Tuesday, November 29, 2011

CHALK Wins The Connecticut Book Award

I am thrilled that CHALK was selected as a winner at the 2011 Connecticut Book Awards in the Children's Illustrator category. The Connecticut Book Awards, sponsored by the Connecticut Center For The Book, recognize and honor books with specific ties to the state of Connecticut. The author, illustrator, or designer must be native-born or have been a legal resident of Connecticut for at least three years, or the book must have a Connecticut setting in order to be considered. Andrea Wisnewski's "The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane" was also selected as the winner- this was the first year that two books were selected as winners in the Children's Illustrator category. My book, Baseball Hour, previously won the Connecticut Book Award (Children's Illustrator) in 2009, and Karate Hour and Building with Dad were both selected as finalists in 2005 and 2007 respectively. The Connecticut Center For The Book does a magnificent job of celebrating and promoting books of all kinds.

Monday, October 24, 2011

CHALK DAY at Hatton School

On October 10, the faculty and students of Hatton Elementary School in Southington, Connecticut had "Chalk Day", an entire day of school events that grew out of my book. Seeing the event that San Rafael Elementary School (Pasadena, CA) held earlier this year, Hatton School's wonderful principal, Roberta McAloon, formed a committee to plan their own day celebrating creativity and imagination. The committee, headed by amazing teachers Joyce Frederick and Denise Pedrotty, did an incredible job planning a day filled with an assortment of creative events.

The day began with my slide presentation to the students about my work and the creation of my books. Although the focus was on CHALK, the school depicted in one of my other books, Building With Dad, was based on a mix of photos of Hatton School and Strong School (two elementary schools in town).

Then I played a drawing game with the students and answered their questions. My youngest son and favorite model, Ethan (#4), started the game and showed the other students what they should do.

The day also included an asbsolutely incredible seven-foot-tall dinosaur sculpture created by Ms. Meda and her art students (and parent helpers)...

The "Poetry in Motion" dance group performed an energetic participatory dance event for the students (and their teachers)

And students illustrated their current topics of study on large black rolls of paper that were hung in the hallways.

The  capstone event was done on the playground blacktop- divided into rectangular boxes, each student was given a bag of chalk and their own box to fill with their imagination. Students will later write about the picture they each drew. I was amazed at the great effort and wonderful drawings that the students produced. There is a lot of imagination and talent at Hatton School!

At one point in the day, a teacher saw a kindergarten student sitting and staring at her drawing for an extended period of time. The teacher asked the little girl if anything was wrong and she replied, "No, I am just waiting for my drawing to come to life... just like in the book."

The day concluded with all the children going out to the blacktop for a school photo (and a quick dance) before catching their buses home.

That morning, I was also presented with the first "Hatton Hero" award and a plaque that will go on the school's wall. I am truly honored and humbled to be recognized in such a special way. However, a walk down the hallways of Hatton School reveals the true heroes… the caring and dedicated administration, teachers and staff that make Hatton School such a special place! Each of my three sons was a student at Hatton School, so I have personal insight to what a wonderful and caring community Hatton Elementary School is!


Monday, October 3, 2011

CHALK Named a Finalist for the 2011 Connecticut Book Award

The Connecticut Center For The Book has named CHALK as one of three finalists for the 2011 Connecticut Book Award in the Children's Illustrator category. Wendell Minor's "The Last Train" and Andrea Wisnewski's "The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane" join "CHALK" as the other finalists. Winners will be announced at the Hartford Public Library on Sunday, October 30.


Friday, September 30, 2011

SBCWI Children's Book Event at the Danforth Museum

I am looking forward to appearing at an event at the Danforth Museum sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators called "Overcoming Challenges" on Saturday, October 1 from 10am-3:30pm.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Princeton Children's Book Festival

I will be appearing at the Princeton Children's Book Festival on September 10 from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Plaza at the Princeton Public Library.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

CHALK Is A Finalist For The Cardozo Award For Children's Literature

I was excited to hear that CHALK was selected as one of five finalists for the Whitney and Scott Cardozo Award for Children’s Literature. Finalists are selected by a juried panel from nominated titles by authors whose works focus on literature for children ages four through eight. Readers online and at public libraries and bookstores vote for the winner. Please vote today! http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/litawards/vote.asp

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Louis Toffolon Elementary School Visit

One of the best parts of creating children's books is visiting wonderful schools and meeting their students. On May 2, I was invited to visit Louis Toffolon Elementary School (Plainville, CT) by Library Information Teacher, Deb Pikiell, as part of their Children's Book Celebration week. I showed slides of my creative process, read Soccer Hour and played my imagination drawing game with the students.

When I was working on CHALK, I had actually photographed the playground behind Toffolon Elementary school, but didn't realize it until I arrived at the school. This photo was taken in 2007 as reference for the tube slide interior shot (taken hanging upside down by my ankles in the slide).

Continuing their Children's Book Celebration week, Toffolon Elementary had a children's book parade the following day. Some of the faculty even dressed  up in tribute to my books (Deb Pikiell is the Karate Hour representative). They replicated the books' outfits right down to the colors!

Louis Toffolon School is another fantastic example of caring teachers using children's books to create special events for their students. Books are magical... and teachers are too! 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Magical Educator, a Wonderful School and CHALK

I'm sure that every children's book author or illustrator dreams that their work might inspire or impact a child in some small way. When I created my wordless book, CHALK, I hoped that it could have educational applications for writing and artistic activities. On March 18, 2011, that hope became a reality because of the incredible efforts of a caring principal in Pasadena, California.

Alyson Beecher of San Rafael Elementary School is an amazing principal... and not just because she likes my book (ha, ha). Her commitment to providing her students with special and unique experiences makes her truly special as an educator and administrator.

Alyson had contacted me by email in October and told me that she liked CHALK. She also informed me that she was a principal at a small elementary school and hoped to incorporate the book into a literacy activity at her school. What she did is truly remarkable and exceeded anything that I could have imagined.

Alyson is a master organizer and worked with her faculty to create a wonderful array of activities related to CHALK. It began with each teacher reading the book in class and developing diverse age-appropriate literacy lessons around it. This included using the book as a writing prompt to add words to the visual story, using it as a point of departure for writing new stories, writing poems, writing questions for each letter of the title, and creating amazing artwork. All of these activities were centered on engaging the students's imaginations in a variety of fun ways.

The literacy event concluded in spectacular fashion with the students, all 350 of them, decorating the sidewalks with chalk drawings outside of their school. To accomplish this, Alyson enlisted the help of numerous people to create an amazing day. The wonderful teachers at San Rafael energized the students and made the event special. Volunteers decorated bags for the children to replicate the one in CHALK. The PTO purchased chalk to fill the bags. Alyson invited local chalk artists to join the children in the event. Local law enforcement monitored traffic so the children could safely create their drawings. Vroman's, a local independent bookstore, made books available to the students. And of course, the students of San Rafael used their imagination and creativity to produce beautiful work. To see the fantastic event that Alyson and her friends made, watch this incredible video:

My publisher, Marshall Cavendish, also contributed to the event by sending out 350 posters, one for each of the students.

I sent signed copies of my books, some pencils that I drew CHALK with, and the raincoat and hat that my model wore in the book. On my letter in the package, I had drawn a little doodle of the San Rafael mascot and a dinosaur that Alyson put on the event announcement.

When Alyson sent me the video and photos of her event, I was absolutely amazed at what she did for her students. She wanted to provide them with an experience to promote books and literacy, but I think she did much more than that. Through all of her efforts and planning, she also showed them how much she cares for them and what can be accomplished when everyone works together! I feel very fortunate to have created a book that Alyson liked and used in such a special way for her students. 

I will be in Pasadena this fall on a trip with my school and plan to visit San Rafael to meet Alyson and her students. I would like to thank Alyson, her many teachers and volunteers, and especially her wonderful students for bringing CHALK to life. I think anyone who looks at the video and photos will agree that they all did a BEAUTIFUL job!!! I hope Alyson's efforts inspire other teachers and students to try conducting similar literacy events with books that they like. BOOKS ARE MAGICAL... Alyson Beecher and San Rafael Elementary School proved it! 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Report Cards

Midway through my first grade year, my family moved from Addison, Illinois to Roanoke, Virginia. The following is my first grade report card:

Looking inside, you'll notice that I received an "U" or UNSATISFACTORY in reading with a note:

My teacher added a corresponding note that said, "Does not misbehave, but draws when he should be practicing reading". As I recall, I got in trouble for that and you'll notice that my reading grades improved from that point on- and Mrs. Smith didn't even give me an "E" in art (ha, ha)! I loved rediscovering this many years later... proof positive that I was discouraged from becoming an artist at the earliest points in my life, but kept following my heart

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Chicago Bears and Me

When I was two years old, my family moved to a Chicago suburb, Addison, Illinois. It was during those tender formative years that I was introduced to what would be become a lifetime passion, the Chicago Bears.

I loved the Bears. My room was adorned with Bears posters. Bears linens kept my bed warm through those bitter Chicago winters. Bears t-shirts, sweatshirts and coats covered my body throughout the seasons. Finding a Chicago Bear hidden in a package of football cards was always an electric thrill. My younger brother and I regularly played football in the backyard wearing makeshift Bears uniforms.

The Bears weren't very good back then, but they had some incredible football players. A running back named Gale Sayers could run like the wind. The owner, George Halas, had invented professional football. And I was convinced that a linebacker named Dick Butkus was the strongest man in the world.

On Christmas Eve when I was five years old, I was also introduced to Bears' greatest rival, the Green Bay Packers. Even now, I vividly remember sitting around the dinner table listening to a radio report tracking the progress of Santa Claus with my family. The radio announcer had said that his radar lost sight of Santa over Green Bay. My father, ever the teaser, proceeded to tell my brother and I that Santa was probably abducted by the villainous Green Bay Packers. Dad also warned us that we might not be getting presents that year. Fortunately, Santa escaped and our presents were delivered, but my brother and I learned to beware the evil team that wore green and gold.

We moved from Addison in 1970, but my love for the Bears was packed up and brought with me wherever I went. The remainder of my childhood was split between Roanoke (Virginia), Cheshire (Connecticut), Rock Hill (South Carolina) and Southington (Connecticut). In these other places, I stood out as the only kid wearing Chicago Bears apparel and was often ridiculed for my allegiance to a team that rarely won. During this time, the Bears seemed to be preparing me for life's many future disappointments.

After years of unrequited love, a magical thing happened in 1975. The Chicago Bears drafted a running back named Walter Payton. Although he wasn't the biggest, strongest or fastest, Payton quickly became the best running back in professional football. The Bears rarely won early in Payton's career, but the running back stood out for his talent and heart. After years of embarrassment, I finally had something to be proud of.

I read about Payton's brutal training regime in my father's Bear Report newspaper, and saw that his success was a direct result of hard work and effort. This had a profound impact on me, and I tried to apply Payton's example in my own life. When I was running track and cross-country in high school, I often thought about Payton during my workouts. His example motivated to push even harder when I was completely exhausted and strive to reach my full potential. As a result, I was fortunate to set a couple of school records and receive a few all-conference awards.

In a high school art class, I had drawn a picture of Walter Payton. I had worked very hard on it, and to that point, it was the best drawing that I had ever done. Later that summer, my parents decided to take a family trip back to Chicago that would include a visit to the Chicago Bears training camp. I decided to bring the drawing and give it to Walter Payton. After the inspiration that he gave me, giving him my very best drawing was something that I was excited to do.

I went to the camp at Lake Forest College armed with my drawing and high hopes. However, at the Bear's camp it was very crowded. When Walter Payton walked off the field after the morning practice, I ran towards him but couldn't even get near him. He was at center of a moving mass of humanity, about 30 people deep on all sides of him. Disappointed, I walked over to a rookie wide receiver named Ricky Watts. Regularly reading my father's Bear Report, I knew all the players and told Watts how excited I was that he was on the team. I handed him my Walter Payton drawing and asked him to please give it to him. I wanted Payton to have the drawing, even if I couldn't give it to him myself.

My brothers and I stood near the player's entrance as the crowd dispersed. A few moments later, the door opened and Walter Payton walked out, asking who did the drawing. Then he thanked me and posed for a photo with my younger brother, Robbie, and me.

I was thrilled! Meeting your hero is great, but when he turns out to be a nice guy, it's even better. 

Sadly, Walter Payton passed away in 1999 of cancer at the young age of 46. Although his life was far too short, it was a life notable for his tremendous athletic accomplishments and his impact on other people- including a kid from Connecticut. After his death, the NFL renamed their Man Of The Year Award in Walter Payton's honor. I later made the following painting in remembrance of my childhood hero.

 The Chicago Bears have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Through all the joys and all the heartache, they have enriched my life and I will always proud to be a fan. GO BEARS!!!