Cece Bell news… Beewigged

Cece got her first copy of Bee-Wigged and it’s just glorious. Even Crazy Ceramic Bear likes it!
As you may know, this will be her first hand-painted full-length picture book. (Sock Monkey is done on Freehand.) The artwork is just amazing. And the story is pure Cece. Go ahead and order it (release date is in Nov.) because it is super-duper!
What else is Cece doing? Experimenting with a new painting technique for a book she’s just written and pencilled. Preparing for the Tomato Festival. And all sorts of other stuff.
Sock Monkey fans, don’t go away mad! No news yet on the next Sock Monkey book, but … here’s the world’s coolest T-shirt…

Old-School Narnia Readers UNITE!

Hip comic bookster and pal Dave Lasky has started a Facebook group to celebrate Roger Hane, the illustrator of  those classic Narnia covers….


Snooping in Cece Bell land

Last night I was over at Cece’s studio and spied one of her works in progress.

It was just written out, there was another sheet with some thumbnails on it.

But the thing is — It rocked! i mean it really boomed and bashed through the story. It’s exciting and funny and has a perfect ending.

Cece said it was about the 17th rewrite of the story and it’s something she’s been talking about for ages and ages. I’d seen a version of it once before, but it was nothing compared to this.

From this stage it’s going to betwo or three years before it ever comes out .. but when it does – look out!

Meanwhile, we should see Bee-Wigged, a dog book and HOPEFULLY another Sock Monkey title!

Sock Monkey’s door and other fine home decor

For door day, here’s Cece Bell’s house — totally Sock Monkeyed up from the front door to the yard to the kitchen cabinets to the bathroom wall where a big buttom mosaic hangs.
And this isn’t just any sock monkey, it’s Sock Monkey star of the Candlewick book and a resident of this very same house.

If Arnold Lobel was a Rock’Em Sock’Em Robot….

…. he could take all comers, Vol. 2.
To prove my point yet again, I need only a book cover:
If you’ve read this fine book, that’s enough for you to nod in agreement. Yes, Lobel is the rockemist, sockemist of them all.
If you have not read this book and if you have not read this book aloud to children, you and they are missing out.
Again, Lobel gives us wonderful drawings to illustrate a subversive story. The moral here isn’t that you should be neat and clean and submissive to authority, but rather that authority should keep it’s fat nose out of your business.
This is no tissue-paper homily about “everybody’s different,” but rather a frustrated oink: “Leave other people alone, for pete’s sake!”
Like the Grasshopper stories, Small Pig is nuanced social commentary that also makes a fine story. I loved it as a kid. I love it now.

If David Weisner and Terry Gilliam made a commercial…

The other day after reading a bunch of Weisner books at the library I thought about trying to come up with a BIG Weisner Style Idea — like a Cloud Control Station in the Sky, for example.
Since Weisner has so many flying things, I thought of going underground. But that’s as far as I got.
Then I saw this incredible commercial on TV which beat me to it. It’s about a man with enormous legs.
 It is the best thing I’ve seen on American TV in a long, long time.
Had it been a children’s book instead of a commercial — with the art director’s drawings as illustrations — I would probably be arguing for it to win the Caldecott. It is that good.

Berenstains get wacky!

Well, I’m going to make one last effort to convince you to read The Berenstain’s autobiography.
My recent posts on Stan & Jan have been getting less traffic than the dirt road in front of the Bear family’s tree house, but I’ll soldier on.
One reason that the Berenstains don’t get the proper respect, I think, is that some folks may think that Stan & Jan lacked the creative spark. After all they turned out 200-300 books about the same bear family.
Well, take a look at this:
This was their initial drawing for Inside Outside Upside Down.
Don’t try to tell me that’s not kung-fu because it is kung-fu.
But, Dr. Seuss said no. That’s right. Dr. Suess, Mr. WackyTobacckyGetMeTheFlit, told them to convert the book to a bear book.
They did and they did it masterfully, but less wackily, and the result sold 3 million copies.
So maybe Dr. Suess knew what he was talking about saleswise,  but it seems unfair that today he is revered as The God of Wacky and The Berenstains are considered “safe.”
The New Yorker had a fascinating piece recently about Raymond Carver and his editor who hacked and sliced and changed titles like a madman. Well, the Seuss/Berenstain relationship seems to have had a similar thing going.

Folks, I tell you, you’ve got to read this book. You’ve got to read about the crazy alchemy between Seuss and the Berenstains and see how it effects your own work.

Quick update: Berenstain Bio is now a MUST READ

This book turned out to be so much more interesting than I would have dreamed.
It really is a must for those of us writing children’s books.
Because, though the Berenstains sold their book in a fashion that seems impossibly quick today, actually getting it published was a rough, tough road. Because Dr. Seuss was in charge.
The Berenstains’ account of his rapid-fire assault on their manuscript is astonishing — and worth it’s weight in gold to writers. Apply Seuss’s questions to your own work … IF YOU DARE!
But, it’s also a cautionary tale, since Seuss eventually goes too far. (And later tells them to dump the bears.)
[Kung-fu metaphor: Suess is kind of like the insane drunk uncle who teaches Jackie Chan by torturing him in Drunken Master.]
But like I said, it’s must reading so I’m not going to spill it all here*. Skip straight to the Dr.Seuss chapters if you must, but don’t miss it.
* Though I may be writing a bit more about one facet of this. It’s facinating stuff.

In Praise of Stan and Jan Berenstain

I recently acquired the book: Down A Sunny Dirt Road, the heavily illustrated autobiography of Stan and Jan Berenstain.
Yes, it does have a few shockers in it. Including this one:
S&J, started out as cartoonists, but at first had great difficulty getting their cartoons published because … here comes the shock …. they were considered too intellectual.
 The irony here, of course, is that modern kidlitters seem to look down their noses at the Berenstain Bear books.
In fact, the looking down started before they did.
Already succesful cartoonists, they got a meeting with the head of Macmillan’s kids books. Here’s an excerpt:
“…as nearly as I can tell,” she said  accusatorily, “you are cartoonists; your drawings are cartoons.”
“Er, well, yes,” said Stan. “You see we’ve noticed that young children enjoy cartoons, so it was our thought–“
“Yes. But, Mr. Berenstain,” said the lady behind the well-ordered desk in the office hung with exquisite Caldecott art, “as I’m sure you and Mrs. Berenstain know, children like many things that aren’t good for them…”
We wouldn’t have been surprised if she had pulled a lever that tripped a trapdoor and sent us screaming down a chute that delivered us into a sewer under Fifth Avenue….
 So today and in coming posts I sing of Stan and the Jan:
The absurdist pranksters behind “The B Book.”
The word wizards behind “Inside Outside Upside Down.”
And the superb storytellers behind “Bears out at Night.”
And on top of all that, they taught me to read.

Father Fox a Fantasy World? Maguire says so….


I was stunned to see Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes on a list of Gregory “Wicked” Maguires five favorite fantasies. (apparently it edged out second-teir stuff like “The Wizard of Oz.”)


As you’ve read before, I LOVE Father Fox and the Watsons, but I have to admit I never opened my eyes to their “world” until I read Maguire’s list.
Wow, it is really eye-opening to think of this book as a work of fantasy, not just a beautiful book of better-than-mother-Goose-Rhymes and nifty illustrations.
But Wendy and Clyde Watson have done what the great fantasy writers do: they’ve created a detailed world with its own social system, politics, economy, entertainments, etc…