Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Original art and WISH prints for sale!

I'm now selling a handful of pieces of original art from a selection of my picture books! Up for sale is art from Trouble Gum, Another Brother, Hello! Hello!, Ollie and Claire, What Floats in a Moat?, and Bat and Rat.

Also up for sale is this brand new limited edition Giclée WISH print.

Please check out my Etsy shop with all this stuff in it, right here!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


On March 3, WISH was released.

WISH is the story–my family's story–of a couple in love, living for years focusing only on themselves, not yet planning to bring a child into the picture.

Time passes. And when they are finally ready for their family to grow… to their dismay, a baby does not seem like it is going to be possible. There is sadness, hardship, and a lingering, unanswerable question of “will we ever have a baby?”

When it seems as if hope is lost, a flicker of possibility appears. And then… “with every feeling that was ever felt,” that baby does make its way into the world, in a crescendo of joy and love.

All of these moments—the highs and the lows—create the full picture I wanted to make with WISH. I wanted to make a book for all families who have welcomed a baby and who know this crescendo. But I also wanted to make a book for families like mine who weren’t quite sure there would ever be a family. But through perseverance and courage and determination, and through one way or another, that baby was willed into their world. I hoped families who braved through questions and struggles of infertility and/or adoption would find this book. My hope was that these parents could read WISH with these children, and at the end say, “this book is about you. This is what we went through to meet you. Because you are our everything.”

Since the book was released, I’ve been amazed and moved by the emails and messages I receive every week. Messages from people who are finding WISH and being affected by the story, often connecting it with their own. Readers who are moved enough by the book to share it within their own family and also go beyond and share it with others. I’m incredibly grateful for each and every one of these exchanges.

There is one I’d like to highlight here.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a Facebook message from a very special librarian friend, Margie Myers-Culver. Margie and I have known each other for a few years now. She writes the most perceptive, thoughtful, well-crafted book reviews via her blog, Librarian’s Quest. To call them “reviews”… it’s not quite enough. More like works of art about art. She’s a wonderfully thoughtful person who is passionate about reading and about books for children. Margie’s message began like this…

I have been thinking a great deal about getting copies of Wish to more people. Today I chatted with one of the board members at our Charlevoix Hospital Foundation. She said they would be more than willing to accept my donation based upon my request for all the money to go to buying Wish for babies delivered at the hospital. They have 200 babies born each year…”

Margie went on to describe her plan to purchase and donate 200 copies WISH to Charlevoix Hospital. One for every baby born there in a year’s time. The donation would be made in honor of her late mother, also a librarian and champion of authors and illustrators, reading, and books for young readers.

What a beautiful notion… to give this story of ultimate reward to every one of those ultimate rewards being born in a community. I was blown away. I found it hard to believe someone could be so thoughtful and generous to take on such a thing. That just one person would take it upon herself to make such a lasting and caring and generous gift to her community. And with books! But it was all true. 

This story continues to unfold as I write these words. 

 This week, I visited Anderson’s Bookshop (an independent bookstore in a Chicago suburb not too far from me) and I signed and drew in 200 copies of WISH. 

Knowing that all the books I touched would eventually be put into mothers’, fathers’, and newborn babies’ hands. There was some good magic at work there.

The books are now being shipped to Margie’s home in Charlevoix, Michigan. She will be placing a custom commemorative bookplate inside each book that reads:

Welcome to the world!
May this book be the first step on your journey
to becoming a lifelong reader.
It is given with love by Margaret Marie Myers Culver 
in memory of her mother, Agatha Marie Fires Myers,
 a woman who loved introducing the joy books can bring to children.

Each book will be wrapped in paper and ribbon and then the books will be officially donated to Charlevoix Hospital. And the next 200 children born there will begin life with this gift.

I can’t even begin to thank you enough, Margie, for this amazing donation that will affect so many people. It is all happening, but it still seems so unlikely and unreal. I’ll never forget it. I never imagined that making this book would have turned into something like this. Thank you, Margie. Thank you.
And thank you to all who have read WISH and taken the time to share it with someone you love.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Books from 2014 not from 2014

Now's the time of year when all the "best of" lists come around. I don't recall if I've ever done one myself. At least not publicly. I usually keep this sort of thing to myself or in private conversations. Seems like the right thing to do. But this year, I read some incredible books. I read some incredible books that came out in 2014, of course. But I also read some incredible books that did not come out in 2014.

So in the interest in doing something different, I've decided to make a list of the best books I discovered in 2014. The ones that did not come out in 2014.

Flora and Tiger by Eric Carle, published by Philomel in 1997

Early this year, I lucked upon the spine of this Eric Carle book in the nonfiction section of my local public library. I was a little confused as to why a book by Carle was wedged in there, so of course I slid it off the shelf. And I’m glad I did. Turns out this book—that looks much like one of his picture books, but with smaller bits of art and longer bits of text—is Carle’s answer to the question many of us picture book makers continually tolerate throughout a career. Question being, “do you think you’ll ever make a real book?” Real, of course, meaning something for grown-ups, not kids. [sigh] Anyway, I love that he did this and I love that he did it like he did it. It’s 19 true, short (long by picture book standards) slice-of-life autobiographical stories from the picture book master himself, from various times of his childhood and adult life. 

I have long admired Carle’s work and I love this peek into his world. The writing is clever, poignant, precise, and fulfilling. The art is as stylish and charming and accomplished as anything he’s done and accompanies the stories impeccably. Other than the length of text and subject matter throughout, everything about it—fittingly so—feels like a picture book. The size, shape, illustrations, and design. Wonderful.

My Side of the Car written by Kate Feiffer, illustrated Jules Feiffer, published by Candlewick in 2011

Jules Feiffer is one of those Old Guard, Real Deal, Bulletproof Pen and Ink Illustrators. I love how he just goes for it with his drawing. He is clearly not afraid of much when it comes to hitting pen, pencil, etc to paper. I have immense respect for that attitude. I have immense jealousy over it. This book is drawn up-to-perfect-snuff by the great Mr. Feiffer and it is just-right written by his own daughter Kate. And that, in itself, grabs me. 

But backing up, and to be perfectly honest, I had seen the cover of this book bouncing around online when it first was released. But I am not always on top of things, so it ended up being one of those books I mentally set aside with all good intentions of eventually checking out. But then more books are released on top of it, and time goes by, you forget, and that’s that. Such is the life of a book. Luckily, this was another great happenstance at my local library. Thumbing through the new (-ish) picture book section, there it was again, allowing me to rediscover it. Thankfully so. The story is sweet, funny, and just the right amount of weird. A little girl wants to go to the zoo with her dad, and they do, but it starts raining. Only it never starts raining on her side of the car. So on they go. And by the time you get to the sweetly satisfying ending and then through it, you are rewarded with a short back and forth conversation between the Feiffers about how this story is based on a true story—a childhood one that took place with Kate and Dad. Much here reminds me—in the best way—of one of those perfect days I’ve shared with my own daughter. Which is not to say that I’m always a sucker for a daughter and dad book. But I am a sucker for one done well.

Wild by Emily Hughes, published by Flying Eye Books in 2013 (US edition)

I am not terribly sharp when it comes to regurgitation of historical facts and anecdotes. Throughout school, I memorized just enough of that to skate by, much of which was promptly forgotten when I was released into adulthood. Perhaps you learned the story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron? I may have. I may have forgotten it. Essentially, in 1800 a boy was found alone, in the woods in Aveyron, France. Presumably abandoned at a very young age, and he had somehow survived for his many years alone. He was about 12 years old when he was found and he was… well, totally wild. Once he was discovered, people attempted to assimilate him into civilized society with mixed results. I don’t know if I learned this in school, but I did learn about it in Mordecai Gerstein’s incredible picture book The Wild Boy which I discovered a couple of years ago. Later, specifically earlier this year, I read a version of this same story in Wild. I suppose it’s one that’s been told and retold and adapted many times over. But in Wild the feral child story (with a twist at the end) is accompanied by absolutely triumphant drawing. 

The cover alone is reason enough to buy the book sight unseen. Which is what I did. 

Seasons and Mr. Gumpy's Motor Car By John Burningham, published by Jonathan Cape in 1969, published by HarperCollins in 1976 (US edition), respectively

What the great John Burningham has contributed to art and illustration and picture books (and also to my own obliterated perception of all the above after discovering his work) is very much immeasurable.  I could go on about how utterly fearless his work is (and I have), but I won’t.

But backing up for just a minute… Whenever I’m fascinated by an artist or an illustrator, I don’t typically go out and consume every book or image by this person as quickly as possible. Because: a) financially speaking, it is not ok for me to do that; and b) I prefer to consume a bit here and a bit there, taking in and digesting reasonable amounts at a time. I prefer to luck upon one of said artist’s books someplace, somewhere, sometime completely unexpectedly. On a library shelf, in a bookstore, in a used book sale, etc. That’s how I seem to work.

This year, I picked up two out of print (I think?) Burningham titles.

I first heard about Seasons at my artist’s group. When Burningham came up in conversation, someone noted he had been hunting a copy of this book for a while. I hadn’t even heard of it. So that, coupled with the fact that it sounded difficult to find, made me want it all the worse. Eventually I got lucky and found a pretty well worn copy online for cheap. There’s not much story or even text to this book. Each season of the year is introduced very simply. “Spring is…” with a handful of scene-setting words to describe each changing time of year. All of which, it seems, take place on and around one sprawling, rural plot of land. And for the lack of text here, we are treated to an explosive range of dense, layered, rich Burningham illustration.

Just a few weeks ago, I found for sale a beat up library copy of Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car. One that was taken out of circulation and put up for sale in my local library’s used book room. I have to say, a beat up library picture book is sometimes so much more interesting to own than a pristine never-been-touched copy. How many children and parents and picture book enthusiasts have pored over and grabbed and twisted, turned, laughed over, cried over, smelled and ripped theses very pages? It sure looks like a lot. This sort of picture book patina will only make a Burningham book that much better.

Like many of his books there are weirdly perfect juxtapositions of strangeness and tenderness. The art is both classic and groundbreaking. There are moments of absolute awkwardness alongside ones of absolute finesse.

Mr. Gumpy and his children and animal friends squeeze into his car for a lovely drive across the countryside. There is a moment of conflict with rain, mud, and the arguing of the pushing and then the pushing of Gumpy’s mud-stuck car. It gets hot, they go for a swim. They go home.

“Good-bye,” said Mr. Gumpy. “Come for a drive another day.”

And I don’t mind if I do.

Frog and Toad are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, Frog and Toad All Year, published by HarperCollins in 1970, 1971, 1976, respectively

I’m pretty embarrassed to admit to this, but… 2014 will henceforth be known as the year I read Frog and Toad. For the first time. I love Arnold Lobel and have slowly, over the years, been digesting his great picture books. He is, in fact, one of my favorites. Frog and Toad are, in fact, one of my wife’s childhood favorites. So I don’t know why or how I could have not read Frog and Toad for shamefully this long in life. Taken for granted maybe? Forgot I’d never read them maybe? But now I have. And I’m much better off because of it. 

These books are every bit as perfect as I’d always heard them to be. Pitch perfect, top to bottom. Not a line out of place. You know the rest. You’ve all read them. If only I’d gotten to them sooner.

Words and Pictures and Beyond the Page by Quentin Blake, published in 2000 and 2012 by Jonathan Cape, respectively

There has been a lot of Quentin Blake moving through our house this year. It started when my wife decided to begin reading to our daughter some Roald Dahl books before bedtime. Our girl is 6, so not all Dahl is appropriate, but she did get to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. Both of which were, by choice, the (later) Quentin Blake editions. I was then inspired to read The Witches, a Dahl/Blake book I’d never gotten around to. At which point I was hooked—or shall I say rehooked—on the drawings of Sir Quentin. Blake is one of those true blue pen and inkers who is so good at what he’s doing and has been for so long, that you almost forget just how good he really, really is. You take the work for granted. For shame.

Shortly thereafter came my birthday. I used a Powell’s gift certificate to snap up these two Quentin Blake art books I’d had on a “wish I had that” list for a long, long time.

Words and Pictures follows Blake’s career and pen from early beginnings all the way to the year 2000. Much of this volume focuses on his incredible and evolving book work. 

Beyond the Page picks up with Blake’s art after 2000 and carries us up to when it was published, in 2012. This book showcases many of his exhibits and art installations through Europe where he created many original drawings that were displayed on museum, gallery, and even hospital walls. And other fun side projects like postage stamp and greeting card illustration. (Bonus: the endsheets are a peek into QB's blissfully chaotic studio.)

The text and descriptions throughout both volumes were entirely written by Blake himself, in a wonderfully charming, wonderfully humble tone. It seems impossible to say, but I love his work even more having read what he has to say about it. I found we shared many of the same processes and idiosyncrasies in the way we approach our drawing. I loved reading about his influences and outside study and art-making that had little to nothing to do with the world of children's books. These two books fascinated me. And they would fascinate any other Quentin Blake lover. And they would surely make Quentin Blake lovers of the rest of them too.

Micheal Rosen’s Sad Book written by Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Quentin Blake, published by Candlewick in 2005 (US edition)

And I could not come away from those two QB books without hunting down several of the picture books mentioned within. Some of them I knew and loved already. But some I was fortunate enough to seek out and experience for the very first time. One of these was Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. My favorite book of the year.

How do you take the ultimate soul-crushing life experience and write something beautiful and brilliant and… soulful out of it? How do you illustrate it? Point blank, a child died suddenly and unexpectedly. Specifically, British poet and author Michael Rosen’s teenage son Eddie died suddenly and unexpectedly. Rosen completely opens up his heart about it, revealing himself and his memories and his despair, and ultimately the beginning bit of perseverance and hope at the end. Where one must begin to rebuild—unfathomable as it seems—after something so horribly tragic has happened.

This is lemonade-from-lemons picture book making at its finest and in the absolute best and absolute worst way. It is—in my estimation—unparalleled. It is honest, graceful, shattering. Rosen and Blake, they broke my heart into a thousand little pieces. And they somehow managed to put it back together again. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Riding on the Number 5 Bus

For the past couple of weeks, I've been bouncing emails back and forth with Philip and Erin Stead for their author and illustrator discussion series called The Number 5 Bus. It has been a tremendous amount of fun talking about books and art (past and present) and many things that fall in between.

Topics covered include (not limited to):

-unfortunate coincidences in one's plot and another found elsewhere in the world
-John Burningham
-William Steig
-virtual tour of my very messy studio
-nibs and bamboo pens
-previous art lives
-sneak peeks at a couple of my 2015 picture book offerings (WISH, my next author/illustrator, and SPECIAL DELIVERY, a book I illustrated by Phil)

I hope you will take a few minutes and check out this piece and other great ones from the series. Ok, you will need more than a few minutes, probably. They are pretty stretched out in comparison to a lot of other content found on the web. Which is also what I love about these discussions. They have a nice ramble-y, not so edited, Richard Linklater-esque vibe to them that I love. I just saw Boyhood yesterday with the missus (so good) and I'm thinking Linklater a lot right now.

Check out my piece on No. 5 Bus right here:


Thanks for having me, Phil and Erin.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

First Grade Dropout

This just in! A set of F+G's for my picture book collaboration with the awesome Audrey Vernick from our friends at Clarion Books. First Grade Dropout! This one will be dropping in on you in July of 2015. Mark your calendars! (Dang, that seems so LONG from now.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Make Yer Dot

Last year, first time ever, I jumped into this fun idea of making a "dot" as part of the International Dot Day event. Make a mark (or anything that may/may not be dot-like) and see where it takes you. See how a story unravels or another picture, etc. (If you weren't already aware, the idea started from Peter Reynold's lovely picture book The Dot.) These dots we make and share get shared and shared with kids and educators and parents all over and it's this wonderful creative lovefest. Dot Day this year is September 15.

Last year, I came up with this all-kinds-of-heads dot:

And this year, I came up with this red-gray-black-squirrel-ball dot:

As an illustrator, and sometime author, my dots were added to the ongoing blog/website called "celebri-dots" which can be found here. MANY others have done this and for a long list of up-to-date contributors, check that out here.

Take a scroll and click through to find a whole bunch of fun interpretations of dots from days, months, years past. And if you are an author, illustrator, or someone in the public eye, I encourage you to participate too, to get in on the fun and spark a whole bunch of kid imaginations. Here's the page that tells you how to submit. You'll be in touch with and befriend of the sweetest and most positive guys out there, Terry Shay. It's win-win, folks. Make a dot!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Characters and Radon

This week I've been clearing out the crawl space in our basement so we can have a radon filtration system installed down there. I guess they cover up the crawl space and do whatever else. There was 10 plus years of junk crammed into that crawl space including these massive canvases I was painting back in 1999-2000. By massive, I mean 4' x 6' average. By canvases, I mean 6 or seven of those monsters. I think I only still like one of them. I've decided to remove most of the the canvases from the stretchers and just roll/store the canvases so I don't ever have to move them again and maybe never look at them again either.

Besides radon fun, I've also been knee deep in picture book sketches. I'm working on sketches/art for 3 picture books right now. And I've also been developing a pitch for an author/illustrator idea that I sent to my awesome editor at Disney-Hyperion last week. Fingers crossed for that one!

Enough words, how about some pictures? Here are three character sketches I did for one of the picture books currently underway. (a beautiful text by the lovely Rebecca Kai Dotlich via Boyds Mills Press) I did a handful of completely different looks for this central character. These drawings were from one of my favorites. We went a different way, but I still quite like these drawings as stand-alones. I hope you do too. Radon power!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Family That Zines Together

A few days ago, my wife, Julie, was explaining to our 5-year-old daughter, Romy, about zines. For those of you who don't know, a zine is a self-made (I would say "self-published," but that sounds too glamorous, in fact) magazine. ("Zine" is "magazine" minus the "maga.") Zines are typically created in/by/for youth culture, typically so in punk rock circles or the like. Zines are typically designed pretty simply or even crudely--perhaps even cut/paste--and are produced in short-ish quantities on a photocopier on standard letter-sized paper. Copies are assembled into a paginated booklet--folded in half, and stapled to bind together. Zines can be about anything at all. Usually they are very personal in nature. Stories or comics about one's self and experiences. Things that person feels passionate about. Music, art, writing, toys, comics, love, etc. Zines were a very big part of Julie's and my teenage and 20-something years. They have since faded away in our own lives, but still hold a very sweet spot in our hearts. (Julie and I actually met each other and fell in love through zines. Long story... remind me tell you some time.)

OK... back to my point. Julie was explaining zines to Romy. Romy was so inspired, she went off to her little nook of creativity and proceeded to make her own zine about something important to her. What else...? Star Wars! She is an early, early student of the written English language, so she tends to spell things out phonetically. I'll translate.

 (Translation: STAR WARS ZINE BY ROMY. The drawing is of the Millenium Falcon with Chewie and Han screeching--word balloons--across the galaxy.)

 (Translation: MY FAVORITE CHARACTERS FROM STAR WARS. Pictured from L to R: Luke Skywalker, Wicket, Princess Leia, and Yoda--who is daydreaming about snacks.)

 (Translation: LOOK OUT ALWAYS FOR and pictured is Emperor Palpatine. Romy's least favorite, most feared and despised Star Wars character.)

(Translation: UH OH SPAGHETTI-O'S. Pictured are Jabba the Hutt and Salacious Crumb.)

How incredibly awesome is this? I am biased and that is fine, but I insist--bias or no--you too must find this awesome.

And yet, it gets better. Romy was finishing up one of her summer camp programs and for a celebratory gift, she asked that her Mama make her a zine to give her the day she finished camp. A zine about something Julie loved, using the same template that Romy herself created. So Julie did a zine about Battlestar Gallactica (the reboot). And it goes like this.

Man, I love these so much! All I can say is, how'd I get so lucky to get these beautiful people as my family?