Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Way to Heal

Raúl Colón

 Draw! is Raúl Colón's most autobiographical work. He suffered from asthma as a child, and often spent hours alone in his bedroom drawing while the other children played outside. We had a chance to speak with him recently for School Library Journal about the making of Draw! Here is an excerpt.

You’ve mentioned that you begin your books with text and pictures. How did you arrive at a wordless story for Draw!?
I created a mock-up for the book that included text. But I couldn’t quite finish it, so I showed it to my editor, Paula Wiseman. She asked, “What do you think about telling the story just in pictures?” So that’s what I did. I added some illustrations, a few sketches, and reworked it.

In the book, your palette changes when the child drawing in bed imagines himself on safari.
Yes. I thought about The Wizard of Oz [the black-and-white and the color sequences] and chose a muted palette for this boy’s life at home and then moved to full color when his imagination transports him to a different world. Although muted, I wanted the pictures to be colorful enough so children didn’t think that those scenes were unreal. But I still needed to transition to Africa. Did the boy go by boat? By plane? I wanted to show that he transported himself to Africa so readers see the pictures come out of his head.

From Draw!
Tell us about the sequence of four images of the rhinoceros charging the boy, each one showing the animal getting closer and closer.
The idea, taken from comics, shows the passage of time. We’re fascinated with the illustrations and snapshots and paintings we see in museums, because the artists are freezing time. We can look at them over and over again. We see things moving all the time, but seeing something frozen--where we can study it--is fascinating. With the rhino, I wanted to show movement. How large, or how close he gets--the viewer has to figure that one out.

Let’s talk about the closing scene, when the boy gets out of bed and shares his artwork with his peers.
In my experience visiting schools, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m showing the work that I do to other people. The reason artists draw and musicians play, is that we want to communicate, to share what comes through us with other people.

Read the full interview.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Benefits of Reading Aloud

At the Bank Street College of Education lately, we've been talking a lot about what we hope a parent and young child will gain from the experience of reading aloud together. Bears in Beds by Shirley Parenteau, illustrated by David Walker, provides a strong launch point for a positive experience.

from Bears in Beds 

Here are three main ways to connect with the toddler in your life through sharing a book (and this one in particular):

  1. Closeness. Sit close together with the child either on your lap or with your arm around him or her, so the child both feels secure and also keeps the focus on the book.
  2. Prediction. Read the title, author's and artist's names on the cover. You might start by asking, "What do you think the book will be about?" Or my favorite, "What do you see?" There are no wrong answers. Your response to whatever the child answers might be, "Let's see!" 
  3. Interaction. In this book, there are different elements you can ask your toddler to focus on. There are five bears; you might count them together. Size and color are two other elements that come into play (Big Brown Bear, Yellow Bear, etc.). The bears read a story together. "Do you know what it is?" you might ask your child. And finally, some of the sounds in the night frighten the bears. You could ask, "What can you do if you get scared?"

Reading together is an opportunity for closeness and conversation, to send your child to sleep with a sense of comfort and safety.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NaNoWriMo with Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld
Photo: Niki Bern

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). has set up all sorts of tools to aid writers who want to take the challenge of writing a novel in one month. Scott Westerfeld is writing a companion for his novel Afterworlds on his Web site called How to Write YA

This week, Westerfeld posted about point of view ("POV failure is one of the most common reasons why agents and publishers cast aside submissions half read," he writes). He talks about his process generously and clearly. To give you a flavor of how thoughtfully he approaches each of his novels, here are a few highlights from a conversation I had with him for School Library Journal about Darcy, the teen novelist in his book, Darcy's love interest Imogen, and Lizzie, Darcy's heroine in the book Darcy's writing called Afterworlds.

Q: Without mentioning individual tweets between characters, you do discuss the effects of social media and the influence of the Internet. How much has social media changed the field of YA lit?

Scott Westerfeld: YA novels are a lot about identity. The way people construct and determine an identity these days has a lot to do with the way they are online. I always say the main difference between the Americans represented on television and real Americans is that in real life, Americans watch a lot more television.

In a funny way, one of the things about writing a contemporary YA novel is not getting involved in the amount of time that teens are spending online. What I was trying to do was to acknowledge the amount of time Darcy and her friends spend on it and how that shapes who they are, rather than talk about it.

Q: Tell us about this quote from Darcy: “Maybe that was the price of loving someone: You lost your grasp of where they ended and you began.” Isn’t that true not only of Darcy and Imogen but also Darcy and Lizzie?

SW: By calling the characters Darcy and Lizzie, I’m suggesting there’s a certain amount of tension between the writer and the character--also characters and ghosts. The ghosts that Lizzie sees are on the one hand not real, really; on the other hand, she has a moral responsibility to them. Writers don’t want to betray our characters and make them do things they wouldn’t do, for a plot contrivance. I wanted Lizzie to grapple with the question: Are the ghosts real people? Are they just stories? I wanted to make these same concerns parallel Darcy’s ethical concerns. Should it be a happy ending? Should it not?

Q: There’s a cutting-edge quality to all of your books. How do you manage that time and again?

SW: Probably a lot of it is taking conversations that are happening in the adult world, particularly in adult science fiction, and applying them through a YA genre filter. Most things are more interesting when you look at them through the lens of a teenager.