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String! Or, Where Ideas Come From #4(th Thursday in November)

By Lynne Rae Perkins

My grandmother once knitted a dress out of lavender string.

“String!” my mother said. “And she was a large woman for a while. She lost weight later.

“She had one of those circular needles and she just kept knitting around and around. She knitted it for herself. She wore it a lot.

“It wasn’t just regular string, it was special string, and it came on a big spool.”

(gestures with hands, indicating size)

“Oh, I’ve seen those at estate sales,” said Carrie. Or maybe Donna.

“She had two of them,” said my mom. “One of them was lavender and one was white. And I’ll never forget, one time my dad and my Uncle Bob—we had a lot of aunts and uncles we weren’t really related to because we weren’t allowed to call adults by their first names, but we knew them too well to call them ‘Mr. and Mrs.’ My dad and Uncle Bob were flying a kite, and it went really high and they were going to run out of string, so they grabbed my mother’s spool of white string. She was so mad when she found out. That kite must have been over Shaler Township. And then they wanted to reel it in, so my dad went into his workshop and he had a motor, and they used the motor to reel in the string and wind it around. For years, whenever we needed a piece of string, we went and got it from there.”

So, this isn’t what happened, but this is the picture that formed in my mind:

If you happen to be sharing a meal with people on Thanksgiving Day, there will be conversation. There will be a lot of conversation about football and politics and who is in the hospital and recipes. Somewhere in that day of conversation, there will be a good story, like the story about my grandmother and her string. Maybe a lot of good stories. The next morning while you’re having your coffee, see which ones you remember.

Oh! one more thing: while we are talking about relatives and kites, this is an excellent time to read, or re-read, Truman Capote’s wonderful story The Thanksgiving Visitor.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lynne Rae Perkins is the creator of several acclaimed works for children, including the incomparable picture book Snow Music and the novel Criss Cross, winner of the 2006 Newbery Medal. Her most recent work is the novel Nuts to You, which The Horn Book called “Another completely original and exceptional package from Perkins” in a starred review. She lives in northern Michigan.

In the studio with Michael Hall

In It’s an Orange Aardvark!, a carpenter ant drills a series of holes through a wall in his stump in order to see what’s outside. With each hole, a different color of light enters the dark stump; and with each new color, another ant—who’s convinced himself that a hungry aardvark lurks outside—makes more and more ridiculous suggestions to make the new facts fit his original assumption.

I tried a number of different ways to illustrate the light flooding into the stump before settling on a series of painted, overlapping concentric circles.

Early on, I was enamored with the idea of using simple radiating lines of colored chalk. Chalk is a medium children understand, and they could easily use it to draw their own bursts of light. But the radiating lines were somewhat frenetic, and adding little ants to these chalk drawings made them too busy.

But there was another, more pressing, issue: Reflected colors—like the ones produced by light bouncing off chalk, paint, or printer’s ink—combine quite differently from projected colors—like colors from light entering a dark place. Reflected colors combine to form darker colors, while projected colors get lighter when they’re combined. (What’s worse, projected green plus projected red makes projected yellow. That’s never seemed right to me.)

One solution was to avoid mixing the colors altogether. For example, I painted paper and cut it into chunky asterisk shapes. The hefty spokes created the suggestion of a circle. It was more appealing than the chalk, but I felt it was too stark and lifeless.

Then, I broke the radiating lines into rectangles. This made it possible to mix each color variation separately, which gave me much more control. The resulting image felt very energetic to me—like light. Your eye is directed both away from and toward the center.

But it wasn’t quite right, so one day I tried grouping the rectangles in concentric circles. That became more contained and satisfying to me.

The next step was to forgo the rectangles and portray the colors as a series of intersecting circles. Now the colors were more soothing and meditative, and the shapes were interesting and sometimes surprising. I outlined each shape. This flattened the image and emphasized the shapes. It seemed right to me.

In the end, though, I removed the outlines. The resulting circles of color provided a more suitable and simple background for the ants and their story.

Of course, that was still just another beginning . . . and I confronted the task of painting a hundred pieces of paper (reflective color) to portray a hundred combinations of projected color!

A Library Talk, with Turtles

Naomi Shihab Nye’s newest novel, The Turtle of Oman, was just published, and Naomi is on the road talking about it. And writing poems about the experience.

 

Library Audience

 

There’s a gentle young man in a black shirt

who didn’t listen very well

when he was in middle school

but wants to listen better.

Now I know, he says, I hope to be a writer.

I didn’t know that then. What should I do?

There’s a boy with an iPad who won’t lift his gaze

but follows his mother who says he’s very creative.

At first they are my only people and I know

we will have a good time. Then a bouncy mom enters

with four kids in tow and Tony, age 7, ready to ask

if writing my book was hard but also, do I know how

to make bricks? There’s a gracious woman from a book club

who says she rushed her lunch to get here and wishes she

brought the whole club. There’s a librarian who fills in the back row

for honor’s sake and a few random women drifting in late

and it’s a sweet sense of people who will never again

be in the same room together, and I love it, and don’t wish for more.

This is my destiny. And afterwards a rough-looking fellow,

ripped jeans sagging off thin hips, FEAR GOD tattoo

streaking his arm, browsing the table of tiny turtles

I brought for display, holding them one by one, saying,

These are really cool, I was sitting at the computers,

I heard every word you said, and

it was true.

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet, novelist, and anthologist. She has taught writing and worked in schools all over the world. The Turtle of Oman is now available everywhere.

 

 

 

 

Moose have feelings, too

You guys, a very patient and thoughtful Moose would like everyone to know that September 23 is not only Jason Alexander’s fifty-fifth birthday, it is also the day that Moose–and Zebra’s (and Kelly Bingham’s and Paul O. Zelinsky’s)–fabulous follow-up to Z Is for Moose is available in stores everywhere. It’s called Circle, Square, Moose, and . . . you know what? Moose, you do the honors, please.

 

Moose with placards4 from Paul Zelinsky on Vimeo.

Summertime and the Living is Super Difficult

By Tu Ahn Dinh

Boston, Massachusetts, has a school holiday called “Evacuation Day” (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2014/03/17/evacuation-day-what-that/l2CpHeGoU7Jf4ePCJ1mWjK/story.html). I learned about it because (ironically) I left New York for the city that celebrates expelling foreigners from its territory!

So, surprise! I left Greenwillow Books after three wonderful, hilarious, enriching years with an imprint I continue to consider as family. Though I miss New York and publishing tremendously, I’m happy to announce that I was accepted into the Boston Teacher Residency, which is a yearlong, full-immersion teaching certification program that will allow me to earn my master’s degree while simultaneously training in a public elementary classroom.

I went through orientation without once participating in trust falls, an activity I have always adored on the grounds of human comedy alone. Despite that, I’m now fully immersed in my first course and I’m very excited (and scared) to see how the rest of the year plays out. Once I have a functioning camera, I’ll try to upload pictures so that you may all enjoy the evolution of my face from youthful to haggard as my responsibilities increase.

Sincerely,
Ms. Dinh
Cohort 12 Elementary Teacher

PS: Upon reflection, my only regret is that I left New York just as the ban on small weasels was about to be lifted. Alas.
http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2014/05/28/lead-pkg-carroll-deblasio-ferret-ban.cnn-ap.html