I have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve posted on readia….it seems like a lifetime ago. Which is cool. If I were a reptile, I would have shed a couple of skins by now …. I want to invite my subscribers (if I have any….) to subscribe to my new blog, Imaginerience. It will be devoted to cultivating creativity–most specifically for kids, but then again, maybe for other, more aged people who believe F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Growing up is a terribly hard thing to do. It is much better to skip it and go from one childhood to another.” You can to Imaginerience via my beautifully redone website (courtesy of Winding Oak) http://www.suestauffacher.com
Not only will I be talking about how my books were created, but also throwing out fun ideas for kids to fire up that ‘imaginator.’ It’s like getting to go behind the curtain with the Wizard of Oz. C’mon…that’s fun.
I had a wonderful conversation recently with a 7-year-old girl named Kate. We were walking along the shore of Lake Michigan and we came upon a wedding being held on the beach. This caused Kate to launch into a description of her own wedding dress. Flowers were a central theme. As I watched her describe—using her hands as well as her words—the dress and the veil and the headband in such great detail, I started thinking about children’s book illustrations that would feed her marvelous visual imagination. The moral of today’s post is, ‘the right book for the right child at the right time’ is what we need to do more of… I told Kate, don’t bother to read the words if you don’t want. Just look at the pictures and think about the pictures in your mind.
Of course, I told Kate’s parents about Fairie-ality: The Fashion Collection From the House of Ellwand (Candlewick, $19.99 paper) by David Ellwand, but that wasn’t enough for me. When I got home, I looked through my extensive collection to see what other books would be a combination of flora and fauna and fashion. I ended up putting together a book bag of fabulously-illustrated books that are not necessarily as fabulously written. Some went on way too long, some were copyright-free texts of classics that just don’t play well today. The stories in some were okay, but all of them had lush amazing illustrations.
Two in particular suited my purposes. Sleeping Bunny (Random House, out-of-print) by Emily Snowell Keller and Pamela Silin-Palmer is a silly take on the fairy tale classic, Sleeping Beauty. The paintings are so rich with detail. Carrots cross in coats of armor, good fairies are named after flowers and dressed appropriately. There are some corny plays on ‘hoppily ever after,’ but the brilliance of this book is in the border to border attention to imaginative detail.
The other is A Summertime Song (Aladdin, out-of-print) by Irene Haas. A young child named Lucy is given a magic hat by a frog and when she puts it on, she becomes a wee person whose journey through her own garden is completely changed by her size and new perspective. Animals and insects come alive and the illustrations, set against dark dusky backgrounds have an ethereal quality. Flowers and leaves form raiment for mice and birds.
Exciting news for Wireman, my comic series devoted to late and reluctant readers! The project is profiled in the May 2008 issue of School Library Journal! Executive Editor Rick Margolis interviewed me to find out why this comic series—now also available as a graphic novel—has been so effective in reaching hard-to-reach kids. Learn more by reading the article on line—it’s in Rick’s “Under Cover” column or visiting our web site http://www.wiremancomics.com.
For Mother’s Day, I’m choosing to do my favorite thing—write about childrens’ books! One of the ways to lure kids to reading is to hook them by using a favorite topic. Maybe they’re obsessed with “High School Musical” or one of the many crime dramas on television. How Does the Show Go On? (Disney, $19.95) is a complete compendium of all things dramatic. Thomas Schumacher, producer of the amazing Broadway musical, “The Lion King,” takes kids backstage to meet all the talented folks required to perform an award-winning theatrical experience. But first, aspiring theater-goers will see a ticket, a playbill, a bit of the script. Photos, notes and sketches abound. This is a great book to have in the classroom before a scheduled performance to avoid what we call in the arts-education biz, ‘drive-by’ art experiences. Getting children ready beforehand and whetting their appetite with a how-it-happens book like How Does The Show Go On? will deepen the experience.
Same goes for Do Not Open (DK, $24.99). This encyclopedia of the world’s best kept secrets has some trademark DK flourishes. The title of course is brilliant. Next the book is recessed in box that looks like a little jail cell complete with barred cover. Entries are brief and visually exciting. From the different versions we learn of Christopher Columbus—okay was he a hero or a tyrant?—to what has been sucked into the Bermuda Triangle, Do Not Open is a great book for exploration and discovery in small group classroom work or the back seat of the car. Start that wonderful practice of having kids read aloud their most exciting discoveries.
So many board books are just wrong—adaptations of popular selling books with too much text or ooey-gooey parent sensibilities. Friends, board books have a distinct place in the children’s literature canon and “Baby! Baby!” (Random House, $6.99) has earned its place. Why? Because author Vicky Ceelen has taken a very simple concept and conveyed it in photographs. It will be mesmerizing to babies and toddlers and a lot of fun for mom and dad, too. All Ceelen does is present a variety of baby expressions and poses and pair them with an animal in a similar pose. The typical newborn with legs curled up really does look like a frog when you think about it. There is striking symmetry between a child and a chimp trying to fit all fingers and maybe a whole hand into their mouths. Small children love to look at photographs of people and they adore animals. This one will be requested, studied, and chewed on, just as a board book should be!