(Click to enlarge.)
Jules: Meet the Fabulous Fortunatos, who sing, dance, play the banjo, tell jokes, and juggle brilliantly. With them is their son, Lorenzo, who often felt like he had been born into the wrong family. He pondered important matters in his crib, drew pictures of the planets on the walls as a toddler, and generally kept his head in the clouds. Instead of, you know, somersaulting and walking on tightropes like the rest of his family.
They’re celebrating in the spread above with none other than Albert Einstein, a fan of the family’s performance acts, who has also just helped Lorenzo, by means of a galaxy-hopping trip to outer space, see that he fits into his family better than he thinks. Oh, and there are some creatures from outer space up there, too, including floating cats, but I can’t give away everything now, can I? Especially if you want to see the book for yourself, Starring Lorenzo and Einstein Too (Dial Books, April 2009) by Mark Karlins and Sandy Nichols.
Since it’s the first Sunday of the month when I feature the art of student or first-time illustrators, Sandy, who studied illustration at the Alberta College of Art and Design and who lives in Calgary with her family, is here to show us some spreads from this, her debut picture book title. The author, Mark Karlins, is here as well. Let’s get right to it, and I thank them for stopping by and saying a few words before we get to our kicks. Mark, who also teaches writing and film at Tufts (and who owns a haunted barn — and why why why didn’t I ask him to elaborate on that?), starts us off by addressing how Einstein, a performing family, and a science-minded kid who doesn’t fit in made their way into his book:
Mark: When I write, I never plan where my stories will go. I usually begin with an image, a phrase, a certain sentence rhythm that will carry me forward. For Starring Lorenzo, it was a youngster who was an outsider that captured my attention. The notion of outsiders, particularly of creative people (both young and old) who don’t quite fit in, is fascinating. They—the artists—are the ones who, hopefully, explore themselves and keep the society moving forward. It is also the outsider, Lorenzo, who feels pain and conflict from his situation. No matter what he does, no matter how he approaches a situation or problem, it doesn’t seem right. And then in steps Einstein, everyone’s favorite long-haired genius, who encourages Lorenzo to find his own way…the two fly off into outer space in a rocketship Lorenzo has made on his Brooklyn roof. Lorenzo follows his own path, but he also needs someone to encourage him. It is those two things that I find important, both the following of one’s path and the encouragement from someone else or from a small community. Not even our little genius, Lorenzo, could have done it all on his own.
flying toward the moon.”
When I think of other picture books I have written, I see that some of the same themes and places recur. I keep being drawn back to the same place. With the exception of my first book, all of my books take place in NYC (Music Over Manhattan, Salmon Moon, Mendel’s Ladder, for example). More often than not, they take place in Brooklyn, just across the river from the more glamorous Manhattan. To see the Brooklyn Bridge or Manhattan Bridge stretching across the water fills one with longing. Yet Brooklyn, for me, at the same time has a grittier reality to it. I easily return to NY in my stories. I no longer live there, but having been raised there, it is the place I most naturally turn when working on a picture book.
Although I am beginning to place a few of my newer stories outside of NYC, I do think that NYC is one of the things that distinguishes my books from some others. In fact, when I had that wonderful moment, years back, of having Music Over Manhattan praised on NPR by Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon, one of the things Scott Simon said was that it was refreshing to read a picture book that takes place in a city rather than in the suburbs or in the country. Now, when I think of most picture books, I can see that what he was saying was true. Of course, there are plenty of books that take place in cities, but certainly they are in the minority. There are probably marketing decisions in the publishing houses behind this, but I think it probably also has something to do with our notions of the child and of the city, of the child as pure, innocent, etc. and the city as a place of corruption. The country (with the suburbs as a bit of a stand-in for the country) is perceived as a place of purity. It is all very much an old pastoral notion. Of course, the idea of the pastoral always comes from city folks. Farmers mucking around in the barn and doing back-breaking work don’t have the same sense of the country. No happy, poetry-writing shepherds and dancing fawns for them.
I see Sendak and Steig as my biggest influences, and I keep going back to them. But there is a wide range of picture books that I turn to. I truly love picture books. In adult literature, I also read widely, but I have a particular affinity for some of the magic realists from Latin America. My picture books, in fact, might be seen as magic realism for children. There are also a great many painters whom I like, and I do enjoy spending time wandering around museums. A number of years ago, in fact, I was in Paris and saw a remarkable exhibit of Chagall’s work. I had not looked at him for years and was surprised by the depth of his work. As for my own work, I have never intentionally used Chagall as a source, but my work has been compared to his, and I suppose there is some similarity. (Since I don’t illustrate, I am, of course, talking about my subject matter and approach.) Like Chagall, I can’t always keep my characters from taking to the air. They are always flying about and leaving solid ground. It seems to be a question of gravity.
you’re one of US!’”
All of my books have been dedicated to family members. It is family that is central to me, and there has been nothing more important in my life than my children. Now that my children are grown, I have not nearly as much contact with small children as I would like. Fortunately, I do periodically visit schools here in New England, where I now live. I do my Lorenzo and science presentation, and it’s really fun for everyone, including me. Through those visits I get to see and interact with my audience. They always, in one way or another, surprise.
Einstein replied. ‘Can I see it?’”
Sandy: When I was first contacted by Penguin to illustrate Starring Lorenzo, I was absolutely thrilled and terrified. This would be my first children’s book (something that I’ve been wanting to do for some time). It had to be stellar! I have been doing illustrations for magazines for many years and wanted to try something different….
‘Yes,’ Einstein said. ‘I’m sure of it.’”
After reading the manuscript a number of times, I started the thumbnail sketches. They seemed to flow rather easily and quickly, much to my relief. I do think this had a lot to do with the writing; Lorenzo was either being faced with a dilemma or an adventure, and this provided fertile ground for pictures. I love to show expression as well, and there was also plenty of opportunity for this in the story…. I found a rhythm, as I neared the halfway-point of finishing the illustrations. I became more confident and reeeally began to enjoy painting them. I particularly enjoyed doing the tiny blue hippos and the twin sisters. Trying to decide what color their clothing was often the most challenging, of all things. (Do I do stripes here — or solid? Collar or v-neck? Etc.)
While I was doing a presentation/reading at a school recently, a teacher asked me if I miss Lorenzo, now that (my role in) making the book is over. I do feel like I know the little guy. I hope he is doing well and continuing in his love of physics and outer space! At the moment, I am not working on a book — but am planning on doing more.
And sure enough, they were singing.”
Thanks again to Mark and Sandy for stopping by, and best of luck to them both — particularly Sandy, since this was her debut title.
As a reminder, 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is our weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.
STARRING LORENZO AND EINSTEIN TOO. Text copyright © 2009 by Mark Karlins. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Sandy Nichols. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, New York, NY. Images reproduced by permission of the illustrator.
Happy Fall, y’all! Here are my kicky kicks:
1). Hangin’ out with my almost-four-year-old, especially in this lovely, cool autumn weather, since she opted to stop going to her little Parents’ Day Out program two days a week and hang out with me instead.
2). Fall Break at my kindergartener’s school is this week, so she gets to hang out here all day every day — just like old times.
3). All kinds of new music (and other surprises) from the one and only Sam Phillips, pictured here — and a promise of even more to come this year (five EPs and a full-length album, YOU GUYS!). It’s a new paradigm for releasing music: All through subscribing at her site. No record company involved. I love this. I hope it works for her, too. (Special thanks to Jill for helping me get into the subscription site via phone one day this week during one of my not-so-bright moments in life. Let’s just say that sometimes all you gotta do is simply scroll. down.)
3½). While I’m talking about music: Exploring Elbow’s older music.
4). Research for some writing I’m doing, especially when that research involves Sendak and Edward Gorey. (This research is also why I’m behind on reading your blog. Or answering your email. Yes, I’m talking to you.)
5). Now this was just really, really fabulous to see. Having 7-Imp listed on the site for the new Exquisite Corpse (a project in which Jon Scieszka and seventeen other children’s-book creators will contribute to an ongoing illustrated tale that will unfurl online over the course of a year, one episode every two weeks) was profoundly kickin’ to see. 7-Imp is listed—along with Jen Robinson’s site, Roger Sutton’s site, A Fuse #8 Production, and a few others—as a blog that “inspires.” Since this is a project of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance and the Library of Congress and since 7-Imp’s in such good company, it’s flattering and wonderful and I thank whoever might have listed it there.
6). Going to Cheekwood, one of the best things about Nashville, this weekend and seeing their scarecrow exhibit. Here were my two favorite pieces:
NOTE: Remember that the nominations for the Cybils 2009 are open. Go here to nominate your favorite titles.
What are YOUR kicks this week, everyone?