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!

Cheshire Cat Grin

cheshire cat grinSomething to smile about! I designed this Cheshire Cat project for an Alice in Wonderland program. It’s quick, easy, and the results are frabjous!

You’ll need:

First, select a grin from the template and use markers to color it. Glue (or tape, or hot glue) the smile to a jumbo craft stick. Make sure to leave about 1″ of space at the top of the stick for your whiskers and nose.

grin step 1Pinch the centers of the twisteez wires together, then secure them to the stick with masking tape. If you can’t find twisteez wires, use very thin strips of card stock for whiskers. I wouldn’t recommend using pipe cleaners. The ends can get rather sharp when you cut them, and that’s not good for a project that is held close to the eyes.

grin step 2Shape a square of self-adhesive foam into a cat nose, then peel and stick on top of the masking tape. You can also use regular foam and adhere the nose with hot glue.

grin step 3Trim and curl the whiskers (or leave them straight), and you’re done!

grin step 4Hold the project to your face to become a cat with a grin, or hold it away from you to demonstrate a grin without a cat!

Flannel of the Future

flannel board 2015Some of you may recall this post, in which I visited my friends at scienceSeeds and reported on all the cool science toys they are currently playing with. There was one toy, however, that I didn’t include because I wanted to do a special post on it later.

The time has come for that post.

Get ready to usher your story time flannel board into 2015…may I introduce…the brilliant…the amazing…the mesmerizing…conductive thread! Yes, this thread conducts electricity, which means that your flannel can be rigged with lights!

You’ll need:

  • 1-2 pieces of felt (i.e. flannel)
  • 1 sewing needle
  • A length of conductive thread
  • 1 coin cell battery holder
  • LEDs (3mm or 5mm size are recommended)
  • 1 coin cell battery
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue (optional)

The good news is that all the electrical components listed above will cost you less than $10. A 30 foot bobbin of the thread is $2.95, and the LEDs are between 20¢-50¢ each. A battery holder is about $1.95, and the coin cell batteries, which can be purchased just about any retail store, are between $1-3 dollars (the one you see in the image below is size CR 2032). scienceSeeds buys most of their supplies from SparkFun Electronics, an online company.

electrical suppliesSince we were using lots of LEDs, Lindsay, our scienceSeeds flannel artist, decided to do 2 layers of flannel. The black “background” layer held the thread and the batteries, and a colorful top layer hid the stitching. The results were colorful, tidy, and sturdy. Here’s what the back of our flannel numbers looks like:

rigged upFirst, use the conductive thread to sew a coin cell battery holder to a piece of felt. It’s important that the battery holder is tightly connected to the felt. Lindsay recommends hot gluing the battery holder to the felt first, and then stitching the holder’s connections to the felt with the thread.

Next, push the legs of an LED through the felt. Curl the legs into circles using a small pair of scissors, jewelry pliers, or needle nose pliers.Then stitch the legs to the felt with the thread.

curled leg and threadBecause you’re making a circuit, it’s essential to connect negative to negative and positive to positive. Therefore, the same thread that is connected to the negative post of the battery holder needs to be connected to the negative LED leg. Likewise, the same thread that is connected to the positive post of the battery holder needs to be connected to the positive LED leg.

Worried you won’t be able to rig things up correctly? Worry no more. The battery holder’s negative post is clearly marked, and the negative leg of an LED is always the shorter of the two.

led leg and holderYou can just connect one LED, or you connect a train of them. One important thing to note: if you’re using just one LED, the battery tends to heat up (as opposed to multiple LEDs in a strand, which share the power load). If you’re using just one LED, you might consider adding a resistor (i.e. an electrical component that limits the flow of a current through a circuit). Many LEDs already come with resistors.

When everything is connected, slip a coin cell battery into the battery holder. Your LEDs will activate, and your flannel board will glow! We discovered that the weight of our LEDs, battery holders, and coin batteries made our flannel numbers drop off the flannel board (Viva Las Vegas!). But the problem was quickly solved with a bit of Velcro.

velcroYou could also move beyond flannel boards! Here are a few projects from the scienceSeeds workshop. A handsome owl puppet with glowing eyes…

owlA Halloween treat bag with color-changing LEDs! Oooo!

bagA truly marvelous super hero mask.

maskIn addition to conducting electricity, the thread can also be used decoratively. You can see it here, adding some silver highlights to the mask.

thread on maskOK…you have the tools and the know-how. Cue up Pachelbel’s Canon in D, go forth, and illuminate!


Many thanks to scienceSeeds for rigging up the fantastic 2015 flannel!