Category Archives: read balloon

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!

10 Reading Recommendations from Tiny Humans

The kids, as they are every day.

The kids, as they are every day.

I’ve been so remiss with my kid-book posts here that we have a huge backlog of beloved books. Thus, this truncated version, in case anyone happens to have an almost-two-year-old boy and an almost-four-year-old girl who need to be distracted from the hypnotic, unending horrors that are the Dinosaur Train books (how do they always find those at the library anyway?).

Alton’s Top Five Books for Little Boys With Even Littler Attention Spans:

1) Snuggle Puppy. He loses his mind over this book, he really does. There is nothing cuter than an almost-2-year-old’s “Oooooh…I yuv oo!”

2) Bus Stop. Any book with a vehicle is good with this kid. But this one actually doesn’t make me want to scream. The illustrations are beautiful, with lots of things to find on each page. I mean, “yots.”

3) Brown Bear, What Do You See. Still.

4) Let’s Go For a Drive! Does he really get this book? I have no idea, but it does crack him up. “WAIT!” Maybe he just knows that Brooklyn kids are contractually obligated to love Mo Willems.

5) Mr. Gumpy’s Outing. Highlights: the goat and… the goat. Just the goat, actually.

Mr. Gumpy

Mr. Gumpy and the goat. And some other things, whatever, who cares GOAT!

Harper’s Top 5 Books for Precocious Preschoolers Who Adore Sitting Still:

1) Look… Look Again! We’ve only had this from the library for about 2 days, but Harper has declared it her favorite ever. It’s full of illustrated riddles that make her snort with laughter. Except the one where the pizza eats the chef. That one is scary!

2) Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary. I’m so glad to tell you that Harper has inherited my childhood love of stories about miniature creatures. This beautiful book is perfect for before you’re old enough for The Borrowers.

3) Jumpy Jack and Googly. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Harper laugh so hard at a book. (And no, she doesn’t find it all ironic that this book is about a monster who’s afraid of everything.)

4) The Snow Globe Family. Ditto. Tiny family sledding in a snow globe! What the what!

5) It’s a Secret.  If you love cats, and dressing up, and little girls having adventures (check, check, check), this is your book.

I didn't even notice, somehow, that this book is also the work of John Burningham! YOU KNOW THE MR GUMPY GUY! How cute is it that the kids have each latched on to their own his-and-hers John Burningham books? I CAN'T STAND IT IT'S TOO CUTE

I didn’t even notice, somehow, that this book is also the work of John Burningham! YOU KNOW THE MR GUMPY GUY! How cute is it that the kids have each latched on to their own his-and-hers John Burningham books? I CAN’T STAND IT IT’S TOO CUTE

3 Chapter Books for 3 Year-Olds

I wrote here a while back about how Harper and I fell hopelessly in love with the Winnie-the-Pooh gang.  What I haven’t mentioned is that this sent us on a wormhole-ish hunt for toddler-friendly chapter books. It is really so fun to read chapter books together – the curling up, the flicker in her eyes as she pictures a scene, or asks me to repeat a detail so she can really really picture it — and it is also, I’ve found, really hard to find just the right books that she can follow, aren’t too dark or complicated, and have enough pictures but not too many. And that don’t involve dying parents. Or dying anyone. We’re just not there yet (thankfully!). I mean, Harper thought the Heffalump was terrifying.

Here are our findings so far:

1. Jenny and the Cat Club, by Esther Averill

"Time is nothing to a cat when he is dancing."

“Time is nothing to a cat when he is dancing.”

This is, next to the Winnie-the-Pooh books, our biggest hit so far. Harper has been playing Jenny Linsky, drawing Jenny Linsky, telling stories about Jenny Linsky, ever since she recovered from the shock of receiving this (deceivingly!) boring-looking chapter book as a Hanukkah present. Esther Averill’s stories about Jenny Linsky, a shy yet brave little black cat who lives with her master, Captain Tinker, in Greenwich Village, are just nonstop charming. There is nothing scarier than a mean dog who steals Jenny’s signature red scarf – this episode made Harper hyperventilate with anxiety, both at the meanness of the dog, and the great crime of a theft of an accessory. Throughout these sweet stories, Jenny deals with issues like her shyness, smallness, and learning to be generous, all big issues in a preschooler’s life.

For here is the rub – I find that other chapter books, probably naturally, address questions Harper hasn’t even started to consider yet, like getting teased by mean kids. I am so thankful, particularly in the face of horrifying recent events, that this is so – that Harper still lives in a sweet little bubble where her biggest issues are her brother, Hair Puller Extraordinaire, and that sometimes her annoying mama wants her to brush her teeth, and that the meanest person she knows is her imaginary friend Murray. So in that vein, I find that older books, somehow, are the only ones that can manage to be innocent enough for this highly sensitive kiddo. Isn’t that a little weird and sad?

Anyway, good thing this book has been reprinted by the excellent New York Review Children’s Collection, and is just such a lovely object, full of charming drawings, that I find myself looking through it again and again (and unable to choose illustrations to share because they are all the best one). Best of all, this is part of series, so we can read even more about our dear little J. Linsky, as Harper likes to call her.

2. The Magic Treehouse: Dinosaurs Before Dark

I heard about Mary Pope Osbourne’s insanely popular series on, who knows, probably Pinterest. Apparently all kids everywhere love it, though I, elderly ignoramous!, had never heard of it. Harper and I had a very lovely afternoon at a local coffeeshop having hot chocolate and tearing through chapter after chapter of this first book in the series, Dinosaurs Before Dark. She liked studying the pictures, and most of all she liked the idea (as did I!) of this magic treehouse full of magic books (!!!!!!!), and the brother and sister who have adventures together. She was carrying around a notebook and backpack for a few days, just like Jack and Annie in the book. I thought we were really on to something. But somehow the next books in the series have not held her interest. I think they’re a bit too complicated – there’s all this business with magicians and Merlin and legends. But that first one, wow, what a page-turner it was! And we love happy-sibling-propaganda. So this was a good one too.

3. A Bear Called Paddington

I’m cheating a bit here, because we’ve only read one chapter of this book, which Harper’s grandmother gave her for Christmas – Harper’s daddy’s childhood copy! This has been fun for me to discover too, though, since somehow I missed the whole Paddington phenomenon as a kid. Were you aware Paddington is a real bear? From Peru? (Excuse me, darkest Peru?)Who comes to live with a family in London? There aren’t quite enough pictures for Harper’s tastes, and there is that problem familiar to us from our painstaking attempts at Stuart Little of the humor being largely pitched to witty adults, but one chapter in, so far so good. I even heard some stories being muttered about darkest Peru in one of Harper’s marathon story-telling-sessions. Chapter two happens tonight. Wish us luck!

Any other good chapter books for the very wee we’re missing? I have been remiss, by the way, in not thanking lovely commenter Genevieve who this summer led us to many awesome wordless picture books, including our favorite, You Can’t Bring a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum. Genevieve, are you out there? Do you know about chapter books too??

The Read Balloon: Virginia Woolf for Little Wolves

Virginia Wolf, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, just especially for me. Wasn’t that nice of them?

I fell in love with this book the moment I saw its title: Virginia Wolf. Never before has a picture book seemed so obviously created specifically for me. I had this crazy friend in high school who did too many drugs and, worse, read too much philosophy and became convinced that the he was the only person who was actually real, and that the world he knew was an elaborately designed set (this preceded The Matrix, mind you), and every once in a while something would happened that, due to some strange serendipity, would seem to him to be proof that this was so. Anyway, I thought of him, the dear fruitcake, when I happened upon this book in the library – I actually looked around, like, really? This book is happening to me? I love Virginia Woolf. No, like, LOVE love. I love the Bloomsbury Group, the art, the thinkers, its shocking sexy-bookishness back when that had the ability to shock, all of it.  I love pretty picture books with extravagantly colorful illustrations, particularly if they concern strange little girls, especially siblings. Hello, book! Thank you for existing!

This book is a loose interpretation of the relationship between Virginia Woolf, grumpy writer, and her sister, Vanessa Bell, painter and proponent of the everything-beautiful life way before Pinterest. So I would probably like it anyway, but I am particularly charmed by the poetic text – I love kids’ books that don’t talk down to kids – and its portrait of sisterhood, and the idea that connecting with things that make you happy can lift you out of a wolfish funk. (And I’m so pleased and not at all surprised to see that this beautiful book has just won some fancy-shmancy Canadian literary award.)

That said, I couldn’t really get Harper to comment on this book. She very much enjoyed the trick of Virginia’s wolfish ears transforming into a point hair bow (we all have those days), but other than that I have to admit she wasn’t as in love with the book as I was. When pressed, she said only, “She says too many mean things.” So I said, “Honey, you don’t have to be nice and happy all the time just because you’re a girl, you know. It’s okay to have wolfish feelings, to need help dealing with them.” JK, I sighed and said, “Fine, you don’t have to help me write my blog post. We can play with Photo Booth instead.”

But the book is, in truth, not only more fun than playing with Photo Booth, it’s also led me to the other works of Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault. Don’t you love that buzzy feeling when you’ve discovered some new (to you) artists?

Here, a lovely book trailer that doubles as some good advice for wolfish moods.

The Read Balloon: Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, and Harper’s first serious crush

A Map of Prospect Park.

Tonight at dinner-time I read the kids the last installment of The House at Pooh Corner, Chapter 10, in which “Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There,” which really ought to be subtitled, “Fuck You, Mama’s Mascara.” Ollie has not been privy to most of the Pooh-readings (for this concludes our first reading of the entire series) but for some reason I felt he should be there for this story, snortling into his macaroni, maybe to protect me, the way Harper always squeezes his hand and tells him she’s helping him to be brave when she’s afraid of something. “Christopher Robin was going away,” the story begins. That was about when I started crying.

This all started because of a bookmark. Harper and I were whiling away an Ollie-nap by going crazy on Mr. Printables, an amazing site full of adorable (free!) paper dolls, coloring pages, and lo, bookmarks. Harper wanted to know what they were, these mysterious bookmarks, and what kind of book you would need to keep a place in, and I explained, and she asked if we had any chapter books, and I said that we did, and that we could read a chapter of one if she wanted and then hold our place with the bookmark, and she felt extreme enthusiasm about this concept. She’s very into accessories.

So that night at bedtime we began reading the first Winnie-the-Pooh story. I approached the familiar stories with some cautious optimism, not quite sure she was ready to listen to so very many pages with so very few little scratchy pictures. But man, was she. She is now obsessed, with the wonderful, all-consuming Harper-passion that has previously been directed toward The Ballerinas, Charlie and Lola, Special Baby, Murray, and other luminaries. I do believe she is in love with Christopher Robin.

I’m so glad she wants to read the stories all again, as she has announced, but there was something really special, like Special Baby special, about that first time, about hearing her crack up at the funny parts, and furrow her brow and ask for clarification regarding all the spelling jokes, and exclaim, “Oh, Christopher Robin!” when he’d do something terribly kind and wise, as he tends to. I keep catching her poring over the illustrations, studying Christopher Robin in particular. In the middle of nowhere she’ll say, “I think Christopher Robin might be a tiny bit older than me,” or, “Wasn’t that so funny when Christopher Robin said x?” She’s been wandering around the apartment or community garden or park or wherever we are, whispering to Christopher Robin about this or that, and singing Pooh-inspired “Tiddly-Pom”s as she goes.

Look, the real, original Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Tigger, and Eeyore! Guess where they live? THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY! Even though this is, as Harper says, “very far away in Manhattan,” I’m thinking field trip.

First we read through Winnie-The-Pooh, and then one day last week I got The House at Pooh Corner from the library when Harper was at school. She walked into the living room, saw the book lying on the couch, screamed, clapped her hands, and did a somersault. I’m not kidding. We’ve since gone on Winnie the Pooh-themed picnics in the park. (I asked Harper if she could find the Hundred Acre Wood and she assured me it would be easy, and it turned out it was.) Actually, everything has been Winnie the Pooh-themed.

My point is, this child lives in an enchanted world, in which she is most happy when play-acting some private story. So this last Pooh story, about Christopher Robin leaving the forest, seems custom-built for stabbing me in the heart. How long do we have? How long can she play, completely unself-consciously, in these elaborate worlds, populated by imaginary people and her “cubbies”?

Christopher Robin, according to Ernest Shepard

Toward the end of the last story, Christopher Robin and Pooh are lazing about in the enchanted place when Christopher Robin says, “’I’m not going to do Nothing any more.’

‘Never again?’

‘Well, not so much. They won’t let you.’”

Directly beneath this is an illustration of Christopher Robin lying on his stomach, kicking his legs in the air, studying something on the grass in front of him: that pose of relaxed, busy, focused nothing that is I think the essence of childhood. It’s just such a heartbreaker. And even though Harper’s not setting off for English boarding school anytime soon, it’s inevitable, the Growing Up.

Ugh, so what I’m saying is, read these stories to your magical little preschooler. Read them on a day when you’re so tired from all the early waking and tantrums about shoes and sticky floors and more tantrums about other shoes that you have been praying for the era of Full Day Kindergarten or even fantasizing about English boarding school, when the drudgery of all the work that comes along with them has momentarily clouded the sheer ridiculous shiny glory of their mysterious, curious beings. Read them to your children while they eat dinner so that you can get all weepy and when they both refuse to eat the macaroni and cheese they demanded and request little cups of applesauce instead you won’t even care and you’ll uncharacteristically let them have them and it will seem suddenly beautiful and not maddening the way they shriek with excitement and set about smearing the applesauce across the table like adorable monsters, and you’ll think, Yes, cups of applesauce are totally completely the most thrilling things on earth! Read them before they’ve seen the cartoon versions. Read them in an enchanted place, if you can find one. And then read them again.

Christopher Robin, according to Harper.


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?

The Read Balloon: Picture Books Without Words

Wonder Bear, by Tao Nyeu. The only bear Harper has ever not been afraid of.

There are few things that make us happier around here than a new stack of library books, all fresh and unread and fragrant of plastic covers and other kids’ boogers. But I have to admit, we have checked out some real losers. Once, sure, I used to look up books ahead of time, read children’s book bloggers’ recommendations, put appropriate reading material on hold, or at least pre-screen at the library. But these days every trip to our local branch is a hectic dash involving Ollie making avalanches of board books before toddling over to the evil bank of computers where inevitably some big kids are playing video games while Harper finds every single book she can find about ballerinas, and I frantically try to grab something that looks interesting, and we end up with books that mention terrible things like death and sibling rivalry.

Still, there is nothing like the joy of finding a great book completely by accident. The other day Harper was sifting through our newest haul and came running. “Mama! It’s one of those make-up-a-story books!” She LOVES make-up-a-story books. You know, those great wordless picture books that allow a child to invent her own story, by which I mean tyrannize her parents into telling stories until their tongues turn to wood. These books are so fun; they allow Harper’s crazy imagination to run wild;  I especially love them for their “Here, entertain yourself while I change this horrifying diaper” properties. Our most recent and thrilling finds were The Red Book and The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman — both amazing, evocative, and with that quality of adventure I want my kids’ childhood to have but maybe without the wandering down sewer pipes kind of thing. Still, lovely and surreal and mind-bending — like Haruki Murakami for toddlers.

The Red Book, by Barbara Lehman. Every time we look at the gorgeous page where the girl buys a huge bunch of balloons and takes off, Harper says, “That is not a safe idea!”

We’ve also loved The Adventures of Polo, by Regis Faller, The Wonder Bear, by Tao Nyeu, A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog, by Mercer Mayer. That last one is totally a lie, actually — I loved it but Harper was not that into it. But you get what I’m saying. Wordless picture books. Good stuff.

Any others we should check out? Maybe I’ll even actually reserve them at the library like some sort of thinking, planning fancy pants person.