Sheboygan Book Fest: Year 2

Day 2:  Sunday, October 16th (day 3 of the festival)

First stop, the Bookworm Gardens for storytime with Liz Garton Scanlon.  In front of the Farm Garden, between the barn and the Magic Tree House, Scanlon read from three of her picture books.  The first, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, is similar to Jerry Pinkney’s Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star because it defines a common symbol in unusual ways.  While Pinkney looked for star shapes in nature – in moonflowers and morning glories, for instance – Scanlon shows that anything can be thought of as a pocket.  A home can be a pocket for a family.  An ear can be a pocket for whispers.

The next story, Noodle & Lou, shows that characters who are very different can still be friends, and that sometimes we need our friends to remind us of our worth.  In the story, a worm named Noodle needs some cheering up by his best friend, Lou, who reminds Noodle that he’s awesome just the way he is.

Finally, Scanlon asked four young audience members to help her read All the World, which describes “all the things I love about the world,” from beaches to gardens to kitchens full of family.  And afterwards, the Gardens’ staff passed around cupcakes to celebrate the Gardens’ first birthday.

After lunch, I attended presentations by Stacey Williams-Ng and Francisco X. Mora.

Williams-Ng was the first Wisconsin illustrator to create an Apple iPad book app, for her Astrojammies – the story of a boy who pretends his pajamas can take him to outer space.  Her presentation, “Beyond the Book: Interactive Stories” (which can be viewed online), focused on the pros and cons of digital publishing.  After going through the history of interactive books – from the 14th-century “instrument books,” to the late 19th-century innovation of colored illustrations and “toy books,” to Alan Kay’s 1968 cardboard prototype of an e-reader (this model actually lead to the development of laptops, not the other way around), to the 2010 iPad – Williams-Ng offered the following requirements for a picture book to work well in digital form.

  • The user should be able to do more than just turn pages – that format works better for novels and other text-heavy works.  A digital picture book should have more exciting, interactive features.
  • Those features should be more than just gratuitous animations or sound effects.  The best features will let the reader influence the story.  In a digital adaptation of The Three Little Pigs, for instance, readers can try to slow down the wolf as he chases the pigs.

When developing the Astrojammies book app, Williams-Ng allowed first-graders to try it so she could tell which features would appeal most to young readers.  For instance, they could make the moon bounce “like a beach ball” or make goofy sounds by poking a planet made of green goo (which, of course, the boys found hilarious).  One thing she discovered – once kids see that they can activate one image, like the planets and moons in Astrojammies, they’ll want to try all the other objects on the screen.  Be ready for disappointed sighs if those objects do nothing.

For more information on digital publishing, Williams-Ng includes a bibliography at the end of her presentation.  She also recommends following the Twitter page of Guy LeCharles Gonzales (@GLeCharles), an expert on the relationship between digital books and libraries.

My final stop  (not counting one last visit to the Weather Center Café for a Pirates’ Revenge latte – espresso, steamed milk, honey, whipped cream, and any flavor syrup.  I went with gingerbread) was Francisco X. Mora’s presentation, “Picture Book Journey.”  Mora grew up in Mexico City and Uruapan, Mexico, and his art is strongly influenced by his memories of the markets, where vendors would create works of art from fruits and vegetables, or objects made to look like fruit.  In turn, Mora showed slides of his own paintings of faces made from apples and bananas, and ants doing the two-step by a fruit bowl (I wish I could’ve found the images online, to share with you!).

He also loves painting the landscape and animals he remembers – especially lizards.  “I like to put lizards everywhere I can.”  Mora recalls all the animals his family adopted over the years – lizards, iguanas, armadillos, even possums (which Mora didn’t like as much once he realized all the trouble they got into at night – “There goes the trash.”).  Many of his neighbors kept squirrels or chipmunks as pets.  Farmers who found their watermelons or cantaloupes destroyed by chipmunks would sell the animals instead of killing them, and it was common to see a person walking through town with a squirrel or chipmunk on his shoulder.

Memories of his home are clearly reflected in Mora’s illustrations of the landscape and wildlife in Listen to the Desert, as well as in the rhythmic text by Pat Mora (no relation).  The latter was very interested in the different words for animal sounds in Spanish and English, and Listen to the Desert is full of sound – the calls of coyotes (ahúúú, ahúúú, ahúúú), the chattering of mice (criic, criic, criic), the spinning of wind (zuum, zuum, zuum)…  Did you know the word “zumba” comes from that sound for zooming or buzzing?

Mora’s newest illustrated work is Pat the Great Cat, the partly-fictionalized biography of a jaguar from Belize, written with the help of students from Belize and Milwaukee.  When Pat’s home was taken over by humans, he tried to hunt the cattle in the ranches, but was captured and sent to a rehabilitation program in the Belize Zoo.  He now resides at the Milwaukee County Zoo, in Big Cat Country.

In addition to these books, Mora has also worked with SHARP Literacy, Inc. (which also published Pat the Great Cat) to develop Bullying: Is Anyone Listening?  Like Pat the Great Cat, Bullying was made with the help of students themselves, and is written in both Spanish and English.

Of course I couldn’t help buying half the books I saw at the Next Chapter Bookshop tables, especially knowing that part of the proceeds would go toward next year’s Book Fest.

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