Category Archives: picture books

The Blog Is BACK!!!

It’s finally time to resurrect my blog from its long hiatus!  I’ve actually missed being on Walking In Public… digging up blog content has always kept me engaged with the publishing/art/design industries, and it motivates me to write and draw regularly.  So, I’ll be back on the blog for a long while, with all-new features and updates on my journey to success in the children’s book world!

What have you missed while I’ve been away from the blog? Here are the best things that happened, circa 2011:

Annie’s Top 5 2011 Professional Developments

1. Illustrated and designed the Little Farmer app.

You may remember that I began a project working on a toddler game app, called Little Farmer, back in May.  Well, after months of illustrating, designing and developing, we released it for sale in the iTunes store in October!  It has been a really wonderful experience working with a talented developer, Anita Hirth, to create artwork that children can interact with, right there on any iPhone.  There’s much more to say about the process of creating an app, and my future in the digital world… but those are subjects for bigger posts!

In the meantime, purchase the app here, or watch the video trailer, above!

2. Joined the Children’s Book Council’s Early Career Committee.

I’ve been attending events for young adults in the publishing industry for awhile, so it was exciting to be asked to represent Penguin Young Readers (and designers everywhere) on the Children’s Book Council’s Early Career Committee.  This organization creates opportunities for those in the first 5 years of the children’s book industry to network, learn, and become more involved in their fields… so their mission is right up my alley!  Since becoming a part of the team this summer, I’ve had a TON of fun making great friends with 20-somethings in different houses, through planning creative programming.  I’m also having a blast designing fliers, making good use of my design time and talents.

If you haven’t already, make sure to catch up on the CBC and ECC’s fabulous social media enterprises – Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

3. Made friends with WordPress.org.

One of the biggest hurdles in creating marketing materials for Little Farmer was: what to do about the website?  A website is obviously essential for promoting any business or product, but my knowledge of web design is spotty at best.  I’ve taken a class on Flash, but I gotta admit, coding scares the bejeezus out of me. So I turned to the platform I knew best – WordPress, home of this very blog!  WordPress.org is actually slightly different from its blogging sister WordPress.com. In a day or two, you can create practically any site imaginable, using existing templates, posts and pages, and update new content anytime – hardly any coding required.  The process is worth a separate future post, but here are the first two sites I made:

www.smartcookiestudios.com (using Suffusion theme)
www.anniebethericsson.com (using Blue Bubble theme)

4. Designed a few picture books.

What was I up to at my real job? Designing wonderful titles with Putnam and Nancy Paulsen Books!  In addition to my regularly scheduled board books, anniversary editions and novel interiors, I had the opportunity to have my own picture book assignments.  My first book, Half-Pint Pete the Pirate, was quickly followed by Dave Horowitz‘s hilarious, “spaghetti-western-style” Chico The Brave.  I also was honored to redesign Jan Brett‘s Beauty and the Beast reissue, and also redesign the jackets of a few international imports.  My favorite? The Aussie “new classic”, Maudie And Bear.

5. Freelanced Projects.  

Lastly, I’m happy to report that in addition to my busy schedule and pet app project, I also picked up a few freelance gigs.  Chief among them was an exhibition catalog for the Simms Taback retrospective at the Museum of Ventura County.

I’ll never forget that I was able to get to know Simms and work with him on this 16-page booklet of his work, in the few last months before his death this December.  He was a truly exceptional man with a kind heart, a keen eye for design, and an inspirational wealth of artistic creativity.  It was always wonderful to speak with him, and I loved that he was so involved with every aspect of his craft.  It does give me comfort, though, that before he passed, he saw the publication of his final book, Postcards from Camp, the opening of the exhibit, and travelled with friends and family.  He will be sorely missed!

Read more about Simms’ amazing life and work here.

. . .

And now, looking forward to 2012… keep reading here for more posts, new content, and as always, a love of illustration, books and design all around! 

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!

Bemidji Book Festival 2011

You’d think that being in rural Minnesota wouldn’t bring much in the way of industry happenings, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  My Midwest visit just so happened to coincide with the Bemidji Book Festival, a 6-day marathon of events with local authors, poets and illustrators.  Kudos to the Bemidji Library and the MN Legacy Fund for making this all happen!

I stepped off the plane and immediately headed to a presentation by Catherine Friend, author of both children’s stories and the adult books, Hit By A Farm, Sheepish, and The Compassionate Carnivore.  With a humble, witty voice on her 1 1/2 memoirs and a great perspective on local farming (and sheep), she’s like a lady Michael Pollan with a personal touch.  I’m thinking it’s time to take a closer look her kids’ books, and also take up knitting!

The next morning, I accessed my inner child by attending Thursday morning’s library event with author/illustrator Lynne Jonell.  While Jonell got her start in picture books, she’s now known for her middle-grade novels, like Emmy And The Incredible Shrinking Rat.  I think the design (by Amelia May Anderson) and art (by Jonathan Bean) for Emmy is impeccable – the hand-drawn type is seamlessly integrated to the limited-color line drawings, which carry over into a flip-book style interior. Plus, it was a pleasure to listen to Lynne’s story and watch her graciously field questions from aspiring picture book authors with just the right answers (five letters: SCBWI) and some kind inspiration.

On Friday night, we headed to the high school for an author’s fair.  While most of the authors were of the niche, poetry or self-published variety, I did discover Erik Evenson, a graphic novelist/illustrator who is – get this – originally from New Hampshire!  His Gods of Asgard and autobiographical web comic, Erik’s Sketchbook Diary, were easily the best-designed finds at the fair.  Definitely check out his work if you’re interested in comics.

But nothing at the festival could top Friday’s keynote speaker, Roxana Saberi.  Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist who was imprisoned in Iran and falsely charged of spying in 2009, now speaks about her life, Iran, and the book she wrote about her experiences (Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity In Iran).  She talked eloquently and powerfully about the human rights movements in Iran and the Middle East, and it certainly encouraged me to get more involved.  Can’t wait to finish reading her book!

It’s been an action-packed visit here in Bemidji, and while I’m always happy to return to Brooklyn, I could still use another week or two relaxing in the country and soaking up all that Minnesota has to offer.

SCBWI 2011, Part II: Beyond Picture Books, to New Media!

(Oh hey, check out this new Oliver Jeffers’ Heart And The Bottle app!)

Everyone – and I mean, EVERYONE (that’s right, NPR) – is talking about e-books and new media.  While adult e-readers are already a major part of consumer culture, childrens’ apps and e-books are still in their infancy (pun intended).  People seem to have a special concern and defensiveness reserved for the future of kids’ books – after all, who wants their kids’ future reduced to bedtime stories curled up with an IPad?

Most industry professionals and consumers alike agree that traditional children’s books aren’t going anywhere.  For one, buying a two-year-old a Color Nook is a lot less cost-efficient than a $4.99 board book, if all the toddler’s going to do is chew on the corners.  For another, people like the visceral experience of buying a hardcover book and turning its pages, reading aloud themselves instead of pressing a button.

Instead, we’re heading towards more and more options for kids books, and while we adults will have to nervously or excitedly adapt, kids will grow up expecting content on myriad forms of media.

So I commend SCBWI’s Illustrators’ Intensive for making the focus of their annual NYC event “Beyond Books: Picture Books and the New Media“.  Hey, if we don’t know about it, let’s invite some panelists to tell us about it!

As excited as I was about hearing the “Online Presence: A Panel Review of Websites, Blogs and Social Media”, it wasn’t my focus of the day.  Mostly, I was there to hear about the latest digital development shrouded in mystery: apps.  It’s something we all know is the future (SO much cooler than e-books), but we don’t REALLY know how they’re created.  First off, we sat in on the “Development of Apps from Classics” discussion, with panelists Virginia Duncan of Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins) and Colin Hosten of Hyperion/Disney Digital Books.

Ms. Duncan explained the making of Greenwillow’s first app, Freight Train by Donald Crews.  With bold shapes and different views from its companion book, Inside Freight Train, this was a perfect way to get an introduction to all that can be done with an app. Take a simple story, then add movement, games, songs… the sky’s the limit!  Check out storyboards and other making-of tidbits from Freight Train here.

Now, say what you want about Disney’s creepy corporate hold on America, but there’s no denying that they’re best suited for transitioning to new media.  Colin set the tone for the whole Intensive by explaining Disney’s philosophy like this: “It’s not about format, it’s about content.” Whether it’s a book, movie, TV show, game, or app, it’s all telling stories. Not so scary, after all, right? And those that can seamlessly translate their work to many different mediums are those that will survive the shift in technology.

As Kristen McLean said in PW the other day, “kids are omnivorous consumers of media”.  They’re not picking apps over books, they’re doing both – and why shouldn’t we?

The Intensive-closing “Practical Application Panel”, with Lisa Holton of Fourth Story Media and Rick Richter of Ruckus Media, summed it up pretty nicely with some fantastic content they’re creating, that is pushing the boundries of physical books and beyond. The 39 Clues was ground-breaking, for example, but my new favorite is The Amanda Project, a story about an enigmatic girl who goes missing from her new school, leaving 3 “guides” behind to solve the mystery of her disappearance.

On The Amanda Project‘s collaborative website, teens (um, girls) create their own character within the series’ world, discuss clues and theories among themselves, and read weekly short stories. The web stories incorporate readers’ thoughts and original plot twists, so every person on the site has a chance to be published as a part of Amanda’s life. They can even share their own writing and artwork in an online Zine… awesome!

Just as you were wondering what’s the point of it all, at the center of The Amanda Project is a book series – written by different YA authors, and published after all the buzz was created online.  It translates to IPad and IPhone apps, e-books, anything digital… but it all comes back to the original books.  Genius.

Now let’s see a picture book do the same thing!

My Princess Boy Part II: Books With Non-Traditional Gender Roles

Since writing my first post about My Princess Boy, I got to thinking about boys who wear pink, and other non-traditional gender roles.  Was there a place for them in children’s books before this news story?  Turns out, there was, and librarians and readers have been making lists for ages!  Here’s my own list, with some personal favorites for boys and girls:

(Note: I also went to the bookstore and read My Princess Boy. My two cents? I’m not a fan of an illustration style with faceless figures, though I understand the attempt to be “universal” and androgynous, and I know others that liked it. Ultimately, though, I respect the point of the story, and that’s satisfying enough for me!)

Little Women – by Louisa May Alcott / There’s no contest: Louisa May Alcott, in the guise of her autobiographical protagonist, Jo March, is the original tomboy.  She’s independent, stubborn, and refuses to accept the feminine societal norms that eat up the rest of her sisters’ time and energy.  Women for generations have idolized the way she bravely cuts off her hair (her one beauty!), but fans were a little less content with her refusal to marry Laurie… or anyone at all.  In fact, Alcott later wrote,

“Jo should have remained a literary spinster, but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn’t dare refuse and out of perversity went and made a funny match for her”.

Listen to a great story about Jo March on NPR, here.

Hattie Big Sky – by Kirby Lawson / There are many wonderful contemporary novels featuring spunky historical heroines, but my favorite is “the one about the girl homesteader”, aka. Hattie Big Sky. Hattie is a 16-year-old orphan who winds up with a piece of land in rural Montana, and has to successfully farm it in less than a year to stay.  I love Hattie’s unique voice and the community that she creates for herself within a harsh setting… she can’t help but have guts to stick through her situation!

The Paper Bag Princess – by Robert N. Munsch / Since 1980, this princess has been kicking some serious dragon-butt, proving that girly-girls everywhere can get down and dirty, bring on some clever defense, and rescue the prince all on their own . . . even if he turns out to be not-so-Charming.

Oliver Button Is A Sissy – by Tomie dePaola / This story has a lot of heart, and with a main character who’d rather paint pictures and read than play sports, it’s pretty easy to spot that this is an autobiographical dePaola story.  This may have been the first time that male gender stereotypes were addressed in a picture book, and I’m happy to see that Oliver Button still resonates today.

Ferdinand – by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson / I didn’t think of this book immediately, because Ferdinand reminds me more of my shy 175-lb. Pyranese dog, Jaxon, than any kid I know, sissy or otherwise.  But when it was on all the related lists about books defying gender stereotypes, it gave me pause to think. Maybe this little bull could give comfort to a shy boy who’d rather pick flowers than wrestle himself.

Billy Elliot / Okay, okay . . . this isn’t technically a book (though it is now adapted from the screenplay!).  But this movie touched the hearts of so many, because a man doesn’t have to be gay to want to express himself creatively.  I loved the film, and can’t wait to see the Broadway musical this weekend!

Pinky And Rex series – by James Howe, illustrated by Melissa Sweet / Pinky and Rex defy traditional gender roles in a cool, easygoing way — by just being themselves.  Pinky likes pink and animals, Rex likes dinosaurs, but they’re best friends and brave enough to stick up for each other anyway. As a first-grader who was more comfortable playing with boys and animals in the mud than with Barbies, this was one of my favorite early-readers growing up!  And FYI? My favorite color at that age was blue.

Top Ten Award Winners On My To-Read List

1. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Newbery) / I love surprises, and so does the Newbery!  So this underrated debut novel, set in 1930s Kansas, is sure to send booksellers and librarians scrambling to put copies on the shelves.  Can’t wait to see if it lives up to the top dog award!

2. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Printz) / When it comes to YA, no trend sucks me in more than dystopian fiction.  The story of Nailer, a scavenger who finds a wealthy girl trapped among the wreckage of Gulf Coast oil ships, has intrigued me since it was nominated for a National Book Award.  I’m hoping the action is as gripping and bold as the novel’s graphic cover.

3.  One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia (Coretta Scott King, Newbery Honor) / If I had to place bets on a winner before the awards came out . . . this would’ve been my pick, because everyone’s been raving about it for ages. And something tells me those 3 sisters on their Brooklyn-to-California adventure are gonna steal my heart too.

4. Dark Emperor and Other Poems Of The Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen (Newbery Honor) / Three cheers for a picture book getting a Newbery, not just a Caldecott, Honor!  It’s wonderful to see authors of books for younger readers be recognized, because it’s just as hard to say something beautiful in few words as it is to say in many.

8. will grayson, will grayson by John Green and David Levithan (Stonewall Honor, Odyssey Honor) / What can complicate high school even more than it already is?  Having two characters with the same name. What can make a book even more hilarious than anything that’s come before it?  Two authors: John Green and David Levithan.  I’m obsessed already.

6.  90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis (Pura Belpre Honor) / Isn’t the cover just lovely?  The colors drew my attention, but its the story that kept me interested: the based-on-a-true-story tale of the children of “Operation Peter Pan“, which brought 14,000 kids as refugees from Cuba to the US.

 

7.  Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride (William C. Morris Honor) / The real awards for this book should be, “Coolest Title” and “Coolest Cover”.  In a sea of kind of dated-looking material, this is by far more edgy and teen boy-appealing than any of the other winners.  I’m all for funny-scary, or scary-funny… whatever.

5.  Dave The Potter: Artist, Poet Slave illustrated by Brian Collier, by Laban Carrick Hill (Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King) / This is the one Caldecott pick I haven’t read, and with two awards, I guess I better pay attention.  Seems like it has a pretty traditional vibe for a picture book.

9. Bink And Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile (Geisel) / What a fun-looking study in character expression!  The amount of buzz I’ve seen about this book might just put Bink and Gollie in the realm of classic friend pairs like “Frog and Toad” and “Henry and Mudge”.  I bet it’ll get me moving on my own early reader!

10.  The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston (William C. Morris) / Strange cover, and looks like a strange book. But isn’t strange what makes life interesting?  The dark themes might not make this the most pleasant of reads, but I’m hoping it’s just crazy enough to be wonderful.

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 Rollingout.com 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…