Category Archives: art

Interview with What Will Hatch? Illustrator and All-Around Awesome Lady Susie Ghahremani

So, Susie Ghahremani.  Ridiculously talented and prolific artist (as she has been since the AP art class we took together in high school!), proprietress of, an adorability emporium offering art, books, jewelry, clothing, prints, and to-do lists that will change your life with their inviting cuteness, among many other things, somehow also a member of the San Diego indie rock band The Bulletins. Ever since I first met her circa 1993 (fact check, Susie?), she’s been the person who knows about all the cool stuff before anyone else. She had a zine before I was totally sure what a zine was, and was chatting online with band members of That Dog like 2 minutes after chatrooms were invented. So it  comes as no surprise to me that everything she makes is beautiful and super cool, and that her first picture book, What Will Hatch? is a total delight.

Written by nature writer Jennifer Ward, this gorgeous book introduces 2-5 year olds to the wonderful world of the oviparous animal. I recently used the book in a little storytelling workshop at Harper’s playschool — after reading the kids the book I gave them each little stacks of cards with illustrations of frog life cycle steps and had them put them in order, color, and title them (Harper’s was “Using Science”). All of which is to say, parents and teachers and people who love art, buy this book!

Thanks to What Will Hatch? we now use the word "oviparous" daily.

Thanks to What Will Hatch? we now use the word “oviparous” daily.

Harper loved What Will Hatch? so much that she wanted to learn more, so she asked some questions that I passed along to Susie, who graciously answered!

Why are there holes in the pages? Why do the holes become other things? How did you make those holes that shape?

The holes in the pages are called “die cuts” and they’re there to represent the shape of the egg for each type of animal throughout the book! The holes represent the egg on one page, but when you turn the page, the egg has already hatched, so I made the hole become something else in the next picture!

(I made the holes by obsessively drawing vector curves in InDesign that were output by the printer who fit a metal die to that exact shape…but are you really asking about that, Harper?)

What are those little lines across the pictures?

That is called woodgrain! It is the texture of wood, which is what I painted on for this book.

[Pre-emptive answer to the potential follow-up question: I painted on wood because I liked the idea of using natural materials to represent nature in this book!]

Why is each animal pictured in their habitat? How did you know what the habitats look like?

Each animal is pictured in their habitat because lots of people don’t know what their habitats look like and I thought it would be cool to show them! I didn’t know what the habitats looked like until I researched it!

How did you get the ideas for this book? How did you not change your mind and do something else? What does “else” mean?

The idea for the book came from the author, Jennifer Ward, who wrote it! From there, I just drew what came to my imagination after researching each of the animals. Many times, I did change my mind 🙂 Else has a few meaning. In the context of “something else”, it would mean something like “something other”, except “something other” sounds weird. Hey, you should ask your mom the writer about this one!

And here’s a question from me, Amy, the grownup: What are you working on next?

I’m on the board for ICON the Illustration Conference which launches July ’14 in Portland, and am beginning to teach. I’m always working on new illustrations and art shows! I have an art show on May 11th in Los Angeles at Leanna Lin’s Wonderland showing my collaboration with my friend Irene on a series of cross-stitch portraits of extinct animals. I’ll be at the opening signing copies of What Will Hatch as well! Then, a Little Golden Books-inspired art show June 28th in Florida curated by my friend Heidi Kenney of My Paper Crane.

[Harper clapped and squealed at the idea of a Little Golden Book art show and I am only slightly worried she will try to run away to see it.]

And here is Harper’s review of the book:

“Kids will like this book. But wait, we still get to keep it right?”

Me:” Yes, but do you think they should get their own copy?”

Harper:” Yes, because I want to keep this one.”

Pretty AND smart.

Pretty AND smart.

Be sure to check out Susie’s site! Just be prepared to find yourself inventing reasons to buy tons of lovely notepaper and necklaces and also feeling a strange twitch to draw…

Related: Read Harper’s interview with illustrator Jennifer Bell here!
Read my neighbor Lena’s interview with YA novelist Carley Moore here!
Read my interview with YA novelist M. Beth Bloom here!

The Read Balloon: Linnea in Monet’s Garden, AKA The Book of the Movie of the Book of the Art.

Sweet, dear, Linnea in Monet’s Garden, by Cristina Bjork and Lena Anderson. Like a cup of chamomile tea for the Yo-Gabba-Gabba-infected child’s soul.

Despite having ostensibly been a blogger – and even a teacher of online writing classes – for years, I am having some real old-lady-internet issues lately. Where’s my blog post about art books for kids? Where’s the word doc I thought I saved it to? What’s happening to me? I’m one more lost internet thingy away from a weirdly long aol email address with my birthday in it. But I know the only thing more boring than complaining about a lost post is writing, “Sorry I haven’t updated in a while,” so even though both apply I will leave this sentence while I can. Don’t bother reading it.

So anyway, I’ve been meaning to write for a while (there I go again, BORING STOP IT) about exposing the kids to more fine art, as the adorable tyranny of especially-for-kids-media seeps into our lives. Trips to art museums have become a lot less doable lately, though, courtesy of Mr. Smashy (I mean Alton, not Adam). Good thing there’s books. In fact, I am of the belief that most “real world” experiences can be better had reading books, but I would never admit that because it sounds crazy in a detached-from-reality way.

All of which is to say, we’ve finally discovered Linnea in Monet’s Garden, the book of the movie of the book of the art. Harper has really imprinted on the movie, probably because it’s the only one she’s ever seen (4 or 5 times now), and is proven to be unscary and associated with popcorn. But she likes the book too, which has just been re-released and is celebrating its 25th birthday, just like me*. *Just kidding. It really is a lovely book, and approaches Monet’s art and life in such a gentle, loving, approachable way. Harper loves the details about Monet’s life, the pretty pictures of flowers and most of all, the part where Linnea can’t have her picnic where she wants to and gets pouty. Add it to the list of reasons-I’m-excited-for-the-kids-to-be-a-tiny-bit-older: someday we’ll check out these actual water lily paintings in person, and I hope the experience will thrill Harper as much as the somnolent movie does now. And maybe someday someday we’ll go to the actual Monet’s Garden itself, and not be able to have a picnic where we want to. ( The Monet’s Garden recreation in the Bronx right now is too far away for us, but again: the future.)

Some other art-related kids’ books we love include the wonderfully otherworldly Coppernickel Goes Mondrian, which we picked up from the Enchanted Lion booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival last month, and, for the Mr. Smashy-set, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ABC board book — it’s like a museum visit you can chew on and throw at your sister!

Any kids’ art books you love?

Kitchen Table Math Drop-Outs

Another rigorous day of G&T test-prep!

In the process of creating and maintaining our amazing, spectacular, splendiferous playschool co-op, the mothers of Greenwood Playschool (nee Tomb Tots) and I have had the good fortune to have several meetings with Peggy Reimann, an education consultant with a passel of brilliant ideas about nurturing a love of reading and even encouraging an understanding and sense of friendliness with – gasp – math. She urged us to quit cold turkey anything like flash cards, and the strange but common process of quizzing little kids about books, i.e.: “DO YOU SEE THE COW? WHERE IS THE COW? WHAT DOES A COW SAY? GOOOOOOD A COW SAYS MOO!” Rather, she urged us in her gentle and wise manner to look at pictures with our kids, to move our fingers across the page, to talk about what we see together — and this process seriously changed completely the way Harper and I experience books and images and was utterly amazing.
So, now that Harper is a sage 3.5, I figured it was time to dive into Peggy’s math curriculum.

All summer I tried to introduce pattern sorting. I’d put Ollie down for a nap, make us some milky tea, and set the scene for something VERY SPECIAL. There – the paper with the circles on it. There – the colored pieces, in our case buttons. The idea is that you make it a kind of a game to make patterns together, to sort out the colors, and eventually start talking about quantities. “So!” I’d say brightly, like Peggy instructed, “I’m going to put the blue button here.” “Okay,” Harper would respond. And then, having found the thimble among the buttons, she’d switch into a high-pitched fairy-voice and offer a button some tea out of the thimble, and then the button would squeak, “Oh, yes please!”

And so on.  Pasta-shape-sorting turned into an elaborate story-play of Jack and the Magic Pasta-Seeds-Beanstalk. Absolutely everything becomes a game of pretend with this kid, even bath time turns into a 3-hour-long sessions of making bath-rice-pudding for bath-Foofa’s birthday. Of course I find this to be wonderful, and in my sick writer’s mind can’t think of anything better than an almost-absolute break with reality. But still, I really like the idea of appealing to some other corners of her busy, buzzing mind. And in classic parenting “it’s actually my issue not yours” fashion, I am eager for her to avoid the gut-wrenching math anxiety that to this day has me reacting to the words “fraction” and “division” with an outbreak of hives.

So today I tried an activity that looked so cute on Pinterest (I could probably just copy-and-paste this every night “It looked so cute on Pinterest but didn’t quite work out as well for me…”) : writing numbers (or I also tried dots) on craft sticks, and then sticking the numbers in order into a big snake of playdough.

First: excitement. “What’s this? A project?” My explanation was met with a “talk-to-the-hand” type gesture. “Nah, let’s make these sticks into people!”

“But, it’s a cool project!” I tried changing my tactics. “It’s a really fun big-girl activity. Um, it’s a game. It’s a puzzle.” Nothing. “You know what this is? It’s math!”


And that, folks, is genetics at work. So much for instilling an early love of numbers. One thing I really feel that I have succeeded at, though, is encouraging an early love of tea parties, fairies,and flitting around singing little nonsense songs, all of which are sure to be very helpful in really any field Harper chooses to pursue.

Simple Pleasures: Cloud Dough and the Blue Ball

Sometimes Harper is very good at entertaining herself and will be busy playing school or changing her dollies’ diapers or bossing around Murray and the Big Kids  or “reading” or cutting holes in her socks for many blissful minutes. Others, not so much. And what with this other kid around, I can’t always get into the elaborate art projects and such that we so favored last winter. This week, though, two amusements reminded me of how simple a thing can be and still capture her interest and imagination.

Item 1: Cloud Dough.
The other night all the co-op moms had another awesome meeting to discuss how our awesome playschool’s going (awesomely), and as always happens at these things I came away with lots of ideas for fun things to do with Harper other than just saying, “Go play! Scat!” We were talking about sensory-integration-fun when one mom suggested cloud dough, for which I found a recipe here.

Harper reported that cloud dough felt

Like most fun things, a big mess.

cloud dough

Cloud dough + Mum-mums = entertained children.

We tried it out one chilly, rainy morning when both kids were up BEFORE FIVE and we really needed something, well, soft and tickly. Big mess, but also, big fun.

Item 2: Blue Bouncy Ball.
It’s a real hassle when kids start having a lot of opinions about everything, has anyone noticed this? Today I was determined to get to Tumbling Tots, which is a very enriching class at the Y that involves waiting for a ticket so that you can go into a big padded room and let your kid run around on some sweaty floormat, but for some reason Harper wasn’t into it. She wanted to walk around and look for puddles instead. Fair enough. We stopped at a little drug store, and just as I was feeling bad for having such a boring morning, Harper spotted a bouncy ball that she felt she and Murray really needed. We bought it, stopped for a ride on the ancient motorcycle ridey-thingy outside, and then went to park. And guess what? Harper and Murray had a great time with this ball. It was super bouncy. And that was the morning. And that was more than enough.

The Read Balloon: Oh What a Busy Day, by Gyo Fujikawa

great kids' booksI’ve written about Gyo Fujikawa here before, but by gum, I’m doing it again. We have “Oh What a Busy Day” out from the library right now, and Harper and I have been poring over the amazing illustrations. This book just makes me happy. I remember almost every single image from reading it as a child. I remember which images delighted me, confused me, fascinated me. I loved the page of kids pretending to be a peacock, a dinosaur, a sandwich. I loved the feeling I got from the illustration of a girl in cozy little wooded hiding place. The world of this book is a wonderful one — no grownups  anywhere, just kids playing, playing, playing. The words in this book, I’ll be honest, are completely besides the point, and not all that exciting. The text is just an excuse for the pictures, the literary equivalent of a toddler’s chicken finger aka ketchup-delivery-device. But the ketchup! I mean, the pictures!

gyo fujikawa oh what a busy daygyo fujikawa oh what a busy daygyo fujikawa oh what a busy daygyo fujikawa oh what a busy daygyo fujikawa oh what a busy dayTo tell you the truth, this book is not really Harper’s favorite right now. Her real favorite is a chirpy Yo Gabba Gabba product that I find interminable and keep trying to hide. Ugh! I know they can’t help it, but sometimes I hate that the library has so very many corny tv show spinoff books. I mean, we go there to be booky, and we’re bombarded by screaming computer games and printed advertisements for television. I guess the upside is that Harper doesn’t yet know to beg for the animated equivalents of these usually terrible books. After all, the Charlie and Lola series — still a beloved favorite around here — is just such a product, not that she knows this; for now, it’s a world that’s still hers to imagine. And the Yo Gabba Gabba book she’s so into is, in the end, about using your imagination, and she LOVES it, so what’s the big deal?

All I know is, I’d rather spend time playing pretend with Gyo Fujikawa’s sweet-faced kids than the Gabba monsters. Wait, does that make me a racist? A monsterist? Or just a sort of picture book Andy Rooney?

Ehhhh books today! If anyone needs me, I’ll be daydreaming in my burrow.

Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart, Lost and Found

Everyday Notecards, by LuccaPaperworks on etsy

I admit that I have moments when I wonder why on earth I spend my scant free moments blogging when I could be, you know, scraping play-dough bits off the floor  or watching television or whatever it is people do to relax. Then the other night I got an email that made me so happy that I do keep this silly blog after all. It was from the composer Norman Bergen, in response to a recent post in which I mentioned a song he wrote! I mean, don’t you love the internet sometimes?

As I mentioned in a recent post, Alton’s go-to lullaby is the hit-that-never-was, “Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart.” In the hospital, right after he was born — which was a wild experience, as he really was almost born in the taxi on the way there, and so maybe we were in even weirder states of mind than after a more, say, relaxed birth experience, if that’s possible — a nurse with a beautiful, soulful voice sang “Only a fool breaks his own heart” in the elevator. Adam, being Adam, immediately looked up the song, and we became acquainted with its various versions. The lyrics make no sense for a lullaby of course, and I hope it doesn’t give Alton any bad ideas about relationships or anything. (Girls of the future, please be nice to our Ollie! OR I WILL MURDER YOU.) We just loved it, and the way, unexpectedly, in that sterile cube zooming us through NYU Medical Center, it came to us.

And same goes for the email Norman Bergen sent me! Look:

I am originally from Brooklyn.  My lyricist Shelly (Sheldon) Coburn (now deceased) and I wrote the song in 1964 and it was first recorded the following year.  The first recording by Arthur Prysock did not do well in the U.S., but after a while, we started hearing about cover versions in other parts of the world.  We knew the song had been successful in a few places but I never knew about its great success throughout the world until getting on the internet 10 years ago.  Bit by bit, information came out.  Today the song is a true standard in 3 parts of the world, now with more than 70 versions. 

For years, the irony had been that the country in which the song was written is the only place where it is virtually unknown, although in recent years a few things have begun to turn things around.  One of the song’s most successful areas has been the Caribbean Islands.  [ed. note: Halloo, Caribbean nurse! I get it now!] The part of Brooklyn where I grew up (East Flatbush/Crown Heights), now has a large Caribbean population, so the song is now known among those residents – right where I came up with the melody so many years ago.  It is one of the biggest hits by Calpyso artist Mighty Sparrow who performs it often, including a recent concert at Brooklyn College where my son works.  Also, Dion DiMucci who is originally from the Bronx, recorded the song in recent years.  These are the two reasons that I have felt more complete about the song finally ‘coming home’ after all these years.
Now your blog!  That truly made my day since there is documentation of the song currently being sung by people in Brooklyn; something I had always hoped for.”
Isn’t that just perfect?
I love the story of the song, because it’s Alton’s song of course (!) but also because it reminds me to take the long view when thinking about my own creations. (The writey ones I mean, not the currently-sleeping-thank-goodness ones in the other room.) A work might not find its audience right away, or in its first iteration. (Under-performing first novel, I’m looking at you, buddy.) And that’s okay. Eventually, probably, it will find its way home.
So anyway, thanks Norman Bergen, for writing the song that makes our baby sleep.
And for emailing me too. That was pretty sweet.

Kid Art Projects: Clean, Messy, Messiest

I have to admit that the quality and complexity of our household art project ambitions have really taken a nosedive since the new guy moved in. Poor Harper! But I mean, it’s hard to craft a play-dough baby while holding an actual baby  (though not, as I’ve learned, impossible). Still and yet, there are still rainy days, and beautiful days when Mama cannot emotionally handle the stress of the playground, and thus: art projects. A clean one, for the very lightly-functional days, a messy one, for when baby’s studiously drooling on the exersaucer, and a REALLY messy one, for when baby’s solidly napping and daddy’s home just in case.

First, the clean one: painting with water on a chalk board. This is a great little trick I stole from, where else, The Artful Parent. Love her! It’s a super-easy, zero-mess project a 2 year-old can do “all by herself on her own,” as is Harper’s way. All (well, most) the satisfaction of painting, but if this “paint” spills, the floor actually gets cleaner.
painting with waterpainting with waterpainting with water

Next up: play-dough. I also got this play-dough recipe from The Artful Parent. I should note that mine was a bit messier than necessary. Turns out if you don’t include as much salt as the recipe calls for it actually makes a difference! So it was a little mushier and softer than it should have been, which actually made for a very enjoyable sensory experience but also more little schmutzy bits everywhere. We made lots of different colors. It was Harper’s innovation to run little trains through them. Bonus points if you wear only a bathing suit that you call a “play suit.”

play dough
play doughplay doughplay doughplay doughplay dough

The smushing-play-dough-on-the-chair move is a good one too. I call it, “Why not to have fancy furniture.”

Finally, the mother of all messy art projects: finger paints. That’s right, I went there. Harper saw an art project in her beloved High Five magazine that involved cutting vegetables and making stamps to use with finger paint, so we tried it (finally, a use for that wilting orange pepper!). After some initial hesitation – “I’m a little worried the paint will fall down,” she said, and the process-oriented creativity-advocate in me said, “That’s ok! Get Messy!” as the mother-who-was-about-to-have-finger-paint-all-over-the-kitchen said, “Huh. Wait what?” – she was OVERJOYED. Again Harper whipped out the little Ikea trains and I realized she’d gotten the idea from the wonderful Julie Brunner, aka Miss Julie, who teaches the wonderful Get Messy art class at our local Y that we go to when it’s not so crowded we can’t get in (!). Miss Julie is so smart!

Anyway, the vegetable stamps turned out not to be as exciting as the glorious goopy paint itself, which of course was not nearly as exciting as washing hands/playing in the sink. Here the orange pepper (and Harper’s shoes) became buckets, and the red paint became medicine for some hypochondriac plastic polar bears. Good times.

finger paintsfinger paintsfinger paintsfinger paintsfinger paintsfinger paints