Meet Otis Dooda. Yes, that’s his name. Go on and have a good laugh. He’s heard it all before. He’s been called things like Otis Poopy Stink and Otis Toilet Twinkie. That’s right, yuck it up and get it out of your system. We’ll wait.
All right then. This is the story of Otis and the Dooda family (including their rat named Smoochie) moving to New York City, and the incredibly strange, but true, things that happened to them. It all started with Otis getting cursed by a guy in a potted plant in their apartment building lobby, and then meeting a bunch of their neighbors, including a farting pony named Peaches who was disguised as a dog. And that was just the first day.
Charlie Joe Jackson author Tommy Greenwald is celebrating the release of the THIRD Charlie Joe Jackson Book (for a kid who doesn’t read, he sure has a lot of books written about him, right?) with a sweepstakes!
Grandma and the Great Gourd is a re-telling of a Bengali Folktale. Chitra, what made you select this tale for your first picture book?
This was one of my favorite stories when I was a child. My grandfather used to tell it to me at bedtime.
How does Grandma and the Great Gourd vary from the story your grandfather told you? In what ways is it the same?
It’s verysimilar, though I think I’ve created a closer relationship between Grandma and her dogs (just because I love dogs!) They have more conversations, just like I used to with my dog. (She passed away recently–I was sad she never got to see this book. She used to love my books.)
How does writing for children differ from writing for adults?
I have to focus more on plot, make it seamless, keep it moving. In this case, the onomatopoeic sounds, taken from Bengali, (such as khash khash, for lizards moving through grass) were important. And of course I have to work with a limited vocabulary, though I do throw in a few unusual words so children will learn them.
Susy, this is your first picture book as well. What attracted you to the project?
The story is charming and to me universal in content, a little bit Red Riding Hood, in another guise. I had created two other book covers for Chitra, also based in Indian culture.
I was enamored immediately by the story as I am fascinated with India — the people, history, and culture. I grew up outside of London where there was a Sikh community. We were surrounded by great Indian cuisine and shops, sometimes a wedding with all the music, color and gaiety that made the town of Gravesend look a little brighter. One day I will get to India, I hope.
Did your approach to illustrating a children’s book differ at all from your approach to other illustration projects?
Not really. I am a seasoned editorial and book/magazine illustrator. I drew Grandma a few ways, processed my thoughts in sketch books, played with the animal characters and then came up with a few sample pages. Once I was in the layers and processing and making the artwork I was immersed. I loved doing the artwork. Big or small, I start with reference and doodling…some trepidation for sure and then BAM off I go…
You’ve created murals for the New York City Public Library. Can you share a bit about that experience?
Creating the mural was a major assignment (about 285 ft), which had to consider architecture elements, represent various names and places (chosen by the trustees I think) from Niagara Falls to Istanbul and Africa, etc. The concept was based very loosely on my hero and the famous Saul Steinbuerg New Yorker covers, where he imagines the rest of the world beyond New York City…I had to take into account looking North, South, East, and West…to align with each elevation in The Children’s Room. I was given 3 weeks! It was an immense project, and ultimately we added my illustration of the actual library into the mix as it had not been put on the list of to-do’s.
Part of the work was also to design a panel as you enter the room for news and events. It represents Brant Park, which is just at the back of the library. Further, I created a huge banner to entice people of all ages. New York City iconic buildings ( Chrysler and Empire State), a child reading, and a few choice animals surround the incredible 42nd street library.
Grandma’s faithful dogs, Kalu and Bhulu, save the day at the end of Grandma and the Great Gourd. You are both dog lovers. Do your beloved pets have anything in common with grandma’s heroic hounds?
Chitra: Our Juno was a very protective dog. Though generally sweet-natured, she certainly let people know, when necessary, that they couldn’t mess around with any of us, especially our children. And she was very smart. The best companion. I’m hoping this book will maybe lead to a few more children getting pets of their own, which would be an invaluable life-experience.
Susy: I love most dogs. They are the best company and so loyal. They keep us connected. Kalu and Bhulu are very smart dogs…I wish mine did the gardening!!
Chitra Divakaruni and Susy Pilgrim Waters will be signing copies of Grandma and the Great Gourd on Wednesday, May 8th at 2pm in The Library Shop at The New York Public Library.
Prints of Susy Pilgrim Waters’ mural artwork will also be available for sale.
I love my mom so much. She’s the best mom in the whole world. Except when she asks me to do crazy things, like make my bed and empty the dishwasher and do my homework. That can get annoying. But otherwise, she’s a really great person and mom.
So, in honor of Claire Jackson, I give you the five best ways to show your mother how much you appreciate her:
Write a poem that tells her how awesome she is. I’ll get you started: “Cats have claws, dogs have collars, you’re the best mom, especially when you lend me five dollars.” You can take it from there.
Offer to take her out to dinner. She’ll hug you and thank you, then she’ll take you out to dinner.
Tell her she looks great in those pants.
Let her know you appreciate everything she does for you, even though it might seem like sometimes you take her for granted. Then, try not to take her for granted for like a week.
Read a book. Or at least, read as much of a book as it takes to get her to notice that you’re reading a book. Then put it back on the shelf where it belongs.
During school visits, students often ask why I dedicated MY LIFE AS A BOOK to Bill Watterson, creator of the legendary Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Do I love Calvin and Hobbes THAT much?
Yes I do, but that’s not the only reason why. I dedicated MY LIFE AS A BOOK to Bill Watterson because he’s done more to teach boys to read than any children’s book author I know.
But what about Jack Gantos, you ask? Or Jon Scieszka? Jeff Kinney?
Those authors have written wonderful and beloved books for boys. But unlike those authors, Watterson didn’t write for children – kids just discovered his work and appropriated it as their own.
My young son Jake and his friends adored Calvin and Hobbes; they spent hours laughing and reading through all the different volumes. I found it strange that these boys who enjoyed reading would run screaming down the street as if on fire when they were asked to read for school. What was it about Calvin and Hobbes that made THAT kind of reading so different?
Well there’s a lot to like in those strips: Calvin’s many alter-egos, the sacred moments of communing with nature, the parents who never understand, the battle-axe teacher, the love/hate relationship with the girl next door, not to mention the stuffed animal-best friend who only comes alive for you. But apart from those kid-friendly features, Watterson makes children work for their enjoyment too. Consider the vocabulary from a random strip (February 22, 1990):
Words like progressing, abstraction, inadequacy, traditional, imagery, convey, abandoning, representationalism, interpretation, visceral, oeuvre, monochromatic – those words would be daunting on an SAT test! Yet these comics are cherished by elementary and middle school students too. Why did my son and his friends embrace these words in Watterson’s strips but reject them in novel form? The conclusion I came to was that humor and visual support lessened their fears of such a daunting vocabulary.
So I set out to write a novel with the same fast, comic energy as a Calvin and Hobbes strip, also utilizing visual support. To start, I went to the biggest expert I knew – my son.
Besides being a big fan of comics, Jake has been drawing his vocabulary words since third grade. He’s a visual learner and drawing was the only way he could remember the assigned words.
People who saw his work loved the deceptively simple drawings so I had him illustrate the tougher vocabulary words I used in the novel, the same way my main character did. When I submitted the first few chapters to my editor, she told me it was wonderful that I’d hired a cartoonist to illustrate the book. I told her afterward the artist was my teenage son.
Since then, Jake and I have talked to tens of thousands of students about MY LIFE AS A BOOK, MY LIFE AS A STUNTBOY, and the brand-new MY LIFE AS A CARTOONIST. We get letters every week from students who enjoy the books not just for their humor, but for how Jake’s illustrations have helped them learn new words. Teachers from around the country use the books in classrooms and have students draw their own versions of the vocabulary words. What started out as a homage to Bill Watterson ended up being something fun and educational on its own.
I’ll leave you with the Calvin and Hobbes strip I used at the end of MY LIFE AS A BOOK:
Concise. Funny. Relatable. How can you improve on that?
My Life As a Cartoonist by Janet Tashjian; cartoons by Jake Tashjian
There’s a new kid in Derek Fallon’s class. His name is Umberto and he uses a wheelchair. Derek’s family is still fostering Frank the monkey, and Derek thinks it would be great to train Frank to assist Umberto. But Derek quickly realizes that Umberto is definitely not looking for any help. Derek soon becomes the butt of Umberto’s jokes. On top of that, Umberto starts stealing Derek’s cartoon ideas and claiming them as his own. How did Derek get himself into this mess, and how can he find a way out before he is the laughingstock of school? The answer may very well be his cartoon strip—SUPER FRANK!
Author Janet Tashjian discusses the history of the stick figure.
In our overcrowded visual culture, perhaps there’s nothing as basic and uncluttered as a simple stick figure. But don’t let their unfussiness fool you; the saga of the stick figure is rich and diverse.
The first petroglyphs appeared 50,000 years ago in caves found in Europe, Africa, and Australasia. Archeologists now claim these pictographs carried magical and religious meaning. But stick figure drawings have modern significance too.
In the 1920’s, Otto Neurath, part of the Vienna Circle of philosophers, developed a system he called ISOTYPE (International System of Typographic Picture Education.) Neurath’s idea was to represent quantitative and qualitative information with easily recognized symbols to help grownups and children interpret their world. He described his work as a “helping language” and a “visual education.”
The next big jump in stick figure design was at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics where Masaru Katzumie and Yoshiro Yamashita began the initial steps in creating the first international pictograms. These designs were taken further in the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics when Otl Aicher designed the rounded, geometric stick figures still in use today.
Of Aicher’s stick figure designs from those Olympics, one is seen by millions now each and every day:
Soon afterward, the U.S. Department of Transportation hired the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) to develop signs so people of different languages could understand the rules of the road.
Much like Neurath’s focus on “visual education” the main character Derek in my novels MY LIFE AS A BOOK, MY LIFE AS A STUNTBOY, and MY LIFE AS A CARTOONIST draws stick figures to learn his vocabulary words. My son Jake learned his vocabulary words this way and illustrates the series. His stick figure cartoons may look rudimentary but like Neurath’s work, they communicate vast amounts of information in just a few lines. I’d even argue that Jake’s illustrations convey more than information but emotion too. Here, a stick figure illustration for the word OVERWHELMED:
I remember the pang of recognition when Jake first showed me this drawing, recalling how many situations I’d felt as overwhelmed and inundated as this stick figure is. Not a simple feeling at all.
I’m happy we’ve created a series that uses a visual language to reach children, employing a system of communication going back tens of thousands of years.
It’s almost time: ready your imagination, because Children’s Book Week will be from May 13 – 19 this year.
Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, commemorative events are held nationwide at schools, libraries, bookstores, homes — wherever young readers and books connect!
With less than three weeks to go until Children’s Book Week, there’s still time for kids to vote for their favorite books of the years, which just so happen to include a few of our favorite titles from 2012!
1. What initially inspired you to create the film UP with Me that When We Wuz Famous was based on?
Well, I went to boarding school in Massachusetts. The school was a bit strict and during my time there I saw plenty of kids get kicked out. They’d disappear off campus so fast that you rarely even had a chance to say goodbye. I became interested in what happened to these kids who kind of dropped off the map; I wondered where they went next. What the rest of their lives held. Well, as it turns out, I got suspended for my senior year, and so I became that kid. The one who fell off the map. And the answer to my question was, nothing happens to you. You go home and your life just stops. It was a surreal, unsettling, and incredibly boring period in my life. I was in limbo, 17 and lost in the world, living with my parents again. That time spurred some creative juices in me which would take years to realize as the film, and then the book.
2. What are some of the challenges of turning a movie into a novel? Did you work from a screenplay and flesh out from there? Briefly describe your process.
I did start writing from the script, but rather quickly the book took off and became its own thing. You write a movie script based on the budget you have, and the budget for my film was small – like, piggy-bank small. For the book, I created scenes that I could never afford to shoot, so I was able to unleash my imagination, which was a thrill. Of course, the experience cuts both ways because the hardest chapters in the book to write ended up being the ones that were inspired by the most quiet, simple scenes in the movie. Writing simply is, simply put, awfully hard.