Fish in a Tree Launch

My good friend Lynda Mullaly Hunt recently held a book launch for her new middle grade novel, FISH IN A TREE. It’s exciting to see this baby swim out into the world now. I was lucky to have been able to read it before it was a book, and one of the lead characters might be named Albert Dubois, who has a mom named Audrey Dubois (my daughter). Suffice it to say, we are honored and stoked to have this nod in the book, and it was a blast to be involved in Lynda’s full-out themed launch!

Here are a some scenes from the launch, which included making your own fish and putting it in a tree, Albert’s science Jeopardy game, fishing for words, and making sketches for the Sketchbook of Impossible Things. It was a huge, well-attended success, with a lot of writer friends, family, and local kids and librarians adding to the electricity.

Be free, little fish! You belong to the world now, and they will be better for it.

Read my review of the book here.

fish collage



2014 Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat

It’s been nearly 2 weeks since returning from Whispering Pines, a writer’s retreat deep in the woods of the Alton Jones campus of URI. Such a beautiful setting- and a wonderful time as always. The mentors, the camaraderie, the food…everything.



Here’s Lynda introducing the mentors and helpers, who all received thematic welcoming gifts…



Animated author Audrey Vernick talked about how, beyond the craft, luck has a part in the business. She also emphasized not getting hung up on the “rules”.  Kirsten Cappy talked about the various ways you can get the word out about your book, and how to connect in ways we maybe hadn’t thought of yet.

2_vernick cappy


First Pages, as read by Lynda, Mary and Jenny. I must say, the calibre of the submissions we tend to hear at this retreat tends to be stellar!

2.1_first pages

Panelists Christine Krones, Audrey Vernick, Sarah Dotts Barley, Regina Griffin. 


And then, there are shenanigans… photo fun, palm reading, and a failed attempt at levitation (at least in the bodily sense)!


(come on- you have to believe!) 



Kim, Kristen, Julie, Cameron, and Janet during one of the sessions. 


Gather ’round the inferno! The very cozy common room in the Whispering Pines lodge.




The mentors and organizers, lined up all pretty! Lynda Hunt (author and retreat co-director), Regina Griffin (Executive Editor at Egmont USA), Christine Krones (Editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Kirsten Cappy (of Curious City in Portland Maine), Sarah Dotts Barley (Editor at HarperCollins),  Audrey Vernick (author), and Mary Pierce (retreat co-director).


Christine Krones had some good advice about what today’s market needs to see in submissions, and how they can be pitched to their best advantage.

Sarah Dotts Barley talked about not revising as you go, and allowing a book to marinate for a while so you can gain perspective on it.

Regina Griffin’s talk had some great examples of the windy path that a book’s revision can take, and how nothing you write for a manuscript, even if it’s cut, is ever lost. It’s part of the process of making it better.


(I am obviously highly editing our mentors’ talks, but they were all very in-depth and chock full of good info- I took pages of notes!)


We got lucky with some nice weather that allowed us to get out an explore the grounds…





 Caroline, Laurie and Jen.


Surprise giveaways at lunch! Oh, and by the way… THE FOOD. Always wonderful here.

9_dining games



Three cakes a day? Well, OK, if you insist. 


There are always good times around the table.

11_table people

Awesome table-mates: Cameron, Julia, Regina, Sally, Kirsten, Sarah, Jen, and Laurie. 


And now, lets reflect on the surroundings, the people, the work ahead. That’s what I am still doing now.










2013 RI Festival of Children’s Books and Authors

This year’s Book Festival at Lincoln School in Providence was fabulous- just full to the brim with great presenters, and very well-attended by a huge crowd.


Here’s Jarret Krosoczka with one of his first books, and whipping out a Lunch lady drawing. I like how he is so candid with kids and adults about the non-direct path to publication. And he happens to be a great guy, too.


Kate Messner was there. I had never heard her talk before- she is truly a natural speaker and I loved her approach to writing and life in general.


Laurie Keller is a big favorite of ours, and she led the mixed audience of kids and adults in drawing otters.4_keller1
5_keller2(Just check out that concentration!)

Kim Newton Fusco gave a great talk about her path, and finding your own path and voice. She has a beautiful and slow approach to honing her books to be the best they can be. 
6_fuscoThis is Lemony Snicket. I think. Otherwise, he sent some guy named Daniel Handler to handle the ginormous crowd that was there for him.

7_snicket1(he had the crowd in stitches,and also occasional headlocks).  


8_snicket2Marin, Steve and Lesley get their book signed- he takes time to harass everyone in the line, it’s sweet!
9_wildWild Thing, I think I looove you.

Here’s Chris Van Allsburg signing one of his amazing books.



Susannah Richards “interviewed” Sharon Creech in a casual discussion about her writing path, and getting the Newbury call.



Dan Santat- the hardest workin’ man in illustration, and one of the best!

Some new book loot. What, it’s not like I could just NOT buy SOME books. 🙂


As always, a great time- looking forward to next year, already!


NESCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat 2013

I had the pleasure and luck to attend the New England SCBWI’s most excellent Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat again this year (I believe this is my 5th year). It takes place in paradise (also known as URI’s Alton Jones Campus in W. Greenwich, RI). Lucky for me, this isn’t so far to travel; yet it is like being a world away!

     We started with a first night first pages panel…


…followed by a pleasant Kid Lit Jeopardy deathmatch.


Valkyrie Lynda fields the questions while Julia Boyce writes upside down and backwards to keep score.

Events take place in and around the campus, but mainly here in the Lodge…


Retreat Directors Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Mary Pierce got the day rolling on Friday with some shout-outs to the volunteers who make it all work.

giftsAccolades and to Laurie Murphy and Linda Crotta Brennan for their assistance!

The mentors this year were stellar!

mentorsErin Dionne, Shauna Rossano, Mary, Sara Crowe, Lynda, Bethany Strout, and Kelly Murphy up front. Missing from this shot: Leslie Connor!

First up was my amazing illustrator friend Kelly Murphy, who was very up front and realistic about what it’s like to work with authors and publishers. Her work is dynamic and recognizably hers, no matter the subject. She takes a lot of care to do manuscripts justice in her art.

Some of Kelly’s originals were on display while she signed books.

Erin Dionne is the author of several books that are huge hits in our house. Her talk was about marketing, and it was fun to hear how she makes connections and cultivates community in the real word and online.


Author Leslie Connor had some great insight into tapping into the truth when writing. Having that element of truth allows readers to invest in your characters and care about what happens to them. Such a good point.


Food! The food is incredible at Whispering Pines. And it just keeps coming. And then the plates disappear. It’s a magical way to live for a few days!


Every meal comes with excellent conversation as well!

First pages, second night…

…followed by FIRE!


fire2Cameron Kelly Rosenblum stokes the fire and the silly conversation, all with the same stick.

Now pretend that you have stayed up WAY past your bedtime talking, laughing, and having a great time. Good!

Shauna Rossano, Associate Editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, got the last morning started with some great tips on catching an editor’s eye right away by making those important first impressions.


Sara Crowe, Agent at Harvey Klinger, Inc. gave us some valuable insight into her process of reviewing books for representation. Submissions to her must not only ring true to her, but imply a way she can market it to editors.


Here’s Bethany Strout, Assistant Editor, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I had met her at the Blueberry Fields retreat in Maine last year, and she was just as smart and approachable here. She draws from both her knowledge and instincts to choose manuscripts for her publisher.



Alas, all too soon, it comes to a close. I love reconnecting with many of my writer and artist friends in the region here; it really is a charmed event.

4girlsJust a few of the lovely folks as seen at WP… Jennifer Thermes, Janet Costa Bates, Cameron Kelly Rosenblum, and Kim Savage.

A few parting shots, until next time…!





ICON7- The Illustration Conference, Day 1

The ICON 7 Illustration Conference was held right here in RI this year, sponsored in part by good ol’ RISD. That was good news for Eric and I…we had our tickets reserved months ago, and it was finally held this week.

The weather was perfect, the city was looking’ good for the hundreds of illustrators that came to town. We didn’t manage to get to any of the workshops that occurred on previous days, beyond going to the RISD Icons art show opening at the Woods-Gerry Gallery (the show is up until June 24th, so you can still catch it).

Our first full day of stuff was Friday the 15th, and it started early. The darkly chipper Masters of Ceremonies were Jennifer Daniel and Nicholas Blechman.

Gregory DiBisceglie, creative manager for Campaign Planning and Special Projects at Macy’s, showed how he tries to raise the bar of creative experiences that Macy’s offers. Why, there’s one of his special projects now… art created by Chris Buzelli for Macy’s Flower Show.

Here’s the art powerhouse Bob Staake, with a page from one of his children’s books. He started off working in a well-regarded cartoony style, but has since morphed into more graphic looks. He says that since art is always subservient to something else, he likes to shake up his style depending on the need. He also like to surprise an art director with unique takes.

My favorite point he made was that art directors come to you because you’re a thinker. So true. Style and execution is less important than concept, so long as the art gets your point across effectively. I find this very true in product design, as well.

Christopher S. Neal, Josh Cochran, and Sam Weber came to talk about the importance of community and collaboration, as learned in the Pencil Factory studio space in Brooklyn. They not only collaborate with each other, but with lots of varied clients.

The importance of collaboration was a theme that kept popping up throughout the conference. Apparently sequestering oneself up in a studio all alone with no input is not the best way to achieve good art, or to get anything to happen with your art. Huh… go figure!

Here are the folks from the Children’s Book panel: Cecily Kaiser (Abrams), Chad Beckerman (Abrams), and Elizabeth Parisi (Scholastic), with Rachael Cole (Schwartz & Wade/Random House) as moderator.

As a children’s author/illustrator, I thought I had heard it all about this subject. But they did touch on some important points that probably can’t hit home enough: books need to jump off a shelf due to their individuality. Relevancy and different takes on common subjects can set a book apart from the mountains of others.

Chad with a morphing cover sketch by Dan Santat.

Lunch break. Did I mention the weather was ideal for this?

I’m glad Providence was lookin’ good for the conference. The hotel where some of the events were used to be an abandoned, graffitied shell of turn-of-the-century despair. Pretty nice now, darn it!

Here’s Jessica Hische, who spends a lot of time procrastiworking on all kinds of projects, many involving her own custom typefaces. “Make things you wish existed.”

Here’s another good thought to remember:

Kiel Johnson took everyone by surprise, I think. It’s hard to describe the level of intensity of what he has made, done, created with cardboard. He said that getting out and working with others has led to surprising artistic places that he never would have gone to himself.

Another shot showing his intensity level… he decided to draw everything (everything!) he owned.

Here are Adam Rex and Dan Santat, during their session on being Man-Whores. Or, uh… promotion. yeah, promotion. They shared some of the things that worked for them (meeting people at ComicCon, devoting actual time to promotion), and what didn’t work (scaring children with clone videos).

At their book signing, I asked Adam and Dan to “do something adorable” so I could take a picture. This is what they came up with.

Pretty adorable, right? hehehe

Here’s Julia Rothman, who talked a little about how she entered into true licensing after learning the hard way about flat fee sales. This shot shows her My Little Pony style sheets that she did for Hasbro. Getting her work seen on Design Sponge seemed to open up a new flow of people that wanted to work with her, and she’s been going full steam ever since.

The evening keynote was by Lynda Barry, cartoonist extraordinaire, and her “special guest” and long-time friend Matt Groening, creator of Life In Hell, the Simpsons, and Futurama. Pretty much one of the best “talks” I’ve ever seen.

Lynda by herself is a hoot. Intertwined within her off-kilter stories, she had some really poignant things to say about trusting yourself, not editing yourself, and rediscovering your own hands to make a personal connection with your work.

Jeez, though. These two together were unstoppable. They just kept tossing little stories out, back and forth…

Honestly, I could have listened to them for hours, they were so funny and insightful. I felt very privileged and lucky to hear them.

Matt said that he had just stopped writing “Life in Hell” after 37(!!) years. He did so last week. Wow.

After that, they opened up the Rhode Show, which was a bazaar of illustrators with tables full of their work and promos. It was very well attended and a lot of fun. A good way to meet a lot of people and see their work.

Here’s my pal Mary Beth Cryan at her booth, displaying all her paper-engineered goodness!

I got to meet Matt Groening at the Rhode Show. A true high point of the whole thing. Things like this don’t usually happen in Providence.


Here’s some of the day’s loot haul… I officially have a lot of business cards, websites and books to investigate!

Next up… DAY TWO.

My Favorites by Maurice Sendak

What a blow to lose Maurice Sendak this week. Somehow, he seemed like he would just always be there. I’m glad he was writing, working, and being his straight-shooting, famously cantankerous self right up ’til the end. He was the Book King. I knew this as a kid, too.

Here are two of my all-time favorite Sendak books from childhood. They made such a huge impression, that looking back at them now literally brings me back to being a kid.

First up: Some Swell Pup, or Are You Sure You Want A Dog?

Here’s my dog-eared (haha) copy from 1978. This book is genius, straight up. Every kid (and adult) who is contemplating getting a dog should be issued this book. That is from my adult-perspective view. But as a kid, I found this book hilarious and ridiculously frank. The good, the bad, and the ugly is explored with an unblinking eye.

The story begins when a “mysterious stranger”, who seems to be a dog himself, leaves a puppy on the doorstep of a brother and sister. The initial joy of owning a puppy soon turns to reality when the pup does everything “wrong”… and they do everything wrong.

This book was way ahead of it’s time, if you think about how many books use the “graphic novel” approach. This story is laid out like a comic book, and the details in each panel are spot on. The puppy pees. It poops. It shreds things. The kids fight over it, yell at it, hold it the wrong way, and get aggravated with each other. It’s real. And there is a happy ending, but it’s a realistic one. All is not happy until the kids really get what’s involved in having a dog. And they do, the hard way!

It’s so obvious! You’ve got to love! Love! Love!

Next up: Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or There Must Be More To Life.

I mean, really. Just the title. There was nothing like this on the bookshelves in the early 70s, when I first found it. I recall repeatedly borrowing it from my grammar school library and poring over the illustrations, and the surreal words. The story was weird. It had layers. The pictures felt real to me.

It was moody. And a bit scary. Jennie the dog leaves a life that’s just fine in search of “something more”. She becomes a nursemaid to a baby that won’t eat, and ends up stuffing the baby into her suitcase. But that’s OK, because there’s a lion that is interested in eating the baby, too. Eventually, Jennie ends up in a stage show, in which she eats a mop made of salami every night.

Jennie never returns to her good home. She writes to her old master at the end and tells him to come and visit, except she doesn’t know where she is. Traditional storytelling? Not on your life. I loved it.

Looking back at it now, I am struck by two things that hadn’t occurred to me before. One- I have loved scotty dogs forever. Jennie isn’t a scotty per se, but I think this is where my love of them came from. Two- as an adult, I find myself ensconced in the world of community theater. I write, direct, make costumes and sets, etc. Maybe it was this book that “set the stage” for this hobby. I remember being obsessed with the mini stage play that ends this book. The page turns were theatrical, like watching a little movie (and I know Sendak was himself a theater lover). I just adored it. And now I stage plays of my own. A little seed planted in childhood? Quite possibly.

I’m thankful there were alternative books like this on the shelves when I was a kid, and they will surely endure.

So maybe it isn’t really “the end”.

Antiquing In the Brimfield Tradition

It has become a tradition (cue the Fiddler on the Roof theme!) for my mother and I to hit Brimfield twice a year- once in spring, and once in the fall. Brimfield is a town in Massachusetts that becomes the antique mecca of the US three times a year. The town is overtaken by a baffling quantity of antiques dealers from all over the country, selling every possible thing ever made. That is what I like most about it. While I may be seeking certain things for my various collections, mostly I like to take pictures of the oddities that I never expected to see. And so, I share them with you! I hope you appreciate the old and odd, too!

Who you lookin’ at, punk?

I didn’t expect to see Harrison Ford, for example.

Harrison and Mom, together at last!

Early Christmas!

Are they live, or are they cooked?

Here you can see a set of the original, deadly steel-tipped Jarts, along with a painting of…questionable content.

What is going on in that painting?

I can’t buy everything, but IF I could, this would be amongst the purchases:

You can never have too many wooden bunny carts, I always say.

Here’s another one of those “Wha???” kind of items. They are plaster wall hangings depicting… human peas?

OH, the humanity!

These make me want to be a chocolatier, so I would have an excuse to own them all!

Continue reading “Antiquing In the Brimfield Tradition”

The Blue Bunny Bookstore!

We found out that Lisa Yee was going to follow up her American Girl signing with a signing of her latest book at The Blue Bunny. I have been wanting to check out this store for quite a while, so it was the perfect excuse to head up to cute, old town center in Dedham Mass.

The Blue Bunny is the brainchild of author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. I have a lot of respect for his philosophies and work, so I expected that the store would be a great blend of toys, books, art, and fun. And it was!

Here we are with our friends the Sheas, who came up from CT for the signing.

Seriously, for me as a toy designer and a children’s book creator, it doesn’t get much better than this! The children and adults who were there that day seemed to agree- it’s a grand place to explore.

According to Lisa, ours was the very first copy of her new book, Warp Speed, to be signed. WooHoo! The book is about a Star Trek geek (there might be a couple… a few…OK, FIVE Star Trek fans in our house), so it was a must-have addition to our nearly complete Lisa Yee library. She’s such a great writer- and just the kind of role model that you want your kids looking up to.

I got to hold Peepy! She’s clearly a girl. And we both were rockin’ the stripes.

Lisa’s back in sunny California now, but we are glad to have seen her here on the East coast. We will certainly be back to The Blue Bunny- and if you live in these parts, check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

Danish Delight- Bjørn Wiinblad

I found this fab Bjørn Wiinblad tile at Savers the other day:

He was a Danish artist who cranked out a great amount of decorative ceramics and art. What’s not to love?? He had such a charming style, very distinct. His ceramics are sometimes printed with his line work and sometimes rendered in 3-D:

He also illustrated posters and prints like these:

He lived a good, long life, apparently- born in 1918, he only died in 2006 after creating decades of design. What do you think about his art?