What’s Not to Love About CAKE?

Even though I had to get up early in the morning with the hubby yesterday morning, I ended up having tons of fun. Guy and I did a performance of our play, The Pirate and the Penguin at the Comic Arts for Kids Expo (CAKE), a daylong, interactive celebration of image-based storytelling, which took place at the Lillian H. Smith Library.  After the play I did a short cartooning workshop, showing kids & parents how easy it was to draw pirates and penguins.

I truly love drawing and performing for kids. And though I always encourage these little creators to keep their own drawings, I really do love it when they give me their art. Here’s some samples from yesterday’s fun event:


A big thank-you must go out to Small Print Toronto, Little Island Comics and the Toronto Public Library for joining forces and creating this amazing day.

The Pirate and Penguin Play is the Thing!


…in which we’ll catch the conscience of the kids? Well, hopefully we’ll catch their attention and make ’em laugh! Yup, we’re at it again – gettin’ all silly and piratey and penguiny.

In case you didn’t know, Sunday Feb 27 is Family Literacy Day, “a national awareness initiative created by ABC Life Literacy Canada in 1999 and held annually on January 27 to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family.”

Well, we’re celebrating Family Literacy Day one day early – Guy & I will be whooping it up 2:00 – 3:00pm at the Maria A. Shchuka library tomorrow (Feb 26th) to celebrate this special day. After our play, I’ll be doing a cartooning workshop with the kids – showing them how I draw all my kooky cute characters.

So come on out if you can! Celebrate the fun of books and reading!

You Go, Jo!

In case you did not know this, I am a member of SCBWI, otherwise known as The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Foolishly I have never been very involved in SCBWI the way I am with CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators & Performers), because I’ve always been rather intimidated by this stellar organisation. But that is going to change, because I’m attending my first US Conference next year in New York! And yes, I’m terrified. But I’ve done things that have scared me before (flying to Nunavut, performing in front of people), so somehow I’ll manage (I hope).

Something else that I’ve done to get more involved in SCBWI is to enter their annual Tomie dePaola Art Award! I have chosen to illustrate a scene from Little Women (confession: I’ve yet to read the book. Have seen the movie with Katharine Hepburn, though). Here’s the text that I chose to illustrate:

Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and “fall into a vortex,” as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace. Her “scribbling suit” consisted of a black pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who, during these periods, kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally, to ask, “Does genius burn, Jo?” They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on; in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor.

You can see some of the other entries here, at the Unofficial Gallery.

Pirates & Penguins in the Land of OZ!

I just found out that The Pirate and the Penguin is now selling in Australia, thanks to Macmillan Australia! Woot! What’s not to love about pirates & penguins in the land of Oz? Seems like a perfect fit to me! So c’mon you lovely Aussies – Christmas is just around the corner, mate!

Life Story

“And, now it is your life story and it is you who play the leading role. The stage is set. The time is now. In the place, wherever you are. Each passing second, a new link in the endless chain of time. The drama of life is a continuous story. Ever new, ever changing and ever wondrous to behold.”

– from Life Story, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton.

The Important Thing About November is…that’s it’s Picture Book Month!

It’s still November, and it’s still Picture Book Month. And that’s important! You know what else is important? The Important Book, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. I never read this book as a kid, and I confess that when I discovered it a couple years ago, the book kinda freaked me out.

I found Leonard Weisgard’s art to be strange and a wee bit scary, and though I loved the gentle simplicity of MWB’s writing, my first thoughts were, “Well, duh – of course the important thing about rain is that it is wet! And really – there are lots of important things about rain, not just that it is wet!” But the more I read it, the more it grew on me. The Important Book is a unique and fascinating way to introduce a child to the many delightful sights and senses of the world.

It’s easy to forget as an adult that kids are new to the planet, and need a little help along the way. That’s pretty important.

Oh Happy Day – It’s Picture Book Month!

If you love picture books, and if you’re lucky enough to get to create them, then Picture Book Month might be be something you’d really enjoy. So what is Picture Book Month all about? Well, the web site states:“Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November.”

November can be a pretty dreary month as the days get shorter & darker, so I think a celebration around this glorious art form is just what the doctor ordered. And I figured I’d like to do my little bit by writing about some of the picture books out there that really move and inspire me.

Now I don’t wanna get all political on this blog, but just in case you didn’t know, there was an election last night, and this guy won. I suspect that many of my friends are feeling mighty happy today. So I think it only fitting that I start off with probably one of my most favourite picture books, The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Marc Simont. While reading Philip Nel’s wonderful biography of Crockett Johnson & Ruth Krauss, I found this quote, which I agree with, wholeheartedly: Susan Carr Hirschman, who ultimately had a half-century career in children’s book publishing, considers The Happy Day “one of the few perfect books for children that have ever been written.”

Lately I find myself drawn to picture books created in the 50s & 60s, and especially books with a limited choice of colours & clear, concise language. Books that truly get to ‘the heart of the matter’. For me, The Happy Day captures that sense of the joy of a beautiful moment in time more so than any other picture book I’ve ever read. Delicate black & white illustrations depict a quiet peaceful day in a wintery forest, where one by one, the animals awake and leave the comfort of their homes to enjoy the beauty of a gentle snowfall. It brings back memories of quiet days as a child, enjoying the snow, not a care in the world. I could read this book over and over. And I do. Because we all need a happy day every now and then.

How do you say Yippee! in Korean?

I’m thrilled to announce that my picture book, The Pirate and the Penguin is now in Korean!! It’s being published by the company Korea Schweitzer. Yippee! I was so thrilled when I received my copy in the mail that I ran down the street to our corner store, which is run by a very friendly Korean couple. I’ve never really been able to communicate very well with the wife who works at the cash most of the time, because her English is so limited. And of course, my Korean is non-existent. But we like each other (and she adores my husband), so our greetings are always enjoyable. But this time, it was a little bit different, a little bit magical. I showed her my book, and standing there in the tiny store, she read my story, laughed and chattered in Korean, trying to explain to me what the words meant, and at the same time, overjoyed that I had written and illustrated this book. Now she knows a little bit more about me, I know that she likes pirates and penguins, and once again I am reminded of the beauty of connecting through the marvelous world of books.

Awakened by Margaret

Recently I had the delightful opportunity to teach a picture book writing workshop to some high school students in St. Catharines.  It was a great deal of fun, the students seemed to enjoy themselves, and no one threw rocks at me.

I started the class with some (hopefully) inspiring quotes about writing picture books by some well-known authors, and decided to end the session with a rather long, but (in my opinion) very inspiring quote about the writing of Margaret Wise Brown. In reading this piece to the class, I was hoping to instill in them a desire to strive for this kind of quality of writing, as well as an understanding that writing good picture books is a special gift, worthy of respect. I got rather choked up while reading this aloud, and even now when I read it, I get chills all over. It’s from the introduction of Awakened by the Moon, a wonderful biography of children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown, written by Leonard S. Marcus:

I first became aware of Margaret Wise Brown’s work a few years after graduation, while browsing in a New York bookshop where copies of Goodnight Moon were stacked high on a table. As I read the book for the first time, unaware of the author’s legendary status within her field (or indeed anything about her) I was forcibly struck by the realization that the quietly compelling words I was saying over in my head were poetry and, what was more, poetry of a kind I prized: accessible but not predictable, emotional but purged of sentiment, vivid but so spare that every word felt necessary. Her words seemed to be rooted in the concrete but touched by an appreciation of the elusive, the paradoxical, the mysterious. There was astonishing tenderness and authority in the voice, and something mythic in it as well. It was as though the author had just now seen the world for the first time, and had chosen to honor it by taking its true measure in words.

Kid Confidential Winners!

Woo hoo! Today’s the day, kids! Thanks to all the folks who entered – I loved reading all the wonderful comments about being or not being a grown-up. For those who didn’t enter, well – the book is available at bookstores like Indigo or Barnes & Noble, and of course, Amazon. So what are you waiting for?

Ok, let’s get down to business! I do love me a good ol’ raffle contest, and I feel sad for those who don’t win, but hey – I can only give away so many books! So this is how I do the contest. First, I write all the names on tiny pieces of paper:

Then I get me my hand-dandy coffee raffle tin (which just happens to be sitting next to my cup of morning coffee). Coffeeeeee……mmmmmm….

I fold up all those tiny pieces of paper and place them in my handy-dandy raffle tin:

Then I shake up that tin like crazy! Look! Maggie has popped by to see what’s going on:

Then I pull each name out and announce it here on my blog! Maggie wants to be a part of the contest, so I have allowed her to be the ‘Vanna White’ gal. And the first winner is…Peej Maybe!

The second winner is….Michelle Kadarusman!

The third winner is…Kyle Miller!

And now…drum roll please…the BIG WINNER who gets a HARDCOVER copy of this fantabulous book is……..ISABELLA KRATYNSKI! Woo-hoo!!

I wish a big CONGRATS to all the winners, and thank you once again to everyone who made the effort to comment. I’ll be doing some more fun promotional cartoon stuff surrounding this book in the near future, so be sure to check in!

And don’t ever grow up!

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