Tag Archive for Jean Craighead George

On Birds and the Artist’s Sense of Wonder: A Conversation with Wendell Minor

 

“To me, birds represent the ultimate form of freedom.

To break the bonds of the earth

and to float in the sky

has fascinated man since the beginning of time.”

— Wendell Minor

 

 

It’s hard to know what to say about Wendell Minor. The awards and achievements seem endless. And there always seems to be a new book coming out. In plain truth, Wendell has enjoyed five decades in the publishing world, beginning as a book cover designer and transitioning to children’s book illustrator and author. As a nature lover and history buff, he shares those interests with children through the books he has authored or co-authored with Jean Craighead George, Tony Johnston, Robert Burleigh, Charlotte Zolotow, Margaret Wise Brown, Buzz Aldrin, Mary Higgins Clark, and last but not least, his (fabulous!) wife Florence. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the country. But mostly, today, I’m hoping he’ll indulge my newfound fascination with all things . . . avian.




Greetings, Wendell, thanks for stopping by to talk about birds and, not coincidentally, your newest book, Tiny Bird. I find myself newly “woke” to the world of birds. I daresay I’ve become a beginning birder. It’s given me so much pleasure.


Hello James, I have to say I’ve been a bird watcher as long as I can remember. I did my first bird drawing when I was five years old. It was a giant Robin. I can’t imagine a world without birds. We have lost three billion birds in America since 1970! That’s about 30 percent of the total population. They are battling loss of habitat and climate change. We should never take them for granted.

Illustration by Wendell Minor, age 5. Obviously, that poor kid is never going to make it. 

 

I interviewed Ralph Fletcher on a similar theme a while back, because he photographs birds. You draw them. At its heart, the hobby of birding is about seeing. Noticing details. The shape of the tail feathers. The length of a beak. Stopping, pausing, reflecting. All the qualities one needs to become a good artist or writer. It feels spiritual.

To me, birds represent the ultimate form of freedom. To break the bonds of the earth and to float in the sky has fascinated man since the beginning of time. Seagulls inspired the Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk. Careful observations of these graceful birds led to the basic understanding of the principles of flight and the first successful flying machine. Who doesn’t want to fly? For me, it’s a creative spiritual experience.

 

 

I’ve gone through the same experience with trees. Just waking up to them, noticing more and richer detail. I feel a little foolish about the lost time, but I’m grateful for the moments I’ve been given. It all links for me directly into becoming a better writer, being in the moment and attending to the thing itself. Again, that’s art, isn’t it?

Mother Nature keeps us humble. Perhaps Thoreau said it best: Simplify, simplify, simplify. “Without simplicity, it isn’t possible to live life to the fullest or really be able to be an integral part of nature and Man’s surroundings.”  

 

 

Do you use the Merlin app? It was created in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s an amazing resource to carry around in our magic phones. Very helpful in making identifications. Which has been another interesting discovery. There’s pleasure in not only seeing and appreciating a bird, but knowing its name: That’s a Tree Swallow, that’s a Cooper’s Hawk, that’s a Downy Woodpecker! Knowing what you are seeing increases the joy.

 

 

I use the Sibley and Peterson guide books plus a number of other books. I visit the Cornell site frequently. I decided to do a count of some of the birds I have illustrated over the years. Here’s a partial list:

Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Snowy Owl, 

Sandhill Crane, Tri-colored Heron, Crows,

Eagles (Bald and Golden, Yellow Finches, Robins, Stellers Jay,

Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Pelicans,

Albatross, Laughing Gull, Herring Gull, Anhinga Bird,

Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, Cormorants, Mourning Doves,

Red-Tailed Hawk, Red Headed Woodpecker, Raven,

Red Tailed Hawk, Egrets, Red Winged Blackbirds, Blue Jay,

Chickadee, Magpie, Mockingbird, Peregrine Falcon,

Cardinal, and, of course, Hummingbirds.

Let’s talk about your new book. Hummingbirds are tough little birds, aren’t they?

Hummingbirds are amazing! Tiny Bird: A Hummingbird’s Amazing Journey by Robert Burleigh was born out of our mutual interest in their astounding toughness for such tiny creatures. The book covers the cycle of migration of the Ruby Throated Hummingbird from Connecticut to Guatemala, roughly 1500 hundred miles. They fly solo for the entire trip, plus a five hundred mile leap across the Gulf of Mexico: twenty plus hours non-stop!

There’s a really cool website, Hummingbird Central, that features a live map of the hummingbird migration. What a staggering journey. I expect a few ruby-throated hummingbirds to show up in my backyard any day now.

 

Here are a few of the things I learned: a hummingbird’s wings vibrate more than 50 beats per second. They are only about 3” long and weigh less than a penny! Only the female sits on the nest, which by the way is the size of a quarter. Hummingbirds come back to the same place every year. So if you see one in your backyard, you know they’ve traveled 15 hundred miles to be there!

 

 

Here’s an image I particularly like, from your book Everglades by Jean Craighead George. It reminds me of a seabirds puzzle I used to love as a kid. I’m curious, have any of your illustrations been used as puzzles? 

 

 

Thanks. That book has been in print since 1995! I had one book cover produced as a puzzle several years ago. The book was called Weed Rough by Douglas C. Jones. I have attached the illustration.

Ah, that’s so cool. A lot of us are doing puzzles these days. You’ve had a pretty remarkable career, Wendell. In addition to all your picture books and gallery shows, you’ve done quite an impressive array of book cover work, which tends to fly under the radar. Could you name a few we might recognize? I know you’ve done a version of To Kill a Mockingbird, a number of books by Pat Conroy and Jean Craighead George. Oh, just typing those names gives me a pang. We’re losing some of the great ones, aren’t we?

 

               

Yes, we are! Jean and Pat were my good friends for many years and I still miss them both. Over the years I’ve designed over 2000 book covers. A few that you might remember are David McCullough’s “Truman” and “The Path Between the Seas,” Pat Conroy’s “The Great Santini” and “The Prince of Tides,” Mary Higgins Clark’s “Where Are the Children?,” Toni Morrison’s “Sula,” and Fannie Flagg’s “ Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.” I could go on but that would take up too much space on the page.

How does that work? You get a manuscript and create a cover image from that? Or does an art director come to you with specific ideas? Covers are hard, so scrutinized by everyone in the publishing company, from editors to salespeople; I imagine there can be quite a lot of back and forth.

I do few covers these days, most of my time is spent doing picture books. I love the freedom of creating books for children. When doing an assignment for a book cover commission, I always insist on reading the manuscript. I owe that much to the authors who have spent months or years writing their books. I usually have the freedom to create my own vision for a cover; however I may do several concepts to navigate the many approval processes. Most of the time, my first sketch wins the day.

By the way, how’s my friend, the lovely Florence Minor doing? Have you two got another collaboration in the works?

Thanks for asking about Florence. She has completely recovered from her cancer surgery last year, and she’s feeling great! Her latest book is about kittens and all the amusing things they do. It’s looking great and will pub within a year from now. Florence sends you her best!

That’s good news. Okay, Wendell, thanks for swinging by. Maybe we’ll take a walk someday and you can be my birding guide. I can hear ’em, but they aren’t so easy to spot. I’ve got so much to learn.

It’s been a pleasure talking with you and I hope the Hummingbirds return to your backyard this year! See you at the next book festival as soon as we’re allowed.

 

Wendell Minor lives in Washington, CT, with his wife, author Florence Minor. Wendell’s books have received the Cook Prize, Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year 2015, Publishers weekly Best Books of the Year 2005, Kirkus Best Books of the Year 2015, New York Public Library’s 100 Best Books for Kids 2017, Junior Library Guild Selections, Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young Children, Outstanding Science Trade Books, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library selection, Pennsylvania One Book Every Young Child selection, ALA Notable Book, John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers. Wendell was honored to be the 2018-2021 Artist Laureate of the Norman Rockwell Museum. Readers may visit Wendell at: www.minorart.com and on Facebook.

 

Stay Home, Please. Don’t Celebrate Children’s Book Day at “Sunnyside” in Tarrytown, NY, 9/25

Just stay home. Please.

Find something else to do.

Each year I do this event, which features more than 60 amazing children’s book authors and illustrators, and it’s always such a disappointment. For starters, check out some of the people who’ll be there, and you’ll understand why I’m so bummed:

Tony Abbott, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Nick Bruel, Bryan Collier, Katie Davis, Bruce Degen, Jean Craighead George, Charise Mericle Harper, Susan Jeffers, Peter Lerangis, Gail Carson Levine, Carolyn MacCullough, Rafe Martin, Wendy Mass, Matthew McElligott, Helen Perelman, Wendell Minor, Gloria Pinkney, Lizzy Rockwell, Todd Strasser, Mark Teague, Jean Van Leeuwen, Eric Velasquez, Sarah Weeks, Ed Young, and more.

Why so down-in-the-dumps you ask? Because I never get to talk to any of them. I never get a chance to meet the new (to me!) people, like Will Moses (Mary and Her Little Lamb), Lena Roy (Edges), Daniel Kirk (Library Mouse), Peter Brown (You Will Be My Friend!) . . .

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. . . and Jerry Davis (Little Chicken’s Big Day). Who are these people? Might they become my new best pals? Um, not likely! Because they are sitting at tables forty feet away, surrounded by happy children, shopping grandparents, and strong-armed educators, hauling bags of books like Sherpa guides.

Best I can do is throw rocks at ’em.

And, oh, hey, look over there, it’s Jean Craighead George. She’s only a freakin’ legend. I can’t throw rocks at Jean Craighead George. She’ll throw them back — and her arm is a bazooka.

Oh,  wait.  Here’s old friends like Mark Teague and Helen Perelman and Peter Lerangis. Can I talk to any of them? Can we hang out? Maybe shoot the breeze? Commiserate?

Nooooooo. I’m too busy signing books, meeting young readers, gabbing with families, prostrating myself before the cheerful & smiling hordes.

Writing is a solitary business, folks. And it’s frustrating for me to sit there at gorgeous Sunnyside . . .

. . . just feet away from my peerless peers, and never have a free minute to chat with them.

So my dream is for just one year, nobody comes. No book sales, no signings, no musicians, no storytellers, no-bah-dee. Just us authors, finally (finally!) enjoying a few moments when we can hang out and complain about the crappy jobs our publishers do with publicity and marketing. It’s how we bond. We bitch and moan about Kindles.

So this coming Sunday, clean the garage, watch football, wax the car. But if you insist on coming . . . click here for full details.

As always, blue skies are personally guaranteed. It never rains on my parade.

Celebrate Children’s Book Day @ Washington Irving’s “Sunnyside” in Tarrytown, NY: 9/19

You should know that children’s book impresarios Susan Brandes and Beth Vetare-Civitello have put together another spectacular lineup of authors and illustrators for this year’s (13th annual?) Children’s Book Festival.

With more than 50 authors/illustrators on hand, the list is too excruciatingly long to include everyone. So I’ll only name my favorites:

JAMES PRELLER!

Well, it looks like we’ve run out of time. Sunnyside is a gorgeous location, with historic buildings nestled in beside the mighty Hudson . . .

What’s that? Hold on. I just got a text . . .

Tony Abbott: WTF??!!

Anyway, as I was saying . . .

Eric Velasquez: Punk!

Charise Mericle Harper: When I see you there, I will throw a CUPCAKE in your face!

Jean Craighead George: Die, die, die!

Rebecca Stead: How would you like to have a Newbery Medal shoved up your . . .

Whoa, whoa, people, CALM DOWN! Obviously, some of these “artists” — and I’m using the term loosely — have ego issues. Touchy, touchy. Seriously, I don’t even know these people. And I don’t want to know them! But, okay, here’s a few other names before I get into any more trouble (but believe me, I’m pretty confident I can handle Jean Craighead George in a tussle, if it’s a fair fight and she doesn’t carry a crude knife fashioned out of tree bark and a plastic spork; and as far as Ms. Stead’s “offer,” that may be as close as I’ll ever get):

Nora Raleigh Baskin * Judy Blundell * Katie Davis * Jules Feiffer * Susan Jeffers * Peter Lerangis * Gail Carson Levine * Wendy Mass * Wendell Minor * Jerry Pinkney * Peter Sis * Hudson Talbott * Ed Young * James Howe * Michael Rex * Nick Bruel * Bruce Degan * Diane Goode * and many, many more, including JAMES FREAKING PRELLER!

I’m also glad to see that my friend, Matthew McElligott, will be attending this year. His new book, Even Monsters Need Haircuts, looks pretty great.

Maybe I’ll offer him a ride . . . if he pays for gas.

And tolls.

Show time: 12:00 – 4:30.

Oh, yeah, one more thing. I’ll do something that these other children’s authors and illustrators are afraid to do. That’s right: I am personally guaranteeing a beautiful day. Blue skies, warm sun, good times. Trust me on this, people.  It’s my personal promise to you.

This year, I mean it.

So come on out and bring lots of money bring the kids!

Click here for full details, directions, etc.


Come to Children’s Book Day @ Washington Irving’s “Sunnyside” in Tarrytown, NY: 9/27

When I was a kid, I used to watch professional wrestling on television. This was before it went big time, before Hulk Hogan and the massive popularity of the WWF and big events on pay-per-view cable. I watched during the era of Bruno Sammartino, Gorilla Monsoon, Killer Kowalski, The Sheik, Ivan Koloff, Pedro Morales, Haystacks Calhoun, and other charismatic brawlers of yesteryear.

One of the events that I found mind-blowing — and happily recreated with friends on rowdy afternoons — was called a “battle royal.” While rules varied from match to match, essentially they would shoehorn about twenty wrestlers into a ring and the last man standing was declared the winner. They eliminated a wrestler either by pin or by hurling him over the ropes and out of the ring.

Like thus:

Good times, good times.

And that’s exactly what you’re likely to see at the 12th Annual Children’s Book Day at Sunnyside, in Tarrytown, New York, a veritable battle royal of sixty children’s book authors and illustrators. There will be petty jealousy, eye pokes, mule kicks, and plenty of blood (that’s right, I’m looking at you, Jean Craighead George).

This year the tag team of Susan Brandes and Beth Vetare-Civitello has put together a spectacular day-long festival for young readers, families, and friends. It’s a happy event in a beautiful location, and I encourage you to make the trip — meet authors and illustrators, get books signed, spend too much money, listen to music, watch performances, stroll the historic grounds . . .

. . . or simply fulfill your blood lust.

Come see Tony Abbott’s superkick . . . Katie Davis’s flying lariat takedown . . . Ed Young’s sleeper hold . . . Wendy Mass and her devastating forearm shiver . . . or the classic “El Kabong” as executed by Mark Teague.

Here’s some more illustrious names you’ll find in the ring: Pam Allyn, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Judy Blundell, Nick Bruel, Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Bruce Degen, Jules Feiffer, Dan Greenburg, James Howe, Susan Jeffers, Peter Lerangis,  Gail Carson Levine, Rafe Martin, Jean Marzollo, Barbara McClintock, Lloyd Moss, Bernard Most, Jerry Pinkney, Marisabina Russo, Peter Sis, Rebecca Stead, Todd Strasser, Eric Velasquez — and many more. Holy wow.

I’ll be there, too.

The date is Sunday, September 27th, from 11:00 – 5:00. For directions, click here.

Writers on Writing: Five More Quick Quotes

I still have that list of quotes that I found at the bottom of my t-shirt drawer a couple of weeks back. Here’s five more, perhaps more artfully strung together:

“Often with writing, you begin by writing too much. And out of it suddenly emerges one line that’s exactly right. That one line reveals the essence of the story. It’s a strange process that’s almost impossible to describe. I find that I might write pages of description — I love to write description — and then rereading it I see how I could set the mood in three sentences rather than three pages. So I do a great deal of cutting back.”Charlotte Zolotow.

“I have written a book in as short as an evening and as long as five years.” — Joanne Ryder.

I find that there are a lot of sentences I have in my early drafts that I really don’t need.” — Jean Craighead George.

“My first version states the basic story. I will then try speaking it, hearing it. Then I’ll go on to a second version, a third, a fourth. At each stage, I will test it with my voice. Then I’ll go back to the writing. Finally, the story reaches the point where I can say to it, ‘You are alive.'” — Ashley Bryan.

I was on the train one day, coming into work from suburban New York. I heard, ‘Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?’ So I wrote it down. Having no tablet with me, I wrote it on the newspaper. Then I wrote, ‘I see a red bird looking at me.’ Then I wrote down yellow duck, blue horse, green frog, purple cat, white dog, etc. Within fifteen minutes, the story was complete.” — Bill Martin Jr.

Illustration by Eric Carle (but you knew that).