Thursday, February 28, 2008

What The Writer Is Up To



Look at what The Writer is making! Isn't it pretty?

She finds more ways to keep from spending time with me. What is that mess?

It's an art project. She took a class and is making a journal out of an old children's book. The covers of the book are the covers of the journal. She has added vintage touches like flowers from an old hat, fancy old buttons, wallpaper, trading stamps, tickets, lace, and trims. The Writer says she loves using vintage wallpaper.

You mean she actually cut up a children's book? I don't believe it.

She said she heard a tiny little scream when she ripped into the spine with her X-acto knife. The instructor had a lot of books for people to cut up. The Writer rescued an old reader called Johnny and Jenny Rabbit from sharp, biting blades and now it lives happily in our house.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Writer's New License Plates


The Writer got new license plates for her car. Aren't they nifty? Her old plate had a horse on it because she used to ride. She traded that in for a plate with her alma mater, Hollins University, on it. Can you figure out what the plate says?

Duh, Time Spies? The Writer hardly ever gets a new car. She just buys new plates and cleans out her old Honda.

The Writer doesn't like new cars, believe it or not. She's comfortable with her old one. She's like that about a lot of things--she doesn't like change.

Maybe so, but I wish she'd figure out that camera she's had for a whole year. Look at us--we look like we're in a closet with those alien license plates. When is she going to find the flash button?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ellsworth's Journal Gets a Makeover

Look at us! Aren't we gorgeous!

Whoa, hold the litter box! What happened?

The Writer decided we needed a makeover. Ellsworth's Journal is so special, she didn't want it to look like a lot of other blogs out there.

The Writer didn't do this herself. She doesn't even know where the flash button is on her camera.

No, The Writer has long had blog-banner-envy. She tried for hours and hours to create a blog banner with my picture. What she got was a gigantic photograph of me that took up the whole page.

That is scary.

So she hired that wonderful website and blog designer. The Writer told the lady at Sadie Olive (the name of the company) sort of what she wanted and this is what she came up with. The Writer is thrilled. So am I.

And so am I. At last I'm not just an afterthought underneath the title.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Writing Monday - Circling



People assume The Writer never gets writer's block because she writes so many books. The Writer doesn't like to call it "writer's block"--she prefers the term "stuck." She gets stuck a lot, more than anyone would think.

When she gets stuck or starts to lose heart, which also happens more than anyone would think, she turns to children's book people in the past, particularly Virginia Lee Burton. Burton created Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Writer's favorite, The Little House, the 1943 Caldecott winner. The Writer read The Little House as a child and loved it dearly. As an adult, and as a writer, she appreciates Burton's artistry.

Burton's style is all curves and rounded edges, representing containment and safety to a child. Burton's compositions are often circular, with little stories inside the overall illustration, such as birds circling, cows and horses grazing, children playing. The Little House is threatened by development, but is ultimately saved in the end, so the story itself circles from happy times to bad times to happy times again. A lot like life.

One of The Writer's favorite books is Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art by Barbara Elleman. This book gives a fascinating look into the life of this elegant author illustrator who was devoted to her craft. This book--and the works of Virginia Lee Burton--remind The Writer that life doesn't stay stuck. Sooner or later the paragraph or chapter or book will circle from the dark into the light. Sooner or later bad times will circle back to good times.

Do you think that I could get something to eat around here, sooner instead of later?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Winchester Receives a Valentine


What's this? It's a Valentine addressed to me! It's beautiful! Somebody loves me after all!!

Is it from Zelda? Did Zelda decide to profess her love for me?

There's no signature. Wait. I see a tiny little "z" on the back. It is from Zelda!!

If I turn the Valentine this way, the tiny little "z" becomes a tiny little "e." Hmmm.

The Valentine isn't from Zelda, but from somebody who will never leave me. That kind of friendship is better than so-called true love any day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Winchester Wastes Away to Nothing


What are you doing on the scales? Usually you have to be chloroformed before you're weighed.

I've lost 2 ounces. I'm wasting away to nothing. All because Zelda thinks I'm unworthy.

You moved the scales all over the room until you found the spot that gave you the lightest weight. I've seen The Writer do that trick.

You don't understand what it's like to have a broken heart. You and The Writer have this special relationship. You will always have each other. Who do I have? Wait! I think I just lost another ounce.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Winchester Goes on a Hunger Strike


The Writer is worried about you. You didn't eat all day yesterday.

I'm not going to eat ever again, I told you. Why should I? Zelda doesn't love me.

Here are some of your favorites. Which one do you want? You can have more than one, if you want.

I'm not falling for it. They tried to break Ghandi the same way, you know. Roast beef hash? Are you kidding me?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Winchester Goes into a Decline


Get up! You missed breakfast!

I'm not getting out of bed ever again.

Why?

Because I'm suffering from a broken heart. Zelda didn't like my Valentine. She doesn't like me.

Oh. Well, who needs her? Come on, let's go play.

I told you, I'm not getting out of bed.

Hmmm. I know! How about if I fix you a special lunch? Sardines wrapped in deli turkey. Doesn't that sound yummy?

I'm never going to eat again, either.

Uh-oh. You have it bad, Winchester.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Writing Monday: The Dinner Party


Look what I found. The Writer made this last year. Isn't it cool?

What is it?

It's an art piece called "The Dinner Party." When The Writer was working on her thesis, she was looking through her favorite children's books and thought, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to have dinner with my favorite children's book creators and their characters?" Some magazines (and bloggers) ask interviewees who they'd like to have over for dinner. People answer Ghandi, JFK, Yogi Berra, etc.

The Writer found this basswood keepsake box in a craft store and knew she could make her dinner party a "reality." She painted the box and decorated it. Then she made a guest list, a menu that would suit the guests (middlin's for Wilbur, Shoe-fly Pie for Charlotte). She chose the Eric Carle Picture Book museum as the venue and picked the date she would graduate from Hollins University.

She designed an invitation, a place card, a booklet with a seating chart and the table decorations. She made up a little journal, supposedly written after the party, and wrote things like, "The Grimm brothers demanded ale, mead, and port with every course." She never had so much fun working on a project, just simple craft supplies and her imagination running amok.

When she was finished, she showed the project to her husband. He looked worried and said, "Do we have to rent that entire museum in Massachusetts for this party?" The Writer said, "Look at this guest list! The Grimm Brothers! Wilbur the pig! Do you think this is a real party?"

Okay, this proves it--The Writer has truly slipped over the edge.

Why, because she lets her imagination out to play once in a while? It's good for her work.

No, because she didn't invite me to the dinner party.

The Writer encourages writers to cross over into art, especially if you write children's books. If anyone wants to make their own dinner party, here is what you need:

Inexpensive keepsake box
Acrylic paint
Patterned scrapbook papers
Cardstock
Embellishments: ribbons, stickers, alphabet stickers

Friday, February 15, 2008

Day After Valentine's Day


What are you doing?

I'm looking for the Valentine Zelda sent me. You're supposed to send a Valentine back when you receive one, right? Her Valentine must be here somewhere.

It's the day after Valentine's Day, Winchester.

You know how the post office is. They raise the rates every five second, but they can't deliver the mail on time. Where is it?

I can't believe how many bills The Writer gets.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Zelda Receives Winchester's Valentine


Well, this is the big day. Why are you looking out the window? You don't want to seem too desperate.

I watched Zelda's Person take the mail in. Zelda's had my Valentine 2 hours and 33 minutes. Why isn't she ringing my doorbell? What's taking her so long?

Maybe she's trying to find the right thing to wear. You know how females are.

You're a female and you've been wearing the exact same outfit for 45 years. That can't be it.

Maybe Zelda is making you a Valentine this very minute. I'm sure she's very impressed by the one you made her.

Who does that lunkhead across the street think he is? Sending me a Valentine with his picture on it! Like I'm supposed to fall all over him. As if!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Winchester Gets Ready for His Date


Ellsworth, what do you think I should wear on my first date with Zelda?

Where are you taking her?

The Cats-Bah.

The what?

Cats-Bah. You know, like, "Oh, mon cherie, come with me to ze Cats-Bah." It's a very classy place where cats can get down.

The only time you get down is when you jump off the windowsill.

Do you think I should wear my bowtie? No, too dorky. Maybe I should go for the Cary Grant look and wear a tux.

You're already wearing a tux. I think you should wear this.

This pink thing with hearts? Are you sure?

Zelda will think you are the cat's meow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Winchester Mails His Valentine


Well, it's off--my Valentine to Zelda.

So, what do you expect to happen?

Obviously Zelda will fall head over paws in love with me. First she'll send me a Valentine back. It'll be covered with kibble-breath kisses. And then she'll run over here to find out about our first date.

Aren't you moving pretty fast? Zelda is a Siamese. That's a pretty classy breed. She is way out of your alley-cat league.

Alley cat! Who are you calling an alley cat? I have a very distinctive lineage. My ancesters go all the way back to Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, and Puss-in-Boots, who was this really cool cat. How dare you imply I am common? I am the most refined, dignified--

Um, Winchester. You're spitting all over me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Writing Monday: Anne Carroll Moore


The Writer had this book on her desk today, My Roads to Childhood by Anne Carroll Moore. Anne Carroll Moore was the first Superintendent of Children's Work at the New York Public Library, from 1906 to 1941. The Writer had the book open to the chapter called "Why Write for Children?" The chapter begins:

A promising young writer came to tell me one day that he could not face writing another children's book. He had published two. "It's not the children," he explained, "and it's not the form of writing. I've done nothing in which I've felt more satisfaction than in my children's stories. It's what happens to the books and to me personally."

The young writer laments the label "juvenile" books, feeling he is pigeon-holed into that type of writing. The Writer doesn't have his problem--she loves being a children's book writer. But I think she identified with that young writer on another level. Sometimes The Writer gets caught up in deadlines and revising and proofing and wanting good reviews and maybe an award before she goes to that Big Typewriter in the Sky and she feels a little lost.

When she goes to family reunions, an uncle always asks her, "Are you still writing books?" The Writer is tempted to say, "You know--I've published 100 books. I think I'll quit." She laughs about it, but she is annoyed when her relatives don't think of her writing as a real career. And sometimes, I think she thinks maybe she has written enough books and should stop.

When the young writer in My Roads to Childhood said he was quitting, Anne Carroll Moore said, "Oh, no, you're not . . . I think you have the biggest chance in the world if you keep straight on working and appraising everything you do on the basis of sound criticism. Writing for children, like the daily living with them, requires the constant sharpening of all one's faculties, the fresh discovery of new heights and depths in one's own emotions . . ."

At the end of the chapter, the young writer is convinced he is on the right path. He says, "To write of what you know . . . and know so well that it shines clear when the searchlight of a child's imagination is turned upon it--that's about what it all comes to, isn't it?"

The Writer felt better when she read those words, I could tell. She went back to her writing and I know she wasn't thinking about deadlines or revisions or proofing or reviews or awards. She wasn't even thinking about family reunions. She was sharpening her faculties, trying to create the switch for that searchlight.

Friday, February 8, 2008

S.W.A.K


Is that your Valentine for Zelda?


Yes, isn't it scrumptious?


It has a big picture of you on it. Valentines are supposed to be kind of mysterious. People are supposed to guess who sent them.


I want Zelda to know I sent her Valentine. Once she sees my picture, she'll be a goner. Mwa. Mwa. Mwa.


What are you doing?


Sealing the envelope with kisses.


Zelda will smell kibble breath before she even opens it.


The scent of luuuuuv. Mwa. Mwa. Mwa. Mwa.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Winchester Makes a Valentine


Hey, short stuff. What are you doing?

I can't believe you've actually pried yourself away from that window. You've been on Zelda-Watch for two solid days.

I was getting light-headed from not eating. Low blood kibble, you know. What's all this?

I'm making a Valentine for The Writer. Valentine's Day is next week.

Wow! Valentine's Day! What a perfect way to tell Zelda how I feel about her. I'm going to make Zelda the most bee-u-ti-ful Valentine ever! She'll fall instantly in love with me.

All right. I have extra supplies. But don't spill the glitter.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Winchester Is In Love

Are you still looking out the window? You haven't moved since yesterday.

Zelda . . .

Who?

Zelda. That's the name of that foxy cat who just moved in.

How do you know her name? You haven't left the house.

I told you. Cats have ways of finding out important things. Isn't Zelda a beautiful name?

She must be named after Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was the famous novelist who wrote The Great Gatsby. Scott and Zelda were a glamorous couple in the 1920s.

That's perfect! I wrote The Great Catsby! Zelda and I will be a glamorous couple, too! Look how slender she is . . . so dainty . . .

You wrote one word of The Great Catsby, "the." Do you know you still have food in your dish?

Look at her soft dark brown ears . . .

You have it bad.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Winchester's New Neighbor


What are you looking at, Winchester?

The new neighbors are moving in. I hope they have a cat my age to play with.

You don't go outside except when you go to the vet's.

That shows how little you know about cats. I'm friends with a lot of cats in the neighborhood. There's Pyewackit, that gray tabby who thinks she's all that and a bag of kibble. And there's George. He has a ripped ear which he says he got fighting a wolf. Some cats are such blow-hards.

And you aren't, huh? I happen to remember--

Look! There is a new cat! Hochi-mama! What a fine female!

Are you actually licking your chops? Uh-oh. This can't be good.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Writing Monday: Titles

That's a pretty boring title, isn't it? "Writing Monday: Titles." It gets the information across, but it's boring. The Writer has a love/hate relationship with titles. The perfect title either comes to her along with the idea, or it never comes at all.

Kind of like lunch around here.

You're not getting lunch today because you ate your breakfast and someone else's, too.

Is it my fault the person wasn't paying attention? That's what happens when you read at the table.

Anyway, The Writer wants to talk a little about titles. Some of her best book titles came immediately: Finding Day's Bottom, Tractor Day, When the Whippoorwill Calls, Listening to Crickets. Other times, the title she chose wasn't right for the book or the marketing department felt a "snazzier" title was needed.

In at least two cases, she believes the title caused her book to sink beneath the waves. She once wrote a picture book about a girl adjusting to a stepfather called Chestnut Acorns in October. The title scanned and was lyrical, like the text. It also referred to the turning point in the story. But the marketing department felt that title sounded like a science book. When her picture book was published, it was called We're Growing Together. The Writer always hated that title--it sounded like Siamese twins or something. The second book was a mid-grade novel about a third-grader whose mother remarries and the girl wants to be adopted by her stepfather. (The Writer writes a lot about stepparents.) The girl put "Cammie B." on her school papers because she wanted a new last name. The Writer titled the book Cammie B., which suited the age of the character and what the book was about. The book came out with More Than a Name plastered on one of the most unattractive covers The Writer had ever seen. Those two books went out of print very quickly.

Yet The Writer isn't always upset over titles the publisher chooses. She called her latest novel Maddie, at Eight. But she felt that title lacked a certain luster. She and her editor batted several titles back and forth. Finally her editor suggested Seeing Sky-Blue Pink which The Writer loved. It's a much better title than her original one.

Are you going to wind this up? I have a pedicure appointment.

Titles should be a reflection of the book. If the book is quiet, the title shouldn't be "noisy." Titles should be memorable. If it's a fun book, it should be catchy. If you have trouble with titles, keep a list. For each book folder on The Writer's computer desktop, there is a file with possible titles. As she writes the book, the list grows. Sometimes you will get lucky and the perfect title will waft in on the same breeze as the book idea.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Winchester-the-Pooh


Okay, Winchester, I can see you have dressed up like your favorite children's book character. Let me see . . . red vest, jar of honey, funny little pig and grumpy-looking donkey friends. You are Winnie-the-Pooh!

The bear has a great life. He has lots of friends. Best of all he lives to eat. In all the Pooh stories, he gets to eat a lot.

But a stuffed bear? I thought you'd pick somebody brave and adventurous. Like Lassie in Lassie Come Home.

Why would I want to be a dog? Now, for elevenses I'll have salmon pate on cream crackers. And for second breakfast I want--

Hobbits have second breakfasts. You're mixing up your children's books.

Okay, I'm a stuffed bear who stops by Middle Earth for an extra meal. Did you know that The Writer made a special trip to the Donnell Public Library just to see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and the other stuffed toys? Those old stuffed animals look almost worn as you do.

Don't forget to do your Stoutness Exercises.

This post is dedicated to the Central Children's Room at the Donnell Library Center, New York Public Library