Category Archives: Author/Illustrator Spotlight

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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Read Aloud Thursday–illustrator spotlight

We interrupt this unintentional (and completely unplanned) bloggy break to announce. . .

Nothing. :-)

I’m wrestling now with just getting the bare minimum done, and I’m losing. (Ever seen a 38 week pregnant woman wrestle? It ain’t pretty.:-) ) It seems like life is happening faster now than I can keep up, and several things have conspired together lately that have made blogging time practically nonexistent, and at least so far down on the list of priorities that it falls off every day. I try to catch up a little on the weekends, but this past weekend was particularly busy, with the girls participating in a music event that lasted much of the day on Saturday. Plus, we celebrated Steady Eddie’s birthday this weekend, and there is this little thing going on in our house called finding room in our three-bedroom rancher for another little body. Anyway, we have been reading, and life has been ticking along at quite a pace. It looks like I might just give birth within the next couple of weeks, too. :-) I’ll try to keep you all posted.

I pay a lot more attention now to illustrations than I did, say, ten years ago. I think part of it has to do with the fact that I have a highly visual, art-loving child, and I like to provide inspiration for her whenever I can. These two are winners for both their stories and their illustrations.

Spike, the Mixed-Up Monster by Susan Hood is actually not a book I was drawn to on first notice.  However, when I saw that Melissa Sweet is responsible for its illustrations, I had to bring it home.  Melissa Sweet just  happens to be one of my favorite illustrators, having both written and illustrated Balloons Over Broadway, which I love, and having illustrated this year’s Cybils winning nonfiction picture book, Mrs. Harkness and the Panda.  It turns out that I warmed up to the story, too, despite initial misgivings that the characters (all animals) in the story are more anthropomorphized than I like.  It’s the story of an axolotl named Spike who fails at being a monster because he’s “no bigger than a lily pad.”  The story is turned on its ear when Spike “saves” his animal friends from a scary Gila monster simply by smiling at him, something the poor Gila monster has never experienced before.  So–smiling axolotls and lonely Gila monsters.  Okay.  However, I have to say that the fact that this story is chock full of Spanish words and phrases redeems it for me a good bit, and then the addendum at the end–“More About Spike and His Amigos”–that details all kinds of interesting facts about the animals (some unusual, some common) in the book moves the book up several notches for me.  It’s one of those “catch them with the story line and then give them the hard, cold facts” tricks that I happen to like in this story.  (I don’t always like it, to be honest, but it works here.)  Melissa Sweet‘s illustrations in this story are less collage-like than I have come to expect from her work, but still whimsical and winning.  Animal loving kids or parents wishing to inject a bit of language study into their read-alouds will enjoy this one.  (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue gets high marks right off the bat because it won a 2013 Caldecott honor thanks to Pamela Zagarenski‘s illustrations.  I didn’t even know that Pamela Zagarenski was the illustrator when I requested this book from my library.  When Steady Eddie brought it home yesterday afternoon and I realized that she is also the illustrator of one of my favorite poetry books, Red Sings from Treetops (also a Caldecott honor book), I was sold.  (Truly–I like Red Sings from Treetops so much that I wrote about it again here.)  The story of Sleep Like a Tiger is gentle and quiet, a perfect bedtime story.  It’s about a little girl who doesn’t want to go to bed.  After completing her bedtime routine, she asks her parents if everything in the world goes to sleep.  Her parents then begin recounting how many different animals sleep:  whales “swim slowly around and around in a large circle and in the ocean and sleep”; snails “curl up like a cinnamon roll inside their shell.”  In the end, of course, the little girl grows sleepy, and the story ends with the girl subtly being compared to all the animals her parents have just told her about.  It’s cozy and warm and just altogether lovely.  Pamela Zagarenski’s illustrations are saturated, whimsical, and unusual. Like the people in Red Sings from Treetops, the people in Sleep Like a Tiger all wear crowns on their heads.  Obviously, this is a motif that Zagarenski uses frequently, and like many of the details of her illustrations, there’s probably more there than meets the eye.  You can read more about Zagarenski and her creative process (and see loads of illustrations from a few years ago) in this interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog.  Really, I feel ill qualified to say much about her illustrations, other than to say that I like them a lot and that hers and Melissa Sweet’s seem similar to me, with Zagarenski’s being a bit darker and more symbolic.  Check out Sleep Like a Tiger and tell me what you think!  (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)


So this week it’s all about award-winning illustrators at RAT.  We are reading other things, too, and I hope to have another chapter book to share next week.  If my blogging seems spotty for the next little bit, though, you’ll know why.  I hope to at least get my RAT posts prepped in advance, but we shall see.

What are you reading aloud?  This week, please just leave your link in the comments.  It appears that the account I usually use for my linky list has expired, and I need to do a bit of investigating before I decide how to proceed.

Have a terrific Thursday, friends!



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