The Barn's on Fire, The Horses are Out, and Someone Has a Stinky Bum

Do cowgirl moms have guilt, too? You bet. And, we even change bums and take our kids to dance practice, between feeding critters and quading around the countryside. You've discovered my garden, now check out the ranch.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Interview from the Other Side of the PB Biz- Christine Tripp!

The Terrifically Talented Christine Tripp

photo of Christine Tripp, by her daughter-in-law Christine Tripp

When a picture book takes off, it is usually the writer that receives all of the glory, while the illustrator remains in the background. Few make it as recognizable names themselves. Christine Tripp, however, has pushed herself to the foreground with an adorable character named Penelope, of the Penelope and the Humongous Burp fame, as well as Penelope and the Monsters, and the upcoming Penelope and the Perposterous Birthday Party book due for release this Spring.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, she has been drawing her entire life. Christine is a self-taught multi-award winning artist who illustrated her first book in 1985 for “Meadowbrook Press”. She has since worked for both Scholastic USA and Scholastic Canada, as well as Lobster Press, and Groiler (to name only a few). She works in many areas of cartooning and illustration to include advertising, greeting cards, and magazines. Thankfully her true passion is children’s books!

Christine was kind enough to take time from her busy life as a wife, a mother of four and a grandmother of four, to answer a few questions about the illustration side of the picture book biz. This interview was conducted via email and Christine would like me to mention that she struggles with dyslexia. I think she did a wonderful job, and I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy it!

How did you get your start as an illustrator?

I have always doodled and made up stories for my cartoon characters for as loooong as I remember. My father loved the "Funnies" and would read them to me when I was very young.
I didn't do much with my illustration ability until my children were all grown and I looked around and thought... darn, I guess I need to get a job now. I wasn't trained to do anything, couldn't even run a cash register, so..... I started submitting samples of illustration to US publishers. It took about a year of rejection before my first REAL book offer.

Where did you study?

I have no training, other then trial and error and lots of practice on my own.

Do illustrators have day jobs like most writers?

I think most do, even those that seem successful.

Do you think it is more difficult for an illustrator to secure an agent?

I think it's just difficult for either an illustrator or a writer to find an agent willing to invest their time and money on you. You must be able to prove, either with past sales or with unique talent, that the agent CAN make a living working with you. You also need that hunger/drive to make your writing or your illustration a career. I think an agent has to sense that about you before they will be willing to take a chance on representation.

What project are you most proud of?

Hum... good question because I can't say I'm "proud" of anything I have ever drawn. I "liked" doing certain books more then others. I really enjoyed my first book project, an 18 book series with Grolier (mid way into the books it became part of Scholastic) They were Rookie Readers and the author was Larry Dane Brimner. I had never worked with a publisher before, they phoned and offered me 6 books to do over the year. Well, mid way into the work, they offered 6 more, then they turned around and gave me all 18. I think originally they were going to use 3 illustrators per batch. I was so honoured and in that 2 year period I made more money then I had in my whole life (sad huh?:)
The books are still around, still used in Schools in the US and Canada and my only regret is I wish I could draw them all over again.... I hate the art:)

What is your process behind bringing a story to visual life?

I'm not sure, I read the manuscript, I read it again and then see if there is a voice to the character. After a few readings I begin to "see" what that character looks like, what they would wear, if they would be prim and proper or a disheveled mess. Once I have their personality well established in my mind, it's easy to direct it all down and out through the finger's and the pencil on to paper.

How did you decide to make Penelope biracial?

I think there was talk of it by the publisher to some degree right off the bat. I can't take complete credit for it but, with each of the books, she has become more "obviously" biracial and her mother more "obviously" of colour, especially in book 3 of the series. I prefer not to pin point Penelope's families culture, rather I like that any child of colour can then relate to the books characters and make them their own.

What reactions have you received over it?

Great reactions, reactions that give you a really good feeling deep, deep inside. Reviewers seem to point it out and I have had parents write me to say how wonderful it was to finally have a book that their children could relate to, plus just be funny and not an "in your face" non fiction story or have the story be ABOUT the issues of discrimination etc. Just have it be very matter of fact. Sad that we are still in a time where a biracial character brings out any reaction... but we are, sigh:(
The time it really hit home for me (that I was glad Penelope was a child of colour) was during a reading I did in an area of Toronto that was made up of a large population of Somali families. The library room was awash with a sea of beautiful shinning, smiling brown faces, and bright, flashing dark eyes staring up at me. It felt so wonderful to show them the illustrations of Penelope, a little girl who COULD be them. That was my most favorite visit ever, it couldn't get any better then that.

There is a full representation of male and female genders in the other characters, as well as many different races. Were you trying to make a statement, or was that just the way you saw them?

That IS the way I draw. I'm not concious of it anymore but I think it was something that I "learned" way back. I did a lot of illustration work (before books) for many government agencies in Canada and they are extremely careful to be inclusive. After a while, it became second nature to me to include all of society in my illustrations. It just happens now, I like to imagine that this is truly where life imitates art (or at least mine anyway) and visa versa.
I also don't try to make everything EVEN because life is NOT even. So, I do not plot my illustation by saying to myself, this boy will be African Canadian, this girl shall be Aboriginal, this ditch digger will be a woman, etc. It just evolves into what is. I don't control it and I like it that way. Other wise I am sure it would look contrived in the final drawing.

Penelope’s mother is no June Cleaver and her father is no Ward. What motivated you to illustrate them in such a realistic manner?

I just don't know. I'm a mom and (even when I was a YOUNG mom) body parts CHANGE ( to put it mildly) after children. Things move north/south/east and west and pretty much remain there, no matter how many trips to the gym:) Dad's? Well I like dad's that are not concerned about their appearance all that much. I just like real is what I will say.

Did you meet with much opposition from the art director/ or editor from this?

No, which is a nice thing to say:) I think there may have been a bit of a mention about the size of mom's bottom... but obviously not an extreme reaction, cause it's there isn't it:)

How did Sheri Radclif receive your illustrations?

Sheri Radford has been nothing but supportive and my biggest fan. She has always, always said such wonderful things about my drawings, she's been such a great friend and fan! Sheri did comment the day she saw the first drawing of Penelope. I had no idea but Sheri, as a child, had curly dark hair and wore it the same way, little pig tail thingies, as my drawing. She then sent a photo and sure enough, she looked just like Penelope (or Penelope looked like her) I had no idea, before that I had not even communicated with the author, didn't even know her name.

The dog has become a signature of the “Penelope” books. There is no mention of him in the text. What made you decide to add him?

I just love drawing animals/pets, especially dogs. I add them in when ever I can. I did a dog in that Scholastic series I mentioned earlier and the publisher and author fell in love with him. So much so that they started asking me what his name was. I didn't have a name in mind for him but had just recently adopted a puppy from the pound, so I said "Jake" (as that is the name MY dog was given)

The author then wrote one of the books in the series specifically about "Jake":) I just feel that, if there is a child, there should be some sort of wonderful animal right there beside them:)

Would you agree that all great illustrators add a second layer of story, or can a great illustrator simply stick to the text?

No, in my opinion an illustrator HAS to add their story, visually, to the text. There is nothing more boring then illustrating only the words and, I assume, looking at pictures that just illustrate the words. I mean, why repeat the same thing twice? It's so much fun to find a story inside a story I think. A small child who can not read yet can open a picture book and make up the story based only on the illustrations alone. Even as the story is being read to him/her, they are "getting it" by looking at the art. Give them the story in the art but give them more then that, give them the ability to tell the story in their own way too.

Do you have much interaction with the author, while illustrating their ms?

Not usually, you often know nothing more about them then their name but with Sheri, after the first book, yes, we are now pals:)

What sorts of things are illustrators required to revise in edits?

With text revision, it's not till you begin to put the story down visually that you notice inconsistances in the text perhaps, or things that just do not make sense or words that can be eliminated, as you can best show them in the art. As for art revisions, it's most likely that the character say, on page 3, does not look the same on page 14 or you have drawn someone in long sleeves on page 9 when they appeared in short sleeves on page 3. Placement and spacing are big issues as is not leaving enough room for text or leaving toooooo much room and the page is now, visually, not interesting enough.

Most of the time, change requests by the Art Director serve to make a much better illustration (though it's always a little hard to hear and not take too personally:)

Are there any more “Penelope” books in the making? If so, when can we expect to see them?

The third book is done and coming out Spring (March?) 09. It's called, "Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party". I've never drawn so many monkey's in my life:)

Three books would definitely make it a series. A picture book series that doesn’t involve a licensed character seems to be somewhat rare these days. Do you think that Penelope will be made into a cartoon character? If so, what are your feelings about having so many other hands interpreting your work?

Wouldn't that be a hoot?:) I'd love it, and I don't think I would have a problem with an animator doing Penelope. Granted animation is not going to look the same, as you can not get all detailed about it but... I think that's OK. I'd love to be a little involved, just because it would be exciting! I doubt anything like this will happen but it would be cool!

Are you working on any other projects?

I'm not doing any trade books at the moment but am working on educational text book illustrations for a Korean book publisher and some small projects. I keep sending out my own picture book dummy, hoping I can find a publisher interested in it and continue to do mailers. Finding work is always a job in itself and it never gets any easier:)

What illustrators do you admire?

I love Denise Brunkus (Junie B. Jones fame), Lynn Munsinger, too many to list really. I tend to be drawn to art that is full of fun and a great sense of humour.

What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?

Do not think it will be easy, get ready for a long road of self promotion and rejection. It may not work out that way, but if it happens faster, it will just be a pleasant surprise. Talent is not enough, it's a lot of hard work, it's not all fun and self expression. Illustration IS a job and you DO have a boss, many of them in fact. The publisher, the art director, the adults that buy and review your work and, ultimately, the children.

Often an illustrator will feel that demanding a fair rate for their work, commercializing their art, is distasteful. Examine why you want to be an illustrator and realize that everyone in the book industry thinks of it as just that, an INDUSTRY and everyone, from the publisher down to the receptionist and mail room person makes their living in this industry. Perhaps you want a different career and retain your art as an enjoyable hobby. It's serious business, just because you love what you do, be it teaching, treating the sick, it does not mean you should not be able to make your living at it as well. (off my soap box now:)

Do you have any words of wisdom to offer picture book authors, when it comes to dealing with the visual interpretation of their work?

Oh, I wouldn't want to give advise on something I know nothing about... even though that doesn't always stop me:) Perhaps to always keep in mind what you need to say in text and what you can leave out, because it can be said just as well or perhaps better in the illustration.

What is the most important ability that an illustrator must possess?

Determination, Drive, Patience and Professionalism.

Once again, when can we expect to see the new “Penelope” book in stores?

SPRING 09, horrrrrray!:)

Honors and Awards:

"Penelope and the Humongous Burp", Second Place, OLA "Blue Spruce"Award 2006. Voted on by the Young Readers of Ontario.

"Penelope and the Humongous Burp", awarded the Gold, "Mom's Choice Award", 2005 at Book Expo NYC. (Judges included, executive producer of Reading Rainbow (PBS) and the creator of Baby Einstein!)

"Penelope and the Humongous Burp", picked as one of the Top 10 books for 2004, by "The Canadian Toy Testing Council", Children's Choice

"Penelope and the Humongous Burp", nominated for the "IPPY", 2005, "Independent Publisher Book Awards".

"Penelope and the Monsters", Nominated for BC Chocolate Lily Award, to be announced in 2007.
Judge: "National Newspaper Awards" editorial cartooning division, 2001 Chief Judge: "National Newspaper Awards" editorial cartooning division, 2002

Victoria International Cartoon Festival, second place for published cartoon strip, 1985.

Learn more about Christine by checking out her fantastic website:

Or, look at some of the books she has illustrated:

Monday, September 22, 2008

It Hurts When I Poop- The Scoop on Poop - it stinks!

Howard J. Bennett, M.D. (auth)
M.S Weber (ill)
Magination Press 2007
Ages: toddler
ISBN 10: 1433801310
13: 9781433801310

I wanted to like this one. I really did. I mean with a title like It Hurts When I Poop, well, that was enough, alone to put it on my radar. However, I am sad to say, this book fell very short of its potential and left me wondering Did an editor actually read this book? And Did a High School student illustrate it? I think this is a classic example of what happens when an “expert” tries to write a children’s book.

Dr. Bennett started with a brilliant concept. Often children have a fear of the big BM because of the pain they may experience. The story begins with one such boy, Ryan. Concerned, his parents take him to the doctor. It is then that the plot lags into the depths of amateurishness.

The doctor relates a story to Ryan about a coyote, Bill that does not like to clean up after himself. Eventually his house becomes jammed full of garbage and he cannot function in it. His parents convince him to clean it up. After he does, he feels so great, he throws a party. Good metaphor, I would have worked on it a bit more, though. And, most importantly, I would have chopped Bill’s whole saga in half, at least. It wanes on far too long and competes for attention with Ryan’s story. I’m unsure what the main plot is supposed to be. Is Ryan’s story framing Bill’s, or is Bill’s complimenting Ryan’s?

The lustre and quality of the illustrations is also compromised in an attempt to separate the two stories. I’m no artist, but I would have substituted a different pallet of colours rather than minimize Bill’s pages to just brown and white (there is colour for Bill's party). Not since Winnie the Poo have those type of illustrations been able to satisfy a child. The lack of style and imagination does not speak well to Weber’s talents as an illustrator.

But, to continue on- the doctor draws the comparison for Ryan and shows him how his food travels through his body. The illustrations to accompany this portion, while consistent with the quality of the others, could be quite useful to any parent struggling with potty training. The diagrams clearly show how the food travels and turns into poop, which makes explaining the process a whole lot easier. However, they could easily have been merged into one illustration.

There are helpful suggestions on what foods to eat to soften poops, and which ones to avoid. There is also a list of activities to help your child envision the BM process. These are wonderful components of this book, labelled the "Poop Program". But really? Line drawings with zero in the expression department, competing plots, overload of info? I’d chop a few hundred words, hire a decent illustrator, and package it all a little differently (I could go on about that), then this book would really be something to write about. It could be a real classic potty training book. It already has the title. Right?

In the end, I feel like this is one of those books that EA was spammed with, though this was published by legitimate people-the American Psychological Association. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, people, please get an editor that has some experience with writing something other than a thesis ...please. I still want to like this book.

It Hurts When I Poop was given a five star rating on Amazon and there are plenty of parents over there who are singing its praises. But, I stand by my guns. Looking at this book from a writer's point of view, it fell short, even if the concept was great and arguably useful.

By the way, 2 ¾ year-old son is also a fan of this book. Well, not the whole thing, just the poop diagrams, but he is a toddler, and a boy, and loves anything to do with his bodily functions. He’s not going to grow out of that, is he?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Brillante Weblog Premio

Wow! Can you believe it? This blog has been nominated by Annick Press for the Brillante Weblog Primio. Thank you Annick!

Now to pass on the appreciation. Here's my nominees, im no specific order (because I love you all):

Editorial Anonymous This is the place to be checking, frequently, if you are a writer or illustrator. You can aske her questions (which are answered fairly promptly), get involved in a very heated discussion in the comments section, or simply read and learn. Trust me, check this one out.

Kim at Bugs and Bunnies. This is the best unpublished children's writer blog, I know of. Kim relates hilarious ancidotes that range from her housekeeping woes, to her son's tiny acts of rebellion. She also does a wonderful book review and author profile every Friday, has a holidays calender (every day is a day to celebrate), writes articles on strange and interesting facts, and has a little something for fans of Calvin and Hobbes. There's more, but you'll have to head over there and see for yourself.

Kate Messner of Kate's Book Blog. Here's my favourite published children's author's blog. I met Kate on the Verla Kay discussion board, and thank goodness! Her blog is invaluable for any writer looking to break into the business. She freely posts her methods for revision and provides plenty of insight into everything that crosses the path of a published writer. There is a whole lot going on over there, as she is working on a book, right now, and her YA book, Champlain and the Silent One has just been released. She also posts a weekly "Friday Five" that you won't want to miss.

Kristen at Pub Rants (that's "publishing" rants) has all the lowdown from the agent's trenches. Ever wonder how exactly an agent earns their comission? Give her a visit and you'll see. She also posts helpful hints for writers and ponders the great questions of the biz. Her format is wonderful. I love the "status updates", and "what's playing on the ipod".

Moonrat at Editorial Ass is like the symoathetic big sister of the writing world. An author and editorial assistant, you can bet she's got some interesting posts, sprinkled with tidbits of life in NYC. At least check out the "pistola" post -not for kids, but very funny. You'd be interested in the "mischief" she runs with (haer group of long time blog friends) , too. It seems everyweek another one scores a deal or releases a book.

Laurie at Writing on the Edge is a refreshing read, especially for Christian readers/writers. I was actually surprised to discover a suspense/ thriler book blog written by a Christian Author. While your religious views may understandably differ, it is nice to find something entertaining that doesn't involve the total corrosion of societal values. She posts on a wide variety of topics, writes great book reviews and conducts the odd interview.

Rules for next recipients of the Brillante Weblog Premio are as follows:
1. The award may be displayed on a winner’s blog.
2. Add a link to the person you received the award from.
3. Nominate up to seven other blogs.
4. Add their links to your blog.
5. Add a message to each person that you have passed the award on in the comments section of their blog.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Some Things to Look Forward to

Well, the Sanctuary has gone to seed over the past couple of months. But, never fear, now that I'm all healed up, I'll be slipping into my gloves and dropping some more seeds.

You can look forward to an interview with a devinely quirky gal. She's not a writer, but you'll want to read what she has to say, because she is going to shed some light on an often ignored aspect of the Picture Book world. I'll give you a hint: She's the brain behind a very special little biracial girl and her dog.

Also, I'll be dumping a whole heap of fertilizer on the garden, some time soon. Yup. That means more potty book reviews. And while I try very hard to keep it positive around here, there's a bit of a doozie in the bunch, even though the title is pricelss. You won't want to miss my first ever semi-bad review.

I guess I better get at it. I'll see you all soon. And thanks for hanging in there while I took a break.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Arctic Stories

Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak (auth)
Vladyana Langer Krykorka (ill)
Annick Press 1998
Ages 4-7 40 pages
softcover ISBN 10: 1550374524
ISBN 13: 9781550374520
hardcover ISBN 10: 1550374532
ISBN 13: 9781550374537

In Arctic Stories, Michael Kusugak recounts three stories, from his own childhood, through the eyes of Agatha, a young Inuit girl.

The first, Agatha and the Ugly Black Thing, was inspired by an event that happened in Kusugak’s community in 1958. It was then that a large helium filled airship, called a ZPG-2, carrying a scientific expedition, passed over the settlement near Repulse Bay. The people were terrified of the black aircraft that looked like a bomb. They began to run, panicked. Kusugak uses this event as the driving force in a story that describes, in brilliant detail, the awakening of the Arctic, in spring, substituting a little girl, for himself. This sleepy little girl, Agatha grows tired of running and becomes angry. She shouts at the ugly black thing which goes away. She is a hero, but being a typical child, she is too sleepy to walk back, and is carried home, sleeping. Agatha and the Ugly Black Thing is concluded with my favourite of Vladyana Langer Krykorka’s illustrations- Agatha nestled in her father’s arms, sucking her thumb.

The second story, Agatha and the Most Amazing Bird, sprang out of another childhood memory of Kusugak’s. When he was a young boy, his grandmother befriended a raven by feeding it. As a result, the bird felt an attachment to her. Again, it is Agatha, not Kusugak, who moves this story. Anyone interested in birds will revel in this tale. Kusugak gives an amazing amount of detail, following not only the physical changes undergone by the raven throughout the seasons, but also the amazing spectar of the many migratory birds, as well. I found it hard to read because my daughter, Koogiook (Swan) could not stop asking questions. I love a story that ignites wonder and curiosity.

The final story, Agatha goes to School, is based on a less happy time in Kusugak’s life. Agatha is taken by plane, along with two of her friends (who were named for two of Kusugak’s real life classmates) to the residential school at Churchill. The realities of residential school are touched on in a very delicate manner that make it easy for young children to understand that it was not always a kind and loving place, without giving them nightmares or scaring them from going to school. In this tale, Agatha decides that she would rather ski than skate, having had little success on the ice, even though her friends would rather skate. It turns out lucky that she has chosen to bring skis when Father Fafard (a well liked priest) falls through the ice of the RCMP Lake. The skis are resourcefully used to rescue the drowning priest. A plethora of images from Kusugak’s childhood, are present in this story- from the nuns that sang like angels (but were definitely not angels) to the RCMP members hacking ice from the lake for their own use, and the talented skills of Father Fafard on a pair of skates. This is a relevant story for your children (if you are Canadian) as they are likely to be exposed to the concept of residential school, over the next few years. With the recent (and very long overdue) apology by Stephen Harper to the students of the residential schools, and a truth a reconciliation committee slated, the media will be ripe with discussions of the subject. This truly is an important read for anyone, regardless of heritage. It may be a part of our cultural and historical experiences as Canadians, but speaks to the experiences of humanity as a whole. If you are a teacher, this is a great story to use in your classroom, as no doubt the social sciences curriculum will be expanded, considerably, to include more education about residential schools.

This set of stories is a wonderful resource for any parent or teacher interested in the Arctic, the Inuit, or even just another way of life. Arctic Stories constructs a (vanishing) world that is filled with fears of technology, wonder at the abundance of Mother Nature’s fauna, and heartache at the hands of those who would consider themselves more civilized. You cannot help but come away from reading Arctic Stories, with a sense that you have been given a very special peek into another human’s collection of experiences. We can be grateful, once again, to Kusugak for pulling back the curtains and turning on the light.

Hide and Sneak

Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak (auth)
Vladyana Krykorka (ill)
Annick Press 1992
Ages: 4-7 32 pages
softcover ISBN 10: 1550372289
ISBN 13: 9781550372281
hardcover ISBN 10: 1550372297
ISBN 13: 9781550372298

Hide and Sneak paints a serene portrait of an Arctic summer, while exploring Inuit folklore. Young Allashua wanders off, one day, while playing hide and sneak. She explores poonds, chases butterflies and even meets the fabled Ijiraq. It is said that when this bashful creature hides a child, they can never be found. Allashua is clever, though and tricks the Ijiraq into leading her back. However, the Ijiraq vanishes on Allashua, before she has made it safely home. It is then that Allashua sees a distant Inukusugaq (Inukshuk). She follows this, until she sees her family's camp. Her family are relieved to have their daughter return. It is then that Allashua's father explains that the Inukusugak is to help people find their way home.

Michael Kusugak lays out such a vivid picture, through Allashua's eyes, that one feels like they are exploring the Arctic in summer, themself. This book would make an excellent suplement for any class studying a unit about the Arctic. My own children (2 1/2 and 4 3/4) were engrossed in the amazing detail and charmed by the Ijiraq. Many parents may be turned off by the word length of Kusgak's books, but my finding is that his mastery with words keeps my little inspirations captivated.

Vladyana Krykorka, has illustrate this book beautifully, infusing Allashua's face with touching expressions, and brining to life the various creatures of Kusugak's tale.

With the Inukusugak everywhere, escpecially in light of the Vancouver Olympics, this is a wonderful way to learn more about it, while enjoying a vivid and imaginative read.

Who Wants Rocks?

Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak (auth)
Vladyana Krykorka (ill)
Annick Press 1999
Ages: 4-7 24 pages
softcover ISBN 10: 155037881
ISBN 13: 9781550375886
hardcover ISBN 10: 155037589x
ISBN 13: 9781550375893

Who Wants Rocks? is a poignant environmental tale, and stands out as a unique work from the rest of Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak’s stories. On the dedication page, he writes, “People talk about moving mountains. Yukon Territory, in Arctic Canada, is the only place on earth I know where they actually do it. This story came to me in Dawson City, Yukon.”

Move mountains? Yes, that’s right. Isn’t it amazing what greed can drive human’s to accomplish. Who Wants Rocks? tells the story of a prospector named, Old Joe. His discovery of gold in a stream sets off the Yukon Gold Rush. Each time he is lucky enough to find gold in a mountain, his excitement gets the better of him and he gives away his discovery. The other miners are quick to reduce that mountain to a pile of rubble. Little Mountain watches all of this. She watches as North Mountain falls, and then another. She feels a deep sadness and empathy as the great mounds are picked to rubble. At last, Old Joe climbs Little Mountain, but despite all his hard work, all he finds are rocks. So, he shouts out “Rocks!” instead of “Gold!” this time. The other miners shout back, “Rocks? Who wants rocks?” Old Joe climbs a mountain to the east and repeats his cry. It is then that he realizes that every time he finds gold, others strike it rich, but wealth still eludes him. He sits to rest and gazes out at Little Mountain. He becomes aware of the all of the wildlife that is supported by the mountain. He notices that people camp on her slope. He builds himself a home where he can view Little Mountain, having found the true riches he had dreamed of. No more mountains are invaded by miners because of him, and he finds a deep love for rocks.

This story is touching in a “Giving Tree” sort of way. The three inspirations (ok, well just the two eldest) were very moved by this story, and it was a topic of conversation, for them, for a very long time after we first read it. While it has not received enormous commercial success, it is my hope that it will slowly grow in the book buying public’s awareness. This is one of those books that should be on every school reading list. It speaks of greed and the consequences of it, it recounts an important piece of Canadian history, and it holds a contemporary tale of care for the environment.

The message of environmentalism, in this book, cannot help but hit its mark with children. Gold holds little wonder for children. A mountain being reduced to rubble is simply repulsive. This is compared to Little Mountain who was left unharmed. As usual, Kusugak paints her with such brilliant imagery that you cannot help but yearn to see her and bask in her abundant ecosystem. Even adults (and we are famed for our greed), will clearly prefer an intact mountain to a shiny little rock.

Vladyana Langer Krykorka illustrates Old Joe with charm and character. But don’t expect to see traces of A Promise is A Promise, here. Who Wants Rocks is a showcase of Krykorka’s vast vocabulary as an artist. These pages are filled with something completely different.

There is so much room for discussion, in this book. If you are a teacher, or even just a parent who enjoys challenging your child to examine their values, you will love Who Wants Rocks? It is the type of tale that will creep into your bones and stay with you long after you have closed the cover. This book deserves to have a place as a Canadian classic.

A Promise is A Promise

Robert Munsch & Michael Kusugak (auths)
Vladyana Krkorka (ill)
Annick Press 1998
Ages: 4-7 32 pages
ISBN 10: 155037009X
ISBN 13: 9781550370096

I am not even sure where to start, when it comes to A Promise is A Promise. Robert Munsch, Michael Kusugak, and Vladyana Krykorka. These are the thoroughbreds of the Annick stable.

A Promise is A Promise is the story of a defiant girl, Allashua, and her encounter with the mythical Quallapilluit. She is warned not to fish in the cracks in the sea ice, but ignores her parents advice. While alone, out on the sea ice, she is vulnerable to the Qualllapilluit who prey on children who are not with their parents. They pull her into the sea. In a desperate attempt to save herself, she promises to bring her brothers and sisters for the Quallapilluit. They throw her out of the sea and she is able to make it to her doorstep before losing consiousness. That is where her mother and father find her. After Allashua is revived, she owns up to what she has done. Her parents are disapointed with her, but they devise a clever plan to help their remorseful daughter. While the Quallapilluit are distracted, Allashua takes her brothers and sisters to the cracks in te sea ice. The evil beings are unaware that the children are there and thus miss their chance to claim their victims. After it is certain that the children are safe, Allashua shows much more caution, having learned her lesson.

There is no filler in this book. You can expect a nice hunk of meat. The imagery is something you can sink your chops into. Allashua taunts the Quallapilluit by saying that they "smell like a dead whale in the summertime", and their voices are described as sounding like "snow blowing over the ice". It will set your child's imagination on fire. And as if the descriptiveness of the story wasn't enough, the pages are filled with Krykorka's best work (ok, that's just my opinion, but I think it is a fair one). Her visual interpretation of the Quallapilluit would make you believe the creatures real, as if she painted them while they posed for her in her studio.

Kusugak and Munsch have written a book with a rich plot that appeals to the human experience of both the parent and the child. And have done so, wrapped up in an ancient piece of lore (that takes a bit of work). Allashua's defiant rational is spelled out for us, in the beginning in a way that children can relate to, and parents will become npstalgic over. When she finds herself in trouble, her parents do not rant and rave at her (like I would likely do, at least until page 28). They agree that her mistake was dumb, but as loving parents, they help her find a solution. We know, as caregivers that we would walk barefoot across the Arctic Circle for our children. It will tug at your heart strings. As for the munchkins (that's who the book is for right?), it is important for them to be reassured by a message of parents who will forgive anything and continue to love them. Clearly Allashua has made a whale of a mistake (one of those ones rotting in the summer), but the story is not didactic. We experience the remorse of Allashua, and the desperation of her parents. While a mythical story, the human element is raw and genuine.

As for my three inspirations, Koogiook (swan), Bunikpuk (big daughter), and Ukluk (bear), the real critics in this house, we've had the book for over a year and it comes off of the shelf more than once a week. I love reading it, their father loves reading it, their grandmother loves reading it, they love hearing it, and filling in the words they have now memorized (pretty much the whole book).

If you haven't read it, please, do. You will be well satisfied by the methods used to deceive the Quallapilluit. History, Anthropology, Mythology (and a whole lot more), wrapped in a thick fatty coating of delicious language. I rate it at the top of my all time favourite children's books.

Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak: Storyteller, Man's Man, Children's Author

It was late April, 1948, and the temperature was between -25C and -30C when Kusugak and his wife, Kukik, travelled by dog sled to Qatiktalik (Cape Fullerton), NWT (now Nunavut). It was there in a small sod hut, on a beach along the west coast of Hudson Bay, that Kukik bore a baby boy. Shortly after giving birth, the family continued on to Repulse Bay, which is located in the Arctic Circle. Times were hard. At one point, Kukik’s milk even dried up because Kusugak had not had a successful hunt in a long time. The baby cried, until a friend shared his stores with the family and Kukik’s milk returned.

Sound like a synopsis for a Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak book? Well, it isn’t. What it is is a recount of his beginnings in the world.

Michael Kusugak spent his first twelve years in Repulse Bay, a community that was home to a Hudson’s Bay Company fur-trading post (where people could trade pelts for supplies like bullets and flour), and that only ran the flag up the pole when an airplane was coming. The people of the community spent their winters in igloos and their summers in tents.

One day, when Michael was seven, an airplane came that would alter his life. The plane would carry off Michael, and the children of Repulse Bay, taking them from their nomadic life of hunting and fishing, to attend residential school. Michael attended school in Chesterfield Inlet, Rankin Inlet, Yellowknife, Churchill and Saskatoon, before becoming one of the first Inuit from the Eastern Arctic to graduate school.

Michael did not take to school, in the beginning. He spoke no English and claims to have cried the entire first year. After his first summer vacation, the resourceful child hid in the hills, until he saw the plane leave- successfully skipping school for an entire year.

Michael did prove to be a good student, though. He showed an ability to command the written word, early on. However, with home calling his heart, he dropped out after his first year of university and returned to Repulse Bay.

But fate had not forgotten Michael. It visited him in the form of Robert Munsch, who stayed with Michael, while touring the North. Michael took the famous author hunting and fishing and entertained him with the stories he had been told by elders, when he was a boy. Robert Munsch asked Michael to write some of these down and send them to him in Guelph.

The rest, as they say, was history. After several drafts, Annick Press finally agreed to publish A Promise is a Promise. It is then that Michael met another important person, Vladyana Krykorka, who would illustrate his many books.

Several books followed A Promise is a Promise (for a list see below), as well as plays. He even received the Ruth Schwartz Award in 1994, for his book Northern Lights.

Michael’s skills as a storyteller are legendary. He blends his ability to tell tales with such traditional Inuit methods for story telling as using string and bones as props for illustration. As the father of four sons and the eldest child of twelve, himself, he no doubt, had a great deal of practice entertaining, long before he found fame.

Michael is in high demand to speak at schools, libraries, museums, and conferences such as the Northern Hearts Festival and the Allainait Festival in Igaluit(where he will be on the 24th of this month, telling stories and teaching string game workshops). His latest book is Igvillu: The Littlest Sled Dog , published by Orca Book Publishers.

For more booking information, or more information on this amazing author, visit his website at .

*A Promise is a Promise (co-authored w/ Robert Munsch) (Annick Press, 1989)
*Baseball Bats For Christmas (Annick Press, 1990)
*Hide and Sneak (Annick Press, 1992)
*My Arctic 1, 2, 3 (Annick Press, 1996)
*Arctic Stories (Annick Press, 1999)
*The Curse of the Shaman, A Marble Island Story (Harper- Trophy, 2006)
* Igvillu: The Littlest Sled Dog (Orca Book Publishers)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interview with Robert Munsch

This past Sunday, I was able to live out every children's writer's fantasy, and talk with Robert Munsch! After performing for 1 1/2 hours, and signing autographs for 2 hours, he was wonderful enough to sit with me, and my children, as well as my two nieces, their mom, my mother-in-law and my husband, for an interview. I can verify that, yes, he really is that great. My children decided to make him an honourary cowboy and decorated an interesting cowboy hat for him, which he donned immediately. They happily spent the duration of the interview, raiding the cookies they made him, and Robert Munsch didn't seem to mind sharing.

I am relieved to anounce that my husband no longer thinks I belong in the looney bin. I have been to a few rock concerts in my day, and this event would most certainly compare. I tried to taks a picture of the crazy lineup, but even with panorama, I couldn't even start to fit it all in. It was nice to hear my husband say "wow! Is he really this big?" because to him, Robert Munsch just writes great children's stories. And then there were the hordes of screaming children, stretching their hands in the air for a chance to be in a story, never mind the endless autograph line. "See," I said to my husband. "It's not just me." He still thinks I am slightly more obsessive than the average parent ... and I porbably am.

Anyway, my hugest thanks to Robert Munsch and his very thoughtful and courteous staff. This household thinks that Robert Munsch is a fantastic person. I could not think of anyone who deserves success more. We will cherish the memory, forever.

What is your favourite book, by another author?
My favourite book by another author is a book called Blank Slate by Steven Pinker”

What is your favourite book that you have written?

What book are you most proud of?
I think, Love you Forever.

Do you ever wish that you could go back and edit something in a book that’s already been published?
Oh yes. Sometimes I can get the publisher to change a book that is already out.

Do you have an example?
Mortimer, my first book, has five different texts, I think. Then the publisher said, “This is ridiculous. When they’re out, they stay out.”

Do you consider yourself a child masquerading as a grown up, or an adult who likes to be a child?
I consider myself an adult who likes to listen to children.

Was your childhood happy?

Books like Millicent and the Wind and Stephanie’s Ponytail explore alienation and ostracism. Were you familiar with those, as a child?
Ah yeh. I didn’t do very well in school.

You often paint teachers and principals in an ill light. They are quite often the butt of jokes in books such as Show and Tell and We Share Everything. Are you playing to your audience or expressing childhood...
I’m playing to my audience and also getting revenge.

Characters such as Jule-Anne and Moira are very clever. Did you often outwit the adults, or is that an expression of an alter-ego?
It’s pure fantasy.

Speaking of alter-egos, I have heard you are a Batman fan. I was wondering, which one of your books do you think he would like?
I think Batman would like Purple Green and Yellow.

What was the inspiration behind From Far Away?
A kid wrote me a letter about her first Halloween in Canada. She had just arrived from the civil war in Lebanon and she freaked out. I used that letter to write that book.

Was there a specific thing in the story that touched you?
She was just so upset, I think that when she cried and her dad had to come and get her. And she didn’t know how to ask where the bathroom was and she crawled under people’s desks and snuck out of the room.

Speaking of the bathroom, my son’s favourite expression when he has to pee is “I have to go peeEE”. I was wondering, as a parent and a former daycare worker, do you have any potty training advice?
Be patient.

How did A Promise is A Promise come about?
I wrote it with an Inuit friend of mine, Michael Kusugak. I stayed with his family he told me about the Quallapilluit and we wrote that story.

Is that how Michael Kusugak got his start?
Yes that’s how come he got his start.

What was the inspiration behind The Paper Bag Princess?
I was telling stories to kids about princes and princesses, but they were just regular stories. Then one of the mothers said, “have you noticed there are not many princes is in this stupid lumber town. You should change that story.” So, I changed it and the kids liked it very much.

It is considered culturally significant, both in its message of self-esteem and feminism. Was that completely by accident, or was some of that intentional?
No. That was not by accident, actually.

So, that was quite intentional to do that?

Do you receive many letters from adults?
I don’t receive a whole lot, but that is obviously an adult favourite.

Do you answer the letters from the adults, as well?

What advice do you have to offer other writers?
Get a job, first.

Did you have any advice for editing?
Nobody’s first draft works, on some level. It requires constant revision to get it to where it needs to be. But you have to know when to say enough is enough. I would say, you’ll never get it just right. There eventually comes a point when you have to say “stop”. It never gets good enough.

Did you always want to be a writer?
No. I wanted to be anything but a writer. I couldn’t spell in school. My boss made me be a writer. I put off writing but my daycare boss told me he would fire me if I didn’t try writing down a story.

How important do feel it is for a children’s writer to immerse themselves in childhood culture?
I don’t know the answer to that. Dr. Seuss who wrote such wonderful books had virtually no contact with children. I on the other hand, have lots of contact with kids and that works for me, but I don’t think there is a general rule about that.

Do you have any advice on how writers can immerse themselves in children?
Go visit a daycare centre.

Are you an organized person?

Do you write down your ideas or do you store them in your head?
When I start getting a story that I think works, I put it on a list. But that’s about it.

Do you write down the children’s names to remember them? [Robert Munsch uses real children as characters in his books]
No. I just call it, if it’s about Shelly, I’ll remember it as Shelly’s story. Then if I think it’s going to be a book, I contact Shelly so I can contact her. I write a draft, then five years later when it becomes a book I can say, “hey, you’re going to get a book”. Then I send her an autographed copy.

Do you have an agent?

Do you think that it’s beneficial to maintain loyalty with one publisher?
Yes because the more books you have with a publisher, the more work they will do for you. If you scatter yourself all over the place, you’re not that valuable, unless you’re Stephen King.

Do you still receive rejections?
I just went with one publisher, but we don’t agree on what stories to do. I have lots of stories and it’s hard for me to get the ones I want out. Like I have over one hundred and fifty to choose from, now, on file with my publisher.

I heard that Love You Forever was one of those.
Yes, Love You Forever was one of those. My first publisher rejected that.

To what do you attribute the success of Love You Forever?
The depth of love between children and parents and families. You can love people and you can be driven crazy by them. There is a way of saying you like someone without being smothering. And it’s about life and death.

I have a few questions for the children readers.
Do you have any hobbies?
I like to walk my dog, I like to take long walks in the woods and I like to climb trees.

What are you afraid of?

Who is your favourite person?
My favourite person? Hmm. My children.

Do you have a favourite food?
That changes a lot. I think right now, it is Indonesian coconut soup.

Do you watch T.V.?
I don’t have any shows that I like to watch.

Are you often recognized by children?
No, although I am in bookstores.

What is something that people would not know about you?
I used to yell at my kids and they would yell back. I was not the perfect parent.

I think people would be very relieved to know that. With more than one hundred stories on file with your publisher, what can we expect next?
Two books a year for a long time.

No hints on the next one?
The next one is going to be called One More Goal. It’s about a girl named Sierra, from Hay River, in the North West Territories. It’s a hockey story. I’ve written many books, but never any hockey stories.

note: Unless you are a grade school student doing a class project, any reproduction of this interview, by any means, is prohibited without the written permission of Robert Munsch, as well as the author of this site.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Little Black Book for Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality :Breaking Ground

The Little Black Book For Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality
Auth: St. Stephen's Community House
Annick Press 2006
176 pp
Ages: 14+
ISBN: 13: 978-1-55037-954-9

Here is the book of the century, for teen girls. Wow! Why is it that no one thought of this before? The Little Black Book For Girls, has been surrounded by controversy, but having read it, more than once, I eagerly give it my stamp of approval. I will not get into the fore mentioned controversy, because I would end up on a soapbox, and that would eat up valuable space- space I could better use telling you about this wonderful book.

This is a book written by youth for youth. That is the first extraordinary thing about this book. Let’s be honest. Who ever wanted to hear a sex lecture from a parent or teacher? No teen girl ever said, “I am not sure if my period is normal. Maybe I’ll go ask Mr. Smith, my chemistry teacher.” When I was a teen (yes, I know that was a long time ago) we got the goods from each other. The language of The Little Black Book For Girls, will have any teen girl, automatically hooked. Some of it may be a little colourful for the right wing parent, but the colloquialism of it all really does help propel the information.

So what’s inside?

There are sections on relationships, periods, sex, birth control, pregnancy/ miscarriage, abortion, STIs (they were known as STDs in my day), AIDS, and sexual assault. These sections are supported by a glossary, and list of resources, as well as unbelievably revealing poems, artwork and personal accounts. While The Little Black Book For Girls, is written by a collection of girls from the St. Stephen’s Community House drug-free youth arcade, in Toronto, all of the information has been guided by medical professionals.

There are plenty of easy to understand diagrams and tables throughout this book. My favourites are the checklists that help teen girls decide such things as, if they are in a healthy relationship or not, alternatives to intercourse, a list of ways to insist on condom use, and what constitutes sexual assault.

The Little Black Book For Girls is also full of interviews with the experts. The questions are asked by the teen girls, themselves, so you can bet that they are the questions that teens want to ask, and not just the answers we want to give them.

Are there elements that would offend some parents? Definitely. For example, the issues of homosexuality and premarital sex are explored. I can only say that no particular lifestyle is supported by this book, however, a great deal of information and resources are, which will help your teen to make the proper lifestyle choices. Think your child will never need information on those types of topics? I went to a high school that had about 500 students. Three of my friends came out of the closet following graduation, we had one girl who walked the stage at commencement just months from being a mother, herself, and many of my friends had stories of sexual harassment and assault.

But, off the soap box. I don’t just recommend this book for teen girls (though they’ll eat it up- my niece read the entire thing in one day), I recommend it for their mothers and fathers, too, and let’s add educators while we’re at it. I really thought I knew the whole of the birds and the bees, but those girls at the St. Stephen’s drug-free arcade sure know their stuff. Ever hear of a Lea’s Shield? Me neither. How about Trichomoniasis? It is an STI that you really can get from a toilet seat. It is important for adult role models to know these things if they are to help their children make choices. I believe that parents will also find the tables useful. Stumped on finding away to communicate what a healthy relationship is, to your teen. Just memorize the chart. It has everything you need. Single dads, this is your saviour. Rather than struggle over awkward topics that you never wanted to know about in the first place, buy your girl a copy of the book, but please, read it yourself before you give it to her, because she is bound to still have a few questions.

I could really go on forever about the wonders of this book. When my own girls are of age, you can bet there will be a copy waiting for them. It would make a great “welcome to womanhood” gift. The girls who wrote this book are pretty smart cookies, and that is just what I intend to raise. Annick Press has broken new ground, once again. I can’t help but wonder if Elizabeth has a well read copy of this book tucked in her paper bag.

  • New York Library's Book for the Teen Age
  • "Our Choice" List, Canadian Children's Book Centre
  • ALA 2008 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults

Also, watch for The Little Black Book for Guys: Guys Talk About Sex, due to be published by Annick Press in September of 2008