Make a Wild Thing!

Where The Wild Things Are_Interior_Max's drawingIn the background of Max causing mischief is a portrait of a Wild Thing drawn by Max himself. It seems Max has already imagined the Wild Things … or, maybe, the Wild Things have already influenced his art. The Wild Things also influence readers; Maurice Sendak once recounted, “Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over.  I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim: I loved your card.’ Wild Thing 1Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.” (Read about what influenced Maurice Sendak in creating the Wild Things here.) 

Draw your own Wild Thing…You may love it so much that you’ll feel compelled to eat it!  

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The Night Gardener: Animal Tree Topiaries

The Night Gardener_CoverGrimloch Lane is a dreary place, until one day when tree topiaries of animals begin to mysteriously appear: first an owl, then a cat, followed by a rabbit, a parakeet, an elephant, and a magnificent dragon. The residents of Grimloch Lane are captivated by the works of art, especially an orphan named William who, one night, spots an unfamiliar gentleman: it is the Night Gardener and he invites William to assist him as they transform the park trees into many different topiaries. When William wakes up the next morning, he sees that the Night Gardener has left him a pair of sheers – he has also left Grimloch Lane and William changed forever.

The Night Gardener is about the power of art, both on the public scale and on the personal, wrapped up in a piece of art: the book itself.  And so it only seems appropriate to create a piece of art based on it. 

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Pop Up, and The Beatles

The Beatles Musical Pop Up_CoverWhen I was a kid, one of my most prized possessions was The Beatles: Musical Pop Up. I still have it. It has a strange, somewhat incomprehensible text, and the pop ups are rudimentary compared to the likes of Robert Sabuda, but there’s something fabulous about seeing the Beatles in illustrated pop up form. On the last page, which depicts the group’s final rooftop performance, a musical chip the size of a match box plays ‘Hey Jude.’ In 1985, that was epic.

The Beatles Musical Pop Up_InteriorSome years ago, I was at a publishing party where I spoke to a gentleman who, I discovered through our conversation, was an instrumental player in the creation of The Beatles: Musical Pop Up. He told me that the music chip was the first of its kind in a book, and that when the bulk shipment arrived in the port, he received a call saying that the dock workers were abusing the cartons. The musical chip had malfunctioned and every musical chip in every book in every carton on every pallet was playing ‘Hey Jude’ at a different time. It was driving the dock workers mad.

Sometimes I flash on this story when I read about or come in contact with an enhanced electronic book. What can be accomplished in the confines of two hard covers is where the magic’s at, perhaps precisely because you can see (and sometimes hear) the effort.  

Here is a beginner’s pop up project.

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Georgie, picture book puppet theater

Georgie_CoverEvery night, a little ghost named Georgie creaks the stairs and squeaks the parlor door, which, in turn, signals Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker to go to bed, Herman the cat to prowl, and Miss. Oliver the owl to wake up and say “Whoo-oo-oo!” When the stair board and parlor door are fixed, Georgie has to find another house to haunt, but they are all occupied by other ghosts – all except Mr. Gloam’s place, but his is too gloomy. And so Georgie ends up in a barn, until time and inclement weather cause the stair board to creak again and the parlor door to squeak again. Herman and Miss Oliver summon Georgie, and with is raison d’etre restored, he returns home.

Georgie_Interior 2

Georgie by Robert Bright was first published in 1944 and is full of great old-fashioned sayings, such as, “That was a fine how-do-you-do!” and “during the winter, it snowed to beat the band”.  A local librarian and friend recommended Georgie to my daughter and me, and my daughter loves it. One of her favorite parts is the repetition associated with Herman’s prowling and Mrs. Oliver’s whoo-oo-oo-ing, and when we read the book they are her lines to say aloud. This made me think of creating a picture book puppet theater, using the background and characters of Georgie. Georgie is particularly suited to this project, I think, because of the distinct cast of characters and the repeated lines associated with each of them, but the project could be done with any picture book, really. It could even be done with an imagined world and characters.

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The Mouse Mansion, mouse in a bed

Holland (the mother land of my mother) is a place I associate with small things, from the narrow houses, to the propensity to add the diminutive ‘je’ to the end of words, to the miniature theme park called Madurodam, to the country itself. Because of this, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that The Mouse Mansion was created by someone Dutch, Karina Schaapman. This volume of vignettes about two mouse friends and their adventures features photographs of an elaborate mouse doll house and its miniature mouse inhabitants. It’s just so Dutch.

The Mouse Mansion_Interior_Mansion

The Mouse Mansion_Interior

The Lonely DollPicture books with photographs of created worlds and characters are few and far between — the most famous in my mind is The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright, a strange and creepy story about Edith (the lonely doll), Little Bear, and Mr. Bear, which has captivated readers since it was published in 1957 – and yet created words and characters are the tools by which children make up their own stories. The Mouse Mansion inspired my craft partner and me to create our own mice characters, along with beds in which to transport them. Make your own … and then make up stories.

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Picture books: sources of knowledge

TJ104-7-2014 JKT 175L CTP.inddStudies show that there are links between having books at home and being read to, and later language acquisition, literacy, social-emotional skills, and school success. I even read recently that a new technology called “Quixote” is being used to teach robots how to read children’s stories, and, in so doing, understand acceptable societal social behavior. (‘Robots Can Learn Ethical Behavior By Reading Children’s Stories’ by Katherine Derla, Text Times.) Mark Riedl, the director of the lab where these studies are taking place, says this is a primitive first step toward general moral reasoning in AI – and picture books are doing the teaching!

In addition to all the important roles that picture books uniquely play, they also play an important role that many other kinds of books do too – they communicate information. And, yet, picture books can uniquely elevate the information they impart, by isolating it, examining it, and playing with it in pictures and in words, to the point where the picture book exemplify the information’s magic.

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