw them in and the bread was delicious. But, I explained to Peter, who also suggested a chopper, this is for a holiday with friends and should be as perfect as it can get.

So do you want them cut vertically or horizontally? he asked.

I’m not that obsessive, I said.

Eyebrows were raised.

Okay, not so obsessive about cranberries (and other things, such as centering pictures on this blog). Editing is different.

Anyway, who knows about collaboration. I’ll try to be more open in 2011. And do more yoga, which may or may not be connected.

Happy new year full of joy, creativity, and love from my family to yours!

Sep. 28th, 2010


Once Upon a Time: Maria Tatar on Fairy Tales and Childhood

On Saturday I heard Maria Tatar, who chairs the Department of Folklore and Mythology at Harvard College, give a talk at the Eric Carle Museum She’s author most recently of Enchanted Hunters and edited several Norton Critical Editions of tales from Charles Perrault, the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson (she’s a fan and made me one), and others. My children’s literature class covers a few hundred years, so we only do a drive-by past fairy tales, but we always look at these. Of course these hefty, heavily footnoted anthologies are intended for adults, so Maria Tatar doesn’t try to brush any of the sex and more often violence under the table. But they’d be a valuable resource for parents or other story-tellers. Maria Tatar noted in her talk that “you can’t grow up just with facts.” She said even incidents in the tales that may seem appalling to us may be made child-friendly by the teller. There’s always the lap, and beyond that, tellers may change their voices, raise their eyebrows, act things out to make them humorous, or even add commentary. The tone and setting may be as important as the tale.

Maria gave us a great, swift, and accessible overview of current definitions of fairy tales, with theories on their background and worth, pointing out elements of magic, myth, metaphors, and the migratory nature of the tales. The alliteration is hers. “These stories pass time and they pass along wisdom, making clear what matters in life.”

She showed slides, focusing on a picture book of Little Red Riding Hood illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger, whose exhibition at the Carle just ended. When a librarian in the audience asked for suggestions for parents who balk at checking out fairy tales, Maria noted that about 40% of parents today say they won’t read Little Red Riding Hood. She said “children need more than pink princesses and sweet endings,” and pointed out that stories keep children curious and benefit parents, too. They may learn, through the child’s response, about them, their joys, fears, and needs.

On another note, for those feeling Carle museum love, or want to look at some cool illustrations – and maybe even hang one in your home -- check out the website where you can make a maximum bid on a piece by favorite illustrators like Jerry Pinckney, Grace Lin, Quentin Blake, Raul Colon, of course Eric Carle and about a dozen others. Click on the link below for a look. All proceeds benefit the museum, and bids will be accepted until noon on Thursday, Sept. 30.

Aug. 15th, 2010


Inspiration at the Carle: In the Auditorium and the Hallway

On Friday my husband and I went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to hear its founder speak about his path through art. It seems to have begun with a first grade teacher in Syracuse, New York, who covered walls with his drawings and continues past recent celebrations of eighty years for him and forty years for the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle showed a slide of himself as a little boy dressed as a cowboy in titled hat and rakish bandanna alongside a picture of a slightly older boy dressed in neat shorts, suspenders, and a Swiss-style cap to illustrate his journey from the U.S. back to his parents’ native home in Germany. He suggested that moving between cultures, one of which encouraged self expression, and one of which tended to be more rigid, set him on a lifetime of wanting to create links between people, which he did using colorful images from nature that anyone might understand and love.

He also spoke of the boy who loved making friends having to leave good ones behind, and the boy who loved chunky crayons and color being forced to pick up small pencils and rulers. That freedom-loving child who he seemed to lose for a time was one he tried to call back as he worked through the decades, he said, though I’m paraphrasing from the talk he first gave at Harvard College, and was adapted for this appreciative audience. The bridges he built between two languages and cultures continues as a theme, which made me think of those holes – openings, invitations – which are famously part of The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar. I liked Eric Carle’s suggestion that art may be grounded in and return to formative moments in our lives. He felt changed by revelations he had around age five, and, he noted, made a career of making art for children around this age.

His longtime editor, the gracious Ann Beneduce, also joined him on the stage, and we were honored to hear about ways they worked together over the years as Eric left the world of advertising for children’s books.

After the talk I was happy to run into Sarah Aronson (next to me) and Tami Lewis Brown (on the right), who’d been stalking Eric – no, no, behaving perfectly properly – in the galleries. We chatted for a few moments about how charmed we were, and then fell as if off a cliff, in one of those writer-meets-writer ways, into a conversation about revision. Our voices rose. When I revealed that I was turning a novel into a series of poems, Sarah told me that her novel, Head Case, had first been written in verse, and said there’s something freeing as well as instructive about changing the genre in which you began. I might add nerve-wracking, but Sarah’s positive take helped me strengthen my own. So with thanks for the inspiration: it’s back to work.

Mar. 28th, 2010


Into the Wood: Antonio Frasconi’s Art for Children

Yesterday I saw Into the Wood at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
and had the treat of hearing its curator, Jane Bayard Curley, talk about how she made choices for the exhibit: she enjoyed poking around Frasconi’s home, finding decorated blocks stacked here and there and even cupboard handles are painted with suns. Besides being a celebration of about 75 years of making art, this exhibit honors a playful approach to the world. Most often we see powerful black and white woodcuts, mostly depictions of nature with wondrous elements or words and images mixing. There are examples from some of the over one hundred books Frasconi illustrated and limited editions: sometimes he made a single book for his sons. We also see a print of Walt Whitman that he gave one child for his fourth birthday. And images of the moon, with text that reminds us of how each of us sees its glow differently.

Frasconi, who now lives in Connecticut, was born in South America in 1919 from Italian-born parents. There, art schools struck him as too restrictive, so he took an apprentice in a printing shop.In 1945 he moved to California with a dream of working for Walt Disney, whose work he loved. When that didn’t pan out, he worked as a gardener and a guard in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, where he later had his first art show. He moved to New York, where he worked for Leo Lionni when he was art director for Fortune magazine, as did Eric Carle. All three became known for using simple images, usually drawn from the natural world, to tell stories, often fables or allegories, for young children.

While Frasconi’s work for adults often addresses themes of justice, after marrying and having two sons, he became even more interested in illustrating children’s books. Disappointed that Pablo and Miguel preferred his mother read to them, since his accent made words hard to understand, Frasconi wrote and illustrated See and Say: A Picture Book in Four Languages, which was published in 1955. He used four colors and four languages to show the beauty and diversity of culture.

Pages from this book are shown in the exhibit along with original prints and wood blocks he printed from. I loved the books made like accordions.

The show will be up until June 13. The pictures here are taken from the museum site where there are more, and you can watch a clip of the artist making his wood cuts.

November 2013



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