Friday, November 15, 2013

Kitchen Karma

Recently I was invited to tell a story at an evening call The Gnat (a spin-off of The Moth, NPR's True Stories Told Live show).  Divali; from Darkness to Light was the evening's theme.  I decided to recall some of our kitchen renovation drama, and, in the spirit of sharing something that's been going on in my life other than making books, I've posted it here on my blog.

Kitchen Karma

My dad loved cooking and he loved eating.  He was a large, eccentric man, larger than life, really.  He lived in an eclectic home awash with light, art and antiques. When my father died over a year ago it was the darkest period of my life.

However there was small a silver lining, if ever there could be one.  He left me a bit of money.  I wanted to do something concrete with it, something that I could remember him by.  So in his honor, my husband and I decided to re-do our dark and narrow kitchen.  We chose all sorts of unusual materials, things my dad would surely have appreciated, such as reclaimed wood, zinc, concrete, exposed brick and Moroccan tiles (reminiscent of his Turkish heritage).  We also decided to add a huge window in the kitchen’s rear letting in a flood of light.

First we hired an architect to come up with a smart design.  He didn’t last long because his vision was too conservative.  He kept saying there was only ONE solution to our space.  As artist’s we intuitively knew he was wrong.  I mean, come on, when we get an illustration assignment we do like 50 sketches, why shouldn’t he do at least two?

Anyway, we wanted something more creative and more artsy, more reflective of 'chef Henri', my vivacious father.  By the way, 'creative' and 'artsy' also happen to be some of the same qualities that my practical mom accuses me of having.  But, never mind.

So we found another architect.  He had a bold idea.  He suggested building a long dining table that would swoop up into an island; The whole thing made of concrete.  We loved the concept!  Not only was it totally original, but it would also make clever use of our narrow space.  We decided to plunge forward.

Keep in mind we have 2 young kids.  We envisioned the raised portion of the island would be where they would eat breakfast, the sun gently streaming through the adjacent window, while we would do adult-type kitchen things like food prep, paperwork, coffee-drinking, wine-sipping, etc.

Some months later the concrete island/table arrived.  It was 1000 (that's one thousand!) pounds.  The concrete guy brought ten men and a giant truck to deliver the absurdly heavy, fragile object.  The truck had to be inched up onto our sidewalk with a plank leading directly to our front door.  Because of the waterfall curve on one end it couldn’t be turned on its side and, even so, it was slightly too wide so our contractors had to rip out our front door to fit it through.

It was hard to get a sense of its scale outside of our kitchen.  It looked pretty awesome making its way into our home, we loved the industrial finish.  I started snapping photos away.  The men labored and maneuvered and somehow miraculously got the enormous object into our narrow space.  I was so busy taking pictures that it wasn’t until the structure was upright and centered that I noticed how tall the island was, 4 FEET tall!

All the color drained from my face.  It must have been a mistake!  But no, the architect had actually designed an oversized ‘bar’/table, he just somehow failed to communicate the exaggerated part of his vision to us.  The strangest thing about the design (especially if it really was intentional) was that it blocked the light from the large window.  

When our 5 year old daughter first saw it, she thought we’d installed a playground.  She instantly began sliding down the concrete slope.  My husband and I started having visions of the kids tossing down half eaten plates of food, rolling empty glasses, toys, anything they could get their hands on.

Suddenly I realized that this oversized island had become symbolic of my mother’s image of me:  Impractical!  Spontaneous!  Artistic! 

This was the darkest period in the renovation by far.  It seemed like there was no good solution to this one thousand pound 'problem'.  Meanwhile, we were stuck looking at the concrete monstrosity in our kitchen for week after dusty week.

We finally fixed the island/table.  It has been shortened and narrowed by a foot, eliminating 12 inches of the curve.  It’s now the proper proportions and, at last, it looks right.   Our kitchen is not yet done–– because renovations (for anyone who has ever done them knows) are never really ever finished. 

But, I am delighted to say that now, at least, you can see the light outside the window.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Next Big Thing Global Blog Tour

The Next Big Thing 

The Next Big Thing is a global blog tour for authors and illustrators, started by social media wizards in the land down under.  I was tagged for the tour by Monica Wellington, a wonderful author and illustrator and the teacher of an amazing children’s book class at SVA. I’ll be passing the baton on to two other great illustrators to keep the tour going, so stay tuned . . .

Here's my interview:

What is the working title of your next book?
A Case for Loving; The Fight for Interracial Marriage

Who is publishing your book?
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic

In what genre does your book fall?
Non-fiction picture book

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It is the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving;  An interracial couple who fought to have their marriage legally recognized in the United States in the 1960's

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I have been interested in their story, their struggle for many years.  I felt an immediate connection to the Lovings, being half of an interracial couple myself.  My husband, Sean Qualls, is illustrating the book with me

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I had a desire to write something in the non-fiction genre, and the Loving's story was a perfect 'marriage' for me. Their story mirrored some of the personal struggles I've experienced (though not nearly as extreme!) being in an interracial couple

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Kerry Washington and Leonardo Dicaprio (ha!) 
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
6 months to a year 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Everything by Shana Corey.  I love her non-fiction 'voice'–– she makes history come alive with both humor and heart

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
The illustrations will be vibrant and emotionally accessible.  They strive to show the LOVE between Mildred and Richard–- as well as their intense struggle 

Friday, June 21, 2013

J is for Journey

My daughter 'stepped-up' to Kindergarden today.  There will never be another pre-K year for my children.  It feels like a punch in the gut.  I will miss being privy to the abundant creativity and pure JOY of discovery and learning that happens with 4 and 5 year olds.

My daughter was extremely lucky to have landed a wonderful teacher - perhaps the best at her school - for her pre-K year.  Ms. M embodied the philosophy of inquiry–– she literally turned every experience into a 'teachable moment'.  Ms. M knew how to find what was unique in each child and she went above and beyond in nurturing their strengths.

Ms. M was also able to cull the talents of various parents.  For example, she asked an architect mom to design 'blue prints' with the students, she arranged a marine biologist parent teach the class about sharks, and she had a journalist father make a newspaper with the children.

When she found out about my book, B is for BROOKLYN, Ms. M suggested we collaborate on a pre-K alphabet book.  Since every day she took the kids out of the class (rain or shine!) on neighborhood 'journey's', we decided to call the book, "J is for JOURNEY".  I worked together with the kids to illustrate the "J" cover, all of the letters, and various things they learned about and places they journeyed to.

The final book is a combination of collage, photographs, children's art and typography.  The kids did most of the work, I just put it all together.  It was so much fun–– it made me feel like I was experiencing pre-K all over again!

And perhaps most importantly, it reminded me why I love writing and illustrating children's books.  It's a journey that I am happy to continue throughout my adult life.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Art of Batik in Brooklyn

When my son was invited to a birthday party at HiHo Batik, I was a little skeptical.  Batik, the ancient art of wax and dye on fabric (from my hippie days at summer camp), awesome but sooo messy and a little dangerous, too.  How could this be?  Well, this cool new boutique has really brought the hip back in hippie.

As I browsed around the store, I thought that B is for BROOKLYN would be perfect amongst the lemonade and unicycle printed wear.  It seemed like we should partner-up somehow.

The owners of the boutique came up with some amazing ideas.  First, they asked me to custom design "initials" from B is for BROOKLYN for kids (and adults!) to batik onto t-shirts.  They also suggested I design an original Brooklyn t-shirt, which will be unveiled at an "opening party" (June 22).

But the best part for me is that they asked me to chose a charity to donate 10% of t-shirt sales to.

I chose TEAM CALEB and Kid's Walk for Kids with Cancer.

Caleb's mom, Ellen Hollander-Sande, was in my original mother's group 8 years ago.  She was one of the first moms I met.  I was instantly taken by her knowledge as a nurse and her confidence as a new mother.  Motherhood was scary to me.  It was a big deal for me to venture out of the house to meet up with other new moms, I felt timid and insecure.  Any bits of knowledge and help others could offer me were like little gems.  Ellen was very wise and generous.

Now, Ellen and I each have two children. Our kids all go to the same wonderful school: PS10 in South Slope, Brooklyn.  Ellen's second born, Caleb, was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphona this year.  He is responding really well to treatment–– which is the good news so far, but of course, it's an ongoing battle.

Creating a custom batik Brooklyn t-shirt and having this special 'event' is my small contribution to helping Ellen, Caleb and their family.  Please come out and show your support, too!  If nothing else, you'll come away with a cool, new Brooklyn t.  H is for Hip, indeed.

June 22, 2013
10:30am - 12:30pm
refreshments served
HiHo Batik
5th Avenue & Berkeley
Brooklyn, NY

RSVP here if you plan to attend.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Seven Things this Spring

Seven Things to note this Spring:


For those who don't know, 7 Imp is the most comprehensive picture book blog out there.  I am incredibly thrilled - and honored - to have been interviewed.

2)  At the beginning of April I was the Key Note speaker at SCBWI's Poconos conference.  My designer at Knopf, Jinna Shin, and I ran picture book making workshops with a lovely group of  dedicated illustrators.  Also, it was the best food at a conference EVER.

3)  I will be appearing at the TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL.  It's a new thing to include books at this super cool film fest.  On April 27, join me at the Duane Street Stage (Hudson & Greenwich) at 3pm.

4)  I will be running one of my Transportation Workshops for kids (making trains based on MY SUBWAY RIDE) on May 11.  Location: Sunset Park's Brooklyn Public Library at 2pm.

5)  It's CHILDREN'S BOOK WEEK!  On May 18, I'll be at Barnes & Nobles on 7th Avenue (Park Slope) at 12:30 for Story Time... and, then (double whammy!), at 3pm I'll be doing a draw-off at Greenlight Bookstore with some other illustrators.

6)  The always wonderful FIFTH AVENUE STREET FAIR in Park Slope is coming up!  On May 19, Sean Qualls will be there selling books + prints.

7)  It's Mixed Heritage Story Time at Greenlight Bookstore.  Join me on Saturday May 25 at 11am for a reading of I'M YOUR PEANUT BUTTER BIG BROTHER and other books about multicultural heritage.

Happy Spring!