Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wearing my Anthropologist's hat

by Wendy Wahman

“Comparison is the death of joy.” ― Mark Twain

We recently moved to a new city. It’s only an hour’s drive south, but it feels like we’re on another planet. The first few days, all I wanted to do was run away and never look back.

“What did we do?”
“Don’t unpack! We’ll just sell it.”  
“I hate stairs.
“Tell me again why we bought this house?
“This was a big mistake.
“I can’t live here.”

I went to check out my new, soon-to-be-usual, haunts. But the people weren’t my people. The gym was dated compared to my gym. The grocery store was more expensive than my grocery store. And the new neighborhood didn’t feel like my neighborhood. 

“I want to go home.”
But I was home. 
I just wasn’t at home. 

My wise friend Trace Farrell, suggested I pretend I’d moved to a new country. “Put on your Anthropologist’s hat,” she said. “Pick up each new rock, and turn it over and over in your hands. Examine it, peer closely, take notes. Put aside judgement. Just observe.”

I love my new hat, Trace, thank you! I love it so much, I'm wearing it room to room. It keeps my head on straight while I’m working. I snug it up tight if I start comparing my work to someone else’s. In the bathroom, I try to hang on to my hat when I look in the mirror, but there’s a pretty stiff headwind blowing in there. I need a firmer chin strap.

This morning I watched a squirrel groom herself on the fence right outside the kitchen window. So close I could see the sparkle in her eyes, her fur rustling in the breeze. The air smells fresh and bright here. Mountain sweet. We’re half a mile from the Sound. Another wise friend told me it’s all the negative ions in the air. Or was that positive ions? My new pet, the Monkey Puzzle tree dazzles me. As I raked up her stickery needles, she reached out her long pointy arms and plucked at my hair. Good thing I was wearing my new hat.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


to WHATSIT Ben Clanton
 on the release of his new, 
and oh-so-fun, book 

Make it come in your mail or, better yet, 
head to your independent book shop and pick up a copy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Two New Editions!!!

THE WHATSITS have two new editions!!! 
The cuteness factor is off the charts for—

 WHATSIT Kevan Atteberry's new picture book, and companion to his BUNNIES!!!,

d.o.b May 24, 2016

and if you think PUDDLES!!! is cute . . . 

 get a load of THIS . . .

Whatsit Ben Clanton's 
newest edition—
d.o.b May 19, 2016

All THE WHATSITS couldn't be happier!
Congratulations, Kevan!!! 
Congratulations, Ben!!!

DO leave some welcome-comments
for our newest, cutest, WHATSIT editions!


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

John Burningwho?

By Jennifer K. Mann 

This week it’s nothing but a little something about John Burningham, one of my very most favorite author/illustrators anywhere anytime. 
John Burningham seems not to to be as familiar to American readers as he ought to be. A big group of children's book afficianados, with whom I shared company recently, could not answer this question: "Which children's book author/illustrator is married to Helen Oxenbury?" The answer is John Burningham, who lives and works in the UK, and has been making books since 1963 when he published his first book, the wonderful BORKA. 

I learned of him from the brilliant G. Bryan Karas, who mentioned his heroes in a talk I heard long ago—John Burningham was among them. It was love at first sight for me. Of all of the author/illustrators that I revere, he is the one that I have studied most closely, and I hope some of his genius rubs off on me.

John Burningham is the master of spare prose, and effortless-seeming art. There is nothing particularly cute about any of his books—I suspect “cute” is not what he is after. 

But there is an awful lot of truth in them, and I think that is what speaks to me the most. 

He seems not to give a fig about the adults who might happen upon his books. (And possibly not about the children who will read his books either--read the interview that is linked at the bottom, and you will see his Sendakian view on this.) 

But John Burningham has a remarkable talent for creating books aimed right at the eye level of kids and their truths. 

Burningham’s art is loose and almost messy/awkward in the most wonderful un-selfconscious way. (But don’t be fooled—he is actually a master draftsman!) 

I’ve spent many hours trying to unpack just how he creates his rich, layered, complex early paintings. I've never really figured out just how he does it, but I have learned a lot along the way, and have developed some of my own visual voice by looking closely at his. 

Some of my favorite children's book art is that which reveals the artist’s hand—the previous layers that have been painted over, the pencil guidelines, the erasures, the blobs and scratches that make it clear that a creative and (maybe unfettered) human created them. 

(Also in the interview linked below, you will read that even he puts great effort into pulling off the illusion that his art making is effortless and free. Even John Burningham agonizes and frets that his ability is all gone, until he actually begins to make the art about which he is worried.)

John Burningham allows much of his process to show, veiled under the layers of paint and collage, not quite invisible, like secrets to be discovered. It's what makes his books worth reading over and over, which is the goal of many fine children's book creators.

Here are a few more of my favorite books by John Burningham, so you can have a look for yourself:

Read this truly wonderful conversation between David Roberts and John Burningham—LOTS of truths here.

If this is the first you've ever heard of John Burningham, then hooray! I'm so glad to be able to introduce him to you. 

And for those who are old or recent fans, let me know what you love about John Burningham.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

SIGN HERE. . . OR THERE . . . OR . . .

by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

I’ve always been interested in how authors and illustrators sign their books. 
I doubt most people give it a second thought, unless you are one. I certainly didn’t until my own books came out, and these are some of the questions I faced:
Where do I sign? The title page? The endpapers? Should I sign the way I sign a check?  
Or with a flourish? What do I do if I make a mistake? I’m also an illustrator, so do I draw a little picture? Do I write a little pithy something that relates to something in the book? Should I date it?

Well, I soon discovered there are as many answers as there are question about this, so here’s a little romp through some of the picture books in my collection, including how we Whatsits sign some of our books.
First up! Let's start with a fresh-off-the-press signature! This week was the release and book launch party for our fellow Whatsit Jennifer K. Mann’s newest picture book gem, SAM AND JUMP. Here is Jennifer in action, signing her first copy (mine!) of the evening:

 Congratulations, Jennifer and welcome to the world, SAM AND JUMP!!

My first “witnessing” of an author-illustrator book signing was when I went to my now fellow Whatsit Ben Clanton's book party for the release of his (always, but especially now, timely) book, VOTE FOR ME. Like Jennifer, Ben did it all:  wrote a little note, signed on the main title page, and drew a little picture – although he turned to the front endpapers to do it! I was impressed with the time Ben took with each book—especially when there was a little person in front of him. Note that Ben signs his name in that kid-friendly way of his,
"Ben C." 

As I've collected signed picture books over the last few years, I've noticed the variation in approaches to how authors and illustrators sign their books:

Here's one of my favorites. It's simple and elegant: 
And,  quite honestly, if you are Paul O. Zelinsky, and the book is RUMPELSTILSKIN, well, there's not much more that's necessary, right?
That said, here's how he signed my copy of TOYS COME HOME. Somehow the title page got slightly damaged, and here's what he did with it!

While it's always a little thrill to have an illustrator draw something in your book, here are some who sometimes don't . . . and they have attractive ways of writing their monikers:

I like that I got a "ribbit" from David Wiesner

. . .  and Kadir Nelson's— neatly tucked into the moon:

Oliver Jeffers was quick about it:
Some people like their books straight-up signed—no personalization. But for those who do, there are some books with a handy spot built right in:

Ruth Chan also drew me a sweet little picture of her character Georgie (not to mention mentioning Henny and Peddles . . . I love it when my friends do that!). 

And David Ezra Stein's OL' MAMA SQUIRREL has the possessive built in, too:

It's fun to see how some illustrators handle the picture-drawing-part.

There's the obvious BIG picture:

and the little picture:
What's not to love about Caldecott honoree Molly Idle's little flamingo flourish!

Sophie Blackall's tiny wombats are to die for:

I love the way Whatsit Wendy Wahman punctuates her signature with this perfectly petite poodle:

And the colored picture:
Liz Wong uses a marker that's a perfect match for her name on the title page. Her sweet little drawings look like they are part of the book! 

Mike Curato had some Tombow markers handy to put the finishing dot touches on Little Elliot: 

Then there are those who prefer to sign on the blank front end paper:

    Herve Tullet is BOLD:
    Carson Ellis is simple:

    Whatsit Kevan Atteberry is hoppy:


Then there's the enexpected and delightful that goes along with being at book events with fellow authors and illustrators . . .
I was on an author panel recently with the fun and funny Aaron Meshon. We exchanged books, and he took the time to draw little faces on all the figures on the front endpapers of his new book (not to mention the clouds):

I was tickled silly that Sherman Alexi actually drew a HENNY when he signed his book for me:

And one of my absolute favorites was when Judy Schachner paired up one of her sweet kitties with Henny:

And quite the unexpected happened when I botched signing a copy of HENNY for Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle. I made good on my mistake (I still wonder who Felix is) and gave him a fresh copy, and then . . .
He graciously turned around and signed the one I'd screwed up— for me! Thanks for the souvenir, Your Honor!

Finally, there's always the dilemma of how to get signed books to people who want them, but are far away. The long answer is:  they send you the book, you sign it, and you send it back. The short answer is:  the signed bookplate!
They come in handy, and I have a good supply for PEDDLES and HENNY from my publisher:

And here's one from Matthew Cordell from a wonderful book promotion he did when his book HELLO! HELLO! was released (I even got an extra for a friend):
I still have many unsigned and undecorated books in my collection, and I'm looking forward to someday connecting them to their author and/or illustrators.
I can't wait to see how they do it!