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!

Behold, Yon Shield

sword and shieldAdventure calls! But before you gallop off into the wild woods, arm thyself with a sturdy shield and magnificent foam sword! We made these as part of To Be Continued, our story time for 6-8 year-olds. The book we read? Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke (Chicken House, 2006).

On the eve of her twelfth birthday, Igraine’s biggest problem is that she’s never had an adventure and will therefore, never become a knight. But danger is about to descend upon her home, Pimpernel Castle. Osmund the Greedy and his castellan, Rowan Heartless, have declared war. They want to capture Pimpernel Castle and claim its magic singing books. Igraine’s parent (who are both tremendous magic-workers), could typically handle such an intrusion but…they’ve accidentally turned themselves into pigs while finishing Igraine’s birthday gift (an enchanted suit of armor). Now Igraine must sneak past an invading army, gather the ingredients for the reversal spell, and return to save the castle!

There’s also a Ancient Greek variation for this project. Just scroll to the bottom of the post to check it out!

You’ll need:

  • A 10″ x 14″ rectangle of corrugated cardboard (I used a cake pad)
  • A selection of
  • 2 strips of heavy-duty poster board (approximately 1.75″ x 12.5″)
  • Hole punch
  • A box cutter
  • 2 brass tacks
  • 1 shield emblems template, color printed on 2 pieces of 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 foam sword (more on that below)
  • Scissors for construction
  • Hot glue

First, use the colored tape to decorate one side of the shield. If you don’t want to use tape, simply use markers (or use both). Cut the desired shield emblems from the template, and hot glue them to the shield.

To make your shield’s arm straps, circle both strips of heavy-duty poster board around your forearm. Don’t make the straps too snug! You want your forearm to be able to slide in and out of the straps easily. Tape both of the loops closed, then punch a hole in the middle.

arm loopUse the box cutter to cut two slits in the front of your shield, right in the middle. Push brass tacks through the slits.

front of shieldSlide the holes of the arm straps onto the brass tacks, then open the brass tack’s prongs to secure the straps in place.

back of shieldFinally, use masking tape to cover the prongs and secure the arm loops.

taped shieldAll you need now is a foam sword, and you can find instructions to make a super easy (and super inexpensive) foam sword right here.

We did an Ancient Greek variation of these shields at a Lightning Thief event. I purchased bulk cases of 16″ cake circles. Kids used metallic ink pads, shape stamps, and metallic markers to decorate them. The arm straps were rigged in exactly the same way as the knight’s shield described above.

shield tableWe called the table “Story Shields” and used the art activity to introduce hoplites, the citizen-soldiers of Ancient Greece. A soldier’s armor typically included a helmet, breastplate, greaves, sword, spear, and a circular shield called an aspis or hoplon. Often, the shields were colorful and emblazoned with family symbols, tributes to the Gods or heros, or they bore the symbol of the hoplite’s city-state

We invited kids to design their own personal shields. The activity was wildly popular…we went through over 750 cake circles!

greek shieldLooking for more connections? Lightning Thief fans can try this game of Mythomagic, or these awesome pan pipes. Brave knights can find dragons, herbal amulets, or how about a comedic sidekick?

Buzz Worthy

buzz worthyPut on your splendid beekeeping hat and follow an oatmeal container bee to a flower! Today, we’re collecting nectar, taking it back to the hive, and turning it into something delicious!

We read A Taste of Honey by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (Winslow Press, 2001). A golden jar of honey prompts Lily the bear to ask her Poppy a series of questions about its origins. Where does honey come from? Well, where does it come from before it’s put in a jar? Where does it come from before it’s purchased at the store? And before that? And before that? In addition to being a clever succession of questions and answers, this book is stocked with facts about beekeeping equipment, protective clothing, honey harvesting, beehives, varieties of wildflowers, and more!You’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • Yellow construction paper
  • 2 long strips of black construction paper (approximately 2.25″ x 18″ each)
  • A 5.25″ circle of yellow construction paper
  • 2, 1.5″ circles of black construction paper
  • 2 yellow dot stickers
  • 6 pipe cleaners (2 black, 4 any color you’d like)
  • 1 bee wings template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 plastic fedora (I purchased mine from Oriental Trading Company)
  • A 1.5″ x 22″ strip of white poster board for hat band
  • 1 little bees template, color printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A 12″ x 32″ piece of white tulle
  • 1 “Find the Nectar” game (more on this later!)
  • Scissors, glue, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

finished beeWe’ll start with the bee! Wrap a large oatmeal container with yellow construction paper, then wrap two strips of black construction paper around the container to create stripes.

Next, stick 2 yellow dot stickers onto 2 circles of black construction paper. These are your bee’s eyes. Tape (or glue) the eyes onto a large circle of yellow construction paper. Draw a pointy nose and smiley mouth on the circle, then tape (or hot glue) it to the lid of the oatmeal container. Curl both ends of a pipe cleaner and tape it onto the container to create your bee’s antennae.

bee faceTo make the legs, cut 2 black pipe cleaners into thirds and bend each piece into a loose, inverted “Z.”

bent pipe cleanerAttach the pieces to the sides of the oatmeal container with tape.

bee legsCut the wings from the bee wings template, fold each wing upwards along the dotted line, then tape the middle of the wings to the back of your bee. Done!

wingsSet the bee aside for a moment, it’s time for the hat! Use markers to decorate a strip of white poster board, then wrap it around the hat like a hat band. Cut some bees from the little bee template (at our story time, each kid got 6 bees). Attach 3 of the bees to the ends of curled pipe cleaners, then tuck the bottom of the pipe cleaners into the hat band. The remaining 3 bees can be taped directly to the plastic hat. The final touch is to wrap a long piece of white tulle around the hat. Secure the fabric to the back of the hat with tape.

hatYou can stop here, or you can proceed to the “Find the Nectar” game! Here’s how we made it…

flowersFirst, Katie made 4 amazing flowers (2 blue, 2 red) out of poster board, tissue paper, construction paper, and pipe cleaners. The flowers were taped (using nice strong packing tape) onto 40.5″ pieces of PVC pipe. Later, the PVC was wrapped with green masking tape and adorned with green poster board leaves. At the center of each flower was a plastic cup to hold nectar. Because little hands would be repeatedly bumping into the cups, Katie secured each cup to the poster board with a brass tack.

flower with brass tackFor the beehive, Katie raided her basement (nicknamed “The Magic Basement” for all the unusual and useful things she unearths from it) and found this 13.5″ x 17″ styrofoam block used to ship wine.

wine shipping styrofoamKatie was already coloring the front of the styrofoam with yellow highlighters when I snapped this picture. The highlighter pens worked a treat, but there were lots of squeaky, scratchy, pens-on-styrofoam sounds. Eeeee! Next, Katie added a yellow poster board facade to the hive, lined the holes with rolls of yellow construction paper, and added 6 little bees to the front.

beehiveDuring story time, I placed the hive at one end of the gallery, and “planted” the flowers at the other end of the gallery. Each flower cup was loaded with a single yellow cotton ball to represent “nectar.”

nectarI split the kids into two teams – Red Flower Team and Blue Flower Team. Each kid on the team had to fly his/her bee to the flowers, find the 2 flowers that corresponded with his/her team color, remove a ball of nectar from each flower cup…

bee game collectionAnd then zoom back to the hive and deposit the nectar inside!

bee game drop offGranted, you could way simplify this game with a set of cups representing the flowers and a shoe box covered with yellow paper representing the hive. But sometimes, you just get a hankering to make giant flowers.

Two important things about the game:

  1. Just put one cotton ball into a cup at a time. If you stuff the cups full of nectar, some kids will be tempted to grab everything, leaving nothing for the other bees! During our game, we had Miss Joani next to the flowers, patiently reloading the cups with nectar.
  2. Make sure to emphasize that this is not a race. It’s all the bees working together to collect nectar for the hive!