It Starts With Wonder | Guest blog post from Kate Messner

It Starts With Wonder

by Kate Messner 

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This series started on a school field trip. I taught seventh grade English for fifteen years, as part of a wonderful interdisciplinary team. Every winter, we used to take our students on a snowshoe field trip in the nearby Adirondack Mountains to look for animal tracks and other signs of life in the winter woods. On one of those field trips, we saw this.

Hole in snow
Photograph by Loree Griffin Burns

It was just a little hole in the snow, with some tiny tracks leading up to it. The naturalist guiding us could have walked right on past. But instead, she stopped our group and said, “Oh! Everyone gather around and look at this!” When we were all circled around, she pointed down and said breathlessly, “Do you know what this means?” She paused. Then she whispered. “This means that we’ve had a visitor from…the subnivean zone!”

We stood in hushed silence for a moment until someone said, “What’s that?” And our guide explained that the subnivean zone is the fancy phrase used to describe the secret network of tunnels and tiny caves that exist under the winter snow. All the smallest forest animals knew about it, she told us, and they’d go down there to be a little warmer, a little safer from predators. And then we continued on down the path.

But the rest of the day, as I padded through the woods on my snowshoes, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. We’d been hiking for three or four miles…and all that time, there’d been a secret invisible world going on down there, under the snow? I asked a lot more questions. We talked more about the different animals who make their winter homes under the snow and the creatures who find their way through the woods above. And when I got back to the school bus, after I took attendance and made sure we hadn’t left any seventh graders out in the woods, I started writing. I didn’t even have a notebook with me that day – my first draft of Over and Under the Snow was written on the back of the attendance list for the field trip, in bumpy, school-bus handwriting. But it couldn’t wait, because I was fuelled by wonder that afternoon.

That’s what we do as writers of children’s books – we wonder. We stop everyone in their tracks. We slow down the day for a few minutes to say, “Look at this! Look more closely… Isn’t it amazing?” And that’s how I know when I have a story idea with the staying power to grow into a picture book. If I’m feeling that sense of awe at how things work, how things are, how amazing this part of our natural world is, then kids are likely to feel that way, too.

After Over and Under the Snow was published and doing well in the world, Chronicle asked illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and I if there might be another hidden world we’d like to explore. We emailed back and forth a bit, talking about the things that made us wonder. And we discovered that we both loved our vegetable gardens. Not just the weeding and tomato-eating part of gardening…but the wondering part. We’re both parents who love getting down on our bellies to look more closely at the critters that inhabit our gardens, and that was the wonder that sparked our second book together, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

Our third book together, Over and Under the Pond, starts in that same place – with a familiar setting and a desire to slow down for a closer look. When I was getting ready to work on this book, I went back to the setting of Over and Under the Snow – the trails of the Paul Smiths Visitors Interpretive Center in the Adirondacks – but in a different season. The pond that had been covered with ice and snow in January felt like an entirely different place in July — a green, lush, buzzing ecosystem, just waiting to be explored. So I scheduled one of the centre’s guided canoe trips and spent a day paddling through the reeds. We marvelled at the tiny water striders skating on the pond’s surface, stared up at woodpecker scars on a tall tree by the water, and gasped as an American Bittern fluttered up from the grass.

Over the pond
Photograph by Loree Griffin Burns

There were families along on the trip, and I watched them, too. With their phones turned off and tucked away in waterproof bags, they paddled through the quiet together, whispering about the minnows and wondering what might live in that hollow log on shore. Slowing down in places like this feeds us in important ways. As a writer, I walked away from my canoe at the end of the day full of ideas, full of images and poetry and fresh air. I was ready to hit the library, finish my research, and get to work on Over and Under the Pond. But maybe even more important than that, spending time in the quiet of a cold snowy trail or a warm mountain pond reminds us to slow down. To look. Listen. And wonder. That’s my biggest hope for these books – that they’ll bring families together on the couch for a cozy story and then outdoors to wonder, too.


Over and Under the Pond is out now, order your copy today.

#SummerReads | Author Suggestions Part 2

TBR-pile
We are back with more suggestions for your TBR pile.
Josephine

Patricia Hruby Powell, author of the inspiring picture book Josephine is here to share her #SummerReads selection:

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
  • And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman

“whew, that wasn’t easy. (I only got as far as books beginning with A – kidding, actually, but, hmmm).”

Have you read any of these? Share your thoughts & #SummerReads with us @ACBYA using #ACBbooks. 

Tell Me a Tattoo story.

Tell Me a Tattoo Story

“I love this book. It is original, unique and a ‘it’s about time’ kind of a book!” Treasures of Picture Books

A bestselling author-illustrator duo join forces to create a modern father-son love story. The father tells his little son the story behind each of his tattoos, and together they go on a beautiful journey through family history. There’s a tattoo from a favourite book his mother used to read him, one from something his father used to tell him, and one from the longest trip he ever took. And there is a little heart with numbers inside-which might be the best tattoo of them all.

Tell Me A Tattoo Story Internals

Tell Me A Tattoo Story Internals

Tell Me a Tattoo Story Internals

Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee and Eliza Wheeler is out now. Pick-up your copy any good bookstore and online.

The Making of One Bear Extraordinaire.

Author and artist Jayme McGowan is here to talk about how she made her beautiful picture book; One Bear Extraordinaire.

One Bear Extraodinaire

One Bear Extraordinaire is the story of Bear, a rambling one-man band, who wakes up one morning with a song in his head, but as he tries to play it, discovers that something is missing.

He packs up his camp, stuffs all of his instruments into his backpack and sets off in search of the mysterious missing thing. He meets other musicians along the way and comes to learn that every song sounds sweeter with friends by his side.

The seed of the story sprouted from an image I had drawn of a bear with a backpack over-stuffed with musical instruments. I developed the text of the story from there and the rest of the images followed.

One Bear Sketch

I created the art using a process called “three-dimensional” illustration: I begin with a rough graphite sketch. Then, using colored pencils, I fill in the sketch – trying out different combinations of color to find the right palette. Once I’ve settled on a palette, I pull colored paper from my ever-growing collection of new and repurposed paper. I also hand painted many of the paper elements using watercolors.

cut

I use graphite transfer paper to move the sketch outline onto the colored paper and then add details with ink and colored pencil. I cut out each piece of paper by hand and carefully assemble the pieces using tweezers and glue in order to build my characters, layer by layer. I then stage miniature scenes in a paper theater, using wire and clothespins to hold everything in place. When the scene is complete, I take dozens of photographs with a variety of camera settings, lenses, and light.

Bear

Fox Rabbit Raccoon

 

and Volià! One Bear and his friends come to life!

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Interstellar Cinderella

Deborah Underwood has let us in on the inspiration behind her new book Interstellar Cinderella. 

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Interstellar Cinderella was not born out of some grand desire to reinvent a fairy tale; it sprang from word play. A friend was visiting me, we were being silly, and I heard the words “Interstellar Cinderella” come out of my mouth. I immediately ran to the big sheet of idea paper I had tacked on my door and scribbled the words down. What a great title that would make, I thought.

Pages from CH_Interstellar_INT_Mechs_9781452125329

In fact, it seemed like such a great title that I assumed someone else would have already written a picture book with that name. But I checked just to be sure, and couldn’t believe my luck—the title was free! Then it just became a question of writing the manuscript.

That’s the short answer to the question of where Interstellar Cinderella came from. But there were other influences at work, too.

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One of my favourite things when I was growing up was going to the planetarium with my dad. Dad was a maths professor, and his astronomy colleague did planetarium shows several times a year. I loved the domed ceiling, I loved the silhouette of our town that lined the walls, I loved the way the lights came down gradually so our eyes would have time to adjust, and I loved the distinctive timbre of the astronomer’s voice as she guided us through the heavens. So the idea of a fairy tale set in space delighted me.

I also wanted Cinderella to have more agency than she does in the traditional story. The princesses I read about when I was little weren’t exactly the drivers of their own fates. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are not just sleeping, but comatose during critical parts of their stories. Cinderella is stuck at home waiting for her prince to rescue her. The girls I know are smart, strong, and courageous. It seemed to me they deserved the option of reading about a smart, strong, courageous fairy tale protagonist.

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When I was a kid, I was interested in mechanical things (again in large part due to my father, who, in my eyes, was able to fix anything). So I made Cinderella a mechanically-inclined girl who dreams of repairing rocket ships. And I decided that her main motivation wouldn’t be to go to a ball, but to go see the ships in the Royal Space Parade. If the prince’s ship happened to break down and she was able to rescue him? All the better!

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I hope kids enjoy reading Interstellar Cinderella as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I hope it inspires a new generation of mechanics, rocket pilots, and astronomers—male and female.

Interstellar Cinderella is available NOW from all good bookshops and online through our website.

Merry Christmas from Abrams and Chronicle Books

We hope your day is filled with festive fun and charm.

We wanted to share our own festive cheer with a glance at the 1914 Christmas Truce, that started on Christmas Eve 100 years ago, through John Hendrix’s book Shooting At The Stars.

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Shooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I in 1914, writing a letter home to his mother describing his unforgettable Christmas Eve.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT

Despite fierce fighting from both sides, both German and Allied soldiers ceased firing and came together on the battle field to celebrate the holiday. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged gifts and played football. But as the sun began to rise, they returned to their separate trenches and waited for the battle to begin again.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT-2

Interweaving beautiful illustrations with hand-lettered text, author and illustrator John Hendrix tells a story that celebrates the humanity and kindness that can persist even during the darkest periods of our history.

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Very Merry Christmas one and all.

Five Questions Monday

Image ©Bogie Uram

Star of today’s Five Question Monday is Andrea Beaty, the wonderful author behind Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck architect and the brand new Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau!

1.  How do you like your eggs in the morning?

At a diner booth watching the drizzly world go by as I sip hot coffee and riddle over a storyline.

2. What’s your favourite joke?  

The Reverse Knock Knock Joke. You start …

3. What film character are you most like?

The Cowardly Lion. If I only had the noive.

4. What is the first book you ever read?

Dick and Jane. I am old.

5. Would you rather have to greet everyone with a high five or a fist bump for the rest of your life? (imagine fist bumping in an interview!?)  

I would prefer to greet everyone with interpretive dance.

Thank you Andrea, we would LOVE to great everyone with interpretive dance!

5 Question Monday

Illustrator of Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau, Liverpudlian, milliner and all-round lovely chap, David Roberts answers out London Fashion Week 5 Question Monday!

1.       How do you like your eggs in the morning?

Poached 

2.       What’s your favourite joke?

Oh it’s to rude to repeat.

3.       What film character are you most like?

Ratty from The Wind in the Willows, I am never happier than when I am in a rowing boat.

4.       What is the first book you ever read?

A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, I bought it when I was 8 or 9 and it is still my favourite book ever ever ever, it contains the words Boodlyboodlyboodly and Doodleedoodleedoodleedoo! Need I say more.

5.       Would you rather make a hat for The Queen or Paddington Bear?

Is this a trick question? I think Paddington Bear would get sticky marmalade all over it, which would be horrendous to clean, so I will go for the Queen, I would love to see her in one of Madame Chapeau’s creations! Or Paddington bear’s hat!

BOODLYBOODLYBOODLY David! We think the Queen in Paddington Bear’s hat would be second only to the Queen in a Madame Chapeau creation!

http://www.davidrobertsillustration.com/

Photograph of David by Lynn

Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau, 9781419712197, Abrams Books for Young Readers, £10.99, September 14

Merry Christmas from Abrams and Chronicle Books

We hope your day is filled with festive fun and charm.

We wanted to share our own festive cheer with a glance at the 1914 Christmas Truce, that started on Christmas Eve 100 years ago, through John Hendrix’s book Shooting At The Stars.

9781419711756

Shooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I in 1914, writing a letter home to his mother describing his unforgettable Christmas Eve.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT

Despite fierce fighting from both sides, both German and Allied soldiers ceased firing and came together on the battle field to celebrate the holiday. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged gifts and played football. But as the sun began to rise, they returned to their separate trenches and waited for the battle to begin again.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT-2

Interweaving beautiful illustrations with hand-lettered text, author and illustrator John Hendrix tells a story that celebrates the humanity and kindness that can persist even during the darkest periods of our history.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT-3

Very Merry Christmas one and all.