Monday, July 22, 2013

Keeping on Track - What is Important and What Really Isn't?

Goodness Gracious!! It's been 18 days since I blogged!! Where does the time go? Summer heat, 50th High School reunion planning, crises in an organization, The Ole Bull Music Festival Awards Concert, church events, supervising home repairs... that's where the time has gone. SO what have I accomplished?

1. Two new websites: and

2. A new concept for the altar at church: "Social Justice on the Altar." This Sunday, in lieu of flowers from my fairly-fried garden (where the major life form is weeds), I placed a model of a Navajo weaver's loom on the altar, along with two cushions woven by Anita K. Jackson.  The model loom was a gift from Anita too. Anita is a master weaver in Arizona who I "adopted" through the Adopt-A-Native-Elder program 10 years ago. I added an insert to the church bulletin, telling everyone about the ANE program, and saying that, rather than giving them flowers to look at this week, I am sending an extra $25.00 to ANE to help someone in Anita's community. You can learn more about this wonderful program at

3. Made the program and served as Mistress of Ceremonies for The 60th Ole Bull Awards Concert at Merkin Hall in New York. A fine time was had by all and the young musicians were inspiring!

4. Planned out the first 3 months of next year's Girl Scout meetings for the troop I co-lead.

5. Helped host a KidSave adoption event at my church (and baked gingerbread for the All-Church-Birthday Party).

6. Picked out tile, planned a pattern, kept everyone up to date on events in the home-improvement project and in my non-profit (The Spunky Norwegian Foundation), began to put together this year's program booklet for the Ole Bull Music Festival in Pennsylvania, volunteered at the library, created a storyboard and some preliminary sketches for a book for a friend, pulled a few weeds, did some laundry, watered the yard and garden, cooked a few meals, read five books.

So maybe that's why I haven't blogged, haven't drawn, haven't revised text for my book.

It's the "URGENT" vs "IMPORTANT" conundrum. If you haven't read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People you might give it a whirl. I've done all the really urgent things on my list. There are a few left, but they aren't imminently urgent. I have begun to work on several important things that will  be coming up in the next few months. I'm trying to keep them from becoming urgent. They are all important. But I have gotten enough of a space cleared that I think tomorrow I can get back to work on THE important thing: my children's book. Tomorrow I have pledged myself to do a new drawing, one of the revisions I've determined is needed before I can submit to a publisher.

I've also thought a lot about who that publisher might be, and - after reading A Corner of White - and the acknowledgements in it, have decided I may submit to Scholastic, through one of the folks I've met volunteering as Book Fair Ambassador at the Scholastic Book Fair at the school where I used to teach. She told me once she'd love to see my work. Maybe it's time. Most other publishers I see as good matches aren't accepting un-agented or unsolicited manuscripts. We'll see. But tomorrow will bring me one illustration nearer to my goal.

 To summarize:
      A. Clear the decks of truly urgent things.
      B. Decide what is really important.
      C. Put in a bit of time on future important things.
      D. Clear a day to work for a concentrated time on something that is truly important.
       E. Accept that much of what today or tomorrow seems  urgent, isn't important. Don't spend time on these things.

I know the weeds will still be there next week so I can clear out the driveway or my wildlife garden then. Or next month. Or next spring.  But tonight I have blogged and tomorrow I'll be that much closer to my Caldecott winning book!

Sweet Dreams!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Martha Speaks With Me - The Importance of Consistency

Happy 4th of July everyone. Today it's too hot out to do much more than hang out a load or two of laundry, and then sit inside in the cool. I DID clean the fishpond filter, trying to clear up the water. Of course,  we attended our hometown 4th of July parade. Watching the parade set me to remembering  parades in my youth, when gangs of youngsters would clip playing cards to the spokes of our bicycle wheels with clothespins, and weave red, white and blue crepe paper through the wheels, joining in the joy of being part of the day. These days, I sit and watch, though in fairly recent years I have taken part.

This is a photo taken by my friend Louise Osborn Quinby, a photographer of note, from Victoria, B.C.  It was about 5 years ago and the banner my man and I are carrying is one I made from handprints in felt. Each was traced from the hand of a member of our church. The rainbow ribbon and rainbow handprints are part of our Peace and Justice theme at FCC.

Thoughts of old times with old friends brings me to today's topic. Susie Meddaugh, author and illustrator of Martha Speaks and its sequels, is a hometown girl. We were in high school at the same time, and her Uncle John is a dear friend of ours. So when Susan was in town last week, we spent tea-time chatting about children's books.

Susan was gracious enough to invite me to bring my dummy and my artwork to show her. As we paged through the dummy and I explained changes that I've made in recent weeks, Susan nodded and smiled and provided encouraging remarks, until we hit the page with  five baby birds. She stopped dead, and looked at me. "Do you really want the birds to speak?" she asked.

This, from the lady who made her incredibly popular dog talk after it ate alphabet soup! Well... hmmmm? But Susan was so right.  She had caught something I had totally missed. My book, which is a counting book (among other dimensions) will probably be categorized by the Library of Congress as a "concept book." I wish it would fall under "nonfiction," but I doubt that it will.

Susan pointed out that my book truly is nonfiction. Plants and animals are realistic looking, scientifically accurate, and they behave like the real thing. "Why then..." she asked, "would baby birds be counting out loud?"  Thank you Susan, for showing me another pitfall I almost tumbled into: inconsistency. I have been working diligently to make the art work consistent, but hadn't picked up on that glitch in the text.

Children are a very special class of readers. They trust us, authors and illustrators, to do it right. That is why books like The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney are such a joy. From the Eurasian eagle owl and the African spiny mouse to, what I think may be African violets (though I'm sure his research was more thorough than mine), Mr. Pinkney's world is built on fact. Like my rabbit that looked like a sack of fur, the natural world in children's story needs a true and real skeleton of facts to make it come to life convincingly. 

Nature is so astoundingly beautiful, I take real pleasure in drawing bark that looks like the actual bark of whatever tree I am considering. I strive to draw feathers that truly are structured to allow my birds to fly.  So I encourage you to look closely at the world around you. When you are building worlds for children, give them a firm foundation in fact. Martha and her dog friends have skeletons that are true to life, even if her soup is spiced with a soupcon of imagination to allow Martha's voice to be heard and understood. Susan and Martha, I have heard what you are saying and thank you for your advice and council on my journey.