Barbara DiLorenzo Presents: RENATO AND THE LION + Enter to Win a Free Copy

I met Author/Illustrator Barbara DiLorenzo at a NJSCBWI Fall Craft weekend in Princeton, NJ.  I was immediately captivated by the watercolor illustration she shared – in postcard form – from an upcoming PB.  (The postcard hangs on the wall above my desk, like beautiful art should).

 

Illustration by Barbara DiLorenzo

As we talked, we discovered a shared interest in research and making stories as authentic as possible.  Hearing about her journey toward that goal blew me away.  Here’s Barbara with that story:

After a decade of hard work, I sold my first picture book in September of 2014. Viking Children’s Books bought RENATO AND THE LION (Viking Children’s Books) I was elated, but I knew there was still so much work ahead. My editor acquired a wordless dummy, but the story needed text to clarify the time period and the events connecting Renato to his lion. The editor asked me to wait while her team ushered the next round of books to publication. There was no timeline given, and it ended up being many months. I could have worked on other projects until she was ready for me. But I knew that although I had my plot and characters, there was so much of the actual history I was unsure of. Since the lion statue comes to life in the story, the rules of pure historical fiction didn’t seem to apply. Nevertheless, I felt a duty to paint a believable world that children could learn from and historians would accept as accurate.      

I began this unstructured time by sketching the characters, trying to get to know them better so I could maintain consistency throughout the illustrations. At the same time, I attended a local SCBWI event in Princeton, NJ, known as the Fall Craft Weekend. This annual event includes intensive workshops for writers and illustrators, as well as panels and workshops led by industry professionals and established book makers. One of the workshops I attended was by Darlene Beck-Jacobson, author of WHEELS OF CHANGE. The theme of the workshop was the research process for historical fiction projects. I dutifully took notes, but as I listened to Darlene, I couldn’t believe how thoroughly she researched her book’s world. She mentioned calling a museum to ask about which streets were dirt and which were cobble-stoned in the time period of her piece. That blew me away, as her book about a horse-carriage maker would need to know something like that. It occurred to me that the research process was fun for Darlene. I was only accustomed to research projects for school–something I had never enjoyed. But her eyes were bright as she talked about verifying facts and details for her book. That workshop changed the trajectory of RENATO AND THE LION. 

Like a sweater with a loose thread, tugging at the facts of the time period unraveled an entire world for me. I started with one request from my editor–to make sure that Renato and his family could have taken a boat from Italy to New York during the height of World War II. I started searching online, then pulling books from the local library. It only took a few days to learn that there was just ONE boat that carried passengers from Naples to New York in 1944. President Roosevelt had authorized a military ship, the U.S.A.T. Henry Gibbins to bring 1000 Jewish refugees to our coast. At first I wondered if this meant Renato had to be Jewish. I wasn’t opposed to this, but I wanted the story line to be true for either a Jewish family fleeing persecution, or a Catholic family that was perhaps anti-fascist. As it turns out, the boat carried 100 non-Jewish refugees. And there were two Renatas and two Renates on board! Research was indeed fun, and I was hooked! 

The next big topic I wanted to figure out was whether or not the lion was ever covered. This took a lot longer, with trips to the Princeton University libraries and the help of their researchers. All I had to do was ask, and I was granted permission to see the Pennoyer Collection–where I sketched from photos taken from the 1940’s. I requested books off site, through their art history library, the Marquand–which was incredible. I felt like a detective, racing to find out if the story I had imagined could actually have existed. My stomach was in knots more than once when I thought I had discovered contradictory information, or a lead fell through. I don’t know how it is if someone starts with research before building a story. But for me, researching after the story was assembled, was nerve-wracking. 

I got as far as I could get stateside, when I decided to use my book advance for a solo trip to Florence. For ten days in 2015, I wandered around Florence, frantically sketching, taking tours, and trying to learn from people who had lived through the war. I met a bookseller, Enrico Rossi, who was 7-years old in 1944. I hired a local guide to translate while I interviewed him. I learned enough to make a few more books out of his information! Where to stop!? It was dizzyingly exciting. I also found a rare book at the Florence Library that the Marquand had, which I desperately wanted to own. I asked the library where I could find the book to buy, and one person said I could check the book out and go around the corner to make copies. I appreciated the thought, but I didn’t want to do that. Unbelievably, they gave me a library card, and I checked the book out. In the front of the book, I saw that it was published through the Pitti Palace, only a short walk across the Arno River.

Excitedly, I ran over to the Pitti Palace. I waited in line with other tourists, who had passes for the gardens. But for some reason, the attendant kept telling them their pass was incorrect, and they would have to go to the office. Having no pass, and speaking terrible Italian, I just showed him the book and the words “Pitti Palace” and gestured towards the gift shop. To my surprise, he waved me in! I took a look in the shop, but realized there were no books like mine there.

I slowly walked back to the gate, passing offices along the way. My bravery got the better of me, and I knocked on a random office door. Again, with atrocious Italian, I showed the book and my sketches, and tried to explain I wanted to find a copy. They understood, and asked me to wait. A gentleman made a phone call, then disappeared for awhile. When he came back, he brought two books to me. The one I wanted, and a new one–its companion! I was so excited, and pulled out my wallet to pay. He looked at his co-workers, and waved me away saying not to worry. My eyes got misty at his generosity. 

When I left Italy, I only had one carry on bag–filled to the brim with 15 books and loads of sketches and paintings. On the last day, when I checked out of the nunnery where I was staying, I had one last surprise that only a research trip could have brought me. When I tried to pay with my credit card, the nuns explained it was cash only. The bill was about 570Euro. I only had 30 on me. I had put a deposit on my credit card at home, but the nuns explained this was done by a different company. For them, it was cash only. I panicked. They let me leave to see what I could withdraw from the ATM. Thankfully my bank card and my savings card allowed 250Euro to be withdrawn each. But I was still short–plus the added taxes. I was so upset. But then I remembered all my paintings. I gave them the cash, then asked if I could pay the remainder with a painting. The nuns agreed, and I parted with the first night painting I did during my trip. This experience brought home the feeling that I had when making the book–Italians revere art in a way that our culture may or may not. I was embarrassed to leave without paying in full, but in retrospect, I’m happy to tell this story. 

Once I was home, and the work with my editor began in earnest, I shared all my research. I collected everything on a webpage, so she could spend time looking at it and referencing outside links. I cleaned up some of the research, and put it up on www.renatoandthelion.com. There you can find Easter eggs of hidden portraits and street names, of war time heroes and real artwork that was covered and protected during the war. And the storyline works whether the reader envisions Renato as a Jewish boy, a Catholic boy, or a boy of mixed descent. For in meeting Enrico Rossi, I learned that his Jewish grandmother lived on the same street as his Catholic family members, and no one cared. 

The only mystery I never solved was whether or not the lion was ever covered, even for a day. The great flood in 1966 damaged nearby buildings and destroyed tons of paper documents about what happened to artwork during the war. In the spirit of the book, I choose to believe that although he probably wasn’t covered for long, a little boy could have done his part to keep his beloved lion safe. 

I am forever grateful to Darlene for turning me on to the power of research. She may not have intended to influence me as much as she did–since my travels had shades of an Indiana Jones adventure. But without her, I wouldn’t have had this much fun making my first picture book, RENATO AND THE LION. Grazie, Darlene!

“This love letter to Florence should spur diverse conversations, from art to history to the plight of refugees.”—Booklist, starred review

Barbara DiLorenzo is the author/illustrator of RENATO AND THE LION (Viking, June 20, 2017) and QUINCY (Little Bee Books, February 8, 2018). She received her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and studied painting at the Art Students League of New York under Mary Beth McKenzie. In 2014 she received the Dorothy Markinko Scholarship Award from the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. She is a signature member in the New England Watercolor Society as well as the Society of Illustrators. Currently she teaches at the Arts Council of Princeton, and is co-president of the Children’s Book Illustrators Group of New York. Barbara is represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency.

Outside of art and writing, Barbara has gone skydiving, hang gliding, and whitewater rafting. She loves to surf, and has driven across the U.S. with her son so he could earn Junior Ranger badges from various National Parks. She has traveled to Italy several times, and lived in Bolivia for six months during college in order to work in a school for the deaf. Currently, Barbara lives in Hopewell, New Jersey with her wonderful family–who constantly inspire new stories. Her amazing 14-year-old son is the inspiration for many of her book ideas, including RENATO AND THE LION. More inspiration is on the way, as Barbara welcomed her second child–a daughter–in March 2017. She already seems to have a sense of humor–like her big brother. 🙂     

www.barbaradilorenzo.com

Represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency.
Co-President of the Children’s Book Illustrators Group (CBIG).
Instructor & Outreach Program Coordinator for the Arts Council of Princeton.

 Barbara is giving one random viewer of this post an opportunity to win a signed copy of her gorgeous book.  To enter, leave a comment for one entry.  Post it on FB for a second entry. Tweet it or reblog it for a third entry.  I will draw a name out of my writing “hat” and announce the winner here on Wednesday, 10-11-2017.

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NJSCBWI 2017: Another Rocking Weekend of Writing Inspiration.

I spent this past weekend attending the Annual Conference for the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (NJSCBWI) and came away inspired, enlightened and filled with a new desire to write stories for children.  So many wonderful workshops and a chance to see some amazing writers and illustrators.  Here are the workshops I attended:

  1. Biographies: Finding Subject and Focus: by Laurie Wallmark
  2. How to Market Non-Fiction Books: by Jennifer Swanson
  3. Using Subtext to Add Depth to Stories: by Laurie Calkhoven
  4. 7 Steps to Stronger MG and YA Novels: by Gabriela Pereira
  5. Breaking Down Barriers – How to Write and Critique Across Racial Lines: by Kelly Calabrese and Tami Charles

There was also first page and round table critiques,  and catching up with old friends while making new ones.

Natalie Zaman, Laurie Wallmark

 

Browsing the Book Fair and enjoying a fabulous Keynote address by author/illustrator Stephen Savage on Saturday morning:

 

 

Here are some photo highlights:

With PB author Annie Silvestro

 

 

 

Cocktails with Katie Howes, Jody Staton, Kathy Temean, Robin Newman and Colleen Kosinski

 

The LRA Tribe: Yvonne Ventresca, Robin Newman, Me, Agent Liza Fleissig, Laurie Wallmark, Leslie Santamara

 

With Carole Lindstrom

 

 

Leeza Hernandez, Linda, Char Bennardo

Patricia Keeler Presents Her PB: Lizzie and Lou Seal + Win a Signed Copy.

Today’s post comes from Author/Illustrator Patricia Keeler who just released her debut picture book LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL.  I had the pleasure of reading this delightful book.  Here is my review:

“LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL by Author/Illustrator Patricia Keeler is a delightful PB about a busy girl named Lizzie who loves her flip flops and her inflatable companion Lou Seal. Lizzie also loves exploring the beach and sets out with Lou Seal for a day of sand, surf and fun. Until…Lizzie loses her flip flops and something strange happens to Lou Seal. Can Lizzie fix things so they can both go back to the beach?
A perfect beach book for ages 3-6. Makes you want to put on your flip flops and head to the surf with a “swimmy friend” of your own”.

How did LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL come about?

In the original story, Lizzie walked barefoot on the hot sand at the beach. “Ooch, ouch, ouch!” Lizzie spotted some older kids wearing flip-flops. She had that Aha moment. “I need flip-flops!”

Lizzie tried out her new flip-flops

on the living room rug                                 shroop shroop shroop

            on the kitchen tiles                                      slap smack slap smack

            on the wooden stairs                                   clap clap clap clap

            even in the bathtub                                     splish splash splosh splush

 I love onomatopoeia, just like Lizzie loved all her flip-flop sounds.  Kids, young kids especially, love to hear the sounds things make read aloud.

In an earlier version, an older Lizzie wanted to wear her flip-flops to school . . . to ride her bike . . . to the ballet performance. At every turn, she was told, “not in those you don’t.” “Urghh!” flip stomp flip stomp flip stomp  “So where can I wear them?” Fortunately for Lizzie it rained the next day, and she rushed to the enticing mud puddles outside.

At last,” she said, “my flip-flops are just right for here.”

FLIP SPLISH, FLOP SPLASH, FLIP SPLISH, SLOP SPLASH

Until . . .   SHHLUK!

          “Oh, no! I’m stuck.”

She pulled on her foot. SHLOOP!  It pulled free. But, uh oh, the flip-flop stayed in the mud. Lizzie reached down to get it. “Yuck!”

I worked on this version the second half of 2013. I made sketches and work-shopped the story with my writer and illustrator groups. I shared it with agents and editors at the Fall NJSCBWI conference. I received wonderful encouragement and constructive criticism.

Back to the drawing board, this time with a working title FLIP FLOP STOMP. Then came more rewrites, more sounds, more sketches, more work shopping with my groups. And again I received good comments for my FLIP FLOP STOMP dummy at the spring 2014 NJSCBWI conference.

Home again, I revised my manuscript. I started the story at the beach, in a small retro trailer. I scrapped Lizzie’s parents and gave her a pal, a blow-up seal, named Lou Seal. I began to illustrate the dummy. As I sketched, Lizzie got younger and Lou Seal got bigger. A lot bigger!

So what was Lou Seal doing while Lizzie was fussing with her flip-flops? Going along with Lizzie, of course, as she made her way out of the trailer and out to the beach. It occurred to me that Lou Seal could be having his own difficulties. Ones Lizzie doesn’t see, but the reader does! Even the youngest readers/viewers like catching onto the story before the main character does.

With this new dummy, I pursued Liza Fleissig from Liza Royce Agency for my agent, and Julie Matysik from Sky Pony Press for my editor—and won both! By Spring 2015, I had a two-book contract with Sky Pony Press—and a May 2016 deadline to complete LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL. “YAY!”               

What was your path to illustrating Lizzie and Lou Seal?

Here are some sketches from the early FLIP FLOP STOMP dummy.

 

 

My favorite part of my color work on LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL was my discovery and experimentation of the encaustic wax process. I used it to show Lou Seal as plastic, and for the ocean waves. Here’s a You Tube video of me creating the waves in LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evADOs7z068&feature=youtu.be

What comes first for you, illustrations or story? 

In the case of LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL, the character came first. I’ve always loved feisty, “I want to do it my way!” little girls.  This key aspect of the feminine personality has often gotten little play in picture books. Visually, I had in mind several solid, tough, little girls I knew.               

The illustrations, the sounds, and the story came up together. Sometimes, I’d write something, and then in drawing that scene, I’d see that I could cut or change my words significantly. Sometimes, after tossing and turning in my sleep, I’d awake with a totally new scene in mind. I’d sketch it up, and then all I’d need to complement the art would be one bold, dramatic sound. “Whoa!”

My general rule-of-thumb, once I’ve sketched up the story for the first time, is to reduce my text as much as possible. Young listeners delight in figuring out what’s happening in the story as much from the illustrations as from the words being read to them.

What does your favorite pair of flip-flops look like?

 Of course, I had to give Lizzie the bigger polka dots that she so loves!

What other projects are you working on?

 I’m currently finishing up a second book for Sky Pony Press. It’s entitled SCOOP THE ICE CREAM TRUCK. I can’t begin to express how much I love this book and the joy I’ve had in creating it. SCOOP should be out in Spring 2018. The inside scoop on this story is that besides the retro ice cream truck, the other main character is a spunky little girl. She may well be younger and more demonstrative than Lizzie!

Patricia is thrilled to set a book and necklace aside for one lucky winner.  To enter the give-away, comment below for one entry.  Tweet and/or share on FB for a second entry and reblog this post for a third entry.  The winner will be announced on this blog on WEDNESDAY, 5-17-17.

Facebook – PatriciaKeelerBooks
Instagram – @patriciakeeler
Twitter       – @patriciakeelerbooks

 

Carol Simon Levin Celebrates Women’s History + Win a Free Book!

In honor of an historical moment in our US history, this post is brought to you by CAROL SIMON LEVIN  – just in time for the 2016 Presidential Election. Here’s Carol:

I was working on a coloring and activity book for “Bridge Builder in Petticoats” then realized we were at a historic moment in our country — 240 years after Abigail Adams wrote her husband John to “remember the ladies” when the founding fathers drafted the laws for a new nation and warning that “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation,” 168 years after the Seneca Falls Convention calling for women to get the right to vote, 96 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment actually granting women that right, we finally have a woman presidential candidate from a major party.  

I got the idea on June 8, 2016 (my birthday and the day Hillary got enough electoral votes to become the nominee), postponed working on “Bridge Builder” and have been burning the midnight oil (and then some!) working with 35 talented illustrators who created images for the 64 women I eventually profiled. The whole project was completed in just under 4 months so it would be out well in time for the 2016 election! 

carol-bookMy motivation is to help girls and women (and sympathetic guys) recognize that the vote is precious and we shouldn’t take it for granted.  I chose to do it by creating a unique coloring book with the hope that coloring might spur curiosity, and that reading the facts, fascinating factoids, and quotes from these amazing women would motivate the people to exercise their voices and their votes alongside their colored pencils!  As Carrie Chapman Catt wrote when the 19th Amendment finally passed, “The vote has been costly. Prize it.”  

Carol Simon Levin is a Youth Services Librarian, author, storyteller and program presenter based in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Whether she is impersonating the woman who helped to build the Brooklyn Bridge, telling the amazing stories of early women in aviation, engaging families in a rousing Halloween Hootenanny of songs and stories, expanding on the mathematical and artistic possibilities of a simple square, or sharing the story of a dolphin who learned to swim with an artificial tail (along with activities to help children understand what it is like to live with a disability), she always strives to create exciting programs that engage her audience’s interests and expand their horizons. 

imageShe is happy to bring her presentations to libraries, senior centers, historical societies, schools, camps and other venues. She has always been particularly fascinated by the history of technology and women’s history. Visit tellingherstories.com or facebook.com/TellingHerStories for more information on her books and presentations. 

Additional programs and resources for children and teachers can be found at: carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com.

Carol Simon Levin is a member of the New Jersey Library Association, the New Jersey Storytelling Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.     carol-red-jacket-library

TELL US YOUR FAVORITE HEROINE FROM HISTORY AND BE ENTERED IN A DRAWING TO WIN A FREE COPY OF CAROL’S BOOK!

Winner will be announced here on 11-9-16.

Author Charlotte Bennardo Talks Science.

My writer friend and author Charlotte Bennardo has a debut MG book series coming out soon.  The book is beautifully illustrated by Cathy Thole-Daniels.  Book one is called EVOLUTION REVOLUTION: SIMPLE MACHINES, and explores the notion that animals are a lot smarter than we might think.  Here’s Charlotte to tell us about the science behind the story.

Animals outwitting humans has always been a popular science fiction story premise.

But could it ever happen?

National Geographic, the Smithsonian, scientists, and many experts in animal behavior know that animals learn. They cite studies and tests and brain sizes.

All I had to do to be convinced that animals were so much smarter than being taught to ‘sit’ and ‘fetch’ was watch a BBC television program which showed a squirrel solving and overcoming increasingly difficult obstacles and puzzles to get to a supply of nuts. They don’t give up until they have conquered the puzzle, no matter how long it takes. (One squirrel spent over a month on a single part of the obstacle!) It was the basic premise I needed to write my middle grade book, Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines. I took it one step further—a young boy teaching a squirrel, whom he names Jack, about simple machines like the wheel. Since squirrels are such good puzzle solvers, and share what they’ve learned with other squirrels (usually family members), it doesn’t seem like that big a stretch. Teach one, they all learn.     cover_frontonly_rgb_72dpi-best

So the next step was for the squirrels to teach the other animals. In my novel they can talk to each other which of course they can’t do in the wild. But have you seen recent videos on Youtube and Facebook showing animals of different species doing the unexpected, like a lioness nurturing an orphaned deer instead of devouring it? Everyone knows about Koko and her kittens, and our family dog King ‘mothered’ our cat’s litter of kittens, so maybe it’s not so farfetched…

I took the premise one step further. Loss of habitat is a big concern for the earth’s creatures. When construction machines enter the squirrel’s wood, he applies what he’s learned from humans against humans to stop the destruction. It would only work for a short while because we are infinitely smarter, but this would certainly draw scientific interest and thereby halt destruction of the woods while scientists studied the animals. So maybe it could happen.

I suggest being really nice to the squirrels in your backyard; they’ll bring friends.

View More: http://suziryanphotography.pass.us/char

http://www.charlotteebennardo.blogspot.com/ 
http://kidlitresources.wordpress.com/

Twitter: charbennardo

Facebook: Author Charlotte Bennardo 

bio-pic-300x300-pixelsCathy Thole-Daniels is the Illustrator of the series.

 

 

Deborah Zemke Talks about Illustration, Writing and Her New Book.

My first picture book, The Way It Happened, came out in 1988. Though long out of print, I still read/show it during school visits to demonstrate how we “read” pictures, and also because it’s fast, fun and a good read aloud. The curious thing is that the story progresses through a narrative line and through speech bubbles, which is also how I wrote/pictured my newest book, Bea Garcia: My Life in Pictures. That didn’t dawn on me until recently when I was reading My Life to second and third graders. It’s funny how much you discover about a book when you read it aloud even after you’ve spent a year creating it. So from my first book to my last, I’ve come full circle—though maybe it’s a widening circle as My Life is a 134-page chapter book with close to 200 illustrations.     mylifecover

 

I’m thrilled that My Life has been so well received and am simultaneously at work on the second (finish art) and third books (writing/sketching) in the series. The second book is based on the first story that I wrote, though completely and utterly revised. My agent suggested I develop that story into a series and that’s when Bea Garcia truly emerged—to expand beyond a single story line meant painting Bea with a fuller brush, as it’s her humor and imagination that drive the stories. As the Kirkus reviewer noted, There isn’t anything real or imaginary that the endearing Bea cannot draw; she straddles fantasy and real life…and even more gratifying to me… Readers will find inspiration to write, draw, explore, and imagine.

 As I tell kids, I love words and pictures and what happens when you put them together. I love letters, too, and have done a series of doodle books in which letters of the alphabet are turned into pictures. It still seems like magic to me that you can turn an A into an Alligator!      mylifewishAs author and/or illustrator, I’ve produced over 40 books, from poetry to humor to picture books to drawing books. I enjoy illustrating other writers’ stories. People sometimes ask if I wouldn’t rather just do my “own” books, not understanding that these are very much my own books!  Illustrating a book is not visually depicting the words, it’s visually telling the story. Imagining other people’s words and worlds takes me places I wouldn’t go on my own. I’m currently having lots of fun sketching out the second book in Robin Newman’s Wilcox and Griswold mystery series.  

You can visit Deborah at:   carrotcake_cover03

www.deborahzemke.com

www.beagarciabooks.com

Zemke, Deborah ds

Zemke, Deborah