Book Launch: Tortoise and Hare’s Amazing Race

TortoiseHareMarianne Berkes and Cathy Morrison are not newcomers to children’s books, Tortoise and Hare’s Amazing Race is their third book together at Arbordale and individually each of these ladies has an impressive collection of stories and book awards. We are happy to release this adaptation of the classic fable and bring a bit of math into the race!

To learn more about the inspiration behind Marianne’s writing here is a sample of her interview:

CathyMorrisonWhat drew you to writing, children’s books ?

As a child our home was filled with books and music. I wrote plays that my friends and I performed in the summer, in our backyard. My dad even helped us build some of the scenery. Reading, writing, music and theater have been a constant in my life. In high school I did interviews for the school paper, and in college wrote my first picture book for a children’s lit class. But it was many years later, after I moved to Florida, that I said “I can do this!” Reading so many books to children at the library where I worked, I kept coming up with ideas of my own. Because I love kids and love “words” I started submitting my stories to publishers, and one day…

What do you hope children get out of your stories?

An appreciation of our earth and respect for nature. I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child and still do. Discovering nature is a life-long adventure that I hope kids today still appreciate. Nature has so many stories to tell and is available to anybody, any place, any time. I hope kids will be entertained by my books, but also that they will want to learn more about the topic. My first book, published in 2000, was about frogs making music in the night. Hopefully after reading this book, kids will go outside in the early evening, especially after a rain, and listen for the sounds I’ve written about. I’ve followed with stories about birds, shells, creatures living in an ocean reef, rainforest animals, Arctic animals, animals that migrate, Australian animals, forest animals (like Polly Possum) and river animals. In Arbordale’s The Tree that Bear Climbed kids also learn how a tree grows, and Daisylocks is about plant life. I’ve also written a book about the planets that I hope kids enjoy. How can we ask them to save the earth, if they don’t learn to appreciate it first? My books are lyrical in verse, making it easy and fun for kids to read with lots of fact blended in. I want kids to really get inside my books, to read them more than once, each time finding something new and exciting!

Do you want to know more read the full interview here!

Leave a comment and enter to win your own copy of Tortoise and Hare’s Amazing Race! Then click below for fun math activities in the For Creative Minds section.

Pages from TortoiseHare_FCM

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Meet Dino Tracks Illustrator Cathy Morrison

Cathy-Morrison-originalIt is an incredible talent to take an author’s words and bring them to life in a picture book. Cathy Morrison has this incredible talent, and has illustrated Animalogy, Three Little Beavers, Nature Recycles: How About You?, and most recently Dino Tracks. Cathy talked with us about the challenge and process of bringing dinos to life!

Working with dinosaurs seems like it would allow an illustrator a lot of creative freedom. Did you find these prehistoric creatures fun or challenging to create? Do you have a favorite dinosaur you worked on in Dino Tracks?

Illustrating Dino Tracks proved to be both fun and challenging.  On one hand there is a lot of creative freedom, or what I like to call “artistic license” in drawing dinosaurs since nobody’s ever seen one. But the science is evolving so quickly that by the time I’d finished my last spread of artwork, I found things I wanted to go back and change in the first spread of artwork because of additional research that I uncovered. I had so many questions: which dinosaurs had feathers and what about colors? We’re used to seeing them portrayed in earth tones but now that we envision them as more like birds (and lizards too) I wanted to go more colorful. Just think about the colors of birds, it’s pretty much endless. So I went out on a limb (yes, that’s a pun in case you were wondering) and made them more colorful. Here’s an article from “Live Science” that explains how much we’ve discovered about dinosaurs in the last twenty years. This article came out after I completed the illustrations but sums up a lot about the research.

I think my favorite dinosaurs were the ones that lived in polar climates. They looked like ostriches and I think they’re called timimus, which are small theropods. I still get confused with all the names. I learned a lot when I worked on this book but still feel like I barely scratched the surface compared to true paleo-artists.

 

What type of programs or medium did you use for Dino Traks? And, how were you able to create these semi-transparent dinosaurs on some of the pages?

I illustrate digitally on a Wacom Cintiq tablet, drawing directly on the monitor. The software I used for Dino Tracks is Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop.  I create the artwork in layers, so the background is on a layer, the mid and foreground might be on their own layers, and the dinosaurs are isolated on their on layers.  This helps the Sylvan Dell editor to be able to pull out a dinosaur and use it for their Creative Minds section or marketing materials. Also now a lot of publishers are turning their books into apps and the layers can help with animating these apps. I used to work in an animation studio years ago and it’s the same concept that we used to shoot animation cells.

finalBut back to your question about the semi-transparent dinosaurs; I wish I could say I’m just that good but there’s a pretty simple way that I made that happen. I didn’t want to show people with dinosaurs, just thought it might be confusing to the reader. So I thought it would be cool to ghost back the illustration of the dinosaur in the spreads that included people. Since the dinosaur was isolated on a separate layer from the background I worked with Donna German, my editor and art director and we were able to play around with different percentages to give it that semi-transparent effect. I think we ended up screening them back 25%. You still see the dinosaur but it gives the feeling that the image is from another time, sort of like a ghost. Hopefully it gives the look we’re trying to achieve.

 

There are a lot of repeated background elements throughout the book such as water, mountain ranges, and sparse vegetation. Was this the plan all a long or something that just occurred once you started working? And could you shed some light on your creative process? Do you have a signature artistic style or element for fans and readers to watch out for? 

I had absolutely no plan when I started illustrating Dino Tracks, just a lot of questions. This is the first dinosaur book for Sylvan Dell and for me too. Sylvan Dell has all their books vetted by professionals in their field. Even though they are picture books, they need to be accurate. So initially I did my research and sent my rough story board layouts to them and they turned them over to Jeffrey A. Wilson, Associate Professor at the department of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Associate Curator of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan. He didn’t make a ton of suggestions but his comments really helped to clarify what was important to show about dinosaur tracks. It focused the direction of the illustrations and I was able to get a clear vision and go on from there.

Every artist has a signature style, their own voice that they develop over the years. I like adding a lot of interesting little details that I hope will enhance the author’s words.

Jurassic-Park

What advice would you give readers who are interested in illustration or art? What was your favorite art project as a kid? What inspired you to become an illustrator?

I think you should do what you love but don’t expect an easy road ahead. For every job I’ve been contracted for, I have probably gotten over twenty rejections before that one job came through. So you need to listen to construction criticism and grow with each project. Art styles may be popular one year then passé the next and you have to stay true to yourself but at the same time evolve and keep up with technology and what publishers are looking for. It’s not for everybody and it’s not easy.

When I was young (not a kid but early twenties) I liked sewing and fashion design a lot. My mom used to sew all our clothes growing up and she taught me to sew as well. I was never as skilled as her but became fascinated by what went into making clothes and how fashion evolved through history. It’s pretty amazing what lengths people go through to be fashionable and the role that clothing has played through history; from the bound feet of the Chinese women, to quilters sewing quilt codes to guide slaves in the Underground Railroad, to the revolutionary mini skirt, to tattoos and body piercing today. Fashion makes cultural and political statements around the world and I’ve always been interested in that. I considered being a fashion illustrator and did a summer abroad program in Paris, France with Parson School of Design which was a life changing experience. But I have to say when my kids were little and I started reading children’s books I knew that was it for me. And I feel very lucky to still be illustrating children’s books today.

 

Readers don’t have to wait long for new books by Cathy.  Coming to stores in February is Daisylocks, an adaptation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Marianne Berkes,  and more dinosaurs will be hitting bookshelves this fall with Dino Treasures set for release in August 2014. Stay connected with Sylvan Dell Publishing to find out more!

Timimus

 

A Conversation with Jean Heilprin Diehl, author of Three Little Beavers!

We are so excited to announce our final new release for the spring 2012 season Three Little Beavers! Written by Jean Heilprin Diehl and illustrated by Cathy Morrison, this book is a perfect fit for any classroom!

 Beatrix the beaver longs to be good at something. Her brother Bevan is an expert at repairing the lodge with mud and twigs. Her sister Beverly is a superb swimmer and underwater gymnast. What makes Beatrix stand out? One day, she runs away by swimming up the creek and finds some fresh garden plants to eat, and tasty trees to gnaw. When her siblings set off to find her, all Three Little Beavers wind up trapped! It takes some simple engineering on the part of the humans who set the traps, and Beatrix’s discovery of her special talents, for the people and beavers to finally find a way to live in harmony.
 

Q and A With Author Jean Heilprin Diehl

What kind of research do you do for your books?

I love research! I research online, in physical libraries and in the field. I also conduct  interviews. The research stage offers up so much  fascinating information, that it can be hard to pull away from.  Too much research can be a distraction from writing, so the trick is to do the right amount…whatever that is. For the novel I’m writing now, I studied fireflies and a rare pediatric neurological disorder. To characterize the protagonist’s best friend, I learned what virga is and who invented the paper clip and where the digit ‘one’ repeats three times in a row in the infinite number pi. For Three Little Beavers, I observed beavers swimming in a lake, kayaked up a stream where beavers live and visited a series of ponds dotted with old beaver lodges and dams. I interviewed a park service officer who had resolved an urban wildlife conflict involving beavers and also a professional trapper who had humanely trapped beavers with the square, box-like Hancock traps described in the story. I checked out books from libraries, read online articles and websites and watched video clips.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was growing up, I loved to read, and I especially loved adventure books with maps of imaginary lands printed inside the front and back covers. Some kids put up posters of athletes or musicians or actors on their bedroom walls; I had the map of Middle Earth. I guess it was natural to want to do what I admired so much. In sixth grade I wrote a series of poems that a teacher suggested I pull together into a book.  After that, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

How do your own experiences shape your writing?

Experience is to writing like air is to lungs. Experience inevitably and perhaps inadvertently shapes what I’m drawn to write about and the process by which I go about writing.  I think the human imagination is piqued by non sequiturs. A random image, headline, anecdote or event I  read or hear about but haven’t personally witnessed can also get me thinking. Experience includes all five senses.  It also includes reading.

What inspired you to write Three Little Beavers?

Raising kids can mean a lot of time spent driving them around! I’d been thinking about how often young children, when riding in cars or on school buses, see dead animals along the road, which can be pretty upsetting. Then my local children’s librarian happened to mention that her collection lacked a book about urban wildlife conflicts, and she didn’t know if there were any books for kids on the subject.  I decided to write one. I went looking for stories with happy endings and found one about beavers. I learned that there is a lot humans can do to co-exist with North America’s largest rodent. Beaver families typically consist of multiple kits, so that got me thinking about siblings and a line I’d read once that had stuck in stuck in my head: ‘the goal of middle childhood is to differentiate the self.’ That’s how I got the idea to write about Bevan, Beverly and Beatrix.

What is your favorite aspect of writing?

I enjoy the research, as I mentioned, and I enjoy finding a word or set of words to fit an image or an insight or a moment in nature or an emotion or an interaction. I like voicing what it is I have to say to other people through written words, and I like being finished with writing, because writing is hard.

What is the most challenging part of writing a book? 

For me, the most challenging part of writing a picture book is to tell a complete story, with fully developed characters, with an economy of language.  The old adage is true:  it’s much easier to write long than short. I’m still learning how to leave enough space – and the right space – for an illustrator to tell the story visually. Images create the story’s visual complexity, which is delightfully true of Cathy Morrison’s wonderful illustrations for Three Little Beavers.

 

Visit Jean’s website at www.jeanheilprindiehl.com, or the Three Little Beavers homepage at http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=ThreeBeavers.

Get to know Marianne Berkes, Author of Animalogy: Animal Analogies

Marianne Berkes is the award-winning author of many titles, including the upcoming new release from Sylvan Dell Publishing, Animalogy: Animal Analogies.  She is a retired teacher and librarian who turned her love of nature and teaching into writing. 

 
What drew you to writing, children’s books especially?
  As a child our home was filled books and music.  I wrote plays that my friends and I performed in the summer in our back yard.— my Dad even helped us build some of the scenery.  Reading, writing, music and theater have been a constant in my life. In high school I did interviews for the school paper, and in college wrote my first picture book for a Children’s Lit class.  But it was many years later, after I moved to Florida, that I said “I can do this!” Reading so many books to children at the library where I worked, I kept coming up with ideas of my own.  Because I love kids and love “words,” I started submitting my stories to publishers, and one day……

 What do you hope children get out of your stories?
 An appreciation of our Earth and a respect for nature.   I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child and still do.  Discovering nature is a life-long adventure that I hope kids today still appreciate. Nature has so many stories to tell and is available to anybody, any place, any time.  I hope kids will be entertained by my books, but also that they will want to learn more about the topic I’ve written about.  My first book published in 2000 was about frogs making music in the night.  Hopefully after reading this book, kids will go outside in the early evening, especially after a rain, and listen for the sounds I’ve written about.  I’ve followed with stories about birds, shells, creatures living in an ocean reef, rainforest animals, animals that migrate, Arctic animals and Australian animals.  I’ve also written a book about the planets that I hope kids enjoy. How can we ask them to save the earth, if they don’t learn to appreciate it first?  My books are in lyrical verse, making it easy and fun for kids to read, with lots of facts blended in.  I want kids to really get inside my books, to read them more than once, each time finding something new and exciting!

What tips do you have to encourage young readers?
READ! READ! READ!  Reading can take you to so many places, near and far.  Also,   open your eyes to the world around you.  Ideas are everywhere!  When you get an idea, write about it.  It’s a wonderful way to express what you feel or see.  And if you don’t know much about the topic you are writing about, do some research.  It can be so much fun, kind of like a treasure hunt, because you never know what else you will discover.  I do a lot of research for each book I write, using lots of reference books and on the Internet.

What other authors do you look up to?
There are so many that I have come to love over the years, having been a children’s librarian.  I’m a huge fan of author/illustrators like Eric Carle and Kevin Henkes whose touching stories with perfect illustrations can be read again and again. I’m envious that they write so beautifully and illustrate.  Patricia Polacco is another one that comes to mind; she is a wonderful storyteller!  Naturally I enjoy authors who write in rhyme like Jean Marzollo and Stephanie Calmenson, and repetition like Laura Numeroff, since that’s what I like to do.  Kids love rhythm, rhyme and repetition. It’s like making music with words. When you ask specifically which authors do a good job creating a learning environment, the three that come to mind first are April Pulley Sayre, Steve Jenkins and Anthony D. Fredericks. After I write this I’m sure I’ll think of a lot more who write “creative non-fiction” including your Sylvan Dell authors, of course!

What is the most rewarding thing about having your books published?
That I get to read my books to kids in schools and libraries.  I hope they will be inspired to keep reading and also write stories of their own.  Actually, though, the kids inspire me, and often give me ideas for a book. I was reading Marsh Music, which ends with a bird beginning the music of the day, when a student planted a seed!  “I know what your next book is going to be!” he said with assurance.  I wondered how he knew, because I was working on a book about seashells, but hadn’t told anybody.  The boy assumed it would be a book about birds.  The next day I was out at the crack of dawn recording bird sounds and researching bird species.  I wrote Marsh Morning as a companion book to Marsh Music and set Seashells by the Seashore aside for a while.

 To learn more about Animalogy or Marianne Berkes check out http://www.marianneberkes.com/ or on the Sylvan Dell website at http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=87.