Art

While working on my bachelor’s degree, I optimistically took an art class intended for elementary school teachers.  It filled a requirement, and I thought it might help in future author/illustrator endeavors. It didn’t go as I had hoped.  I received an A in the course, but sketches of wine bottles and cloth napkins aren’t practical in children’s lit.

I may have had more luck if I had invested my time watching online drawing tutorials, especially when illustrators like Mo Willems and Jan Brett facilitate the imitation of their famous characters. 

The talent that both of those artists have amazes me.  The expressions on Trixie’s face in the “Knuffle Bunny” series show such emotion but yet are so simplistic that it gives hope to aspiring child artists.    

And the detail in Jan Brett’s illustrations leaves readers in awe.  My students’ favorites are the “Gingerbread Baby” books.  Even though the storyline automatically brings elementary school affection, Jan Brett still invested countless hours in the details of the illustrations.  For those of us whose attempts at drawing a house involve a square with a triangle on top, Jan Brett shows us what a house really looks like.  And her trees?  They have individual branches and pine needles!

My favorite book of Jan Brett’s is “The Umbrella.”  Most of us will never be in a position to visit a cloud forest, but we feel like we’ve experienced a glimpse of their beauty after seeing Jan Brett’s artwork. 

This month I had the opportunity to visit the Water Lilies again – one of hundreds of Monet’s works of art depicting his beautiful pond.  Seeing the variety of colors and the thick brushstrokes brings awe.  More than a hundred years after his passing, his paintings continue inspire so many other people and works of art. 

Mary Whyte captures water lily beauty using watercolor in “I Love you the Purplest.”  With her elegant illustrations, readers pause, better understanding and feeling Barbara M Joose’s message.  The language gracefully combines with the art to share the affinity of a mother’s love – how a mother can love each child so completely and so uniquely.  And, it provides parents with an honest way to answer the question, “Who do you love best?”

I would love to see Mary Whyte’s paintings in person.  And Jan Brett’s.  And so many other works of art.  I love the idea behind Eric Carle’s museum of Picture Book art. Children’s illustrations have power and importance.  An author’s words aren’t read unless the reader is enticed to pick it up. Artwork provides that motivation.    

Admiring art in books (and during occasional museum visits) feels like my destiny.  And, I’m okay with that – I am better with words than I am with pictures. One of these days, I will make it to Massachusetts to see beloved picture book illustrations first hand. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed to someday win the contest to have Jan Brett visit our school. Someday there may be a great story about a wine bottle befriending a napkin, but until then, my illustrations will rely on the talent of others.    

Welcome to my book blog :-)

On the first day of working at a school, the most important question to answer is…

“What do you want the students to call you?”

For a classified employee, a common option is to add “Miss” to your first name, combining the expected display of respect with the intimacy of first name usage.  During my years as a preschool teacher, I was “Miss Maria.” However, when I became a librarian after sixteen years of marriage and the birth of five kids, “Miss” didn’t feel like the right fit.  And my last name isn’t difficult to say, so I opted out of the “first letter of the last name” option. (Besides, does anyone working with first graders, really want to be known as “Mrs. Pee?”) So, now at school, my first name is “Mrs.” And my last name is “Powell.”

As much as I thought that “Mrs. Powell” would be easy to say, many kids get confused.  You see, the first three letters of my last name match the first three letters of our school assemblies – “Pow Wows.” Because that term is more familiar to the students, being called “Mrs. PowWow” is a daily occurrence.  As is “Library Teacher.” And at the grocery store, I often hear an excited “That’s the Library!” when kids see me.  Being referred to as a building isn’t meant disrespectfully – it shows that the kids are also excited about my job – and they know where to find me when they want a book.

The spontaneous things kids say provide great opportunities.  Like when I grab a story to read and the class says, “We’ve already read that one.”  I love to say “Me too.  I’ve read it more than 100 times!” Some books are worth reading more than once.

The book I have read most often is the same one my mom read to me most often – Dr. Seuss’s “The Sneetches.” But last week I chose to present another childhood favorite, “The Monster at the End of this Book.”  I remembered that I had a copy hidden in my closet when I learned a new word in my Children’s Literature class. (Pastiche – when one work of art celebrates another.)  As I read modern children’s literature, I love seeing glimpses of Jon Stone’s influence. His legacy is vast.

How “good” a book is also depends on the audience.  For example, I never bought my own kids “I’ll Love you Forever.”  The stalkerish tendencies of the mother never felt right to me. (I’ll admit those actions are especially tempting during my almost-empty-nest stage of motherhood, but no.  Just no.  Even location sharing with my grown kids feels like an inappropriate invasion.) However, when I read “I’ll Love you Forever” to my elementary students, they see it as funny. And it becomes so fun to read out loud. We get to do that gasp of anticipation, while making big eyes and covering our mouths in surprise as the mom crawls across her teenage son’s floor. 

I love being a librarian, and I am excited to take this love of books one step farther.

Adults often ask children…

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

In elementary school, I would answer that I wanted to be a text book writer. I loved writing (and thought I could do better than the authors of the bland books we were compelled to read). Because I was painfully shy, my goal was to remain behind the scenes. I’m still not a fan of the spotlight, but there is now something I want more than anonymity. I want to be a real author.

Fourteen years ago, I accidentally wrote my first non fiction children’s book.

When my fourth child was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, we left the office with just the phone number of a national NF support group written on a scrap of paper. That’s it. A phone number. I needed more information. I needed something tangible. And, the internet was an unreliable place to look for answers.

Plus, I knew that at some point I would need to explain NF to my son. At that age, he loved and memorized his scrapbooks. So, I made a medical scrapbook explaining the condition through photos of my son and one of his buddies with NF. When doctors saw the booklet the boys carried to their appointments, we were encouraged to expand it and make it available to other families. Wanting to remain behind the scenes (and hoping to protect his identity), I left the book authorless.  If I had any idea that “NF Buddies” would last this long, I would have held out for better photos and begged for graphic design help. 

Now, the children in the book are preparing for college, and I’m left with the question…

“What do you want to be now that the kids are grown up?”

I know what I want to be and feel ready to take the steps necessary to become a published author. When submitting manuscripts, one of the prescribed steps is showing publishers an online presence.  As usual, I am late to the game.  Blogging is old school now.  As is reading paper books.  And, even writing paper books. 

But, I want to write those paper books so I am following the outlined steps, and I am creating a digital footprint. Follow me if you want to help in my quest…