Over thirty years ago, I tried to illustrate one of my own stories.
I had written a book about Max, a little boy who refused to take a bath.
In attempting to illustrate this story, I became increasingly frustrated at my lack of skill and knowledge of craft.
When I finished writing Book II of the Karakesh Chronicles (title: Guided by Magic), I pictured the kind of illustrations that would suit the mood of the story. I envisioned the look of a woodcut, because so much of the story takes place in mines and caves.
Tevin and Nichole Hansen, the generous editors of Handersen Publishing said, “Try it out.”
So I did. And the editors liked the result.
I never would have guessed that I would become a published writer and illustrator in my “golden years.” Somewhere in my subconscious, the desire kept simmering.
I am more and more convinced that “All thought creates form on some level.”*
What do you believe?
Author Cynthia Voight’s Dicey’s Song, and the Mister Max trilogy
Cynthia Voight won the 1983 Newbery Medal for Dicey’s Song. I read the whole book and, quite honestly, I can barely remember it. I do recall that Dicey brought her siblings safely to live with their grandmother. Each sibling has issues settling into his or her new life at home and in school. Their mother lies catatonic in a mental institution in Boston. Perhaps Voight’s depiction of Dicey’s struggles is what gained her the medal. Could it be that thirty-five years ago, learning disabilities and death were considered innovative topics in children’s literature?
I was much more intrigued by the Mister Max books: The Book of Lost Things, The Book of Secrets, and The Book of Kings. Here, the author cleverly leaves the big question– can Max locate and rescue his parents?—to be resolved only in the last book. So of course I had to read them all. The twists in the plot, and Max’s job as Solutioneer were entertaining. I was especially impressed by the quality illustrations from the hand of Iacopo Bruno. His use of perspective was amazing! I studied the pictures, wondering, “How does he do that?” I even googled Bruno, who lives in Milan, Italy. Check out his work at:
While the temperature and the snow keep falling, I amuse myself indoors. The earliest morning hours are reserved for writing. First I shuffle around the kitchen at 5:30, making tea. Then I go to my desk and work on a story.
When daylight comes, I like to sew.
Piecing a quilt is an up-and-down activity. Standing, I measure, cut and pin. I sit to sew, then stand to iron. In between, I arrange the pieces, or blocks, on the flocked side of a vinyl tablecloth tacked to the wall. This is my “design wall” where I can plan how the quilt will look as a whole.
Quilting is satisfying in so many ways. The colors and patterns of fabric please my eye. My hands know the movements of measuring, cutting, and pinning so well that it’s like a dance with familiar steps. I enjoy the smell of freshly ironed fabric, and the sound when the sewing machine cuts the thread.
And when the quilt is finished, I have the pleasure of having created a useful blanket for someone to cuddle up in on these winter days.
by Lauren Wolk
Dutton Children’s Books, 2016.
It’s no surprise that Wolf Hollow is a Newbery Honor Book for 2017. This story got so exciting that I finished it in one evening.
Twelve-year-old Annabelle lives on a farm in rural Pennsylvania during World War II. Her comfortable life at home and in school takes a sudden turn with the arrival of Betty Glengarry, a new student. Betty is a frightening bully, and a slick liar.
Betty’s attacks on Annabelle and others result in serious injury, but she adroitly turns the suspicions onto Toby, a reclusive war veteran. How Annabelle copes with this adversary and tries to protect her friend, Toby, makes for a story you can’t put down.
My granddaughter, who is just shy of six-and-a-half years, made these baskets on her very own sewing machine. Sure, she had help with the pattern and directions, but she put in the stitches. She worked the machine.
What an amazing skill for a young one to learn!
When I opened this gift, I was awash with tears of gratitude, pride, and admiration. Just think of being six years old and having the confidence to do this.
Praises to her parents for the guidance they provide.
We are one blessed family.
One Writer’s Life
Last week, I finished the first draft of Book IV of the Karakesh Chronicles. The story centers around twelve-year-old Demara, who is half selkie and half human. Toward the end of the book, Demara is given a baby named Bimi Lightfoot. Bimi is half faerie and half human, and therefore rejected by his faerie mother and her people.
In Book IV, Bimi is just a charming baby and a minor character. I thought I was done with him and the Chronicles, but he was not done with me. He reappeared in my mind as a badly behaved, angry nine-year-old, and began pushing me to write his story.
I am constantly amazed at how characters demand attention, and ideas appear. Most often, when I’m meditating, or doing a routine task, a scene or a phrase or a person will appear out of somewhere. I may not knowingly be seeking the next part of a story. The scene simply begins to play out on an internal screen, and I hurry to write it or make enough notes so that I can return to it later.
Book III began with a name: Simead Nair. What kind of person would have such an intriguing name, I wondered. He turned out to be a selkie with a complex personality that I could not have consciously invented.
Where do these ideas come from? I don’t know. It’s a wonderful mystery, and it makes the experience of writing into a great adventure.
The Inquisitor’s Tale Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
by Adam Gidwitz
Illuminated by Hatem Aly
Published by Dutton Children’s Books, 2016
The Inquisitor’s Tale won a Newbery Honor Medal in 2017. It was not a book I couldn’t put down. Why didn’t I love this book? It had many good reasons for me to enjoy it:
- the setting: medieval France in 1262
- many authentic people, events, and places (even ones I’d been to, like Mont St. Michel)
- a saintly dog
- three smart children
- fabulous illuminations in the margins
- magic and miracles
So I’ve been pondering why The Inquisitor’s Tale didn’t grab me. The best explanation I’ve come up with is that I didn’t care enough about the main characters or love them.
So maybe you’ll read the book and tell me how you like it.