Monday, June 27, 2011

Review #100: Just So Stories

It's our 100th review!  A few weeks ago we asked our readers to recommend books for us to consider for review #100.  The kids and I read as many as we could in the interim, and then we ranked our favorites.  When we tallied the votes, three of the books rose to the top, all within a point or two of each other.  (I think for our next 2 reviews we will feature the two runners-up -- be sure to check back to see what they are!)  But today, the distinction of Bookie Woogie's 100th review belongs to Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories"!

Dad:  First of all, congratulations on your 100th review...
Gracie (age 10):  Yea!  "Just So Stories."
Dad:  Why do you think this book came in first place when we voted?
Lily (age 8):  Because it's awesome.
Dad:  We probably wouldn't have read this book without the prompt.  I've owned this book since I was your age, but I had never actually read it.
Gracie:  Why not?
Dad:  Just never got around to it.
Isaac (age 12):  It's awesome.  Everyone should read it.
Lily:  The book is not just one story.  It's a lot of stories.  That's why it's called "Just So Stor-IESSSSSS."  Instead of "Just So Story."  Hee hee.
Dad:  What do all the stories have in common?
Gracie:  They are stories about how things got things.  How animals got their qualities.  Like how the elephant got his trunk and how the leopard got spots.  Things like that.
Dad:  Origin stories.  Like, a Spiderman origin story would tell about how he became Spiderman.  Or a Batman origin story would tell about how he became Batman.  So an elephant origin story will tell about how they got elephant-y.
Gracie:  These remind me of Tales of the Jungle Imps by Winsor McCay.
Dad:  They were published right around the same time.  Just a year apart.
Gracie:  The stories are not really true.  But they are really fun.
Dad:  Did you have a favorite story?
Lily:  I like "The Beginning of the Armadillos."
Dad:  That might have been my favorite too.
Gracie:  Oh, yeah.  That was great.
Lily:  There was a hedgehog and a turtle.  I like the part when they made the jaguar all confused.
Dad:  They engage in some great dialog.
Lily:  The jaguar's mom told him that the hedgehog is the one that curls up, and the tortoise is the one that goes inside of his shell and swims.  But they said to the jaguar, "Are you sure that's what your momma told you?"
Gracie:  Also, they confused him because the tortoise learned how to curl up, and the hedgehog learned how to swim.
Dad:  And as they got more and more like each other, they got more and more armadillo-y
Isaac:  I like the story about the elephant getting his trunk.
Dad:  Why was that one your favorite?
Isaac:  Because he got spanked, and he spanked everybody.
Dad:  So, you love spankings?
Isaac:  Whenever the elephant said anything, all his uncles and aunts spanked him.  Then at the end, the elephant gave all his family spankings back.
Dad:  Isaac, the Spank-lover...
Isaac:  And he also stuck his baboon uncle into a hornet's nest.
Dad:  Would it be fun to make up your own animal origin stories?
Lily:  How a pig learned how to dig with his snout.
Isaac:  Or how a frog learned to use his tongue to catch a fly.
Gracie:  Or how the snake lost his legs.
Dad:  I loved the way Rudyard Kipling writes.  That was my favorite thing about the book.  Beyond the funny stories, I love the language he uses.
Lily:  In every story, he says, "My Best Beloved," "My Best Beloved," "My Best Beloved," over and over and over.
Dad:  He must really love you guys.
Gracie:  And each story has one thing that he says over and over, just in that story.
Lily:  Like, in the leopard one he always says "exclusively," "exclusively," "exclusively."
Gracie:  And in "How the Whale Got His Throat" he keeps saying, "Do not forget about the man's suspenders..."
Lily:  And "He had to," "He had to," in "The Singsong of Old Man Kangaroo."
Dad:  That's called "repetition."  What else did Rudyard Kipling have fun with?  How about: "Stickly-Prickly."
Lily:  Rhyme.
Dad:  And "Slow-and-Solid."
Lily:  Alliteration.
Gracie:  He also likes long lists.
Dad:  Do you remember an example?
Gracie:  Yeah.  In "How the Whale Got his Throat," he says something like, "The man jumped and he bumped, and he smashed and he bashed, and he chopped and he hopped, and he danced and he pranced, and he bit and he knit..."
Dad:  Alright...
Gracie:  "And he kit and he wit..."
Dad:  Alright, good job...
Gracie:  "And he bot and he fought..."
Dad:  Okay, good list...
Gracie:  Yeah, he likes lists.
Isaac:  I like his descriptions.  He doesn't just say, "Here is a tree."  He would say something like, "Here is a swooshy-swashy, fluffy-poofy tree."
Dad:  He has lots of fun with words.
Gracie: (reciting) "He schlooped up a schloop of mud from the bank of the great, gray-green, greasy Limpopo and slapped it on his head to make a schlooopy-sloshy mudcap that was all trickly behind his ears."
Dad:  Man, Gracie, you have an awesome memory!  That's got to be pretty close.  The language is fun, huh?
Gracie:  Yes!  It sticks in my head.
Dad:  You have sticks in your head?
Gracie:  What?
Dad:  Someone named Joanna recommended this book to us.  Are we glad that she did?
Isaac:  Thank-you!
Dad:  What would we have missed out on if we had never read it?
Lily:  Armadillos.
Gracie:  And a lot of "Schlooping."

hedgehog, tortoise, and jaguar, by Lily

elephant getting his trunk, by Gracie

baboon in the hornet's nest, by Isaac

Author: Rudyard Kipling
Published, 1902: Macmillian
Like it?  Here it is

Monday, June 20, 2011

Interview #11: John Sandford

John Sandford is one of my favorite people in the world.  Anyone who knows him will quickly tell you he is witty, talented, generous, and gracious.

He was the first, real, live, professional illustrator I ever met.  I was fresh out of college, and I was in awe.  In my early working life, he inspired and encouraged me every single time we crossed paths.  Years later, not only did he remember me, but he hired me to work for him/with him as I created my very first children's book illustrations.  He's had a huge impact on the course of my life.  For about three years we daily worked a pencil's throw away from each other.  Growing up, little bitty Isaac always referred to him simply as "Sandford," and every time the kids see him they shower him with cut-out paper donuts.

A few years ago he took off for the big city of Chicago, where he now works as both art director and illustrator for Cricket Magazine Group.  But he's left lasting impressions here in town... the best children's mural I've ever laid eyes on in the local library, as well as countless impressions on the lives of those who know him.

We've reviewed two of his books in the past: "Monsterlicious" and "Tale of a Tail."  As we're closing in on our 100th review, we're honored that he took the time to video chat with us for an interview!  (The portrait above is by Gracie.)  As I said, John Sandford is one of my favorite people in the world, and I'm proud to count him as mentor, hero, and friend.

Dad:  Alright guys, before our interview, let's highlight this book: "The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers."
Gracie (age 10):  The story is about some lumberjacks and a big beast called a Hodag.
Lily (age 8):  He's a giant hairy creature with the head of an ox, the back of a dinosaur, the tail of an alligator, and the feet of a bear.  But he's not evil.
Dad:  Then why is he called the "terrible" hodag?
Lily:  He's not terrible.  But he is big and scary.
Isaac (age 12):  He's terrible because he eats all the blueberries.
Gracie:  He's only terrible if you are a blueberry bush.
Lily:  The lumberjacks are friends with the Hodag.
Isaac:  Then these animals catchers come and try to catch the Hodag to put him in the zoo.
Gracie:  They come with a butterfly net and a tiny little box, even though the Hodag is bigger than six men.  It looks like he's King Kong size.  But he's good.  He's a nice guy.
Lily:  The lumberjacks want the Hodag to stay because he helps them cut down trees.  So they try to stop the animal catchers.
Dad:  How do you like Mr. Sandford's illustrations?
Gracie:  They are awesome - they are so detailed.
Lily:  It looks really shadowy.  And all the men all have different noses - every single person has a different nose.
Dad:  Can you tell what Mr. Sandford made the art with?
Gracie:  Pen?  Or...
Isaac:  It's scratchboard.
Gracie:  Scratchboard!  That's a good idea...
Dad:  Yep - can you see the white lines over top of the black background...
Lily:  Scratchboard is where you have a black board, and you scratch it and it turns white.
Dad:  So rather than drawing the black, you leave the black behind.
Isaac:  That would be hard to make all these pictures.
Dad:  Actually, I watched Mr. Sandford while he was working on this book... and I know he didn't use scratchboard.  He did it on the computer and mimicked a scratchboard style.
Gracie:  So just like imitation blueberry flavoring, this is imitation scratchboard flavoring?  Only it's not flavoring.
Dad:  And it was hard.  I believe he had to get different glasses after working on this book.  Staring so close at all the black and white on screen messed with his eyes.
Gracie:  The story part is great too.  The author did a good job when she described the Hodag.  Everyone should read this book.  And Mr. Sandford hurt his eyes making this book for you, so the least you can do is read it.
Dad:  Thanks for the review guys!  Now for our interview with John Sandford!

John Sandford:  It's good to see everybody again!
Dad:  And good to see you!
Lily:  Yeah!
John Sandford:  High five...  (everyone slaps hands to the computer screen) there's finger prints all over everything.
Gracie:  We made you more paper donuts! (holding up a handful of cut and colored paper donuts)
John Sandford:  You've got donuts for me!  Thank you!  That was very thoughtful.
Gracie:  Do you still have the other paper donuts we made you?
John Sandford:  I have some of them.  I need more though.  I hoard paper donuts.
Lily:  We were going to mail you some with a message that said "Don't open until you Skype with us."
John Sandford:  I know there was some dispute about how the paper donuts began.
Dad:  I don't think there are "disputes."  We just don't remember.
John Sandford:  I do.
Isaac:  Yea!
Gracie:  How?  How!
John Sandford:  One Saturday I came over to your place with a box of real donuts.  And as a thank-you, you kids managed to make me paper donuts before I left.  After that, every time I'd come over, there would be more paper donuts.
Gracie:  Ha ha hahhh...
John Sandford:  So here I am today, "coming over..."
Gracie:  And here are your donuts!
John Sandford:  Oh, that's great.  Beautiful paper donuts.  I can see you guys through the donut holes.
Dad:  So who has an interview question for Mr. Sandford?
Lily:  How many books have you worked on?
John Sandford:  In all there are 65.  I was just looking at the list...
Gracie:  That's a lot of books.
John Sandford:  It goes back a long ways.  To 1978.  The first book was called "I Love Every People."
Gracie:  We have that one here.
Dad:  Yep, we pulled out our Mr. Sandford collection.
Isaac:  We have a lot of "Mr. Sandford" books.
Dad:  We counted 27 at our house...  But we don't even have half of your books if you've done 65.
Isaac:  What is your favorite book you have worked on?
John Sandford:  I like "Tale of a Tail" -- that's one you guys reviewed.
Gracie:  Why do you like that one the best?
John Sandford:  I like it because I'm in it.  I'm the bear.  And I had my brother in mind for the fox.  And I had a lot of fun with the costumes.  I did a lot of research trying to find Hungarian costumes.  The embroidery, the decorations on the costumes, were very important to me.
Isaac:  That's interesting.
John Sandford:  On one of the outfits there is a fish skeleton pattern.  It seems like something that would be made up, but I didn't make it up.  That was a real pattern.
Isaac:  Cool...
John Sandford:  I continue collecting costume books when I find them.  I can't make up anything as fun as what there is in real life or in history.
Lily:  Do you usually do researches for your books?
John Sandford:  It depends on the book.  There are times when you might have a better vision in your head.  How would you go about researching "The Hiccupotamus"?  Try to find a purple hippo?  That's not so easy.  He might exist, but it would take a lot of work to find him.
Dad:  And you don't want to be close by when he hiccups.
Gracie:  What about when you are drawing people?  You had us model for a few pictures.  Do you always use models?
John Sandford:  Not always.  Again, it depends on the problem to be solved.  I try to use a voice, a way to tell the story, that works with the story.
Gracie:  In your magazine, we saw the picture of Isaac swimming with the peanut butter and jelly fish.  We also have the original painting hanging up in his room, and it's about 20 times bigger.  Why do you paint them so big?
John Sandford:  It's easier to put in the detail when you paint big.  Then when you shrink it down, people say, "How did all that detail get in there?"
Gracie:  You know the big mural you painted in the library by our house?
John Sandford:  Oh yeah.
Gracie:  How long did it take you to paint that?

John Sandford:  I think two or three months...  I'm talking about putting the paint down.  There was a lot of planning before that.  The sketches were 6 inches high by 12 inches long.  But the actual painting was 6 FEET high and 12 FEET long - two panels those sizes.  24 feet of animals.
Gracie:  I love it.
Dad:  It's epic.
John Sandford:  Ha ha, thank-you.
Dad:  It is legacy and glory all rolled together.
Gracie:  How is painting a mural like making a book?
John Sandford:  In some ways it is very similar.  I was trying to tell a story.  And all the compositional things you want to have happen, motion and color, those things were pretty similar.  The size is the big difference of course - being ten times bigger.
Lily:  What kind of style do you like to use the most in your pictures?
Gracie:  You have a lot of different styles.
John Sandford:  I love oils.  I really enjoy them.  But again, it depends on the project.  I might be able to get a different kind of effect from watercolors.  Although I don't think I use watercolors the way you are supposed to.  Some people look and say, "You use your watercolors just like oils..." and that's probably right.  Like in "Tale of a Tail"...
Dad:  That's not oil?  I never would have guessed that was watercolor.
John Sandford:  One way of thinking about watercolors is real juicy and free.  But I push them as far as I can and get what I want out of them.
Dad:  I abuse my colored pencils when I use them too.
John Sandford:  I haven't seen anybody use colored pencils like you do.  And you've made it into a science.
Dad:  I'm just not a painter.
Gracie:  But we are!
John Sandford:  That's great.
Dad:  We have lots of painters in the family here, just not me.
Gracie:  We kids all love to paint.  We all have our own set of watercolors.  Isaac has some oil paints.  And I have tons of acrylic paint.  Lily has a few tubes of acrylic paint too.
John Sandford:  Great!
Gracie:  Dad says that when you were working on "The Terrible Hodag," you hurt your eyes and you had to get glasses from looking at all those tiny little lines.
John Sandford:  I did.  That project took about 9 months, working on the computer in Photoshop.  When I started out, I could work 10 or 12 hours a day.  But my eyes started to lose focus sooner and sooner every day.  My working time got shorter, and it was really frustrating.  By the end of the project it was really difficult to go even a couple of hours.  So I went to the doctor a couple of months afterward.  And they said I had gotten double vision.  I was a little bit cross-eyed from staring at the high contrast black and white lines.
Dad:  Any chance it was coincidental?
John Sandford:  I know it was from that project.  I could feel it progressively shredding what vision I had over the months I was working on it.  It was kind of scary.
Dad:  Big sacrifices for the sake of your art.
John Sandford:  We live and learn.  Afterward it occurred to me I could have turned the contrast on the screen down so it wasn't just black and white, but grays... that would have been so much easier on my eyes.  So simple.
Gracie:  We know that you are an artist and that you are an art director.  I have a few questions about being an art director.  How do you choose which artists to have make the pictures in your magazine.
John Sandford:  That's a funny thing.  Sometimes you have a subject matter, and you think this guy will be a natural.  But sometimes it's very interesting to use a person who is completely different.  It can be a wild thing.  I can get results that far exceed anything I can dream up.  Because I don't want everything to look like "me," my point of view.  I hire these people to extend my magazine and make it bigger and better.  That's really exciting - they surprise me every time.
Dad:  Like opening Christmas presents.
Gracie:  Also, do you like being an art director or being an illustrator best?
John Sandford:  I like getting my hands dirty and doing the drawings.  You guys know what that's like - trying to make a drawing work.  Art is work.  It's a lot of fun, but it's work too.  There's nothing better than drawing a picture... and all of us here are really lucky to be able to do that!  Can you guys think of a better job?
Lily:  Being an artist is the best job.
John Sandford:  Or maybe a chocolate taster.
Lily:  Awwwww!
Gracie:  I actually do love to cook.
Isaac:  What inspired you to try being an artist in the first place?
John Sandford:  When I was a little kid, there wasn't much television.  But three of my grandparents were teachers, so we always had a lot of books around the house.
Dad:  You didn't get on the internet very much back then...
John Sandford:  No, no, ha, that would have been a long distance connection.
Dad:  Through space and time...
John Sandford:  But there were a few books that I just went nuts about.  I can grab one here...  This is called "The Boys' King Arthur," and it is illustrated by N.C. Wyeth.  And what I liked about it were all these guys in armor, banging around with swords and spears.  And I would copy them, but I would have the knights playing football and climbing trees -- stuff that I liked to do.  As a little kid, I thought this was just the greatest.
Dad:  Well, I think these kids are done interviewing now... they're climbing on me...
John Sandford:  I see that!
Dad:  What do you guys want to say to Mr. Sandford?
Kids:  THANK-YOU!!!
John Sandford:  Thank you!
Gracie:  It was so good to see you again!
John Sandford:  Everyone is getting so tall...
Dad:  They are growing up fast.
John Sandford:  Look how tall Lily is.  She's a little taller than Dad right now.
Lily:  That's because I'm sitting on his head.

Thanks for the interview Mr. Sandford!  For our fan art this week, we tried out some real scratchboard:

Hodag with a blueberry bush, by Lily

lumberjack, by Gracie

animal catcher, by Isaac

Illustrator: John Sandford
Author: Caroline Arnold
"The Terrible Hodag" published, 2006: Boyds Mills Press
Like it?  Here it is

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review #99: Ribbit Rabbit

Lily (age 8):  "Ribbit Rabbit."
Isaac (age 12):  By Candace Ryan.  Illustrated by Mike Lowery.
Gracie (age 10):  I love the way he did those pictures.
Lily:  They kind of look like kid drawings.
Gracie:  They do.
Lily:  But they look like awesome kid drawings.
Gracie:  It's not just a scribble.
Isaac:  I've tried drawing like that before.  It's not as easy as it looks.
Lily:  The characters are cuties.
Gracie:  They are SO cute!
Isaac:  It's about this frog and this rabbit.
Gracie:  And Pillowcase Man.  He's awesome.  I love that Pillowcase Man.  It only shows him in two pictures.  But he's awesome.  The frog and the rabbit were making monsters while they played.  Pillowcase Man is just a blue pillow that they scribbled eyes, a mouth, and teeth on.  But he's awesome.
Dad:  So... Frog or Bunny?  Did you have a favorite?  Ribbit or Rabbit?
Gracie:  Rabbit.
Lily:  Ribbit.
Isaac:  Ribbit.  Rabbit!
Gracie:  Rabbit.
Lily:  Ribbit.  Ribbit.
Gracie:  RABBIT!
Lily:  RIBBIT!
Dad:  Alright, alright...  Zip it!
Gracie:  Zap it!
Lily:  Zip it!  Zap it!
Isaac:  ZAP IT!
Dad:  Shhhh....  This is going to be the dumbest review ever...
Gracie:  Ha hah haa...
Dad:  But is it fun to talk like that?
Kids:  YEAH!
Dad:  So, can you tell what is going on with the word choices in this book?  "Ribbit" and "Rabbit."  What is different between those two words?
Gracie:  One vowel sound.
Dad:  How about "Trip it" and "Trap it"?
Gracie:  The vowel.  The author changes one vowel sound in the words.
Dad:  Can you make your own?
Gracie:  Wop it.  Wap it.
Isaac:  Wap it.  Whoop it.
Gracie:  Coop it.  Keep it.  Slip it.  Slap it.  Lily.  Lolly.  Shilly.  Sholly.  Gilly.  Golly.
Dad:  Gracie's on a roll.  Can we do the whole review like this?
Gracie:  Sure.
Dad: (pointing at the book)  Lookit.
Gracie: (pointing at herself)  Like it!
Dad:  How about this one... (pointing at Candace Ryan's name)  Wrote it.
Gracie: (pointing at herself again)  Read it.
Dad:  How did you like the book, Lily?
Lily:  Loved it.  Laughed it.
Dad:  Good one!  So the word play in the book is fun.  The pictures are fun.
Gracie:  They are so cute!
Dad:  Is there a storyline to the book?
Isaac:  The frog and the rabbit are best friends and they do all kinds of stuff together.
Gracie:  They should have another adventure with Pillowcase Man.
Isaac:  Then this robot they are playing with accidentally breaks.  And the frog and the rabbit each grab one part.
Gracie:  They are being selfish.  Dad... you picked this book out for us on purpose.
Dad:  Ha ha!  I didn't even notice that plot when I picked it!  I was attracted to the art and the wordplay.  Honestly, I looked at this book three or four times before I even realized there was a lesson inside.  What is the lesson?
Gracie:  Share.
Isaac:  Don't be selfish.
Gracie:  I still think you picked this book out on purpose.  Now Dad's going to make us be good.
Dad:  Encouragement can never hurt.
Gracie:  We try to be good.  Trust me.  I try and try and try, and it never works.
Dad:  Hang in there.
Gracie:  I took a personality quiz, and these were the exact words.  It said, "You should be a little more patient. You usually think about yourself, and you like to be the center of attention most of the time."
Dad:  Ha ha...  Hmmmm, that doesn't sound like you at all.
Gracie:  Yeah it does!
Dad:  But what did Frog and Bunny learn?
Gracie:  Things work better when you work together.
Dad:  Just like the author and illustrator had to work together to make this book.
Isaac:  Candace Ryan, are you the bunny or the frog?

kick it, crack it  - by Isaac

rock it, racket  - by Gracie

wake it, whack it  - by Lily

Author: Candace Ryan
Illustrator: Mike Lowery
Published, 2011: Walker
Like it?  Here it is

Monday, June 6, 2011

Reader's Pick

Has anyone noticed how close we are getting to Review #100?  Really close!

We've spent the last two and a half years recommending our favorite books to all of you.  I thought in honor of this 100th Review milestone we would do something special.  We'll give one of you, our readers, the chance to pick the book for our 100th review.  We'll do this a little differently from our first Readers' Pick.  Instead of us giving a list of recommendations and you voting, this time we'll do it the other way around.

In the comments, suggest one book that you would like to see the Z-Kids review.  Any book at all.  New.  Old.  Classic.  Unknown.  Picture book.  Graphic novel.  Chapter book.  Board book.  And yep, you only get to suggest one.  Tough decision!  If someone has already listed your favorite, go ahead and use your comment to suggest another.  Multiple votes for the same book won't give it any more weight.

We will do our best over the next couple of weeks to locate as many of your recommendations as we can.  I look forward to seeing how many will be books that we already know and love, and how many will be new discoveries for us!  After we spend time with the books you all have suggested, I'll let the kids each rate their favorites.  I'll tally up their votes, and the book with the most points wins the distinction of Bookie Woogie Review #100!  (And who knows, perhaps some runners-up might find their ways into future reviews...)

Update:  Thanks for all the suggestions!  Here's what you recommended: