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

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 February 28th, 2011 in Book of the Month, Interviews by Jenny Brown

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 January 3rd, 2011 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.

Read The Child In The Manger Online for Free

Posted December 1st, 2010 in Book of the Month, Interviews by Jenny Brown

Interview with Eric Carle, Author of A House For Hermit Crab, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, etc.

Congratulations to Eric Carle! He won a Lifetime Achievement Award last month from the Society of Illustrators in New York City. Here he talks about his start in children’s books, the unexpected metamorphosis of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and our November featured book, A House for Hermit Crab.

You’ve said that you started out in advertising. Bill Martin Jr saw one of your ads and asked you if you would illustrate his manuscript, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Is that how you got started in children’s books?

That was the moment when I realized, this is my true course in life. It had been suggested to me before that I might consider illustrating books for children, but it was really when I met Bill Martin Jr and worked on Brown Bear that I was set on fire. I became completely inspired and ever since have been making books for children.

Was it easier to write and illustrate a book yourself? Or did that present different challenges?

It presented challenges because I was first a visual person and was more comfortable making the pictures. But gradually, over time, I began to find my way. And now, although I have collaborated with others like Bill Martin Jr, I prefer to do both story and illustration.

Is it true that the star of The Very Hungry Caterpillar started out as a worm?

Yes, it is true. One day I was punching holes with a hole puncher into a stack of paper, and I thought of a bookworm and so I created a story called A Week with Willi the Worm. Then later my editor, who didn’t like the idea of a worm, suggested a caterpillar and I said “Butterfly!” And the rest is history.

You give a lot of good information at the end A House for Hermit Crab about the creatures he meets in his travels.

I am fascinated by animals and insects. I always have been ever since I was a child and my father took me for walks in the woods, lifted up the bark of a tree to find the creatures who lived underneath. My aim with my books is to entertain with the story and the pictures. And to include a little learning, a little knowledge as well.  The learning part I always camouflage. It’s just one aspect, one dimension of the book.

How do you create a collage?

I make my collage illustrations using my own hand-painted tissue papers. I paint thin, translucent tissue paper with acrylics to create my ‘palette’ of colors and textures. I then organize them into color-coded flat files so that I have a stock of papers to work with. Using these painted papers, which I cut and tear and then glue down onto illustration board, I create the artwork.

We liked the spattery dots on the ocean floor in Hermit Crab. Did you flip your paintbrush to make those?

Yes, and sometimes I use the end of my paintbrush or a piece of carpet to create patterns and texture in my papers.

Do you think the story of Hermit Crab would give children courage if they had to move to a new home?

That would be very nice. Whether it is a move, or starting a new school, there are all kinds of transitions for children. I am particularly interested in the transition from home to school, as this was a challenging period in my own childhood. I hope my books will help to make transitions easier for children.

Read A House For Hermit Crab Children's Book Online for Free

Posted November 2nd, 2010 in Book of the Month, Interviews by Jenny Brown

Alice and Greta by Steven J. Simmons

Readeo’s Jenny Brown Talks with Steven J. Simmons, author of October’s book of the month, Alice and Greta.

Steven J. Simmons is a cable television entrepreneur by day, a writer by night, and the father of five children (now just off to college) ’round the clock. Here he discusses his starring good witch and bad witch, plus the “brewmarang principle.”

Where did the idea come from for the story of Alice and Greta?

I was playing on a hill behind our house with my daughters Sarah, Caroline and Julia. A story came into my head about two witches, one a good witch and one a bad witch. We play-acted the story, and from that beginning, Alice and Greta were born. I drafted it over 20 times before it was published. It’s a lot of work.

Did you always picture a good witch and a bad witch? Or did that evolve?

Yes. They went to the same witch school but got different things from it. Alice would be doing good things for people, and Greta would be playing naughty tricks, and eventually they’d come to a playground where the climactic scene takes place. Greta plays a nasty trick, and Alice comes to the rescue and gets stuck as well. Then Alice remembers the brewmarang principle: “Whatever you chant, whatever you do, sooner or later, comes back to you.”

Do you think Alice and Greta always have a choice about how they use their knowledge?

Yes, I think they do have a choice. Alice chooses to do good things; Greta chooses to do bad things. Some interesting things happen to the characters in the sequel, Greta’s Revenge—they switch characters, and come back to themselves. Everyone is responsible for his or her behavior.

We liked when Alice turns the frog into a prince and Greta turns the prince back into a frog. Did you talk with Cyd Moore while you were working on the book?

I found Cyd Moore. I looked in bookstores, looked at artists’ portfolios. Her drawings captured what I wanted. They were whimsical but had lots of character and a sense of humor. In the pictures there are some witty things.

Both Alice and Greta see the same view—but one sees good things, the other bad. How do their actions shape their outlook?

I think people’s perceptions have a lot to do with their upbringing, the people they spend time with, and their experiences in life. Ultimately, people need to take responsibility for their own actions. If we do treat others as we’d like to be treated, the world will be a better place, and in the end we’ll all be happier and fulfilled.

It sounds like you believe in the “brewmarang principle.”

I do believe in the brewmarang principle. No one’s perfect. I understand that it’s hard to do this 100% of the time, but I think as close as we can come to doing it all the time, the better off we’ll be.

Read Alice And Greta Online For FREE!

Posted October 4th, 2010 in Book of the Month, Interviews by Jenny Brown