Art, Authors, Book Reviews, Writing

Book Review: Flora and the Flamingo

Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo is such an enchanting book – and absolutely wordless.  Now, as a writer – I am a huge fan of words, but this book is an absolute FEAST for the eyes.  My preschooler (who is getting tired of all of the ABC’s and “sound this out” that I’ve been feeding her lately) was thrilled with a book that she could lyricise.

See for yourself –

But I will give a quick warning, however, it is not for the younger babies.  There are wonderful tabs that you pull down to reveal more pictures that young ones will thrill at pulling off the book, thus destroying the masterpiece.

I’ve also become a fan of Molly Idle who was an artist at DreamWorks and has now jumped into children’s book illustrations – you can find her website here.

Blue Boy GainsboroughI am amazed at illustrators and the stories that pictures can make.  Sometimes I will go to a writer’s conference and I’ll hang out in the illustrator panels or spend time in the art galleries.  There is so much that a picture can say, and with each person, it can be a different story. I remember that my 4th grade teacher had us write the story behind Thomas Gainsborough’s Little Blue Boy (see the picture on the left).  I can’t remember the story that I wrote, but I remember looking at the picture and thinking, Who is this? What is his story? Today I think I’ll write the story of why his stomach is poking out and where the missing button went!

(My husband just said, “He ate too many mince pies, and when he was at high tea, his button popped off and hit Aunt Adelaide in the eye!” I’m crying laughing!!!)

I think I’ve thought of some fantastic creative ideas for the long summer that we have looming before us.  I only say looming, because I do NOT want the summer to be a TV festival for my girls!  Any ideas for the pictures I should use?

Art, Book Reviews

Book Review: The Apple-Pip Princess

Jane Ray’s beautiful story

It’s not often that I find a book written and illustrated by the same person that I enjoy.  Typically one or other element is lacking (the illustrations are gorgeous, but the story is dull, or vice versa).   So I was thrilled when we found Jane Ray’s The Apple-Pip Princess. 

The story was very engaging, and the illustrations were breathtaking!  The artwork so unusual, unlike anything else, and quite stunning.  Reporter, Caroline Stockwell (Illustration Magazine, Summer 2006 issue) said of her work,

Ray’s style was, and is, unmistakable. Her use of shapes and vibrant hues, described by the Times Educational

Image from Apple-Pip Princess, Jane Ray

Supplement recently as an “exuberant patterning and celebration of colour”, is influenced by the Mediterranean and Middle East. It was her borders, in particular, that made her card designs so special: intricate, but not busy; decorative, but enhancing, rather than detracting from, the main image. Many of her designs in the early 1980s focused on urban scenes, but ones that were decidedly more exotic than those to be found in London. They showed cities in India and views of Venice – a plethora of softly shaded minarets, domed roots and towers rising from hillside towns. The skies behind them were as sultry as an Andalucian sunset. There were gold-tinged palaces and palm-lined walkways with perspectives that drew on her student years studying ceramics at Middlesex University. (See full article here.)

Magic Page image from Jane Ray’s book

Look at the lovely detail on left page of the image to the left.  When we got to the page on the right, my oldest daughter called out, “oh, that’s the magic page!” Meaning the one that matched the cover.  I thought she meant the one on the left (which is full of magical items) and then she explained her definition of “magic page.”  For us, it was one of those sweet, sublime, childhood moments, when you can tangibly feel a  shimmer of something  in the air.

This story is about a king who has three daughters.  His wife has died and he has grown old.  He tells the princesses that he will leave the kingdom to whoever can go out and make him proud.  The youngest, daughter humbly goes forward and uses her talents and her mother’s legacy to heal the kingdom and save the day.  It’s a lovely story, and with the amazing artwork of Jane Ray, I felt absolutely transported to a different time and place.

Ballet, Book Reviews, Creative Play

Book Review: The Patch

My six year old daughter chose this book from her school library last week (probably because of the pink tutu, so I say, “well done illustrator Mitch Vane”).

The Patch, by Justina Chen Headley, is an adorable story about Becca, who has a lazy eye and needs a patch and glasses to correct her vision.  She is a balletrina who is mortified with the patch, until her brother lets her borrow his favorite pirate costume and she becomes Becca, the ballerina pirate.  

She and her school friends spend most of the story playing pretend so that the situation (differences in Elementary School) is diffused.  It is such an adorable look into the power of imagination.  The illustrations are vibrantly made water colors, giving tremendous appeal to the visual element of the book.

The Patch is an adorable read, full of opportunities for discussion for you and your children.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Dorling Kindersley

dk books

Publishers of award winning reference books

Perhaps you’ve seen this logo before?  This is another publisher whose books I just can’t seem to get enough of.  From their website I found that they were established in 1974 and are part of the Person Media Group (since 2000).

Here is an example of their work –

Giza Pyramids Courtesy of DK Books

Absolutely beautiful pictures and fantastic information.  I am such a fan of their style and content.  Their reference books include;

  • Art and Crafts
  • History
  • Nature and Science
  • Travel

To name a few.

I also love their site because they have a clip art section that kids can use for their reports and projects (royalty-free for home, personal and educational use) as I did above.

Do you have any favorite DK books?

How have you use them with your children?

What is this insane fascination I have with all things British? 🙂

Art, Arts and Crafts, Book Reviews

Book Review: Usborne Children’s Books

I am such a fan of the Usborne Books.  I first found one in the library and then another, and then another and began to notice that I kept checking out books by the same company.  They are beautiful books, full of pictures and  colors and yet they are very simple.

The Usborne Publishing company was founded in the UK in 1973 and they publish all sorts of books for children –  fiction, non-fiction, etc. on a broad range of topics.  Their website can be found here.  While I am not intending to sell their books, I do recommend taking a look at them.  I think that they are very user friendly for families.

Recently I asked for two of the drawing paperbacks for Christmas (I know,  a geeky gift and I’m sure that my sis-in-law thought that I was a nut-case!)  I am such a wretched artist, but I want to learn at least more than stick-figures.  I’ve purchased some drawings for idiots type of books, but they were so complicated that I wasn’t up to the task.  I was impressed with these books and how easily the steps were outlined.

How to Draw Princesses and Ballerinas (Usborne Activities) by Fiona Watt, 2005


My daughters are as fond of them as I am.  My six-year-old loves drawing and doing the activities and my three-year-old “reads” them to herself, sitting and making up stories.


How to Draw Fairies and Mermaids (Usborne Activities) by Fiona Watt, 2005

I believe that it is VERY important that as parents, we provide non-electronic (i.e. movies, video games, music, etc)  activities for our children whenever possible.  They need to learn how to be unplugged as much as they need to learn how to be plugged in!

  • What non-electronic activities do your children do?
  • Any similar art book suggestions, especially “boy” books ?
Book Reviews

Book Review: Christina Katerina and the Box

Here’s a blast from the past! Patricia Lee Gauch’s 1971 classic Christina Katerina and the Box. It is actually older than I (barely :)).  I enjoyed the story as a girl, it’s one that I have really clear memories about.  Now my daughters love the book.

It’s the story of a girl who gets her mother’s refrigerator box and creates a castle out of it.  It breaks, thanks to her friend Fats Watson and her mother drags the box to the corner for the garbage.  Christina drags it back and creates something new, Fats breaks it, Mom drags it, and Christina creates again.  This cycle continues to a delightful resolution.

It’s such a lovely book about imaginative play.  As a girl I dreamed of having a big box, and since reading it to my girl, she keeps begging me for one too.

So, what would you do with a big box?


The author, Patricia Lee Gauch has written and worked on over 40 children’s books.  From an article published by California Kids! in 2005,  I was impressed by the following;

[Gauch] strives to create books that have a sense of shape. According to Gauch, creating a book is a musical experience. “There’s a rhythm and a rightness of things.” For example, she says, “There’s a shape to a Bach prelude with its rise and fall and the feeling that now is the time for the rise and fall.” The same concept applies to good stories.

Gauch definitely wrote a classic, with a rhythm and shape that I find lacking in a lot of recent children’s books.

What books do you remember from childhood, and why?  Do they have that sort of  rhythm and shape to them?  Am I crazy to say that it is missing lately in some children’s books?  (Discuss…let me give you a topic… to quote SNL’s Coffee Talk.)

Arts and Crafts, Book Reviews

Book Review: An Apple Pie for Dinner

I recently read a sweet book with my children.  An Apple Pie for Dinner is the re-telling of an English folktale, written by Susan VanHecke, illustrated by Carol Baicker-McKee. Published by Marshall Cavendish, 2009.

There’s also a website dedicated to it with fun activities and a more detailed look at the book.

The story was very enjoyable.  It was about working together and making friends along the way, as well as sticking to a task and sacrificing for others.

The thing that really drew me to the book was the illustration.  Carol Baicker-McKee made each picture from baked clay, fabric, pipe cleaners, lace, buttons, hooks, embroidery, trims  and just about anything that you can name.

There was also a section from the illustrator talking about how she created mixed-medium 3D creations.  Oh, I just drool at the creative possibilities of this and lament the lack of hours in the day!

I’d love to put together pictures like this of poems from my childhood.

Does this spark any ideas for you?

Book Reviews

Creative Solutions: A Balloon for Isabel

We just found a book at the library that we love.

A Balloon for Isabel by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Laura Rankin, 2010, Greenwillow Books.

It’s the story of a little porcupine named Isabel and her friend, Walter who want balloons for graduation, but they are told that they can’t have them because of their quills.  So, Isabel comes up with a myriad of solutions until they can find the perfect one.  It is clever and fun and the pictures are delightful. My daughters and I giggle every time we read it.

I especially love it because of the emphasis on finding different ways to fix a problem.  Creative problem solving is an important aspect of development and can be easily cultivated by allowing our children to come up with the answers.

An example of this happened at our house a few days ago.  We were working on a craft for a doll house.  It was a miniature beach towel and sun umbrella.  My two year old kept singing “Party on the beach”  – a song that she had made up.

While we were working on the umbrella, I didn’t have the lollipop stick that the directions called for.  I asked my five year old what she thought we should do.  Apparently, she’s been through my craft boxes more than I have lately, because she pulled out some wooden manicure sticks that I didn’t know we had.  They worked like a charm!

Two things to remember – have them find solutions to things that can have unusual answers (that you’re willing to follow through on), and if you are unable to use their ideas, still praise them for thinking of a solution.

What are some ways that you teach your children to be creative problem solvers?

Book Reviews, Sewing

Book Review : Fanny, by Holly Hobbie

I fell in love with this book, about a little girl (Fanny) who wants a “Connie” Doll – (they’re all the rage) but her Mom says, “absolutely no!”  Which prompts Fannie to make her own doll.  Then her Mom gets her a sewing machine for her birthday and she makes a bunch of clothes for her doll,  Annabelle.  The heroine is inventive and ingenious, despite the fact that her friends don’t understand why she doesn’t have dolls like theirs or why she got a weird sewing machine present.

I love that it teaches creativity and a mother’s belief in her daughter.

When I was young, for whatever reason, my mother believed in me.  She would ask me to be creative and have me do all sorts of things for the family: from decorations for the holidays, to writing plays, to costumes.  She encouraged me and helped me to believe that what I did was special and unique.  The work was always flawed, but her belief in me was genuine.

Perhaps that’s why this book resonated so much with me.  To tell you the truth, the story-line that I gave you was only a small part of

the book, but it was the part that I empathized with.

I think that it is so important as a parent to find out what our children are interested in, or have a natural talent for and do what we can to help them naturally succeed at it.  Not by pushing them or coercing them, but allowing them to have opportunities to develop their gifts and talents and giving them support and encouragement along the way.

Interestingly enough, Holly Hobbie, the author also wrote the Toot and Puddle series, and did the Holly Hobbie series  that was so popular when I was a child.

Arts and Crafts, Book Reviews, Creative Play

Book Review – The Creative Family


The Creative Family

I just found a book in the library (see previous post) called – The Creative Family: how to encourage imagination and nurture family connections by Amanda Blake Soule.

It was full of some really good ideas.

I’m just going to jot down a couple of notes that I thought were helpful as part of this review.

  • She does a family drawing time – kind of like the “notebooks” project that I described.
  • Art Night – where you gather another family together, set up art centers and create.
  • Gather ideas in an accordion type file folder – bits of creative inspiration.  I’ve done this for years – when I see something I love in a magazine, I’ll rip it out.  It’s just a great idea to categorize them.  I think I’ll do a section on drawing.  (More on that in another post when I get it worked out.)
  • Search for old books in a thrift store, or old books that are falling apart for pictures and re-crafting ideas.  (I LOVE this idea!)
  • She puts the kids art work on an Inspiration Wire, my sister has done this for a while and I think it’s just a great way to do an “art show” when you don’t have a ton of room.
  • She talked about allowing your kids to use quality products and tools. I agree with that because, lets face it –  the dollar store crayons just don’t add color like crayola. 🙂

The book was full of inspirational quotes and really lovely pictures as well as some fun ideas that can help encourage creativity in children.

Amanda’s website Soule Mama is interesting as well.

One of my favorite quotes from the book was –

“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be another child like him.”

-Pablo Casals