The Last Polar Bear – Perfect Picture Book Friday

This is my last picture book in the series of books I wanted to suggest as part of your Earth Day celebrations next Wednesday.

polTitle: The Last Polar Bear

Written by: Jean Craighead George

Illustrated by: Wendell Minor

Published by: Harper, 2009

Themes/Topics: polar bears, arctic, global warming,

Suitable for ages: 5-7

 

Opening:

Tigluk glanced out of the window.                                                                                             A polar bear was not very far away.

Synopsis:

The Last Polar Bear is a poignant tale about a young Inuit boy called Tigluk, who paddles out into the arctic in a sealskin kayak with his grandmother. Among the small ice floats they encounter a polar bear cub whose mother has died. Desperate to save one of the last polar bears in the rapidly changing Arctic environment, they bring the cub back to their town so they can teach it survival skills in our rapidly changing world.

Why I like This Book:

This fictional story pairs perfectly with Why Are The Ice Caps Melting? the nonfiction picture book I reviewed on April, 3rd. It is a simple environmental story about the effects of global warming in the arctic, for the preschool through kindergarten.

Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor worked together often to present masterful and moving natural picture books. This story has factual details of the effects of global warming in the arctic naturally interspersed in the dialogue between grandmother and grandson.

Wendell’s paintings are evocative and realistic, giving as much voice as the text to the call of the arctic polar bears and other wildlife for man to help conserve their habitat.

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Activities/Resources:

To find out more about polar bears, visit www.polarbearsinternational.org

Another great picture book about bears in general is Wild About Bears by Jeannie Brett.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Teresa Robeson – Illustrator Interview and Giveaway

TeresaSigningContractI have known Teresa for quite a while now through social media and would most definitely consider her a friend. Teresa is a cheerleader in the very best sense of the word and supports her close and wider illustrating and writing community with boundless energy. It is my pleasure to interview her today on Miss Marple’s Musings. 

Also, don’t miss the rafflecopter giveaway at the end of this post where the winner will be able to choose The winner can choose either a print at my Society6 site – http://society6.com/teresarobeson – or an e-copy of each of the four SF anthologies I’m in (the links to the Goodreads descriptions are at my website at teresarobeson.com .)

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?     

[TR] Author/illustrator because I’ve been writing children’s lit for publication since the early 1990s but only started illustrating in the past couple of years. I begin with words, often being inspired by the nature around me on our property, science magazines I read, or educational videos that I watch with my family as part of our homeschooling.

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[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[TR] I was born in Hong Kong and lived there until the age of 8. I spent the next 17 years in Vancouver, British Columbia, before moving to the U.S. 26 years ago. I have used both the places I’ve lived in, as well as my life experiences in those places, in some of my writing, though not as much yet in illustration.

The first story I sold was autobiographical about my kindergarten graduation in Hong Kong. photo2

A time-travel story I wrote for my sci-fi group’s anthology (the profits of which are donated to Doctors Without Borders) was set in Vancouver and based on my mother dying of cancer. I think imbuing those stories with my experiences and the places I know well gave them extra heart.

For art, it’s more my cultural background than the places I’ve lived in that has influenced my work. My dad taught me how to do Chinese paintings:photo3

and I experimented with creating a Chinese girl character during last year’s Inktober Challenge. photo4

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[TR] I think most of your guests profess to drawing ever since they could hold a pencil, but I’m not one of them. I rarely drew or painted in my childhood

I took an art class in high school but I don’t think I stood out as having exceptional talent, though I was probably better at rendering than the most of the class. Once I realized I was good at rendering, I drew a lot of portraits, many of hockey players, as I was quite a hockey fan at the time. photo5

It wasn’t until I signed up for a fine arts class for non-art majors in my late 20s at the University of Delaware (where I worked while hubby was finishing his Ph.D.) that I got actual feedback from a professional that I have talent. The instructor didn’t praise my work in class. “That’s not bad, but you might want to try this instead,” he’d say. But one day, I was waiting for hubby to pick me up after class, and all my classmates had left, a bunch of art majors came into the studio to hang out with my instructor. As I was about to leave, the instructor turned to the other students and said, “you guys are lucky she’s not an art major, or she’d blow you all away.”

Since then, other professional artists I’ve met have told me I have talent, so I guess I am a late bloomer.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[TR] I have tried most media except for oils, but I love the feel of chalk pastel and charcoal best. I recently dipped my toes in digital art, using the Art Studio app for iPad that my good friend and critique group partner, Sylvia Liu, told me about. I like it a lot because it’s portable and not messy. I tend to accidentally smear paints all over my face.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[TR] When I was doing fine art, I focused on portraiture. There is something intriguing about the human face, and I like the challenge of making a portrait resemble its subject. You can fudge a landscape or still life mostly, but you can’t fudge a portrait.

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But with illustrations, I love doing animals. I started drawing lots and lots of squirrel cartoons to chronicle the funny/awful squirrel stories my friends were telling me.

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Then, I did a “One Day in the Life of a Squirrel” theme for Sketchbook Project.

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[JM] I know you also write MG and YA, have you done illustrations for these too?

[TR] Not yet, but I would love to! I grew up adoring the line art of Garth Williams, Mary Shepard, N.M. Bodecker, and Vera Neville and want to do illustrations like those in my novels. Also, I’ve always been interested in comic books/graphic novels and want to try my hand at creating them for both fiction and nonfiction. I’m inspired by my agent-mate, Erik Thurman, who does wonderful political cartoons and social commentaries in graphic-novel form.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them? 

[TR] To prepare a portfolio for the NYC SCBWI conference, I brainstormed some ideas for illustrations. I created a narrative piece of a penguin and a bear starting with a very rough doodle of the penguin [photo 11] to an equally rough sketch of a scene [photo 12] to the final piece that I did on the iPad. [photo 13]

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IMG_2632Also for the portfolio, I have an illustration of a squirrel (what else, right?) riding a heron. The idea formed fully in my mind for this one so I don’t have a rough sketch. I started right away with a pencil sketch on watercolor paper because I planned on using colored pencils or watercolor pencils to fill it in.

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However, I couldn’t get my colored pencils sharp enough to get the detailed coloring I wanted (we were vacationing in Arizona at the time and I only had one pencil sharpener with me that wasn’t working well), I ended up scanning the sketch and using the Art Studio App to color it. I was quite happy with the way it turned out.

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As for a WIP, there is a story I’ve been working on for a while now about k?k?p?s, endangered New Zealand birds. I started with thumbnails on a storyboard. [photo 16] Then, from that, I made a dummy that’s about 1/3 size. [photo 17] Here are a couple of the spreads from the dummy. [photo 18] [photo 19] Some of the spreads changed a bit because I had revised the story several times since I made the storyboard.

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And here’s a completed chalk pastel painting of one of the spreads.

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I’m afraid I am going to have to redo a portion of this dummy, though. I’ve signed up for a workshop called Creating Your Best Dummy, and in the process have completely rewritten the manuscript…in poetry! Thank goodness for the invaluable help from my awesome critique group friend, the talented poetess, Renee LaTulippe.

[JM] Do you have a favorite picture book from when you were young?

[TR] I didn’t have any picture books growing up in Hong Kong, but my parents bought me this children’s magazine that I devoured.

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It translates to “Children’s Happy Garden” and is the Hong Kong equivalent of Highlights Magazine. It has a mix of different stories from Western, Chinese and Japanese cultures, as well as news items, puzzles, occasional contests with prizes, and a showcase of artwork by readers. My favorite art was from the traditional Chinese stories.

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After we moved to Vancouver, I was able to get a hold of real picture books, and one of my absolute favorites was, and still is, A SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats.

[JM] How has life on a hobby farm influenced your art or writing?

[TR] As I mentioned in the answer to the first question, the nature around us on the property has been an inspiration to some of my writing and ideas. Ladybug Magazine published a poem of mine about spring flowers, and I have a half-completed manuscript of nature poetry that I started two years ago. As well, I have a completed picture book story about growing one’s food that I need to revise and show to my agent.

For art, I want to start drawing all the great veggies and plants that hubby grows because there is tremendous beauty in vegetation and I’ve wanted for years to be a botanical artist. But a bigger influence has been the squirrels in our yard (naturally!). We have many species of oaks and hickories, which attract a lot of squirrels. I watch the squirrels scamper about to get a feel of their movements and anatomy to use when I do illustrations of them. I look forward to dedicating a book to the squirrels in my yard one day. Hah.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[TR] I have the messiest art/craft/sewing room. It’s like Entropy lives there (if there was a nameplate on the door, it’s say “S=k log W”…nerd joke). This room is where I work on non-digital art, soap-making, warping threads for weaving, sewing, jewelry-making, and more. A multipurpose room is going to be messy, I suppose.

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If I’m writing or doing digital art (or knitting and crocheting), I am at my comfy chair or at the standing desk. Yes, that is my loom back there!

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[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house? 

[TR] I have some of my own art on our walls.

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But my favorite pieces are 1) this lovely ink drawing we got from my in-laws of a statue of Caesar Rodney that’s in downtown Wilmington, DE (hubby is a 4th generation Delawarean),

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 2) pieces of Native American prints we bought while we were in Alaska,

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 3) an Edward Hopper print I scored at a yard sale,

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4) old Chinese art that my father gave us.

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Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                  [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[TR] I know my property is not a park, but it is truly beautiful. If I had to choose actual parks, I’d pick 1) Bryce Canyon National Park – we love it so much we named our older son after it, and 2) Stanley Park because it is an icon in Vancouver where I grew up; a huge green space with old growth trees in the middle of a large metropolis is a rarity.

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[TR] I’ve had two dogs and two cats in my life, but I’m definitely a cat person. Hubby says I get this goofy, euphoric look whenever I’m around cats. This was our first cat, Euclid, and our pretty English Shepherd, Gali, who died too young from a tick-borne disease.

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EUCLID

Gali

Gali

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[TR] I ate way too much Jello with evaporated milk (it’s a thing among Hong Kong Chinese, at least back in my day) as a kid.

[JM] What word best sums you up?

[TR] Worry-wort.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[TR] I’m a tea sipper – tea of all sorts: black, green, white, and herbal. I would also eat Jelly Babies (look up “Doctor Who Jelly Babies” and you’ll know what I mean) all the time if I could. Nibbling on those helps me think.

social media links:

[TR] Thank you so much, Joanna, for letting me blather on in your blog! I have loved your illustrator interview series for a long time and I am honored and thrilled to be an interviewee.

[JM] It was my pleasure. I know you recently signed with wonderful agent, Ella Kennen of Corvisiero Literary Agency, and I wish you great success in all that you are submitting to publishers right now.

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Girls Like Us – 2015 Diversity Reading Challenge

I read and review a lot of books each year, and this one stands out for me as a story that changed me. I am telling you, it is a must read. If it is on your TBR list, shuffle it up to #1 spot immediately! It falls into categories 4, 5 and 11 on my list. Buy this, read this, then give it away to your teens, your partner, your friends to read.

2015 Diversity Reading Challenge

2015 Diversity Reading Challenge

girlsTitle: Girls Like Us

Written by: Gail Giles

Published by: Candlewick Press, 2014

Themes/Topics: special education, diversity, rape, bullying,

Contemporary YA fiction

Awards: 2015 The Schneider Family Book Award. This award honors a “book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for adolescent audiences,”

Suitable for ages: 14 upwards

Openings:

BIDDY:  My name is Biddy. Some call me other names. Granny calls me Retard. Quincy call me White Trash sometimes and Fool most of the time. Most kids call me Speddie. That’s short for Special Education.

I can’t write or read. A little bit, but not good enough to matter. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know. If I could write I could make a long list. List might reach all the way through Texas to someplace like Chicago. I don’t know where Chicago is. That’s another thing for the list.

QUINCY: Most folk call me Quincy. I ain’t pretty but I got me a pretty name. My whole name be Sequencia.

The one thing all of us Speddies can tell you is what kind of retard we are. Ms. Evans get wadded in a knot if if anybody say “retarded”. We be “differently abled.” I got challenged when my mama’s boyfriend hit my head with a brick.

Synopsis:

With gentle humor and unflinching realism, Gail Giles tells the gritty, ultimately hopeful story of two special ed teenagers entering the adult world.

We understand stuff. We just learn it slow. And most of what we understand is that people what ain’t Speddies think we too stupid to get out our own way. And that makes me mad.

Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first “real world” apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.

Hard-hitting and compassionate, Girls Like Us is a story about growing up in a world that can be cruel, and finding the strength — and the support — to carry on. (Goodreads)

Why I like This Book:

Raw, gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, real, empathy-inducing…. this book churned up so many emotions in me. And if you want to do a study with a class or for yourself on ‘voice’, use this text. The mainly alternating (by chapters) two-person point of view is imperative to this novel and powerful. From the first few sentences each of the three main characters (Biddy, Quincy and Miss Lizzy, the old lady whom they work for and live with) voices stand strong and clear and different. The author drives this novel with voice and Biddy and Quincy’s characters are so well developed I feel like I know them, or better still, I so want to have the privilege of meeting them in real life. Now that is proof beyond question for me of the power of a good storyteller.

Respect is one of the many themes that flows through this complex story. Quincy and Biddy complement each other perfectly and the special Ed teacher and new counselor recognize this well before Biddy and especially Quincy do. How beautifully Giles depicts Miss Lizzy underestimating both girls and Quincy underestimating Biddy. This is a powerful challenge to us all but I think especially to teachers for whom it is easy to underestimate certain individuals in their class.

I loved the authenticity of the frail, compassionate Miss Lizzy being offensive in some of her attempts at doing good by Quincy and Biddy. Each character was perfectly flawed; Quincy especially was harsh and hard and yet transformed through these new friendships.Their need for one another and their formation of a different sort of family by the end is very moving.

The transition into adult life isn’t easy for any 18 year-old and Quincy and Biddy’s growth and development of self worth, despite both of them facing horrendous abuse, leaves the reader with an amazing sense of gratitude and empowerment.

My review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t admit to loving the mama duck scenes too!

Activities/Resources:

I would love to set this as a high school class read, maybe for 9th and 10th graders. The potential for class discussion is enormous.

My author friend , Ellen Hopkins, runs a fabulous program called VENTANA SIERRA, which helps not so much special ed students in particular, but 18 year-olds like Biddy and Quincy who have outgrown foster care (or as in Biddy’s case, whose grandmother no longer wanted to care for her now she was losing the federal support!) but who still need structure and care and ‘fambly’ as Quincy would say. Please consider supporting this project.

Many nations have projects for reduced/free rent for young people willing to live with elderly and/or disabled people needing some support. Encourage young people, especially students to consider these options. For example, some Dutch nursing homes offer rent-free housing to students in exchange for engaging with the elderly residents.