James Rumford at Home in Hawaii

James Rumford, lives and works in Honolulu, where he creates children’s books that are Rumsford Books Varietynot only impressive in their artistic vision but amazing in the variety of media used to create the artwork contained in their pages; these include watercolor, oil, pen and ink, gouache, digital, sepia wash, gold leaf and more. He is constantly exploring new techniques and so, unlike some illustrators who stick to a consistent look, all of his works look unique and original.

I became interested in his work while reading “From the Good Mountain; How Gutenberg Changed the World” to my third graders as part of the “History of Books” unit.  The students were fascinated with this book and were reluctant to go to recess after class was over. They wanted to stay and ask more questions. Since my daughter and I were going to Hawaii anyways over Spring Break, I decided to contact the author and see if he was willing to meet with me. His response was a warm “Aloha!”

Painter and Paintings

Painter and Paintings

So that’s how we ended up in Honolulu sitting on the steps, waiting for Mr. Rumford to answer the door. I had brought along my daughter and a friend to meet the well-known author-illustrator. Finally, the door opened, and a very surprised but friendly James explained that he had been in the middle of fixing the downstairs toilet. He had not been expecting me since I had neglected to confirm the visit in my last email. I apologized profusely, but he graciously welcomed us in and then zoomed off to fix us a refreshing drink while we oohed and aahed over the beautiful ocean landscape paintings hanging on the walls of the living room and dining room. When he returned, he explained that all of the paintings were ones he had completed in the last year.

The Little Prince

In the window seat, he had a stack of library books, including “Le Petit Prince” in the original French. I soon discovered that he could chat with me in French and that he could speak, read and write in Arabic, Chinese and other languages. A polyglot artistic Renaissance man who is also willing to fix his own toilet! Impressive.

We fell into an easy conversation, the four of us, and he expressed a generous interest in my daughter’s sketch books. He was impressed with the mythological creatures that she had conjured up and captured on paper. He talked about his artistic process going into interesting details about how lately he has been combining traditional artistic methods with time-saving and innovative digital techniques. He has a deep love of the ancient arts of calligraphy and the early methods of printmaking, however, and continues to delight in creating handmade books.   DSC_4282

Downstairs in his cozy studio, he showed us the old printing press that was saved from being melted down for its iron during the Second World War. This particular printing press is apparently the only one of its kind extant in the United States. He had drawers full of typeset letters and materials for printing and binding books. On his ceiling was a lovely white embossed poem written in Arabic. He translated it for us while gesturing and explaining how he achieved the artistic effect.

We thanked him for the generous amount of time that he gave us to talk with him and then, as his wife had just returned with the car, offered to drive us back downtown so that we could meet some friends for supper. Before he left, he blessed us with no less than ten hardcover picture books; a gift for which he would accept no monetary thanks. We were floored by his generosity and I happily carried the gift back to our library to share with the students who happily began devouring all of the new books. Included in the books was a Japanese translation copy of “From the Good Mountain” which is perfect for our Japanese fluent readers at our international school. DSC_4296

It was a true honor and a pleasure to be able to meet and talk with James Rumford. I am hoping that we will be able, with the help of several interested international schools in Tokyo, to set up an author visit so that many students will get the chance to meet this versatile artist.

Can't wait to read!

Can’t wait to read these wonderful books from James Rumford! Thank you!

Genevieve the Giraffe is thrilled!

Genevieve the Giraffe is thrilled!

 

 

More photos of the James Rumford visit below:

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Rosemary Wells’ Wisdom for Writers

Rosemary_and_RuthIt was on a very Good Friday, just a couple days before Easter, when I attended a Master Class taught by children’s book creator, Rosemary Wells and sponsored by our local Tokyo SCBWI chapter. The evening was well worth the trip downtown riding sardine-packed trains on a raw April evening.

From our opening introductions to the final story of the evening, Rosemary Wells gave the Tokyo SCBWI participants practical and pithy advice. Although I will not be able to distill the evening into three sentences (as we were required to do in our self-introductions), I will do my best to “omit needless words.” (Strunk and White) Rosemary’s advice was to be “preçis” or precise, because “no one wants to slog through endless wittering in a children’s book.”

Rosemary_Precis

Cut your picture book text down to four sentences per page at most. Leave some story exposition to the illustrator. Write what you know and find out what you don’t. “The art of writing for children is like being a contra-alto,” said Rosemary. “It requires unique talents.” We listened carefully, as this “off the cuff” talk struck a chord in all of us and should help us perfect our pitch in story creation.

“My stories are non-fiction,” began the author who creates beloved stories with bunnies and kittens as the protagonists. “They are based on life experiences.” As a writer, one has to have a sieve in the brain to collect memories and feelings. Max and Ruby are characters drawn from her own children. She described hearing her older child, the “Ruby” of the pair, attempting to instruct her younger nine-month old sibling, upon whom “Max” is modeled. “Table… T-A-B-L-E… TABLE. Say it!” To which the nine-month old would respond, “Bang.” Max’s dragon shirt and general countenance was drawn from a toddler with a withering glare wearing a shirt that glared as well, sitting in the heaping shopping basket ahead of her while she waited and waited one chilly raw night to bring one carton of milk home. The character, Yoko, began with a group of three girls from Osaka who attended Rosemary’s daughter’s school. They were teased about the sushi and seaweed in their traditional Japanese lunches which her daughter thought was totally unfair. Family memories and personal memories are the story starters for the author’s books. “Go back to your childhood,” advised Rosemary, “and remember.” Max and teenager2

“The art of illustration is a challenge,” explained Wells. “Try not to repeat in pictures what the text says.” The artist should look for elements that the text does not overtly mention. Find humor in the text. Marry the text without being the same as the text. Rosemary prefers the word “illumination” to the the word “illustration” harking back to the time of the beautifully, gold-leaf enhanced drawings with which scribes would enhance the scriptures. The pictures should make the story glow with deeper meaning and draw the reader further into the story’s embrace.

Rosemary Wells has been in the business since she was twenty. Now, at age seventy, she has seen publishing rise and fall. Publishing is “in the trenches now,” she explained. “Publishers grab for too much and authors cannot make a living. Publishers have wrecked things a bit,” she said. Rosemary has seen her own royalty percentages cut in half over the years. It is especially difficult for new authors. Still, she gave us hope by encouraging us to write what is true and deep. “Present it simply,” she advised, “with no affectation.” “Write for yourself,” she said, despite our protestations that editors ask writers to categorize themselves. On the other hand, she said, “You may not argue with your editor. Work without ego; listen to your editor and do it better. Only after you have produced 10 starred review books can you go at it with the editor.”

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And while a trained and experienced editor will have valid criticism, Wells did warn against listening to all the advice that one might hear in a writer’s group. “Advice given from a reader’s perspective is valid,” she admitted, “but amateurs may not know what they are talking about when giving publishing advice.” This is not to say that Wells does not encounter any friction with her own editors. She sometimes disagrees with their choices, but they are the ones paying to have the book printed, after all. She sent around a recently published book along with its original “dummy” so that we could note the changes that were made. She also mentioned that she does not illustrate for other authors as she will inevitably end up changing the original text and make changes all the way up until the deadline, and sometimes, even afterwards. The advantage of being both author and illustrator is that the two always agree on the finished product.

max could not relax

The importance of authenticity in writing for children was emphasized again and again. Children are dealing with life issues and they know they have to handle it on their own. “School is like a big bus. You get on with a bunch of people you don’t know and then they lock the doors of the bus and you can’t escape. You are stuck with these people for years.” Parents and teachers do what they can to help, of course, but Rosemary explained that it is as if they are on the outside of a thick Lucite bubble. They can see the struggles the child is going through, but in the end, the child must find his or her own solution. It is an author’s job to write about the person and the true emotions. The story should be about an individual, not about a problem or a conflict; “the person, not the peanut allergy.” Adult agendas have no place in children’s books. Children love stories that show characters overcoming obstacles with humor and grit. Be authentic and write simply. Young readers will love you for it.

Thank you, Rosemary, for sharing yourself with us.

– Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

belovedofbeasts.com

Princess Ramona, Beloved of Beasts

Princess Ramona, Beloved of Beasts; by Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud, illustrated by Therese Larsson

 

 

 

 

Making the Second Grade Buzz

Credit: leemt2 (FlickR Creative Commons)

Self-published authors of children’s books tend to agonize over how to create a buzz around their work.

M. Knoop; Natl. Trust for Scotland

We try everything: Facebook, email, blogs, discussion boards, reader and writer organizations, library lists, book reviewers… all in the efforts to get some grown-ups to notice our books, buy our books and give our creation some validity in the mature world of children’s publishing.

Well, I may not even be a blip on the radar of the publishing world yet, but by golly I sure made a bunch of our second graders buzz. Here is a link to a class blog that our second grade teacher kindly posted: Making It Educational; Princess Ramona.

The student reactions posted in the classroom blog are priceless:

YeJin – I liked when after Princess Ramona said, “You hurt my friend’s owie,” because it was funny. The dragon was crying like a 4 year old.

Nykolas – I liked the part when the knight came through the forest and the animals were ready to attack him. I liked the part when the king was in his seat and the animals were next to him and the dragon behind him and he didn’t know it. It is about helping each other.

Devika – I liked the part when Ramona set free the animals from the cage. It reminded me of Noah’s ark. It is a good book because it has funny and interesting things in it.

Reading directly to the students and seeing their reactions and hearing what they are noticing and learning from the story make all of those hours of writing and rewriting and polishing and programming completely worth it.

When all is said and done, a writer of literature is not producing for the reviewers or publishers, we are producing our craft for the children. A buzz from the tiniest of bees is always sweeter than the sweetest honey to the soul.

Ripples in the Blogosphere… or Self-Publishing Promotion

Imagine that you are lying in sunlit pool of still water, and you are dreaming. Your dreams are vivid, colorful and profound; but you are the sole spectator and the sole participant. The pool remains still without a single ripple until you sit up and start to share your dream.

An author may write a masterpiece or at least a lovely poem of book that would be a delight to the eyes of many, but if no one knows of the creation, no one but the creator can enjoy it. So here is the frustration of many an independent author who has chosen the path of self-publishing.

 

The first step is, of course, to make sure that the dream in your soul is written and illustrated in the best and most excellent fashion. Too many self-published books are in dire need of editor and professional artist to rescue them from oblivion. In some cases, there is no earthly help for them and they should become the compost for stronger creations to follow.

If you do have a polished and carefully crafted piece of true literature, then your journey has only begun. The dream is over. It’s time to wake up and make some ripples in the blogosphere. Here are a few places to start:

1. Create a Webpage

  • This website may be dedicated to you as an author or an illustrator, or it may be created for one single literary endeavor; a book or a series of books, etc.
  • Your webpage should be simple, straightforward and well-designed. Keep in mind what it is you want the page to do… promote the book, author or series? become a gathering place for other creators? support educators with lesson plans relating to your book?
  • Update your webpage frequently to keep the content and interest fresh.

2. Create other promotional avenues

  • Consider creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account for the book. (twitter hashtags listed below)
  • Post jacket cover photos on the internet by way of TinyPics. (http://tinypic.com/index.php)
  • Become an active poster and sharer on Pinterest, LinkedIn, GoodReads or other social networking sites.

3. Get the word out!

  • Find relevant bloggers that may agree to review your book or mention it in a post. (Possible iBook kid lit reviewers listed below.)
  • Find legitimate book reviewers specific to your genre and intended audience. (These are few and far between for electronic illustrated children’s books.)
  • Try to get some airtime on GoodReads (but if you’re new, your title may not even show up in the search box)
  • Create your own blog posts and review site. (Yes, that’s what I’m doing now)
Keep splashing. Your first attempts to create waves may fall flat. Established publishers do not necessarily want you to succeed. You will have to be persistent and patient. Remember, ripples and waves create more ripples and waves. You never know how far your message will travel. I was recently surprised to find that folks from India, Iran, Indonesia and Italy were clicking on links to my book… and yes, there were some other countries that didn’t start with the letter “I” in there as well.
Good luck to all of you independent, aspiring authors and may all of your ripples be productive.
Lists:
Relevant Twitter Hashtags for Children’s Literature:

#ebooks, #ibooks, #kidlit (children’s literature), #tlchat (teacher-librarians)

#bookapps (book-like apps for iPad, Android, etc.), #childrensbooks, #dads, #moms

#ece (early childhood education), #edapp (educational app), #ePrdctn (electronic production or book designers)

#kidlitchat, #kidlitPRchat (marketing children’s books), #kids, #kidsbooks

#library, #librarians, #litchat, #literacy

#pblit (picture book literature), #pblitchat (picture book literature chat), #picturebooks

#publishing, #SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)

#selfpublishing

Sampling of Kid Lit Reviewers or Bloggers Who May Accept eBooks:

The History of Books, Libraries, and Getting Kids to Write

My final project for the COETAIL course in which I am currently enrolled consists of supporting a group of 4th graders as we attempt to create a digital book on the expansive topic of… The History of Books and Libraries. I work at an international school as the elementary division librarian, and the project began as a frustrated attempt to find readable and understandable material on the subject for my 3rd grade class as part of the library curriculum. I had one decent picture book to start with and had developed the curriculum from that point. After searching online for more kid-friendly information, I finally came to the conclusion that we would somehow have to create our own material. And that is why last year’s 3rd graders are now creating material that will be used by this year’s 3rd graders.

From an authentic need and an authentic audience comes an authentic use of technology.  The SAMR model helps to identify and analyze the uses of technology to determine whether technology is being used for its own sake or for accomplishing something original that technology finally makes possible.

Although academic instruction can be enhanced by the use of technology, the transformative use is the most valuable in pedagogy. The task which the 4th graders at our school are now tackling would not be possible without the use of technology.

Each student was given a subject within the span of the “History of Books and Libraries.” They were given a folder which contained a copy of one relevant page of a book on their subject  along with a few other resources. They began to work on the “who, when, where, what, why and how” or their topic and were shown how to search for additional information on the web relating to their topic.

Some of their sources were over their heads and a teacher or helper had to sit next to the student translating into age-appropriate vocabulary what their source material was trying to communicate. Then the student would write down what they understood from the material. A few students were tempted to copy the source material word-for-word into their own document, but were quickly found out when they could not explain the vocabulary words that they had typed. The content was explained and they rewrote their page in their own words. This was essential since students who were at their grade level or lower would be the audience for this book.

As the students researched more deeply and wrote in greater detail about their topic, they became more confident in their abilities. Merely learning that your first draft is rarely your best draft was worth the process as students self-edited, peer-edited and received many successive corrections back from the teachers. It was amazing to see how well the students persisted in their editing. They knew that it had to be polished and presentable as it would be published in the final book. They also understood that the content was more important than the form. They were not given the option of choosing their own font as this tends to sidetrack many for hours. They were not even given the option of finding graphics or illustrations for their page until their final text had been approved.

Students who finished editing the text of their page more quickly than others, were challenged to take their research and creation to the next level. Some wrote emails to experts on their subjects and some created models or paintings or pictures that would enhance their page in the book. A few are even creating movies to embed into their page.

One of the drawbacks of using iBooks Author was that the software is not designed to accommodate many creators or contributors at the same time. One person needs to compile the data; it is not a multi-user, magazine or newspaper publishing type of tool where copy editors and writers can all submit material in real time to a work in progress. Actually, my husband works for a company called Woodwing that sells just such a tool. It works very well and is used by Time magazine and other large companies. It has recently been adopted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mainichi Newspaper in Japan who used it first with their image-rich publication, Tap-i, which incorporates interactivity and embedded video into their weekly digital news magazine.

But for our purposes, the tech tools that we have chosen have served us well. We did run into some problems as the students attempted to drop their pages into my teacher Drop Box folder which has “Write-Only” capabilities and the folder did not show up. The tech department is fixing the link so that the next attempt will be successful. Students in 4th grade do not have their own email accounts so for some purposes, we had to use memory sticks to transfer data. The students could not access their student folders from home and so some could not work on their content at home. Many did not have Apple computers at home, so they had difficulty transferring some of the files. We are working around these issues, however, and the students are getting closer and closer to being ready to publish.

If this project is successful, we may make this publishing unit a regular fixture in the 4th grade curriculum. It gives the students a jump on the research and writing skills that they will need to tackle the more in-depth Independent Study Project, or ISP, that they all must deal with in 5th grade. As it is, they are getting lots of practice in editing, online research, proper image attribution and digital publishing. Many students will be embedding links into their pages that will take readers to museums, universities and other sites where further studies can undertaken. The students can’t wait to see where in the world their book may be downloaded.

 

Hosting an Author

Last month, in September of 2012, I had the amazing honor of getting to host an internationally famous author, Sharon Draper, during her first-ever visit to Japan.

The catalyst for this opportunity came from the Sakura Medal Awards, which are organized by the librarians of international schools in Japan. It is one of the few literary awards in the world that is selected by young readers themselves. Students take great pride in the fact that they have the final say over who receives the Sakura medal in any given year.

I offered to send the 2011-2012 Sakura Medals to the winning picture book and chapter book authors, so that is how I ended up making contact with Sharon. Her book, Out of My Mind, was voted by the students as the best chapter book of the year. (Many seem to share the international students’ opinion, since this book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for many weeks and has been translated into Russian and Chinese.) I sent her the congratulatory letter with its accompanying certificate, student artwork and burnished medallion, and she was very appreciative.

She mentioned that she was being sent to China in September as part of State-Department sponsored author tour representing the United States. Since she would be so close to Japan already, she wondered if she could squeeze in a quick trip to Tokyo to visit some of the students who had given her such a lovely medal. We quickly arranged a schedule and several of our international schools in Tokyo had the pleasure of getting to see Sharon present in her warm and personable, lively manner.

We were thrilled to host her and she was demonstrably thrilled with her time here in Japan. My husband and daughter and I got to show Sharon a bit of Tokyo on Sunday, her one full day of sightseeing. As soon as we started off in the morning, we were greeted with a mikoshi-carrying procession which had paused immediately in front of her hotel in Kichi-joji. It was a perfect day full of serendipitous experiences and our author seemed very happy to have had a taste of Tokyo. She even learned to use chopsticks for the first time, a skill that she later made use of in China.

We continue to stay in touch. I was very interested to hear about her experiences in China. One of the most touching meetings that she remembers was with a group of mothers who all had developmentally challenged children. Many of them had read Draper’s book, “Out of My Mind” and were dealing with the difficulties of raising a child with considerable challenges. They knew that they had an empathetic ear with Sharon and they poured out their hearts as they shared common struggles and griefs and hopes for their dear children. Sharon admitted that it was hard to know what to do or say in this situation. While technology and digital connections can often help, they are not the final answer or solution to all of the problems.

Out of My Mind

In Sharon’s book, Out of My Mind, the main character, Melody, who is confined (for the most part) to a wheelchair, is set free to communicate by means of an electronic talking machine, a table attached to the front of her wheelchair that can be manipulated to produce speech and phrases.

teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

She is finally able to show the world the brilliant mind that has been tucked away and ignored by her peers for so long. Technology opens up a whole world of connections to her and keeps her from going “out of her mind” in the isolation of her disability. Our world is now so intricately connected, one would think that no one needs to live in isolation. We blog and twitter and ichat and Facebook and email and FaceTime until we are saturated with connectivity. There is a lot of good in our tech-connectivity.

Still, we can feel like we are trapped in a fish bowl if we don’t possess the ability to connect soul-to-soul with another individual. Teaching students (and ourselves) to communicate on deep and personal levels, is a skill that should never be neglected in our rush to adopt the latest-and-greatest methods of electronic communication. If it does not enhance true communication, it’s just that much more electronic static. We should all strive to author our intentions and our ideas with as much clarity and depth as is possible with our resources. An accomplished author can touch the world with important ideas, and Sharon Draper’s visit reminded me of this important truth.

Distractions or Enhancements? The Interactive Question

What is a book? The concept of “book” is changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up with it all. There are so many options available now when designing a book, that it is almost mind-boggling. I would even go so far as to say that the options may begin to distract one from the original purpose in creating a book. This is a problem for the author as well as for the reader.

guardian.co.uk Photograph from Rex Features

An article published by the UK’s “Guardian” suggests that interactive digital books tend to distract children from the content and storyline of the book and make it harder for them to remember crucial details from the story. The headline of the article declares: “Enhanced eBooks Are Bad for Children.” The article then goes on to detail the results of a study done in the USA where parents, with their children, read a story together. Half of the group settled in with a print book and the other half with an interactive digital version of the story. The print book kids could recall more details and discuss the story much more readily than the digital book kids. The researchers concluded that while “print books were more advantageous for literacy building co-reading”, ebooks, and particularly enhanced ebooks, were better “for engaging children and prompting physical interaction”.

So an author has to consider the goal of any particular book before beginning to design it. Is the book created to promote physical interaction and initial interest or is it created to build literacy and present an engaging story? This is what I have been asking myself as I consider the digital options of my first illustrated children’s book. I began the project with an illustration that simply begged for a story. It was chosen as a “Deviation of the Day” and was simply titled…

“You!”

When I first saw the illustration on the Deviant Art website, the picture was so compelling that the story began to write itself in my head. And then it wouldn’t let me sleep until I had written it down.

So when designing the book, I knew that the detailed illustrations were a key factor of this story and they would be displayed beautifully on a retina-display iPad where the viewer could zoom in on the picture to see all of the creative, little details which the artist has tucked into every page. For example, there is a dragon hidden on almost every page of the book if you take the time to look carefully. And there are critters hiding in trees, in the grass and in wee hidey-holes, just waiting to be discovered. Because this particular artist, Therese Larsson, is very skilled at portraying light in her digital art, the back-lit iPad is an ideal platform for showing it off.

The story should always be the reason for a storybook. You write a book to tell a compelling story. Too many digital books that I have seen lately, seem to have been produced to distract a child or to provide a platform for playing games; they often lack an original story. So when thinking about how to design my digital book, I decided that I did not want to include animation or distracting games. I wanted to add things that would enhance the story. The read-aloud function will be included as the story uses a higher level vocabulary than is customary for a picture book. Some words may present an pronunciation challenge for younger readers and the read-aloud function can help with this. I certainly did not want to “dumb down” the text, especially not after the discussion I had with the 5th grade students at my international school when they realized that many modern authors are doing just that as they attempt to make their books more consumable to young readers who may not want a challenge. (The 5th graders were offended and went and checked out challenging books just to spite those authors.)

“Wily” and “plundering” may not be commonly used words, but they are delicious and poetic and deserve some airing out, and so they are staying in the book. But it does help to have a function that will read the words out loud so that “wily” does not become “willy,” (heaven forbid). I work with many students who are struggling to learn English as a second or even third language, and they are helped out a lot by being able to check out from our school library audio books and books with read-aloud CDs included in the back cover. Some of our EAL students check out the audio version of a novel when they check out the print novel so that they can hear the native pronunciation of the words while they are reading the text. I see read-aloud digital books as being very useful in the international school context where students may not have native language speakers at home.

In deciding what digital enhancements to include or not include in a book, the author has to think carefully about the purpose of the book. Will the book’s purpose be amplified or diluted by the choice of digital enhancements. This type of consideration applies to using technology in the classroom as well. A tool should help achieve one’s goal instead of becoming a distraction unto itself…. (one reason why I just cannot appreciate the design of certain pencils).

made-in-china.com