Category Archives: Author/Illustrator Spotlight

Spotlight on Rosalyn Schanzer

I have a new-to-me author/illustrator to share today, which is something I haven’t done in a while.  I discovered Rosalyn Schanzer quite by accident as I was window shopping on Amazon for some books for my girls’ U.S. History studies.  Buying picture books and novels about U.S. History has become a minor hobby of mine, so I thought as I put her book George vs. George:  The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides in my shopping cart, “What’s one more?”  ;-)  I was really intrigued by the premise of a book that shows the American Revolution from the perspectives of the two Georges:  King George III of England and George Washington.  This is a picture book, but don’t let the genre fool you:  this is good stuff!   In fact, I daresay that it would make an excellent addition to even high school level studies!  This book compares and contrasts everything from the two Georges’ physical attributes (they were both tall and red-headed) to English versus American colonial government to the British versus the “Rebel” forces during the war.  It also follows the timeline and narrative of the American Revolution while noting the similarities and distinctions.  The illustrations are beautifully colorful and intricately detailed.  They are almost comic-book like in that each page features speech ballons which contain actual quotations.  However, this is not a book of caricature; the illustrations are, as far as I can tell, carefully rendered and as accurate as possible.  I am really intrigued by this book and think it’s worth a second and third glance for upper elementary students and up.  (National Geographic, 2004)
A book I plan to share with my girls next week is Schanzer’s How We Crossed the West:  The Adventures of Lewis and Clark.  It is somewhat similar in format to George vs. George.  It’s not quite as detailed, though it is plenty detailed for elementary and middle school aged children.  Schanzer works in lots of actual quotes from the actual journals of Lewis and Clark.  The book provides a wonderful overview of their long and exciting journey, with enough detail to whet appetites for further study.  I learned a lot about the Voyage of Discovery and am really quite interested in all things Lewis and Clark now after having read this one picture book.  (National Geographic, 1997)

The things that stand out to me the most about Schanzer’s are the lovely illustrations and the obvious careful attention to detail.  The backmatter of both books includes lots of “after the story” information, and George vs. George includes an extensive bibliography as well as the sources for all of the quotations in the book.  Both book includes a list of websites and addresses for more information.  The Lewis and Clark book includes several beautifully illustrated maps.   I love both of these books and really look forward to reading more of her stuff.  I plan to order Gold Fever!:  Tales from the California Gold Rush soon.
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The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

We’re Lois Ehlert fans here at the House of Hope. (Want proof?  See here, here, and especially here.  We have even made Lois Ehlert-inspired art!)  When I saw her newest book, an autobiography of sorts entitled The Scraps Book:  Notes from a Colorful Lifeon the list of nominated titles for the 2014 Cybils in the category of elementary and middle grade nonfiction, I added to my book-request list at the library.  I’m so glad I did!  If I could choose one vocation that seems to me to be almost perfect, it is being a children’s book illustrator.  I think it would be so much fun and so very rewarding to spend my life making art to inspire and educate children!  (Too bad I have  very little talent and no training, right? :-) )  It follows, then, that I am absolutely taken in by artists’ stories.  I long to see their studios and peek into their processes.  This book gives its reader just that, along with a healthy dose of Ehlert’s enthusiasm and encouragement for young artists. The first spread of the book after the title page announces in large, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom letters:





(unless you love books and art)

And really, that just about sums it up.  Ehlert includes photographs and hand-lettered captions which are interspersed with her trademark collage-style illustrations taken right from the pages of her own books to tell the story of her artistic life.  It provides a great introduction to the collage medium as well as her own creative process.  My favorite parts of the book are the photographs of the actual flowers she used as her models in her book Waiting for Wings and the copies of the leaves (which she collected and others gave her) that she used in making Leaf Man.  We see her sketches which eventually became her books.  I love that!  This whole book–from cover to cover–are a celebration of Ehlert’s passion for art.  The endpapers are even collages of pictures of her own folk art collection.  This is a not-to-be-missed title for both Lois Ehlert fans and budding artists.  I think Ehlert herself, through this book, is encouraging wanna-be artists (like me!) to Just Do It.    Highly Recommended.  (Beach Lane Books, 2014)



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A couple biographies by Bryant and Sweet

Confession: the real reason, the primary one, that I want to mention these books here at Hope Is the Word is because I am completely taken with Melissa Sweet‘s illustrations.   Her illustrations alone would make these books worth a second glance in my opinion.  However, when you combine Sweet’s detailed and beautiful collage-style illustrations to Jen Bryant‘s storytelling, what you have then is a very winning combo of story and pictures and the perfect way to introduce elementary aged children (well, anyone, really) to an artist and poet they might otherwise not learn about until much later.

A Splash of Red is the life story of Horace Pippin, an American folk artist whose life and art were hidden in obscurity until the artist N.C. Wyeth brought it to light.   (Visit the book’s website to learn more about Horace Pippin.)  What I really appreciate about Pippin’s life as communicated by this fabulous book is how he persevered in his art even after a war injury could’ve sidelined him permanently.  This is such an interesting, inspirational, and beautifully rendered story, certainly worthy of the  2014 Schneider Family Book Award and the Sibert honor it received.  Highly Recommended.  (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)

Art and poetry are two of my favorite things, so I was completely tickled to bring home another Bryant/ Sweet book from the library, this one a 2009 Caldecott honor-winning picture book biography of the poet William Carlos Williams.  A River of Words relates the life of Willie Williams, the young dreamer who spent hours outdoors just listening to the rhythm and cadences of the Passaic River tumbling over rocks and ultimately cascading in a waterfall.  Although he loved poetry, Williams ultimately became a doctor because “no one paid much money for poetry.”  Of course, the urge to write was so strong in  Williams that he often jotted down his thoughts on his prescription pad and wrote poetry late into the night.  My girls were familiar with Williams’ poetry, specifically his poem “This Is Just To Say” thanks to Gail Carson Levine’s inspired-by collection, Forgive Me, I MeanTo Do It which we had read before during a poetry tea time.  Both of these Bryant/Sweet books made a great addition to last week’s tea time, and I give them both a Highly Recommended.  (Eerdmans, 2008)

I shall certainly have my eyes peeled for more books by this dynamic duo!

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Author/Illustrator Spotlight: Byron Barton

I haven’t written an author or illustrator spotlight in ages, but the DLM has picked up on a good one lately, so I thought I’d share.

Byron Barton is the author and illustrator of Machines at Work  and a host of other books.  We like Machines at Work a lot; in fact, the DLM requests “the digger book” any time he sees it or even thinks about it. We’ve had it from the library for many weeks now, and I actually think we need to add it (and possibly more of Barton‘s) to our home collection.   What’s so appealing about Barton‘s books are their straightforward nature and the bold, graphic illustrations.  Each two page spread is accompanied by only one sentence.  Most of the sentences are ones in which the subject is understood (unstated), the verb is strong and transitive.  
It’s perfect for our resident three year old boy who actually loves to be read to but also has a fascination for all things vehicular or construction and likes to study the large, graphic pictures intently.   We also own Barton‘s Planes, and it’s a winner, too.  Obviously, the style is very similar and will appeal to children who like things that go.

The DLM gives Byron Barton a Highly Recommended.



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Little House, big trip


Steady  Eddie and I have a grand scheme, an overarching plan to expose our children to as much of this great country of ours as we can before they leave our home.  However, it’s something of an overwhelming undertaking to me when I consider that there are almost  nine years between our youngest and our oldest child.  There will never be a perfect time to take them all to see the nation’s capital or the redwoods or New England.  The time to do it–whatever it is–is now, right?

Well, that was Steady Eddie’s thinking when he decided (and convinced me) that the time to take the girls to see Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri, was his long weekend after Independence Day.  We had talked and talked about making this trip for ages, but when it came time to actually commit, all I could think about it is a rambunctious DLM and Benny, who pretty much conks out whenever he’s in the car seat (hence perhaps resulting in a sleepless night after so much napping).  This time, we didn’t tell the girls we were going.  (I was under the influence of the chapter on creative recreation in The Hidden Art of Homemaking when I decided to do this.  Edith Schaeffer discusses planning surprise trips in this chapter.  Oh, and I was also inspired by this post at Simple Homeschool.)  Everyone just got up Friday morning and we told them we were going somewhere and that we still had to pack!  (Eeep!)  Of course, things moved along rather quickly with the added motivation of a mystery trip, so we got out the door with relative ease.  We decided to give the girls a clue to our destination each time we crossed a state line, so they had something to look forward to on this seven hour journey.  We traveled through Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and finally, into Missouri.  Their clues were

  1. We are going North.
  2. We are going to the “Show Me” state.
  3. This is a literary field trip.
  4. As stubborn as a _________mule.
Since we had talked about going to Mansfield earlier in the year, I think Lulu had an inkling of an idea where we were headed, but neither girl could quite figure it out geographically.
After several stops (including a Chick-Fil-A lunch stop that turned into at least 1 1/2 hours by the time I nursed Benny and everyone ate and went to the bathroom, etc.), we finally arrived  in Mansfield just in time for me to nurse Benny and for us to purchase tickets for the play Laura’s Memories, a local production that compresses many of the events of the Ingalls and Wilder families into a two hour, song-and-dance extravaganza.  We enjoyed the production, though for me it was more about the simple fact that we were sitting in an amphitheater in Mansfield than anything else.
On Saturday we headed back to Mansfield from our hotel in Springfield.  First stop:  the cemetery where Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are buried:
I apparently have a thing for seeing where famous people (especially authors) are buried.  I’m thinking about making it a feature here on my blog.  ;-)  I thought it was interesting that the Wilders are buried in the middle of this cemetery, which is just your average, run-of-the-mill community cemetery, with nothing designating their graves are special except for a few bushes and a chain.  You can see that someone had left Laura a note on her headstone, as well as a few flowers.
From the cemetery we headed over to Rocky Ridge, the farm house that Laura and Almanzo began building after they moved from Mansfield from De Smet, South Dakota.  If my memory serves me correctly, it took them something like fourteen years (?) to finish the home.  It’s really lovely from the outside:
Of course, photography is forbidden inside the home, but if you love getting a peek into what someone’s real life was like, Rocky Ridge Farm definitely provides insight.  This house is furnished just as if the Wilders were still living there.  I loved seeing Laura’s kitchen that Almanzo furnished for her diminutive stature (4′ 11″–did you know that?–I knew she was “Half Pint,” but I didn’t realize she wasn’t a whole lot taller than Lulu is now!).  It was also neat to see all of Almanzo’s handiwork–the (short) chairs he made, the rugs he hooked, the walking sticks he carved.  He was obviously a very industrious man!  Visiting Rocky Ridge made me realize that Laura and Almanzo were just ordinary people, no different in many ways than my grandparents, separated only by a generation.  What brought this home to me were the Currier and Ives calendar prints that Laura had framed and hung over her bed.  My grandparents always had a calendar just like that, and keeping the pictures is something my granny would’ve done.
The museum at Rocky Ridge is fantastic, providing even more artifacts and memorabilia.  The most famous object in the museum is Pa’s fiddle, but my personal favorite is the collection of Garth Williams sketches from the books.  It’s so interesting and inspiring to see his rough sketches and notes, the thought processes behind his famous illustrations.  For some reason, I found the sketches even more impressive than Laura’s book drafts, written longhand on simple tablets.
From Rocky Ridge we drove the very short distance to Laura and Almanzo’s retirement home, known as the rock house.  Rose built this home for them after they quit farming (I suppose), but they lived here for less than ten years.  Rose had moved into Rocky Ridge, and as soon as she vacated it for New York, Laura and Almanzo returned home, never to leave again.

This home was very modern, with electricity, a tiled bathroom, and running (filtered!) water.  Modeled after an English cottage, it is very pretty and cozy. When the historical society finally acquired this house around 1990, its owner was storing hay in it.  Imagine that!  Storing hay in the home where Laura herself once lived!

My apologies to the family on the porch! :)

Most amazing of all is the realization that it was in this stone house that Laura began writing the Little House books.

The prospect from both homes is beautiful–hilly, lush, and green.  I can see why Laura and Almanzo called this place home for over sixty years.

After we left the rock house, we headed up to St. Louis for a bit of sightseeing, but that’s a tale for perhaps another day.

I’m glad Steady Eddie talked me into this trip, and I really look forward to exploring more with our family.

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