Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Your work is to discover your work
and then,
with all your heart, give yourself to it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Ah, yes, Voltaire!" Or: The Long, Strange Week That Was

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

The safest course 
is to do nothing against one's conscience. 
With this secret, we can enjoy life 
and have no fear from death.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said 
in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just 
what I choose
 it to mean - neither more nor less.' 

Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. 
In your soul are infinitely precious things 
that cannot be taken from you.

Lately it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it's been.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Peter Sis in Copenhagen@IBBY 2008

 Orbis Pictus: Drawn Into the World

Dedicated to Jan Amos Komensky (Comenius)  1592-1670

It is too ambitious to compare myself to this great thinker and educator, but I cannot help but be proud that he is considered the author of the first ever illustrated picture book, which was published 350 years ago.  Like me, he was born in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) in the middle of a conflict which eventually led him into exile, yet he believed in a better world through learning, education and books….

So forgive me if I am trying to find connections between this great man and my work.  There are not that many Moravians in the world of picture books, after all. 

As a child you have no control over where you are born.  But even though you don’t realize it- you are only a baby- you are born into history, into a story.  I was born in the middle of the century, in the middle of Europe.  I was also born just when the communists took over Czechoslovakia, but I did not know because I was a happy little boy surrounded by a loving family in the dark city of Prague.  Then our family history unexpectedly collided with that of a faraway part of the world, changing my life forever.  My father, a young filmmaker, was drafted into the army and sent to Communist China to teach documentary filmmaking.  He told my mother he would be back for Christmas (which he was, but quite a few years later…).  China was building a road through the Himalayas to Tibet.  It would be the highest road in the world.  My father and his Chinese students were in the middle of making a film about the building of the road when a huge piece of the mountain broke off, the road was blocked and the crew were stranded and lost.  Through his wanderings, my father ended up meeting the then 19 year old Dalai Lama.  I wrote a book about his adventures called “Tibet Through the Red Box” to celebrate the magic and mystery of Tibet which became a part of our family forever.   But already as a child I drew the stories I heard from my father.  Maybe it was a way of counterbalancing the communist indoctrination I got at school. 

I drew and drew.  The more repressive the outside world became, the more freedom I found in drawing, in creating a world for myself.  I decorated the whole house we were living in from top to bottom, the light switches, the door of the fridge, the chairs.  I drew at school, through all my classes, even math and physics  (so don’t ask me about electricity, or how to count).   My art highschool was a wonderful time of my life.  Life was relatively freer than it had been, with the advent of the Beatles, the summer of love, and The Prague Spring.  What wonderful synergy.  Then the soviet tanks rolled in to Prague, and everything crashed down.  It is hard to see what is happening as it happens in history.  You go with the flow, and only see things clearly many years later. 

I was trying to tell my stories.  It was hard under the increasingly oppressive regime.  Drawing did not work.  Painting was censored.  Animated film seemed the best way to go.  I could tell stories in motion!  A seven-minute animated film took me a whole year to make.  I made several, and they started garnering prizes in film festivals.  This opened the world beyond the Iron curtain for me. 

After winning the Golden Bear award in West Berlin I became an export article for the National Organization of Czech Film.  Travel to Switzerland, London, Los Angeles.  I left for Hollywood, ostensibly for just a few months, to make a film celebrating the brotherhood of man, the 1984 Olympic Games.  I had almost finished the film when the Soviet Union and the East Block countries decided to pull out.  I was called back home.  But I wanted to finish my film.  And I did.  But by then I was afraid to go back.  I had overstayed my travel permit.  Hard to explain to young people today.  I decided then and there that I would become extremely successful so that when I did go home I could say that I did it all for my country. 

I naively thought that I could spin stories out of my childhood adventures, turn them into books and films.  Me who didn’t grow up with pizza or baseball!  It was hard going.  Just when I thought I couldn’t make it, I got a push from Maurice Sendak.  Thank you!

Publishers found my stories awfully exotic.  I developed a special pen and ink drawing technique which involved shadings made from hundreds of thousands of little dots.  It didn’t leave any time for a social life.  I was given other people’s books to illustrate, and was told by the editors that the faces I drew were too European, that I needed to change all the details.  Those were hard years.  I was without a country or a passport. But then more and more I was encouraged to do books of my own.  The subjects paralleled my own discoveries of the new world I was in- people exploring streets, elevators, beaches.  Then books about explorers- Columbus, Welzl.  Exotic places like the island of Komodo.  Places I wanted to go but for now could just draw.

I got married and had two children.  As soon as they were born I started to make stories for them.  I could not possibly tell stories in a language which was not quite my own, with no references to my own childhood.  So I told my stories mainly in pictures.  And tried to talk about people who could make us see things in a different way, like Galileo or Darwin. 

The books led to new ventures.  More film, posters, large scale mosaics in public places.  My children are growing up.  What will they remember?  I imagine myself as a storyteller traveling on the old silk route, spinning tales by the fire.  Tales of different cultures I have seen and imagined.  And tales now too of my childhood for my children to tell to others.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This September, a Set of the Most Delightful Postcards...

with the most charming words...
were sent by the inimitable Joan Vigliotta...
for the Heath Robinson postcard above, Joan wrote: 
"What I love about this image is that it really does look plausible--until you think about it very much. Heath Robinson always presents it all in such a reasonable, well-executed way..."
Yes, of course (in the illustration, from "How to Live in a Flat," the laundry lines are all being held aloft by balloons). 
Couldn't have ever said it better. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Brian Belott: Books, books, books, books, books, books, and books.

"Books, books, books, books, books, books, and books."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Universe is Made of Stories

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

photo: nyc, 07.08

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's September 13th...and a very merry ROALD DAHL DAY to you...

Here are some yummy links to find out more about Roald Dahl day, and start preparing for next year's celebration. Since Mr. Dahl gave us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda (and so much more) it's a darn good thing lots of kids and their adults are finding ways to fete him.

In honor of Mr. Dahl, I'm posting a most unusual little puppet that hangs in the Bauhaus Museum. It looks like something we might've found in one of his books, perhaps? 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Meeting McCay


this is a most delightful blog....thanks be to Drew for sending the link...

above: jena, germany

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

J.K. knows from Copyright Hobgoblins

Comprehensive NYT article on the great new win for J.K. Rowling: nice that she gets to keep her own work, eh?

Thanks to Read Roger for the heads up...his is a blog eminently worth the a.m. peek. That said, don't forget to sign up for the gold standard: Horn Book. Roger works on that, too...a bit. Where does he find the time? (Thank God he does.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Can Story = Gateway Drug?

Katie John was:

A. My Bike
B. A Book
C. My Hero
D. All of the above...

In Papercuts, of late, there is a post with reference to a certain type of story, in youth, as a "gateway drug." (Strange thought, that...muddies a term, certainly, in what seems to be an adverse fashion? Gateway drugs are bad, no? Stories are good, yes? Anyhow...) 

If you have to call it that, the story of Katie John was my first, then, as well as (see multiple choice) "D: all of the above." 

Here is how I felt about the story (please forgive overuse of "I" here, there is a reason): I adored Katie John. I wanted to be her. I wasn't her, but I named my bike after her. I can't remember what she looked like (pigtails?) or what she did (must've been brave), but I seem to remember the cover of the book (was it blue? or was that my bike?), and I read the whole thing--an accomplishment, in second grade--and she was, as they used to say, da bomb. It is a time of "I," being seven, isn't it? And if you are going to identify with something, in this "I" time, why not a brave girl, a resourceful girl with strength, a girl upon whom people can depend?

Yep, there was one thing that was certain: you could Depend on Katie John. And that's what I wanted, to be brave and resourceful and dependable. 

A girl can be strong, right? Just like a girl can dream, which I've mentioned once or twice. A girl can be a hero. Katie John was just that. Thank goodness. Back in the 60's, we needed our girl heroes. Now that I think of it, in 2008, we still do.

Now, about that gateway drug thing...

From Shedworking: A Birthday Present Worth Singing About

I love Shedworking, from the U.K., and can't help putting up this link....click here, so that you can see Sarah's present. Doesn't get more bookish than this.

Oh, it just makes me jello with envy.

I love that it was made by a youth group (the Clonmel Youth Group, thank you). I love the sort of "You should sit in this and read Harry Potter and be nestled in a Secret Garden" feeling that it has. 

And I love that I can put Shedworking on art.books.children, and not just the design blog!

Above, a Harry-Potterish Owl from the Cathedral in Ulm.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Memory: A Decent Reason to Blog, or...at least...re-read "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn"

Whyfore blog? Maybe because it's just another memory file. Which brings one more chance for me to tout Jonathan Cott's seminal "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's Literature." Oh yeah. Love this book. (For movie love, click here. Later.) So, Iona and Peter Opie are sitting at the table, and J. Cott is transcribing:

Jonathan: In 'Lore and Language,' you have a section devoted to how children mishear things. Could you give me an example?

Peter:  Iona had on the other day.

Iona:  There are hundreds of examples, that's the trouble.

Peter:  I'm afraid we can't remember.

Iona:  We have no memories, we only have filing systems. Because the traffic is going through at such a rate, all we remember is from our own childhoods, and then only the ordinary things that any one lifetime has acquired in the way of memories. But everybody else's childhood is coming at us, so we can't remember all the things we hear.

Peter:  That's true, we just write them down. But I also have a thing even against memory as such. If you have a memory, you tend not to be very good at creating. Pope has a line on this, which I'll give you....I always keep it on me because I can't even remember what the quotations are that say that it's a disadvantage to have a good memory. If there were no writing, I'd be lost...

Like I said, love this book. 

If Peter Opie is right about memory, I'm getting more creative every day. Goodie.

photo, above, from the doll museum in rothenburg

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Best Blog Name in the Universe

In an early disclaimer on this blog, I noted that sometimes the posts would be...well, not all about children's lit. That's pretty obvious, these days, and this post is just about a blog I happened upon several months ago, when I was but a wee blogger (as if I am SO much a grown-up blogger now; see post below on growing-up theme).

Well, anyway, the blog in question has to have the best name on earth. It's got lots of groovy content: I must admit that I have not perused it as much as I want to, but I thought it would be a shame not to show it to you. 

And, yippee! It's on Blogs of Note now! Click below for a treat:

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Celebrating 100 and Counting... (+Censored!)

This little blogglet has reached 100 (posts)...and, since it seems to have been born under a wandering star (what we set out to do and how we get there, if we get there, or where we actually get to...that is the question, is it not?)...well, to celebrate, it seemed a good idea to bring you a wonderful link to censored books. 

What? Why? Well...

Censoring is somewhat in the news these days. 

And, it just makes me wonder: what on earth are these people thinking? 

You'll probably be as amazed (and amused) as I am:

  • Witchcraft in the Wild Things!
  • Eurocentric Snobbery in Babar!
  • A Black Rabbit and a White Rabbit...Together, In Print!
  • The Rapscallious William Steig shows an Animal with Tobacco!
  • Actual Children who Are Not Punished for Being Mean on the Playground!
  • And...gasp...Red Riding Hood Brings a Basket, with Wine and Food in it, to Her Grandmother!

All of these "salacious" things have been, at one time or another, censored from libraries...all without clear reason or wise thought, it would appear. One simply has to shake their head in wonder. Would that the energy these censor-happy folks expend on children's literature might be directed toward select purveyors of tobacco and alcohol who saturate the media with images clearly (but fairly cleverly disguised, speaking of Big Bad Wolves & Joe Camel) directed toward under-age consumers...

Come on, leave the kids alone...  

For every tightly-buttoned marm or master out there who wants to criticize and/or censor a piece of children's literature, let me remind you of what Milo learned in the Phantom Tollbooth...

Keep your words sweet. 
You may have to eat them.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Twyla rings Maurice on Sundays. How Cool is That?

From Twyla Tharp's 

"Q. Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you? 

 A. Maurice Sendak. I talk to him every Sunday, and he always provides the best chuckle of the week. He's the only person with whom I can just blurt, uncensored. And he does the same thing. We're like two wicked children. It's a delight..."
Well, it's a delight to me to just think of these two brilliants gabbing and laughing and going on about stuff on the phone. Too Cool For Words, actually. 

Thanks, Merlin, for the recommendation. Twyla's book rocks.

Above, another too cool for words moment: 
Lifelike Tales, choreographed by Vivian Thorne, 
at UCDavis this spring. Oh, it was wonderous. 
Sweet to remember.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Scrapbooks of Lewis Carroll + Peter Sis Says

The Lewis Carroll Scrapbook Collection. 'Nuf said.
From the Library of Congress. Click Here.

Straight from Crooked House, via Maud.
Both completely wonderful.

Have Fun.

Also: there will be more good words from Peter Sis later on this month.
Lots more good words.

And please, 'tho you may have seen it a few posts ago...
if you haven't...take a look, on Crooked House,