Read to Me

read to meGather round for a soothing bedtime story, but don’t be surprised if a Snatchabook decides to join you! This sweet little creature attaches to your shoulder with an elastic cord, and is eager to listen to a book you’ve written.

We read The Snatchabook, written by Helen Docherty and illustrated by Thomas Docherty (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013). In cozy Burrow Down, animals are tucking in with their favorite bedtime stories. But what’s this? In the blink of an eye, the books are vanishing! Rabbit Eliza Brown decides to get to the bottom of the mystery. Using a stack of books as bait, Eliza lures the thief into her house and…it turns out that he is a tiny, furry, sweet-faced, long-tailed, winged creature called a Snatchabook. Crying, the Snatchabook confesses that he’s been stealing books because he has no mom or dad to read to him. Big-hearted Eliza comes up with a solution. First, the Snatchabook must return all the stolen books (and he does so, very neatly). Then Eliza introduces him to all her friends, who in turn invite the Snatchabook to join them for bedtime stories anytime he wants.

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4″ x 4″ x 4″)
  • A box cutter
  • A 14″ piece of elastic beading cord
  • tagboard (or brown poster board) for the ears, nose, arms, legs, and tail
  • 1 mini  (mine was 0.5″)
  • A rectangle of brown felt (mine was 4″ x 5″)
  • 1 Snatchabook wings template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 2 oval of white construction paper for eyes (approximately 1.75″ tall)
  • Black dot stickers for eyes (optional)
  • 1 piece of 9″ x 12″ construction paper, any color
  • 2 pieces of 8.5″ x 11″ white printer paper
  • Hole punch
  • A 31″ piece of ribbon
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

snatchabookFor our story time project, we made a Snatchabook that attaches to your shoulder with a bit of elastic cord, and a bedtime story book (written and illustrated by you of course!). We’ll begin with the Snatchabook. Use a box cutter to cut a 0.5″ slit in the bottom of a small box. Thread a piece of elastic beading cord through the slit. If your box has a locking bottom like the one below, definitely close the bottom, but make sure both ends of the elastic are still sticking out.

elastic on boxYou might be tempted to tie the ends of the cord into a knot, but don’t do that just yet! Wait until you attach all the body parts and the wings. That way, you’ll have a better gauge of how heavy the Snatchabook is, and how tight your elastic loop needs to be.

Next, cut the ears, nose, arms, legs, and tail out of tagboard (or brown poster board). The size of these items will vary according to your box, but here’s the general look of my Snatchabook parts. You can color the parts with markers if you like.

snatchabook partsYou’ll notice that the tail is very long! Because the tail needs to curl around the back of your neck and over your shoulder, it needs to be looong. The tail you see in the above image is 16″ from end to tip, not counting that big curve. Tab the ears, nose, arms, and legs and attach them to the box with hot glue (or tape). Hot glue a mini pom-pom on the end of the nose.

Hot glue the tail to the bottom of the box, then reinforce the connection with tape. Since the tail will go around the back of your neck, it needs to stick out from the side of the box (as opposed to the back of box). Here’s an image of the tail placement, as seen from the underside of the box:

tailTo make the eyes, stick 2 black dot sticker “pupils” inside 2 ovals of white construction paper (or simply draw the pupils on with markers). Attach the eyes to the box with hot glue (or tape). Use scissors to cut 6 “furry stripes” from brown felt, as well as a tassel for the tail. Hot glue the felt stripes to the sides of the box, and the felt tassel to the end of the tail.

stripes and tasselFinally, cut the wings from the template. Fold each side upwards along the dotted lines, then attach the wings to the back of the box with hot glue (or tape). I had some old archival mylar floating around (ah, the perks of working in a special collections library), so I traced the card stock template onto the mylar to make transparent wings. You could also use iridescent cello.

wingsSit the finished Snatchabook comfortably on your shoulder and knot the elastic cord under your arm tightly. Curl the tail around the back of your neck and over your shoulder. Done!

elastic on arm

Set your new friend aside for the moment – it’s time to make the book! Place 2 pieces of white printer paper in the center of a sheet of construction paper. Fold the paper in half to make a book.

book step 1You can simply staple the book’s spine together, or you can go with a slightly more artistic version. If you’re going artsy, close the book and punch 6 holes in its spine.

book step 2Decorate the cover of your book, then and write and illustrate a story inside it. When that’s finished, thread a piece of ribbon in and out of the spine holes:

book step 3Then tie the ends of the ribbon together in a bow. You’re done!

book step 4Slide your Snatchabook back on your shoulder, find a cozy spot to sit, and read a book to your new friend!

Heartfelt

Cozy-Classics-Emma-largeThe first paragraph of Jane Austen’s Emma contains 40 words. Imagine narrowing it down to 12. Not challenging enough? Try narrowing the entire book down to 12 words.
Twin brothers Jack and Holman Wang not only stepped up to this challenge, they also proceeded to condense other classic works such as Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, and War and Peace. 

Each 12-word board book is illustrated with truly astounding needle felt models, which are beautifully posed and photographed. The books are enchanting, delightful, and obviously labors of love.

Cozy-Classics-Emma-LadyWelcome, dear readers, to Cozy Classics (published by Simply Read Books).

Intended for children age 0+, the books use child-friendly and child-familiar words to introduce works of classic literature.  Accompanied by illustrations that reflect the context and mood of the original works, these books are the perfect first step towards the larger realm of literature.

Cozy-Classics-Oliver-Twist-MeetCozy-Classics-War-and-Peace-DanceCozy-Classics-Pride-and-Prejudice-FriendsThe creators of Cozy Classics are well-matched to their task. Jack has a Master’s in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. Holman, an artist and former middle school teacher, holds a Bachelor’s in education and a Master’s in architectural history. Jack and Holman have D.A.D. degrees, as well (i.e., they’re both fathers)!

How did this collaborative adventure start?

Jack: I was the one who came up with the idea of abridging classics for babies. When I shared the idea, Holman loved it. At the time, we both had a child under two, so board books were definitely on our minds. The only question was how we were going to illustrate our books. We wanted to do something original that would jibe with the classics. Holman’s sister-in-law does some needle felting, and that gave him the idea. So we each contributed something important to the concept, and that’s how Cozy Classics got started.

baby readsWhat is needle felting, and where did you learn it?

Holman: Needle felting is basically sculpting with wool. You stab loose wool repeatedly with a barbed needle, which entangles the fibres and makes the wool firm enough to hold shape. We taught ourselves how to needle felt for the purpose of these books. My very first figure, Ishmael, wound up in Moby Dick, but our technique has gotten a lot better since. For example, Ishmael didn’t have eyebrows or thumbs. He also had no armature (wire inside), which all our figures now have. This makes posing and re-posing them a lot easier.

How long does it take to craft and photograph a single illustration?

Holman: That’s hard to say. It takes 20-30 hours to complete a single figure. If a scene requires a studio set, it might take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to build. Lighting and photography generally takes three to five hours. If a scene requires an outdoor location shoot, it can again take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the weather and the travel involved. But the short answer is, a long time!

fake forestWhat books did you decide to do and why?

Jack: So far, there are nine Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, War and Peace, Les Misérables, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, Emma, Huckleberry Finn, and Tom Sawyer. We have to think practically—it’s harder, for example, to do a book with a lot of characters—and we do think about gender balance, but mostly we just pick books that we care about and that we think other people care about, too.

Cozy-Classics-Les-Miserables-SadYour Cozy Classics board books consist of 12 words and 12 illustrations. How difficult is it to take a classic book that’s hundreds of pages long and boil it down to 12 simple words?

Jack: It can be challenging, that’s for sure. Some people think it’s just a matter of picking the twelve most memorable scenes, but twelve famous scenes and twelve random words won’t necessarily tell a story. So we start by choosing words that we think will give the best sense of the main storyline. Our motto is “no subplots.” And it’s not just twelve words but, as you say, twelve simple words, which means your dictionary isn’t very big to begin with. Sometimes words repeat from book to book because novels often share crucial elements. We’ve noticed there’s a lot of dancing, running, and helping in novels!

Cozy-Classics-Moby-Dick-Find2Which story was the most difficult to adapt?

Jack: Probably Emma. You would think it’d be a tome like Moby Dick or War and Peace, but both those novels have a simple narrative arc when you boil them down. But Emma has subplots that are fairly indispensable to the story.

Some people might be surprised to learn that – at least for your Cozy Classics book series – there are no computer graphics used on the photos. Tell us a little bit about the perils of setting up the perfect shot.

Holman: You’re right. Our attitude, at least for Cozy Classics, is that computer generated images would be “cheating”. So when you see sky in a shot, it’s natural sky. If you see a forest, it’s a real forest. Shots with stars were created by back lighting card stock with holes punched in it. Trying to do everything in camera definitely creates perils. The main peril of location shooting is wind. We’ve had figures and sets blow away on us. For studio shots, the main peril is fire. In one scene, Tom Sawyer had to hold a candle, but I let it burn too long and burned his thumb off. We’ve just finished Great Expectations, and, naturally, we had to set Ms. Havisham on fire. The trick was to do it in a way that didn’t destroy her completely (and luckily we didn’t), but she’s definitely worse for wear!

les mis shootI’m particularly interested in the cover image of Huckleberry Finn and Jim on the raft! Was that actually floating in water with you madly snapping shots?

Cozy-Classics-Huckleberry-Finn-largeHolman: Absolutely. I borrowed a pair of fishing hip waders from a friend and ventured into a local slough. I tied the figures onto the raft securely with wire ahead of time so they wouldn’t fall into the water. But the big hazard was the whole raft floating away on me. So I would gently push the raft in motion, madly snap shots, and then grab the raft before it went too far ashore. Also, the whole time I was just one slip away from plunging my camera in the muddy water and destroying it.

huck finn shoot 2Your Star Wars Epic Yarns series (published by Chronicle Books) will be released this April. Amazing! Tell us how this project came to be!

Jack: Holman and I were in Italy in 2013, where our artwork was on display in the Illustrators Exhibition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. We struck up a conversation with a rep at Chronicle Books, who was kind enough to take some of our books back with him to San Francisco to show the head of their children’s division. When Chronicle asked us what other ideas we had for abridging classics, Star Wars was our first answer. Chronicle loved it.

StarWarsJedi_COV_1G.inddHolman: Of course, doing Stars Wars means licensing with LucasFilm/Disney. LucasFilm is very discerning when it comes to licensing Star Wars books, so we were thrilled when they came on board.

SW-Epic-Yarns_A-New-Hope_5_Rascal-©-TM-Lucasfilm-Ltd.-640x640What are you up to next?

Holman: More Cozy Classics, like Great Expectations, are coming soon, but we have other big ideas in the works, too. Unfortunately, we can’t disclose them now, but we hope that you’ll be hearing a lot from us in the future!

Cozy-Classics-Great-Expectations-Jack-and-Holman-Wang


Images used with permission of Jack and Holman Wang. All Star Wars images © LucasFilm Ltd. Star Wars is a TM of LucasFilm Ltd.

Cozy Classics’ Moby Dick was also featured on our curatorial blog. Click here to see it!

Adventures in Art

paint setPainter’s palette? Check. Set of canvases? Check. Sturdy easel? Check. Brand new paintbrush? Check. Super sweet beret? Check! You’re fully prepared for some adventures in art!

We read I’ve Painted Everything! by Scott Magoon (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Hugo the elephant is an artist who is about to encounter a massive existential problem. He’s painted everything. After hundreds of painting, there is nothing left to paint, and Hugo is out of ideas. Hugo’s friend Miles convinces him to take a trip to Paris. As the two friends explore the city, Hugo is artistically influenced by the things he sees (and the concepts are cleverly conveyed with elephant puns). But he still doesn’t know what to paint. Finally, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, Hugo has an inspiration! Rushing home to Cornville, he climbs to the top of the fire department’s tower and views his familiar world from a completely different perspective. All Hugo had to do was change the way he looks at things. From different mediums to fresh perspectives, Hugo will never run out of ideas again!

You’ll need:

  • 4 plain craft sticks (the larger ones work best – mine were .75″ x 6″)
  • 1 small triangle of card stock (with 2″ base and 3″ sides)
  • 1 small strip of card stock (approximately 1.5″ x 4″)
  • An 8.75″ x 13″ piece of tagboard (or brown poster board)
  • A box cutter
  • 1 piece of 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 small binder clip
  • 9 squares of self-adhesive foam in various colors (approximately 1.5″ x 1.5″ each)
  • 1 sharpened pencil
  • A small piece of brown paper lunch bag (approximately 2″ x 3″)
  • A large strip of poster board for beret band, any color (approximately 1.5″ x 22″)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • A circle of felt, any color (approximately 9.5″ in diameter)
  • A small piece of felt for top of beret (approximately 1.75″ x 2″)
  • Scissors for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The easel is the trickiest part of this project, so we’ll start there! It’s a slight modification on a craft stick easel I spotted in FamilyFun magazine many years ago. They used regular-sized craft sticks, but I found the larger craft sticks much easier to work with, and much sturdier. FamilyFun also used colored craft sticks for their easel, but I used plain wooden ones so the kids could decorate them with markers.

Since we had quite a few pieces to this project, I decided to prep all the easels in advance. Everything else the kids assembled themselves. To make an easel, hot glue the tops of two craft sticks together like so:

easel step 1Next, hot glue the base of a card stock triangle behind the tops of the sticks. Then fold the top of the triangle downward. This is the “hinge” of your easel.

easel steps 2 and 3Hot glue a third stick to the underside of the hinge. The top of the third stick should be just about even with the tops of the other sticks. If you put the stick too far up, the hinge won’t bend!

easel step 4Stand your easel upright and turn it around (it should now look like the image below). Hot glue a craft stick to the front of the easel to create a rack for your canvas.

easel step 5 and 6Finally, to keep your easel from collapsing, hot glue one end of a small strip of card stock to the underside of the rack. Fold, then hot glue, the other end of the strip to the back leg of the easel. Here are two views of the completed easel:

paper supportNow for your painting tools! To make a paintbrush, fringe a small piece of brown paper lunch bag, then wrap it around the eraser end of a pencil. Secure in place with colored masking tape.

paintbrushTo make a painter’s palette, cut a palette shape out of tagboard (or brown poster board). As you can see, my palette looks like a fat, lopsided lily pad that’s about 8.5″ tall x 12.25″ wide. Use a box cutter to cut a 1.5″ oval-shaped thumb hole near the bottom.

palette step 1Cut an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of white card stock into quarters (these are your “canvases,”) then use a binder clip to attach them to the top of the palette. Cut 9 squares of self-adhesive foam into irregular paint splotches, then peel and stick them around the palette (you can also skip the foam and use markers).

palette step 3Lastly, your beret! Decorate a long strip of poster board with colored tape, patterned tape, and/or markers. Circle it around your head and staple it closed. Hot glue a circle of felt to the top of the hat band. Don’t forget to hot glue a little felt piece to the center of the beret!

beretOnce we had all our tools, we embarked on our art adventure! I asked the kids to scatter to different areas of the gallery and sketch things onto their canvases using the pencil end of their “paintbrushes.” They could sketch something they saw in the gallery, or they could sketch something from their imaginations.

artist 1artist 2After about 10 minutes, the kids came back to the craft tables and used markers to color their sketches. Then, each kid selected his/her favorite work of art and displayed it on his/her easel at our “art exhibit.”

exhibitThe kids loved this project (and I made sure to cut extra canvases for them to take home)! But for me, the best part was seeing them in the berets. They looked so darn cute wearing them. But this little artist takes the prize! Oooo look at those baby toes!

artist 3Ready for more forays into fine art? Check out some Pop Art, learn to draw like an Old Master, or perhaps you’d like to take a stab at Impressionism?