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Fantasy & Sci-Fi Books for Kids


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Interview with children’s book author/illustrator Daniel Kirk

Daniel Kirk has been writing and illustrating children’s books for over twenty-five years. In that time he’s published nearly fifty titles for Abrams Books, Hyperion, Scholastic, Putnam, and Simon and Schuster. His books include the best-selling LIBRARY MOUSE series. He lives in New Jersey, a short train ride from New York City.

For what age audience do you write?

For the most part I make picture books for young readers, and have made a few stabs into the realm of chapter books and young adult fantasy novels. But mostly I’m known for my picture books! My characters tend to be talking animals, though some of my more popular titles are about vehicles. Apparently people like the way I draw shiny metal things with wheels, but I prefer painting four-legged creatures.

Henry: As a picture book author myself, I’m amazed at people who can write picture books AND young adult novels. They are such different art forms.

Tell us about your latest book.

My new picture book is called RHINO IN THE HOUSE, and it is my first non-fiction title I’ve both written and illustrated. It tells the story of Anna Merz, an Englishwoman who moved to Kenya in 1976 to found a rhino sanctuary. She’d intended to retire there, but when she got to Kenya and saw how so many animals were threatened by hunting and poaching, she decided to do something about it. Anna had a fence built around thousands of acres of land, and arranged for rhinos in danger to be brought to her sanctuary. It wasn’t long before she discovered a baby rhino calf that had been abandoned by its mother. Anna named the calf Samia. My book is about the relationship between the woman and the rhino as she raised the calf to adulthood, and some of the challenges the two of them encountered along the way.

It’s a sweet story about Anna’s devotion to Samia, as well as a tribute to a woman who learned many things about rhinos that nobody had ever bothered to learn before.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

These days there are many endangered animals on the brink of extinction, and I hope that by sharing the story of Anna and Samia, I can encourage kids to understand that when they grow up, they have the power make a difference too. I want to reinforce the fact that endangered animals matter, and that there’s still hope for making our world a better place. As part of my research for this book I went to Lewa Downs in Kenya to see where Anna and Samia had lived. I’d like children to understand how important travel is to understanding the world we live in. At the back of the book I’ve devoted some space to sharing pictures and sketches of other animals I got to see on the range in Africa.

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

I love coming up with ideas and developing them into stories. The challenges are in keeping it all as simple as possible, and keeping it fresh for myself as well as the reader. It can take months, or even years, to come up with appropriate endings for stories, find the right voice for characters, and figuring out what you DON’T have to say to still get across your ideas. People are always surprised to hear that picture books are not written in about the time it takes to read them. They look so simple! But of course, making things appear simple, even when they’re complicated, is very important.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an author/illustrator?

Patience! I’m continually reminded that my first ideas aren’t always my best, and that nothing gets accomplished without a lot of effort and attention to detail. My brain and my hands never seem to work fast enough, and everything takes longer than I’d like. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough time to accomplish all the things I want to do. But slow, baby steps are the only way to really get things done!

Henry: Exactly. Patience and persistence.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Part of my mind is always tuned into finding inspiration in what happens around me. I hear and see things in the most common and ordinary situations that I wouldn’t have noticed if I weren’t making books. I guess you could call that “writer’s radar”. Certainly I’ve had lots of opportunity to travel and meet people as a writer that I wouldn’t have had if I had some other occupation, but in answer to your question, the biggest thing is the awareness that comes in every waking moment when you don’t just see the events of the day, but you see the way people and things are connected, and ordinary events teach us things about life. This is often how stories get their start!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

Whatever you do with your writing, always do it foremost for the love of creating and sharing. Creativity has its own rewards, and those rewards are limitless.

Don’t box yourself in with too many self-imposed limits. Try writing in different styles and genres until you find your own voice and the things that you’re passionate about. Try not to look too much at other people’s work or you’ll be distracted from the quiet voices inside your own head. Don’t compare yourself and your successes or failures with other people. These are things that will throw you off balance and just make you feel insecure.

And remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Creativity is a journey—sort of like life in general!

Henry: And don’t quit your day job. Writing picture books is not a path to fame and fortune.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I like a lot of zen snippets like “Chop wood, carry water”, and “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is”. They combine the mundane with eternal verities in an appealing way. Here’s another–“The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the target”. I try to remember these when I find myself struggling too hard for perfection in my work!

Henry: “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

When I was a little kid I did most of my arts and crafts stuff either in front of the TV or sitting at the kitchen table. I’d say about half of my creative time today is spent working at the kitchen table. There’s a lot of sunlight, and constant access to snacks. And my laptop functions as an entertainment unit, where I get music to work by, or a series on Netflix to listen to while I draw. I don’t know if that constitutes a ritual, or anything strange, but I’m not the kind of guy who likes putting on a suit and tie and sitting at a desk to get my work done. To me, that would be strange!

Henry: You had me at snacks.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I’d be the guy who could slow down time. To everybody else I’d look like a hummingbird, but I’d really be getting things done. I guess there’s already a superhero like that, The Flash, so I’d be like him. Except without the red costume.

Henry: But, then you’d have to be even MORE patient!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I’m kind of shy, so I don’t know about having them over for dinner. But I can imagine randomly bumping into some of my favorite deceased authors. The writer and artist James Flora was a big inspiration to me—even though our work is nothing alike. We both grew up in Ohio. So in my fantasy scenario I’m sitting next to him on a flight to Columbus, and I work up my courage to introduce myself as a fan. Then we discuss media and changing styles, among other things. Tove Jansson is one of my favorite author/illustrators, she created the Moomin books. I can imagine I bump into her on the ferry from Sweden to Finland and we might chat about the mischievous Little My. I love the Frog and Toad books, and actually, anything created by Arnold Lobel. I imagine I’m waiting for the subway train in Brooklyn, when I spot him on the platform. I’d have to ask him what he thinks Owl Tear tea would taste like!

Henry: I imagine Owl Tear tea tastes like disappointment.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Mythological creatures tend to be dangerous, and danger isn’t really my thing…but I can’t help being curious about Sirens, as I’ve always tried to imagine the song they sing to lure sailors to their demise. Is it the melody? The lyrics? The singing voice? I’d love to hear a short, non-fatal sample to help me figure that one out.

Henry: It’s the sirens’ dance moves…

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love to write and illustrate books but my great passion is music. I’m in a couple of bands, singing and playing guitar, and I love harmonies and rhythm and playing with other like-minded people. Making books is good creative fun but tends to be solitary. When I write songs that’s solitary, too, but making music together is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

When my time is up on this planet, I plan to have my ashes tossed into the wind over some lovely vista. No tombstone. The memories of my friends and loved ones will keep me going for a while, and if anybody finds my books in used book stores and likes what they see and read, that’s enough eternity for me.

Henry: Indeed, books are authors’ tombstones.

Where can readers find your work?

Well I certainly hope in new and used book stores, on Amazon and Ebay, and of course, in libraries. My website is danielkirk.com, and you can get a decent glimpse of what I do by checking me out online. I’ve also got a bunch of short videos that I just put up on Youtube for my new book, “Rhino in the House”!

Henry: Thanks for visiting with us, Daniel.


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Good Times at WonderCon 2017

My sons and I had a great time attending WonderCon yesterday.


We had beautiful SoCal weather.


Comic conventions always boast entertaining food trucks.


A well-designed Gen. Grievous costume from Star Wars.


With author/illustrator Will Terry at his booth.


With NY Times bestseller and Caldecott honoree, John Rocco.


I moderated a rock star KidLit author/illustrator panel with Joe Cepeda, Stacia Deutsch, Eliza Wheeler, John Rocco and Marla Frazee.


Signing books after the panel, next to Caldecott honorees John Rocco and Marla Frazee (looking like the cat that ate the canary)


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World-Class Kid Bedroom Designs

From the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

“We love to write about interior design at Bored Panda, but we often forget to cover one important group – kids! Most parents will agree that providing their children with a wonderful living space in which they can thrive, learn and play is of paramount importance, which is why we’ve collected this list of 22 awesome interior design ideas for children’s rooms.

A child’s surroundings can have a huge impact on how they grow and develop, so parents always try to make their children’s living spaces as comfortable and fun as possible within their means. I’m not sure my parents could have afforded an indoor treehouse, but I still had plenty of pictures and bright, colorful artwork up on my walls. Sleeping in a bed that looks like a pirate ship or a princess’ wagon, as one can imagine, would probably fill a child’s life with endless hours of joy.

Of course, arguments can be made for and against these designs. Sure they all look pretty cool, but how safe is a children’s room with ladders, ropes, and strange out-of-place edges? There are plenty of opportunities here for kids to hurt themselves, depending on their age and how much they like to horse around, so these designs may not be for everyone. And as much as we like providing for our children, spoiling them rotten is also a bad idea!”

 

1. Pirate Ship Room

2. Calvin and Hobbes Bedroom

Designed by Katri Nurmela

3. Secret Chronicles Of Narnia Room

4. Personal Teepee

5. Spaceship Captain’s Console

6. Tree House Bedroom

7. Secret Slide Passage And Play Room

8. Secret Treehouse Play Room

9. House Within A House

10. Fairy-Tale Nursery

11. Ship Captain’s Bedroom

12. Adventure Treehouse Room

13. Circus Bedroom

14. Princess’ Carriage And Bedroom

15. Ship Captain’s Lookout And Bedroom

16. Forest Wonderland Bedroom

17. Racetrack Bedroom

18. Hideout Tubes

19. Basketball Court Bedroom

20. Island Shipwreck Bedroom

21. Super Mario Room

22. Or Just Give Your Kids Thousands of Stickers And See What Happens


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Felt Fairytale Houses For Cats

From Kosata Yuliya and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda. I want to get some of these — and I don’t even have a cat.

“As long as I remember myself I loved to create things. First I was painting and sewing. Then it turned into photography and then on one of my trip to Nepal I fell in love with felted things. It was nearly 8 years ago when I first saw such unusual shapes and things I couldn’t even understand how could be made from wool. It was incredible. Since then I decided to try to do it no matter what. I started to explore felting in wool I discovered unique material for creativity alive and warm. It demands a lot of efforts and skills and it always has own way and lives own life which force me to follow its lead, rethink the ideas I had and sculpt sometimes very different from what I wanted but still magic and beautiful.

It’s hard to say what exactly gives me ideas. My mind is always filled with images whichever I want to create in reality. It’s never easy and always unpredictable but feeling of creating is cover all the hardship. Creating own world with own hands makes me feel like something from fairy tale and wonderland united in one.”

My Felted World

My Felted World

My Felted World

My Felted World

My Felted World

My Felted World

My Felted World

My Felted World

My Felted World

My Felted World 


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Secret Lives of Star Wars Villains

Conquering the galaxy isn’t all drama and highlights. The untold tales of Star Wars villains, as imagined by the clever photographer David Gilliver at Design You Trust.

a

“Tiny Storm Troopers and a mini Darth Vader are captured doing everyday activities – from taking a bath, to wrapping presents. Scottish Artist and Photographer, David Giliver created these scenes over a period of two years using toys and miniature props. Here: Two storm troopers lie in a bath.”

Darth Vader gives presents to Luke Skywalker

b

Darth Vader points at an opticians letter chart

c

A stormtrooper has a walker on a leash

A storm trooper rides a skateboard

A walker hold a bone and wears a Christmas hat

An Emperor’s Guard wraps another in tin foil

A storm trooper wears high heeled boots

A storm trooper gives another a bunch of flowers

A storm trooper bottle feeds a walker

A storm trooper feeds a walker in the grass

A storm trooper throws a stick to a walker

Photo by David Gilliver/Barcroft Images

 


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My excellent adventure at the 2017 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival

I had a terrific time at the 2017 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival.

henryyuyi
I registered for the conference, and popped into the festival book store, run by Frugal Frigate. I look to my left, and there’s Caldecott Honoree and Pura Belpre Medalist, Yuyi Morales!

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Yuyi gave the keynote address on the first day. Her description of the work involved in creating her book Viva Frida was captivating.

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David Schwartz talked about helping kids wonder about what they read. Here he is unfurling a banner with one million stars on it.

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I listened to the delightful George Ella Lyon speak about poem and picture books.

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At the book signing, I got to meet Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca. I asked Yuyi Morales to take a photo, but she took a selfie by mistake.

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Here, Yuyi’s photography skills improved. Me with Brian Floca.

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The next day, I got to sit next to Brian for another book signing.

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The conference attendees got a surprise song via Skype from Emily Arrow.

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Then, Brian Floca presented about his writing/illustrating process.

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I moderated a panel, Research for Picture Books, with David Schwartz, Brian Floca, and Lois Harris.

pammunozryan
The conference wrapped up with a lovely presentation by Newbery Honoree Pam Munoz Ryan. Good times.


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Pre-World War II Giant Robot Landscape Paintings

I never thought I’d ever say “Pre-World War II Giant Robot Landscape Paintings”. Hats off to the skill and imagination of artist Jakub Rozalski in mashing up these two on Design You Trust.

01

“The Polish artist Jakub Rozalski, who goes by the sobriquet “Mr. Werewolf,” has produced an amusing series of steampunk-ish canvases in which serene and idyllic rustic landscapes of what seem to be Eastern Europe (Rozalski’s very back yard, you might say) in the early decades of the 20th century feature the prominent and inexplicable existence of completely fictitious giant mecha robots.”

02

Various iconographies are jammed together, the imagery of peasant life in the early years of collectivization, the imagery of science fiction, the imagery of modern warfare…. add it all up and you might find yourself calling to mind, ohhh, the first few scenes of The Empire Strikes Back, set on the icy terrain of Hoth, perhaps?

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Rozalski’s intent is “to commemorate this sad and tragic period in history, in my own way, to light on this parts of history that usually remain in the shadows of other events… remember and honor the history, but live in the present.” He adds, “I like to mix historical facts and situations with my own motives, ideas and visions. … I attach great importance to the details, the equipment, the costumes, because it allows you to embed painting within a specified period of time.”

04

The World of Scythe is a beautiful 105-page art book showcasing the work of Jakub Rozalski for the board game Scythe, one of the most successful games ever funded on Kickstarter. The book was only made available to backers during the Kickstarter campaign, and is now only available on ArtStation Shop.

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