Thursday, September 22, 2011

Interview #12: Kelly Murphy

Last week we were delighted to have a conversation over Skype with illustrator Kelly Murphy!  Kelly has created art for many books that we've enjoyed over the years, including "Hush Little Dragon" (one of our early reviews).  We are so happy that she took the time to visit with us -- we had a great time talking art and monsters... two of our favorite things!

Above, Gracie has drawn Kelly Murphy for us, joined by a couple of her furry friends whom we also met.  More about that soon!  But first a review:

Dad:  Here is the new book that Kelly Murphy illustrated...
Lily (age 8):  Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters!
Dad:  What is it about?
Lily:  It's about monsters.
Isaac (age 13):  Hundreds of different monsters.
Lily:  There are these little pig-things flying around in almost every page.
Gracie (age 11):  Not pigs.  Little floaty-marshmallow blobs.
Elijah (age 5):  The monsters are all awesome and weird.
Gracie:  There's a guy with three eyes.  And a guy with eyes on stalks.  Guys with beards and eyelashes.
Isaac:  Bearded Weirdie!  I like the Bearded Weirdie!
Gracie:  Kelly Murphy is very imaginative.  Who else in the world would think of that.  Or even that.
Dad:  Tell everybody what you are pointing at.
Gracie:  A little chicken dude!  This little weird chicken guy with hair.
Isaac:  Where's the Bearded Weirdie?  Bearded Weirdie!  Bearded Weirdie!
Gracie:  And the swing set -- even the swing set is a monster.
Evangeline (age 3):  That bag is a monster bag.
Lily:  And their bathtub is made out of a monster.
Isaac:  I'd hate to be that bathtub guy.  It wouldn't be fun.
Gracie:  Because a bunch of naked monsters would be jumping around inside you.
Isaac:  Exactly.
Dad:  What kinds of things do the monsters do in this book?
Gracie:  They are things that all real kids do too.
Lily:  But with a monsterly twist.
Gracie:  Because monsters are awesomer.  I'm kind of sad... I'm not as awesome as a monster.
Lily:  But they eat worms.
Evangeline:  And bugs.  I don't like bug salad.
Gracie:  I wonder if she named any of these monsters?
Isaac:  What should the Bearded Weirdie's name be?
Dad:  I think you just gave him a name.
Isaac:  It would be really fun to draw this book.
Dad:  I've always thought there's no greater illustration assignment than getting to draw monsters.  I doubt there were many rules with this book - they probably just let Kelly Murphy go crazy.
Elijah:  Drawing monsters is fun because you can make any kind of monster you want.  The first time I made a monster, it came out really cool.  So then I turned into the King-of-Making-Monsters.
Dad:  Anything else you want to say about the illustrations?
Isaac:  The pictures are at cool angles.  Some are far away, some are close up.  There are cool perspectives.
Dad:  The author of this book, Jane Yolen, is very well-known.  Last year she came out with her 300th book.
Isaac:  300th!!!
Dad:  Yeah!  Isn't that nuts!  I don't know how long she's been making books, but let's say it's 60 years.  She'd have to come out with 5 books a year, every year, for 6o years to hit 300.
Gracie:  Jane Yolen did all those dinosaur books.  Like, "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight."  I love those books.
Dad:  How do you think Kelly Murphy felt when she found out she was going to illustrate a Jane Yolen book?
Gracie:  "Oh... My... Pickles!  This is going to be radical!"
Dad:  I bet those were her exact words.
Gracie:  Hey, this could be Jane Yolen's next book series!  Just like she had "How Do Dinosaurs Go to School"... there could be "How Monsters Go to School" and stuff.
Elijah:  I wish I could read this book again right now.  I'm going to read this book forever.

Later that day, we fired up Skype and had ourselves a little conversation with Kelly Murphy!

Kelly Murphy:  Here we go... da-ta-da!
Dad:  Thank-you for taking time to talk with us!
Gracie:  Yeah, thank-you!
Kelly Murphy:  This is an honor and a privilege.  I really enjoy reading your reviews and seeing everybody's drawings.
Dad:  Do you have a question to start us off, Gracie?
Gracie:  Yeah.  What's your cat's name?
Kelly Murphy:  Oh, can you see her?
Gracie:  She is crawling behind you while you are talking!
Kelly Murphy:  This is Mama.
Lily:  Hi Mama!
Gracie:  She's so pretty.
Kelly Murphy:  She's a bit of a pain because she likes to walk on anything that I'm working on.  She's ruined a few paintings before.
Gracie:  Uh-oh!
Kelly Murphy:  And I have a very bizarre looking dog too. (Holds up bizarre looking dog)
Gracie:  Oh!  She's so cute!  What's her name?
Kelly Murphy:  This is... Lily!
Lily:  (Gasp)
Kelly Murphy:  Lily, meet Lily!
Gracie:  They are practically twins!
Kelly Murphy:  You have a really big family, right?
Lily:  We have 6 kids.
Kelly Murphy:  You just need one more, and you can be Murphy-size.  I'm one of 7 kids.
Dad:  Really, wow!
Kelly Murphy:  I was the baby.
Lily:  We have a baby.
Kelly Murphy:  I hope you treat her nice.
Gracie:  Most of us do.
Kelly Murphy:  Sometimes my brothers would pick on me...  I'd be drawing a unicorn, and then all of a sudden they'd be putting smell lines coming from it, or they'd be putting arrows through it.  So I'd start crying.
Dad:  Poor little sister!
Gracie:  Isaac is the big brother who picks on us.
Isaac:  What did I do?
Lily:  You know that little cat head I made... you drew a big muscle body on it.
Dad:  Actually, that was me.
Lily:  Aaaaahrp!
All:  Ha hah ha...
Dad:  Who has a real question for Kelly Murphy?
Isaac:  When did you start illustrating?
Kelly Murphy:  Professionally, I would say 1999.  You guys might not have even been born then.  Ha ha...
Dad:  Isaac was born in '98.  So he was around.
Kelly Murphy:  That's when I professionally started.  But ever since I could hold a pencil, I've liked to draw pictures.  Always.  It's my happy place.
Elijah:  Did you start making monsters when you were 5 like me?
Kelly Murphy:  Not exactly like the kind of monsters that are in this book.  But I drew mythological-creature monsters.  Like centaurs.  I used to read a lot of those kind of stories.
Gracie:  Elijah really, really likes monsters.  He draws the coolest monsters ever.
Kelly Murphy:  I see kids' drawings and they are so much more imaginative than mine.  Kids are confident.  Kids aren't saying, "maybe I should get a reference for this before I draw it."  You guys just draw it instinctually, and it comes out so unique and perfect.
Lily:  Where do you get the ideas for all your monsters?  Do they just pop into your head?
Kelly Murphy:  Creating the monsters was almost entirely imaginative, but then it was a fun challenge bringing them back into the observed world, so that we as humans could identify with them.  I also tried to remember the things and shapes that I liked when I was little.  Do you notice that all the monsters have big googly eyes?
Gracie:  Yeah!  We were talking about that.
Kelly Murphy:  A lot of my characters have big googly eyes because that's how I drew when I was little.  Here's another thing I did for this book so that my characters wouldn't all look the same...  I drew a bunch of different squiggles and shapes on a piece of paper.  Then based from those squiggles, I'd start to put on eyes and legs and mouths... then I could make sure each of my monsters was a little different from the other ones.
Dad:  Almost like playing a game for inspiration.
Lily:  We do that sometimes.  Dad draws a little squiggle and then we make them into monsters.
Dad:  We play that game at-- well, should I say this?  We play that game at church sometimes.
Kelly Murphy:  Ha ha!  Uh oh!  It's so much fun though.
Dad:  Sometimes we need to keep the little ones quiet.  So on the back of the bulletin I'll draw a whole mess of shapes, and they'll turn them into things.
Kelly Murphy:  Super fun!
Dad:  Now the whole world is going to know that we doodle during church.
Kelly Murphy:  As long as you keep your ears open, you're solid.
Gracie:  I take "picture" notes during church.
Dad:  She records the sermon message in pictures instead of words.  It's amazing how much more she retains that way.
Kelly Murphy:  In school I was always doing little drawings of things the teacher was saying.
Dad:  Who has another question?
Gracie:  How did you feel when you found out you were getting to illustrate a book by someone so famous?  Jane Yolen has 300 books!
Kelly Murphy:  I know!  I was like, Holy Cow!  I was excited but overwhelmed too.  Jane Yolen has worked with amazing illustrators before.  So I wanted to make sure that the caliber of work I was dedicating to the book was high.  I was really excited once I got to actually see the story.  If you noticed, the words are pretty minimal.  So that meant... (Gasp) I can do almost anything I want!  Which is a dream for an illustrator!
Dad:  Especially with monsters on top of that!
Kelly Murphy:  Yes, it's even monsters!  The whole story was so open.  It's just talking about the monsters' day and the noises they're making.  But it didn't talk about where they lived or what they ate for dinner.  So I really went back to what it was like when I was little.
Dad:  Is that challenging or is it fun?
Kelly Murphy:  It was fun.  I'm a teacher now for college students, and sometimes when I give open projects they say, "I don't know what to do!"  And my advice is to go back to what you know, what you love.  That way you'll have good ideas.
Lily:  Do you like teaching or does it take up your time from illustrating?
Kelly Murphy:  I love teaching.  When I'm illustrating - in busy, busy months - sometimes I don't leave the house for 5 days straight.  I go out to the mailbox.  I look out the window.  But other than that, I'm working.  Teaching allows me to get out of my studio and talk.  Not just talking to a grocer or someone at the post office.  I'm talking to students that love making art as much as I do.  That fuels me, which then fuels them.  It's a lot of fun.
Gracie:  We were looking at all of your books, and we noticed that you make a lot of shadows and night scenes in your pictures.  Is there a reason for that?  Do you do that on purpose?
Kelly Murphy:  You guys are super observant!  Whenever I talk about certain illustrators or see certain pictures, I get instant goosebumps.  So when I was a student in art school, I had to really look inside myself to figure out what kind of pictures I liked.  Then I had to figure out how to make those things a part of my own artwork.  And the pictures I'd always liked were nighttime pictures or pictures that had soft light.  They were simple paintings with analogous colors -- and it sets a mood.  And mood is so important in the pictures I make -- I try to make sure that every one of my books creates a mood or a feeling.
Dad:  We definitely noticed that.
Isaac:  How do you do that?  Sometimes a picture is all blueish, and even when yellow and red are in there they seem blueish.
Kelly Murphy:  I wasn't always able to paint that way.  In school my painting was a big messy rainbow.  But the way I paint now makes me able to create these moods and atmospheres.  The first step is to separate my picture into darks and lights.  The blue you are seeing is a tonal wash.  I get those darks and lights first with blues and whites...  Or for a brownish picture I use browns and whites.  Then I put the color over that with a slow layering effect to build those colors up.
Gracie:  You do picture books, and you also do chapter books like the Beastologist books -- and I LOVE the Beastologist books!
Kelly Murphy:  Yea!
Gracie:  What are the different challenges between picture books and chapter books?  Which do you like more?
Kelly Murphy:  It depends on when you talk to me.  If I've just finished a picture book, then I don't like picture books very much.
Gracie:  Ha ha!
Kelly Murphy:  They take me soooo long.  Just the paintings on "Monsters" took me 6 months, painting every day.  I do like picture books because they allow me to do color.  But I guess I like the chapter novels better.  They are usually for older kids, so you can do more sophisticated things.  I'm working on a book now called "Behind the Bookcase," and this thing is really weird!  It's such a strange story.  A girl goes behind a secret bookcase in her grandmother's house, and it leads into the land where shadows are born.  Crazy stuff happens from there.  There's some creepy imagery in it.
Lily:  Do you like creepy things?
Kelly Murphy:  Oh, I love creepy things.
Dad:  We wondered... We've seen some of your personal work on your website...
Gracie:  Shadows and monsters and dragons.
Kelly Murphy:  Spooky.  I love spooky things.  You guys might know Tim Burton.  Or Arthur Rackham.  Or Edward Gorey.
Dad:  They might not know the names, but they've all seen their work.
Gracie:  What about Jim Henson!  Your little monsters and dragons look like Muppets or Sesame Street.  Or the Dark Crystal.
Kelly Murphy:  "HhmmMMMmmmm...."  The Skeksis?  I love that stuff.
Gracie:  "HhhmmMMMmmmmmm...."
Kelly Murphy:  I'm a huge fan of Jim Henson.
Gracie:  So are we.
Kelly Murphy:  It's good stuff.
Dad:  Well, thank-you so much for talking with us today!  We love your work, and we're honored that you took time to talk with us.  Do you kids have any final, pressing questions?
Gracie:  "Whaaat.... is your favorite color!"
Dad:  Ha ha - We just watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail last night.
Gracie:  Whaat... is your name?  Whaat... is your book?  Whaat... is your favorite color?
Kelly Murphy:  Ha ha!
Dad:  Well, thank-you again!
Kelly Murphy:  Thanks so much guys!  Keep drawing and keep reviewing!  Everything you are doing is perfect.
Lily:  Thank-you!  Bye!
Kelly Murphy:  Say hi to the other kids for me.
Dad:  We will!  (Closes down Skype)
Gracie:  She didn't answer my question.
Dad:  Huh?
Gracie:  I was serious.  I want to know her favorite color!

monsters, by Elijah

bathtub monster, by Lily

monster name tags, by Isaac

monsters and friends, by Gracie

Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Kelly Murphy
Published, 2011: Candlewick Press
Like it?  Here it is

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review #108: The Penderwicks

Lily (age 8):
  "The Penderwicks" is about a family.  A nice family.  But sometimes they get into trouble.
Dad:  Who is in the Penderwick family?
Gracie (age 11):  Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty are the kids.  And there is Mr. Penderwick.  And their dog Hound.  But their mommy died.
Isaac (age 12):  On their vacation they go to this cottage by this mansion where Mrs. Tifton and her son Jeffrey live.
Gracie:  Jeffrey is nice.
Isaac:  But Mrs. Tifton wants to marry this guy named Mr. Dupree who is evil.
Gracie:  Dexter!
Lily:  Dexter Dupree!
Isaac:  He wants to send Jeffrey to the war academy...
Dad:  Military school?
Isaac:  Yeah, military school...  They draw Mr. Dupree's face on a cardboard box, and they shoot arrows at it.  Also when they play soccer, they call one of the balls "Dexter" when they kick it.
Dad:  What did we find interesting about the Penderwick kids?
Gracie:  They are exactly like us!
Dad:  The Penderwick kid personalities match up with the Zenz kids pretty closely!  In the same order too.  Who is the oldest Penderwick?
Gracie:  Rosalind.  And she's good at being in charge and helps out a lot.  So she's just like Isaac.
Dad:  Isaac is like another little parent in our family.  Isaac, did you think Rosalind was like you?
Isaac:  Yes, but not at the end.  She got weird.
Gracie:  She fell in love.
Dad:  Love makes people turn weird, huh?
Isaac:  Yeah, and she did weird things, like falling off a rock into a pond.
Dad:  But when she had her head on straight, she was like Isaac.  Who's the next oldest Penderwick?
Gracie:  Skye.  And she was like me.  She couldn't keep her mouth shut.
Lily:  "I'm going to kill you."
Gracie:  "I'm going to murder you!"
Dad:  She was feisty.
Gracie:  She got in trouble a lot.
Lily:  And every time she baked something it went wrong.
Gracie:  Just like me.  She burnt brownies.
Isaac:  She's the hyper one.
Gracie:  There was one way she's not like me.  She likes Math.
Dad:  Who's the next Penderwick.
Gracie:  Jane.
Lily:  Jane is me.
Gracie:  She's imaginative like Lily.  They both have their heads in the clouds.
Lily:  She's creative.  She's an imaginary-ist.  And I'm an imaginary-ist.  I like to make stuff up, and I get carried away.  I go to Lily Land -- it's up in a cloud in my head.  I go there, and then I have no idea what people are saying to me.
Dad:  And who is the littlest Penderwick?
Lily:  Batty.  And she's kind of like our sister Evie.
Dad:  Evie is the little cutie of the family.
Lily:  Batty likes flowers.
Gracie:  She always had her butterfly wings on.
Dad:  What about Elijah?  Was there anyone like our brother Elijah?
Gracie:  Hound is like Elijah.
Dad:  Because he's brave.  And he's loud.  And he doesn't like to be tethered down.
Gracie:  Or told what to do.
Lily:  Or maybe baby Maggie is like Hound.  Because she eats everything she finds.
Isaac:  Hound is a mixture between Maggie and Elijah.
Dad:  My favorite thing about the book was how well the author, Jeanne Birdsall, wrote the personalities.  They felt like real people.  Even the way the kids talked... If Jane said something, she wouldn't say it the same way Skye would.
Gracie:  If they had to check on Jeffery, Jane would probably say, "This is 'Sabrina Star' going to save the poor boy in the window from his evil mother!"
Dad:  And how would Rosalind say the same thing?
Gracie:  She would say, "We can ask Churchie to cover for us, and then we can go up the rope ladder that Cagney built for us..."
Dad:  She would come up with a whole plan.  And how would Skye talk?
Gracie:  "Be quiet or I'll murder you!"
Mom: (half-listening in)  I suspect that's the character you thought was like Gracie?
Dad:  Ha ha ha ha... Yup.  And what about Batty?
Isaac:  "Where's Hound?"
Lily:  "I want to see the bunnies!"
Gracie:  I was freaking out when Batty went into the bull pen.  She wanted to see horsies in the barn.
Lily:  But she didn't suspect a bull was in there!
Gracie:  She was picking flowers, and when the doors opened, a bull was there.  Then they had to save Batty from the bull.
Lily:  I thought the bull was going to get her.  I was like, "Eeek! Eeeek!"
Gracie:  The book has a lot of exciting parts.
Dad:  What else did you like about this story?
Gracie:  It made me laugh.  It was funny.
Isaac:  It's just a nice, good book.
Dad:  It's simple, right?  It's not a huge adventure.  Just a normal, real, life-size adventure.
Lily:  I like it because I want to have that life.
Dad:  I think we do...  It was about a nice family that loves each other.
Lily:  Yes.  And we all love each other too.
Dad:  Are you glad there are some sequels we can look for now?
Gracie:  The book doesn't leave you hanging.  But it does leave you wanting more.  Everyone is left in a good situation at the end... but there's got to be more!

Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, by Gracie

Batty and the bull, by Lily

target practice on Dexter Dupree, by Isaac

Author: Jeanne Birdsall
Published 2005: Knopf
Like it?  Here it is

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review #107: Back to School Tortoise

Lily (age 8):  "Back to School Tortoise."  Lucy M. George and Merel Eyckerman -- they wrote it and illustrated it, you know.
Elijah (age 5):  It is the cutest book in the world.
Lily:  And he is the cutest tortoise of all.
Gracie (age 11):  He's got awesome little shoes.
Lily:  Cutie-cutie-cutie land.
Gracie:  The illustrator even makes GRASS cute!  I mean, who can make grass cute?
Lily:  She can!
Dad:  What's the premise of the story?  I guess the title kind of explains that, huh?
Lily:  Well, everyone is finishing up their summer stuff.  And Tortoise gets ready to go back to school.  Then he starts thinking...  What if the kids are mean?  What if I really don't like the lunches?
Gracie:  He doesn't want to go to school because he thinks something awful might happen.  But then he starts thinking of all the good things that might happen.  And after that, he wants to go to school again.  And it's okay.  He has a fun time.
Dad:  We talked about the cuteness of the pictures already.  How was the writing?
Gracie:  I thought the writing was cute too.  It's not very complicated -- it's not like Shakespeare.  But it's also not like "Jack is a boy. Jack likes red."  It's in the middle.
Dad:  And the book has a clever little twist at the end.
Gracie:  It's funny.  I was surprised.
Elijah:  I still don't get it.
Dad:  Elijah doesn't get the joke.  But we can't explain it here because we don't want to give away the funny ending to everyone else.
Gracie:  I'll explain it to you later, Elijah.
Elijah:  My favorite part of the book is the cuteness of the turtle.
Dad:  Is it a turtle or a tortoise?
Elijah:  A tortoise.  And a turtle.  It's a "turtle-slash-tortoise."
Dad:  This is a perfect book for you.  Turtles are your favorite animal!
Elijah:  The turtle in this book is my favorite turtle ever.
Dad:  AND it's also a great book because you are starting school this year!  Kindergarten!
Elijah:  Yeah!
Dad:  Do you think you are going to have slurpies and cupcakes for lunch like Tortoise did?
Elijah:  I hope so!
Dad:  Or maybe you will have a big bowl of peas.
Elijah:  Nooo!
Gracie:  We always have good lunches.
Lily:  We'll probably have applesauce, and a sandwich, and an apple.
Dad:  That's a lot of apple.  Why not wash it down with some apple juice too?
Gracie:  My teacher is the best.  I have the best teacher in the whole entire universe!  I'm home schooled.
Lily:  When we walk to school, honestly all we have to do is go up the stairs.
Gracie:  Those are good things about being home schooled.  And you never have to worry about mean teachers.
Lily:  Unless you have a mean mom.
Dad:  You guys lucked out in the mom department.
Lily:  Mm-hmm.
Dad:  Now, the school situation in the book might not apply.  But have you ever felt like Tortoise before?  Worried about something new?
Lily:  Yes.  The first year I went to Family Camp classes.  I was scared about kids being mean to me.  But then I met one of my best friends.
Gracie:  I'm still worried about that every year I go.  Sometimes boys can be mean.
Dad:  Did you notice Tortoise had a choice to make in the book?
Gracie:  Either be grumpy and worried about school all day...  or be happy and excited and confident.
Lily:  That takes practice.
Dad:  Did anything about the school change?  Or did his attitude change?
Gracie:  His attitude changed.
Dad:  You always have a choice.  You can look on either the negative side or the bright side.
Lily:  You should look on the bright side.  Unless you are going to boarding school.
Dad:  Any last words to sum up the book?
Elijah:  It's all cuteness and turtle pictures.
Lily:  Dad, at the beginning it says "Tortoise gets dressed."  But all he is wearing is a hat and scarf and shoes.
Dad:  It doesn't take him very long to get dressed does it?
Gracie:  He's not wearing any pants.
Lily: (addressing Tortoise)  Are you wearing any pants, sir?
Gracie:  Nope.
Dad:  Maybe THAT'S why he didn't want to go to school.
Gracie:  I can't go to school!  I'm not wearing any pants!

Tortoise eats lunch, by Elijah

Tortoise eats ice cream, by Lily

worry vs. bright side, by Gracie

Author: Lucy M. George
Illustrator: Merel Eyckerman
Published, 2011: Albert Whitman and Company
Like it? Here it is