Category Archives: good for you

Philanthropies, volunteering, and other causes you should get up and do something about!

Video Half-Day Friday: Hope For Haiti

Do something good before jetting off this weekend – check out this beautifully-produced video from Pearson’s We Give Books and On My Mind Foundation. These two organizations paired up on a trip to Haiti to help schools affected by the earthquake disaster last year, and address the overwhelming illiteracy rate in that area. Now, We Give Books is providing 1,000 books to kids in Haiti, and you can find out more and help here.

The video features Jesse Joshua Watson, author/illustrator of the Putnam book Hope For Haiti, one of my favorite picture books we’ve published recently.  Jesse’s artwork is brilliantly colored and perfectly suited to this uplifting story.  It goes well beyond soccer and speaks straight to the heart of Haiti’s youngest generation.  A must read – and I’m so glad that children in Haiti were able to experience it in their own language!

It Gets Better

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might remember that I tweeted this a few weeks ago:  New video/book trailer from AMAZING project @itgetsbetter – watch, retweet, pledge support! #ItGetsBetter #LGBT

It was the first time that I had heard of this amazing viral movement created by Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller, where thousands of people have spoken up via video messages to encourage gay teens to stick it out through bullying, believe in yourself, and find people in this world that support you.

Because it DOES get better – in the real world, it’s okay to be different, and there are SO many people out there that will love and accept you for who you are. I believe in this with all my heart!  While I had it easy to be born straight and female (inside and out), I think of all the people I care about who did have to carry that kind of secret with them.  And I, as with many other straight allies and creative people, remember what it’s like to grow up feeling like an outsider, picked on, or invisible.  In the real world, that ceases to matter – it only makes you stronger and more confident in who you are!

I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of Pearson, in introducing this It Gets Better video (above).  It features some of my amazing, beautiful colleagues who were brave enough to share their stories.

For more information about the It Gets Better movement, what you can do to help, and the newly-released book, see below!

Watch Videos and Pledge Support

Buy The Book

Help get the It Gets Better book in every school in America

Lutheran bishop Rev. Mark Hanson’s video and ELCA response

Full interview on NPR this week

The Trevor Project

Top 5 Things To See/Know/Do This Week

Since the week has been so crazy for me preparing the Spring 2012 picture books at work, here are a few announcements/discoveries to keep y’all busy:

1. Seems that Coralie Bickford-Smith, senior cover designer over at the UK’s Penguin Books, has been on everyone’s brains lately . . . I received two links to her in the past few days!  I have always been a huge fan of her Clothbound Classics series, but I hadn’t seen her full site.

And, my goodness, take a look at her newest work!  I’m getting giddy looking at this Penguin Great Food series (link courtesy of Creative Review, via Ryan, extremely cool fellow designer/cubicle neighbor).  Each plate is based on vintage ceramic patterns, and I seriously can’t get over how gorgeous they are.

2.  Speaking of how the UK dominates beautiful patterned covers, let’s move along to White’s Books, a small London publisher directed by David Pearson (a former Penguin Books designer himself).  In a different way, these patterns draw the reader into other imagery and bring visually potent symbolism to distinguished classics. Thanks to Kevin Stanton, amazing paper-cut illustrator from the Illustration Week extravaganza, for referring me to Jessica Vendsen’s blog!

3. On a local level, I have to give a shout-out to a new show opening up in town: Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World).  I’ve mentioned before my infatuation with Maira’s work, and since she’s a Nancy Paulsen Books author/illustrator, I get to drool over her new children’s books on a regular basis.  Can’t wait to check out this exhibit of many of her best-known works, as I know it’ll be as original and out-of-the-box as ever.

Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) is on display at The Jewish Museum from March 11 to July 31, 2011.  For more info, check out this blog post, with plenty of links to get your Maira fix.

4.  Hey, did I mention I’ve been busy doing some freelance design work for Elizabeth Knight Jewelry?  If you’re in the mood to accessorize, head on over to her website, where you can find collections of nature-inspired, mostly silver work. When we stopped by a group sample sale last week, it was completely mobbed . . . so get this stuff while it’s hot, fashionistas!

As for me, I’m going straight for the Frog Pearl Necklace and Vertebrae Earrings.

5. Times are tough, folks. Amid the economy cutbacks, we gotta defend what’s worth spending money on. Support Planned Parenthood and writing programs like Reading Is Fundamental by clicking on the links, signing your name, and/or writing to your representative.  You’ll be standing up for millions of underprivileged children who gain access to literacy though RIF, and millions of adults who need access to life-saving care (like cancer screenings, HIV testing, and birth control).  Let’s keep our country healthy and wise.  Thanks!

My Princess Boy: Wearing Pink Isn’t Just For Girls

Since reading She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan, I’ve had a particular interest in gender studies.  Boylan’s memoir, in a hilarious, moving and honest way, explains the oft-stereotyped and overlooked issue of transgendered people. For me personally, this was a life-changing book – I’ll always remember reading:

“After I grew up and became female, people would often ask me, How did you know, when you were a child? … It seemed obvious to me that this was something you understood intuitively, not on the basis of what was between your legs, but because of what you felt in your heart. Remember when you woke up this morning-I’d say to my female friends-and you knew you were female? That’s how I felt. That’s how I knew.”

My heart goes out to the transgender community, who are dealt one of the most difficult hands I think a person can get.  There is very little education or acceptance of the issue, and I hope that in the future, as with race and sexuality, that can slowly start to change.

So I was immediately drawn to the story of “My Princess Boy“, Cheryl Kilodavis’ self-published story that was recently picked up by Simon and Schuster.  Michel Martin of NPR’s Tell Me More interviews Kilodavis, the mother of the inspiration for “Princess Boy”, as well as Sara Mindel, director of clinical services at the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League in DC, and Bonnita Spikes, the mother of an older transgender male-female.  Listen to the story here.

Kilodavis’ 5-year-old son, Dyson is male (so far, he’s a boy, inside and out), but he goes for anything sparkly, his favorite color is pink, and he prefers wearing dresses. In a world where girls can wear jeans and play with trucks, no problem, why is the opposite such a difficult concept? For Kilodavis’ family, they’ve let Dyson stay as he is, and are hoping to bring others more acceptance through this children’s book. Kids should be allowed to play and dress according to what makes them happy.

What’s the problem?  It’s doesn’t lie with the kids, it’s with the adults.  When presented with non-traditional children, parents can’t help but make it about grown-up concepts – homosexuality, gender – when the child may simply like the “wrong” color or toys. As interviewer Michel Martin awkwardly admits, most people have a hard time talking about boys dressing as girls without jumping to the question, “But is he GAY?”  The answer is: he’s FIVE!  If he was wearing blue, no one would even think about asking a five-year-old’s sexual orientation. As Jennifer Finney Boylan writes:

“It certainly had nothing to do with whether I was attracted to girls or boys. This… was the one that, years later, would frequently elude people, including the overeducated smarty-pants who consituted much of my inner circle. But being gay or lesbian is about sexual orientation.  Being transgender is about identity.”

At this point, “Princess Boy” and the Kilodavis family are big news, featured in almost every news media outlet, including the Today Show.  But is this children’s book really going to bring acceptance to unique kids like Dyson? Amir Shaw’s editorial on claims that the mother is just seeking media attention, and drastically changing Dyson’s life in the process.

While I believe the parents have the best of intentions, Shaw brings up valid points: this small child, now in the spotlight, is going to have to confront major adult issues in a very public way.  While he could have grown out of dresses and pink in the privacy of his small community, now he’ll have photographs and interviews following him for the rest of his life.  That’s a lot for a kid to bear – especially one who is now going to have to deal with transgender and gay questions, whether he wants to or not.

Is “Princess Boy” a beautiful story designed to help different kids feel that they’re not alone?  Or is it bringing up social issues that shouldn’t be affecting young children’s lives?  I haven’t picked up the book yet, but I sincerely hope its the former.  Stay tuned…

The Top 10 Banned Books I’ll Make Sure Kids Read

When I have children, these will be among the best books on their shelf, but people around the country have found them much more controversial.  So instead of saying “why not”, here’s WHY they are so great:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell / The adorable true story of two male penguins in Central Park who, with the help of the zookeeper, hatch a beautiful baby daughter. While one of the most challenged books in 2008-2009, this may be my favorite story about a “modern family”.

2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson / Victims should never be blamed or silenced, and anyone that sees rape as pornographic is severely disturbed. I was appalled at how Anderson’s novel was targeted last week. Teens should be encouraged to #SpeakLoudly… and they can get the courage to do so from this book.

3. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling / Obviously.  Since I am the kind of person that labelled myself as a “Christian witch” when I was 12.

4. Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary / If kids are reading the dictionary (even if it’s to look up the definition of “oral sex”), the only consequence is that they’ll probably do better on the SATs. Also, if your children have to look up what sex means, you probably need to work on your parenting skills.

5. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison / Ooh muttis and vatis may have a nervy spaz because Georgia’s diary contains gorgy sex gods, but if you cannot grasp the hilariosity, you are probably a wet tosser and in need of a duffing up. Now let’s go down the disco!

6. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee / Racism is a tricky one when it comes to banning books because if, like me, you’re staunchly against censorship, it’s difficult to be okay with older versions of books that have racist undertones (like Little Black Sambo).  But there’s a big difference between being racist and portraying racism, and To Kill A Mockingbird certainly falls under the latter.

7. The Diary Of Anne Frank / Only Nazis would ban Anne Frank.

8. The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman / By the time you get through the 3rd book (The Amber Spyglass), it is clear that Pullman has a strong anti-religious agenda.  But it never stopped me from loving the series, and even if I raise my children in the Christian faith, I’ll want them to read, doubt and think for themselves.  All opposed should go read Narnia instead.

9. In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak / Again with the disturbing interpretations of what is “sexual content”.  Really, naked babies?  Who hasn’t seen a naked baby running around? Come on. They’re just jealous that he got a Caldecott Honor.

10. The Rabbit’s Wedding by Garth Williams / Another adorable story of (note: animal) love and family that is twisted around by bigoted extremists.  Luckily, Williams gets the last word, saying,

“I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white human beings. I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks picturesque.”

He went on to say that adults “will not understand it, because it is only about soft furry love and has no hidden message of hate.”

Here’s to little black and white bunnies, and freedom!  Happy Banned Books Week.

Turtle Sketch-Card Now Available!

An original turtle watercolor of mine is now available on the Ripple sketch blog for a small donation!  Be the first to contribute to one of the worthy charities helping the gulf oil spill (per her instructions on the blog), and I’ll be mailing you the 4″x5″ sketch-card – for keeps.

It’s just $10, and you should be donating anyway. I mean, come on, that’s like the cost of a sandwich. Now go buy some art and save the sea turtles!!

Ripple Sketches for the Gulf Oil Spill

Several weeks ago, I showcased the Ripple sketch blog in my post about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  Ripple has been dedicated to distributing hundreds of small sketch-cards created by illustrators, which can be purchased for a small $10 donation fee to wildlife charities.  I was so inspired by their work that I wanted to contribute myself and, after a lovely reunion with my watercolors last night, I came up with a “sketch” that will appear on the blog soon!

While I’ll wait to show the final image until it’s posted for sale on Ripple, here are a few ideas I got out of my system beforehand – sketches for the sketches, if you will!

A play on Noah’s Ark (that other water disaster, you may remember…), which I liked best conceptually, but the animals weren’t as exciting on such a small scale

Left: The image that is closest to the final sketch

Right: Super-depressing baby turtles, running away from the oil slick

A puppy affected by the Gulf- wait, what?  Those turtles were TOO sad, I needed cute!

Must See Shows, Part 1 – EARTH: Fragile Planet

image: Bill Carman‘s painting for EARTH: Fragile Planet.  Buy a print.

Like every other scarf-loving New York resident, the oppressive heat wave this summer has sent me fleeing for the most air-conditioned corners of the city.  And what better place to spend a few hours avoiding the burning sidewalk than art galleries?

Recently, I’ve hit up three very different exhibitions that I’m more than happy to recommend!  Here’s number one… it has been up for months (while I’ve apparently been living in a cave), act quickly and go before the end of the week!

EARTH: Fragile Planet

June 3 – July 31, The Society of Illustrators

This group exhibit of 120 illustrators showcases editorial and artistic commentary on the state of the environment today, using a variety of media including digital and traditional painting, video and sculpture.  To make the wide range of work more cohesive, the show is divided into five categories: water, wildlife, earth, air and energy.

Overall, it was poignant for me to see more illustrators getting involved with the environment, in light of all my thinking about the recent Gulf oil spill catastrophe.  Here were some of my highlights:


Peter de Seve, Thar She Blows (sketch)

De Seve’s character work (he’s known for the creatures of the Ice Age franchise and the Philomel book Duchess of Whimsy) is so fantastic that even a sketch stands out.  His New Yorker cover idea reminds me of the Ripple sketch blog that’s raising money to save wildlife affected by the oil spill.  Check out Peter’s own post on the show here.


Betsy Lewin, Blue-Footed Boobies (watercolor)

Ted Lewin, Impenetrable Forest (watercolor)

I’m always excited to see the work of my alma mater’s favorite couple… as a watercolor artist, I’ve been looking up to them for years!  Ted’s densely forested piece was right on track with his other work, but I was surprised at the realism of Betsy’s beautiful watercolor piece.  The book from which it’s excerpted, Booby Hatch, shows an early side to her art, pre-Click, Clack, Moo, that I wasn’t familiar with.

Tim O’Brien, Giraffe In The Alley (oil and gouache)

Even though I never took a class with Tim O’Brien, I was already on the lookout for Pratt professors.  But my mouth literally dropped open at the sight of his contribution to the show!  His imagery, of a giraffe in a dark alley, was right out of the sketches of a children’s book dummy I created years ago – High Hopes.  For artists, seeing someone else’s art with the same concept makes one’s skin crawl (I used to fear it before critiques).  In this case, though, I just had to marvel at the hilarity of such a strange image being thought up twice.  See his post on the evolution of the piece here.

Tim O’Brien vs. Annie – so weird!


Britt Spencer, Footprints Through Appalachia (gouache)

Like Peter de Seve, I’m a big fan of Britt Spencer’s animated characters and his true-story Philomel book (again!) about the giraffe (again!) who became famous.  More importantly, though, his personification of the “giant” mining industry, tromping through the delicate green Appalachians, brought up an issue I don’t often hear about.  Since Footprints Through Appalachia is a smaller piece, I loved its pairing with Justin Gerard’s Strange Friend, (mixed media) below.  Understated but meaningful.


Rudy Gutierrez, U Kill Me, U Kill U (acrylic on canvas)

Rudy was one of my all-time favorite professors (I signed up for his class year after year!).  To me, he is the master of storytelling through a unique visual language.  Whenever I’m reflecting on my style and questioning whether I’m being true to myself, I always go back to the advice I’ve received from him. This large piece is no exception to his way with words!  The violent energy of his painting only further brings out the poetry written throughout, and it is impossible not to really feel something on viewing it.  Truly inspiring.


Materials for the Arts, with Liz Lomax, 3-D illustrator, and Eric Lewis, sculptor

As I was checking out the downstairs gallery, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the short video on loop, and I’m so glad I finally sat down and paid attention!  The video documents two of the exhibition’s 3-D artists, Lomax and Lewis, visiting Materials For The Arts, a warehouse that collects donated items to recycle and supply to schools and cultural arts programs and organizations.  Tons of materials and found objects of every kind, otherwise trashed, are brought to their warehouse, where artists and educators can pick through for only the cost of a “thank you”.

It’s an absolutely amazing program, and I encourage everyone to take advantage and help MFTA keep being so successful!  If you have extra materials lying around your studio, please consider donating here.  And don’t forget to see the video and Liz’s work here, and with Eric’s work here!

Can’t get to the show in the next few days?  Get more on Earth: Fragile Planet at their Tumblr page!

The Ripple Effect – Illustrators Aid the Gulf Oil Spill

There’s no question that the BP oil spill has been a devastating tragedy, on every level I can think of.  Like world hunger and genocide, I often find it painful and upsetting even to follow essential news articles (just looking at photos of the oil aftermath gave me chills).

So I couldn’t be prouder that, in the face of a problem so overwhelmingly beyond our control, the illustration community is coming together to make a dent in the solution.  Enter Ripple, a blog dedicated to selling illustrators’ unique small artworks in order to raise money to help the animal victims of the Deep Water Horizon Gulf Oil Spill.

The sketchcards from Ripple are fascinating – I was amazed at the array of unique visual solutions produced on behalf of the Gulf Coast wildlife.  Each card, sold for $10 or $50, captures a completely different feel.  Some favorites:

Bethany Murguia:
Aaron Zenz:

Marsha Rollinger:  Blog:

A heads up that some big-time illustrators are participating this week… Mo Willems is auctioning off a second round of doodles tonight, and Jarrett Krosoczka is selling a whole round on Friday!

Ripple has already raised over $8,000 – but I encourage everyone who has $10 to spare (and who doesn’t?), to buy a Ripple sketchcard and support the animals hurt by the oil spill.  Fellow illustrators – I’m going to look into donating a piece (for the sea turtles!), and y’all should consider doing the same.

Be A Literary Hipster Helpster

Growing up, service to others was a big part of my values – and my life.  Even in college, it was important to me to stay a part of organizations that support philanthropy and are active in the community.  It’s easy to participate and feel like a good person when you have a built-in support system like church or school, but once you’re thrown out into the great, self-involved NYC world . . . how to you stay involved?

This article from the NY Press shows how, in the midst of gentrification and hipster indifference, a new generation of “helpsters” is emerging.  It’s an interesting dichotomy – the young, mostly white ex-suburban-children move into the ‘hoods of Brooklyn, only to fight to preserve the diversity that brought them there.  It strikes a bit of an uncomfortable spot with me (I know I’m the stereotype of a 20-something S.W.F. in Brooklyn, escaping my New England roots for a creative, urban vibe and a stroller/brownstone package in Park Slope!  Yikes.).  But regardless of how you feel on the issue, the article and its subjects bring up some great causes, like New York Cares.

Bibliophiles, want to support a cause, but mostly from the comfort of your own home?  Consider these options . . .

1.  Buy Books

Literary prowess, stunning typography, edgy Penguin design . . . oh, and supporting the (RED) Aids Awareness Foundation? I can’t remember the last time I got this hot and bothered over a series of book covers.

2.  Read Books

One of my favorite personal projects is working with my pen pal over at!  In2Books is an amazing program that hooks up 3rd – 5th graders in classrooms with adult pen pals who read books with them and get them discussing.  Think of it as an online book club of two.  Best of all, you get to read and write letters on your own time!

3.  Sort Books

If you’re in the NYC area, consider volunteering for Project Cicero, an annual non-profit book drive create to help under-budgeted NYC public schools fill their classrooms with reading.  My sorority went last year, and we were awed by the sheer volume of donated material (1.5 million books so far), all needing to be sorted by volunteers, and then given to 8,500 classrooms and libraries.  The event is next March, so put it on your calendar for 2011!

4.  Share Books

Do you remember the magic of your first book?  I bet everyone has a few extra lying around that no one is reading . . . so donate them to First Books and give the gift of literacy to children without access to the books we love most.