Read Interrupting Chicken for Free on Readeo
David Ezra Stein received a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations in Interrupting Chicken, which he also wrote. It’s about a little chicken whose father is trying to read to her, but she keeps jumping in to give advice to the characters! Will poor Papa ever get to finish a story? (Sound familiar?) We asked the author-artist about his inspiration and artwork for this picture-book celebration of reading aloud together.

We liked all the details in the picture before the story starts, the “title page.” Are these clues to the little red chicken’s energetic personality?
Yes. All the details in the title-page art speak volumes about the house and who lives there. We see that the papa is rather formal and that his stately, old-fashioned home has apparently been “accessorized” with a child’s paraphernalia. We can imagine what happened just before we came upon the story. An enthusiastic chicken and her dad had dinner together. We can almost hear the echoes of the little chicken as she told her dad all kinds of things, all the while spilling pasta everywhere. Our brains are filling in gaps like mad at this stage. When we get to the actual text, we are ready for the present story to begin.

When Papa says to his little red chicken, “And of course, you are not going to interrupt the story tonight, are you?” you let us know that the feathered hero may have broken into the story once or twice before. Was it important to choose stories you thought children would know well?
A good book works on many levels. It helps if a child knows about these stories. But a chicken promising to be good and then jumping out and making her dad mad is funny in itself. I chose stories that had a crux moment, where one single interruption would really ruin everything!

We liked the way the artwork in the storybook tales—“Hansel and Gretel” and the others—had an old-fashioned feeling, with just a dab of color (red for the wolf’s coat and Little Red Riding Hood’s bonnet and bloomers, for example). Then when the little red chicken enters the storybook, she’s all Technicolor! How did that image of the two worlds crashing together come to you?
Thanks. I really enjoyed trying to find an old-fashioned style that was still “me” and still loose. I definitely used the contrast in styles to make the chicken’s entrances jarring. But I didn’t start out knowing that that was how I was going to paint it. The final style you see came from lots of experimenting with the art.

The reactions of the storybook characters to the little red chicken’s entrance are hilarious! Especially the birds’ reactions in Chicken Little.
Hee hee. I really enjoy the birds’ reactions, too. There is something funny about a fussy bird wearing headwear and then being startled. Go figure.

We liked how little red chicken’s story, “Bedtime for Papa,” has her crayon drawings and stickers.  Were the main illustrations of Papa and his little chicken also done in crayon? How did you do the storybook illustrations? We noticed you also used “tea” in your artwork.  (Did you know that Peter Reynolds also uses tea? You’re the only two I know of that use tea!)
Yes, there’s a lot of crayon in the main art of the book (Especially in the wallpaper). It is added over watercolor washes. The chickens themselves are mostly watercolor with crayon and pencil highlights. In the storybook I used pen and watercolor. And of course, tea, to give it that aged look. I didn’t know Peter Reynolds used tea. I love his work. Very inspiring and pro-creativity.

Where did you get the idea for an “interrupting chicken”? Do you have your own “interrupting chicken” at home?
The book is based on the knock-knock joke:
-Knock knock!
-Who’s there?
-Interrupting chicken.
-Interrupting chi— BWOK BWOK BWOK!
I do have an interrupting chicken at home. But he wasn’t born yet when I was working on this book. He toddles over to me now with a book and asks me to read it. I guess my book predicted the future!

What’s the best thing about bedtime stories?

When someone reads to you, it means they love you. It’s a wonderful way of being together!

With all my best,

Jenny BrownJenny Brown is the editor for Readeo and oversees all book selection for the site. She has worked in the children’s book world for the past 25 years, holding positions with HarperCollins and Scholastic, and was the Children’s Books Reviews Editor for Publisher’s Weekly.  She currently writes for School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Shelf Awareness. Jenny graduated from Princeton University. You can read more from Jenny on her Web site, Twenty by Jenny.

Read Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein for free on Readeo!

Posted in Book of the Month, Interviews by Jenny Brown

Laurie Krebs We All Went on Safari Free Online

Laurie Krebs, the author of We All Went on Safari, traveled to Tanzania (pronounced tan-za-NEE-uh) with her husband. She saw all of the places and all of the animals that she mentions in her book (and gives more details and a map at the back of the book). She even learned how to count to 10 in Swahili! Here she tells us what it was like to travel through East Africa, and across the Serengeti where the Maasai people live among these stunning animals.

Is the “ancient crater floor” that you talk about (on the page with the four “lordly lions”) the same as the Ngorongoro Crater that you show on the map at the back of the book?
Yes. The Ngorongoro Crater is an upside-down volcano. We stayed at the top of the crater, and then we’d travel by vehicle down into the crater. The topography changes as you go toward the bottom into this amazing place. These particular animals do not have to travel like they do over the Serengeti. They’re protected geographically because it is a crater. The water supply is more stable there.  It’s a beautiful place where both the creatures and the Maasai live.

Tell us about the Serengeti.
The Serengeti goes on and on and on. The entire horizon is just grasslands. You could see the wildebeests parading from the Serengeti of Tanzania and on up North to Kenya to follow the water supply. Different animals eat grass at different levels. The zebras eat the lowest grass. For the wildebeest, the grass was a little higher. The antelope would eat the highest grass. The mouths on the different kinds of animals were created to take care of the different levels of grass. That’s why the animals seem to go in tandem with one another.

Is there really a Serengeti gate (on the page with the 8 “wiry warthogs”)?
Yes there is. It’s an entrance into the park. I sent a photograph of that to Julie Cairns, the illustrator.

Did you give the artist any other tips–about the animals or the clothes the Maasai would wear?
For eight years, Julie Cairns had lived in Botswana [which is just north of South Africa; Tanzania is in the Northeast of Africa]. She had drawn the Maasai people in many of her art creations and also in a number of her titles for Barefoot Books. The Maasai people are very tall and handsome, with very erect posture. There’s a certain way they hold their chins, and I think she captured that beautifully. I didn’t have to educate her at all on the Maasai people.

Do the Maasai only dress in red? We liked their beaded necklaces and headbands.
They dress mostly all in red, and in various plaids and stripes. In some cases they do go off a little into the purple or orange side of the red. This is a cultural thing that they hold very dear.

How did you choose the 10 animals you would focus on?
The animals were in different settings throughout Tanzania—in the crater, on the water, in the jungle—so I chose animals that actually lived in the areas I wrote about. I also chose the animals I thought children would most enjoy.

Did you learn Swahili while you were there?

I did learn a little Swahili! “Hello,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome.” And I learned how to count. We kept looking for leopards, and our guide asked, “Wapi chui?” (Wapi is pronounced “WHOP-pee”; the pronunciation for “chui” is at the back of the book!)

Have you also traveled to the Amazon, where your book We’re Roaming in the Rainforest takes place?
Yes, we went to the Peruvian Amazon. We stayed at the confluence of the Amazon and the Tahuayo Rivers, and then we’d travel in dugout canoes to different areas. The creatures were fascinating. The jungle was every bit as dense and flowery and leafy as I had envisioned it.

Read We All Went on Safari Online for Free

Posted in Book of the Month by Jenny Brown

In Ish (Readeo’s Book of the Month for January), Ramon is a budding artist. Unfortunately, his brother, in the way only brothers can, laughs at his drawings. Just as Ramon is ready to give up, he discovers that his sister (Marisol) has been saving his drawings and hanging them in her room. Her favorite is a drawing that looks vase-ish. Her belief in Ramon and love of his work completely changes his outlook. Not only is he re-energized to continue drawing, but he also adds writing and poetry to his “ish” repertoire.

My grandmother, Madge, recently passed away. This Christmas was our first one without her. She inspired me and many others with her selfless love.  Just like Marisol with Ramon, she believed in my siblings and me, even when we didn’t believe in ourselves.

Grandma Madge taught second grade. Over 50 years ago she had a special student — Dan Crandall. In first grade, Dan had a tough time with a difficult teacher and he no longer wanted to go to school. As a second-grader, he had two things working against him in his quest to no longer attend: his dad was the bus driver, and Grandma Madge was his teacher. Every day, his dad would take his hand and walk him from the bus to the door of the school, where Madge would take him by the hand and walk him to her classroom.

This simple act of kindness helped Dan feel more certain of himself. On Valentine’s Day that year, Dan gave Madge a heart-felt valentine. Each year thereafter, a valentine from Dan would show up at Madge’s door. Grandma Madge reciprocated this kindness with her own valentine to Dan and the tradition continued for many years until he reached his early 20s and joined the Forest Service. Shortly after that, Dan was fighting a forest fire and was involved in a tragic helicopter crash that took his life.

After Dan’s death, his parents began exchanging valentines with Madge each year until they died. Dan’s siblings were next in line to carry on the tradition with Madge. Now that she has passed on, my mom will exchange a valentine with Dan’s siblings and, after 50 years, the simple act of taking a child by the hand continues to inspire us and live on.

We’ll be giving away 5 hard copies of Ish this weekend. You can have multiple entries to win. You’ll get one entry each time you use BookChat this weekend and one for posting a comment here or on Facebook telling us about someone who inspires you. The winners of the books will be announced here and on Facebook on Monday!

Grandma Madge with me and Oliver

Read Ish and The Dot online for free

We wanted to kick off the New Year with Peter H. Reynolds because he believes that each of us has a powerful creative impulse. He says, “Even if you put you on hold for awhile, you can still get to know yourself and show that to the world.” He knows many kids who stopped making art in 4th or 5th grade who took it up again when given the chance. As he talks about The Dot and Ish, he makes a strong case never to give up—keep the creative juices flowing!

What comes first for you, the art or the words?

Usually, there’s a lightning bolt moment when the idea is formed. I’ll quickly write down a word or a few words to capture the idea and often I’ll put a little drawing next to it. It looks a lot like a book cover. I love the story of how The Dot began. I fell asleep with my pen to paper. When I woke up, the little dot I’d made had mushroomed into one giant black dot, and I wrote, “by Peter H. Reynolds.”

In Ish, Ramon mentions that he likes to draw with a “loose line.” Is drawing your favorite part? Or do you like the watercolor part just as much?

It’s all one process and I enjoy it all. I would say that the watercolor is the most free part for me. The equivalent would be if you’re baking a cake and then you get to frost it. The more relaxed I get, the better the art comes out. There’s actually very little color in both The Dot and Ish. There’s no color in their clothing or their faces. For me, less is more. I think black-and-white films are wonderful because your brain can do the painting for you.

Is it true that you used tea when you made the pictures in Ish and The Dot? The kind you drink?

Yes. I grew up in a British household and we drank a lot of tea. I have tea when I’m painting, and when I’m ready to start painting, sometimes I’m too eager to go and get water, so I use tea. It turns out that it adds a little bit of that sepia color.

We loved the “crumpled gallery” that Marisol makes of Ramon’s discarded drawings in Ish.

When I’ve done workshops with kids, I’ve seen them crumpling, tearing or erasing their drawings. It’s not a crisis if the picture doesn’t go the way your brain had envisioned. Put it to one side and grab another sheet of paper. That’s where the idea for Ish came from. A boy was drawing a tiger, and I thought, “What a beautiful image.” A few minutes later, I saw him erasing the tiger. I asked him about it, and he said, “Oh it was supposed to be a tiger, but it doesn’t look like one.” I said, “It’s Tiger-ish.” And his head whipped around and he said, “Tiger-ish?” The other kids wondered what we were talking about and came over, then they went back to their own work and said, “This is lion-ish,” “This is monkey-ish.”

We also liked the way Marisol’s comment that Ramon’s vase of flowers is “vase-ISH” helps him turn around his attitude toward his artwork.

Being a twin, I was born with someone who not only shared my DNA but also my experiences and values. Paul sees things from a different point of view, like Marisol did for Ramon. I think we need to allow people to take those first wobbly steps in an area that’s new to them. We’re not all going to be great at everything. If we were, we wouldn’t need each other. Communities thrive on differences in talent and abilities. That shouldn’t prevent you from dabbling in it yourself. The more we play sports, the better we’re going to be. The more we write, the better we get; the more we read, the more words we know. If you’re acting, reach inside and find your voice; don’t just find the words. It has to connect with you.

You have said that The Dot is the first in a “creatrilogy.” Is Ish the second? And what is the third?

Sky Color. I’ve just finished writing and illustrating it. The Dot is about getting brave and getting started. Ish is about finding your voice, and keep on keeping on. Sky Color is about how the learning journey never ends. There’s always a way to become more wonderful at whatever you do.

Peter’s activity suggestion:

When you read The Dot and Ish together, it’s powerful if the adults who are reading with children to create art and sign it and proudly display it on the refrigerator or elsewhere. My hope is that parents and grandparents will splash along joyfully with their child or grandchild. Art is not a solo sport. You can create art together.
Peter Reynolds - Author of Ish and The Dot

Read the children's book Ish online for free

Posted in Book of the Month, Interviews by Jenny Brown

Read The Child In The Manger online for free

Liesbet Slegers lives in Belgium. She has written and illustrated many books for very young children. Her themes touch on daily rituals, such as going to school and going to sleep, as well as the changing seasons. With The Child in the Manger, she introduces children to the story of the birth of Jesus.

Why was it important to you to tell the story of the Nativity for very young children?

I had noticed that there were not many books for young children about that subject. And I like updating an old story with a new, modern look. That’s a challenge for me.

All of the elements of the story are here, but you state them so simply. For example, you portray the Three Kings with their “precious gifts” without stating what they are. How do you choose which details to leave out?

At the time that I wrote the book, I did not have children yet. So I went often to a school to test my ‘book to be.’ Now I have two young daughters, so it is easier to know what children can understand at what age. But I also follow my intuition. For example, ‘myrrh’ and ‘frankincense’ seemed too difficult. So I used the term ‘precious gifts.’ I think that young children would understand that better.

So often the story of the birth of Jesus is portrayed in quiet, earth-toned colors. Your palette is so vibrant and joyful!

That’s because I always use those colors. I think it’s important to paint it the way I like it myself. Children like those colors too, I have noticed. They can enjoy an old story when it looks very up-to-date.

We liked the way you show Mary and Joseph discovering the stable, with the horse and cow looking out, and then on the next page, Mary and Joseph holding the baby Jesus between the horse and cow. You suggest with those pictures that the animals are “sharing” the stable with Jesus.

That’s true, when I introduce the horse and cow in one picture, it is nice for the children that they are still there on the next page. They also like animals, and this makes the illustrations more attractive.  You can indeed say that the animals share the stable with Jesus. You can see that the animals and people are friends in my book. The animals also have an expression, or smile like the sheep.

We also liked the joyful feet above the part of the story when the shepherds begin to look for Jesus, and then the two shepherds and their two sheep look like they’re dancing toward Bethlehem.

It’s true that my characters mostly are very happy and cheerful. The shepherds are characters in this book, but I wanted to give them the quality of a regular person living today. So the children can recognize themselves in the shepherds.

We loved the way you bring everything back to the child on Christmas morning. Did you have that ending in mind when you started the book?

I wanted to have an ending that every child would recognize. Christmas is the day that Jesus was born. So it’s his birthday, and we give Christmas presents. And that’s the same for all people: The day that you were born is your birthday, and you also get presents then. That is something that children can understand very well, and in this way, the story becomes more alive for them. Of course, presents are not the most important thing on a birthday, but being together with your family. The same with Christmas.

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Posted in Book of the Month, Interviews by Jenny Brown